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A More Merciful Man by Berkana [Reviews - 7]

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By that Friday, Snape was in an especially terrible mood, in part because he of course missed Jane. He considered this entirely her fault, especially since she did not hesitate to proffer him coy, inviting little smiles at every opportunity. Yet, oddly enough, even more than Jane, he missed the company of Remus John Lupin. Usually, it took three days after the first full moon before Lupin was fully human again, and then another three before he felt well enough to do anything but teach his classes. So Snape was not unhappy at all when Lupin appeared at his door on Friday. He scowled, but opened his door straightaway.

Almost immediately, however, Snape suspected something was awry. Lupin brought a fresh batch of the rare white tea again, and on the tray was also a gold foil box from the most expensive candy shop on Diagon Alley. Quintessence Quixotic Confections, read the delicate velvet letters on the box, which were edged in genuine gold leaf.

These were no ordinary chocolates. Each piece was especially enchanted, with subtle charms or magical ingredients. They weren’t the ordinary sorts of magical candies that made one briefly breathe fire or flossed one’s teeth. The enchantments were more elaborate and more nuanced. The chocolates cost about a galleon apiece, an enormous extravagance for almost anyone, but it was universally agreed that they were worth it. The only reason Snape had any experience of them at all was that Minerva had gifted him with a small box two Christmases previous. She had chosen one of the shop’s specialties, “Ghost Fairy Truffles.” His had all been black Ghost Fairy Truffles, because Snape preferred the darkest chocolate. But there were also brown Ghost Fairy Truffles (milk chocolate), red ghost Fairy Truffles (cherry), green Ghost Fairy Truffles (mint), and probably every other color one could assign a flavor to. The truffles were, of course, excellent, though one could procure a very fine truffle for a fifth the price. However an ordinary truffle was not “haunted” by a ghost fairy, a ghost fairy that was released when the chocolate interacted with saliva. The fairy (a mere charmed apparition, but certainly an interesting one) then haunted the place where the chocolate had been eaten, sometimes for a week or more. Snape, who kept abreast of the latest magical developments even when they applied to chocolate, had been sure to eat his in the Great Hall, where they took to pestering Nearly Headless Nick until they finally disappeared.

Lupin poured the tea and uncovered the chocolates, which were not Ghost Fairy Truffles at all but solid squares of dark chocolate, meticulously decorated with a Slytherin crest that softly glowed silver and green.

“These are new…” Lupin said. “Try one.”

Instead, Snape crossed his arms in front of his chest.

“Out with it,” he said.

Lupin looked up, affecting innocence, which Snape considered a very bad sign.

“Pardon?”

Snape gestured at the tray. “Expensive tea. Even more expensive chocolate, all for me, obviously. Either you have bad news or you want a favor. So, out with it.”

“Can’t it just be an early-ish birthday present?” Lupin asked, with a hopefulness that made Snape’s blood run cold. Obviously something was terribly wrong.

Snape glared harder, and finally Lupin began sputtering.

“Well, there’s no easy way to say this, Severus, and I wanted you to hear it from me first before the news appears in the Prophet tomorrow.”

Oh, my. This was very bad news indeed. “Out with it!” Snape practically shouted.

There was a long silence, during which Lupin refused to meet Snape’s eyes.

“I’m afraid I’m to be awarded the Order of Merlin,” he mumbled, at last.

Snape’s mouth fell open. “Order of Merlin?” he whispered.

“Now, it’s completely arbitrary, who the Ministry gives them to, you know that...”

Snape’s mind was suddenly a blank. He did not know what to feel.

“That dandy Lockhart has one, for all the good it did him. It’s more a popularity contest than anything else. It’s that business with Greyback, I suppose. And I think the Ministry is trying to make a statement that it intends to be more tolerant of werewolves in general. A good thing, I suppose, but little to do with me personally.”

As he spoke, Lupin was nervously spooning far too much sugar into his tea, which he followed with far too much milk.

“What class?” Snape asked softly, but Lupin didn’t seem to be listening.

“Sirius used to say that his grandfather bought his. Certainly he didn’t do anything to deserve it.”

“What class?” Snape asked again.

“And Fudge? He’s an idiot, pure and simple. All he cares about is money and influence. I mean, really, Severus, I…”

What class?” Snape shouted, banging his fist on the table.

There was another long silence. Then, “First…” Lupin whispered to his tea.

“First…” Snape repeated slowly. His voice sounded disembodied to him.

“No one of any importance takes it seriously, and…”

“In pure point of fact everyone of any importance takes the Order of Merlin very seriously,” Snape said, his voice low.

Lupin began to look profoundly worried. “I know how you’re bound to feel about this…” he started, “but really it’s nothing to get upset over.”

“You know nothing of what I feel, Lupin,” Snape said. “Nothing at all.” Which was quite true, as Snape did not know what he was feeling himself.

“Of course it’s terribly unfair you haven’t gotten one,” Lupin continued (it seemed quite obvious to Snape that he had rehearsed this speech, and would not hold off until it was complete). “You should have got one straightaway after Voldemort was killed, everyone knows that…”

“Perhaps they’ll award Pettigrew one posthumously,” Snape said icily, “or rather, another one…”

Lupin pursed his lips. “Severus, I know this has to rankle and I don’t blame you one bit, but…”

“Well, thank you so much, Lupin,” Snape’s voice was dripping with sarcasm, “for not blaming me for the fact that the entire Wizarding world deems me unworthy. My mind is completely at ease now. ”

The truth was, the more Lupin tried to explain and apologize and empathize, the angrier and more affronted Snape became. That award, and the generous monetary bestowal that went with it (of which there would be plenty left, even after the tea and the chocolate), should have been his.

“Sarcasm isn’t necessary, Severus,” Lupin said. “I already feel bad enough.”

But Snape had finally worked himself up into a righteous fury. “You feel bad?” he was shouting again. “I am the one who sacrificed myself for years, who lived in constant danger. I knew Greyback! He was merely the Dark Lord’s pet! He was nothing compared to Lord Voldemort himself! Nothing!”

Lupin looked up from his tea at last. “I know that, Severus,” he said softly, “I know.”

Remus Lupin’s eyes were suddenly shining, and Snape had the uncomfortable feeling that the man was about to blink back tears. In those eyes was a great sympathy for him, and a boundless concern, and Snape felt ashamed, and furious, and touched all at the same time.

“What do I get, then, Lupin?” he asked, his voice almost a whisper. “What do I get?”

Lupin smiled, and then bit his lip. “Not much, really. Tea. And chocolates. And…” He trailed off then, making a vague back and forth motion with his hand that was supposed to indicate that Snape had Lupin’s friendship as well. At this Snape looked away.

“I mean it’s not the Order of Merlin, but…”

Snape finally glanced down at the box which Lupin had slid in front of him, the box of chocolates that rested beside a cup of the steaming tea. At times Snape wished that Lupin would put up more of a fight. But this was not one of those times, and it suddenly seemed silly to punish one so intent on punishing himself.

“I suppose they will have to do…” Snape sighed at last, and as he put the first chocolate in his mouth, a great silver snake swam out of the top of his head, and undulating and hissing softly, seemed to swim through the empty air, making its way to the top of the bookcase, where it curled around a bowl of puffer-fish eyes, and went to sleep.

“He’s guaranteed to stay for three days at least,” Lupin volunteered, quite happy to change the subject. “He’s most active at night, though.”

“Welcome company, considering the mood I’m in,” Snape answered, again not sure what mood he was in at all.

In unison, the two men sighed, and for awhile both were silent.

Then, into that comfortable silence sailed an owl, a great black owl that dropped a folder onto Snape’s desk, and then was gone. Snape marked that the folder seemed identical to the one that Snape had hurled at Malfoy’s feet, just weeks before.

Snape and Lupin exchanged a significant look.

“Aren’t you going to ask me to leave,” Lupin asked, quirking up an eyebrow, “so you can look at whatever this is in privacy?”

Despite everything Snape found himself unwilling to relinquish Lupin’s company. “No,” he said, “as I don’t intend to look at it at all.”

Lupin cocked his head. “You know what it is, then?”

“I have my suspicions,” Snape replied, poking at the edge of the folder with a long finger.

“Mind sharing them?”

Snape took a deep breath. “It’s another marriage contract, if I’m not mistaken. Malfoy no doubt still intends to pledge me to some worthless parasite of a female. She is rich, perhaps, but absolutely unbearable in every other way.”

“No doubt you’re entirely correct,” Lupin said, a bit too quickly. At this Snape’s suspicions were raised. It was not that long ago that Lupin had suggested that perhaps the woman would be rich, and powerful, and beautiful as well. Obviously he didn’t want Snape to open the folder, which of course made Snape more interested in its contents.

Lupin was tapping at the folder now. “Maybe it’s Dorothea Goyle!” he said.

Snape winced inwardly. “She has a beard!”

Lupin’s expression was subtly manipulative now. “Or Fenestra Caxley. I wouldn’t put it past Malfoy. I mean, her nose…well it’s the most oddly shaped nose in all of England! And she smells like cabbage soup!”

“Indeed,” Snape intoned.

“So, erm…I’ll just take this and dispose of it for you…I mean, if this is a joke meant at your expense, the last thing you need is to get yourself all worked up about it. I’ll be bringing the tea and chocolates to you in Azkaban, and even without the Dementors it’s not a pleasant place.”

“Open it,” Snape stated flatly.

“What?”

“Open it. Your attempts at manipulation are transparent, Lupin. Obviously you don’t want me to see what’s in there not because you’re afraid I’ll be insulted, but because you’re afraid I’ll be tempted. Open it.”

Lupin bit his lip. “Severus, you’ve stated plainly that you have no intention of going along with Lucius Malfoy’s plan, and now that you’re seeing Jane…”

“Open it!” Snape shouted. Lupin obeyed, and Snape watched his face for a sign as the werewolf reluctantly leafed through and studied its contents.

“Well?” Snape asked at last. “Is it…”

“The standard Slytherin marriage contract,” Lupin continued for him, “signed in green ink by the arbitrator, the consort, and three witnesses. The arbitrator is Malfoy, as you expected.”

Snape raised an eyebrow. “And the consort?”

Lupin at first did not reply, and he kept his eyes on the folder. Snape began to think that Malfoy’s choice was even more odious than Goyle or Caxley. The only woman alive fitting that description was Dolores Umbridge, and Snape resolved grimly to himself that if her name was listed as the consort, Malfoy would simply have to die, no matter what the consequences.

“Well? Who the bloody hell is she?” Snape demanded at last.

Lupin finally looked up at him, with an expression of mingled fear and shock, then handed him the folder, which Snape took with nerveless fingers. He had already seen the answer in Lupin’s eyes.

“Princilla Gash,” Snape breathed, not even looking at the contract.

She of the grievance against Jane. She of the coy smiles and alabaster angles. She, daughter of immensely wealthy Roland and Sylvestra Gash, of the noblest wizard blood that was.

“Princilla Gash…” Snape repeated, as he watched the blood drain from Lupin’s face, and as he felt the blood rushing to his own.

A More Merciful Man by Berkana [Reviews - 7]

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