|The Black Road XIV: Two Roads Converged
Author: Guede Mazaka
“Haven’t you heard what we have lived to learn?
* * *
The first thought Severus had upon seeing Draco was that they’d stumbled into a nest of resisters. Lucius clearly hadn’t believed Draco would remain loyal to the Death-Eaters, and perhaps the resistance had found a way to get into Grimmauld place again—perhaps they’d found Ginny and that Horcrux. Perhaps Harry had, for whatever reason, decided after all to lend an active hand to the resisters. Perhaps Severus was terribly beyond the loop of knowledge and consequently extremely paranoid. At any rate, he couldn’t take any chances, but Sirius had run too far ahead too fast.
Since he couldn’t grab Black and make a quick retreat, Severus did the next best thing and sent Draco collapsing to the ground beneath a Stupefy spell. He was already pivoting to take on whomever Draco had been talking to—the walls absorbed sound in odd ways so even at the last step before the top, Severus hadn’t been able to positively identify the second man—but suddenly a hard grip seized and forced his wand down. Sirius had slewed about to put himself between Severus and the other wizard. “Are you mad?” he demanded.
“Less than you, at least,” Severus snapped back. He stepped back so he could dodge behind the corner of the wall if necessary. He yanked at his hand as well, but couldn’t free himself from Sirius’ grip. “How did they get in here? What’s going on? Black, we cannot afford to miss the appointment with V—”
“I think I know that better than you.” Once again, that odd, darkly prescient look passed over Sirius’ face. Then it dissolved in a wash of confusion as he glanced down at Draco. “Is that that prick Lucius?”
Over his shoulder, the other dark figure in the room slowly tottered into the light. Remus Lupin had seen much better days when he’d merely been an unemployable vagrant of a wizard: now his hair was nearly all gray with bits of brown in it, and the gray had a peculiarly feral life to it in how it slashed both bits of light and shadow into it. His skin was waxen and pulled too tightly over his bones, but a hectic flush shone through it, as if some internal fire was consuming him from within to without. His disbelieving eyes were fixed on Black. “Sirius?” he gasped.
Sirius jerked up his head, then turned to face Lupin. The hand he had on Severus’ wrist loosened and slid upward to circle Severus’ elbow. “…Remus,” Sirius said after some moments had passed. He didn’t sound entirely sure of himself. “What the hell are you doing here? Have you seen Harry?”
“Sirius, you died. And—and Draco said they’d brought you back, but he’s always got half an ear for what’ll suit him best for us to hear, and—and you’re alive. Merlin’s beard.” Lupin abruptly crossed the remaining space and attempted to take Sirius into his arms.
Much to Severus’ surprise, if also pain, Sirius’ reaction was to quickly back up onto Severus’ feet. He fumbled himself off a moment later, but continued forcing Severus back till Severus had to put out a hand to keep himself from being trapped against the side of the basement doorway. “Remus, no. You’ve got to go,” he said.
The urgency in his voice had a pulse, like a caged and frightened living thing. It stopped Lupin, though he clearly didn’t like it, and made him take another look at Severus. He’d had his wand in his hand from the beginning, but now he seemed to remember it. “What are you doing, Severus?”
Still with the trace of politeness, only before the werewolf hadn’t wielded it quite so much like a blade. Severus surreptitiously twisted against Sirius’ hold again, but couldn’t break it. Instead he ended up drawing Sirius against him so he had to turn his head quickly aside to avoid having his nose smashed into Sirius’ hair. He smelled its dull, sickly-sweetish odor anyway, like a well-used funeral parlor. “Going, I hope. And you’ll do the same, Lupin. We can’t waste time.”
“I’m sorry, Moony. I’m sorry, but I can’t—damn him, the bastard never said it’d be this hard,” Sirius swore, his voice abruptly dropping to grate against the floorboards. He was speaking of Lucifer, of course, but Lupin clearly took it to mean Severus or Voldemort.
Severus saw the spell beading like a glowing teardrop around the end of Lupin’s wand and tried a third time to wrench free. Sirius fiercely resisted him, then suddenly loosened, but at the same time he lunged towards Lupin and the twist his whole body made effectively jerked Severus to a painful stop. It nearly sent Severus to his knees, for that matter.
“No. No, Remus. Look at—look at me.” Now Sirius did sink down, and took Severus with him. It appeared he’d gotten hold of Lupin’s wand and clamped his hand over the tip so the werewolf had to bear up impotently beneath the progression of events, white-faced with pinched nostrils. “You shouldn’t have seen me. You need to go. Forget I was here and find a cave and sleep through the next few days. It’ll be over soon.”
“What will? What are you doing—is he making you do something?” Lupin glowered at Severus. If he’d ever truly felt guilt and remorse towards Severus, instead of resentment for all Severus had done in return, then that phase had disappeared quite a while ago. All his eyes held now was a simmering, studied hatred. “I’m not leaving, Sirius. I can’t—you have no idea. We’re dying so fast, and if I can do something, if I can keep another one from happening—”
A choked, ragged sound emitted from Sirius. Then he yanked hard on Lupin’s wand so Lupin, who’d been crouched back on his toes, fell forward onto his knees. Like one beast seeking comfort from another, Sirius pressed up close against Lupin and rubbed his face against Lupin’s neck, shoulder, cheek. It was disgusting, but it was also filled with the first real passion Severus had seen in Sirius; his obsession with Harry was simply that. And his snarling and clawing at Severus had, it seemed, never been more than old habits moving the puppet; Severus felt the bile rise at that realization. He always gave more than he received, no matter the situation. Even hatred couldn’t be depended on.
“You are: yourself. You’ll die if you stay, and now that I’ve seen you, I—” the catch in Sirius’ throat trapped the word ‘remember’ “—you’ve got to live. You can’t take chances. Someone’s got to be around afterward, to see to things when there’s the time. But I’m dead, Moony. I’m dead and gone and this…this is just wrapping up loose ends.”
Lupin’s hand came up to fist in Sirius’ hair. “It can’t be. Why else would you come back?”
“I’m back for the war,” Sirius gasped. Laughed, more accurately, with a thousand nightmares riding out into the air by way of it. “I’m back for that, and nothing else. When the war ends, then I end—but you won’t. You won’t, but you’ve got to go.”
“I don’t know anything but the war now.” The pale, roughened fingers with their motley collection of half-healed cuts and scrapes slowly loosened from Sirius’ hair. Despite all his inclinations otherwise, at heart Lupin wasn’t formed to contradict his more fiery friends. He was slowly drawing away. “You don’t know. It’s all changed. I let myself be changed, so that I’m better for this world.”
“So you can change back, if you’ve changed once before. You’re not fixed in it—you can do that still.” Sirius abruptly pushed himself back just as Severus had gotten himself righted, sending both of them slightly off-balance. He recovered more quickly because he pressed Severus to the floor and used him for support. “Go.”
Lupin threw himself backward, but with an unexpected snarl that was laced through and through with anguish and anger. “What if I don’t want to be the one that has to live?” he cried out. “It’s no victory.”
“It’ll be for me,” Sirius snarled back. His old selfishness rose in him; Severus found that peculiarly comforting to see, in the middle of this ferocious farewell that was so clearly a child of their grotesque circumstances. “I’ll know we won. So go.”
One last time, Lupin tried to protest, but whatever expression Sirius wore stopped it in Lupin’s mouth.
“And take Draco with you,” Severus finally said. “I don’t know what he’s doing here, but I don’t want his interference.”
Sirius tightened his grip on Severus’ arm as a reprimand, and Lupin threw up his head to scorch Severus with his eyes, but neither of them commented. Finally Lupin rose, moving like an enfeebled man, and lifted Draco so he could get his arm under the man.
“I could almost hate you now,” he told Sirius in a hard tone. Then his voice broke, and he took a step towards Sirius. “Please—”
But Sirius flinched away. Lupin’s face froze, and he shut his mouth. He dragged Draco back and, with a last reproving, agonized look back, he left.
The moment Lupin was gone, Sirius slumped forward. He let go of Severus and dropped to his knees so his tangled mane of hair fell over his face and hands. His shoulders started to shake.
Severus got up, wincing at the blood flooded back into his arm and woke all sorts of pain. He slid his hand beneath Sirius’ arm and pulled so the other man rose a little. “Come. Harry’s not here, so we need to return before Voldemort misses me.”
“And that’d just be horrible, wouldn’t it,” came from the top of the staircase.
Sirius’ head rose. His cheeks were streaked with silvery dampness, but his eyes were blazing. “Harry,” he said.
* * *
Voldemort regarded Lucius for a long time before he finally spoke. “I find your story impossible to believe.”
Lucius felt strangely relaxed, to the point where the ropes binding him to the chair barely had any bite at all. It didn’t matter what Voldemort believed; Lucius believed that Harry had meant what he said about Voldemort not being the one to kill him, and moreover, he believed that nothing Voldemort could do to him would even begin to make a dent in what Harry had done to him.
“Potter’s quite insane, my lord,” he said. “Insane, but nevertheless, insanity is rooted in what one once was. He shows traces of his old tendencies to favor those he knows and cares for. I’m sure you’ve noticed that he’s avoided making contact with the resistance, undoubtedly because he’d rather not attract attention to them. Either from you or from his superiors.”
A series of dry clicks signaled Nagini’s approach, and Voldemort leaned down to stroke the top of her head. “Your reasoning still doesn’t explain why he would let you go. Unless you’re suggesting he has developed some sort of…affection for you.”
When Lucius shrugged, the ropes holding his arms behind the chair cut deeply through his shirt and into his flesh, but he barely registered the pain. “I don’t pretend to understand Potter, my lord, but what I’ve observed is that he has difficulty not developing sympathies for those he comes to know better. Especially if they don’t behave in a way that fosters his previous impression of them.”
The embroidery on Voldemort’s robes gleamed dully as he shifted himself in his seat. Nagini rose and coiled the upper third of herself in his lap while he expressionlessly, intently regarded Lucius. She didn’t quite hide the fact that Voldemort had visible injuries, which had to have come from his fight with Harry.
“You always did have a flair for creating that sort of misapprehension, Lucius.” Voldemort spoke calmly, but the set of his shoulders was tense and not relaxed, and he continually moved his hands over Nagini. He was very worried, and hiding it badly.
“It could be very useful to you, my lord.” Lucius stiffened as the ropes began to slide around him, but calmed as soon as he understood that they were withdrawing and not tightening. He leaned forward to relieve the stress on his back, rubbing at his wrists and rotating his shoulders.
It was dark in the room, but that did not prevent Lucius from noting the change in Voldemort’s eyes. Likewise, Nagini turned to fix beady, suspicious eyes on Lucius. “How so?” Voldemort asked.
“He’s after your Horcruxes. He’ll kill to get them, but so far he’s not had to kill someone he…doesn’t feel only hatred towards,” Lucius said. He lifted his hands to tuck his hair behind his ears. “Thank you, my lord, for releasing me.”
“What about Ginevra Weasley?” Voldemort’s fingers rippled slowly, deliberately over Nagini’s back.
It took a moment for Lucius to remember why Voldemort would mention her name. Then he carelessly shrugged. “That actually wasn’t Harry’s doing. I was there when he learned about her death, and he was furious. More likely it’s the resistance. Or perhaps someone within our ranks, who’s begun to believe he might need to change allegiances.”
“I see.” Voldemort continued to show no emotion, but somehow Lucius suspected that his first candidate for a traitor and Voldemort’s coincided. “So you suggest that I give my Horcruxes into your keeping.”
“Potter had his chance to kill me, my lord. He didn’t. You are, as always, free to see for yourself,” Lucius said.
And of course, Voldemort did. His touch in Lucius’ mind was brutally cold and it was all Lucius could do to bear up beneath it and make sure that Voldemort saw the version of events that Lucius had carefully edited, and not the more complete memory. Just when Lucius was beginning to think he wouldn’t be able to hold, Voldemort withdrew.
Lucius collapsed back into his chair, breathing so hard that his ribs ached. He watched Voldemort through blurred eyes.
“Your idea has some merit,” Voldemort finally said. He was apparently satisfied with what he’d seen.
He picked up Nagini and set her on the floor, then stood up and swept towards the back of the room. From there he retrieved a long, slender box warded with so many protection spells that Lucius could make out no details of its appearance aside from its shape. Then he glided slowly back towards Lucius while his fingers delicately unraveled each spell. By the time he stopped in front of Lucius, he had undone them all so that Lucius could see a plain hinged box of unremarkable wood.
Voldemort opened it as if it contained the world itself. Nestled inside was an ancient-looking wand, which he carefully lifted out before tossing the box aside as if it were so much trash. “The wand of Rowena Ravenclaw. One of the Horcruxes.”
“I greatly treasure your trust in me—” Lucius began.
Suddenly he was out of the chair and landing hard on the floor in a sprawl. He quickly righted himself, only to have a hard sole come down on his throat. It just avoided the pressure needed to crush his windpipe.
“I am flattered, Lucius, but I don’t trust you. You still have a connection to Potter that I can sense,” Voldemort said in a cold, savoring voice. He smiled thinly. “However, your idea does have genuine merit. But you’ll not be charged with the duty of protecting the Horcrux—you will be it, since I can always trust in your drive for self-preservation.”
Then Voldemort lifted the wand, and for an almost unending second, the world was nothing but intense, excruciating pain for Lucius.
He came back to himself with only Nagini for company. At the far end of the room, the door was just shutting behind Voldemort.
Lucius lifted one hand, but had to quickly put it down again because the aftershocks were still too painful. The corners of his mouth began to draw up into a grim smile, and that hurt as well but he couldn’t help himself. He heard Nagini slithering closer and turned his head to see her uneasily watching him.
“Your master is one of the greatest fools I’ve ever met,” he told her in a hoarse whisper. He didn’t make any more attempts to rise. He could wait now; there was no particular hurry until Harry finally showed up again, as he now had to.
His drive for self-preservation…Lucius nearly laughed. Voldemort was so obsessed with immortality that he only had a very narrow understanding of what self-preservation might actually mean. There were, after all, worse things than death.
* * *
Silence filled the house. It was a charged, tightly coiled silence that made Severus tighten his fingers around his wand.
Then Harry, face white and eyes a sickeningly brilliant green, slowly came down the stairs. He held onto the banister with both hands. “Sirius?”
“Oh, Merlin.” Sirius was up the stairs and embracing his godson in a second. He feverishly greeted Harry, his hands unable to stay in one place any more than they’d been able to on Lupin. “Oh, I’m so sorry, so sorry.”
“I thought you were with--Snape,” Harry suddenly hissed, catching sight of Severus.
Severus threw himself back around the corner and began to say the spell that would see him home—never mind Black; Severus was more willing to chance Voldemort’s fury than Potter’s—but a wave of shadows crashed into him and roughly washed him back into the foyer. He felt his wand being pulled from him and tried to grab it back, but instead had the skin ripped off his palm. His wand vanished into the masses of shadows, which immediately fastened onto his bleeding hand and pinned him to the ground by it. He could feel tens of little mouths sucking at the blood.
“I came back here because I thought Draco would be moping about, and willing to give me directions to your new house. Would’ve liked to see how he greeted you, but I promised not to drag him about anymore and I do keep my promises, unlike others,” Harry said. He pushed Sirius aside enough to sneer at Severus. “I should have known. If you had Sirius, you’d try to use him to get at me.”
The shadows humped up as if gathering themselves for a last attack. Then Sirius put his hand on Harry’s shoulder. “Wait,” he said. “You can’t kill him.”
If Severus had had the least bit of energy to spare to be amused, he would have been at Harry’s reaction: Harry started, then grabbed Sirius and pulled him forward to stare into his eyes. The shadows’ hold on Severus slackened a bit thanks to Harry’s divided attention, and Severus took the opportunity to drag himself free. Though where he could go without his wand was limited, so in the end, he might as well have let himself be gobbled up by the dark.
“He’s not got any hooks in you,” Harry finally said, looking and sounding puzzled. His hands slid from Sirius’ shoulders up to frame Sirius’ face, and the one thumb that Severus could see began to slowly stroke Sirius’ cheekbone. “He’s not controlling you. Neither’s Voldemort, but there’s something…”
“Don’t do anything to that, James.” Sirius winced almost before he’d finished speaking. He gave himself a rough shake, then looked apologetically at Harry. “Sorry, Harry. I…where I was…it fucked up my memory a bit. But don’t touch that, all right? You can’t do anything about it, and what’s got to be done has to be done. But oh, Merlin, at least I get to see you a last time.”
Then he pulled Harry towards him and buried his face in Harry’s neck, hands squeezing up and down Harry’s arms. Harry, however, was not quite so free with his relief and stared down at Sirius with furrowed brow. His hands gradually lifted and came to rest on Sirius’ back, where they slowly turned bloodless as he increased the force with which he pressed down, but he seemed withdrawn and thoughtful.
Likewise, the shadows sluggishly flowed back to their places till once again, it looked like a perfectly normal room. Severus didn’t really put his trust in that, but he decided he’d have a decent chance of standing up without being knocked over, and did so. He stayed against the wall.
“They said Voldemort brought you back. As a bribe or something, to keep me from killing him,” Harry murmured.
“He thought that you were rather too attached to Black, and would align yourself with him in exchange for having your godfather. Evidently, Voldemort wasn’t speaking entirely from foolish conjectures,” Severus said. He pulled down his sleeve and did his best to staunch the trickle of blood that still welled up out of his lacerated palm.
Harry looked sharply at Severus, but he didn’t make the slightest effort to release his godfather. Instead he turned to Sirius, who was finally pulling back, and asked: “Is that true?”
“No. Yes. I don’t—it’s all in my head, but they just crammed it in there and then I was through.” Sirius’ fingers continued to flex on Harry’s shoulders, but they slowed a bit when Harry wrapped his hand around the back of Sirius’ neck and used it to rub at Sirius’ nape. “But I’m here—I’m here to get that last piece of soul out of Voldemort. For you. They said you were being sent back for good, and that was what you were doing—getting those pieces—and it’d help you.”
“I am…but that bastard. That fucking goddamn bastard!” It was a wonder Harry didn’t tip over and send them tumbling down the stairs, his fury was so great. As it was, he teetered a bit and Sirius took a startled step away from him. Then he got himself under control, and then…then he looked at Sirius with eyes full of raw pain and misery. “Sirius—this means I have to kill you. That bastard. I didn’t want to stay on with him afterward, and he couldn’t force me so he does this to me.”
For a moment, Sirius had nothing to say. He clearly hadn’t thought that part through, and the force of his sudden comprehension visibly rocked him. He held Harry out at arm’s length from him and stared first incredulously, then furiously and finally sadly. His mouth worked several times before he managed to grimace a smile and reply.
“Well, I knew I had to go back at any rate. Dead people don’t get to return for good. But I’d rather be returned by your hand than anyone else’s.” Black let out the withered ghost of a chuckle. “I thought I’d have to put up with Severus doing it. Merlin knows he’d be ecstatic for the chance.”
“Then Merlin knows very little, but then again, he’s long departed and clearly, the dead gain no wisdom either,” Severus snapped. He no longer cared if Harry tried to kill him; he could not stay in this room and watch them any longer.
So he walked out. The shadows spit his wand out at his feet, and he slowed only to take it up. His shoulders remained hunched against the blow he confidently expected, but it never came.
Severus found an armchair in one of the other rooms on the same floor. He spent a mindless few minutes freeing it of all pests and pernicious spells, then sat down in it. After a brief period of staring into space, he had to acknowledge the reality of the situation. He put his elbows on his knees, then dropped his head into his hands.
A good while later, someone walked up to him and stopped. He rubbed at his eyes a last time before raising his head to look viciously at whomever it was.
It was Sirius, and Sirius was absently rubbing at a fresh cut along his jaw. The first thing Severus thought of was Harry seducing Lucius via torture the first time they’d encountered the new Harry Potter. “Was it a good last time?” he sneered. “Your parents must be happy—their wayward son ended up with the Devil’s get, after all.”
Sirius stiffened, then made as if to hit Severus. But he pulled back at the last moment and instead dropped into a squat. He stared up into Severus’ face with an expression that was wonder, black amusement and the inevitable pity. “Don’t tell me you’re jealous. That’s even more twisted than I gave you credit for.”
“This is even more twisted than Voldemort could ever do,” Severus replied. He smiled maliciously at Sirius. “And the miracle of it is that you both apparently agreed to these terms. Lucifer didn’t even have to force you. He just took advantage of your ignorance and inability to ask the right questions beforehand.”
“You goddamn—no, you’re not changing the subject on me.” Then Sirius moved in, as if that would actually do anything.
His mouth hit Severus on the side of the jaw and lingered hotly before he brushed it sideways to take it away just before it would’ve hit Severus’ ear. Despite himself, Severus shivered and put out one hand to circle Sirius’ arm.
“You still hate me,” Sirius murmured.
“Obviously.” Severus put up his other hand to press at the side of his face. His skin felt too tight and too dry, and his mouth seemed to taste of nothing but ashes now. “You at least receive some sort of compensation for your horrors, however fleeting. But I…I can sympathize with Lupin, actually, which is yet another sign of the awful state of this world. And that is what I’ll be left with afterwards? This monstrous mockery of a country, with its crippled and scarred people? That’s my reward for surviving?”
Sirius laughed lowly, and slowly drew his cheek along Severus’ so his mouth glided back towards Severus’ lips. “You could call it practice for hell.”
After a moment, Severus allowed himself to laugh. Then he allowed himself to turn and catch Sirius’ lips, which were at first slack with surprise, but then quickly feverish and pushing. The inside of Sirius’ mouth tasted stale and too sweet, but it was better than ashes, and since it was clear that Severus would get no prizes, he would take what he could when he could. He didn’t allow himself to hope that it would be enough comfort to last him through the long absence that would follow.
When they were done, lying tangled on the floor and breathless, it was Sirius who was the first to rise. He did so tight-lipped and pale; his eyes might have been at times mad in the past, but they’d always burned with some fierce emotion—except for now, when they looked as if a dull veil had been thrown over them. “All right,” he said. “Harry’s got my blood—he can follow us now wherever we go. Let’s go back and wait for Voldemort to call.”