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 @

The title of the story has been inspired by the following poem by Anthony Weir:


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 
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 5

By Acamar


They fell into a routine quickly, sharing the bed, eating meals together, talking about their school days or politics, and avoiding painful subjects. Severus would bring him his potion, pet him absent-mindedly when he transformed, and read aloud the latest idiocy the Ministry had cooked up. Sirius tried to make himself useful in small ways: he scrubbed cauldrons and containers that couldn't be cleaned magically, collected dust from the carpets with his wand to feed the Shadowdweller, or cleaned the tiny windows. He started writing down his reactions to the potion for Severus to include in his patent application and proposed silly names for the beneficial draught.

Several days after the classes started, Severus came back smelling strongly of cloves and hissing with fury.

"How can they get as far as the third year if they can't read and are apparently too dumb to just copy what their friends are doing!" he grumbled when Sirius sniffed him delicately and commented the cologne suited him. "And I thought Longbottom was the worst disaster a Potions teacher could face! I am being punished by Fortune for making such assumptions."

"Longbottom? Neville Longbottom?" Sirius asked curiously.

"Yes. Round face, long arms prone to sweeping delicate flasks to the floor..."

"... very blue eyes, determined hunch to his shoulders, great Herbologist?"

"You know him?" Snape stopped stripping and peered from under his robes, a tangled mass of hair falling into his eyes. He seemed surprised.

"He used to work with us. He could grow anything, within minutes. We'd start setting up a camp, and he'd surround it with magic-dampening and masking plants before we had finished. And he'd grow some fruits for lunch while he was at it, too. Horribly shy and kind of--happy to be of use, you know? No self-confidence at all. He got a nasty curse to his legs. I don't know what happened to him. I hope they gave him some kind of pension..." Suddenly, Sirius remembered something Lupin told him about Neville... and Snape. "Hey, wasn't he the vulture boy?"

"He was the vulture boy," Snape confirmed, grimacing. "I didn't know he had anything to do with the fighting. I'll check on him." He was putting on a set of leather robes that fit snugly to his chest and arms, flowing freely from hips in four wide straps.

"Kinky," Sirius observed, stifling laughter.

"Oh, ha." Snape glared at him tiredly. "It's dragon skin. I have Fifth-Years now, Hufflepuffs and Gryffindors. I shudder to think what this band of dunderheads will do with today's exercise. Precautions are necessary."


That night, Snape, with the faint smell of cloves still hanging around him, was squirming and tossing irritably in the bed. Sirius couldn't sleep himself. The weather had been unpleasant all day, the maddening drone of sleet against their windows sending his thoughts into a tailspin. He wanted to do something; anything that would occupy his mind and let him sleep.

"I'm bored," he complained. "I can't sleep."

"Mphhhft!" Severus replied, then turned around abruptly to lie on his back. "Neither can I." He gave Sirius a strange look and licked his lips. He looked flushed and mussed. Sweaty.

"Want to wank off?" Sirius suggested, responding instantly to that look on some visceral level.

"What? Black, I swear you are the most infantile man I've known. We aren't fourteen-year-old boys alone in their dormitory anymo--oh..." The first brush of Sirius' hand over his prick shut him up immediately.

After a few strokes Sirius drew up the thin cotton of Severus' night shirt and squeezed the naked flesh, enjoying the velveteen hardness under his fingers. He moved without hurry, cataloguing shape, size and texture, enjoying the warmth. A short while later, he felt Severus' hand creep under his own sleeping shirt and the thin, elegant digits started caressing him slowly. He groaned at the sensation and turned on his side to allow Severus better access. His own hand on Severus' prick sped up, reacting reflexively to the rise of his passion. Soon, the exquisite play of Snape's fingers on his own flesh flooded his mind with heat and had him gasping and coming. Severus wasn't long behind him, quiet and reserved, giving only the tiniest 'ohs'.

They fell asleep quickly, and Sirius had only enough time to notice that the bed indeed cleaned itself.


Severus wasn't in the bed when he woke up the next morning. Sirius washed and dressed quickly, thinking that the world looked so much better today. Last night's sleet had turned into fluffy white snow, and a smell of eggs and bacon was wafting from the study.

He followed the smell and fell freely into the ancient chair which groaned in loud protest. Snape, sitting stiffly on the other side of the table, watched him as he ate and drank greedily. He had a singularly haughty and supercilious look about him.

"What?" Sirius asked finally, swallowing a huge bite with difficulty.

Snape steepled his fingers and leaned forward slightly, regarding him like something that had the potential to become a particularly interesting potion ingredient.

"I don't understand you, Black," he said finally.

"'s all right. I don't understand myself, most of the time," Sirius mumbled through a mouthful of bacon. "What's eating you?"

Snape thinned his lips. "Let me try the blunt straightforwardness that you are so fond of. Why did you touch me last night?"

"Er," Sirius said, surprised. It was unexpected. He'd never really had to explain why--definitely not to another man. Women needed to talk; he had learned that--painfully--when he was a boy. But the thing with men was that you did what felt good and didn't dwell on feelings. He tried to think of something to say. 'I was bored, and it was more fun than watching the ceiling' wasn't a good option. "It felt good," he said finally, wondering what more reason you needed when you were Snape.

"Felt good." Snape repeated sarcastically, studying his fingernails intently. "And it wasn't, by any chance, your imaginative way of paying the rent?"

Cold rage shot through him immediately, blinding and choking. Fucker. Snotty, arrogant, amoral little piece of shit. He realised he was standing, towering over Snape, wanting to catch him by his robes and shake him until his head fell off. He banged his fists on the table instead. "I am not a WHORE, Snape, DO YOU HEAR ME?" Bang. "You disgraceful little... this is about payment for you? Haven't you ever heard of having fun with someone?" Suddenly, he felt like crying.

"I just wanted to make sure you knew it wasn't... required," Snape said very quietly, without raising his head.

Sirius felt his rage deflate, and he sat down again, exhausted. "Idiot," he grumbled.


They didn't talk about it anymore that day, and the silence was awkward and grating. But Severus did get in bed with him again, so at least Sirius didn't feel like utter shit for chasing him off to sleep in a chair again.

"I'm not used to having fun with someone," Snape said suddenly, lying stiffly on his half of the mattress.

Was he hearing an apology? Sirius decided to accept it. "I was. I miss it," he said. "Normal people need it, you know," he added bitterly, unable to persevere in his noble forgiveness for more than five seconds. And it wasn't like Snape hadn't reciprocated.

"You said you weren't... with Lupin."

"Yuck, no. Remus was like a brother. You don't do these things with brothers. In case you didn't know," he added unkindly.

"So who else, at school? If you didn't sleep with best friends, who were your primary choices of bedwarmers?"

Bedwarmers! He really was an idiot. Sirius wondered where saying 'I'm not talking to you' would get them, and decided to just let it be. It was Snape, after all. He didn't have normal perceptions.

"Fergus, Robson... the guys from the Quidditch team. But mostly girls. Peer pressure, you know."

"Your capability for finding comfort in casual contact with strangers is... intriguing," Snape observed in an artificially indifferent tone.

Sirius sat up in the bed and glared down on him. "I hope you are not talking about sex. I am not fond of shagging just anybody. Snakes! Severus, we've known each other for thirty years!" And he had wanted to do that for at least twenty five, came the surprising realisation. "You are anything but a stranger."

"I see." Snape was looking at him intently. "I'm glad to hear that."

So. "Do you want to? Again?" Sirius asked, trying to sound nonchalant.


Oh. Disappointment settled like a cold lump in his stomach.

"Not now. I have to get up early in the morning," Snape added suddenly. "Tomorrow night."

Did Severus' ears go slightly pink? Yes! Sirius felt himself rise again on the emotional swing. He smiled radiantly at Snape and flopped back on the bed. "Sure," he said, dispelling the light and putting his hands under his head. "Anytime."


Sirius slept in again, but this time Snape wasn't waiting for him in the study. There was one set of plates on the table, empty. As soon as he sat down in his chair, though, there was a loud pop and a house-elf appeared bearing a tray with enough food to sustain a small army. He--or was that a she?--it smiled widely upon seeing Sirius, giving the appearance of a watermelon that had suddenly cracked.

"Mister Severus Snape says Mister Sirius Black must eat everything!" The creature beamed at him, still smiling maniacally and nodding, long ears flapping around its head. "Sparky brought the best food for you! And there is more if you is hungry still, sir! Mister Sirius Black must not go around hungry, Mister Severus Snape says!" With that, the house-elf disappeared, and Sirius closed his mouth and shook himself, bewildered. The house-elves he remembered from Hogwarts were timid, unnoticed shadows hurrying about their jobs and never speaking a word. Perhaps they weren't allowed to talk to students, Sirius thought, tucking into his porridge.

As he finished eating, he noticed a folded note propped up on Severus' desk, with ‘BLACK’ written neatly on the top. He sent the dishes back to the kitchen with a flick of his wand and unfolded the note, sitting back to read it.


I believe I owe you an apology. My lack of conversational finesse may have left you with the impression I condemned your morals as lax. That was not my intention. I felt that you might have misunderstood the fact that I registered you at Hogwarts as my partner. It occurred to me only yesterday that you might have interpreted it as a suggestion of how I wanted you to proceed. That was not the case. I was not been trying to use you.

Well, well, well. An apology. Sirius tapped his lips absently with his finger. The last sentence in the paragraph was underlined. Of course, that slinky bastard assumed he'd think the worst of him. He read on.

Now that I understand, however, that your actions have stemmed from completely different reasons, I am concerned. Your prolonged isolation in the dungeon, with only myself as a company, must have had an adverse effect on you. The sudden affinity you feel towards the person who fed you, washed you and brought you necessary potions may well be a side-effect of this isolation. I'm afraid you might eventually fall into the same trap as I did, avoiding leaving the dungeons to go into the outside world.

I've left warm robes and a coat for you in the wardrobe. If you feel strong enough, I suggest you go to visit Hagrid. We'll meet again at dinner.

Sirius sat pondering for a while. Then he grabbed a pen and parchment.

Dear Severus,

I appreciate your concerns. Your nobility is breath-taking. Let me make my own suggestion: why don't you take your paranoia and stuff it up your Slytherin arse, you twisted little punk? Nobody's using anybody here. I stroke you and you stroke me, how hard is that to get? It's not payment, it's not hostage complex, it's not exploitation. It's about our mutual pleasure. If you don't want me to talk about it, say so, and I'll shut up. It'd be a pity, though.

PS. And it's not sudden.


Sirius got dressed, warily regarding the winter robes Snape had prepared for him. They seemed sturdy, and there were no snakes embroidered upon them, so he guessed they were all right. The heavy, black cloak with a spacious hood made him feel sheltered and armoured against the world.

Adding the clothes to the mental list of his debts, he set out. Regardless of Snape's concerns, he really needed to get some exercise. His legs were itching for a good long run; he hadn't felt this much energy in years.

Cloaked and hooded, he quickly moved to the kitchen exit, trying not to attract attention--a habit he had started to see as part of his nature now.

"Sirius, dear boy!"

Albus Dumbledore was waiting for him by the kitchens, smiling and looking the same as he always did--a beacon of constancy in the crazy world around them.

"Um. Hello, Headmaster," Sirius said, feeling vaguely like a boy sneaking out of school and getting caught. He removed the hood and smiled at Dumbledore.

"I'm happy to see you up. I see Severus has been taking good care of you. How are you feeling?"

"Better," Sirius said succinctly. He wondered whether Snape had told Dumbledore about his... problem or whether the old wizard simply knew everything that went on at Hogwarts, as usual.

"Severus has been very secretive about his visitor." Was Dumbledore reading his mind? "It's good to have you back, my boy. We've been concerned about your disappearance, especially given current... highly irrational attitudes in the wizarding world."

"Severus has been giving me a special potion he developed," Sirius explained.

"That potion?" Dumbledore frowned and looked at him with concern. "Yes... of course. I berate myself for not having thought of it sooner. Is the potion working?"

"Yes, very well." So he hadn't known everything, after all. Sirius relaxed. Dumbledore was only human. "I'm feeling calmer and stronger. Severus told me about his own experiences and it helped."

"That boy should put his potion on the market as soon as possible," Dumbledore said, still looking unhappy. "We need it even more now than after the last war. Quite a few of our students could use it, in fact."

That reminded Sirius of something. "Headmaster--do you know what happened to Neville Longbottom? Last time I saw him he took a curse to his legs..."

"Ah, Neville. Yes. Shown his mettle, hasn't he? I'm afraid he hasn't regained feeling in his legs... He lives in his grandmother's house, I've been told. Do you believe he could use Severus' heartening potion?"

Heartening. Somehow, Sirius doubted Snape would ever agree to call his potion that. "I don't know--I haven't been in touch with him for so long... It's just that he's the same age as Harry," he said suddenly. "Children shouldn't have fought this war, Headmaster."

"None of you boys and girls should have," Dumbledore replied sadly. He looked old and tired for the briefest moment, but then he smiled again and his eyes twinkled. "But let us not dwell on the past. You were going to see Hagrid, I believe? Be careful in the Forest--we are having great numbers of visitors lately!"

Sirius acknowledged the advice with a nod and said goodbye, promising the Headmaster to stop by for tea sometime soon. He stepped outside, into the winter morning, and inhaled deeply. The crisp wind brought with it a smell of resin and snow from the woods and a hint of smoke from the kitchen chimney.

Freedom--to run as fast and as far as he wanted, to bark and roll in the snow, to not worry about what was appropriate and expected. Sirius looked around carefully to see if anybody was looking, and sank into his Animagus shape. Smells around him intensified, attained a direction, grew richer in texture. Tracks of leather shoes to his left; ice and mud from the lake; oil and turpentine from the broom closet at the Quidditch pitch. Somebody's half-eaten sandwich, thrown away into the snow.

He trotted to the sandwich, pulled by the instinct to investigate. Marmite. He thought so. Yeeecch. He shook himself and set off into a run, bounding forward, faster and faster. Snow crunched under the pads of his paws as they hit the ground rhythmically. The exhilarating sensation of the run reminded him of the first time he had transformed, when his new body was mysterious and efficient, and each sense worked better and fuller, and differently from his human ones.

Nearing the forest, he slowed down, slinking through the snowy undergrowth. He spotted a rabbit and engaged in a fast and furious chase with it. It outran him easily, much to his chagrin. I'm really turning into a lap-dog, he thought disgustedly as he trotted back in the direction of Hagrid's hut. He shook the snow off his fur and squeezed through Fang's flapdoor.

Fang--greyed, ancient and arthritic--greeted him with wheezing barks and whimpers. Sirius patiently suffered having his muzzle sniffed and licked, then he transformed.

"Sirius! Yeh've nearly give me a stroke!" Hagrid jumped out of his chair and crushed him in a bear hug. "When did yeh come?!"

"About three weeks ago," Sirius answered laughing. "It's great to see you again."

"Three weeks? And yeh only come now?" Hagrid looked hurt.

"I haven't been feeling well. I'm staying with Snape in his dungeon--haven't come out at all until today."

Hagrid urged Sirius to sit down and bustled around happily, brewing tea and making sandwiches, inquiring about his health and about why he was staying with Snape. Sirius talked freely for once, knowing that he didn't have to fear what Hagrid would think of him. He found himself confessing his newly discovered interest in Snape and the problems it caused.

"Ye've gone abou' it the wrong way," Hagrid said. "The Snapes, they've always been ol'-fashioned, the whole lot o' them."

"Did you know many Snapes?" Sirius asked curiously.

"Jus' his dad and uncle. His dad was 120 when he decided he wanted a son, yeh know. Meself, I don' mind a quick bang," he grinned broadly at Sirius' shocked expression, "but Severus, he's been brought up different."

"He thinks," Sirius said, "that he'd be using me."

"Well, with yeh being sick an’ all... and him growin' up with all those old-school Slytherins... all those blighters ever did was use un' another all the time. An' then..."

"Yeah," Sirius agreed miserably. "I guess being a spy for so many years gives him the right to be somewhat paranoid. Hell, he probably thinks I'm using him!"

"Nah. He knows yeh aren't, an' that's what's makin' him all jumpy." Sirius only sighed in response. People, he decided, were too complicated.

Later, they talked about the situation in the Forest and how Sirius could help. Hagrid invited him to stay for lunch, but Sirius wanted to get back home and change his unfortunate note before Snape returned.

He snuck into one of the school's greenhouses on his way back and obtained a single pink rosebud. That had to be old-fashioned enough, didn't it?

As it turned out, he was too late. His note was already gone, replaced by another letter from Snape.


I have to admit your simplistic vision of human relationships holds a certain appeal. Rest assured that I'm not trying to deter you. I am, however, trying to make it absolutely clear that I won't accept any regrets and grudges when your sanity--or what passes for it--returns.

PS. Not sudden doesn't equal three days.

Sirius chewed absent-mindedly on the rose's stem and thought about it. Severus Snape's Sex Disclaimer: We Don't Accept Refunds. What now?


I'm happy to see we are getting somewhere. I'll see you tonight. We don't have to do anything you're uncomfortable with. I just enjoy your company.

PS. How about 25 years?

He found an envelope and put the note and the rosebud inside. Then he set out to look for an owl to deliver his letter to Severus as soon as possible. This weird form of conversation was starting to make him twitchy.


He barely had time to finish eating his lunch--delivered by the widely grinning Sparky--when one of the school owls returned with Severus' answer.

Black--I would really appreciate it if you ceased trying to embarrass me in public. I have little experience in explaining to the staff and students why there are rosebuds falling out of my mail at the lunch table.

Ow. That didn't work very well, did it? Sirius twisted the note in his hands uncertainly. He decided that there was no point trying to convey what he wanted to say to Severus in writing--better to wait and tell him in person.


When Severus returned home in the evening, Sirius looked up at him anxiously and said,

"Listen... I'm sorry about yesterday. I didn't really think when I touched you. It's just what I used to do when I was young. Just groping, you know. I didn't mean to get your knickers in a twist, and I shouldn't have pressed the issue." He had spent a couple of hours thinking it through and preparing the speech in his mind, but all the reasonable and measured words fled him now. He knew he was babbling, but couldn't help it.

"I did not get my knickers in a twist!," Snape bristled. "Does it mean you've changed your mind?" he added haughtily.

"No, I haven't changed my mind," Sirius replied warily. "I just wanted to explain that my casual behaviour wasn’t a sign of disrespect.”

"Hence the rosebud," Snape observed ironically.

"Er. Yes. Sorry about that, too." His lips twitched as he tried to repress a grin and then he noticed Snape was smirking as well. He gave up and laughed. "I wish I could have seen their faces!"

"Yes, they will definitely have something to talk about." Snape took off his formal clothing and changed into a pair of home robes, worn-out to softness. His thin hair, already greasy and lifeless, fell into his eyes and he swiped his hand through it reflexively. Sirius noticed he had dark circles under his eyes and a solidified twist of scorn to his mouth. "I thought McGonagall's eyes would quite literally pop out. Dumbledore, of course, was not surprised."

"I met him in the halls today," Sirius said. "He was waiting for me. Invited me for tea."

"That's horrible. I wouldn't want to be in your shoes," Snape said with feeling and Sirius laughed again. He was happy their old familiarity was returning. If he had ruined it all with his blunder...

"He said you should patent your potion soon. In fact, he mentioned there are a couple of kids at Hogwarts who could use it..."

"Absolutely out of the question!" Snape interrupted him vehemently. "It hasn't been tested on children. There are hundreds of factors that could affect the outcome, from weight and stature to puberty-induced changes in innate magic levels. I won't take the risk--I'm not a mediwizard."

"Calm down, I'm not going to insist you do--I guess Dumbledore just meant that you could release the formula already, so that they can test it and give it out to anyone who needs it. After all," he added. "It doesn't seem to need much more developing. It already works--I feel much better."

"Indeed, your progress has been very promising. I'm quite pleased with the results." Snape furrowed his brow, focussing on some unvoiced thought. "Did he mention which students? From what house?"

"Dumbledore? No, he just generally said it would be useful." Sirius remembered something else. "He calls it a Heartening Potion."

"I don't think so!" Snape said sourly. "It's my potion--it will not have a Gryffindorish name!"

So predictable. "You are so attached to it," Sirius said. "It's as if you had never invented any other potion."

"It's the work of my life," Snape replied seriously. "My greatest achievement."

"What about the Wolfsbane potion? That's quite an achievement, if you ask me."

Snape shrugged. "It doesn't cure anything. It just relieves symptoms. Besides, how many werewolves are there who could use it? And I've only improved an existing formula. Perhaps that's why I'm so reluctant to publish the results. Once I release it, there won't be anything else to do." He leaned back, closing his eyes.

"Tired?" Sirius asked quietly.

"Don't worry, Black, I haven't forgotten our date." Snape rolled his head until his vertebrae popped.

Date? "We don't have to. Really. We can go slowly about it, so that you are comfortable..." Evidently, it was not the right thing to say, because Snape opened his eyes and treated Sirius to a heavy glare.

"Stop the patronising attitude. I'm not some skittish maiden! If memory serves--I made you come first," he said with a smirk.

Oh, yeah?

"It is not a race," Sirius responded haughtily. "And we'll see who comes first tonight," he added, unable to resist the challenge.

"Let's have dinner first." Snape, still smirking infuriatingly, summoned the dishes from the kitchens. "You aren't eating enough."

"Not enough? I'm eating more than I can remember in a long time," Sirius grinned. "In fact, the last time I had three full meals a day was probably back at school."

"Still, your appetite doesn't seem healthy. You've made progress--yes--but you are still a shadow of yourself, Black." This time, there was not a hint of mockery in Snape's voice. "You are subdued, you don't talk much, you don't socialise... It's worrying in a person who used to talk the whole day long without a pause, and run around like a mad squirrel, making friends with anything that moved."

"Is that how you remember me?" Sirius was surprised.

"I remember the first time I saw you--on the Hogwarts Express, our first year ride." Snape smiled lopsidedly. "You were running from one end of the train to the other the entire time, talking and laughing."

"Yeah. All of it was so new and exciting, so many people around, new friends... a whole new school... " He thought back to his first year. The overwhelming joy of setting out to a boarding school, all on his own; the sense of adventure; new books, so many of them, smelling of fresh paper; new sets of robes--he had rarely worn robes before, and now he had three whole sets of them, tailored to fit. And, most of all, a wand! He was dying to try it out: on himself, on his newly-met friends, on their pets... Causing quite a number of nasty accidents in the process. "I must have been an irritating brat."

"I envied you the energy. And the--courage. You were a completely alien thing to me--wild, loud and unpredictable." Snape twisted his lips. "For you it was a great adventure; I considered it a trial. On that first ride, I was... wary. I had been told to expect hard work and strict discipline, and I was afraid I wouldn't prove fit. There were more people on the platform and train than I had seen in my life, and everybody was talking and laughing loudly. I felt crushed, and trodden over. And I was convinced school would be horrible." He smiled humourlessly. "A complete opposite of you."

"No wonder you resented me. Us."

"I wasn't resentful, at first, just... distrustful." Snape shrugged. "Later--well... For a child, it's easier to find someone he can blame for everything that's going wrong."

"Yeah. It goes both ways. Slytherins detest Gryffindors. Gryffindors hate Slytherins. But," he added with a grin, "we are going to make a breakthrough in that field."

"Oh, I think that particular method has already been covered... most recently, by Mr Potter and Mr Zabini..."

"What!" Sirius spluttered and coughed, sending around showers of breadcrumbs. "How do you know? Are you sure?"

"As sure as I can be, having personally deducted points from both houses, for wandering at night and immoral conduct, and for consorting with the opposing house, respectively... although Zabini tried to weasel out, claiming he was attempting to distract Potter before the upcoming Quidditch match." Snape's lips were twitching suspiciously. Sirius frowned.

Wait a minute... "You are making this up just to goad me! I can't believe I fell for that," he shook his head, bewildered.

"No, I'm not. Ask Potter if you don't believe me!" Snape was snickering openly now. He looked better, Sirius noticed--less tired, and not so tense.

"Come on," he said, grabbing Snape's hand and pulling him up. "Let's use that pent-up energy for something entertaining."

"Watching you splutter is very entertaining, Black, believe me," Snape countered, but he got up and moved to the bathroom. He stopped at the door and added, suddenly serious, "That's another thing about you that's worrying me. You stopped paying attention to insults. You don't yell, don't grab your wand and try to hex me, and don't even fight back most of the time. I'm not sure why."

Sirius rolled his eyes. "Well, you know, with you, it's impossible to yell every time you insult someone. You do that whenever you open your mouth. I just... got used to it, I guess."

"Used to it. I see."

"Besides," Sirius added maliciously, "not reacting to your sneering pisses you off." He laughed at Snape's outraged expression. "Oh, all right, I'll admit I like the banter. Satisfied now? Go on. Wash your hair!"

Snape disappeared in the bathroom. "I wash my hair every night, unlike some mangy curs!" he yelled over the gurgle of water filling the tub.

"Much good does it do, if it's all greasy again in the morning!" Sirius yelled back. Snape mumbled something unintelligible and probably offensive in response, and shut up.

Sirius made the bed with his wand and stood by it, suddenly shy. Damn Severus for making it so... personal. Thought-over. Analysed. He swallowed and tried to relax. Of course Severus needed to be analytical and cautious. That was who he was. He didn't ramble around shagging random men just because it felt right. And safe. And fascinating. And arousing.


He changed into a night shirt and waited for his turn in the bathroom.


Severus came out of the bathroom naked.

Sirius felt his breath hitch in his throat. It was... stunning. It wasn't as if he hadn't seen a naked man before--of course he had--but with Severus, the infinitely private, reserved Severus, this simple gesture became layered with meanings. Snape looked strange, fascinating, different. All the qualities that attracted Sirius to him converged suddenly to focus into that thin, pale body, full of sharp angles and shadowed planes. An imperfect carving, cut out harshly from ivory and dark night, Sirius thought and berated himself immediately. Who was the old-fashioned romantic here?

"If you are quite done staring, go and take a bath." Snape's cold, haughty voice was belied by the guarded expression on his face, which, Sirius already knew, was there to hide behind. He moved past Sirius to sit on the bed, carding his fingers through wet hair. An intriguing smell of herbs and something unidentifiable suffused him. "And stop sniffing me."

"Nice smell," Sirius said weakly. "What is it?"

"A potion." Did Severus fidget? No. Impossible.

"You don't say. What does it do?" His mind drifted towards forbidden, ancient rituals involving magical ointments and sex in the moonlight.

"Cleans my hair."

Oh. What did he wash it with normally, then? Soap?

"Usually, I use soap," Snape confirmed the suspicion, "but since you complained so loudly about the aesthetic effect..."

"It's... very nice. Thank you." He was close to fidgeting himself, now. Damned Snape was doing this to wrench control from him, undoubtedly. "I'll go and wash." He moved to the bathroom hurriedly.

"Black!" Snape's sharp voice stopped him before he could close the door. "Don't... There's no need-- I would rather we didn't do anything involving penetration," Snape finished awkwardly, staring straight at him with burning black eyes.

Sirius nodded and closed the door behind himself, very quietly. Shell-shocked, he undressed and sat in the bathtub. There were whole levels of things he didn't understand here; an abyss of personal darkness. A history of dark memories, of people who left their marks on the other man's soul. Sirius felt like a big, clumsy mutt, wagging its tail in a china shop full of delicate figurines. With a twinge of his heart, he realised that the years he had spent isolated, closed off in Azkaban, hadn’t flow unnoticed for others. There were... things... that had happened to Severus, things that had painfully carved this body and this soul into what they were now.

Someone had hurt him, he thought miserably. And he won't talk about it, won't tell me what happened, so I won't know how to avoid hurting him all over again.

"Are you trying to drown yourself in there, Black?" An irritated voice came from the other side of the door. "Do try to get clean before dawn, will you?"

The familiar sneering tone helped him regain some balance. He washed briskly, wadded the night shirt into a ball and left the bathroom, moving quickly to slide under covers.

"Don't over-think it," Snape cautioned caustically. "You could hurt yourself."

"Oh, shut up." Sirius scowled and squirmed in the bed, trying to get comfortable. Wet hair was clinging to his face and soaking the pillow. He should have dried it before getting in. "You make me feel like it's our wedding night," he confessed on an impulse.

Unexpectedly, Snape snorted with laugher. Fascinated, Sirius leaned forward to observe how the waves of mirth tore the sediments of history from Severus' face. Those ugly layers of betrayals and hurt that had scared Sirius so much just a while before now melted away, to reveal a fairer, more alluring facet of that mysterious man. Tentatively, he touched his lips to one sharp cheekbone.

"You are pretty when you laugh," he whispered.

Severus was settling down slowly, random snickers still tearing free. "You've forgotten to bring your brains from the bathroom, Black. The last thing I am is pretty."

"Handsome, then," Sirius acquiesced. And to forestall another protest, "All right then, un-ugly. There, satisfied?"

"I can live with that," Snape said amiably.

Sirius moved closer still and cradled Severus' head to his chest. "Can I kiss you?" he whispered quietly, resting his cheek on that sweet-smelling hair.

"Mmhhm. Do whatever you like. I'll stop you if I don't like something." The last words were mumbled into his chest.

He raked his fingers down Severus' back--sharp shoulder blades, sharp vertebrae, the softness of buttocks, sharpness of hips. Soft, delicate skin at the back of Severus' thighs. He moved his attention to the front side of Severus' body, sliding down his lover's chest. Licking a nipple, then tracing his lips through the slight hollow below the breastbone, down the hairless stomach, to the hardness of Severus' erection. His hands framed Severus' scrotum, thumb stroking delicately just behind the sac. Above, he heard a tiny gasp and Severus' whole body arched delicately towards him.

"Would you...?" Severus' voice was breathless.

Sirius bowed his head and kissed the erection, then licked softly around the head. Smell and taste filled him, his senses cataloguing greedily. This is Severus, he thought. The finest potion. He took the hardness into his mouth and sucked, exhilarated by the sounds Severus was trying to suppress. Licking and sucking, sliding his lips and tongue all over the hot flesh--no nips, he wouldn't like that-- taking as much as he could into his mouth. One of his hands crept down to stroke his own prick; the other was still massaging Severus' perineum.

Suddenly, he was being tugged up. "Wha--?" He emerged from under the cover, breathing heavily, to see Severus staring at him, the pale cheeks for once flushed with colour. "What's wrong?"

"Nothing...," Severus answered breathlessly, snaking his arm around Sirius' back and bringing them closer. "I don't like the thought of you coming all alone down there."

Sirius snorted with surprised laughter, then groaned when Severus brought their hips together, crushing and rubbing their pricks against each other. "Mmm... wand duel..." he murmured, licking Severus' ear. Bliss. He brought his hand down, stroking and touching, then felt Severus' cool fingers on his own erection, every movement milking the sweetness from his loins and sending tiny flickers of magic up his spine. Severus quickened his strokes, and of course it was a race, and he was losing, but he didn't care--!

He came, shuddering and groaning, clinging to his lover tightly. Severus bucked up several times, rubbing his prick between their sweat-slicked bellies, and then, freed from the constraints of competition, he came as well.

"...and who made who come first?" he said as soon as he regained his breath.

"Prick." Sirius stroked his hair and kissed his eyebrow affectionately. "Told you s'not a race..."

"You only say so 'cos you lost..." Severus whispered and fell asleep almost immediately. Sirius wanted to stay awake, to make the most of this elation coursing through his veins and the closeness and openness between them, but his eyelids felt heavy and he yawned helplessly, unable to fight sleep.

When he woke up briefly a few hours later, they were still cuddled close, like puppies in a basket.

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