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Methleigh

Hand of Dream

Hand of Dream

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sherlock.  not good?
Title: Hand of Dream
Author: janus
Rating: PG
Characters: Severus, Remus, Sirius, James, Peter, Dumbledore, Regulus
Word Count: 5615
Warnings: bullying, small amount of profanity,
Summary: Severus dreams comfort, but eventually awakes.
Notes: I realise these events do not strictly follow cannon events in some respects, though they rewrite the Shrieking Shack Incident. Thank you so much for reading along.

Reality

The heel of someone’s hand thudded into the base of his skull, bouncing his forehead on the glass of the window. A second later, hard fists punched into his kidneys. One, two, one again. He did not turn around. He had thought he was obscured in the alcove, looking out at the rain, pre-wording his Potions essay. He didn’t move. His right hand remained resting on the stone window-frame beside his head. He was proud it was still relaxed, though his head sang with shock.

“Snivel-Snivel-Snivelus,” taunted Pettigrew’s voice. “Where are all your fine friends now? Going to go cry to your mum? Oh, yeah, even Mummy doesn’t like you, dressing you in rags. Raggedy boy. Rag dolly. Poor widdle Snivelus. No one to snivel to. Wah waah waaah. Oh, look, he’s crying! Poor widdle ugly Snivelus is crying all over his great ugly nose.”

Pettigrew hadn’t hit him, he knew. He wouldn’t dare, with his watery eyes and face like a… a squished tomato. That was what the thick-set boys from his old Muggle school had yelled at one another. One hand had been Potter’s; one hand had been… Sirius’. Not ‘Black’s,’ because Regulus was a Black as well.

He wasn’t crying. He looked at the reflection of his face in the window. It was still, unlined, with his straight mouth, opaque eyes and proud nose. He could summon passive Occlumency without even thinking about it, he thought smugly.

He wanted to shout at them, in righteous anger that would cut them to ribbons. Though he had a new spell held close and precious to his heart which could literally cut them to ribbons, but this was not the time for it. They were just like Muggles. Only Muggles — should behave as they did. Wizards should be better. How that should sear them! But they thought themselves so far above that truth, they would not even understand it. Rich and pureblood, how would either Potter or Sirius know the way Muggles tormented wizards just for being better, just for existing? One little untrained wizard and a hundred filthy Muggles. What would they know about that? He could tell them, and they would only laugh. Spoilt brats. He tried not to dwell on the way things ‘should’ be.

The palm of someone’s hand pressed the back of his, squeezing gently. It was a calloused hand, broader and less bony. The figure behind it was closer than the others had been. Through the raindrops’ distortion, he could make out the normal brownness of Lupin behind him, looking down. Lupin’s hair obscured his expression. He was sure it was not from design, only because of the angle. Lupin’s face was usually open enough.

“I didn’t, and I will never. I swear.” The words were quick. As soon as they were over, the touch was gone. So was Lupin, his even footsteps diminishing down after the others.

He still did not turn around, though he felt as though he had been jolted by electricity at the same time as an enigmatic blanket had been draped around his shoulders.



Falling Asleep

He lay in bed that night, snug in his Slytherin comforter. For once, he was comforted. The Orange Bruise Paste tingled on his back. He had often taken worse punishment. The paste was probably not necessary, but application was automatic. He applied it just to prove to himself that James — or Sirius — was really dangerous enough to injure him.

Rabastan had left school now, and Evan, with Mulciber, Avery, Nott and Wilkes. Lucius was long-gone and so was Rodolphus, though he had always been closest to his younger brother. Regulus was still here, but younger, and he did not want to burden the boy who was so bright, so serious, so attentive. He had no power to offer, so Slughorn ignored him. All the other professors seemed to favour the lions. And Dumbledore! He snorted.

He suffered in silence, and he did not want to stoop to complaining. He would go back to Abraxas after the term, but old families would not respect any weakness in him.

At night, alone, he drowsed on the edge of sleep, sometimes for hours. Small things seemed more significant. Sometimes, in the morning, he found that he had been worrying over something that was so insignificant he could hardly believe it. He had left a book out of place on the library shelves, perhaps. Or there was a potions ingredient which he needed to be absolutely certain he would never confuse with another. Or his toe was poking through a hole in his sock and the world depended on its mending, in so many ways. He thought so hard in the confusion of half-sleep that it sometimes felt like a fever.

Today, there had been something unprecedented. Alone, he let himself dwell on it. No one would know. No one could criticise him for internal indulgence. The simple apologetic pressure of Lupin’s hand on his expanded. It gathered meaning. It gathered vividness, personality, life. It gathered reality, until he really felt its warmth about him, until he felt the ghost of touch on his hand, even yet.

Someone had reached to comfort him. Someone had looked closely enough to see him. Someone had known he was human. Someone had known he hurt, but left him dignity.

Lupin.

Not Lupin, but Remus.

He stretched his legs out, curled his toes luxuriously under the comforter. With his eyes closed, he smiled, then turned on his side and held his pillow closely and tenderly in his arms.

Warm in bed, he conjured Remus’ presence, reinforcing it with dream-intensity. He pictured the way he would experience Remus lying there with him, not doing anything, just lying together. He thought how Remus’ eyes would catch the candlelight and shine tawny gold. He thought how they would look into his and understand, no need for speech. He thought of Remus’ solid good-natured spirit translated into a heavy warm arm laid over him. He thought of it translated into a steady considerate body curled against him, and Remus’ reassuring hand resting in his. As they lay together. Nothing more, but nothing less either.




Into Dream

It pleased him that he could picture himself as generous. He considered what Remus' sadness might be. How would Remus know him if he had not suffered as well? The other boy was poor, too, amongst the rich. He imagined himself telling Remus that it was all right. They would study together and work hard, and it wouldn't matter any more. They would be great.

Remus' eyes sometimes had a look that made him think he was hungry, too. He had noticed, even before tonight. Remus had a frayed look sometimes, looking at the windows, mouth tightening, eyes wide, tense, as if he wanted out. This was at night, mostly, and Severus thought that, like him, he would rather be doing practical experiments. He found chat in the library wearying, when the whole world waited. He had no imperative of idle chatter, but Remus sat with the Gryffindors who talked endlessly about Quidditch and how cool they were. How alienating it must be for Remus. With him, he could have been growing. They could have been striving together towards the future.

He understood why Remus couldn't be friends with him. As lost as he, Remus must rely on his Housemates to keep away his loneliness. If he acknowledged Severus, approached him for friendship, he would be a House traitor. He remembered the way Potter and Sirius had treated him his first day.

Remus couldn't even show sympathy. Obviously, he was sorry, despising the brutality of the others. Obviously, he had to watch, torn, hesitant. He knew Remus' painful indecision. He knew Remus' regret that separated him from everyone. Magnanimously he forgave him, and the Remus in his mind forgave him in turn.

He stroked the pillow next to him, where Remus' head would have been. Would Remus feel his touch in his dormitory on the other side of the castle? One's natural mental barriers were softer, more pliable when one slept, or half-slept. If he was able to reach Remus, would he know him?
He imagined them agreeing to meet, by themselves. He imagined a look at dinner between them, a quiet walk in the dusk, turquoise sky and silver stars.

He brought Remus to his tree, where they sat in a hollow, sheltered by its roots. Above them, the leaves were rich translucent greens in their wand-light. Remus was asking something about violets. He tried to answer, but kept getting distracted because a branch was digging into his back. He tried to push it away and turned back to Remus. Then he had to explain his distraction. Remus was still gentle, leaning forward to him, attentive. Violets? Violets. His back hurt.

He woke. His back twinged through his dream. He had been sleeping, he realised. Could he control his dream, talk to Remus? Would he know? Would something tell him, through the mystery of consciousness, muddled in sleep? His back hurt. Half entwined in dream, he tried to reach Remus, imagining his mind searching the dormitories for fellow-feeling. His back hurt. He sighed. Waking regretfully, he reapplied the Bruise Paste.




Waking and Watching

In the morning, relief and warmth remained.  Still, he was no fool, knowing others tricked themselves with hope and wishful thinking.  His night-fantasies would dissipate in daylight.
 
He held the promise safe and true, however.  Lupin would not attack him.  It would only be two against one — Potter and Sirius, and Pettigrew, their cheerleader.  Their attacks had always been that way, he realised.  Even after his OWLs, Lupin had hung back as the rest jeered him.
 
He wished he had met his eyes.  He would have had respectful, if silent, support.  Remus would not have laughed.  Remus would not have condescended to rescue him.
 
He watched the Gryffindor table surreptitiously.  Regulus followed his eyes.  When their destination proved to be his brother, Regulus’ gaze returned to his eggs and sausage.  Severus was sorry, giving a small smile in apology.  Regulus smiled back openly, glad of his concern.
 
Remus had simply been eating, talking to… them, his books beside him.  They all laughed, without looking towards Severus.  The way he hid himself, Remus should have been Slytherin.
 
Leaving, he managed to catch the other boy’s eye.  He raised a questioning eyebrow, receiving a quiet serious nod.  Yes.  Yesterday’s touch had not been impulsive anomaly.
 
In class, he watched Remus from his curtain of hair.  His head tilted down, but his eyes rose almost painfully to monitor Remus’ well-being, to divine his state of mind, to determine whether he was looking.
 
Moments of victory hit like jolts of happiness.  Usually, Remus’ face was worried, however.  He wondered what his friends said to him.  They were not known for tactful tolerance.  Occasionally, Remus seemed frustrated.  Though he clearly wanted to talk, he clearly felt restrained.  It consoled him, knowing Remus’ will was with him.  Some days, Remus was pale and sweaty, or fractious and restless.  Some days, he was absent, returning quiet and stiff.
 
Once, Severus bravely passed the Hospital Wing.  Thinking he espied Remus under a clean white coverlet, he hoped Madam Pomfrey was caring for him properly.  He longed to dare to lay a comforting hand on Remus’ shoulder.  He dared to long to kiss Remus’ soft brown hair, wondering how it would smell.
 
He learned to conceal himself.  A spell of silence minimised the crunch of footsteps on snow or leaves.  He crouched behind trees, in bushes, in the reeds.  He left class early to hide quietly, waiting for Remus’ appearance with his Housemates.  Rewarded for his patience and watchfulness as often as not, he began to study outdoors.
 
Once, he thought Sirius saw him.  As he appeared not to react, this seemed unlikely, upon reflection.  Subtlety was no Gryffindor quality.
 
Remus, he was sure, gave him tacit approval simply by permitting his presence.  Again, he felt touched, allowed into Remus’ world.  It was tangential contact, but it was his.
 
To be closer, he emulated Remus.  He listened to his younger Housemates, like Regulus, with their small concerns.  Remus was sympathetic.  He practiced keeping his hands still and steady.  He slowed their movements.  Remus was gentle.




Invitation

Remus was not in class. The day before he had seemed tense and pale, but he did not appear to be in the Hospital Wing either. Severus was worried.

As he usually did, he crept out quickly after class, watching Potter, Sirius and Pettigrew. He hoped they would betray some clue, but they looked as careless as ever, possibly even excited and a little exultant. He could not actually hear them, but hid silently, watching their faces. Again he wondered if they had perpetrated some plot against Remus. These illnesses. Maybe they were poisoning him for their own amusement.

Potter and Pettigrew left to go back to the school after an hour or so, but Sirius remained, poking at the ground, pretending to be looking for something. If he had not been feigning this, he would have just used Accio, Severus reasoned. How could his idiotic friends fail to realise it? He supposed they were too self-centred, even amongst themselves.

When they had disappeared, Sirius straightened, looking around again. He came straight at Severus without looking at him. Severus didn’t know quite what to do and tried to flatten himself into the hollow behind the bush, trying to duck below the leaves without rustling them. He could feel the speed of his heart. Retreat would give him away as surely as Sirius stumbling over him, since the other boy still appeared not to see him.

Sirius was almost on top of him, when he stopped and looked at the sky. “Don’t think we haven’t noticed you prying and poking into our business, following Lupin around like a sick puppy. He’s not ill, you know. But he wants to see you — some kind of message he wouldn’t tell me. Wants to tell you to get lost, I expect, drown yourself like your mother should have done.”

Sirius paused. “Nah, not Remus. He wouldn’t have the backbone to say anything like that. But anyway, he wants to see you.”

Sirius looked disgusted enough to spit. That alone suggested he was not prevaricating. His expression was his customary bored condescending one. Surely, if he were lying, he would look different, wouldn’t he? Severus was not able to look into his eyes, fixed as they were on the clouds. Again he felt sorry for Remus, so lonely and desperate for friends that he had to associate with the other Gryffindors. The discovery of the small impulse towards chivalry within himself pleased Severus. Even in this situation he felt a proud and inappropriate inclination to smile.

All right. As Sirius clearly knew he was there… Ridiculous and ashamed, Severus stood, revealing himself, leaves clinging to his robes. “Where does he want to see me, then? And when?” His voice was demanding, challenging, despite his feelings. It was Sirius, after all. He attempted to sound dismissive.

“Oh, don’t worry, Snivellus. We’ve got him for you. You can have him all to yourself, after moonrise, under the Whomping Willow. There’s a knot there. If you poke it with a stick, there’s a secret passage. Yes, our little secret, but Remus wanted us to tell you. I can’t imagine why…”




Pride

Something was not quite making sense. He had no doubt that the others would take Remus and torment him, but wouldn’t he have been missed? Dumbledore was always so concerned about his precious Gryffindors. Surely he wouldn’t… But then, it was Potter and Sirius. He would favour them over the brown-haired boy with his poor clothes and tender hesitancy. They were clearly allowed free rein of spells, hands and fists with Severus. But surely Dumbledore and McGonagall could see Remus was often ill, or… was he ill? Obviously, if he was not, no one was doing anything about it. Maybe they really didn’t notice. If he were ill, he would not be allowed to roam secret passages.

Sirius’ revelation of their existence, almost in confidence, lent credence to his message. Severus knew Remus’ friends had found such places. Watching them, he had explored as well, slipping behind panels, around statues, under stone rails after they unwittingly showed him the entrances. How had they known? Potter’s father, doubtlessly as arrogant and shallow as his son, had probably told him, or Dumbledore told his favourites.

Severus did not think Sirius would have given him such information on his own. Remus must have asked him. He was still suspicious, however and could easily see Sirius tricking or trapping both him and Remus. “How can I tell one knot from others? You just want to watch. I’m not your whomping boy.” Yes, a note of challenge. That was better, more dignified than simple agreement.

I won’t be there. I’ll leave you to your little tryst. I’ll be in the library with my friends. You can look before you go out. The Whomping Willow doesn’t whomp you until someone touches it, and touching the knot will keep it still. Just don’t fall over or something, or… do fall over!” Sirius smirked. “The knot is under the roots, and the rest of the inside of the tree there is smooth. You’ll see. That’s what it was made for. Unless you’re chicken. After following us around like a baby all this time.”

“I’m not chicken. You are.” Severus was still too nonplussed by the situation to elaborate, but it would have been something about diligence and self-discipline, and how it was cowardly not to face responsibility but rely on one’s popularity. The thought calmed him. Besides, there was no point in explaining complexities to someone too impatient to be able to concentrate on the answer.

Sirius sneered, pivoted with his heel in the sod and walked off, all without looking at him. Severus brushed himself off and returned to the school a little shamefaced. Not wanting to trail after Sirius, he took an unnecessarily awkward winding route back. He was mortified that Sirius had seen him, certainly more than once and perhaps all along.

Remus wanted him, though. That thought warmed his chest and, strangely, his stomach as well. If Remus needed him, as well as wanting him, he would have the chance to be a hero. He felt excited and a little proud. If Severus could help him, there would be no context for pity in Remus’ kindness again. They would be equal. Severus might even be able to approach him as a friend.




Anticipation

Before dinner, Severus bathed thoroughly. That would give him time to dry, he reasoned. He knew what they said about his hair, but though he washed it three times, he still could not remove the potion residue. It was rare for him to bother so much with his appearance, but now he indulged himself in the bath, enjoyed the fluffy towels. He felt as if he were a good person, a clean one with a clean soul. I am going to help my friend, he told himself. He wanted to be presentable as possible to meet Remus. He gave his best robes to a house-elf to clean and press.

All through supper, he gave himself little inner smiles that actually reached his lips. Regulus looked at him curiously. The Gryffindors did not. Sirius studiously avoided even a glance, and the others seemed occupied only with themselves.

Before he went to test the information he had gotten about the Whomping Willow, he looked into the library. "Get lost, Snivellus. Can't you see you're not wanted?" Potter.

"Yeah, Snivellus, go take a long walk on a short pier." Pettigrew. After uttering this cliché, he looked at the others for approval.

But Sirius grasped Potter's wrist and bent his head close to talk. As Severus turned to go, he saw him frown and answer earnestly. Just as usual, except Potter rarely frowned at his friends.

Because the moon had not quite risen, Severus took a winding route. The sky was deep blue-purple-black, and the stars were out. He turned around in his robes — a kind of stiff pirouette — and billowed them around himself. Eventually the paths turned silver and the world was awash in white luminescent monochrome. It was time.

He made his way cautiously to the Whomping Willow. It could still be a trick, though they had all been in the library 'studying' just as Sirius had told him. He searched the ground. A tang of wet powdered leaves was in the air. Willow tea, he thought pleasantly, feeling and looking for a long stick, as he had been advised. The atmosphere spoke of Halloween, and he felt as if he were about to do something lawless, anarchic and possibly magical, in the sense of old Wild Magic.

The willow was not whomping him, he noticed with surprise. Could it be that this was real? Ah yes, there was the opening in the roots. It was smooth inside, just as Sirius had said. There was one obvious knot, wrinkled and bulging with a dimple in the centre. He pressed his branch against it, extending it carefully.

Part of the earth and root structure slipped away to reveal a stone-lined passageway, lit along the wall with small glowing balls of Lumos. Sirius had told him the truth! Severus was amazed and thrilled. He — even he — bore one of the great secrets of Hogwarts. If he had been so inclined, he would have hugged himself.

Severus started down the passage.




Reality Again

The passageway was surprisingly clean and free of spiders, cobwebs, simple dirt — all the things he would have expected from a mysterious tunnel under the roots of a tree. Up ahead there was a strange sound, a moan of ... was that pain? There was an occasional scraping sound, as of metal on stone, no, not metal... He wondered if they had put Remus in chains.

"Lupin," he called. 'Remus,' he reminded himself, was for internal voice only. "Lupin, are you there? Are you all right?"

After a little while, he asked again. "They told me you were here, that you wanted to see me. It's Severus, Lupin." In case Remus didn't recognise his voice.

But the answer came muffled from behind him. "The passage is open. That stupid greasy little git has really done it. Why does he always have to snoop and spy into our business? No wonder everyone hates him." It was Potter.

Severus hurried a little faster up the passage, though he was cautious yet. Just ahead was a door. He could see solid oak bound with thick iron. His wand was out.

"I'm coming in, Remus! I'm coming for you! Alohomora!" There were pounding footsteps coming from the tunnel. It would be better if they could face Potter together. Maybe he could free Remus before he got there.

"Get back, you idiot. Get the hell out! Now!"

He flattened himself against the wall. "Where the fuck is Remus?"

"That doesn't matter! Get out! Get out. Get out, get out." Potter grabbed his arm and tried to pull him back.

"Get your hands off me! You just don't want me to know what you're doing to him. You just..." Severus was pulling back, off-balance. James tried to change his grip and lost it. Severus stumbled backwards, putting a foot into the room.

Some ward broke, and there was a surge of fur-covered muscle, massive and clawed. Jaws gnashed suddenly just above him. So many teeth — they could have severed his arm. Above them, blank, animal-intelligent, glaring eyes. The fur was tawny, golden, like Remus's hair...

"He's a werewolf! It's a werewolf! Run!" Potter's hand had seized his elbow again, dragging him forward as Severus' hair tingled with terror and his eyes and mouth opened wide to scream. A howl filled the passage, chilling in its unleashed pain, rage and hunger. Severus was petrified a second, and then he was running, screaming, without thought, in pure instinct. The sound was incredible. He scarcely realised it was his own voice adding horror to it, bringing it to a keening banshee shriek, until he stopped screaming to gulp air and the sound changed.

Behind him he heard Potter hurriedly casting ward spells, but he was not stopping. Then the familiar, mocking voice. "Look at the baby run! Look at the stupid, prying, poking baby run!"

A pause. "Fuck! Oh, fuck!" Then James' spells chased him. "Obliviate! Obliviate!"

It was dark, and he was a moving target. There was the door to the school. Dare he pause to open it? His thought was returning, though his teeth tasted metallic. If he could get around to the courtyard, he could beat Potter, he was sure. He wouldn't know which door Severus had taken. The one to the dungeons was always best. Or would his pursuer think of that? They couldn't take his memory. They couldn't. They had tried to kill him. They had actually tried to kill him. To kill him.

He scrambled inside and fled to Dumbledore's office, pounding on the door, heedless of bruised fists or bleeding knuckles. "Help! Help! Werewolf! Open the door! They're trying to kill me!"




Attempt to Dream

Severus lay curled on his bed absolutely motionless, except for the mechanism of breath and heart. He wondered if he would be able to move if he flexed his muscles, wondered if he would be able to make a sound if he tried to speak. Though he knew the stillness was an illusion, he toyed with the idea and the feeling. The world and time had not really ended.

Dumbledore had come to answer him hammering at his door. He had listened. He had believed him. There had been chocolate and iced lemon cookies. Then he had been whisked upstairs to Madame Pomfrey for draughts and sleep. Slughorn had not come. His parents had not been called. If any ministers had been summoned to investigate a dangerous werewolf and an attempted murderer, he had not heard of it. But then, he had not heard of anything, had been kept apart from his fellows. Meals were delivered and he had all his school books.

There had been the meeting in Dumbledore's office, where the Gryffindors had all sat in a row, facing the Headmaster. Their expressions had been identical, Remus sitting amongst the others — a little fear mixed with a little false contrition; willingness for sentence mingled with confidence that it would be light. It had been light. Pettigrew and Remus had none at all. Potter had gotten a hundred and fifty points, for 'rescuing' Severus. Only Sirius had been punished, and that was merely detention for the rest of the school year. Yes, they had all looked the same, mirroring one another's posture — probably Sirius' — but in varying shapes and colourings. Perhaps Remus - Lupin, he viciously corrected himself — had looked tired, but that was nothing now.

Severus' news had not been news. A dangerous werewolf was loose in the school with the full blessing of its Headmaster and the full participation of his favourite students.

Instead of protecting him, instead of protecting anyone, Dumbledore had lectured him until he had extracted Severus' promise not to tell. The school, Remus' life ruined and Sirius', descriptions of Azkaban, accounts of the degradations to which werewolves were subjected. No word for him, just days of accusations of spying and tale-telling until he had given in, hating himself.

He was alone. Once he had given his word, even extracted in that way, he could not break it. He could not even tell Abraxas now — the only one who could perhaps have done something, as governor. Again, it was so obvious that Abraxas, and the others were not here. He was alone, and there was no help. He wondered what would have happened if they actually had killed him. There would have been a few shaken heads. Tut tut, shame about that student. Good Quidditch on the weekend, what?

He lay still, tried not to think of it, tried not to think, to be numb. It was not quite like Occlumency, but it was related. If he willed it, let everything drain away, would he meld with the blankets around him? Would they flatten and smooth? Would he disappear? If no one thought of him, would he cease to exist? He pictured himself moving through the castle ignored, but existing, saw himself becoming a ghost not because he had died, but because he was not significant to anyone.

This was supposed to have been his real home, and its caretaker, its king, its god, was supposed to take all the children unto him, to teach, to protect, to rejoice in their success, to keep them from... from being murdered at the hands and teeth of werewolves. This was supposed to be the right of all the children, even those who wore green and grey.

No, he was trying not to think, to clear his mind of bitterness and betrayal, to disappear. Maybe he did not have enough will.




Hand of a Friend

The bed creaked behind him, moved his back as he lay there on his side. "Go away."

Apparently he could speak perfectly well. Apparently the bed — his bed, surrounded by heavy curtains — was not an island of isolated sanctuary.

"Are you all right? It's I, Regulus. You've been gone for days. I've been worried." There was a tentative hand on his shoulder.

Severus turned over. Regulus. That was all right, he grudgingly admitted. Regulus was almost like family. Your brother tried to kill me, he wanted to say, but the promise held him. "I can't tell anyone. But it was bad."

"Could you tell Mr. Malfoy? He can help you, whatever has gone wrong. Perhaps my father could help you," he offered.

"I can't tell anyone. Dumbledore made me promise." Severus pounded his fist on the bed next to him - the side without Regulus.

"Never mind." The younger boy was earnest and soothing. "This is only school. Someday we will be gone, and then we will be doing real things. We are just here to learn. The rest will go away when we leave."

This was insightful of him, because Regulus was not in the same marginal position as he was, Severus thought. He was Quidditch seeker and more. Everyone loved Regulus, not as a flashy flame like his sometime brother, to whom girls flocked like proverbial moths, but with a quieter reliance for Regulus' willingness, his thoughtfulness, his focussed work. Severus confided in him this time and accepted his offered company. "It seems such a long time."

"Mr. Malfoy says I may take the Dark Mark next year. Perhaps you can do that with me. That is a big step to the rest of our lives. The things that happen here might matter less."

That was real. Severus knew he should not allow those idiots to affect him. It was weak, no matter how dangerous, brutal or hateful they were. He could work against them, but he should not indulge himself, no matter how justified it seemed. "If they will let me in. It's an... honour, of course." He wanted it more than anything just then. It was his family, he knew. "I'd like to do that with you."

"I'm cold, Severus. I'm going to come in under the covers, all right?" It was glacial in the dungeons. Severus had always liked it, quietly appreciative. He was a little surprised at the request, but he realised that Regulus was sitting with him in his nightshirt without a dressing gown.

He moved the blankets back for him, and Regulus slipped in next to him. He put his arm around him, as he had dreamt of doing for imaginary Remus. Regulus curled his hand up out of the covers and stroked his head comfortingly. They were a little awkward, moving their arms about one another. Regulus smelled like a living boy, clean, but not of chocolate or sun. He did not mould to Severus' form like a pillow. His friend — his friend — was all pointy elbows, bony knees and cold feet, but his heart was warm and true. And he was real.

Severus was able to sleep, and the future waited for them.

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