Padfoot woke up feeling the warmth of another’s body next to him. Snape was breathing in and out, deeply and evenly. Snape’s fingers were buried in the dog’s fur, in a mindless half-stroking, half-tugging.
Padfoot sighed and rested his chin on Snape’s bony shoulder. He loved mornings like this –
mornings when he could be his canine self for just a bit longer, enjoy the absent caresses of Snape’s hand.
Life was much simpler that way – approaching the monochrome, with nothing but the instincts and the scents, and the desire to feel someone’s touch.
Snape’s hand stroked the dog’s back again.
Padfoot stretched out. A deep, pitiful whimper emerged from his throat, and he caught it before it could turn into a howl.
He wanted to howl more and more lately – and that just wouldn’t do.
Perhaps, it was time to return to his human self.
Sirius opened his eyes and sat up. The tent was tiny, barely enough for two. Then again, Snape didn’t take up much space – no matter how well Sirius took care of him, he remained a scrawny walking stick of a man.
Sirius unzipped the tent door and poked his head out. It must have rained at night: the fly shed copious cold droplets on his head. Sirius huffed and crawled back to Snape.
“Wake up, lazybones. Wake up, I say. It’s a new day.”
He shook Snape’s shoulder and then pulled up the eyelid of his right eye unceremoniously. The eye opened, but its stare was blank and lifeless, as always. The left eye was a mess of scar tissue, a hollow eye socket, the lid torn off.
“Up!” Sirius said. “Up, you lazy, good-for-nothing sod. It’s time to walk. And yes, I’ll carry all the shit on my own back like a pack mule. You really have it good, you know.”
No reply came, of course.
Sirius gritted his teeth. He’d give anything now, anything at all – for a snide remark, for a punch to the face, for a good tussle in the damp autumn leaves.
Snape’s body sagged in Sirius’ arms like a rag doll, but Sirius was patient, guiding Snape to sit up, unzipping the sleeping bag around him, pulling him out of the tent into a clearing between the tall cedar trees.
Sirius flicked his wand to cast a drying charm on the tent and scowled when nothing happened. He still couldn’t get used to this: to magic not working in these woods, to being unable to Apparate. Some said this particular forest was imbued with a magic of its own, and perceived any foreign kind of wizardry as an insult. Others claimed it was the intricate network of defensive charms and incantations established by the Institute to prevent someone else’s wandwork.
Either way, the only thing left now was walking.
“Today is the last day,” Sirius said. “And no, I don’t want to hear any snide remarks about how I got us both lost in the wilderness and how we’ll never make it. I know exactly what I’m doing.”
Snape’s face remained completely expressionless, as it had been for the past two years.
“Fuck you, Snape,” Sirius said. “A bit of reaction now and then would be nice. But you know what – just fuck you.”
He unpacked the food sack and pulled out the food bars, stuffed one of them into Snape’s lifeless hand.
For a brief moment, Snape’s hand clutched at the food bar, and then, it slipped out of his fingers and fell to the ground.
For another brief moment, Sirius was truly terrified. It had taken him a long time to train Snape’s unresponsive body to perform the functions necessary for survival – simply by rote memory. However, from time to time, something glitched and Snape’s body forgot how to function. Back home, when that happened, magic was there at Sirius’ fingertips to compensate. Now… it was just him and Snape.
“Come on, Snape, don’t do this to me. Please? How fucking hard is it – to just put the bloody thing in your mouth and chew?”
He brought the food bar to Snape’s mouth and traced a line on his lips with it. “Food. Food is good. Eat food, Snape… bloody hell, you’ve reduced my vocabulary to an utterly moronic level.”
Snape’s lips remained tightly sealed.
“Okay, forget food. Nobody ever died from one day without food, but you’ll drink water, wont’ you?”
The water Snape accepted when the cup was brought to his lips. Sirius watched him raptly, afraid that water might go down the wrong way, but nothing happened. Snape drank without an incident.
“That’s good, Snape,” Sirius said. “Good job. Okay, I’m going to pack up our shit, and then we’re going to hike to the pier.”
The tent’s yellow wing gave a last flutter to the wind and folded down on the ground. Sirius disassembled the poles, packed up the sleeping bags and stuffed everything into the giant backpack which he then hoisted onto his shoulders.
“All right, Snape,” Sirius chattered as cheerfully as he could manage, “off we go. Turn around… yes… you feel the path under your feet? That’s the trail. Give me your hand. Now we walk. Yes, just like that. Just pretend we’re children, about to enter Hogwarts Express, holding hands – yes, I know it never happened, but just pretend, would you?”
Snape walked with him, step by mechanical step. The open right eye stared unseeingly ahead.
Sirius squeezed his hand tightly.
“Snape, we’re doing it, and it’s final.”
Tom Riddle spoke.
Snape stared at him mutely, barely understanding what was being said. He only knew that he was terrified, so much that he could barely credit it. His entire gut was twisted into a tight knot; his breath came labored and hitched. In fact, it seemed impossible for one human being to feel this much fear and still live.
“Today,” Tom spoke, and his voice, magnified by Sonorus, carried all the way across the great gathering of his servants, “I am about to extend my deepest thanks to my two most faithful followers. Severus Snape, who delivered the Prophecy to me,” in a grand gesture Tom pointed to Snape, “and my dear Peter, who will be delivering the Potters into my hands.” Someone gasped with envy, as Tom continued, “You see, Peter here managed to become their Secret Keeper.”
The pudgy-faced man bowed deeply to his Lord.
Snape gave the Marauder a brief glance.
Merlin only knew why Tom was doing this, why he’d chosen this great farce before setting out to finish off the Potters. It seemed like he was doing it on a whim, as an after-thought. Either way, Snape knew – this was it.
He’d begged Tom for Lily’s life, then, still not fully confident that she’d be spared, he ran to Dumbledore. Both great wizards made promises. Dumbledore’s promise seemed to offer more certainty… until now.
Well done, Dumbledore , Snape thought bitterly. Let them choose the traitor as the Secret Keeper. Would it have been so bloody difficult to nominate yourself for the job?
His body was twisted with terror, almost ready to give in, but his mind was shockingly clear. He knew that this was the end of all things.
Tom’s face, once handsome and proud, in the glimmer of torches in the dark of the night, seemed mad, inhuman.
What on earth has he done to himself to make him what he is? Snape wondered.
More importantly, would Lily live through the night when this monster, barely human, appeared at her doorstep?
Snape already knew that she wouldn’t.
He knew that with crystal clarity, because he knew Lily. She’d fight like mad. She’d fight for her husband, her child, she’d never accept any offer of mercy from Tom.
And even if she were spared, somehow, she would never let go of her child.
Snape didn’t know how he knew all that – mere two weeks ago these thoughts wouldn’t have entered his mind; he would have been content with saving Lily alone and resigning himself to the utter impossibility of saving the child. But now… Perhaps, talking to Dumbledore had rubbed off on him more than he realized.
“It is our choices that show what we truly are.”
True, except now he’s ran out of choices and ran out of time to make them.
Tom’s aged hand rested on Peter’s shoulder, and the man sagged as if under a great weight.
Snape’s heart beat so loud that he was certain he entire world could hear it.
His wand trembled in his hand.
The only chance is now, he thought. All he needed was enough time for two Killing Curses. One for Peter, one for himself. Without Peter as their Keeper, Potters would live another day, get another chance. And as for himself – Snape wasn’t deluding himself for a moment. He wouldn’t be able to run, not with the crowd of Tom’s servants all around him, and he wasn’t mad enough to surrender himself to their tender care after betraying his Lord in everyone’s presence.
So this is it. His breath evened out, and his heart stilled in his chest. It seemed to him that the entire world was holding its breath, waiting for him.
It was strange for him to, at this last moment, remembered James Potter’s face, handsome, hateful and hated, arrogant, and without a trace of cowardice. It’s your turn now, Snape thought. I’ll be gone, and it’s your turn to protect her. Save her, and we’ll be even, you and I. I mean it. But for now – for this last time, I will hate you with all that I’ve got; you don’t mind, do you? I really need to.
It took him a split second to raise his wand and another split second to summon all the rage and hate he’d ever felt for James, for Sirius, for the werewolf and for Peter – and send it flying.
The flash of green cut across the field and hit Peter squarely in the chest.
Snape moved quickly, but not quickly enough.
He saw the rage on Tom’s inhuman face, and a mere moment later the world went blank.
He never got the chance to cast the second Killing Curse.
After two hours of walking, Sirius and Snape made it to a large clearing at the edge of the woods. The path led through the field of dry, sun-bleached grass, and onto the pebbly beach. The ocean was grey, drowning in the mist, a faded boundary between the water and the sky. Barely visible in that white mist, on the pier stood a lonely figure of a man.
“Come now,” Sirius said, pulling on Snape’s arm. “We made it, you hear me? We made it.”
They walked the path together, and Sirius led Snape onto the pier, tied to which by a slippery wet rope was a boat that looked like it had seen better days – and decades.
“This will take us to the Black Tail island?” Sirius checked. The hooded figure nodded silently. “No offence, but it looks like the boat is ready to fall apart any moment.”
The man lifted a gloved hand to remove his hood. His aged face was severe, tanned and weathered. His eyes were small, beady, and black, like tiny marbles that children play with.
“Afraid of water, dog-man?” he asked, and a small unkind smile crossed his lips. “A great wolf-hound could swim ashore and not even get cold.”
“What about him?” Sirius’ hand squeezed Snape’s fingers even harder.
“What of him? He’s not a man, but a shell. Perhaps you should just drown him.”
Sirius swallowed hard. Nobody – ever – spoke to him about Snape like that. It was all very polite, very tactful: “Just let him stay in Mungo’s ward for the incurably insane”, “Just go on and live our own life, Sirius, you deserve it,” “it’s hopeless, you must realize that by now” … And yet, it did all boil down to this, didn’t it?
Sirius stared at their guide hatefully. And perhaps I should have you keel-hauled a few times, then feed your still breathing body to the cougars, he thought, but held back from saying it out loud. Funny. He finally learned to keep his temper in check after all these years. Maybe Lil is right, and I’m really growing up….
“What are you silent for, dog-man?” The guide asked. There was no mockery in his voice. “You are protective of him, but he’s empty, isn’t he? Is that why you brought him here? To die?”
“No. No. He’ll not die here. And he’s not empty.” Sirius pulled the unresponsive Snape closer.
“Hiding, then,” the guide guessed. “Yes, that may be. It may be that he made himself so small, that he’s become a speck in the vastness of his own mind. And that dot, that speck, will never grow back big enough to fill the emptiness that is now him.”
“You don’t know that,” Sirius said through the gritted teeth.
“I wonder,” the guide mused, tugging at the rope to pull the boat closer to the pier, “what happened to make him retreat this way?”
“None of your business,” Sirius said.
He threw the backpack into the boat and then proceeded to guide Snape there, taking care not letting him stumble. A wave splashed, dowsing them with ice-cold water. Snape never flinched.
“It must have been terrifying,” the guide said.
The wind was freezing. Sirius wrapped his arms around Snape and stretched his jacket out, allowing it to cover both of them so they’d be sharing body heat.
And so that Sirius would have the opportunity to grab him, if the bloody boat capsized.
The guide took the oars and began to paddle away. Soon, the pier and the shoreline were lost in the fog. The sky above them was grey and fuzzy, and they became a directionless speck in this vast greyness, carried somewhere by the currents and the wind. The oars seemed to do little to add to the speed of the direction of the boat, and eventually the guide let them rest.
Sirius swallowed hard. I am crazy , he thought, Jay was right, and Lil was right, and Rem, too. I’m crazy, I’m going to get both of us killed, and – Snape, you are fucking going to drown never even knowing that you’re drowning.
His heart was beating against Snape’s bony back.
The guide stretched out in the boat, arms crossed on his chest. His face looked less severe now, and the beady eyes seemed somehow more human.
“What’s your name, dog-man?” he asked.
The guide nodded. “That’s nice. My name’s Stu.”
When the Fidelius came down, they could feel the tremor throughout the house. Lily rushed to Harry’s crib and gathered the crying child in her arms. James, still in his pajamas, went for the glasses and the wand.
“Peter must be dead,” he said. His voice shook slightly. “Fuck. Just fuck. How did they…”
“Jay, we need to get out of here,” Lily cut him off. She was all action and no emotion. She cast a Muffilato to silence Harry’s cries and slipped her feet into her shoes.
“Right. Start packing. Take just the bare essentials.”
“No. We’re leaving this instant. Jay, cast a side-along Apparition. Take us to Hogsmeade. We’re going to Dumbledore.”
He loathed to subject the school to danger by their mere presence, but they were out of options. And casting a quick glance at Harry at Lily’s chest removed any doubt that he still might have had.
With Fidelius in place, this Muggle house in Godric’s Hollow never required Anti-Apparition charms, and now that the Fidelius was gone, they could Apparate out freely. That meant, of course, that anyone could Apparate in just as easily.
Without much delay they found themselves in Hogsmeade. They must have been quite a sight: Lily, in her nightgown, holding on to Harry, James, in his pajamas with the deer prints, the ones that Sirius had given him.
It didn’t take James long to work out the most reasonable course of action. A moment later, Prongs was kneeling down, offering his back to Lily. She climbed to straddle his back and held on for her life, and Harry’s, as the deer sprinted towards Hogwarts.
The school wards admitted them – of course, Albus had always said they’d find a home at Hogwarts. However, the alarm spells did go off, and shortly, a small crowd of people was converging on the deer with a woman and a child on his back. There was Filch, Mrs. Norris at his heels, tail puffed up so bushy it looked like a giant toilet brush. There was McGonagall, wand out and ready to fight. There was Flitwick, shining a lantern half his size to illuminate the intruders. And Albus, bless him, Albus was here too, receiving the child from Lily’s hands, and pressing a tender kiss to Lily’s forehead. And Lily’s calm was gone, she now cried in his arms, whispering Peter’s name, over and over again.
Prongs had folded himself down and James got off the ground, taking Lily by the elbow.
“We’re sorry,” he said. “Peter is dead. We didn’t know where else to go.”
“Come,” Dumbledore said mildly. “Come now. We’ll talk.”
In Dumbledore’s private rooms they sat down, and James finally allowed himself to breathe – for the moment. They made it, Harry was safe – for the moment, only… Only they had no action plan, no permanent shelter, and they were a danger to everyone around them.
“Now,” Dumbledore said softly, “are you certain that Peter is dead?”
“The Fidelius came down – oh, about fifteen minutes ago,” James said.
“Oh. I see.” Dumbledore frowned, thinking of something. “I’m truly sorry for your loss.”
They were silent for a while. Lily sniffled and hugged her knees, wrapping herself in Dumbledore’s quilted blanket. Harry, in Dumbledore’s arms, was soothed and sound asleep again. Dumbledore was studying the child’s small tear-stained face. He traced Harry’s forehead with his finger.
“Forgive me, both of you,” he murmured. “Forgive me, my dear ones.”
“For what?” James whispered, unnerved by the brokenness of Dumbledore’s voice.
“Sometimes I forget how fragile life is. I begin to think of this war as a chess game. Trying to outthink, outlast, outmaneuver our opponent.”
“You’re a brilliant strategist,” James argued, “if not for you…”
Dumbledore lifted his head to stare at him. The fierce fury in his eyes was frightening.
His mild manners and kind smiles usually made it easy to forget that Dumbledore was the most powerful wizard alive, but now James was reminded of it yet again, with crystal clarity.
“I rather think the game is over, Mister Potter,” he said, and the intensity of his voice made the room in the air churn. “I say, we stop planning. We stop maneuvering. Instead, we gather our forces and give it all we’ve got. And we blast that band of murdering scum across the land and up to high heavens and back, if that’s what it takes, and we do so now.” His aged face looked gloriously mad, and James found that madness contagious.
“Let’s do it,” he nodded. “Lil, what do you say?”
“We fight, and we fight now,” she agreed. Her voice didn’t tremble. “We fight with all we’ve got.”
“Well, then,” Dumbledore’s tone was mild again, “you two should get dressed. James, you may help yourself to anything you like from my wardrobe. Lily, I believe Minerva will have a few things your size, and you should be able to charm them to fit perfectly. Harry can stay in Flitwick’s care for a few days, isn’t that so? Glad you agree. Get ready, whilst I gather the Order to join us right here. We’re going to act without delay.”
“What is the patient’s name?”
Sirius stared at the young woman seated across the desk from him. The woman’s skin was like Stu’s, kind of dark olive, except hers was perfectly smooth. She was smiling, but the smile seemed cold and unnatural.
They’d been introduced: Stu did the honours after getting Sirius and Snape off the boat. Her name was Andra Bluebrook.
“You’re Indian, aren’t you?” Sirius blurted out, studying her face intently. A strange face, almost pretty, but not quite. Indeterminate age, she could have been twenty—or fifty.
“The term is First Nations. I’m Haida. This is irrelevant to our discussion. I repeat – what is the patient’s name?”
“Severus Snape,” Sirius said.
“Very nice. How did you hear of the Institute? We don’t advertise our existence, or our location.”
“I – I’ve read about your work on regeneration of vital organs in Potions Weekly magazine,” Sirius said, “then I did some investigating…”
“Snooping around, you mean?” He frozen smile never faded.
“Yes. Some of that, too,” Sirius confessed.
“You are interested in Potions, then,” she said. “You’re a scholar.”
“No. I don’t care for Potions. He did, though,” Sirius inclined his head in Snape’s direction. “I was reading to him when I encountered the article.”
“You read to him.”
“Yes. I read to him.”
“Why?” she asked that question in a very odd way, as if not really caring about the answer.
“Because… well, I don’t know.”
“He can’t hear you.”
“He can’t see anything, either.”
“If I stab his hand with a knife, will he flinch?”
Sirius’s fingers laced with Snape’s, and he instinctively pushed Snape back.
“Answer the question,” Andra demanded.
“No. He will not flinch.”
“I see,” she jotted something in her notepad – an ordinary Muggle notepad, Sirius could see, and she was using an ordinary Muggle ball-point pen. “Forgive me for being blunt, Mister Black. You bring this … person here. You insist that he receives treatment to regrow his missing eye and restore the tissue around it. Yet, this person here, Severus Snape, is completely unaware of anything that is being done to him. He doesn’t see, he doesn’t feel, he cares nothing for the scars on his face, or for the missing eye, or for anything that you do for him. Why, then? You’ve dragged him here – all the way from Britain…”
“To Ottawa, then Calgary, then Prince Rupert, then you hiked through the Black Tail woods for what must have been three days, at least, with this unfortunate unresponsive human being forced along, then took the boat to the Island. Why?”
“I don’t know, “ Sirius whispered. The truth was, Lily and James had asked him the same question, and – somehow when they did it, he didn’t feel quite so stupid.
“I see. Do you know how much this treatment costs?”
“I will pay. I’ve got money.”
“I see. So this is a luxury for you. You’ve got yourself a human doll, and you want him to look less ugly?”
“NO!” Sirius cried out, horrified. “It’s not like that!”
“How is it, Mister Black?” and she was still smiling, damn her.
“Okay – look; I know he can’t see. I know he can’t hear. I know – I understand that this might be it for him. That he might never come out, will never come out,” Sirius said. “I understand all that, all right? I just think that – even if this is all that’s left, his life should be as human as possible. He should have a home, a bed. He should be warm, even if he doesn’t feel the cold. He should have someone around him who… you know, who’s human, to whom he means something. He should have both eyes. It’s just – I can’t bloody explain it – but it’s a human thing to do, you know?”
She stopped smiling.
“I know,” she said, with surprising mildness in her voice. “Yes, Mister Black, I know.” She glanced over Snape’s empty eye socket and reached out with her hand across the desk and touched the scarring on his cheek with her fingertip. “Very strange wound. What happened to him?”
“There was a war,” Sirius said. “A dark wizard…”
“Spare me the politics. What was used to inflict the wound?”
“You’re lying. The scar tissue indicates that the venom had long turned cadaverous when the wound was inflicted.”
Sirius looked away.
“I didn’t say it was a living cockatrice, or that the claw was still attached to it.”
“I see.” She jotted something down in her notepad and set the pen aside. “How old is he?”
“So are you?”
She stared at him. “It seems strange that someone so young would dedicate his life to caring for someone who’s got no hope of recovery. How long has it been?”
“How long, do you think, you’ll be able to sustain it? Another two years? Another five?”
“I’m not ditching him!” Sirius said flatly. “Not after…”
“That’s not important. Are you going to help us or not?”
“I will grow him another eye,” Andra said, leaning back in her chair. “The trouble, Mister Black, is that I’m not so sure it’ll help either of you.”
“It’s okay. You grow him the eye. And we’ll go home after that. I won’t tell anyone about the Institute, I promise. I mean, either way, I wouldn’t…”
“I appreciate that,” Andra said. “We value our solitude. Now, why don’t you two go and settle yourselves in. Stu will show you to the guest room. I’m going to need to run some tests to prepare for the treatment. What does he eat?”
“Anything, really.” Sirius’ lips quirked into a bitter grimace. “He’s not picky, you know.”
Snape awoke with a start. He was naked and bound, arms lifted high above his head so that his skin-muscle-tendons were stretched out, tight as a drum. He’d be humiliated at his nakedness, if he were not so bloody terrified.
“Open your eyes, Severus,” he heard the familiar voice.
Snape did, just as Tom’s hand brushed the hair away from his forehead.
“How you disappoint me,” Tom murmured, stroking his cheek. “Insolent, foolish child. So you bought your Mudblood girl and her brood another day – do you really think that she will evade me forever?”
Snape opened his mouth, but no sound came.
“Answer me.” Tom’s hand rested on his bare chest, as if in an attempt to capture his heartbeat.
“I don’t know, My Lord.”
“I wish you’d stop calling me that. It’s insincere to address me this way after a betrayal so profound. “
Tom’s hand traced his chest, all the way down his belly, touched his thigh and rose up to rest on his shoulder. Snape twitched under his touch.
“We’ll speak again after a while. For now, I will leave you to contemplate the consequences of your treason. I insist that you think of how deeply you’ve wounded me and try for repentance.”
Snape bit his lip and squeezed his eyes shut.
He didn’t see who approached him, and didn’t see the first blow coming, but he could feel his back and shoulders sliced open a minute later. He howled, twisting in his bonds, and howled again when the next blow fell on the already torn flesh.
Snape heard laughter and opened his eyes. It was Macnair who was doing the whipping; he was making a good sport of it, and his blood-splattered face looked truly happy.
There was no way to moderate his response, to keep silent. Snape screamed through all of it, sickened by the smell of his own blood, horrified even further by his own screams. He passed out once, then woke screaming again, when someone splashed hot water onto his raw shoulders and back, then passed out once more, and was brought back to life by an Enervate.
His voice was long gone by the time they’d finished cutting the skin from his left forearm, along with the Dark Mark, and as he stared at the exposed flesh and muscle on his on limb, he could only manage a voiceless gasp.
It was almost hypnotic, watching the slow disintegration of his own body, being pulled apart, taken apart, like a defective toy. Skin goes one way, muscle another, organs make a neat pile , he laughed inaudibly, madly.
For the next several hours, he had no thought, no emotion left. There was only instinct, only reaction. He dosed off when left alone. He recoiled and twitched when someone touched the wounds on his back. He trembled – small, violent tremors, when Bellatrix began to work on his right arm, carving and cutting something that hurt like the bloody hell and more, as she was creating a pattern only known to her. Maybe she was cutting through tendons and ligaments, or maybe she was just playing, there was no way of knowing.
There was no way of knowing who was watching, either. He thought he’d glimpsed Lucius’ face, twisted with horror and revulsion, he thought he saw Dolohov, looking impassive and indifferent, but maybe they were figments of his imagination, he couldn’t tell.
“Would you care to beg for mercy, Severus?” the deep voice brought Snape out of his fevered delirium and back to reality.
Lying on the floor, in the puddle of his own blood and filth, face and thighs covered by someone’s semen (no, not someone’s – that of the Lestrange brothers, he remembered that now), Severus opened his eyes to focus on Tom’s face, completely indifferent.
Tom lifted his wand. A small tingle ran down Snape’s throat.
“I healed your voice, child,” Tom said mildly. “You may speak now.”
“Yes,” Snape groaned hoarsely, desperately, no shred of pride left to his name. “Yes. I beg for mercy.”
“I wish I could grant you mercy,” Tom said, his tone still mild. “And yet, you didn’t leave me that option. I must make an example of you to others.” With a sigh, he began to walk away. He turned his head once, to look at Severus coldly, and added, as an afterthought, “I regret it.”
Snape felt himself being lifted off the ground, forced to sit up. A metal hoop encircled his neck, pushing his head backwards, and holding him firmly in place.
“Don’t touch it with your bare hands, love,” he heard Rabastan say.
“I’m not mad,” Bellatrix replied, suitably insulted.
Severus stared at the tool in her hands – a wooden rod with a giant bird claw attached to it.
“His left eye first, I think,” Rodolphus murmured.
It was never going to end, it was never going to be over, and he wondered if a pile of raw flesh and skin and bones without any human thought or awareness to it could still feel pain.
When the claw came in contact with his eye, he howled, hands scraping against the floor.
He needed to go, get out, and he searched for the way out desperately, as he tried to cut his throat against the edge of the metal collar (too blunt), or twist his neck in an attempt to break it (turned out impossible).
Let it all go, he thought madly, desperately, let it all go.
As far as he knew, no Occlumency practitioner had ever attempted to do this, or if they had, there’d be no way of knowing. Not simply escaping into one’s own mind, but cutting everything off. He could almost see it, with his final grasp at clarity – a tiny speck of awareness, which was the core of him, numerous strands leading outwards to the outside world that was now tearing at him in so many ways.
Let them all go, those strands. One by one.
Lily was the first to go, a bright-orange string that slipped out of his fingers. Just as well, this was no place for her; it seemed both vulgar and cruel to keep her here, go, go.
Other strands followed, connections to memories, events, emotions – he let them all go, and it turned out to be addictive to be releasing those strands one by one.
The first sense to go was sight, he had no use for it.
Another strand, another connection with the outside world – another sense. No more touch, no more tactile sensations, no more pain.
Another strand. No more sense of smell, no more getting nauseated by the stench of his own blood – and whatever – whatever else they had, except he could no longer remember who ‘they’ were.
One more. No more taste of bile in the back of his throat, no more of that.
Good, that was good, it was working, he was getting out of there, or ‘out there’ was getting out of him, either way, it didn’t matter.
When the last strand slipped out of his fingers, his world went quiet.
The room Stu had given them was bright and spacious. Sirius showered first, huffing and snorting with the simple pleasure of the hot water against his body. He walked out of the shower, a towel wrapped around his waist, and began to dress. Snape’s back was still turned to him.
“You know, you don’t have to be such a gentleman,” Sirius said, pulling out fresh underwear from the backpack. “You could sneak a peek. A tiny one. Nobody would know.”
Snape’s back didn’t move.
“Right. I’m not your type. Be honest with me, Snape, is it the lack of tits, or is it the hair color? Because the hair I could dye, but if it’s the tits – no bloody way. I’ve got my limits, let me be honest with you.”
Sirius didn’t remember when exactly his one-sided conversations with Snape became so stupid and so lewd, but by the end of the first year of caring for Snape he’d noticed that he’d ceased censoring himself. Completely. It was like –
Like I’m talking to myself. Right.
“I wonder,” Sirius said softly, “do you dream? I mean… do you have wet dreams? Scary dreams? Happy dreams? Or is it just one dream all the time, always the same?”
No answer. Right. He should be used to this by now.
“Okay, let’s bathe you. You stink of dog drool. Some big ugly dog must have been drooling on you all night long. I am shocked that you’d let him; that’s not like you, Severus.”
Snape allowed himself to be undressed, not resisting and not making any effort to stop Sirius. Sirius guided him to sit down in the warm water.
“See, there. Tell me, does it feel good, after three days of hiking and collecting dog drool? Mmm? It must feel at least all right. Okay, let me bring your head back. I’m going to wash out your hair.”
The soapy water ran down Snape’s scarred shoulders. Sirius swiped a bit of foam away with his palm.
“Snape, I’ve got to tell you something. When you come to your senses and kill me for this – for, you know, feeding you, and bathing you, dressing-undressing you, and seeing your bits, – and when you do kill me, and when I take my last breath, please, do try to understand this. I’m not stupid. I know all of this could be done with spells. I never had to touch you. But I did anyway. And I wasn’t doing it for kicks, I swear on Jay’s head. I just – I thought of you, being perpetually trapped in a web of spells taking care of your body, and you never again, for as long as you live, feeling any human touch – and it creeped the fuck out of me. I think that’s inhuman. I’d rather touch you and – well.” Sirius grinned. “I’m a dead man, aren’t I?”
He pulled at the chain, holding the stopper out and let the water rush out of the bath. Eventually, Snape was let out, towelled, dressed.
For a while they stood shoulder to shoulder by the enormous window overlooking the oceanfront. The beach was empty, with only a few seagulls pecking at clams and oysters left behind by the tide. The horizon was grey and misty, and only one single snowy mountain peak showed from the wall of fog.
“I wish we could stay here,” Sirius whispered. “In some house in the woods. Just the man and his dog. And nobody would know that the man is slightly less than a man, and the dog is slightly more than a dog. It’d be nobody’s fucking business, you know.”
The silence stretching between them felt almost companionate.
“Snape,” Sirius said. “You understand why I’m not leaving you, don’t you?”
“You’ve saved my life. Yes, I know, you’ve saved the Potters that night, but really, you’ve saved me. I don’t know if I could have survived them being gone. I don’t think I would have. Yes, Snape, I owe you.”
The waves rolled onto the shore and retreated, leaving caps of foam on the sand.
“But that’s not why,” Sirius said. “It’s not about owing. It’s just that – you’re one of us. Get it? It’s like you’re one of the Marauders now. A horrible thought, isn’t it? Quick, Snape, wake up and tell me off, tell me how repulsive the idea is to you, how you can’t stand the thought. Come on. Wake up now, here’s your chance to bow out of it.” Sirius’ hand touched Snape’s shoulder. “Too late. By the power vested in me by the great woodland of Canada, by the mighty winds of Haida, and by the power of my own stupidity I dub thee Marauder, for all eternity. And it’s your own bloody fault.”
Sirius pressed his forehead to the window. He could feel the wind beating against it, trying to force its way into the room. It was cold, the entire room was cold, and it was as if cold was somehow seeping into the room, and into his bones and into his blood. He shivered and let out a long sigh. Sure enough, he could see his own breath in the air.
Next to him, Snape hadn’t moved.