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When Sirius opened his eyes his first sight was a pair of assessing black eyes set in a small pallid face framed by lank black hair. "You're awake," the boy said in a surprisingly soft and girlish voice. In spite of the changes in size, voice, and age, Sirius instantly recognized Snape. Struck with a new wave of adrenaline, Sirius rocketed up and grabbed Snape by his shoulders.

"What the bloody Hell did you do!" he demanded, giving his now child-sized enemy a teeth-rattling shake.

Snape didn't answer, instead, he turned boneless in his grip and began to move in tandem with Sirius's shaking. Even more infuriated, Sirius abruptly released the child and shouted, "Fucking say something!"

The boy-Snape, now a crouched heap, met Sirius's gaze after a long moment and whispered, "I don't know who you are."

Sirius scoffed. "How convenient," he sneered. Looking away to take in their surroundings, which were trees, more trees, and, oh, more trees. It wasn't difficult for Sirius to concluded they'd ended up in a forest. Hopefully, it wasn't the Forbidden Forest. "If I were suddenly an ugly little sprog with you I'd probably not know who you are either." Getting up, he grabbed the boy-Snape by the excess fabric of his robe and hauled him into the air. "But just like you would, I'm not believing a word from your liar-mouth!"

Snape's eyes went wide and he began to struggle in earnest. He nearly escaped Sirius's hold when he started to slip out of his too-big robe, but Sirius stopped him from getting away by grabbing onto his arm. Immediately, Snape yelped and went limp. "Stop," he whimpered. "Stop, stop…"

Sirius began to feel suddenly very uncomfortable when Snape's pleas turned into outright sobs. Carefully, he lowered Snape to the ground and let go of him. Instead of running like he half-expected, Snape curled in on his arm and continued to weep. Uneasily, he began to wonder if the "I don't know you" thing was actually the truth instead of a ruse. He knew Snape was a sneaky bastard, but the tears seemed a bit low— Not to mention embarrassing. Sirius was going to remember him looking like a snot-nosed brat. Tentatively, he lowered himself to Snape's level.

"Hey, what's wrong with your arm?"

Boy-Snape lifted his gaze and looked at him. But more than that too. He didn't just stop at taking in Sirius's expression, he searched everything about him, how far away he placed himself from Snape, the position of his hands, how tense his shoulders were, and for a moment, he swore the boy wasn't just looking in his eyes, but reading his mind . Merlin, Morgana, and Mordred did boy-Snape know legilimency? His parents really did have some weird ideas about raising children, didn't they?

"Dunno," Snape finally whispered.

Sirius fought back the urge to grimace. "D'you think you fell on it earlier or something?"

A shadow darted across boy-Snape's gaze. "Or something," he agreed.

He put out his hands for the boy to see. "Can I take a look at it?" Sirius didn't know what he'd be looking for, but, if something were really wrong with it, he should be able to tell, shouldn't he?

Slowly, Snape placed his twig of an arm in Sirius's beater-roughened hands. Carefully, he pulled up his sleeves and gently turned it over for a full look. It was bruised and there was an odd sort of bump down near his wrist. Sirius pressed on it, causing boy-Snape to cry out. Immediately, he backed off and apologized, "Sorry. I think it might be broken."

Eyes glassy with new tears, Snape nodded.

Sirius began to feel himself over for his wand. When he failed to find it, he frowned. "Hey, have you seen a wand around? Or maybe even two?"

Boy-Snape gave a half-shake of his head. "Only the broken one over there," he said, using his good hand to point a little ways away. Sirius got up to investigate, he sighed in defeat when he saw it was broken clean in two. "Well, we're buggered," he muttered. Returning to the kid, he set to work tearing up Snape's robe.

"What are you doing?" Snape asked, sounding alarmed.

"Making you a sling," he said. "We need to keep you from moving your arm too much since I can't fix it without my wand."

Snape still didn't look too happy, but he didn't object and let Sirius tie it up. When done, he started looking around to see if there was an identifiable path or anything for them to get on. When he didn't see one, he sighed. What were you supposed to do if you got lost in the wilderness? Look for water? That sounded right to him. They could drink that and maybe, if it was a river or something, they could follow it to the nearest town or whatever. Sirius knew people liked to settle by rivers. He waved a hand at the boy-Snape. "Come on, we're going to go look for water."

Snape didn't move. Sirius sighed loudly and asked, "What?"

The kid was shaking a little, but he said, "When you're lost, Mum says not to move."

Sirius rolled his eyes. "I doubt anyone even knows we're missing yet."

"Why not?" Snape inquired. "Mum sent me to get Dad from the pub. She's going to notice when we don't come back soon."

Sirius winced. "Maybe if that's actually what you were doing before we ended up here that'd be true, but you weren't, so…"

The boy frowned. "I wasn't getting Dad from the pub before now?" he questioned, sounding both confused and a little scared.

"No," answered Sirius. He ran a hand through his hair and turned his eyes skyward. He could only see hints of blue through the trees' red and brown canopies. How the Hell was he going to explain the shit that had occurred just before they suddenly found themselves in a woods? In the end, he decided the most bare-bones tale he could tell would be for the best. He needed to have this boy-Snape trust him just enough to get him out of the woods and to someone who could fix him. As much as Sirius hated the bloke, he'd learned his lesson with the werewolf mess. Putting someone in a potentially deadly situation "to teach them a lesson" was not okay and was utterly inexcusable. He was pretty sure leaving a baby Snape alone in the woods would be about the same on the "not okay" scale as trying to feed him to Moony.

Sirius took a deep breath and turned back to face Snape. "Okay, so this is what happened. You know how I accused you of being a liar and stuff?"

The child stared back at him, expression blank, but dark eyes flashing with incredulity. Sirius supposed he deserved that. It had just happened after all. "Well, that's because we're not friends. I guess you could say we're sort of ah…" Sirius searched for a word that sounded nicer than enemies. In the end, he settled on rivals. "We're rivals and we don't really get on because of it. Also, you were my age not too long ago—"

"Your age?" Snape exclaimed with disbelief.

Sirius glared at him. "Yes! Why d'you think your robes and stuff are suddenly two times your size?"

He looked at his clothes and seemed to fall reluctantly silent.

"—Anyway, I don't know why you're suddenly six—"

"—I'm eight!"

Sirius stopped and stared at boy-Snape. "Really? Wow, you're tiny."

The boy's face pinkened and he scowled. "Shut up, you twat!" he snapped.

He bared his teeth at the kid and fought down the urge to throttle boy-Snape. Beating up little kids was a bad thing— Even if you knew for a fact they grew up to be greasy gits. "You shut up!" he yelled back. "Do you want to know what happened or not?"

The kid shrank back a little and fell quiet. Sirius tried to pretend there wasn't something weird about that and continued on with his tale. "Again, I don't know why you're suddenly little, but before this forest, we were in Hogsmeade. You ran into me while I was with my mates, wouldn't apologize like a polite person, so I hexed you and then you jinxed me and then— Well, it turned into a big duel. I think the Head Girl came in and tried to stop it, but you were in the middle of disapparating away – which you shouldn't have been doing since we haven't had the class for it yet – and I was trying to curse you and she threw off some spell and it combined with mine and, look, I know that's bad. You probably know that's bad when spells mix like that too and you're eight! So, I did the right thing and tried to knock you down out of its striking range by tackling your knees." Sirius scratched the back of his head. "I'm guessing that didn't quite work out as well as I wanted."

Snape started to look around the forest. "D'you know where I disapparated us to?"

Sirius shook his head. "I mean, this could be the Forbidden Forest, since it's so close to Hogwarts and Hogsmeade, but…" He couldn't say for certain, but he had a fairly good feeling that wasn't the case. "I don't think so."

Boy-Snape looked around at the trees with a new, invested interest. "This doesn't much look like the forest around the river at home either."

He resisted the urge to roll his eyes. "You probably messed up where you wanted to go when you got hit with the spell," Sirius told the kid. "We're lucky neither of us got splinched, honestly."

The kid frowned at him. "I don't know any other forests."

"Yeah, but older you probably did," Sirius snapped back, causing boy-Snape to flinch. He sighed and scrubbed a hand along his jaw. Sirius was getting tired of feeling like he'd done something wrong every time he raised his voice. Why the Hell was the kid so jumpy? He'd apologized for being rough, hadn't he? "Anyway," he muttered, "Since I don't know where we are and no one's going to have any idea where to start looking for us back in Hogsmeade, I say we find a river and try and follow it to a town or village. We can find somebody to help us get back to Hogwarts from there."

Boy-Snape still didn't look too sure of his plan, which annoyed Sirius, but he nodded all of the same. He probably had the sense to know if he didn't Sirius would leave him behind for whatever predators lived around here. He was going back to Hogwarts no matter what. The kid looked around then, and, after a moment, back up at Sirius with wide, questioning eyes. "Which way do we go?"

Sirius opened his mouth to answer, but snapped it shut a moment later. Fuck, which way should they go?

Chapter Text

"Can we stop?" boy-Snape asked after what had probably been a few hours of them thrashing blindly through the forest's underbrush in search of a river. Or a lake. Hell, any water right about now would be brilliant. Sirius was getting thirsty. "I'm tired!" complained Snape from behind. Like before, Sirius ignored his whining and continued to crush his way through the foliage. He couldn't be that poorly if he still had the energy to whinge at Sirius. He chanced a glance skyward and saw that through the tree-canopies the sky was quickly turning the purple-blue of late evening. Sirius grit his teeth. Fuck. They were going to be in trouble soon if they didn't find water.

"Please," the kid begged, voice now small and distant.

Sirius pursed his lips. 'Please, huh?' he thought, 'he's really trying to manipulate me now.' Sirius looked over his shoulder then to see Snape had stopped following him and was a good yard away from him now. Aggravated, he groaned aloud and started to stomp back toward the boy. "What are you doing?" he demanded. "We need to find water or a village before it's too dark to see!"

The kid shrank in on himself the closer Sirius came and even raised his good arm up to shield his face. "I'm sorry," he whispered. "I'll keep walking." He peeked through his fingers and tacked on, for what was probably Sirius's sake, "I swear."

Sirius stared down at him a moment, uncertain. Boy-Snape was acting like he expected Sirius to box him around the ear. It made his gut give a weird, uncomfortable twist. Like many things he didn't like, Sirius decided to quickly squash and ignore the feeling. He'd gotten the answer he wanted. The kid said he'd quit being a whiny baby and keep moving so they wouldn't be without water when the stars came out. He nodded at the kid. "Good," he said. "Don't dawdle." Sirius then turned back around and retraced his steps until he was back at where he'd stopped. Once there, he looked over his shoulders to see the kid was only a handful of steps behind. Nodding in satisfaction to himself, he continued stomping through the brush; crunching branches and plants beneath his feet.

They continued walking in silence for some time, Sirius glancing over his shoulder every now to make sure Snape hadn't lagged too much and occasionally barking some less than kind encouragement at him. "Hurry up!" he yelled at more than one point and a little while later, he shouted, his voice growing hoarse from use and thirst, "Move faster you little brat! Or I'll leave you behind for werewolves to eat!"

What was probably a couple of minutes after that last gem, Sirius heard something that sounded like the kid falling to the ground followed by him crying out in pain. "Shit!" cursed Sirius as he spun around and strode over to the kid. Boy-Snape was attempting to push himself up on his one good arm, but it was shaking too much and he'd just barely get himself off the ground before he was face-down eating dirt again. "Ah, shit," Sirius swore, unable to watch Snape struggle anymore. Reaching down, he grabbed the boy by the back of his shirt and pulled him to his feet. At first, Sirius tried to let go of the kid, but stopped and strengthened his hold when Snape's knees started to knock together. He was just going to fall again if Sirius didn't support him and who knew if he'd break something else if that happened?

Sirius finally looked down at the kid's face after he had him held upright and found it was red and dirty and he was leaking what precious little water he had left in him from his wide, terrified eyes. "I'm s-sorry," he sobbed. "I won't make you s-stop again! Don't l-let the werewolves eat me!"

Sirius fucking despised Snape. He'd throw a party for Hogwarts and supply all of the illegal booze he could get his hands if the bloke would just drop dead. Hell, he'd consider giving up his wand-hand if it meant Snape would cease to exist. Yet… As he stared down at this quaking, terrified, exhausted little boy Sirius realized he didn't hate him. Not this boy-Snape who was crying and pleading and apologizing all at once and promising things he didn't even understand if it meant Sirius just wouldn't leave him to the werewolves. This poor kid. This poor hurt, exhausted, scared, confused little kid.

"Fuck me," Sirius said. "Ah, fuck me. What the Hell have I been doing?" Reaching down, he picked the kid up and ignored the way he weakly pushed and hit him, trying to get away from him. "I got you," he told the boy as he situated boy-Snape's legs around his waist and brought the kid's good arm around his neck. "You're fine now. I'm going to do the walking and you're just going to rest." Giving the kid's back a pat as he started to cling to Sirius with all the meager strength he had left, he whispered, "No one's getting left behind for the werewolves, okay? It's you and me all the way, kid. I'll get us out of these woods and back to Hogwarts before you know it."

Through his exhausted sobs, boy-Snape whimpered, "I want my mum."

Sirius sighed and patted the boy's back once more. While Sirius may have made making Snape's life miserable something of a daily goal at Hogwarts, this felt wrong. This wasn't Snape. Not yet, anyway. He was just a little kid now. It made him feel especially crummy because Sirius had managed to make Snape, someone he knew to be prideful and stubborn and infuriatingly hard to crack, beg for his mother. Boy or no.

"I bet if we ask Madam Pomfrey she will bring your mum to Hogwarts for a bit before she makes you the right age," he offered in a softer, kind voice.

Boy-Snape's cries having now quieted to just the occasional whimper, whispered, "Really? She'll call my mum for me?"

"Yeah, kid."

The boy fell silent then and as Sirius continued to plod desperately through the forest, he felt the kid's head roll off his shoulder and to his chest. A glance down at Snape's face showed he passed out. Readjusting his grip on the kid a little, Sirius muttered to himself, "Probably for the best."

Licking his chapped lips, Sirius hoped he found water soon. He didn't know how much longer he could keep going like this. 'Or make it back to Hogwarts at this rate,' he thought darkly. Immediately after, Sirius shook his head to rid himself of the dark, intrusive voice. He couldn't think like that. It would only lead to bad things for not only him, but the poor kid in his arms.

Chapter Text

When Severus woke up, he had the worst headache he'd experienced since Dad slammed him into the living room wall last year after Severus made a book fly at him when Dad was waving his fists menacingly at Mum during a row. Gingerly, Severus pulled himself to a sitting position and took count of all of his aches and hurts. In addition to his head, his broken arm throbbed now and then, and a twitch of his toes told Severus his feet were sore from all of the walking he'd done the day before. And a hunger gnawed with a keen persistence at his stomach. He sighed. It was all pains that couldn't be helped. Not yet, anyway. Once they were at Hogwarts maybe…

He frowned, troubled. Severus didn't know how far they were from Hogwarts and his supposed rival hadn't seemed too sure himself. Though, he'd suspected they couldn't be too far from civilization and, therefore, Hogwarts. In spite of this conviction the older boy held, they'd evidently spent the nights in the woods. Would they have to again today? He hoped not. Severus was sure if they did his supposed rival would blame him. He was still so very tired and just knew he'd need to be carried again today, and far earlier as well. That'd surely slow them down. He shivered. Severus hoped his supposed rival wouldn't go back on what he said about leaving Severus to the werewolves yesterday.

His thoughts now centered on the older boy's threat from yesterday, Severus began to scour the area around him for the said boy, fearing he'd been abandoned with how quiet it was. Severus was startled hardly a moment later when he found a rather large black dog sharing the robe he'd been sleeping on. Where on earth had that mangy thing come from? Had the older boy brought it here? A quick scan of the rest small clearing he was in showed his supposed rival was nowhere to be found. At the realization he was utterly alone just as he worried he would be, Severus's heart began to beat so fast and hard he was scared it'd explode right out of his chest. Even worse, he was terrified he would never see his mum again or become old again and remember the wonders of Hogwarts.

Controlled by his panic, Severus tried to push himself up on his good arm, but his feet got tangled in the robe he was sitting on and he fell back on his bum before he'd hardly gotten an inch off the ground. That was when he realized the older boy couldn't have abandoned him. The robe Severus had been sleeping on and the dog was, was his supposed rival's. He wouldn't have gone far without it. It was cold— As the small, wispy white clouds leaving his mouth proved. He'd probably gone looking for something to eat. Or drink. Severus went to lick his lips, but it did nothing. He stuck out his tongue and went cross-eyed trying to get a look at it, certain that it had to look like a shriveled worm. Unfortunately, he just couldn't see it past the tip of his nose. Sighing, he wondered if the older boy would be gone much longer. Severus didn't feel too confident about walking yet with the way he was shaking from his latest spike of adrenaline and the lack of food and water from most of yesterday.

Returning his attention to his surroundings, Severus looked around with more care and interest than he had before. Squinting between a small thicket of trees, Severus gasped aloud when he saw something moving toward the ground. Could it be water? Had Severus's supposed rival found them something to drink? Thirst renewed tenfold, Severus gave a long pause of consideration to start calling for the older boy to take him to the water, but one look at the slumbering dog told him not to. He wasn't keen at the thought of getting nipped by the strange beast if he startled it.

So, with his one good arm, he dragged himself toward the water. It was slow going all the way there, but once he was beside the small river, he didn't even care. Without a thought for propriety, Severus dunked his face in the water like an animal would and lapped up water until he felt ready to burst. It was sharp and cold, but he didn't care. It was the best water he'd ever drunk. When he'd quenched his tongue, Severus splashed a little of it on his face and rolled back his sleeve to use the inside part to clean his face. He was sure it was icky looking after his crying and tumble to the ground yesterday. When done, he looked over his shoulder to where he came from and decided he just didn't have the interest or strength to pull himself all the way back over there. So, instead, he gathered up small sticks around him and started to build a small twig house with the help of a bit of mud from the river.

Severus was just about to start on the roof of his little house when the older boy called from behind, "What are you doing?"

He startled so badly that he lost his balanced and would have tipped right into the river if a strong hand hadn't grabbed his injured arm and pull him back. Even though Severus knew his supposed rival was just trying to keep him from falling in, he couldn't stop himself from crying out in pain.

"Sorry, sorry," the older boy whispered as he let go of Severus's hurt arm. "Shit, sorry, kid."

Severus sniffled a little and nodded. "It's okay."

They were both quiet a minute. Then, Sirius asked, "How long have you been awake?"

Severus shrugged. He didn't know how to tell time without a clock. "A little bit," he answered.

"I didn't hear you," the older boy remarked, looking a bit astonished and a little contrite as well.

Severus glanced around. He hadn't heard his supposed rival coming back at all either. Maybe there was something strange about the forest? Or, more likely, the other had wandered farther than planned and Severus had been too absorbed in building his house to notice his return. "How far away did you go?" he asked.

"Go?" the older boy echoed, "I was here the whole time."

He scowled. "No, you weren't! I woke up next to a dog." Severus looked over to where it would have been, but there was no dog and a glance at the older boy showed he was wearing his robe. Severus brought his good hand up to scratch his head in confusion. Had it wandered off while Severus was playing?

"A dog?" the other boy echoed, sounding half-amused, half-unhappy. "Did you hit your head yesterday? Let me take a look at you." He then attempted to grab Severus's face in his dirty hands, but he ducked out of his reach.

"I'm fine!" snapped Severus. "Stop!" Angrily he gestured to where he'd come from. "It was there! It was big and black! Go look for it!"

This time, when the older boy made to grab him, Severus didn't get away. He was forced to meet the older boy's scarily intense stormy gaze by the grip he had on Severus's chin. Severus quaked as the other boy growled, "There. Was. No. Dog."

He found all he could do was nod in response, too frightened by what may happen if he didn't agree.

The older boy let him go then and stood up. "Right," he said, turning his gaze to their surroundings. "Are you hungry? I don't think there are any safe berry bushes nearby. But I read in a book once you can eat beetles and worms in a pinch. There's a big rock that way I could look under."

Severus wrinkled his nose in disgust. "No, thank you," he told the older boy firmly. No matter how many nights he'd been kept up with an empty stomach he'd never been desperate enough to go out to his family's garden to dig around for worms to eat. "I'm not that much hungrier than usual."

The older boy looked down oddly at him for a moment. "Right," he said. "Anyway. If that's the case, let's go."

This time, when Severus pushed himself up, he was able to stand and walk. Though, he was a bit shaky. But he didn't mind. He was just happy his legs were working right again. He smiled slightly. "I'm ready," he told the older boy.

Sirius eyed him warily for a time. "Do you think you can walk on your own?" he asked.

Severus bobbed his head with confidence. "Yes."

He didn't look like he quite believed Severus, but all the same Severus's supposed rival started to walk in the direction the river's stream was flowing, only looking over his shoulder now and again to make sure Severus was following. After a while of trailing behind him, Severus grew bored and it came to his mind now would be a good a time as any to ask the older boy the question that had been bothering him all of yesterday. Picking up his pace until he was trotting alongside the other boy, Severus reached over to give his robe a tug.

The other boy looked at him, eyebrow quirked. "Yeah?"

"Um," Severus started, not entirely sure how to start. "Erm."

"Come on, just spit it out!" his rival spat, seemingly losing what little patience he had with Severus.

Flinching at the tone, he fell back a step, where, now feeling safer, he asked, "What's your name?"

The older boy stopped dead in his tracks. He stared at Severus long enough to make him start squirming where he stood.

Feeling he ought to say something, Severus babbled, "You told me a lot about you, and me! Yesterday. Like, we're supposed to be the same age and we go to Hogwarts together, and we don't like each other very much, but…"

"I forgot to tell you my name."

Severus bit his lip and dipped his chin.

His supposed rival scrubbed a hand across his chin and swore to himself. "Sorry, kid," he said, getting down on a knee. "I'm just buggering things up every step of the way, aren't I?"

"Um," was all Severus felt safe saying.

He snorted. "That's a first," he muttered. "You not going out of your way to point out how much of a fuck-up I am."

Severus looked to the toes of his far too big shoes. They only stayed on because the older boy had stuffed them full of strips of his robes so his feet would be snug inside them. Even so, they were a little floppy when he walked and he'd tripped a bit on them a time or two as well. Severus was made to look up when a hand poked him gently in the shoulder.

He furrowed his brow when he saw his supposed rival was offering him a hand to shake. Severus lifted his gaze from it to the other boy's face. "It's for shaking," he told Severus with a roll of his eyes. "I haven't done right by you much yet, so I figure I might as well start now and do this properly."

With one last suspicious glance, Severus put his hand in the older boy's and let him shake it.

"Sirius Black," the other boy introduced.

Severus pursed his lips a moment before saying, "Severus Snape. I can't say it's been a pleasure meeting you."

For a moment, the older boy looked utterly outraged, but, then, he threw back his head and cackled. It was the nicest sound Severus had heard from Sirius since they woke up in this forest. And, after a moment, he even joined in with a small giggle of his own.

"Understatement of the year, kid," Sirius told him after they finished laughing. Standing up, he ruffled Severus's hair and then left it on top of his head as they continued to follow the river's stream to what would hopefully be a village.

Chapter Text

The sun was shining overhead now and Sirius could no longer look at the river without squinting. Not that it mattered, he'd gotten his last fill of the water just as it was starting to glint and glimmer. Sirius was also far more concerned with scanning the horizon for a village or town or something. He was growing more frustrated by the hour. How fucking far in the wilderness had they ended up? Where in the Hell had Snape taken them? He didn't know the answer to either question, nor how to even start to answer it without a wand.

He glanced behind him. Boy-Snape had begun to trail there after their first hour of walking. Grudgingly, Sirius had to acknowledge the kid was doing pretty good today. He hadn't complained once about anything. The night's rest and a nearby water source appeared to have fixed most of his issues from the day before. Even so, surely the kid had to be hungry? Absently, Sirius put a hand to his own knotting stomach. He sure as Hell was, but he'd decided to wait to go looking for anything until Snape said something. Kids had smaller stomachs and needed to eat more and more often, right? Then why in Merlin's name wasn't this kid throwing some kind of hunger-fueled strop yet?

Sirius hated the thought of being the first to break, but he didn't think he could go on like this for too much longer. He needed something to eat before he keeled over. Stopping suddenly, Sirius whirled around to face boy-Snape. Like the wary little creature he'd proven himself to be over the past day, Snape stopped himself just out of reach from him before turning a questioning gaze on Sirius.

"You hungry?" asked Sirius.

The kid wrinkled his nose. "Not for bugs."

He rolled his eyes. Sirius had been mostly joking about that. Sure, he'd read it in a book, and a reputable one at that, but he didn't think he'd ever get hungry enough for bugs. "Did I say I was going to give you bugs?" he snapped at boy-Snape.

In response, Snape flinched. "No," he whispered, eyes now on his feet.

Internally, Sirius cringed. He was fucking things up with the kid every damn step of the way, wasn't he? And here he'd resolved to do better and not make the kid give him those hurt puppy-dog eyes. He just didn't feel like Snape when he did. Sighing, Sirius ran a hand through his tangled, dirty hair. "Can you wait here?" he asked. "I'll go look for something nearby, like a berry bush. Maybe I'll get lucky and find something better…" Sirius trailed off as he considered taking on his animagus form to go hunting. He didn't know how he was going to play off any bite marks and tearing on a squirrel or rabbit he may catch, but the kid had shut up easy enough when he insisted there absolutely hadn't been a dog sleeping next to him.

Sirius didn't know how they'd cook it once he brought it back, but he thought he sort of knew how Muggles started fires. It involved rubbing sticks together until they got hot and started to spark, right? He hoped that was the case or Sirius had nothing and absolutely no way to make a dead rabbit food instead of bait for something bigger and scarier than them.

"Like spiders?" the kid asked in a derisive tone, drawing Sirius from his musings.

He scowled at the boy. "What did I say about bugs?"

"They're arakids !" argued Snape, "not bugs!"

"Arakids?" Sirius parroted, amused at the mispronunciation. "I think you mean arachnids, kid."

Boy-Snape flushed a bright red before putting on a rather fierce glower for a kid of his size. "Whatever!" he huffed.

Sirius just laughed. "Sure, whatever," he agreed. He could tease Snape when he was his right age again. Not knowing how to pronounce arachnids at eight? What a dummy! "Just stay here, okay?" he insisted. "I'll be back before you know it."

Snape kicked at a stick near his feet and said nothing.

Sirius found himself irritated with the kid once more and attempted to grab boy-Snape's good arm to force him to pay attention. However, like he'd done several times already, the kid dodged him expertly. "Come on!" he grumbled. "Would you look at me when I'm asking you to do something? If you don't get a little more cooperative and quick I'm leaving you for the werewolves!"

Like his threat had before, it brought a sudden onslaught of terror to the boy's black eyes and reminded him why he shouldn't be using it. Briefly, he wondered if Snape had always been scared of them or if part of the older him was still there and had left a lingering fear on the child's psyche. "I'll be good," boy-Snape promised. "Don't let me get eaten!"

Indulgently, Sirius smiled at him and reached over to ruffle the kid's hair (which, he allowed after an initial jolt at the touch). "As long as you listen to me, kid, I won't."

The kid relaxed and turned his gaze to their surroundings. After a moment, he pointed at a log that was half a yard away and just barely hidden by a bush. "I'll wait there for you," he promised.

Sirius dipped his chin in agreement. "Good spot," he replied. "See you in a bit." Taking off into the forest he made sure he was well out of view before shifting into the shape of Padfoot. Once he was in his animagus form, Sirius sniffed the air and followed the scent of what he knew to be a rabbit for a while. Finally, when he came upon the critter's home, he wasted no time flushing it out and then giving chase for it through the forest underbrush. When he finally caught it and sank his teeth into the rabbit's fragile neck, Sirius's mouth filled with its warm blood. It took all of his willpower to not wolf down the critter as it was. He had to share the rabbit with boy-Snape.

With great care, he picked out the path he'd taken through the forest on his hunt and followed it until he reached a clearing that was just out of Snape's view. There, he dropped their lunch on the ground and transformed back into himself. He licked his lips after and realized they still tasted like blood. Bringing his arm up to his mouth, he wiped it until the metallic flavor had all but disappeared. Swaggering over to where he left boy-Snape, he showed him the mangled rabbit. "Scared off what killed it," he told the boy. "Quite the stroke of luck, isn't it?"

Boy-Snape's gaze was suspicious, but he gave a tiny nod of his head all the same. "Uh-huh."

"Help me gather up some wood for a fire. We got to cook this thing."

Hopping to his feet, the kid did just that and a few minutes later, they had a nice little pile of kindle made up in a spot Sirius had cleared of leaves and other debris just feet from the river. For what felt like ages, he attempted to make two sticks spark. However, it only left his hands blistered and his back aching. They fucking wouldn't light! Throwing them into the river, he yelled, "I guess we will be eating Goddamn bugs!"

"I can make a fire," Snape whispered from across the pile of sticks.

Sirius blinked at the kid. Why the Hell hadn't he said anything while he was struggling for the last fifteen minutes? Was he a bloody sadist as a kid too? "Huh?" he sputtered in the end, still too shocked to be truly furious yet.

The boy nodded. Pointing a finger at the sticks, he stared at it with freakish intensity before a spark shot from his digit and lit the sticks. One by one, they started to burn red, yellow, and orange— Growing larger with each stick the kid added. Finally, boy-Snape snagged the rabbit from where it was going stiff by their knees and told Sirius, "I can cut it too." With the same finger he used to light the fire, he muttered what sounded like a spell and sliced into the rabbit's belly. By hand, he pulled out the guts and then stuck a stick in it before setting in the edge of the flames to cook.

It was all done with such deftness and power that Sirius could only shake, speechless. When some ten minutes later Snape offered him a cooked front paw, he took it between numb fingers and bit into the cooked flesh. It was a bit burnt and still kind of hairy and there was far more bone than he'd care for, but it was the best damn food he'd eaten in his entire life. Slowly, the two of them devoured the rabbit until all that remained were the larger bones they couldn't chew and swallow even if they wanted to. A time after that, while boy-Snape was rolling around the rabbit's skull, Sirius asked, "Where the fuck did you learn to do all of that?"

Black eyes looked up, guileless. "How to cook a rabbit?" he questioned. "Old man Larson from down the street. He used to tell me stories from the war and how he survived when there wasn't much of anything to eat on the frontlines." The boy's face turned dark and thoughtful. "But only when I'm weeding his flowers and he's supervising. I think he can only talk about the bad times when no one's looking at him."

Sirius floundered for words. "Um, yeah," he stammered. "But, also, the fire? And cutting open the rabbit? That's some bloody mental stuff to be doing at your age. And without a wand!"

The kid shrugged. "Mum showed me how. Dad doesn't let her use her wand around the house, so she had to get sneaky and showed me how to be too. She says it'll be good for me when I get to Hogwarts." Snape frowned. "But she also said to never let anyone see me do it or I'd be had." Boy-Snape let his hair cascade into his face. Peeking through the gaps in his stringy, greasy mess at him a moment later, the kid said, "But I thought she'd rather us have full bellies right now than me keep it a secret."

Sirius swallowed. Fuck him. If that was the kind of secrecy Snape's mother had instilled in him from when he was a little kid, what would Snape do to him when he was the right age to make sure he couldn't tell anyone?

As he remained silent and lost in his musings, boy-Snape started to fidget with anxiety. Voice pitched at an annoying whine, he asked, "Right? Mum would prefer that? She's not going to be cross with me?"

He realized then he had to answer. And to the positive or the kid might end up a crying mess from fear for the state of his future-backside (if Snape's mother was just as prone to shooting off a stinging hex at his rear as Sirius's had been when he was the boy's age, anyway). "Yeah, kid," he said. "Your mother would prefer we don't starve."

Snape settled down after his assurance and went back to rolling around the rabbit skull. As for Sirius, he turned his gaze to the dying fire and wondered if he should figure out a way to bring over water from the river to douse it or if he waited a little longer he'd be safe stamping it out with the heel of his boot. Which one was safer? Which one would take the least amount of time? Quietly, Sirius sighed to himself and buried his face in his hands.

This was an easy decision, but why did it feel so daunting to decide?

Chapter Text

"I think it's going to be another night of sleeping in the forest," Sirius said with great reluctance. Their surroundings were growing darker by the minute and he knew he couldn't keep walking safely for much longer. Especially if he was carrying the kid while he did so. The last thing Sirius needed was to trip over a rock or root and have the kid fall from his back and hurt his broken arm even worse or break the other one too.

Boy-Snape's breath hitched like he was upset at the news and Sirius feared he would start to sob at any moment. Thankfully, instead of crying, however, he warbled in a miserable tone, "Okay."

Sirius's mouth pulled in a frown as he decided to let the kid down and look for a good spot to sleep near their current location. With night probably no more than an hour away, Sirius wanted a place for them to sleep made up while he could still see what he was doing. "Trust me, kid," he said, "I'm no happier about this than you are."

Snape gave a dejected nod of his head as Sirius started to build up a pallet of leaves and other semi-soft brush between two smaller trees. He was hoping, with the way he could feel the wind blowing through the forest, sleeping between the two would block out the worst of the bite from the breeze. Once satisfied that he'd built up a comfortable enough bed for the night, he took off his robe and laid it out on top of the pile. Sirius shivered a bit. He'd have to wait until Snape was asleep to take on the shape of Padfoot, but, until then, he figured he would be alright. The kid had to be exhausted after a day of hiking through the forest and should pass out in no time. Flopping down on the bed, he patted the spot beside him. "Come on, lay down," he told boy-Snape. "Faster we sleep, faster it'll be tomorrow and the faster we'll find a village."

The kid gave him a mulish look. Sirius stole himself to deal with a strop, but, then, it entirely disappeared and Snape's lip started to wobble as he came to lay down beside Sirius. Instead of staying on the other side of their pallet, he pressed himself right up against Sirius's side and asked, "Do you think anyone's looking for us?"

"Of course they are!" Sirius reassured. Though, he had worried the same a time or two over the course of the day. Surely they couldn't be too far from Hogwarts? They hadn't taken the class on apparation yet, which meant Snape couldn't have taken them that far from Hogsmeade. Or that was what Sirius had been hoping. Maybe he was wrong and that's why they hadn't crossed any search parties. Sirius shivered a little. He knew Snape was powerful, the show of wandless magic had proven that today, what if he'd managed to carry them clear across the country? Hell, what if the kid had taken them across the channel and they were now lost in some French forest? Fuck, he couldn't think like that or he was bound to break down and scare Snape into some kind of meltdown of his own.

"I miss my mum," murmured Snape.

Sirius sighed. "Yeah, and I miss my friends," he replied.

For a little while, the kid was quiet. Sirius was almost sure he'd fallen asleep and was going to extract himself so he could transform into his animagus form, when the kid mumbled, "The moon's almost full. What'll we do if we're still lost then?"

Sirius lifted his head and craned his neck to look at the top of Snape's head. He knew what the kid was implying and it almost made him want to scoff. He wasn't feeding Snape to any werewolves. Not that there were any out here. Probably. One never could be sure, he supposed. But that was the last thing he was going to tell Snape. Sirius needed him to sleep. "We won't be."

"How do you know?" demanded boy-Snape, stretching his own neck so he could meet Sirius's gaze.

"Because!" he snapped as he had no better answer to give. What the fuck did he need to do to make the kid go to goddamn sleep so he could stop shivering and turn into Padfoot? Choke him till he passed out? Sirius felt bloody close to doing it too— Consequences be damned.

The kid's dark gaze only turned deeper in the moonlight and Sirius felt suddenly very exposed by it. Yet, for the life of him, he couldn't look away from boy-Snape's stare. Finally, the child blinked and a great sorrowfulness overcame his features as he laid his head back down. He scooted a little ways away from Sirius and from his new distance, he whispered, "Don't let them get me, Sirius."

Sirius bit back a groan and threw an arm over his eyes. He felt guilty, though, he didn't know why. He had no reason to be. Okay, maybe he'd just considered strangling Snape, but Sirius had only half-meant it. Even so, he let his arm fall away from his face and reached over to give the kid's good hand a squeeze. "I won't, Severus."

Severus didn't look back at him, but he squeezed his hand back.

When the kid finally drifted off a few minutes later, he let go of his hand. Standing up, he shifted into his animagus form and then walked in circles around Snape before settling flush against his side. Sirius almost went to curl his nose beneath his tail before deciding to rest it atop Severus's stomach. The extra warmth they would share through the night would make them both sleep more comfortably.

Just as he was to fall asleep, Sirius's nose twitched. He smelled something familiar in the air. Something almost distinctly… Moony. Yet he knew that couldn't be. There was no way Hogwarts's professors would allow students to go looking for him and Severus, or so late. It had to be his nose playing tricks on him. Sirius did miss them, after all. Sure in his belief, he soon drifted off into the same bone-tired slumber that had claimed Severus some minutes before.

Chapter Text

Severus was shaken awake to the grinning face of Sirius and a forest cast in orange-ish hues from the gaps between the tree branches above. He blinked at the older boy and brought his good hand to scrub the crust from his eyes. "Sirius?" he mumbled.

The other lifted his hand that was not on Severus's shoulders to show him two fat squirrel carcasses. One was headless and the other just about. Severus frowned. He had some very strong doubts that Sirius had chased off a fox or a hawk two days in a row from their breakfast. He suspected the dog he'd seen yesterday did exist and maybe Sirius was keeping it away from them because he didn't want Severus to know about it. His mum once told him that Hogwarts had a list for pre-approved familiars and trying to bring one into the castle that wasn't on the list was a headache and a half. Perhaps Sirius had decided to forgo the process and just snuck in his dog familiar. Since they were supposedly rivals when they were the same age, Sirius must worry he was going to tell on him if he knew for sure there was a dog.

Severus couldn't imagine himself doing that. He liked dogs. There were a few on Spinner's End that always wagged their tails when he saw them and let him pet them. He'd even asked Mum for one once. She'd told him they couldn't afford it, but maybe when it came time for him to go to Hogwarts they could look into buying him a toad or rat familiar to take with him to school. Severus wasn't nearly as keen on having one of those for a pet, but he reckoned a toad at least might be useful for potions.

Really, what Severus was starting to think from all of this was that he and Sirius were more than rivals. He'd been horribly mean most of their first day together in the forest too. Maybe they hated each other. Severus could see himself going to the headmaster about a dog if the person who owned it was someone he hated. He didn't know why, but that thought left him disappointed. He'd been hoping Hogwarts would be as magical and wonderful as all his mum's stories, but if there were people who hated him and whom he hated there… How great could the school really be?

Suddenly, he was pulled from his train of thought by Sirius clearing his throat. "I've got everything set up," the older boy told him. "I just need you to come and point your little finger at our campfire and ignite it."

Severus thought of saying no, being difficult and hateful, just as his older self surely would be. Yet Sirius looked so expectant and his eyes held only pride and excitement. He was directing more positive emotions at Severus than he had the last two days. He didn't want to ruin that. Nodding, Severus pushed himself up on his feet with a little effort and followed the older boy over to the little campfire he'd built.

Crouching down, Severus pointed his finger at the sticks and pictured flames as he mouthed the spell over and over like a prayer. After a few seconds of this, a spark ignited from his fingertip and caught a stick on fire. Then, that stick lit another stick, then a third one, a fourth, fifth… Soon the campfire was a tiny, warm inferno and Severus leaned in close to soak it in.

A minute later, Sirius appeared with the two squirrels stuck on sticks and handed him one. "We can roast 'em like chicken," he suggested. "It won't be quite as good, I know, since they're still covered in fur, but we can peel off the skin and just eat what's inside after it has cooked a bit."

Severus nodded and concentrated on just turning his squirrel in the flame for a while. It was hard going, as the squirrel was fat and not prone to turning well and he couldn't use both hands. Sirius eventually looked over at him after getting the hang of rotating his own squirrel and frowned. "Having trouble, kid?"

He bit his lip. Severus didn't know if he should insist on doing it himself more or relent to what was clearly an offer of help. After a moment of thought, he held his squirrel out to Sirius and said, "It's heavy and won't rotate." He was sure the older boy would be more upset if he accidentally let the squirrel fall into the fire and wasted it over having to help him cook it.

Taking it, Sirius nodded. "These two are pretty fat, huh?" Sticking it back in the flames with his own, he slowly began turning it one-handed in a way Severus could only dream of. "And you're just a runty kid," he remarked, smirking at Severus like he wasn't insulting him.

He scowled. "Shut up!" he snapped, no longer caring whether Sirius would be cross with him or not. "I'm not small!"

Sirius frowned irritably. "Merlin, you never can take a joke, can you?"

If Sirius thought it was "funny" to call others names, Severus could easily see why his older self and Sirius hadn't got on. Severus did not think it was "funny". He could only begin to imagine what else Sirius thought was "fun" that he did not.

"Jokes are supposed to be funny," Severus told him waspishly. "Why's it funny to call me a runt?"

The older boy floundered, mouth opening and closing a few times, before he said, "Maybe it wasn't." Juggling both squirrels to one hand briefly and fiddled with a lock of his hair. He mumbled, "It's just something me and my mates do. I'll call James four-eyes, he'll call me a sissy-boy on account of my long hair."

Severus still didn't understand how either of them could laugh at being insulted, but he was starting to believe maybe Sirius hadn't been ill-intentioned in his name-calling. Still a little bothered, but less defensive than before, Severus asked, "Does that mean we're friends? If name-calling is something you do with your mates?"

He wasn't really certain if he wanted Sirius for a friend, but he couldn't say that having a mate didn't appeal to him. Back home, all he really had was Mum. All of the kids at primary school thought he was odd or dirty, because of his clothing or where he lived or because sometimes he'd have an accidental magic episode and scare them. He was always most sorry about the last; Severus felt he should be able to do something to control them, but, no matter how hard he tried, he just couldn't.

Sirius looked stricken and said nothing. Severus looked at their breakfast and saw that the tails of the squirrels were catching on fire from being still in the flames for so long. He pointed at them. "Breakfast is burning," he said.

The older boy blinked. "Huh?" He then looked where Severus was pointing and yelped, "Shit!" before pulling them from the fire and blowing out their tails. He stared glumly at them a moment before reaching for another stick to poke at them a little. After a minute, he handed Severus's back to him. "I think they're done," he said. "If not, just let me know. I'll stick it back in for you."

Eagerly, Severus sank his teeth into the squirrel. He spat out the charred fur and skin and took another bite. He savored the flavor of the squirrel— Even if it was a bit too chewy for his tastes. While his belly basked in the morsel he'd given it, Severus worked on peeling away the fur and skin with his fingers. He hadn't minded biting into it once, but he didn't want to eat more of it if he could help it.

"How d'you like it?" Sirius asked.

Severus looked up from his squirrel. "S'good."

He hummed agreeably at his response. "Yeah. I've never had a squirrel and it's better than I was expecting too."

"Me neither," Severus replied between bites of his squirrel.

For a time, they worked on their breakfasts' in silences. When Severus was down to the last tidbits and trying to gnaw them off the bone, he recalled that Sirius had never answered his question.



"You never said earlier, are we friends?"

Sirius looked over at him, gaze unreadable. "Yeah, Severus. We're friends— As long as that's what you want, of course."

Severus thought that last part over. He liked that Sirius had added that condition onto their friendship. He wasn't 100% sure right now if he really wanted Sirius for a friend or if he just wanted one in general. Even so, he smiled at the older boy. "I want to be," he said.

The other grinned back at Severus a moment. "Wicked, mate."

Chapter Text

Sirius was bored. The first day in the forest, he'd been focused on finding him and Severus water to drink and a river to follow to civilization. Yesterday, he'd been intent on covering as much ground as they could and thinking out the logistics of what would happen if they didn't come across a village that day. Sirius was still aiming to find other people before the day was over, but he also wasn't trying to juggle his worries about what they'd do if they didn't find anybody like before. He knew what they'd do, he'd stop them right before nightfall, build them a bed of leaves and brush between some logs or trees and have Severus go to sleep before he turned into Padfoot to sleep with the kid and keep them both warm through the night's chill.

Absently, he rubbed his stomach. Maybe tonight he'd try looking for some dinner for them. He'd been doing okay on just the rabbit and squirrel, he was still quite hungry most of the day, but not to a crippling degree. Severus had yet to complain about being hungry, which, honestly, surprised Sirius a lot. If it'd been him at eight lost in a forest, he was pretty sure he'd be whinging every hour or so about how he was starving. Did the kid not typically eat much? Maybe. He was kind of small for eight, Sirius thought.

He looked over his shoulder at said eight-year-old then and saw boy-Snape was trailing behind him, eyes focused on the branches and leaves above them. They'd noticeably thinned since they found themselves in the forest. Not enough to give them a clear view of the sky, but more light was shining down on them than it had previously. Mildly amused by what he was seeing and a little concerned the kid would trip if he looked up that way much longer, Sirius asked, "See anything interesting up there?"

"The sky's turning cloudy," Severus informed him, small face grim.

Sirius gasped with fake shock and slapped his hands over his cheeks. "Oh no!" he exclaimed, "whatever will we do?"

Unimpressed, boy-Snape stopped and crossed his good arm over his bad one. "It might rain."

"That's Britain for you, kid."

Severus's scowl only deepened at his lackadaisical tone. "What will we do when it's time to sleep and all of the leaves and everything is all wet?"

Sirius shifted from foot to foot. Honestly, there wouldn't be anything to do if it rained. They'd just have to suffer through it. Unless, of course, they found some Goddamn people. "Who's to say we'll still be in this bloody forest then?" he returned.

The kid bit his lip. "We have been the last two days…"

"Which means we have to be getting close to a town or something!" Sirius argued, whirling around to face boy-Snape. "Britain isn't that big! I hear there are states in America bigger than England, Scotland, and Wales combined!"

Severus shrank in on himself and turned his gaze to his toes. "Okay," he mumbled.

Sirius sighed. This was becoming too strange. Every time he rowed with the kid, once he started raising his voice just the slightest bit, Severus went meek and agreeable. Where was the bastard he knew? Gentling his tone, Sirius called, "Hey."

After a moment, the kid looked up at Sirius. He said nothing, though. Severus just watched him with large eyes that didn't bother to hide they were watching every inch of him.

"I'm not cross with you," he said.

Severus didn't relax, but some of the suspicion in his gaze did lessen. "Okay," he replied.

Sirius pursed his lips. "I mean it. I'm not cross."

"Yes, Sirius," the kid said with no small amount of indulgence.

He frowned at Severus. "But I'm starting to feel cross," he told him. "You could at least pretend you believe me when I say something."

Severus returned his attention to his toes and mumbled, "At home, the only time anyone yells is when Mum's upset or Dad's feeling mean."

Sirius's stomach flipped with painful recognition. Well, shit. That explained a lot of the kid's behavior. Sirius turned his head away from the kid and began to run a hand through his hair, only to have it catch on a snarl. As he began to work on the tangle with his fingers, an unwanted revelation was forced upon Sirius. Severus and his childhoods weren't too different when it came down to it. His mother and father screamed and screeched a lot at him when he was a kid too. Mostly whenever he wasn't living up to their (often unspoken) expectations of what a Black heir should be. But other times it'd been for being impish and playing practical jokes on Kreacher or Regulus. Sirius had learned quite early he could take some control of the reprimands by yelling back at his parents and really earn what they were directed at him. He usually ended up with a stinging hex to the bum for his insolence and an afternoon spent in his room, but he'd felt better for it. As if he really deserved to be in his room then and not just because he'd broken some invisible rule no one ever bothered to explain to him.

It seemed to Sirius Severus hadn't quite come into his own yet in the same way when faced with an angry adult. Maybe he never had. Never would. Sirius didn't have a lot to compare to. All of his mates got on relatively well with their parents. Remus was maybe the closest with how he didn't like to spend too much time with his dad. Mostly because the man could quickly fall into lectures about being careful and not standing out too much from the crowd because of Remus's… condition, but even Remus admitted his father's sternness came from a good, if guilt-laden, place. If Sirius really dug, he could think of one other who had faced the same kind of childhood he and Severus had. That person was his brother.

Regulus had always been quieter, meeker. He'd often asked Sirius why he couldn't just accept his punishments like a good son and apologize for misbehaving (it shouldn't matter he often didn't know what he'd even done wrong!). Maybe boy-Snape took an approach similar to Regulus and took what came his way without complaint. Yet… That seemed so wrong. Snape had never taken anything from him or James or anyone else lying down. Why would he do the same with his parents? What made them so different? Just because they were supposedly authority figures he let them belittle and hurt him for no good reason? That didn't sound right. Sometimes, even with the professors, Severus would row with them over detentions and lost points.

Finally, Sirius returned his gaze to Severus. The kid was frowning a little, eyes wary, and leaning away from him like he wasn't sure what to expect out of Sirius after such a prolonged bout of silence. Sirius was crushed with guilt. The kid probably didn't see him as much better than his parents after the last couple of days with the way he flipped between almost kindness and being annoyed with him to the point he was threatening to leave him for werewolves. Merlin, where had his head been these past couple of days? To threaten that. Sirius always prided himself on being better than his parents, yet menacing a kid with abandonment to deadly creatures was all them.

Sirius dropped to his knees. Meeting boy-Snape's gaze head-on, he told him, "I'm sorry, Severus. I've been royally buggering everything with you the last couple of days. I shouldn't have been yelling at you so much or threatening to leave you for werewolves to eat." He laughed a little at himself. "It's no wonder you don't believe what I say half of the time, huh? I haven't done much of anything to show I'm trustworthy. For all you know, I could be leading you right to a werewolf."

Severus's eyes fluttered with panic at that.

Immediately realizing his mistake, Sirius threw up his hands. "No, no!" he said, "I'm not! I just realize it could look like I'm not helping you get back to your mother like I said I am!" he brought one of his hand to his mouth and wheezed, "Merlin, Morgana, and Mordred, I can't even give a proper apology without buggering it, can I?"

The kid was still a little pale after that fright, but a shaky smirk started at the corners of his mouth as he said to Sirius, eyes shining with mischief, "It's okay. If there's one thing I learned about you from this, ah, adventure you put your foot in it a lot."

Sirius gaped at boy-Snape's teasing. Then, he laughed and reached over to pull the kid against his side. Severus didn't resist him, though, he was stiff as Sirius giggled, "Oh, kid, you're a riot."

Severus relaxed at that moment and said, "You're kind of funny too, sometimes."

Sirius laughed a little more before he let the kid go and got to his feet. Hands on his hips as he looked down at boy-Snape, he said, "Okay, I think we've wasted enough time. Let's start moving and we can find out who'll be right today. You or me."

The kid nodded, taking up the spot next to Sirius. "What's the winner get?" Severus asked.

Sirius turned his eyes to the tree canopy. "Uhh…" he felt over his pockets. He'd checked them days ago now for anything useful and knew there wasn't anything, but he did know one had something of interest to a kid. He grinned when he found the chocolate frog card he had from the frog he ate before they ended up here. It featured Jocunda Sykes, the first witch, or rather, first anyone, to fly across Atlantic ocean on just a broom. He handed it down to Severus. "Winner gets this chocolate frog card."

Boy-Snape awed over it in ways Sirius had seen only Muggle-borns do before. "Mum's told me about these," he told Sirius. "But I've never seen one before."

Sirius felt his chest twinge. That was right, the kid's father hated his mother using her wand. He probably had just as little regard for something as innocuous as a chocolate frog card. Sirius never thought he'd say it, but he felt sorry for Severus. The kid had grown up being made to deny half of himself. No wonder he was so keen to hang around Death Eater wannabes. He'd experienced oppression from his own father for being magic. He knew better than most of Slytherin's Pureblood goons just how much of a danger Muggles could be to the wizarding world. As much as Sirius didn't agree with the Death Eaters and the He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's ideology, he was starting to see why someone else might.

He found himself repulsed. Was he going to be some sort of Death Eater apologist when this was all said and done? Sirius shook his head. No, he couldn't be. They were wrong. Horrifically, stupidly wrong. He'd have to find a way to make the friendship he made with this boy-Snape stick and pull him over to the right side of things when they were the same age. Maybe Severus had a problem with Muggles, but Sirius knew he didn't with Muggle-borns. He'd been mates with Lily, hadn't he? They could fix him. Introduce him to nice Muggles like Remus's mother and show him that they were the ones with the right idea, not You-Know-Who.

Sirius was pulled from his plotting by Severus tugging on his sleeve. He looked down to see the kid was offering him the chocolate card. "I don't want us to have to be stuck here in the forest again," he said, "but I really want the card."

He smiled at the kid and gently pushed away his hand. "You can keep it till we know who's going to be right."

Severus gave him an almost giddy grin. "Really? Even though it's yours?"

He ruffled boy-Snape's hair. "Yeah, kid. I'm sure I'll be the winner and we'll be out of the forest before nightfall, but you can hold onto it."

"I wouldn't be too sure about that," a gruff voice from behind them boomed.

They spun around to see that a couple of yards behind them was two men, a woman, and teenage-girl. Severus stepped closer to Sirius in fear as his own heart began to bang against his ribcage. He didn't recognize most of the group, but Sirius sure as Hell knew who the big, mangy man stood next to the girl was. He was the man that haunted Remus's nightmares and had been described to him in excruciating detail by both Remus and his parents in case he ever came back to try and steal his mate away.

It was Fenrir Greyback, the most vicious werewolf alive.

Chapter Text

Sirius didn't have time to waste. In one sweeping motion, he lifted Severus up and ran for the nearest tree that was sturdy and tall. There were too many of them for him to outrun with Severus (plus, where would they even go?) and he knew he wouldn't be able to protect the kid from all four if Severus was in easy reach of them. At least if he were in a tree, there'd be the possibility of him surviving this attack. Severus could get up high enough in the branches Greyback and his pack couldn't follow and he would be able to stay there (hopefully) through the night if Sirius couldn't fight them off now.

He heard the four werewolves running toward them as he shoved Severus's bum up the tree. "Grab on to a branch, climb straight up! Don't you dare come down unless it's safe!" he yelled at Severus as the men laughed at them and woman cackled along. Looking over his shoulder as Severus awkwardly scaled the tree with his broken arm, Sirius saw the gang of werewolves was circling him. Greyback, the man, and woman wore malicious, delighted grins. The girl, though, just stared up at Severus with a blank expression. Sirius didn't like that at all. What did her interest in Severus mean for them? He already knew Greyback had some creepy inclination toward children, but was she the same?

"Yer not goin' ter save him like tha', boy," the man who wasn't Greyback, but was nearly as large and just as rugged, taunted.

Sirius clenched his teeth and turned to face them. "You might be surprised," he declared with faux-bravo.

Greyback threw his head back and laughed like he'd told the best joke the werewolf had heard in a while. "Will we?" he said in a deep, gravelly purr. "If you hand over the boy, we might let you leave this forest with your life."

Sirius shook. He'd promised. No one was getting left behind for werewolf food. He knew there was only one way out of here and it involved a lot of bloodshed. He wasn't sure if he'd be able to manage it, but he was going to damn well try. It was the only option. He had a promise to keep. "No," he refused.

Greyback's amusement faded and he snarled at Sirius, showing off his ugly, chipped yellow teeth in the process. "That's the wrong answer, boy," he growled.

Sirius didn't look away from the man even as he saw the woman start coming toward him and the tree out of the corner of his eye. "I think not!" he shouted. Then, without a moment of hesitation, he transformed into Padfoot and leaped at the woman. With surprise on his side, he easily took her to the ground with her screaming and thrashing all the while. Focused on protecting Severus by any means necessary, he tore his teeth into the woman's throat the moment her head thudded against the ground. It abruptly cut off her screams and startled the men into roars of rage and panic as they came at him. While the woman choked and gurgled, Sirius moved with all the nimble grace his dog-form allowed him and led the men away from the slowly dying woman. For now, their focus was on him. He hoped Severus would realize that meant he ought to get down from the tree and run as far and fast as he could. He'd be able to find the kid as long as he was still Padfoot later. And if he didn't… Well, the kid knew bugs were a fine option if he didn't want to starve to death.

As he dipped out of reach of the men's grabby hands and dodged their lunges, Sirius looked over to where he left Severus. The girl from earlier was standing at the base, hands cupped around her mouth and Severus was leaning down to hear her from a low-hanging branch just out of the girl's reach. Sirius didn't have a clue what the teenage-girl was telling him, but he was sure it wasn't anything good. While Sirius debated rushing her, he became so distracted that the man with the West Country accent was able to grab him by his scruff. Angry at himself for being caught and realizing that leading these werewolves away might not be enough to save Severus from whatever fate Greyback had planned for him, Sirius twisted in werewolf's hold and bit down on the hand holding him. Hard.

The werewolf's skin tore open, Sirius's teeth sunk past flesh and veins and muscle and right into bone. He heard it crack between his teeth. Sirius felt a devious kind of satisfaction that only grew stronger when the man's yowling took on a higher-pitched quality from the pain he was experiencing. He decided to see how high he could get the West Country werewolf's voice to go by shaking the man's hand around like he might a ragdoll.

Greyback came at him then, fists raised. He throttled Sirius around the head hard enough to make him dizzy, but still Sirius refused to let go of the other's hand. This was life or death and he knew it. Not just his life, either. When Greyback realized Sirius wasn't going to let go of the man's hand from a beating, the man grabbed him around the middle and tried to pull Sirius off the other. The West Country werewolf screamed louder than ever as Sirius felt one of the man's fingers give way and fall out of his mouth between his teeth. It was only then Sirius let go of the man. As the West Country werewolf fell to the ground and tried to stem his bleeding wound with the sleeve of his robe, Sirius turned on Greyback and chomped into the werewolf's face.

Greyback roared and ripped Sirius away from him. He threw Sirius as far away from him as he could. Sirius yelped when he landed on his back some feet away, but quickly recovered. Scrambling up from the ground Sirius bared his teeth and readied himself to pounce when he saw Greyback approaching, one hand over his face. "You—" he gasped between unsteady steps. "You—"

Before he could take another step, however, Greyback fell face-first to the ground with a short, hurt cry. Where he'd stood was the teenage girl. Her blue eyes were feral and between her fingers was a rather large, now bloody, rock. When their gazes locked, she dropped the rock at Greyback's side and told him, "We need to get moving. He's not going to be out for long." She looked up. "Night's only a few hours off too."

Sirius was wary and he looked over to the tree where he'd left Severus. The kid was watching them from the same branch he'd been listening to the girl from before. He was nodding rapidly at Sirius as if to assure him it was safe to be Sirius again. Reluctantly, he returned to his normal form. It did nothing to clear the taste of blood from his mouth. Putting up a hand to keep the girl from speaking further, he turned his head and spat on the ground until he'd gotten rid of most of the blood. When done, he wiped his face clean of the worst of the mess and then turned to the teenage girl. "Who the fuck are you? Why did you just help me take out your pack?" he demanded.

The girl fiddled with a lock of her wispy russet hair. "He called me Lupa," she said, kicking at Greyback's leg. "But…" she ducked her head a little, staring bashfully at Sirius through her lashes. "I was Joan, once."

Sirius nodded. "Joan it is, then." He put a hand to his chest. "I'm Sirius."

"Sirius," Joan repeated. "How fitting," she said, flashing him a brief smile. Sirius only crossed his arms and cleared his throat. He'd only gotten one of the answers he'd wanted and he wasn't going to wait patiently much longer for the other. Joan appeared to realize this as she explained to him, "I helped you because I know he's wrong and evil." She pushed back her hair, showing him a mangled ear. Then, she pulled at the collar of the oversized, holey jumper she was wearing and revealed to Sirius an ugly uneven scar on her shoulder that looked like someone had bit into her and ripped out a chunk of flesh from there once upon a time. She let her collar go back to where it'd been hanging loosely down around the front of her flat chest and Sirius was about to say something, but the girl then lifted up her jumper's hem to display more, claw-like scars that started next to her belly button and ran down past the waistband of her too-small pants. Sirius shivered at that. He didn't want to even start to imagine what the rest of those scars below looked like. "I'd show you the one that turned me," she told Sirius, "but that'd involve taking off my boot since it's on my calf and we really need to go."

He still wasn't sure if he should really be trusting her, but she'd taken out Greyback and she was right. He and Severus needed out of this forest before the full moon tonight. "Right," he told the girl. "Just let me get Severus from the tree."

Walking over to where Severus was waiting on the low branch, he lifted his arms to the kid and told him, "Jump down! I'll catch you!"

Severus slipped off the branch easily and into Sirius's arms. Once there, he clumsily wrapped his good arm around Sirius's neck and muttered into the hollow his throat. "Thank you for not leaving me to the werewolves."

He patted boy-Snape's back. "I told you I wouldn't," he reminded him. He looked over to see the girl was coming over to them. "D'you know a village that's close by?" he asked her.

She nodded. "It's an hour and a half east of here," she told them. She started to worry her lip as an anxious air overcame her. "I know I probably don't deserve anything after all I've done as a part of Greyback's pack these past few years, but can I come with you? At least halfway to where you're going?" She looked over her shoulder and shivered. "He's going to make me pay for what I just did if he catches me."

Sirius shifted Severus around in his arms so the kid could see the girl. "Yeah," he told her. "We're going to Hogwarts. You can come all of the way if you want, even. The headmaster will be more than happy to host you for the moon after what you've just done to help me save the kid from that monster."

Her eyes turned bright and awed. "Hogwarts? I was supposed to go there," she whispered. Her fingers went to where he knew here mangled ear resided behind her hair. "Before, I mean."

Sirius felt sorry for the girl. He couldn't imagine what kind of life she'd been leading as a part of Greyback's pack and all that she'd missed out on. "Maybe you still can," he offered cheerily as he started to walk away from the tree. The girl quickly followed and then surpassed Sirius, taking lead and guiding them a little to the left in their pursuit of the nearby village. "How old are you?"

"Fourteen," she answered. "But I doubt it. I've missed a lot of school and don't have any money to pay for a wand or books or anything else I might need."

Sirius frowned. "Professor Dumbledore will find you your family, they'll take care of the money and stuff. He can probably even find you a tutor to catch you up to where you should be."

She snorted. "Greyback was wrong about a lot of things, but not about how much most people hate us werewolves. They may miss me and want me back now, but once they hear I'm a werewolf, they won't want a thing to do with me."

Stubbornly, Sirius told her, "You don't know that. I got a mate who's a werewolf. His parents love him and everything else, even though he's one."

The girl looked at him, shock evident. "You know a werewolf? At Hogwarts?"

"It's pretty hush-hush," he admitted, "but, yeah, there's one at Hogwarts."

"Wow," the girl breathed. Wistfulness overcame her features. "I wonder what Greyback would have to say about that."

"He'd probably be angry to know he didn't ruin my mate's life like he tried to."

Joan looked back at Sirius, eyes wide with horror and sadness. "He bit your friend too?"

"When he was four."

"And he survived?" Severus piped up from Sirius's arms.

Sirius nodded at the kid. "By the skin of his teeth."

Joan nodded. "I was eight," she told Sirius. "And I only just made it through my attack. I wedged myself in a spot Greyback's werewolf couldn't reach me after he initially bit me. He took me to someone who fixed me up the next morning since I made it through the night. I've been with him since— Or, well, until now."

"I'm sorry," Sirius told her with great empathy. "I can only imagine what living with a monster like him was like."

She shrugged. "He's not so bad anymore," she admitted. A wry smile darkened her features. "I've gotten too old to interest him lately. I suspect if you hadn't taken out Morrighan and maimed Lycaon and Greyback he'd have tried to make Severus his next play-thing."

Severus shivered in his arms and Sirius tightened his grip on the kid. "You're fine," he whispered into his ear. "I didn't let him get you, just like I said I would."

The boy tightened the grip he had on Sirius's neck and nodded against his shoulder. After a short silence, the kid lifted his head and leveled Sirius with an honest to God pout. "You said there was no dog."

He cringed. "Yeah, sorry, kid." He looked up to see Joan was watching the two of them over her shoulder. Sirius found he couldn't blame her. She'd shared most of her life story while he'd told her hardly anything about themselves. "I'm not exactly registered as an animagus and well…" he shrugged. "It'd be an easy way to get me in trouble at Hogwarts and I really don't need that right now."

Severus nodded and took out the chocolate frog card from earlier from his sling. Sirius was surprised the kid had managed to hold onto it. He must really like the card to have the forethought to protect it while they were being attacked by werewolves. Seeing an opportunity to win some favor with the kid after coming out as a liar, he said, "You know, if we hadn't run into Joan here, I reckon you'd have been right about us spending another night in the forest."

Boy-Snape cocked his head. "You really think so?"

"Oh, for sure," Sirius agreed. "I think that means technically the card is yours."

The kid grinned. "Wicked!"

Sirius ruffled the kid's grimy locks before stopping to let the kid down. "I think you've got two capable feet," he told Severus. "We're not exactly out of danger, but it's not imminent anymore, either."

Severus sighed, but didn't fight being put down. Instead, he reached for Sirius's hand. He was surprised the kid wanted to hang onto him, but maybe he really shouldn't be. He had just experienced a very traumatic event. Boy-Snape was probably afraid he'd get left behind if Sirius got too far away from him. Swinging their arms in tandem with some added wooshing noises on his part, he got the kid to giggle. It really calmed Sirius to hear the kid laughing. It was probably the best sign yet that Severus was fine and not hurt.

"Hey, erm, is it okay…?" Joan asked, looking at them once again.

Sirius felt he had a good idea what she was trying to ask him. "To ask how we ended up in this forest and why we're trying to get to Hogwarts?" he prompted with a little smirk.

The girl dipped her chin, cheeks flushing. "You don't have to," she assured. "I know you don't know me and probably don't trust me very much…"

"You're fine," Sirius told her. "And we trust you, don't we, Severus?"

Boy-Snape bobbed his head. "Yes. You saved Sirius."

"Yeah, you saved us," Sirius concurred. "It's really not that much of a story," he said. "It was a Hogsmeade weekend and we were both there when we got in a duel. He threw some spells, I threw a few back… One crossed with another and I tried to take Severus here to the ground to protect him from it and he ended up disapparating us to an unknown forest in the process." He grinned. "Oh yeah, and he went from sixteen to eight between Hogsmeade and here."

Joan stopped in her tracks and gaped at them, her eyes bulging. "He's supposed to be older than me?" she shouted.

Sirius laughed at her expression as Severus, who remained composed, confirmed, "Uh-huh. But I don't remember being older."

"That's mad," she muttered, hand scratching at her head. "I sure hope the professors can fix him."

"You don't think they can?" Severus questioned.

The girl bit her lip, realizing she'd made a faux-pas. "I'm sure they'll do their best."

Boy-Snape looked up at Sirius with large, fretful eyes. "Sirius?"

Honestly, he'd never considered that the professors and Madam Pomfrey wouldn't be able to fix him. They'd fixed a whole lot worse, hadn't they? Surely putting Severus's age right wouldn't be too difficult. "Hogwarts has some of the most talented wizards and witches living in its walls. If anyone's going to be able to make you the right age, it's going to be them."

Severus nodded. "Okay," he replied, looking a little less worried than before.

He pulled the kid close to him and raised his hand to rest on his shoulder. "Don't worry, kid, everything's going to work out." Raising his gaze to meet Joan's he said, "Let's keep moving."

She nodded and turned around. They continued their trek to the village in silence.

Chapter Text

When the trees around them finally thinned and a field of yellow and brown grass came into view, Severus couldn't help but point at it. "Look!" he cried.

"Yes, it's a field," Sirius replied with a roll of his eyes.

Severus huffed and ripped his hand away from Sirius's to cross his arms. He thought it was exciting to finally be out of that stupid forest and away from the scary werewolves. Severus was brought out of his growing brood by a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see it wasn't Sirius, but Joan. She was smiling at him, her eyes kind and glittering with mirth. "I imagine it's pretty great to see a field after days of trees, aye?"

He nodded, happy she understood. Severus had decided he quite liked her. She'd saved Sirius and him from the bad werewolves and showed them out of the forest too. Joan also had only talked nicely to him from the moment they first spoke. He really hoped for her sake that her family didn't care she was a werewolf and would take her home and let her go to Hogwarts after she caught up to where she was supposed to be.

"Alright, yeah, you might have a point," Sirius relented. "Where's the village, though?"

Joan gestured to the horizon. "Just past this field here you'll see an intersection and a Muggle bus stop. Walk past that a bit and you'll hit the village's post office, which is next to its pub. I know the pub is owned by a squib's son. He should be able to get us in contact with someone magical, I reckon."

Sirius was looking at Joan as Severus resisted the urge to run right through the field and to the bus stop. He wanted to go to Hogwarts. He wanted to see Mum. After the last few days, he just wanted to see her, hug her, smell her and feel— Well, even with her he never really felt safe. But at least he didn't feel alone.

"How do you know so much about this bloke?"

Severus looked over at the girl to see she had her arms wrapped around herself and was looking off into the distance. Finally, she whispered, "He's got a young son. Looks to be magic, even. Greyback liked the smell of him a year back when we were passing through on some business or other. He's had us observing the kid and his family around the village the last couple of weeks. It's why we were in the forest. He was going to have us kidnap the son and make him our… prey for the night."

Severus's stomach flipped. He was glad that Sirius had killed the lady werewolf and hurt the other two as badly as he had. The other boy would be safe— At least for tonight. If Severus saw him at the pub, he wanted to try and tell him to be careful. There were bad things in forests and he needed to know to stay away from them. He didn't deserve the pain Joan had experienced or that Severus nearly had.

"Merlin!" Sirius muttered tone shocked and disgusted.

Joan just bit her lip. "I know," she muttered. "Can we please get going? Nightfall's just a few hours off from now."

"Yeah, let's hurry up," Sirius said. "Severus, let's move."

He didn't need to be told twice. Severus bound ahead of the pair, enjoying the feeling of the dead grass around his legs and in his good hand. He'd never thought he would miss something so simple, but he had. He was probably going to be over the moon when he set eyes on a real bed. And something even greater when he got to lay down in it to sleep. Who knew being forced to sleep on leaves for a couple of nights would make him want a bed so much?

When he spotted the bus stop a few minutes later, he laughed and yelled, "It's there! Just like Joan said!"

He stayed put, waiting for the two to catch up. Sirius laughed himself when he saw it. "You're right, kid! Just like Joan said!" Severus watched his friend throw his arm around the girl's shoulder and grin at her. "You're a Goddamn life-saver, Joan."

The girl flushed at the praise and gently shook off Sirius. "Come on," she urged them. "We're being silly stopping so much."

Severus supposed she had a point. They were so close to Hogwarts and Mum, yet they kept stopping now that they were out of the forest. But Severus just felt like they had to. He could hardly believe what he was seeing. It was all so open and the sky! It was so grey. He'd nearly forgotten what it was like to just look up and see it go on for forever. Even though he didn't want to move so quickly, he let his good hand be taken by Joan and swept through the rest of the field and down the road past the bus station and then further past trees and fences and more fields. When he spotted the post, he gasped, but the girl refused to let him slow and tugged him right along with her up the steps of the pub next door.

Walking into the establishment abruptly left Severus very shy and he went to hide between Joan and Sirius. From the relative safety of being between their legs, he peeked out to take in the pub. It wasn't a terribly big place. A little dimly lit and made out of a lot of wood, but it felt a lot warmer than the one Dad and his coworkers liked to drink in. Some elderly men at a table by the pub's fireplace were eyeing the three of them, but said nothing as Joan led them straight up to the bar.

"Is the owner in?" she asked the squat, blonde woman behind the counter. The woman paused in cleaning cutlery to look over the three of them. Her gaze was sharp, but it turned concerned and a little warm at the corners as she did so. Severus wondered if she was perhaps a mother. Maybe, given the fine lines around her eyes, to teenagers like Sirius and Joan. He liked that thought. It made her feel like she was a kind lady.

"You kids need help?" she asked.

Joan nodded for them. "Can we please speak to the owner?" she insisted for the second time.

The woman firmed her lips into displeasure a moment, but agreed nonetheless. "Yes. Let me call for him." Turning her back to them she walked over to an open doorway at the other end of the bar and called, "Daniel! There are some kids out here asking for you."

She returned over to them afterward and said, "Why don't you three have a seat. I'll get you something to drink."

Joan sounded relieved when she replied, "Thank you, Madam."

Severus was lifted off the ground by Sirius then and placed on one of the bar's high stools. He smiled at his friend when he sat down next to him and then at Joan when she placed herself on the other side of him. A minute later, the woman returned with three glasses of what looked to be fizzy drinks. Severus felt his eyes grow as wide as dinner plates. He'd heard of his primary school classmates drinking this stuff, but never had the chance himself. Mum just thought it was some silly Muggle thing not worthy of them and Dad said they weren't wasting their money on something that was just meant to rot teeth.

"On the house, kids," the woman said as she handed out the drinks.

Severus wasted no time putting the glass to his mouth and taking a gulp of the brown, bubbly liquid. He savored the sweet taste and marveled at the way the way it fizzed on his tongue. It was no wonder to Severus why people enjoyed this drink so much. He looked over at Sirius and Joan and saw them holding their glasses, but not drinking from them. In fact, Sirius was looking a little suspiciously at his drink. "It's good," Severus told them, taking another sip to prove it.

Hesitantly, both lifted their glasses to their mouths and tried a sip. Once they did, he hid a smile in his glass at their reactions. Sirius seemed outright offended at the drink from the way he was smacking his lips, while Joan was on her second sip and quietly humming her delight.

"That's too sweet," Sirius said. "Tastes like pure sugar."

Joan smiled over at Sirius. "Oh? I like it because of how sweet it is. I never got anything remotely sugary when I was with Greyback and his pack."

Sirius muttered something that sounded like a swear and tried another sip only to make a face and put down the glass altogether. Severus and Joan shared a look over their own glasses and chuckled. Over the next couple of minutes, they steadily sipped their drinks in companionable silence while Sirius watched for the pub owner to come out from the doorway. Finally, a tall, balding man with a strong cleft chin stepped out from that doorway the barmaid had called through several minutes earlier. He was wiping his hands of grime on an apron tied around his narrow waist and scanning the pub. Severus assumed for them. Finally, when his eyes landed on the three of them huddled at one end of his bar, he covered his mouth with his hand, recognition evident in his eyes.

"Jesus," he said. "You're that Sirius Black boy, aren't you?"

Sirius sat up a little straighter as he stared over at the man with an impish smile. "In the papers, are we?"

The pub owner glanced around. "Why don't you kids come in back?" he suggested.

Severus looked at his glass longingly. He had a third left to drink and he was quite sorry to leave it. The man appeared to notice his dejected look as he said, "You can bring back your drinks while we… discuss how you three got yourselves all the way out here."

Sirius helped him off his stool and Joan handed him his glass as they rounded around the bar to follow the man into his establishment's kitchen and then up some stairs hidden behind a curtain to a small, homely furnished lounge. Severus blinked when he saw there was a boy in it reading on the room's sofa. His hair was cut very short and he had strong cleft chin just like the man. Severus had little doubt he was the pub owner's son, the would-be victim of Greyback. The boy looked up from his book when he saw the three of them.

"Dad?" he questioned.

"Go to your room, Jimmy."

The boy, Jimmy, puffed out his cheeks. Putting down his book, he walked over to an open doorway behind the sofa and then closed its door with a hard slam behind him. Jimmy's dad put a hand to his forehead. "Thank God his Mum's out of town till tomorrow visiting her sister."

"Yeah," Sirius said awkwardly, "I guess she doesn't know about magic?"

"I reckon it'll come up in another year or two," the man admitted. "Jimmy's accidental magic's become harder to dismiss as tricks of the eye and faulty memory this last year and he'll get his letter in three."

That made him Severus's age. Well, maybe not really. But right now they were. He turned a curious eye on the closed door and wished he could go in and talk to him. See what it was like for him to be a wizard in this little village of Muggles. If he felt just as much alone among his peers as Severus did. But he knew he couldn't. There was no time— Not even to warn him to be careful like he'd wanted before they came. Instead, he raised his glass of fizzy drink to his lips and took a sip. Maybe he could leave the boy some kind of note if he could find loose paper and a pen.

"You can get us in contact with Hogwarts, though, right?" Sirius asked the pub owner.

The man nodded before he jutted his thumb toward the room's fireplace. "It's still connected to the Floo network from when my mum was alive and her siblings were visiting her all of the time." He turned away and swung open the door of a small closet. "Just have to find the— Here it is!" He brought out a wooden box and opened it to show that it was full of floo powder. "I'll call up my cousin," he told them. "She'll know how to get in contact with Hogwarts. She's mates with one of the professors there." He looked at the three of them. "Just— Do you know where that other boy is? Severus Snape? And can you tell me who these two are?"

Severus looked up at Sirius, who only shook his head. "That's a really long story. But this kid here is Severus Snape," he told the man, gesturing down at Severus. "And she, Joan, helped us out of the forest, so now I'm helping her out."

The man nodded, now looking between Severus and Joan in a confused, uneasy way. Severus wondered what he thought of them. Him, a kid who was supposed to be a teenager, and Joan an oddly dressed girl who'd helped them out of the forest when, really, she should have been at Hogwarts like the two of them. The pub owner coughed. "Er, right," he said. "Why don't you three go take a sit-down in the kitchen while I make the call?" he suggested while waving toward a closed door.

"Joan, you and Severus go. I'll stay here to help him with the floo call and talk with his cousin if anything needs clearing up," Sirius told them, nudging them gently toward the closed door opposite of Jimmy's bedroom door.

"Okay," Joan agreed for both her and Severus and she steered them toward the kitchen. Severus didn't really want to leave Sirius, even for just the next room, but he didn't think he had a choice. Shoulders stooped, he let himself be pushed into the kitchen and then a chair. There, he nursed the last of his fizzy drink and scanned the room for paper and a pen. He smiled when he spied a pad of notepaper hung next to a telephone on the wall and on the counter next to it, a jar of pens, pencils and other daily utensils.

He looked over at the girl to see her eyes were fixed on the doorway, watching for Sirius to come into view with news from Hogwarts. Putting his now empty cup on the kitchen table, Severus got up and quietly made his way over to the phone. Fishing a pen from the jar, he used it to scrawl on the bottom of the notepad's top page:

Jimmy don't go in the forest. It is dangerous.

Satisfied with his message that would surely be found by someone before the boy could even think about going outside again, Severus put the pen back in its jar and sat back down, causing his chair to squeak and draw Joan's none-the-wiser gaze. She grinned at him while, from the corners of his eyes, he watched her fingers wring the hem of her sweater nervously.

"Just a little longer," she promised.

Severus nodded. "Uh-huh and then I'll get to see Mum and Professor Dumbledore will find your family for you."

Joan reached over for his good hand, which he let her have, and when she squeezed it just a little too hard, he didn't so much as wince. He was sure she didn't mean it, she was just too worried to watch her strength. "That's right," agreed Joan, though, it felt as if she were saying it only for his sake and not because she believed herself. Severus didn't let it bother him. Joan would see the truth soon enough.

Chapter Text

When he finally stepped foot into Hogwarts’s infirmary, Sirius felt at ease. He’d done it. Sirius glanced down at Severus, whose face was pointed upward, mouth slightly open and eyes darting all over the infirmary with unbridled interested. He chuckled to himself. They did it. They’d made it back to Hogwarts. Home.

Sirius looked up from boy-Snape when Madam Pomfrey cleared her throat. The nurse wore a stern expression, but her blue eyes burned like an intense fire with the amount of concern in them. “If you would please come this way and take a seat on these beds,” she said, waving her hand at a few prepared beds to her left. “I need to give you each a look-over and Mr. Snape’s arm needs prompt attention.”

“Of course,” Sirius agreed, he was about to take Severus by his good hand and guide them over to the beds she was gesturing to, but the boy moved forward without his assistance. He smiled at Madam Pomfrey, even.

“I know you!” he exclaimed. “You’re who Mum had come look at me when I got mumblemumps last year.” Walking over to the nurse and even accepting her help onto one of the beds, Severus continued, “Mum had to sneak you in the door from the garden ‘cause she was worried a neighbor would see and tell Dad.”

Madam Pomfrey was nodding along as she gently undid Severus’s makeshift sling. “You have a very good memory,” she commented before gently pressing on his broken wrist.

Severus whimpered a bit, but settled down easily enough at the nurse’s muttered apologies. “You’re the only witch that’s ever visited Mum and me before. It was new.” The kid tilted his head a little, a thoughtful furrow putting a canyon between his brows. “And a little strange. It’s easy to recall strange.” His whole body visibly drooped then. “I would know.”

“Hmm,” was all Madam Pomfrey said in reply. “Some Skele-Gro will be in order for this.” She looked up and over at where Severus and Joan quietly waited with an equally silent Professor Dumbledore. It felt so odd, for the Headmaster to be so silent. The man was usually— Not talkative , but not mute either. He’d hardly said more than a somber greeting to them before whisking them away from the pub owner’s home to Hogwarts’s infirmary. “I’ll get that after I’ve taken a look at Mr. Black.”

Sirius knew now was to speak up on Joan’s behalf. Night was nigh an hour off and she needed to be placed somewhere safe to transform if they all wanted to avoid turning Hogwarts into a scene of a massacre. “Yeah, okay,” he said to Madam Pomfrey before turning his gaze to Professor Dumbledore. “But, um, there’s a little more to mine and Severus’s story than I told you over the floo-call, sir…”

The headmaster’s eyes were grave and no good humor was anywhere to be found when he asked, “How much more, Mr. Black?”

“Joan didn’t just come across us in the forest and show us to the nearest village,” he started. Sirius licked his lips and prepared for the worst as he explained, “We were actually found by her and her, uh, pack?”

Pack ?” Madam Pomfrey echoed across the room at a near-shrill pitch. “Do not tell me this girl is a werewolf and you are only telling us now !”

Sirius winced and looked up to meet Professor Dumbledore’s gaze, hoping he wasn’t as incensed as the nurse. Instead, Sirius found himself trapped in a short staring contest with the man that he couldn’t break out of no matter how much he wanted to. Finally, the Headmaster remarked, “You and Mr. Snape had quite a frightful adventure, didn’t you?”

When Sirius finally was able to look at his feet, he did so. “I couldn’t say anything at the pub owner’s home,” he said. “I was afraid he’d try to kick Joan or all of us out before reaching out to you if he knew.”

The headmaster sighed and Sirius glanced up when the old man’s warm hand briefly brushed over his shoulder. He nearly quivered after, it felt so much like acceptance and forgiveness. “I understand, Mr. Black,” he replied. “Ms. Joan? If you would please come with me? We must hurry.”

Joan went to the Headmaster’s side, looking both dazed and awed. “Yes, sir,” she whispered.

“Alfalba!” the Headmaster called out.

A split-second later, a rather tall house-elf popped into the room. “Yessir?” she asked.

“Please notify Professor Flitwick, McGonagall, Slughorn, and Sprout to meet me at the base of the Dark Tower immediately. We have an urgent project to complete before the hour’s end.”

The elf bowed. “Yes, Headmaster,” Alfalba agreed before vanishing from the room with the same pop she’d entered with.

Putting a guiding hand on Joan’s back, Professor Dumbledore said to her, “Come along, Miss Joan. We will soon be somewhere safe you can transform for the night.”

“Thank you, Headmaster,” she squeaked as they left the infirmary hall together.

Once the door closed behind them, Sirius looked over to where Madam Pomfrey was stood in front of Severus. “Shall I be your next victim?” he asked with a teasing tone while making eye-contact with Severus to let him in on the laugh.

The boy giggled into his good hand while the nurse rolled her eyes in exasperation. “If by victim you mean patient, then yes ,” she answered.

Sirius laughed before taking a seat on the bed across from Severus and letting Madam Pomfrey wave her wand around him and over him while she clucked. Finally, when she finished, she said, “You’ll both need to take half a nutrient potion with your meals for the next couple of days, but otherwise, you’ll recover from this ordeal easily enough.”

He beamed at the nurse. “Brilliant,” he replied. “How long will it take to put Severus’s age right? I said you could probably floo call his mum to come to pay him a visit beforehand.”

Madam Pomfrey’s expression turned troubled at Sirius’s question and she quickly put her back to them. Bustling in the direction of her office, where he knew she kept the majority of her potions, she yelled over her shoulder, “Some discussion will have to be had between me, Professor McGonagall, and Flitwick about the exact spell Mr. Snape has befallen before I can right his age, but I imagine he’ll only be a little boy another day or two.”

Sirius breathed a sigh of relief. Thank Merlin, he’d been right; this was fixable. He smiled over at the kid, who grinned back. He looked a little more relaxed as well now that they’d heard the good news. He probably hadn’t been excited about growing up a second time— Even if he didn’t recall doing it once before. Who knew how worse his father would be? Having to raise him a second time when he already hated Severus for his magic?

When Madam Pomfrey returned with the Skele-Gro, Severus smiled at her. “Can you call Mum after we fix my arm?” he asked.

Sirius watched her skin grow taut around her eyes as she smiled down at Severus. She reached down and brushed a tender thumb across his cheek. “You must be quite tired,” she remarked. “I think a good night’s sleep will be in order first.”

Severus was frowning slightly. “Do you not want to call her while Dad might be home?” he inquired. The discontent smoothed away from his face and satisfaction took its place. “That’s clever. I can wait until the morning after he’s gone for you to call Mum.” He glanced Sirius’s way. “I’ve gone two days without her already.”

Sirius smirked back at Severus, but he had an uneasy feeling in his gut. He was starting to think there was more to Madam Pomfrey’s reluctance than just not wanting to upset Severus’s dad with a call. What that was, he couldn’t say. But one thing was for certain, it was very not good for his friend.

Chapter Text

Sirius woke up the next morning to a tray of food being placed on the little table next to his infirmary bed. Blinking slowly, he focused on the comforting array of porridge, toast spread with marmalade and a glass of pumpkin juice and what looked to be the nutrient potion Madam Pomfrey had promised. Smiling slightly, Sirius pressed down on the bed with one hand and smoothly brought himself into a sitting position. The nurse did not startle at his sudden wakefulness, only looked dully at him out of the corner of her eye.

"You remember what I like for breakfast," Sirius remarked as he reached over to pick up the tray to put in his lap.

Madam Pomfrey's mouth twitched with a smile. "You have visited me more than your share over the years due to your antics."

Sirius laughed. "Yeah," he agreed. "I've spent more time here than I probably should have."

The nurse just brushed a hand over his wrist before going back to her little trolley at the end of his bed to deliver the three other meals placed on it to the infirmary's occupants. Of course, the next to receive their breakfast was Severus. The kid was sleeping on his stomach, face curled toward his arms and he did not so much as twitch as Madam Pomfrey put down a tray holding plain toast, a cut up apple, and a cup of milk and nutrient potion. Between bites of his porridge, Sirius remarked, "He's not much of a breakfast person, is he?"

Madam Pomfrey's lips thinned. "He's not much of a food person at all," she muttered. "I don't know if he'll eat even half of this."

Sirius shifted uncomfortably at the new information, but didn't let it bother him for too long. Instead, he smiled up at the nurse and told her, "I'll persuade him."

She looked over at him then, a speculative light to her gaze. "He did seem rather fond of you last night." Quietly, as if she meant it only to be for her ears, she whispered, "Hopefully, that will help."

Sirius was going to ask what she meant by that when his eye was drawn across the hall by the sight of Remus sitting up in his own bed kitty-corner to his own. He went from exhausted and squinty-eyed to gaping almost instantaneously. "Sirius?" he said.

He waved at his friend. "Hey, mate."

"Sirius!" he said again, half-laughing, half-crying. Remus threw back his covers and got out of his bed in between the blink of an eye. However, when he tried to run to Sirius, he stumbled and went to his hands and knees. Putting down his spoon, Sirius called, "Wait, wait, I'll come to you." Putting aside his breakfast, he went over to his friend and gratefully accepted the embrace that came his way when he tried to offer him a hand to stand. "Sirius," he whimpered into his shoulder.

Rubbing a hand up and down his mate's back, Sirius whispered, "I'm fine, okay? I… We… Just got a bit lost is all, okay?"

Remus cried a little more, but nodded his head and after a moment, pulled away. Eyes searching him over, he asked, "When did you— When did they—?"

"We came back just last night. Right before nightfall, actually," he answered, understanding easily what his friend was trying to ask him.

He wiped at his eyes. "After you weren't found that first night…" he shook his head and chuckled a little. "We were all so worried about you."

Sirius couldn't help himself. He reached over and hugged Remus again, basking in the knowledge he'd been missed. He'd always hoped that they loved him as he did them and now he knew. They did love him. Even with all his vices and the fuckups he'd caused, they still felt he was worthy of their hearts. When Sirius pulled away from Remus a second time, he was the one having to dry his eyes.

"Love you too, mate," he murmured.

Remus barked a laugh and gave him a playful push. "Come on, you're not supposed to be the mushy one of us."

"Yeah, yeah," he returned.

Remus's hand abruptly grabbed his, grip vice-like. "I'm glad you're safe, Sirius," he told him, eyes fierce in their truth.

He swallowed.

"Is he the werewolf mate you were telling me about?" a voice, Joan's voice, piped up from above.

Both of their heads snapped upward to see the girl peering down at them from the edge of Remus's bed, a piece of half-eaten ham between her fingers. Sirius could see that she was fascinated at the sight of not just Remus, but them together. While he may have been cross in another situation she'd interrupted such a close moment between him and his mate, right now, he was just proud. This werewolf, this person, was his mate.

"Yeah, this is Remus," he told her. Pointing at her then, he introduced her to Remus. "This is Joan," he said, "she helped me and Severus out of a tight spot and back to Hogwarts." Unable to help himself, he leaned in and whispered, "She's a werewolf."

Remus's mouth fell open in surprise, but he quickly recovered from it and a thoughtfulness overcame his features instead. "Oh?"

The girl smiled and offered her hand. "It's nice to meet you," she said as Remus took her fingers in his hand. "I've never met another werewolf who was bitten as a child that went to Hogwarts."

"I've been fortunate," he replied. His eyes turned sad as he caught a glimpse of Joan's mangled ear as her hair shifted around her shoulders. "Perhaps you will soon be as well?"

Joan took back her hand and sighed. "That's the dream," she admitted.

Remus glanced at Sirius, but he shrugged. It didn't feel like something he should be trying to explain. It was Joan's hopes, not his. Instead, he decided to get off the floor and return to his bedside to get his breakfast. He'd eat over at Remus's bed. However, when he went to pick up his tray, he saw boy-Snape start to stir. A moment later, one of the kid's fist flailed out from beneath the covers. Sirius saw in his fist he was holding the chocolate frog card he'd given him the day before. He wondered if he wasn't using it in place of some teddy from home. He decided that was probably something he shouldn't tease him for; all it would take was for him to talk to Regulus to find out he'd slept with a stuffed crup until he left for Hogwarts.

The kid's black eyes blinked open. He grinned when Severus looked his way. "Hey, kid," he whispered.

Severus brought the fist holding the chocolate frog card to scrub his eyes. When done, he asked, "It's morning?"

He chuckled. "Yeah, kid." Sirius then pointed at the table next to boy-Snape's bed. "Madam Pomfrey even just brought out some breakfast for us all."

Severus didn't so much as glance where he was pointing at the food, instead, he hurried to sit up as he asked, "Joan's back?"

"Yes," the girl answered on her own behalf.

Severus froze, however, the moment he was upright. His eyes were stuck on Remus, whose own gaze was wide and just as focused on Severus. Sirius slowly moved over to Severus's side and took a seat on the edge of the kid's bed. Putting a hand on the boy's shoulder (which he only jolted a little at), he leaned in and explained, "Remember how I was telling Joan about my mate? On our way to the village?"

He saw the kid's turn downward out of the corner of his eye. "The werewolf," he replied tone infuriatingly inscrutable for a child so young.

"Right," Sirius answered. "He's good, like Joan." Severus glanced up at him, doubt in his eyes. Sirius told himself not to be too upset about that. It's not like they'd had the easiest time together the last couple of days. Even if he had saved him from werewolves just like he'd told him he would. "Ask Joan if you don't believe me," he urged.

Severus turned his attention to the girl, but did not ask aloud for confirmation. Instead, he waited for Joan to smile and nod and say, "I think he is and I just met him!"

The kid dipped his chin then, agreeing to accept their judgment. He then turned his face up at Sirius and said, "There's breakfast?"

"Yeah," he answered, reaching for Severus's tray and bringing it onto the bed for the kid to see.

Boy-Snape wrinkled his nose. "I have to eat it all?" he asked.

Sirius's eyebrows shot up on his forehead. "Are you trying to tell me you're not hungry?" he questioned. "After only eating a squirrel and part of a rabbit the last two days?"

Severus's shoulders hunched in on him. "No," he grumbled. "I just don't like breakfast."

Sirius felt like rolling his eyes, but, instead, he just pushed a piece of apple at the kid and told him, "The nutrient potion isn't negotiable, but if you eat at least half of everything else, I suppose that's alright."

Severus picked up the apple and bit into it. Satisfied, Sirius got up and went to his own breakfast. This time, though, he hesitated to go over to Remus's bed. Instead, he went to sit on the foot of his own so he would be closer to his friend and Joan, but not far from Severus either. After taking a bite of his own marmalade covered toast and chewing that over, he turned back to Remus and explained, "He's eight. Like eight-eight ."

Remus gave a small bob of his head. "Okay," he replied.

He smiled over at the kid. "Madam Pomfrey said she should have him fixed up in a day or two, so don't worry about him. He's fine."

His friend's mouth pursed as he looked once between him and Severus. Finally, he said, "I'm sure he is fine. Who I worry for is you."

Sirius stared back at his mate, puzzled. What did Remus mean by that? Sirius was always okay, just lost. So why was he worried about Sirius now that he was back safe and sound at Hogwarts?

Chapter Text

Severus pushed his toast around on his plate as Sirius and Joan said goodbye to Remus, who had classes he had to attend. That Sirius should be attending too, but had been exempted from for at least today. Maybe tomorrow too, depending on what Madam Pomfrey thought best. Severus hoped Sirius would be allowed to stay in the infirmary as long as Severus had to. He didn't fancy the idea of being alone in it. Though, he supposed he wouldn't be. Joan would stay with him. But still… He wanted Sirius close to him until he was old again. He knew Hogwarts and the people here in ways Joan just couldn't.

Only Sirius would know who to protect him from and how.

He shook his head and put away those thoughts for later. He still hadn't finished his breakfast and that was a problem that needed to be dealt with well before Sirius's potential absence. Severus pursed his lips and stared at his half-full plate. He'd eaten half of the apple like Sirius thought he should and drank the potion and most of his milk. Surely that meant he didn't have to eat this piece of toast? Looking up through his lashes at Sirius, who was begging for his mate to bring him notes to study later, Severus decided he should at least look like he attempted to eat the toast. He didn't want Sirius to be too cross with him if he didn't agree with Severus's assumption.

He bit into the toast and slowly chewed the cardboard-like food down to mush and then used the rest of his glass of milk to swallow it down. He pushed away his breakfast tray after that, completely done with even trying to sort of fulfill Sirius's request. Severus had a far more pressing matter to confront anyway. The first step was finding Madam Pomfrey. The nurse had disappeared into her office a little bit after dropping off all of their breakfasts. If Remus was leaving for class, Dad had to have left or be leaving for work now too. Slipping out of his bed, he reached for the chocolate card frog he'd won from his bedside table and put it in the little pocket the front of his jimjams had. While he knew it was probably no more valuable than the comics found on the wrappers of that one kind of bubblegum, but Severus adored it all the same. It was the only little bit of magic that was truly and only his. Mum may have let him look at a few of the old school books she'd managed to keep Dad from burning in the fireplace when he was but a baby when Dad wasn't home, however they weren't his for keeps. Not like the chocolate frog card.

Padding over to the office, he hesitated. The door was cracked open, but he was well aware that didn't necessarily mean he was allowed inside. He rubbed a phantom pain out of eye; Dad had taught him that. Severus reached up and knocked on the door. A moment later, he heard Madam Pomfrey call, "Come in."

Severus pushed the door all of the way open and walked in to see the nurse was sat at her small, rather messy desk. She was scribbling furiously on a piece of parchment and a filing cabinet was open behind her. Curious, Severus approached and stood on his toes to look over the desk's knick-knacks and at what Madam Pomfrey was writing. He wasn't very good at reading upside down just yet— Though, he was going to be before he went to Hogwarts. He was going to be Slytherin and they were cunning and sneaky. If he got good at it as he wanted, Severus would be able to read more than expected before someone could hide their writing away and, in turn, be privy to more than he ought to be.

The nurse appeared to know just what he was doing as she put her arm over the top of the paper, effectively blocking Severus from reading any of it. Still curious and feeling a little bold, he asked, "What are you writing?"

"I'm writing reports on your and Mr. Black's states last night," she explained. "I have to write a report for every time a student visits my halls." She sighed and put aside her quill. Her eyes were part sad, part exasperated as she muttered, "You two have even larger files than Mr. Lupin and he visits me every month after his transformation."

Severus pursed his lips. He wondered what they did that had them in her healing hall so often? Were they sickly? Or… Sirius said they were rivals and Severus had concluded they were something worse than that before they agreed to be mates. Did they used to send each other to the infirmary often? They must have for them both to have such large files. "Does anyone else have larger files than us?" he questioned.

"No," she answered, "and thank Merlin for that!"

He had nothing to say in response. For a beat after, he was silent. Then, he told the nurse, "Remus has left for his classes."

"Oh?" she replied, going back to her report. "That's good to hear. Some days after the moon he doesn't have the energy to return to student-life until after lunch."

Severus might not have been listening that closely to Sirius and Remus's conversation, but he had managed to catch that Sirius wanted Remus to let their other friends know he was up for visitors and what all the headmaster had told them about Sirius and Severus's time being lost. "I think he wanted to let his and Sirius's other mates know Sirius is okay."

The nurse bobbed her head. "That sounds like Mr. Lupin," she replied.

"It must be nearly nine now," Severus remarked.

Madam Pomfrey paused in her writing again to look up at Severus. "Nearly," she agreed.

"Dad leaves for work when I leave for school," Severus informed her. "That was an hour ago if it's now nearly nine."

Madam Pomfrey waved her wand over her things with a soft murmur and it all started flying around. Reports into the filing cabinet behind her, other papers whisked themselves into drawers of her desks and the quill and its bottle of ink placed themselves in a little holder right in front of Severus's nose. "Mr. Snape," she started. Then, she paused, eyes turning dewy. "Severus."

He knew something awful was coming and he wanted to run from it, but his knees were locked and Severus couldn't move. Instead, he was forced to stand perfectly still as the nurse steepled her hands in front of her and took in a long, calming breath.

"Severus," she said, "Eileen… Your mother passed away last summer."

His knees suddenly turned into a tower of cards hit by a gust of wind from a careless person rushing past it. He fell to the floor of the nurse's office screaming, "No!" He yelled, "No! Not my Mum! No! I want Mum! I want my mummy! "

"Severus!" the nurse called, coming over to his side. She tried to touch his arm, but he batted her hand away from him and turned his shrieking to an even higher pitch as he cried for this old loss that was new to him. A moment later, he heard Joan and Sirius come into the room, demanding to know what had happened.

He didn't pay all the words being said around him any attention as he started to beat his fists into the stone floor beneath him, aching for them to shatter and break as his heart had inside of him. When he felt the strong, rough hand of Sirius on the back of his neck, he flipped himself away from the other and howled, "No! Don't touch me!" Opening his eyes wide, he focused all his hurt and fury on Sirius when their gazes met. "You said," he roared. "You said!"

Sirius stared at him, his eyes contrite and sad and scared, and utterly speechless. When another set of arms pulled at Severus around the middle, he only fought a little before they'd brought him close to settle in their lap. He turned into the body and sobbed into what he now knew to be Joan's chest as she petted his hair and whispered platitudes into his ear. He clung to her, crying and crying for what felt like ages when it was probably only the better part of an hour. When his tears finally started to let up and exhaustion started to make it difficult to wail, he felt Sirius put his hand on the back of his neck. Severus twisted his head to look up at the older boy. He realized then he was no longer furious, only disappointed with Sirius and completely gutted about everything. He croaked again, "You said I could see Mum."

Sirius's eyes now glassy, he whispered, "I know. I didn't know."

Severus sniffled and wiped his nose with his sleeve. Severus believed him. Even at eight, he knew there was no way he'd have told his hated rival his mum was dead. Still, it hurt to have been given false hope— Even if his friend hadn't meant to. All he wanted now was to be the right age with all the memories of Mum he should have and a year past this horrible pain. He breathed in and out before voicing this wish, "I wanna be your age again. When will I be old again?"

The older boy looked over the top of him and Joan— At Madam Pomfrey, he assumed. After a moment, Sirius returned his gaze to Severus. "She thinks tomorrow." He winced a little. "But I'm not promising it will be tomorrow."

That wasn't the answer he'd wanted, but at least it was honest. "Okay," he whispered. "Thanks, Sirius."

"Of course, mate," he replied, giving Severus's neck a squeeze before letting go altogether. "Want to head back into the hall? Try to get your mind off things a bit? I know a spot where a deck of Exploding Snaps is stashed. We can play it together, you, me, and Joan."

Severus nodded. He'd never played that game before, though Mum had told him about it. He'd always thought it sounded like a brilliant game. "Alright," he whispered. After all, it was better than thinking about how Mum was gone and not knowing how or that he'd never see her again.

Chapter Text

Sirius decided to call it quits after a second failed attempt at a game of exploding snaps. Severus had initially been curious about the cards and how they worked, but once Sirius had explained that and moved onto the rules of the game, his interest had waned. During the actual games, he'd done a piss-poor job of paying attention and had to be poked and prodded just about every time it was his turn by either him or Joan. Sirius sure as Hell didn't blame the kid, he'd just found out his mother was dead. And because his mother was actually worth a knut, he was devastated.

With a sigh, he gathered up the cards and put them back in their box. When done, he suggested to Joan and Severus, "Why don't we just have a bit of a lie-down? None of us have had much of a chance to be lazy bums this past couple of days." This suggestion went over rather well, all things considered. Joan nodded agreeably and Severus settled himself flush against her side.

Sirius started to get up to move to the bed next to the two, but the kid grabbed his sleeve and asked, "Aren't you staying with us?" He looked from boy-Snape to Joan, who was already rhythmically petting Severus's hair. When he raised his eyebrow to question if she was alright with the arrangement the kid was proposing, she simply smiled at him.

Given Joan's positive answer, he turned his attention back to Severus. "Yeah, why not?" Sirius replied with a flippant grin. Jumping up and down a little on the infirmary bed, he teased, "Who doesn't like being squished on a single?"

An impression of a smirk passed over Severus's lips before it disappeared entirely as he pressed closer to Joan. "Me and Joan aren't big," he assured Sirius.

"No kidding," he muttered before settling into the empty space on the right side of Severus. Once he had his head propped comfortably on his arms, Sirius began to stare up at the infirmary's ceiling for quite a while in silence. Severus and Joan stayed quiet too, both apparently comfortable with the little bit of peace the three of them had created. In fact, it was so serene (in spite of all the discord they were experiencing) he nearly dozed off into a kip.

However, before Sirius could entirely drop off, Joan whispered, "Professor Dumbledore wrote my family about finding me last night. Or he said he would, anyway, after making sure I was safe in the Dark Tower to transform."

Sirius turned his head to look at the girl, then down at Severus, who had fallen asleep at some point in the last fifteen minutes. She was still staring straight up when he returned his attention to her and, to Sirius's frustration, her profile gave nothing away. "Oh?" he murmured. "That's good news." He paused. "Right?"

He watched Joan suck her lower lip between her teeth. Finally, after a minute of chewing it, she released her newly abused lip and turned her face to meet Sirius's gaze. Her blue eyes were scared and fretful. "It's nearly noon and he hasn't come to speak to me about their reply. Surely if they still wanted me…"

"Hey, don't think like that," Sirius whispered untucking an arm from beneath his head. Reaching out, he grabbed the hand she had resting on her stomach and gave it a brief squeeze. "Maybe he's talking with them right now and trying to coordinate a visit for you all here at Hogwarts."

Joan's features softened with hope. "You think?" she asked. Then, turning her gaze upward once more, she said, "Do you know who I miss most?"

"Who?" he questioned.

The girl shifted to look at Severus's slumbering face. "You might think it was my Mum since I was little like Severus when Greyback stole me, but, really, the ones I've really ached to see since that day are my older brother and sister."

"I can get that," Sirius replied. "I know if I'd been in your situation, I'd probably want to see my brother more than my parents, and I don't even like the twat!"

"My parents weren't bad parents," Joan told him, her face twisted into a frown. "I was the one who wandered off while they were just trying to get Janice her school supplies for her first year at Hogwarts."

Sirius winced. "Sorry, I wasn't trying to imply that… I just understood being more excited to possibly see them again over your mother and father."

Joan nodded. "It's okay." She bit her lip again. Then, timidly, she asked, "Did you know them? My siblings? They're Jack and Janice Moon."

Sirius blinked. He didn't know why he'd never connected Joan to the Moons before, but it suddenly felt like putting the last piece on a puzzle and seeing it for its whole picture. They'd both been brunettes, unlike Joan, but their eyes were all very much big and blue and identical. And if he squinted, he thought Janice and Joan shared a jaw-line, if he was recalling the older Moon correctly, that was. Shifting onto his side, Sirius propped his head on his fist as he answered, "Yeah, actually. Janice graduated just last year. She was a Gryffindor, like me. She was very loud and had an opinion on everything that she always had to share." He shook his head. "It's why I remember Jack at all. He was one of those quiet, loner Ravenclaws and every time someone mentioned them being related it always made me laugh, the two of them couldn't have been more opposite yet…"

"They're brother and sister," Joan supplied, grinning. "They sound just like I remember them being."

Sirius smiled back at the girl. "I bet it'll be like no time passed at all when they come to take you home, huh?"

The excitement in Joan's expression dampened a little. "If they haven't already disowned me for being a werewolf, anyway."

He reached over and gave her cheek a flick. "You shouldn't think like that! You're only going to feel guilty for thinking so little of them when they prove you wrong!"

Joan sighed and rubbed her cheek. "Maybe."

Sirius rolled his eyes and fell onto his back once more. The action startled Severus out of his sleep, as his little head lifted and he mumbled, "Sirius?"

He ruffled the kid's hair before nudging his head back down. "Sorry, I was just moving around a little, kid."

"Hmm," he grumbled before burying his face back in Joan's side.

Joan combed her fingers through his hair, eyes gentle and wistful. "What's he like when he's older?"

Sirius didn't have to even think. Lifting a hand, he began to list off every word he'd ever connected with Severus. "Greasy, vindictive, scheming, stubborn, clever, innovative…" he stopped a moment and looked at her, realizing he'd probably cocked up answering her inquiry. "I'm sorry, that's probably not a very flattering description of Severus. I swear he's not a bad bloke. It's just we were pretty much enemies when he was my age," he admitted to Joan. "Maybe I can ask Remus to have Lily stop in when he comes to drop off some class notes during his study period. They were mates for a while, she probably could tell you his good qualities without any effort at all."

Joan, lip between her teeth, nodded. "I see," she said. "For what it's worth, I wouldn't have guessed from how friendly you two have been the last day or so." A look of hesitation overcame her features. Her lips pursed, then, slowly, she asked, "What exactly about the last few days have changed how you feel about him?"

Sirius ran his hand through his hair a few times. "I got a look where he came from," he told her. "I see we actually had a lot of things in common growing up, shitty parents, mostly, but… Well, I realized we're a lot actually a lot alike personality-wise and can see now that's what led to some of our pretty epic clashes in the past."

"Do you think you'll still be mates when he's your age again and not a little boy?"

He had to look away from her inquisitive gaze. Sirius didn't know. In fact, he was sort of afraid of what would happen when boy-Snape was sixteen-year-old-Snape again. Severus was probably going to hate him for seeing him as a vulnerable little kid and would either go out of his way to avoid Sirius at every cost or up his usual level of nastiness to something else in an effort to make Sirius forget he'd been a little boy and renew his disdain for him. The thing was, neither was going to work.

He could never forget eight-year-old Severus or be made to loathe him as he once did. Sirius now knew and understood the kid on a different level than he ever had before. The only real problem was Sirius wasn't going to stand by and just let Severus hang around pricks like his brother or Mulciber and Avery. The kid was better than that and even if Severus didn't want to be mates anymore when they were both sixteen, he sure as Hell wasn't going to let those Death-Eater wannabes pull Severus down to their level. Sirius knew Severus was not going to appreciate that and would probably even loathe him for his meddling. Even so… Sirius knew he wouldn't regret trying to keep Severus out of You-Know-Who's clutches. He now got why Lily had been so insistent on the kid's goodness, he was good. Or he could be if he was given the chance to be. And that was something Sirius wanted to try and offer Severus. The chance to be good.

"Well? Do you, Sirius?" Joan pressed.

Pulled from his musings, he nodded at the girl. "Yeah, if he'll have me. I know I'd like to call him a friend still."

"Th—" Joan started, only to be cut off by the infirmary doors opening with a clatter.

Chapter Text

"L-Lily?" Sirius sputtered as he lifted a hand to his forehead in his shock.

His fellow Gryffindor stared back at him, eyes large and lips parted as if she tried to speak only to find she was under a silencing spell. As when he'd moved earlier, Severus stirred at the commotion. Joan tried to shush the kid and push them both back to lie down, but it seemed this time Severus wasn't content to go back to sleep and leave Sirius and Lily to speak alone. Instead, he sat up and looked at Sirius with assessing eyes. Then, following his gaze, Severus turned his head to look at Lily.

Much as he'd done when he'd initially met Remus, Severus shied into him and asked Sirius, "Who's she?"

Sirius wrapped a hand around the kid's neck and gave it a light squeeze. "A friend," he said. "You two actually know each other pretty well."

Severus's expression turned to one of suspicion as he looked from Sirius to Lily. "Like you and I and older me knew each other well?" he questioned in tone sharper than Sirius would have expected a child capable of.

He shook his head. "No," he told Severus. "You two got on for a long while."

Proving once more just how clever a boy he is, Severus sighed. "But not anymore," he muttered in a small, dejected tone. "Don't I have any mates at Hogwarts?" whispered Severus. Sirius swallowed and felt unsure what to say, or if he should say anything at all. It didn't feel like the question had been directed at him— Or anyone at all.

"There are some boys in Slytherin you go around with," Lily said, now hovering just a foot or two from the bed the three of them were gathered on. "Though, you never really called them your friends when were mates."

Severus nodded. "Thanks," he said.

After a moment, Lily sat on the bed across from them. Staring at Severus a moment longer, she then lifted her gaze to meet Sirius's. "It was announced at breakfast you two had been found, but Remus filled me in on the extra details in Ancient Runes." She turned quiet a moment and fidgeted with the hem of her sleeve. "I wanted… No, had to make sure with my own eyes he was really okay." A hint of a smile pulled at the corners of her mouth. "Relatively speaking, anyway."

Sirius found himself frowning. "Why? You two aren't—"

All traces of humor vanished from Lily's face and vexation replaced it. Eyes piercing, she cut in, "Just because our friendship is over doesn't mean I don't care! God, Sirius, get it through your head that people don't have to feel things at one extreme or the other."

He cringed away from her anger, yet, Severus, surprisingly, leaned in. "How come we aren't mates anymore?" he asked Lily.

Sirius's fellow Gryffindor suddenly looked very uncomfortable and shifted so both of her feet were planted on the stones of the infirmary. "Maybe—" she started, only to be cut off when Severus pulled entirely away from Sirius to go and lean over Joan's lap to lay a small hand on Lily's knee.

"Please?" he begged.

Lily's lip began to quiver and her lashes fluttered rapidly a moment. Finally, she whispered, "Those boys in Slytherin you go around with, I realized they had more influence on you than me after you called me a terrible name. And those boys are bad and want evil things for a girl like me. Even though I know you care about me and I care about you, I knew we couldn't be mates any longer after that. I can't trust you'd always have my best interests at heart, which means you aren't a safe friend for me to have." She brought her thumb to rub the start of tears out of the corners of her eyes. "Maybe I sound like a bitch, but I'd rather be safer – You can never be one hundred percent safe in times like these – than be your best mate anymore."

Sirius glanced down at Severus then to gauge his reaction to Lily's word. The kid's hair was hanging in front of his face and his little body was curled in on himself. He looked completely miserable. Even more so than after receiving the news his mother was dead. Sirius imagined finding out not only was your beloved mother gone, but your best mate too was a soul-crushing experience. He wondered if Severus still wanted to be sixteen again after this latest revelation. If he stayed eight, he'd still have to deal with a dead mother and that grief, but he could keep Sirius for a friend and grow up and make more as time went on. Maybe he'd be a happier person in the long run if given the chance to grow up a second time. Though, that was silly of Sirius to even muse on. Madam Pomfrey and Professor Dumbledore weren't going to allow Severus to stay eight if they could fix him.

"Maybe Lily isn't your mate anymore, Severus, but Sirius is now and I know he's promised to be when you're sixteen again if you'll allow it," Joan broke in, clearing away the dark, brooding air that surrounded them all.

Lily was gaping at him, gobsmacked, but Severus was pushing away his hair from his face and drying his eyes. "That's true," he warbled at the girl.

Joan smiled at the kid and reached out to gently wipe away a tear Severus had missed. "I'd like to be your friend too," she told him. "And you want to know something? You'd be my first mate ever." She lifted her gaze to Sirius briefly, as she remarked, tone lilting and light, "While I'd be your…Hm, I guess it'd be your third. Even if Lily isn't your mate anymore, we can't discount she was your friend. And before me too!" She opened her arms to the boy, offering him a hug, which he took her up on. "Oh, Severus, I know you're feeling just gutted about now with all of this sad news, but to me, you really sound like you're not doing half-bad at life. You made friends, are going to Hogwarts, and preparing to become something brilliant when you graduate…"

"He is," Lily broke in. "Or was, I guess I should say. Severus," she paused, an odd look passing over her face, before giving a brief shake of her head. "You planned to become a potions master and invent some really amazing concoction. I always believed you'd manage it too; you're already incredible at creating spells. I was sure it would only be a matter of time before you invented a potion that'd revolutionize the magical world." A shadow ghosted across Lily's vivid green gaze, darkening it to something closer to the green of the Forbidden Forest in the spring. "I always had hoped it'd be a medical miracle and not…" she trailed off.

"Something evil?" Severus whispered.

She winced, but dipped her chin in agreement. "You're not a bad person, Severus. But I worry what will become of you when you insist on spending so much time with people like Avery and Rosier."

"The bad people," Severus said in way of looking for clarification.

"Yes," Lily answered.

The kid looked at him. "Is that why we weren't mates either? Because I spent my time with bad people?"

Sirius shifted uncomfortably. "There's a bit more to it than that, but, yeah, that was a fairly big reason I didn't like you when we were the same age. I grew up around people like the Rosiers and Averys and I didn't care for them, even when I was a kid about your age, so when we started at Hogwarts and you began going around with them… Well, it made it easy to lump you in with them as bad, especially given some other incidents between us around the time we started school."

"Will you still want to be my friend if I hang out with bad people? Or will you go away like Lily?"

Sirius hesitated. It probably was a bad idea to admit to his intentions for after this mess was fixed, but… He sighed. "Kid, I was going to make sure you and those creeps stayed far away from each other after you were sixteen again. Mates or not. Lily's right, you could be someone who's amazing and I want that for you. Not… Not whatever Avery and Rosier do."

"Sirius, you can't make decisions for people like that!" Lily told him, exasperated. "And Severus would be the last person to appreciate someone trying to control who he goes around with. He hates people telling him what he ought to do."

"Well, your way of telling him you didn't like Avery and Rosier and everyone else didn't work, did it?" he snapped at her.

Lily scowled and crossed her arms. "He's stubborn and I always knew an ultimatum wouldn't work. He'd just pick them over me." Her anger faded then and regret replaced it. "But maybe I should have."

"He'll remember all of this, won't he?" Joan questioned, interrupting Sirius and Lily's row.

Sirius considered her inquiry and then shrugged. "I reckon so," he answered. "I don't see why he wouldn't."

"It might be a little fuzzy like it all actually happened when he was eight," Lily hypothesized, tapping her fingers along her knee in a thoughtful manner.

Joan looked pleased with herself. "Then Severus will make the right choices," she assured them. She smiled down at the boy, who still rested against her side. "I know it."

Lily and Sirius shared a glance. "We've known Severus a long time," Sirius said for both him and Lily. "And… Well, no offense to you Severus, I'm starting to realize you might have your life planned already in a way that involves the likes of Rosier and Avery and the Hell they plan to involve themselves in when they graduate. I don't think you're going to let go of it so easily when you're sixteen again, even after all we've been through together. You've got too much pride."

Severus didn't look particularly offended at what Sirius was saying, just a little grumpy as if he didn't like being told that everything was already set in stone for him. However, his expression smoothed when Joan began to comb her fingers through his hair. The girl was looking down at Severus, eyes knowing as she said, "He's a clever boy, I'm sure he'll make the right choice when it counts."

"Oh, Ms. Evans. What has brought you to the infirmary?" All four of them jumped at Madam Pomfrey's abrupt inquiry and presence. They had been so absorbed in their conversation her entrance into the healing hall had gone entirely unnoticed. Eyes wide, Lily said, "I'm just fine, Madam. I came to see how Sirius and Severus, is all."

The nurse checked the little watch she had pinned to the pocket of her pinafore. "Hmm, that's interesting seeing as all classes are still in session for at least another fifteen minutes before they let out for lunch."

The color drained from Lily's cheeks. "I, um, this is my study period?" she offered.

Madam Pomfrey quirked an eyebrow. "Oh? Are you sure you're not supposed to be in transfiguration class right now?"

Lily winced and mumbled, "…Maybe."

The nurse sighed. "I imagine you were given the details of what happened to Mr. Black and Mr. Snape by Mr. Lupin, weren't you?"

"I'm sorry, Madam Pomfrey! I know I should have just waited out the last hour until lunch to come here, but I was getting so anxious and I justed wanted to see they were well for myself I told Professor McGonagall I had—"

Madam Pomfrey put up a single hand to silence Lily's confession before she pulled a notepad and self-inking quill from a dress pocket and quickly scratched out a note. "Why don't we say you popped in for a pain potion? I'm sure she will be very forgiving of your lengthy break from class then."

Lily took the note with gushing, "Thank you, Madam Pomfrey!" and stuffed it into her pocket as she stood on her feet. She leaned over to quickly embrace Sirius and, then, after a second of uncertainty, ruffle Severus's hair, and share a handshake with Joan. "I'm glad you're all doing well," she said. "I'll probably stop by again at lunch with Remus and the rest," she said.

"Oh, Ms. Evans, would you inform the boys not to bother coming around until after dinner? I just spoke with the Headmaster. He plans to have Professor McGonagall take the three to Diagon to replace the wands they lost during their adventure over the lunch period."

"Diagon Alley?" gasped Severus as Lily promised:

"Yes, Madam Pomfrey."

While Lily left, Severus started to bounce around, asking once again, "Diagon Alley? We're going there? And to Ollivander's? That's—" He grinned. "It's so wicked we're going! I can't wait!"

Sirius laughed and gently tugged the kid down from the bed so he wouldn't accidentally step on him or Joan in his exuberance. "Yeah. It'll be great. If you're good, I bet we can convince her to let us go to Sugarplum's for some chocolate frogs."

Eyes large as quaffles, Severus awed, "Really?"

"Yeah, kid, yeah." As Sirius continued to listen to Severus's delighted prattle, he kept half an ear out for Joan as she asked, softly, "Has Professor Dumbledore heard from my family?"

"No, Miss, not that I know of."

"Oh. That's… That's, um, fine."

"Don't despair yet, Miss. For all we know he may have and is in the midst of creating a wonderful surprise for you. It'd be quite like the Headmaster to do such a thing."

"Thank you, Madam Pomfrey."

As Severus continued to talk about all that he knew about Ollivander's and Diagon Alley in general, Sirius reached for Joan's hand and squeeze it. "She's right, I bet. Madam Pomfrey's worked at Hogwarts nearly as long as Professor Dumbledore," he assured her.

Joan's lips curved in a brief, half-hearted smile. "Yeah," she replied like she believed him, but he could see the doubt glimmer in her eyes. Sirius knew he wouldn't be able to stand idly by for much longer if they didn't hear from the Moons soon. He couldn't believe Jack and Janice would do this to their baby sister. They'd always seemed like pretty alright people and if they were going to reject her over something that wasn't even her fault. Well, he'd make sure they received an earful from him since he doubted anyone else would have the guts to.

Chapter Text

Severus had thoroughly enjoyed his trip to Diagon Alley with Sirius, Joan, and Professor McGonagall. His favorite part had been going to Ollivander's wand shop. It and Mr. Ollivander had been just like his mum described and it was fascinating to watch Joan try out a handful of wands until they finally came to one that suited her. Severus had wanted to wave around his replacement wand after Mr. Ollivander brought it out. He'd desperately wanted to know if he could create something like the butterfly Joan had from just flicking her wand, but Professor McGonagall had told him that it really wasn't a good – or safe – idea and he would be given it the moment he was sixteen again and not a moment sooner.

Sirius had completely disregarded that judgment, however, when he got his own replacement wand and handed it over for Severus to look at. He'd even encouraged Severus to give it a swish, which created several small sparks. It wasn't as exciting as a butterfly, but Severus had still been rather chuffed it did anything at all in his hand since the wand wasn't suited to him. Professor McGonagall had given them both a stern look for their antics, but sighed in the end and paid Mr. Ollivander before shepherding them out the wand shop for lunch and then to Sugarplum's Sweet Shop. There, they all got a chocolate frog— Even serious Professor McGonagall. Severus had just been pleased with his new Professor Armando Dippet card, but then Sirius gave him his Roderick Plumpton card due to the fact he already had that card in his collection, then Joan let him have her Merwyn the Malicious frog card because, "It's the chocolate I like," and finally, Professor McGonagall gifted Severus her Beatrix Bloxam card as she'd long since stopped collecting chocolate frog cards herself.

Now, several hours later, he happily ordered and re-ordered his cards due to different specifications, such as which one he liked best to which he liked the least, or from oldest to youngest, and who sounded most important to the wizarding world to the least. It was far more interesting than the gossiping Sirius and his mates were doing about their classes and fellow students. Joan hadn't agreed with his judgment, however, and was listening intently to their conversation from between Sirius and Lily. After realizing he couldn't organize the handful of frog cards in another interesting way, Severus put them back in order from oldest to youngest and stuck them in his pocket before slipping off his bed behind Sirius to go and see if maybe Madam Pomfrey had a book he could read in her office.

Approaching the nurse's office at the back of the infirmary, Severus paused at the door when he realized there were people speaking on the other side. While he knew people hated sneaks and he shouldn't be one, Severus couldn't help himself. Pressing himself against the door, he strained his ear to hear what was being said on the other side of the door.

"…Haven't received any kind of reply," a male voice (Professor Dumbledore's?) said.

"How much longer do you plan to wait for one? The poor girl will realize in another day that they've rejected her."

"I'm aware we cannot put off telling Miss Moon much longer. As of this moment, I'm seeking other possible families or individuals who may be willing to take her in while she's caught up education-wise to where she should be according to her age. I hope it will, in some small way, soften the blow of her family's rejection to have someone else who is willing to take her in."

"I doubt anything will lessen the hurt," Madam Pomfrey replied. "Still, I can't quite believe they all have refused to so much as even see her. I spent the better half of Janice Moon's first year giving her doses of sleeping draught every night so she wouldn't have night terrors about her sister's disappearance. Even after that, she'd visit now and then for sleeping draughts during particularly stressful times here at Hogwarts to ward off any potential nightmares."

"The prejudice against those with lycanthropy is strong in our community."

"I know. It's just you would think that the love those girls shared would trump a disease."

There was a quiet moment between Madam Pomfrey and the man who Severus was now certain had to be the headmaster. "I will come to see Ms. Moon in the morning and inform her of her family's non-response and offer to let her meet a few of those I've been in contact with about homing her until she's of age."

"Thank you, Albus."

"It's no trouble, Poppy. I should be the one to tell Ms. Moon, I had written her family initially after all."

"Even so. She's in such a fragile state and to have to deliver such news… It's not easy to watch a heart break."

There was a sigh from Professor Dumbledore. "No," he agreed. "It's not."

"Before you go, Albus, what of Mr. Snape?"

"We are cross-checking the spell Filius found with a charms expert at the ministry to ensure it will work as we expect. We should hear back from them early tomorrow. I imagine we'll have Mr. Snape sorted shortly after lunch."

"Excellent. I'll have Mr. Black return to classes in the morning then."

"Indeed. Goodbye, Poppy."

"See you in the morning, sir."

Severus fell away from the door at that moment. Since he hadn't ever seen the headmaster enter Madam Pomfrey's office, he imagined the man had traveled by floo through the castle, but on the off-chance, he chose to walk back to his offices… Severus didn't want to be caught with his ear to the door. He didn't think he would be punished (or at least not very severely), but he didn't want to risk it either.

After a few seconds of nothing, Severus knocked on Madam Pomfrey's door and then grabbed its handle and pushed the door open. Inside, Madam Pomfrey sat behind her desk, expression troubled.

"Hello, Severus," she said. "What can I do for you?"

He looked behind her to the bookshelf she had beside her filing cabinet. "May I have a book to read?"

The nurse looked behind her at her collection of books. "There's really not anything a boy your age would probably like, let alone be able to read…"

"I can," Severus assured Madam Pomfrey. "I'm reading, er, was reading Mum's sixth-year history textbook. You'd really think a book on wars would be quite interesting, but it's not. I liked the glossary in the back of Mum's herbology text more than I do it."

She stared at him a moment, then shook her head. "I don't know why I'm even a little surprised," she said. Getting up, she pulled an anatomy text from one of her higher shelves. "You are such a clever child," she remarked as she handed the book over to Severus's eager fingers. "Eileen told me when I visited you for the mumblemumps your Muggle primary teacher wanted to put together an advanced curriculum for you to take home, but she hadn't allowed it because she didn't see a point when you'd be going to Hogwarts to learn to be a wizard, not a Muggle university."

"Mrs. Hancock gives me extra worksheets, sometimes," he told the nurse as he cracked open the textbook to browse its table of contents. "I just thought it was because she didn't like me staring out the window so much."

"It was likely a little of both, I imagine," Madam Pomfrey replied with a small smile as she settled back in her seat. "Cheers, Severus."

"Thanks," he mumbled, starting for the door. However, before he left, he stopped and turned to look back at the nurse. "Did Professor Dumbledore write each of the Moons? Or just Joan's parents?"

"Just Joan's parents," the nurse said, a hint of befuddlement leaking into her tone. "Why do you ask?"

"Sirius said her big sister graduated last year and I think her brother has to be too since Sirius didn't say anything to Remus or Lily about making him pop into the infirmary to see Joan. I know I don't know all about the wizarding world because I live with Mum…" Severus frowned to himself and shook his head. "Lived with Mum and Dad in the Muggle world, but I know there Muggles go to live on their own after they become of age lots of the time."

"That's the typical way of things here too," the nurse said. "But I'm still not following. Why were you asking who the Headmaster wrote exactly?"

Severus shrugged. "It's just we haven't heard anything from any of them. If you just wrote Joan's Mum and Dad… Maybe they didn't say anything to her brother or sister because they don't like she's a werewolf and didn't want them to know Joan was one like they do now."

Madam Pomfrey stared at Severus with a shocked expression. Finally, she whispered, "Perhaps."

Severus nodded. "Thank you for the book again, Madam Pomfrey. Listening to Sirius and his mates rabbit together is boring," he told her, nose wrinkled.

The nurse laughed and said, "Yes, I imagine gossip about strangers is for you!"

Satisfied, Severus left and returned to read in his infirmary bed. Sirius, Joan, and the rest were still so entirely absorbed in their conversation that they didn't so much as look Severus's way as he crawled onto his bed and beneath his covers. As he settled in and flipped through the textbook to the chapter on the nervous system, Severus smiled to himself. He was sure Madam Pomfrey was going to go straight to the Headmaster now to ask him to write Joan's siblings. Maybe she'd even do it herself. Severus was sure at least one of them would come through for Joan so she didn't have to go live with strangers. They had to. Joan deserved something nice after years of awfulness.

Chapter Text

When Sirius returned to the infirmary from walking his friends back to Gryffindor Tower, he was surprised to see Madam Pomfrey sitting with a whimpering and wheezing Joan. Worried, he looked for Severus, to find the boy sitting on his own bed with a smug expression. Confused and more than a little curious, he approached the kid and leaned down to whisper, “What’s happened?”

Madam Pomfrey glanced at him as she continued to pat and rub Joan’s back as she cried into her hands. Severus, for his part, didn’t look away from the pair as he informed Sirius, “Her brother replied to Madam Pomfrey’s letter and said he’d be here with his family tomorrow first thing in the morning.” He then smiled up at Sirius. “Joan’s happy .”

More like overwhelmed, Sirius wanted to say as he sat down next to Severus, but didn’t. Sirius was glad for the girl, she hadn’t hidden she thought her family was lost to her forever after Dumbledore didn’t visit her in the morning and to find out that she was wrong and that they’d be coming for her… Joan had to be happy, but far more than that as well; relieved, scared, guilty and who knew what other emotions. Sirius had never experienced such a reunion himself

The more he watched Joan slowly get a hang of herself under Madam Pomfrey’s gentle ministrations and kind words, the more Severus’s smug smirk started to bother him. Why had he looked like that when Sirius came in? He turned to the kid to ask what that was all about then, but the question died on his lips when he saw boy-Snape smother a yawn into the crook of his arm. Sirius realized then Severus should have probably been made to go to sleep over a quarter of an hour ago. It was just past ten now and an eight-year-old kid was for sure supposed to go to bed well before ten. Standing up, he offered a hand to Severus and said, “Let’s get you tucked into sleep while Madam Pomfrey takes care of Joan, yeah?”

Severus frowned a little and grumbled, “I’m not that tired, but let Sirius pull him away from the bed all the same and turn back the covers of his infirmary bed. When Sirius finished with that Severus crawled in and looked expectantly up at Sirius. For a moment, he didn’t know what Severus wanted, but then it clicked. Unlike Sirius, who’d been tucking himself in to sleep since he was probably five or six, Severus was used to having someone still put him to bed. Last night, Madam Pomfrey had done it. Now, Sirius had taken on the task and he had to finish it. Grabbing the edge of Severus’s blankets, he pulled them up to the kid’s chin and asked, “Er, that good?”

Severus nodded as he curled beneath the blanket. “Yes.”

Sirius ruffled the kid’s hair. “See ya in the morning, Severus.”

“Maybe,” he mumbled, “Madam Pomfrey’s going to send you back to classes and I’ll be old again around lunchtime.”

He pulled away his hand and tilted his head. “How do you know that?”

The kid didn’t say anything, just closed his eyes and tucked his face beneath his covers. Sirius sighed and scratched his head. He guessed Madam Pomfrey told him that before she told Joan her news. Except, when he turned around, the nurse was wearing a faintly amused smile. “Someone must have been eavesdropping,” she remarked.

Sirius frowned as Joan finally pulled her hands away from her face. “What?” the girl croaked as she worked on drying her eyes with the sleeve of her robe.

“Earlier,” Madam Pomfrey began, “he asked if the headmaster had written just your parents about you or if he wrote them and your siblings since they are all adults now.” Her eyes almost laughing, she said, “This all came right after Professor Dumbledore came to update me on you two in my office. I’d wondered what had brought on his questions about writing your siblings and now I know.” Her voice was fond as she finished, “That little sneak listened in on my conversation with the headmaster.”

“Wait,” Joan said, “does that mean you wrote my brother after Severus asked and that’s why you now have news for me?”

The nurse’s eye crinkled. “Yes,” she replied. “Initially, the headmaster only wrote your parents, assuming they would tell your siblings…”

“But they didn’t,” Joan whispered, lip wobbling once more. “They didn’t and they didn’t ever reply to the headmaster, did they?”

Madam Pomfrey gave a small, minute shake of her head, blue eyes deep in their sadness.

Fists balling in the loose fabric of her skirt, Joan whispered, “You said my family was coming tomorrow, but, really, you just mean my brother, don’t you?”

“No!” the nurse denied. “Your brother was clear your sister was coming too and he had every intention of talking your mother and father into coming as well.”

Joan looked just about ready to start yelling, so Sirius decided to step in and say, “Hey, it’s okay Joan.” He winced. “No, that’s a lie. It’s not . Your parents got a bloody letter from Dumbledore about you, didn’t tell your brother or sister, and never replied. The acted like right arseholes who thought they could pretend they never got the letter.  But then Madam Pomfrey sent one to your brother and, well, immediately he replied that he and your sister were going to come for you tomorrow. With or without your parents, I reckon. Maybe you won’t get your mum and dad back, but your siblings want you .” He chanced a smile at the girl. “You missed them the most and guess what? They missed you the most too.”

The crossness from Joan’s features faded a little. “This might not be my worst nightmare, but it’s still close,” she told him, new, miserable tears building in her eyes.

Sirius nodded and sat next to the girl, taking her hand. “Yeah,” he agreed. “It sucks when your family disowns you. I didn’t even like mine and yet…” Sirius trailed off, thoughts darkening as he recalled the howler from his mother and father where he was told about his face being burned off the family tree. He hated them, hated what they stood for, yet the rejection had still smarted. They'd still been his parents, even if he hadn't really loved them in years.

“Your family disowned you?” Joan whispered, surprised.

He nodded. “Yeah. They believe in all the blood supremacy shite,” he explained. “As for me? I don’t and had no trouble telling others I didn’t. I became a real embarrassment to them and worse when I refused to ‘grow up’ and do what they said.” He squared his shoulders. “But it’s fine, really. I’ve got James and the rest of my mates and they’re a better family than my mother and father ever were.”

Joan squeezed his hand. “I’m still sorry they did that to you.”

He shrugged. “It’s not all bad. I don’t have to listen to them nag me anymore,” he said, trying to lighten the heaviness around them.

She cracked a smile. “Sounds nice.” Jokingly, she said, “If Jack’s like I remember, I don’t expect I’ll be so lucky. He could get very particular about things being done the way he thinks they should.”

Sirius laughed. "Yeah, I guess I'm not entirely free of it either. Remus can get kind of pissy when James and I leave our quidditch gear out around or dorm room and will harass us to put it all away if he thinks we've left it out too long."

The girl giggled. "I guess it's just a part of being family, huh?"

"Yeah, it really is," Sirius replied, smiling.

Chapter Text

"Come on, Madam Pomfrey," wheedled Sirius, "what's one more class in the grand scheme of things?"

The nurse, nonplussed, pushed his school-robe at him. "No, Mr. Black," she said. "You've been well for more than a day now and must return to your classes now."

Sirius pouted a bit, but took his robe in the end and pulled it on. "Sorry, Joan. It's just you and Severus meeting your brother and sister," he called over to the girl, who was pacing the infirmary's length.

The girl's head snapped toward him. "What?" she said.

"Actually, just Ms. Moon will be meeting her family. I and Severus will sit in my office and play a game or two of chess while they have their reunion," Madam Pomfrey corrected as she offered Sirius his satchel, which Remus had brought him the night before after dinner.

Joan stopped walking and gaped. "Oh no, Madam Pomfrey," she decried, "I'd really prefer to have Severus with me when my family comes if Sirius has to go."

Madam Pomfrey lifted an eyebrow. "Surely such an emotional reunion would be better without a little boy underfoot?" Her gaze then went to said little boy, who was glaring at the porridge the nurse had given him for breakfast this morning. He'd been instructed to eat at least half after he refused to eat more than a quarter of his plate of toad-in-the-hole at dinner last night. So far, Sirius had seen Severus eat maybe a bite or three. He was sure Madam Pomfrey was going to give up on him eating far sooner than the kid would manage to put away half of that bowl. Sirius was starting to see why the kid was so small. He was finicky and ate like an owl! It was all peck, peck, peck. Sirius reasoned it was a good thing Madam Pomfrey was going to have Severus the right age by lunchtime since at sixteen he didn't seem to have such a problem with eating what he was served.

His attention was drawn back to Joan by her uneasy murmuring, "Erh…" She bit her lip. When she let it go a minute later, she replied, "I guess I just want someone with me in case things turn awkward and I need help to find something new to carry on whatever conversation we're having."

"I don't like the idea of putting that on a little child," Madam Pomfrey replied, though it was not so much in a disapproving tone she said it as a worried one. "Not to mention they will remember Severus. He made a name for himself nearly from his first day here at Hogwarts. Not to mention Severus may end up being more of a distraction to you all than a helpful aid for you, Ms. Moon…"

Sirius felt compelled to wave his hands in the air. "I could be helpful," he told them.

Both looked over at him. Joan's gaze was assessing, but hopeful, while Madam Pomfrey rolled her eyes with exasperation. He knew she wanted him back in classes before he fell too far behind. Sirius understood that. He'd had a bit of a freakout as Remus was leaving yesterday morning. He realized then he'd be missing a fourth day of classes sticking around in the infirmary to babysit and recover. It'd led to some very uncharacteristic demands for notes from every class— Even for a history of magic. But, again, what was one more class in the scheme of things? Joan had done so much for him and Severus. The least he could do was help her have a nice reunion with her family.

To sweeten his deal, Sirius suggested, "I can be there with Joan and you and Severus can play that game of chess in your office."

Joan started to smile and Madam Pomfrey sighed, defeated. "Very well," she said. "But you will go to your classes as soon as Joan doesn't have need of you anymore."

He smirked at the nurse, feeling just a little bit victorious. "Of course, Madam Pomfrey."


Twenty minutes after conniving his way into Joan's meeting with her family, the two of them waited side by side on an infirmary bed with bated breath as the doors to the healing hall opened up. A moment later, the headmaster stepped in. He was quickly followed by two faces Sirius recognized with very little trouble— Even if one had decided to grow himself a beard since he graduated three years ago. However, there were no others that followed them. It was Jack and Janice Moon and no one else.

Sirius looked out of the corner of his eye at Joan. Her lip was wobbling and her eyes glassy. He wasn't sure if it was from joy she was about to cry or disappointment. Or, he wasn't until she bolted to her feet with a cry of, "Janice! Jack!" before running to embrace them.

Teary-eyed themselves, the older Moons wrapped their arms around their newly found sister and just clung to her. For a couple of minutes, Sirius averted his gaze from the three and shared a look with Professor Albus, who nodded in greeting and goodbye before gracefully stepping around the hugging siblings and out the still open infirmary doors. Realizing then he was on his own, he started to fiddle with his new wand, only glancing around the three now and again to see if they were done holding each other. After what felt like ages, they finally let go.

After a bit of wet laughter on Joan's part, she asked in a half-scared whisper, "Mummy and Daddy…?"

Jack Moon shook his head, jaw squared with quiet rage.

Janice, however, had no problem voicing her own fury. "After we got our letters from Madam Pomfrey, we went to go celebrate the good news with them only to find out the headmaster wrote them yesterday and they never planned to say anything to us about it! And all because—"

"—I'm a werewolf," Joan finished in a hoarse, shattered whisper. "I knew it would be a problem."

Janice reached out to tuck Joan's hair behind her ear – the mangled one – but the girl flinched away before she could. Her sister pulled her hand back and wrapped her other around it as if she'd been physically slapped away. All the same, she said, "It's not for us. We've missed you and wished you back for ages and ages and now… This is a miracle." She turned her head up to look at her brother. "Right, Jack?"

"Yes. The biggest damn miracle of the modern age," he agreed with all the intensity Sirius remembered the Ravenclaw having when he was a student and more.

Joan's hands went to her face as a sob broke loose from her. This time when her sister reached for her, she did not flinch away and instead buried her face in Janice's shoulder. Briefly, Janice and Jack shared a look. It was one of worry and fear, but love and joy too. Sirius knew then Joan was going to be in good hands. Her brother and sister would take excellent care of her. And if he and Joan were lucky and everything went accordingly, Sirius would see her again around Hogwarts's halls as a student this time next year. It was a pleasant thought and he was almost swept away in a daydream of the future when Jack Moon came to stand in front of him. Sirius offered a small smile to the other and his hand. "Hello there, Jack. Been some time, hasn't it?"

Jack didn't take his hand, just stared at him with Joan's blue eyes. "Madam Pomfrey said you found her in some forest out in Northern England," he said.

"More like she found us, er, Severus and I, but, yeah it was in a forest," replied Sirius.

"Was she… The person who took her…?"

Sirius paused, considering the older wizard's garbled, upset question. "Look," Sirius began in a low mutter, "Yeah, she was with her kidnapper, Fenrir Greyback, but we got away and I killed one, maybe two, of his asshat followers. Joan even got her small revenge in knocking Greyback out cold. She helped us and I helped her. We're all free now."

Jack nodded, but appeared a little shaken up by the information Sirius had shared. His eyes then started to dart around. "Where is Snape?" The other wizard's brows furrowed. "I guess he's still as inept with people as he was at thirteen and didn't see a reason to keep Joan company until we came?"

Sirius shook his head. "No, that's not it. If Madam Pomfrey had let him, I'm sure he'd be here right now. She just didn't think letting a—" He stopped. Sirius really didn't want to get into the whole story, so he rolled his wet palms over his trousers and smiled. "He's really not in a good state for being a part of a delicate situation like this."

A miffed expression overcame Jack's face. "Oh," he replied. Then after a beat of uncomfortable fidgeting, he asked, "Since you're defending him… Have you two buried the, ah, hatchet?"

It was Sirius's turn to squirm. He wanted to say they had, that everything was daisies and roses now, but knew he couldn't. Bumps were on the way, maybe even an entire blockade. He couldn't say until Severus was fully himself again. Finally, he told Jack, "Not quite yet, but I imagine it will be six feet under before the week's over." To himself, he added, "For me, anyway."

Sirius was suddenly made to jump when Jack placed a hand on his shoulder. Meeting the older's wizard gaze, he found it was kind. "Good for you," he said. "The less hate in the world, the better."

"Thanks," replied Sirius, feeling actually kind of relieved to have Jack's approval. Anyone's approval, really. His mates hadn't quite seemed to know what to make of Sirius's proclamations of his and Severus's feud being over and them mates. Nor had they appeared to entirely believe him, even if they did put on a good show of pretending to. Sirius planned to prove he meant it, of course. There was a reason he'd been called a stubborn bastard more than once over the years.

After a moment, he looked away from Jack to Joan and Janice. The witches were holding hands with their heads bent close as they whispered to one another. About what, Sirius couldn't begin to imagine, but Joan looked to be doing well with her sister and Sirius was confident she'd be fine if he left for his next class. He looked at Jack. "Hey," he called, drawing the other's gaze to him. "You think you three will be alright? Joan was a bit afraid at the start, but she looks like she's gotten over her nerves." Sirius reached for his satchel and stood up. "I said I'd stick around in case Joan needed me, but I also told Madam Pomfrey I'd only miss my first class today…" he trailed off, hoping the older wizard wouldn't realize he was fibbing.

Jack nodded his understanding. "Go," he told Sirius. "We'll be fine. What's your next class? I think we'll take Joan back to my flat soon. I'd hate for her to leave without being able to say goodbye to you if that's something she needs."

"Potions," Sirius answered. "And thanks," he said.

A frown of confusion started at the corners of Jack's lips and Sirius found himself grinning.

"Thanks for coming, I mean. Joan really missed you all and was so worried none of you would want her after… After everything. But you came. So, thanks."

Jack's eyes were firm and burning like a hot, blue flame as he told Sirius, "She's our sister and we love her. Of course we came! Her sickness means nothing to either of us."

Sirius clapped the older wizard's shoulder as he passed by him on his way toward the infirmary's door. "You're a bloody brilliant brother, you know that? I wish there were more people like you." He laughed, but knew it didn't sound quite right as he added, "Hell, I wish I was as good as a brother as you."

The other wizard didn't say anything, nor did his sisters, but as Sirius left, he felt Jack's eyes burning on the back of his head even long after he'd left the infirmary.

Chapter Text

As lunchtime drew near, Severus grew more and more anxious. He knew he couldn't stay eight, nor did he want to. He wanted back the years of memories he should have of Mum; of everything else he didn't recall, like being friends with that Lily girl, and going to Hogwarts. He even wanted back his memories of being rivals and enemies with Sirius and his mates. Yet his thoughts kept cycling back to the conversation Sirius, Joan, and Lily had had yesterday about how much he might actually remember from being eight.

Joan worried he wouldn't recall anything at all, which Severus now worried would be the case too. He knew to trade a few days of memories for almost eight years worth was probably a very good trade all things considered, but he still hated it. Severus loathed not knowing things. Nearly as much as he did alcohol, which quickened his father's rages, loosened his tongue and untied his hand.

Severus kicked his feet and idly turned a page in the textbook he had been reading as he pondered a way to combat the potential loss of memories. Lily had speculated he might recall the last couple days as if he'd actually been eight, which was better, though, not ideal. If his memories of eight at sixteen were anything like his memories of four were now, Severus would only recall a few snippets among long expanses of grayness and nothing. What if one of the parts he forgot was the fun he had going to Diagon Alley? Or that Joan was now his friend? What if all he recalled of Sirius was their first day together when he was so mean Severus really feared he might leave him for werewolves instead of how he'd saved him from werewolves?

He hoped he remembered everything as if had just happened a couple of days ago, like it actually had. Like Sirius had initially thought he would, like Sirius probably still thought he would. Yet Severus knew he could not place all his hopes on Sirius's theory. He could turn out to be wrong. Like he had been about other things, such as Madam Pomfrey being able to call his mother to come to see him here at Hogwarts. Severus sighed internally and turned his attention to Madam Pomfrey, who sat on the other side of her desk, working on a report about him or maybe Joan. She'd each given them potions today, him a nutrition potion, and Joan a quarter of a calming potion to take the edge off her nerves so she could eat her breakfast. As Severus watched her scribble away, an idea came to mind.

"Madam Pomfrey?" he asked.

She looked up. "Yes?"

"May I have a couple sheets of parchment, please?"

The nurse eyed him a moment, but gathered together a couple of sheets all the same and handed them to him. Then, as if knowing what he would ask next, gave him one of her self-inking quills. "What are you going to write?" she questioned.

Severus closed his textbook and set the parchment down on it. "Everything," he answered.

"Everything?" she repeated with an amused little chortle at the end.

He frowned, annoyed at the patronizing sound, but otherwise did not react. "Yes," he replied. "I want sixteen-year-old me to have my side of everything we will remember."

Propping her arms on top of her desk, Madam Pomfrey placed one hand over the other and then her chin over that hand. "Do you think that will help you?" asked the nurse.

Severus pursed his lips to consider the question. He worried it wouldn't. Sirius had been right when he said Severus was stubborn, he didn't always listen very well to others. And while Severus wasn't someone else… To sixteen-year-old him, Severus now would probably feel like a whole different person. A stranger, even. Yet… "I have to try," he answered. "We're not always best at listening to others, but maybe he won't think of me as someone else and will listen to what I wrote." Because even if Severus now feels like a stranger to the sixteen-year-old one, he wouldn't be. They were the same person.

Madam Pomfrey didn't look so entertained any longer and instead, appeared rather somber. "I think that is very clever of you," she said.

Severus shrugged off the compliment and began to write. There was so much he needed to say and so little time to put it all down on parchment for his sixteen-year-old self to read.


Severus stood completely still in clothing that was far too large for him, but the perfect size for the sixteen-year-old he would be in just a minute's time. Hand pressed over the robe pocket that held his letter to himself in addition to his chocolate frog cards, Severus turned big, imploring eyes on the headmaster and asked him, "Will this hurt?"

The old man's eyes were kind as he smiled down at Severus. "No, not even for a moment," he promised.

He nodded and breathed in and out to calm himself down. "Okay," said Severus. "Please cast the spell."

Professor Dumbledore waved his wand at Severus, chanting the reversal for the curse Severus was currently under. A moment later, his vision was blinded by the reddish tinged white light of the reversal spell that was heading straight for him. When it hit Severus, he felt his bones, muscles, and skin begin to tingle until they almost felt as if they'd turned to pins and needles like his limbs sometimes were wont to after he'd slept oddly on them. Then, it grew even more intense, and suddenly even his mind turned to static.

Finally, Severus Snape, age eight, knew no more.

(While Severus Snape age sixteen knew all).

Chapter Text

When Sirius reached the potions classroom he was only a little surprised to see Joan waiting outside of it with her brother and sister. While other students streaming past the trio going to and fro from the class gave them strange looks and double-takes, Sirius waved at the three before he turned to his mates gathered around him and said, "I'll meet you inside, okay?"

Remus and Peter agreed easily and began to walk ahead of him while James lingered a moment. His friend gave his arm a short squeeze to catch his gaze and then winked at Sirius. "She's cute, but don't chat her up too much in front of her brother."

Sirius rolled his eyes at his best mate. "Thanks, James," he snarked, "but it's not like that."

James laughed. "Oh, I love you mate, but you're thick," he told Sirius before he sped off to catch up with Peter and Remus as they entered the potions classroom. Briefly, Sirius thought about calling out to his mate about the pot calling the kettle black since everyone knew how he felt about Lily even if he was still denying it for the time being. Sirius, Remus, and Peter had started a bet with Lily's dormmates about when the two would finally confess to each other their mutual feelings and snog it out. He and Jennifer Brown thought they'd be a couple when they came back from Christmas holidays, but the rest had settled for much sooner. Remus was especially convinced the Halloween party they planned to throw in the Gryffindor common room with the smuggled crate of whiskey they had stored in their dorm room would really help to loosen the pair's inhibitions. Time would prove him and Jen right as far as he was concerned.

With a minute shake of his head toward the open classroom, Sirius let go of his thoughts on his mates and turned toward the Moons. As he sauntered over to the trio, Joan grinned and reached out to him for a hug, which Sirius obliged and returned. When she pulled back, she told him, "I'm leaving now." She paused and bit her lip. A little shyer than before, she asked, "Would you mind terribly much if I wrote to you sometimes?"

"No, not even a little bit," he assured her. "I was actually going to tell you to not be a stranger! I want to know all about how well you're settling in and when you'll be coming to Hogwarts. There's so much I want to show you…" he trailed off, realizing that maybe he might be sounding a little pushy. He glanced at Jack Moon, who just glared at him while Janice Moon giggled into her hands. He flushed a little. Sirius had just been trying to show his gratitude and appreciation to Joan for all she'd done for him and Severus the past few days, but he was realizing it must really look like he fancied his newest mate.

Joan didn't seem aware of any of this, however, as she simply beamed and nodded eagerly. "Yes, of course," she promised. "The headmaster has already promised I have a place here at Hogwarts if I want it next year."

"Oh Merlin!" he exclaimed, delighted on her behalf. "That's wicked."

Janice snaked an arm around her sister's shoulders and said, "We're just as pleased for our little sister." She sighed a little, looking regretful at Joan, then him. "But you two will have to talk all about it later. We have to go so we can at least start to get things in order before the day's over. Joan, you need clothes and things, we need to start looking into tutors, set you up in one of our flats while we look for one we can all share…"

Joan flushed. "Right, sorry," she mumbled. "I'll write to you as soon as I've settled in a bit, okay, Sirius?"

Sirius nodded. "Sounds brilliant," he agreed. Then, after a moment, as he started to watch the three go, he called, "Hey, did you say goodbye to Severus too?"

The girl smiled, eyes soft. "Yes," she answered. "I saw the headmaster and that small professor, Flitswish? Come into the infirmary just as we were leaving. I imagine he's the right age again now."

Sirius felt his stomach churn, but he dipped his chin and smiled. "Great," he replied. "See you around, Joan! By Jack, Janice."

They all waved at him before Jack took charge and led his sisters away, likely to the Headmaster's office so they could floo to one of the older siblings' homes.

After they were out of sight, Sirius turned his attention to the open doorway of the potions classroom. He knew he should go in and listen to Slughorn's lecture. He'd missed plenty of class already and potions never had been his best subject either. Yet…

He turned away and began the trek back to Hogwarts's infirmary.


When he pushed open the infirmary's large doors, Sirius wasn't even a little surprised that Madam Pomfrey's piercing gaze and heavy frown was what met him first. He smiled at the nurse and tried to come off as innocently as possible when he said, "Hello, Madam Pomfrey."

She raised an eyebrow at him. "Shouldn't you be in potions right now, Mr. Black?"

He winced. "Well…" he muttered, rubbing his chin as he floundered for an excuse. A stomachache, perhaps?

The nurse sighed and pointed at a bed, the one kid Severus had slept in, with the curtain pulled around it. "He is there," she told him. "I suggested he take a kip before lunch since I know his sudden growth spurt must have been quite tiring." Madam Pomfrey stepped forward and leaned in to whisper to Sirius, "but I'm quite sure he's just fuming behind those curtains about how I wouldn't let him leave for classes, or, rather, his dorm."

Sirius chuckled. "Thanks." After one last shared smile with the nurse, he strolled over to Severus's bed, only to hesitate. He couldn't just pull back the curtains, could he? He and the kid had been mates, yet this was… Snape. The guy he'd spoken his undying hatred for not even a week ago. Sirius brought a hand up to run it through his hair as he stressed over the possibility of doing this all wrong and ruining his chance of keeping Severus for a friend at the age he was now.

Before he had to make a decision between calling out and just opening the curtain, a familiar, not quite realized timber, told him, "You may as well open the bloody curtain. I can see your shadow."

He laughed a moment before doing just that. When he did, Sirius was confronted with the realization that the kid was really gone. Or, rather, grown up. It'd been easy to see Snape in Severus, but now he could see Severus in Snape. It boggled the mind, to say the least. Pulling in a stool just on the other side of the curtains, Sirius put it next to Severus's bedside and sat on it before he closed the curtains closed behind him.

When he returned his attention to Severus, Sirius found that he couldn't look away from the other. After a moment, Severus scoffed and practically threw his gaze away from Sirius. Feeling that he could now ask without upsetting Severus and get a good, proper answer to boot, he questioned, "Did you just read my fucking mind?"

Severus rolled his eyes. "Don't be so moronic," he muttered. "Legilimency is not mind-reading."

Sirius's hands went to his head. "Oh Merlin, you did. And you were doing it as a kid too!"

The other teenager scowled and balled his hands into fists. "It wasn't intentional then," he muttered. "Princes have always had a… knack for the skill and it was always more than just that for me. You could say, in some ways, legilimency was and is nearly intuitive to me."

Sirius could hardly believe what he was hearing. He'd read places that some skills witches and wizards could learn were, in fact, more heritable and instinctual than others, but to know that Snape had not only been able to perform wandless magic at eight but use honest-to-Merlin legilimency too… Well, it was no wonder their feud had gone on so long and that Severus had always been able to keep up with the four of them. He'd probably been reading their fucking minds the entire time. "Mental. That's absolutely mental," he breathed.

"You're one to talk about madness, Black! It's not as if your family is known for its sanity," snapped Severus.

Sirius felt his temper rise and he nearly yelled back something bitterly cruel, but bit his lip in the end and glared hotly at Severus for a time. When he finally could speak with some measure, he hissed out, "That… Wasn't… What… I… Said…"

The other teenager blinked. Then, he crossed his arms and grumbled, "You could have fooled me."

He frowned, but otherwise kept tongue firmly checked. After a couple of awkward minutes where Severus wouldn't so much as look at him, Sirius found the words he'd been looking for since he first sat down. "I meant it, you know. I'll still be your mate if you'll have me."

Severus's eyes were once again on him. They blazed like hot coals as his lips pulled back to into a feral snarl. "I do not want nor need your pity!" he growled.

Flabbergasted, Sirius could only say, "What?"

"I was a pathetic child," replied Severus in a tone dripping with self-loathing. "Weak, carrying on for… for…" he trailed off in a stammer, his Adam's apple bobbing beneath the thin skin of his throat.

Sirius's heart twisted for the pain he knew Severus had to be feeling. His mother had been important to him and, really, she wasn't too long dead everything considered. He tried to put a hand on one of the other teenager's fists, but Severus jerked away and lifted his other menacingly. Sirius put up both his hands and leaned back. "Hey," he said. "I just want you to know I didn't think you were any of those things. You… You did really well out there for eight," he paused and realized he needed to correct himself. "You were brilliant for an eight-year-old with a broken arm."

Severus scoffed and Sirius resisted the urge to grab the other's face and make him look at him. He was pretty sure Severus wouldn't take it like he had at eight and may very well knock his teeth in if he tried. Instead, he settled for touching Severus's leg, even as he jerked away. "Mate, I mean it. If I'd been the one who was eight, I wouldn't have survived our first night out there."

"I'm not your mate," Severus sneered. "Do not call me that!"

Sirius felt like someone had knifed him, but he nodded and tried to smile all the same. "Sure, whatever, Severus," he agreed. "Just know I also meant it when I said I wasn't going to let you go around with Avery or Mulciber anymore." He gave the other a dark smirk. "I reckon you'll get desperate for company – and a mate – soon enough."

Severus's expression was one of utter outrage. "You cannot be serious," he muttered.

He laughed. "Hell yeah I am!" he declared. "My bloody name is Sirius."

The other teenager groaned into his hands at his horrific pun and Sirius didn't even blame him. Those jokes had worn thin years ago with friends and nemeses alike. But he'd never been able to resist an opportunity…

"I room with them," Severus reminded Sirius.

He shrugged, flippant. "Eh," he said. "That's not going to stop me, you'll see."

Severus stared back, silent, a mulishness glinting in his gaze. "No, you will see," he hissed back.

Sirius laughed. "I guess this will prove once and for all which of is the most stubborn, yeah?"

The other only pursed his lips, as his shoulders sank with the daunting realization that Sirius meant all he'd said and more to him when he was a kid. Severus knew just as well as him there was going to be no winning in what was to come and looked like he was already nursing the start of a migraine. As for Sirius, he was pleased. Severus would come around soon enough, he was sure— If only because it was the easier, less painful path to take. It was only pride that kept him from bowing to the inevitable here and now.

Chapter Text

Sirius whistled to himself as he took the stairs to Hogwarts's owlery two at a time. It'd been nearly two weeks since he returned to Hogwarts and he was finally getting around to sending a letter to Joan to see how she was settling in with her brother and sister. He'd wanted to send one the day after she left and then several more after that, but Remus and Lily had talked him out of it. They had told him to let her adjust into her new life a bit and rekindle her bond with Jack and Janice before he blew up her fragile peace with his (self-admitted) word-salad letters.

Reaching the landing of the owlery's tower, he grinned when he caught sight of a familiar narrow form with long, black hair sending off an owl with a letter and small sack tied to its ankle.

"Funny meeting you here!" he chirped as he approached with his own letter clutched tightly in suddenly sweaty hand.

Severus jolted. When the other teenager finally mustered up the courage to look over his shoulder, his gaze was weary and tired. Sirius just smiled. It was better than the fury, loathing, and irritation he'd gotten the first week and a half from Severus as he'd constantly invaded his space and scared off the likes of Avery, Mulciber, and their ilk. Sirius glanced to the other's wand hand. He wasn't even holding onto his wand anymore when Sirius was in his presence. It seemed letting him cast those hexes at him without so much as a deflection spell on Thursday had done a world of good to proving to Severus how serious he was about his reformation in regards to their relationship. He was even gladder he'd talked to James about his plan to let Severus do whatever he wanted to him beforehand to stop James from trying to retaliate on his behalf.

Keeping up his pleasant expression as he approached the window Severus was in front of, he reminded himself not to be disappointed when the other took a couple of wide steps away from his quickly impending form. This was a process, he reminded himself. He had to not only clear away all of the distrust Severus held for him, but build up good-will between them too. Calling out for a Hogwarts's owl upon reaching the window, he decided to be conversational as he waited for one of the birds to soar to him. "Who were you sending off a letter to? Joan?" he asked.

Severus didn't answer, just stared at him with an inscrutable gaze. Sirius shrugged off the other's silence and gave the owl that landed a scratch on the head before he tied his letter to its leg. "Take that off to Joan Moon for me, please," he told it.

The bird gave a light trill before it set off. Instead of pushing away from the window now that his business was done, Sirius leaned his elbows on the ledge and just stared out at the school's ground from his vantage point. Honestly, if the owlery didn't smell like bird-shit and damp straw he'd probably like to come up here and just stare out the windows at nighttime. He was sure the sky especially looked spectacular from this view.

"Joan was growing worried you were only being nice when you agreed to write her," Severus said, startling Sirius enough that he slid on some loose straw in his haste to turn around to face the other teenager and nearly fell on his bum.

Severus snorted in amusement as Sirius regained his equilibrium and straightened out his robe. Sirius sent the other a huffy frown as he grumbled, "Way to give me a heart attack."

His friend only smirked at him.

Once he was done fussing with his clothes, Sirius told Severus, "I was advised not to send off a half-dozen letters the minute Joan left. Especially since it takes some time and effort to read a letter from me— I'm not very good at keeping my thoughts straight, you see."

"She wouldn't have cared," replied Severus. "Joan isn't exactly John Milton herself."

Sirius wrinkled his nose at Severus, confused. Who in the Hell was John Milton? "Who?" he questioned after a beat.

Severus sighed and briefly massaged the bridge of his nose. "The famous Muggle poet?"

He shook his head. He knew about that Shakespeare fellow, and, oh, that one wicked author, Shelby? Who wrote Frankenstein. That was the best book Remus had ever lent him from his mother's reading collection.

"And you Pureblood lot have the gall to call us Half-bloods and Muggle-borns uncultured…" Severus muttered as he crossed his arms.

"I'd never say that," Sirius assured him with earnest solemnity.

Severus gave him an odd look. "Yet you have no trouble having a laugh at an eight-year-old who didn't know how to pronounce arachnid."

Sirius gaped. He'd wondered a lot over the last week just how much Severus remembered from being eight, but this proved it. The other remembered bloody everything. "That's— That's— different!" he sputtered. "It's just you pride yourself on how clever you are and then—" he stopped in his babbling, realizing he had no good reason. Letting his shoulder slump, he said to Severus, "Sorry."

Coolly, the other dipped his chin. "Very well. I will accept your apology."

Sirius perked up at Severus's reply. That was different. He'd said sorry about a few things over the past couple of weeks, but that was the first time Severus forgave him. He ran a hand through his hair. "D'you think Joan will be upset I didn't write her sooner? Since she's obviously been asking you about me?"

"No," answered the other. "She rather likes you." He cocked his head, lips curving into a sly smirk. "Fancy-likes you, even."

"Ugh," Sirius muttered. "Why does everyone keep saying that?"

Severus's smirk broadened into a grin. "Because it's the truth, you dunderhead."

In spite of all of his work to not be put-off or angered by something as little as an insult, he found himself grumbling, "Hey!"

"You're the one who said he and his mates insult each other," he shot back.

Sirius felt himself go stiff with shock. Did he really just say—? When the shock wore off and his mouth could form words again, he asked, "Does that mean we're mates again?"

Severus's expression took on a troubled note as he reached for his wand to hold in his hands. "Not close ones," he said. "I do not believe we will ever be as bonded as you and Potter are," he admitted. "But maybe we'll be good enough friends in a few years time you can talk me up to your fellow Gryffindors who have family that could put in a good word for me at Mulpepper's apothecary or Potage's Cauldrons since I can't rely on Mulciber's cousin as an in to the industry anymore…"

He laughed. "Yeah, sure," he agreed. "I know just who already! James's dad isn't much for potions himself, but his family's pretty entrenched in that stuff thanks to some potions his ancestors created." Sirius chuckled some more and added, his tone light, "Merlin, you're always thinking a step ahead, aren't you? I reckon you'd make Salazar Slytherin proud with that kind of cunning."

The other teenager crossed his arms and raised an eyebrow. "Potter's father, really? You do realize he thinks I have you under some kind of enchantment, don't you? I can only imagine what he's saying and has said to his father about me. I doubt any good word you could put in about me would go far with the man." He sighed and uncrossed his arms to pull his wand from his sleeve and turn it over in his hands as he muttered, "I also believe I would have made Slytherin only a hair more than I'd please Godric Gryffindor with my boldness," Severus told him. "I was just shy of wearing red and gold after all."

Sirius's hands went to his hair. "What? No! You were really that close?" Then, realizing, that admission (or was it a lie? It was so hard to tell. He didn't know Severus well enough yet) was only made to distract him from the criticism he'd made toward his plan, Sirius told Severus, "Ah, don't you worry about James. He doesn't think you've got me enchanted! Blackmailed, maybe, but that'll fade with time. He trusts me and once I tell him off a time or two, he'll figure out I really meant it when I said we're mates now and buried the hatchet."

He grinned and reached over to lay his hand lightly on the other's shoulder. When Severus didn't throw it off, he curled his fingers around the other teenager's shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze as he said, "And don't discount Mr. Potter as a potential ally so quickly. He listens to James, yes, but he's more than capable of making up his own mind about people."

Severus turned his attention to his feet and gave him a small nod of understanding in return.

Sirius let his hand fall away and internally sighed. He wasn't sure Severus believed him about either Potter. He supposed only time would prove him right. Sirius shifted from foot to foot and realized that things were beginning to feel a bit awkward. His mind racing to find a way to keep the conversation flowing and alleviate it of the doubts it was now weighed by Sirius recalled how just minutes ago Severus admitted he was nearly a Gryffindor like him.

Sirius smirked while his palms began to sweat slightly. He'd never told anyone this, but who better than Severus? If he'd told the truth about how close he'd come to being not-Slytherin, he'd like hearing what happened to Sirius when he was sorted. "You know," he said, lifting his hand and putting his thumb and pointer nearly together, "I was just that close to Slytherin, actually." He let his hand fall and looked away as he admitted, partly-embarrassed, but mostly proud, "If I hadn't threatened to find the hat after the ceremony and burn it to a crisp if it tried to place me in the dear old Black alma mater, I don't think it'd have listened to me demanding I go to Gryffindor."

When he looked back at his friend, Sirius found Severus's dark gaze was surprisingly calm as he remarked, "How different things may have been."

He agreed. "Yeah." Then, after another moment, he put out his hand. "Hey, I meant it when I said I'd talk you up to Mr. Potter. In fact, I'll start doing it right now in my letter to the Potters' starting next week, okay?"

His friend blinked, startled. Then, a bit of a smile started to play at the corners of his mouth and he swept forward to accept Sirius's hand and shake it. "And I will start rebuffing Mulciber and Avery myself… So please stop turning up in my dorm as your dog animagus to growl at them until they won't so much as glance in my direction."

Sirius threw his head back with an uproarious laugh. "You have a deal, mate."