Bonds of Guilt ~ 3

You say it’s useless crying,
It’s never got you far.
You claim there’s none as lonely,
Lonely as you are.
I don’t believe it…
I believe it…
Take a look around and see:
What’s breaking you is breaking me.
One moonless night we’ll make it right
And vanish in the dark of night….

— a-ha “Slender Frame” lyrics

Price

“There are no werewolves in Azkaban.”

Severus pondered, as he watched his potions simmer, why he had never thought of that — why he had never considered the price that Remus would have paid if the “prank” had been even remotely successful. For despite Sirius’ protests that he had only wanted to scare “Snivellus,” as the object of so many hateful incidents of bullying, he knew better. The trap had been set to kill or, at the very least, to turn him into a creature so despised as to be a pariah even among the lowest of outcastes.

At this very moment, Remus was out looking for work among Muggles, surely an insult to a wizard who had scored top marks in not only his O.W.L.s but also his N.E.W.T.S. When Severus had expressed his surprise, the mild-mannered man had simply answered, “It takes them longer to suspect me of anything strange, and even if they do, it’s easy enough to use the Confundus Charm on them.” Realising that his new houseguest had come to certain conclusions based on painful experiences, Severus had not questioned him again, retreating to his study/laboratory to brew some potions for the apothecary in Diagon Alley.

Although Remus had gone out for the past few days in search of work, it was hard to find a position that required almost no credentials (though Remus had become adept at befuddling the interviewers) and, more importantly, he could take time off from, one or two days a month, without being dismissed. Those restrictions forced him to become a day-labourer, which meant manual labour; since he was usually exhausted after his transformations, this further reduced the number of days he could work, but he cheerfully said it was “better than the alternative” and kept looking. Severus was unsure what the alternative might be, but had refrained from asking that as well.

After the potions congealed to just the right consistency, Severus poured them into several phials, labeling them as he went. Most of the potions ordered through the apothecary were mundane but difficult — mixtures that the apothecary himself was loath to attempt, for fear of causing unwanted side effects in the customers or, worse yet, blowing up, melting, or otherwise damaging the store. It was tedious work, but Severus did not mind, since the more difficult the task, the less chance he had to dwell on his loss — the overwhelming guilt and despair over the loss of Lily. And, thinking of alternatives, it was still better than the work the Dark Lord had set for him, creating new and innovative poisons to torture unfortunate victims for the demented Lord’s pleasure.

The phials filled, he wrapped them carefully in a clean cloth and tucked them into a magically protected pocket of his robe, then used Floo Powder to transport himself to the apothecary. He was thankful that there were no customers in the store — although his name had been cleared, his reputation as a former Death Eater earned him no friends, and despite his best attempts to convince himself that he did not care a whit for what others thought of him, their overt stares and muttered insults… wearied him. He had a long-cultivated aversion to being the center of attention, and now that the Dark Lord had been presumed dead, those who had aligned themselves to him, however briefly, were prime targets of ridicule or even hatred. This was understandable, given how many had suffered from their various unspeakable crimes, but Severus had neither the grace nor the patience to bear it with good mien.

The apothecary himself knew the worth of a brewer like Severus and was not so foolish as to offend him in any way. In fact, he entrusted him with yet another set of orders, these ones more intricate yet. As he looked over the list, Severus inwardly cursed, for some required the brewing to be done in large quantities — he would need to invest in those ingredients without the assurance of selling all of the finished product; however, the apothecary had anticipated his hesitancy and offered to contact the shop in Hogsmeade to see if they could possibly stock the remainder. That being agreed upon, Severus bought some of his ingredients and headed out to another shop or two to gather the rest.

By the time he purchased all that he needed and finally Flooed home, Remus had already returned and started cooking dinner. Severus acknowledged him with what could only be described as a grunt, tired from his short excursion into society; Remus, in contrast, greeted him cheerily, a wide smile lighting his face.

“I found work!” he announced triumphantly. “It’s loading boxes on and off trucks at the docks, and since they’re so overwhelmed, they’ll take what days I can offer, with no questions asked about the days I have to miss. I found a spot to Apparate to that’s quite convenient, too, so it’s perfect!”

“Wonderful,” Severus replied in a funereal tone that seemed to say exactly the opposite, then shuffled off to put away the new ingredients and wash his hands for dinner. When he came back down again, the table was set and Remus was pulling a small but respectable piece of roast beef out of the oven.

“I was in the mood to splurge,” he confessed, setting it in the middle of the table. Severus noted that there was a bottle of wine left open to breathe as well. “They want me to start tomorrow, so this may be the last time I can actually spend time cooking something recogniseable — although I do hope, since it starts so early, to be back in time to fix some kind of dinner. That is,” he added anxiously, “if you haven’t tired of my culinary repertoire yet?”

“If you wish to cook, I’ve no objections to consuming it,” was Severus’ less than flattering reply, but it was sufficient to bolster Remus’ good mood.

“Well, then, now that that’s settled,” he said, pouring the wine into their glasses, “tuck in!”

The food was certainly as good as anything as Severus had ever tasted, including not only the sumptuous feasts at Hogwarts but also the few occasions he had been invited to dine at Malfoy Manor. He would have been embarrassed to admit it, but whatever lingering reservations he had regarding his new houseguest were effectively silenced by the quality of his cooking.

But that was not the only thing that had given him a newfound respect — yes, respect — for the werewolf. For the man had worked tirelessly to clean the house from stem to stern, ridding it of almost every last speck of dust, and had even tamed the wild bramble patch of a garden into a place where herbs for both his cooking and Severus’ potions were beginning to grow. This, in addition to searching for employment for hours at a time, only to return to cook meals for the two of them. Now that the house and garden were in satisfactory order, Remus was eyeing the neighboring properties, most of which were empty and dilapidated, as well as the sludge-infested riverbank. Severus could only stand back and watch in amazement. He had always appreciated order and it was apparent that Remus did, also; and not only order, but cleanliness, even beauty. He had certainly made their environment a much more pleasant place than it had been before his arrival.

The dinner plates picked clean, Severus leaned back to enjoy the wine. Remus sent the dishes to the sink with a whisk of the wand and, with another deft movement, wafted out a pan with perfectly browned bread pudding.

“I hope you have some room for dessert,” he said, stifling a laugh as Severus’ large nose twitched involuntarily at the aroma.

***

That night Severus dreamed again of the horrible moment when Lily — the light of his life — had died. He had not been with the Dark Lord at the time or he would have thrown himself in front of her, heedless of his master’s wrath; however, he had seen Voldemort cast all of the Unforgiveable Curses at one time or another and knew the torment the unfortunate victims suffered. Even with the Killing Curse, there was the moment before it hit when the victims knew what was in store for them with no way to prevent the inevitable — that moment, as well as their pleas for mercy, cries of horror, and snarls of rage, had been deeply etched into his mind more times than he cared to recount.

In his dream it was always the same: the Dark Lord, his eyes glowing red in anticipation of the deed, burst through the door of the house that Severus knew only since its destruction. Potter was first in his path, and his death was painted in grisly detail in Severus’ mind’s eye, for it was a scene he had imagined often in his morbid fantasies — what had made him ultimately pledge his loyalty to the Dark Lord and now, in his guilt and torment, had driven him to betray Lily. For he could not help but question his own motives, wondering if his desire for revenge upon Potter had led him, subconsciously, to give Voldemort the damning words of the prophecy.

After the prolonged wail that was James Potter’s final breath, the Dark Lord made his way into the room where Lily stood, barring his way to the child. She faced him with courage, unflinching before his evil glare, and in the final moment before the murderous green spell snaked its way to her heart, there was only one name upon her lips…

Severus awoke screaming, drenched in cold sweat. He was so confused in the darkness that he did not notice the hands holding him, trying to comfort him, until he finally heard the low voice saying repeatedly, “It’s all right, it was only a bad dream….”

As he took in great draughts of air, he realised the voice belonged to Remus, as well as the hands and arms that were wrapped around him, cradling him gently as though he were a child. Rushed back into reality, he was deeply ashamed, and therefore angry, that Remus had witnessed his moment of weakness.

“Stop! Let go!” he spat out, too furious to be coherent.

“Are you awake now?” came the calm, concerned voice.

“Yes,” he answered, trying to control himself, abashed somewhat by the quiet solicitude Remus was exhibiting — for although he had relaxed his hold on Severus, he had not yet completely released him, continuing to rub his back in slow, soothing motions.

“I heard you moaning and tried to wake you,” he explained. “You were thrashing about so wildly, I feared you would harm yourself.”

“I’m fine,” came the retort, in lieu of gratitude. Remus finally released him but gave his shoulder a parting squeeze, as in sympathy. It was enough to ignite the dry, brittle kindling of Severus’ temper. He bit out venomously, “Do not pity me!”

There was a moment’s pause in the darkness.

“Pity, Severus? Whatever would lead you to believe that you had earned my pity?” came Remus’ cool reply. “Pity is for those who face tragedy through no fault of their own. You, however, had a choice — you chose to follow Voldemort, despite the fact that the Dark Arts he practiced were what cost you Lily’s friendship to start with. I cannot begin to imagine the horrors you witnessed as his minion, but they were of your own choosing. You will have to excuse me if I reserve my pity for those who truly deserve it.”

Once again, Severus was taken aback by Remus’ words and could form no answer. He had expected condescending kindness, or even anger, but not… truth. And it was only because of his great guilt and regret that he could admit, now, that it was the truth.

After letting the import of his words sink in, Remus continued in a softer tone.

“I am, however, glad to know that you are capable of feeling something — whether remorse or only horror — at your past deeds. It shows that you are… human, and not the monster so many believe you to be. And for that… for what you have suffered, and are suffering still, I can feel… compassion.”

After a minute more, in which Severus lay very still, unable to answer, he heard Remus retreating to his own room. It was with profound surprise that he found himself missing the werewolf’s presence, as well as the comfort of his touch.

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2 Comments

  1. that is good. update soon please.

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