Chapter Twenty - Nasty Habits
Sirius leaned against the wall outside the castle’s back door. Ash speckled his robe. He squinted every time he took a drag, like the taste was unfamiliar. Harry couldn’t understand why, what with the plethora of butts littering the stone. He sat down next to his godfather. The acrid smell of cigarette smoke saturated the air. It was worse than boiled frog spawn. Sirius offered him the mostly-empty pack. “Want one?”
“No, thanks.” The smell was bad enough. “I didn’t know you smoke.”
“I don’t anymore.” He puffed and blew the smoke out his nose like a dragon. “Disgusting habit, and I don’t recommend you start.”
“Then why did you offer me one?”
“Eh.” Sirius shrugged. “Have to have something to give up.” One last drag and the cigarette was spent. He ground it into the stone next to him and tapped out another. It hung, unlit, from his lip. “For a Slytherin bag of bones that bastard’s got spunk.” Harry made a noncommittal noise. “How’s he doing?” God, it sounded strange to hear Sirius ask something civil about Severus.
“Already?” It hadn’t been much more than an hour since they’d left. The sun was starting to go down, and it turned the wide expanse of churned snow, spotted here and there with smooth-edged dark holes, gold. “What did you do, beat him over the head?”
“He threw together a sleeping potion. I think he’s depressed.” Well, that was one way to put it. “Heartbroken” was another, as was “shattered”. Sirius nodded and fumbled for his wand.
“After that fit I’m not surprised. Poppy had to re-bind him a few times just so we could rest.”
“Ah.” That explained the bouts of silence. He didn’t want to know anything more right then. “Why does everyone know that Uden person?” Sirius lit the fag with his wand.
“Because she’s the single most disagreeable bitch ever to grace Hogwarts. I went to school with her, couple of years ahead. Mean little harpy.”
“How’d she get into Gryffindor? She seems like a Slytherin to me.”
Sirius blew out a choppy white stream. “No ambition. She was a junior Auror when I went into Azkaban, and she’s a junior Auror now. She’s got guts, though. I mean, don’t get me wrong, the woman’s got some redeeming qualities. She just doesn’t show them unless her back’s against the wall.” Another puff. “That’s what Moony said, anyway. I worry about him sometimes.”
Harry shifted thoughtfully. “He said they used to knock boots.” Sirius snorted.
“Boots, bits, heads, anything else they could. She figured out he’s a werewolf beginning of our seventh year. Turned her on, or something. He dumped her after she became an Auror. Said something about her having a thing for Death Eaters. I didn’t ask too many questions.”
Ohh. That explained a little of why Remus didn’t want to talk about her. “Was he in—?“
“In love with her?” Sirius gave him a sidelong glance. “Not a chance in Hell. Seriously, they’d sneak up to the Astronomy Tower a few nights a week, he’d stagger to bed a couple hours later, never said a word to each other in public.”
“So why’d he sleep with her?” Harry squirmed on the cold stone and adjusted his cloak. His bottom was getting numb.
“Because he was seventeen, horny as Hell, and thought sex and affection were the same thing. Same reason I slept with anything that’d stay still long enough. Except Irene.” He took the last half of the cig in one and crushed it.
“She’s a kinky freak.”
“And I prefer my multiple partners to all be of the feminine persuasion.” He gave Harry a crooked, cynical smile. Harry blinked.
“You mean she tried to talk you and Remus into…” Sirius nodded slowly. He picked up the cellophane-wrapped package again.
“Damn, last one.” Packing it against his wrist, he stuck the cancer stick in his mouth and wanded it. “Y’know, I used to go through five packs of these things a day. That’s the one good thing about Azkaban: it gives you time to get over nasty habits.” He leaned his head against the wall, clearly relishing the nicotine high. “Leave it to Snape to wash seventeen years of self-control down the drain.”
“It’s not his fault—“
“I know. I’m not blaming him.” He sighed heavily. “I hate this. He’s a psychotic slimeball who’s done god-knows-what in the name of pure evil, but I can’t hate him anymore. It’s your fault. I mean, Hell, I wouldn’t mind a shot at that Eversor prick. Kinda takes the force out of the whole ‘ominous greasy freak’ persona, y’know?” Harry nodded. Sirius shifted and accidentally bumped into him; Harry jumped and scuttled a few inches away. “Sorry.” His godfather studied him. “Is there something you’re not telling me?”
“No. Why do you ask?” Harry hoped he didn’t sound as gut-jumpy as he felt.
“I just can’t get my head around the correlation between what you saw and how you’ve reacted. You witnessed something probably worse than even the Death Eaters did – not that I’d put it past them – but I don’t see how it made you so afraid of them. If anything, you should be less afraid out of sheer spite.”
Harry shrugged. He huddled into his cloak. It really wasn’t enough to keep back the breeze making miniature cyclones in the small three-walled chamber. “I never thought I’d see them doing… that to someone.” His teeth chattered, though not with cold. Harry knew his eyes were painfully wide; his hands did little to keep out the cold on his arms, or wrench the inner chill from his bones. “Especially not… you know.”
Sirius took a thoughtful drag. “Did you ever find out what they did to Snape while he was away?” Harry shuddered. “Yeah. I thought that might have been it.” He snorted softly. “Great. Now I’ll never get back to hating his guts.”
“Why would you think that it had to do with Severus?” Harry’s voice tremored as much as his body. Every time he had to think about what he saw, a little more of the overload of information became clear.
“Well, first off, it was his Pensieve. That’s the sort of thing you’d find there. Secondly, you’d already told me you thought they’d raped him.” Harry fidgeted with his cloak. “Why didn’t you tell me you saw that?”
“I didn’t see it. Not exactly.”
Harry sucked his lips to moisten them. He faltered, shaking his head slightly. Finally, he said, “I felt it.” Sirius sat up sharply.
He needed to get some new gloves soon. These were starting to go between the thumb and forefinger. “I didn’t tell you because I thought you’d get mad. Something happened with the Unicorn Blood and I guess it screwed up what he put in after he took it because some of the memory strands turned black and,” he swallowed, lightheaded in the high altitude he was so used to, “it was like I took his place.”
A pause. Harry looked at his godfather. Puzzlement gradually gave way to sickened comprehension. “Oh, my god.” Sirius gaped at him, open-mouthed, eyes round and rapidly filling with pain. “They… you…”
“Don’t get mad at Sev. He didn’t have anything to do with it.”
“Oh, Harry.” A serpent of ash cascaded down Sirius’ robe, disintegrating. The cigarette barely clung to his bottom lip. “No, nono, if anything I’m furious with them.” He picked up the empty cellophane pack and tapped it. When nothing came out he crushed it in a hard fist. “I’ll kill them. When they’re dead, I hope James kills them again.” Harry huddled into a tight little ball. It felt strange, like butterflies dying of cold raining on his bare skin, to tell Sirius what happened.
“All I can feel whenever someone touches me is them. You don’t know what it’s like…” to be unable to accept a hug from Nadja, or crawl into bed in the middle of the night to make Severus’ nightmares a little lighter, or slap that goddamned Auror. His muscles were tense; his skin ran with invisible insects beneath the surface. He didn’t care about justice, or trials, or Azkaban anymore. He just wanted revenge. If the Death Eaters were dead they couldn’t hurt anyone ever again.
Then again, Eversor was dead. No, no, don’t think about that. You haven’t taken Unicorn Blood. You don’t have to go through it ever again. Unless the Death Eaters captured him. Stop it, Potter! That’s not going to happen! Sev won’t let it. But Severus was in no position to protect anyone. Harry curled up his spine and pressed his forehead to freezing granite. He had, indeed, become Harry Snape.
“Harry, it won’t be that way forever,” Sirius said softly. “We’ll get you through this, and I won’t let them touch you. As long as you’re with me you’re safe.” Harry gritted his teeth. He felt the oddest pang in his chest. It was submissive, grateful. He could feel the warmth of Sirius’ body nearby. His heart rate sped up. He’d gone so long without touching anyone, even longer without unrestrained affection. It wouldn’t be such a horrible thing to lean close and give him a gentle, familial kiss—
Harry got to his feet and yanked the door open. He heard Sirius scuttle up. A slight hiss. “Bollocks,” Sirius hissed back. Harry couldn’t do that. He couldn’t turn into Sev any more than he already had. It flitted through his brain that the contaminated Pensieve had infected him in some way. No, that wasn’t possible. There was no way a memory could do definite harm of that type. “Harry, wait.” Sirius caught up with him. A red burn shone on the back of his hand. “What is it?” Harry shook his head.
“I don’t want to talk about it.” He wanted to go back to the room and mix wormwood and asphodel and forget everything for as long as he could.
Sirius gave him an off-kilter frown. His forehead was knitted in hard wrinkles. “Is there anything I can do for you at all?” Cocksure Sirius Black looked helpless.
“I don’t know. I have to work out some stuff for myself.” Sirius reluctantly nodded.
“I understand.” He started to reach out for Harry’s shoulder but stopped a couple of inches away. Instead, he rubbed his nose. “If you ever need me – ever, even if I’m in the middle of a class – come find me.” He slumped a little and mumbled something.
“Same goes for Snape,” he muttered through his teeth. Sirius looked profusely embarrassed.
Harry’s heart slipped back towards its normal pace. The crushing need to bury himself in physical protection faded enough to hold back. He made himself look his godfather in the eye. “Thanks.”
“Anytime.” Harry kept his head down all the way back to his room. When he looked up to open the door, Sirius was mercifully gone.
Harry bolted awake. The hands, they were coming out of the couch, all of them. Blanket shoved off the arm, he raced for the safety of the main room—
The fire was embers. Everything was still. His heart pounded. Gradually, the crawling sensation under his skin eased. There were no hands, no masks. Only Sev was with him, dead to the world. He’d spent a lot of the last few days like that – when his attacks would let him. All Harry could do was cast a bind and try to talk softly until the manic fear faded from his eyes and Severus was ready to quietly slip back into oblivion.
The Draught must have worn off some because he was whimpering. He’d pushed the duvet down to his hips; even in the light of coals Harry could count his ribs. His hand stole to his face and he realised he’d fallen asleep with his glasses on. Again. The clock read eleven thirty. Still early. It felt far later.
The bed looked awfully inviting. And big. He could just climb in for a few minutes until the last of the jumpiness went away. There was plenty of room to stretch out and not touch anything. Bracing himself, Harry set his glasses on his bedside table and crawled under the covers. Oh, he’d forgotten how comfortable the teachers’ beds were. The couch was a tad lumpy, and the bed in his private room was just hard enough to hurt his back. Maybe Uden got that one – a malicious grin broke his face at the thought. Would serve her right, the bitch. Sev tossed suddenly and cried out. “I’m here! It’s okay, Severus, I’m here.” He found himself hovering mere inches from the skeletal body. His hands traced the outline, never quite touching, but the tantrum eased.
Sev made a small smacking sound. “Harry’s back… don’t go, Harry.” He rolled to face Harry’s side and fell back into his nightmare world.
For a long, long time Harry just watched him. He’d pulled the duvet back up; Severus was little more than a disembodied head on the white pillow. He’d been clutching the dog tag between his palms, fingers laced together, when Harry hid them with the covers. His Gryffindor loyalty and bravery seemed very pale next to Snape’s. Occasionally, he would stir a little, and whimper or give a soft cry. A few quiet words calmed him. Sev suddenly inclined his head towards Harry’s chest; Harry scuttled back. He didn’t acknowledge the flash of confusion that crossed the bony face.
Sometime around one, Harry decided his bladder was more important than watching Sev sleep – if only temporarily. He got up, stumbled to the bathroom, did his business, stuck his hands under the tap whilst staring blearily in the mirror, and staggered out. Something on a shelf caught the crusty corner of his eye. The Pensieve was stuck behind a stack of parchment. Harry leafed through them first, putting off the inevitable for as long as possible. Potions formulae, primarily, and a few assorted notes. Nothing major. He set them on a different shelf. With trembling hands, he picked up the Pensieve and looked into it. It glowed faintly in the low light. The mass of silver threads was still cut with writhing black. Those corrupt threads seemed to taunt him, tease him, call to him in heckling singsong. Harry… we’re waiting for you… don’t you want to join us? He shivered and set the bowl on the dresser.
One hand lay on the edge. He didn’t dare touch the swirling mist, or lean too close. A black thread leapt at him and he yelped. Harry cradled his hand carefully – that thing tried to pull him in! It remembered. Trembling, he picked the bowl up to put it back in its place. His hands shook so much it slopped—
Harry found himself back in the dark, damp room with its three cauldrons. Sev, maybe twelve years old, was perched on a huge overturned cauldron with a hole in the side, poring over a blue-covered book. It looked rather like his journal. “Avia, hic accedas, sodes?” His chin-length hair was greasy and fell in his face. Philia turned from the two cauldrons she was tending and hovered her chair across the room. They spoke in murmurs, in Latin. Harry couldn’t make out very much. He peeked over Sev’s shoulder. The book was written in Latin, angular, but a much smaller, straighter hand than Snape’s. Severus frowned at something his Gran said. She pulled the lanky boy – at least six feet tall already – onto her lap with an arm around his waist. She murmured something, and his brow unknit. He smiled. It was a colder smile than he’d had in younger memories. Nonetheless, he kissed his Gran’s temple. “Grates.”
“It’s a difficult formula, mei puellus.”
“I can make it.” She scowled.
“When you’re older, we’ll discuss it.” Philia looked rather thin and worn. Her eyes were as sharp as ever, but some of the flesh seemed to have melted from her body. Sockets were just barely becoming visible around her eyes. It was unnervingly familiar.
“Why not now?”
“Because some of these ingredients are dangerous. I don’t like to handle them, and I don’t want you to get hurt.” Severus sagged a bit. “Anyway, you have a cauldron about to boil over.” He shrieked and jumped up to turn down the burner on the third cauldron. Glancing back with a sheepish little grin, he stirred the oily orange liquid bubbling inside. Harry giggled. Imagine what Ron would give to see this.
“You again?” He jerked his head to see Philia’s ghostly double glaring darkly at him. Harry screamed. Frantically, he screwed his eyes shut and repeatedly thought the incantation that would take him home. Momento vita, momento vita, momento vita… The Pensieve clattered on the shelf. Harry shoved it back to the wall and threw the parchments in front of it. That most certainly was not a hallucination. Without thinking, he crawled back into bed and lay there, wide-eyed, for most of the night.
Latin Lexicon For Latin Lovers
Hic accedas, sodes?: Come here, please?
Momento vita: (I) remember life.
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