Bonds of Guilt ~ 2

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:
William Shakespeare, “The Merchant of Venice”

Mercy, by definition, is not given grudgingly;
it falls gently to the ground like rain from heaven.
It is a double gift, benefiting the one who gives
as well as the one who receives.

End

Severus awoke with the vague sense that something had changed — the heavy cloud that had lingered over him for what had seemed an eternity had not lifted, exactly, but… shifted, as though showing the first possibility of dissipating. He sighed when he could not immediately identify the reason for his near-optimism, but on his next breath of cold air, he caught a whiff of something familiar and delectable. Startled, he rose out of his bed, throwing on his robe and slippers against the chill morning, and made his way down to the kitchen. As he neared he heard the bacon and eggs sizzling in the skillet as well as the low sound of Remus humming as he cooked. Severus almost groaned aloud.

In his sleep, he had forgotten about his rash decision the night before to bring the werewolf into his home. Whatever had possessed me? he wondered, regretting his actions and resenting Remus’ presence, despite having invited it. However, he remembered his motivation soon enough. It was Lily, he sighed, being pulled back in his mind to the gate of her house, where he had found one of his most hated Gryffindors weeping. Although perhaps “hated” was not the right word to describe his feelings towards the werewolf — “despised” or “loathed” came closer. And, though he would never admit to it, “terrified of” was also applicable when the man became the monster.

At the moment, his new houseguest hardly looked capable of frightening even a Muggle, standing there in his shabby clothes as he stirred something in a pot and occasionally flipped the bacon. He did, however, use his wand to summon some dishes from the unfamiliar cupboards, then proceeded to plate the breakfast he had cooked. The pot, Severus noted, contained a kind of soup, which added its aroma to the others as Remus poured it into two bowls. When he turned to open a drawer for silverware, he saw his host standing silently in the doorway.

“Ah, Severus! Good morning,” he said, seemingly unruffled by the strangeness of their situation. “I was just about to take breakfast up to you, but you’ve saved me the trip.”

Severus stared balefully at Remus as he set the table with a swish of his wand.

“I do hope you like corn cream soup,” he continued cheerfully. “I always like soup when it gets colder. Ah, the toast looks done!”

Still wordlessly, Severus took a seat at the table, watching as the slices were sent sailing from the fireplace, where they’d been hovering over the fire, to land on the side of their plates.

“Where did you get all this?” he asked bluntly. Remus did not seem affronted.

“Well, since you’ve been so magnanimous in opening your home to me, I thought the least I could do was stock your larder. I Apparated to a Muggle village I rather fancy, not too far from here — their produce is quite good.” Picking up a fork, he smiled ingenuously. “I promise that my cooking is far better than my skill at Potions!”

“It could hardly be worse,” Severus muttered, but took a spoon to the soup nonetheless. To his astonishment, it was delicious, as were the other items set before him. He found himself tucking in with relish, which in itself was surprising, for he had not had any appetite since the news of the tragedy — and triumph — at Godric’s Hollow had reached him. He had forced himself to eat, simply to keep his strength up, but could not for the life of him recall what he had eaten. This was, he realised, the first true meal he had partaken in a long while.

“Not bad for the first attempt of the season,” Remus commented, “but it could use some pepper. I didn’t think to pick up any, but no matter — I’ll put it on the list for next time.”

With a flick of his wand, he directed a quill to scratch the item onto a piece of scrap parchment, which Severus saw was already covered with notes.

“I had no idea you could cook,” Severus grudgingly admitted, making Remus grin — he knew his boyhood schoolmate well enough to recognize the compliment for what it was.

“Purely a survival skill, I assure you,” he said demurely. “When you’re on your own and would prefer not to eat boxed oatmeal for days on end, you learn a few tricks.”

They ate in silence for a while, and when they had both finished their soup, Remus poured tea.

“More toast?” he asked, and Severus nodded. He had been mulling over some thoughts, which he finally decided to voice.

“You mentioned last night that Potter had let your apartment…”

“Yes. James was generous that way,” Remus re-affirmed.

“And I know for a fact that Black had been living with him, before…”

Severus could not bring himself to say it, but Remus smoothly sidestepped that event.

“Yes, he moved back to the Black estate when his mother died. He hadn’t expected to inherit anything, you know, after being disowned, but with Regulus gone…” Remus broke off abruptly. “Did you know Regulus well?”

“No more than any other Slytherin in his year,” Severus answered. He returned to his original train of thought. “Had you stayed with Potter as well?”

“No. He already had Sirius there, and… Well, to be honest, I’d had something of a falling out with Sirius, towards the end of school…”

“Oh?” Severus responded, sincerely surprised. “I wouldn’t have known.”

Remus’ face twisted into a wry smirk. “I’m sure you had better things to occupy your mind. And it probably wasn’t noticeable to most. He pretended to ignore it, anyway…. Did a fine job of it, as usual.”

Severus had not expected such a sarcastic tone from the Gryffindor.

“So you had a one-sided falling out?” he probed, infusing the words with his own brand of sarcasm.

“You could say that,” Remus replied with a humourless smile. “Although it did develop into a… a full-fledged falling out, if you will. Which was why Sirius — I believed — talked James out of making me their Secret Keeper.” He shook his head ruefully. “That’s what I’d thought at first. Now… I can’t help but wonder… if he hadn’t deliberately excluded me from their plan. So he could betray them more easily.”

Severus dropped the piece of toast he had just begun to carry to his mouth. Suddenly, his appetite was nowhere to be found.

“Are you saying… it was premeditated? He’d planned to betray them, from the start?”

Remus fingered the handle of his teacup as he considered his answer.

“It certainly seems that way…. Although I do believe madness had a part in it, there are some who are capable of reason despite their madness, you know. I have no idea when he actually decided to betray them, but he obviously managed to deceive James and Lily right to the end — and neither of them was gullible. Well, James may have had a blind spot for Sirius,” he amended with a sigh. “But who would have thought that Sirius would turn on his own friend? On James, no less, who had given him his first real home?” Remus shook his head again, weary with sorrow. “I just wish, in hindsight, that I’d insisted on having a role in all of their plans! I might have caught on, seen something amiss, that James might have overlooked….” He took a stiff draught of tea before adding, soberly, “I would have done anything to save them. I owe James my life.”

“Oh?” Severus responded, startled for the second time. Remus met his eyes with his mirthless smile.

“Of course. You should know that,” was his enigmatic reply. “But then again, as it did not concern you, perhaps not…”

“What do you mean?” Severus demanded, feeling slightly annoyed at not knowing what Remus was referring to.

“Severus, has it never occurred to you?” he answered, a mixture of pity and exasperation on his scarred face. “There are no werewolves in Azkaban.”

Severus gaped at him, digesting this bit of information. Seeing how he was struggling, Remus decided to spell it out for him.

“If Sirius had succeeded in his plan, and I had gotten to you — either bitten you or killed you — Dumbledore would have most certainly been sacked. But I…” He choked on emotion, then continued after swallowing, “I would have been executed. Not the Dementor’s Kiss, no — apparently, the soul of a werewolf turns even their stomachs,” he dryly remarked. “But if I had injured or infected another child, the Wizengamot would have shown no mercy, regardless of my own age. I would have been destroyed like the troublesome cur I was.”

Severus tried to say something, but failed. Remus pretended to not notice his discomfiture.

“When I learned of what Sirius had done — not only jeopardizing your life, but mine as well — I was furious!” he said, a shadow of a scowl darkening his brow. “I’ll admit, I was more concerned for my own safety at the time,” he added, his eyes cast down in shame, “but even so, I have never wished this… this condition on anyone, not even my worst enemy! And you, despite all that I allowed my friends to do, were never my enemy, Severus.”

Being addressed thus, he finally found his voice.

“I find that hard to believe.”

Remus accepted it with a nod.

“I don’t blame you. But the only one I ever considered my enemy — my personal enemy, aside from Voldemort and his Death Eaters — was, and is, Fenrir Greyback. He was the werewolf that bit me, when I was still very young… and he also murdered my parents, in my seventh year, by Voldemort’s orders.” His lips curled into a smirk that was painful to behold. “Of course, it would do no good to bite him, since he already has this disease himself. The only revenge I would ever be able to exact is to kill him, and even that… seems too light a punishment, considering his many crimes… on others as well as my family.”

To that, Severus could readily agree. He had kept his distance from the bloodthirsty werewolf while he had been in the Dark Lord’s employ, but he had heard enough of the creature’s exploits to make even his desensitised heart draw back in horror.

“So despite what you may think of me,” Remus continued, after pausing to allow his anger to settle back, like a wary viper, into the depths of his heart, “I hope you can see that I would never have taken part in planning that trick on you — if for no other reason than that I would not have risked my own life! And by the same token, when James pulled you out of harm’s way, he not only saved your life, or at the very least prevented you from suffering the same malady as I do… he also saved Sirius from expulsion, and myself from certain death.”

Severus slowly nodded, unable to deny the logic of Remus’ argument.

“Yes… I can see that now,” he conceded.

The relief was evident in Remus’ face.

“I’m glad you do,” he murmured, very softly. “I’m sorry that you ever believed me capable of endangering your life, but I deserved that, I know. When Dumbledore made me a Prefect, I could have done… so much more! Instead, I chose to look the other way where my friends were concerned. I’m sure Lily was exasperated by my behaviour, on so many occasions…”

His comment jolted Severus, back to the question he had originally set out to ask.

“So, if Potter had been… providing for you,” he began, “did he ever tell Lily about your… lycanthropy?”

Remus laughed and looked up at him.

“Bless you, Severus, Lily didn’t need him to tell her! She’d figured it out back in our second year, long before even my dorm mates had put two and two together.”

Not realising the immensity of this revelation for Severus, Remus chuckled as he reminisced.

“She really was very clever! And she was always kind to me… almost maternally concerned for my health. When I had to explain to her, in fifth year, why I wouldn’t be able to perform my Prefect duties on certain days, she said she’d always suspected as much, although she was surprised that Dumbledore had allowed me to attend Hogwarts. But she assured me that she would take my secret to the grave.” At this, his voice hitched, and he fell silent.

“As she did,” Severus supplied reverently, and Remus could only nod.

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