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 7

By Acamar

       

"Put it in!"

"No!"

"Put. It. In. Me. Now." Snape was almost managing to hiss words without any sibilants in them.

"NO! I'm not doing anything until we talk!"

Snape glared at Sirius angrily and flopped down on the bed. "I swear, Black, you are the most difficult man on earth. I got the impression you wanted us to have sex?"

"Yes! But not if you are uncomfortable with it!"

"I am NOT uncomfortable with ANYTHING!" Snape yelled, springing up into a sitting position again. He'd been in his worst of moods, hissing and glaring and making demands in a clipped voice. Sirius regarded him helplessly. What had started to be about sex was now about pride, and Sirius couldn't see a way out. He couldn't allow Severus to force himself into an uncomfortable sexual situation without knowing why Severus was so uneasy about it the first time they were together. It was like running through a minefield with a strained grin on your face, just because Severus was too proud to accept his own limitations. Of course, he made the mistake of voicing his concern. He should have guessed that saying out loud that Severus needn't worry, and displaying whole-hearted sympathy towards the proud bastard would only result in a fight. Now there was no way to go but forward. Sirius wasn't able to fuck a man who didn't enjoy it, just because that man's competitive streak demanded so.

"Listen, you plainly said you didn't want to do it before..." You looked scared. Sirius thought back to the other night and relived his own fear and helplessness at the sight of his lover's wariness. What had really shaken him was the chink in the armour of indifference and cool superiority that Severus had displayed so unexpectedly. Snape had been so unsettled by it on their first night together that the feeling overcame his pride. Now that he had regained his equilibrium, he was apparently trying to pretend that nothing had ever happened that could touch him, and that he was perfectly able to do what other men did in bed, see if he wasnít. Always trying to fly that extra bit higher than you, faster than you, the Severus Snape he remembered.

"All right." Snape made a visible effort to calm himself, though his patience was obviously of the gossamer quality. "I was uncomfortable with the idea of anal sex during our previous... coupling. However, I am perfectly at ease with the thought now. Could we please continue!" he gritted out, confirming Sirius' guess.

"So explain to me what made you change your mind," Sirius said stubbornly. "Listen, I'm... I mean, it's obvious that something made you uncom... not very enthusiastic about it. I just want to know what happened, whether someone hurt you." There, he had said it out loud. He didn't use the word that echoed nastily through his mind, but it was obvious, wasn't it? "Tell me what happened. Was it during... during the time with the Death Eaters?" He swallowed with difficulty.

Snape stopped hissing and stared at him disbelievingly. "You think I was raped? Black, what did you think Death Eaters were doing during their meetings? Indulging in homosexual, sadomasochistic orgies?"

Sirius felt himself flush with embarrassment. "I don't know what they did, all right? They could have!"

Snape snorted condescendingly. "And I thought you were reasonable, Black. None of the great masters were interested in my bony arse. They talked about politics and spewed hatred towards Muggles, tortured some if they could get them, then went home to be dutiful husbands and fathers. They were family men, not a bunch of teenage Quidditch players!" He seemed derisively amused.

Sirius would not fall for the obvious distraction and argue the issue of whether teenage Quidditch players habitually organised sadomasochistic orgies. He returned obstinately to the main subject. "So you weren't hurt then. All right. But it's obvious something happened. Just tell me. Please." He was close to twitching now, as distressed as Snape was angry. It tied icy knots around his heart to know that his lover had been in a position of dependence for so long, with someone in power always making a point of dominating him--be it Death Eaters, Aurors, or his noble 'friends'.

"I wasn't ready just then. I preferred to start with something else," Snape said, striving for calmness. "No, it's not because someone hurt me! Merlin, could you let it go? You are the most stubborn--!"

"Tell me." He rose up his elbows and stared at Snape, who was staring at the ceiling. The anxiety and despair in Sirius' voice seemed to have finally breached Snape's reserve.

"All right. Calm down, Black, I wasn't really raped. I don't have any horrible memories associated with anal sex," he said in a quiet voice, devoid of his usual mockery. "It's just... that it can be so messy. And... it's so utterly personal. I didn't trust you just then, to be the kind of lover I'd enjoy having that kind of sex with. Yes, I did have some... unsatisfactory experiences. Not hurtful as such, just not very enjoyable, in more than just the carnal aspect." He twisted his lips in a strangely self-deprecating grimace. "I realise it's very much out of fashion today but I find this kind of commitment emotionally straining."

Sirius carded his hand through Snape's hair and kissed him softly. Hagrid had told him, up front, in simple words. Snape wasn't one for a quick bang. He had been hurt, whatever he believed, by someone who used his body as a prop. Probably by his so-called friends, 'young master' Malfoy and company--he wouldn't have spoken of trust in relations to the... others.

"Whoever hurt you deserve to have their balls chewed off and left on their doorstep," he said quite seriously. Snape snickered, somewhat hysterically. "Really. I'm sorry I insisted so much. I needed to make sure what we do will be enjoyable for both of us... I didn't want to ruin the evening bringing back old memories."

"What about you?" Snape asked suddenly, looking straight at him with keen eyes. "You seem to have jumped to conclusions pretty quickly. Were you raped in prison?"

Merlin, he didn't mince words, did he? "No," Sirius answered shortly. "Dementors aren't interested in sex."

"And before?" Snape drilled relentlessly. "When you were caught? Did the Aurors...?"

"No." He didn't want to talk about it but there was no escaping it now. "They just beat me. Didn't use Crucio, that'd be unforgivable"--Snape twisted his lips, acknowledging the bitter joke--"so they just broke my ribs and arms, gave me a concussion. I don't remember much of it. I was in a haze even before, since I learned about James and Lily. Then, with the concussion after the interrogation... I don't know. I don't think anything happened. I don't know." He didn't remember. He was trembling for real now, short, abortive shivers of helplessness and howling despair raked from the bottom of his heart. He turned his back to Snape and hugged a pillow to stop the tremors. "I'm sorry. I don't think I'm in the mood for anything tonight after all . Would it be all right if we just slept now?"

Snape didn't answer, sneaking his arms around Sirius instead and gathering him close. "We have both been damaged in a way," he said very quietly after a while. "I insisted today only because I wanted to show to you--to prove to you," he corrected himself, "that I do trust your skill. And your carefulness." The words were coming haltingly. "I trust you."

"I trust you too," Sirius said hoarsely, gripping Severus' wrist tightly. "Could we... could we put it off and try this again sometime later? Without trying to prove anything. We'll try to go slow, work around the old ghosts. Maybe we should borrow some of those sex manuals for young wizards you told me about," he joked feebly.

"Yes, of course," Snape snorted behind him, joining the game. "Preferably with as many students seeing us get them as we can manage. You're trying to undermine my reputation, Black, admit it!"
 

~o~
 

The following week, Sirius spent most of his days working with Hagrid in the Forest. Groups of new creatures were dumped there almost every day, and they formed herds that wandered aimlessly or attacked other species. Some wouldn't let humans anywhere near them, so Hagrid asked Sirius to transform into his dog form and try to manage the situation. Sirius ran till his paws bled, barked till he got hoarse, and tried not to bite for as long as possible. Then he went home to get some sleep and came back the next day, envying Hagrid his seemingly inexhaustible reserves of cheerful energy. Despite numerous bite marks and hoof-bruises, the half-giant was beaming at every new wild beast coming into their hands. He was as happy as Sirius had ever seen him.

"We might get a dragon!" Hagrid announced excitedly one morning, after they were done dispatching the newest arrivals.

Sirius groaned inwardly, recalling that conversation. A dragon! The dire wolves were difficult enough--they ganged up on him that day and knocked him around pretty badly. He crept home limping through the melting snow and mud. Mid-way, when his leg hurt too much, he had to transform and trot the rest of the distance on three very tired paws.

Snape was furious when he saw Sirius' lamentable state.

"Are you both insane?" he yelled in his sternest voice. "Is this an elaborate way to get yourself killed, Black?"

Sirius was too tired to argue. "Tea," he begged weakly. He tried to hobble to his armchair and hissed in pain. "And something analgesic, if you'd be so kind..."

"Your leg! Is it broken?" Snape helped him sit down. "Don't move, I'll get Pomfrey."

"There's no need. I fixed my bones more than once during the war. Just let me rest a while."

After he had had his tea, set his bones, closed major wounds and disinfected the scratches, he slid into the bathroom. While he was washing, Snape bullied some hapless house-elf into preparing a late dinner. He ate quickly, grateful for the hot and filling food.

"That man should be locked up," Snape said suddenly. "It could be tolerated if he were only dangerous to himself, but he's a menace to everybody at Hogwarts."

"Who?"

"Your so-called 'friend', of course, the same who sent you after a pack of dire wolves without backup. You could have died today, Black! It's a miracle you didn't. How could you be so stupid to go in there on your own? What were you thinking?"

"Hagrid didn't mention there were so many of them," Sirius explained. "I didn't realise I was going against an organised pack."

"He does it all the time! Do you remember the Hippogriff incident the year you escaped from Azkaban? Draco Malfoy was almost killed by a wild beast Hagrid brought to a class

"Buckbeak? He had a temper, yes, but he wasn't dangerous once you--"

But Snape didnít even listen to him, continuing his angry tirade. "...And he's always taking children to serve detention in the Forbidden Forest. He's not just being stupid; he realises they might die there. He just doesn't care!"

"Hagrid doesn't..." Sirius frowned, pondering on how to phrase his thoughts. "It's not that he doesn't value people's lives. It's just that he doesn't really consider humans that much different from any other species he likes. He won't value your life over a unicorn's or a dragon's. Or a giant's."

"Well, he didn't send a giant in there to die today, did he?" Snape bit back. "It's no wonder you thought it was fun sending me after Lupin after you spent your schooldays with this... this... maniac!"

"Oh, come on, he probably didn't know! The wolves must have found a smart leader and attacked only where Hagrid wouldn't notice. And don't even compare him to me. He didn't risk my life deliberately, as I did yours." Sirius felt exhausted.

"He sent one man against a forest brimming with the most dangerous beasts known to the wizarding world--but that wasn't deliberately risking your life?" Snape's voice dripped with sarcasm. "If you value your hide, tell him you won't go into that forsaken place anymore."

"I can't let him down like that. I'll talk to him about not taking students to the Forest, though," Sirius promised.

"I don't understand why you worry about you letting him down," Snape said sardonically. "He turned his back on you immediately after you were sent to Azkaban, without even a passing thought that you might have been innocent. Some friend."

Sirius swallowed the hurt these words brought. He had been fighting the disappointment at his friends' readiness to believe he was a murderous traitor for many years. Some, like Remus, he could understand easily. For others, he had to find excuses and explanations to make himself feel better.

"The circumstances testified against me. He might have believed the official word and felt angry at himself for liking me before," he tried tentatively.

"If you really want to believe that," Snape said ironically, "I think you are too generous. Are you afraid you'll lose his friendship again if you confront him about it? Or if you stop risking your neck in the Forest for the sake of his precious beasts?"

Sirius only shrugged in response, too weary to try to refute the preposterous accusation, or to argue that letting go of a grudge wasn't a sign of weakness. They sat in silence for a while, staring into the fireplace.

"I prefer to think of people's favour as a temporary arrangement. If you constantly remember that someone who likes you today may resent you tomorrow, you won't be disappointed at the change of their feelings," Snape said with a hint of sympathy in his voice. "People are like the weather, Sirius. Their friendship isn't a constant, or something you should rely on. You only deceive yourself, trying to make up justifications for them."

"That's a very disillusioned take on the world," Sirius said. He huddled in the chair and sighed heavily. The despondency lurking in his heart floated to the surface again.

"No illusions, no bitter disappointments," Snape agreed. "You are too ready to believe the best about people, and as a result, you are deeply hurt when your expectations don't come true. You were so sure Lupin wouldn't attack me, even as a werewolf. You were so sure I would be decent and wouldn't disclose what he was. You were sure your friends would be on your side. Well, Black, it's not like that. Nobody is worth such absolute trust. Everybody will sooner or later reveal their dark side."

"Even you?" Sirius asked with a small unhappy smile.

"I wear my dark side on the surface," Snape huffed.

"I'll have to dig in to find your bright side, then," Sirius tried to quip feebly.

Snape let out a dismissive snort. "I do realise trying to change your point of view is useless. It's just... painful to see what trusting in people did to you. You were one of the brightest, happiest, friendliest people I've ever seen. Now--you rarely even smile. My potion has helped you calm down and push the sadness to the background, but no matter how I try, I can't get you back to what you were. You keep hiding here with the old, discarded furniture and a compromised misanthrope. If you go out, you walk as a dog. You easily forgave everybody who deserted you--Lupin, Dumbledore, Hagrid, McGonagall--as if you were worthless and they were of more value. You won't hold it against them because you are afraid they might turn away from you again. You torture yourself over an old prank, when such bumbling idiots as Hagrid risk your and other people's lives every day without thinking twice about it."

"Old prank? Is that all that it is? It seemed much more important to you in the past," Sirius pointed out regretfully.

"Do you really think I hated you because I thought you tried to kill me? It was just an easy mark, Black, an easy thing to throw in your face during an argument. It wasn't as if I could call you a greasy grovelling bastard! Lucius Malfoy made me walk through the Forest without my wand as an initiation, before I could be admitted to his circle of cronies. He laughed himself silly when I emerged bleeding and mauled. I didn't hate him for endangering my life. I was like you--I tried to justify what he did for my own sake." He paused for a while, reflecting calmly. "No, I think I hated you because, despite my best efforts, I was drawn to you--and you didn't seem to like me back, choosing your friends over me. Hatred was a handy crutch to help me deal with rejection. When you came to me and explained yourself, just to make me feel better, that old resentment lost its ground."

Sirius was amazed at the admission, and at the depth of Severus' understanding of his own heart. They had grown close during the past weeks, he thought, if they could talk about matters like this without feeling awkward or wary. He tried to analyse his own emotions similarly, to offer Severus a like insight into his mind.

"I hoped that saying I felt guilty might rectify the harm in some tiny way," he said slowly. "And whatever Malfoy might have been--it hurts that you have to mention me in the same context as him. After years of despising him and looking down on him, it hurts to know that I'm exactly like him at heart," he added.

Snape only shook his head. "That is the Soul Rot talking. You will get better, I can promise you that much. Right now you are so wound-up in reminiscing about the past that you can't see the difference between yourself and a bastard like Lucius. In a few weeks you will see that you don't need to feel less worthy than the people who hurt you, and that you don't have to earn their favours."

"But I need people," Sirius said desperately. "I need them around me, liking me and touching me, and taking me in. You may think it's infantile or pathetic, but I can't be as self-reliant and self-sufficient as you, Severus."

"People need you!" Snape said sharply. "You have more to offer to them than they can give you. It's they who should worry about earning your friendship back, not the other way round. You knew that, subconsciously, when you didn't want to turn to them for help. Did any of your so-called friends ever apologise for abandoning you?"

"Remus did. And he was the one whose trust I betrayed most."

"How noble of him," Snape snorted. "And whose trust have you betrayed beside his, pray tell? You are making up reasons to feel guilty. I can see now how the years in Azkaban affected you. I made a mistake when I assumed your disorder was purely external, caused by dark Dementor magic. If you crave human contact that much, the prolonged isolation must have been a soul-wrenching torture in itself. I am all the more concerned about your withdrawing from the world now. I wouldn't want you to become like me. You are different, and you have different needs."

"I'm a different person than I was before Azkaban. Less extroverted, quieter. Maybe wiser."

"And you think it's necessary for you to feel worthless to be all that?"

"Perhaps," Sirius shrugged. "It's difficult to keep the bright and complacent attitude after what I've seen and done."

"I give up. We are going in circles," Snape said in exasperation. "You are going to see Lupin and Potter next weekend. Perhaps socialising will cheer you up."

       

They made love that night, as if to repel the shadows of their harrowing exchange. Paradoxically, the talk of old betrayals and hurts brought them closer and dissolved the last barriers between them, allowing them to move beyond hesitant exploration to passion and heat. Sirius learned that Severus liked being teased and licked and caressed, and that the insides of his thighs were special spots. Knowing that Sirius had no inhibitions about being penetrated, Snape gave into the experience with aplomb. He didn't insist on being fucked himself, and Sirius was glad they steered clear of the difficult subjects for the night. He had intended to go slow, penetrate with tongue first, then fingers; teach his lover to gradually accept his body that close. But Snape surprised him, taking the initiative, and Sirius gave up on his plans without regret. Arching into the angular body behind him, gasping shamelessly--there was no awkwardness in what he was experiencing, only fulfilment and ecstasy--with one white, long-fingered hand wrapped tightly around his cock and the other flat across his chest, filled and embraced, Sirius let himself be lost in pleasure.

       

The next morning was sunny and Sirius was surprised by the difference it made to his mood. He got up--kissing Severus on the temple on his way out of bed, and earning a disgusted snort in reward--ate breakfast and hurried to Hagrid's hut. After a long, exhausting conversation, he managed to convince the half-giant that a dragon would be better off in a less crowded environment, and that the Forest had reached its limits. Close to tears, Hagrid agreed to give up the idea of admitting any more refugees.

They spent the rest of the day in an open, sunlit clearing, patching up the Forest's inhabitants who were intelligent enough to seek human help. After classes ended, they were joined by Professor Evans, who taught Care of Magical Creatures. To Sirius' immense relief, he was able to actually communicate with a lot of the sapient creatures they had to deal with. While Hagrid shared incredible empathy with the animals, he was often unable to decipher the more abstract needs and complaints of the intelligent species. The break-trough came when Evans managed to convince several Leshies to translate for him. The wood-elves, who had been anxious and resentful of Hagrid and Sirius trespassing in their forest, finally stopped sulking and agreed to serve as Evans' intermediaries with the bashful dryads and impatient rusalkas. One Leshy even volunteered to take care of the dire wolves.

Because of his teaching duties, Evans could devote only a little time to helping in the Forest. However, he promised to contact his siblings and cousins to see if anyone would be willing to come to work in the Forest for the meagre pay Hogwarts could afford. Sirius dearly hoped they would.


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