Falling ash greyed the sky as darkness crept in, but he could not know whether it was a failing of the light or his vision. He did not know what time it was, but it no longer mattered. Elsewhere, the sound of battle echoed from the farther reaches, but here there was unearthly silence. Severus Snape knelt in the Valley of Death, swaying as the earth shuddered. He had come out of that battle – walking, then stumbling, then crawling over the rocky terrain -- for this, his ultimate act.
It seemed much longer than three years since he’d seen Hogwarts or Albus Dumbledore. Three years he’d spent in the sole service of the Dark Lord, whetted against the unyielding stone of Voldemort’s insanity and power. All the other concerns that had once driven his life had worn away. Animosities, resentments and simple daily cares were long gone. Severus had become as uncomplicated as a knife’s edge and as singular of purpose.
It was only the two, monster and boy, there in that place.
Voldemort, incandescent and horrible, convulsed with wrath, had summoned up the depths of his power. His wand glowed hot. That wand, with its core of Thestral hair, had been the last piece Ollivander ever crafted. It was a thing of evil matched only by the fiend who held it.
Harry Potter, Innocent, Destroyer, stood valiantly against him. He balanced precariously on his two feet, white-faced, bleeding. He looked as if the reverberations from their twisted spells could knock him down. He was as ragged and exhausted as Severus himself. But still, he stood. Still, he fought.
The combatants had no awareness of anything but each other. They arched, ducked, and cast, steeped in the deadly rhythm of their duel. Spell, block, spell. There were bursts of light with no sound. Sometimes their mouths worked, but Snape heard no words. He moved closer. Always, always on his knees for the Dark Lord. When he saw his opening, he was close enough, had just enough power left, to take it. He did not waste breath as he cast Confundus.
He did not waste breath crying out to Harry Potter to take the killing blow. It was not necessary.
The wild Sectumsempra gutted Voldemort, turning his cursed body inside out. Its tail ripped into Severus, still crouched behind and to one side. He was too close to avoid its lash. He fell forward so very slowly, as if he could stop any moment and simply hang in the air. The rending of bone as his nose shattered was of no import; he did not feel it. He was aware of the last warmth of his life as it pulsed out onto the spell-scoured earth.
The game was played. Less important pieces had fulfilled their sacrifice. His dark bishop was taken and lay sundered at the side of the game board. The black king was dead, and so was Severus. All was well: nothing that lay beyond death's door could be worse than what he'd already seen and done.
Now it was over.
Severus had never expected to feel a moment’s gratitude to Harry Potter.
With a stuttering indrawn breath, he let go.
Hadn't he just been thinking . . . thinking about a door? Here it was, the doorknob cool and silvery under his fingers. He felt no fear. There was confusion as to where he was and what he was doing, but it was not enough to ruffle his stern composure. The knob turned without his express attempt, and at this invitation he walked through.
Light. Everything was light.
Light was all there was, and it burned like acid etching his retinas.
His eyes were closed, but he couldn’t stop the light. In shock, his knees gave, and he fell against the door. He clawed back blindly for the doorknob, but it was locked against him. He cowered away from the light, hunching into the wall. By the time his groping hands found another door, the pain had eased. What had been agony was now merely an almost-audible throb behind his eyes. He covered them with a trembling hand and breathed deeply, trying to dissipate the pain in his head.
Wherever he was, it was solid and dry. It had walls, doors. He was inside. He could hear the rasp of his breath, the brush of his clothing against the wall. His ears seemed to be working again as they had not, near the end.
Near the end. He’d thought, believed, prayed it would be the end. He’d never given credence to that nonsense about traveling into a bright light, instead allowing himself dreams of darkness, quiet, peace. Nothingness.
In this, as everything, his hopes had been humbled.
Carefully he stood upright. He almost expected the floor beneath him to writhe and topple him, but it was only his cramped and protesting muscles. Where was he? Why should he even feel his own body? Was he not . . . dead?
Listening as best he could, he made out a faint hiss in the background, but there were no other sounds. With some apprehension, he opened his eyes, shading them with his hand. Opposite him were four tall windows through which the sun blazed. Such a little thing! And yet his eyes were sharper, more sensitive than they had ever been. Every color in the room, for it was indeed a room – a kitchen, to be precise – glowed with a crystalline clarity. Each shape rendered itself upon his vision with a depth that was beyond real.
The room itself was large and octagonal, and each near wall had at least one door. The usual kitchen paraphernalia was scattered about. There was a crisp loaf of French bread on the table, along with a pale slab of butter. There were several glass pots of jam in which rays of sunlight glowed, citrine and ruby. A kettle steamed on the cooker, hissing quietly. Two chairs were pulled up to the table. Everything he saw seemed, in some inexplicable and unsettling way, to take up more space than its size required.
The effect was overwhelming, and he quickly shifted his attention to his person.
His clothing was new, of fine quality, the robes so deep a black it seemed to pull at him as he stared. He wore dark trousers, low-heeled boots, and a crisp white shirt. The contrast of white meeting black was so vivid that it made him see grey where there was none. He slid two fingers between the shirt buttons, seeking a scar that was not there. Gently he traced the path of the Sectumsempra.
He was whole-bodied. More whole, in fact, than he had been for a long time. The Dark Lord’s insanity had taken its toll on Severus for a decade, and there had been a few times when the Order’s aim was faster than his sidestep. The Dark Lord’s ranks, unsurprisingly, included no mediwizards, and his own talents did not heal all ills.
Reaching out a hand, he stretched his fingers. They were all there, and no longer ached from improperly healed fractures. His spine was limber instead of stiff from the aftereffects of hexes. Gingerly he took a step forward and bounced a bit on his toes. He had the balance and reflexes of a healthy young man.
Taking four strides across the room, it was with a deep and abiding pleasure that he turned and let his robes billow dramatically around him. He stopped on the spot just to smile foolishly down at his feet. Letting his arms drop, he inched over from the waist, waiting for the spasms to seize him, but there were no spasms, no pain, just the tips of his fingers brushing the toes of his boots. Luxuriously he raised himself and stretched.
Once again, the light streaming in through the windows caught his attention. It didn’t hurt this time. It warmed him inside, soothing the tatters and worn places. Threads made from he knew not what created a new, yet somehow completely intimate, texture of warp and weft into his thoughts. He felt safe, young -- younger than he had ever been as a child. It was only with effort that he stifled what was sure to have been a laugh. He held it close inside him, caring too dearly for the feeling to let it escape.
He let his eyes wander away from the windows, blinking away the light ghosts in his vision, and was taken aback to realize there was now a tall figure standing in front of the cooker. The strange space he inhabited had already become perfectly agreeable, even necessary. He’d begun, despite the two places laid, to think of this room as his. How dare another party intrude into his death?
Severus endured barely a moment’s quite reasonable irritation before the long-haired, nigglingly familiar figure turned and awareness of Sirius Black poured across his consciousness.
Black! He’d hated Black since they were boys. There was nothing wrong with his memory; he knew exactly why. Things had been done, words had been said. Oh, yes, the man was scum, and Severus hated him.
He just couldn’t pin down, now, why that had always been so important.
Where was the roil of his blood, the clang of his pulse? It was as if he watched those events, acknowledged his hatred, from afar.
Normal. He needed to appear normal. He needed to interact with Black the way he always had, or he could be tripped up in this strange environment. He found he didn’t have to think in order to speak. The reactions of a lifetime slid neatly into place. “Damn you!” His fingers curled fruitlessly around thin air where his wand used to be.
“Yes,” replied Black evenly. “It would seem so.” The man, if the spectre was in fact a man, stepped toward the table, his movements exhibiting an ease they hadn’t at Grimmauld Place. How could he look so very alive?
“This is all a hallucination. You are not real. This is nothing but the final spasm of my dying brain, and by the fact that I’ve envisioned you, I know I fully expected to end up in the bowels of Hell.”
“I’d have thought so, too.” Black put the mugs down and gestured for Severus to sit. “Directly to Hell, do not pass Go, do not collect two hundred Galleons.”
Severus could barely remain impassive. He most certainly would not sit. “And I am here. You think I wish to take tea in Hell with the likes of you?” He hoped his sneer had the same exaggerated visual impact as the other ordinary objects in the room.
“You’ll be quite dry if you don’t. We’ve a lot of talking to do.” Black’s tone had a strangely hypnotic aspect, as if sound, too, had taken on an extra dimension, caressing his ears with its nuances.
Severus examined Black closely. There was no red-rimmed twitch of insanity in the grey eyes, nor even the malicious mischief Severus remembered so very well. No amusement. No real . . . life. Outwardly he appeared grave. The dark, not to say black, humor of that was not lost on Severus, and his mouth twisted. But like the other items in view, he had the strangest impression that he could see another dimension beyond the surface – that he could see into Sirius Black. If he wasn’t wrong, there was some kind of inner turmoil going on . . . something that Severus might be able to turn to his advantage.
“Talk about what? Don’t tell me you’re to be my father confessor,” he spat. “If I wanted one of those, I could have had one long ago.”
Black looked straight into his eyes, doubling the impression that there was more going on than Severus could fathom. “I am not your confessor. I am . . . your judge, jury, and, should you pardon the expression, executioner.”
“No!” Severus took an involuntary step back. “Never.”
Black leaned back in his chair and narrowly looked Severus up and down. “It’s far more and better than I ever got. I was shoved into Azkaban with no questions asked. And you know as well as I what that was like. You, at least, had someone willing to get you out.”
“You must have a maggot in your brain. I’d rather go straight to Hell than explain myself, justify my actions, to a fool like you.” Whirling, he made for the nearest door, only to find that the knob merely rattled in his hand without turning. Cursing, he slammed his fist against the wood. Suddenly he felt limp, his gift of energy and vigor draining away. It was as if all his life’s burdens had returned to roost on his shoulders, leaden wing-clipped birds with talons of granite. The light was so very bright. He was tired. His head began to ache.
Trapped. Like a dancing bear chained to a stake, he would be forced to perform for Black’s pleasure.
“It’s no use. Neither of us can leave until this is done. Others have tried to escape this fate.” Black sounded genuinely regretful.
Severus didn’t have to turn around to see the weariness in Black’s face; it coated his words with an aeon of dust. Something horrible was going to happen if he didn’t get out of here. He could feel it hovering in the mysterious air as surely as he’d felt the pain and then the sublime radiance of the light. He was fighting for his death in the same way he’d always fought for his life, that it should be on his own terms and no one else’s, that his fate should be of his own choice.
This time, too, he was losing.
There had to be some way to force Black’s hand. Some way to get out before it was too late.
“By the way,” he called over his shoulder, tracing the grain in the door’s surface and feigning a casual air, “have you seen the werewolf?”
He dearly wished he could have seen the look on Black’s face, the one that attended the strangled gasp of “Remus!”
Finally he turned. “Oh, yes. Surely he’s been here? I can’t imagine anyone surviving the final battle. The mountain trolls must have torn him apart. I, of course, did not stay to see the carnage.” Languidly, he leaned against the wall, buffing his nails against his robes.
The effect was everything he could have hoped. Black was on his feet, shrieking, “Traitor! Vermin! How could you slink away from battle and – and leave . . .” His anguish was all but palpable -- waves of it brushed past Severus and infused the room. But to Severus’ surprise, Black managed to clamp down upon his rage. With a sneer, he said, “It doesn’t seem to have done you much good, does it?”
Black was quicker than he remembered.
“No more than it likely did the Potter brat. He didn’t look too good when I last saw him.”
“Oh, God! Harry!” Black was halfway across the room now, but stopped just as suddenly, his face slack with surprise and dismay, as if he’d only now been reminded of Potter’s existence.
A shrug. “Nor Albus Dumbledore, who died at my hand.”
That got Black moving again. “How could you? Why?” The words were almost a wail as he advanced on Severus.
“Why not? I killed James Potter and his wife when I was twenty-two. What should have changed?”
Black’s face was in his now, his hands slamming Severus up against the door, the grey eyes snapping with pain and fury. “Voldemort killed James and Lily. How dare you claim their deaths?”
Some kind of inhuman control was still holding the man back. He didn’t look any closer to dispensing with Severus than he had before. There was one last hope.
“Ah,” he replied hoarsely. He didn’t bother to try prying Black’s hands from his neck. “Did you never know? It was my spying that authored their downfall.”
Black’s hands dropped of their own accord. Severus’ words had laid waste to that handsome countenance. Black’s features were defeated with grief old and new.
Severus pressed his advantage. “Send me on. Hand down my sentence and let me go.” The last words were a bit less strident than he would have liked.
“You’re trying to make me angry.” Now there was an understatement. “It’s no good. No matter what you say, I won’t renounce my duty. As much as I want to, I can’t let you go. Every man has his reasons. I need to know yours.”
Where had Black come by this insane measure of control? He could see the desire to consign him to the fires of Hell, fires that were burning in Black’s eyes.
“Once I do, we’ll be through here. We’ll be rid of each other.”
“You ask too much.” Severus stared at the light streaming in the windows, willing it to give him strength.
“I have no choice.” Black’s voice calmed, resuming its almost hypnotic cadence. “Severus, come sit down. The food is very good here. Have a cup of tea. Please.”
The words sounded sincere. One more surprise atop the rest. He lifted his eyes to Black, attempting to catch him out in mockery, but Black was moving toward the table. In Black’s wake, the scent of fresh-baked bread and the glorious color of sun-infused preserves overwhelmed him. He stopped fighting it. Slowly he moved toward the table, following his tormentor. Did this spectre, this hallucination, have some kind of power over him? Or was he simply that hungry? Certainly his belly was as empty as his hope for escape.
The tea was strong, hot and comforting. He was so hungry, so terribly hungry. The taste of mere bread and butter was so delicious as to make him forget where he was. His mind drifted. He bit into another slice, chewing dreamily and letting the bite slide down his throat. He let his head loll back. A dollop or two of the preserves had him breathing through his nose just to keep his head. He couldn’t identify the fruit. Whatever it was, the glistening jam was ambrosial. He ate until he could eat no more. Replete, sated, he hovered in a twilight of contentment.
When he heard the words, “Speak now, Severus Snape,” he spoke.
It was some time later that the tide of words ebbed. “ . . . and . . . and Harry . . .” The sun was lower now -- kinder somehow, but no less brilliant. He stopped speaking. His throat felt as if someone had scrubbed it with a bottle brush. He reached for the mug of tea, lifting it to his lips with both hands. His face itched. When he rubbed at his cheek, it was wet. Looking up, his vision blurred, he saw that Black’s face looked much the same as his own must.
He’d been talking. Talking about . . . himself, his life, growing up. Why he’d gone to Voldemort. Everything. Black knew everything. Pity was etched in the lines around the man’s eyes, in the shape of his mouth. How – why –
Severus’ voice came from the farthest reaches of his life. “You poisoned me! Worthless bastard!” He wavered up to his feet.
“Not poison! It’s --”
Whatever Black was going to say, it wasn’t important. The only important thing was Snape’s fist in Black’s lying mouth. Black twisted to avoid it. When Severus struck, as pathetic as the punch was, it knocked Black head over arse, chair and all. Black lay stunned, shaking his head a little to clear it. Severus had no patience. He leaned over to grab Black by the collar of his button-down Muggle shirt. The next thing he felt was Black’s knuckles as they connected with his jaw.
That was the point at which everything new became old.
The impact of the fist was not flesh-toned; it exploded with fresher colours than ordinary memory could provide. Painted across his vision were all the slights encountered before Sirius and all the hurts and humiliations after him. The others, the Not-Black, numbed into the background, fading like long-hung photographs. The deviltry Black himself instigated became featured episodes of the unending parade, moments lit up as if by lightning. Black was here; Black was now. Pain burst over what used to be his skin and he fought with everything he had, striking out in a roar of rage and grief. It barely mattered: Black fought like a girl, utterly inept, his clenched hands more likely to get in the way than cause injury. He looked fit, but he was useless for anything but handing out jam and bread. Within a few minutes, Black had to clutch Severus close to stop himself being pummelled. They were reduced to rolling about like boys scrapping on the lawn.
Their fight would not be noted in the annals of hand to hand combat, and it didn’t take long for the rolling to be over, either.
“I knew you were worthless,” wheezed Severus from his perch atop Black, knees on Black’s wrists. He was a bit dizzy, weak, undoubtedly aftereffects of the poison. “The only mystery is how you survived so many years in the first place.”
Black stared up at him, mouth open, panting like the dog he was. “I’m a lover, not a fighter.” The faint amusement sat uneasily around his eyes, as if he’d borrowed it from someone else. Black was laughing – laughing at him, laughing as if he weren’t flat on his back with Severus, the victor, astride him, when he should be begging for mercy!
“Look, just do it.”
Black’s feeble train of thought must have gone off the rails at last. “And what, pray tell, do you think it is I ought to be doing?”
“I don’t care! Don’t you understand, Snape? Do you really not get it? Not everything is about you!” Frustration took over for a moment as Black ground his teeth. Severus could hear enamel turning into dust. Then the man looked at him without reservation for the first time. Severus could have smothered in the regret in those bleak eyes; he didn’t know why Black hadn’t already. “This is not your punishment. It’s mine.”
“Of course. It’s really all about you, your punishment,” he sneered. “And so you must poison me? How does that follow?”
“I told you, it’s not poison. It’s nectar.”
He stared at Black for a moment, wondering if the man -- shade? illusion? hallucination? – was addled. “The food of the Gods?”
“More or less, yeah. It’s soul essence.”
“That gives me a very different vision of the Gods.” A horrifying thought struck him. “Whose soul essence?” Even as a marked Death Eater, he’d never honestly expected to . . .
“Yours, you moron. What gets squeezed out of you by living. You get it back.” He tried unsuccessfully to pull his hands from under Severus’ knees. Severus leaned more weight on them. Black winced, and then smirked. “You ate like a pig.”
Brow raised, Severus looked about the room as if searching its corners, then eyed what he could of the two of them. “Alive, now, am I?”
“No. There’s definitely something dead in here. I can smell it.” Black sniffed once or twice, curling his lip.
Severus pulled back a fist to smash that sneering face in, then held it back. “You – you pathetic cur! You want me to hit you!”
“I can’t imagine you turning down an offer like that. So get on with it. Do your worst.”
And you don’t intend to fight back?” This was the man who’d tormented him relentlessly, and now he knew everything . . . including the secret of the long-regretted impulse that sent Severus after the Horse’s Asses Of The Apocalypse in the first place. That impulse . . . that attraction, that need to see Black and know everything about him, had made Severus’ life a misery.
“No.” Black tensed and closed his eyes.
This was his first and undoubtedly last chance to do what he’d longed to do for nearly twenty years: he could humiliate Black the way Black had done to him.
He closed his eyes, the better to remember.
One autumn evening, when the air was crisp and pleasant but twilight came early, he’d come walking back from Hagrid’s hut after delivering a bottle of Slughorn’s Carbonated Caul Cream. In the deepening darkness, he hadn’t seen the obstacle in his path – most likely it was invisible anyway. As he stumbled, already off-center, a fierce grip on his upper arm pulled him behind the potting shed.
As much as the unexpected grab-and-shove readied him for a fight, the touch of Black’s lips – and he’d known instantly that it was Black; how had he learned the smell of a boy he’d never gotten within ten feet of? – stunned him silent and unmoving up against the shed wall. Contrary to anything he suspected of Black’s nature and experience, the kiss was neither skilled nor brutal. It was almost . . . tentative. That was what undid him.
He kissed back.
It was sloppy and inexpert and the closest thing to intimate contact he’d ever had. Black had at least rudimentary notions of how a kiss should go; the extra tongue in Severus’ mouth should have been disgusting, but instead it was exciting. It made him yearn for more. He welcomed the tongue into his mouth and Black’s body against his own, his cock harder with every thrust. There was something prodding his belly that wasn’t Black’s hipbone. He couldn’t think. He couldn’t breathe. He wouldn’t protest.
Not until Black pulled away. Then a whine escaped him.
Black backed off. “I was right,” he breathed. “I was right.”
“I – you –” Before Severus could strike out, he was gone. Severus, mortified by his wanton reaction, drew his wand, but it was too late. The hexes he threw went wild. A small tree caught fire nearby. Clumps of earth rained down somewhere; he could hear them. But even Severus Snape couldn’t manage to hex black robes flowing through the darkness.
He never spoke of it to anyone. Attempting to smear that misbegotten scum with such an incident would only raise questions about himself. Black must have been smart enough to come to the same conclusion. As far as he could tell, Black never told his friends, either. It was knowledge neither of them could use. Until now.
Now, Severus could take what he wanted and shove Black away, laughing. He couldn’t attempt to murder a dead man, but he could do this. As he looked down into Black’s pale face, he smiled. And waited.
Gray eyes opened, alight with anger. “Do it!”
The indrawn breath told him more clearly than the demand did that Black was on the edge. This could be very, very interesting. Severus lay his palms on Black’s shoulders and leaned his weight onto them, knowing full well the man wouldn’t passively accept this kind of punishment. Then he leaned down, his trailing hair throwing threads of shadow onto the face beneath him, and kissed Black’s lips.
A pain so swift and sharp went through him at the contact that he might have been slapped, but how? He was still kneeling on Black’s hands. Instead of pulling back, Severus pressed closer. If something outside them could stop this, he wanted to get as much accomplished as possible. Black tried to tip his head away, but Severus wouldn’t let him. He caught Black’s face between his hands and brushed his lips across the thin line of Black’s. The smell of the man under him was as delicious and tantalising in its own way as the scent of fresh bread had been.
He fully meant to enjoy Black’s chagrin, his growing awareness and his worry that more might be coming. Although Severus hadn’t thought seriously of attempting rape, it must be an unspoken threat . . .
Which was forgotten as he delved into Black’s mouth, and he didn’t stop to wonder why. His lips felt alive, more alive than they’d been at any time since that long-ago, much-rued day. The feel of a man against him as he slowly slid from his knees and fully onto the long, muscular body beneath was exquisite. The rub of fabric on the hair on his legs was nearly as intense as the softness of Black’s mouth. Only the feel of Black sucking on his tongue could have surprised him into pulling back.
“What are you doing?” Severus demanded.
“I was a fool. I can fix it.” Black glowed with some kind of inner light. The look was as concentrated as any hatred he’d ever seen.
Focus. Don’t allow him to distract you, he thought. “Fix? Fix what?”
“Everything. I destroyed everyone I ever cared about. Now I can fix everything.” The hint of madness he’d seen years ago shone from under thick black lashes.
“It’s never too late to live a happy life.”
He could not, would not, listen. “I won’t be fixed, damn you!”
Severus Snape was a man who could count on being who he was, unaltered, no matter what. He had faced everything in his life from this certainty. But there were things moving inside him, things he didn’t understand, light and comfort sliding in, cushioning jagged spans of bitterness. Some tiny unfamiliar voice cried out for more.
He wouldn’t listen. The sane voice of reason must shout it down.
There could be no changes. Who would he be if there were? This voice that begged for comfort and forgetting was an illusion. It couldn’t be a part of him. He would not give in; he must fight.
There was only one way he could think of to silence the cry. He’d carry out the task he had set himself. He would humiliate Sirius Black – arouse him and then push him away.
Even the thought made his skin flush.
When a pair of hands pulled at him, he went. There was something in his path. He stumbled -- he was falling. It was a long, strange way down. The universe around him was blacker than midnight, but it was filled with lines of brilliant color. There were arcs and angles. Lines parallelled and intersected everywhere he looked, as far as he could see. Red. Gold. Purple. They were tiny specks gliding along a line of blue fire the way a child would slide down a banister. A word rang out in his mind, found its way to his mouth, and leapt.
He could taste the tang of the autumn breeze, smell the crunch of leaves. For that matter, he almost got a noseful of fine dark Hogwarts loam. “You idiot!” he snarled. A hard grip prevented him from toppling arse over teakettle, then pulled him upright. They were behind the potting shed now; the lone assailant dragged him into the darkest shadows, but shadows couldn’t hide Black’s laughter.
“Laugh if you must.” Severus looked down his nose at the long, dark shape lounging against the shed as he flicked leaf crumbs off his robes. “Just don’t think you’ll get any from me tonight.”
“Sorry,” replied Sirius, his sly grin proclaiming him not in the least sorry. “I didn’t want to shout to get your attention.”
“Well, you’ve got my attention. What else do you want?” As much as he pretended to scoff, it was difficult to quash his rising excitement.
That tempting voice, lower and thicker than when he spoke to his friends, answered, “The same thing I always want. I want you.”
Instead of trying to undo clasps, he simply pulled up on the heavy black fabric with a mind to getting at what he wanted most. Sirius was naked under his robes, and already hard. Severus couldn’t contain a gasp as his own cock tried to rise, bound tight inside his trousers. “So sure of me, are you?”
“Never sure of you. Just know what I want.”
Pressing in, he rubbed the scratchy wool of his cloak against the bare skin as they kissed. Teeth clicked together; the pressure of the soft mouth against his own inflamed him. He fumbled as best he could to open his trousers without actually separating them. The back of his hand managed to find Sirius’ erection as he worked at his clothing. Sirius bit down. Pain blossomed in his bottom lip.
Breathless. “Hurry up, then. I want – I want you to fuck me.”
His ears fought his cock for possession of his brain. “You – what?” Already he was casting around for something to transfigure into lube.
“I want you to fuck me. I want to tell them.”
There must be something wrong here; the buzzing in his head was almost louder than the demands of his body. Louder than Sirius’ voice. “That we fucked?”
“No, you prick. That we’re together.”
His hard-on still had all the blood he needed to think with. “No! They don’t even know you’re queer. And they hate me. Potter hates me.” It had been a while since Potter’s taunts boxed his ears daily, but this? It would drag up all their old enmities. If Sirius told, it would be the end. Sirius was a stubborn bastard, but even he couldn’t hold out against Potter.
“I’ve got to. I can’t stand the way you act when they’re around. And I hate the way they treat you.” Sirius’ hand was tight around his cock, pulling Severus back into a kiss that left them both panting.
“Think about someone else for a change!”
“You’re all I think about.” Teeth were at his earlobe, hot breath teasing him as Sirius gave his cock one last twisting caress. “Now, fuck me. I found a spell.”
If it was the last time, it might as well be good. This sinking feeling was his own fault. He’d started to think that Black was beginning to like him. “Use it.”
A few muttered words and the tap of a wand later, he was presented with Sirius’ arse. He shivered with what felt almost like awe. It had started in the alley behind Flourish & Blotts, the summer after sixth year, his mum off doing some female thing while he went to get textbooks. His memory of that day had a peculiar clarity, perhaps enhanced by the flood of adrenaline and its hormonal brethren that had blindsided him when Sirius grabbed him and pulled him off the street.
It had to be that surge of power in his blood that left him on top after a surprisingly brief wrestling match, the taller boy on the ground underneath him in the gritty half-light. Only a staggering volume of mind-bending chemicals could have prompted rutting against the willing body beneath, which sparked the orgasms, which had somehow led to this.
Whatever this was.
He’d despised the tall, handsome, gilded Gryffindor, but that was old news.
Now Severus had Sirius Black sticking his rich, perfect, pureblood arse at him and asking to be buggered. He would’ve crowed with triumph, but all he could think about was how precious little time he had left.
For two months he'd watched Sirius across the Great Hall or on the grounds with his friends, vacillating between elation that he had something those bastards would never have, and the gnawing awareness that they had much more than he ever could.
It was so dark now that he couldn’t see detail; there was no moon to shine down on that white skin, but he could feel the moon of Sirius’ arse. So smooth, rounded, and muscular it was that he regretted doing this now, blindly, with only his fingertips to guide him. It wasn’t what he would have wished for. He wanted to memorize the sight of it, not strain to see. He wanted to get down on his knees, rain kisses on Sirius’ bum, beg him not to give their secret away. He couldn’t.
Instead, he slapped the offered arse – not nearly as hard as Sirius had bitten him. “Bend your knees. I’m quite large, I know, but even my cock can’t make up for your freakishly long legs.”
“What?” Sirius’ pale face showed vaguely over his shoulder, framed by waves of dark hair. “You mean you’re not going to get me ready? With your fingers?”
Nervous, he blurted, “I thought I didn’t have to!”
“But I want you to.”
Severus was about to say something scathing, something about how Black couldn’t always have his way, and he would have, too, if only he could have thought of something scathing to say.
“Come on. I want to feel your fingers slide in and touch me on the inside. You’ll do that for me, won’t you?”
Oh, yes. Yes, he would. Suddenly the mere thought of pleasing Sirius that way, toying with the most private, most taboo place on his body, made Severus redden. Fireworks of blood rose to his skin, stinging his cheeks and chest. Carefully he rubbed his fingertips against an opening that felt far too small for a finger, much less a cock. The idea of stretching that hole wide snagged his breath. One fingertip went in a bit almost by itself. He pushed. The spell had made the path slick, and his index finger slid all the way in.
The inside of Sirius’ body felt smooth, strange. “Is . . . is that all right?”
“Yeah. Just . . . I’m cold.”
“What’d you do with your clothes?”
“Locker room. I ran out when I saw you go by and waited here.”
The one-way windows in the Quidditch locker rooms were a Hogwarts spell no student had ever been able to reverse, not for lack of trying. It couldn’t have been much fun for Sirius to wait behind the shed, waving his arse in the breeze.
“Grab the edges of my cloak.” Severus curled against the other boy’s side and let his voluminous cloak shelter both of them as he put another finger into that tight space. He didn’t know what else to do, so he slid them in and out, hoping that would feel good. There was a small bump along the way, and he rubbed at it. He was about to say something, ask what it was, though Sirius probably didn’t know anyhow, when a sharp whimper almost made him pull his fingers out.
“Don’t stop! Touch that again!”
Obediently he did. This drew a moan. Soon he was thrusting his fingers hard and fast, clinging half-over Sirius’ back, pushing his cock against a warm thigh.
Sirius was almost babbling by the time Severus remembered there was more to this. Slowly he pulled out his fingers and spread the slippery stuff on himself. It took an effort not to simply keep on pulling until he came all over Sirius’ arse, another idea that burned him to the core. He fitted the tip of his cock in the right spot and leaned his weight against the resistance.
“Are you . . .” he almost didn’t want to hear the answer. The tight circle was squeezing the head of his cock, sending waves of need up his spine. He didn’t want to stop.
“Fine. The spell. It’s . . . oh!”
Severus let out a whimper of his own when the head popped through and that tightness surrounded his shaft. A breeze chilled the sweat at his hairline, but the rest of him was as hot as the arse around his cock. Heat traveled fast through naked flesh. If he didn’t move soon, he was going to combust where he stood.
He pushed in all the way. The wind was picking up. The hem of his cloak slapped his bare legs. He thought the wind could pick him up, him and Sirius both. There was no rhythm except instinct. He gripped that arse with a determination borne of wanting to hold on, hold on . . . but it was no use. Sirius was pushing back, and he was groaning out words.
“Touch me! Give me – harder!”
Then Sirius gave up and grabbed his hand. Fingers entwined, they worked Sirius’ cock with frantic awkwardness until he shouted out his relief. Severus wrapped his arms around Sirius’ waist and drove in as hard as he could, both elated and sorry when he plunged forward for the last time and orgasm swept him.
“That was fucking brilliant,” announced Sirius in an unsteady voice. The half-moon was over the trees now, and its faint bluish light showed the flush on his cheeks.
The sweet lethargy that had weakened his knees as he slumped over Sirius had lasted only moments. Now his stomach was in knots that climbed all the way up into his throat. Perhaps Sirius’ strange notion of telling his friends was already forgotten. “Yes.”
“Shit, it’s late. I’m supposed to study with Remus. Accio clothes!” Sirius struggled into his trousers, hopping from one foot to the other until Severus put out a hand to steady him. “Right here, tomorrow, same time. It’ll be my turn. I can’t wait to fuck you. Maybe we should do this inside the shed. That way we could have light, at least.”
Severus didn’t say anything. Sirius had proven himself eminently reliable about anything outrageous -- the more outrageous the better. Be it assignations or pranks, he would always show up to do what he said he would. No, not this time, please, not with their secret. Sirius wouldn’t end it all. He wouldn't. He couldn't.
“Look, it’s going to be okay. I’ve got firewhiskey to soften him up.”
Severus didn’t have to ask which him. With a quick kiss, Sirius was gone. Severus walked back slowly, taking deep draughts of sex and Sirius as the warm scent rose from inside his cloak. He had to make it last. He’d just spent his late and unlamented virginity in the arse of the one person he wanted most, likely taking Sirius’ as well, though Sirius had never said so.
Still, he was not fool enough to be sure that tomorrow would come.
The next day was a long one, made even longer by an agony of waiting. Trying to keep a short leash on his hope, Severus went to their meeting place. He was not precisely surprised when twenty minutes passed without sight of Black, but he felt sick nonetheless.
Black had done it. He’d told Potter and Potter spewed vitriol. Severus could only imagine what Potter had said. And Black, weak-willed and spineless, had given in to someone he cared more for than Severus Snape. Had tossed Severus aside like greasy trash, the words Black used to taunt him with.
He wouldn’t take this lying down. He’d find a way to make Black pay, but not right now. He was tired, too tired even to go to the Great Hall for dinner. He plodded back to the castle with barely enough energy to undress for bed.
By shamming illness, he managed to stay in the Slytherin dorms for two days without going to see the new mediwitch. Madam Pomfrey was so busy that any student willing to eat the milksop house elves brought to the indisposed was considered to be genuinely ill, and got two days’ grace from classes. All the energy he’d spent on his liaisons with Black had taken him away from his studies, and he went back to his books with a vengeance, even though he ought to be plotting Black’s downfall.
On the third day, however, he knew he had to go back to class. It was fortunate he didn’t have double classes with those particular Gryffindors anymore. He didn’t feel like listening to their jeers or looking at their ugly faces.
He hoped that Black at least had enough decency not to do any of the jeering himself.
Bad enough he’d have Evans in Advanced Potions tomorrow. She was a good partner, and she’d always been all right to him. But Potter’d finally managed to get her attention. Likely she’d know everything, too. At least her goody-two-shoes ways would keep her from actually spitting on him.
If he timed his meals right, he thought, he could make a few more days without running into any of them. It was not cowardice – it was strategy.
His strategy was a good one, but in the end it failed to take into consideration the flying tackle. Coming up on lights-out, he was trudging along a tapestry-concealed shortcut to Slytherin when Black appeared from behind at a dead run and launched himself at Severus, knocking him off his feet. They both went rolling in the resultant cloud of dust, for this hall seemed never to have seen Filch’s broom, and both shouted at once.
“Unhand me, you oaf!”
“Where’ve you been?”
He scrambled out of the tangle of their robes and crabwalked until he could get to his feet. “Get away from me! Haven’t you done enough?”
“Enough of what? I’ve just about had enough, I can tell you!” Black’s scowl was most certainly black. His robes were greyed with streaks of dirt. “Here I stand up to James for you, and you make yourself scarce!”
“You . . . what?” Surely he must have hit his head when he went down.
Black stared at him, dark brows clenched into one, until the truth dawned. “You really didn’t think I would!” He was incredulous. “I let you fuck me and you thought I’d crumble like a day-old biscuit!”
“You didn’t show up!”
“I was late. It wasn’t my fault.” Something very like a pout softened his lower lip. “James was an utter prat. I had no idea there were so many ways to try to break an Imperius.” Sirius rolled his eyes. “I spent the last two nights on the couch in the common room. We haven’t spoken in three days. I don’t -- ” he stopped, looking lost.
“I’ll cover him with pustules. I’ll hex him into stone!”
The outburst startled Severus as much as it did Black, who took a deep breath. “No, don’t. He’ll come round.” At Severus’ disbelieving look, he said, “I know it. Besides, we have more important things to take care of right now.” The last was said with a slow smile pulling at the corners of that full mouth. “You owe me. Your arse is mine.”
No, he thought. No. It can’t ever work.
He knew as if it were written across the sky that involvement with Sirius must end in disaster. They were both in over their heads. It wasn’t just a secret fuck any more, it was now a possible alliance between a golden Gryffindor and a despised Slytherin – and even worse, between two boys. If Severus didn’t ruin everything himself, Potter would find a way, just to keep Black’s boyfriend from getting any dirt on Potter’s robes.
He needed to be pragmatic. The last two days had been bad; if he got used to Black being around all the time . . .
He could finish this here and now. He didn’t even have to say anything. All he had to do was walk away.
He should walk away.
They ended up in what must have been a professor’s office at one time, with shelves of old books, a thick coating of dust, and rodent droppings on the floor, a comforting sign that Filch and his brace of manky cats never came here. It spoke volumes for Severus’ state of mind that he hadn’t the least interest in the books. He lit a dozen candle stubs while Sirius set a Quietus and claimed the desk as his own.
“Come on. Let’s not worry about anything right now.” He pulled Severus close, hooking a foot behind Severus’ knees.
The first kisses were skittish and uncertain. Severus kept his eyes closed. It could still explode in his face. There was polyjuice; there were glamours. Did Potter know about the ridge of scar behind Sirius’ left ear? His fingers traced it gently as Sirius sighed against Severus’ neck, teasing a bit of skin between his teeth. Severus couldn't help the way his heart rose right along with his cock. There was no one else in the world who knew that spot. He wrapped his arms as far as they could go around Sirius, the real Sirius, who really wanted to be there -- chest to chest, face to face, with Severus. Who tightened his hold on Severus’ hips until they were crotch to crotch, rocking and kissing. Sirius smelled of dust and things just out of reach. He tasted of vanilla pudding.
“I want to fuck you so bad.” The words, with their warm breath, climbed inside his ear.
That killed all his interest. “I. I. I have a headache,” he managed, dragging away from Sirius’ embrace. It was completely ludicrous, but it was the only thing he could dig up in his once-fertile mind. He’d heard his mother whisper it more than once. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Sirius looking at him curiously.
“I let you.”
Sirius was here to get off, he knew that much. It was the only imaginable reason he’d ever approached Severus after that afternoon in Hogsmeade. Boys who were . . . that way didn’t advertise. You couldn’t just walk up and ask a boy for a date. You’d get a black eye for your trouble. Even the popular Sirius Black wouldn’t risk that for no good reason. Severus had spent the first week of school terrified that Sirius would tell everyone; the whole school would hear, and there was no knowing what might happen.
Severus could tell too, but who would believe him? Thank Merlin that Sirius had decided he wanted something else.
“You really don’t want to, do you?”
The idea of bending over and being taken, having someone shove inside his body, made his guts turn to sludge. But he had to do it. Somebody like Sirius, so popular and sure of what he wanted, could find someone else. A girl, any day, if he couldn’t find another boy. The rest of the term yawned ahead of Severus, every day like the last two. But he couldn’t find enough voice to say he’d do it.
“Well, you could’ve said. I’m hardly going to, to . . .” Sirius stopped, stared. “You never thought that I’d –“
“No. Not that!” Sirius wouldn’t try to force him. He knew that. Which was a change from the old days, when Severus would have believed anything of him. He knew better now. “But girls get tossed away when they won’t.” Cursing his fevered brain, Severus cringed inwardly.
“Not if a bloke cares at all.” Sirius cuffed him across the back of the head. He didn’t seem to realize that that both of them had let something slip. “If I didn’t know what a suspicious, twisted prick you are, I’d be insulted. Hell, I am insulted. I really think you ought to make it up to me.”
‘Flirtatious’ was the only word for the glance from under heavy lashes and the slight smile, lips barely parted. He wanted to lick between those lips just to run his tongue over the straight white teeth. Yes, the other boy had some plan in mind that involved him – otherwise, why tell Potter? Certainly, Sirius was staking out his independence, and using Severus to do it. But he’d as much as said he cared.
A laugh burst out of him, more at the sharp pleasure of that thought than Sirius’ idiotic attempt at a joke. Once again, his mouth made noise before consulting his brain. “I’m sure I can find a way to heal your hurts.” His voice seemed to have slipped into a lower register.
"I’m all yours.”Sirius spread his legs invitingly and leaned back, palms on the desk and neck exposed, hair hanging down behind him. His taut body was showcased by the drape of his robes. He was the picture of abandon. He was still dressed.
All. Yours. The words teased inside his head. By the time they really registered, Sirius was rolling his hips, looking as if he enjoyed the pull and pinch of his now-snug trousers across his cock. Severus was hard, painfully hard. Just watching Sirius pose for his benefit, flaunting that dark beauty, thick cock outlined against his flies, made Severus groan faintly. He had to get hold of himself. He had to get his hands on Sirius. “Then strip.” The words could barely wriggle out of his tight throat. “I want to see every bit of you.”
The first thing he saw was a provocative grin.
Severus spread his own feet a bit. He felt off-balance, like he could pitch flat on his face any moment. Moving his feet had no appreciable effect on that problem. Sirius ran a hand up one long, lean thigh, the motion pulling his trousers so tight that Severus could see the ridge of his cockhead through the thin material. Didn’t Sirius ever wear pants? With a lithe shrug, the black robes slithered off and Sirius let them drop in a puff of dust.
Severus hadn’t realized how dry his mouth was until it moistened again at the sound of Sirius pulling off his tie. The rustle of silk across cotton made him shiver inside his skin. He wanted to bite the buttons off that pristine white shirt with his crooked teeth, wet it with saliva as he licked Sirius’ hard nipples through it. He wanted to tear it just to hear the fabric rip. He wanted to stain it with his come. He wanted to kiss Sirius until the other boy never looked at anyone else.
Instead, he watched wide-eyed while Sirius thumbed open the buttons, still massaging around his cock with the other hand but not quite touching it. It was so silent in the room he could hear Sirius’ nails scratch against the fabric. There was only a sprinkle of hair around the small, pinkish nipples. When the shirt hung open, the candlelight glinted from pale skin and the fine dark trail that started under the bellybutton and led down.
“Wha – what?” His lips weren’t quite in tandem with his tongue.
“Talk to me. I’m lonesome all the way over here.” His look could have burned off Highland fog.
How could Severus talk when he could hardly move his mouth? “I. Don’t.” He was an idiot. “You’re so. You make me – I want you.”
“Yeah. I like that.”
“I’ll bet.” He recovered a little. “You’re a show-off. You want me to look at your body. You want me to see you,” he lowered his voice deliberately, “naked.”
Sirius made a small noise that sounded big in the narrow room. His Adam’s apple dipped sharply on a hard swallow. “Tell me what you want.” He inched four fingertips under the waistband.
Breathless. “Show me your cock.”
Instead of undoing the placket, Sirius shoved the waistband down his hips until the head of his cock poked out the top. “Is that what you want?” His voice had a dangerous edge to it.
Transfixed, Severus didn’t even realize he was moving until he dropped to his knees between Sirius’ trainers. “You’re out of uniform, Black.”
“What are you going to do about it?”
He leaned forward, absorbed in the musky smell of want, and pressed his lips to the soft skin. “This.” There was so little cock available to his tongue, he had to be very careful about his attentions. He took broad licks of the arched ridge. Slippery, tasteless precome mixed with his saliva. He closed his front teeth together and let their hardness rub against the delicate glans. As he did, Sirius slipped down an inch or two – his knees had given out, and it took a moment for him to prop himself back up with his hands.
Severus couldn’t help smiling as he looked up, tongue still pointed at his prize.
“You wait,” said Sirius, his tone promising retribution that words could not say.
Lick. “Mhmmmm.” Lick. Up, down and around. Into the tiny crevice, even behind a bit, where he could barely get his tongue between cock and belly. The muscular abdomen clenched back, trying to give his tongue room, trying to feed him more. Short, coarse hairs rubbed against his chin.
A deep moan vibrated the belly against his cheek as Sirius reached down, trying to undo his belt. Severus nuzzled them gently away. That was when he knew for sure that he’d lost his mind. He’d done this once before, but only as repayment, and it was done with the least effort and greatest speed possible. He hadn’t even taken the head in his mouth; a few swift strokes and a touch of his tongue had been enough to bring Sirius off, come squirting over his hand. Never would he have offered such a thing. It was beneath him.
He’d even taunted Sirius about his lack of staying power. Sirius had just looked at him and laughed. “Oh, I know how to have a good time,” he’d said, grinning. It was almost like he knew exactly how many ingredients Severus had alphabetised in his head when Sirius blew him, his eyes shut against the sight of his cock sliding in and out of Sirius’ hot, wet mouth.
This time . . . this time he wanted to make it last. The pulse in his own cock faded into the background, a constant thrum guiding the movements of his mouth. He slid both his hands up the inside seams of the grey trousers, dragging his nails. That act brought another moan in its wake. Tilting his head back so he could see what he was doing, he blew gently on the wet redness. Sirius’ face was alight in the golden shadows, his faint evening beard nearly matching the color of his heavy-lidded eyes.
“I, God, please, suck me.” Mindless words tumbled from Sirius’ swollen lips.
“Taking Muggle deities in vain?”
A groan. “I’d take anything in vain right now, damn you.”
“Shh.” As the open trousers shuffled down hairy legs, Severus examined the bobbing shaft. He hadn’t got a good look before. Furtive wanks in dark corners with pricks poking from the shield of clothing, and the previous grudging blowjob, hadn’t shown him this. It wasn’t overlong, but it was thick – too thick, he thought. He’d been right not to let Sirius fuck him. It was so hard it looked like it could break off in his hand, yet it wasn’t all veins and knob like his own. Like the rest of Sirius, it was sleek and beautiful, perfectly formed.
Experimentally, he brushed a cheek against it. The skin was softer than his face and felt wonderful against his lips, hot and sweet. He sucked kisses up and down the shaft while Sirius’ fingers cramped on the edge of the desk. If it occurred to Severus that this was an unwanted, decrepit desk, left over from some probably worthless teacher like the rest Hogwarts pulled, and not even a bit like an altar, he didn’t let it stop his hungry mouth.
A brace of balls, the most precious part of a man’s anatomy and twice as sensitive, rested moist and full in his palm. He felt trusted in this, even though he knew it was just sex, and naked was what sex was all about. Bare, fragile body parts were ultimately the yes or the no. Up until now, with Sirius cupping his face and the other hand locked white on the desk as though the undertow might haul him away, his answer had been no. He was beginning to understand how there could be yes.
He wanted to deserve yes.
As fast as his mouth covered the cock and angled down, he came back up, gagging and teary-eyed. His throat told him in no uncertain terms that he didn’t know how to give a blowjob.
At first he thought Sirius was telling him it was easy when it damned well was not. That was bollocks, because Sirius was no expert himself, what the hell did he know? The long fingers wiping moisture gently from his cheekbone and smoothing his hair away changed his mind. He was determined to make it as good as he could -- for his partner, at least, even if it was the most ridiculous, stupid, annoying excuse for sex ever known. He grabbed the offending organ firmly just above the vulnerable balls.
Above his head, air whistled between teeth. “It can’t get away by itself,” Sirius assured him weakly.
Perhaps a bit too firmly, then. “Sorry.”
More careful now, he lowered his head, taking only what was comfortable, if sucking on something that threatened to unhinge his jaw could be considered comfortable. His hand was narrow, but wide enough on the warm length of cock to stop him going too far down. A couple of passes and he was rewarded with luxurious moans that resonated within him. They reminded Severus that his cock was still hard, thank you, and wouldn’t mind some attention too, but he couldn’t concentrate on that, not when he wanted to finish Sirius properly.
A couple more up-downs and he realized that his cock was once again providing the rhythm. Going down on Sirius was almost like helping himself along. The beat of his blood became so loud inside him that he was caught up, moved with it, felt it on his lips and tongue and in his belly. The obscene slurping noises of his own mouth were driving him mad, as was the drool that slid from his lips and tickled on its way down his throat. There was taste and heat and smell that wouldn’t let him go.
When Sirius yelled and shot his mouth full of spunk, he didn’t even try to swallow, just let it dribble back out, using the extra wetness to coax every drop free, thinking it would help him, too. But he was still filled with the throbbing, so intense that it hurt. It strained and pulled and made him whimper piteously. It wanted out.
Hands, his hands, he needed them now. He abandoned Sirius to failing gasps and a down-the-desk slide to cup one hand tight around his cock, one hand not so tight around his balls. He curled over his desperation and let it spurt into his pants, into his helping hands. The release was a strobing pattern of ecstasy that flashed in his brain. Sirius pulled Severus close, and his shudders rocked them both.
It wasn’t until later, after Sirius charmed them both free of sticky residue, that Severus said, “So you really told him.”
“Yeah, I really did.” Sirius shrugged and grinned tiredly. “I’m damned well sleeping in my own bed tonight, though.”
The next few weeks were difficult. The one bright spot was Potions. That Thursday, after he’d silently laid out his equipment, all the while pretending Evans wasn’t standing within arm’s length, she’d passed him a note when Slughorn’s back was turned. It said, “I’m glad Sirius likes you.” Dumbfounded, he looked up. There was a small smile, a shrug, and they both went back to prep work.
She was just a girl. She didn’t know anything. Plus, she was Muggle-born, and must not realize how the Wizarding World looked down on shirtlifters. Severus shouldn’t have felt like he’d been given some kind of gift, but he did.
It was very strange to have Sirius walking next to him out on the grounds or stopping him to talk in the hall between classes. Sometimes Lupin was with him. He wondered if Potter grilled Lupin about what was said. Strangely enough, he didn’t hear any derision from the other Gryffindors. Black was so above it all that he could do anything, apparently.
Sirius’ brother looked at him oddly in passing, but didn’t say anything. He wondered if Regulus guessed about Sirius. A few Slytherins made rude comments, but he told them to fuck off.
That Potter prick still wasn’t speaking to Sirius, and it was taking its toll on both of their tempers.
“I don’t trust him. He’s planning something, I know it.”
“Don’t worry.” Sirius pulled his collar and tie loose and rewound his red and gold scarf loosely round his neck. “I told Remus to tell him that if he hexed you, he’d find himself swinging by his bollocks from the Astronomy Tower.”
Severus rounded on him, the winter’s first snow squeaking under his boots. “I don’t need your protection!”
“Oh, you don’t need me, eh?” It was almost a snarl. “Fine, then. See if I’m waiting at your back.”
“You oversized git! It’s you I’m worried about!”
“Oh. James wouldn’t hurt me.” Sirius didn’t sound completely sure. “But I didn’t think he’d be angry for this long, either.”
“What are we doing out here, anyway? I’m freezing my arse off.” They’d walked halfway around the lake, near a small copse of bare trees.
“I wanted someplace private. You never know what kind of spells are hanging about in there.” He jerked his head at the castle.
Severus raised a brow. “I don’t see a comfortable spot in which to indulge ourselves. You may be open to the charm of the great outdoors, but I prefer comfort. A roaring fire. Carpeting. A plush desk chair. Perhaps, someday, even a bed.”
“You’re such a girl!”
“And your brain’s below the waist. Not that I don’t think that’s a good thing.”
“I’ll show you brains.”
Sirius leered as Severus blew him a raspberry. “No, that’s not what I meant. Although . . . it’s a damned good idea.”
Severus threw a half-arsed punch. Sirius caught it one handed, cackling.
“Listen to me. I’ve figured it all out. James will have to get over his snit if I . . .” he hesitated a moment, looking over at Severus as if he still wasn’t quite sure that he wanted to spill the beans. He was still holding Severus’ closed hand. “The four of us, we have this secret, and it’s really important. You have to promise me, okay? Promise you won’t tell anybody, no matter what happens.”
The four of us. Severus barely disguised his wince by ducking his face as if to swing a strand of hair out of his eyes. “You don’t trust me.” His voice was almost as sharp as the bright afternoon air. “Go back to your friends, then. Don’t do me any favours.” He pulled his hand away, stuffing it in a pocket, and turned away as if to leave.
“Quit pouting, you wanker.” It was the first time Sirius had sounded genuinely angry with him since . . . before. “This is more important than just you and me.”
Then it had to be very important indeed. Severus had never had a real friend, much less a lover. He wasn’t sure they were exactly lovers, but he was beginning to wish that it were so. He wanted to be at Black’s side. He would listen to any plan to further that. With a nod, he bade Sirius go on.
“It’s about Remus.”
“A secret about Lupin?” How could that quiet, unobtrusive boy carry a secret so big that it involved all four of them? So serious that no one should ever know? He was so pitifully weak and unhealthy that he was excused from classes at least once a month!
Sirius seemed to come to a final decision. “Remus Lupin is a werewolf.”
He was startled into laughter, but after only a few moments the genuine amusement dried on his lips. “You – you can’t be –“
Instead of taking Severus up on the pun, his reply was grim. “Oh, yes, I am.” His stare was unbreakable as Severus took a step back. “Every month we have a little get-together at the full moon, and run the Forbidden Forest with our mate, Moony. We don’t go as people, because we wouldn’t live long that way.”
Severus felt himself go cold under the protection of his cloak. “Then . . . how?” he whispered.
“We do the Animagus transformation. Like this.”
Suddenly, to the accompaniment of the sound of buttons popping and fabric tearing, there stood before him a huge black dog, draped surreally in Sirius’ clothing, or what was left of it. Trousers pooled around a pair of shoes that a dog’s shanks stuck out of. The heavy cloak was rucked up along the wide back by a long, plumy tail. The dog woofed, a low, rumbling noise that promised howls that could be heard for miles. When Severus didn’t respond, it nosed at his leg.
Instinctively he reached down – not very far down – to rub its soft ears.
The dog headbutted him, licked his hand, and turned back into someone he recognized. Severus wasn’t sure how long it would take him to only see the boy again.
“Bollocks. Never did that with my clothes on before,” Sirius said, repairing the shredded trousers. “Just couldn’t see walking all the way out here with nothing on underneath.”
His wink reminded Severus of the last time he’d come outside naked. The rush of memory was almost enough to blot out the turmoil in his belly. He ignored both. “You can all do that? Even Pettigrew?”
“Yep. And you’re going to, too. When James knows you know the secret, and you meet us on the next full moon night, he’ll know he can’t fight you or ignore you. You’ll be too dangerous.” Sirius’ hard look softened a bit. “He’s not stupid. He’ll know he has to accept you.”
Severus could think of a lot of ways this could go wrong, but he had no chance of being accepted by their little gang of thugs any other way. And Sirius needed him to be accepted. “All right.” Severus had an idea he was agreeing to more things than he understood right now. It solidified when Sirius pulled him in for a kiss that nearly melted away the chill still squirming inside him.
Becoming an Animagus wasn’t as easy as it looked. It came as a surprise, since the other three had done it. Perhaps their ineptitude wasn’t as pernicious as he’d assumed. The worst part was, he would have to do it without Sirius. Trying to meditate with the other boy in the same room was like trying to brew a delicate potion while being swarmed with doxies. It wasn’t that Sirius did things to distract him. Sirius was a distraction.
They’d both stayed at Hogwarts over the Christmas holidays to get this Animagus transformation sorted. Now the students would be coming back tomorrow. They were getting nowhere.
Severus sat in a full Lotus position in a low, straight-backed hardwood chair, trying to block out awareness of everything around him, repeating the ornate Latin words of the spell under his breath while staring at a candle flame. Within moments, his eyes locked onto Sirius’ restless hands, long, slender fingers that he could feel counting his ribs even though they were ten feet away.
“I can’t do this while you’re in here!” he burst out, trying to clamp anger over his arousal.
“What?” Sirius had obviously been far away himself. “Why?”
To Severus’ horror, a blush spread over his cheeks. He knew the instant Sirius spotted it and came to the right conclusion.
“Look who’s having a bit of trouble!” he crowed. “Here, let me help you.”
Before he could untangle his legs, a firm hand was pushing aside his robes and squeezing his cock from half-mast to full sail. It was completely available to Sirius’ expert touch. He wished those three nincompoops had figured out how McGonagall made her clothes appear and disappear with her. It would save all of them a lot of trouble. “Stop that!” Severus cried. “I’m trying to do something important here!” For some reason, his insistence lacked conviction.
“Me too.” Sirius’ voice was amazingly bland. “Now, if you’ll just calm down, I can get on with it. Then you’ll be able to concentrate. Let me see . . . yes, I think I can solve this problem. Get your hands out of the way.” He lifted Severus’ hands up behind his neck and folded his own over them, urging them to clasp. “Now I’ve got room to work.”
“What are you about, Black?” It wasn’t that uncomfortable with his hands behind his head – no more so than being in an insane, ridiculous Eastern religious pose in the first place. He could get out of it any time he wanted, or at least any time he wanted to tip out of the chair and break his head. His wand was in his sleeve. He didn’t have to entertain hands opening his robes and baring his privates to wave in the air, or teeth applying gentle bites to his nipples. He could protect himself.
He just didn’t seem to want to.
“I have an idea,” replied Sirius. Running a finger across Severus’ lips, he continued down his neck, awakening gooseflesh, then toyed casually with a nipple he’d bitten. It was plump and turning red. “I think you need some motivation.”
“M-motivation?” The attention paid to Severus’ nipples made him want to squirm, but he really couldn’t.
“Yes. I think that I won’t let you touch me until you learn how.”
Sirius took a step back, but he was still close – close enough that when he pulled out his cock, it was practically under Severus’ nose. Awkwardly he tried to lean toward it.
“Oh, no.” Sirius shook his dick at him like a warning finger. “I said, no touching. No touching, no fucking, no licking, no sucking.” His hand pumped up and down with the words. “Which doesn’t mean I won’t touch you. I need you to be relaxed, not to go round the twist. So I’ll touch you, all right. But before I do, I need a little something to keep me going.” He fingered his foreskin lazily, pulling it down so that the skin was tight and glossy, then pushing it back up to make a wrinkled cowl that almost hid the rosy glans.
“Here’s how it’ll go. When you learn to transform, I’ll make it worth your while. You can tie me up. Wouldn’t you like that? I’d be helpless.”
The matter-of-fact way he said it made Severus dizzy. He didn’t answer. He was watching a tiny drop form at the tip of Sirius’ cock.
“You’ll touch me anywhere you want, any way you want to. You’ll tie a blindfold on me so I can’t see what’s coming. You’ll fuck me until I can’t scream any more. Until you come so hard the bottles rattle in the Three Broomsticks.” He leaned in close, whispering in Severus’ ear. “You can come on my face.”
Oh, God. How did Sirius know that Severus wanted him at his mercy? Those too-perceptive grey eyes hidden behind a swath of fabric, that fit body stretched out over a bed, there for him to use. All his.
In his mind, he saw himself full and riding, dripping with sweat and glowing with pleasure. No, no, he didn’t want to be fucked! But . . . it would be safe that way, and he could find out why it was that Sirius moaned so soulfully and thrust back so hard. And when he came, it would be hot and messy all over that beautiful pale skin, creamy streaks on that flushed face . . .
“You’re – you’re sick,” he said harshly. “Where do you get this shite from?”
“My esteemed father has a fine collection, and aren’t you glad?” Smirk.
The rich truly were different. They could obviously afford better pornography. “No! I don’t want any of that!”
“Okay. Don’t learn to transform.”
Casually Sirius licked his palm, tongue running up each finger. Severus followed the movement with his eyes. He wanted to do that, moisten the skin, suck the long fingers. He watched Sirius watching him from the spaces between. The tip of his tongue crept out along his bottom lip. He tried to stifle a whine. “Come on, I’m so hard. Please, Sirius,” he whispered, too excited to feel shame.
“You look so good sitting there, watching me. I love your eyes, all big and black in the candlelight, seeing my cock, wanting it.” Sirius worked himself harder now, as if he couldn’t help it. “I’ll make you come, I promise. Just as soon as – as soon as . . .”
And then his hips were jerking, come spraying between them, splashing the edges of his robes, raining onto Severus’ stiff shaft and the tender, hot tip. He forgot thought, he forgot breath, he forgot everything but the dire need that consumed him. He almost had a hand around himself, blessed touch sorely desired, when Sirius got there first, his hand coated with spunk and sliding fast and easy. Severus moaned uncontrollably, rocking his hips into the tight sheath of palm and fingers, flailing a bit before clenching a fist in Sirius’ hair.
“I promised you. Trust me.”
Suddenly all Severus could see was Sirius’ stormy eyes, their pupils huge, the black ring accenting the narrow line of grey. All he could feel was Sirius’ hand, stroking him into infinity. He cried out his release while his cock jerked and sputtered; it seemed that he would never stop coming. He was still catching his breath when Sirius planted a slow, gentle kiss on his lips and began to clean them both up.
“Uh . . . do you need some help getting out of that?”
Severus took a foot in both of his hands and tried, shakily, to move it. “I think I’m – my feet are asleep.” Between the two of them, they managed to untangle Severus and set his feet back in order. “I don’t think I’ll be doing that again,” he said, looking with some distaste at his traitorous appendages. “I’ll find some other way to transform.”
“You do that,” said Sirius as he brushed Severus’ now-stringy hair back from his forehead. “Don’t forget what’s waiting for you when you do. I’ll just let you practise for a bit, shall I?” He winked as he waved down the privacy charms. “I think I can make it to the kitchens. I’m starving.” And Sirius was gone.
Severus had been tired before; now he was nearly comatose. He’d been up late last night reading arcane transfiguration tomes in the hopes that they could give him some hint of what would make this happen. Sirius was singularly unhelpful the whole time. He’d shrugged and said, “It just happens. You think about it, and it happens. I think it depends more on your innate power than anything else.” It was magic tailor-made for reckless hooligans like Sirius. It was not at all compatible, it seemed, with wizards like Severus.
He settled back in his chair as comfortably as he could, shunning the Lotus position. There’d be no wild leaps of magic tonight. A huge yawn took over his jaws, prying them open until they creaked. Until Sirius came back with food, he was going nowhere. He stared at the candle from beneath drooping lids.
Slowly a dream crept over him. He knew it was a dream, because it was impossible that it should be anything else. He was shrinking. Everything about him was becoming shorter – his arms, his legs, his face. He could feel his face flattening. Oh, no, he was becoming a garden gnome! He hated garden gnomes! For fuck’s sake, stop this right now! he shouted. But no words came out. And he would’ve shrieked and shrieked until somebody paid attention, except there was no one else there. He could see that.
Everything was so very clear, sharply delineated in a way he’d never noticed before, that edges seemed to shimmer. He remembered a candle, but this room was lit up like midday. Surely he could see himself, or at least parts thereof. But that didn’t seem to work. Carefully, as if his head might fall off, he looked over one shoulder. He turned . . . and turned . . . until he had a hundred-eighty-degree view of the room behind him. The sight nauseated him.
What had he become?
Even more carefully, he looked to the front again, and concentrated on the rest of his body. He itched as if a thousand tiny pins prickled him. It was like growing in pubic hair, except all over. When he tried to scratch, he didn’t have hands. His handless arms brushed over his sides to no effect, bones knocking the floor when he tried to resettle them.
Because he was standing on the floor, as little as it felt like “standing.” His legs couldn’t be more than inches long. If he had hands, he could’ve dragged his knuckles on the ground. Experimentally, he lifted one arm. Now he could see it. Feathers! He was covered in feathers! He was a bird! Hopping with pure joy, he tumbled over onto his side, and spent a goodly while trying to right himself again. His tiny little legs and feet – toes -- were not of much use on the smooth boards, but finally his claws caught and he pushed with an arm – wing.
Stretching his wings, he kept the tips on the floor for balance. They were full of power; he could feel it. There was something inside him that demanded he push. Push. Push. Flap. . . flap . . . flap flap flap and the air curled under him, lifted him, and he rose off the floor in a surge of elation like he’d never known. There was no possible way it could be real, because not even sliding his cock into Sirius felt this good. Wildly he careened upwards and managed to make a correction to avoid slamming into a wall, all the while screaming and laughing and pounding the air.
Then something caught his attention. There was an odd spot in the wall, and he could see outside this room. The rolling lawns of Hogwarts spread before his eyes, shadows plucked from the light of a half-moon and faded by the reflection from snow. They called to him, whispered into his keen ears and shouted in his blood. Fly, fly! With a cry of determination, he dove at the not-wall, gaining speed in his descent.
The world exploded.
The yelling made his head hurt. Or maybe not. When the yelling stopped, his head still hurt. Shards of pain drove into his skull as his body was turned over.
“Severus, thank Merlin you’re awake. What happened?”
All things considered, he’d rather still be asleep. And how the hell was he supposed to know what happened? A spell tingled its way over him, pulling some of the arrows that pierced his skull.
“Whaz loog lieg?” he slurred.
“It looks like your nose is broken, that’s what.” Sirius lifted his head with careful hands and placed something under his neck, which helped him breathe a bit easier. “Reparo!”
A small crunch, inside. “You figgsed by dose wi –“ he gargled a little, and spat to one side.
“Yeah, yeah. Tell it to the Wizengamot. I about pissed my pants, you lying here in a pool of blood!”
“Was . . . a dream.” The illusion, the feeling, wrapped around him again, warm and happy.
“A dream didn’t break your nose. A dream didn’t strip you naked. And falling off your chair wouldn’t cold-cock you, I don’t think.”
“Never do.” It almost hurt to lift the corners of his mouth. He suspected there was dried blood stuck to his face.
“You prick! I thought I’d be seeing Thestrals tomorrow. Something happened in here.”
“Was flying,” he muttered distantly.
“Flying?” Sirius’ gaze sharpened, shifted round the room.
As Severus watched, he rose slowly and walked over to the window. That prodded a memory. Oh, yes – oh, no. He winced. But, wait. It couldn’t be . . . could it?
“Holy Grail!” His hushed voice vibrated strangely in the air. “Severus, you did it. You really did it!”
Doing an odd jig, he skipped back to where Severus lay. Several delicate grey things wafted down from his fingers nearly onto Severus’ face.
“The window’s cracked. You broke the window when you tried to get out.”
He closed his eyes, not sure he should believe, then opened them again. It wasn’t magic. It was a miracle. With a trembling hand, he touched one of the tiny feathers on the floor. This time, the pain didn’t stop him from smiling.
He was beginning to think of it as My Room . . . or possibly even Our Room. Sirius was off flying with his friends. Potter must have softened since Christmas. Severus was here flying by himself. Well, he would be soon, anyway. He’d taken a mirror into the old office and preened in front of it for a nearly an hour. He was gorgeous from ear tufts to tail, something he couldn’t say about his human skin and bone. His wings spanned the ugly old desk from side to side. According to Turdus Migratorius’ Birds of A Feather, he was a Great Horned Owl, and he was magnificent.
Sirius wanted the two of them to go flying. “Let’s get outside after dark and change! It’ll be great! Or better yet, you change and I won’t! Do you realise we can fly together?” All that in a ridiculous stage-whisper; Sirius was so excited he couldn’t keep his voice down. Not that the prat had anything resembling discretion, anyhow. He was practically dragging Severus down the hall.
“Are you crazy?” A week of recuperation from hitting the window had helped, and he’d gone from bird to human a couple of times, but there was no way he was going to practise flying in the uncertain sky.
“It’s safer,” Sirius insisted. “No walls. No stone floors, no windows at all.” He rested his case, looking at Severus expectantly.
As odd as it might seem, Sirius Black arguing for safety first set off no devastation of earthquakes nor volcanoes spewing fiery death.
“What do you mean, ‘safer’? Don’t forget about the Forbidden Forest, standing stones, and the occasional stray Hippogriff.” Contrary to popular belief, ferrets were not their dietary staple, and they sometimes caught prey on the fly. “You remember Hippogriffs.”
After OWLs two years ago, Sirius had led his band of buffoons out to ride the stud stock. Or at least Severus would lay money that it was Sirius’ idea. The four had spent some time mucking out the stalls of the mothers and their young for that little escapade – without magic.
“The Hippogriffs still love me,” grinned Sirius.
“Yes, and they’d simply adore me -- as a snack! I haven’t any control over my wings, much less my instinctive urges.” Sirius leered, which he ignored. “Is it safer to plummet a hundred feet to the ground than hit a window? I don’t think so.”
Sirius huffed a bit, but finally he went off to fly. Which was good, because there was another problem that Severus didn’t want to discuss with him: he didn’t know how to change back. Slamming into another window was not an option. His head still hurt. Surely there was an easier way, but he didn’t want to let Sirius lord it over him if he didn’t have to. He’d figure it out himself.
He flew up and down the deserted hallway, in the end, deciding more room was better than less. Only once did he knock into the corner of a wall with a wingtip, and he managed to stay aloft. The faster you were flying, the easier it was to turn and stay balanced. Perhaps when he got better with his turns, he’d make his way to the Great Hall for more elaborate practice runs. He’d better know how to dive without becoming a big smear on the ground, or swoop in circles without getting dizzy.
In the meantime, it felt so good just to stretch out and fly that instead of turning back, he brushed aside the protective tapestry and on through the next, less familiar, hallway. His hearing was so acute that he would swear he could hear feet shuffling two hallways away. Why shouldn’t he investigate? Even if someone saw him, no one would think twice about an owl inside Hogwarts. Sometimes an owl making a delivery was able to rap on a window; other owls simply nudged in through the owl flap near the main entry and flew on from there.
His fringed trailing feathers allowed him to skim the air in absolute silence. He marveled once again at being able to hear everything around him except his own flight – until the footsteps stopped. When he rounded yet another corner, his attempt to brake almost sent him spinning end over end, for there on the floor – in a darkened alcove where only his owl’s vision allowed him to see clearly – was a pile of clothing.
He wasn’t sure what to make of that, but if he wanted to find out, he’d better hide fast. He found out within the moment just how small a spot one very large owl could cling onto as he wrapped his talons around an empty torch mount. It held his hollow-boned weight. He was facing the wall, but it was easy enough to turn his head for a good view. A delicious, tangy scent filtered into his now less-panicked brain. Food. Like nothing he could ever remember smelling before, and yet it was undeniably . . . food. Had he been in his human form, his mouth would’ve watered.
It made much more sense when the pile of clothing wiggled, and out skittered a rat.
Footsteps to clothes to rat? This had to be one of Sirius’ friends! Potter would definitely make a fine rat. Even if it wasn’t one of the four, Severus would most certainly find out who this intruder was. Fortunately for the unidentified Animagus, he’d eaten a huge dinner. Even the mouth-watering smell of warm, living rodent didn’t tempt him to test out his hunting skills. With one powerful stroke, he lifted himself back aloft and followed the faux-rat.
Would Sirius have asked one of his friends to spy? That hardly seemed likely – Sirius knew where Severus was and what he was doing. Besides, the Gang Of Four were out flying themselves. The rat paused at the tapestry that disguised Severus’ hallway, sniffed along the bottom of it, and slipped under. Yes, definitely a spy. Knowing the rat would likely hear him if he came through the tapestry, he landed on the floor and stuck his beak in at the edge, pushing it aside far enough to see.
What he saw was a naked boy standing in front of the door to Their Room. Pettigrew, for it was he, turned the knob and walked in.
There was no point in following. There was nothing in the room that indicated what they used it for, unless they’d left a pot of lubricant somewhere, and Sirius’ friends already knew that.
There was also no point in confronting Pettigrew, and certainly not in this form. He wondered whether he should even tell Sirius about the spying. It might further alienate him from Potter and the rest, and that would be good for Severus, but . . . Sirius missed his friends, and would come to resent him for it. Still, he might as well follow the boy to Gryffindor, just to confirm his suspicions. He flew back to the sconce and settled himself to wait. It wouldn’t be long; Pettigrew would tire of looking where there was nothing to find.
It was not difficult to hold still. Owls seemed to be made for holding still, while in each and every moment they were perfectly poised to be in flight upon the next. Nonetheless, he almost fell backwards off his perch when little rodent feet skittered past this hallway and continued on. Damnation! What was that fool up to? Surely he couldn’t be creeping about the halls for fun! Briefly, Severus considered the entertainment quotient of being in a rat’s body versus being an owl. No contest. Still, he supposed that in a place as big as Hogwarts, there might be . . . what would a rat want? Female rats?
Now, that would be blackmail fodder for the ages.
Slipping noiselessly from the sconce, the endless draughty halls finally an advantage, he had just navigated the corner when a piercing scream of animal agony ricocheted from every stone block. At the end of the hall, near the top of the stairs, a huge, mange-ridden cat shook the puny rat’s body. Mr. Norris! For a moment he thought the rat was already dead; then the cat let it go and cuffed it across the hall with one big fur-spiked paw. The groggy rat tried to get up on its feet. The cat, true to its basest instincts, was playing with it.
There was a human being inside that rat. Even if it was Peter Pettigrew, it was still human, and no one deserved this kind of cat-and-mouse game. Change! Change! Severus shouted, but it only sounded inside his owl’s head.
If he could scare the cat away, he might be able to save Pettigrew’s miserable life. If nothing else, it would please Sirius. He stroked deeply, hurtling down the hall at a speed that frightened as much as it thrilled him. Something called him insistently, demanding that he strike and snatch, and the need was so relentless that he could not help but obey.
A thousand years of successful hunts sang in his blood as Severus’ wings canted against the air; he could feel each one stretching back into the mystery of time as he reached ahead for his prey. At what might have been Mr. Norris’ final moments, the cat’s own instinct intervened.
The beast leapt to pluck up the weaving rodent again by the scruff of its neck, shaking it violently. Talons which had reached for the more vulnerable neck were caught in mats of fur at the creature’s back. The force of his strike – how had he ever imagined that even his five-foot wingspan could lift a stone and a half of cat? – pulled them both over and set them battering painfully, one over the other, along the cold stone.
Severus buffeted the twisting, yowling cat with his wings. Frantically he worked at extricating his talons, to no avail. He couldn’t sink them in deeper either, merely scoring the cat’s flesh but gaining no purchase in it. He tried to reach far enough to peck at the livid eyes. His attempts did nothing but drive the other animal to greater struggles. By this time the cat, snarling and snapping, had blundered the both of them nearly to the end of the hallway.
If he didn’t do something fast, he and Mr. Norris would tumble down the stairs together. His need to save his own life hadn’t really penetrated past his aggressive instincts until now.
Ruthlessly wrenching at clumps of fur, taking some of them along, he finally freed his feet, only to have the crazed animal round on him now they were separated. Streaks of fire shot up his wing as Mr. Norris’ strong jaws locked into it, and Severus heard the hollow bone snap before agony whitewashed his vision. Now the two predators were very nearly yellow eye to yellow eye, and Severus had his opening. Without hesitation, he plunged his beak into the wide black pupil so close to his own.
With an earsplitting shriek, the cat staggered back. Blood welled from its damaged eye, but still it came at him again, weakened yet intent. How it could manage such a thing, Severus didn’t know, but when Mr. Norris lunged, Severus did, too. He tore into the vulnerable flesh below the cat’s jaw with his wickedly curved beak and wrenched with all his remaining strength. It was enough. The hot spurt of blood caught him full across the eyes, blinding him, but it didn’t matter. The cat couldn’t hurt him any more.
He listed to the side like a ship overcome by the storm, and there he lay. The cold of the stone eased the pain of his broken wing, which hurt even more as the adrenaline faded away. With the rich, slippery taste of cat’s blood trickling down his throat and the still-twitching cat slumped at his side, Severus let the cold take him.
It was dark. He could tell that even with his eyes closed. There was a hand stroking back his hair. It felt cool on his hot forehead, and not at all like Madam Pomfrey’s plump, soft fingers. Somehow, it helped the pain in his arm and the dull ache that suffused his entire body. There was another hand wrapped around one of his, firm and comforting.
“Sirius, get away from him!” Potter. There was something in the hushed tone that was like . . . anxiety. Fear. Severus couldn’t know what he looked like, lying here in a bed surrounded by smells that he knew from other trips to the infirmary, but he could hardly inspire much fear in James Potter. “Don’t you realise -- he, he killed Peter! He did!”
So Pettigrew had not survived. Even though they’d never been friends, Severus hadn’t hated him, except indirectly as one of Potter’s hangers-on. He wished his effort hadn’t gone for naught. Death by Mr. Norris was a bad end.
“Fuck you. Bastard.” Sirius spoke to James, although he didn’t turn his head.
“This is your fault, both of you.” Lily’s low, furious voice snapped between them like a whip. “The two of you talked Peter into becoming an Animagus. The three of you ran free with a werewolf on school grounds.” So she knew about that. “You could never have prevented him from coming into the castle. You didn’t have wands with you. Every student in this school was endangered, and Remus would have taken the blame.”
“But . . .”
Severus was amazed to hear Potter whine. Evans certainly had him by the scrotum.
“You! You set Peter to spy on them. Severus was nearly killed trying to save Peter’s life. Don’t forget, I saw the tooth marks in the back of Peter’s neck.”
“Lily,” Potter whispered.
“Don’t talk to me.”
He heard the click of Lily’s heels on the floor as she walked out, something like a sob, then Potter’s running feet.
“I’m sorry,” mumbled Sirius. “She’s right. This is my fault, too.”
No, Severus wanted to say. No. It’s nobody’s fault. But he couldn’t stay awake any longer.
Headmaster Dumbledore held a ceremony for Peter in the Great Hall, extolling his virtues, speaking of death as the next great adventure, and never quite explaining what had led to Peter’s death. It had been put about that he’d fallen down the stairs and broken his neck, which was at least partly true. After the oration, he’d called Severus into his office, but only Severus . . . for the secret of the other three boys running with Remus at the full moon had remained just that.
Severus had already explained his part in the terrible death, leaving out only the information that might cause trouble for the others. Since he’d had plenty of time in the infirmary to think about his story, he also might have implied that he and Peter had secretly helped each other learn the Animagus transformation. It was unlikely on the face of it, but of those who knew better, he doubted that any would offer to contradict him.
“I am very, very sorry, indeed, about your friend,” he told Severus warmly, his brilliant blue eyes as solemn under bushy greying brows as the occasion demanded. “Friendship between Houses is a wonderful thing much to be wished for, and I’m sure you are grieving. I would like you to know that if you ever wish to speak to anyone about it, I am always available for you.”
“Thank you, sir.” Severus looked back down at the floor, a bit uncomfortable.
“I congratulate you on your accomplishment and your bravery,” he continued. “But now you know that this kind of magic has its dangers. Severus, I am requiring you to take added instruction. That should solve the problem of returning to human form. Not to mention that of the clothing.” Severus looked up briefly; the Headmaster wore a smile that was only a shade of itself. “I have spoken to Professor McGonagall, and she is willing to help you. Don’t forget that when you go home this summer, you will have to register with the Ministry.”
He was so relieved that the Headmaster had not forbidden him to transform that he could have jumped up and punched the air, but managed to control himself until he’d clasped hands with the man, been patted on the shoulder, and was ushered out the door. Still, he had the niggling feeling that the Headmaster knew more than he’d let on.
Severus had lessons with Professor McGonagall twice a week, and by the end of January she pronounced him “quite proficient indeed.”
“There’s little else I can teach you, since you were powerful and determined enough to do the rest on your own,” she assured him, and he felt his chest expand with the praise.
“Thank you, Professor.”
It was during the next full moon that he ventured out of doors, finally secure that his mastery over the owl’s body would keep him safe enough. He’d already passed on the secrets McGonagall taught him, so even Lily was satisfied that they could keep the werewolf in check if necessary. He met Sirius and Potter near the suit of armor; Sirius slid out from under the invisibility cloak when Severus rounded the last corner. Quickly they slipped into the tunnel.
“How’d you know it was me?” Severus asked. “It could have been anybody!”
“I’d know you anywhere,” assured Sirius. He walked on ahead, wandlight shining, but Potter caught Severus’ arm.
“Look, Snape,” he said, shifting uncomfortably in the strange shadows, “I know we haven’t always got along, but you tried to save Peter. And you didn’t narc on us,” he waved at the tunnel and what lay at the end.
“That was for Sirius.”
“It was decent, that’s all.”
The werewolf was shaggy, enormous, and of no consequence to an owl. Severus had taken care to change well before Sirius unlocked the door and slid into his own canine form. The Whomping Willow allowed Severus to sit tucked within its branches as if he belonged there, and he supposed that, in owl form, he did. He belonged in the night, too, his wings beating in time with the paws and hooves below him. The snowy world was cast in silver, and the bare trees beckoned against the moonlight. Aloft in the cold night air, or with his talons hooked in thick black fur as he rode Padfoot’s back, he was more at home than he’d ever been.
There’d been a short breather after the holidays, but by February their Professors were loading them up to their arses in classwork. Revising for NEWTS was grueling. It seemed like weeks since Sirius and Severus had time for more than stolen kisses and quick pulls in deserted toilets. Sirius might not have to study, but Severus did. The whole time Severus couldn’t stop thinking about Sirius’ promise. It was hard enough being a teenager; his prick lived a life of its own anyway. But now, it spent more time up than down. It was getting difficult to have a piss without a wank first.
Severus was obsessed with the idea of Sirius bound and forced to take anything. Any time he wasn’t utterly absorbed in brewing, he was likely absorbed in what he would do to that lean body. Would he start from the bottom, or the top? Severus bit his lip and scrubbed at a trickle of sweat that itched under his collar. He couldn’t concentrate on Arithmancy in here. It was so fucking hot in Vector’s classroom, how could anyone stand it?
If Sirius was tied up, he could suck his toes. Sirius had beautiful feet. One day when the other boy was lazing in the sun with his friends, shoes off and toes in the grass, Severus had seen and wanted to touch them. He’d never said anything about it. You couldn’t just . . . touch someone’s feet. Sirius would know he was a pervert. But if he was tied up, he couldn’t very well complain.
From the high arch of the fine-boned foot Severus would work his way up, the tender flesh inside the knee firmly between his teeth, then on to a well-made thigh. Next he’d rub his nose along the crease of thigh and groin as he rubbed his cock against the rough hair on Sirius’ muscular legs, leaving streaks of wetness there while he tasted the tightening balls. For a moment, the smell of Sirius seemed to float about his head, and he breathed it in deep.
Severus squirmed on his hard wooden seat, trying to adjust himself unobtrusively. It didn’t work.
If he started at the top, he could pull Sirius’ hair. Not too hard, just enough to make his scalp tingle. He’d wrap his hands in that thick wavy hair and hold him still, lick his face with the flat of his tongue the way he always longed to when they were kissing. He wanted to bite his way across those high cheekbones and suck the tip of his nose like it was a cock, then edge his tongue along those sooty lashes. He’d let his teeth scrape against the shadow of beard that was always there by evening.
He’d warm flat nipples with his breath until they stood high enough to bite at, ever so gently. Then he would pleasure them with his fingers as he sucked violet bruises into Sirius’ corded neck, pulling back to watch them bloom. He’d pull at the hairs around the nipples with his lips and follow the dark line of hair down to his goal while Sirius whined and pled for more.
Either way, he’d end up at that thick, graceful cock. It would be alert and ready, begging for his attention, translucent drops gathering at the tip and sliding off toward Sirius’ pale-skinned belly. One would fall and drag the next down with it, landing to glisten in the coarse, dark curls. He’d take it in his mouth first, and then take it up his arse, and Sirius would cry out for him, say filthy things, make him come so hard . . .
Sweat prickled all over his body. There had to be something wrong with him. Just the vision of Sirius, arms and legs taut, cock high and flushed, spread out for his every whim . . . if he couldn’t have that, it would surely drive him mad.
Vector was banging on about prime numbers. He tried to listen -- anything to dull the blood heat spreading from his unruly cock. It didn’t work.
He raised his hand. “Professor, may I please . . .” he whispered.
“Go on, Mr. Snape.”
Walking as fast as he could, desperate to get out of the hallway, seeking the safety of the toilets, Severus staggered. His body gave in to the sensation of his soft, well-worn underwear rubbing the shaft and slipping over the leaking head. He squeezed his cock as hard as he could, but he couldn’t stop the rush of his orgasm, and with a low moan, he soaked his pants. He clung to the wall limply, breathing out faint whimpers, with only enough fibre left in him not to slide to the floor.
He was so muzzy-headed that he didn’t even feel shame until he stumbled into the third floor lav. He watched hot blood creep up his vaguely blurred reflection as his pants congealed and cooling dribbles of spunk crept down his leg. When his mind cleared enough so he wouldn’t unman himself, he spelled the mess away.
Why did the idea affected him so? Severus didn’t like having his mind and body hijacked by something so foreign to his nature. He was a studious and careful boy. He kept himself to himself. He hadn’t even known that he could be led, without the interruption of a single lucid thought, by his cock. Although perhaps he should have gotten used to it by now, with Sirius around.
Doing things to someone who was tied up wasn’t unheard of, if Sirius’ father had it in his collection. But then again, that might not be a good thing. Severus wasn’t sure he liked the idea of being anything like Old Man Black. Sirius never talked about him, but the fact that he’d left home was enough evidence that no love was lost. He’d heard that Orion Black was a hard and cruel man. It had to take a world of bollocks to reject The Noble And Most Ancient House Of Black.
It went around and around in his head.
Yes. Sirius made the offer all by himself. Nobody prompted him. Certainly he would do anything on a dare, but Sirius had sucked him three times already, and that was something a bloke didn’t do just for a thrill. It was more than giving a helping hand. It meant Sirius was there for a reason, not just because he couldn’t find a Friday-nighter – he wanted a cock in his mouth. Maybe there were other things he wanted.
No. He had to be joking. No one could really want to do that -- leave himself vulnerable to someone else’s limits. The very thought put Severus on edge. And as proud as Sirius was . . . well, if Severus showed up with a fistful of neckties, Sirius was more likely to laugh in his face than go through with it.
Maybe it didn’t matter. If it ever happened, it wouldn’t be soon. This was a Hogsmeade weekend, and Sirius would be busy in town with his friends.
But on Saturday, instead of being long gone, Sirius was dragging him to the perimeter of Hogwarts by strength of will alone. “When are you going to get it through your thick head that Prongs and Moony aren’t more important than you are?”
Severus didn’t answer. He wasn’t sure he ever would. But the walk into town was comfortable, as if the four of them were friends. They argued about Quidditch, bought enough sweets to make them sick, ate ice cream, teased each other – even Severus joined in -- and generally behaved like teenage boys. It was as new a world to Severus as being an owl.
But when Potter and Lupin went to talk to Lily and her friends, who were coming out of Scrivenshaft’s, Sirius pulled him across the street. “I have a surprise for you.”
What kind of surprise could possibly involve The Hog’s Head? It was a grimy, disreputable pub that students didn’t frequent, and he said so.
“That’s why we’re here.” Sirius looked quite satisfied with himself as he handed the barman a stack of Galleons.
Up a narrow, dark staircase they climbed, Severus’ libido rising with every step. Even he knew about the rooms for rent abovestairs. You needn’t rent one for the night, he’d heard. Sure enough, Sirius led him to door number three.
“Fireplace.” Sirius waved his wand. Flames greedily licked at the pile of logs already set. “Look, a bed.”
“You . . .” Severus had to clear his suddenly-tight throat. “You know what I like.”
“I do know what you like,” agreed Sirius. His usually smooth tenor was a low rumble. “And this isn’t the whole surprise.” From an inside pocket, he produced a handful of velvet ropes.
Severus didn’t quite gasp, but close enough to it that Sirius looked wickedly smug.
“Give me those.” Somehow his words came out more a plea than a demand.
“But of course.”
Severus fondled the ropes, running the length of them between his fingers as Sirius began to undress. They were soft, plush, and had no give whatsoever. It was as if Severus could feel the velvet twist around his cock.
He could barely look away from them.
Dropping the last of his clothes on the floor, Sirius leapt backwards onto the bed, sprawling with a soft thump. The bed frame didn’t even quiver. “Solid. Will you do the honors?”
“Do you, uh, suppose the sheets are clean?” That had to be the stupidest thing to come out of Severus’ mouth, ever.
“Doesn’t matter,” drawled Sirius, stretching cat-like on the bed. He looked perfectly at home in his toned, beautiful body, as if he were decorating the ugly room with his presence. “We’re just going to get them all . . . dirty.”
Severus took shallow breaths as best he could, so he’d get enough oxygen not to faint. His hands shook as he tied the ropes around Sirius’ strong wrists and then his ankles, surreptitiously running the back of one hand against a graceful foot. He was absurdly grateful to have fumbled the sumptuous ropes into knots and attached them to the bedposts without mishap. He was so nervous that had he been undressed, he would surely have tied his cock to one of the bedposts instead.
The man on the bed, for Sirius looked different now from the age-mate he knew so well, watched him the whole time from beneath lowered lids. His cock lolled half-hard on one thigh, and a secretive smile touched his lips. He was sex incarnate, a strange kind of succubus who drew unsuitable desires out of hidden places and demanded they show themselves for his own pleasure.
It was everything Severus could ever want, and suddenly he felt unequal to it all.
At Severus’ silent, uncertain regard, a broad grin changed Sirius back into himself. “I don’t suppose you’d like to join me, now that you’ve got me helpless and completely in your power?”
That was so ridiculous even Severus had to laugh, but it gave him pause. Sirius was tied up. He’d never done this before, either, and what if he didn’t like it? Severus shivered to think how unpleasant that could be, and how uncomfortable he’d feel in Sirius’ place. He loosened the knot at the nearest wrist and secured Sirius’ wand in it. “Okay?”
“Yeah, yeah. I’m waiting.”
But there was warmth under the teasing words. It brought weeks of simmering need to a boil.
“Good. That’s just how I want you.” The sight of Sirius stretched out before him – long hair rumpled against the pillow, sleek arms, lightly-furred chest, his dark, avid eyes . . . Sirius wrapped his fists around the soft ropes and flexed, showing muscle from arms down to groin. Severus reminded himself, once again, to breathe. In. Out. He gazed hungrily at the vision which had tormented him by day and drenched his shorts by night.
There was no way Severus could possibly undo his buttons without making a fool of himself; he wasn’t capable of it any more. The tips of his fingers were numb. “Evanesco!” Vaguely he knew he’d care later if he couldn’t get his clothes back. When his cock sprang free, he grabbed it, afraid he’d come just from the rush of cool air against his hot flesh. He squeezed himself hard, taking a little of the pressure off, and then thumbed the head as both comfort and promise. When he looked up, Sirius was watching intently.
“Do it. Stroke off for me.”
He’d only ever touched himself when he was alone, soiling the sheets in his narrow bed or choking down moans in a locked stall. Now he palmed his red cock, cupping and teasing himself under Sirius’ eager gaze. It was shameless, it seemed wrong somehow, but he couldn’t stop.
“Come closer. I want to see everything.”
He drifted to the bedside.
On his knees, Severus shuffled across the bed until he was leaning over Sirius’ taut chest.
“So hard, you want it so bad. You need it now, can’t wait. That’s it, fuck your hand for me. Fuck it. Fuck it. Fuck it.”
Sirius might be the one tied up, but it was Severus who followed orders. Pulling fast and hard, Severus came with a cry that was more like a sob and slumped down over Sirius, gasping with the force of it.
“That’s right, have your fun and leave me to suffer,” Sirius grumbled. “A man has needs, you know.”
“It’s your own fault. You’ll get a good seeing to, Sir Helpless, just as soon as I’m ready.”
His come gleamed wetly on the white skin in the soft light from the window, just as it had in his daydreams. It streaked Sirius’ face and dripped down his neck. It was only proper that Severus should clean it off, lapping at the taste of himself, having his fill of that handsome face. He nibbled black eyebrows, rubbed his cheek against the firm jaw, and sucked on that long neck until Sirius moaned and squirmed underneath him, rocking against his bonds.
Sirius was fingering his wand now, caressing the wood. It made Severus think about doing things with wands that he never truly had, before. What would Sirius do if he used one? To what interesting purposes could it be put? Surely cleansing and lubrication spells were the least of these.
“I – fuck!" Severus' tongue and teeth were busy at a nipple, and it appeared to be distracting. “I can still turn you into a toad.” The breathless words highlighted Sirius’ arousal as blatantly as his full cock.
“Toads do it for you?”
“No. Just snakes.”
“Then allow me to put my tongue to good use.”
And he did, licking a path down, striping the ribs with his tongue, paying special attention to the delicious ridges of abdominal muscle that tensed under his mouth. Severus gave the thick cock a few delicate licks and a kiss to the crown, then impulsively rubbed his face against it. The soft skin moved with him against the hardness underneath. He crouched lower to pet the hair on Sirius’ strong thighs.
“What are you doing?” whined Sirius. “Suck me, fuck me, but just do it!”
“I will,” promised Severus, but he was busy now caressing the shapely calves and, yes, touching the beautiful feet. He took one in his hands and kneaded it, feeling the small bones shift under his fingers. Feet could be ticklish, he knew, and that wasn’t what he was after. He massaged the high arch with the pads of his thumbs.
“Fuck, that feels so good!”
It must have felt even better when Severus began licking between his toes, taking several in his mouth and then sucking each one separately, sweet little cocks between his lips. Sirius was writhing, without the presence of mind to free himself – if he even wanted to. It was heaven to do this and hear Sirius moaning with need, and bliss to know that Severus wasn’t alone in such a strange pleasure.
“I could . . . come, let me come, make me come.” Sirius was babbling now.
If Severus didn’t stop now, they’d both miss the main course. His own cock was hard again, and he was about ready to rub himself off on the bedclothes. His wand was at his feet . . . Untying the ropes at Sirius’ ankles, he transfigured one into a small, narrow velvet strap. He’d supplemented his studies with sources more interesting than textbooks lately.
Which didn’t help the constant hard-on problem at all.
Sirius, who couldn’t see what he was doing, pulled his knees up. “Thank Merlin, I can’t stand it any more!”
“You’ll be able to stand more than you think,” replied Severus, taking his opportunity to fix the velvet snugly around Sirius’ rigid cock and already-tightening balls.
He slid his palms around the crinkle-haired balls and held them, letting his fingertips play the shaft. Some day he would wrap his hair around that cock and wank Sirius with it until he begged for mercy. It would be the ultimate revenge for those long-ago taunts. “Don’t tell me there’s something you don’t know about.” He barely made it through the sentence; how was he supposed to finish this?
“I – of course I – but . . .”
Naturally Sirius would never admit to not knowing, even if he didn’t. It was awkward to get back on top, but he wasn’t coordinated enough for fancy moves any more. Severus put a knee over Sirius and tapped his own arse with his wand.
“Are you going to – wait, let me, I want to touch you, it’s better --”
Severus wasn’t listening. He could do this. He wasn’t scared. If Sirius could, he could. He held onto the cock for a moment, feeling the pulse, and then lowered himself. Too fast. Sirius shouted, but Severus couldn’t make a sound. It didn’t hurt, the spell took care of that, but the fullness shocked him. He couldn’t have imagined what it would really feel like, being full of Sirius. Having Sirius inside him. It was not at all like being taken. It was almost like being given.
“God, please, more.”
It was a groan that swelled up from deep in Sirius’ chest, a desperate, almost pained sound that made Severus want to comfort him any way he could. So he moved. He was more careful now, and the discomfort receded as he lifted and sank. With his eyes closed, he could examine the sensation. Hands on his thighs startled him.
“Move up with me.”
Sirius was trying to shift pillows behind him. Considering the glaze in his eyes and that someone was sitting on him, he was doing a fair job. His wiggling made his cock touch something inside of Severus that lit up the dim room. “Fuck!”
“Yes! That’s it!” Sirius looked vastly pleased, in a vague way, as if they both had done something magnificent. To Severus, it certainly felt like it. When Sirius was propped up, he pulled Severus in tight. “You are . . . you’re. . .” Sirius gave up and settled for a kiss, sincere but not quite focused.
Severus began to move again. This time he knew what he wanted, harder and faster and yes.
Why had he ever been afraid of this? Sirius’ cock didn’t hurt him, and Sirius himself certainly wouldn’t. He’d been wrong; Severus was more than pleased to admit to it. Fucking was better than flying. He lifted himself and came back down hard enough to see stars. He was flying, higher than he’d ever been. Sirius whimpered. That defenseless sound was all it took to end it for Severus. The lust bubbling in him burst its dam and came pouring out, taking all his strength with it. Emptied and mindless, he slumped into Sirius’ arms.
Oh, God, he’d forgotten the strap. Poor bastard. He touched his wand at the side of the bed and the thing disappeared. Then he tightened himself around Sirius’ cock as he’d felt Sirius do to him, and went up and down a last time. Sirius went tense all over, digging his fingers into Severus’ arms with strength he’d swear Sirius didn’t have left, and came with a cry. It left him completely limp, mouth open, his head dropping back against the pillows. Severus wiped the sweat off Sirius’ face with trembling fingers, leaning in to hold him.
After what was probably only a few minutes, Sirius muttered into his hair, “I’ll get you for this.”
Severus couldn’t work up much worry right now about anything, much less that. “Threat?”
With the last of their reserves, they rolled up in the blankets and slept.
Hours later, Severus muttered the password and was about to step into the Slytherin common room when a hissed “Snape!” caught his attention. He looked around. Within a few strides of him was Regulus Black.
“Snape, I need to talk to you. In private.”
It wasn’t so much what he said as the way he said it, tight jaw pale above his school robes and clenched fists white in the dim hallway.
Severus let the portrait swing shut over the entranceway to Slytherin. “Wait, wait. Don’t tell me. Let me guess.” No doubt Regulus had heard about Sirius and Severus’ visit to the hourly room at the Hog’s Head, and the arsehole wanted to avenge his brother’s virtue. It didn’t surprise him. According to Sirius, the Black family was militant about the purity of its line. “You want to –“
“What I want is to talk to you.” When that didn’t get him any response, he said, “Please.”
That had to be almost more than a prideful Black could bear, so he followed the boy to an empty classroom to satisfy his curiosity. When they crossed the threshold, Regulus shut the door quickly and firmly, silencing the room with a wave of his wand. Severus picked a chair and leaned back in it, waiting to find out what Regulus wanted.
He was taken aback to see Regulus’ granite facade wad up like an ill-used handkerchief. He looked near tears. What the hell was he supposed to do with a crying kid? Sirius hadn’t warned him about anything like this!
Fortunately, Regulus got ahold of himself before Severus had to actually do anything. He took a deep breath and straightened, his bones supporting the weight of his feelings so his face didn’t have to. “I’m in trouble.”
This was so far from what he could have imagined, Severus barely caught his own jaw. “So what? You don’t have to marry her. Not at fifteen. This is the modern age.”
Regulus made a harsh sound of frustration. “Not some girl! I’m in trouble!”
“And I should care about this, why?”
“Because I need help. And I’m willing to pay. I’ve got money.”
“I’m not interested in your money.” He was, but he wanted to hear what Regulus would say.
Finally, a more Slytherin aspect of the boy took over. “I know you’re fucking my brother.” There was a glint in his eye that boded something more personal than money, but instead of a threat, what Regulus said was, “I could do that. If you wanted.”
Regulus would fuck Sirius? As twisted as that was, his cock stirred in his trousers. Regulus was very nearly as handsome as Sirius. His eyes were deep blue rather than grey, but he was shaping up to a muscular build on a tall frame. The two together would be . . . incomparable. “Let’s be clear about what you’re suggesting.”
“I’d let you fuck me. I – I’d suck your cock. You . . . I know you like my looks. I look like Sirius.” The stammer was the only thing that gave the depth of his anxiety away.
Severus gave the boy a long look up and down. “I’ll consider it. After you tell me what kind of trouble you’re in.”
“I saw Bellatrix today,” the boy confessed.
Severus raised a brow. Certainly to be met by one’s cousin in Hogsmeade was indeed amazing.
Regulus’ lips thinned at the lack of response. “She follows Lord Voldemort, who is gathering witches and wizards who hate Muggles. They call themselves Death Eaters.”
“Yes.” Severus knew that much.
“Ever since Sirius left home, my parents pushed me to join. They ‘demand that I fulfill my responsibility to my name and to Pureblood society.’ To leave school and take the rest of my training with the Death Eaters.”
Severus didn’t see what was so bad about that. “Surely there might be a better education with the Death Eaters than here, for all their overly-dramatic choice of names. You must have noticed the quality of the Professors at Hogwarts. The Headmaster is a sweets-obsessed lunatic. Slughorn should be a master of hounds, not of Potions. Binns should have been binned last century.”
Regulus closed his eyes, seeming to retreat from Severus without actually moving. “It depends on what you care to be taught.”
He was tired of this roundaboutation. “Explain,” he said curtly.
“It . . . Bellatrix was . . . I think she was drunk. Or drugged. She seemed nearly out of her mind. She talked about what a glorious master Lord Voldemort is, how he knows the hearts and minds of his followers. She showed me her Dark Mark, and told me how he was always with her, through the Mark. How he will reward his loyal ones, and how he punishes those who fail.”
Regulus swallowed hard. “She said she could make me feel that pain and that pleasure. And then she,” his voice broke, “she did.”
“What else?” If there was this much, there had to be more.
“Voldemort is training his Death Eaters to kill Muggles. I saw it.” His voice rose nearly an octave, and the color bled out of his face. “Somehow, she put pictures inside my head! Practise raid, she told me.”
Severus knew of a spell something like that. “Go on,” he said, to keep the boy talking when he might have fallen silent.
“They killed them all. It was horrible. The blood . . .” Regulus’ lips worked without speaking as he tried to go on; then he recovered his voice. “A whole family, Muggles in an isolated area, she said. They took turns. They tortured them first. Raped the children in front of the parents. A full evening, she said. She was so – so happy. And. And then they burnt the house down with the bodies in it so no one would guess. They practise killing for Lord Voldemort!”
Severus tried not to show how the boy’s tale affected him. It seemed outrageous, insane, and yet he didn’t doubt what he heard. “What else did your cousin say?”
“My initiation’s two weeks from tonight. She gave me a portkey that will take me to Merlin’s Ring. They’ll have the bones there. Of the burnt Muggles.”
Merlin’s Ring, the place Muggles called Stonehenge. Lord Voldemort had a flair for the dramatic. And at the Vernal Equinox; that made sense. The place would be alive with power – and, with the cremated bones, Death Magic. Such power was hardly necessary to initiate one lowly boy, but Lord Voldemort might have other rituals in mind, as well. Perhaps he would also have other sacrifices. The potency involved in such a time at such a place, combined with human sacrifice, could shake their puny island.
Still, what did this have to do with Severus? “I suggest you whine to your brother.”
“Don’t you think I tried?” A soft gasp broke from Regulus’ throat. “Sirius won’t speak to me. Hasn’t since the day he left home. I tried to, not twenty minutes ago, after you left him -- he wouldn’t even listen. He walked away. Our parents would rather see me dead than be the second child to betray the Black name. If I don’t go through with it, they’ll kill me themselves. They told me so. Sirius made them that angry.”
Defeat blanketed the boy’s shoulders. “You’re the smartest in Slytherin. You’re my only hope. Please, you have to help me.”
Severus shrugged, hoping it would conceal his discomfort. “Why don’t you leave home?”
“Oh, and who would hide me? The people I know,” Regulus didn’t say ‘my friends,’ “would hand me straight over to Lord Voldemort for their own gain. They want to be Death Eaters themselves.”
Well. Regulus was in a bind.
Severus wasn’t sure what could be done, but if he did try to help, the overwrought boy in front of him mustn’t know. Such knowledge might shorten both of their life spans considerably. Lord Voldemort wouldn’t thank young Severus Snape for trying to free a recruit with so much money and future influence.
He stood, looking down at Regulus. “I won’t help you. Your future master will be one of the most powerful wizards of this era after the ceremony you describe, if he’s not already. I may consider joining him myself.” With that, he turned to leave, but to his dismay he found Regulus already on his knees before him. Tears welled in the boy’s reddened eyes and washed his pale face.
“Please, please! Help me! I’ll do anything!” Regulus pawed Severus’ robes away, fumbling at his flies.
“Stop!” The command echoed along the stone walls as he slapped Regulus’ hands and hastily shoved him away. Severus made his escape to sobs that couldn’t be muffled by the boy curled up, tight and hopeless, on the floor.
By half eight, the four of them were in Our Room. Severus supposed that must mean he was truly one of them now, but he didn’t have time to be confounded by it. “I’m sorry, Sirius, I know this is family business, but I thought . . .” In answer, Sirius just looked at them all, Potter, Lupin, and then Severus himself, and nodded. So he laid out the basics. “In other words,” Severus finished, “he has to do it or die. And he doesn’t want either option.”
“He’s trying to lure us to the ritual!” snapped Sirius.
Severus hadn’t wanted to bring this up in front of them all, but he supposed it was important. “He wants help. Sirius, he offered me his body as payment.”
For a moment, Sirius looked stunned. Then he cried, “He wants you! And he’d be even happier if he could take you from me! He’s always been that way.” He looked at the others for confirmation, but their faces showed only concern.
“Sirius,” said Severus gently. “He’s not homosexual. He’s at the end of his rope. I left him sobbing on the floor in the foetal position after he tried to touch me.”
“That’s not Regulus,” Sirius agreed, his words slowing as the truth sank in. “He might try to steal what’s mine, but cry? Blacks don’t cry.” Sirius stood up so fast his chair went over and made for the door, only stopping when Severus caught his arm and swung him round. “Let me go! I have to talk to him!”
“You can’t! Legilimency is real. Those people can read his mind. If Lord Voldemort, or, may the gods forbid, your cousin, should find out we’re trying to help him, we’ll all end up fueling his Death Magic.”
Severus was strangely uneasy when Potter said evenly, “He’s right, Sirius. Calm down. We need a plan. Regulus needs a plan.” But he didn’t know why Potter’s agreement should bother him, so he let it go.
For the first time, Lupin spoke up. “It’s going to have to be during the ritual. Before is too early. After is too late.”
“Yes, but how will we get there? Brooms will be exhausting. We can’t exactly spend a few days waiting. They’ll know we’re there.”
“I know how to make a Portkey.” Lupin again.
Severus blinked. “Are you serious?”
“Yes. And I have two weeks to practise doing it. I need to make a contribution. I can’t very well come along.”
Severus answered Sirius’ question. “This year, the Vernal Equinox is unusual – it’s the night of the full moon.”
After a thoughtful moment, Sirius’ eyes lit up. “Yes. Yes, you can.”
He was contemplating something that appalled all of his listeners; Severus could see it in their faces. Severus felt it, too. “You must be insane!”
“Come on! Three Hogwarts students won’t be able to fight a pack of Death Eaters who torture Muggles for fun. We don’t have that kind of edge. But a stag, a dog, an owl, and a werewolf might.”
“Werewolves kill people. Do we want to kill?” Potter tapped a quill nervously on the table.
Severus did have an opinion on that. “I hardly think they’re going to let Regulus go without a real fight. And a real fight might have consequences.”
“It would be dangerous for Moony! He could be killed, too.” Clearly James Potter’s devil-may-care style had changed since Peter’s death.
“You three could all be killed, if you go by yourselves,” Remus broke in. “For myself . . . this Lord Voldemort is interested in Purebloods, and wants to eliminate everyone else. You say that he could become the most powerful Wizard in the world, and from what I’ve heard tonight, I believe it. If he and his followers came to rule, my life wouldn’t be worth a rusty knut anyway.”
“He’s got Pureblood support,” agreed Potter. “Your parents, Pads, and if they’re in, Abraxas Malfoy is in. The wealthiest and most influential Wizarding dynasties in England. You’ve heard the complaints about the Ministry. This trumped up “Lord” could be running the Wizarding world in our lifetimes.”
“You know,” mused Sirius, “a dog’s not too frightening. Stags and owls are unexpected, but everyone knows dogs. I’m a big dog, but one hex or even a hard-enough kick in the face could put me out of the action.”
“An owl wouldn’t be much use either.” Severus was uncertain about their chances, even with a werewolf.
“We’re going to need someone to protect Regulus from the Death Eaters, Voldemort, and Moony. You’re a behind-the-scenes man, Snape. I suspect you’ll be level-headed in a crisis, like if Voldemort tries to apparate with him. That leaves the rest of us able to concentrate on not getting killed,” said Potter.
“Can you apparate, Severus?” asked Lupin.
“With him? Maybe.”
“Better to splinch both of you than end up dead.”
Sirius looked around the circle. “I want to bring Buckbeak.”
Silence met this bald statement, followed by a ring of nodding heads.
“I’ll make extra Portkeys. You’ll have to leave from the Hippogriff enclosure.”
“And I need more practise as an owl.”
“Fine,” said Potter. “Let’s get some sleep. We’re going to need it.”
It was a very short two weeks. Even though rescuing Regulus – Sirius called it an “adventure” -- was more important to him than his schooling, he had something to think about that the other three didn’t . . . the future, also known as the rest of his life. Unlike two of the participants, who had family wealth behind them no matter how independent Sirius claimed to be, and Lupin, who would literally be fighting for his life, Severus needed good grades. He had no money, no name and no prospects without the highest scores.
He did not get much rest.
Every day he practised changing from human to owl to human. Every day he practised apparating, sometimes with one of the other three to do the side-along and sometimes without. No one got splinched, but that didn’t mean that in more pressing circumstances he could do the same. He’d used Portkey after Portkey making sure that they would not only get where they needed to go while transfigured, but make the return trip in one piece. He had no idea how Lupin would carry his.
Regulus had ceased his silent, wide-eyed pleading after enough cold stares in return. They had not spoken together since that night, and Severus wanted to keep it that way. He wasn’t sure he could bear to look into the eyes of a boy so much like Sirius and, for the second time, condemn him to his fate. Regulus Black was meant for a life of promise, not for the slaughtering of innocents. There was something within Severus that was horrified by that notion over and above what little he could truly know of such things.
He needed a dose of Dreamless Sleep the night before, and woke tightly strung even so. At least he’d got enough sleep to be clear-headed. He hoped that the others had taken their doses as well – he’d made damn sure Sirius drank his portion down. “I don’t want to end up dead at your shaking hands,” he said flatly. He just as surely didn’t want Sirius to make any fatal mistakes.
The sun would cross the celestial equator at 11:28 PM. That would surely be the time chosen for the rite or rites. They were ready – Potter was at the Shack to make certain Lupin, in his werewolf form, still had his Portkey around his neck. If not, Potter’s mind would be clear enough to press his own Portkey against Lupin.
Sirius and Severus were heading toward the Shack from the Hogwarts protections, both in flight, when their Portkeys grabbed them. It seemed to suck Severus forward on a rise of wind. There was no way to tell how a Hippogriff might react, but Severus had spent hours tumbling in the air to make up for the effects of the Portkey. It turned out to be a good thing. When the Portkey tried to pull his guts from his body, he lost altitude. He could feel the air whispering between his feathers in a way it shouldn’t. It took all his strength to right himself, and by the time he did, he was above the standing stones.
He could see nothing. The only reason he knew the stones were there was because he couldn’t see them – the whole area was covered by a shimmering half-sphere of spellwork that his owl’s eyes saw clearly. So some spells had a visible spectrum to animals. As an owl, he did not feel the fear he thought the spell was meant for – it could be a spell meant only to repel, or given the inclinations of Lord Voldemort, it could fry intruders like sausages.
Sirius, flying much lower, must have felt the spell for what it was, and he urged Buckbeak forward through the sphere. There were no screams of agony. The self-proclaimed Lord must be saving his strength for the rites below. On the left, he caught sight of the stag and werewolf leaping through the barrier. It was time to join them. Not thinking about windows, he dove.
His quills prickled and every feather lifted as he passed through. It was unnerving to his owl mind, but he needed every bit of concentration. Severus had a job to do. Spells were already cutting the air below, and he heard several cracks of apparition. Good. No one looked up when a Hippogriff and a werewolf were at close quarters.
The stones pulsed with magic, immense and eerie against the landscape. They were somehow separate from the melee in and around them, as if they existed both here and in another space that was timeless . . . waiting. To the owl, they almost stank of power.
Voldemort, for it had to be he, stood before the Altar Stone, wand in hand, turned now to face the disturbance. “Kill them, you fools!”
Voldemort’s distraction proved fortuitous. Severus swayed in the air as it roiled up, the power balance shifting. His objective lay directly beneath him.
Regulus was spread out on the Altar Stone, his bare skin a sick blue-white in the moonlight. There were other people on the stone with him, arranged in a design Severus couldn’t fathom. They all looked dead. Even as an owl, Severus shuddered in horror. Were they too late? An unearthly cacophony of shrieks and howls filled the air. Shrouded in the shadow of the Altar Stone, he changed.
Regulus and the others weren’t dead. Not yet. They weren’t quite conscious, either. Regulus was pinioned to the stone on which he lay. It didn’t seem to be a specific spell -- and then Severus realized that the stone itself was holding him. When he pulled on a hand to try to haul Regulus off, he could see faint lines of magic. It flowed from Regulus into the Altar Stone itself. Voldemort was draining Regulus and the others to fuel . . . something. Severus couldn’t drag him to safety.
Suddenly, it didn’t matter. He looked up to find that there were only a few combatants left standing. Severus choked down a scream. Sirius was not among them. The Hippogriff, riderless, rose into the night, its moonshadow flowing over bodies both robed and naked. The huge, slavering werewolf leapt straight for Voldemort, Severus, and the trapped victims on the Altar Stone. Voldemort held his wand high.
Without thinking, Severus joined his voice to the chorus of spells that rent the air.
“Expelliarmus!” “Protego!” “Avada Kedavra!”
Lines of light met and exploded onto the werewolf with a hollow sound that seemed to rock the Circle itself. Lupin’s human body lay broken on the ground. One last robed silhouette stood before Voldemort.
“Hold!” A hand pushed the hood back from a pale face with a fall of dark hair.
Sirius! Severus felt a spark of relief that galvanized him, followed immediately by a liquid surge of terror. What the fuck was he doing?
Voldemort actually answered Sirius, sounding amused. “You are the brother of Regulus. You dare to disrupt these sacred rites?”
“You have proven yourself a worthy opponent. We will duel now, and when it is finished, I will devour your strength as well as his.”
No. Not as long as Severus lived. He opened his mouth to speak the words that would kill.
A black swath blotted out the moon above Severus. Buckbeak struck Voldemort from behind, talons outstretched. Nothing could have survived those tearing claws or that rapacious beak. Lord Voldemort, for all his power, was no exception. When Buckbeak was done, the broken corpse lay before the Altar Stone in bloody sacrifice. With no one commanding the ancient forces of magic, the Circle drew it back. Severus’ skin crawled as power slowly ebbed back into the stones.
“Remind me to give that thing a lump of sugar.” Severus wrapped himself around Sirius. It helped keep them both upright.
“More like a loaf.” Sirius had tears running down his face. “Moony! Oh, God, Moony! Where’s Prongs?” Frantically he turned in place, searching for Potter as Severus knelt at Lupin’s side. “James! James!”
A weak voice came from off to the right. “Over here. I think my legs are broken.”
There was a thready pulse at Lupin’s neck. “Sirius! Sirius, he’s still alive!”
They needed help.
Regulus, no longer held captive by the Altar Stone, was lucid, if weak. He and Sirius took turns casting pain-relief spells for Potter. Severus apparated back to Hogwarts with Lupin, using Mobilicorpus to get him across the grounds to the infirmary. He couldn’t have been more relieved when the Headmaster himself took McGonagall and Greenwood, the Muggle Studies professor, to clean up the mess. With a Calming Draught down his throat, Severus watched silently as Madam Pomfrey and some healer called in from St. Mungo’s -- still in his nightshirt – worked on Lupin.
Under the effects of the Draught, Severus admitted to himself that he’d known what the consequences would be. There was no way a few teenage boys could do such a thing and expect to come out alive, much less unscathed. They’d had to call in their Professors to sweep up. That they were all alive, and that Regulus was safe, would have to be his consolation when the Headmaster handed him the Writ Of Expulsion.
One week later, when Lupin was back on his feet, the four were in the Headmaster’s office.
“I can only hope that the drastic results of your antics are apparent. One person is dead, although not through your direct action. Four wizards are in St. Mungo’s even now, recovering their health. Two of your own were badly injured.” Dumbledore stood up. “I understand that you did what you all felt to be the right thing, and I am taking that into consideration when I assign you all daily detentions for the rest of the school year.”
Severus tried to look suitably penitent, but it was difficult. The world, which had been shriveled and lodged in his gut for the past week, tiny but unspeakably heavy, had just widened to hold him in its arms again.
“You, Mr. Snape, will assist Professor Slughorn in the Potions Laboratory. Mr. Lupin, you will spend an hour each day helping Madam Pomfrey. Mr. Potter, you will tutor students who lack flying skills. And, last but not least, Mr. Black will find himself back at the Hippogriff pens.” The Headmaster stared them all down with a gimlet eye. “You are dismissed.”
The week after that, Sirius said, “You know I lived with Prongs and his family last summer.”
“Yes.” And no doubt Sirius wanted to go back.
“I’ve got some money from my Grandmother. I can afford a flat of my own, I think.”
Severus tried to sound casual. “So?” It was a failed attempt.
“So don’t be an arse! Come and live with me. At least for the summer.”
Sirius got his answer in a tangle of arms and legs that took them both down with a thump. There might have been snogging involved.
It was another two weeks before it was discovered that the full moon no longer had any visible effect on Remus Lupin.
Severus set his bag down in the hallway. He did it with care, as it contained all the precious equipment and rare ingredients he’d collected in his three years away, along with all his personal items and enough presents to throw a Yule party. Once he’d started buying strange and exotic things, he couldn’t stop. He’d bought things for people who probably never thought of him at all any more – a silver sitar for his old Headmaster’s office full of curios, which could be charmed to play, and an elaborate necklace set with honey-yellow cat’s eye for for Professor McGonagall, which she would undoubtedly never wear.
For Sirius, he had brought a ring. Severus sincerely hoped he’d wear it.
It had been a long three years. The heat and crowds of Bombay grated on him, and he was glad to be shot of them. Still, he’d loved his studies, so much so that Master Chintamani nearly had to throw him out when his time was ended.
“There is nothing more I can teach you, boy,” he’d said, his musical voice stern. “You will make your own way from here. Take your knowledge and go.”
And so he had, back to the green lands he missed. Back to Sirius, whom he missed even more. They’d seen each other, of course, although not as often as he’d have liked. Sirius bartended all week, and refereed Quidditch for extra Galleons. He was determined to save enough money to open a pub in Diagon Alley, a showcase for his specialty brews. So far he’d resisted Regulus’ offers to back him. Sirius didn’t want to spend his family’s money on something that should be his own.
When they did have time to spend together, Sirius always wanted to come to Bombay. He’d fallen for the noise and bustle, the foreignness, the decadent air of the place. Severus had wondered if it was also because he had affairs to hide at home. Three years apart was a long time. Too long, he suspected, for an impulsive soul like Sirius. If he had other . . . impulses, Sirius never spoke of them, and he appeared more often after Quidditch season in the Wizarding Quarter off Eliphistone Circle.
For his part, Severus always made sure to warn Sirius in advance if he intended to visit the apartment above Obscurus Books that Severus still thought of as theirs.
Except for today. If Sirius was with someone else, it was time he knew.
The living room looked, if anything, tidier than usual. There was nothing about it that suggested a second occupant, which cheered Severus greatly. The man himself was home, if the running shower was any indication. Sirius was caterwauling some unrecognizable tune. The squall of his singing voice could drown out any mere water. With a grin, Severus made his way to the bathroom. Perhaps Sirius would like some company.
He stopped abruptly when the shower did. From behind the door, he heard a low growl, the one he heard only in bed, or so near a bed as didn’t matter.
“Slippery, aren’t you? Come here, big man.” A laugh. “That’s right, come on, time for bed. Now.”
Most horrifying of all, he heard kisses. Playful, loud, smacking kisses that doused his head with a cold rain. It iced its way down his chest and arms as he stood unable, or perhaps unwilling, to move. He had to get out of here. Later; he could find out later whether this was just an . . . an impulse, or something more binding. He would go. He had to go now.
Some masochistic part of his psyche he hadn’t known about until this moment made him stay. He had to find out who. Sirius wouldn’t tell him during their little talk, if Severus could even make himself talk instead of turning tail and running – back to Bombay, to America, he didn’t care where. Anywhere but Hogsmeade, anywhere but this apartment that had belonged to them. And if he had to find out on his own, it might as well be now. Then he’d . . . well, he’d know.
Frozen solid now, he watched as the door opened and Sirius backed out, dripping wet, his arms around a bundle in a towel. At first, Severus thought it was a doll. A few bits of dark hair stood on end, giving the round-eyed face a look of surprise that didn’t quite match the shock on Sirius’ handsome features.
“Severus! Is something wrong?”
The words he’d thought just minutes before sunk into his chest with steel blades. Three years. A long time. “Is that . . . is that yours?” The edges of his vision began to go grey. For the second time in his life, Severus thought he might faint.
Sirius must have put down the bundle, because strong arms were helping him to the floor.
“Severus!” Again, his name, so beloved on those lips. “Hey! Are you all right?”
He couldn’t answer. Fingers caught in his hair; a palm rubbed his cheek briskly. Something dug into his stomach. It was a third hand, a tiny hand grabbing his waistband, attached on the other end to a plump little body. A towel trailed from its foot. There was a naked infant crawling onto his lap.
Three long years. “I. I need to know.” He felt like he wouldn’t breathe again until he knew this baby with no clothes on did not belong here.
“Know what? Oh, for – this is Harry!”
That wasn’t an answer. “H- Harry?”
“Yes, Harry, you silly sod! James and Lily’s son!”
Of course. He knew about the child. He’d sent along a huge stuffed Demiguise, three times the size of any baby, when he got notice of the child’s christening. In his bag, there was a present for it. Him. Harry.
“Harry.” He looked down into unblinking green eyes and a face that looked wrinkled with worry, even though it couldn’t possibly be. “Bloody hell.”
“Don’t teach him bad language.” Sirius kissed the top of his head. “Why are you here? Not that I’m not glad to see you, and all.”
“He’s too young to understand.” Severus took a deep breath, intending to say something less presumptuous, something more equivocal, but what came out was the truth. “I’m home.”
A tired grin banished the concern from around Sirius’ eyes. “It’s about goddamn time.”
“Do you kiss his mother with that mouth?”
“No, but I kiss you.” He put it to use in just that way, a brief but much-appreciated welcome. “Look, can we go sit down? You know, on chairs? The sprog led me a merry chase this morning, and I’m knackered.”
Severus flapped his hands ineffectively at the infant on his lap. Its wide eyes were closed now, dark lashes brushing the soft cheek on the side that he could see, and it was beginning to drool. “What do I do about this?”
“This, Featherbrain, is Harry. He’s not going to hurt the Big, Bad Wizard.”
“But I don’t. I can’t,” he said, making another helpless gesture.
Sirius gave in and rescued him from the naked baby. Unfortunately, as soon as Sirius took him, Harry opened his eyes and began to wail. Sirius shrugged, shoving both infant and towel into Severus’ arms.
“Here. I guess he likes you, Merlin knows why. Now, sit down and don’t let him get in any trouble while I make us some tea.”
Now that Severus was settled, safe and sound in his own comfortable leather chair by the fireplace in their apartment, he lost the tension that had been keeping him upright for nearly twenty hours. He hadn’t been able to sleep, aware he was going to surprise Sirius and what the consequences might be. Now, at least, he understood that no one had truly taken his own place at Sirius’ side or in his life. If so, that person would be here now, not Severus.
Perhaps his insecurity was the trigger for the nightmares he’d suffered over the last several months. His sleep had been riddled with terrifying visions of Voldemort -- not of him bloody and torn in front of the Altar Stone, but of him rising from the dead. The dreams were so vivid, so lifelike, that he woke with sweat staining his sheets and stifled screams in his throat.
Now, with the -- with Harry sucking a thumb quietly, wrapped up warm in the yellow towel, Severus allowed himself to slide into the comfort of sleep.
Death’s-heads bobbed and circled him in the torchlight. No mask could disguise their eagerness. They knelt to their Master, but what they wanted was him -- his pain, his punishment. Severus writhed on the ground; they consumed his cries as his limbs twisted in agony. Their delight and their hunger thickened the night air. The hood fell away to his Master’s shoulders, revealing red eyes glowing from reptilian features. Lord Voldemort raised his wand.
Headmaster Dumbledore lay on the cold stone, his eyes begging for something Severus didn’t understand. Others edged into the scene, threatening men whose evil wrapped around them like their concealing cloaks. A blond boy stood nearby, his wand out, but doing nothing, saying nothing. His eyes, too, beseeched Severus, as if Severus were his last hope in this world. Severus Snape raised his wand.
Harry Potter, no longer a tender infant but a man battered, bruised, and scarred, stood before that strange reptilian creature that was the Dark Lord. Lightning crackled, illuminating the iron grey fog that approached them across the barren landscape. Severus, his own anguish a mere backdrop to the terrible tableau, already knew with certainty who would die this day. Harry Potter raised his wand.
Sirius’ load of pot, cups, and biscuits crashed to the floor. The din jarred Severus awake, fighting for oxygen and strangling on his own sobs. The baby was crying in his lap, and for a split second Severus saw the shadow of a jagged red scar on that pale, unmarked forehead.
“I knew there was something wrong! What is it? Tell me!” He skidded across the wet floor and knelt at Severus’ side, one hand clasping Severus’ arm while the other steadied young Harry.
“Everything is wrong.” Every breath seared his lungs like dragon’s fire. On the back of his eyelids, he saw himself all those years ago, making love to Sirius on the four-poster bed at the Hog’s Head. He’d reveled in control. It was the kiss of power. It had calmed his fears. He knew, now, what he’d really been afraid of. Not of penetration, nor that Sirius might betray him in word or deed, but that what was happening to him . . . his life, his world, everything after that life-changing summer day . . . was too good to be true.
And it was.
He knew, somehow, that everything about this was wrong, and the knowledge was an open wound in his soul. It was the dreams that were true. The dreams were his life.
A suspicion sparked in his brain, and he snapped it out. “You did this. How? Why?”
“Did what?” Sirius was blank with confusion.
“Us. You created . . . you made . . . us.”
Sirius looked around the room as if there were something to find, an object out of place. “We made us.”
It was as if his certainty made the world he knew crumble. It deteriorated before his very eyes. His hands and his legs and the baby on his lap lost color, lost the solidity of their presence. By the abject horror on Sirius’ fading face, he knew the other man saw it, too.
“Will I,” Severus could not stop the humiliating quiver in his voice, “will I remember you?”
Sirius did not answer. He was gone.
Severus tried to shake off the feeling of being muffled in cotton wool. The second trip along the strands of colored light had left him dazed. He was, he realized, still sitting on Sirius Black as if no time at all had passed, instead of years of the most marvelous life he never had. The warm white walls, high coved ceiling, and faintly grained floor surrounded them. The brilliant light cast its glow everywhere. Had he not noticed, before, that it carried with it no shadows?
“How?” Severus managed to croak.
“I don’t know.”
“Was any of it real?”
“The way I felt was real.”
Severus levered himself off the supine body, despite the fact that he was perfectly comfortable there, and folded up against the wall to consider that. He was well aware that his experiences never left him. In fact, he had spent his whole life refining upon them, sculpting grudges into art. He had never been apart from his anger and resentment. Instead, he held them close as lovers and nursed them like babes.
But these new experiences, clean, sweet moments untainted by guilt or hate . . . they felt real, too.
“You wanted to change everything.” Severus was desperate to reconcile what he knew with . . . what he knew. “Typical. Because, of course, the events of the world hinged upon you.”
“You should know how it is. Did a lot of that yourself.” Sirius looked up at the ceiling again. “Besides, wasn’t it good? I loved you.”
Severus had to say it, didn’t he? “It was a hallucination!” Even to him, it sounded hollow.
“Have it your way. But we might as well learn to get along. We could be in this room together for a long time.”
Frowning, Severus leaned forward. “What do you mean?”
“No one has left here without my judgment to send them on. And I won’t do it any more. I can’t judge you. Not now, when I know what my life would have been like . . . if I had been different.”
“We’ll just have to make do.” A death spent in this kitchen with Sirius Black sounded less like being in Hell than he would ever have expected.
Eyes bleak, Sirius stared at him. “You hate my fucking guts. I don’t blame you now. If I were a better man, I’d send you somewhere just to spare you an eternity with me.” He rolled himself over, his face turned away. “But I can’t do it.”
Severus let the words spill out by themselves, afraid he couldn’t say them otherwise. “It wouldn’t be a punishment. Not anymore.” He waited for the other man to look at him again. Sirius’ expression was wary, as if he were waiting for something scathing. “We were who we were. Now we are whoever we wish to be. Perhaps,” Severus continued, low and soft, “perhaps neither of us need suffer for the lives we lived, any more.”
It wasn’t the two of them moving this time. He was sure of it. It was the walls that gave way, taking with them the windows, doors, ceiling . . . replacing them with a grove of coconut palms. Severus was still seated, his back against the rough bark of a palm, with Sirius stretched out at his feet. The colors around them were every bit as brilliant and glowing as they had been in the kitchen.
The sky was more than just sky. It was the endless sharp blue of a perfect day, with only a few building thunderheads near the horizon that would reflect the sunset rather than bring rain. The sand was pinkish and pearlescent; it drizzled through his fingers in cool ribbons. The palm trees were the ultimate expression of palm treeness.
A slush-slush of lapping water on his right brought his attention to a wide aventurine bay and the sailboat that was luffing gently toward them.
“What the fuck now?” Sirius seemed more worried than heartened by their change of circumstance. Well, he’d been trapped in a kitchen ever since tumbling through the Veil; to Severus this seemed like an improvement.
“I think your answer is on deck.”
Sure enough, a tall bearded man with a headful of white braids jumped off the boat with a splash, and began to haul it nearer the beach through the glistening water by means of a bow rope. He was close enough now for Severus to imagine the twinkle in his brilliantly blue eyes.
“Albus.” Severus might not have said the word aloud. He might have backed up a step. He wanted to watch, to hold the vision without touching. Would it evaporate in his unworthy hands?
Sirius was already running toward the wet man, kicking up arcs of drops as he splashed on, knee deep. They looked strange enough, the two men embracing at the lip of the bay, one fully dressed in Muggle clothing and the other wearing only a pair of long boxer shorts emblazoned with eye-popping flowers and an open shirt to match. The two slogged up to the beach together, Sirius holding on to Albus’ shoulder as if he couldn’t let go.
Even though he knew it wasn’t quite right, Severus said, “Headmaster.” Albus’ long beard was also in many thin braids that hung down, white and wet, nearly obscuring the otherwise bare chest.
“Severus!” Albus’ broad smile held a wealth of happiness. “It’s so very good to see you. It feels like an age. Let’s not be so formal.” He grabbed Severus in a bear hug just as close and welcoming as the one he gave Sirius.
Less exuberantly, Severus put his arms around his former mentor and squeezed. Albus Dumbledore didn’t break, nor did he vanish. He felt as human and alive as Severus had ever known him. Severus’ heart slipped from the vise that had gripped it since the Astronomy Tower and the terrible green light. The abrupt restart of its inner workings after so long made it too big, too rambunctious, for his chest. He was grateful for Albus’ tight hold, and when he stepped back, Albus politely turned aside to address Sirius while Severus quickly wiped his face with his sleeve.
Albus was saying, “I’m glad to see you looking so well, Sirius. I feared your business would take its toll.”
He looked up to see Sirius’ head cocked to one side. “You . . . knew where I was?”
“Why, yes. After one has been here a while, it is possible to look in on others at times.”
Severus could not, for a moment, grasp Sirius’ reaction. The man appeared to be holding himself in check, trying not to give in to pain, or rage. Then he spoke, and Severus understood.
“You did this to me? After Azkaban, you sealed me up to rot in that mausoleum! I was barely sane, and there I lost everything I had left, including my life. Was it you who imprisoned me in that soul-sucking portal to Hell?”
“No! No. I have not meddled in the affairs of others since . . . well, since I came here. There are greater forces than my will that shape events in this place. That,” he said with a small twist of smile, “was one of the first things I learned. I was quite taken down a peg.”
Severus had admired Albus for half a lifetime for many reasons. One of them was his indomitability.
The rueful gaze he now beheld was as much a surprise as anything he’d come upon here.
A flash of something stronger than dismay crossed Sirius’s face. “But . . . but . . . what of all those poor people?”
“The people who came to you felt no one had ever listened to them in life. You did that for them, and sent them on to where they needed to go. By the way, you were laboring under a misapprehension – there is no Hell after life, at least none that I know of. But it was that misapprehension that allowed you to understand that you didn’t wish to judge any more. I didn’t know that Severus would come to help you, or that in so doing, you might help each other – for I gather that is what happened?” He looked to Severus.
“That wouldn’t have been on the agenda, no. But, as you see . . . here we are.”
“And where are we?” interrupted Sirius. “Or – what I really want to know is, where were we? Do you know?”
“Part of the reason for your work as adjudicator was your determination to pay back what you felt you owed, am I right?”
“Well, yes. I suppose so.”
“Here, we are never truly trapped. Once we learn what we need to learn, everything can change. Reality is fluid here. But the reality of life is also different than we conceive it to be. Reality is not straight and crisp like a well-browned slice of bacon. It’s more . . . swirled and intermixed, like scrambled eggs.” He beamed happily at them as he uttered this so-useful comparison.
Sirius looked nonplussed. He made a small spiral with his finger near his ear on the offside from Albus, and mouthed, “Barmy.”
Severus found himself unable to contain a snort of amusement. “Switched from Muggle sweets to breakfast foods, Albus? I suppose that into every life, a few tomato slices must roll.”
“Oh, very well,” said Albus, unabashed. “For the less imaginative among us, we’ll start with something more linear. When you choose a direction, the directions unchosen don’t just disappear forever. They are used by you – sometimes, by a you so different that you would not recognize yourself.”
Severus knew his face was probably as blank as Sirius’. The life he knew as his own had been so difficult, so all-encompassing, that it was impossible to imagine holding more lives in something approximating . . . him.
“Allow me to use a graphic representation.” Albus held out his hand. Upon it was a sphere, much like a scrying ball. It was black. When he took the ball from Albus – he’d been expecting the weight of crystal, and it rode lightly in his hand – he could see that inside, there was an infinitely fine web of colored strands. It was not one flat web like a spider’s, but filled the entire ball with humming color that was invisible from a distance. “This is your life, Severus Snape.”
Albus held out a similar ball to Sirius, who was staring round-eyed. “Your deep need to atone for your regrets led you to visit a life path where all of your impulsive –“
“Rash, witless,” interjected Severus, unthinking. Wait, what had Albus just said? He had implied that their adventures in boyhood fumbling were real. That somewhere out there, he was flying on owl’s wings, and that Regulus, clinging to that very same strand, was alive and well because of them. Preposterous. Ridiculous.
“. . . your impulsive actions had positive results for the people for whom you cared most. And it so happened that Severus, here, agreed to go with you, for reasons of his own.”
“That’s all very well, but . . .” Sirius looked unconvinced.
“As much as I enjoy this lovely beach – it’s one of my very favorites, you see -- we really must be going,” interrupted Albus. “Harry will arrive at any moment, and I, for one, want to be there to greet him.”
Harry? Harry Potter? Suddenly, memories of the terrible battle filled his mind, blotting out the perfect sky and the green water and the companions next to him. He was abased in the dirt, riven by pain, but still, at the last, triumphant –
“No! No, he’s not, he can’t be!” The panic in his voice rang out loud and clear. “He’s alive!”
With a wistful smile his former Headmaster said, “Not every Harry.”
If that was so, his trials in life had made little difference after all. One Harry he had saved; a dozen others – who knew? It was too much to bear. He couldn’t think. He didn’t know what to feel. Severus stood there, his too-heavy feet like rocks weighing him into the sand, as Albus walked off to ready the boat. “It was for nothing, then.” Slowly he shook his head. “All of it. It was all for nothing.”
Sirius leaned in close, his grey eyes burning with life. “No. You’re wrong.” He breathed the words into the hair at Severus’ temple, but it was as if Severus could feel the touch of his lips. “It was for everything.” Long fingers pushed into the hair at the back of his neck and held him in place for a soft kiss. It was very nearly sexless, but with the promise of that and more. “Everything.”
The roving hand smoothed down his robes to the small of his back, pushing him down the beach, urging him to walk into the water. Albus was already on the boat, lowering the ladder for them. “He’s taking on crew. We don’t want to miss this ride.”
Suddenly he found that Sirius was right. He didn’t want to miss any of it. He’d missed so much in his life, at least the one he remembered best. He had certainly never sailed.
Now seemed like an extraordinarily good time to start.