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
Disclaimer: Bryan Sparks, Ransom Love and Caldera are in no way associated with the author of this story, the work of Rowling, or the wizarding world.
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
Prodded incessantly by Snape, Sirius started going out more. The situation in the Forest was normalising slowly and he often found himself free of any duties in the afternoons. He made a point of spending them outside: wandering through the quiet forests around Hogsmeade, tracking animals, and enjoying the smell of the coming spring.
He made a trip to Hogsmeade once to pick up a journal for Snape, and spent an hour wandering aimlessly or staring at shop windows.
Dervish and Banges was selling handheld fireplaces for "mobile wizarding professionals." A large flaming advertisement encouraged: 'Firetalk While You Walk! Communicate anytime, anywhere, with anyone!' Sirius scratched his ear absent-mindedly, wondering why anyone would want their boss to be able to harass them anytime and anywhere. Someone shooed him, so he got up and moved on. He spent some time prowling around Honeydukes and got an elderly witch to pat him on the head and feed him a large chunk of nougat, to the utter disgust of the cat she carried in her basket.
Finally, he trotted to a quiet corner behind the Post Office and transformed into his human form. He found the tiny local bookshop and went in, straightnening his robes. Severus wanted him to pick up the latest issue of Love & Sparks' Caldera. It couldn't be owled because it contained free samples of some volatile potions. Sirius cast a wary glance at the cover picture of the editor-in-chief, Ransom Love, grinning widely and waving several stoppered vials at him. He hoped the samples weren't going to blow up in his face.
Suddenly, he realised that the need to be cautious meant he wasn't going to be able to go as a dog, and he cursed Severus' manipulative streak. He must have done it on purpose, to force Sirius to practice being human. Sirius shrugged and spent some time thumbing through old issues of Transfigurations Weekly, trying to get used to the idea of showing his face to the world so openly again.
Harry had insisted on lending him some money--his godson was so persistent and determined that Sirius couldn't find a way to say no. Harry pointed out that Sirius needed basic things and that he would easily be able to return the small sum in the future, when he got his bank account back or found a job. Sirius relented, mostly because there was no way for him to refuse without hurting Harry's feelings.
He found himself fingering the Sickles in his pockets and wondering how to spend them sensibly; robes and warm underwear, for sure. He walked up to Gladrags and went in.
He emerged fifteen minutes later carrying his most sensible purchases, which included a pair of moss-green, fine wool trousers with a particularly smug-looking snake embroidered over the back pocket--expensive, but what a perfect gift for Severus! He took it out to examine it again. The minuscule snake smirked insultingly and poked its tongue at him. Yes, perfect.
He walked briskly, tensing a bit as he passed through the crowds of wizards and witches in the streets. Nobody was paying him any attention, and after a while he managed to relax to some extent. The walk along the empty road to Hogwarts was much more pleasant than the teeming village. The weather was changing; the days were already becoming longer and warmer. The groves around the lake were still leafless, but the first catkins were unfurling on the hazel trees, and patches of delicate, white snowdrops were peeking from under brown, dead leaves. Sirius strolled slowly around the shore, trying to spot the water folk and entertained himself by refreshing what little he knew of Mermish.
"Choose a Fireplace with Free Shipping," he announced, handing Severus his journal and the package containing the trousers.
"I beg your pardon?" Severus stared at him in astonishment.
"Dervish and Banges has a new collection of cutting-edge fireplaces," Sirius explained, chuckling. "I saw their advertising board."
"Oh, that... It's young Banges; he married a Muggle-born witch and she has him completely under her-- what is this supposed to mean?" He was holding the trousers in two fingers, stretching his hands as far from his body as possible and glaring at the smirking snake.
"It's for you," Sirius said with feeling. "As a thank you for putting up with me."
"Underwear?" Severus curled his lip. "What did I do to deserve this?"
"First of all, it's not underwear. More and more wizards are wearing trousers without robes. Besides, I'm tired of hearing your knees rattle against each other. They'll keep you warm."
"Indeed." Snape's expression was extremely dubious. He examined the snake with a frown. "And what's this?"
"Decoration. You can keep the snake or change it into your initials." To demonstrate his point, Sirius took the trousers and jabbed the snake with his wand. It rolled its eyes condescendingly and slithered into a double S. "See? Severus Snape. Sexy Slytherin." He threw the garment at Snape. "Come on, be nice. Try them on. You can wear them under your robes and nobody will see."
Snape shrugged and sat down to put on the trousers, then lifted his robe to examine the fit.
"They are indeed quite warm," he said with a hint of surprise.
"Of course they are warm. It's Puffskein wool." Sirius admired the way in which the rich fabric flowed from Snape's hips and subtly accentuated his calves. He chose a tight fit because he suspected Severus would never agree to wear the garment without his robe. He didn't expect the results to be this... interesting. Snape had splendid legs.
"Well?" Snape quirked his eyebrow at him meaningfully. "Isn't this the part where you... unwrap me?"
Sirius couldn't believe his own ears. Was Severus suggesting...? Evidently. He felt himself grin radiantly. It was the first time Snape suggested, albeit indirectly, that they should have sex. Sirius was beginning to feel slightly awkward at always being the lecherous, needy one.
"It was supposed to be a sensible gift, not an innuendo," he qualified, just to make sure.
Snape dismissed the caveat with a smirk rivalling the snake in its smugness. He took off his robe and turned to walk right into Sirius' embrace.
Sirius slid his hands down the warm, soft fabric of the trousers, enjoying its smoothness and the warmth of the body it enclosed. "Bed, then?" he asked quietly.
"What a sensible man you are, Mister Black..."
"Apparate me to Harry's house?" Sirius asked next weekend.
Instead of making the customary fuss about being bothered, Snape got up and retrieved his coat. They walked together slowly down the Hogsmeade road, silently enjoying the mellow colours of sunset-painted clouds and the sharp, prickly, fresh scent of early spring in the air. Or at least one of them enjoyed it, Sirius reflected, because there was no knowing what Snape thought about sunsets.
When they passed the last set of charms protecting Hogwarts, Snape hugged Sirius close with one arm, fishing for his wand with the other. Sirius made the most of the embrace, sneaking his arms behind Snape's back and tucking his nose into Snape's collar.
"There's no need to strangle me," Snape said. "I assure you I can Apparate someone without having to be welded to them."
"I believe you." Sirius smiled into the collar. "Still, I like it better this way."
Snape only snorted and waved his wand. The world whirled around and Sirius felt the ground disappear from under his feet. Immediately, he got dizzy and nauseated, close to panic. A split second later the world rearranged itself around him into different shapes, but the feeling of vertigo didn't vanish. Sirius let go of Snape, wobbled on his feet and sat down with a thud, looking up in helpless surprise at his own ineptitude.
Snape helped him get up to his feet, by the expedient of grabbing the scruff of his coat and pulling him up, and then proceeded to brush off the wet snow and mud from his butt. He didn't say a thing, and Sirius felt a wave of embarrassment and anger mixed with bitterness rise in him. He made a fool of himself and Snape considered him to be in such a bad shape he didn't even snicker? He needed to be fed and washed and apparated, and now even walked around, like a fucking puppy. Life stank.
"Oh for goodness sake, Black, stop pouting!" Snape growled unexpectedly. "I didn't even smile!"
"No, you didn't, that's the point! I'd rather you did, then I could tell you to stuff it!" He knew he was being childish and unreasonable.
"There's just no winning with you, is there?" Snape said in exasperation, a smirk tugging the corner of his lips.
"Nope." Sirius managed a smile. All right, maybe Snape wasn't customarily polite to the horribly ill. Maybe he just tried to be nice. He'd be cured of that notion now, for sure. Sirius grinned a bit more sincerely and massaged his tailbone. "Let's go."
Snape escorted Sirius up to the brightly painted door of Harry's house, but before they had a chance to knock, it opened, revealing a concerned-looking Harry.
"Sirius, I saw you fall! What happened?" He was ushered in, relieved of his coat and guided in the direction of the living room.
"The potion he is taking interferes with his sense of orientation, which fact he considers a personal insult," Snape said impassively and moved as if to leave the house. Sirius grabbed his wrist and pulled him into the living room.
"Stay. I won't be long. I'll need you to take me back."
Snape shrugged and took off his coat.
Sirius turned to see Remus coming into the room, dressed in some ridiculously worn-out robes. Moony was smiling, his eyes beaming with an openness and trust Sirius hadn't seen directed at him since that horrible night twenty-some years ago.
"Hello, Sirius," he said quietly. "I'm happy to see you."
Feeling as if some little shattered bit of his soul has healed itself within that moment, Sirius almost ran up to fall into Remus' outstretched arms, laughing freely and trying to lift Remus bodily off the floor.
"Moony!" He clapped Remus' shoulder blades and tousled his hair. "I'm happy to see you too," he said, marvelling at the forgotten emotion coursing through his veins again. Happy. He was happy.
Remus laughed back. "I can see you are better."
They looked into each other's faces and grinned again, schoolboys' grins. Beside them, Harry was glaring at Snape and Snape was sneering at Harry. Remus shook his head at them in mock defeat.
"You're just in time for tea. Please, sit down. Severus?"
Sirius tugged Snape's hand, bringing his lover to sit beside him on the low sofa. Harry cast Snape a last glare and disappeared in the kitchen.
"Do you always have to egg him on?" Sirius whispered urgently when Remus turned to summon china from a cupboard. He tried to fit his long legs under the low tea table and bumped his knee painfully.
"He's so easy..." Snape smirked evilly, obviously pleased with himself. Sirius elbowed him in the ribs and smiled at Harry, who was coming back with a huge plate of scones in one hand and a kettle in the other.
The scones tasted heavenly, even for someone used to Hogwarts cuisine. The trouble with house elves, Sirius reflected, masticating happily, was that they always, always followed the recipe to a tee. There was no inspiration involved; everything tasted the same way every time.
"They're fantastic," he complimented Harry indistinctly, spraying crumbs everywhere. "Aren't they, Severus?"
"Yes, indeed," Snape replied congenially. "I must congratulate the makers of the mix, Potter, for achieving what I could not as your teacher--I didn't hear any explosions, and there's no smoke..."
"Harry doesn't use ready-made mixes," Remus said proudly. "He makes his own recipes."
"My goodness, Potter! You are a man of many wondrous talents. The great defender of wizardkind and a master chef, all in one."
Harry flushed red. "You know, Snape, you are the only man I know who can be maliciously amiable. It's an art, it really is." He kept his voice nonchalant, but he was glaring daggers. "Say, do you practice that frustrated-and-bitter look every day in front of a mirror?"
"What's the matter, Potter, you suddenly don't like being told how exceptional you are?"
"You need to get over that wheedling attitude, Snape. Flattery will get you nowhere."
They were both seething now, and the argument was obviously spinning out of control. Sirius sighed inwardly. Something had to be done if the evening were to remain a pleasant social call.
"Hey! Shut up, both of you. You are upsetting Remus," he said sternly. Moony shot him an amused glance, but the ruse seemed to work. Harry turned to his lover with concern; Snape frowned and glanced at Remus with a mixture of remorse and suspicion.
"Thank you, Paddy," Remus said evenly, though his voice vibrated with suppressed laughter. "Would you like some tea, Severus? Green, is that right?"
"Yes, please. You've always made excellent tea, Lupin." Snape smiled pleasantly at their host, a veritable picture of a mild-mannered gentleman. Harry rolled his eyes but didn't comment.
Sipping the aromatic tea, Sirius thought about how he enjoyed this--Severus' solid, warm presence by his side; Moony perched on the arm of the sofa on the other side of Sirius; Harry, sprawled relaxedly in the armchair by the table, his anger temporarily defused; the glow and crackle of the fireplace, the smell of tea and baking, and raspberry preserves. When was the last time he sat by someone's table, eating raspberry preserves and talking about nothing in particular? Must have been before the war. Before both wars.
He stretched contentedly and put his arm around Severus' shoulders.
"Listen everybody, I want to make a toast," he announced.
"Wait, let me get the claret." Remus got up and retrieved a bottle and four glasses.
"We only need three glasses. He's not drinking," Snape said, pointing to Sirius.
"Why don't you let him decide!" Harry was angry again. "He's not a child!"
"No, Potter, you are," Snape shot back. "One might hope you would have learned to observe, if not think, but obviously that's beyond your capabilities. He's taking a potion that already interferes with his balance and reflexes. Do you want him to keel over for your enjoyment?"
The game of insults forgotten, Harry leaned forward and grabbed Snape's wrist. "What's in the potion? Please, you have to tell me. I don't want to make another stupid mistake like that." His earnest gaze was fully focused on Snape, worry written all over his face. Snape relented.
"Black just needs to avoid any charms, potions and brews that affect the brain for a while. That includes alcohol. He's in no danger. He'll give you a sample of my potion to test if you don't trust me."
"No, that's all right." Harry let go of Snape's arm and sat back. His eyes flickered to Sirius' face for a second. "I'm sorry," he said to Snape.
Well, those were about the first civilised words the two of them had exchanged in his presence, Sirius thought. There was hope. Still...
"Hey? My toast?" he complained dramatically, raising his teacup. "May I have your attention please?" When everybody took their glasses, Sirius made a solemn face and cleared his throat again. "Seeing as we are all gathered here..."
"Sounds like a funeral speech."
"Shut up, Moony. Well, here we are, the four of us, drinking and stuffing ourselves with cakes, enjoying the company. We may have our differences"--a pointed look to Harry and Severus--"but in the end, we are all on the same side. We care for each other, and stand up for each other. So. Here's to us." Glasses clinked. Sirius sipped some of his tea and added, "Here's to the new Marauders!" Harry grinned happily; Severus choked on his claret. Slapping his lover's back solicitously, Sirius looked up at Moony. "All right?" he asked.
"Yes," Remus answered simply, smiling.
After they had Apparated near Hogwarts, Sirius transformed and ran around for a while, stretching his dog muscles and burning off the excess sugar he had consumed. It was so much easier to move around in his animal form. He realised he must have spent so much time as a dog in recent months that his human body didn't get enough exercise. Severus was right to prod. It would do him good to run on two legs for a change.
He ran up to Severus and changed back. They had been walking in companionable silence for some time, each of them immersed in thoughts, when Sirius said suddenly, "He's taller than me."
"Harry. I only noticed it now, when we were saying goodbye." When he hugged his godson and realised he was embracing a grown up man in his arms, not a child.
"Mmm," Snape agreed. "He's taller than any of us. A proper young hero. It wouldn't do for him to be little."
Sirius felt his eyebrows raise at the acrimony. "Why do you dislike Harry so much, Severus? What did he ever do to you?" he asked, frowning.
"I've already told you why I don't like Harry Potter," Snape said. Seeing Sirius' blank face, he added, "Because, frustratingly, he always manages to get the better of me."
"You can't be serious! He doesn't! And... and even if he did, he doesn't do it on purpose!" It was unfathomable that Severus, the adult, mature, haughty Severus could be so infantile when it came to Harry Potter.
"Whatever the great Harry Potter wants, the great Harry Potter gets!" Snape mocked deprecatingly, but there was a hint of genuine bitterness in his voice. "And right now, the great Harry Potter doesn't want his godfather to be involved with a greasy bastard."
Sirius was floored. That was it? "You hate him because you think he's trying to separate us?"
"I resent him because I think he will." Snape's voice was weary.
"You think he will persuade me to leave you?" Wasn't that something. "Don't you think I have a say in the matter?"
"Of course you do. But I can't possibly resent you, so I take it out on him instead," Snape explained patiently. Impenetrable Snape logic. Sirius didn't know what to say to that.
"You've got to be kidding," he managed finally.
"Of course, I don't 'hate' him," Snape explained tiredly. "But I got used to getting back at people with words rather than deeds. It helps me vent off frustration and is quite an amusing hobby."
"I understand you like verbal sparring, but... there's viciousness in it when it comes to Harry."
"Potter is just an easy target because he takes everything so seriously. I treat you in much the same way, mind you, and you don't seem to suffer horribly because of it."
"Harry is different."
"Yes. Of course."
Sirius had to laugh at the biting sarcasm in Snape's voice. "All right, all right. I just wish you stopped provoking him constantly, that's all. I'm not trying to deprive you of your favourite pastime."
"Black, you have to realise the animosity lies mostly on Potter's part," Snape said seriously. "He has disliked me since his first day of classes with me. He doesn't like me, and he makes it very clear. I'm not going to ignore that."
"Therefore you made it your quest to give him grounds to dislike you? That's very mature," Sirius said sardonically.
"Actually, what's most frustrating is that I could really like him," Snape admitted unexpectedly. "I just don't want to. I've never wanted to be a member of the fawning fan club, thank you very much. That's why I have to watch myself around him, because let's face it, he's a likeable person. He exudes some kind of natural glamour, much like Dumbledore does. And like you did, once."
Sirius digested it quietly for a while, carefully sorting through the veils and covers that Snape wrapped around the meaning of his words. Was he hearing things, or was Severus really admitting that he felt hurt by the fact that "the great" Harry Potter didn't like him? He decided the matter needed further prodding.
"So make him like you. Use that notorious Slytherin cunning to make him see your charm," he suggested innocently.
Snape snorted and shook his head. "Wheedle my way into his favours? Wasn't that what he scorned me for tonight?"
"Who's talking about wheedling? Manipulate him into liking you! Twist him around your little finger!"
"I do rather get the impression you are trying to manipulate me into getting along with your godson."
"Mhm. How am I doing?"
"You need a lot of practice..." Snape smirked with such an air of superiority that Sirius could only laugh and shake his head in defeat.
He made a point of continuing his strolls in human form in the following weeks. He still tired quickly as a man, but the overwhelming, numbing exhaustion of the past months was disappearing. He mentioned that to Severus, who was monitoring his progress closely and noting his observations in the brown book he had started for documenting Sirius' reactions to the potion. He was thorough and systematic in his research. The book was already half-filled with daily pulse and temperature measurements, body weight diagrams--every weekend, Sirius patiently let Snape cast weighing charms on him--and mood evaluations. Recently, there seemed to be noticeably fewer entries of 'fuming,' 'melancholic,' and 'whiny,' and more of 'contented' and 'calm'.
Severus made him evaluate his own progress one day--it had been three months since he had started taking the healing potion. Sirius felt at a loss of what to say at first. For all his improvement, he didn't feel strikingly different. There were still days full of bleak, suffocating hopelessness, and nights he spent unsleeping and afraid of the future. On the other hand, these were less and less frequent, and living as a human seemed less like an unpleasant obligation now. He felt energy surging through him at times; he felt the need to laugh, read, clean the dungeons, go out and meet with Harry and Remus, or just walk through the forests and breathe deeply. Breathing felt easier now. His lungs filled of their own accord, instead of closing up just below his throat.
He summed up his observations as best as he could. Snape scribbled it all down neatly and put the book back on the shelf.
"You eat better, too," he noticed. "Although you are still scrawny."
Sirius only huffed at that. He didn't want to sound ungrateful, so he allowed the daily research with good grace. But in his heart, he attributed his awakening to the coming spring, and to the fact that after the years of loneliness he was finally able to share his life with someone.
The spring was making a definite difference to his mood. Days were longer and filled with sunshine; there were daisies, marsh marigolds and wild daffodils in the woods; the air was fresh and fragrant. It felt as if life was coming back to the world, and into his very soul. Whether it was the potion or the sun--he was getting better.
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