I got the strangest request the other day. Now, I don’t normally write requests (as my track record so poorly illustrates), but the concept of how Sirius reacted to finding out about Harry and Sev intrigued me. I may get around to writing his conversation with Harry regarding the meaning of the watch, too, but for the moment I’ve got too many original plot bunnies to beat to death. This takes place between “Home Fires” and Civil War, and unless you’ve read them this probably isn’t going to make much sense. I’d just like to say that, honestly, I like Sirius – he can just be a bit of a prat. Y’know, that whole Shrieking Shack incident – in the words of The Brain, “This is a pain which shall linger.”
Thanks to Rowan, who asked for it. :)
Disclaimer: I own Sheng. I own the Happy Dumpling. I own Sev’s fetching little badger stripe. Most everything else is J.K.’s. I think she keeps them in a shoebox under the bed.
In The Doghouse
Oh, lord, James, he’s done it this time…
The sun was still bright and warm at eight o’clock, it being July. Remus was dozing on the porch in a dilapidated chair with four different legs, Sirius very close to doing the same on the crumbling stone steps. They were still waiting for the smoke to clear. Moony was the best friend he could ever have – besides Prongs, of course – and Sirius loved him dearly. No matter how hard he tried, though, the man couldn’t boil water without a wand.
Sending the kitchen up in flames was another matter entirely.
He’d just started to slip into a rather pleasant little dream about a veela when something landed on his chest. He opened one drowsy eye. It took a panicked moment to realize those feathers didn’t belong to a veela with PMT. Hedwig clicked her beak. “Oh, it’s you. Hello, there.” She stuck out her leg so he could untie the note and hopped down next to the rusty pan they’d put out catch that ever-present trickle of water coming off the flaking stone walls. Sirius still hadn’t a clue where it came from. While Hedwig peered disdainfully at the contents, he unrolled the letter.
What are you doing tomorrow? That’s Monday the sixth, just in case. If you’re free I was wondering if maybe you’d like to come for a visit. I’ve, erm, got something to tell you and I’d kind of like to do it in person. Don’t worry, it’s nothing to get panicky over. It’s just, well, kinda big.
That’s really all for now. I don’t suppose you could pick me up some Chocolate Frogs, and a new tin of broomstick polish? Madam Hooch won’t let me near hers since I dropped it. The polish, I mean, not the frogs. Oh, and mind the main steps – they’re still pretty slippery.
Tell Professor Lupin I said hi. Do you want me to sneak you some more food?
Well. Something big and important that Harry wanted to tell him in person? A slow, sly smile spread over Sirius’ face; pride made his chest feel about three times its size. I wonder what her name is? He hadn’t gotten the chance to visit Harry since May – that birthday present was taking up most of his time – and they’d only gotten to exchange a few owls. This explained the air of secrecy his letters had of late. And their infrequency – Sirius certainly had better things than parchment on his mind when he was seventeen.
He whistled sharply. “Moony!”
Remus stirred. He opened one eye the gold-shot colour of Firewhiskey. “Hmm?”
“The house has finished burning down and we’re going out to eat?”
Sirius made a face at him. He felt like giggling. “Harry’s got a girlfriend!”
Remus’ gentle, gently creased face widened in a smile. “Oh, I’m so glad. After everything he’s gone through he deserves someone.” Sirius hauled himself up on a cracked, grey banister and dragged Lupin to his feet.
“I think this calls for the Happy Dumpling.”
“Oh, good! Sheng’s been wanting to test out some new recipes on us.” Sirius raised an eyebrow. “Don’t worry, he said he’ll leave the tofu out of yours.”
“Ugh. Please?” Sixteen years as a dog had killed any taste Sirius may have had for bean curd. Not that he’d had any to begin with. He left that sort of thing to Moony. “Honestly, I don’t see how you can even put that stuff in your mouth…”
The warm, happy feeling lasted well through Mushu Pork and into the following day. Remus opted to stay in Hogsmeade and catch up with Rosmerta (in other words, do some heavy-duty flirting over Butterbeer). Sirius left him to it. He’d picked up the extra-large box of Chocolate Frogs for Harry, and two tins of broomstick polish.
It occurred to him on his walk to the castle that Harry wouldn’t have had that many opportunities to meet someone. Of course, it might have been going on for a while. He sorted through a list of girls Harry had mentioned. Not Hermione – she and Ron were getting married in less than a week. Despite Harry and Ron’s break he didn’t think his godson would go that far. Ginny Weasley? Maybe. She was even taller than Sirius, but she’d turned into an extremely attractive young lady. It had been a while since he’d mentioned that Cho girl, but owls weren’t out of the question. Sirius suddenly remembered something Harry had told him about once; he wondered how many times that slimeball Snape had flushed them out of the rosebushes.
Harry was in the lake when he arrived. “Giddyup!” The hippocampus shot across the surface, Harry’s bare arms wrapped around its neck. It dragged him along in a shifting white spray. “Gee!” It curved sharply to the right. Sirius nodded to Hagrid, who was watching with an enormous hand shielding his eyes from the unrelenting sun, and followed Harry’s irregular path. He was surprisingly good. Sirius had seen better, but for someone more suited to Quidditch than equestrianism he was holding up.
“Mornin’, Mister Black.”
“Harry mentioned ye were comin’.” There was an uneasy edge in Hagrid’s voice. “Professor Lupin not with ye?”
“He’s chatting up Rosmerta.”
Hagrid chuckled. Like his voice, it was a bit strained. “Aye, she’s a dear lass. Not hard on the eyes, neither.” He stuck two fingers like tree branches in his mouth and whistled. “Bring ‘im in, Harry. Ye got company.” Harry actually heard him over the loud splashing of the hippocampus’ legs. He turned the creature towards the netted paddock, unhooked a section of rope spotted with red bobbers, and drove it inside where it immediately nuzzled another of the five or six creatures and ripped up a mouthful of seaweed. Sirius smirked – love was certainly in the air.
Harry sloshed out of the water. His swim trunks were so sodden they were loose. He grinned. “Hey, Sirius!”
“Hey, Harry.” Harry shook water out of his hair and picked up his wand and glasses from on top of his carefully folded robe. A quick mutter and he was dry. Wind tugged at his shiny cowlicks. The girls must be all over him. That bird of his has quite the list of enemies. He tugged the baggy robe over his head and hurried up from shore while he did up the buttons. Sirius caught him in a hug. “So, what’s this news you’ve got for me?”
Hagrid coughed. Sirius looked up and was a bit puzzled to find that he’d gone rather a worrying shade of red. Harry looked at him. “Go on, I’ve got ‘em from here.”
“Thanks, Hagrid.” He nodded towards the castle. Sirius followed. Harry’s face was a bit drawn. That wasn’t a good sign. “Um… I’ve met someone.” He sounded a little nervous.
Sirius forced a grin. “Brilliant! What’s her name?” He was met with silence. Harry’s eyes had gone a little wide. Sirius blinked suspiciously. “Harry… she’s not pregnant, is she?”
“Oh, no. I can guarantee that he’s not pregnant.” The light tan was overtaken by a wash of pink.
“Um… say that again?” Sirius wasn’t quite sure his brain was working properly. Harry had only ever mentioned girls before. Surely, he couldn’t have just said “he”.
“Erm… I’ve met someone, and, um, it’s a bloke.” He glanced up. His vivid green eyes were wide, and darkened by nerves. Those round glasses made him look even more startled than usual. He hunched a little, hiding between his shoulders.
“Oh.” Sirius felt a little dizzy. Something tried to crawl up his throat. It wasn’t out of disgust – he’d had gay friends before, Peter for one, and it had never bothered him. It was more… disappointment. It felt like a wedge had been driven between them; he’d never felt… that… for any other man, and he wasn’t sure how to associate. If Harry had problems, he wasn’t sure if he could help him through. “That’s… okay.” He scratched his nose. “Um, who is it?”
“Oh, just someone.”
“Anyone I know?” The cool shadows of the castle were coming closer, thankfully. The sun felt far too hot through his pine green robe. Harry suddenly appeared quite interested in a passing cloud.
“… Yeah…” Before Sirius could ask who, Harry grabbed his arm and dragged him towards the doors. “I’m hungry.” Sirius was too far lost in thought to protest as he was dragged to the kitchens.
Honestly, the last thing he’d expected to hear was that it was another boy. It couldn’t be Ron (they weren’t talking anyway, and Hermione didn’t seem the type to stand for it). Neville Longbottom was too ridiculous to think of, and Dean Thomas was attached at the hip to Padma Patil. Seamus Finnigan? Maybe. Although, for the life of him, Sirius couldn’t have said why. His lip curled at the sudden thought that it might be a teacher—
Oh, for fuck’s sake, no. Not a chance in Hell. Who was he going to be with? Hagrid? Flitwick? Might as well round out the insanity with Dumbledore. That seemed about as likely as Azkaban suddenly becoming a holiday camp. The only other male teachers were Castrus, and the Muggle Studies teacher, Hornsby. Castrus was married, and Hornsby was a hundred years old. Really, that only left… He shuddered, and mentally smacked himself for even thinking such a thing.
A cloud of house-elves swarmed around them in the kitchen. Lovely savoury smells filled the air and Sirius nearly drooled. He and Remus had been living on peanut butter for months – he was barely competent with cookery himself. “Is there anything Minky can be getting you, sirs?” The insane little elf grinned from out the oversized balaclava he’d hooked under his chin. His ears stuck through two ragged cuts in the fabric. Dobby’s influence was starting to take hold.
“Hey, Minky,” Harry said pleasantly. “Don’t suppose lunch is ready?” Minky nodded eagerly and motioned towards a table in front of the fireplace. Several other elves hurried to set two places and load it up with food. “Um… any chance I could get you to go fetch…?”
Minky glanced between Sirius and Harry. “Is you sure, Mister Harry Potter, sir? I is not thinking that is a good idea…”
“I’m sure.” Minky cast one last worried glance and hurried out the door. Harry plopped down on a well-worn chair and had finished most of a jug of pumpkin juice before Sirius was properly settled.
“Hey, slow down, you’ll make yourself sick.” Harry gave him a crooked smile.
“Sorry, just a little nervous.” Unsettled silence passed between them. Harry dumped chips on his plate and doused them with too much vinegar. “So…”
“How’ve you been?”
“As well as can be expected. Remus set the ceiling on fire last night.”
Harry giggled a bit too shrilly. “What was he making?”
“Boiled eggs.” The silence took over again. The pit of Sirius’ stomach started to dissolve in a churn of acid. It was the same feeling he got right before he found James and Lily. Not as powerful – that had left him doubled over – but there nonetheless. “So—“
He never finished the question he wasn’t sure how to ask. The fireplace flashed and a lanky, sneering figure in black tumbled out. He kept his feet but staggered. A thin, ugly hand beat at his long arm, sending up a dark cloud of soot. “I hope, for your sake, that this is important. I was just in the middle of—“ Snape’s eyes found Sirius and narrowed sharply. “What’s he doing here?”
“What the—?” Oh, no. Oh, lord, James, he’s done it this time. Sirius’ tongue felt like it had been painted over with glue as he looked rapidly back and forth between his godson and his worst enemy. Harry hunched over; he looked supremely guilty. Snape’s black eyes never left Sirius. A white skunk stripe ran back from his hairline. He took two slow, predatory steps towards the table, raised his hand to strike—
And let it settle protectively on Harry’s curved shoulder. “Hey, Sev,” Harry mumbled.
Snape didn’t answer. He just watched venomously as Sirius staggered to his feet and tried to pull himself to his full height. Snape was still taller by a good four inches or more. The acid rushed up Sirius’ tight throat. He walked around the table, not quite willing to believe what he was seeing. It was chance. Snape was just coming down for lunch, he was still dizzy from the Floo, he happened to lean on Harry. Harry reached up to clutch the stained hand on his shoulder and with that simple movement the first thread of Sirius’ disbelief snapped. A rapid, violent series of pings went through his psyche and the whole weft and warp of everything he’d known about his godson came hopelessly crashing down. “You…”
Snape’s nose made a satisfying crunch. Red drops spattered his face, Sirius’ fist, made small sounds on the stone floor. Snape gurgled; his hands flew to his face and he fell on his scrawny arse. “Sirius!” Harry only took a moment to look at him in shock before he was on his knees. “Let me see.” Sirius turned and stalked out, but until the picture closed behind him he could still hear Snape’s enraged, wet noises and Harry’s high-pitched, “Oh, shit, I think it’s broken. Just… just stay calm. We’ll get you sorted, you greasy bastard…”
The cigarette hung from his lip. Occasionally, Sirius took a long, slow drag off it. In the sweet tobacco flavour filtered through the butt he imagined he could taste nicotine. It was a distant memory, but a pleasant one, and almost made up for the fact the thing was unlit.
The first thing he’d done upon being cleared was go to the nearest Muggle cornershop and buy a pack of Marlboros. They’d lived, wrapped, in his pocket ever since. Sirius hadn’t had a fag since he was arrested and felt it a matter of personal pride to keep them so close without ever touching one. Absently, he reached for his wand and was about to light it when he realised what he was doing. He yanked it from his lips, stuffed it back in the pack, and shoved the whole mess in his pocket. There would be penguins living in the Sahara before he let Severus Snape drive him back to that habit.
The sun was hot against his back. It didn’t matter, though. Sirius stared down from the top of the Quidditch bleachers. He’d turned backwards, letting his legs dangle into nothingness. Far beyond, the lake glittered blindingly. The area behind his eyes had long since started to throb. With a sigh, he folded his hands on the safety rail in front of him and rest his chin there. “I’m sorry, James,” he whispered to nobody in particular. “I’m so, so sorry.”
The nineteenth step had been creaky in his day, and it creaked again several feet behind him. Footsteps came closer and stopped. “It’s broken, you know.”
God, what I’d give for a cigarette. “Serves him right.”
“Sirius…” Harry sighed heavily. “This is exactly why I didn’t tell you sooner.” He plopped down next to his godfather and copied his disheartened stance. Wide eyes caught him from behind circles of glass, and the hurt in them made Sirius’ heart stop for an instant.
“I’m about half surprised you told me at all,” he said softly. “You don’t know what you’ve gotten yourself into, Harry.”
“Yeah, I do.”
“Just tell me you haven’t slept with him.” Silence. “For Christ’s sake.” He pressed his forehead against the backs of his hands. His heart was sucked into a void; its space hung there, trying to beat, but barely managing a feeble lurch. He moved his head just enough to look down and, for a few moments, the urge to jump made for a very pleasant prospect indeed. “You don’t know what kind of a monster he is.”
“Sev’s not a monster.”
Sirius’ spine prickled. “Don’t call him that.”
He shuddered in full at the familiarity. “Can’t you stick to ‘Snape’ or something?” Sirius looked at his charge, ear pressed against his wrist. “I mean, Hell, have some respect for your elders! Your extreme elders.”
Harry gave him a thoroughly exasperated look. “He’s only thirty-nine.”
“And you’re seventeen. I mean, my god, Harry, I don’t even think that’s legal! You’re throwing your life away for a man who could be—who’s old enough to be your father!”
“I’m not throwing anything away!” Those green eyes narrowed, and Sirius was reminded of sweet little Lily’s whip-crack temper.
“How much do you even know about him?”
Harry shrugged. “What does that have to do with anything?” Sirius rubbed his eyes.
“Sometimes, I think to myself how grown up you are, and sometimes I wonder how anyone could be so immature.”
“Hey, at least I don’t go around breaking people’s noses!”
“Yeah, you just jump into bed with them instead!” Sirius bit his tongue. His aching head went hollow when Harry flinched, eyebrows raised in disbelief, and started to get up.
“Sorry. I won’t bother you anymore.”
“Harry, sit down.” He didn’t move. “I’m sorry. I’m just upset. Today’s come as a bit of a shock.” He breathed slowly. Every molecule razed the inside of his lungs and the encompassing pain brought him back to reason. Tentatively, skittishly, Harry sat down again, legs crossed under him, a few inches further away than he’d been before. Sirius frowned. “I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed.”
“It’s not like we planned it. Geez… I mean, until April I couldn’t stand the slimy git.”
“That’s when it started?” Harry nodded and shoved the hair off his forehead. His scar had gone back to normal – last time Sirius had seen him it was still swollen with Voldemort’s lingering rage. “Well. At least he won’t be teaching anymore. When’s he leaving?”
“He’s not.” Sirius’ head snapped up.
“He’s not leaving. The school governors are still trying to decide what to do.”
“Surely…” Sirius stared at the lake. “Albus hasn’t fired him?”
“Why would he do that? It’s not like we did anything important, like kill Voldemort.”
“He didn’t have anything to do with that.” Harry’s eyes narrowed. Sirius clenched his jaw. “You can’t tell me that you’re giving him credit for what you did.”
“No,” Harry snapped. Sirius’ stomach relaxed. “He’s the one who did all the work. All I did was cast a stupid spell!”
“Harry, don’t say that.”
“Why not? It’s the truth.”
Sirius stared into those green, green eyes dancing with angry sparks. He looked more like Lily than James when his temper was off the leash. As calmly as he could, as if Harry were five years old, he said, “He’s a Death Eater. He wouldn’t do that.” He knew perfectly well it wasn’t true, but there was no better way to explain that Snape simply couldn’t do anything that noble.
Harry stormed to his feet and ran down the steps two at a time. Sirius groaned softly and followed him. He caught up just short of the castle. “Leave me alone.”
“No. I’m your godfather, and I have to take some responsibility for you. That includes keeping you from handing your laurels—“
Harry whirled and planted a hand in Sirius’ chest. “Goddammit, will you just listen to me for one fucking minute? They weren’t mine to begin with!” His back rose and fell far too much for his height. His cheeks were crimson, and his free hand clutched into a fist. Sirius scowled.
“Go on, then.” He wasn’t entirely sure he wanted to hear this.
“Where was Voldemort supposed to strike?”
“Most people thought it might be the Ministry—“
“And where did he strike?”
“And who do you think spent a month figuring that out, then risked his life to warn us that Voldemort was less than half an hour from killing us all?”
Sirius’ mouth was dry. He couldn’t get his head around the concept that Snape, the arrogant, sadistic, paedophilic(!) bastard who’d given his life over to pure evil, had… well, done anything besides hide behind that fucking mask like a coward. “Harry, I think you should get out of the sun—“
“Can’t you just get over your stupid grudge for five minutes?” Harry’s lips were set, his scowl deep and a little hurt. “I mean, which one of us is supposed to be the adult here?”
It cut deep. Sirius dug his nails into his palm to keep from shouting. “I don’t understand why you’d want to give your achievements over to—“
“If you’re not going to listen, fine. I’ve got things to do.” He slunk off, slouched, hands shoved deep in his pockets. Sirius rubbed his eyes. A hollow place ran from his throat to his gut.
“Harry, wait. I’m sorry.”
Clouded green eyes narrowed back at him. “Really.”
They stared at each other for a long minute. Harry turned away first. “I need to check on Sev. You can come with if you want, I don’t care.” Sirius went with him, more out of a desire to make sure nothing harmful came his way than out of guilt. He tried asking about… other… things; Harry responded with monosyllabic grunts. He led Sirus deep into the cool and dank of the dungeons. It struck him as far too appropriate that the Slytherin piece of refuse should be down there; it was exactly like him, really: all ominous shadows and sickly shifty light and walls that looked like they were dripping with slime. He felt an unspoken prayer build in his craw: Please, oh, please don’t let it last to Christmas. To tomorrow, more like, but from Harry’s reaction that didn’t seem likely.
Harry waved his wand over the doorknob to what must be Snape’s office. Sirius felt a little sick when he was led into the green-and-silver anteroom of what could only be his quarters. “Y’in here, Sev?”
“No thanks to that psychopath your idiot father left in charge of your dubious well-being.” Snape’s voice was a bit muffled. Sirius’ lip curled.
“I heard that.”
“Harry, get rid of that mongrel. We don’t want fleas in the bed, do we?” Sirius made a noise of disgust; a thin, stuffy chuckle met his ears.
“Sorry, he followed me home.” Harry glared at his godfather. He seemed totally oblivious to the raze of pain in Sirius’ chest that must have shown on his face. “Be nice,” he hissed. “He’s only been out of the hospital wing a couple of days as it is.”
“Why was he in the hospital wing?”
“You’d be, too, if the Death Eaters beat the living shit out of you and dumped you in Hogsmeade to die.” Harry stormed stiffly through the doorway that must (Sirius realised with that acid feeling in his stomach again) lead to the bedroom. The searing pain only increased when he saw how much Harry suddenly relaxed in Snape’s presence. He bent and kissed the bastard square on the lips. Sirius’ eye twitched. “How’re you doin’?”
“I’ll live.” Desolating black eyes glanced towards Sirius and narrowed in silent challenge. It was quite heartwarming to see that gargantuan nose red as cherries and swollen to twice its normal size. Snape closed the enormous book in his hands and set it in his lap. The spine read, The Poetry of Healing. Sirius remembered having to read it his seventh year – it was okay, as Potions books went. He remembered sniggering with James that the writer sounded exactly like Snape. They’d even kicked around the joke that Snape and that Westin (was it Westin or Westing?) person were related until they realised that Snape seemed to like the idea. Hell, the notion almost seemed to make him proud. “What are you still doing here, Black? Despite the size of my nose I’ve only got one.”
“Just looking out for Harry’s best interest. I wouldn’t be much of a godfather if I let him be molested by the whole of Slytherin, would I?” For a moment he thought that book was going to rip through the air like a well-aimed Bludger. Snape scowled and set it back in his lap, long fingers gently caressing the cover. A lump of nausea rose with the acid. Sick pervert. Leave it to Snape to masturbate a book.
“I think I can look out for myself, thanks.” Harry was kneeling in front of Snape’s chair by the fire. In the dim, windowless room he looked nearly as pale as the slimeball himself. His hand came to rest on that long, yellowish one; stained fingers grasped it. Sirius stared. His back felt stiff and kinked and tense with granite muscle. Harry looked up at Snape. “Can I get you anything?”
“A collar and choke chain come to mind.”
“I’m perfectly content to suffer without your help.” Harry growled low in his throat, but he leaned up and kissed the son of a bitch again. Sirius had to look away about three seconds in. God, the only other people he’d seen kiss like that were James and Lily: slow, careful, and reverent. It wasn’t decent. There was no allowable way a prick like Snape should be that hap—he caught himself. Sirius felt the blood drain from his skin. His hands trembled and he stuffed them deep in his pockets. Frantically, he tried to shove away the concept that Harry could be as happy with Snape as Prongs had been with Lily.
It finally broke. He heard a soft, moist, staggered parting pop – a reluctant noise if he’d ever heard one – and Harry murmured, “Gonna be okay on your own for a while? I’ve got some stuff I need to get done.”
“Hmm. If you’re really that eager to get away from me—“
“Shut up. Greasy bastard.”
They might as well have just come out and said it: I love you. Sirius walked out. He leaned against the frigid, rough-hewn wall, air wheezing through his clenching bronchial tubes. His folded arms did nothing to fight back the chill. Harry emerged a few moments later. His hair was ruffled. He arched an eyebrow. “Well?”
Harry rolled his eyes. He started shuffling up the corridor, deeper into the dungeons. Sirius followed, walking close to the wall – his knees were a little shaky. “You know, I think you’re jealous.”
Sirius scoffed. “And what, exactly, am I supposed to be jealous of? I can guarantee that Severus Snape is nowhere near the top of my list of people to shag—“
“Good. Because he’s mine and I’m not changing that for you or anyone else.” Not even Lily had been able to glare like that. The only person who compared was… Sirius shuddered. “Just because you can’t get a girlfriend—“
“Where do you come up with these things? I’m trying to keep you from getting hurt – which will happen, take my word for it.”
“Maybe I want to get hurt.”
Sirius looked at him strangely. Harry held himself straight, confident, resolute. He couldn’t figure out what happened to his godson to make him suddenly adore someone he’d spent most of a decade loathing. He was afraid to ask. “Well… when it happens you’re always welcome with us. For what it’s worth.”
Harry kept walking. He didn’t say anything for a minute. “Thanks.” It was terse, but Sirius relaxed a little anyway. He followed silently. Harry came to another room and once again muttered over the lock. It clicked, and he pushed the door open to reveal a small, cluttered, rather dark and foreboding office. With a flick of his wand the fireplace roared to life. “I’ve got something to do. If you want to stay you can.”
“Sure, whatever you want.” Harry snorted but said nothing as he went to a bookshelf and pulled out a dusty, thick tome. He flipped through rapidly. His lips moved silently as he read. He looked nervous.
“Um… were you any good at Potions?”
“Third in my year.” Right behind Snape and James. “Why?”
“No real reason. His birthday’s tomorrow and I want to make him something.” A slew of vicious comments about what to make, and congealing rage that Harry was about to be sleeping with a forty year old, filled his brain. Sirius kept quiet, though. He didn’t have to like what he saw, he didn’t have to take any crap from Snape, but for Harry’s sake he’d do better to keep his mouth shut for now. The boy would have to work out his error for himself. Clearing a small area on the cluttered desk, Harry set the book down and frowned over it. The formula was for Somnii Pergrati – an anti-nightmare potion, if he wasn’t mistaken. It was fairly advanced, but anyone who had passed seventh year Potions could make it with a little effort and patience.
Harry’s frown deepened. He rubbed his nose on his sleeve and grabbed a quill. Quickly, he scribbled down a list, turned to the shelves behind him, and eventually tracked down several ingredients. He repeated the process throughout various parts of the room, picking up a burner here and a cauldron there and comparing several stirring rods with a bewildered expression before settling on one. If the potion in question had been for anyone else, it would have been sweet. Sirius looked over the formula. There was something familiar about it; he couldn’t quite put his finger on what.
Harry carefully stunned and slit open a large, live nightcrawler. Tentatively, using a fine stylus, he picked out a long thread of worm gut and dropped it into the cauldron, followed immediately by large quantities of distilled water. Sirius nodded in approval. Harry glanced at him while he put the rest of the worm aside and picked up a knob of turmeric. He had good technique, Sirius noted as he pulped the root, but obviously had more passion for the gift than theory. Rather like Sirius, come to think of it. He’d slid by on brains, not love. James had a healthy dose of passion for brewing (which led to many a devious prank, mostly on a certain Slytherin), but he knew when enough was enough. Snape, on the other hand…
It clicked. Somnii Pergrati was, with one small difference, identical to Rosare. That was an odd coincidence – Rosare had been a favourite among giggly first year girls in his day for its remarkable ability to turn things violently, if temporarily, pink. Prongs made a mint brewing the stuff in their dorm until Professor McGonagall caught him at it. If he recalled correctly, it was never supposed to be ingested, but it wasn’t toxic. What was the side effect? Hell, what was the difference? He silently racked his brain.
Harry added the rest of the ingredients over the next half hour or more. His determination was admirable. He asked a couple of quick questions and, out of godfatherly duty, Sirius answered them correctly. The tension between them eased; Harry even managed to give him a smile. A minute or so into a long bout of slow stirring he shifted uncomfortably. Sirius looked at him, a little puzzled. A minute later, he shifted again, extreme discomfort on his face. “Need me to take over?”
“Please?” Harry looked utterly grateful as Sirius picked up in mid-stir; he did the Call Of Nature Shuffle out the door. It was a bit dull, staring into the nauseatingly orange liquid. The stuff belched and bubbled rudely. Suddenly, it hit him. A slow, wicked smile spread across his face. No, I can’t do that to Harry.
But he could most certainly do it to Snape.
Sirius fought with his conscience for a moment. In the end, though he knew he would hate himself for it, he gave in. It was the sort of prank James would think of – call it one last howdy-do from the Marauders.
Carefully, he pulled the pack of Marlboros out of his pocket with one hand. He unsheathed one, looked at the end with a little guilt and a great deal of impish glee, and tapped a few flakes of tobacco into the cauldron. It bubbled. He held his breath – if there was too much the liquid would turn pink. But, no, it remained orange. That was good for at least three or four days. Putting the cigarettes back in his pocket, he whistled innocently while he stirred.
Severus ground the heel of his hand against one crusty eye. For the life of him, he couldn’t remember what he’d dreamed the night before. Hell, he couldn’t remember dreaming. Well. Perhaps that was the best thing Harry’s Somnii Pergrati could have given him. After the nights he’d had lately, the fear searing his heart as the toxin did his brain, the unexpected gaps in his memory, Poppy’s unpleasant little birthday surprise, empty sleep was an intoxicating thought.
It had been quite touching, really, if a bit intimidating. He’d expected candy or maybe some ridiculous attempt at baking a cake. To fold back the carefully layered gold and purple tissue and find a special potion Harry had brewed just for him actually brought a smile to his hard lips. The only other person to ever pour over a cauldron just to make him happy had been Gran; in a way, he was more pleased with Harry’s attempt. The brat would have certainly been horrifically insulted had he refused to drink it – even if he’d said he wanted to keep it, a transparent excuse if there ever was one – and, so, the night of his fortieth birthday he swallowed his sanity along with the potion.
Harry was still sleeping quietly against his chest. For a moment he lingered, letting the tips of his fingers stroke lazy trails over short lashes, mussed eyebrows, puckered pink lips and the warm round surface of a cheek. Not that Harry would ever know; he shifted and muttered and Snape snapped his hand away. Harry settled back into sleep. As always, he looked peaceful, and when he’d come to rest he was snuggled even closer than before. It took rather a lot of effort to leave him to it.
The clock insisted it was nearly seven in the morning. It felt earlier. Snape eased himself from Harry’s grip and staggered, bare and blind, into the bathroom. He didn’t even bother to open his eyes while he cleared himself of his kidneys’ nightly work. Just as blindly, he stuck his hands under the warm faucet. In a moment he filled the basin halfway. Cool water broke through the crust on his lashes and he was finally able to face his reflection for the day.
What he found was, to say the least, unexpected.
Severus gaped. Some dim part of him insisted that this was the “very pleasant” dream promised by the potion, gone horribly wrong. He rubbed his eyes hard and looked again.
His hair was still pink.
All of it.
His head dripped with knotted pink strings too vibrant to come from nature. One gaudy eyebrow habitually arched, and his eyelid twitched, making the pink fringe flutter. His chin and cheeks bristled with fluorescent stubble. Panic set in. The ciliate hairs covering his whole body were no longer colourless, giving him the general air of a sunburn victim. He looked under his arms only to find the same dubious fate. The filamentous dusting on his forearms suffered as well and, swallowing hard, he let his gaze drift down. Oh, good god, no. “HARRY JAMES POTTER, GET IN HERE THIS INSTANT!”
There was a thump and a groan, and a thick rustling of blankets, and the bathroom door flew open. Harry’s bleary eyes were wide, and his glasses were cockeyed. “What’s wrong? Do I need to get Mad—“ his hands flew to his mouth. He started giggling – giggling – so hard he shook. Severus’ eyes narrowed. A sensation not unlike heartburn began to creep from his gut.
“So you think it’s funny to feed me Rosare under guise of Somnii Pergrati.”
Harry was still giggling. “What?”
Severus growled. He had half a mind to toss the little monster out on his arse. The very concept scooped out his chest. He couldn’t understand why Harry would do such a thing. It didn’t fit. It certainly hurt. “Why,” he asked in his softest voice (anything louder may have broken), “did you do that?”
The small, reddened hands dropped away from a very puzzled face. “Do what, Sev?” He looked a little scared. Severus blinked.
“That wasn’t Somnii Pergrati.” Absolute terror filled those green eyes.
“What was it?” His voice trembled, along with the fingers curled in front of his chin.
“What’s Rosare?” There was no way to deny the utter ingenuous shock on his face or in his awkward stance. Severus cursed himself for ever suspecting the bloody catamite.
“It’s a dye. As you can tell, it has some less than pleasant side effects. Tell me, were you smoking when you made it?”
“No. You know I don’t smoke.” Harry reached up tentatively to touch a matted lock of hair. He hesitated at the last moment. Severus didn’t flinch away. The small, broom-callused hand stroked it tenderly before parting through to cradle the back of his neck. He looked crushed. “I’m sorry, Sev. I really am.” He pushed back a tear as it soaked into his stubble. “It was an accident. I thought I’d done a good job. I didn’t stop stirring it or anything. I even got Sirius to watch it while I went to the bathroom.” Snape touched his cheek gently. Guilt turned his diaphragm to cement. Sirius Black smoked like a dragon – had, anyway – which more likely than not explained everything. Very funny. You just had to get one last word, didn’t you, Black?
“Which cauldron did you use?” he asked softly.
Harry swallowed. “Um… cast iron, I think. Standard size… I dunno, three or four? Was that the wrong one?” He looked mortified.
Severus shook his head. “No. I’d been boiling down tobacco leaves in that one to distill some fresh nicotine. I may not have cleaned it properly.” He prayed Harry would buy such an obvious lie.
“M’sorry. I didn’t mean to ruin your birthday.” Severus frowned and dragged the insolent wretch in for a hug.
“All things considered, a week of pink hair is a small price to pay for last night.” Harry giggled. Severus allowed himself a moment of relaxation and a small kiss before pushing the brat out at arm’s length. “Now fuck off so I can fix this. And you’re scrubbing out every single cauldron in the school.” To his relief, Harry smiled.
The bathroom door flew open. Dripping, naked, and polychromatic, Severus stormed out. His wet, clean hair clung to the back of his neck. He was grumbling under his breath. Harry watched warily from his chair, Quidditch Through The Ages shut on his finger, as Sev grabbed quill and ink, his robe, his wand, a pair of shorts, and slammed the door behind him. Angry muttering was followed by a ZAP and the stench of burning hair. Harry put the book aside and knocked gently on the door. “Are you okay in there?”
“Fine,” Snape snapped tersely. He went back to muttering. There was another ZAP, a growl of rage, and the clatter of a wand bouncing off the wall. “Oh, for the love of…” a sharp splat made Harry wonder what poor conjured creature just died. He tiptoed back to his chair, hid behind his book, and hoped fervently that he wasn’t in trouble.
Perhaps fifteen minutes later the door banged open and out stalked Severus, dressed. His hair was pulled back in a neat, tight, high ponytail, which bounced with every step. Harry couldn’t hide his smirk at the carefully placed ink that made his pinched eyebrows startlingly dark and his eyelashes a smudge. Without a word he flung the wardrobe open, threw Harry’s shoes and robe at him, yanked a shoebox from the top shelf, and flung it across the room to the unmade bed. He ripped the lid off and tossed out a dress robe with silver serpents on the collar (never worn, if the tag was any indication), two striped silver-and-green scarves, a cloak with a burn hole in the bum, a dark green robe Harry had seen him wear at Quidditch finals, and assorted shirts in various states of disrepair.
Finally, he seemed to find what he was looking for. Shoulder deep in the box, his look of frustration finally melted back to rage, and he pulled out a long, floppy hat. It was black, with big green crescent moons made of some shiny material stuck all over it. They twinkled cheerfully. It looked like something Dumbledore would wear. Sev’s teeth clenched as he fingered it. He tipped forward, dropped his ponytail into the hat, yanked it as far over his head as it would go, and stood up so the long silver tassel hung down to his bum. Pink peeked out at the back of his neck and in front of his half-smothered ears. Harry stared. Before he could giggle, though, Sev snapped, “What are you gawking at?”
“Um… I like your hat.” From the shade of red Severus turned under the pink, that wasn’t the right thing to say. He growled.
“We’re eating in the kitchen.” He left the pile of clothes on the floor and stomped out.
Sirius was just getting ready to Disapparate to Godric’s Hollow when the owl cuffed him in the head. “Ow! How’d you get in here?” Remus must be out back – he always left the door open. It landed and glared haughtily at him. It was black, and huge, with an enormous curved beak and some rather untidy feathers about its head. “Who in Hell sent you?” It just stuck out its leg and acted quite offended when he touched it. The thing flew off without a hoot. Rubbing his head, Sirius bit one end of the parchment and unrolled it with his free hand.
This is war.
While you’ve managed yet again to humiliate me, I must inform you that you’ve done nothing to damage the situation between a certain Harry Potter and myself. You’ll be pleased to know that the result of your little “prank” upset him greatly. As he seems to have some modicum of regard for you, I’ve chosen not to upset him further by telling him what kind of wretched, cruel, manipulative bastard his godfather is. Did it never occur to you that to sabotage something on which he worked very hard, not only to find but to make – in order to achieve your own selfish ends, I might add – would be most harmful to him? You’ve not changed in the slightest, Black. I would have thought twelve years in Azkaban might drive some conscience into you. Apparently, I was wrong.
Harry knows nothing about what really happened and I would prefer to keep it that way. You should have no difficulty going along with this charade when you know that, as far as Harry is aware, the folly was mine. Should this prove too much of a problem, I have no qualms about presenting you with my posterior so that you might press those flobberworms you call lips against it.
You might also be interested to know that Harry has no problems with my temporary change in appearance. He proved as much on the kitchen table, much to the disquiet of the house-elves. Twice. All that Quidditch has certainly given him a powerful set of lungs. Or perhaps that’s due to frequent… well. You certainly would know all about that. Too bad you couldn’t keep anyone’s interest for more than a night. Ten points to Slytherin, wouldn’t you say?
He crushed the note into a spiny ball and threw it hard at the fire. The tiny orange currents running through the paper writhed like dying snakes. Sirius’ hands clenched and unclenched. He wondered vaguely how difficult it would be to get Remus to the school for the next full moon. His eye twitched. If Snape wanted war, then war he was going to get.
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