Awake
by Vignette
Rating: PG
Fandom: Harry Potter set during POA
Disclaimer: I don't own any of this and no harm is intended

Tiptoe. One foot after the other. Softly, silently along the grass. He mustn't disturb the stillness; not now that he was so close to the tree. He could see the knot at the base more clearly now, the place where Black had told him to touch. There wasn't far to travel now, a few more tentative, gentle steps and he would be there.

The stick he had placed on the ground the day before lay exactly where he had left it. Carefully, he picked it up and held it by the very tip. He sent it in a steady, straight line into the knot, being mindful of avoiding any other part of the tree. Still, as the stick passed the drooping branches on the willow, they began to whip against the twilight air. As soon as the stick touched the knot, however, the branches froze. Smiling to himself, he dropped the stick and walked towards the trap door. It creaked as he opened it upwards. Lowering himself so that he was perched on the edge with his legs dangling into the hole, he dropped down into the darkness.

He lit his wand and began to walk down the tunnel towards what looked like a small door. But he had barely taken three steps before he heard another thud, another pair of feet landing on the hard ground. He spun around to face his pursuer, who cried out, "Snape! Stop!"

"Go away, Potter, before I curse you back to whatever hole you crawled out of!"

"No, I can't let you carry on." Potter was gasping for breath; he must have sprinted all the way from Gryffindor Tower.

"Why not? Scared I'll discover your little secret?"

"No, it's because it's dangerous! Go in there and you'll be killed."

"Is this all part of the joke?"

"Severus, will you listen?" It was the first time he could remember Potter using his Christian name. It was not a pleasurable experience; the word grated like steel on porcelain. "I don't know what Sirius told you that you would find, but it isn't worth the risk."

He carried on walking towards the door, regardless of Potter's warning, calling back, "I'm going to find out the truth about where Lupin goes every month, Potter, no matter what you say to me."

"For Merlin's sake, Severus!" Potter had grabbed on to his arm now. He tried to wrench it free but to no avail; Potter clung on as if his own life depended on it.

"Let go of me, Potter!"

"No!" Potter yelled. "If you want to know, I'll... I'll even tell you myself. Just don't go any further."

They were only a few steps from the door now. If he reached out, he could touch the handle, open the door. But then, fleetingly, he glimpsed something between boards that had been nailed to cover up where a window had once been. Something moving. He knew Potter's eyes were on it too. The thing moved back into view, he could see it more clearly now; it was Lupin.

Lupin stood alone, shivering, a haunted look in his amber eyes. He could not keep still; he was constant pacing in a small circle. There was an air of expectancy about Lupin; something was about to happen. He reached for the handle. Potter grabbed at his other arm, crying in an urgent whisper;

"You can't! He's a..."

Through the boards, he could see the light in the room change. The sun must have dipped below the horizon. Simultaneously, the three boys cried out. Lupin, in the shack, screamed in pain and his body transformed and his soul ripped through itself. Potter shouted in anguish, for the betrayal of a friend and a secret he had failed to keep. And he cried out in terror; it was the worst thing he had ever seen.

*

Severus Snape awoke suddenly, his heart feeling as if it were about to break out of his chest. His body was tensed, ready to be dragged away from the Shrieking Shack by Potter, who, in a quivering voice, was trying to make him promise to keep what he had seen a secret. Then ready to be caught be Slughorn, who found them wandering the grounds, both pale and shaking, and had marched them off to Dumbledore's office. He always woke up at the same moment from that dream. And it was always the same dream, whenever he was strained over something, as he knew he had been since Black had broken in to Hogwarts two days ago. Strange, after all the dark things he had seen, that this was the moment that came back to haunt him again and again.

It would only get worse now that he was forced to face Lupin again, every single day for at least a school year. Juts as he was getting used to having heroic Harry Potter as a constant reminder of his own less-that-successful school days, the summer had brought him the duel prospect of Lupin and Black to deal with. Now all he needed was for the ghost of Peter Pettigrew to make an appearance and the fantastic four would be almost complete. Snape rolled over to look at the clock on his bedside table; it was only eleven-thirty. He had turned in early, hoping to stop himself dwelling on things, but it seemed he had managed to sleep for less than an hour before the dream had woken him up. Now that he was awake, Severus knew that it would be hours before the inclination to sleep came to him again.

Inwardly cursing everyone from Dumbledore, for hiring Lupin in the first place, to the incompetent Azkaban guards that let Black escape, Snape got out of bed and pulled on his dressing gown. He walked back into his study, pointing his wand at a few candles to illuminate them as he did so. He would put the kettle on, he decided, give himself something to do. Then perhaps he could bore himself to sleep by marking some of his student's worthless essays.

But a noise outside the door made him stop in his tracks. Soundlessly, Snape extinguished all the candles and lit his wand with a soft white glow. He listened again. It was a sort of shuffling, snuffling sound. Slowly, Snape turned the handle and pulled the door open. His wand cast light into the corridor. Standing outside was a man, also wearing pyjamas and a dressing gown.

"Lupin, what are you doing outside my office?" Snape asked accusingly. The sight of Lupin had shocked him, it had dragged him back into his dream. Snape couldn't focus on him; Lupin kept fading into his fifteen year old self, and consequently he too felt like he was again adolescent, awkward and painfully self-conscious.

"Good evening, Severus," Lupin replied. "I couldn't sleep and I needed to speak to you." By wand-light his face looked even paler than when he had arrived, directly after the full moon, and there were dark circles under his eyes.

"You needed to speak to me in the middle of the night?"

"Yes, I did," Lupin said with a slight smile. "I guessed you might still be awake."

"And why is that?" Severus interrupted.

"You and I were the only people Madame Pince ever had to throw out of the library when it closed," Lupin said, sounding almost nostalgic.

"No," said Snape witheringly. "Why is it you wanted to see me?" Lupin didn't get a chance to reply. Before he could do so, he closed his eyes and sneezed twice, violently, into his sleeve.

"Hih-ishuhh! Hih-yishhuhh!" Lupin groaned softly. He pulled a handkerchief from the pocket of his dressing gown and, turning away from Snape, blew his nose wetly. Replacing the handkerchief, he sighed. This was clearly not the first time this had happened this evening.

"Excuse me," he apologised. "I seem to have caught a cold," he explained, unnecessarily.

"And you were looking for directions to the hospital wing?" Snape asked caustically. Lupin shook his head.

"I read that information you sent me on the Wolfsbane Potion..."

"Really? Wonders will never cease."

"...And I can't take any of Madame Pomfrey's remedies with it," Lupin continued, pausing to sniffle again. "So I was wondering if you could recommend something that I could brew myself which would help."

"Lupin, the only potions I know that you could brew yourself would be from a first year textbook," Snape told him. But nevertheless he opened the door wider and beckoned Lupin in. Entering Snape's rooms, Lupin allowed himself to glance around.

"You have a nice office," he commented without a hint of malice, his eyes running over the stone walls.

"I suppose they give better rooms to competent teachers," Snape retorted, finally putting the kettle on to boil. Lupin did not notice the slight, however. A dazed look had entered his amber eyes and he had drawn his handkerchief out in readiness.

"Ihh.... Hishhuhh! Ishhuhh! Hih-ishihh!" he sneezed. Noticing that Snape was watching him, Lupin decided wiping his nose would suffice. "Excuse be," he said stuffily, sniffing hard to clear his nose. An awkward silence descended, which Lupin attempted to break. "I can't believe that I'm already ill. I've been here less than a month."

"I wouldn't have thought anything less of you, Lupin," he replied. "However, I do see it as a new personal low for you to come to me for help."

"I simply thought you were the best person to advise me," Lupin said unruffled. This calmness irritated Snape even further. "Besides," added Lupin. "You are helping me."

"Only because if I don't help you now, Dumbledore will make me tomorrow morning," Snape replied as the kettle came to the boil. Then he retrieved several large glass jars from the shelf above him, each one containing a different dried substance. By eye, he measured out the quantities of each into a tea pot and added the boiling water. With some encouragement from his wand, the liquid began to swirl anti-clockwise. After half a minute, Snape poured the hot liquid into two mugs, in which it continued to stir itself hypnotically.

"Drink this," Snape said, placing a mug in front of Lupin. "It won't cure your cold, but it will ease the symptoms."

"Thank you," said Lupin gratefully, taking a sip. Immediately after doing so, his nose twitched and he inhaled sharply. "Hihshuhh!" he sneezed again into his now very crumpled handkerchief. "Hihtishuh! Hihtishh! Ihhtishhh!" He groaned and scrubbed at his nose. "Id certainly geds rid of the tickles," he said thickly, before blowing his nose.

"Urgh... Excuse be," he added, sounding no less stuffed than before. Snape rolled his eyes and took a sip of his own tea. He hoped that the herbs he'd added to aid sleep would have some effect on him. He stood up and crossed back over to the counter where the jars still stood. "I do abbreciate this," Lupin said, taking another sip.

"Don't think I've gone to any trouble over you, Lupin. Any half-way decent third year could have worked this potion out."

"You cad use by first nabe, you know," Lupin said, suddenly.

"I don't think so," Snape replied curtly.

"School was... id was a very long tibe ago."

"You really think what you are your little friends did then bothers me now?" Snape spat, throwing Lupin a disdainful look. He turned back to the jars, from which he was taking herbs and placing them into a small pouch. "You should learn not to dwell on the past."

"I subbose you're right," Lupin said, his tone of voice conveying that he was only trying to avoid an arguement. He eyelids fluttered and he sniffed deeply. "Nod agaid... hhih.. Hih-ishhuhh! Ihh-hishuhh! Ihhtschuhh!" Snape pretended not to notice the series of wet blows that followed.

"Drink this every four hours," he explained when Lupin had finished, placing the small bag in front him. "All you have to do is add a pinch to boiling water and stir anti-clockwise." His tone implied that even Lupin should be able to manage such simple instructions.

"Thank you," said Lupin, sounding much clearer than he had done a few moments before. He smiled at this. "It seems to be working," he added.

"Did you doubt the effectiveness of my potions, Lupin?"

"Not at all, Severus." Snape flinched at the use of his first name; it was another reminder of the dream. He almost expected the man in front of him to transform that instant. "After all," Lupin continued. "I'm trusting you about the Wolfsbane Potion." Lupin looked as if he were about to add something else, but another set of sneezes cut him off. "Hhh...huh-ishhuh! Hihhushhh!" Lupin held his handkerchief up to his face as if expecting a third, but it never materialised. He sighed heavily, replaced the handkerchief in his pocket and took another sip of his drink. "We're all on the same side now, Severus," he said, finally.

"Yes, but are we?" Snape replied, sitting down opposite Lupin and staring into his amber eyes. "Some of us have, shall we say, divided loyalties."

"I thought you said school friendships didn't bother you," Lupin replied, not breaking Snape's gaze.

"You and Black were very close friends."

"I won't deny it," Lupin said flatly. "But I haven't been friends with Sirius since the day he killed my other three best friends. There are certain things you can't forgive or forget. Then again, there are other things, like petty schoolboy rivalries, that you should," he finished pointedly. Snape wanted to tell him that it was easier said than done. No, he wanted to shake Lupin very hard, but that was not an option. Fortunately he was saved having to think up a more mature reply by another volley of sneezes that overcame Lupin. It seemed they were evading the ingredient designed to suppress them.

"Hiih-shiihh! Hihkishishh!" Lupin scrubbed at his nose again and smiled wryly. "Excuse me. I must seem quite ridiculous," he said, seeming embarrassed at this continued loss of control. Suddenly Severus felt very uncomfortable, as if he ought to say something at least mildly mitigating. Desperately, he sought for relevant words.

"A reduced immune system is common to all werewolves immediately before and after the full moon. It's to be expected," he said slowly, as if the words were painful. Lupin's smile became warmer and his eyes soften, almost as if he understood the effort such a statement had taken. Such empathy unnerved Snape; he had obviously become lax at disguising his own thoughts. "Still," he continued briskly. "That is no excuse for not helping yourself. Any sensible person would be in bed."

"As always, Severus, you are absolutely right." Lupin drank the last of his tea, picked up the small bag of herbs and stood up. "Stirred anti clockwise every... how many hours?"

"I was under the impression you had a head cold, not amnesia," Snape said cruelly. "Every four hours; it's simple enough."

"Of course, forgive me" said Lupin, his tone of voice coming close to suggesting that he had only asked the question to play with Snape, knowing how it would rile him. "Thank you again, Severus."

"Don't mention it," Snape grumbled, closing the door behind him. He stood still for a moment and listened to Lupin's footsteps fade away down the corridor. Satisfied that he was now alone for the evening, Snape flicked his wand and the cups cleared themselves away. As the crockery zipped back onto the shelves, a forceful yawn crept over him and suddenly his eyelids felt heavy. Yes, he thought to himself, the potion certainly worked.


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