Story summary: Set six years after the Goblet of Fire, and almost a year after Voldemort has been defeated. How has the wizarding society changed as the aftermath of the war? How are people coping with the world around them, and with the past? Why are Sirius Black and Severus Snape sleeping in one, four poster bed?
Thanks: My thanks go to Kalena, who suffered my outbursts of creativity patiently even though it wasn't her fandom, and who has been the most wonderful friend, cheerleader, and mentor. The story wouldn't have been written if it weren't for her.
The most wonderful beta readers: Thanks to Tracey for careful continuity check, well-thought suggestions, and detailed grammar and style help; to Emcee for British English help and a thorough grammar surgery; to Johanna for helpful pointers and canon watch; and to moj, who gave the story the first reading. As I'm not a native speaker of English, I needed a lot of help to weed out grammar, spelling and stylistic mistakes. There are undoubtedly many still left. If anything catches your eye, please let me know.
Feedback: If you read the story and liked it, or didn't like it, please let me know. It's the first story I've ever written--your feedback is very important to me. Contact me at thetaeridani @ yahoo.com
The title of the story has been inspired by the following poem by Anthony Weir:
My bones were formed by sorrow
And it's a cheerful and optimistic story, don't run away!
Shade More Than Man
He woke up later that evening feeling somewhat better. The sensation of being shell-shocked was receding slowly. He spent some time lying quietly and watching the ceiling, until he couldn't stand the silence anymore.
"What are you reading?" he asked Snape, who glanced at him sharply over a tome bound in bright red leather.
"First grade Potions textbook. I'm trying to rework my syllabus," Snape said, grimacing. "Some ingredients were banned by the Ministry after the war. They can't be sold to students or used in teaching."
"Hmph." Sirius didn't know what to say. "Were they dangerous?"
"Dangerous!" Snape snorted furiously. "If only! The Ministry is making an ostentatious fuss about 'removing Dark influence' from anywhere they can 'find' it. They had some pompous ass go over the list of common ingredients and strike out everything that sounded nefarious. Stinkweed and Deadly Nightshade--gone, but Foxglove apparently sounds nice enough, so let's leave it!" His voice dripped with venom that would put the Foxglove to shame. "Bloodbeetle. Black Snakeroot. Creepwort. Dragon's Blood. Evilmane. Turpentulas. Dragonflies. Dragonflies! " He closed the book with a thud. "Did you know there were demands to cut down the Forbidden Forest? That forest has been here since long before Hogwarts was founded!"
"Cut it down." Sirius had trouble believing what he heard. "Cut down the largest reserve of wild magic in Britain?" Maybe there wasn't anything wrong with him not fitting in the world, after all--maybe it was the other way round.
"Soon it may be the only reserve of wild magic in Britain," Snape said with disgust. "It's teeming with refugees already."
"What do you mean, refugees?"
"What I mean is that people have gone mad. Now that the real danger is gone, suddenly every shabby wizard is the Great Hunter of Dark Creatures. Everybody is fanatically cleaning their attics, banishing ghouls and boggarts, killing garden gnomes... I had to take in a Shadowdweller--someone chased it into sunlight!"
"Shadowdweller?" Sirius rose on his elbow, intrigued. "What are they? I've never heard of anything like that."
"They are nearly extinct." Snape shrugged. "We had one when I was a child. They're useful--they eat dust. But they also have a dark name and they live in the shadows--I don't give them much chance of survival."
Sirius looked around curiously, trying to spot the dust-eating creature.
"It won't come out," Snape said. "It's terrified of strangers. You may catch a glimpse in the night, if it thinks you're asleep."
"Hagrid must have heaps of work. Maybe I could help him." He'd have a job, at least nominally.
"Mmm. He's staying in the Forest most of the time, organising things. He even gave up teaching--decided he can't do both things at once. He's been replaced by Ednyfed Evans, that Hufflepuff four years behind us. Do you remember him? I've heard he was almost expelled when he refused to 'mutilate' spiders for his N.E.W.T.S. exam." Snape shook his head, apparently marvelling at some people's madness.
"What about Defense? Did you have any luck finding someone sensible, after all?" Harry had written to him all about Quirrel and Gilderoy Lockhart, and then there was the false Mad-Eye Moody. It still sent cold shivers down Siriusí back to think that a Death Eater had been allowed among children. From what he had remembered, the subsequent teachers didn't last long in the position either, due to incompetence or unfortunate incidents. In Harry's seventh year, Madam Pince had to take over the classes, reading the theory out of a book and making multiple-choice comprehension tests.
"We had a couple of years of vacancies. After Crouch, they started screening the candidates so carefully there were none left. We have a Squib Demonologist temping this semester--some Rupert Giles. He came here during the summer to use the library, and Dumbledore talked him into staying. He's... good. Very practical. He even brought a vampire for a presentation to the Seventh-Years."
"He brought a VAMPIRE to a school? That's--that's..."
"Even more outrageous than having a werewolf teach the children, isn't it?" Snape said, and Sirius glared at him. "It was extremely interesting, though. The vampire has been... partially restored, I understand. Giles discussed the curse used to achieve that. Quite ingenious."
"That couldn't have gone down well with the Ministry."
"Oh, no." Snape smiled with evil delight. "They were positively spluttering. They would have had him sacked if it weren't for the fact that he's returning to the West Indies in February anyway."
"Finally a staff member you don't hate?" Sirius teased.
"I am prone to fondness towards everybody who defies the Ministry. In fact," he leaned forward, his eyes gleaming, "I think you should apply for compensation for unjust imprisonment. Loudly."
"I don't think it's a good idea." Sirius shifted uneasily on the bed.
"Oh, I think it is!" Snape hissed. "I think a lot of wizards need to be reminded about the consequences of condemning people without proof!"
"It's been so many years... It probably falls under the prescription clause. At least that's what they suggested when I tried to get my house back," he added. "I'd need a solicitor, and paying hundreds of Galleons to fight a hopeless case doesn't make much sense." Especially if you didn't have said Galleons.
"Prescription, indeed!" Snape curled his lips in a derisive grimace. "A goblin barrister would stomp all over them in court. You should talk to young Potter. He has connections at Gringotts and at the Ministry--Weasleys and that Granger."
"Maybe I will," he sighed. He felt tired again, even after such a short conversation. He wondered whether it was the potion that was making him feel this way, or whether there was something else wrong with him.
When he asked Severus about it, the man shrugged him off with "Side-effects," and, "Unavoidable," and, "Prolonged starvation". He thought about it and decided that what he needed was exercise. Staying in bed had always made him feel cranky.
"You could remove the bed charms," he suggested. Snape looked at him with keen suspicion. "Come on, I'm not going to run off. You don't need to restrain me anymore."
Snape was still looking at him with a concerned expression. "Are you sure you won't do anything... irreversible?" he asked finally.
Oh, that. "No," he said firmly. "Iíve decided I'll still be needing my human mind, after all. If anything, I need to see what comes out of that thing with Harry and Remus..."
"You were shaken pretty badly," Snape said quietly.
"Weren't you? Or did you know they were lovers?"
"I knew. I thought... that was why you were so dejected. About Remus. Being with, ah, someone else."
What? "You thought we were lovers and he left me?"
"No... Remus was--is--a friend. We were never like that."
"Well, you were avoiding him so adamantly... What was I to think?"
"I guess now I'll have a new reason to feel awkward around him and Harry, won't I?" Sirius said dejectedly. "My best friend is sleeping with my other best friend's son."
"I don't see why it bothers you so much. After all, they're both sentimental, open-mouthed, scatter-brained, impressionable twits."
"Are you saying," Sirius translated from severese, "that they are perfect for each other?"
What if I am? Snape's expression said, complete with the arched eyebrow and a confrontational twist to his lips.
Sirius wisely decided to leave it at that. "Let me up," he said. "I want to take a bath before I fall asleep. Would you help me wash my hair?"
"What, again?" Despite the grumbling, Snape helped him to the bathroom.
This time Sirius was awake enough to enjoy the sensation of being washed. That was one of the things he loved about being a dog--being petted, stroked or scratched comfortingly without involving the complicated, embarrassing social constructs people associated with touching each other. Snape's fingers massaging his skull and shoulders supplied that craved-for comfort, and he soaked up the warmth blissfully.
Severus had removed the charms as he promised, but Sirius was too sleepy to make any use of his newly regained freedom. In fact, he didn't wake up until 11 the next morning.
He got up gingerly and padded to the adjoining room. Severus welcomed him with a nod and pointed to a tray of food on the table. While he ate, Severus gave him a piece of parchment.
"Potter was here this morning. I told him you needed sleep, and he left the letter."
Sirius looked at the familiar handwriting uncertainly. He should have talked to Harry in person. But instead of feeling angry at Severus for taking the choice from him, he only felt grateful. He was afraid he might have started yelling again.
He thought about how writing to Harry had become more natural than talking with him face to face. He had six years worth of letters from his godson stashed carefully in a hole he had dug in the Forest.
Remus told me you apologised for shouting at him. I'm glad. I want you to accept us, but if you can't, don't yell at him, come to me. Your friendship is very important to him. (And to me too.) Please try to understand. We are happy, and I had to work very hard to convince him I knew what I was doing. I hope I can convince you too.
You said you were ill. Why don't you come to stay with us? We could work it out together. You'd have a room to yourself. Remus told me to add there's a backyard and a grove with plenty of rabbits.'
Bastard. He knew Sirius loved chasing rabbits.
'Remus also said Snape is taking good care of you. He wouldn't let me see you, said you were still upset from yesterday. I'm sorry I dropped it on you like that.
I'll come again in a week. If you decide to come with me, your room will be ready. If you want me to come and get you earlier, owl me. I told Hedwig to wait for your reply.'
He finished reading and sat back. The issue he was avoiding so far could not be put aside any longer. Snape owled Lupin. Lupin--predictably--invited him to stay with them. Did it mean he wasn't welcome in the dungeon any longer? He cleared his throat loudly.
"They want me to stay with them," he said.
Snape looked up from his paper. "I see," he said indifferently.
Well. That didn't bode well. Sirius felt sadness creep upon him again. He sat there silent, thinking of a subtle way of saying he'd rather stay, and at the same time trying to make sense of this particular inclination of his. Was it because of what he had learned about Remus and Harry? Or because of something else?
"I'm rather comfortable here," he rushed out, throwing subtlety out of the window. "That is," he hastened to add, "for as long as I'm invited." Now that was simply BRILLIANT. He was kicking himself mentally.
Snape froze with a cup of tea raised to his lips and an expression of astonishment on his face. Then he blinked, shook himself, and drank the tea.
"You're comfortable here," he said.
"Listen," Sirius said, desperately trying to make up for his blunder. "I'm not asking you to keep me. I'll go to Hogsmeade tomorrow, try to get whatever job I can find..."
Snape interrupted him with an impatient gesture. "Stop being a twit. You aren't going anywhere for at least two weeks. If you feel the irrepressible urge to be gryffindorishly noble, you can arrange to settle the bills with Hogwarts after you get better."
"I'm on Hogwarts' keep? The food I eat isn't deducted from your pay?" It was confusing, but less shaming than imposing himself on Snape, especially after the man admitted he had limited resources.
"No. Every member of the staff has the right to request accommodation for a family member or a partner." Snape shrugged.
"A par-- you registered me as your partner?" Sirius was slowly becoming convinced that he hadn't woken up yet and that he was having a vividly surreal dream.
"Well, I couldn't sign you up as a family member!" Snape said sourly. "Nobody would believe I'm related to a mongrel." He was obviously trying not to look embarrassed--it must have been eating at him to be caught showing kindness to someone.
Sirius felt himself smile against his will. "Thank you, Severus," he said sincerely.
"You do understand I did it only to bypass bureaucratic difficulties," Snape replied quickly.
"Yes, of course." He wanted to laugh. He could stay. At Hogwarts. Safe. He'd try to repay the school back somehow. Maybe Hagrid could use a dog in the Forest... "When you owled Remus... I thought you were trying to kick me out."
"Don't judge me by your standards, Black," Snape huffed. "If I wanted to kick you out, I would have, without being that subtle. I owled him because somebody was bound to notice that you came in here, and I didn't want to be accused of kidnapping a war hero. Besides," he added, the embarrassment evident again, "they were concerned about you."
Oh. Severus, always the tough bastard. Sirius felt like transforming, and licking Snape all over the face. He wondered if Snape would answer him if he asked why--why did he go to all the trouble of helping an old school enemy. But he'd most likely just say something nasty and avoid Sirius for the rest of the day. Maybe he's lonely, too.
"Is their relationship so difficult to swallow to you that you don't want to live with them?" Snape asked unexpectedly.
"No. Yes. Hell, I don't know. It's partly that. I would feel uneasy around them, yes. And... I'm afraid I'd snap and say something stupid or nasty, and they'd be hurt. Besides, I don't like to be a-- a third wheel, you know?"
"Oh, yes. It's perfectly obvious to me that you absolutely need to be the centre of attention," Snape remarked caustically and returned to reading.
Bastard! He deserved to be punished in the most cruel and inhumane way an Animagus had at his disposal. Sirius transformed quietly, surreptitiously crawled under the table, lifted the edge of Snape's robe, and deliberately pressed his cold nose to Snape's calf.
An aborted scream tore the air. Snape jumped out of the chair, whirling around and glaring daggers. He was spluttering loudly, trying to simultaneously utter all the expletives he had in mind. Sirius howled with ecstatic joy, then wisely ran away and hid in the bedroom.
He returned some time later, having composed a letter to Harry and taken a short nap. He regarded Snape cautiously, but the surly Potions master didn't throw anything heavy at him. Instead, Snape raised a rolled newspaper and quirked his eyebrow meaningfully. Sirius laughed.
"Sorry. But you were being a wanker. That should teach you to wear something under your home robes in the middle of the winter, too."
Snape only shook his head in exasperation and asked, "Have you written to Potter? I'd like to get rid of that horrid bird as soon as possible. She's been coming from the owlery every hour to check whether there was a reply."
"You don't have an owl, do you? They can be like that. Have you ever had a-- wait, you had a bird, a raven, right? What was his name?"
"Yeah. You had him during our first year. What happened to him?"
"My father snapped his neck. Thought the pet diverted my attention from schoolwork."
Sweet Merlin. Sirius felt nauseated. He sank heavily into a chair. "I'm... I'm sorry," he stammered.
"Forget it." Snape was stubbornly trying to read, and his hands didn't shake. But Sirius had already learned to read that frozen expression. The more moved Snape was by something, the more still and stiff he became. The more you wanted to learn, the less he talked. Sirius couldn't think of anything comforting to say. But he had already demonstrated there were some liberties a dog could take that would be transgressions for a man. So he transformed, trotted to Snape and put his head on Snape's knees, under the newspaper.
After a while, Snape started stroking his fur rhythmically.
That night, Sirius was awakened by loud swearing coming from the study. He shot from the bed and hurried to check on Severus.
He was greeted by the most unusual tableau: Severus was spread on the floor, a broken footstool under his arse. He was covered with one small, cotton handkerchief; an expanse of shining black silk lay twisted around his ankles.
Sirius blinked, opened his mouth and closed it again. He offered a hand to Snape, who was glaring at him, as was to be expected. Snape took the proffered hand and stood up, massaging his lower back and muttering curses.
"I'm sorry," Sirius said finally. "I was sure it wouldn't change back for a while. I should have thought..."
"You were exhausted," Snape said charitably. "And, ah. I tried to raise the legs a bit," he confessed.
Sirius was astounded. The Severus Snape he knew would never admit to anything that could make him an object of ridicule. He felt vaguely proud of him for no apparent reason.
"Never mind. Now that the charms are off, we can share the bed. It's big enough for both of us. We'll think of something tomorrow."
He pulled Snape into the bedroom and crawled into bed first. After some hesitation, Snape followed him. He lay on his half of the bed, stiff as a broomstick. Sirius turned to face the wall, curled up and fell asleep quickly, enjoying the comfort of sharing a burrow with another living being.
In the morning, he woke up first. He watched Snape for a while, curiously cataloguing the changes sleep brought about in the other man's face. Lips, relaxed from their ever-present sneer and partly opened; smooth, translucent skin, and a face so open under a curtain of raven-black hair. Suddenly he felt ashamed of looking at Severus like that, as if he were spying or going through someone's most private things. He fell back on the pillows and lay quietly, waiting.
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