The child was not crying. Severus could hate him for that. Lily lay dead on the nursery floor. In the cold light from Severus' wand, her hair looked like ink spilled thoughtlessly across the floor.
Two facts, inescapable; Lily was dead, and the child did not cry.
The blood on Lily's son's face was still oozing from what Severus assumed was a curse scar. He wasn't in the habit of carrying dittany in his robes, but he healed the cut as best he could with magic and banished the blood. The mark on the boy's forehead was angry red and lightning-jagged. Severus couldn't resist reaching out with one finger to trace the mark.
At his touch the child broke into violent, hiccupping sobs, and Severus cast a quick silencing charm before grabbing the boy up. He'd put out the Dark Mark that had been cast over the house, and he was just barely managing to keep the spell-damaged roof from caving in, but it wasn't safe here. He needed to get out and away.
As he hurried down the stairs, he did not dare to hope that the prophecy had been correct, and Voldemort had been defeated.
An enormous motorcycle was parked on the pavement in front of the house, and in his shock and fear Severus diverted his concentration forward. With the lapse in attention the room he'd been in exploded outwards. He was just barely aware of being snatched up like a chess piece and plonked unceremoniously on the edge of the lawn.
"Poor little tyke," Hagrid said, enormous face just inches away from Severus' as he peered down. "Poor wee Harry Potter," and Severus had to jerk his robes up to cover Harry's (that was the name; ridiculous and common) head as tears the size of fists began raining down. "Mum and dad ― gone."
Severus had no idea what compelled him ― he refused to set store to any life-debt owed Potter, but he felt something even more powerful towards Lily, the sum of apologies never made, wounds left unhealed, regret ― above all, regret. He set the boy firmly on his hip and drew himself up. "I'm taking him with me."
"Well now," Hagrid said, snuffling into a handkerchief the size of a tablecloth. "Dumbledore ― "
"Hang Dumbledore," Severus bit out. Dumbledore was supposed to have made everything right. Not this. Not this waste. "I can keep him safe better than Dumbledore did."
"I agree with the sentiment if not the conclusion," said Sirius Black from the shadows. He sounded diffident, but when he moved forward into the faint glow of a streetlight, Severus saw that the cheap gloss of arrogance had been stripped away, laying bare grief and anger. He had his wand out, and his eyes flickered around the property as if searching for something or someone. "I'm his godfather, I should look after him."
"Over my dead body," Severus said evenly. He was using his wand arm to hold Harry, which put him at an advantage and a disadvantage, both. "Secret Keeper," he added, with scorn. Dumbledore had told him about the Fidelius Charm, and who else would the Potters have trusted with their lives? He gestured at the wreckage, and took Sirius' flinch as an admission of guilt. "Traitor."
In the distance, sirens wailed.
Sirius wrapped his arms around himself and rocked for a moment, and then jerked his head back at the motorcycle. "Get on, we'll fight later." He sucked in a breath. "Peter was the Secret Keeper, not me, he betrayed James and Lily, and Remus has ― I couldn't stop him, Peter was here and now Remus has gone after him, and I. . . ." He tipped his head back, staring up as if trying to hold tears back. "I'm the reason they're dead."
No, Severus thought. That's me,, but he kept his mouth shut.
"Now just wait a minute," Hagrid said, and then dropped like a felled tree as spells from both Sirius' and Severus' wands struck.
"I Obliviated him," Sirius said. "What did you ― ?"
"Enchanted sleep. It lasts a few hours on a regular person, so. . . ." Severus eyed Hagrid's bulk. "It will buy us ten minutes, perhaps." He took a deep breath and pulled his cloak closer around Harry. The night was cold, and a wind was picking up. "How fast is that thing?" he asked, indicating the motorcycle with his chin. "Because I know a place no one will come looking." He paused. "If you trust me."
"Dumbledore said I should," Sirius said grimly. "You and Remus. I trusted Peter instead. Get on and tell me which way."
"North," Severus said. He set his feet where Sirius indicated, cast a warming charm, and at Sirius' irritated insistence, wrapped his free arm around Sirius' waist. The motorcycle shot into the sky and made one respectful loop over the Potters' house. Severus had no desire to let himself be manipulated by gestures of mourning. He leaned forward, careful not to press Harry uncomfortably against Sirius' back, and shouted directions to M1, and north, and home.
The trip took just under three hours; faster than by broomstick, probably even faster than Muggle rail. Harry fell asleep somewhere over Milton Keynes, after Sirius passed back a packet of chocolate biscuits that Harry devoured. He hiccupped in his sleep and pissed himself a couple of times.
"Is that," Sirius started the first time suspicious wet warmth ran down Severus' leg, the smell nauseating.
"Yes," Severus said shortly, and slid his wand out of his sleeve to deal with it. He waited for Sirius to say something. Back in school Sirius would have loved the rich opportunities for torment that an opponent with wet trousers presented, but now he said nothing.
Perhaps Sirius had reformed; perhaps galleons would start growing on trees. Severus regretted that circumstances were forcing him to give up his safe place, and to Sirius of all people. The motorcycle engine sounded too loud as they followed the river up from the city, and flew low over the rows of narrow, dirty houses that lined the hills.
"Here," Severus said. "Drop down to that alley and go to the end. Pull up by the upstairs window."
Sirius brought the motorcycle to a steady hover, and Severus broke the window to his bedroom open with a quick spell. He climbed in awkwardly, and then had Sirius hand him the child, who was half-awake and snivelling unhappily.
"Put the bike in the shed," Severus pointed to the roof under them. "It's bigger inside than it looks. Come in through the kitchen. If my dad's there. . . don't wake him."
Severus left the window open. He anticipated owls from Dumbledore would eventually make their way here, and possibly one from Malfoy. The air in his room was musty and stale; the chill wind that blew in was welcome. But perhaps not healthy for a child.
His mother had cut hair in the kitchen, earning enough to keep the family fed and clothed, in a fashion. She'd been known for setting curls that stayed perfectly, and for an erratic success with colouring. Severus had had to mind her customers' children ― kept them from bawling at least ― up until he went to Hogwarts. Slughorn had been glad to take advantage of his ability to get first-years settled. If he'd been pure-blooded or famous, that would have earned him a prefecture, but Slughorn's distracted refusal to see who Severus really was had served him better, in the long run.
Severus levitated a drawer free from his wardrobe, dumped the contents on the floor, and had the blanket from the bed fold itself inside. For tonight, it would have to do as a cot. Harry whimpered when Severus set him down, his hands reaching out to grab hold of Severus' cloak. Severus slipped it off and used it as a comforter, crouching down on the floor next to the cot to tuck Harry in and tell him to get back to sleep. The words came out in a lullaby cadence, all of their own. Harry looked as if he was about to cry, and Severus quickly put the room in a bubble of silence. It wouldn't do to escape the attention of Wizards only to have the Muggles suspect him of kidnapping or worse perversions.
The bedroom door opened, and Sirius stepped in quickly, shutting it behind him. "The house is empty," he reported, and Severus shushed him with a raised finger, tipping his chin at Harry, eyes shut but still settling. Sirius crossed to sit on the bed, which sagged wearily under his weight. "Is this house Unplottable?" he asked, keeping his voice as low as possible.
Severus pushed to his feet and went to tidy his clothes off the floor. He hated the thought of wearing soiled trousers more, he discovered with some surprise, than having Sirius Black watch him change clothes, so he stripped down quickly. He replaced each item of clothing as quickly as possible, but he was shivering with the cold by the time he'd got his boots back on and an answer ready.
"Above us," Severus said, "in the space under the roof, is my mother's potions laboratory. Mine, now. Only wizards I trust can find it." His mouth twisted before he could control his expression. "Lily was my last visitor. She came by after her parents' funeral, hoping to mend our friendship." He paused. "She must have been pregnant then. Her house was just the other side of the allotments. We used to. . . we grew up together. Her mother mended my jumper once, when it ripped."
"I didn't see you," Sirius said. "At the funeral."
"No." Severus rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand. He was tired, now, but sunrise was just a few hours away. He would need to be at Hogwarts for the morning meeting. Hopefully, none of the other teachers had slept well, either. "I'll get you settled and then fetch up ― " he sighed, thoughts tumbling one other the other ― "the bath, and some food. More blankets. I've no toys or picture books. Or nappies." He threw his hands out in wordless irritation. "Here."
He pushed at the side of the bookcase behind the door, and the shelves slid noiselessly sideways to form a steep staircase along the wall. Climbing, he reached the ceiling and muttered the password; the trapdoor appeared, and he pushed it up.
"Locomotor cot," Severus said, leaning down to steer Harry safely through the door and onto the attic hearthrug. "Sleeping, are you, Black?"
"Terrified," Sirius said, but a moment later he pulled himself up into the laboratory and ― following Severus' impatient gesture ― set about lighting a fire while Severus went to raid the kitchen.
There was enough time for a short nap, so Severus tossed Sirius one blanket, wrapped himself up in another, and curled up next to the cot in the warmth of the fire. He was woken by an owl hooting, and then by Harry's angry wails. The kitchen had yielded one tin of milk the night before; Severus punctured the top now and added it to a cup half-full of boiling water from the Ever-Teakettle, despite Sirius saying that was disgusting. For being exasperating, he made Sirius feed the milk to Harry while Severus climbed down to open the window for his mail. The owl settled sullenly on the windowsill in the thin predawn light.
"I need to go," Severus called up, yanking his teaching robes out of the wardrobe and fumbling the fastenings shut. The owl hooted plaintively, and Severus shooed it upstairs to steal biscuits from the baby.
There was a short pause, and then a bang, and then Sirius said, "No, no, don't touch that, here, have a. . . . What do you mean, go?"
"I teach," Severus snapped. "That is how I manage to live in such elegant style."
"What about Harry?" Sirius said. He sounded daunted. "You can't keep us in the attic."
Severus Summoned his cloak and winced when he saw how abused it was from the night's activities, muddy and stained and singed in places. He tried to repair as much of the damage as he could with mending and cleaning charms. "Feel free to leave whenever you like. There's a chance the Death Eaters won't be looking for the boy, and. . . if Dumbledore was right, then the Dark Lord might have been vanquished last night. I don't know. I do know I should be back as soon as lessons are done for the day, and you probably won't expire of boredom in ten hours." He polished his wand and pushed his hair back from his face. "We're lucky I don't live in a faculty suite like the Heads of House, or in one of the Hogsmeade bedsitters." He let his tone suggest that there was nothing he'd rather not do. "You should avoid my father if at all possible. He's Muggle, but viciously clever. For all the years she tried, my mother never did succeed in killing him."
On that note, Severus Apparated to the Hogwarts gates, which Ogg the groundskeeper was just opening for the day. Severus wished him a good morning, as he always did, not meaning anything by it. As he strode up to the school, the sun slipped over the horizon, a glorious dawn in pink and golden clouds limning a high blue autumn sky. Looking up, Severus felt weighted by unspeakable sorrow and wrongness. He wasn't sure he could bear a celebration.
Dumbledore made the announcement of Voldemort's fall from power and the Potters' deaths to the staff. It had apparently been reported in the newspapers, and owls from parents had been pouring in. "In light of the unprecedented circumstances," Dumbledore said, looking sombre, "we have decided to allow students to return home through the weekend." He raised his goblet of prune juice in a toast that everyone hurried to copy. "To Harry Potter, the Boy who Lived!"
It was all very inspirational, except that Severus knew Harry Potter was currently the boy who was being minded by a man who'd probably never even cooked an egg for himself. He tried very hard to Occlude those thoughts, but when Dumbledore caught him by the sleeve as he was leaving, his guilty knowledge was hard to suppress.
"A word," Dumbledore said. "In my office."
Severus followed him. What else could he do?
Dumbledore went straight to his desk and Summoned a rolled-up parchment. To Severus' eye, it was probably three to four feet in length; a sizeable essay. "I received the most peculiar letter this morning," he said. "From Sirius Black. Among other things, he wants to know if I was serious when I said you were trustworthy." Severus did not say anything, but resolved never to leave Sirius at home with an owl again. "He also says that as Harry Potter's godfather he will raise the boy as his own, responsibly, to a high moral standard."
"Such a gift for both insult and hyperbole," Severus said. "Why did he never pursue a career in journalism?"
"He's not my first choice for guardian." Dumbledore re-rolled the parchment, set it down, and steepled his fingers as if settling in for a long lecture. "Lily's sister can give him blood protection."
"She's horrid," Severus blurted out, before he could stop himself. He was desperately tired, and Occlumency was draining his mental resources, but honestly ― Petunia? "She hates magic and she loathed Potter. Lily embarrassed her." It galled him to say anything nice about Sirius, but: "Black would do anything for Harry, including lay down his own life. You know that."
"He mentioned that several times in his letter," Dumbledore said blandly. "Incidentally, I gave him my reassurances. You are, after all, a teacher, responsible for shaping the minds and attitudes of all children here, and serve loyally. Are he and the boy safe?"
"Yes," Severus said, slowly. "I would also. . . put my life between any danger and Lily's son." He had to look at Dumbledore when he said that, stare him straight in the eyes to make perfectly clear that he meant he'd stand in Dumbledore's way, if it came to that, as surely as he'd stand up to Voldemort. He felt his stomach churn queasily, and wished he'd had time for breakfast. Prune juice did not agree with his empty stomach.
Dumbledore smiled a bit too knowingly and Summoned a croissant from a dish on the mantelpiece. He offered it with an encouraging raise of one overgrown eyebrow. "Here. You have that lean and hungry look."
Severus took it, because he couldn't figure out how to refuse without being overtly insulting and because he suspected Dumbledore was quoting. There was no clever way to reply to an unknown quote, and to ask would be. . . intolerable. He took a bite carefully, but the pastry still crumbled, little flakes going all down the front of his robes.
"Peter Pettigrew," Dumbledore said, nodding as if Severus had brought up his name. Severus chewed faster, in alarm. "Sirius says he must have told Voldemort. . . everything." Dumbledore walked around to the other side of his desk and sank down, pulling his pointy hat off with a sigh and rubbing his forehead. "Of course, with him dead now, there's no proof of that. People are talking about awarding poor dead Pettigrew the Order of Merlin for standing up to the real spy, the werewolf Remus Lupin."
Severus choked on his mouthful of pastry, barely managing to get himself under control without having to spit it all on the floor.
"Lupin found him, then?" Severus asked, trying to project blasé indifference and probably failing, with crumbs at the corners of his mouth and his hands trying to shake despite his resolution to remain unmoved.
"Lupin has a. . . talent for tracking," Dumbledore said idly. "Pettigrew and twelve Muggles are dead. With a single curse, apparently." Dumbledore looked up, eyes suddenly sharp and cold. "Not someone safe to have around a child."
Severus remembered standing before the Headmaster's desk five years previously, wrapped in a blanket and holding a mug of hot spiced cider in both hands, while Sirius begged for Remus' forgiveness. Remus had been stiff with rage and the after-effects of becoming human again; his hands had been bandaged and he had held his weight carefully on his left hip. Did you think about me at all? Remus had whispered, and Sirius had flinched and gone silent. I'd sooner die than be a murderer, do you hear me. Remus' head had lowered, and Severus barely caught his words. Am I just a weapon to you, is that how you think of me, that I would kill ― and his voice broke, but he looked right at Severus, biting his lip.
Severus had looked away, and then Dumbledore and James had entered, along with their Heads of House. Remus hadn't apologized to him, but he had fainted twice, and after that day had avoided Severus entirely until they both left Hogwarts. After leaving school they'd both had to contend with worse than Black and Potter, and it had been comparatively easy to start seeing each other again. If Severus were one to hope, which he was not, he might have wanted them both to get through the war unharmed and undamaged. Well. They almost had.
"You know my feelings about Lupin as well as anyone," Severus said now, and popped the last crusty bit of pastry in his mouth. It tasted as dry as old parchment.
"Yes," Dumbledore said. Severus smiled and Occluded, swallowed and wiped his mouth on his sleeve. "Enjoy your days off, Professor Snape."
That was a dismissal, none too soon. Severus nodded sharply. "Headmaster." He paused, and then added, quickly, "If you see Hagrid, please tell him that I'm sorry for. . . what he doesn't remember." Severus frowned, but thought that was more than enough said on the matter. He turned on his heel and strode down the stairs, feeling blue eyes watching him until he was well down the corridor.
He had a throbbing headache by the time he Apparated home, and wished for nothing more than the cessation of all trouble, and a stiff drink, and some soothingly mindless programme on the wireless.
What he found when he arrived was Sirius sprawled on the hearthrug, helping Harry build a castle with brightly coloured blocks. Sirius had always been good at Transfiguration, but the blocks still suggested their origins as discarded packages of instant soup and empty tins of meat and spaghetti. The laboratory had been scrubbed spotless, ceiling to floor, all the homely cobwebs gone and the soot banished. Severus wouldn't have thought Sirius knew how to clean ― his family had likely had house-elves ― but he'd done a passable job. Not that Severus had particularly wanted the room tidied. When it was a tip it at least looked foreboding. Now it just looked shabby.
He was about to say something cutting when he saw Remus sitting in the shadows, under the one sparkling unbroken pane of glass in the narrow rear window. Remus had his back to the wall and sat with his arms around his knees. The faint glitter of his eyes showed that he was watching Severus.
"Twelve people with one curse?" Severus said, crossing to the centre table to fill the kettle, and not because it put him closer to Remus. "I didn't know you had it in you."
"I was angry," Remus said, his voice colourless.
"Dumbledore knows Peter was the traitor," Severus said, annoyed with himself for trying to alleviate Remus' misery. "But being what you are, popular opinion ― and the law ― hold that you ought to be put down. Or clapped in Azkaban."
"I'll go," Remus said. "As soon as Sirius lets me up." Severus gave him a sharp look, and Remus gestured down with his chin and then shrugged with his eyebrows.
Sirius didn't even look up from his game. "It can't be coincidence that he knew we were here." He sounded casual, but every line of his body was taut. There were newspapers, Severus noted, piled up on the straightbacked chair. He summoned them and grimaced at the sensational headlines of both the Wizarding and Muggle front pages. Werewolf rampage! Potters, Pettigrew killed!, Tragedy! Blood and bodies everywhere!.
"Finite incantatem," Severus said, snapping his wand at Remus with dramatic weary indifference. Remus groaned and slumped to the side, stretching the cramped muscles in his legs and arms. He looked as if he were in pain. "He was looking for me," Severus went on, and boiled the water for tea. "He's been here before."
"Winter holiday," Remus said, his voice muffled by his arm. "Lily's dad drove us down in his car."
Severus sighed and gave the tea a nudge. It whirled and made a disgruntled bloop and turned a rich deep colour. He poured it into four cups, making Harry's half milk. "Back when the Mudbloods and the half-bloods stuck together," Severus said, trying for an air of false ironic jollity, but sounding ― to his ears ― bitter and sullen. "Those were the days, eh, Lupin?"
"Hm," Remus muttered, pushing himself to his feet by bracing his back against the wall and sliding up slowly. He took a few steadying breaths and then walked, stiff-kneed, over to collect his tea. He did not look Severus in the eyes.
Severus went to fetch Harry. He'd pocketed everything from lunch that looked suitable for a child, and now he sat down with Harry on his knee and spread the feast out on the table. He wasn't going to involve himself with whatever game Sirius and Remus were playing. Harry was easy to get along with; he just needed feeding and holding and a bit of discipline in his environment. Severus produced an apple wedge cut in the shape of a rabbit, and Harry grabbed it in one fat little fist, half a scone in the other. His bottle-green eyes tilted up when he smiled, just like Lily's had, and Severus touched Harry's cheek with the back of a bent finger, carefully, wonderingly.
"I'm going out to the bog," Remus said. He sounded belligerent, as if he expected to be stopped, but Sirius didn't say anything.
Severus coughed. "My dad might be home."
He could hear the amusement in Remus' reply as it wafted up from the room below. "He likes me."
Harry dribbled a bit as he gnawed on the apple. Severus wiped at him with his handkerchief but assumed he was happy enough. He glanced over at Sirius. "That's true, strangely enough. My father kept asking for me to have Lupin back over. I'd never said he was from school, and we didn't tell him Lupin nearly ate me that time, of course."
"I've never been in a Muggle house before," Sirius said, flopping back on the rug with his arms spread wide. "If I have to stay indoors another day with the baby I'm going to go mad."
"We'll go out tomorrow," Severus said. "You've not given him a bath, have you?" Sirius raised a hand and dropped it, as if defeated by the very thought. "If I Summon some clothes, can you Transfigure them into baby things?"
Sirius covered an enormous yawn with his arm. "I can improve the cot while I'm at it. Give me a minute."
"Lazy good-for-nothing," Severus said, and conjured up a pile of his mother's clothes from the trunk in his parents' room. He didn't think she'd need them again, wherever she was. Sirius growled and cursed, which was almost a relief; Severus didn't quite know what to do with Sirius' quiet grieving. He fetched a couple of bath towels as well, and had the tin bath fill itself. By the time the water was steaming and covered in a froth of soap bubbles, Harry was done with the second half of his scone, although most of it seemed to have got in his hair, somehow.
"Well, you're a repugnant disgrace," Severus said, and tugged Harry's pyjama shirt over his head. He wanted to bin it. The bloodstains were nearly unnoticeable, but they were there if you knew to look. He pulled off the pants and a nappy that looked as if Sirius had transfigured it out of an ugly necktie, and plonked Harry in the tub. Harry slapped the bubbles with his palms, loudly amused as water sloshed onto the floor.
Remus climbed back up and conjured a folding screen to keep the draught away from the tub ― "Look, it doubles as a clothes-maiden," he said, and hung up the towels to demonstrate. His cheeks were red and he reeked of tobacco smoke, so Severus assumed he'd been talking with his father about football, or something similarly Muggle.
When Harry had been scrubbed head to toe with the flannel, Severus pronounced him clean and handed him over to Sirius to be dressed in whatever Sirius fancied were pyjamas. Because it was his house, Severus took the next bath, reheating the water with a quick spell. Remus went after him. Severus gave him one of his mother's potions for his hair, because Remus needed to not look like the photograph in the newspaper.
"Never mind me," Sirius said, idly rocking the newly improved cot with his foot. Harry stuck his fist in his mouth and kicked the blankets off with his feet. Severus put out the candles, dropping the room into the soft flicker of firelight. "Not like I'm covered in years' worth of grime from tidying up this place for Harry."
"Sorry," Remus said, flashing an insincere smile over the top of the screen before ducking down to rub the potion into his hair. Severus cast a few half-hearted cleaning charms on Remus' clothes, but they remained as bloody as Harry's, and smelled rank, like sweat and fear.
"I've clothes you can borrow," Severus said shortly, feeling like a fool, but Remus just poked his head up again, water dripping in his eyes from damp hair that glowed faintly, and said Thanks as if the offer meant something to him. "Muggle ones. You seem to prefer those."
Remus took one last rinse and got out of the tub. He cast a quick Drying Charm and checked his reflection on the side of the kettle. His hair had been an unremarkable brown with a bit of a curl; now it was lighter with cheap brassy highlights, and straight as straw. Remus made a face. Severus wasn't surprised his mother had had leftovers of that potion. Remus wrapped a towel around his hips and Banished his clothes to the far corner. His shoulder was bruised, and he had more bruises down his arm. Severus noticed Sirius' eyes narrowing as he looked, as well.
"Take your bath," Severus told him. Remus raised an eyebrow. He didn't say anything, but Severus knew what he meant. "I'll see if I have something that fits you, too." His smile wasn't more vindictive than apologetic; James and Sirius had been taller than Severus since First Year and had been fond of taunting him for being small, amongst his other failings.
Sirius was probably remembering the same thing, because he ducked his head and gave Severus a sullen look through his eyelashes. "I'd appreciate it," he said, and went to look sceptically at the bath, unbuttoning his shirt.
Severus supposed that the Blacks had an enormous porcelain tub with water charmed to run hot and cold from gold-plated taps. They probably had a house-elf to scrub backs and toes, and never used the same tepid water as the rest of the family. Severus spared a moment to savour Sirius' far fall from grace, and then picked up a candlestick to lead Remus down to his room. The bookshelf-steps were steep and treacherous.
Severus didn't own that many clothes. He had two pairs of good black trousers, two white shirts, and a waistcoat to wear under his teacher's robes; he had had to buy them with an advance on his first earnings, and had gone to a tailor recommended by Dumbledore. But he still had his school uniform trousers and shirt, as well as one pair of jeans with rolled up cuffs and an odd assortment of button-down shirts that had accumulated over the years.
He tossed the lot on the bed for Remus to rummage through, and made up two sets of vests and underpants and socks. He made sure to give Sirius the ones with stretched elastic and holes.
"I'll borrow these," Remus said, setting the grey uniform trousers and a green shirt with a wide collar to the side with his stack of underwear. "Sirius has longer legs, the other trousers will suit him." He gave Severus a wry look. "I've some Muggle money, but we'll need it for nappies and food. Maybe a pushchair."
"There's a branch of Gringott's in the city," Severus said. "I can exchange money there ― I do every now and then." He gestured around with grand scorn, indicating the entire house. "It wouldn't attract suspicion."
Remus took a breath and looked at Severus quietly for a long moment. "I wouldn't have come to you except I'd nowhere else to go," he said, and bit his lower lip. "I shouldn't stay."
"Probably not," Severus agreed. "I don't suppose you'll escape the Aurors forever."
Severus nodded. "We should have a nice little chat. Perhaps over tea and biscuits."
"The war is over," Remus said, and scooped up the clothing from Severus' bed. "Long live the war."
Upstairs, Sirius had set out three pallets of blankets in front of the hearth, surrounding the cot, which Severus supposed was a good idea. Remus really did put the kettle on for tea while Severus drew up chairs at his lab table and dug out some parchment and teacups.
"Awright," Remus said when they were finally ready to start, rocking his chair back on two legs and then letting it drop back down to the floor with a clunk, moving forward fast to lean his elbows on the tabletop, flickering his intent stare between Severus and Sirius. "Right then. So we plan this like a job, yeah? Like what we did in the war." He held out a hand and a pad of parchment scraps flew into it, then snapped his fingers and a quill appeared. "Long term goals desired, short term goals. What we need to do. Who we can trust. Who we can't."
"Can we trust each other?" Severus asked, because that seemed most pertinent. He'd seen the way Sirius had watched him when he poured the tea, and how he'd waited until Remus and Severus had sipped their drinks before finally picking up his cup. All his caution wouldn't have saved him if Severus had really wanted to poison him, of course.
Remus shrugged, and wrote the question down. "Unbreakable Vow," he said dismissively. "Won't hurt to take it, only hurt to break it."
Severus took out his wand and set it on the table. "First things first, then. Three of us, and each the other's Bonder."
Sirius took his wand out and picked Severus' up carelessly, holding it against his to compare length and thickness, sighting along them while rolling them between his fingers to check the straightness of the wood. "Neither of you," he said, with the same false negligence, "is of course bound by any other vows, I assume." He looked at Remus and lifted one eyebrow in an elegant question.
"Severus took the mark, I did not. My kind were not permitted, even if I'd wanted to," Remus said and then feigned abashment, overplaying wide eyes for dramatic effect. "I'm sorry, did you want to use Veritaserum?"
"I've got some," Severus said. He set his tea down neatly and summoned a vial. He enjoyed the moment when Sirius looked taken aback and profoundly unhappy, before he cleared his face to bland disinterest again.
"A well-considered Unbreakable should be able to deal with previous loyalties," Sirius said, and handed Severus' wand back with a courtesy and respect that were obviously mockery. Severus' wand had been given to him by his mother; it suited him well enough that he saw no need to replace it even now when he could afford better. Sirius' eyes flickered over Severus' shelves with curiosity, taking stock of the ingredients and the neatly-bottled rows of potions. Severus waited for him to ask about just what he did up here. He had a very rude reply ready at hand.
"Our first priority is Harry's safety," Remus said, his voice just that bit louder. Severus smirked. Remus did like being in charge. "Our second, his happiness?" He looked down at the tabletop, then up without meeting anyone's eyes. "For James and Lily's sake."
"Hurry up," Severus said. "I do have things to do in the morning."
Remus wrote the bit about safety and happiness on the topmost parchment, and then followed with other clauses and conditions until he'd covered three pages back and front and the teakettle was emptied entirely. Remus looked satisfied. He liked setting a good trap almost as much as escaping one. Sirius had sunk lower and lower in his chair, smothering yawns with the back of his hand, and when it was done just stretched his legs out and said, "I'll go first."
The Vows themselves were done in hardly any time. Severus didn't feel that different afterwards, except for a tingling around his wrist where the red fire had curled. The Vow affected Remus the worst, leaving him shaking afterwards, either because he was a dark creature (and who knew how magic would affect them?) or because his soul was in tatters from being a mass murderer. Severus suspected the latter but said the former; he didn't want Remus dwelling on how far he had fallen.
Remus fetched up lager and a plate of bread and cheese, and plans were made. Sirius enjoyed scheming, and now it was Severus' turn to start dozing off. The fire had burned low by the time Remus called it a night, saying that they'd all be busy the next day.
Sirius got up, stretching his arms above his head, laced fingers brushing against the eaves. His shirt rode up, and Severus wondered if that was meant as a tease. He would have to ask Remus what Sirius knew, and what he thought he knew.
"I need to sell my flat," Sirius said through a jaw-cracking yawn. "Move my things here. I miss having a bed to sleep in."
"At least it's not the moors," Remus said darkly, unrolling the blankets to make three pallets set around the cot again. "Roof over my head, I can't complain."
"You never complain, Moony," Sirius said lightly, but then flushed and looked down when Remus gave him a sharp warning glare.
Severus told them both to shut up and go to sleep, but had to ruin the moment when he realised he needed to go downstairs to get his nightshirt. Remus followed him.
"You're not being subtle," Severus told him, as Remus held the nightshirt for him while he stripped. "Sirius knows?"
"Knows what?" Remus asked, and put a hand on Severus' stomach as he leaned in to kiss him. "Knows that we're fucking? Yeah, so?"
"We're not fucking, not tonight," Severus said, and kissed Remus once before pushing him away. "How does that serve Harry's health and happiness, then?"
Remus shrugged and let Severus tug his nightshirt out of his hands. "You're nicer after coming," he said, with a little smile that told Severus he was teasing. "It'd be my civic duty."
"We're not going to succeed at this, you know," Severus said. "Either the good guys or the baddies will find us and take him away. Maybe that'd be better for Harry. Toughen him up."
"Nah." Remus blinked and looked away. "Everyone else has an agenda. We're the only ones with Harry's interests at heart. Plus," and his smile was the same, but with the humour gone it just seemed bitter, "we're rejects and fuck-ups and failures. We've got nothing to lose, that makes us stronger."
"Speak for yourself." Severus glared until Remus leaned in to kiss the scowl from his face. "I've another two years until I'm a Master Potioneer and eligible to be Head of House. I do valuable research. I write papers, I have a career." Once, when he'd been back with Remus long enough to make stupid mistakes, he'd told him not to expect a relationship; he needed a partner who'd be influential, not detrimental.
Remus hadn't spoken to him for four months after that, and in that time Severus had heard two very reliable reports of Remus' death.
Now, Remus ran a finger along Severus' lower lip, almost soothing. "I'll do everything I can not to ruin that for you." He looked a little wistful. He never talked about what he wanted to do with his life. The war had been terrible and terrifying, but it had given him a way to escape the legal constraints placed on werewolves. In the bright post-Voldemort world, Remus Lupin had no future.
It was a waste of a very good education. No wonder Remus was driven to murder.
Remus ruined the moment by yawning so wide that his jaw cracked, and announcing that he needed to go piss.
"Be gone, then," Severus said, and Remus left like the Cheshire Cat, the ghost of his smile remaining.
Upstairs, Sirius was already curled up under the blankets.
"So, you and Remus, then," Sirius said, as easy as if he were talking about the weather.
"Yes," Severus said, in the tone he used to quell the older students, the ones who knew he was barely older than they were. He checked that Harry hadn't kicked off his blanket. The scar on Harry's forehead had been covered by a large port-wine stain. Severus touched the edge of it, lightly, and Harry snorted and flailed in his sleep. "You do decent work."
Sirius shrugged and put his hands under his head, dark hair falling over his wrists. "I couldn't make the scar invisible."
"It's a curse scar," Severus said, settling on his own pallet with his wand tucked just by his shoulder. "The Dark Lord. . . tried to kill him."
Sirius huffed. Severus looked at him out of the corners of his eyes, at his perfect smooth skin over handsome cheekbones, the way he flicked his tongue over his top lip as he worked out what to say. Regulus had been just as Blackly arrogant, but he'd had an endearing awkwardness, baby-fat and spotty, with a near-sighted squint and restless hands. Severus wished. . . that Regulus had lived, that he was the one who was here, so Severus didn't have to suffer through the casual way Sirius flaunted that he was everything he'd never be.
"Why do you call him that?" Sirius said finally, quickly, as the sound of the back garden door being shut echoed up. "Dark Lord. As if ― are you, were you scared of him, then?"
Severus snorted. "Did you ever meet ― " and no, he couldn't say the name, damn it, so he scowled and tried to make his voice derisive ― "He Who Must Not Be Named? He was," and Severus took a deep breath, "terrifying. Powerful," he said, feeling like a fool. "Like fire, uncontrollable and absolutely without understanding or empathy."
"He killed my brother," Sirius said. "James and Lily. But he couldn't kill Harry. Not for want of trying."
"Nice chat you're having," Remus said, climbing the last few shelves up and then setting the trapdoor in place and rigging an alarm. "Want to give everyone nightmares?"
"No," Sirius said, and rolled over to face away from the fireplace, the blanket pulled up to his nose. "Night, Moony."
"Night, Padfoot," Remus said, his face fond and amused as he straightened his blankets. Severus loathed nicknames. But before sleeping Remus crawled over and gave Severus a good night kiss that was just this side of lewd, which Severus counted as a win.
"Your mum likes music," Remus said, sitting tailor-style on the floor of Severus' mother's laboratory to flip through the records.
"No one plays those," Severus said dismissively. "They're rubbish."
"Bite your tongue," Remus said, and flipped out a 45. Standing, he used a hover charm to float it over the worktable, set it to spinning, and then hung his wand in the air over it with a murmured Sonorus.
Lily looked up as the first scratchy notes swelled, her face lighting.
"Leave that be if it'll keep," Remus said, waving a hand at the iron cauldron. "You ever watch Top of the Pops?"
Lily rolled her eyes. "You've met my sister." She pulled off her leather apron and walked over to Severus, taking hold of his hand. "Sometimes we roll up the rug in the front room and, you know, practise dancing." She put her other hand on Severus' elbow and stepped backwards, pulling him with her. "It's fun."
"It's ridiculous," Severus said, but he didn't break out of her hold. "It's common. Muggle."
"I'm common, then," Lily said, her chin going up and turning Severus around without so much as a warning. "That what you're saying?"
Severus shook his head. Behind Lily's back, Remus gestured to him, but Severus couldn't figure out what Remus was suggesting. "This isn't magic," he said awkwardly, trying to take back the offence without resorting to the humiliation of apology. "It is fun."
"Told you so," Lily said, sticking out her tongue at him, and made him try a box step. She leaned in close and whispered, "A prince should know how to dance."
"Half-blood," Severus snapped, embarrassed. When they'd been small he'd told her all kinds of lies about how he was a prince, really, and how one day his people would come and claim him.
Lily shrugged and somehow got him to turn her around and out and pull her back in again, without disaster. "Half-blood prince, then," she said, and laughed at whatever Severus' expression was. Sour, probably.
The song came to an end; Remus put on another record.
After walking Lily home, there were no other opportunities for entertainment, and Severus and Remus readied for bed. They had to share Severus' bed because he was too proud to ask his mother to transfigure something for Remus. In the dark, curtain drawn to keep out the moonlight, Remus asked, tensely diffident, if Severus wanted Lily to be his girlfriend. If he liked her.
"We're not like that," Severus snapped. "You're not to touch her either, you or your bullying friends."
"I'm not interested in girls," Remus said, sounding scornful, and turned on his side with his back to Severus' shoulder. Remus seemed to fall asleep quickly; Severus' pounding heart kept him awake until even after he heard his father return from the pub and his mother slip down the stairs to face his anger.
Severus kissed Remus the next day, just to see and lost his virginity the next night, and the next week they were back in Hogwarts, where James and Sirius did their worst to keep Severus from Lily and Remus. They wouldn't have succeeded, Severus thought now, but for his own pride. He'd learnt early on that there was no sense in yearning for the unattainable. It was better to be needed by the wrong people than spat on by the right.
In the morning, Sirius headed to London on his motorcycle, and Severus dropped Remus and Harry off in the park before heading to Gringotts. The queues were appalling. Severus shuffled forward with his nose in The Daily Prophet and eavesdropped on the babble of conversation around him. He heard no fewer than six people mention Harry by name, and every so often fireworks or birds or parti-coloured bubbles suddenly appeared to the accompaniment of giddy laughter.
When he reached the head of the queue he was relieved to see that the goblins looked as sour as he felt. He didn't know how much money they'd need, but he had no intention of pinching pennies before Sirius Black. He converted his two months' worth of savings resolutely, and ignored the sick feeling in his stomach.
By the time he returned to pick Remus up, Harry was hungry and fractious. There were a couple of older children playing on the swings; their mothers gossiped on the wooden bench and cast dark looks at Remus where he sat at the corner of the sandpit. Harry was beyond being placated with piles of sand and acorns and twigs.
"Come on, then," Severus called, impatient. Harry looked up and then lurched to his feet to stagger at Severus desperately, arms held out as if pleading for rescue. "What have you been doing to him?" he demanded of Remus, hefting Harry and trying to shake most of the sand off before letting Harry attach himself to his neck in misery.
Remus looked ready to bite. "It's been hours," he said tightly, walking one pace back as they left. "And he doesn't understand you're coming back, and everyone's asking me where's his m - u -m and." He stopped and sucked in a breath. "He doesn't like me much."
"He's a baby," Severus said. "They are simple creatures. Feed him and he'll love you." Severus cut down the alley behind St. Stephens so they came out on the high street by the chemists', and turned sharply right. "Next time you're out and he gets hungry, the grocers' is just here." He walked in, ducking the hanging strings of onions over the door, and headed for the refrigerated section, directing Remus to pick up a basket. He got two bottles of milk and handed one to Remus, opening the other on the spot. Harry was thirsty, and dribbled in his greed. Remus shifted uncomfortably, and Severus suspected that Remus just didn't like children much. "Give me your handkerchief and go finish the shopping," he told Remus.
"Right," Remus said, mouth clamping shut in annoyance, and disappeared.
Harry wasn't content with milk for long. Severus craned to look at the wall clock over the front counter. Eleven seemed early for lunch, but what did he know? He grabbed a couple of oven-bottom muffins and went up front to explain to Mrs Bezruchka that he'd be paying for everything all together in just a minute. Mrs Bezruchka cooed over Harry and fed him bits of muffin until Remus turned up with an over-laden basket.
Remus asked if there were a charity shop nearby, and Mrs Bezruchka directed him to Oxfam down by the bookshop. By that point she'd progressed to feeding Severus snacks as well, so Remus went off by himself and returned, two apples and a packet of Seabrook's later, with a battered pushchair and three lumpy carrier bags.
Severus thanked Mrs Bezruchka and retrieved Harry from her knee. Harry did not like the pushchair, so Mrs Bezruchka gave him a squashed-fly biscuit to chew on while Remus got the restraining belt in order.
"That was a success," Severus said, wheeling Harry home, trying to keep the pushchair wheels from careening too madly over the cobblestones as they headed up Loom Street. "You got everything?"
"Maybe," Remus said. "I saw my picture on a paper on a wall. Gave me a bit of a pause, distracted me."
Severus didn't doubt that the Muggle police were cooperating with the Ministry in their search. The idea made him cold, and he didn't want to think about it. "This is the alley," he said, turning up where the bins stood in a battered row. "You'll need to know your way around when I'm at work."
"James didn't want me to touch Harry, you know," Remus said, following after. Severus saw the slight turn of his head as Remus studied the neighbourhood. Since his last visit, the metal works plant had closed, and half the houses were boarded up and overgrown. "Superstition, but there you are. And I understand. When it's your family. . . ."
"Open the damn gate," Severus said, stopping the pushchair and angling the balky wheels towards the house. There was a trick to the gate; it needed to be heaved up in the centre and shoved along the rut on the ground until it couldn't go any further. The pushchair barely fit through the gap, and Harry grumbled as he was jostled. He was nearly asleep, Severus thought, worn out by all the activity. The buckles opened easily to Alohomora, and Severus pulled Harry up and out. "I'll get him sorted, you do everything else."
"Sure," Remus said. He looked as if he was in a stroppy temper, but Severus had no intention of bothering with that. Instead, he busied himself getting Harry settled in his cot. Remus was waiting for him when he climbed down the bookshelf.
"I'm sorry," Remus said, and reached out with one hand to slide his fingers along to the back of Severus' neck. Severus didn't move. Remus leaned forward and kissed him, closing his eyes and tilting his head. It was a slow and gentle kiss, shadowed by memories. Severus ran his fingers through Remus' hair, and Remus' breath caught, his other hand on Severus' hip tightening.
Remus shifted, moving close enough that his chest was warm against Severus' through the fabric of their shirts. Remus moved his mouth, down to Severus' jaw, and then his neck, his teeth careful as they moved over Severus' skin. "The last time I was in this house," Remus murmured, the words light breaths of air, "I wanted you to be my happy ending, like in stories."
Severus snorted. "That's not what you want now."
Remus pulled back, his eyes dark and unreadable. "I want to suck you," he said, stroking his hand down to slide his fingers teasingly under the waistband of the Muggle trousers that Severus hated. "Can I?"
"Be my guest," Severus said, and let Remus shove him back against the wall next to the wardrobe.
Remus went to his knees gracefully, splaying his hands over Severus' hipbones and rubbing his cheek against the fabric that strained over Severus' trapped cock. His eyes flicked up once, meeting Severus' gaze, and then he pulled the zip down quickly, flicking the buttons undone and tugging down trousers and underwear together. Remus hummed a bit and gave Severus a devilish look, and slid his mouth over the head of Severus' cock.
They hadn't done this in far too long; time was one of the hardest things to steal. Remus obviously enjoyed what he was doing, using his tongue and the warm tight suction of his mouth, taking Severus in deep and then pulling back slowly. Severus knotted one hand in Remus' hair; Remus made a noise deep in his throat that was more a growl than a moan, and Severus abruptly remembered when he'd first learned to fear Remus.
My, what big teeth you have, he thought, and his hips jerked forward at the thought. The better to eat you with. Remus' eyes were shut, his face in shadow, but Severus could see the obscene stretch of his mouth, and how wet his lips were when he pulled back. Severus pushed forward again, and again, and Remus' fingers tightened when he went too deep but Remus didn't move or protest.
"I'm close," Severus bit out. Remus hummed a response, sliding one hand down to cradle his balls, one finger pressing right behind them in a way that made Severus' hips snap forward and his head jerk back to bang against the wall. His eyes were open, and what he saw was Sirius Black standing in the doorway, staring in shock ― and enjoying the show, Severus thought, with his mouth open and eyes dark with arousal. "Remus," Severus said, "Remus;" and he was coming, waves of pleasure shaking him in their wake and Remus holding him steady.
Severus forgot everything, for that moment, and was glad of the chance to do so. He let go of Remus' strange new hair, trying to push it down so Remus looked less fucked. Remus swept the broad of his tongue one last time over the head of Severus' cock, making him jerk at the sensation, and then let him slide free. He pressed his forehead against Severus' thigh and breathed hard through his teeth as he jerked himself off.
Severus wanted to ― he didn't even know ― but then the moment passed and Remus was coming, the muscles in his back tensed, one long shuddering groan barely smothered against Severus' bare skin.
That broke whatever spell had kept Sirius frozen. He turned and slipped down the stairs to the front room. His footfalls were quiet but sounded loud, and Remus muttered, "Damn," sitting back and cleaning up and red-faced in a way that brought out the small spatter of freckles across his cheeks.
"Sirius," Severus said, doing up his trousers. Not as bad as if his father'd walked in on them, but almost.
"Remind me to set alarms in the house," Remus said, standing and leaning in to give Severus a rough kiss. "I'll talk to him."
"This is my house," Severus said, and then ground his teeth as he realised he was using his father's words, flung in anger in countless rows over the years.
"Yeah," Remus said, shaking his hair so it fell back from his face. "I'll be sure to rub that in."
Severus settled onto his bed, sitting tailor-style, and summoned the Potions journals he intended to dissect over the impromptu holiday. He didn't try that hard not to eavesdrop. He wanted to know if Remus was going to apologise for him.
"So Snape," Sirius's voice drifted up the stairs; Remus must have left the door to the front room standing open. He sounded as if that was incomprehensible. "Since when did you start that up again, Moony?"
"Get your head out of your arse," Remus snapped. Severus could hear someone pacing. "You think it's been easy, trying to make and keep something for my own when my friends are arseholes and there's a war on?"
"And what did you do in the war?" Sirius asked, and the pacing sound stopped short. "Look who you're sleeping with."
"I'll go," Remus said coldly, and the solid meaty sound of a hand smacking into a body. "Out of my way."
"Talk to me, damn it," Sirius roared, and Severus put up a muffling spell. He hoped Harry slept through the whole fight; he wanted to hear it all. This was the Sirius he knew and hated, not the man twisted down by grief, and he wanted Remus to tear him to shreds. Not that he thought Remus would.
"Why, when you think I'm a liar?" Remus shouted back, and the floor shook with some kind of magic. "You thought I was the traitor, you trusted Peter not me, you tried to get me to murder Severus, and now you've used me to kill Peter. You don't see me," Remus said, the anger cracking and pain leaching through his words. "You used to. But then you stopped."
Severus heard boots scuffing heavy on the floor.
When Sirius spoke, his voice was lower, raw. "I don't think you're a liar. I do trust you."
"Only because you found out about Peter." Remus still sounded angry, but also weary.
"I'm sorry," Sirius said. "I am so fucking sorry for the whole damn mess. You think I don't know I doubted the wrong person and James and Lily are dead for it? Or that it should have been me hunting Pettigrew down?" Another tense awkward pause followed. "Please don't leave," Sirius said, imploring. "They'll kill you if they catch you, and I can't lose you. Sleep with whom you like, I don't, I can't tell you not to."
"No, you can't," Remus snapped, and then went on, reluctantly, "You need me. No one's better qualified in defence against the Dark Arts than me. Not even Severus. An advantage to being a dark creature," he added thoughtfully. "Darker now, I suppose. Killing all those people ― I might even be soulless, I'm not sure. Severus would know."
Severus didn't have a clue, but he knew the highest-level Death Eaters performed rites to transcend the limitations a soul put on magical ability. Voldemort, it was rumoured, believed eternal life and fathomless power were possible through such rites.
"So you're in love. With Snivellus?" Sirius asked, which stopped Severus' contemplation of Remus' potential omnipotence cold.
"What right do you have?" Remus said. "When he and Lily were friends, I was so happy. You changed that. It's so complicated now." Which was neither affirmation nor denial, but Severus preferred not having Sirius know too much.
"I saw my mother today," Sirius said, an abrupt change of topic accompanied by the sound of someone dropping heavily onto the ancient sofa. "We had tea and vitriol, just like old times. I told her," and Sirius' voice dropped; Severus had to use a charm to keep listening in, "I was wrong, she was right, hurrah for the old prejudices." He sucked in a breath that sounded shuddering, like tears being choked down, though Severus imagined it was only his pride. "I hate her so much, but she's my mother, and I'm the only child she has left alive. Anyway," he said loudly, over whatever Remus was mumbling, something uselessly regretful, "we can borrow her house-elf. He's manky and horrible, but he keeps up all the protective spells my father built on the family home. Could make this place right Unplottable, if we wanted."
"That's. . . " Remus sounded as if he's grudgingly changing gears. "It's a good idea. Though you're crap with House-Elves. You probably don't even know his name."
"I have you, Moony," Sirius said airily, and there was that mix of arrogance and condensation and overfriendliness that had been so cloying and annoying in school. Remus must have reacted badly to it as well, because after a pause Sirius said, very slowly, "No nicknames?"
"If you mean to call Severus names like you did in school, then you don't have me," Remus said with dispassionate calm. "Not at your back. Not as a friend."
"All right. Yeah." The sofa groaned. Severus hoped it didn't break under the weight of dramatics. "I got a good earful today, I'm a bit sick of insults, tell the truth. It's been a while since I've been called a blood traitor or a blemish on the family. She only told me twice that her wrong son died, that was better than I'd hoped."
"Always look on the bright side of life," Remus intoned solemnly, and then they were both laughing. Severus gave up on listening in disgust, and went upstairs to discover all the flaws in the Potion of the Month so that he could write a scathing letter to the editor.
Harry woke up when the cauldron had just started boiling, alerting Severus to his unhappiness by howling and kicking in rage. Severus moved the cauldron off the direct heat and went to pick Harry up. Predictably, he was sopping wet and clingy.
"You're supposed to talk," Severus told him as he got rid of the wet clothes ― the nappy had stayed dry, but it had leaked ― and redressed Harry in a suit made from his mother's old terry robe. "That's what babies do, they babble."
Harry staggered around in a circle, grabbing onto Severus' leg when he arrived back where he'd started.
"You're probably too young to even miss your mum and dad," Severus said, looking down. Harry stared up at him. "You don't even have that many teeth yet." Severus gave in to the silent pleading and swung Harry up to perch on his hip. "I think Remus bought you some playthings when he was meant to be buying necessities. We should go and look. You might be hungry. Are you hungry?"
Harry was busy looking around from his seat in the crook of Severus' arm, but Severus got the impression that he liked hearing him talk. Which was reasonable. Severus didn't waste words; he said important things.
Remus had the kitchen table set for tea when Severus brought Harry down, and the business of making sandwiches and keeping Harry from eating all the cucumbers out of them kept off any conversation more serious than asking for the mustard. Remus went out into the garden and fetched in an armful of toys ― plush things, and a train, and a wooden box full of blocks, and a cloth football that jingled like bells when it rolled. He and Sirius set to work Scourgifying the lot, while Severus gave up and let Harry dig pickles out of the jar with his fat little fists. It wasn't like he was a dirty child, after all, and a little pickle juice was hardly the worst thing he could be squelching around in.
When the pickles had ceased to entertain, Remus tried to get Harry interested in a game of football. Sirius proved utterly ignorant of the game and its rules, and Remus kept interrupting his explanations to laugh at Sirius' ignorance. Severus had never been good at sport, but he knew enough to smirk along with Remus while Sirius tried to teach Harry to kick. Harry wasn't quite able to balance on one foot, though, and usually just grabbed the ball and dropped it. Occasionally he managed to get it under the chair, which counted as a goal, and once he hit Remus in the head. Remus fell over with an exaggerated yelp, and Harry screamed with laughter.
Severus' father banged in when they were building block towers and pretending Harry was a giant flinging boulders and destroying everything. "What the hell's going on in my kitchen, then?" he bellowed, and Harry, who'd been getting wobbly from the exercise, dropped to the floor, raised up his sticky hands to Severus, and looked one second away from tears of terror and distress.
Severus pulled Harry into his lap and shoved a plush animal at him, a white dog with brown ears. Harry held the dog with one hand around its neck, but his other hand had a tight grip on Severus' arm. "You saw Lupin last night, didn't you?" Severus said, tamping down his temper by force of sheer will. Bringing Harry home had been the only option he'd been able to think of under pressure, but he didn't want to think about what would happen if his dad kicked them out.
Remus was already on his feet, clapping Tobias on the shoulder and asking what kind of sandwich he wanted.
"I'm out to the pub in a minute," Tobias said. "More homely there than this pit. Your kid?" he asked Sirius, eyes narrowed with suspicion and irritation.
Severus tightened his grip on Harry just a bit. Remus had talked about getting Harry proper Muggle papers made up, but they hadn't settled on what lies to tell. In retrospect, a mistake.
Sirius, seated awkwardly on the straightbacked chair, made a wry face and gave Severus an apologetic glance before replying. "Just helping. The boy's mum left him here and went off to London. With a man. Lupin's sister," he added helpfully, and then frowned. "The mother, I mean."
"Tart," Remus agreed, wide-eyed and nervous.
"Yours?" Tobias said, giving Severus an incredulous look. Severus shrugged. Tobias shook his head and grabbed a bottle of lager out of the box by the door. "How in hell," he started, and dropped into his threadbare armchair. "Got her in trouble, did you?"
Severus put a hand on Harry's head, trying to flatten down the wisps that corkscrewed up. "In a great deal of trouble. Don't know how long Harry's going to be staying."
His father set the bottle down on the table with a bump and tapped his knee with his palm. "Give him here, then."
There was no good way to refuse. Severus pushed to his feet and handed Harry over, plush dog and all. Remus grabbed for the box of biscuits on the counter, perhaps assuming Harry would fuss. But Harry just twisted around and pulled himself up, using Tobias as a means of reaching the high-up temptation of the tabletop. Severus pulled away the matches and a crumpled pack of fags and a paring knife, and Harry made a grab for the lager bottle. Severus moved it as well.
"He looks like you," Tobias said, one hand anchoring Harry, who had got hold of a spoon but wasn't quite happy with it. "Got the family nose." Harry dropped the dog and then yelled for it, and Tobias gave him a shake. Not hard, but Severus had to fist his hands to keep from snatching him back. "You were always quiet." Tobias sounded accusing, and Severus supposed his father suspected a magical cause for that. He might be right; Severus didn't remember. "Fucking hell," Tobias burst out, and even Remus twitched as if he wanted to grab Harry away, "I'm his bloody grandad."
Sirius laughed, as loud as if he were drunk, and helped himself to a bottle of his own before sprawling into the other chair. He hooked an elbow over the chair back with an alarming grin, pleasant only in the way a predator was when sizing up prey. Severus had never in his life wanted to see the bullies who'd been the crucible of his life face off, but Remus seemed amused. He gave Severus a quick roll of his eyes and started tidying up, while Sirius asked friendly questions about Tobias' line of work, still with that wide smile that suggested suppressed violence.
Severus had wondered that Dumbledore found any kind of occupation for Sirius in the war. As far as he knew, Sirius lived off family money and had never worked a day in his life. But that was part of Dumbledore's genius. Give him a twit from one of the last great pureblood families, and he probably deployed him to be loud and arrogant in the best social circles, recruiting for Dumbledore's cause, collecting information, and intimidating people.
On the one hand, it made Severus see red; Sirius was no one special. But he saw his father hold Harry more carefully, even offer him a biscuit and not complain about the crumbs, and he was impressed that Sirius had sorted that without a row. With luck and Sirius around, Severus wouldn't have to speak to his father ever again. That was a weight off his back he had to admit.
The funeral for the Potters was held the following day. Severus wouldn't have known, except for a short article in The Daily Prophet that asked the curious Wizarding public to respect the family's wishes and stay away. Severus interpreted the family to mean Petunia Dursley and felt no regret at all about missing the event.
Remus wanted to go, that was obvious, but he wasn't stupid enough to imagine that he could. Sirius borrowed Severus' teaching robes and cloak, charming them to look heavier and more expensive and affixing the ludicrously gaudy Black family arms to the front ― Remus had dug up a tome on etiquette that was flaking to bits and researched the exact placement and thread thickness. Remus had a talent for forgery.
Sirius couldn't very well show up on his motorcycle, but he took off shortly before dawn to fly to the Wild Nargle Pub in Hull, which ought, he said, shrugging his leather jacket on over the robes and bunching them up horribly, to throw anyone following him off his trail.
Severus was feeling unmoored from Wizarding society without his daily doses of inane political chit-chat and celebrity gossip over meals at Hogwarts. Harry was better off not being exposed to the magical world, where the people who didn't want to kill him wanted to suffocate him with hero-worship. The newspaper reported that people were using magic in broad daylight in their celebration of Voldemort's defeat. Harry did not need that kind of attention. Particularly when even Dumbledore was not sure how completely Voldemort had been defeated.
Any necessary information Sirius could learn at the funeral, Severus thought, and didn't feel guilty or greedy at all at having a day alone with Remus. Well. And Harry.
He did not plan to dwell at all on the thought of Lily being lowered into the cold ground, or of her bones lying still next to Potter's all the while Severus was raising her child.
He did plan on making Harry nap for hours on end and fucking Remus (with the door locked this time) so that he didn't have any spare time to dwell on Lily, and her funeral, and the frost-bitten ground.
He suspected Remus knew exactly what he was doing, but Remus still kissed him, and undressed him, and led him to bed. Remus shook underneath him, hands curling tight around the edges of the mattress, and didn't come until Severus had reached his own completion and was panting hard.
Afterwards, when Remus was pulling his clothes back on with his sweat-damp hair drying in a tangle, Severus felt momentarily furious with him. Even Sirius was in mourning, albeit for Potter, and how dare Remus not be destroyed by the knowledge that Lily was never coming back, Lily who had held his hand and danced in the room where her child was just now stirring. It was monstrous of Remus, who was a monster anyway, and who had given up his life to send Lily's killer to his grave.
Severus suspected that Remus had gone after Pettigrew because he had been protecting either Severus or Sirius. Perhaps both of them. Remus could be an idiot like that.
"What're you staring at?" Remus said, fingers slowing on the buttons of his shirt. At times like these he still looked like he had back in Hogwarts, as if he could be hurt so easily.
Severus kept staring at him. "Nothing." But he had to press his fingers against the bitemark on Remus' shoulder, and then run his finger along Remus' lower lip. Remus took that as an invitation to kiss him. Severus let him, until Harry's first fitful wails from above.
Sirius returned well after Harry was asleep for the night, his face so rough and red from the chill wind that Severus couldn't tell if he'd been crying. But he assumed so because that was something Gryffindors did.
"How was the funeral?" Remus asked when Sirius came upstairs. Severus was grateful; he certainly wouldn't have asked, even though he wanted to know.
Sirius shrugged out of Severus' cloak. "Ghastly," he said, and stared at the cloak as if he had no idea where it'd come from. Still looking baffled, he hung it on one of the pegs along the wall. "Most of the Order came, Dumbledore and all. Lily's sister was there. Very smartly dressed," he added bitterly. "Black hat like a biscuit-tin, with a veil. Didn't speak to anyone." He tugged hard at the buttons on the robe until Remus batted his hands away and undid them for him. "They're turning James' house into some kind of memorial, with a sign." Sirius sounded furious, as if he wouldn't mind cursing whoever thought a sign was a good idea.
"What are people saying about Harry?" Remus asked, pulling Severus' robes off Sirius' shoulders, leaving him shivering in vest and pants.
"Dumbledore made an announcement." Sirius rubbed at the goosepimples on his arms, and then wrapped his arms around himself like a child. "Told everyone Harry was safe with family. The sister didn't even ask where."
"Petunia's always been like that," Severus said. He jerked his chin up defensively when Remus and Sirius both looked at him. "She was just a Muggle, no magic, not even a Squib. There was nothing special about her. Not like Lily. Lily did magic. Petunia was taking a typing course the last I'd heard of her." Remus winced at that; unlike Sirius, chances were he'd had to type something at some point in his life. Severus started tidying the wide scatter of Harry's toys back into their box to avoid meeting anyone's eyes.
"I keep expecting to hear James' voice," Sirius said, voice muffled by the shirt he was pulling over his head. "I keep thinking I see him out of the corner of my eye. Ten years and hardly a day when we didn't talk, and I, I never ― "
"Shut up," Severus said. To his own surprise, he meant it kindly. "Check on Harry, he was a right terror today. Every time he's quiet, it means he's up to no good."
"His father's son," Sirius said, heading for the bookcase. Severus could hear his pain, but at least there were no tears to contend with. If Sirius cried for Potter, Severus would have to give in to his rage on Lily's behalf, and that wouldn't end well.
"I'll go and heat you up your dinner," Remus called after Sirius, and left so quickly Severus considered it fleeing. Coward.
Slughorn was the first person at Hogwarts to know Severus had taken the Mark.
"Very risky," he said, meaning as a half-blood, "but certainly a path open to someone with your ambition," also meaning as a half-blood.
"It's a research position," Severus said, feeling annoyed at being defensive. "Not just brewing potions to order." Slughorn had been steering Severus towards industrial potioneering ― he had a friend who manufactured leakless rubber boots and was willing to take on an apprentice. Severus wouldn't need to waste his time and money on passing the Master Potioneer's examination. He could start earning well right out of Hogwarts, and there'd always be demand for rubber boots.
The smell of rubber being processed made Severus nauseous, as did the thought of being in a factory for the next fifty-odd years of his life. His mother had been pushed into hairdressing with the same condescending concern extended to wizards and witches without a family business or social connections to carry them through life. Severus was not going to be trapped like that.
The Death Eaters didn't provide steady work, but it was challenging. After leaving school, Severus expanded his allotment space and made enough money on the side from unusual herbological ingredients to get by. He ran into Remus fairly regularly at the wizarding weekend markets; Remus always seemed to have friends who sold goods that had fallen off the back of broomsticks.
"I thought Dumbledore would have helped you out," Severus said one evening when Remus had shown up and spent the afternoon at his stall annoying him. "I thought you were his pet."
Remus shrugged and shoved his hair back from his face. He was growing it fashionably over-long; it curled where it brushed his collar, and shone like honey in the sun's lowering light. "I'm nobody's pet," he said, and asked Severus out to dinner.
Severus found he didn't mind Remus' company so long as they never discussed his friends or his disease, especially when Remus was paying for the food and drink.
"The Death Eaters kill people," Remus said one night, after their evenings together had become intentional and not accidental. "You're not mixed up in that, are you?"
Severus took a couple of Remus' chips while he thought about that. "I don't think so," he said finally, and met Remus' eyes. "If I were asked, though. . . ."
"Not ones to take no for an answer, are they," Remus suggested.
"Not about to take notice of me as anything but a useful tool for supplying their needs." Severus shrugged. He was more than willing to let people in power work themselves into his debt, and he'd pretend to be gracious when he took back what he deserved.
"I need to," Remus started, and stopped. He rubbed a finger through the salt and vinegar and oil on his plate absently, then sucked his finger clean. "I am working for Dumbledore," he said, apologetically. "At least, he sends jobs my way every now and then. Tracking down Dark creatures and objects, breaking curses, keeping dangerous things away from the wrong people." He raised his glass at Severus in a mocking toast.
"Spying on me?" Severus was more amused than enraged by the idea. "Then you've wasted your money." He waved a hand over the table.
Remus tipped his head to the side, his hair falling in his face, a faint devilish smile on his lips. "I'm not stupid, you know," he said, and raised one eyebrow as if challenging Severus to contradict him. "I wouldn't spy on you. This is me working up the nerve to seduce you, again."
Severus nearly laughed in his face. "Then just take me to bed."
Remus laid his hand on the table, palm up, as if in supplication. "I don't just want your body, I want your heart and soul."
Severus threw a chip that caught Remus just above his left eye, and Remus fell about laughing so hard that he had to wipe away tears on the shoulders of his t-shirt.
"But seriously," Remus said later that night, when Severus was trying to fall asleep in Remus' bed, pleasantly limp in the afterglow of orgasm, "I probably will end up spying on the Death Eaters for Dumbledore. And I do want to have something with you." He touched Severus carefully in the dark, as if trying to memorise him.
"It's a mistake to believe that there are only two sides," Severus told him. "I have, for example, always strongly supported my own side, and all others be damned." He jabbed Remus in the shoulder. "And how do you know you're not a diversion and I don't already have a lover?"
"I can share," Remus said through a yawn, "and play nicely with others." He gave Severus a kiss, which Severus preferred to conversation, and wrapped one leg around Severus' as though he planned on sticking to him like a barnacle for the rest of the night.
The next three days were spent working with the Black family house-elf, which was very nearly as excruciating as teaching first-years. After only the first hour of listening to Sirius badger and berate the unfortunately-named Kreacher, Remus dragged Sirius down to Severus' room by the ear and told him he should bugger off with Harry and leave the work to Remus. Kreacher had loathed Remus on sight for being a half-blood and a werewolf, not to mention a wanted murderer. Remus, maddeningly, ignored every slur and very neatly exposed Kreacher's secret fondness for babies and fierce hatred for Voldemort. Remus brought Kreacher meals that the house-elf refused to eat and spoke with a careful courtesy that Kreacher mocked.
"I think he loved Regulus," Remus said the first night, after Kreacher had returned home to take care of his mistress. "I can use that."
"I can't figure out if you actually enjoy that thing's company, or if you're a very cold schemer." Sirius had transfigured Harry's flannel into a hand-puppet, and was trying to eat the soap bubbles in the bath. Harry had a rubber giraffe ― Severus didn't know where it came from, the baby things seemed to spawn overnight ― that he used to beat the puppet while laughing. "I know he never loved me."
Remus rolled his eyes. "I've seen how you respect and care for him and speak of him with familial affection." Sirius lobbed a handful of bubbles at Remus, which he batted away irritably. "You reap what you sow, Sirius. You were raised to think of yourself as better than everyone, you still do, and you need to stop."
"You planning to teach me to roll over and play dead as well as beg?" Sirius managed to catch the giraffe in the puppet's mouth, but Harry didn't like that at all. Sirius let it go.
"Kreacher does brilliant work," Remus said, very slowly. "This house is well on the way to being Unplottable now, and the original Imperturbable Charms have all been reset. The kitchen's so clean it glows, and Delia Smith wouldn't have turned her nose up at our tea today. He's doing it for Harry, and he's remembering Regulus, and deep down he wants you to be the little boy he took care of and loved. It's sad, I think."
"You're over-imaginative," Sirius declared, banishing all the bubbles and pulling Harry and the giraffe out of the bath and into a warmed towel. "Feverish, perhaps."
Remus just shrugged and said nothing more; but after that Sirius devoted a good bit of the time Kreacher was working to teaching Harry his name. Severus was tempted to tell Sirius that Harry didn't talk ― he was a baby, after all ― but it turned out that his personal standards for clarity in diction were simply too high. Kreacher was positively moved when Harry pulled his ears and called him Tea-ta.
"Poor little Mudblood child," Kreacher crooned, patting Harry's hair and somehow getting it to settle neatly down. "Raised in squalor and filth."
"We really appreciate your work," Remus said, over-loud in an attempt to quash whatever scathing thing Sirius had opened his mouth to say. "No house could be safer." Remus knew the best of all of them; he'd been the one who'd had to go out in the middle of the previous night to fetch Tobias home from the pub so he didn't get lost. Muggles and wizards alike would have great difficulty even seeing that the house was there. If they managed to catch a glimpse, it would look shabby and deserted, and they'd be filled with a strong sense that the place they were looking for was around another corner, maybe even in another town.
But Sirius had the last word before Kreacher left, a sincere-sounding Thank you with an awkward handshake that made Kreacher turn an odd green colour that Severus thought might be a blush.
He felt better about returning to Hogwarts knowing that Harry was taken care of and hidden. The demands of teaching weighed like an imposition on top of all his other worries, and Severus didn't have the patience to hold any surprise quizzes or brewing practicums until Wednesday. Fortunately, his classes simply suspected him of planning something particularly nasty for them, and he was pleased to oblige. He didn't know what good defeating Voldemort was going to have if young people didn't apply themselves to their studies. Great freedom, great responsibility ― wasn't that a theme he'd heard in countless Dumbledorian rambles?
Friday started with a heavy sullen sky and gusts of cold wind rolling down from the hills. Severus was grateful for his cloak. The weather was worse in Hogsmeade, with rain spitting down even when the sky was cloudless. The students were worried about the weekend Quidditch match ― Ravenclaw versus Hufflepuff ― and kept sneaking out of the dungeons to go and cast futile charms on the sky. Severus would catch one, and while he was docking house points another would disappear. By the time morning classes were done Severus was ready to give a week's worth of detention to anyone who so much as smiled in his presence.
He was late for lunch but never made it to his seat. The moment he entered the Great Hall he was flanked by plain-robed hit wizards, who advised him that coming quietly with them to answer their inquiries would be in his best interest.
"Excellent use of cliché," Severus said. "Very melodramatic. I would love to play, but I'm afraid I have responsibilities. A future generation to educate. Excuse me."
The shorter one asked if he'd prefer their inquiries were made through official routes, involving arrest warrants and chains and holding cells, not to mention the inevitable write-up in the papers.
Severus let them lead him up to Dumbledore's office, feeling like the ill-prepared third son in a folk-tale getting ready to face down a dragon.
There were Aurors waiting for him, and Dumbledore with his lunch on a tray before him, the disarray suggesting that he'd been caught unawares. Severus wondered who was pulling the strings with whatever investigation this was. Likely they'd brought some poor idiot down from Azkaban, and he'd named names. Fear was persuasive that way.
Dumbledore nodded to Severus and gave his lunch tray a thoughtful look before banishing everything but his Satsuma, which he rolled up his sleeve. "This is not unexpected," Dumbledore said, which failed to be any kind of reassurance. Perhaps it was a warning. "Your concern for doing your civic duty is admirable," he went on, and used a dicta-quill to write a quick note to have Severus' afternoon lessons reassigned.
Then Dumbledore made his excuses to Moody, who sat hunched over a student's desk that had probably been supplied especially for the questioning. Moody rolled his magical eye up in a brief but hardly respectful goodbye. Severus kept his shoulders back and his head up and tried not to betray the fact that he felt like the proverbial fly walking into the spider's parlour.
"Am I being charged with something?" Severus asked, drawing himself up to full height. He was the shortest person in the room. Aurors and hit wizards were all of a type: looming, arrogant, bullying.
"Are you guilty of anything?" one of them ― built like a Beater ― asked. All the others, save Moody and the dull-looking one taking notes, laughed.
"Undoubtedly," Severus said, keeping his expression flat. He was better than all of them, damn it.
"Frank and Alice Longbottom," Alastor Moody said, and the laughter was sucked out of the room as suddenly as if a Dementor had appeared. "What do you know?"
Severus stared at Moody hard, unblinking. Moody raised his eyebrows, and Severus could have shaken the man. He made the sign of the Order of the Phoenix with his left hand, and Moony didn't even glance down once. What good was a magical eye if you couldn't see what was right in front of you?
"They're Aurors," he said slowly, trying to feel out what this was all about. "They live with Frank's mother and a baby, a boy, I believe." Moody rolled his hand, wordlessly asking him to go on. "He-Who," Severus swallowed and refused to let himself think about Lily lying dead on the floor and Harry not crying and Lily, "was targeting children. The Potter boy, the Longbottom boy, Malfoy's son, the Patels." He frowned. "Did the Longbottoms go into hiding as well?"
Moody rolled his head to give the huge Auror a significant look. Severus wondered how many of them were trained in Occlumency and Legilimency. He had to assume all of them were a threat. Moody kept his human eye on the Auror and turned the magical one on Severus, and cleared his throat. "Where were you yesterday?"
Severus breathed out hard through his nose. "Home, which my father will confirm. Teaching here, at Hogwarts. I can provide my schedule and lesson plans. Or would you prefer witnesses?"
Moody nodded. "Where was Remus Lupin?"
The damned magical eye could probably see Severus' pulse jump and all the other physical betrayers of fear. Severus closed one hand tightly around his robes' button placket and reminded himself that it was natural to fear Lupin. Fearing for him was outside the pale.
"The werewolf who tried to kill me? Who mutilated Pettigrew in broad daylight? Still at large, no thanks to you."
"You are a Death Eater," the Asian Auror said. Severus thought he remembered her from Hogwarts, a few years above him.
Severus refused to shake. Shaking was beneath him.
"Do I need counsel?" he asked, still speaking slowly, still on utterly unfamiliar ground. Just asking the question meant that he'd lost, and the glances and smiles the Aurors shared showed they knew that as well. They'd enjoy the opportunity to take him apart.
"Surely not," Dumbledore said cheerfully, walking in so silently that Severus was hard pressed not to spin around in shock and hiss like a cat. "Have you been arrested, Professor Snape?"
"No." Severus forced his shoulders back, not sure when they'd hunched in. "Headmaster."
"Then have a Calming Caramel ― " a handful of soft, warm sweets were pressed on him ― "and I'll get this sorted out, shall I?"
Dumbledore waited, eyes sparkling with kindly light, while Severus struggled to free a caramel from its paper and stuck the thing in his mouth. Then he turned to Moody, with nods to the other Aurors and a stern look at the hit wizards who were fidgeting like first-years, and launched into a rambling explanation that satisfied no one, judging by their stony faces. The question of Harry's whereabouts did not come up once, which was a relief.
Three hours later, Severus had been persuaded to cooperate with Dumbledore's Pensieve and had handed his wand over; the Asian Auror turned out to be an expert at Priori Incantatem. Severus had a chalk outline on his arm where Voldemort's mark had been, and his headache had long since overcome the relaxing effect of caramels.
They let him go, in the end, because Dumbledore vouched for Severus' change of sides in the war and insisted that he could be trusted. And because Dumbledore was there, looking pleased with himself, Severus had to thank the Aurors and wish them good luck with whatever they were investigating.
That was when he learnt Frank and Alice Longbottom had been tortured, their son had gone into hiding with his grandmother, and Aurors were searching for Bellatrix Lestrange and Remus Lupin in connection.
Severus' empty stomach lurched. "Why would they do such a thing?" he asked Dumbledore once they'd all filed out through the Floo.
Dumbledore's gaze sharpened as he looked at Severus sidelong. "They're searching for Voldemort, I expect," he said. "He had a schedule of murders, intending to kill the Longbottoms after he had murdered the Potters. There was the matter of a prophecy."
Even knowing what the prophecy said none of that made any sense, but all Severus could think of was mad Bellatrix out there looking for Harry.
"The Dark Lord's dead," Severus said shortly. "His mark disappeared. Lily Potter somehow turned the killing curse aimed at Harry back on him, and he's gone."
"Still," Dumbledore said, sweeping ahead of Severus as he walked down the broad stone stairs, escorting him out, "you might want to take the long way home. I hear Hull is delightful this time of year."
Severus crossed his arms, feeling something small and precious inside him break. He made himself speak anyway. "The parents will not want me on staff when this comes out, as it will. I would much rather resign quietly at the end of the term than be thrown out. If you are feeling particularly merciful."
The doors drifted open, and Dumbledore stopped short.
"Your family needs should come first, of course," Dumbledore murmured under the rumble of the crowd. "Your poor ailing father. But I should be sorry to have you go. You are a valuable member of my staff, you know."
Severus swallowed hard. He loathed the way stress made him hyper-alert, and he was sure that Dumbledore's compliment was just a move in one of the games he was always playing, but. . . . There was a deep, satisfied pleasure in having been welcomed and respected at the school where the worst torments of his life had taken place, even if as the most junior staff member. It was a victory that was his alone, and he didn't know how to explain that to Dumbledore, who undoubtedly had never failed at any endeavour in his very long life, and certainly not as spectacularly as Severus had.
"Well," Severus started, and then realised Dumbledore was no longer at his side, the doors to his office swinging gently but implacably closed. "Damn."
He tugged his robes straight in irritation. There was no point in looking for Dumbledore, and Severus was going to be late home as it was.
He arrived home exhausted, travelling via his favourite fish-and-chip shop in Belfast, and walked in the kitchen door with every joint aching from holding his body tense for so long. He wanted to eat his hot, greasy meal and take a scalding bath and watch over Harry as he slept, so that he could feel it was all worth the effort.
What he found was his father getting drunk with Sirius, while Harry pottered about happily under the table, stacking empty lager tins and then knocking them over.
"What's wrong with you?" Severus demanded, taking his wand out and tidying the room with a few viciously efficient charms. At the moment, he cared not at all for his father's Muggle sensibilities. "Have you even fed the baby? I'm amazed Remus hasn't ripped strips out of you."
"Yeah," Sirius said, and raised his drink in a toast. "He's tied up at the moment." He gave Severus a smile that suggested he was having a fit of manic self-loathing. "Full moon."
Severus hadn't noticed; he'd entirely forgotten, with everything happening, to keep track of the lunar cycle. "Hell," he said, and wondered if Remus would mind if he hit Sirius in the mouth. He wanted to hit something, and Sirius was convenient. Instead, he scooped Harry up and made Sirius get out of the chair so Severus could sit and feed Harry his dinner. Harry was very fond of chips, but Severus made him eat the fish as well. Proper nutrition was important for a growing child.
Harry was a smelly greasy mess afterwards, so Severus told Sirius to get the kitchen cleaned up and to drag Tobias out of his armchair and up to bed, while he gave Harry a bath. Harry fussed; he was up well past his normal bedtime. Severus did a quick job with the soap and then dressed Harry in his pyjamas and settled him in the cot. Harry's eyes were drooping, and Severus patted his stomach while he read to him from the Journal of Potente Potions. Harry fell asleep in the middle of the footnotes for page XXV, but Severus continued until the end of the article, just to be sure Harry was well and truly out. He then put the lamp out and baby-proofed the fire and checked the charms on the roof and the windows. Just in case.
Sirius had gone down to check on Remus, but Severus heard him climb back up the stairs and stop in Severus' room, which was irritating. Severus had things that needed to be said. He'd been threatened with prison and torture while Sirius had been getting drunk and not minding Harry. There was no sense in wallowing over grief over Remus' transformation. Remus was always fine; he would be fine.
Severus established himself on that high ground and straightened his shoulders, ready to go downstairs and rip strips out of Sirius for being an annoyance and a useless bastard. He found Sirius curled in a ball on his bed, one arm over his face, and there. Sirius had no right to behave as if he were the only one in mourning.
"We need to talk," Severus said, standing by the bed and crossing his arms. Sirius sat up straightaway, and then stood, slouching his weight on one hip.
"He won't break out," Sirius said. "The spellwork's tight on your coal cellar, and I'll keep stunning him every few hours." He looked ill. "This isn't how it's supposed to be."
Sirius was naive. "He's a werewolf. This is exactly how it's supposed to be. We should probably invest in chains."
Sirius shot an angry glance up from under lowered brows. "He waited for you. He wanted you there."
"I was questioned by Aurors, officially and maliciously," Severus said. He held his thumb a hairsbreadth away from his index finger. "I was this close to Azkaban."
"Oh, Merlin," Sirius said, and with no warning at all wrapped his arms around Severus and pressed his hands to the back of his shoulders. "Did they hurt you?"
"Only my pride," Severus admitted. "You can unhand me, you know."
"Damn it," Sirius said, speaking low, his mouth close enough to Severus' ear that he felt the words as well as heard them. He sounded like he was about to cry; under other circumstances that would have been delicious. Sirius Black, snivelling over Severus Snape ― except he wasn't, of course, it was simply too many deaths and the fear of losing Remus to the wolf.
And then one of Sirius' hands came up to brush the hair off Severus' neck, and Sirius pressed a kiss there, gentle.
Severus jerked and went stiff. "You loathe me," he reminded Sirius. "You want me dead."
"I think," Sirius said, and his hand was still there, the backs of his fingers rubbing light and warm to tease loose the tension that had bled down from Severus' aching head, "if we were less the children of our parents. . . ."
Severus snorted. "You first," he said, and felt Sirius' sharp intake of breath at the challenge.
"Don't hex me, Snape," Sirius said, and then pulled back to look Severus in the eye. "I was so angry," he said. "James fell in love with Lily, and then I found out about you and Remus ― and I couldn't hurt James, I couldn't, I couldn't lose him."
"Maybe you should have kissed him," Severus said, and just very barely managed to avoid adding too bad it's too late now.
"I was not that brave," Sirius said, and leaned in slowly, tipping his head to the side to signal his intent while Severus stood frozen with confusion. Then Sirius' mouth was pressed to his, warm and awkward, and Sirius' eyes were ― to Severus' amusement ― closed in concentration. "Please," Sirius said, speaking against Severus' mouth, "please."
"You need me to show you how it's done?" Severus asked, doing his best not to laugh. His usual revenge fantasies didn't look like this, but Sirius was as gorgeous as ever and he was asking politely. Severus wondered if he could get Sirius to come saying his name. That would be a memory to treasure.
Everything Severus knew about kissing he had learned from Remus, but he doubted Sirius knew that. Sirius kissed like he was grateful, like he was dancing clumsily for the first time, unsure of where to put his hands and stepping on Severus' toes once before Severus decided he'd be less of a hazard on the bed. He pushed Sirius down and settled on top of him, using his mouth to stifle any protests. Sirius shifted, hips pressing up, and then twisted his head to the side.
"Fuck," Sirius said. He untangled one hand from Severus' hair and scrubbed his face hard.
Severus moved to the side so he could cup Sirius' cock, and gave it a squeeze. "Have we gone too far, then, Black?" he asked. "Remembered who you're getting hard for?"
Sirius lowered his arm. "I know who you are," he said. After a moment he added, "I didn't know this," and he rocked up into Severus' hand.
"Bodies react to stimuli," Severus said. He started to pull back. "Today's lesson learned."
Sirius narrowed his eyes and yanked Severus down into an irritated kiss that Severus felt obligated to turn as wet and dirty as possible. From there, it took very little effort to get into Sirius' badly-fitting trousers and slide one hand around his cock. Sirius swore and shook and said I don't know and Please and Don't stop. Severus bit hard at the base of his neck, and Sirius came with a terrible broken roar, his hands shoved into Severus' hair.
"You're crying," Severus told Sirius after, when he'd shifted to the side and was trying to convince his body that it didn't need an orgasm of its own.
Sirius swiped at his face but didn't turn away. "You're not."
Severus shrugged and wiped his hand on Sirius' trousers. "I never have. What good are tears?"
Sirius snorted. "None at all, I suppose." He turned and kissed Severus again, slow and careful ― chaste, Severus thought, which was horribly selfish and sweetly trusting all at once. He supposed he was better off with Sirius so wrapped up in himself that he didn't try to reciprocate. He wasn't entirely sure of what he was doing, but at least he knew more than Sirius did.
Sirius blinked, wet clumped eyelashes making his eyes look alien, and pulled back.
"Remus ― " Sirius started, looking guiltily ashamed. Bludgering hell, Severus did not want to talk about Remus until he had talked to Remus.
"He's been trying to get us on friendly terms for years," Severus said. "He'll be thrilled. Go to sleep."
Sirius barked a short laugh and wrapped an arm around Severus' waist, tucking his head in under Severus' chin like some outsized plush animal.
Severus tried to feel as if he were making a terrible mistake, but the regret just wasn't there. After listening to Sirius' heavy breathing to the point where it grated on his nerves like an untuned violin, he got out of bed, went downstairs to check on Remus, found him raging and stunned him into unconsciousness, and went back up. He debated sleeping in the attic with Harry, virtuously alone, but he had an idea that Sirius would be good for warming his cold feet.
He was right.
Sirius shook him awake at moonset, and they went to fetch Remus without a word spoken between them. Remus lay twisted and broken-looking on the floor, bleeding, but Sirius said shortly that he'd seen worse. He fitted dislocated joints back carefully and pulled broken bones straight and whole. Remus' nose had been broken, possibly by smashing his face snout-first into the wall; Sirius repaired the bone so neatly no bump remained, and cleaned the blood off his face and out of his hair.
Remus was still unconscious when they levitated him through the house and into Severus' bedroom. Settled on the unmade bed, he looked like a corpse; perfectly still, except for his slow deep breathing.
"Just not right," Sirius muttered, pulling the sheet and blankets up to tuck Remus in like a baby.
"Even Dumbledore kept him locked away," Severus said. "It's what Remus wants, anyway. Not to wake up with someone else's blood on his mouth."
Sirius didn't say anything to that. Severus wondered whether it would be worse to kill unknowingly while trapped helpless in a transformation, or to commit murder as a man, in the heat of anger. He was still, when he thought of it and had a spare minute, trying to find out if Remus had an intact soul. So far, his research suggested not. But he couldn't tell Remus that.
Sirius beat Severus at a short fast game of wand-quaffle-veil, so Severus stomped downstairs in a snit, to make breakfast while listening to his father natter on about football, or whatever Muggle topics Remus encouraged. Sirius woke Harry and got him ready, and they both came down to join Tobias in complaining about Severus' porridge.
"Your boy didn't come home last night?" Tobias asked, pouring treacle and milk in his bowl in equal measures.
"He's sleeping in," Severus snapped. "Hard night. And he's not anyone's boy."
"I know what I see and what I hear," Tobias said. He took a spoonful of porridge and grimaced. "This is some foul slop."
Severus was showing Harry how to make the spoon with the porridge fly like a broom straight into his mouth. "You can starve for all I care," Severus said.
"You sound like your mother," Tobias shot back. He looked a little pleased, as if he'd been wanting a fight. "Think you can tell me what to do in my own house."
"Shut it," Sirius said, his voice low and furious but cutting through the argument like a whip; Severus suspected some adaptation of the Sonorus spell. To Severus' surprise and, after a moment, amusement, his father did snap his mouth shut and sink back in his chair.
"Imperius?" he mouthed at Sirius over Harry's head, raising an eyebrow. The boy was entertaining himself by scooping up porridge and letting it plop back into the bowl. Severus belatedly realized that Harry must be under a muffling spell, or the arguing would have had him sniffling with fear.
"Common sense," Sirius said. "Merlin, you're an idiot ― idiots the both of you." He jabbed a finger at Tobias. "We appreciate your hospitality, but there're other places we can go, and you'd never see any of us again." He looked significantly at Harry, now smooshing a fistful of porridge into the tablecloth. "And you," Sirius said, turning his ire on Severus but looking weary. "Stop fighting battles you've already won."
Severus blinked, tried and failed to think of a response, and picked up the tray he'd set aside for Remus. "Do the washing up," he said, turning to leave.
Harry hit something with his spoon and said No. Sirius laughed, and Severus felt anger clamp down like a headache.
Remus was twisted in sleep, but woke soon enough when Severus set the tray down on the bed with a balancing charm and yanked the curtains open.
"Do you think you can eat, or would you just bring everything back up again?" Severus asked. "You look terrible, but I suppose that's typical."
"Thank you," Remus said, his voice too rough to make out if that was sarcasm or not.
"The Ministry wanted to have a word with me yesterday," Severus said. "Moody and the Aurors paid a visit to Hogwarts. I would have been here." He swallowed down any further unnecessary apologies. "Sirius tried to seduce me."
Remus snorted a laugh and pulled himself upright, face tight with pain. Severus engorged the pillow and shoved it against the wall so Remus could lean back. Remus raised an eyebrow and then gave his porridge a quizzical look.
"I didn't know you cooked," he said, and took a careful spoonful. "Sirius needs. . . ." His voice trailed off; he raised a shoulder in a shrug. "He needs someone," Remus settled for. "The way porridge needs salt."
"Does it," Severus asked, letting his tone convey how little he cared.
"Sirius isn't a leader," Remus said. "He follows orders, and he measures how much love he deserves by how well he obeys." One corner of Remus' mouth twitched up. "Opposite to you, I suppose. You follow your own bent moral compass."
"I try," Severus said dryly. "I have my failures. I didn't come, if that makes any difference."
Remus' smile stretched to a smirk. "Not at all. It's still sex."
"A wasted opportunity, then."
"Next time I want to watch," Remus said. "Did you kiss him?"
Severus sat down on the bed on the side opposite the breakfast tray. "No." He leaned forward and kissed Remus, holding him carefully, remembering how wrecked Remus had looked when they'd opened the coal cellar. "He kissed me." Remus grinned and licked Severus' lips. Severus tried to catch his tongue with his teeth, but was content to let Remus get away, laughing. "Did I mention I didn't come?"
"I'm tired," Remus said. "And honestly, I'll be ill if I have to eat this. Try me later?"
Severus called him a cocktease and settled Remus back down to sleep. He met Sirius on the stairs and told him he was taking Harry out. Sirius nodded, looking uncomfortable, as if his underwear pinched in delicate places.
Tobias insisted on walking with them as far as the river. He tried steering the pushchair, but after the third time he nearly dropped his cigarette on Harry's head Severus took over. The sky was high and clear blue, although the sunlight was too weak to give much warmth, and Severus almost didn't mind having company. Everyone they passed who knew Tobias said hello and was introduced to his clever, clever grandson.
"Were you ever this stupid over me?" Severus asked after an encounter with a woman wearing a cardigan over a floral apron.
Tobias flicked his fag end into the road. "Back then was at your mam's house, things were different." He jabbed his elbow hard into Severus, companionably. "Had a witch for a mother-in-law," he said, and laughed, too loud, sending echoes down the row of houses. Severus couldn't think of anything to say to that, so he said nothing.
When they passed the newsagents, Tobias bought Harry a packet of Love Hearts and chucked him under the chin before waving a jaunty goodbye and heading for the bridge.
"What did you do to my father?" Severus asked, not really expecting an answer.
Harry waved his fist around, holding the sweets tightly, and said, "No."
Severus enunciated carefully. "Se-ve-rus." There was no reason for Sirius to be the only one to teach Harry new words. "I was named for someone famous, you know."
"No," Harry agreed. He seemed to have an innate social nature. Severus decided, as he watched Harry stick the end of the packet in his mouth and gnaw on it, that he would have to work hard to make sure the boy developed his mind as well as his popularity.
Severus didn't want to hurry home; he suspected Sirius and Remus were having some painful, emotional, and altogether unpleasant discussion of feelings and relationships. He wanted all that done with by the time he got home, so he kept Harry at the park until the cacophony of the church bells announced noon.
Remus was leaning heavily on a chair and stirring a pot of soup when Severus returned, and Sirius had accidentally dyed all the laundry with Harry's red jumper and was de-pinking it as he pegged it out in the yard.
"You didn't let him eat these, did you?" Remus said, trying to pry the empty packet out of Harry's grubby fist.
Severus told him to sit down before he fell over, and ladled out three bowls of soup.
Remus took Harry up for his nap while Severus and Sirius tidied up in awkward silence. When there was nothing left to wash, Sirius wiped his hands with the tea towel and gave Severus a tense smile, or perhaps a grimace.
"I hear sex is better with three," Severus said, just to make Sirius even more uncomfortable.
"Don't let me ruin what you and Remus have." Sirius tipped his head and looked so sincere that Severus nearly laughed.
What he had with Remus was strange and improbable and shouldn't have ever survived, but somehow they fit together. Severus liked to think that they had their own place in the world, not on anyone's side but their own. Because of that, the thought of making room for one more didn't chafe ― even if that one was sodding Sirius Black.
"Remus wants to watch," Severus told him. "Come on. Aren't you Gryffindors supposed to be brave?"
"And foolish," Sirius muttered under his breath, but he didn't need any prodding to get up the stairs.
Remus was in bed with his eyes closed and one bare arm thrown over his head. He opened his eyes to watch them undress, though, and had Sirius get in the middle of the bed with Severus on the other side. He kissed Severus first, and then Sirius, and then said he wanted to see them touch each other.
"Pervert," Sirius said; he looked embarrassed. Severus kissed him, hard, rearranging Sirius so his back was to Remus' chest and Severus was pressed to his front and thus very aware of how much Sirius' cock was interested no matter what his mouth said. Sirius' breathing was ragged, though he didn't pull away or protest; it made Severus wonder what Remus was doing with his hands.
"Good dog," Remus said quietly into Sirius' ear. Severus flicked a glance over Sirius' shoulder, not sure if Remus meant to be cruel, but his expression was fond and amused. He reached one hand over to stroke Severus' cheek. Sirius went wide-eyed at that, and Severus kissed him, using the distraction as an advantage to take Sirius' mouth with sharp little thrusts of his tongue that echoed the rhythm of his hand, curled now around Sirius' cock. Severus didn't think Sirius had ever considered giving blowjobs before, and he wondered who'd be first, him or Remus. Given the hungry way Sirius sucked at his tongue, maybe they could just keep Sirius on his knees.
He wanted to come on Sirius' face. He could picture how debauched Sirius would look, mouth open greedily, eyes shut, expression worshipful.
But this was hot in its own way. Remus was exploring Sirius' body, tracing the lines of his neck, brushing his collarbone, rolling his nipples to hardness, and with just a few minor adjustments Severus felt Remus push so that he was fucking the space between Sirius' legs. He slid his hand down to Sirius' balls and felt the head of Remus' cock hit his fingers. Remus didn't say anything, just flashed Severus a tight manic smile as he pulled back and shoved in again. Sirius jerked and shouted and grabbed Severus' arse as he buried his face in the crook between Severus' neck and shoulder.
"Let Severus come first," Remus said. "He's been waiting. You can come when he says."
"I can't," Sirius said, all breathless and desperate, and then yelped; Severus suspected he'd been pinched. "Please. Please."
"You'll do as I say." Remus' voice was low and rough, and it made Severus want to lie back and let Remus have his way with his body. Remus always had good ideas in bed. Severus wanted to watch Remus take Sirius apart, keep him begging until he ran out of words, and then make him ride his cock. He wanted to watch Sirius try to put himself together after that, wanted to see what he looked like when he remembered how he begged to be fucked, begged to come, begged for Remus' hand on his cock. Severus enjoyed hearing Sirius beg; he suspected Remus knew that. "See if you can get one hand around both of you." Sirius' obedience was instantaneous and gratifying; Remus kissed the bend of his neck as a reward.
Sirius was clumsy, but his grip was strong and his breath hitched in short desperate gasps. He wanted to get Severus off as fast as possible, and Severus had no problem with that. He pulled Sirius' head up by the hair, and kissed him, using the distraction to keep from making any embarrassing noises while swept away by orgasm. He was very dimly aware of the wet sound of Sirius working for his own release with his hand slick with Severus' come, which was unimaginably strange and terrifyingly hot. He didn't notice when Remus came ― Remus was being smug about orchestrating this, damn him ― but he did notice Remus drawing idle patterns in the mess all over Sirius' stomach.
"That's nasty, Moony," Sirius murmured, twitching. Remus gave Severus a look over Sirius' shoulder, both eyebrows raised, and then brought his fingers up to Sirius' mouth, pushing in to get sucked clean.
"It's all three of us together," Remus said. "One of the oldest dark magics."
"No theory in bed," Sirius slurred. Remus snorted and idly fed him more come.
If Severus weren't already spent, the sight would have had him hard in a minute. He didn't really understand how Remus had got them all here, but all the signs were there pointing to machinations and insinuations and a patient steady wearing away of animosity into. . . sex. Partnership. Whatever this was. Severus hoped that he never found himself with Remus as an enemy. He probably wouldn't walk away whole.
Severus must have dozed off, because the next thing he was aware of was sudden cold where Sirius had been, and Remus laughing quietly as Sirius swore, trying to clean off semen that had adhered to his skin as it dried.
"There are spells to take care of that," Remus said, trying to hold back laughter but snorting with the effort. "No, no, don't do that, you ― "
"Bloody fucking bludgering hell," Sirius said, and Severus opened his eyes. This was too good to miss. "Rip my hair out more, why don't you."
"Baby," Remus said. "Stop whining and just let me."
Sirius made a low continuous growl in the back of his throat, which was something Severus would have to ask Remus about, the odd not-quite rôle that Sirius slipped into and Remus encouraged.
Severus' wand was just where he'd left it, tucked under the edge of the mattress, and he cleaned up even before rolling out of bed, just to have that edge of superiority over Sirius.
"Put on Muggle clothes," Remus said, reaching over from where he sat to rub his hand proprietarily over the back of Severus' knee. "Let's get takeaway for dinner."
"We had fish and chips last night," Sirius said, sounding apologetic. "After ― Severus told you he was grilled by Aurors?"
Remus didn't move, but Severus could see him snap to a frightening level of alertness.
"Just Moody asking questions," Severus said. He pulled on his robes and did up the buttons quickly. "Lestrange tortured the Longbottoms, they're not expected to recover."
"Neville?" Remus asked. Severus stared at him blankly. "Their boy," Remus said irritably. "Their boy born practically the same day as Harry."
"Alive. In hiding, I think. It's not the same as Harry. Harry. . . turned back the Dark Lord's killing curse. Lestrange is looking for. . . You-Know, and the Longbottoms just were in her way."
"Lovely," Remus said.
"They think you're working with her," Severus said, as offhand as he could. "It's probably more reassuring to believe that there is just one group of crazed Death Eaters going about."
"Going about where, exactly?" Remus asked, and pulled his charity shop jacket on over his shirt. "I suppose they wouldn't have told you. I'll send letters to a few people while I'm out. There are perfectly safe ways to do that," he added, with a sharp quelling glance at Sirius, who shut his mouth on whatever he'd been about to say.
"Owls can't find him," Severus said. "Dumbledore helped him arrange that, in the war. Hideously inconvenient." Remus was bent over to pull his boots on, but Severus was fairly sure he gave a negligent shrug at that. "Where are you going?"
Remus sighed. "To do the shopping. It's fine," he went on, straightening and stretching. His joints cracked like static on the wireless. "I need to get out and see the sky." He looked apologetic yet stubborn. Severus didn't want to fight him on this, but. . . .
"I'll go with you," Sirius said. "Harry's awake, by the way, I can hear him moving about upstairs. You don't have anything poisonous or explosive sitting around, do you?"
Of course Severus did. Whether or not Harry could get his hands on it would depend on how magical he was and how much he really wanted it. Which, considering he'd vanquished Voldemort, wasn't very reassuring, he supposed.
He found Harry next to an overturned carton of bezoars, trying to catch doxy-dust rabbits. Every time Harry slapped a hand down on one, it disappeared in a puff of (very expensive) dust and Harry sneezed. Severus charmed Harry clean of a layer of grime and took him over to the window to wave goodbye to Remus and Sirius. Harry was no good at waving ― he didn't see the point to inane social niceties, a pragmatism which Severus encouraged ― and Remus couldn't see them through the enchanted window, anyway. Severus was surprised to see Sirius transfigure himself into a huge black dog that trotted at Remus' side. Someone ought to have told him about that, he thought angrily. It was useful and pertinent, and he certainly wouldn't have turned Sirius in to the Ministry for doing illegal magic.
He wondered when Sirius had mastered the Animagus transformation, and whether he knew about the potential danger of the animal's nature bleeding over into the human. Folklore was full of stories about children, elderly relatives, and inconvenient husbands who had been transfigured into animals to keep them out of the way. Usually they became trapped, unable or unwilling to turn human again, which was meant to show how dangerous the magic was. Severus would have to ask Remus later whether Sirius was being changed by his ability, or whether he'd always had it in him to be a good dog.
"I should transfigure you into something that wouldn't get into trouble," Severus said to Harry, who was chewing on his hair. "How would you like to be a goldfish? Or a rock?"
"Fee," Harry said, which after a moment of thought Severus suspected meant fish. He supposed it was time for tea.
He carried Harry down to the kitchen and set him in his father's chair with a wooden spoon and a plastic storage box to bang on. Remus kept the kitchen better stocked than Severus' mother ever did, and a quick rummage in the dresser turned up a dented tin of kipper fillets.
"Just what the baby ordered," Severus said, sliding the fish from the pan to a bowl and setting it in front of Harry. "It amazes me that your mother was so clever and yet you can't manage a fork. Here. . . no. You might want to consider growing more teeth." Harry threw the fork at the window while working on his fourth bite. He had a deplorable lack of attention span. "Fine," Severus told him, wiping Harry's hands and face while he squirmed to escape to the floor. He summoned Harry's plush dog from the front room and gave it to Harry for a distraction. "Your godfather's a dog, did you know that? I imagine your father encouraged him. I'm not really your father," he added, and crouched down to look Harry in the face. Harry was holding the dog with one hand wrapped around its throat. "That's another lie Sirius dragged me into. He has a shaky grasp on honesty. You should avoid that."
Harry bounced where he stood, sturdy knees padded with too-large corduroy trousers, and then set off at a run past Severus, towards the shelf under the sink and its shiny temptations of cookware. Severus got caught up in a game of take down, put back, coming very close to winning one or two times.
He was sitting on the floor next to Harry and trying unsuccessfully to take the plush dog out of the soup-pot when Sirius crashed up against the door, still in dog form. Sirius scratched wildly at the doorframe, and Severus shouted for Remus to calm his mutt down as he stood, trying to stretch out the kink in his back.
Sirius howled. Harry joined in.
Severus opened the door, noticing first that Remus wasn't in the yard at all, and then that Sirius was filthy and hex-scorched. Sirius whimpered, and put his head down to bump against Severus' knee.
"Finite incantatum," Severus snapped. Sirius barked, feet scrabbling on the floor as if he wanted to run but was restraining himself. "Hm," Severus said, and summoned his mother's copy of Ye Forbidden Arte of Transfiguration. He hefted Harry up in his arms while waiting for the book to flap its way down from the attic. When it fluttered through the door he directed it to settle itself on the table. Harry knotted a fist in Severus' hair and screamed directly into his ear, which made it remarkably difficult to concentrate on finding how to Untransfigure an Animagus.
The spell that he finally found was unfamiliar and complex. Severus exploded the doors off the dresser with his first try, and dishes rained down. Nothing happened the second time, but the third time was the charm. Sirius was obscured by a flash of cold bluish light, and when it faded he was curled on the floor, human and naked. After a moment, he took a deep breath and muttered something that made his clothes reappear; with another breath he pushed himself to sitting. Belatedly, Severus made the dishes repair themselves and fly back to the shelves, so that the floor wasn't littered with shards.
"They took Remus," Sirius said. He sounded hoarse, as if he'd been howling. "Aurors, on the High Street." He got slowly to his feet. His face was twisted, and at first Severus thought he was in pain. But he recognised the emotion as fury just in time to put Harry in a bubble of silence before Sirius erupted. Sirius cursed Remus and all the idiotic things he did, and he smashed both kitchen chairs to splinters while he was shouting. Severus took refuge with Harry in the front room. He remembered being terrified of his father's tantrums as a child, and hiding in closets and under beds to escape. He supposed he'd matured since then, because all he felt now was irritation. How dare Sirius make this all about him. How dare he waste time they didn't have.
Severus scribbled a short note to Dumbledore, and when Sirius stopped raging Severus walked to the back door, opened it, summoned his Patronus just as Lily had taught him years before, and sent it off with his message. He hoped Dumbledore was watching for correspondence.
"Sorry," Sirius said, staring out into the yard as if trying to catch a further glimpse of the white doe. His hair was sweat-damp and raked back from his face. He still looked angry, but after a moment he took out his wand and started doing a decent job of putting the chairs back together.
"What did they do?" Severus asked, and then waved that question away as irrelevant. "What do they intend to do with him?"
"Interrogation," Sirius said, and held up a hand to forestall the acid Not helpful that was on the tip of Severus' tongue. "They said he was needed alive for questioning. They didn't talk much," Sirius added defensively. "I was a dog, and Remus was trying to hex them all."
"I see," Severus said, thinking about the problem as if he was removed from any feelings about it. As if Remus being tortured was not his most pressing worry. He looked Sirius over, taking in his general shocky pallor and stiffness. "They harmed you?"
Sirius pulled the corners of his mouth back, more a grimace than a smile. "Remus prevented me from turning back before I knew what was happening. Then we were running, and then two of them Apparated right in front of us. They must have cast an anti-Apparation jinx on Remus. He fought hard. I think he'd have got away if he hadn't been trying to protect me, and if the Aurors hadn't brought a Dementor with them." He shook his head, and his hair fell across his face like a shadow. "I don't remember what happened between then and coming to my senses halfway to the river. I couldn't change back. I went to where Remus had been and he was gone."
Severus rolled his eyes and yanked open the drawer where he kept the sweets his father insisted on buying for Harry, as if family feeling could be conveyed by dental decay. He snatched up the first chocolate he found, a cardboard tube that rattled cheerfully. He poured out a handful of coloured candies and pressed them on Sirius, before sticking the tube in his sleeve for later.
Sirius' shoulders hunched in even more, but he ate his chocolate dutifully and seemed a bit improved.
"You've been Demented. If I had more time I'd brew you a strengthening potion," Severus said. "Doing happy things also helps." He handed Harry over, and then the plush dog. "Sing him the song about buttercups." Severus frowned and charmed his robes into crisp clean order. He was going to have to put all his cards, if not his life, on the table, and he preferred to do so with as much dignity as possible.
He turned the wireless on to check the time, and thought Dumbledore was taking too long. He would have to go on his own. Which was when Dumbledore's phoenix popped into the air over the cooker, where it hovered for a madly-flapping moment before settling down gingerly onto the drainboard.
"We need to have Kreacher phoenix-proof the place next time he's over," Sirius said, staring hard at the bird. It blinked back at him, looking smug. "Is Dumbledore on our side? You know him better than I do. He never liked me."
"He adored you," Severus contradicted, for the sake of contradiction. "He let you get away with murder." The phoenix was grasping something wrapped in a Chudley Cannons t-shirt, and Severus teased it free of the talons gently.
Sirius pulled his jacket closed in front and kept his arms crossed there, like a barrier. "Dumbledore never trusts himself around powerful wizards. It's his great failing."
Severus set the liberated t-shirt on the table and unwrapped it carefully. Inside was a small, ugly porcelain statue of a chubby Cupid, with a parchment wound tightly around its bow. Unreadable, of course, he thought sourly, until he was wherever the portkey took him. "Attractive powerful wizards, you mean." He blew out a breath. "Fine. Mind the boy. I don't trust my father not to toss him down a well in a temper."
Sirius half-turned towards him, but Severus had no burning desire to tell the well story. It was humiliating. He picked up the figurine and the kitchen whirled away from him with sickening speed.
Remus didn't say anything. There wouldn't have been a point to discussion, anyway. Severus wanted to fight. He'd been the one who'd persuaded Regulus to join the Death Eaters. He'd thought it would be good to have someone close to his own age to work with. He'd forgotten until it was too late that Regulus' blood purity meant he'd be swept away by his Black relatives and kept apart from important but impure people like himself.
When Regulus had finally sought Severus out he'd been furious with Voldemort for harming someone he'd cared for ― Severus assumed some Mudblood romantic interest. Severus had ordered Regulus not to tell him any details, but he'd brewed the complicated dark potion that Regulus wanted.
Now Regulus was dead, and Severus felt responsible. Remus must have realised Severus wanted to fight, because he didn't protest at all; simply studied Severus with that calculating look in his eyes and didn't pull any of his hexes or jinxes.
Still, Severus had the maddening suspicion that Remus let him win, so when he had Remus tied down, his wand flung across the room and his back arching with helpless anger, it was easy enough for Severus to hitch his robes up and pull Remus' hips onto his lap and fuck into him with short hard strokes, barely eased by a handful of conjured oil slicked over his cock. Remus shouted and twisted, yanking his wrists against the chains as if he still wanted to fight, but he was hard, his cock slapping against his stomach with each of Severus' hard rocking thrusts. Severus shoved Remus' legs up for a better angle and came while Remus swore at him. Severus pulled out, breathing hard, and was tempted to leave Remus lying there in sweat and chains. But he picked up his wand and said a charm that made Remus convulse and come, completely untouched.
Severus banished the restraints while Remus was still trying to get his breath back.
"Did I hurt you?" he asked, as Remus sat up. Remus summoned his wand as a subtle display of wandless magic, and began repairing his clothes, which Severus had ripped off him in anger.
Remus flashed him a glance from under a fall of dark, damp hair, nearly a smile. "I wouldn't let you hurt me. Don't worry."
"Next time I'll make you bleed," Severus promised. Remus had dark bruises on his throat that the reattached collar to his shirt failed to cover. Remus didn't ask questions, and that made it easier to answer them. "Regulus Black is dead. He betrayed the Dark Lord. I don't know how, exactly, or why, which I'm sure Dumbledore will be annoyed about."
"Poor kid," Remus said. He shook his hair back as he stood. "Are you all right?"
"I will be fine."
"I'm sure you're safe," Remus said, close enough to touch but not reaching out. "He was your friend."
"Shut up," Severus shouted, with enough magic behind the words that Remus stumbled back a few steps, his wand coming up defensively. "In a war, people die."
"Funny, that," Remus said, eyes narrowed. "The people who die aren't the ones who start the wars, are they?"
"They are cowards," Severus had to agree. "But we are better than that, damn it."
Remus sighed. "It was a brave way to die." He bit his lip. "Where should we look for his body?"
Severus shook his head. Rumour was that Voldemort had turned Regulus into an animated, murderous corpse, as a lesson to any other potential traitors. The Malfoys and Lestranges had denounced him. The House of Black probably wouldn't even hold a funeral, for fear that no one would come.
"Take care of yourself, then," Remus said, and gave Severus a hard, possessive kiss before Disapparating from the Muggle hotel room where they had these clandestine rendezvous.
Taking care of himself was an impossibility, but Severus found himself Apparating home to his room a few days later, not even sure what his own intent was. His mother was out in the yard setting Mrs Flynn's curls, and Mrs Svensen was sitting on a chair in a patch of sun with a plastic cap over her hair. Both women were reading magazines, but still managed to eye Severus when he walked outside as if he was being measured for something.
He couldn't tell if he was found satisfactory or lacking. He'd changed into Muggle clothes, but he knew they'd think his hair was too long.
Severus kissed his mother on the cheek and saw the bruises on her arms. He collected her string bag and went to the shops for her. This earned him a nod of approval from Mrs Flynn, even though Mrs Svensen's voice carried down the alley: "But Mrs Snape, what does that boy of yours do?"
"I can't keep you safe," Severus said over tea. "Not that I ever could."
His mother gave him a look that was too knowing, and kept her silence. But she cut another slice of pie and set it on his plate.
"You should go," Severus said. "What do you have to stay here for? I can get you money ― "
"I don't want your money," she interrupted sharply.
"And I don't want you dead." The words hung in the air like the faint outline of something so large it defied definition. "People are dying, and they're going to keep dying, and if they harm you because of me, I will never ― I won't ― I need to know," he finished weakly, "that you at least got away."
After a long minute with her lips pressed together so hard that they whitened, his mother sighed and said, "How far away is far enough?"
"I don't know," Severus admitted. "I have friends who can help you."
She snorted and sipped her tea deliberately. "Oh, I think you and your friends have done more than enough." She rapped his plate with her fork. "Eat, you're too thin. And you need me to cut your hair again. How will you ever meet anyone nice if you go out looking like that?"
The next time Severus visited, he found his mother gone, taking nothing with her but her wand, and his father living in a chaos of filth and vermin. It wasn't the victory Severus had always hoped for. The next time he came home he brought his books, and his clothes, and his laboratory equipment, and moved in to take care of his father until he drank himself to death. No one knew where his mother had gone. After a while, Severus stopped asking.
He hoped she was happy, wherever she was.
Severus had been to the Ministry of Magic only twice before. Once, to apply for his teaching permit, which had involved sitting a short examination and submitting four letters of reference. The Ministry preferred that a Master Potioneer teach Potions to Sixth and Seventh year students, but Severus had had a letter about that as well, stating that he was expected to complete the coursework by the end of the school year. The second time had been to pick up his permit, a thick parchment with elaborate flowery calligraphy. The witch who'd handed it to him did so with a genuine handshake, as if she respected him. He'd felt warm straight through, and stiff with the fear that anyone could read his pleasure.
Now he arrived in the corridor that led from the Apparition Hall, and was momentarily overwhelmed by the hated but familiar feeling of walking amongst people who looked down on him, suspected him, and wished him nothing but ill. Objectively he knew that the few Ministry workers he saw were all resentful of having to be there on the weekend and curious because most people with ordinary business were turned away until Monday. He kept his head up, and tried not to hunch his shoulders protectively. When one walked like a victim, one was asking to be victimized.
He joined the queue before the security desk behind a group of hearty Kenyan witches with a wagon full of copper cauldrons. He was very bad at restraining his impatience. By the time he finally shuffled in front of the security wizard at the battered front desk, his hands were shaking with the desire to rip a badge from the man's pudgy hands.
"Severus Snape," he said, keeping his voice low as he read from the parchment that he had removed before tossing the Cupid into a fountain made of equally ugly statuary. "Character witness. Council of Magical Law."
An enchanted quill penned the words meticulously; the guard read them over, his lips moving, and then held out a visitor's badge in cheery yellow. Severus barely managed to stop short of snatching it away. He made a point of not thanking the guard for his trouble, but the man was already turning to the rabbity man behind Severus and asking him his name and business, which caused the man to collapse into terrified sobs.
The courts were located in the lowest dungeon level. Rumour was that there was a secret tunnel ― probably more like a secure Floo connection ― from the Ministry dungeons to Azkaban. When Severus stepped from the elevator, the walls, damp and carved into the stone, seemed to close in around him. Torches in iron brackets provided some light, but the air itself seemed imbued with hopelessness and horror. Severus wondered if the greater Wizarding World truly felt safe knowing what free reign Dementors had in the Ministry. Now the war was done, new criminals would be needed to keep the Dementors fed. Severus suspected the Remus Lupin case had inadvertently promoted the cause of certain factors in the government and general public who wanted British werewolves exterminated ― and then there were the vampires, the giants, the centaurs. It wasn't as if they had rights, or should have rights, or deserved rights. Right?
The corridor ended at a T-junction, with a sign pointing to the left reading Offices. On the right was a complicated schedule that began well over Severus' head and continued down to the floor, a list of dates and times and names of the accused that shifted about as Severus stared at it.
"You'll give yourself a headache unless you know what you're looking for," a voice low to the ground said cheerfully. Severus looked down and saw a knee-high desk and a witch in robin's-egg blue robes with matching cardigan. Her nametag read Intern. She handed Severus a cup of tea. "Be a good boy and take this to Dumbledore." Severus averted his eyes defensively and Occluded. The witch waved a note at him. "He said a black-haired wizard might be coming to see him, either a tall, handsome one or a short, suspicious one."
"I'm the tall one," Severus said, annoyed. "Where is he?"
The witch gave him a grin with dimples and pointed. "Fourth interrogation cell down, darling." She winked. "He likes his tea hot, if you know what I mean."
Severus had no idea, but the way she was looking straight up his nose made him nervous. He thanked her ― he suspected she would make a bad enemy ― and carried the tea in front of him until he arrived at the great iron door where she'd sent him. He knocked, and the door rumbled like thunder.
"It's open," someone shouted. Severus gave a pull on the handle, and the door reluctantly scraped out into the hallway before sticking halfway. "Who is it?"
Severus didn't bother not rolling his eyes; the Ministry ought to have better security. He gave his name, and then, after a short pause, his full working title, and was told to come in and shut the door after him to keep the draught out.
He stepped inside and found himself on an uneven stone floor. The spaces between the stones shone slimy and black. The walls were roughly carved from stone, but covered with a cheerful layer of disintegrating Wanted posters to keep the gloom from being utterly oppressive.
Though the dismal atmosphere might not be entirely due to decor, Severus supposed. Dumbledore was seated behind the desk in the centre of the room, his phoenix curled up asleep on top of it. Opposite him, perched on a collapsible pipe chair, sat a Dementor. The room's two torches guttered every time the Dementor sucked in a rattling breath, and icy tendrils of air snuck up Severus' robes and made him painfully aware of what he was not wearing under them.
"Tea," Severus answered shortly, and walked around to the other side of the desk, as far from the Dementor as possible, to set Dumbledore's cup down on the table. The room was marginally warmer near the phoenix, and Severus stayed there, at Dumbledore's side.
"Ah," Dumbledore said cheerfully. "Delightful." He gestured across the room. "You know Kingsley Shacklebolt, I'm sure."
Severus hadn't even noticed the other man, who stood to one side of the door, gangly in his junior Auror's robes and wearing black-framed spectacles. A faint glow from his collar and the awkward way he stood suggested that he was holding his Patronus inside his robes. He looked somewhat embarrassed as he nodded curtly to Severus. Severus nodded back.
"Have a biscuit," Dumbledore urged, holding out a tin of chocolate digestives. Severus and Kingsley demurred in chorus. Dumbledore looked disappointed, and offered the tin to the Dementor. It reached out one ghastly rotting hand and plucked one out. "I would introduce you to my companion, but Dementors don't have names ― it's that much easier to fear a dread which is nameless ― and they don't particularly care about who we are."
Severus had no idea what to say, so he nodded again. The Dementor's head raised and it looked ― nearly ― in Severus' direction. He found himself thinking for no reason of Lily dancing with him, and of Remus dancing in the kitchen with Harry seated on his hip, and of Sirius tumbled naked across the bed and smiling.
"Manners," Dumbledore said sharply. The Dementor made a rasping noise, like the cawing of ravens, and looked down at its biscuit. The chocolate digestive turned to grey ash and crumbled to the floor.
It had tried to steal his happiness, Severus realised, and then it had sucked the joy out of a biscuit.
"You know why I'm here," Severus said, transfiguring his fear into anger, as he'd learned from years of living with his father
Dumbledore looked at the visitor's badge and raised an eyebrow. "Regrettably, witnesses will not be necessary, as there will be no trial."
"So he's dead," Severus said, the sounds of his own heartbeat and breathing so loud he nearly drowned. He looked away from the Dementor, but that hardly improved the suffocating feeling.
"You have so little faith in our justice system," Dumbledore chided. "Mr Shacklebolt?"
"He's free to go," Kingsley said. Severus turned to stare at him, but apparently Kingsley had been trained in rudimentary Occlumency. He looked pointedly away past Severus, talking to the Wanted poster for Gellert Grindlewald, which in turn seemed intent on meeting no one's gaze. "Following preliminary interrogation he was found to be innocent of the charges. He's assisting the High Inquisitors with their ongoing inquiry into the Potters' case."
"If he's cooperating with you," Severus said, imagining torture, "what did you do to him?"
"The Dementor who brought Remus in wanted to taste what it felt like to kill so many people at once," Dumbledore said. "Except it couldn't find that memory, just guilt, which as I understand is nowhere near as filling."
The Dementor rattled and scratched out a comment, holding out its hand palm up as if saying What can you do? Dumbledore looked at Kingsley expectantly.
Kingsley coughed. "It says, it's like the difference between these biscuits and a feast. Sir."
Dumbledore nodded. "They don't exactly have free will," he explained to Severus. "They have hunger. But they're intelligent enough to avoid being treated as monsters by obeying orders. So the Dementor who brought Remus in reported to its superior ― " Dumbledore nodded at his companion ― "that they hadn't actually caught a murderer, and by fortunate coincidence Mr Shacklebolt was in charge of Dementor control this weekend." Kingsley didn't look as if he felt fortunate. "While I have no interest in politics or meddling in Ministry matters, I do have ways of keeping informed. When Mr Shacklebolt contacted me I had him remove Mr Lupin from the Dementors' supper menu, pending confirmation. And then I received your endearingly incoherent letter which also argued Mr Lupin's innocence. Kismet," Dumbledore concluded, and gave Severus a self-satisfied smile.
Severus tried to produce a grateful expression and failed. He had thought Remus was guilty, naturally, as all the evidence implied. Dumbledore seemed to expect some kind of appreciation, however, so Severus coughed, cleared his throat, and asked, "So what really happened?"
Dumbledore glanced at the Dementor, which made a very clear gesture of deference. "Mr Lupin followed Mr Pettigrew from Godric's Hollow, and when he caught up with him Mr Pettigrew accused him of murdering the Potters. He then caused the explosion that killed so many people, while he transfigured himself into a rat and escaped. I myself have seen Remus' memories of that night," Dumbledore said, with a certain odd emphasis that implied he knew more than he'd told to anyone from the Ministry. "And while memories can be falsified by a powerful enough wizard, the worst spell Mr Lupin's wand cast that night was Incarcerous. Mr Lupin wanted Mr Pettigrew captured alive," Dumbledore said, his voice softer. "He wanted answers and justice, not revenge."
"He's a fool like that sometimes," Severus said, trying to keep his face from betraying the rush of warmth that flooded him. Damn Dumbledore for being far too good at manipulation. "So he can leave?"
"He knows Pettigrew better than anyone else alive. He's gone from being Most Wanted Wizard to a valuable resource in the space of a few hours. I imagine he'll be done shortly." Dumbledore offered Severus the biscuit tin again, and this time Severus took one. He wasn't sure if the fog of confusion in his head was a result of being Demented, but chocolate couldn't hurt. "Mr Shacklebolt, perhaps you could escort this Dementor back to his duties and see if Mr Lupin can't be hurried along? It's Saturday night, I'm sure he has plans."
Kingsley stiffened his shoulders as the Dementor stood and glided towards the door, which he just barely managed to get open in time to avoid the awkwardness of flinching away from too-close proximity.
Dumbledore waited until the door banged shut behind them before waving at the chair. Severus shook his head in short refusal.
"In my experience," Dumbledore said, with an air of distraction as if he were talking about one thing while thinking about another, "love, while a marvelous emotion, is often a weakness that blinds us to unpleasant truths. I always knew that you would accomplish great things, Professor Snape, but I never thought you would be the one to prove my cynicism wrong. I am humbled, and I wish the both of you continued domestic happiness."
Severus' stomach clenched queasily around the biscuit. He preferred Dumbledore sternly righteous and wrong; a humbled Dumbledore was one he suspected of machinations. He coughed, his mouth dry and sticky-feeling. "The newspapers will say that Remus is innocent? The Muggle police will take down their posters?"
Severus pushed his shoulders down from where they had hunched up. "He won't be able to find work, not when they've gone and told everyone he's a werewolf. I. . . might need to keep my job. If you think my performance as a teacher is satisfactory."
Dumbledore stood and collected his phoenix and biscuit tin, both of which he tucked up his sleeve, where they disappeared. "You have a marvelous way with children." He waved the door open, and waited for Severus to join him in the corridor. "Ah, here is Mr Lupin now."
The Dementor escorting Remus loomed nearly to the ceiling and made Remus look small. Remus kept his shoulders back and his expression blank as Kingsley shook his hand and gave him an official-looking document that showed he was absolved of all charges.
Remus had no place to put the bulky rolled parchment, so Severus took it and tucked it in his robes. He gave Kingsley a sharp nod, not so much thanks as dismissal.
Remus said nothing, but once they were in the elevator and rising towards freedom, he heaved out a breath and seemed to crumple inwards. Severus put a hand on his shoulder and felt him shaking.
"I brought you Smarties," Severus said, remembering. He took the cardboard tube out of his sleeve and rattled it temptingly. "Chocolate. Would it help?"
"You coming for me helps more than anything." Remus covered Severus' hand with his own and listed sideways, so their shoulders brushed. "They took my bootlaces so I wouldn't hang myself. I was furious about that. . . and then they cleared me." He shook his head. "They said it was Peter."
The doors opened, and suddenly they were back amidst the mundane Ministry offices and the resentful weekend workers. "I'm glad," Severus spat, vehement. He steered Remus, unsubtly aiming for the Floo hall. "For your sake. But it doesn't change that much, for me." He frowned; the sentiment was very clear in his head, but words bent it all the wrong way.
"You are peculiar that way," Remus said. He stumbled and Severus caught him, but it must have been a trick because Remus stole the opportunity to press a kiss to Severus' cheek.
"In the Ministry of Magic," Severus said, trying to sound appalled. "Have you no sense of propriety?"
"You know I don't," Remus murmured, voice low and dirty, and Severus absolutely wasn't going to become inappropriately aroused in the centre of government. Not at all.
"Behave," he told Remus sternly. "Your sense of humour appals." He looked around the hall, not sure if Sirius would have been able to keep his word, but ― yes, there. "Our ride is here," he said, and started off towards Kreacher, who stood to one side holding a placard reading Half-bloods (party of two).
"Kreacher," Remus called, with a wide stupid giddy grin. He swept the house-elf up in a hug that made his feet dangle off the floor. "You're a sight for sore eyes."
"Loathsome beast," Kreacher squeaked breathlessly. He swung the placard wildly, hitting Remus in the arm and shoulder until he was set down, and then hit him once in the knee, possibly in embarrassment. "How dare you go off like that? The boy was very upset."
"Which one?" Remus asked slyly, and Kreacher ― horribly ― said Oh, you in a grating teasing tone. House-elves were meant to be dour and embittered, damn it.
"Home," Severus snapped, having had enough of pleasantries. "If you don't mind."
He'd never been Apparated by a non-human being before. It was a unique experience; there was none of the spinning or squeezing or sense of falling that Severus associated with instantaneous travel. He was simply in the Ministry one second and the kitchen at Spinners End the next.
Sirius was at the table, Harry on his knee, a jaunty hat folded from the sports paper on his head. Severus was glad to see he was bearing up bravely. Tobias was mopping his face and his trousers in turn, hunched over from where he'd shot to his feet in alarm and spilt his drink.
"Cleared of all charges," Severus said into the ringing silence.
Harry, predictably, said no, and with a warming display of initiative smacked Sirius with the potato masher that he'd been hammering the table with. Sirius handed Harry off to Kreacher, and within seconds Harry was cheerfully humming a nursery rhyme with perfectly neat hair and a spotless jumper.
Tobias glared out from under his lowered eyebrows and settled back down. "So that's that, then?" he asked with an aggrieved air. "What the hell are you mixed up in? You're a schoolteacher, you know. And a father," he added, as if there was nothing more noble. The irony was touching.
"I'm sleeping with the wrong people," Severus said offhand. He drew up a chair ― screw his father's Muggle sensibilities ― and sat Remus down.
To his surprise, Tobias nodded as if this was a reasonable complaint. "Happens all the time," he said, and then nodded significantly at Harry. "But good things can come of it, eh?"
In that wonderful moment of being home and safe and free, Severus felt that surely they must be the oddest family ever, but none of those oddities mattered. All of them in their own ways were there for Harry. There was love, as sickening as Severus found it was to admit it. Surely James and Lily, wherever they were, could rest in peace. Harry was loved, and because of that the world changed. For the better, Severus chose to believe, and set the kettle over the fire to make tea.