There are many, many things I hate about my parents' house, but the view from the roof is not one of them. If you wait until dark--well after ten in the summer--and climb up the narrow staircase at the back of my father's old office on the fourth floor, you can lift open the trap door and hoist yourself up onto a slanting roof littered with leaves and Muggle rubbish. There's a low, crumbling parapet, and beyond, the beauty of Muggle London at night: the dark square below, the bright lights of the Euston Road off to the south, the hulking train sheds at Kings Cross and St Pancras with their long, snaking tracks, a thousand tiny streetlamps and yellow windows, and the great, black expanse of Regent's Park in the distance. I've always loved flying, but sitting on the rooftop is exhilarating in a different way. The enormity of Muggle London makes you feel completely inconsequential, but also as if you're an integral part of something larger than you could ever imagine.
Nothing in the wizarding world can compare. We live such tiny lives, in Hogsmeade and Diagon Alley and a dozen ancient villages. In secret houses and shops and pubs and offices, tucked away from everything else. In isolated castles. In family estates in the country. In cells on the North Sea. Seeing the same people over and over again. What would happen if we stepped outside the places we already knew and got lost? If we stopped Apparating and Flooing from one safe place to another and lost ourselves in a sea of faces we'd never seen before, and might never see again?
"Ah, here you are, Sirius." It was Remus, panting from the last flight of stairs and the weight of the trapdoor. "I thought you might have flown the coop again."
He lay a heavy hand on my shoulder and slowly lowered himself down onto the rooftop next to me, leaning back against the chimney.
"Merlin, my knees," he said, stretching his legs out in front of him. I could feel his shallow, quick breath and the scratchy wool of his jumper against my arm. I leaned against him, and he draped an arm across my shoulders, strong and comforting. Hard to believe that in a previous life, I was larger and stronger than he was. We sat silently for a few minutes, looking out across the city, watching the last blues and purples fade from the night sky.
"Gillyweed?" I passed him the old-fashioned pipe, carved with runes and studded with small, red stones.
He inspected it curiously. "Where'd you find this?"
"My father's desk," I said. "Who knew?"
Remus took a tentative pull, coughed, and handed it back to me. "Maybe after I catch my breath. You seem to be enjoying it."
I took another long pull. "Nothing makes you feel better about being locked up in your parents house after thirteen years of wrongful incarceration."
Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Remus' face wrinkle with a smile. "I hear it helps with self-pity, too."
"I wouldn't know about that."
"Molly said you were feeding Buckbeak."
"Is that what we're calling it these days?"
Remus shrugged. "I don't know. I think she's got a poetic streak. You're certainly feeding something monstrous up here."
"She didn't want me and my Gillyweed downstairs, so where was I supposed to go?"
Remus squeezed my shoulders gently. "I think she wants you to sort yourself out before Harry arrives, Sirius."
That made me angry all over again. "I'm not sorting myself out, ever," I said. Perhaps it was the Gillyweed, but I could feel my face flush and my heart begin to pound. "The Order can get along fine without me if that's what needs to happen." The truth of that only hit me as I said it. I wasn't going to sort myself out, not for Harry, not for Remus, and certainly not for Molly and the Order. I felt like one of the ghosts at school, rattling around the house half-forgotten while everyone else was busy and useful, and damned if I was going to pretend otherwise.
"If you could just ease up on Severus--"
"Severus!" I said. "Snivellus deserves whatever he has coming to him."
"Sirius, it's been--"
"It's been years, and he hasn't changed a bit," I said. I could feel the story bubbling up in me. I wasn't the one who'd sworn silence, after all. "Do you want to know why I hate Severus Snape so much?"
Remus sighed. "Why? Is there a story beyond what I already know?"
"All right. What is it?"
Where to start? "Let's start by blaming Wormtail," I said. "I like blaming Wormtail."
"I'm sure there's more than enough blame to go around," Remus muttered, as if I weren't right there, under his arm.
"Do you want to hear the story or not?"
Remus laughed, a deep, slow chuckle. I'd forgotten how easily he came around. "Right. Wormtail. How's it all Wormtail's fault, exactly?"
"It was all Peter's fault," I began, savoring the moment. "Peter and his bloody girlfriend. And you and Amelia. And James and Lily. Everyone pairing up, fifth year. And I--"
Merlin, it was hard to say what needed to be said. We sat in silence for a moment, looking out at the lights. In the distance, a train's whistle blew.
"You know I was in love with James, back in school." So many years of keeping quiet, and there it was, so simple.
Remus took the pipe out of my hand and took a long pull. "I know," he said slowly. "Well, no, I didn't, not at the time. But it made sense, afterward. A lot of things made more sense later."
So it all began with Peter's girlfriend. Before Emmy, girlfriends had been a murky proposition at best, a vague goal for James, a challenge for the rest of us. Trying to catch Lily's attention was one of the things we did together, like working on the Animagi spells, or creating the map. We schemed, we plotted, we tried, we failed, James was smashed like a beetle in Potions class, and we tried again.
And then there was Peter, going off and doing things without us. Ruining everything. I don't know why Emmy liked him; she was bright and funny and it wasn't her fault she'd been sorted into Slytherin; her family had been there always. And Peter was three spells better than a Squib, and so bloody eager to please. But she had this amused affection for him, you remember, and they started spending time together when he used to spend time with us. Plus that was the year you were prefect, and you were always at a meeting, patrolling the corridors and sneaking off with Amelia. I knew what you were up to, even if you protested that nothing was going on between the two of you. And James--well, that was the year James started to pursue Lily seriously. Which meant alone.
He had this habit of following her and her friends into Hogsmeade. At first he pretended that it was coincidental, that he'd just happened to run into them, but by winter it had become obvious that at some point on the path to Hogsmeade, she would run into James, and her friends would go on ahead and leave them alone to talk. It wasn't a date; they didn't hold hands or flirt. And James always went off on his own once they reached town. But it was something, and I think they both knew it.
I knew all of this because I followed James. Wearing his invisibility cloak. Do you remember when it went missing for a few months, and I said it was in Filch's office, confiscated? I know it was stupid; it felt stupid even at the time. James would have been furious, and I knew it, because he'd told me he wanted to do something on his own, and would I just trust him and not ask any more questions? But I couldn't stand the thought that he was doing something without me, and I couldn't think of what to do with myself without him. It was the first time I remember doing something I knew to be wrong--not just against the rules, but really wrong, something to be ashamed of. I used Silencing spells and Muffliato and a sketchy fifth-year Disillusionment charm, just in case I lost the cloak somehow. I don't think it really mattered, in the end; they were already so wrapped up in one another they wouldn't have noticed me anyway.
And then one Saturday I noticed I wasn't alone, following the two of them. We were halfway to Hogsmeade when I heard some twigs snap not ten feet away, and a few minutes later, when James and Lily sat down by the edge of the path, I thought I saw something move. They were sitting, knee to knee, talking quietly and smiling at each other, Lily holding James' hand and explaining something about how to divine a fortune, and I heard the rustle of starched robes nearby. It was Snape, masked only by a Disillusionment charm that was even worse than mine. I recognized his scrawny silhouette against the forest. He was standing just a few feet away from me, and he was wanking, I could tell, from the way his silhouette moved.
Merlin, I was angry. Wanking over Lily, right in front of her! Disgusting. I'm not sure what would have happened had James and Lily not stood up and moved on right then, but they did, and I waited for another moment or two to make sure they couldn't hear me, and I shoved him, hard. He fell on the ground with a gasp like the air had been knocked out of him, and his Disillusionment charm flickered, and his head swiveled around, looking for me. "Black!" he hissed. "I know it was you!"
Well, I ran at that, partly because I'd be caught, and partly because I'd been as hard as he was, and how different was I from Snivellus, in the end, sneaking around with his hand down his trousers?
Had I just left, without knocking him down, I might have come to my senses, but now my secret was out. Snape was waiting for me back at the castle. He was standing in that empty corridor just before you head up the stairs to Gryffindor Tower, and he had his wand in his right-hand pocket, poking it out at me so that it tented his robes. Remember how all the boys used to do that, back in second and third year? Is that your wand in your pocket, or are you just glad to see me? So stupid, and yet I couldn't stop looking.
"I have a proposal for you, Black," he said, tipping his head back a bit so he looked down his nose at me and speaking slowly, as if I were a child. "Something better to do with our time."
That wasn't what I'd expected. "What kind of a proposal, Snivellus?" I asked.
"Would you like to suck my wand?"
He looked at me as if I were an imbecile. "Would you like to suck my wand, Black?" he asked slowly. "Do you know what I'm asking you?"
Of course I knew what he was asking. The gall astonished me, though. "Why do you think I would even consider doing that?"
"You want to, don't you? I know you do."
The thing was, I did. I thought about cocksucking all the time that year. I couldn't take a shower without getting half-hard, watching the other boys out of the corner of my eye. I wanked between classes and after supper and before bed, all the while imagining someone who'd pull my hand away gently and get down on his knees in front of me, but there wasn't a boy in the school who seemed to share my secret fantasies, and I was terrified of anyone finding out, anyway. My mouth was dry. I licked my lips and swallowed once, hard.
"I don't know," I said. Too honest for my own good.
"Right," he said dismissively. "In that case--"
"I'll suck yours, and you'll suck mine?" I asked. The words were out of my mouth before I realized that Snape had proposed nothing of the sort.
Snape's eyes glittered. "I have no intention of sucking your wand, Black," he said. "It's quite clear who's the wand-sucker here."
"What do I get out of this arrangement, then?"
He looked at me with an expression I couldn't quite read. "I won't tell a soul," he said. "I swear."
Merlin, I had to give him credit, he read me like a book, because a wave of relief washed over me.
"Unbreakable Vow?" I asked. I don't know why that made the arrangement seem any more fair, or any more reasonable, but it did. He came from a Dark family as well, and he didn't hesitate in responding.
"Unbreakable Vow," he said, drawing his wand.
I broke off here, because Remus was chuckling under his breath, so much that his chest shook with suppressed laughter. I shrugged his arm off my shoulders and frowned at him.
"This is a story about why Severus Snape is a terrible person, you know," I said crossly. "Laughing isn't the appropriate response."
"You didn't," Remus said, clearly amused, his face flushed. "You didn't."
"I did," I said. I plucked the pipe out of his hands. "I forgot Gillyweed makes you Dark Creatures fly higher than us mere mortals."
Remus took a deep breath, and then another. "There's a touch of irony here, you know."
I snorted. "There is indeed. Five months later, I discovered the cottages in Regent's Park, and all the cock I ever wanted or needed. But by then my soul was gone."
"Do know what I was doing fifth year, Sirius?"
To be honest, I hardly remembered Remus during fifth year; my memories were filled with James and Snivellus' prick. "Prefect duties," I said. "Lights-out duty. Watching the first years. Meeting with Amelia. Learning school rules. It was all you could talk about, what we fifth-years ought to be doing. I think I hated you a bit that year."
"As if I ever made you do anything," he scoffed, and I passed the pipe back to him.
"Fair enough," I said. "You weren't a very effective prefect."
He took a long drag and looked out at the horizon.
"So, yes, prefect duties, and snogging Severus between classes."
"I thought he was attractive, in that lanky, surly kind of way. He was bright. And I didn't want to have anything to do with you lot. You were being awful that year."
He turned toward me and raised an eyebrow. "But what? Are you the only one allowed to do stupid things?"
"I had no idea."
Remus smiled wickedly. "We must have thoroughly confused him, that year. I don't even think he likes blokes."
"I didn't think you did."
"There's a lot you don't know about me, Sirius--" He must have seen something in my face, because he broke off and said more gently, "And that's fine; it's been more than a decade. We have time to catch up." He paused, as if he were trying to think of the right thing to say. "Did I tell you I worked for a Muggle private investigator for most of my twenties?"
I shook my head.
"Best job I ever had. Bloke who owned the firm couldn't believe how good I was at surveillance or how quickly I could disappear in a pinch, and he didn't care who I was or what I did with my own time. Worked out well." He cast a long look at me. "Must have taken a thousand pictures of cheating husbands, Sirius, and more than a few wives. Trailed mild-mannered civil servants who were selling government documents to support a second family or a rent boy, or grandmothers who stole from their children and grandchildren to buy alcohol."
He paused dramatically while the siren of a Muggle police car wailed on the street below. "I found incriminating evidence on Muggles who hadn't done anything wrong except cross the wrong person. None of us holds up under investigation, Sirius. None of us."
"James would have," I said automatically. "Lily. Harry doesn't have a cowardly or dishonest bone in his body. You've led a good life."
He gave me a slow, sad, half-smile. "I've had three boyfriends since you went away. One left me because I lied to him. About some fairly important things. I cheated on one--the one I lived with for most of my twenties--and we split when he found out. The most recent--" He stood up abruptly and walked stiffly down the sloping roof until he reached the parapet, where he crouched down and looked out over the square. "Come here, Sirius."
I slid down the roof on my arse, too light-headed to trust myself to stand, and crouched next to him.
"See that house across the square? With the sign at the entrance?"
It was a ordinary, terraced house like ours, but it had bright, commercial lights above the door and a small sign in the ground-floor window. I'd seen teenagers hanging out by the entrance, drinking and talking in the warm summer evenings. Tonight the police were knocking at the door.
"That was one of my last cases before I quit--I recognized your address immediately," he said very quietly. "A youth hostel that traffics in arms and Russian mail-order brides. Run by a sweet, elderly woman you might mistake for Poppy Pomfrey."
He had turned away from the square to face me, and I was struck by how much older he seemed up close, how strange his familiar features seemed. He looked at me so intensely, so seriously, as if he could see through to my innermost self. It was an unexpectedly intimate moment, charged, and I suddenly wondered he were going to kiss me.
I waited, holding my breath, looking back at him as steadily as I could.
He didn't move.
"You made up that last bit," I said, hesitant, suddenly unsure of both him and myself. "That's not true, about the hostel."
His eyes crinkled with just the hint of a lopsided smile. "Are you sure?"
"Yes," I said, my confidence growing. "I know you. You were making a point."
"I was. No trafficking in Grimmauld Place, so far as I know."
"But you were a private investigator."
"A senior assistant to one, yes," he said. "And I'm fairly sure we've all done some awful things in our lives, Sirius."
"What happened to the third boyfriend?" I asked, realizing I understood more than I'd thought. "You were distracting me."
He smiled that small, private smile he used to smile when he wanted to put us off, somehow. "What happened with Severus?" he asked. "He never let me in his pants, you know."
"Enormous prick," I said shortly. "Both Snape and his cock. Which I'd still say today, even after a fair bit of comparison on both points."
"I'd believe it." He laughed. "Life is unfair that way."
So, right. The big prick. Merlin, you remember what fifteen was like. We were fifteen--well, Snape was sixteen by then, I think--and neither of us had had sex before--well, so far as I could tell, as far as Snape was concerned. We found an empty office off of the corridor that led to the Astronomy Tower--too quickly; I think he'd already settled on it--and Snape leaned against the desk, biting his bottom lip and sneering at me.
"On your knees, Black."
He'd been dying to say that, I could tell, he had this immensely self-satisfied look on his face. I didn't care. I was half-hard just with anticipation, but not so far gone that I failed to notice that he had no idea what came next, and not so far gone I couldn't tease him about it. I knelt down in front of him and paused.
"What next?" I asked as innocently as I could, looking up at him, and his face twisted with annoyance.
"Just--just do it!" he said. I think he'd thought I was an expert.
"But what do I do?" I asked, and he slapped at the top of my head in sheer frustration.
So I did it. Badly, I'm sure. How does anyone figure out how to suck cock the first time? I started off with my head under his robes, then pushed them off when it became clear that suffocating in the dark wasn't helping anyone. But I held him and took a tentative lick, and he groaned in a way that made me rock-hard, and I fastened my lips around the tip, and I was on my way.
Here's the thing: I loved sucking his cock. I had been waiting so long, and I was so curious, and, Merlin, it felt better than anything I'd ever done before. The first time we did it I practically sprinted from the room afterward to jerk myself off. The second time I had my hand down my pants right then and there. He kept hissing at me--Focus on me, Black, on me!--but damned if he was going to the be only one getting off. Sucking Snivellus' wand shut him up more effectively than anything we'd ever done, and it felt so wonderful I could hardly concentrate on anything else. I stopped following James about, even.
We couldn't meet often, no more than two or three times a week; there were too many times we couldn't trust our friends to leave us alone. But once we closed the door behind us--Snape had this enormous cock that was all mine, and I slowed down and started paying more attention to what he liked. It was a bit like learning to play an instrument, figuring where to bite to make him shudder, where to lick, how hard to suck, how to hold off a bit and make him squirm. I loved it.
And then--I don't know what happened. James did something that annoyed Lily, and suddenly she was with Snape all the time. I don't think she was doing it intentionally--she wasn't manipulative like that--but she sat with him at meals and whispered with him and cast long, disapproving looks at James, and Snivellus had never looked more smug. The cock sucking stopped--not that we ever said anything, but he missed an appointment, and then I did, and then after a week or so all I could think was, why had I been sucking Snivellus' cock? Why? What had I been thinking?
Then one day he caught me at the end of Astronomy and pushed me into the cloakroom and said we needed to talk.
"No need to say anything," I said, already fumbling at his robes, all regret forgotten instantly.
He grasped my hand and pushed me away. Gently, I remember. I think it was the only gentle thing he ever did.
"We need to talk, Black," he said.
He wanted me to help keep James and Lily apart. They weren't good for each other, he said. They just made each other angry. He understood Lily; they had grown up together. And I knew James as no one else did. He could deal with Lily, and I could deal with James, and between us, well. It was better for everyone in the long run.
It was an odd moment for me, because I didn't want to see Lily and James together any more than he did. Not now that I knew where it was all going--me alone, while Peter was off with Emmy, and you were off with Amelia, or whatever you were doing, and James wanted to do things on his own. It just about killed me. But--James. James.
"No," I said. Then, more firmly, "No, I won't."
Snape was astonished. I could see it in his face; it had never occurred to him that I wouldn't agree. He blinked at me, mouth open stupidly, and then he frowned.
"You've got to help me," he said, and that wasn't what he'd intended, because he looked as if he wanted to take back his words. "Because--because--" He paused. "Because I'll tell Potter everything if you don't," he said.
"You wouldn't," I said.
He was getting agitated, rocking back and forth, with this wild look in his eye. "I will. And after I tell Potter, I'll tell Asphodel Avery, and it'll be all over school by breakfast tomorrow."
That's when panic began to set in. "You can't. The Vow. You'll die, remember, Snivellus," I said. "Not that I'd care, one way or another," I added.
"Not binding," he said, triumphant, flapping his arms excitedly like a bat at twilight. "I didn't say the last line of the incantation!"
That stung. I had no idea whether he'd done the Vow correctly or not; I heard my father do it twice, but I didn't remember the exact words. But that wasn't the point; he'd said he wouldn't tell. I had sucked his wand twenty, maybe thirty times, and he seemed to have no intention of keeping his end of the bargain. The bastard! The greasy bastard! It didn't matter about Asphodel Avery; I didn't really think he'd tell her anyway. He didn't want to be linked with me any more than I wanted to be linked with him. But James. He couldn't tell James.
"Tell anyone you want," I said. "I don't care."
He eyed me, thoughtful. "Where's Potter right now?"
I felt a knot of dread in my stomach. "I don't know."
"Of course you do. He's in the library, isn't he?"
"I don't know."
"Watch me," Snape said, and turned on his heel and headed out of the cloakroom and down the corridor, walking quickly, his robes billowing out behind him. I was frozen for a moment, and then I chased after him, down the corridor, down the stairs. I caught up with him about a hundred yards from the library, grabbing his shoulder and spinning him around.
"What do you want from me, Snivellus?" I asked as quietly as I could. "Tell me."
He looked at me coolly. "Right."
"And that, my friend, is how I know exactly what kind of a wizard Severus Snape is."
By the time I'd finished my story, most of the lights were out in the windows in the square below, and the moon was overhead, a bright sliver in the sky above. It was quiet enough to hear the Muggles calling the number of the trains that were pulling out of the station.
We'd long since smoked the last of the Gillyweed, and Remus was turning the pipe over and over, running a finger along the runes, not looking me in the eye. "This says 'fly,' doesn't it?" he asked.
I looked at the pipe more carefully. "Fly high," I said. We were sitting cross-legged, knee-to-knee, up against the parapet. I set the pipe down on the roof next to me and took his hand. He started, at first, but after a moment he relaxed and squeezed it in return.
"That's when the pranks got out of hand, isn't it?" he asked.
Is that how he remembered that spring? I couldn't feel badly about it, even now. Snivellus deserved everything he had coming to him. But it hurt a bit, to see Remus looking so solemn at the memory.
"You know what Peter was doing fifth year?" Remus asked after a moment. "When you and James and Severus were being such absolute, bloody idiots?"
"No," I said, lightly, attempting a joke. "Don't tell me he was sucking Snivellus' cock, too. I won't believe it."
Remus laughed. "No, not that. He was attending his first meetings with Voldemort."
"Peter was a Death Eater at fifteen?" It hurt to think that the betrayal had started so early on.
Remus looked at me sternly. "No more than you were Snape's lifelong companion. Emmy brought him."
"But Emmy's in the Order. Has been, both times. She in the inner circle."
"My point exactly. She had a cousin who became a Death Eater; they invited her once or twice. She was young; she didn't know what it meant. Peter went with her. The world isn't divided into good people and bad people, Sirius."
"There's no excuse for betraying someone," I said. "None."
"I've lied, Sirius," he said slowly. "I've lied to people, and I've betrayed their trust. People do these things. We're human."
"It's different," I said, and I couldn't say how, exactly, but I knew it was. "Snivellus will sell us out at his first opportunity, and you won't. I know it."
He didn't reply. I watched the teenagers drift back inside the hostel and the last lights in the square go black.
"What terrible thing did you do to your third boyfriend?" I asked as casually as I could. "I haven't forgotten, you know. Tell me about your dark and twisted soul."
He smiled. "Paul broke up with me last week, shortly after Dumbledore asked me to come here and keep an eye on you," he said. He shrugged. "We'd been arguing. On and off since last year, actually. He thought--" He looked at me, smiling a bit wickedly. "He's always thought I was a bit too excited to see you back again."
"He'd been cheated on once before, before we got together," Remus said. "He didn't want it to happen again."
"Was that likely to happen, Remus?" I asked. My heart was racing. I was flirting again. I was flying. "Were you going to cheat on him?"
"I don't know," he said. He spoke softly, just loud enough for me to hear him. "Are you ready to sell your soul to the devil once more?"
He was going to kiss me, I could tell. I could feel the magic in the air between us.
"In a heartbeat," I said, and he leaned over and kissed me, very gently, just a brush of his lips against mine before he pulled back.
At our feet, London spread out, a million tiny lights sparkling in the distance, and my head felt light.
"Fly with me," I said. "Let's get lost together." And he nodded, as if he understood, and as if he might just join me.