Author's Notes
 

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:

SHADE MORE THAN MAN 

My bones were formed by sorrow 
as shrines are built by doubt 
Sorrow of being 
Doubt of becoming 
Sweat upon sand 
Tide in, tide out 
Inevitable 
invisible 
shipwreck in fog 
I make soup for tomorrow 
lost like a dog 
between doubt and sorrow.

And it's a cheerful and optimistic story, don't run away!


Shade More Than Man

Chapter 6

By Acamar

       

Snape stayed in bed with him in the morning. Sirius decided it was a good sign. He was stroking Severus' arm lazily and enjoying the fit of their bodies as they lay spooned together. This was what life should be like, he thought, pressing his face into his lover's neck.

"Thank you," Snape said suddenly. Sirius jerked away, surprised.

"What are you thanking me for?" he asked warily, hoping that Severus hadn't come up with yet another reason why they shouldn't sleep together anymore.

Snape sighed and swallowed, pressing his forehead to the wall. "I've been... missing this," he confessed quietly. "Human contact. Not just touching, sex. Being with someone who... who knew me as a person. Not a tool. Or an ex-Death Eater."

Sirius gathered him close again. "I know what you mean," he whispered. "That's why I wanted to stay. Not just because I was sick and you were giving me a potion. Because you knew who I was."

"I was... happy. That first time." Snape's voice was strained. "When you offered to have sex just like that--as if I were one of your school friends. I liked that. It was only later, when I started to think... I shouldn't have measured you by my own standards."

"That's all right. Don't worry about it any more. After all," Sirius said with dry humour, "we were supposed to be enemies by our old standards." He combed his fingers through Severus' hair. The potion did a good job; it was still soft and fragrant.

Snape shifted and started talking again. "You called me twisted. Do you think I don't know that? We are such complete opposites of one another..."

"I wouldn't say that," Sirius returned to stroking Severus' arm. "And I didn't really mean that you were twisted--just that you were Slytherin, therefore had to be paranoid and suspicious."

"Oh, thank you. That makes me feel so much better about myself," Snape jibed. Sirius grinned, unseen. He rather hoped it did.

"Why do you think you were sorted into Gryffindor?" Snape asked, leaning back into him a bit.

"Huh. I guess because I wanted to be brave. I hated cowardice. Not being a chicken can be the most important premise in life for a little boy..." He wondered how life would look if people were sorted after their third or fourth year. Or if the houses were removed completely. "How about you? Cunning?"

"Ambition! Fame. Recognition." Snape snorted. "You know... Even when I tried to capture you after you ran from Azkaban... all I was thinking about was that I'd be getting an Order of Merlin. I'm afraid I didn't particularly care whether what Potter and his friends were saying was the truth... all I knew was that I had a chance to become famous." He grimaced. "Pathetic as it sounds, I've always wanted to be someone special."

Oh, but you are, Sirius thought, wondering whether that was supposed to be an apology or merely a statement of a fact. It didn't matter--the resentment for that particular conflict had long vanished. He hugged Severus briefly. "The potion will make you famous," he observed aloud. "And you gained some recognition when you testified against Death Eaters after the war."

"Notoriety, more likely! I had--offers. Back then. From people who thought being with a double-agent was exciting. Dangerous, or maybe romantic." He shuddered with disgust. "It was revolting."

"I'm sure you made short work of their advances." Sirius said, trying to imagine the bloodshed.

"Oh, yes." Snape chuckled smugly. "But it reinforced my reputation as a... misanthrope. You are the first man in a long time who didn't mind my petty habits," he added seriously. "I admit it's unsettling. Sometimes you almost make me feel like Dumbledore does."

Sirius snickered. "Albus likes you."

"Exactly. That's what I'm talking about." Snape stretched in his embrace and laid back more comfortably. "You said 25 years in your note. That can't be true. You can't expect me to believe you thought about having sex with me for 25 years."

Sirius thought about it. "Well... not really. It wasn't like that." Snape huffed, as if to say that he knew it. "What I meant was that I liked you back then, and the feeling returned now. Remember that summer we spent taking advanced classes at Hogwarts, before our seventh year? We were almost... friendly, without anybody else to make us into enemies. You helped me with Potions, actually. If I hadnít," he swallowed forcibly. "If I hadnít done what I did later that year, we could have been friends."

"I don't think so. The Slytherins would never have allowed that. They'd already started... recruiting, then. Working on me. And I was too much of a coward to even consider making a stand against them."

"Oh, I was, as well. The whole raison d'etre for the Marauders was to fight Slytherins. Peter was... He was very upset with me for helping you with Transfiguration. I still can't understand him," he added, helplessly. "Was he actively evil, even then? Or was he just a weak opportunist?"

"The latter, I'd say. Very few people make an effort to be evil. And Riddle was a master at seeking out opportunists and using them."

"Anyway. I thought you were shaggable back then," Sirius said, determined to steer the conversation back to more pleasant topics. "And you haven't changed much. You are still," he licked Snape's neck, "a delicious object of sexual appeal".

That left Snape snorting and sniggering, unable to settle down for a long while. "You should work on making your flattery more credible, Black," he said finally.

"Right--as if you've never had at least some students coming on to you!"

"Oh, I have. For all the wrong reasons. The students who suddenly discovered my irresistible charm were usually those who were about to fail Potions," Snape said sarcastically.

"That's the twisted Slytherin speaking," Sirius teased. "Not that I'm encouraging you to have sex with students, but I'm sure some of them must have really had a crush on you." He moved his hand to Snape's hip, squeezing delicately. "Speaking about sex... do we have to get up any time soon?"

"No." Snape stretched again, luxuriously, rubbing his body along Sirius'. "It's Saturday. I'll have to teach you how to read a calendar some time soon." Sirius nipped his ear for that. "In fact... staying in bed sounds like a very good option." He turned to face Sirius, looking at him. "And Black... Sirius... yesterday, you were worried. I didn't mean to scare you."

"We won't do anything you don't like," Sirius said firmly, though his throat was clenched.

"Stop being noble," Snape snapped immediately. "I don't want you to. I can enjoy penetration if I trust my partner. I'll tell you if I don't like something. Don't try to second-guess me."

"Yes, Severus," Sirius said very meekly, and was rewarded by an irritated hiss and snort. He grinned. "Since we are already discussing our preferences, you are invited to have your wicked way with me--"

"Potter!" Snape exclaimed and sat up on the bed abruptly, grimacing.

"What?"

"Potter will be here soon. He said he'll check on you when he was here last week. I forgot about it." Snape was already getting out of bed. Sirius made a furtive move to grab him and groaned in frustration. He had forgotten as well.

They barely had time to dress and eat when the warning charms chimed, announcing there was a visitor standing in front of the dungeon door. Snape grabbed a book and hurried off to the bedroom, grumbling all the way, and left Sirius to open the door and welcome their guest.

       

Having forgotten about Harry's visit, Sirius didn't have time to prepare mentally for it or to analyse his feelings towards Harry and Remus' relationship. Now, sitting in front of his adult godson, he felt somewhat at a loss. After his talk with Severus and their flashback to school times, it was difficult to think of Moony as someone too old for anybody. In fact, looking at Harry's tall form and serious face brought to his mind the image of James. They weren't strikingly alike, but the similarity was there, and his mind was veering off to the old times again. He was wondering how he would react if James and Remus told him they were together. He'd be whacked, that's for sure--it'd be unexpected, but not, on any level, wrong. But could he really allow himself to be lulled by that? Harry wasn't James, even if he was as old as his father had been when he made Lily pregnant. Remus wouldn't hurt anybody intentionally, but... Sirius had made the mistake of dismissing the danger the werewolf presented once. He regretted not having asked Severus about his progress on the Wolfsbane potion and how it affected Remus. Would it save Harry if he were accidentally bitten?

There was, of course, also the issue of homosexuality and all the social pressure it involved. Sirius knew Harry didn't think much about his Muggle relatives, but he doubted the boy realised how conservative and narrow-minded wizarding families could be. He hoped the Weasleys didn't take their codes of morals right out of the times of Queen Victoria. And Hermione Granger, Muggle-born--what did she think? He had no idea what the current attitudes towards homosexuality were among Muggles. A generation ago, his Muggle grandfather was surprised though not shocked by Sirius' attraction to both sexes, but he warned his grandson to be very discreet about it. If Harry lost both his friends... it would be a disaster.

Sirius stifled a sigh and realised he had been staring silently at the tabletop for some time now. He cast a glance at Harry, who regarded him warily. Poor boy probably thought he was mustering his energy to yell again. He rolled his eyes, shaking his head and smiling. "I don't know what to say," he admitted.

Harry smiled back, relief evident on his face. "That's all right, me neither." He shifted in the uncomfortable chair. "Are you... are you still angry?"

"No," Sirius replied immediately. "I was never angry with you. Or with Remus, in fact. I was terrified and confused..." Harry looked down, his face drawn again. Sirius awkwardly bore on. "Listen. I don't know what to tell you. All of a sudden, my godson turns out to be attracted to men and involved with my closest friend, who is more than twice his age... I'd be lying if I said I'm perfectly all right with that. It's weird, and it's going to take a lot of getting used to on my part. Are you... sure? You do understand that this is for life, Harry? Have you taken time to think about whether you are ready to commit yourself to one man? Because Remus isn't someone who'd say a word if you wanted to experiment, or simply have a go with someone interesting you've just met, or if you changed your mind two months from now--but it would kill him, Harry. It's not only you I'm worried about."

Harry reached out across the table and squeezed Sirius' hand briefly. "I know. I have thought about it, believe me. Actually... that's what I need. Someone to share my life with, somewhere quiet. I'm... tired."

That's what he was afraid of. "You won't be tired forever," he warned. "And when you no longer want the quiet, secluded life? Is there anything you want from Remus other than the quiet life? Because if there isn't, then at some point you'll have to break up and live with the consequences--or stay and resent it till the end of your life, making you both miserable."

"I won't resent it! We've been living together for a long time; we are more than lovers, we're friends!"

"But you had other lovers to entertain you then, didn't you?" Harry bristled at that, but Sirius went on. "Listen, I'm not trying to belittle what you have together, all right? I'm just trying to tell you why I'm worried. It doesn't have to happen, but it could."

There were so many things he was worried about that he couldn't say out loud. What if Harry had got involved with Remus just because he was the only man Harry thought of as family, and he was desperate to keep him close? What if it was a case of infatuation with a figure of authority, despite what Moony had said? Did Remus understand that Harry would never be able to leave him--because the boy was loyal to the core, and never avoided what he considered his responsibility--before he allowed himself to enter the relationship? Even in his clipped youth, Sirius saw too many of his school-friends marry because a child was on the way and resent each other bitterly shortly afterwards. To see that happen to Remus and Harry, who had had enough unhappiness in their lives already... it would be horrible.

Sirius felt a wave of nausea overcome him, and shook himself from his brooding with determination--they already were together, it was too late for the talk about the consequences of entering this relationship. He'd just have to be there to help them pick up the pieces if the worst happened. He looked Harry in the eyes. "Just... try not to hurt each other, all right?" he said, feeling stupid for babbling platitudes.

"We won't. You'll see." Harry sat back and smiled at him. "You are coming to stay with us, right?"

"Oh. No, in fact, I'll be staying here with Severus for a while longer." The smile was waning and Harry was beginning to look unhappy, so he added, "It's not because I have something against your living together. Really." Harry looked aside and said nothing. He obviously didn't believe it. "Listen. I didn't come to live with you even before I knew you were together, right?" A nod. "And I'm very comfortable here at Hogwarts."

"All right... if that's what you want. It's just that I don't understand why you would want to stay with Snape, of all people," Harry said, frowning.

The playful, impish part of him managed to get control over his tongue before he could stop it. "Let's not argue over our choice in lovers, shall we?" he said, just to see Harry splutter and go from white to red to green, then to red again.

"Oh...but...you...he...you are..." Harry seemed to forcibly calm himself, only to explode again. "He tied you to the bed! That bastard! What kind of potion is he giving you? What did he do to you?" He was shaking with anger.

"Are you insane?" Sirius looked at his godson, astonished. "Severus is my friend! He's helping me. He wouldn't hurt anybody!"

"He was a Death Eater! And... and he is a mean, cruel, cold bastard! You don't know him..." Harry was watching him with horror and helplessness written on his face. Sirius marvelled at the sudden reversal of their roles. Maybe he could use it to explain to Harry why he had reacted so badly in the beginning... but later. First things first.

"I believe I know him better than you, Harry," he said evenly. "You see him only as a teacher you didn't like. He's much more than that."

"He's mean, sarcastic, unfair, selfish and arrogant!"

"And always gives you detention, yes?" Harry glared at him mutinously. "You've been trying to convince me you aren't a child, Harry--try to behave accordingly. Think for a moment. If he were cruel and selfish, would he take me in when I needed help? Would he give up his comfort to take care of me?"

"He's not doing it just because he's nice! He wants something from you!"

"Like what, for example?"

"Sex!" Harry said and turned beet red when Sirius started snickering madly. "Fine. All right. I don't know what he wants. But it's suspicious."

"Harry." With effort, he suppressed his hilarity and tried to treat the matter calmly. "Believe me when I say I know Severus much better than you do. He is a good, honourable, intelligent and caring man. He's also very private, and his reserve can easily be taken as coldness or meanness. I understand you didn't like his sarcasm when you were his student, but he actually has a great sense of humour, and he's a brilliant conversationalist. And we have a lot in common--we were at school together; we are from the same generation, we know the same people, we see certain things the same way. We find the same things funny. The attraction was unexpected--I wasn't thinking about it consciously when I came here. But it's there, and it's real. I'm asking you to try to accept that."

"He tried to put you in prison, after you escaped, without even listening to anybody! Doesn't that count?" Harry said obstinately. "Are you trying to tell me he's some kind of a fucking rose with barbed thorns a half-yard long and covered in poison?"

"Mind your language, please. And no, I don't feel angry at him for what he did then. He did what he thought was right." Even if he doesn't believe it himself. "You know, I actually thought you'd be happy for me," he added, wondering whether Snape was rubbing off on him. That was manipulative.

But it also worked. Harry stopped glaring, put his head on the table and groaned loudly. "I hate Snape..." he said plaintively. "As an ex-teacher, all right? It just figures that I'll have him in the family..."

Family? Sirius felt a wave of disquiet sweep over him. "Harry... don't... don't think of us as family just yet. It's too new and... I'm not really sure how Severus sees it." It could be just a temporary arrangement for him. That was a miserable thought.

Harry was watching him closely. "You don't know if he... cares back, do you?" His voice was kind, and worried.

"It's too early. We need time to work on it."

"If he hurts you..." Harry started, and then exhaled with a sigh. "This is weird. I thought I was going to be convincing you about liking my lover, not the other way around."

"It is weird," Sirius agreed. He felt vaguely embarrassed about stealing the scene from Harry. They were supposed to talk about Harry's problems, not his. "I guess now you know how I felt. Even though I liked Remus from the start. It's just... weird."

"All right." Harry rested his chin on his hands, still half-lying on the table, and grinned at him. "Let's not ever disapprove of each other's choice in lovers. I'd still like to know why he tied you to the bed. Unless it's something kinky," he added hastily. "Then I don't want to know."

       

Sirius told his story briefly, trying to emphasise the responsibility Severus took for him, and to convince Harry that he was safe and comfortable in the dungeons. Harry, as was expected, had trouble walking away doing nothing and leaving Sirius in someone else's care. He was so clearly miserable about it that Sirius decided to ask him to investigate the legal state of his house, just to give him something to do.

"When I inquired about it two years ago, I was told that the new owner had legal rights to it because too many years had passed since they occupied it to evict them," he explained. "But Severus thinks I might apply for some kind of compensation. My account in Gringott's was confiscated by the Ministry soon after my escape from Azkaban, as well. I don't know if there's any point trying to get the money back... so don't start any proceedings just yet. I need to know the situation and estimate my chances before I do anything."

"I'll ask around," Harry promised. "Ron's brother works at Gringotts; he's been appointed a branch manager recently and he'll know all about the procedures. Hermione could help as well; she's in public service, working for the Vice-Minister for Muggle Relationships. And Ron's wife's sister is a reporter for the Daily Prophet; I just know she'd love to write a scathing commentary about the Ministry helping themselves to the property of innocent people."

Ron Weasley had a wife? Sirius definitely had been out of the loop for much too long... His astonishment must have reflected on his face, because Harry grinned at him and added, "They've been married for two years already. Fadheela had twins recently--it must be in the Weasley bloodline."

"You know, it makes me feel old," Sirius complained half-seriously. It also gave him a pang to realise that the Potter bloodline would become extinct after Harry, just as his own would be with him. "How's your Muggle family? Is your cousin married as well? Maybe he'll have wizard children."

Harry snorted with distaste. "If he did, he'd probably get rid of them as soon as possible. Last time I saw him, he wasn't married. I don't keep in touch with them... I checked on them from time to time during the war to see if anybody had tried to threaten them, but now that we are safe I'd rather forget about them as soon as possible."

"Do you keep in touch with your school friends, besides Ron and Hermione?" Sirius hoped Harry did; he didn't like the idea of Harry withdrawing into seclusion. "I hope to visit Neville Longbottom some time soon. He was in the Magical Support Force during the war, and worked with my team for some time."

Harry's face darkened at the mention of the war. "I wish I could have done something. They rejected my application to the Air Force because of those headaches; you know, scar throbbing, fall off the broom, splat." He twisted his lips. "All I could do was sit there like a lame duck or play hide and seek with the Death Eaters."

For the first time, Sirius realised his godson felt guilty for not 'going to war'--it had never occurred to him that Harry would take his role in the fight with Voldemort like that.

"You did your job by attracting Voldemort's attention and distracting him enough for others to subvert his plans," he said quietly. "Can you imagine what would have happened had he succeeded in his petty quest to kill you and turned his full focus to the war? You put yourself in danger every day by publicly taunting him to attack you, attracting his attention. And your 'headaches' gave us more information on his whereabouts than he ever realised. You did your job, and you wouldn't have been of any use to anybody if you were in the field instead of staying at the centre of things."

Harry sighed and shrugged, obviously not convinced. "It doesn't matter now. I just... got fed up with always running away. It's nice to stay at one place for a long time, you know? To run a house. We don't have a house elf, of course, and we're taking turns cooking..."

"Moony can cook?" That was new.

"No," Harry grinned. "But we're making progress. No more instant meals, or rehydrate-with-a-swish-of-the-wand desserts! Ha. Maybe we could keep our own chickens. Do you know anything about keeping cows?"

"I know everything about keeping cows," Sirius said grimacing in exaggeration, "which is that you don't want to keep them. Believe me. Not without a house elf. You've never spent your holidays in the country, have you, Harry?"

"No--though I'd love to."

"I need to check with my Muggle relatives... I'm not sure if they even remember who I am--but maybe we could spend a week or two in the spring on my grandparents' old farm."

Harry brightened at the thought, and Sirius was happy to have found something they could do together.

       

"You defended me--from Potter," were the first words Snape directed at him after Sirius saw Harry out and returned to their bedroom.

"I did, I guess..." Sirius was a bit at a loss. What was Severus driving at?

He met with a set of raised eyebrows and a matching expression. A walking 'Indeed'.

"What did you suppose I'd do? Gossip about you behind your back? And anyway," Sirius decided to counterattack, since he had no idea what he was defending himself from, "you were eavesdropping."

Snape dismissed the accusation with a shrug. "I was wondering... Who were you trying to convince of my alluring qualities? Potter or yourself?"

"Oh, I need no convincing." Sirius felt a lecherous grin creep up his face. "But I couldn't possibly discuss with my godson what a luscious, juicy, delectable piece of arse you are..." Seeing Snape's lips twitch with restrained laugher, he succumbed to the temptation and licked that fascinating mouth, once, twice. Severus moved closer and, hesitantly, returned the caress with his tongue. They fell into a kiss, embracing each other lightly, drawing more comfort and reassurance than passion from the closeness. Sirius felt the last remnants of tension and discouragement from the morning leave him under the tentative stroke of Severus' hand on his shoulder-blades.

"I don't understand why you are so unhappy about Potter being a homosexual," Snape remarked when they finally separated and sat down. "You don't seem to have any... inhibitions yourself."

"I don't have anything against it. I'm just worried," Sirius sighed. "I should have been there to give him the talk, you know, explain all the things so that he didn't have to be embarrassed or learn it the hard way... Remember when we were young? The body below the waist wasn't even mentioned. You could kiss and cuddle half of the Quidditch team after practice and be considered 'friendly' by the old farts. Homosexuality didn't exist unless you caused a 'scandal', and 'carnal relationships' weren't discussed until a girl got pregnant and had to marry her boyfriend to be 'decent' again."

"Was this why James and Lily were married?"

"Oh, no, no. They got married right after school. Harry did happen by accident, sort of; they wanted children, just not then--not in the middle of a war. Lily told me she was using some Muggle potions or pills that should have prevented the pregnancy but they didn't work just this one time. Muggles seemed so much more advanced in this aspect than we are. I had to learn everything I was curious about from a Muggle book as well. My father gave it to me when I was thirteen. I regret I wasn't there to do the same for Harry."

Snape snorted. "A lot has changed since then, Black. Pomfrey is giving out contraceptive potions and teaching prophylaxis charms to any student who's interested, and the library has a whole section on 'carnal relationships'." He smirked at Sirius' open-mouthed astonishment. "Don't believe me? Go check for yourself."

"How did that happen? All the elderly crones in the school board and in the Ministry must have had a conniption!"

"You are forgetting that many of the oldest wizards died or fled the country during the First War. Look at Hogwarts--Flitwick and McGonagall are our oldest teachers, and she's barely eighty! She was one of the youngest on staff when we were students. The same happened almost everywhere else. There was an almost complete change of guard at the Ministry, save Fudge; the Hogwartsí Board of Governors was replaced by the younger generation to the last man. Well, Riddle was targeting the Ministry and other officials to replace them with his loyal Death Eaters, of course. Others... had just decided to hastily retire. You know," he added as an afterthought, "if the wars had any positive effect it was that the old farts finally gave up the power they had been clinging to--one way or another."

"That's cold." Sirius frowned. Snape was speaking with a hint of underlying bitterness, and Sirius wondered whether he might be referring to his own relatives.

"Perhaps. Logic usually is." Snape grimaced. "But really, think about it. When the trouble with Riddle first started, most of the old generation couldn't be persuaded to do anything. For them, Aleister Crowley was the big news, not even Grindelwald. Everything had to be like it had been a hundred years before, when they were children. Every suggestion of improvement or progress was met with violent, conservative protest, or derision at best. Do you know why Riddle considered Dumbledore his enemy, not the Ministry? Because Dumbledore was one of the few that were able to take notice of the world around them and not live in the past century."

"While the others would pat your head and say, 'There, there, my boy, surely it can't be that bad?'" Sirius added. "I understand what you mean. I had to work with the Ministry's finest military advisors who didn't know curses developed 70 years ago. I wish they'd elect someone like Arthur Weasley as Minister of Magic."

"At the very least, he wouldn't tie up the post for ages," Snape agreed. "The Weasleys seem to come from a short-lived wizarding line; they rarely reach 110. They seem to compensate by having excessive numbers of children, don't you think?"

"Depends on what you consider excessive," Sirius shot back, somewhat testily, and earned himself a raised eyebrow. "Harry says Ron has twins... but you heard, didn't you? It's strange to think that James' line will end with Harry."

"Is that why you'd prefer him to fancy girls? Because he could have children then?"

"I wouldn't prefer him to fancy girls. It's his preference, all right? I do respect that. It's just that... for my parents and grandparents, having children was what made a family. It was so profoundly important to have them, and they were cherished and valued so much... My mother was stricken when she learnt she couldn't have any more children after me. In a way... it's hard to think that if something happened to Harry, that would be the end of it. Nobody left to... Just the end. And the other way round--when you die, there's nobody to remember you, nobody to watch a picture of you waving and smiling and tell their children who you were. That's what I envy the Weasleys. They can always rely upon their family, and there's so many of them--it makes you feel safer to think that you can't lose everything."

Snape regarded him quietly for a moment.

"Wizards have been experimenting with producing offspring by magical means for a long time," he offered.

"Ugh," Sirius said, queasy at the thought of homunculi and twisted little shapes floating in slimy jars in Knockturn Alley.

"Indeed. Admittedly, those were mostly Dark Wizards attempting to obtain wand and potions ingredients."

"Yeugh! Stop it!"

"Another common method of ensuring bloodline continuity was to pay a woman to carry your child," Snape said with an impassivity so studious that Sirius felt the hairs on his nape stand at attention. He sat up and looked keenly at his lover, wondering how to ask if Severus was talking about his own childhood.

After a while Snape met his eyes, lips twisted in a bitter smile, and nodded briefly.

"Was that how your parents got together?" Sirius asked openly, deciding the question Severus had just answered needed to be said aloud.

"My father had neglected his... family obligations for a very long time. Since he didn't marry in his prime, by the time he decided he should produce an offspring, he couldn't find a suitable candidate for marriage," Snape said dryly. "He despised 'modern' women, and most of the women of his generation were past child-bearing age. On the other hand, he shared your conviction that one's blood line must be preserved. When his health begun to deteriorate, he decided to hire a mother that would deliver his child. She was paid, impregnated--I shudder to think by what means--nine months later I was born, and she disappeared."

"So you've never even seen you mother?" The cruelty of this made Sirius sick.

"No. Had I turned out a squib, my father would have hired another woman to breed with. As it happened, that wasn't necessary." Snape sat back in his chair. "Don't look so shocked. I'm telling you this only to illustrate why I don't share your fascination with children and familial feelings."

Sirius fought the urge to cuddle Severus comfortingly. He wondered if he'd get hexed if he tried, and decided the odds were very high that he would. He cleared his throat. "That's evident," he said. "Who was your father? His attitude sounds peculiar, to say the least. Was he an aristocrat?"

Snape snorted disparagingly. "An aristocrat! No. No, he was a manservant, a valet, to none other than Lord Evarist De Latfeur Witherbroom. My family served the Witherbrooms for generations. My father thought himself elevated with the honour, and he was grooming me to replace him. Fortunately for me, old Witherbroom died without a son."

"That's why you were so... fascinated with the Malfoys? Because of their social standing?"

Snape shrugged uncomfortably. "Yes, I believe so. More than that--Lucius' mother was a Witherbroom. I was awed by his attention. Young Master Malfoy has stooped to talk with a servant boy--what an honour." He smiled thinly. "It took me some years to shake off my upbringing. Now I'm nasty to all people alike, regardless of their origins."

Sirius laughed at that, shaking his head at Severus' antics.

"If you want to marry and have children, then you should start looking for a wife before you are 50," Snape added suddenly, making Sirius blink with surprise.

"Wife? I don't want a wife! Whatever gave you that idea?"

"You've said yourself you considered procreation the highest goal in life."

Sirius was beginning to lose his grasp on the conversation. What was Severus talking about? "I said I liked the idea of big families having lots of children. Since I'm homosexual, I'm not going to have them--unless you suddenly develop a uterus!"

Severus' expression shifted, from disgusted at first, to amused, and then, inexplicably, to pleased. "I most surely will not," he conceded. "I merely assumed you were bisexual and intended to start your own family in time."

"I've known for many years that I didn't want to marry." Sirius shrugged. "And I'm certainly not obsessed with preserving my bloodline, as you put it. I kind of counted on nursing Harry's children, but I guess that's out too. Well, as Harry has said, he is my family, and now Moony 's too, I hope..." He sighed. "I wish I had had the chance to talk to Remus before I talked to Harry."

"Yes, Iím curious as to whether Lupin will take a lot of convincing to believe that I've debauched you, taking advantage of your frail emotional state," Snape observed lightly. "I wonder what Potter's report from today was like. I wish I were there."

"You really are a malicious bastard," Sirius said, snickering helplessly.


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