I think we are in rats' alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.
-----T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
I. The Burial of the Dead
Sirius Black raised his head and winced at the light. Bleeding pusbuckets. His eyelids felt stuck together. His mind raced to put the pieces together, and sputtered to a halt at the sight of the man sitting watching him across the sparsely furnished room. Not room. Something else.
"I was beginning to think you were never going to wake up."
"Where are we?"
Snape shrugged. "I couldn't say. No place good."
Sirius sat up and looked around. A large, not unpleasant place with stone walls, and stone floors. High ceilings. Two thin cots. A table, two chairs. A heavy partition at one end. He glanced at it.
"Bathroom," Snape supplied.
"Oh. Not a good sign."
"Indeed. Our captors expect us to make ourselves comfortable."
"Captors? You've seen them?"
"No. But I have some ideas."
Sirius paced, getting the feel of the room. The windows were a good fifteen feet up, but there was ample light. Two candles were stuck in metal holders on the table. Matches were beside them.
"How long have I been out?"
"An hour since I woke, by my reckoning. There's no telling how long before that. By the light, I calculate it to be late afternoon. We were waylaid about noon or a little after. Assuming this is still the same day. But I think we'd be a good deal hungrier were it not."
He glanced at Snape, who was sitting comfortably on his cot, looking unconcerned.
"Albus will know by now."
"So. Let's hear your ideas."
Snape opened his mouth. At that moment the massive door gave a screech on its hinges, and slowly opened inwards. Neither wizard moved or reacted visibly, but their muscles tensed like jungle cats. Eleven months of war had honed their reflexes.
Lucius Malfoy stepped inside, a pleasant smile on his face. "Severus. And Sirius Black. What a pleasure to see you both."
Snape's face was impassive. "Lucius. I might have known you would be behind something this hopelessly. . . Gothic." He waved his hand contemptuously at their surroundings.
"Not to your taste? You were always such a sybarite, Severus."
"I am a sybarite? I don't know how you manage to eat with that silver spoon grafted onto your palate."
Sirius took a step forward, just to see how quickly Malfoy's peripheral vision could pin him. Too quickly. "Well, since this appears to be Slytherin old home week, I'll just show myself the door, shall I?"
"Ah, Mr. Black. I wasn't forgetting you, not at all. In fact, you figure very largely in my plans. So please, do me the courtesy of having a seat."
Sirius stood, assessing him. The wand was on him so fast he didn't even see it pulled. "I said sit down, Black." The courteous veneer dropped, and Sirius complied.
"Now. It is interesting you should bring up food, Severus, since that is precisely why I have come. Accio dinner." His wand still on them both, he moved aside for two trays of food that floated in the open door and rested on the table. "I hope you find it to your satisfaction. The house elves have been at such pains. Shall I send up your compliments?"
Snape's eyes flicked to the table and back again. "Lucius. What is it you want?"
"Why, Severus. Now who's being Gothic? What I want should be perfectly obvious. I want your treacherous head on a charger, of course, and I want to be the one to deliver it to our Lord. However," he paused, crossing his arms. "I can be persuaded to . . . modify my goals. If I am sufficiently pleased with you. Not you," he said, turning to Black. "You are of no interest to me. Sorry to be so blunt. I hope it does not affect your digestion. The chateaubriand is really quite spectacular. At any rate," he said, "think about my offer. I'm sure you'll be able to figure it out. And enjoy your dinner," he said with a final glance at Snape, and a glint of something else in his eyes. The door screeched shut behind him, and they heard the bolts on the other side slide home.
Sirius regarded the trays warily. He poked at one with the polished silver fork, and sliced it gently. Perfectly turned chateaubriand, with a light cream sauce. A pitcher of water. Nothing else. "Odd."
Snape was watching him, saying nothing.
Sirius lifted each slab of meat, sniffing it carefully. "Come give it a try. I'm pretty sure it's safe. Besides, it sounds like Malfoy has more in mind than a simple poisoning."
"I'm not hungry."
Sirius ate the admittedly excellent beef, washing it down with the cool clean water. Snape wrapped himself in the thin blanket and turned to the wall. He said not another word the rest of the evening, and Sirius did not disturb him, being wrapped in his own thoughts.
"Ah, good morning, gentlemen. Did you sleep well?"
Black yawned and stretched. "I'd like to have a word with those house elves, Malfoy. My mattress could use a good turning. And I'd like silk sheets, not flannel, if it's not too much trouble."
"Not at all. I shall have more comfortable bedding sent down at once. Anything else?"
"Certainly. What about you, Severus? Anything you need?"
Snape was as impassive as yesterday. "No, thank you, Lucius."
"Really? Are you sure?" His voice was solicitous.
"Very well then. I have breakfast for you." With a wave of his wand, the two trays reappeared. Veal medallions and the same pitcher of water. Sirius propped himself on his arm.
"A little heavy for breakfast, don't you think, Malfoy?"
"Life is too short for such concerns. Especially yours." He gave a pleasant smile and turned on his booted heel, pulling the door fast behind him. Sirius sat down and inspected the veal, coming to the same conclusion as last night: flawlessly done meat, innocent of evil designs upon its consumers. Snape heaved himself up and went behind the partition to relieve himself. When he returned he threw himself back down on the cot.
"Aren't you going to eat?"
Snape gave him a baleful stare. "I am a vegetarian."
Sirius raised his eyebrows. "Right. Have it your way."
After breakfast he inspected the room again, searching every nook and cranny for weaknesses. Snape just watched him. After he was satisfied with his knowledge of the room, he turned his attention to the door. Probably not as strong as it appeared. The hinges were aging, though doubtless magically re-enforced. He ran a careful hand over the planking on the door, memorizing its grooves. No knob. The stonework around the door alcove was older than the rest of the room. The mortar was ever so slightly chinked at the arch. He spent some time prying at it, learning its feel.
"For pity's sake, Black, stop playing Count of Monte Cristo and sit down. You are making me nervous."
Malfoy re-appeared for lunch, bringing not only roast lamb but cigarettes and a chess board. "I thought you might be getting bored," he commented with a smile. "Let me know if there's anything else you need."
"Lucius." Snape's voice had an edge to it now. "You can let him go. I'll do what you want."
Black's gaze was sharp on him.
Malfoy's smile did not waver. "Yes, Severus, I know you will," he said, and the door clanked shut.
Sirius poked at the lamb with disgust. "God, what I wouldn't give for a slice of toast right about now. What the hell is the matter with him? If ever I get out of here, I'll be a vegetarian for life. Get over here, Snape, and eat before you faint."
"Fine. Be an idiot. How's your chess game?"
"Sod off, Black, and leave me alone."
Malfoy came once more in the early evening, to clear the trays from lunch and bring fresh ones for dinner. He seemed very pleased with himself. "I persuaded the house elves to exert themselves tonight, and I think you will agree with me the results are really quite extraordinary. We have steak tartare with a cold truffle and liver sauce that absolutely evaporates on the palate. Really, it is more than either of you deserve, I'm sure. I had some myself not too long ago, and I confess I am tempted to try some more. Narcissa will surely scold my greediness."
He reached for the knife and sliced himself a generous piece of the steak. "Ah," he cried as the knife slipped. "How clumsy of me." He lifted his hand to examine the damage. A few spatters of blood fell on the flagstones.
"Fuck you, Lucius," muttered Snape.
"Mm. Now there's a thought. But don't you think Black would be embarrassed?" He sucked on his finger and gave a sly grin as he cleaned it. "Have a pleasant evening, lads," and he swept out, humming something Black could not quite catch.
Sirius began to watch Snape with considerable concern. In the forty-eight hours of their captivity, he had consumed only water, and risen only to use the toilet. His colour, not surprisingly, was beginning to look off. The only interest in their surroundings he had shown was the window, which he studied intently and, Sirius, thought, nervously.
"It's a matter of indifference to me whether you choose to survive this or not, but you should know I'll need to give Dumbledore a reason why you chose to starve yourself to death."
Snape snorted and rolled over on the cot. Sirius assumed he had dropped back off, and he began arranging the pieces on the chess board in another endless round of chess solitaire. He was replaying games in his head, trying to remember moves he had seen Remus make twenty years ago, games he had played in the common room with James. Always it had been like that for him -- seeing the chess board clear and entire, every move forward and backward for ten moves on either side. Unlike life. In Azkaban, he had torn bits of his tattered clothing off to make chess pieces. It had kept him sane. He looked about him, studying the dungeon again. Captivity made sense. It was life that was confusing.
When he looked up again, Snape was sitting up and watching him.
"Black. You need to know what's going on here."
Sirius shoved his bishop tentatively forward. "So tell me."
"Lucius expects me to kill you."
He glanced around the room. "How? Bashing me over the head with a chair in my sleep? It seems unlikely. He has both our wands."
Snape subsided, apparently uncertain what to say next.
"Snape. Tell me why you won't eat."
"I told you. I can't."
"Right. You're a vegetarian."
He made an impatient gesture. "Not by choice, you idiot. I cannot eat meat. It will sicken me."
Sirius gave him a skeptical look. "A meat allergy?"
"I -- not exactly." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. Sirius noted the hand shook. He pushed away the chess board.
"All right, Snape. I've been patient. Now why don't you tell me exactly what the fuck is going on here before I really lose it. I don't like my odds of going up against Malfoy and whatever team of Neanderthals he's got lurking behind that door, all by myself. If we're going to get out of here, it's going to take the both of us. So get yourself up off that bloody bed and eat something, goddamnit."
Snape relapsed into silence, his eyes closed. Sirius watched the internal struggle carefully. He weighed his next move. The lunch tray had not been cleared, and he sliced a thin bit of the steak from the thickest and juiciest bit. Spearing it with a fork, he carried it over to Snape's cot and sat beside him. Snape's eyes opened narrowly.
"What do you think you are doing?"
"I'm going to make you eat."
"I'd like to see you try."
Quicker than lightning, Sirius's hand was gripping his hair and tilting his head back, dangling the meat into the mouth that gasped open in surprise. He wedged the first bit of it into his mouth before Snape struggled free, clawing viciously, and stumbled for the partition, retching. He listened as Snape heaved the non-existent contents of his stomach into the toilet.
He tossed the bit of meat onto the table with a sigh and waited for Snape to emerge. He came out a minute later, wiping his mouth.
"You bastard," he spat, his voice shaking. "Do that again and I'll kill you." He sank onto the bed, giving Black a rough kick off of it.
The door gave its telltale screech, and Malfoy strode into the room. He appeared to take no notice of Snape's shattered appearance, or Black's flushed and angry face.
"Well. How is your afternoon going along, gentlemen?" He glanced at the chess board. "Ah, quite an interesting game you've got going there, Black. Pity I can't join you. I understand you're quite good, really, for a halfblood. And how are you getting along, Severus?" His voice was all solicitousness.
"Fuck you, Lucius. You know how I am." His voice was trembling, and just barely under his control.
"Ah. Yes, so I do. It must be awful for you. Tell me, Severus. Are you hungry yet?"
He got no answer, but Snape leaned forward as if he was contemplating a lunge. Malfoy's wand was out and pointed at him instantly. "One step towards me, you revolting creature, and I'll incinerate you where you stand," he snarled. Sirius watched the exchange carefully, and he caught the flash of fear in Malfoy's eyes. He stored it away as something useful.
"Malfoy, I don't know what the hell your little game here is, but --"
"Why, Severus. Haven't you told him? I'm surprised at you, really I am." He was sliding his wand back into his robe. "A pleasure, as always, gentlemen. Good day for now. I'll return with your dinner in a bit. Black, how are those new sheets?"
"Splendid, thanks. Couldn't be better, you rotten little prick."
"Excellent." He gave a curt bow and slammed the door behind him. Snape slumped flat on the bed, white as a ghost.
His hand was knocked away. "Get away from me, Black. I mean it. Far away."
The hours to dinner stretched in silence. Snape lay curled on his bed, shaking, his breathing shallow and fast. Sirius never took his eyes off him, and behind those eyes he was calculating, weighing possibilities. It was like chess, really. An infinite number of moves, and only one was the right one. Only one fit all the possibilities, applied to every contingency. When he found it he felt the same little hum that he did when he knew exactly where his queen was going to move. Checkmate.
He waited for the dinner trays, with the unmoving concentration of those accustomed to solitary confinement. Snape was barely conscious by that time, and Malfoy did not waste words, merely surveyed him distastefully and stepped quickly out. For Black he had not even a glance. Sirius caught the underestimation and stored that away, too.
When he was certain the booted steps were gone, he got up and studied the trays. Lamb again. A powerful, heady smell. Calculated to sicken Snape, no doubt. He picked up a knife and examined it, testing its edge against his thumb. Malfoy must be fairly confident, to allow them such sharp knives. Or maybe hopeful. He drew a bead of blood on his thumb and watched it. He tapped the knife against his lips, considering.
With catlike tread he stepped to Snape's bed and sat down, shaking him gently. "Snape. Sit up."
"I said, get away."
"Snape. If you start, can you stop?"
Whatever Snape had been expecting to hear, that wasn't it. He turned startled eyes to Sirius and slowly sat up, his eyes on the knife. "What are you talking about, Black?"
"You know what I'm talking about. Don't waste time. Answer the question."
He blinked rapidly, swallowing. "I. . .I don't know. Last week, yes. Now. . ."
"I understand. But it's our only chance, isn't it, so I guess I'm going to have to trust you."
He extended his forearm, scrutinising it. He felt Snape's trembling beside him. Deliberately he sank the knife in a quick horizontal cut across his inner elbow. The blood gushed in a hot fountain upward, and he gave an involuntary cry. The next instant Snape's mouth was on it, clamping the wound, sucking it, sucking it, draining him with desperate force, and he was sinking backward, dizzy and giddy and something he couldn't name felt oh so good, like lips sucking on his cock only better, deeper, powerful lips were wrapped around his heart sucking the deeper pulsing there, and his head fell back with a groan as his eyes slid shut.
He woke wrapped in a blanket that did not smell like his. The light that drifted onto him was greyish. Early dawn. The room caught an unusual amount of light for a dungeon. Naturally. Another jab at Snape. He propped himself up and was surprised to find himself still woozy.
"Steady on there." A firm hand was lifting him up. He squinted at Snape, who gave him a quirk of an eyebrow.
"You look. . . better."
"And you look like hell. Drink some water."
He obeyed. His mouth felt as dry as the morning after a bender. He rubbed his face and took a closer look at Snape, who met his gaze.
"How did you figure it out? I confess I would not have thought you capable of it."
"You really do think the rest of the world is stupid, don't you, you arrogant twit."
"Well." He shrugged. "I've not been proven wrong yet. Here, I've cut some of this meat. You're going to have to eat it to get your strength back."
"Oh. Thanks." He brought the fork, which seemed very heavy, to his mouth and began resolutely chewing. "So. No meat. Dead blood, right?"
"That's right. It can be fatal to my kind."
"Something like that."
"Malfoy knows. Who else?"
He hesitated. "Dumbledore."
Sirius set the fork down. "No, that I can't believe."
"Why so? It is credible to you that he would admit a werewolf to Hogwarts but not someone like me?"
"Well. . . yes."
"Because a werewolf is a bloodthirsty monster once every moon, and I am one every day of the month."
"I wouldn't have put it that way."
"Right. Drink more water."
"So you're telling me," he said, gulping the water, "you've been a vampire since you were a student." It did not escape him that Snape winced at the word.
"Since I was nine, actually."
"Nine. Holy fucking hell. That's odd, you know. It's the same age Remus --"
"Okay." He set the glass down. "I figure I number more than your average percentage of Dark Creatures among my acquaintance."
Snape gave him a look a that, but he tucked into the meat with vigour and ignored it. "When did Malfoy figure it out?"
"He didn't. That kind of deductive cleverness escapes him. I made the mistake of telling him when I was fifteen. Apart from Dumbledore, I had never told anybody. I hadn't actually been the one to tell him, of course. My stepfather took care of that. He only did it because he assumed I would be rejected from Hogwarts once the headmaster knew."
Sirius rested his fork. "How do you live?" he asked quietly.
Snape blinked. "Very carefully." He sighed and shifted. "There is a potion I take. It curbs the -- appetites somewhat. And I can manage with. . . non-human creatures very adequately."
Sirius examined him more closely in the growing light. His hair, far from its usual lank, greasy appearance, was a shimmering curtain of silk. His skin was no longer sallow, but warm and clear, his eyes bright. Even his teeth, as he talked, flashed whiter. The harsh lines scoring his face had eased in the night, making him look at least five years younger.
"Good God," he whispered. "Look at you."
Snape turned and met his gaze, and Sirius saw with a little lurch that the man sitting beside him was handsome. "Jesus. Sucking rats may keep you alive, but it doesn't do a hell of a lot for you, Snape."
The brows rushed together in a scowl. "I don't eat rats, thank you very much. I understand that is your delicacy of choice, but I've not yet sunk to that level."
"What then? Stoats? Snakes? That would be too good to be true." He forked another bit of the meat into his mouth. "So. Tell me some more."
Snape sighed resignedly. "What more would you like to know."
Sirius paused, weighing. "Have you ever killed?"
Snape dropped his gaze. "Why do you think," he answered slowly, "I became a Death Eater in the first place?"
"So I guess my real questions is, how long -- before last night, that is -- since you had tasted human blood?"
A frown flickered Snape's brow. "You're very matter-of-fact about this, Black."
"What else should I be?'
"Well, for one thing. . ." he let his gaze settle on the other man. "Afraid."
Sirius shoved the plate away. "Sorry to disappoint you."
Snape's frown deepened. "I don't understand you at all, Black."
"You thought I would react as Malfoy did?"
Snape's jaw twitched. "As I said, that was a mistake."
"Evidently." He rose and stretched. "Malfoy ought to be here soon. You'd better wrap yourself up and look miserable as best you can. Don't let him see your face, though."
"Yes," he mused. "What you are thinking. . . it should be easy enough." He gave Sirius a coldly assessing look that was somehow more unsettling than the entire previous conversation. "How are you feeling?"
"Better." He took a few steps around the room. "Fine, actually." He shot Snape a look. "Do we need to do that again?"
Snape thought. "If you are capable of it. But not too soon."
The door screeched, and Snape quickly pulled the blankets around himself, letting his hair fall in his face as much as possible. Malfoy's step was more cautious than before, and again the Animagus in Sirius smelled the fear. He had his wand at the ready this time, and a goblet of something in his hand.
"Ah, good morning, Severus. Black. How does the morning find you?"
No answer from Snape's cot.
"Malfoy, whatever you're trying to pull here, it isn't going to work. Surrender now and we'll see that you aren't executed."
Malfoy's smile was thin. "I haven't come to bandy words with you, Black. You try my patience. Severus, have you no word for me? And here I've brought you a present." He swirled something in the goblet. "Matters got a little. . . excited at the meeting last night. At any rate, it meant a little something extra for you." He set the goblet down on the table. "And Severus -- it's fresh. Very fresh. In fact, she may still be alive."
"Malfoy, you unutterable fucking bastard." Sirius's voice shook. Malfoy paid him no mind.
"Do what I want, Severus, and this and more can be yours. You remember, don't you? You know you want it, no matter what you tell Dumbledore, no matter what you make the others believe. I know you. I have seen. Why do you fight it? Why resist? We are what we are, and there's little we can do about it."
"Is that what each mere Malfoy tells the little psychopath at her knee?" Snape's voice was faint and bitter.
"Do it now, Severus. Do it so I can watch, like we used to. Do it and this can all be over." His voice was low and urgent, seductive almost, as he ran a finger around the rim of the goblet, and Sirius's heightened senses caught the rich reek of it. What it must be doing to Snape he could not imagine. "Rise, Severus. Kill and eat." He gave a little smile at his own joke. "So many good parts of that book, there are." He cocked his head at Snape, who did not move. "Very well. I shall not be back until tomorrow, unfortunately. Pressing business calls me elsewhere, I'm afraid. Black, if you are still alive when I return, we shall have that chess game. Although," he said with an even wider smile, "I rather think you shall be . . . unavailable by that time. So. I'll just take this with me, then." He lifted the goblet. "Good day, gentlemen," he called as he swung the door shut.
In Malfoy's absence there was no more food of any kind. No meat, no water even. They passed the afternoon in desultory conversation, calculating when Malfoy might return. Snape watched his chess game this time, though he made no move to join. As soon as it was dark, Sirius huddled under his blanket. Sleep was impossible, and to judge from Snape's quiet shifting, it was for him, too.
At last Sirius kicked back the blanket and padded over to Snape's bed.
"You need more, don't you."
"Yes." The uncleared breakfast tray was within reach, and he palmed the shining knife. He sat down on the bed and rolled up his sleeve.
"You needn't worry. I shan't require as much this time, and I can be more. . . judicious. I shall try not to hurt you."
Hurt. That really wasn't at all the word, he thought, as the lips closed on his other arm this time. It was slower than before. He watched in fascination as Snape's throat worked. His eyes flicked up to meet Sirius's, and their gaze held. Snape broke off long before he felt close to passing out. A trickle of blood marked a path down the side of Snape's mouth as he pressed a finger to the wound. When he lifted it, it had sealed.
"How did you -- I've never seen anything like that," he breathed.
"Some things I don't need a wand for." The dizziness hit him then, and it occurred to him Snape might have taken more than he thought. Doubtless his suction was stronger tonight than yesterday. He felt hands sliding him down onto the bed, cushioning his head, wrapping him in the blankets.
"Sleep now," the voice whispered. He felt Snape lie down beside him, and he was grateful for the warmth. He shivered, and arms came around him. "All right?"
"Mm. Sure," he mumbled. "Snape?" he said after a while.
"Ever done that before?"
The arms warming him tensed, then resettled. "No," he said at last.
His eyes opened on darkness, but he knew it was the dark just before dawn. He blinked and saw Snape, propped on his elbow, watching him.
"Don't you ever sleep?"
"Not so much at night."
"Hm. So that stereotype's true, then."
"Only to a degree. Like most of them."
He rolled over. "What else?"
"Oh. Well, I'm certainly not immortal or anything ridiculous like that."
"No," he mused. "I suppose you're not. I mean, you've aged since you were nine. Physically, that is." The moon was full enough to see that Snape looked remarkable. A good ten years younger. No lines on his face at all. Profile like a Roman coin. Eyes wide, lips full and lush. Almost -- he quickly rolled back over.
"So." He pounded the pillow. "I have a plan."
"Hm. So do I." Snape's voice was very low.
"I wonder if your plan is the same as mine."
"That depends. How much darkness are you comfortable with?"
He turned and met Snape's eyes. "A surprising amount."
Malfoy stepped into the room cautiously, letting the door swing open well ahead of him. If his calculations were correct, Black would be a huddled mess on the floor. And Snape. . . well, he would be at his full strength. He let his mind toy with the delightful image of Black's colourless body, limp and cold, deposited on Dumbledore's study floor. With love, from your pet vampire. Nothing so crude as that on the card, of course. It would take some composing, but he trusted that he would find just the right turn of phrase. And Severus would never be able to go back, not after that. He would finally and forever be owned by him, Lucius Malfoy. Not by Dumbledore, and certainly not by Voldemort. Him.
There, in front of the bed. Oh, Severus, what a mess. He wrinkled his nose in distaste. Some blood had spattered on the blanket in which he had, pathetically, tried to conceal his victim. The old scruples. Of course. Those he would have to correct, overcome.
He toed the sorry heap, knowing Severus was behind him, watching him. He affected calm but his hand was tight on his wand. Letting down one's guard would never do.
"Severus," he whispered as he turned. "I'm proud of you."
Snape was at his side, a little smile on his lips. Lucius extracted his handkerchief and daubed at the reddish stains around that handsome mouth. "You look wonderful," he breathed.
"You know you do. You always did."
"Lucius." The name was a caress as he slid closer. Their lips collided hungrily as their arms twined about each other. "Let me stay with you," Snape husked, nuzzling him.
"Yes," he hissed, pulling him closer, his kisses getting rougher, needier. He froze as the knife tip pressed against his throat. Snape pulled away gently.
"I wouldn't move, if I were you, Lucius."
Sirius tightened his grip on the white-faced wizard, his mouth inches from his ear, the knife blade flat on his trachea. "So. Malfoy. What do you think is going to happen now?"
"I -- I -- Severus, please. . ."
"Shut up, Malfoy. It's me you're talking to. Be polite to me, Malfoy, and I can make this end quickly. I'll use the knife."
"No, please. . ." his voice was hoarse under the knife. "Severus, you wouldn't. . . you can't -- you've fed, you can't want. . ."
"Ah." Snape folded his arms. "Yes, you're right there. I have indeed fed, and fed well." His eyes flicked to Black. "But what is it the most elementary study of human nature reveals to us, Lucius? Appetite begets appetite. Feeding our desires enflames them. It does not quench them. It has been too many, far too many years for me, Lucius. I have fed, yes. But I am still hungry."
"Black --" Malfoy's voice was a whimper.
"Now you're catching on, aren't you? I'm just about your only hope here."
"Black, listen to me." Malfoy's voice was rapid, but he controlled his panic. "He's not human. He has you thinking he is, that he could be your friend, be loyal to you, that he won't hurt you, but he will. He is what he is, he can't help it. If you let him kill me do you think you'll walk out of here? He won't be able to help himself, once he tastes blood. He's a blood-crazed monster, a ruthless killing machine, and he won't stop if we don't stop him. Black, you have to listen to me."
"Lucius," Sirius whispered in his ear. "If you wanted to see a monster, all you ever needed for that was a mirror." He pressed the knife further into the trembling white throat, and a drop of blood welled out. Snape stepped involuntarily closer, and Malfoy began to shake and twist in Sirius's arms.
"No -- no, please -- Severus, stop -- I'll give you anything, whatever you want --"
"Yes, Lucius," he said calmly. "I know you will."
Faster than Sirius's eye could follow, Snape's mouth clamped on the pulsing neck stretched beneath the knife. He caught a flash of teeth and what looked like fangs, then a spurt of red before the full lips closed on it with a little growl. He continued to hold Malfoy upright, his arms twisted behind him in a vise grip as he kicked and convulsed. The sound of Snape's throat swallowing filled the room. Sirius did not move, did not relax his grip as he watched. Snape's eyes flickered up to his and they locked gazes as he drank. Steadily his throat worked. A hank of hair fell in Snape's face and without thinking Sirius reached forward and brushed it out of his way as he continued to drink. Their eyes never wavered.
When Malfoy's final convulsion had ended, and he was a limp weight in Sirius's arms, Snape detached. Sirius let him fall to the floor with a thud. As an afterthought he slid the wand out of Malfoy's robe.
"I'd really like to know what became of my wand. It took me twenty-three tries at Ollivander's to get that one right, and I'd hate to have to go through that again," he said as he examined Malfoy's wand. He glanced down at Snape, who was pulling out Malfoy's fine lawn handkerchief and wiping his mouth slowly. He tossed it on top of the body.
"Let's get out of here, Black."
II. A Game of Chess
Snape's mouth was bent to Malfoy's neck, his lips running blood. Their eyes were locked as before, and somehow Snape was talking to him, though he never took his lips off Malfoy's lovely white neck. He couldn't catch what Snape was saying. Then there was a hand on his crotch, and it was rubbing him, stroking him through the fabric. Do you like that, the voice said. Yes God yes. Then somehow Malfoy's body had disappeared, and it was his body arched beneath Snape's, his neck that felt the pull of those lips, and the hand on his cock was moving faster, and the blood that had been in his neck was shooting out his cock, shooting in thick red spurts as he came, and the voice was saying yes yes yes come for me that's right.
Sirius woke in a cold sweat, kicking back the blankets, his heart hammering. Fucking hell, he thought, looking down at his soaked pyjamas and the spreading wet spot on his bed. What am I, fifteen again? With another oath he stripped off his clothes and tossed them in the corner, flopping back to stare at the ceiling, eyes wide.
His dreams were full of dark eyes and blood. Most of them skittered on the edge of his consciousness before they slipped away, leaving only images. "What the hell is wrong with me," he muttered to the ceiling. Three days since their safe return. Since Harry's wild embrace, the relief in Remus's laugh. Dumbledore's quiet eyes on both of them, grave above his gentle smile. Life was back to normal, or as normal as it could be in time of desperate war.
And his life continued as it had, except when he closed his eyes. And then the dreams would assault him. Dreams he didn't want to know he was having. There was no pattern he could discern, nothing they really seemed to have in common except for one thing. He woke up hard at the end of every one of them, his heart going like a freight train. He would roll over in the early dawn, fighting for the last sweet snatch of sleep, pushing down the images rocketing in his head, ignoring his dripping cock. Or worse, like this morning, he would wake in the aftermath of his completion, drenched in the sticky evidence of his twisted desire.
So Snape was a vampire. Remus was a werewolf. No difference, really. Albus didn't think there was a difference. Albus trusted him. No difference. You will think he could be your friend, that you could trust him. Do you think you will walk out of here alive if he kills me? Malfoy's lips purplish blue in bloodless death. And yes, he had walked out of that room. But not without the barest flicker of doubt, as Snape wiped those lips and stepped toward him. A flicker of uncertainty that he had been unable to hide, for only a millisecond, and Snape's gaze had shuttered as he brushed past him. Let's get out of here, Black.
"So." Dumbledore set his cup of steaming lemon tea down on his saucer with a faint chink. "I trust you are both sufficiently recovered?"
Sirius nodded, not looking at Snape. "Poppy's given me a clean bill of health."
"Yes, yes." His gaze strayed to Snape, and his voice acquired an edge. "Severus, you are looking well."
Sirius felt an irrational surge of anger. We did what we had to do. He did what he had to do. And an answering voice, deeper in him. Really? Pinning Lucius Malfoy down so a vampire could drain him of every drop of blood in his veins -- this was just one of life's unavoidable situations?
"I am fine, Albus," Snape was saying, his voice the same bored, half-contemptuous purr as always.
"Very good. And now I think we can dispense with the pleasantries." Dumbledore's voice was harder. "I take it Sirius, you are now aware of Severus's condition?"
His condition. Jesus. "I know he is a vampire, yes."
"I need your word, Sirius, that you will tell no one of this. I think you are aware of how impossible his life would become were it generally known. And how impossible his work for the Order would become. Werewolves can be registered, and are in theory, at least, tolerated. It is not so with vampires."
"I don't think," he said slowly, stealing a look at Snape's impassive face, "that Snape needs me or anyone else to protect him. But if he did, I surely would."
Snape looked over at that, his face registering. . . surprise? Suspicion?
Dumbledore appeared satisfied. "All right then, boys," he said, as though they were thirteen again. "Off with you now."
And don't get into any mischief, Sirius half expected to hear him say.
He stopped Snape on the stairs going down. "Snape. I have some ideas I want to discuss with you. Do you have a moment?"
Snape looked startled, unsettled even, before his face adopted its customary scowl. "If you must. Come with me." He stalked off to the dungeons, not looking behind to see if Sirius was following him, and shut the heavy door behind them without a word. Sirius glanced around before pulling a chair up. The darkness of the place made sense now, at least. A lot of things did, frankly.
"You mentioned a potion that you took," he began. "Did you invent it? Or has it always been around?"
Snape was still standing warily by the door. "Black. I have no intention of discussing any of this with you."
"Because it is. . . private."
"Private? For fuck's sake, Snape, it's not a venereal disease."
He seemed to have nothing to say to that, so Sirius took advantage of the silence to shake out a cigarette.
"Don't do that."
Again, Snape appeared to be casting about for an answer that did not come. I've thrown him off center, thought Sirius with glee. Now there's a first. Snape plunked a chunky glass ashtray in front of him.
"There. Try not to make a mess.
What is it you had to say, Black?"
He took his time lighting his cigarette and savouring the first drag. "I think in some ways, Malfoy was right."
Malfoy. Now there was an image. Snape kissing Malfoy. Lazy and familiar. Revolting, and unbearably erotic. Exactly which way does your door swing, Snape?
Snape was stiff as a board. "I have no idea what you mean. And I see no reason for us to be having this discussion in the first place."
He blew a long plume of smoke, enjoying watching Snape dither. "Which discussion is that, Snape? Is it that you don't want me to say Malfoy's name? Or that you don't want to be reminded how he died?"
"Stop." Snape's voice was a whiplash.
Sirius ignored him. "All I want to say is this, Snape. Maybe there's a middle path to steer between embracing the dark in you and suppressing it so violently. And maybe it could be turned to the advantage of the Order."
Snape frowned. He settled gingerly in a chair. "What on earth are you talking about, Black?"
He leaned forward. "What can you do, Snape?"
"I don't understand."
"Yes you do. What can you do, when you've fed? When you're not stoked up on whatever godawful potion you take, and picking rodents out of your teeth? What can you do? Tell me."
"Why should I?"
"If you say that one more time, I shall put out that cigarette on your forehead."
He grinned and blew another long trail of smoke. "You can climb, I know that. I saw that much." A flash of Snape clinging to the sheer rock face of the castle wall, testing a way of escape for them.
"After a fashion," he said slowly.
"Are all your senses heightened?"
"Most of them. Hearing most of all."
"What can you hear right now?"
Snape narrowed his eyes, considering. "The conversation taking place in the Slytherin common room two doors down. The house elves in the kitchen. Every heartbeat within three-quarters of a mile."
"Shall I time your pulse rate for you?"
"How long will you be like this?"
He shrugged. "Another few days, perhaps."
"How does it feel?"
"How do you think it feels?"
"Like getting out of Azkaban."
Snape shifted his gaze away. It landed on the pack of cigarettes. He shook one out and lit it. "Leave me alone, Black," he said wearily. "Go satisfy your morbid fascination for revolting creatures by watching the flobberworms breed. Go poke Lupin with a stick. Just go away."
Sirius leaned back and propped his feet up on the low stool. "Is that why you hate him so?"
Snape's eyes narrowed to slits. "Hate him? How could I hate dear Professor Lupin, everybody's favourite werewolf? He could eat a first year in the Great Hall and everyone would melt in a puddle." Sirius watched the way he held his cigarette. By the base of his fingers, a practised, easy motion.
"Snape. Surely there has to be a way you can feel. . . maybe not this, all the time, but something better than the way it normally is. You said. . . you said the other night you'd never fed off someone before like that, not without killing them. Is there a possibility you could do that regularly?"
"What are you saying?"
"I'm saying. . . I'm saying maybe you should consider it."
"You mean instead of handing out detentions, I could simply suck the blood of recalcitrant students? Now why hadn't I thought of that before? Oh, wait," he sneered, "I think of that every day." He leaned forward abruptly and smashed his cigarette in the ashtray. "Every single goddamn day, you interfering, ignorant, idiotic imbecile."
Sirius's laugh sputtered out of him. "Intrepid? Incorrigible? Irredeemable? Any others you want to throw in there, Snape?" He let his laugh carry him away. God, he had forgotten how good it felt just to laugh. "I am awash in an avalanche of alliteration."
"Oh, do shut up."
"Come on, have a laugh now and again. That cravat's so tight you'll probably choke yourself if you laugh, isn't it?" He took a last puff of his fag and tossed it in after Snape's. "I understand what you're saying, about appetite begetting appetite. But it occurs to me -- and I could be wrong here -- but it seems to me your life has been either feast or famine. I mean, as a student here you were on the rat cocktail--"
"I told you I never--"
"Whatever. And then with the Death Eaters, experiencing that for the first time, you went a hundred eighty degrees in the other direction. And then back at Hogwarts, and nothing. You've never really tried it the other way, have you? So how do you know it wouldn't work, just a little at a time?"
"Because--" Snape took a deep breath. He sighed and shielded his face with his hand. When he spoke again his voice was low and calm. "You are attempting to apply rational logic to something that is profoundly irrational. You think this is another puzzle to be solved, like chess. But I am telling you it is not that way."
Sirius nodded. "All right. I believe you. May I ask you one more question?"
Snape considered. "A question for a question. I will answer one more of yours if you will answer mine."
"Fair enough. Fire away."
"Why does your heartrate accelerate around me?"
His throat went suddenly dry. Panic skittered in his chest. The sweat, the blood, the gasp of his nightly torments hit him in the stomach, and he blinked mutely.
"You fear me, do you not? Fear what I might do to you?"
"I --" He swallowed. "Partially, probably."
Snape was nodding. "You see," he said, as though this proved a point he had been trying to make. "What was your question?"
"Um. . . I was just going to ask if you played chess?"
Snape looked at him as if he had just given birth to a cat on the carpet. "If I play chess? Hardly, if by `playing' you mean the aimless stabbings at the board you call a game."
"You arrogant fuck. Sit your supercilious arse down and prepare to be humiliated."
They played far into the wee hours of the morning that night, hunched over the board, battling as only two well-matched opponents could do. Snape, for his part, was surprised at the level and skill of Black's game. Years of handy victories over his easily intimidated colleagues had perhaps softened his own game, and he was disconcerted to find himself struggling to keep up with the quick slice of Black's dance around a chess board. The cigarettes in the ashtray piled up, and the Ogden's dwindled lower in the bottle. When it was just their kings, their queens, Black's bishop, and Snape's knight on the board, Sirius yawned and stretched.
"God, but I'm tired. Let's continue this tomorrow night, shall we? I can barely see what I'm doing."
"You're leaving now? Just when it's getting interesting?"
"Snape. It's been interesting for three hours now. I'm going to fall over dead tomorrow if I don't get some sleep, at least. Stop taking unsportsmanlike advantage of your superior night-time vampire thing and let me get some rest."
Snape turned a startled face to him, but quickly looked back at the board. Is that the first time anyone's ever bantered you about it, Sirius wondered. Well, about bloody time. He rose and clapped a hand on Snape's shoulder.
"See you in hall. Try to get some sleep, my friend. And don't touch any of those pieces, because I'll know. "
"I'm not your friend," Snape grumbled.
"No? What are you then?"
"I am your enemy under truce."
Sirius nodded. "Possibly. But then again, how would you know? Have you ever had any? Friends, I mean?"
Snape opened his mouth to reply, and Sirius held up a hand to stop him. "Please. Malfoy hardly counts. I'll wager he blackmailed you while you were in school, didn't he, threatening you with exposure? What did you--" He stopped when the certainty of what it was Snape had had to give Malfoy settled in his stomach.
"Good night, Black," Snape said softly from the table.
"'Night, Snape," he muttered, and made his slow way out the door and back to his rooms, thinking. He was grateful for the whiskey-tinged exhaustion that kept the dreams at bay when he fell into bed that night. All he remembered when he woke was a chess dream in which the fishnet stocking-clad queen wielded a whip instead of a truncheon, the pawns were pig-tailed first-years, and the face of the king was obscured by a dark sheaf of hair.
Their chess game continued for the next few nights. When it was fought to Sirius's eventual victory, Snape had been so disturbed he had insisted on an immediate rematch. It had been so long since anyone had seriously challenged him at chess that Sirius eagerly agreed. When Remus had asked him where he was going every night, and he had told him that he was playing chess with Snape, he had laughed and said no, really, tell me where.
Poised over the board, considering his next move at one thirty in the morning, he pushed the thought of Remus to the back of his mind and concentrated on the possibility of castling. He didn't like to do it, but Snape was pushing him to the limits of his game, and it just might be necessary.
"Anytime tonight, Black," came the lazy drawl.
"Sod off," he muttered. He gave his knight a gentle push. He had always liked the knight. The curious, disruptive dynamic of its L-shaped motion pleased him tremendously. "Check."
"Oh, bloody hell. Now I have to waste time with you here."
"Give it up, Snape. It's not as though I don't see what you're doing over there. Very subtle. The level of chess played at Death Eaters Training Camp was not over high."
"Well. What with biting the heads off puppies, there was little time left over for diversion."
"Snape." He looked up in shock. "Did you just make. . . a joke?"
"You did! You made a joke. A terrible one, it's true, and it wasn't even very funny, but my God, man, I didn't know you had it in you."
"Are you quite done?"
"I think so. Checkmate."
"What? Where?" Snape gripped the board in outrage. "That's preposterous! You cannot. . . oh. Oh, bloody fucking hell. Black, I have never hated you more."
"Oh, stop, you're just saying that to make me play some more."
"Damn right. Put those pieces back on the board while I get us some more liquor."
"Hey Snape." He called into the other room. Their games had begun in his office, where the carefully spelled liquor cabinet lived, but had moved of late into the sitting room.
"You're not actually affected by liquor, are you? It's just another underhanded Slytherin trick to put your opponent at a disadvantage, isn't it."
"Actually, you're not far off. Liquor does not have a. . . normal effect on my system. And if I didn't handicap you somewhat I wouldn't make it beyond the first three moves. You're quite brilliant, you know," he said, sipping the whiskey and handing Black his refreshed glass.
"Aren't you afraid of arresting the rotation of the earth and smashing us all to bits in the gravitational pull of Venus if you pay me a compliment?"
Snape did not respond, having gone meditative. Sirius had become accustomed to the mood swings and the unpredictable remarks in the last twelve days. They fell into the quick lull of their early moves, when pieces whizzed off the board and the field was cleared for battle. Of a sudden Sirius tensed.
"You don't want to do that."
"You touch my queen, and I'll have yours in a heartbeat."
"I know." Snape gave a wicked little smile. "What's the matter, Black? Afraid to play without your queen? A little dependent on her, are we?" He sipped his drink and watched.
"You little Slytherin shit. Just don't know when you're outclassed, do you. Fine. If that's the way you want it, that's the way we'll do it."
In two moves they were both de-queened. The game quickly moved into indiscriminate bloodshed. As he nudged his rook into position for slaughter, Sirius knocked back the rest of his drink. "Fill me up, Snape."
Automatically Snape reached across the board for the glass. His hand slipped, and the glass and the board went scattering across the room. Pawns rolled under the bookcase.
"Snape? You all right?"
"I -- yes. I think you had better go now."
He watched him. "Getting bad again, is it?"
"Black." The eyes were hard and closed. "Go now."
He hesitated. "All right." He rose. "Do you want me to--" He gestured at the mess.
"No. Just go, you imbecile."
"Fine." He righted his glass and slammed the heavy door behind him, not glancing back.
When he returned to his rooms he was surprised to find Remus collapsed on the sofa, sleeping in the quiet way he had. He thunked his shoe on the floor as he undressed to wake him up.
"Sirius? Where've you been?"
"I told you where I was and you didn't believe me. What're you doing here?"
"Oh." Remus ran a sheepish hand over his face and yawned. "I had a question I wanted to ask you, so I thought I'd wait, but you never came back. You were really playing chess with Snape? Who won?"
"Me, so far. He's making me nervous, though. Not that I'd let on. What kind of a madman would sacrifice his queen?"
"Dunno. Listen, Sirius. You all right?"
"Sure. Why d'you ask?"
"You just seem a little on edge since you got back. What really happened with Malfoy?"
"That was what you wanted to ask me?"
"Just the usual. Whips, chains, hot pokers. Nothing out of the ordinary."
"The truth is, I ate chateaubriand and veal medallions three times a day and slept on silk sheets."
He plopped on the sofa, lifting Remus's neat slender feet and resettling them in his lap. "My hand to God. Weird, but there it was. I was actually very well-treated."
"So what did he want?"
"Nothing to do with me, really. Just Snape. Arch-traitor, betrayer of the Dark Lord, et cetera, et cetera. All very tedious. Finally we ambushed him and got out of there. His wards were pathetic."
Remus was regarding him, blinking steadily. "You managed to kill him without your wands?"
"Yeah, all my martial arts training really paid off."
"So you'll tell me when you're ready."
He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck. "Someday, Remus, if I can."
"Okay then." He turned over and burrowed back into the pillows. "Mind if I sleep here?"
"Sure. I'll get you a blanket. And Remus."
"One of my favourite things about you is the way you can let things drop." He padded off to the bedroom for a blanket.
"Yes, I'm just a bundle of maturity," Remus whispered to no one in particular.
There was no answer when he knocked the next night. He knocked louder. Still no answer. He stood in the hallway, uncertain what to do or why he didn't just go away. He tried the knob and was unsurprised to find it warded. He held a brief ethical debate with himself, then rejected the debate's conclusion and proceeded to do what he had planned to from the first.
He took a deep breath and recited the key to the ward in a low voice. "Nullam rem e nilo gigni divinitus umquam1 ." Snape wasn't the only one with excellent hearing. The door swung open with a little creak.
"Snape?" No answer, but he didn't expect him to be in the office anyway. He stepped through the half-open door to the sitting room. No one. Curious. "Snape?" he called softly. That left only one place. He paused at the threshold of the little curtained archway to the bedroom, then pushed the curtain back and stepped through.
On the bed of the spartan little room was Snape, wrapped in about a dozen blankets, his face to the wall. "Snape?" No answer. He stepped closer. He caught a flash of glazed eyes and sallow skin.
"Get out of here, Black." His voice was hoarse.
"So. I'm guessing it's not the flu?"
He stood, uncertain. So this was why, then. The crash was harder than just leaving the stuff alone in the first place. Briefly he wondered if it was anything like heroin, and even at the distance of all these years the old longing twisted him. He retreated to the office and began rummaging in drawers and bins. He found what he was looking for, and quickly returned to the bedroom, stripping off his shirt.
"Snape. Turn over."
"Snape. Do as I say. I'm going to help you."
Snape began to shake, not with the frenzied shiver of cold or convulsion, but a slow rocking motion Sirius recognised.
"Hush now. Don't cry. It'll be all right." He tried to remember the nonsense things Remus had said to him that night on the cold bathroom floor, picking him up and holding him in the shower, cleaning his vomit and blood and shit off him as he wept.
He slid in beside Snape and fumbled with the knife. The blade struck home and spurted the sheets. He pulled Snape over to him and climbed on top of him, pressing his forearm to his mouth. The dull eyes focused instantly, the mouth clamped hungrily. Please let him know when to stop, he thought a second too late, and the mouth swallowed him down into warm wet blackness.
He woke when his head hit the wall with a smack.
"Black! What in hell's name do you think you are doing?"
He rubbed his head and winced. "Goddamnit, Snape. What are you trying to do, concuss me before eight o'clock in the morning? Jesus."
"Get out of my bed this instant." Snape's voice was glacial. He underscored his point by ripping off all the blankets and retreating across the room.
"All right, all right. God. Is a little gratitude so out of order here?"
"Gratitude?" Snape's face was purple with rage. "Gratitude, you little shit? You invade my rooms, you violate my privacy in the most graphic and shocking manner, you display the most profound ignorance about the basic workings of-- of my system, you show utter disrespect for what you have to have known were my wishes in the matter, and-- and you expect gratitude?"
"You know, I've never actually seen anyone have an apoplectic fit, but you could be getting close, there."
"You flea-ridden, insolent, thick-as-bricks son of a Mudblood bitch--"
His words were cut off as he landed against the wall, Sirius Black's arms pinning him. "You watch your mouth," he hissed.
The room was filled with nothing but their breathing.
"You watch what you put near it," Snape hissed back.
He released him and stepped back. "And to think," he said as he snatched his shirt off the floor. "I had almost persuaded myself that Malfoy was wrong about you. But I guess there really isn't much that's human left of you, is there."
He stalked out, and Snape stayed leaning against the wall for a long time before he slid to the floor.
" 'Nother round, lovey?" Rosmerta leaned her ample bosom over the table and Sirius let his eyes stray just a little.
"Sure, Ros. Hit me. More of the same." She returned with a flagon of the best, and slid in beside him. The pub was almost empty now, except for a few stragglers in the corner, and Rosmerta could afford to relax a bit. "Come join me, why don't you," he said, although the invitation seemed unnecessary; she was already ensconced next to him, her thigh pressing his.
"You've been at this for some time, Sirius. Something you want to talk about?"
He let his hand stray under the table and rest lightly on her thigh, rubbing a little circle with his thumb. "I don't really feel like talking, Ros."
He saw her sharp intake of breath. "That was years and years ago, Sirius Black."
"Like the rest of my life. What are you sitting here for then?"
"You look like you could use a friend."
"That's not all I could use." He turned his eyes full on her then, and knew from the way she dropped hers that he had won. She slipped out of the booth and after a couple of minutes he followed her into the back storeroom.
"Sirius," she breathed as he hitched up her skirt. He groaned to feel how wet she was for him already. God, but this was sweet. Her mouth was warm and soft, like the rest of her, her breasts lush, filling his hands, the hitch of her breath intoxicating. He propped her luscious arse on a stack of flour sacks and slid into her, watching the way she tilted her head back, exposing all that creamy flesh. A kaleidoscope of images clicked in his mind, Malfoy Snape tongues blood fucking bite groan blood Snape.
"Slow down, love. Too rough."
"Sorry." He tried to calm down and push the images out of his mind. What the hell was wrong with him? He found his rhythm and held it, willing himself to close to everything but the sweet slide of slick muscle on cock, and as he felt her orgasm building, rippling, he knew with sudden desperation he would not be able to come. He pounded more fiercely then, fingers digging into her ample hips, groaning in desperation, no no no shut down the images stop them now, but he could not stop, and he flashed on Snape's face the millisecond after he bit into Malfoy's neck, the pleasure washing over that sharp face, the flutter of his eyelids, the flick of eyes upward to lock with his own, and he was lost, gone, coming in a flood, driving into poor Rosmerta with fevered grunts, and he knew what his dreams had been trying to tell him, what he had been too ashamed to admit that he knew or even contemplate knowing: that he had been hard as a rock against Malfoy's back, pressing into him even as he pushed him forward into Snape's hungry mouth.
Rosmerta was leaned against his shoulder, panting. "That was bloody amazing, love."
Trembling, he withdrew. She was pulling down her skirt and running a hand over herself, smoothing herself like a cat. She gave him a quick kiss on the side of his face as she slid off the flour sacks.
"Don't expect I'll have an explanation for why my skirts look like someone tried to flour me. Or de-flower," she said with a throaty laugh. She stroked his cheek. "Still the best, lovey. Still the best." And then she was gone, shutting the door discreetly behind her, not waiting for or needing any response from him.
Most wars, as all soldiers, Muggle or wizard, have reason to know, are spent in waiting. Especially a defensive war, as this one was turning out to be. Thrust and parry. Gather information, and wait. Sirius sat in the rooms he was occupying at Hogwarts and stared at the chessboard. He sighed, then flipped the chessboard around and examined it from the other side. Meditatively, he moved the queen out of the way.
Godfuckingdamnit. He ran his hands over his face, and set the pieces back on their squares again. All right, replay it one move at a time. Breaking Snape's wards. Not good. But, he had been concerned. There had been that display the night before. Hadn't he reason to be concerned? Hadn't he. . .? There, that was the word he had been avoiding. Hadn't he the right to be concerned? After all, what he had done for Snape. . . had been about his own preservation as much as anything. It required both of them to overpower Malfoy, and Snape at his full strength. So it had been self-interest that had motivated him, at least partially. The first time, anyway.
So maybe it gave him no rights over Snape, no claim on him at all. And he had known that if he offered Snape the opportunity to feed, when he was in the condition that any junkie in the world would recognise as withdrawal, he would be unable to refuse. He had simply wanted to help. He narrowed his eyes. No, something else there. Azkaban had left him with the ability to see himself completely, without any subtle shadings of excuse or sympathy. The long dark had been good for a thing or two. Had he just wanted to help? Partly. And partly he had just wanted to feel that pull on his blood again, those lips sealed to his flesh, because it felt so damn good.
One last move to examine, the one he least wanted to look at. The words he had flung at Snape as he left his rooms. There really isn't much that's human left of you, is there. That had been an old gift of his: to find the raw and flick it. He had sensed Snape's desperate hatred of his vampirism, seen it in his face when Malfoy taunted him. And he had thought nothing of taking that and twisting it in Snape's gut when he needed a little self-justification.
He kicked back his chair and grabbed up his cloak. He stopped, his hand on the peg. Why the hell do I care, he asked himself. It's not like the blood-sucking bastard and I are ever going to be friends, anyway. That was a gambit he didn't have a reply to. He swirled on his cloak and stepped out the door, headed to the dungeons.
I don't suppose I should be surprised at finding him up, he thought as he creaked open the door to Snape's office. Snape did not turn around from his work table. Even from behind Sirius could see he looked infinitely better than the previous night.
"Yes? What is it?"
"I have something to say to you, Snape."
"Get out of here, Black." His voice was weary, not angry. He sounded tired.
"If you let me say this, I promise I will leave at once, and you won't be bothered by my presence any more."
Snape tapped his rod against the side of the cauldron, but did not turn. "Make it brief."
"Queen for queen is not a wise move."
Snape did turn then. "That's it?"
Snape crossed his arms and frowned, considering. "Why?" he asked at last.
"Let me show you."
"Very well." He wiped his stirring rod on the scrap of silken cloth tied to the drawer pull. "Accio chess board."
They played till dawn that night, and for the first time Snape won.
"Are you ever going to move?"
"Shut up. I'm still thinking."
"Yes, I can hear the grinding from where I'm sitting."
"That's the grinding two floors above you're hearing."
"Your capacity for the vulgar never ceases to amaze me." Snape took another sip of his wine.
"The adolescent capacity for rutting in the midst of Armageddon amazes me."
"I can't think of a better place for it, actually."
Sirius tapped a captured pawn against his teeth as he thought. "Tell you what, Snape. I win this game, and you tell me who was the last person you had sex with."
"Oh, come on. If you win, I'll answer any question you put to me."
"Do you know why these sorts of games are idiotic, Black? No one ever really answers truthfully."
Snape refilled his guest's wine glass. "Do try to savour it this time."
They traded the next few moves in silence, picking up speed as each hastened to his endgame. For the second time, Snape proved victorious. Sirius leaned back with a grin. "All right, I'm a man of my word. Ask any question you want."
Snape considered. "I have two."
"Two? Well, I suppose I'll accept that. After all, you have won twice. Although I must point out you've had your arse kicked seven times. Ask your first question."
Snape tapped his finger on the table. Black's defiant smirk made him itch to smack it.
"Snape, your face is the very image of the phrase `cunning delight.' Ask whatever diabolical question it is you're hatching."
"Did you enjoy killing Malfoy?"
A good thing his wine glass was to his lips. The swallow bought him time. "Of course I did, you idiot. I would have enjoyed scooping out his liver with a teaspoon."
"No." Snape leaned forward. "I mean, did you enjoy killing Malfoy." His timbre dropped a half octave.
Sirius's throat was suddenly dry. He licked his lips. "Yes," he said softly.
Snape nodded slowly, as though he had been presented with the solution to the brewing of a delicate potion.
"What's your next question?"
"Did you let me win just now?"
Sirius took another drink. "Yes."
"That's three questions."
Snape gave his odd one-shouldered shrug and refilled his own wine glass.
"But I'm in a generous mood, so I'll answer anyway. I was hoping you might ask me who was the last person I had sex with. In which case I would tell you Rosmerta, five nights ago."
"Why did I have sex with her, or why would I want to tell you about it?"
Snape studied his wine glass. "The latter."
"To see if it would bother you."
The clock on the mantel ticked, and Sirius could hear the swirling wine in Snape's glass lap the rim. He rose and stretched, reaching for his cloak. "It would be ungracious of me to follow your victory, however undeserved, with yet another punishing loss. Console yourself with your hollow triumph and prepare to be crushed tomorrow night."
"I have to leave tomorrow morning."
Sirius stopped. "You do?"
He nodded. "With Malfoy gone, there's what might be called a breach for me to step into. Albus thinks I might be able to regain Voldemort's trust."
Sirius breathed out. "Jesus, Snape, that's a dangerous game."
"Albus really thinks this is a good idea?"
"No. But we are running out of ideas, good or otherwise."
"Yeah." He sighed. "Yeah. You watch yourself, Snape."
"I will. And Black?"
"Yes?" His hand was on the door.
"It bothers me."
He woke this time just before the orgasm hit him. Only just, however, and there was nothing he could do to stop it even if he wanted to, which he most definitely did not. He pumped his fist around his cock once, twice, and he was coming in a rush, a sharp, almost painful blast of sensation that reminded him of being a teenager again, and the way he would sometimes pass out, for a few seconds, after an orgasm. Melinda Hapgood had been the first to call him Blackout, with that sly wicked grin that had made him want to grab her and fuck her right there on the Quidditch pitch.
Teenage sex, that was where it was at, all right. Melinda by day, Remus by night. It had all seemed so easy then, so natural, and the world had seemed like one gigantic playground, and every live human being had seemed just another glorious place to park his cock, however briefly. Lying sprawled and sated on his sheets he had a brief flash of Remus's golden back beneath him, of the quiet gasping way he would come, twisting the sheets in between his fingers. He wondered if he still came that way, not making a sound. Or maybe that had just been because he was afraid James and Peter would hear, and he hadn't trusted the silencing charm his lover had cast.
Lover. Sirius stared at the ceiling and rolled that around on his tongue. The day James had laughed and teased Ravenclaw Melinda about her Gryffindor lover, and Lily had said in that quiet voice that shot to his gut, Sirius isn't a lover. He's a fucker. Pushing her against the wall that night. What the hell did you mean by that. You know what I meant. Get your hands off me, Sirius. And then their hands were everywhere, frantic pushing gasping. And nights after that. Remus not asking. The way she would pin him in her gaze with such contempt, and God help him but it turned him on that she could look at him like that and still want to fuck him. James's jubilant voice. She said yes, Sirius. She's going to marry me, by God. That's great, Jamie. Congratu-fucking-lations.
He pushed the blankets off his body and reached over for his cigarettes. Five days now since Snape had gone. Albus had had no word in five days. He might never get any word. It might be years from now. He inhaled the harsh tobacco deeply and pondered the question of whether Snape might actually want to fuck him. Well, he probably did. So what. After all, he thought bitterly, I'm the best. Remus probably still did, too -- that much was clear, on occasion. Clear, too, that he would never cross that line without an obvious invitation.
An invitation he couldn't give. Not any more. The other night, with Rosmerta -- for the first time since Azkaban, he had tried meaningless sex again. Anaesthetic sex. What a disaster. Azkaban had robbed him of the ability to go back to that on a regular basis. He knew too much, now, about its eventual price.
He closed his eyes and let his wet dream replay in his head. Amazingly, his cock began to twitch. He let the images flood him. Oh, God. His hand strayed downward. Yes. He stroked himself to hardness lazily. So close. As he neared the brink he let himself think of Remus's face in orgasm, the quiet concentration of it, the way he bit his lip and muffled a half-sob, but no, no, it wasn't getting him there oh God please please and then Remus's face became more angular and darker and thrown back in a groan of ecstasy lips open eyes wide blood trickling God God fuck yes.
He subsided, panting. What the fucking hell was wrong with him?
"What can you tell us, Severus?"
Dumbledore's face in the puddle of lamplight was grave, his eyes watchful. He had not called a full meeting of the Order tonight. Only a handful of them knew what Snape was attempting to do, and Dumbledore wanted to keep it that way. Minerva McGonagall adjusted her glasses and leaned forward. Remus took another cup of tea and sat back to listen.
"Distressingly little, actually. His mind is not. . . organised. Not as it used to be. When he regained his body, he may have been changed in some way. It is hard to say. There was always the capacity for irrational behaviour in him, but before it was coupled with cunning and purpose."
"And now?" Dumbledore took a biscuit.
"Now, he just wants more death. As much as possible. Wizard, Muggle, doesn't matter."
"Does he trust you?'
Snape hesitated. "He finds me useful."
Sirius looked at the carpet. He had noticed that Snape chose a chair in shadow, and that his hair hid part of his face. Even so, the brightness of his eyes, the warm hue of his skin, was evidence to one who knew what to look for. Voldemort must be finding him useful indeed.
Dumbledore was nodding. "That is the great thing, Severus. I don't expect, honestly, that you will have any sort of information for us. Not yet, anyway. The important thing is to gain his trust, to make yourself useful to him again. When the opportunity to do more comes, you will know what to do."
"Of course. However, he is less and less understanding of my excuses for being here and not, as he wishes, at his side. I have explained that you have granted me a temporary leave of absence, and that it is in his best interests for me to stay in your good graces, but he. . . he is less concerned about such things than he used to be."
Dumbledore's eyebrows lifted. "You mean he does not think I am very much of a threat."
"No." Snape sipped his tea.
"And he thinks there is little to gain by allowing you to play a double game."
"Precisely. He wishes my loyalties to be publicly known. I can no longer hold him off in this. If I am to stay clear of Hogwarts, I must have a contact."
"Yes, yes. Naturally, you are right. Any ideas?"
Snape's eyes strayed to Black. "An Animagus would be helpful."
Dumbledore was looking at him. "Sirius? Would you be willing?"
He cleared his throat. "Of course. But let me go on record as saying that I think the whole thing is a monumentally stupid idea." Remus shot him a look. "The risks here far outweigh the gains, it seems to me. Snape just said he isn't likely to learn anything. So why are we doing this, exactly?"
Snape scowled. "The point, Black, is simply to have me in position when the time comes, if that's not too subtle for you to understand. I realise complex thinking is not your long suit, but--"
"Oh, fuck off, Snape. What I meant is, Voldemort may have become a bit crazed, but neither is he stupid. He's bound to know you've got an agenda of your own, and he's going to try to use you to get at all of us -- you most of all," he said to Dumbledore. The old wizard's eyes were intent on him.
"Oh for heaven's sake Black--"
Dumbledore held up a hand. "No, Severus. Sirius has a point, and we both know it. But right now, I see no other way around what is undoubtedly a less than ideal situation." He drained his teacup and stood, clearly signaling that the little conclave was at an end.
Sirius pushed open the door to find Snape standing in the midst of scattered papers and books. His office was something of a wreckage.
"What are you doing?"
"Oh." He gestured vaguely. "I shan't have occasion to come back for some time, perhaps, and there are some things I might need. Potions equipment, mostly. Books."
"Black. Was there something you wanted? I am rather busy."
He stepped over a stack of books and made for the chair. "See? Look what progress we've made. That was borderline civil and contained not a single swear word. Packed up the chess set yet?"
"Oh. No, I hadn't thought I would have need of it. However. . ." Snape was oddly hesitant. "I don't think I care for a game tonight, Black."
"Nonsense, Snape. What are you worried about? Should be a breeze, going up against someone with my limited capacity for complex thinking."
"I told you once already, Black, I--"
"Shut up and sit down. Tomorrow you may be heading off to the serpent's lair again, but tonight we play. Double your money."
"Have you any money?"
"It's an expression. But name your stakes." He picked the chess board up from its resting place on the shelf and looked about. "Quite the havoc you've wreaked in here. Sitting room, then?"
"Black. I am very tired."
He looked him up and down. "No you're not. You look bloody fantastic."
Snape paused at that, then stuck the books in his hand back on the shelf. "Very well. One game."
Sirius grinned. "And to think. If only I had known, all those years ago, that a little meaningless stroking of your considerable vanity was all it took. Sit your arse down."
"Black. You're not concentrating."
He rubbed his forehead. "Yes I am. Just give me a minute." He reached a hand to his bishop, then retracted it. He massaged his temple. The board was difficult to see clearly tonight. Pawn to? No. He drummed his fingers on the table.
Snape watched with a small frown, arms crossed. Seeing Black hesitate over a move was a novel and disturbing experience. His opponent continued to stew, touching first one piece, then another. Finally he shook his head and stood up, knocking over his rook with a wave of his hand.
"Forget it. I concede. Whatever. Snape, what the hell do you think you are going to accomplish with this?"
With one hand, Sirius smacked the board off the table. Pieces rolled and scattered. Snape watched them. "You know what I'm talking about, goddamnit! God fucking damnit, just what the hell is the point here? Because you'll never make me believe that Voldemort trusts you an inch. Not one fucking inch. This is just a race to the finish here, to see if you can find out something before he kills you. This is a pointless endgame, and such an utter fucking waste I can't--" He ran his hands through his hair.
"Black." Snape's voice was calm. "You were the one who suggested I make better use of who and what I am."
"Don't you dare say this was my idea! Don't you fucking say that, Snape!" He knew his voice was too loud but couldn't seem to stop it as he paced the little room. "This is not what I meant and you know it. Why Albus is letting you do this I have no idea, but it's clear you think--" He stopped. "What do you mean by that? Making better use of what you are."
Snape glanced at the floor. "The Dark Lord has certain. . .predilections. I satisfy many of them."
"What does he do to you, Snape?"
He shrugged. "You said it yourself. I look bloody fantastic."
"Vampires amuse him." Sirius's voice was bitter.
"Yes." Snape took a swallow of wine. "But there is something else. You exaggerate the danger I am in, Black. For now, at least. Voldemort very much wants me alive, with all my. . . faculties intact."
"He wants. . . oh my God." Sirius clutched the back of his chair. "He wants you to make him a vampire, doesn't he."
Snape did not answer, but took another large swallow of wine.
"Does Albus know?"
Sirius straightened. "How?"
"Honestly, Black, don't you ever read a book?"
"You mean the ones that tell me vampires are immortal, can turn into bats, and hang upside down by their feet?"
"All of which have some basis in fact. I am immune to most illness, resistant to serious injury, have preternaturally sharpened hearing, and display extraordinary physical agility."
"All right. How do you do it?"
"Why do you want to know?"
"You want me to be your contact, you're going to tell me everything I want to know."
He sighed and uncrossed his arms. "I drain. . . a victim, just to the point of death. That part is harder to do than it sounds. It's a bit like. . ."
"Stopping just before orgasm."
He gave a little grimace. "If memory serves. At any rate, the victim must remain in that state for one night. On the following night, if the individual has not died in the meantime, the. . . performer of the procedure offers his own blood to be drunk. If all goes well, the victim revives and has undergone systemic change into the desired state. There are spells, of course, very ancient and complex, that the donor must recite during the latter part of the process. It is a very delicate operation indeed, and things can go horribly wrong at any point."
"So he wants to do it but is afraid."
"Who did it to you?"
Snape rose and refilled his wine glass at the sideboard. Sirius thought he might refuse to answer.
"My stepfather," he said quietly.
"Are you telling me," Sirius breathed, "Sebastian Snape was a vampire?"
"He did it deliberately? To his nine year old stepson?"
Snape cut his eyes in his odd, quick way. "I think that is a discussion for another time, if you don't mind."
The careful courtesy was his sign to stop. Here be dragons. "All right," he sighed. "All right." He rested his hands on his hips and studied the floor. "I apologise for my. . . outburst." He set his glass on the little sideboard and stood by Snape for a minute.
"Black?" Snape's voice could hardly be heard.
"Do you. . ." He stopped.
He did not know how to get the words through his strangled throat. "Yes, please."
Slowly, Snape unbuttoned the other man's cuff and rolled it up so the lean muscled forearm was displayed. "Knife," he whispered.
Sirius shook his head. "Can't you just--"
Sirius reached in his back pocket with his other hand and pulled out his ever-present switchblade. He flicked the Harpy open with one hand and handed it to Snape, who slowly sliced a deep horizontal cut in the cephalic vein, thrumming on the inside of Sirius's elbow. Together they watched it ooze and trickle. Deliberately, Snape lifted it to his mouth and licked a long path up the forearm to the wound. His eyes on Sirius's, he clamped.
Sirius let his eyes flutter, but didn't feel the same wooziness as before. He knew Snape must be controlling his sucking, knew he wasn't really hungry, knew this was for their mutual. . . whatever. He felt Snape pull him closer, and then they were hip to hip. Groin to groin, and with a gasp he tried to pull away so Snape would not feel how hard he was, but Snape's grip was iron. And then he felt Snape's cock jutting into him, and instinctively he pressed back, and their cocks brushed, and he heard the groan rip from Snape's throat as he swallowed.
He pressed into Snape harder and began to rock back and forth, and the room was beginning to spin a little. His face felt very hot. There were fingers digging into his arse, pulling him closer, and Snape was grinding into him fast and fierce. Fuck yes, he heard his voice saying. Snape's face was buried in the crook of his arm, their faces inches apart, heads touching. The suction at his arm and the delicious friction in his groin were combining into one surge of sensation. Snape's lips were wet and hard at once. They were gripping and writhing as they humped, and as the room evaporated at the edges, his orgasm hit him and he bucked forward, hearing another, louder groan, and he knew Snape was coming hard, and his head dropped back as the pleasure took him.
When he woke, there was faint daylight in the room, and he knew Snape was gone. He squinted at the clock on the mantel. Six thirty. He raised his head and was surprised at the throbbing ache in it. Had Snape had trouble. . . stopping? The thought made his heart pound. He staggered up and reached for the glass of pumpkin juice that had been placed on the little table, just within reach. Still faintly chilled. Not that long ago, then. Had Snape waited to see if he was going to be all right? He patted his pockets for his knife. There it was, tucked in his trouser pocket. His clean, dry trousers, he thought with a quirk of his eyebrow.
And something else. He thrust his hand into his pocket deeper and emerged with an intricately graven figure that nestled in the palm of his hand. He opened his hand and blinked at it. The black king. He clutched his hand around it, breathing hard.
Well, he thought with a wry grin. Could be worse. Could have been the queen.
III. The Fire Sermon
The great black dog shuffled aimlessly up the cobbled street, sticking to the shadows of this most shadowy of streets. The few passersby, mostly the worse for drink, paid him no mind as they brushed past him. Some were slouched in doorways, their cloaks pulled about them against the misty chill. The dog paused at a large arched door with peeling red paint. Den of Delights, the faded sign read. All Kinds of Magic Welcome. A shadowy figure lurked in the alleyway just beyond. The dog made for it.
"You took long enough," the figure hissed.
"Sod off," Sirius Black replied as he gracefully shook himself out. "What do you have for me?"
Snape shook his head. "Not here. MLE's taken to patrolling this way every so often, and it's about time for another sweep."
"Get a room then."
"For just me and my dog?"
Sirius shrugged. "When they say all kinds welcome, they mean it. Besides, I'm freezing. And no, I didn't mean you. I"ll go get a room. You climb up the outside."
"Give me some money."
"Circe"s teeth, don't you ever have any money? Here," he grumbled, tossing a soft leather bag at him.
"You won't regret it, matey. I'll make it worth your while, I will," he winked in his best affected brogue as he sauntered off.
"I regret it already."
Not five minutes later Snape heard the soft slide of a window opening above. "Naturally," he muttered. "The top floor. I"ll wager he did that on purpose."
Effortlessly he pulled himself up on the ground floor window ledge, then began to scrabble up the sheer side of the building. Sirius leaned out, watching him. When he arrived at the top, Snape shoved him back into the room and leaped through, slamming the window shut.
"Very discreet, Black."
"I don't really think I would have been the one attracting attention there, had anyone chosen to look. Leave off moaning and tell me what you've got for me."
Snape was busy checking the locks on the door, peering in the closets, and securing the window.
"Oh for the love of God. I've done this a time or two before, you know. The room"s clean. Or as clean as it gets around here. Now cough it up."
Snape held up a hand and froze, listening. Neither of them moved. When Snape relaxed, Sirius spoke.
"What was it?"
"MLE sweep on the street."
"Making your life harder that way was a stupid idea."
"Idiot. Albus did the right thing. Telling the Ministry I'd defected is the best thing to get him to trust me. He sees I can't go back now."
"Which works just great, except you really can't go back now. There are placards with your face on them all up and down Diagon Alley. And not your best picture, I must say."
"Pity. I"ll send on a better."
"It works to your advantage. it's not as though anyone would recognise you from it now," he said, letting his eyes sweep over Snape's taut form. Feral was the adjective that sprang to Black's mind. His hair was a bit longer now, just brushing the tops of his shoulders, his skin like porcelain. Gone was the greasy, sallow, ill-favoured potions master of recent years. Sirius considered.
"Snape. When this is over, are you going to be able to go back to the way things were?"
Snape was peering out the window from behind the dingy white curtain. "I don't know," he said absently.
"I don't suppose you and Albus considered that part of the plan."
"Don't try my patience." Snape turned abruptly, letting the curtain fall.
"I"ll try it if I bloody well feel like it. That was the deal. You get a contact, I get answers when I want them."
Snape sighed and pulled a chair up to the window, where he could sit and watch the street. "Just shut up for a bit, Black. He"s planning a raid of some sort for early next week. Tuesday, I think. Not a wizarding village. Muggles. A little fishing community up in Norfolk. God knows why. He wants all of us there, for some reason. I think it's his coming out."
"He wants to frighten Muggles. He reads the newspapers, did you know that? All of them. He wants to be in them, I think."
"Yes. The most terrifying Dark wizard in history turns out to be just another garden variety sociopath."
"You're sure it's Tuesday?"
"I'm not at all sure. I said I believe so."
"Where in Norfolk?"
"I don't know. He makes sure I don't know things."
"What will he expect you to do?"
"You really want to know, Black?"
"He saves the best for me. As much as I can take, as long as he gets to watch." He flicked the curtain back and cocked his head at something. "They're doomed anyway. I try to make it easy. There are ways."
Sirius was silent, contemplating. When he spoke Snape's voice was hard as flint. "And God damn you to hell for thinking what you're thinking, you hypocritical bastard."
"Yes you were. Wondering just how addicted I'm getting, if I"ll really be able to break the chains and cut off my own food supply when the time comes. If I might be getting in deeper than even I know, than I'm capable of handling."
"Those are reasonable questions to ask. I never thought this was a good idea in the first place."
"So you keep reminding everyone. In case the event proves you right, you can say you always knew it: never trust a vampire."
"That's the first time I've heard you use the word," Sirius said softly.
"I'm more comfortable with a lot of things now."
"So I see." He stifled a yawn. "I bought the room for the whole night, so if you don't mind I'm going to sleep now. It took me all day to get here and it's little enough I've got for it. I'm going to get some rest and get out of here in the morning."
"Fine." Snape stayed at the window, peering out, as Sirius crawled under the filthy blanket.
"What are you going to do?"
"What is it?"
"Does Voldemort try to fuck you?"
Snape gave him an incredulous look. "Do you really know nothing?"
"Oh, don't give me that. I've not encountered a single book on vampires that's accurate, so far. And believe me, I've looked. Hogwarts library and Remus's collection. The latter is quite frightening, I should add. His cataloguing alone is enough to keep one up of nights. Why do you suppose he shelves the Joy of Cooking next to One Thousand Years of Vampirism?"
Snape rolled his eyes. "Just what I need. Lupin getting suspicious."
"You really think I have no ability to be discreet, don't you."
"I think you are likely to reveal confidences in your pillow talk that will place me in greater jeopardy, yes."
Sirius sat up. "Pillow talk. For fuck's sake. I am not sleeping with Remus."
"You have, though."
"A lifetime ago. When you were sleeping with Malfoy."
"I never -- oh, never mind."
"Never what? Fucked Malfoy? Tell me another."
Snape said nothing, just watched the window for a long time. "Vampires don't have sex," he said at last, in a still voice.
Sirius arched an eyebrow. "Could have fooled me."
"That -- oh, forget it, Black. Clearly nuance is beyond you."
"Fine." Sirius sank back onto the bed. Sleep eluded him. At last he sighed and kicked off the blanket, getting up and sitting on the windowsill to face Snape, who remained unmoving.
"You don't put yourself in situations where you may bite. that's it, isn't it."
"Fuck off, Black."
"Nice try. Is the bite fatal?"
He shifted. "Sometimes. I've never -- if one bites--" He stopped. "If I bite, it is. . . incredibly difficult to stop. Combining that with a sexual situation, in which it is difficult enough to stop. . . you don't know how close I came. . ." His voice trailed off. Sirius had a flash of waking up on the sofa in Snape's sitting room, weaker than he had thought he would be, dizzy ten hours later.
"How close you came to draining me, you mean."
Snape looked past him out the window. "Go to sleep, Black."
"Did Malfoy make you suck him off?"
His brows rushed together at the crudity of the question. "Lucius would never have trusted a vampire that far. He took other precautions."
"He gagged me. And tied my arms."
Sirius felt an odd taste in the back of his throat, like bile.
"It wasn't as awful as it sounds. He always. . . he made sure I had a good time. Lucius had his standards."
"Fucking bastard. Just because you came doesn't make it any less rape."
If Snape was surprised at the anger in his voice, he didn't show it. "Go back to bed, Black. All this was a long time ago. None of it matters now. Nothing matters now," he said quietly.
Sirius watched him, long legs stretched out in front of him, arms crossed, bright eyes dead and hollow. He took a step forward and sank to his knees.
"What are you doing?"
"Just be still. You don't have to do a thing. Just relax." He unbuttoned Snape's trouser placket with concentration and deliberation.
"Shh." Gently he freed Snape's cock. He could hear Snape's breathing roughen when he touched him. He bent his head and gave him a gentle lick. Snape jumped and clutched the arms of the chair.
"Hush now. it's all right." He bent his head again and began suckling gently, easing him to hardness. The long cock in his mouth sprang to life in seconds. He could taste the salt of pre-come, smell the heady musk of Snape, burying his nose in the thick thatch of dark hair at the base. He shifted a little to allow his own erection room in his trousers as he worked.
Snape's gasps and pants were intoxicating. Had the man never experienced this before? God, but he tasted good. He relaxed his throat and took him all the way back, letting him ram against the back of his throat, and Snape gave a little cry at that. If he doesn"t stop making those noises, I'm going to come before he does, Sirius thought. He closed his eyes and redoubled his efforts, sucking harder. Snape began arching up into him, thrusting. Oh, yes. can't stop now, can you. He sealed his tongue to the underside of his cock as he sucked. One hand came around to the back of his head, just resting there lightly. He"s at least done this before if he knows how unpleasant it is to have your head gripped, he thought.
Snape had stopped making any noise at all now. His thrusts were becoming more desperate, his breathing faster. He arched tremendously, and Sirius's mouth was filled with the sharp bitter flood of Snape's come as the man convulsed and trembled and did not stop pulsing. Gently Sirius milked him, easing him down. He glanced up, wanting to see his face.
"Holy fuck," he breathed, and he knew why Snape had not made any noise. Blood was running from his mouth, from the hand he had chewed and bitten in his desperation, down his sleeve, his wrist. Snape's eyes were dazed, and he was trembling, looking at his hand, anywhere but Sirius's face.
He took the mangled hand in his and brought it to his mouth. Turning Snape's head so he would have to look at him, he sucked the wound, licking it clean. Down around the wrist, in between the fingers. He pulled himself up on the arms of the chair and leaned over to start on the blood streaked face, cleaning the jaw line, the chin, the underside of his bottom lip. He nudged the lips gently. Snape recoiled as though he had been struck.
Sirius froze, willing himself to calm down. "Can't you kiss me."
"I--" Snape's hand came up reflexively to cover his mouth.
So that was it. Fangs still out, then. Deliberately he lowered his mouth to Snape's and forced the lips open. He ran his tongue gently over the lengthened canines, feeling their sharp points, feeling them begin to recede as he worked and stroked and licked, and now Snape was kissing him back, his hands coming around to encircle Sirius's lower back, pulling him closer. The mingled taste of blood and come in their mouths made his cock so hard it was almost painful. Snape reached a hand down to cup him, and stopped.
"How far do you trust me?"
"You have to ask?"
The next instant he was on his back on the bed, and Snape's head was bent over his own swollen cock, and he was pleading, arching up into that unbelievable mouth.
"Oh-- oh, God, yes--" He wasn't going to last and he knew it, not after feeling Snape come in his mouth, not after kissing Snape. He could no longer process the barrage of sensations. He raised his head to see Snape's head burrowing into this groin, feeding on him, swallowing him, and he shot come so hard he really did black out, screaming Snape's name, except he knew it wasn't Snape he was saying, but Severus Severus Severus.
"He recruited me through Lucius. It was utterly predictable, of course. I was seventeen, and seventeen year olds are hardly in control of their natural appetites, let alone their unnatural ones. The promise of finally being allowed to let go, of being persuaded there was nothing wrong in it after all, was more than I could resist."
They were wrapped in the tattered blanket together, arms looped around each other.
"He wanted you for an exotic pet."
"Something like that." Snape's fingers were lazily stroking the small of his back.
"Did you ever tell anyone else?"
"No, not really. I came close, once. I might have told someone who --- someone who cared about me. But Lucius took care of that."
"He married her."
Sirius gave a snort at that. "Malfoy spent his life obsessing over you, I think."
"It got him off." His voice was bitter.
"Is that what you think. . ."
"No." The arms tightened on him.
"You're going to have to go soon. Won't do to get him all suspicious."
"How are you going to avoid doing what he wants you to do?"
"I haven't thought about that part of the plan yet. Maybe. . . maybe I won't avoid it."
Sirius raised himself up and began digging through his trouser pocket. "I've got something for you." He pressed a carved figure into Snape's hand.
"And here I thought you were just happy to see me." Snape turned it over in his hand. The white knight. "What am I supposed to do with this?"
"It's a portkey. It can get you out of there if you need it to. it's spelled to take you to the back room of the Three Broomsticks."
"Oh hurrah. Surprising you and Rosmerta in flagrante is just my idea of rescue. I think I might prefer a grisly death."
"Never know. You might pick up some pointers."
They lay twined together in silence.
"Black. I can't use this."
"Shut up and take it."
"No. it's too dangerous. If I were found with it --"
"It's spelled only to you. And it has a layer of protective wards an inch think -- no one will even be able to discover it's a portkey by any known spell."
Snape examined it carefully. "You did this?"
"With Albus's approval, yes."
"It was. . . skilfully done."
"Don't choke on something, there."
"What is its spell?"
"White knight to black king."
Snape set the little figure on the night stand. "You lied to me. This thing is spelled to the piece you have, not the Three Broomsticks. And let me guess -- you'll be holding the king."
"What Albus doesn"t know won't hurt him."
"You unutterable idiot, do you--"
"Shut up and listen. Having a moving target is just another security measure that will make it harder for anyone to follow the portkey."
"And supposing you are within Hogwarts at the time?"
"Well. That shouldn't be a problem. I have -- compensated for the apparation shields at Hogwarts."
Snape rolled his eyes. "It will be a miracle if I don't end up splinched, or wedged inside a staircase."
"Trust me, will you."
For answer, Snape curled deeper into the blanket. Sirius recognised the invitation and drew his arms tighter around the other man.
"You're not ever coming back, are you." It was not a question.
"You don't understand."
"Yes I do. And I hate Albus for doing this to you."
"It isn't his fault. It's no one's fault."
"Tell me what Azkaban was like."
"Why do you want to know?"
"I want to know what I missed."
Sirius considered. He closed his eyes and recited from memory. ""I could not speak, and my eyes failed, I was neither living nor dead, and I knew nothing, looking into the heart of light, the silence.""
Snape was still for a long time.
"It's--" Sirius began.
"I know what it is." He began to absently stroke Sirius's hair.
"In Azkaban. . . how to put it. In there, I wasn't always capable of what you might call rational thought, in words, that is. Many times - most times - my thought would come in images, sort of strung together. I could only think in symbols, you see, because the things themselves were gone. Anyone seeing those images or hearing my thoughts would have thought I was clean mad, and at times I thought I was. But a few months ago, when I read that poem for the first time, it was as though. . . I could understand the way it worked, because I had thought like that. Sometimes I still do. It made me feel less mad, somehow, to know that somewhere out there someone else had a mind that thought like that as well. In a way it made more sense to me than any of the other, more rational things I've read."
" "These fragments I have shored against my ruins," " Snape murmured.
"Yes, that's it exactly." He pushed himself up. "It will be dawn soon. You need to go."
"I'm not allergic to sunlight, you know. Just sensitive."
"You need to be at your most alert, and you know it. Now get gone." Sirius sat up, swinging his legs over the edge of the bed, looking anywhere but at Snape as he listened to him arrange his clothes and pull on his cloak.
He turned around when he heard the window slide open. Snape was standing beside it, watching him. Sirius caught sight of the knight resting on the table. He picked it up and tossed it at Snape, who caught it with one hand.
"Just in case. Get out of here, now."
Without a word, Snape slipped out the window. Sirius watched him go, then lay back on the thin, foul-smelling pillow. God damn it, he thought. God damn it. Oed und leer das fucking meer.
IV. Death by Water
"Harry, Hermione, look at this!"
Ron landed on the bench beside Harry, tossing the paper down on the table. Harry reached for the paper, but Hermione snatched it up first. The bold black headlines of the Wednesday morning Daily Prophet were half the size of the paper itself.
"Brave Aurors Deal Mortal Blow to Dastardly Death Eaters," Hermione read aloud, chewing on her porridge. "Honestly, who writes this stuff?" She rolled her eyes and continued. "Magical Law Enforcement has achieved its first significant victory over You-Know-who's forces. Acting on an anonymous tip, Aurors descended on a small Muggle fishing village outside Lynn Tuesday night. Were it not for the courageous and selfless actions of the Aurors, many innocent lives, both wizard and Muggle, would have been lost last night. According to this reporter's sources, the Death Eaters were attempting to 'make an example' of a Muggle community, and had selected the little village of Grosbeak Green as a suitable target. Apprised of the raid, a team of forty six Aurors ambushed You-Know-who's masked forces and succeeded in driving them off before any alarm was raised by non-magic individuals. Most encouraging of all, several of the Death Eaters themselves were captured, including one who was described as being high up in the counsels of the Dark Lord." She sighed and tossed the paper aside. "What an embarrassment. Tell me this. If wizards are so wonderfully advanced, how come they think this is reporting? Honestly, some days I'd give anything for a Times." She attacked her porridge with vigour.
Ron threw up his hands. "Trust you, Hermione, to be worried about the style of writing. Who cares? The point is, Fred and George were there! They owled me all about it this morning -- said it was bloody fantastic! "Course, they"re sore about not actually getting to fight anyone, but look! Look!" He grabbed the paper and pointed to the picture at the bottom of the page. Triumphant Aurors stood stiffly for the camera, and in the background Fred and George Weasley were grinning and striking manly poses. They were so far in the distance that their heads looked like tiny orange balls dancing at the top of the picture, but still, there they were, unmistakably Weasleys.
"Mum says she's going to have it framed," Ron said around a mouthful of toast, which he plucked off Harry's plate.
Harry paid him no mind. He was watching the note being passed along the head table to Dumbledore, who read it with a frown. The headmaster rose immediately and gestured to McGonagall, Sirius, and Remus to follow him. "What's that about, I wonder?" he muttered to himself.
The Minister of Magic himself was waiting in Dumbledore"s office when the headmaster arrived.
"Cornelius. You make very free with my office," Dumbledore said with a frown.
"I'm sorry, Albus, but I couldn't wait. Minerva, how are you this morning. I have some news. Some very. . . very distressing news. I have learned --"
"You remember Professor Lupin, of course. And Sirius Black."
"Ah. Y-yes. Of course. Anyway, as I was saying, Albus. You might have read in the papers that we had the good fortune last night to capture some of You-Know-who's henchmen--"
"You mean Voldemort."
Fudge winced. "Yes, yes. The point is, I thought you would appreciate my coming to you with this first. Especially since you contributed to-- were a significant help to--- last night's triumph."
"The information I passed to you was the reason for "last night"s triumph," as you call it."
"Yes. And it is very much appreciated. You see, when we all stand together like this, there is no limit to the great things we can accomplish."
"You mean," said Dumbledore severely, "when we at Hogwarts stay out of the way of your MLE."
"Well, I wouldn't. . ."
"Tell me, Fudge," Black cut in, plopping himself gracefully in a wing chair. "With the sky as dark as it was last night, how did the Aurors ever manage to locate their arses?"
Fudge's jowly face went pink with fury. "Dumbledore, are you going to permit this-- this--"
"Settle down, Sirius. Cornelius, tell us what you have to say."
He turned from Black with a harrumph. "We captured Severus Snape."
The room was very still. McGonagall"s eyes shot to Dumbledore, but no one else moved a muscle.
"Oh?" said the headmaster.
"Oh, indeed, Albus. I thought you would appreciate the courtesy of being the first to know. If courtesy is still appreciated around here," he said with a glance at Black, who smirked and tossed a biscuit in his mouth.
"Very kind of you, Cornelius," Dumbledore in a tone that meant it was anything but. "However, before you trumpet your victory to the skies, there is something you should know. Severus Snape has been working for me. He is the source of that information I gave you last week. He has been working undercover for some time now, at great personal risk to himself. If anyone has a right to triumph for the lives that were saved last night, it is he, and no one else."
Cornelius Fudge sat down heavily. He sighed and twisted his hat in his hands. "You know, Albus," he began. "I know what you think of me. All of you."
Remus quelled Sirius, who looked like he might be about to make sure of that, with a Look. Minerva simply pressed her lips more tightly together.
"I didn't want this war. I didn't want to believe it might be forced upon us again, that we might have it all to do over again. But because I am a reluctant warrior," he said with a sharp look at Black, "does not mean I am a stupid one. I had wondered before now if maybe Snape was working for you all along. If that information came from him, no one could be happier about it than I. And I'm sure you"ll be willing to vouch for him up hill and down dale. The word of Albus Dumbledore-- well, I don't need to tell you what that means. More than the word of Cornelius Fudge, probably, these days." He examined his hat. "But there"s another problem."
He looked straight at Dumbledore, his watery blue eyes suddenly sharp. "Did you know he was a vampire, Albus? Did you know that when you let him teach these children? When you let him into the walls -- the sacred walls -- of this castle?" He rose and tossed his hat aside, pacing nervously. "I've looked the other way for a hell of a lot of things, Albus. Even--" he made a vague gesture in the direction of Lupin, who narrowed his eyes. "Even when you insisted on hiring the werewolf back. Or letting Hagrid stay here. Or--" another look at Black, "even him. But this, Albus? A vampire? Tell me-- for the sake of all that's holy-- tell me you didn't know this."
Dumbledore did not drop his gaze. "I knew, Cornelius," he said softly. "I knew from the time he was eleven years old. And not once has he posed the slightest danger to any one of these students, or to his colleagues. Not once," he repeated, his voice rising. "Severus Snape has proven himself, again and again, to be trustworthy. For years he has taken a potion that renders him less harmful to others. A potion, I might add, that he has devoted his life to creating and perfecting. A potion that will make the same sort of life possible to others of his kind. If you have come here to tell me, Cornelius, that you have just thrown Severus Snape into Azkaban because of what he is, then may God help you, because you are surely going to need it when I tear that prison apart stone by stone to get him." The old wizard"s voice filled the room, and Fudge took an involuntary step backward.
"Albus. Please. . . calm down. aren't you at all curious how we know? Do you want to know. . . Good God, man, do you want to know why he was captured? He was in the middle of. . . he was feeding on one of his fellow Death Eaters, for God"s sake. The poor man was dead by the time we got there -- there was little we could do, but you should have seen. . . It wasn't the first time he had fed that night, let's put it that way. There were bodies. . . Albus, it makes me sick to think on it."
The room was very quiet. Sirius watched the carpet and did not raise his eyes, though he felt the weight of Remus's gaze. Minerva cleared her throat.
"Minister Fudge. I'm sure we all share your shock and horror. But you must admit, in Severus's case, perhaps there are. . . allowances that could be made. There are extenuating circumstances. . ."
"No. No. I'll let you have your werewolves, your murderers, and your giants. Fill that forest with every Dark creature you can think of, but not this. Not a vampire. that's where I draw the line. There"s only one thing the law says to do with a vampire, and that's what I intend to see done. The sooner he's put down the safer we can all sleep at night."
Sirius controlled his breathing carefully, and counted his blinks.
"Cornelius." Dumbledore"s voice was very soft.
"What is it?"
"You hand Severus Snape over to me, or the Daily Prophet is going to have an interesting article to print. One filled with long, accurate quotes from the headmaster of Hogwarts. A journalistic first, for them."
Fudge's rosy face went suddenly pale around the edges. "Albus. You wouldn't do that. You gave your word. . ."
"I'll eat my word and many things a good deal less appetizing before I'll let you harm a hair on Severus Snape's head. Why don't you go ahead and try me."
Fudge went red again, then pale, and pinkish once more. He twisted his hat into a roll, and his jaw muscles twitched madly. Dumbledore"s gaze never wavered.
"All right, Albus," he said at last. "You win. But not without conditions."
"Precautions. You know what I mean."
Dumbledore nodded, slowly. "Bring him to me at once. Now get out of my office, and do not presume to come here again without an invitation."
"You knew, didn't you."
Remus glanced up from the sofa to where Sirius stood over him. He tented his journal article on his chest. "I knew," he said softly.
"I could smell him the first time I met him."
"The first time. . . Jesus, Moony." He sat down in the overstuffed chair opposite and propped his feet on the coffee table, ignoring Remus's frown. "Since we were eleven you've known?"
"Yes. I gather you learned rather more recently. In Malfoy's dungeon?"
He nodded. "Malfoy thought it would be amusing to make him kill me."
"He would have died first."
"Yes. You knew that too?"
"Of course." He picked up his journal article and resumed reading. "Hand me my specs, will you?"
"Old man." He tossed them over. A silence that was not exactly companionable stretched between them.
"How much vampire lore do you know?"
He snorted. "Tons. None of it accurate, apparently."
"Do you know what kills them?"
"A stake through the heart?"
"That would kill anybody, genius."
A flicker of a smile from Sirius. Twelve year old Remus wrung his heart sometimes. "So would getting run over by a lorry," he said. "What's your point?"
"One bite from a werewolf is instantaneously fatal to a vampire. Even the saliva is toxic."
Sirius felt his blood turn to ice water in his veins. "Oh, fucking hell." He buried his face in his hands.
"Sirius. You know not to get too. . . close, right?"
"Stop. Just-- stop." He got up and ran his hands through his hair. "Why did you never tell me?"
Remus glanced up once, then buried himself in his article. "It never seemed important."
The Aurors flanking Snape never moved more than three feet away, even in Dumbledore"s office. Faculty meetings at seven-thirty on Monday morning were notoriously sparsely attended, but today's was a full house. Everyone was silent when Snape was escorted in, looking like he had swallowed a ramrod. He never lifted his eyes.
"You understand, Dumbledore," Fudge was saying, "this is just a release into your custody. He is still legally under the ward of the MLE. Certain precautions have to be abided by."
Dumbledore's eyes were flinty. "I have already agreed to your conditions, Cornelius. Now if you don't mind, I have a faculty meeting to conduct. And some actual attendees."
"we'll be out of your way in a minute, Albus. Here is the. . . equipment." He dropped something heavy on the desk with a clank. "And the other things we talked about-- you'll remember them?"
"Very well then." He gave a curt nod to the Aurors and followed them out. "On your head be it," he muttered as he went.
Nobody spoke even when the door clicked shut. At last Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Welcome home, Severus," he said.
Snape did not respond. His eyes flicked to the desk. "Let's get this over with, shall we?"
"I would prefer to wait till after breakfast, if you don't mind," Dumbledore answered with a grim look. "I fear for my digestion."
"I've already eaten," Snape said mildly. Sirius hid a smile. "And I believe in getting unpleasant business over with first. I am familiar with the equipment, of course. I assume it is spelled against my touch, however?"
Dumbledore nodded, watching him closely. "And mine, as well. Minister Fudge does not seem to trust me very far. I can't think why."
"Then I shall require some assistance." He looked around, hesitantly. Minerva dropped her eyes. Sybil Trelawney stifled a sob in her hanky, and Vector gave her a contemptuous look. Remus's frown deepened. Sirius looked around at their faces. Horror. Sympathy. Oh fuck, thought Sirius. Anything but that.
"Come on, Snape, turn around." He stepped forward and picked up the obscene thing from Dumbledore's desk. "I for one have no scruples about fitting a muzzle on you -- about thirty-five years too late, I'd say. Pity it doesn"t come equipped with a gag. Reckon we can upgrade?" He carefully fitted the leather straps over the back of Snape's head and made sure the thin steel bars were firmly in place over the lower half of his face. "There, that ought to do it." He started to buckle the thing.
"No, it's too loose, it will--" Instinctively Snape reached a hand up to steady it and got a nasty shock to his hand. Flitwick jumped and clutched his chest. Sirius re-adjusted and tightened it, working quickly.
"You know, Snape, Muggles use things like this, too. My Muggle aunt Bridget had a dog she couldn't keep in her garden for anything. She finally had an electrical wire buried all round the place, and poor Puffy wore an electrical collar that gave him the shock of his little life when he tried to cross that line. 'Course, what finally solved the problem was that little operation Puffy had. Fixed him right up. No more wanderlust for him. If it worked for Puffy, it might work for you. What do you say, Snape?" He gave the buckle a final tug and stepped back to look.
Don't throw up don't throw up. Sirius gave a little smirk. "Just what you've been missing all these years, I'd say."
"Fuck off, Black." Snape's voice was a hiss.
He grinned. "That's starting the day out on the right foot. Anyone else for breakfast?"
Sirius spun around in the cloister to see Dumbledore behind him. How the man had managed to glide so close without being heard he had no idea.
"Albus. What can I do for you?"
"It's what you can do for me. Do you have a moment?"
"Of course. Is this about Snape?"
"It is. One of the precautions Fudge is insisting upon is a keeper. The mask must remain on when he is among students, but may, under supervision, be taken off in his quarters. Naturally he will need assistance with the mask in the mornings and evenings. Would you be willing to be of service?"
"I think you'd better ask Snape first."
"I did. He chose you."
Sirius squinted at the sun. "All right then."
"Excellent. Thank you, Sirius. And Sirius." Dumbledore stopped and fixed him in his gaze. "That was Gryffindor courage this morning."
The Great Hall was unusually subdued that night at dinner. The chatter of the students was punctuated with frequent, furtive glances at the high table, where Snape sat. Not even for meals in hall could the mask come off, so there he sat, examining the walls, ignoring the food passed back and forth in front of him. A bloody museum exhibit, he thought bitterly.
"Severus." Dumbledore was leaning over to talk to him. "Filius and I were just having an argument, and we wonder if you could settle it for us. I maintain that Salazar Slytherin kept a python as a familiar, but Filius believes it was a boa constrictor. What is the truth of the matter?"
"Black mamba," he muttered.
"Ah, of course, how fascinating. Do you know, the Varana people of South America have a particular potion that they brew from the underbelly of the black mamba that. . .."
Snape ceased to listen and watched the students. Potter in particular was staring at him, and he narrowed his eyes at the insolent whelp. Potter quickly dropped his eyes, his face crimson. Snape let his eyes roam the hall. And to think, tomorrow were his first classes. Fuck off and die, he muttered under his breath.
"What's that, Severus?"
"I said, what"s that on your tie?"
Sirius was waiting for the knock when it came.
Snape slipped inside the door and stood for a minute, looking around. "What appalling rooms. Is it a converted water closet? I would take it personally if I were you, Black." He crossed his arms. "If this arrangement is going to work you will need to display some unaccustomed punctuality. I will require your presence in my rooms promptly after dinner for-- for removal. Unless I have a detention to supervise, of course, or a tutorial, in which case--"
Sirius felt a surge of unreasoning anger. "Fuck it," he said. "I am not going to have a conversation with you with that thing in the way." He spun Snape around and jerked hard on the buckle, letting it fall to the floor with a clank.
They looked at it for a minute. Sirius studied the angry red marks on Snape's face where the atrocity had chafed him all day.
"Do you want a drink?" he asked softly.
"I-- no, please, I--" He stopped and put his face in his hands. Tentatively, Sirius circled him with his arms and held him, afraid to move or even speak. When he felt Snape begin to relax in his arms a fraction, he spoke.
"Come lie down."
Snape let himself be led to the narrow bed, let Sirius pull the blankets over them, let himself be cradled in the other man's arms. Slowly Sirius began to kiss the marks on his face. Snape moved away with a little frown.
"In about five more days, the last of that blood will be out of my system."
"I'm going to look like I always have."
"You're going to look like you."
"No." He rolled back over and faced Sirius, his eyes fierce. "This is what I look like. Not the other. This is me."
"I know that. Snape. We can do what we did before."
He was silent for a minute. "Is that. . . is that what you need?"
"What I need?" Sirius was puzzled.
"So you can stand to look at me."
"What? Oh. Oh, Christ. Severus, how can you think. . ." He sighed. "I've been hard for you since I was fourteen, you idiot. You're a gorgeous man no matter what the state of your hair, for God's sake, or the colour of your skin."
"Why are you doing this?"
"Touching me. Now. After all these years."
"Because you're letting me."
Sirius reached his hand down to cup the growing bulge in Snape's pants. "Do you want to come like you did before, Snape? Do you want to come in my mouth, choking me with your cock?" He noticed how Snape grew instantaneously hard under his hand. Liked it dirty, did he? Good to know, that.
"Black. There are things we shouldn't do. We will need to be careful."
"Fuck careful. Now get your clothes off. I've had just about enough of touching you through sixteen layers of fabric. I want your skin next to mine, I want to touch every part of you like you've never been touched. I want to hear you scream when you come, I want you to come on me and in me, I want you to take me and fuck me to pieces until my cock explodes." Snape was panting now, struggling to unbutton his shirt. Sirius licked his lips and leaned in for the kill. "I want you to bite me."
Snape moaned at that and pulled him in for a long, searing kiss. He was ripping at Sirius's clothes frantically, and soon they were cock to pulsing cock for the first time, and Sirius threw his head back and groaned at the sweetness of it. Their fingers were digging into each other, kneading, grasping. Sirius lowered his head to a taut nipple and sucked, relishing the way Snape groaned and bucked. He was so sensitive, every nip and lick and squeeze sent him thrashing and moaning for more and it was just so fucking hot Sirius thought he might come from it.
"Tell me what you want," he whispered in Snape's ear. "Anything, and I'll do it. Anything at all."
Snape turned and reached for something on the floor. "We ought to-- the mask--"
Sirius grabbed his hand and twisted it roughly back. "So help me God, if you say one more thing about that I will kick you out of this bed."
Snape smirked and ran a hand down to curl around Sirius's cock, already slick with pre-come and hot to the touch. "Something of an empty threat, don't you think, Black?"
"Fuck you, Snape."
"I believe I called that one this morning."
Snape's hand came up to grip his hair and yank his neck back. He flipped Sirius effortlessly and pinned him underneath him, and for a panicky moment Sirius thought he might actually enter him just like that, no preparation at all, and he didn't know if it scared him or made him harder than before, if possible. But then he felt Snape's mouth glide down him in a warm trail of wetness, down to his cock, swallowing it whole.
Sirius panted and gripped the sheets. "Not-- not like this-- stop God stop," he panted, hauling himself back from the brink of orgasm. "I want--" But Snape was not listening, he was moving down, down from his cock to swirl his tongue lower, at the ring of muscle beneath, teasing him with his tongue, giving tiny thrusting motions in, and Sirius threw his head back and bit his tongue on a sob as Snape's tongue fucked him.
And then Snape was stretched over him, and the long thick cock was nudging him, and he had another moment of panic, but the little thrusting motions Snape was using to sheathe himself were so good. He knew he was panting from the pain; my God, how could it hurt this much? Had it always hurt Remus like this? Snape's fierce eyes were on him as he drove all the way in, fingers digging into his hair again, and a white-hot jolt of something shot upwards inside him when Snape made that little forward rocking motion and he gave another cry, this time of pure pleasure.
Snape did not move for a minute, just held there, with his eyes closed. Sirius saw the sweat trickle down the side of his face, felt his back tremble, and knew he was struggling to get control, and he hated it. He brought his arms around Snape's back and pulled him down, swirling his tongue in his ear, and felt the trembling increase.
"Let go, Severus," he whispered. "You know what I want. Just let go."
The next minute his legs were being pushed up further, and Snape was pounding him, slamming his prostate on every thrust so that it was almost too good, too much. He dug his fingers into Snape's back and arched upward into it, and as his orgasm began to build a knife wave of pain shot through him, this time from his neck, and Snape's mouth was on him, sucking him, fangs ripping his skin, and it was like nothing he had ever felt before, the pounding in his body, the rubbing on his cock, the sucking at his neck, all driving him mad with pleasure, and he heard his own sobs and moans as he came in a fountain between their heaving bodies. Snape's grip on him above and below tightened, and he had just enough consciousness left to feel Snape's come flooding his insides as he arched and pulsed. He sank into the warm wet running down him, drenching him inside and out, and whether it was blood or come he did not care.
Arms tight around him. His limbs felt very heavy, his mouth dry. A glass of something nudged at his lips.
He tried to knock it away, but the gesture was vague and weak.
He gave up and complied. Not pumpkin juice. Something sharper. Orange juice? He let his head sink back. When would the room stop spinning?
"Sirius. I need you to try to open your eyes."
He opened his eyes and turned his head to see Snape's dark anxious face peering down at him.
"Jesus. You said my name. Is it that bad?"
That got a quirk of the eyebrow. "Can you sit up?"
"Um-- yeah, I think so." He eased himself up and felt a wave of nausea from the dizziness. He fell back. "No, better not. How long have I been out?"
"About half an hour."
"Half a-- shit. I'm sorry."
"Orgasm has that effect on me sometimes."
Snape was giving him an odd look. "Black. you've lost a lot of blood. More than you realise. That's why you passed out. I need you to drink some more. If you can't sit up within the next fifteen minutes I'm taking you to Pomfrey."
"No. No. don't you even fucking think about it."
"Shut up, Snape. We both know how that would look. Can you imagine. . ."
"I don't care how it would look. I am not going to place you in jeopardy like that again. This will never happen again."
"That bad, was it?" He hated how weak his voice sounded.
"You know it wasn't. You know I had the orgasm of my life. Sweet Merlin. I didn't even know--" He ran a hand over his hair. "I didn't even know you had passed out. I just kept. . . I didn't know. I thought you might be. . ." He gave up and let his head drop on Sirius's chest.
"Snape. Look at me." He tugged at the dark head. "I'm not dead, and you didn't hurt me. You didn't do anything I didn't want, and you know it."
Snape rested his head on Sirius's chest, his eyes closed. "Why didn't you tell me you'd never done that before?"
"What, slept with a vampire?"
"No, you idiot. The other."
"Oh. I thought you might get all considerate on me or something."
Snape gave a bitter laugh. "Not much danger of that, I wouldn't think."
Sirius stroked the heavy head. They lay swooned together for a long while, arms wrapped around each other.
"If you made a mistake and went too far. . ."
"Don't say what I think you're going to say."
"I'm not. I'm asking if you would be able to let me. . . if you would not-- interfere."
Long silence. "I don't know."
"Then don't make a mistake."
"I'm pretty sure we've already done that."
"Open your books to page two hundred and eleven. At once." Snape swept into the potions classroom like a storm cloud. The desultory chatter in the seventh year potions class died. Gryffindors and Slytherins alike fell utterly still. Their eyes were wide with shock as they stared at their Potions Master"s face. Glimpses in hall and whispers in the common room had not prepared them for this.
"Well? What are you waiting for?" Snape's voice cracked across the room and six and a half years of instinct kicked in as they lowered their eyes and flipped through their books. He sat himself in his chair and glared them into submission.
"I understand you have had it easy for the last few months, what with the substitutes," he spat the word, "the headmaster so kindly arranged for me, but today you will be doing actual work. Today you will be attempting to master the Fritellium potion, which-- Mr. Potter, what do you think you are doing?"
Harry had pushed back his chair and was walking up to Snape's desk.
"Mr. Potter, you will explain yourself at once."
Harry walked behind Snape and put his hand on the buckle of the mask. Snape went rigid.
"Potter--" he hissed.
Deftly and quickly, Harry unbuckled the thing and let it drop on the desk. With the tip of his wand he lifted it, as though it was too foul to be touched, and flung it into the corner, out of sight. Then he stepped down and returned to his desk, seating himself and picking up his quill as though nothing had happened.
"I'm sorry, sir. You were saying? The Fritellium potion?"
The class sat in stunned silence. Snape looked as though he was trying to remember how to breathe. "That will be ten points from Gryffindor for your. . . cheek," he said at last, and the corner of Harry's lip twitched, though he dared not look up. "The Fritellium potion has many uses, and many of you will soon discover that it can be an invaluable resource for the brewing of other potions. The Fritellium is used as the base for any number of them, including Vertiginosa, Clambunculus, and Frigidious."
The rest of the class continued in the same pattern of alternating terror and coma-inducing boredom that they had known since they were first years. When class was dismissed, Harry was among the last to file out the door. Snape sat unmoving at his desk.
"Mr. Potter," he said as Harry walked by. "Aren't you forgetting something?"
Harry paused, then went to retrieve the mask. He lifted it with shaking hands and stepped up to the desk, where Snape sat waiting, not looking at him. Harry stood behind him, holding it.
"I can't," he whispered.
"You can and you will. Do it now."
Harry took a deep breath and fastened the thing on Snape's face, hoping Snape wouldn't see how bad his fingers were shaking. When he was done he stepped back.
"Good day, Mr. Potter."
"Good day, sir."
"Now, as we began to see yesterday, the Fritellium potion-- Mr. Malfoy, what in heaven's name do you think you are doing?"
No reply from Draco as he stepped behind Snape, unbuckled the mask, and tossed it in the corner as Harry had done. His eyes flicked to Harry's as he returned to his seat.
"That will be ten points from Slytherin for your disruption of class. Does anyone have any questions about yesterday's experiment that do not relate to your own incompetence or general stupidity?"
And so began the ritual. At the beginning of each day's class, a different student, Gryffindor or Slytherin on alternating days, would silently step forward and remove the atrocity from their teacher"s face. Regular as clockwork, points were deducted. When class was over, the mask was put back on, and nothing else was said about it. The day it was Neville Longbottom's turn, Harry and Dean had quietly agreed ahead of time that one of them would take his place to spare him the terror, but when the time came Neville had stomped forward and ripped the mask off more firmly than any of them. It smacked the wall when he threw it.
"Ten points," Snape had said hoarsely, and then nothing else for a minute.
"Yes, I can keep track, you know." Sirius sipped his wine, savouring it. "What have I done to merit the good stuff tonight? Hoping to get lucky, are you?"
"Hmph. Enjoy it while you can."
Snape watched Sirius nudge his pawn. "That is an utterly irrelevant move."
"That's what you think."
"That's what worries me." He glanced up at his opponent. "Tell me the truth, Black. Have I ever really taken a game from you?"
Sirius looked at his wine with a little smile. "You've come close, a couple of times."
"Sodding hell. Don't you dare let me win again, you condescending prat."
"If I let you get too discouraged, you'd quit playing altogether. Besides," he continued, watching Snape's move, "you're the only person whose game I've never quite figured out."
"What do you mean?"
Sirius shrugged and took some more wine. "Most people, you play them twice, you've got their game mapped out. I can tell you what that person will do in a given situation before they know themselves. You keep me guessing."
Snape was silent, thinking about this. "Are we still discussing chess?"
"When are we not? What did you mean about 'enjoying it while I can?' Something I should know?"
"Oh. This?" He reached over and picked a parchment off the desk. "This came today."
Sirius unfurled the letter. His eyes scanned the first line before he went pale. "They can't do this."
"They can. They will. I am in the custody of the MLE, remember? My property is subject to confiscation at any time. You forget there's a war on. I should be grateful they're leaving me the house and just taking what's in the vault."
"Jesus Christ. How much money, Snape?"
He sipped his wine. "A lot." He shrugged. "I've never had much use for it anyway. It never really seemed like mine in the first place."
"It was your inheritance from your stepfather?"
"Indirectly, through my mother. He had no children of his own."
Sirius looked at the letter again. "This isn't even addressed to you."
"No, it's addressed to Albus. The Ministry does not address itself to non-humans. I doubt the Minister believes me capable of rational thought."
"You'd be better off in the Muggle world," Sirius said quietly.
"Yes, very likely so. They don't even believe in vampires. Your move."
"Oh. Right." He frowned.
"For the love of God, if it's checkmate, just tell me. Don't delay the kill."
"No, you've got about three moves left. Are you ever going to tell me about your stepfather?"
"Someday. Ought I to concede now?"
Snape sighed. "Why do I even bother." He moved his bishop and sat back. Sirius sat up straighter, frowning. "Something the matter?"
"Why did you do that?"
"Ah, wouldn't you like to know?"
"You're bluffing. You're making pointless moves just to confuse me."
"Now why would I want to do that?" He refilled their glasses. "Has Harry told you anything about potions class this week?"
"No, I've hardly seen him. My God, you just called him Harry. Are you feeling all right? Check."
"Blast," he grumbled. "I think an appropriate handicap would be to deprive you of one of your knights. What an annoying, unpredictable piece."
"Why, thank you. So answer the question. How are you feeling?"
"Fine, fine. You won't get to see me collapsed in a quivering puddle for another day or so. Sorry to disappoint you."
"Snape. We should talk about this before it happens. Do you want my help?"
Snape's eyes flicked up, then down again. "No."
"Now how did I know you were going to say that? Checkmate."
"Oh, damn it to hell."
"You know, I've had a terrible effect on your language." He held the bottle to the light and squinted at it. "We can't have finished this already. What else have you got?" He rose and went to the sideboard, sliding open cabinets.
Snape was examining the chess board, replaying the last few moves. "Nothing. you're drinking me out of house and home. You do drink a great deal, you know."
"I have heavy blood."
Snape turned at that. "You have what?" he asked incredulously.
Sirius flashed him a grin. "My alcoholic uncle Diarmaid used to say that he required a higher blood alcohol level than your average individual because his blood was so heavy, it needed thinning out with a little whiskey." He popped the cork on a bottle of Drambuie and poured out a fingerful.
"Black. Your entire family must have been daft as loons."
"They were, rather. But God, they knew how to drink."
Snape watched the Drambuie disappear. "A quality you seem to have inherited."
He laughed. "Not to worry, Mum. Liquor's better than some of the things I've been addicted to in my time."
"That's a tale for another night." Sirius was standing behind him, resting a hand lightly on his shoulder. "Give it up, Snape. You lost twenty moves ago. You just didn't see it. Come on, I'll make it up to you." He set his drink down and moved to the bedroom door.
"Black. This needs to stop."
"So get better and beat me."
"That isn't what I meant."
"I know what you meant."
Snape tapped the queen against the table. "I came far too close the other night. You know it and I know it. That must never happen again."
Sirius chewed the inside of his lip. "Define 'that,' please."
"Allowing our friendship to become anything more. . . intimate. I am willing to grant you that, unlikely as it may appear, it is a friendship of sorts. A permanent treaty. I do enjoy your company, Black, really I do. And I have of course enjoyed the other tremendously. But it is far too dangerous. What is your phrase? The risks outweigh the gains."
Sirius stood very still. Snape turned to look at him. "You grasp my point, of course."
"Fuck you, Snape," he managed to get out.
"Black. It is for your own good I say it. I mean nothing personal by it in the least."
"Well. that's a relief. I'd hate to think you meant anything personal by fucking me."
Snape rose. "Sirius--"
"Don't you fucking dare."
Snape's eyes hardened. "Stop saying that word."
"Which word? Fucking?"
"Fucking fucking fucking fucking. Pity you don't care for the word, Snape. It's such a grand one -- so very descriptive, and versatile as well. As in the following: you're a nice fuck, you fucking bastard, but I think I'll be fucking off now, so go to hell, Snape." He grabbed his cloak from the peg. "Excuse me. Better make that fucking hell," he said, and was out the door before Snape could even think of a reply.
He tried again, a bit louder, accompanying it with a good shake.
"Wha-- Sirius? That you?" Lupin sat up, running a hand over his face and squinting into the dark. "What are you doing?"
"Sorry. didn't mean to wake you."
"You didn't mean to-- oh, God." He frowned. "Are you drunk?"
"Oh, Sirius." He fell back onto the pillow and pulled the blankets around him, groaning. "It's two o"clock in the morning. Can't this wait?"
"Was Lily in love with James?"
He rolled back over at that and looked at his friend. Eyes bright and intent, face flushed with liquor. "What's this about, Sirius?"
"Exactly what I said. Do you think Lily was in love with James?"
"Why do I think that or why was she in love with him? Or better, why am I having this conversation with you at all?"
"Hang on, let me work that one through. Yes, I want to know why you think that, and yes, I want to know why she was in love with him. And you're having this conversation with me because long experience has taught you that ignoring me only makes it worse."
"Well," he yawned, "that's certainly true." He pushed the blankets back and sat up, propping himself on his pillow. "I don't suppose it would do to ask what brought this on?"
"I've had a burst of clarity."
"You've had too much to drink."
"No. No, not yet. I've got just enough sobriety left to know I need to drink some more. Answer the question."
"Um. Okay. What was it again?"
"Pay attention, Remus, it's important. This is my life we're talking about."
"I thought it was Lily and James's life we were talking about."
"See, you do remember the question. So why did she love him?"
Remus watched him for a minute, then sighed and stretched. "He was handsome."
"He was a Quidditch god."
"All right, all right. He. . ." Remus furrowed his brow in thought. "I don't know the answer."
"No. There has to be one. There has to be a reason." Sirius flopped lengthwise on the bed. "Budge over. I mean, I know there was a reason. Lots of people loved James."
"Everybody loved James."
"Yes. Yes, they did. He had no essential flaws, did he? God, that makes him sound like a monster. But he was just. . . what you saw was what you got. It was all just right there."
"Lily was a bit different," Remus said with a wry smile.
"Yes, she was at that. And Harry's like her, isn't he?"
"I think so, yes. Sirius, what's this about?"
He stared at the ceiling. "Shall I tell you something, Moony?"
"I was fucking Lily."
"I already knew that."
"Jesus Christ!" Sirius hurled a pillow across the room. "Is there anything you don't already know? You take all the joy out of things, really you do. And now I've sacrificed my honour to no purpose. How is it you know all these things?"
"I'm a regular font of wisdom." He reached over for his cigarettes on the night stand.
"Toss me one."
Remus carefully lit them both, then leaned back. "Did you really think, all those years ago, that I didn't know?"
Sirius inhaled deeply and blew a cloud of smoke that floated over the bed. "Careful there, mate. you're edging up on Unmentionable Topics. You're skirting the edge of Things We don't Talk About."
"Maybe it's time we did. When did you stop?"
"Hm? When did I stop what?"
"Sleeping with Lily."
"Oh." He took a long drag. "I didn't."
Even in the dark, he could see Remus's eyes go wide. "Sirius. Fucking hell."
This statement filled Sirius with mirth for some reason, and he chuckled quietly.
"Sirius, you can't be. . ."
"Why didn't you stop, for God's sake? You were best man at their wedding, you were James's best friend. . ."
"I don't need you to paint the picture for me, Remus. I do get it, you know." He closed his eyes. "It turns out I wasn't falsely accused at all. I was a much bigger traitor than anyone ever knew."
"Sirius. I'm going to ask you a question now. Harry. . ."
"The answer is, I don't know."
He could hear Remus expel the air in his lungs with a rush. "Holy fucking shit."
"Ah. I finally came up with something even the great, the wise, the circumspect Remus Lupin did not know." He brought his hands to his face as though there were light in the room, and it was too bright by half. "We tried to stop, Remus, really we did. Both of us. It was. . . it was like an addiction." He rolled over on his arms. "And I can answer my own question, actually. She did love him. She never stopped. Always, only him." He stubbed out his half-smoked cigarette on the iron bedstead and tossed it overboard.
"Sirius. You wouldn't happen to be feeling sorry for yourself, would you?"
"Moony." Sirius was crawling up to the head of the bed on his elbows. "Moony, Moony, Moony. Good old Moony."
Remus's eyes did not blink. "You're drunk, Sirius."
"That I am. And day after tomorrow's the full. I know what you need, Remus."
He came closer, until he could see the quick rise and fall of Remus's bare chest, the startled flash of his eyes. "What are you afraid of, Moony? I don't bite," he murmured, and then laughter over took him again. "Just everyone else I know."
"Sirius." Lupin attempted to sit up straighter, scooting away. "you're really very drunk."
"No, I'm not. You're just saying that because you can't think of anything else to say. Tell me, Remus, has anyone else ever made you come as hard as I used to? I've honestly wondered, so tell me, please."
"No," he whispered. Sirius could see the faint tremble in his arms.
"Moony. Do you still think about it, occasionally? What we used to do to each other, for each other? Do you still think about coming all over my hand while I fucked your sweet tight arse?"
"God, Sirius. . .stop."
"Are you hard right now, Remus? If I reached my hand down under these covers, would I find your beautiful sleek cock waiting for me, hard for me, dripping for me?"
He caught the faint moan that escaped his friend's parted lips, and moved in closer. "Let me fuck you, Remus. Let me see if I can finally get you to scream."
"Sirius. .. ."
Then his lips closed on Remus's mouth, and his lips were soft and warm and everything he remembered. As easy and comfortable as his favourite shirt. The pliant golden-brown skin of his chest quivered beneath him as he stroked him, pulling him closer.
"Sirius. .. . yes, Sirius. . ." Remus let his head fall back, giving in to the insistent kisses.
Sirius froze. What the hell am I doing? he thought. Black, you piece of shit. Gently, he detached.
"I'm sorry, Remus. That was. . . that was out of line. I apologise." He sat back on his haunches.
Remus, panting, wide-eyed, just stared at him. He swallowed. "Sirius Black," he said through clenched teeth. "Get the hell out of this room."
Nimbly, Sirius got himself off the bed. "Sure, Remus. I'm sorry. You were. .. . you were right about my being a little drunk." He fumbled for the door. "Good night, Moony."
As soon as the door clicked shut, Sirius got his wish. Remus screamed loud and long into the pillow he held to his face.
The battering in his head would not stop. Beaters with tiny bludgers were crashing round inside his skull. Wham wham wham. Sirius raised his head and groaned, rolling over. Why wouldn't the hammering stop?
Oh. Right. He swung his legs over the side of the bed and stumbled for the door.
"Just a minute," he growled, pulling on his shirt from last night. He flung the door open on six feet of enraged Snape, who barreled into his room and kicked the door shut behind him.
"Exactly what did you think you were doing, you irresponsible, infuriating--"
"Back to this, are we? Incredible. it's my favourite game. Early morning alliteration." he yawned. "What the hell are you doing here, Snape?"
"What the hell am I--" he spluttered, his face pale with rage. "For your information, Black, it is not early morning, but eight o'clock. I have a class that meets in fifteen minutes, and I've been standing in the corridor banging on your door for at least ten minutes, trying to rouse your pathetic liquor-soaked arse." He tossed something heavy onto the bed, wrapped in thick cloths. "Forgetting something, are we?" he spat.
"Oh. Oh, Jesus, Snape, I'm sorry. I lost track of time. Hang on." Quickly he shook his head to clear it, and reached for the mask. "Turn around."
He fastened the thing in silence, noticing how Snape recoiled from his slightest touch. "There."
Snape turned and faced him, looking him up and down with contempt. "I might have known better than to rely on you, Black. And get some other clothes on. You reek of werewolf." He slammed the door behind him as he stalked out.
V. What The Thunder Said
Snape did not appear in hall that night, and Dumbledore did not remark on his absence. Sirius did not make it his custom to take his meals at the high table, though he had been invited to do so. Hogwarts these days was as much refugee camp and base of operations as school, and Sirius liked to sit at the bottom end of the hall among the assortment of ragtag, warriors, and riffraff that called the castle home for the time being. There was a genial hustle and bustle this evening as a group of middle-aged witches took over one end of the Ravenclaw table, spreading out the latest edition of Witch Weekly, which contained articles like "How to Make Do with Less Floo" and "Secondhand Robes: the New You" that put the best front on wartime shortages. Small children were running about between the tables, ignoring their mothers" reprimands. Sirius sipped his coffee and ignored them.
He knew very well where Snape was, and what condition he was probably in. I could solve everybody"s problem, he mused, if I could just kidnap Cornelius Fudge and bring him back here for Snape to eat. He finished his coffee in silence and shoved off from the bench. He held a quick debate with himself, and sighed. Not checking on Snape would probably violate the spirit of his agreement with Dumbledore. He banged on the dungeon door in what he hoped was as rude a manner as possible.
"Open up, Snape," he called.
No answer. Fine, he thought. "Nullam rem e nilo gigni divinitus umquam," he muttered hurriedly, and the door swung open. "Snape," he called, though he knew there would be no answer. He knew beyond doubt what he would find huddled on the bed. Well, you can just rot there, he thought. I'll be damned if I'm going to do anything for you.
He pushed back the curtain to the bedroom and stood there frozen. The bed was empty, carefully made. There was no sign of Snape anywhere. With a terrible certainty he flung open the wardrobe doors. Empty.
"Goddamnit!" he yelled.
"I can't help but think, Dumbledore, that some stricter security measures could have been taken," Fudge was saying. His puffy face was stern, his voice grim. "I've half a mind to. . ." He trailed off, shaking his head.
"Well, there's one thing we can all agree on, anyway," Sirius cut in, with a lazy drawl. "You've half a mind."
"How dare you address the Minister of Magic in this way! I will no longer tolerate this sort of--"
Dumbledore raised his hand. "Cornelius. This is not helping the situation."
Fudge wheeled on him. "If Black had exercised his responsibilities as keeper, this would not have happened. If you had been less sure in the first place that you could control a dangerous Dark Creature, we might not be facing this sort of crisis. At best, we've got a vampire on the loose. At worst, we have a traitor. Has he gone to Voldemort, do you think?"
"Well if he has, it's small wonder," Sirius interjected again. "After you took everything he owned away from him for his trouble, what exactly did you expect, you idiotic--"
"Sirius." Dumbledore"s tone was sharp.
Fudge was shaking his hat in Dumbledore"s face. "You bring him back, Dumbledore. You get him back here, dead or alive, or I will. In twenty-four hours, you bring him or his carcass back here, or it becomes the MLE's business. And I think you know how we'll handle it."
"Good afternoon, Cornelius," Dumbledore said politely. "I am really coming to enjoy these little visits. I will contact you at this time tomorrow. With any luck, that is the last communication we will ever have to have. Now I must ask you to leave me alone with Mr. Black to discuss this."
Fudge gathered his things and swept out in a huff. Sirius let out his breath. "I really hate that man."
"Let us not waste time with him, Sirius. What do I need to know?"
Sirius shook his head. "I don't know that there's any great mystery here, Albus. I mean, why would Snape stay? You can't honestly have expected him to stay here, not after what the Ministry made him go through. He is not a man who bears humiliation easily."
Dumbledore gave a thin smile at that. "No, he isn't." He sat down behind his desk and folded his hands on it. Sirius noted his face was pensive, his lips pursed.
"Albus. Are you seriously worried?"
"I confess I am, Sirius. I am." He stared off into the distance. Fawkes glided to his shoulder and began to preen himself. "Sirius. Did anything happen yesterday that might have caused this?"
"You have to ask? He showed me the letter the Ministry sent. Confiscating his bank vault? How could they? What did they think was going to happen?"
"He showed you the letter?"
Dumbledore was thinking. "What happened, Sirius?"
He sighed. "He-- I-- we had a disagreement."
"Oh?" Somehow the word had several syllables. "Of what sort?"
"It was .. . . of a personal nature."
"I see." Dumbledore"s eyes were steady on him.
"Albus." He was pacing the room. "Let me try to find him before Fudge and his goons do. If I can persuade him to come back, I will. I think I may know where to start looking, anyway."
The headmaster nodded. "He must come back, Sirius. I can control Fudge to a certain point, but only so far. If Severus is anywhere within his reach, he will see that he is destroyed."
"Albus. Are you suggesting. . ."
"I am not suggesting anything. I am telling you. If Severus wants to run. . . make sure he runs very far indeed."
"Nates magnae." Sirius uttered the password and stepped through the portrait hole into the Gryffindor common room. It was late, and only a few clusters of older students were sitting around, talking quietly or huddled over their books. A couple of them glanced up when Sirius entered. Someone called over to Harry, who looked up from his chess board and grinned.
"Harry. Ron. Where's Hermione?"
Ron rolled his eyes. "Her potions project is due tomorrow. She's busy re-writing her essay. For the third time."
"Oh. Well, tell her not to worry about it. I think she'll have some more time for re-writes. Harry, I need to talk to you a minute."
Ron got up. "I'll just leave you two alone, then."
Sirius laid a hand on him. "That's not necessary, Ron. I imagine everyone will know in the morning, anyway. Just keep it quiet till then, please."
Harry was frowning. "Sirius, what"s going on? It's Snape, isn't it?"
Sirius eased himself into the window seat behind them. "Yes, I'm afraid so, Harry. He's. . . well, he's gone off."
"He does that every day," Ron said cheerfully, and Harry shot him a look.
"I mean, he's left Hogwarts, and no one quite knows where he is. I'm going to go bring him back."
"You make it sound simple," Harry said, watching the chess board. "What happens if you don't find him?"
"Then the Ministry or Voldemort will."
"Oh." Harry looked at him. "That's not good, is it?"
"No. No, it's not good."
"Be careful, Sirius."
"I will." He stood up and let his hand rest lightly on Harry's shoulder. He leaned down. "And I wouldn't do that if I were you, Ron." Ron drew back his hand from his bishop hastily.
Sirius stepped through the portrait hole and Padfoot emerged on the other side.
The exterior of the Snape house was perfectly ordinary. Nothing in particular distinguished it from its elegant neighbours off Belgrave Square. It was the sort of London town house that passersby out for an early evening stroll in the fashionable end of town might have cast envious, curious glances at as they wandered by, hoping to catch a glimpse of high-ceilinged rooms in warm lamplight beyond the heavy swagged curtains. The swirl of stone stairs from the sidewalk spilled out at an imposing but tasteful front door.
Except this house had no open curtains, and looked completely closed. There were no graceful curls of ivy out of the third floor window boxes here, and the door looked as though it had not been opened in years. Standing on the threshold, Sirius could see that there were tiny flakes of peeling paint around the bottom edge of the door. No little brass marker proudly proclaiming the name of the inhabitants was affixed to this door frame. No knocker invited entrance. Sirius glanced across the street at the house opposite. A woman sat at the grand piano in the great bayed window there, with a young boy beside her. He was trying to push the pedals with his feet while she played. She smiled and cuffed his head.
Sirius touched the front door, wondering what to do. Ought he perhaps to knock? A thought struck him. Could it be? Would he have simplified his life that way? Leaning close, he muttered the key to Snape's office ward. Nothing. Right, too easy. He tried the knob. Of course it was locked. What had he expected? All right, any more loitering and the nice woman in pearls across the way was going to be ringing the constable. He lifted his hand and knocked twice, loudly.
He leaned down over the railing and investigated the ground floor entrance. Maybe when night fell, Padfoot could return. He froze when he heard the door creak open.
"Are you laying plans for breaking and entering, Black? Perhaps you would like to examine my house from the inside?" Snape stood in the doorway, looking perfectly Snapish.
Sirius looked him up and down. "Aren't you worried, Snape, that if you wander the streets of London dressed like that, someone is going to try to stuff you back into a Dickens novel where you belong?"
"Shut up and come inside. You are far more the spectacle than I."
Snape shut the door behind them. Sirius's keen eyes adjusted quickly to the dim interior. He was standing in a marble foyer, and the staircase swirled up and around in a graceful continuance of the arc of the front stairs. A cool elegance reigned, in spite of the slightly stale air.
"What the hell are you doing here, Black? And how did you find this place?"
"Oh, it was quite the piece of investigatory brilliance. I used the phone directory, you idiot. Somewhere in this house there's a telephone, believe it or not. I looked up Snape, and there you were. Snape, S. E."
He looked shocked at that. "That was my stepfather. A telephone? Really? I must go hunting for it. I confess I am curious to know how they work."
Sirius looked around. "Aren't you going to invite me to come sit down or something?"
Snape sighed. "Very well. Come with me." He slid open the wide pocket doors to the left and led him into the darkened front room. Sirius had a brief impression of an amazing jumble of furniture. It looked like Queen Victoria's attic, he thought. Or an Edward Gorey sketch. Chippendale chairs, Empire sofas, and glass front display cabinets of tiny porcelain objets d'arts littered the room. Gilt pier glass hung on the walls, and dark portraits. The only light came from the candles in sconces beside the mantel, which rose in Baroque abandon to the ceiling.
Snape led him quickly through another set of doors to the library. Bookcases covered the walls from floor to ceiling, jammed with leather-spined volumes. There was a bit more light in here, since the tables were weighted with lit candelabra. Underneath them were spread parchments of all sorts, and some had spilled onto the floor. Sirius stepped carefully around them.
"Quite the bachelor pad you've got here, Snape. You'll have to give me the name of your decorator." His eye was caught by a wizard photograph in a heavy frame on one of the tables. A strikingly beautiful woman with thick dark hair and a proud expression raised her eyebrows at him. The two little boys at her side were poking and prodding at each other, ignoring her bejeweled hand on their shoulders. The smaller of the two was giggling as the older, fairer boy nudged at him.
"Is that you?"
"Yes." Snape seated himself behind the desk.
"So this is your mother."
"Black, what are you doing here?"
He straightened up and looked at Snape incredulously. "What the hell do you think I'm doing here? Albus sent me to bring you back. If you don't come back with me, it's going to be the MLE knocking on that door, and believe me, they won't sit around chatting and looking at family photos. You know what they're going to do, don't you?"
"Black, you need to leave here at once."
"Don't give me that. I'm not leaving unless you come with me, and you know it."
"I'm not putting that thing on again." Snape's voice was quiet. "I will die first."
"Snape. .. . don't do anything stupid. It's not forever--"
"No, just until vampires are declared harmless, and the Ministry is no longer run by narrow-minded, ignorant, vindictive bureaucrats. Excuse me if I don't hold my breath."
Behind him he heard the slide of a pocket door. He spun around and his blood froze. A tall, handsome man of indeterminate age was standing in the doorway, smiling slightly at him. His sleek chestnut hair fell over his shoulders, but what riveted Sirius were his red eyes.
"Mr. Black," said Voldemort politely. "I have long desired to make your acquaintance." And that was the last he heard before the darkness fell.
Sirius struggled to open his eyes, which felt heavy and somewhat sticky, as though he had been asleep for a long time. Oh, Christ, he thought. Not this again. Something was restraining his arms against the wall, but he would worry about that in a minute. For now the thing was his eyes.
Two figures, bent over a desk. The dark haired one was seated, the other leaning over his shoulder. It came back with a rush and he gasped. Snape's head jerked up.
Voldemort stepped toward him. "So." He cocked his head at Sirius as though he were a zoo animal, or a waxworks exhibit. "This is the Animagus?"
"Mm-hm," said Snape, his head buried in the parchment spread on his knees. Sirius licked his lips, trying to speak. How long could he have been out? Impossible to tell, with the lack of natural light in the room. Had he been drugged? Cursed? He hadn't even seen a wand upraised, or heard a spell cast. His eyes flicked from Voldemort to Snape and back again.
"Tom," said Snape, looking up, and at that one word Sirius felt his stomach sink through the floor with a vertiginous lurch. That one word flooded his mind with harsh light, and he glimpsed in that instant the terrible, fatal mistake they had all made, every last one of them. "Tom, come look at this. Leave him alone, he's not important."
Sirius watched them bending over the parchment, reading something together. He knew he should be trying to figure out what they were puzzling over, but he couldn't bring himself to care. He was cornered, and there would be no getting out. Checkmate. He let his head sink to his chest in defeat.
"Hm. Yes," Voldemort was saying. "It is just possible, isn't it?" He smoothed the parchment with a long, elegant hand. "So this. .. ."
"Yes, just here." Their heads bent together, conferring. Sirius contemplated as though from a distance the emotions he knew he ought to be feeling. Hatred, fear, anger, betrayal. Instead, all he could feel was tired. Bone-drenchingly tired. Oh, Harry, he thought. I'm so fucking sorry. At the thought of Harry a surge of something shot through him. A last defiance.
"Snape," he hissed. "You cocksucking bastard. Albus trusted you."
"Is he always this foul-mouthed, Severus?"
"Perpetually. He must be feeling better." Snape rolled up the parchment and tossed it on the desk. "I ought to have some tea sent up for him, but I don't suppose there's any point." He rose and stretched. "You know, Tom, if you had managed to stay upstairs, we would not have had the trouble of dealing with him."
"But it would have been so rude of me not to greet our guest."
Snape rolled his eyes. "Spare me. You sound like Malfoy."
"Ah yes. Let me affect my Gothic drawl. You know, Lucius made a much better Dark Lord than anything I could ever work up."
It was the drugs, Sirius thought. He must have been drugged, and he was hallucinating. He could not be seeing Snape sitting calmly in his own library, bantering the Dark Lord and calling him Tom. Something of his confusion must have shown on his face, for Voldemort was looking at him now, a faint expression of amusement on his face.
"I think our guest is a trifle confused, Severus. I have a feeling he would be more comfortable chained to a dungeon wall, surrounded by my hooded minions prodding him with red-hot pokers. I fear we are unsettling his paradigm of good and evil."
"No doubt. Speaking of the minions, have you contacted Macnair?"
"Yes, yes. It is all arranged. You worry so, Severus."
He gave a little smile. "One of us must exercise some foresight." He began sorting the parchments on the table, stacking and rolling them.
"You wound me." The rest of Voldemort's sentence died on his lips, and he clutched his temple with a little gasp. Snape was at his side in an instant.
"Tom. Sit down. Is it the old trouble?"
"Yes," he said when he could speak. "It is passing now. I don't want to sit down."
Snape reached up a hand to massage the side of his head. "It will be over soon. Just relax."
Voldemort sighed and leaned into him. "Severus."
"I am here," he said softly. "I am always here."
"I know you are."
They rested together, foreheads touching. Sirius heard Snape sigh and saw his grimace. "How you can bear my touch I don't know. How you can trust me is beyond me sometimes."
"Stop that. No more of that." A white hand came up to stroke Snape's jaw. "You did nothing wrong, you know that."
"Tom, you don't know," he whispered. "I have betrayed everyone. Everyone."
"I know." The red eyes were still and sad, and Sirius found himself wondering what colour those eyes had been when they matched the handsome, finely moulded face, the flowing chestnut hair.
Snape looked away. "I don't know who I am anymore, Tom," he said faintly.
"I know that, too. Do you think it is any easier for me?"
Voldemort walked to the window and pulled back the heavy curtain. A shaft of moonlight fell into the room. Sirius remembered it was the full, and his mind went to Remus, wondering where he was and how he was faring tonight. He stayed silent, just watching the two of them at the window, testing his arm restraints. He could no longer feel his wrists, but he could not tell if this was because of their elevation or the tightness of the cuffs. When the king is doomed, he thought, he has twenty-five moves left. Twenty-five moves to be chased around the board, facing his own death. It is important that he take all of them.
"Severus. Do you think I am mad?"
Snape hesitated, but he did not try to mask his hesitation. "Sometimes."
"You say that because I never shared your scruples about death. I know what waters the seed of revolution, Severus, and it is blood."
"We are drowning in blood, and nothing has changed."
"Well. That is true enough, God knows. God. Why haven't I seen him, Severus? In all that I have done and known -- more than any wizard in history -- why have I not seen his face? Why has he not spoken to me? Why would he not?"
Sirius caught the troubled expression that flitted across Snape's face. Evidently, so did Voldemort.
"You think I'm mad to ask such a question, don't you? Answer me!" The silken voice became a whiplash, and the red eyes flashed. Snape's eyes ignited.
"Do not think to threaten me, Tom. I am not Lucius, or one of your henchmen."
"No. No, you're not." He massaged his temples. "I apologise. I am. .. . very tired."
Sirius watched in revulsion as Snape's arm came around Voldemort's shoulders and bent that sleek head to his. "I know. I know. Tom, listen to me," he said, his voice urgent. "We can leave all of this, everything. There's nothing that holds us here, not anymore. We have laid our plans, why wait any longer? You said yourself before that it had all become pointless, that nothing had changed. And nothing will ever change, I know that and you know that. So let's get out of here, somewhere far away. It doesn't matter where, as long as we are there. Please, Tom, let's go tonight. Let us go now, at once."
"Severus. Are you afraid of me?" The red eyes burned into him.
Snape did not flinch from the gaze. "Sometimes, yes, I am. In these last years especially. You are Tom, but you are also the most powerful wizard in history, and I do not forget it."
"But still Tom."
"Yes. Still Tom. Always that."
"Yes," Voldemort said slowly. "Yes. We will go tonight." He took a deep breath and smiled. He looked younger and, if possible, more beautiful. He glanced at Sirius, motionless against the wall, who forced his heart rate to slow, not wanting Snape to hear the thudding echo of his fear. He breathed slowly and steadily, as he had taught himself in Azkaban, and met the red eyes.
"What about him, Severus? He has seen too much of us already."
Snape's regard was cold. "He is unimportant. There is nothing he can tell them one way or the other. If we do not want to be found, they cannot find us."
"Maybe," Voldemort muttered, tilting his head at Sirius. He approached him curiously. "So he is an Animagus, you say?"
"Yes. Not a bad one, actually. His form is a Grim."
"Did you know him well?"
Sirius tried not to hear the past tense. Waited for Snape to shrug, or prevaricate, or say something that would signal it was all a lie, all a game, hah hah Voldemort take that.
"I knew him very well indeed."
Voldemort turned at the inflection of Snape's voice. "Really." He turned back to Sirius and looked at him with greater interest. "Shall I spare him for your sake, Severus?"
"Don't bother. You're probably right. He has heard too much as it is. Do as you think best."
Voldemort was looking at Snape with an odd expression on his face. He advanced on him and reached a hand out to stroke his face. "Severus."
Snape leaned into the exquisitely beautiful hand, closing his eyes. Sirius felt his stomach twist.
"I love you, Severus."
"And I love you."
And then Voldemort was kissing him, gently, tenderly, and Sirius wanted not to look but could not look away. Something hot and heavy was writhing in his chest. At last Voldemort broke the kiss, and Sirius saw how Snape's lips leaned after his, lengthening the caress.
"Severus. You are hungry, I know it. I am sick to think what they have done to you. But no more. You will never hunger in that way again. You must feed before we leave."
Snape's eyes flicked to Sirius's form. "Yes. Again, you are right. Two difficulties solved at once. I will be quick." He moved away and examined Sirius's shackles, frowning. "This is an awkward position. Can you. .. ?"
"Of course, love." The shackles fell from Sirius's wrists. Run, his brain screamed. Lunge, fight, change, bite, scream. What use would it be to change? At least he would die as a man, not a dog.
"Not much fight left in him, is there?" Voldemort's voice, curious, amused.
"Try to control your inner sadist, Tom. He's had a rough day." Snape's sardonic voice, teasing. Snape's hand was on the back of his neck, gripping him roughly, dragging him to the center of the room. This is where I should defy him, spit in his treacherous blood-sucking face, Sirius thought. He raised his eyes wearily.
"Just do it already, Snape. Just fucking do it," he said softly.
"He really is a foul-mouthed little thing, isn't he?" Voldemort said with distaste.
"He always was. Bind his arms for me, will you?"
Voldemort gestured, and Sirius felt cords twining about his arms. "You fucking bastard," he choked out.
Snape's grip on his neck tightened. "Watch your language." He billowed his cloak around them both, and as he moved in for the kill Sirius caught a flash of something white and small inside his cloak. He stiffened as Snape's arms pulled him closer, pressing their bodies tightly together, touching thigh to thigh, shoulder to shoulder. Sirius struggled, but it was no use. Snape was stronger than he had ever known, stronger than he could fight. His heart thundered in his chest as he took in only colour and light and sound and breath, sweet breath, for the last time. Breath like Snape's murmured in his ear, hot and low.
"White knight to black king," he heard, and then the fangs sank in his neck.
The jolt of apparating through Hogwarts' powerful shields was enough to land them sprawled over top of one another, shaking with the force of it.
"Get off," growled Snape, and shoved him roughly away.
Sirius sat up, trembling, his neck running blood. He was too dazed to ask why they had apparated to Dumbledore's office and not to his rooms, or why Dumbledore and Fudge and Harry and McGonagall and Hagrid and about eight or ten other people were all crowded around them, lifting them, exclaiming over them.
Fudge gave a cry. "Dumbledore, get your mediwitch! He's been bit!"
Sirius shook him off. "No, no, I'm fine, you don't understand--"
Snape was reaching for him. "Here, let me--"
"Seize the vampire!" Fudge shrieked at the top of his voice, and five Aurors descended and clapped irons around Snape, who twisted and writhed. One of the Aurors held the mask in his hand and was struggling to fit it on him.
"No!" screamed Sirius, and Padfoot lunged across the room, knocking the closest Auror off balance and taking a hunk out of his leg. And then everyone was yelling at once, Harry and Hagrid and McGonagall at Fudge and the Aurors, and Fudge and the Aurors at Dumbledore and Snape, and Sirius was now a human, now a dog, fighting and biting and kicking whichever Auror he could reach.
"Omnibus Quietus!" thundered Dumbledore from atop his desk, his wand upraised. "And failing that, everyone SHUT UP!"
The room froze in mid punch, scream, and claw.
"Now. First things first. Gentlemen, unhand Professor Snape." Meekly the Aurors released their hold and stood with their hands at their side. Snape pulled his cloak about him and huffed.
"Sirius, let go of that man's head." He dropped the Auror with a thunk.
Dumbledore took a deep breath. "Very good. Now. Here's what is going to happen." He looked about him. "Cornelius, listen to me. In everything that he has done, Professor Snape has acted on my orders. I ordered him to allow himself to be captured after that foiled raid. We both knew Voldemort was never going to trust him, not that way."
"But you-- he was--" Fudge spluttered.
"Yes, Cornelius. Is it not a good idea to take as many of the enemy down with you as you can? This is a war, and wars are fought in earnest. Severus let you seize him, and he let you mistreat, humiliate, and imprison him, for good reason. Only thus was Voldemort ever going to believe that his defection was genuine. Only thus would Voldemort believe he had nowhere else to turn. Only thus would Voldemort open his counsels to him and receive him with full trust."
"He-- but there--" Fudge seemed incapable of completing a sentence.
"Cornelius. Do you honestly think that I would ever truly allow you to treat Severus Snape as he has been treated within these walls? There was a purpose to everything we did. Believe me, now that that purpose has ended," he said with a glance at Sirius, "not one finger will be laid on Severus Snape. And if you so much as come within four feet of him with that foul thing," Dumbledore pointed at the mask with his wand, "I will personally blast it to smithereens, no matter who is holding it."
The hapless Auror gripping the mask took several large steps backwards.
"Now. Here's what is going to happen next. Cornelius, you and your men are going to leave this office. In fact, you are going to leave this castle, and you are not to return. Ever. The war effort will be led from here, and while we welcome your assistance, we do not require it. We have no more reason to make use of you and your-- what is your phrase, Severus?"
"Narrow-minded, ignorant, vindictive bureaucrats," he spat.
"Ah. Just so. Of course, The members of the MLE are welcome to come join our efforts here," he said. "And as quite a few of them, I believe, are alumni of Hogwarts, they will feel some. . . what is the word? Loyalty, yes, some loyalty to their old headmaster. So we shall see. Now get the hell out of my office, Cornelius, and if you ever attempt to return, I will make you very sorry for it indeed. Do not doubt that I will. My sword may go sheathed, but it is no less sharp for that." He delivered this last in a level tone, his blue eyes blazing.
Fudge was quivering, but whether with rage or fear it was hard to tell. "You'll be sorry for this, Dumbledore," he choked out.
"I am already deeply sorry for every minute you have spent in this office." He gestured with his wand. "Now go."
Fudge turned and gestured to the Aurors to follow him. At the door he turned. "Come, gentlemen," he huffed. The Aurors looked at their feet. Fudge looked from one to the other in astonishment. His face went white, then red again. He wrenched open the door and slammed it behind him.
Dumbledore turned to the Aurors, who continued to study their feet. "Gentlemen," he said in a softer tone. "You have made a wise and bold choice. You are welcome here. This castle is now your home, if you wish it to be. Harry, would you do me the favour of accompanying these gentlemen to get something to eat? They have had a long day. And perhaps some lodgings in Gryffindor tower for now, if you would. I believe their bravery warrants it," he said with a twinkle, and the Auror who had been holding the mask gave a lopsided smile at that.
"Now," breathed Dumbledore when the door had closed behind them. "Let's have some tea." He clambered off the desk with surprising agility and smiled. "Severus. Welcome home." He drew the younger wizard into his arms. Snape let his head rest for a minute on the thin strong shoulder.
"Albus," was all he said.
Sirius cleared his throat. "Not to interrupt such a lovely moment and all, but if anyone cares to notice, I'm bleeding rather profusely here."
Snape pulled away. "Oh, stop being such a baby, Black." He drew his finger across the puncture in Sirius's neck, sealing it effortlessly. Sirius thought of the first time he had seen Snape do that, in Malfoy's dungeon. It seemed a lifetime ago. He suddenly remembered that he was very tired.
"So," he said. "You're welcome, Snape."
Snape's eye twitched so rapidly he feared it might fall out. "You expect me to thank you? You expect gratitude?" His voice was almost a shriek.
"Severus," Dumbledore said in a calm voice, and amazingly, Snape subsided.
"Oh, dry up, Snape. I was kidding. I get it, all right? I get that I managed to wreck the master plan by showing up at just exactly the wrong moment. I get it that you had to rescue me. I fall on my knees in gratitude. What do you want, my firstborn?" He gave a half-laugh at that. "For what it's worth, I'm sorry."
"Sirius," Dumbledore interjected. "You did what I asked you to do. What happened was my fault, not yours. I thought you stood little chance of succeeding. To be perfectly honest, I did not expect that Severus and Voldemort would be anywhere in the country, even. I am astonished they were in London at all."
"He is not well," Snape said quietly, looking at the carpet.
Dumbledore rested a hand on his shoulder. "Severus. I know how hard this was for you."
"I almost did it, Albus." Snape's voice was tight with frustration. "I almost had him. We were planning -- he intended to go through with it. He finally trusted me enough. He wanted me to start tomorrow night."
"You were going to make him a vampire," Sirius said slowly. "That's what you were planning."
"No, you imbecile. I was going to kill him."
The three of them were silent for a minute. Snape ran a hand over his eyes. "I think-- I think I would like to go to bed now, if you don't mind, headmaster. I have had a trying day."
"Of course, Severus. Good night to both of you. Get some rest now. We can talk more tomorrow." He turned and picked something off the desk. "And Sirius."
"This belongs to you, I believe. I took the precaution of bringing it here from your rooms when Severus left. Just in case. I hope you don't mind."
He tossed it to Sirius, who caught it in mid-air. He looked at the black king nestled in his hand. He stuffed it in his pocket, his chest unaccountably tight. For the first time that night he wondered where Remus was, and then he remembered. Of course. It was the full.
"Good night then," he muttered, and left, not looking at Snape.
He could still feel the dull ache at his neck when he woke in the middle of the night, sweating in the stone cold room. His dreams had been full of red eyes that ran blood, and chains around his arms and legs that he tried to break but turned out to be made of chestnut hair that twined itself further into his flesh, cutting him, choking him. There was a hypnotic silken voice that called him a name that wasn't his and clutching fingers that tried to put a mask on him, and he was frantically trying to explain to Fudge that he wasn't the vampire, it was the other one, but it wasn't the Minister but McGonagall, and he was a first year again, and she was saying Mr. Black, never come unprepared to class again.
He laughed shortly as that image floated up to consciousness. How many points should be subtracted for destroying someone's life? How many detentions would he have to serve to pay that one off?
Let's just run the tally, he thought as he lay there, staring once again at his ceiling. His life's work, the one goal he's been working for all these years at what incalculable personal and physical cost I can't know, and I piss all over it. I blunder in at precisely the wrong moment and blow it all to hell. Well, he could have just killed me and got on with the plan, Sirius thought. Casualties of war and all that. Acceptable losses. But he knew -- he had known from that night in Malfoy's dungeon -- that Snape would not kill if there was any other choice left to him, that beneath everything else the core of honour ran like a steel column down Snape's back.
He wondered if his death would be an acceptable loss to Snape, remembering the look of pure and perfect hatred the other man had shot him tonight in Dumbledore's office. The exact mirror of the one he had got from him all those years ago, standing fists clenched on that same carpet, headmaster it was just a prank, we didn't mean anything by it.
And how quickly, how easily he had assumed Snape's betrayal. Snape would have registered that as well. Cocksucking bastard, he had taunted him, and meant it with every fibre of his being. When Snape had leaned in for the kill, he had really thought it was going to happen, that Snape was going to kill him right there, drain him dry and leave him limp and cold on the Persian carpet. Snape had seen all of that, just as he had seen the flicker of doubt in his eyes that night in Malfoy"s dungeon.
And to top it off, he assumed Sirius had left his rooms to go fuck Remus that night. The werewolf, as if all the other weren't enough. Sirius curled in a ball in the cold room, not bothering with the blanket, wondering when his universe had narrowed to just one "he."
"Yeah?" The bleary head raised itself from the sofa. Sirius knelt down and ran a gentle hand over the tousled head.
"Hey there, mate. How're you feeling?"
"Oh." Remus rubbed his shoulder. "Not so bad. I had some Wolfsbane Snape left me before he took off." His voice was blurred and bitter. He must have caught something in Sirius's hastily downcast eyes, because he quickly propped himself on his elbow.
"Sirius," he said, as though his friend"s presence was just registering. "You're back. What happened?"
Sirius paused, continuing to brush the thick greyish brown hair out of Remus's eyes in an oddly maternal gesture. He spoke softly. "Snape's back. It turns out. . . it turns out he had planned it all with Albus. Getting captured in the first place. Leaving. A final bid for Voldemort"s trust. Anyway, I showed up and fucked everything all to hell. Story of my life, hm?" he said with a small smile.
Remus was looking at him. "I'm sorry, Sirius."
He shook his head. "No, Remus, I'm sorry. For everything." He withdrew his hand. "For the other night. For the years before that. For all of it."
"Sirius." Remus reached for his hand and held it loosely for a bit. He sat up. "So everything's all right now."
"Yeah." Sirius tried another little smile. "Everything's all right."
Remus searched his eyes and sighed when he saw it. "Oh, God, Sirius. Sirius, I'm so sorry." He pulled the other man to him and held him there, resting his head on his shoulder. Sirius drew a deep shuddering breath and let it out, burrowing his face into the warmth and comfort that was Remus. "It had to happen to you sometime, my friend. Welcome to the rest of the world."
Dumbledore had been right, of course, about the core of the MLE. Almost to a man, they rallied round the banner raised at Hogwarts. Soon the Order of the Phoenix was the elite center of a genuine fighting force, and Dumbledore had actual troops at his disposal. The castle became even more crowded as more refugees flooded north, and more soldiers flocked to Dumbledore"s citadel. Classes stumbled along, but the seventh and sixth year students spent a significant amount of their day in training sessions, and there was little homework assigned to them.
But for all the good news, there was plenty to dishearten as well. More and more Dark wizards and witches were declaring for Voldemort, as the shadow games came to an end and loyalties became known. The fault lines ran right across Europe and through other countries as well. The wizarding federations of Eastern Europe sided with Voldemort, as well as significant portions of Germany, Northern Africa, and even the States. Dumbledore"s boldness had pushed things into the open perhaps sooner than Voldemort had planned, and the Order was eager to seize and use that advantage, perhaps their only one.
Sirius found himself away from Hogwarts for significant amounts of time now, leading companies southward to defend wizard and Muggle communities alike. Most days, they were successful, and he had lost very few men. He was earning himself a name as a tough but fair commander, and junior Aurors were always eager to volunteer for service in his company.
He saw Snape rarely, and then only at a distance. With the castle as crowded as it was these days, it was possible to spend your days inside it and never see half the other people sharing it with you. He caught glimpses of him at the high table, of course. He had counted the days and known why he was absent about a week after the return from their ill-starred adventure, but he had not gone knocking on his quarters. When Snape had reappeared in hall three days later, looking sickly and sallow and gaunt, he had not needed to ask how bad it had been to know.
Since then he had seen him even less, making sure to volunteer for as many missions outside Hogwarts as possible. Keeping busy during the day kept the thoughts at bay. At night, however, they swirled and swooped in his helpless brain, becoming dreams that taunted him. Alcohol helped with that a little -- if he could knock back enough drinks before bed, the dreams were a bit easier to take. Or perhaps he just didn't remember them as vividly. He could have taken Dreamless Sleep, he knew, but he told himself it was the heaviness the next day he couldn't afford. But he knew the truth was that he couldn't bear to erase the dreams entirely.
"It's not locked, Remus," he called from the sofa. It had been a particularly miserable day, and a dismal failure of a mission. Worse, he had lost a man -- a woman, actually, young Andromache Davies. A Muggle-born from Cardiff. It hadn't been anyone's fault, he knew, but he could not help re-playing the moments before she was hit over and over in his mind as he nursed his drink, lying on the sofa. Had he missed something, some warning that he should have seen?
"I'm fine, Remus," he said from behind his hand. "Really I am. It was just a hell of a day."
"It isn't Remus," said the voice.
He sat up. "Snape."
He hastily set his drink down. "I'd offer you a drink, but I'm afraid I started without you, and now there really isn't any left, to speak of."
"I don't want a drink, thank you. I came to offer my condolences about young Davies."
"I remember her well from potions classes. She was a competent student."
"She was a more than just competent warrior," Sirius said bitterly.
"I have no doubt of that."
He looked up at Snape, standing rigid and unmoving behind the sofa. "I don't suppose you'd care to sit down?"
"Yes, thank you."
They sat in silence for a minute as Sirius sipped his drink. Snape's eyes were wandering the room.
"Snape. Did you come here for a reason?"
"Yes, in fact. You have something of mine, and I'd like to have it back."
"Something of yours?"
"You have my king."
"Oh." He rose and pulled open the top drawer of his dresser. He stared at the little figure for a minute before handing it to Snape. "Here you go. Now you're in business."
"Yes." Snape rose and took the king, but made no move to go. "You know," he said, studying the piece, "I have figured out the weak spot in your game."
"You have, have you?"
"Yes. I should have seen it before, really. You neglect castling."
"Castling is for cowards."
"Perhaps. But sometimes, to protect the king, caution is required. The king may not seem it, but he is. . . extraordinarily vulnerable. The piece everyone is wrangling over, but in some ways, the weakest one on the board. With the fewest moves available to him." He turned the figure over in his hands, stroking it with his thumb. "He must envy the knight, with his ease of movement. He must long, sometimes, to be free, as he is." Snape's voice was very soft. He tucked the king into his pocket. "Well, thank you for this, Black. Good night."
"Good night, Snape." He opened his mouth and then the words were out before he could stop them, before Snape's hand had turned too far on the knob.
"Snape. it's important to remember. The knight. . . the knight has constraints of his own. The board is set against him. Every other piece runs on the line, and he has to run sideways for every bit of progress he makes. He never can quite end up where he intends."
Snape was looking at him with a little frown. "Yes," he said at last. "I see your point. It is an interesting one. Perhaps you can show me more of what you mean over a game?"
Sirius slowly nodded. "All right, I think I might do. Tomorrow night, then?"
He knocked on Snape's door precisely at eight the following night. The door swung open the tiniest bit as he knocked on it, and he frowned. It was not like Snape to be careless about his office door, not with the jars and jars of deadly things he had pickling in there. He stepped through and shut the door quietly behind him.
"In here. Half a moment."
The voice came from the classroom that opened off to the left. He stuck his head around the door and found Snape before a roiling cauldron, piles of ingredients and other foul-looking things scattered about him. He glanced up quickly from adjusting the fire.
"I was at a delicate point, and knew I would not be able to attend the door. I hope you don't mind."
"No, not at all." He leaned against the door frame, watching him. "Though I might remind you I do know your ward key."
"Mm. I have recently had occasion to change that one. I thought it might be wise."
"I see." He watched, fascinated, as Snape stirred and sprinkled, all of his considerable concentration focused on his task. He ladled a bit into a cup and drank it off, frowning. He tossed in a pinch more salamander eggs, then lowered the fire and stepped back, wiping his hands.
"There. That ought to be all right for now. What's that you've got there?"
"What, this? My little contribution. A fresh bottle of Ogden"s. Best barreling."
"Well, no, but close. '87."
"Perfectly adequate. Follow me." He tossed his protective gloves and apron on a worktable and pulled down the chess set from its shelf. He brought two glasses from the cabinet. "Shall we repair to the sitting room? Things are still rather at sixes and sevens in here."
"Sure. What was that potion you were brewing?"
"Oh. That was for personal use."
"That was the potion you take, wasn't it? The appetite suppressant."
Snape made a little grimace. "That is hardly an accurate description." He uncorked the Ogden's with a pop and poured out two glasses. "Sante, Black."
"Sante. So what does it do, exactly?"
"It renders me metabolically able to survive on non-human blood."
"And you came up with this on your own? How?"
"Trial and grievous error. Sit down and play. Black or white?"
"Hm. Offence or defence. Hard to say. I think I'll go with white, though. I'm in the mood for a little offensive."
They quickly moved their pawns out, clearing the battlefield. The only sound was the clunk and slide of the pieces and the tick of the mantel clock. Sirius was the first to slow the pace, sinking into a meditative lull. He had not touched a board in several months, and he let himself take his time re-adjusting to the rhythm.
"Your move," Snape said.
"Yes. Sorry, out of practice."
"Haven't you been playing?"
"I haven't got a set."
Snape looked up in surprise.
"There is actually someone poorer than Remus, you know. Of course, now he's Mr. Steady Income."
Snape reflected on this. "Where is your home, Black?"
Sirius studied his bishop longer than was really necessary. "Haven't actually got one at the moment. Hogwarts, for now. I'll think about it when the war's over."
"Is your recklessness in battle the result of your aversion to long-term planning?"
"Are you asking me if I'm trying to get myself killed, Snape?"
"That is what I'm asking."
"Not on my better days. And I resent the implication that I put my men at risk unnecessarily. I have a higher mission success rate with a lower casualty rate than any other--"
"I know, Black. You're a fine commander."
"Oh. All right then." He nudged his pawn into place. "Your move."
Snape studied the board. "A fine commander, but you do take more than your fair share of risks."
Sirius frowned at the criticism. "What the hell do you care, Snape," he muttered.
Snape touched his pawn, then his knight. He lifted his hand hesitantly, glancing up at Sirius. "I'm sorry. I can't do this."
"Concentrate." He sat back and rested his chin on his hand. "May we simply stop for a bit?"
"Sure. Do you want me to come back tomorrow?"
"No. don't. . . don't go. Not unless you wish to."
"All right then."
Snape got up and began to pace the room. Sirius watched him.
"Snape. Everything all right?"
"Yes." He stopped his pacing. "Black. There is something you ought to know."
"Okay," he said slowly. "Am I going to need more whiskey?"
"Probably." Snape topped off his glass and knocked back the rest of his. "You did not destroy everything when you came to my house that night."
Sirius went pale. "No. don't tell me you're going back to him, because I will not fucking believe that."
Snape made an impatient gesture. "No, no, of course not. That opportunity won't come again. But no matter. What I wanted to say was, you may have been feeling unduly. . . responsible for what happened."
"Snape. Are you honestly trying to make me feel better?"
Snape ground his teeth. "No, you nitwit, I am trying to explain something to you. Now be quiet." He took a deep breath and collected his thoughts. "You were right about. . . some things."
"What I was doing. . . it was harder than I had thought it would be."
Sirius set his glass down. "Snape. Stop. I don't need to hear this. You don't have to tell me this. I know enough to know that what I saw that night wasn't an act. I know. . . I know you love him."
Snape looked up, startled. He opened his mouth to say something, then shut it abruptly.
"You can't help it. I saw it myself. He's. . he's not like anything I had imagined."
Snape's voice was low and still. "It can be difficult, around someone with that kind of force of personality, to remember exactly the way things are supposed to go. If you had not shown up, Black. . . I might have forgot."
"I know," Sirius replied quietly. They sat in silence for a minute, a comfortable confederacy of knowledge.
"My relationship with-- Voldemort is, has been, complex."
Sirius heard the hesitation and knew Snape would not allow himself to say 'Tom' again.
"Yeah. I get it, Snape. Listen, can we talk about something else?" The tight weight was re-settling on his chest, and he frowned at his hands.
"If you wish." More silence stretched. "What would something else be?"
"I don't know." Sirius pushed back his chair. "I have to go now, Snape." He needed air, needed relief from the weight that was going to crush him.
"If you wish," he said again. "But I would like you to know that you were mistaken in one thing, however. I said my relationship with the Dark Lord was complex, but I did not say -- I would never say -- that I loved him."
"Okay, that's great. I'm happy for the both of you. Maybe you two can work it out, who knows? Stranger things have happened. Maybe you two can meet up in Antigua when the war's over, in some sort of psychotic madmen and their co-dependent vampire lovers rehabilitation program. Good night, Snape. It was a great. . . whatever." He tossed back the remainder of his glass and headed out the door. He had the door to the office half open when the voice stopped him.
"Sirius, please." Snape's voice was little more than a whisper. "Please don't go."
It was the voice that unstrung him.
He turned to look at Snape, and he saw there the look he had not seen when Snape had looked at Voldemort, and he understood at last, and the weight in his chest finally caved. He crossed the room in three steps and had Snape in his arms, not gently or tenderly but hungrily, brutally, with the force of long months' frustration, and his mouth was as hungry as his body.
"God, yes," he moaned as Snape's mouth moved down his neck. Trembling fingers pulled him close, but he held Snape at arms' length for a moment, struggling for breath.
"Severus, listen," he panted. His concentration was not helped by the warm wet mouth nuzzling his jaw, or the hardness that was pressing into his groin. Think, think, must think. "Severus," he tried again.
"Stop trying to talk," came the voice gusting his ear, and his knees buckled. He gave in and devoured Snape's mouth, drowning in the taste, the smell of Snape.
"Bed," Sirius managed. "Now."
"Are you sure? I don't--"
"I'm going to come in about thirty seconds either way, and I'd prefer it to be lying down, for once," he murmured.
"Oh," Snape moaned.
They half-walked, half-stumbled into the bedroom. Snape's fingers were on his shirt, tugging at buttons, and he heard Snape give another moan when he had success and tore the shirt off his chest. He struggled with Snape's myriad tiny buttons. "Don't suppose you could have planned ahead here, and worn something with a zipper," he muttered.
"I didn't mean-- I didn't think you--"
"All right, enough talking." He shoved him back on the bed.
"Black, listen-- I mustn't-- you mustn"t let me--"
"Shut up," he growled, covering him with his body and his mouth, grinding into him. Oh God, so good. And now Snape's fingers were digging into his arse, pulling him down and closer, and the friction on their still-clad cocks was delicious, unbearable, and Sirius felt his orgasm bearing down on him like a freight train. They increased their frantic pace, thrusting and rubbing, unable to hold off any longer. Then Sirius's head hit the headboard with a loud smack as he was thrown off.
"Goddamnit, Snape! If you do that to me one more time--"
Snape was sitting up, breathing hard. "Black, you mustn't let me come facing you. Do you understand? You have to listen to me."
"Severus, I don't--"
"No!" He held out his hand. "Don't push me beyond what I can bear, Sirius. Here is what we can do: you can put your mouth on me, and I on you, or you can enter me from behind. But you must not allow me to enter you, from any direction, and under no circumstances must there be any facing penetration. Do you understand me? I won't be able to control myself, not tonight. Not after wanting you so long."
"Shh. it's all right. I understand." He pulled Snape into his arms, quieting his trembling. Sirius gave a little grin as he settled the other man firmly in his arms. "Well. A shopping list. I don't know about you, but I'm certainly hard now."
"I'm sorry. We might try using the--" Snape whispered.
"Hush, love. it's all right. I don't care what we do. But if you have your ground rules, I have mine." He lowered his mouth to Snape's for a gentle kiss. "There will be no binding and no muzzles in this bed, absolutely none. In this or any other bed we share. Ever." He kissed him again, more slowly, letting their arousal build back up. He swirled his tongue in Snape's ear, relishing the moan he got. "Here's what I would like," he whispered.
Snape's fingers tightened on his arm. "Anything."
"I want to suck you so hard I drown in your come. I want to hear you moan. I want to see you lose all control when I take you in my mouth, when I swallow you down. And that's just for starters. Then I'm going to make you hard again, and I'm going to shove my cock so far up your arse you choke on my come. And this time, by God, you're going to be the one that passes out when I make you come the second time, screaming my name and begging me to fuck you harder."
"God, Sirius," he panted. "Touch me, please."
He reached down and fumbled with the trouser placket, freeing the straining cock that leaped at his touch. "Ah. Sirius. Please."
Sirius's grin became wicked. "Something you want, Sev?"
He raised his head. "First off, for you never to call me "Sev" again."
"Oh no, that won't do at all. You're far too capable of rational thought. I'm going to have to take care of that." He yanked off the trousers and the underwear together, pausing to appreciate the feast spread before him. "Sweet Merlin, but you're beautiful," he breathed.
Snape's hands came up reflexively, awkwardly.
"Stop. I want to look at you, your cock hard for me, dripping. Do you know how hard I am for you? Do you want to see?"
"Yes. Oh, yes."
He unzipped his trousers and freed his own cock, letting the head brush Snape's thigh. A glistening thread of pre-come trailed over his thigh, and Snape caught it with his finger, bringing it to his mouth and sucking his finger. Sirius's breath caught. Snape saw his advantage and seized it. He scooted himself under Sirius's cock and swallowed it whole, hollowing his cheeks with the force of his suction.
Sirius gave a cry and swayed forward, but Snape caught him, bracing him, fingers buried in his arse, so he stayed kneeling. He watched transfixed as his cock slid in and out of Snape's lips. So hot, so good. He could feel the blood pounding in his face, pulsing in his cock, and he knew Snape could feel it too. Snape pushed with his tongue against the sensitive underside of his cock, and Sirius bucked. He could not stop his hands from gripping that dark head, or his hips from humping and fucking that mouth. He bent his head to watch, and Snape's eyes flicked up to his.
"This is not. . . what I planned. . . " He tried to pull away but that incredible mouth just worked him harder, and he knew he had to come, he could not stop now. "Se-- Sev--" He leaned down to complete it. "Erus," he breathed, and Snape laughed around his cock, a deep low chuckle, and the vibration of that was enough to finish him. His orgasm shot out of him unawares and he cried out, crumpling forward with the force of it, thrusting into those full, waiting lips that opened to swallow him down. Shit, not again, he thought as he swayed, and he heard Snape chuckling again as he caught him on his way down.
"All right there?"
"Oh, bloody hell. Why does this always happen to me?"
"Black. Are you having orgasms about twenty times more intense than that of your average mortal?"
"I really. . . wouldn't know." He sat up and reached for Snape.
"I can wait."
"But I can't."
"Black, I doubt even your recuperative powers. . . well, my goodness."
He grinned. "Yes, Snape?"
"Wipe that smug expression off your face."
"Well, of course, for someone of your advanced years. . ."
"Three weeks, Black. I am three weeks older than you."
"And I am never going to let you forget it." He stroked Snape's pale, lean chest. "Turn over," he murmured. Snape complied. He ran a hand over the lovely arse presented to his view, and his cock filled even more.
He kneaded and parted the pale globes of Snape's arse, and bent his head to the puckered opening raised for him. He darted his tongue around it, and was rewarded with a muffled cry from Snape. Something told him this, as well, was a new experience for Snape, and he concentrated on making it good. In and out, his tongue flicked the hole, widening it, coaxing him open, spreading him.
"Sirius," he heard him gasp. "Please."
"Please what?" He hardly recognised his own voice.
"You know what I want."
"Then tell me."
"Fuck me already, Black. I want you to fuck me."
"Hm. Okay, in a minute."
"Bastard," Snape growled, and then his growl became a whimper as Sirius's suddenly oil-slicked fingers worked their way in and began scissoring him. "Oh God oh God oh God," he moaned, and when Sirius's fingers bumped his prostate, he cried out and thrust back into him.
"Please, I want to come with you in me."
Sirius leaned over his back to whisper in his ear. "Don't worry lover, you will. Lift up."
He slicked his cock and pushed slowly in, watching Snape's fingers spread and claw the sheets. He held quite still, letting Snape adjust to his body. Thank God he had already come, or he would have had no control at this point. He wrapped his arms around Snape's hips and pushed in further. Snape gave a groan.
Slowly he began to move, waiting for Snape to react to his body and demand more. He withdrew slightly and re-entered at a better angle, clipping the prostate as he did so. Snape flung his head back and cried out, the cords standing out on his neck.
"Sweet Christ, just there."
He set up a rhythm, luxuriating in his greater control, using it to drive Snape to the edge and bring him back again and again. Then Snape's strong arm was snaking around, pulling his head in.
"Let go, Sirius. Fuck me. Just fuck me."
He hitched up Snape's hips and drove in again. No controlling his rhythm now, and he was pounding him. He thrust into the swelling gland on every stroke now, listening to Snape's whimpers. Snape was buried in the mattress, his hips thrusting into the mattress, his head burrowed deep in the pillow. Sirius felt the sweat sheening on Snape's back, watched his hands fist and clench as the tight sweet hole convulsed around him, and he came in a white rush of colour, pumping his release with a strangled groan oh love love love.
He managed to stay conscious this time, and slowly slid out, massaging Snape's spasming back muscles. "Severus," he panted. "You all right?"
"Mm-hm," came the muffled answer from the pillow.
"Um. Can you breathe?"
"Do you mind if I ask what you're doing?"
Slowly Snape lifted his head. "Picking feathers out of my teeth," he said, and spat something white and fluttery out.
"Oh." Sirius nodded. "Oh." He looked at the poor savaged pillow, slashed to shreds by Snape's fangs. A cloud of feathers swirled up and settled. "It looks. . . it looks a bit like we sacrificed a chicken in some bizarre sex ritual." And then he couldn't restrain himself any longer, and burst out laughing. He tried to stop and couldn't, but only laughed harder. Snape was glaring at him. "Oh. I'm sorry, love, really I am, I just. . ." He broke up again, shaking silently with it, and rolled over.
"Right, that's it," Snape growled, and flung himself on top of Sirius, who laughed harder, unable to breathe now, and he was pinned beneath Snape's body, his arms stretched out in Snape's strong grip. "You are at my mercy now, Black."
"Okay, okay, I'm-- I'm stopping," he panted. And then he caught sight of a tiny feather at the corner of Snape's mouth and was off again in another gale of laughter.
"I'm so glad I amuse you, Black."
"You always have."
"I know. I don't understand it. And here is my chance to punish you, to torture you mercilessly for all the hell you've put me through over the years, and all I can think is, say that again."
"Say what again?" he asked, though he knew.
"What you called me."
"Oh. You mean Sev."
"You complete and utter git."
"Love," he said quietly. Snape froze. "Is that the word?"
He nodded. They watched each other's eyes, black on grey.
"I didn't sleep with Remus that night."
Snape rolled off him, and pulled Sirius onto his chest. "I know."
"Of course. I smelled werewolf, not werewolf sex. I might have been ill if I had."
Sirius shifted. "I wish. . . I wish you didn't hate him so."
He sighed. "We get on well enough now. I can tolerate him, and he me, I think."
"Severus. If I had known, all those years ago. . . I would never have put you in such danger, not even then. That night under the Whomping Willow, I mean."
Snape turned his head and looked out the window above the bed, watching the waning moon. "Yes, you would have. If you had discovered I was a vampire, what do you think you would have done?"
He sighed. "Used it to hurt you in very possible way," he whispered. "Told the whole school, probably. Hated you even more." He lifted his head. "All of which is probably why Remus never told me."
He felt Snape stiffen. "He knew?"
"He said. . . he said he could smell it the first time he met you. Why, couldn't you smell him?"
Snape shook his head. "I didn't know what it was I was smelling. I thought. . . you will laugh."
"Very possibly. What did you think?"
"I thought he might have been another vampire. Other than my stepfather, I had never met one. That-- that was why I followed you around so."
Sirius was quiet, reflecting on this. "That was quite a way to find out the truth." He paused. "Severus," he said softly. "I want to ask you a question. You don't have to say anything, not even yes or no. If I'm wrong, you can shake your head. If I'm right, you don't have to say anything."
"All right," Snape said cautiously.
"Did your stepfather make you a vampire because he wanted someone he could have sex with?"
He felt the tremor run all through Snape's body, and felt him clamp down on the tremor. There was not a sound in the room. Sirius shut his eyes. Never had he felt such hatred, such rage. It stung the back of his eyes, clenched his throat, and curdled his insides. Snape beneath him had turned to stone.
"Severus. Severus, please, look at me."
Snape would not turn his head.
"Have you never told anyone?" Still no answer. Sirius pulled himself up on his arms. Snape rolled over and faced the wall. If he had been younger he would have been curled in a ball. "Shit, I'm sorry, Severus. I didn't mean to-- please don't be angry with me."
"I'm not angry," came the whisper.
Sirius settled against him and held him as tightly as he could. "I'm sorry the fucking bastard's dead," he said through clenched teeth. "At least I could have the satisfaction of killing him."
"Sorry to disappoint you, Black," Snape murmured. "In that, as in all else, I beat you to it."
"You. . .. Snape, are you telling me you killed him?"
"How. . .. how old were you?"
"If you want to leave I will understand."
"How can you even think that?"
Snape rolled over. "You should, you know. When a vampire kills, when he drains another vampire, he becomes very powerful. Very powerful indeed, and quite dangerous. I did not know this at eleven, but I know it now. You must remember what I am, Black, and what I have done, always. Do not forget what I am. What I am capable of."
Sirius propped himself on his elbow, looking down at Snape. "I know what you are, Severus. Better than you do yourself, I think."
Snape met his eyes. "And now I want to ask you a question."
"All right. Fair's fair."
"That night in Malfoy"s dungeon, when you figured out what I was-- why were you not afraid?"
Sirius thought a minute. "If you had been going to kill me, you would have already done so. It was clear you would prefer to die. I was not afraid. It didn't even occur to me."
"Have you never been afraid of anything?"
He lay back. He thought of his first night in Azkaban, and every night thereafter. "Oh, yes," he whispered. Snape's hand brushed his chest.
"There are many ghosts in this bed, Black."
"I know. I don't care what else is in it, as long as. . . as long as you are."
Snape's arms came around him again, and they burrowed into each other, trying to get closer, tighter. He kissed the top of Sirius's head.
"Sirius. .. ." he began. He stopped, then tried again. "Before. . . when I said this had to end. I didn't want-- I could not bear to hurt you. The possibility that I might. . ."
"I know." He nestled his head in the crook of Snape's arm. "What makes you able to bear the possibility now?"
"I thought I could survive without you. I know differently now. And in my house, that night. . . I saw your eyes, and I knew it was the same for you."
They drifted for a while, an island of long limbs and dark hair on white sheets. Sirius spoke again, long after Snape thought he was asleep.
"What happens in the morning?"
"In the morning. . ." he sighed. "In the morning, we go back to war. Life goes on. Nothing changes."
He tucked the dark head underneath his chin. "Nothing. Everything. Go to sleep." He paused. "Love."
Sirius smiled in the dark. "You're such a woman, Sev."
"Shut up, you imbecile. And try not to steal all the covers. I am a very particular sleeper."
"Really. I would never have guessed that about you. You seem such an easygoing person by day."
"Shut up, Black," came the sleepy murmur. Sirius grinned into the darkness and shifted his position slightly, ignoring Snape's sleepy protest. He's actually sleeping, Sirius thought with wonder. As he turned, the reflection of something white caught his eye on the mantel, and he raised his head to squint at it across the room. A tiny carved figure, seated on a horse, his lance at the ready, stood perched on the edge of the mantel. The white knight. He spooned into Snape, the smile still on his lips.
Epilogue: Fragments of the Morning After
"Black. Wake up."
Sirius's cat-like reflexes jerked him awake at the urgency in Snape's voice, and he leaped to his feet.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing. I need to go to the loo, and you're in the way."
Sirius sank back onto the bed, his heart pounding. "Jesus, don't do that to me again." He ran a hand over his face. "What time is it?"
"Eight o'clock," called Snape from the bathroom.
"Aren't you going to be late?"
"It's Saturday, you dolt."
"Oh." He stood up and stumbled into the bathroom to splash water on his face.
Snape turned around and frowned. "Do you mind?"
"What? I can watch you come, but not piss? Get over yourself." He yawned and turned on the taps. "More magic within these walls than anyplace else in the world, and it still takes ten minutes to get any hot water. Superior to Muggles, my arse." He gave up and splashed the cold water on his face, turning his head under the tap to let it run over his hair, cooling and drenching him. He blinked against the water in his eyes and caught sight of Snape watching him with a wry expression.
"Should I warn you not to shake?"
"Toss me a towel, prat." He rubbed his head dry and yawned again, stumbling back to the bedroom. He flopped on the bed, stretching, and tossed his towel on the floor. Snape arched an eyebrow at it, but said nothing.
"Aren't you coming back to bed?"
"I'm already up. Why would I go back to bed?"
"Not yet you're not. But I can take care of that. Come back to bed, and I"ll make it worth your while."
"Will you, now." Snape climbed back under the blankets.
"Mm-hm," mumbled Sirius, pulling him close and nuzzling the back of his neck. Of a sudden Snape pushed him away.
"What's the matter now?"
"Nothing," Snape said as he swung his legs over. "I'll be back in a minute."
"You'll be-- Snape, where are you going?" he called as Snape pulled on his dressing gown and left the room. "Oh, hell." He got up and pulled on his trousers, which he found in a heap, kicked under the bed.
He found Snape in the potions classroom, stirring the cauldron that hed simmered through the night. A large flagon stood on the table beside him.
"Snape? What are you doing?"
"I need to tend to this for a moment. I'll be right back."
Sirius leaned against the door frame watching him, as he had the previous night. "You going to drink that this morning?"
He eyed the flagon. "That seems like a lot. You had some last night, too, didn't you?"
"Snape. Are you increasing your dosage so you won't bite me?"
No answer from the cauldron.
"Bloody hell. All right, listen to me," he said, grabbing the ladle from Snape's hands. "Time for this conversation now. I don't mind if you bite me."
"Do you? Because you sure seemed to like it before."
"No, now you listen to me. I may not be the genius with potions you are, but as I recall I was third in my class, right behind you and that Hufflepuff, what's-her-name. With the breasts." Snape rolled his eyes. "I do know a thing or two about potions, enough to know those ingredients over there aren't exactly conducive to one's health." He saw Snape cut his eyes away. So he had guessed right. Fuck. "Two things: first, you're going to take less of that wretched stuff. And second, you're going to drink from me when you need to."
Snape went white. "No. We can't do that."
"Because, Paracelsus, you don't have to know anything about potions or even very much about basic medicine to know that regular bloodletting is not exactly 'conducive to one's health,' either."
"Well, I don't know, Snape. Some of Pomfrey's medical books might disagree with you."
"Some of Pomfey's medical books recommend leeches and draining of the humours, too."
"Severus." He hesitated. "There's something else."
"You don't even know what I'm going to say."
"Yes, I do. You're going to tell me you want me to. That you like it."
He met Snape's eyes. "So what if I do?"
"It's a dangerous addiction to have."
He gave a grim laugh. "If I had a sickle for every time I've heard that one. .. ."
"It's worse than the heroin."
His smile died on his lips, and he studied the floor.
"Sirius. I mention it as a warning."
"I know what you meant, goddamnit." He did not intend his voice to sound so hard. He took a deep breath. "Look, Snape. This issue is not going to go away. And you can't dope yourself to the gills so you can be with me. Of the available options, mine makes the most sense. And what if I do like it? What exactly is wrong with that?"
"Black, try to understand how dangerous this is, how much. . . exactly what it is you are offering me. My stepfather. . . he had some purposes for me that were not sexual. Some things he wanted more than sex. Power, for instance. He. . . I have been used in that way before, Black, and I will not do it to anyone else."
"Snape. Drinking from me and fucking me does not make you into him. What happened to you was wrong because you were a child, because it was not consensual, not because of what it was. And you are not him. You never will be." Gently he picked up the flagon and set it down on the opposite table.
"Now. I believe we have some unfinished business." He walked to the half-open door that led into the corridor and closed it, throwing the bolt. He walked slowly back and tugged at the loose knot of Snape's bathrobe, letting it fall open. He sank to his knees and gave the cock nestled in its thatch of hair a long lick. Snape gripped the table.
"Black-- perhaps the bed."
"No. Right here." He licked first up one side, then down the other, and wrenched a moan from Snape. The thick cock lengthened and hardened under his tongue, and he reached his hands up and around to cup Snape's arse, pulling him closer. He opened his mouth and took him in, working to relax the back of his throat.
He sucked him harder, bringing him to the brink fast and mercilessly. Snape was beginning to thrust into his mouth with rapid grunts. Not much longer now. Sirius stood up quickly and let his trousers fall to the ground. Snape grabbed him and crushed him to him, his eyes dark and hard with desire. Sirius gave a little gasp as he felt the strength in those arms. Then he was being spun around and pushed against the table, a hand on his shoulder pinning him in place. He watched Snape trailing his hand in the cauldron beside them, pulling out warm dripping fingers, and he spread his legs in anticipation, his breath coming faster now.
The next minute he felt hot fingers pushing at his entrance. He gasped and tried to hold still, tightening his grip on the table as the fingers worked him. "Yes," he hissed. Then the fingers were gone, and the warm slicked cock was nudging at him, pushing him, and suddenly Snape was buried in him in one brutal shove, too fast, too hard, and he could not stop his head from falling back or the groan from escaping his lips. Snape clutched him, driving into him. Too fast, too rough, he tried to say, but the waves of pleasure crashed over him and it was so fucking good he was crying out. He reached a shaking hand down to grasp his dripping cock, only to have his hand twisted behind his back.
"Come on my cock or not at all," growled Snape in his ear, and the voice pushed him over the edge. His balls drew up, and the first wave of his orgasm built in his balls, and just then Snape's fangs sank in his neck, the pain so intense he could hardly breathe, but he was coming, coming in a fountain, shooting come onto the table in front of them as the blood shot out of his neck into Snape's mouth. "Fuck fuck yes," he moaned as Snape split him apart, flooding his insides in a last ungentle thrust, and he fought for consciousness as the gorgeous sucking at his neck sent shockwaves of pleasure-pain through him and his cock tried to keep coming and coming and coming as his orgasm did not stop, and he was thrusting into air, into blackness.
"Harry, you all right?"
Ron looked up from his Quidditch magazine as Harry, looking white, came through the portrait hole. "Where've you been, mate? You missed breakfast."
"I. . . um. . . I'm going to go have a nap."
Ron gave him an odd look. "At nine o'clock on a Saturday morning?"
"Yeah. I think I need to lie down for a bit." His voice was strained.
"You coming down with something there?"
"Yeah. Yeah, must be," he said, stumbling up the stairs to his room. He fell on the bed, trembling, and lay there, just staring at the ceiling, trying to will his throbbing erection away, refusing to touch himself. At least he had the room to himself, he thought. Being a prefect had some advantages. He closed his eyes, then snapped them open again. Anything to stop the flood of images he saw.
"Harry?" Hermione stuck her head around the door. "Can I come in? Ron said you weren't feeling very well. Want me to bring you anything?"
"No," he said, aware that he had just squeaked like a third year. "Um, no. I'll be all right."
Hermione closed the door behind her and sat down on the bed. "Harry, what happened to you this morning?" she asked quietly.
He sighed. "Sometimes, Hermione, I wish you were as thick as Ron."
"No, you don't. What happened?"
"I. . . I saw something I wasn't supposed to see. Something. . . something very, very private."
"Can you tell me who it involved?"
"Um. I don't know if I ought. Either one of them might very well kill me if I did."
"Hm. Two of them. So you saw someone having sex, did you?" She pursed her lips and frowned. "You were just supposed to nip down to the dungeons and lift those ingredients, Harry, not go anywhere else. Why can't you ever resist snooping around in that blasted cloak?"
"I didn't! I just--" he stopped, and went a little redder.
"Harry." Her gaze was shrewd. "Are you telling me you saw someone having sex in the potions classroom?"
He turned over, trying to clamp down on the picture his mind flashed before him.
"Harry. Would this someone be in a position to bust Gryffindor back to negative points for this little stunt?"
"This little stunt," he said bitterly, "was entirely your idea, I'd like to point out. "'No one will ever know, Harry. No one will be there.' Thanks a lot, Hermione. Thanks a bloody lot. Now I'm going to have to have my brain replaced to get rid of--" He pinched the bridge of his nose and grimaced.
"Oh my God. You did. You saw Snape having sex," she said in awe, sitting back on her haunches. "That's. . . well, that's just hot."
"It is?" God, again with the squeaking, he thought.
She glanced at his crotch and arched an eyebrow. "Don't pretend you don't think so, too."
If possible, Harry went even redder.
"Who was he with, Harry? Anyone we know? Student, faculty, or other?"
"Okay," he said. "This is where this conversation needs to end. Really and truly."
"Oh. Someone we know, then. All right, just answer yes or no. Man or woman?"
"Um," was all he could get out.
"A man, then. Oh, relax, Harry, and don't be such a prude. Student?"
"God, no." Harry put his arm down from covering his face.
"Well. Just checking. Not that I think he would, more's the pity."
"What? Hermione, are you telling me. . ."
"Of course," she shrugged. "I'd do him in a heartbeat. Vampire and all."
"That's. .. . that's just sick."
"Right. Which is why your trousers are so uncomfortable right now?"
"Hermione!" He buried his face in a pillow.
"Oh, relax, Harry. Honestly, you're worse than Ron sometimes. So, not a student, then. Faculty? And if you tell me Dumbledore, I promise I will perform an irreversible memory charm on the both of us and we never have to think about it again."
He rolled his eyes. "Keep your bloody wand away from me, Hermione. You're a menace."
She smirked, with another glance at his crotch. "Same to you."
"Argh! Can we talk about something else, please?"
"Sure. So not faculty, then. But someone we know, right? A man. Someone who is sending you into paroxysms, clearly, so. . ." She stopped, her mouth hanging open. "Oh, dear God. Tell me. . ."
He groaned and rubbed his eyes.
"You saw Snape shagging Sirius, didn't you?" She was breathless with wonder.
They were quiet for a minute. Harry contemplated the ceiling again. "Hermione," he said quietly. "It didn't exactly look. . .. safe."
"Why do I have a feeling you're not talking about condoms?"
"Muggle device. Never mind. You mean Snape bit him?"
"Yes," he said hesitantly. "Sirius didn't seem to mind, though."
"Meaning he liked it."
"Um." Another flood of images -- Sirius climaxing, his handsome head thrown back in ecstasy, calling Snape's name, clutching him. Snape's arms around his godfather, head bent to his neck, driving into him. "Yeah, I'd say he did."
Hermione's eyes were steady on him. "And so did you."
"Yeah," he said softly. "I suppose I did. You don't know, Hermione. It was. .. . compelling. For lack of a better word."
"The better word you're looking for there is 'hot.'" She cocked her head at him. "So I gather you stayed around a bit."
"No. I mean, I tried. I should have known, when the door was open. . ." He shook his head. "I was in the door before I saw that Snape was working in there. I should have turned right around and gone out, I know, but then Sirius walked in from the office, wearing only trousers, I might add, and they started talking, and it was. . . I mean, I just couldn't believe the things they were talking about."
She frowned. "Like what?"
"Well, I mean. . . I think they. . ." He swallowed. "You're right, the sex was hot, but it wasn't just the sex. There was kissing, and. .. other stuff."
"You mean they care for each other."
"Yeah, I think so. I guess I just never thought. . . I mean, they've always hated each other, right?"
She flopped back on the bed beside him, watching the ceiling with him. "You know, Harry, generally when people spend that much of themselves hating someone else, there are some other things mixed in there, too."
He said nothing.
She cut her eyes at him. "Something you might keep in mind when you're dealing with Malfoy, you know."
"So," she said quietly. "Tell me about it, why don't you?"
"How do you mean?"
"You know what I mean."
Yes, he did, he had to admit, and his cock swelled even more. He licked his lips. "All right," he began. "All right. What do you want to hear first?"
"What position were they in?"
"Um. Sirius's back was to him."
"So Snape was fucking him."
Hearing that word roll casually off Hermione's tongue sent a shudder through his balls. "Yes," he said, carefully keeping his voice as even as he could. "Over a table."
He caught the quickening of Hermione"s breath. "But first," he said slowly, "Sirius knelt in front of him and sucked him. Hard. And Snape put his hands on his head and fucked his mouth. You should have heard the sounds he was making while he did it. I swear, I almost came right there."
"Were you hard?" Her voice was as careful as his.
"God, yes. It was all I could do not to touch myself right there, but I knew that if I tried it they'd find me out, and then I'd end up in a potion, and those would be my eyeballs Snape was tossing into a cauldron."
She smiled. "Smart boy. Go on."
He licked his lips again. His throat was awfully dry, too. "Snape stuck his hand in the cauldron and smeared some of the stuff on Sirius."
"In him. To make it easier, I guess."
"It's called lube, you innocent. Did he. . . did he put his fingers in him?"
"Yes. And he moved them around. And Sirius moaned while he did it. God, the first time I heard Sirius moan. . . I had no idea he could sound like that. Hermione, do you think I'm going to hell for thinking my godfather's sexy?"
"No, not for that. Other things. Go on. What happened then?"
"Well, after, he had done that a bit, Snape put some of that stuff on his cock, kind of rubbing it around."
Hermione blinked. He smiled, watching her. "He fisted himself a couple of times, I guess because he couldn't stop himself. And then he shoved himself up against Sirius, and pushed all the way inside him. I don't think he was being too gentle, either, because Sirius kind of cried out, but he didn't stop. He just kept. . . going."
They were quiet for a minute.
"Then what?" Hermione"s voice was only a rasping whisper.
"Well, then Sirius tried to touch himself. They were facing me, so I could see everything. Sirius's cock was so hard I was afraid he might burst, but when he tried to touch himself, Snape grabbed his arm and twisted it behind his back and said. . ."
Harry propped himself on his elbow and watched her. "He said, 'You come on my cock or you don't come at all.'"
"Oh. . .. God." she breathed out and shuddered. Harry scooted closer and threw a leg over top of hers. He didn't care if she felt how hard he was or not. She drew her leg up a bit and pressed into his groin. Neither of them moved, their breathing fast.
"Then what?" He could barely hear her.
"Then Snape yanked his head back and bit him, right in the side of his neck, and then Sirius came like a fountain. I swear, I'm seventeen and I've never seen anyone, myself included, shoot come like that. And I guess Snape was coming, too, inside him, because he was going so fast, like you wouldn't believe, and he just kept sucking. And Sirius said 'fuck, fuck yes.'"
"What. .. . what happened then?"
"Then Sirius kind of collapsed, or something. Snape pulled out of him and off his neck, which wa still bleeding, and. . . well, he carried him out of there and back through to the office. I guess he was going to put him on the bed. Hermione," he said, his voice suddenly different. "D'you think he's all right?"
"I don't know, Harry. But it sounds to me like Snape didn't do anything he didn't want him to."
"Yeah. I'll say. So as soon as they were gone I got the hell out of there, you can imagine."
"Yeah. I can imagine, all right."
He watched her lying still beside him. He leaned in closer. "Hermione. If you don't want me to fuck you until we both scream, get up off this bed and walk out of this room. Now."
For answer she turned her face full to his, and he crushed his lips to hers, so hard it was hurting them both, and his hand lifted her skirt, and her hand had him freed in seconds, and he was plunging into that tight warm wetness in one smooth motion. She cried out and bucked against him, and he felt her climax around him, massaging his cock, as he just held there, breathing shallow to hold off his orgasm as she spiraled back down.
His lips met hers, gentler now, as he slowly rocked against her. God, she was tight. Please, please don't let there be blood on my cock when I pull out, he thought, and the thought that there might be made him so impossibly hard he had to squeeze his eyes shut to keep from coming.
Hermione was wriggling under him. "No, not like this," she was whispering, and he knew exactly what she wanted. He pulled out and flipped her over, entering her from behind hard and fast, filling her. She cried out and arched back into him. "God, God, yes," she moaned.
"Hermione," he murmured in her ear. "You feel so good, so wet for me. You are so fucking beautiful, you have to know how long I've wanted to fuck you to pieces, just you and me like this."
She groaned again and pushed back onto him, impaling herself further, and then no more speech was possible as his own orgasm built. He thrust into her, pulling out and then all the way in again at a frantic pace. "Harry. . . Harry, fuck yes. . ."
He worked his hand around underneath them to her clit, and began to massage the swollen nub, flicking her with his finger. She cried out in earnest then, and he felt her muscles tighten on him, and he knew he was going to have to come this time, but as he did he clamped his mouth to her neck and let his teeth sink in her, feeling her climax gripping him in a second wave, and he spilled everything in her with a final grunt and thrust, spurting into that tight slick passage as he shuddered and groaned.
They lay there, not moving, for long minutes. He saw his hand lying on top of hers, and noticed how their fingers were still entwined. She started to shift underneath him.
"'M I hurting you?"
"Than please don't move. Just. . . don't move."
"All right." She turned her head, and he nestled into the crook of her neck, kissing the spot he had bit.
"Did I hurt you?"
"How can you ask?" Her voice was lazy and sex-husked.
"Are you angry with me?"
"Harry. Are you a talker after sex?"
He grinned. "Not usually. Just want to make sure I haven't fucked up, here."
"Fucked what up?"
"That I might have. . . you know, misread."
She turned her head more to see him. "Yes, Harry, you completely misread me there. 'God fuck yes' is the new universal symbol for 'don't touch me, you horrid beast.'" She yawned.
He laughed softly. "Sorry." He burrowed deeper into her neck. "Say, Hermione."
"If you tell me we're never going to do that again, I think I'm going to kill myself right here."
She laughed into the mattress. "Harry. Don't be an idiot. Let's take a nap, hm?"
"'Kay." He pulled the quilt up around them. "So, was that don't be an idiot, of course we're going to do this again, or don't be an idiot, I'll never let you within ten feet of me again?"
She laughed harder. "Harry, if you don't shut up, I'm going to throttle you, you prat. What do you think?"
"Oh. All right then." He smiled and spooned up against her. "Because I have some ideas we might want to think about."
"Like taking our clothes off next time."
Another low chuckle. "That's perverse."
"No. You know what"s perverse? What's perverse is, I bet we both still fit under that invisibility cloak. Next time, I'm taking you with me."
She reached around and smacked his arse. "Go to sleep, Harry."
"Yeah. In a minute." He lay there, just grinning into her hair for a long time, listening to her breathing even and slow. He hoped that in another part of the castle, his godfather felt half as flooded with happiness as he did at that moment, and wondered if he would ever work up the courage someday to thank him. Probably not, he thought, as he drifted off. Sirius would probably hold his arms while Snape carved out his liver and ate it.