|skitty_kat (skitty_kat) wrote,|
@ 2009-02-23 10:00:00
|Entry tags:||fic, red serpent, remus lupin, severus snape, snupin|
Fic: Red Serpent (2/12)
Title: Red Serpent (2/12)
Warnings: death, destruction, sex, violence, torture and a gratuitous explosion or two. Yikes.
Disclaimer: Harry Potter and associated characters belong to JK Rowling. James Bond was created by Ian Fleming.
Word Count: 3795 (31881 overall)
Summary: Remus Lupin is a spy, one of British Intelligence's finest, and this may be his most deadly mission yet. Armed with only his native wit and courage and assisted by the enigmatic and magnetic Severus Snape he must penetrate deep into Communist Russia to bring down the powerful Lord Voldemort.
A/n: This fic contains illustrations, set in the appropriate places within the text. Love to drachenmina for the fabulous beta.
Chapter One: M's Man
The hotel room was as Lupin could have expected. The carpet was of a durable roughness, many times cleaned and varying in hue across the room. There was a double bed, a bedside cabinet with a hideous lamp, a wardrobe whose hinge might as well have been made of cardboard and a surprisingly spacious en suite bathroom. Nothing luxurious or inspiring, but it would do.
Flipping open his suitcase, Lupin carefully palmed the item Q had given him before leaving. He proceeded to wander apparently aimlessly around the room, giving the pictures on the walls a cursory examination and gazing out of the window. Every so often the little thing would vibrate against his palm, which meant that there was some sort of surveillance in place there and Lupin would have to watch what he said. The device didn't buzz once in the bathroom, to his pleasant surprise. Satisfied, he put the thing back among his socks. The device itself was not unlike a child's Sneakoscope but without the exuberance and with a more specific purpose. It had the additional advantage of being undetectable by the very things it was detecting.
Lupin pushed off his shoes and lay back on the bed, hands linked behind his head. It was going to be a tricky adventure, he mused. The possibility of Riddle tracing any magic use back to him was too great. He was going to have to carry out this mission Muggle-style until such time as he had no choice. He didn't mind too much. Born half-Muggle, he knew the Muggle world as well as he did the wizarding. He was also no stranger to working without magic, though it always seemed odd not to use it for all the little things that made life that much easier. M, however, had been adamant and Lupin understood the reasons why. Better a creased shirt than never being able to wear a shirt again.
He sighed, rolling onto his side. He would go out soon and give Severus Snape a chance to contact him. He had travelled and booked into the hotel under a false name as it was likely that Riddle already knew his name. M had had a confident twinkle in his eye when he assured Lupin that Snape would find him. 'He's a clever man and he knows you're coming,' the old man had said. Lupin's return question about Riddle's intelligence had been answered with the assurance that Riddle would not be expecting him. Lupin remained sceptical. They were placing rather a lot of trust on the shoulders of this Severus Snape and one man had already been lost on this mission. Perhaps, Lupin pondered, M had his eye on Snape as a recruit for his Magical Intelligence department. There were precious few of them - only the best were recruited, after all - and there was not a large base of suitable wizards to start with. Knowing the limitations that being a werewolf laid on him, having to take a day or two off every month, Lupin had been surprised that he had been selected. Then again, M had found uses for a werewolf. If Snape proved both trustworthy and capable he could be an ideal candidate. Lupin snorted and pushed himself to sit up against the padded headboard. He hadn't even met the man yet and already he was employing him within the secret service! He reached into his top pocket for a cigarette, deciding to smoke some time away.
The sky outside had darkened considerably by the time Lupin pulled on his coat and went out. No rain threatened, thankfully, but a stiff breeze tugged at the flaps of his coat. It was cold and Lupin hoped he wouldn't have to wander around for too long. Catching a glimpse of a dark figure following him from the hotel, Lupin smiled a little. No, it wouldn't be too long.
'Do you have a match?'
Lupin looked up. A man stood there, an unlit cigarette between his fingers. It was Snape. The nose was as prominent as the photograph had promised, sticking out from under a fur-lined hat. A full-length, dark-coloured greatcoat was wrapped around him.
'I use a lighter,' Lupin replied, taking it out of his breast pocket.
'Better still,' said Snape, taking it from him and lighting his cigarette with a flash of yellow flame that briefly illuminated the ridges of his face.
'Until they go wrong.'
The exchange was completed. They looked at each other for a moment, each sizing the other up, and then Snape took the cigarette from his mouth and sent a perfect stream of smoke past Lupin's ear.
'This way,' he muttered, striding off down the street.
His accent was heavy and it took Lupin a few moments to understand exactly what had just been said. He hurried to catch up with the figure in its flapping greatcoat. Nothing was said as Snape led Lupin further into the Moscow darkness. They ended up in a bar; a tawdry, dim place. A portrait of Lenin hung on one wall in a heavy gilt frame. The wallpaper was peeling at the corners, grey and stained yellow with nicotine. No one sat in groups any larger than three, and there were few of those. The clientele also seemed to be exclusively male. Lupin followed Snape to sit at the far end of the bar.
'People disappear from dark corners,' Snape said, indicating some of the tables around the room with a tight nod. It was unclear as to who he was accusing but it was apparent he did not yet trust Lupin.
'So I hear,' said Lupin casually, 'especially in this part of the world.'
'Hmm.' Snape's expression was tight-lipped.
He ordered drinks for them both: vodkas. Lupin couldn't help but feel he was being subtly mocked. They drank them in silence. Snape had removed his hat and looked out at the bar from behind strings of black hair. It was, if possible, even dirtier-looking than Lupin had expected from the photograph. Finally, apparently satisfied (albeit grudgingly) Snape turned back to Lupin.
'So you are the man they've sent. I hope you've more competence than that last imbecile.'
Something inside Lupin growled. Sirius had been a friend. 'Black was a good man.'
'He still got himself killed,' Snape sneered. 'That should be some indication, should it not?'
'It's a dangerous line of work,' replied Lupin, concentrating on remaining calm. 'It can happen to the best of us.'
'Not you, though. Yet.' Snape eyed Lupin. 'Let us hope that is an indication of some intelligence. And before you ask, because I know you are thinking it, I had nothing to do with Black's death.'
'Why would I be thinking that?'
Snape gave Lupin a long, hard look. 'Can we establish that we are both intelligent men and saying things like that is a waste of time?'
Lupin smiled coldly. 'So what happened to him?'
'Dear crazy Bella. You've heard of her?'
'She enjoyed it too. She's that sort of person. Coldest bitch this side of Siberia.'
Snape sucked at his cigarette like he held a grudge against it. He scowled at the air in front of him where the smoke swirled until it dissipated.
'You aren't a fan of hers then,' Lupin commented.
'I am not,' Snape sneered, 'a fan of many of my fellow ... fellows. I would have thought you would be quite glad of that, yes?'
'Speaking of them,' said Lupin, sending more covert glances around the bar, 'will they not be curious as to why you are talking to an Englishman in such an out-of-the-way sort of place?'
A smirk curled its twisting way across Snape's mouth. He favoured Lupin with a long gaze, those black eyes sweeping across the other man's face in appraisal. He was apparently amused by what he saw.
'Well,' he began, stroking one long finger down his nose, 'my friends are more than aware of my, how to say, proclivities. They will not be at all surprised to find me in a bar with a, ah, reputation with a strange man. You understand what I am saying?'
Lupin's face went suddenly cold. This man was sitting there and practically telling him, bold as brass, that he was a deviant. Had M known what sort of person he had sent him to meet?
'Of course I understand,' he said stiffly.
Snape's smile showed crooked teeth. 'Excellent,' he said softly. 'As long as we understand each other.'
'Do we?' asked Lupin, leaning his back against the bar and forcing himself to remain calm.
'You'd be surprised at what I understand about you,' said Snape calmly.
'Been doing some research, have you?' Lupin couldn't help himself from pushing at the amused calm the man wore like regal robes. 'I gather your boss is rather good on the information front.'
'Not as good as he thinks. He doesn't know much about you. Oh, he knows your name and your occupation but he doesn't know who you are or what you look like. He doesn't know you're here either, let alone anything more about you.'
Lupin crossed his legs slowly, keeping a casual air. 'So what have you found out about me?'
'Some. You'll have to wait and see. I expect you've been told much about me.'
'Some,' replied Lupin, matching Snape's tone. 'As much as my employers have seen fit to tell me.'
They were both silent for a few moments. Lupin’s eyes swept the bar again, noticing again how there was a definite lack of female drinkers.
‘This place,’ he began.
‘Is a place where men come to meet other men, yes,’ said Snape. 'Which means that there are quite a few people who would like to keep it a secret place untroubled by surveillance, understand? Everyone here has a mutual interest in staying below the radar. None of us would care to sample the hospitality of our esteemed police.'
'Would your boss not bail you out of trouble?'
Snape pursed his lips. 'Probably. Eventually. He wouldn't be very happy about it. I prefer to stay on his good side, if I can. He can be temperamental.'
'Temperamental in what way?'
'Quick to anger. Violent. Vindictive for sure. And he's got quite the sadistic streak.' Snape shrugged a little too casually. 'Not a nice man, for all that he can appear to be one. Those he keeps around him are just as bad, if not worse in some ways - I already told you about Bella. They're his inner circle; the closest to him in the entire organisation. There's Rodolphus Lestrange, Bella's husband, his brother Rabastan, and Lucius Malfoy.' Snape's voice had dropped to little more than a murmur as he gave Lupin the names. 'I haven't made it that far up the hierarchy. All men are equal - hah! Riddle only believes that when it suits him.'
'You sound a little bitter about that,' commented Lupin dryly.
'I know I'm cleverer than most of them put together. But I don't have the influence that the others do, so I haven't been as important to him.' Snape signalled to the barman for another drink, continuing only when the man had returned to the other end of the bar. 'I'm useful because I'm clever but I'm not important. Not to him.'
An ambitious man, Lupin realised. A man with his ambitions thwarted and stymied who had, in his frustration, turned traitor in revenge. Lupin wondered whether this was Snape's only reason for turning against Riddle.
'Is that why you're working against him?' he questioned softly, keeping his tone mild. 'Because you aren't getting the recognition you think you deserve?'
Snape's eyes narrowed. 'Do you think I'm that shallow?' He sighed. 'Please assure yourself that I do indeed have my reasons for this and that they are not all entirely self-serving.' He smirked. 'Only some of them.'
The corner of Lupin's mouth twitched. He glanced along the bar, noticing that there were more people at it than previously. The barman moved no faster but no one was complaining. It was a quiet, furtive place. There were more people in the room too now, though it could hardly have been called busy before. He flicked his attention back when Snape moved beside him, and was suddenly a little unnerved by the man's actions.
Snape laid a bony hand on Lupin’s thigh, leaning his upper body across at an angle. Cigarette smoke rolled from his nose in two streams to dissipate into the fug that already surrounded them both. The pressure on Lupin’s thigh increased and Snape’s nose brushed his cheek.
‘There are too many people here,’ Snape murmured, directly into Lupin’s ear. ‘I suggest that we move this discussion elsewhere.’
‘Another bar?’ asked Lupin.
‘Your hotel room,’ said Snape coolly.
He turned his face away from Lupin to take another drag from his cigarette. Thin lips pursed slightly as he inhaled and the black eyes closed for a moment, savouring its taste. Then a small black slit of mouth opened and tendrils of smoke curled out in the most delicate of spirals. Snape’s eyes half-opened and glanced sideways at Lupin.
‘Well?’ he asked, dispelling the filigree patterns that had gathered around his mouth.
Lupin steeled himself and slid a hand across to rest against Snape’s back. He could feel a tension there that was not betrayed by the steady hands and smooth voice. ‘Let’s go,’ he said.
He thought that for the briefest moment a smile had flicked the corners of that thin mouth up but it was gone as Snape pushed himself upright. The Russian turned on his stool before sliding elegantly off it and heading for the door, not so much as turning his head to see if his companion followed. Lupin did so, admiring the brash confidence with which Snape moved. He had seen many good operators in his time and Severus Snape – cool, bold and clever – was shaping up to be one of them. Time would tell though, he cautioned himself. Double agents were always to be handled with care; already being traitors to one side made their loyalties always questionable. And there was also his apparent homosexuality to consider. What sort of man would he be in the field?
They took a taxi across town. Snape leaned forward to tell the driver their destination in a quick burst of Russian. He sat back again as they drove off.
‘You know where I’m staying?’ asked Lupin in English, not mentioning that he had seen Snape follow him from the hotel.
‘But of course,’ came the enigmatic reply.
They went the rest of the way in silence. The lights were on in Moscow and their glittering brightness distracted from its usual grey dullness. Small flakes of snow were in the air and were quickly knocked aside by the taxi’s battered windscreen wipers. The cab itself was rattling and shuddering like it had little more to give. Lupin’s eyes were drawn to the obvious repairs to the floor by his feet, apparently constructed with tarpaulin and electrical tape. Life was not so rosy in the glorious Soviet empire.
Snape sat straight upright, unperturbed by the occasional bangs of the engine misfiring. When the taxi arrived at the hotel he gestured at Lupin to pay the driver. Lupin did so, stepping out of the taxi with a certain feeling of relief. On the street in front Snape paused and caught Lupin’s sleeve with one long hand.
‘Surveillance?’ he asked.
‘Some,’ said Lupin, ‘though not in the bathroom.’
Snape smiled as they walked through the lobby doors. ‘Perfect.’
They rode up in the lift in silence. The carpet, once a bright red, had dark worn-out patches from the traffic of so many people’s feet. Lupin shifted his own feet on it, stuffing his hands in his pockets. The lift jerked to a stop with a ding. Snape led the way to Lupin’s room with long strides, stopping with a smirk to allow Lupin to open it.
‘What, not copied my key as well?’ Lupin asked before he pushed the door open.
‘Not yet.’ Snape followed him in. ‘I thought that would be rude, for a first meeting.’
He shrugged his black coat from his shoulders and slid it off long arms. He draped it over the back of a chair. Lupin pulled off his own overcoat and threw it to the same place. It slid a little, almost dropping to the floor in an untidy heap. Lupin caught it, laying it neatly over Snape’s before loosening his tie and undoing the top two buttons of his shirt.
‘So what do we do now?’ he asked.
‘I would rather enjoy a shower,’ replied Snape, leading the way into the bathroom with a rather imperious sideways glance.
The fittings, as Lupin had noted before, were as utilitarian as was to be expected, in stained white porcelain. The shower was old but made plenty of noise. With it running and the door shut not even the most sophisticated of listening devices in the next room could have picked up a single word. Lupin seated himself on the closed toilet lid. Snape leaned against the sink, lighting a cigarette with a flash of flame. It was his lighter, Lupin realised suddenly, wondering just when Snape had pinched it.
'So,' said Snape, 'where were we?'
Lupin had the distinct impression that Snape remembered exactly where their conversation had left off in the bar and was using the opportunity to test him. Two could play at that game, he thought. Time to lead with a forehand stroke.
'We were discussing you,' he replied evenly, 'and your motives.'
'Of course.' Snape inclined his head, face dipping briefly behind lank curtains of hair. 'I am, naturally, flattered by your interest in me.'
A backhand return, no doubt about it. Lupin volleyed back, straight at the centre.
'Why did you come to us? Do you have no belief in your glorious Communist state?'
Snape's fingers twitched around his cigarette. 'I did.'
'But not anymore.' Lupin raised an eyebrow. 'Why?'
'Because,' said Snape, crossing his legs right over left and blowing out an elegant stream of smoke, 'Communism doesn't work. It doesn't work because people are stupid and people are greedy. The stupid people quickly find themselves screwed over by the opportunistic grabbing bastards who, through being a little cleverer in such matters and a lot more ambitious, have elbowed their way into the positions of power.' He sighed. 'It is a brilliant idea intellectually, of course, but it fails to take into account the imbecility of people.' He snorted. 'I eagerly await the bourgeois, capitalist hellhole of Britain.'
'It's still got greedy, grabbing bastards.'
'Ah, but at least they are not pretending otherwise. I would rather a hundred fat businessmen than one over-important factory owner.'
Lupin smiled. 'Talk to me about Riddle.'
'Most of what you need to know I would think your bosses will have provided. He is clever, dangerous and ambitious. Russia is too small for him. It is a big country, yes, but its potential is too small. He is unscrupulous, can be incredibly cruel and is a total bastard.'
'Yet you still joined him.'
'Sometimes the world needs bastards.'
'And what was Black's plan? It obviously didn't go very well.'
'Ah, yes, speaking of bastards...' Snape snorted. 'It would have gone just fine had the idiot listened to me.' He held up a hand as Lupin tried to protest. 'Yes, I know one should not speak ill of the dead but the man was a fool. An arrogant, stuck-up, conceited fool. If he had followed my instructions maybe he wouldn't be dead now.' He paused. 'Or maybe he would. I am still a little unclear as to how much Riddle was expecting of that attack.'
'Attack?' asked Lupin. He was fuming inside at the slights to his dead friend but kept his exterior polite.
Snape nodded. 'Poison,' he said. 'But, thanks to Black's bungling, not enough. I know about poisons, I would have succeeded, but Black's insistence on it being his task and his subsequent incompetence blew that one.' His mouth twisted. 'Still, it made all of Riddle's hair fall out. A rather entertaining consequence, at least.'
'But not worth Black's life.'
Snape shrugged. 'I suppose not.'
Lupin nearly hit him. He managed to contain the urge into an involuntary twitch in his right hand.
'I told him,' Snape continued, 'that Riddle knew his way with poisons. The man has a giant pet snake, for God's sake. But Black never wanted to listen to me. Clearly, I was beneath him.'
Lupin bit down the retort he wanted to give. 'And you haven't tried killing him again?'
'Somewhat understandably, he's tightened his security since. Besides, I think he's working on something big.' Snape stubbed out his cigarette on the porcelain behind him. It left a mark; a brown-black smudge like a filthy fingerprint. 'I say think. I mean, I know that he is. I don't know details. I probably shouldn't know anything about it at all but word gets around. I am good at finding things out. I can make people tell me things.'
'Ve haf vays of makink you talk?' asked Lupin with a faint grin.
Snape glared at him. 'Are you mocking me?'
'Perhaps a little,' said Lupin. He smiled genially and spread his hands in an appeasing gesture.
That was why M sent him. Snape was clearly touchy and quick to anger. Black, who had quite a volatile personality himself when provoked, had been the wrong person to match up with this prickly Russian. Lupin, by contrast, seemed quiet and unassuming. James Potter, M's chief-of-staff and a good friend of Lupin's, had once described him as 'The Beige Blur' after hearing Stalin's old Party nickname of 'The Grey Blur.' Lupin had laughed politely and, a little time later, persuaded Potter's rotund little secretary to interrupt Potter's evening (a date with that firecracker Miss Evans) with as many unimportant phone calls as possible.
Snape barely seemed mollified, though, and still glared at Lupin.
'So we need more information,' Lupin continued, passing over the joke fallen flat.
Snape nodded slowly. 'We might try Riddle's private meeting room. Only the inner circle are allowed in there usually. If there is anything of importance, it will be there.' He fidgeted slightly, re-crossing his legs left over right and pulling out a fresh cigarette. 'Of course if we're found that'll be it for us.'
'Then we won't be found. When would be the best time?'
'Tomorrow night.' Snape lit his cigarette, pocketing Lupin's lighter with a faint smirk. 'I'll meet you in the hotel lobby at seven. You can buy me dinner.'
Chapter Three: Dinner For Two