Story summary: Set six years after the Goblet of Fire, and almost a year after Voldemort has been defeated. How has the wizarding society changed as the aftermath of the war? How are people coping with the world around them, and with the past? Why are Sirius Black and Severus Snape sleeping in one, four poster bed?
Thanks: My thanks go to Kalena, who suffered my outbursts of creativity patiently even though it wasn't her fandom, and who has been the most wonderful friend, cheerleader, and mentor. The story wouldn't have been written if it weren't for her.
The most wonderful beta readers: Thanks to Tracey for careful continuity check, well-thought suggestions, and detailed grammar and style help; to Emcee for British English help and a thorough grammar surgery; to Johanna for helpful pointers and canon watch; and to moj, who gave the story the first reading. As I'm not a native speaker of English, I needed a lot of help to weed out grammar, spelling and stylistic mistakes. There are undoubtedly many still left. If anything catches your eye, please let me know.
Feedback: If you read the story and liked it, or didn't like it, please let me know. It's the first story I've ever written--your feedback is very important to me. Contact me at thetaeridani @ yahoo.com
The title of the story has been inspired by the following poem by Anthony Weir:
My bones were formed by sorrow
And it's a cheerful and optimistic story, don't run away!
Shade More Than Man
Easter came and went uneventfully.
Much to Harry's disappointment, they had to cancel their trip to the countryside. After the auspicious beginning of the spring, the weather became atrocious. Drenching, cold rains or icy sleet discouraged them from venturing outside. As a result, Sirius had spent a weekend with Harry and Remus in front of their crackling fireplace.
He was actually somewhat relieved that he didn't have to face his Muggle family after twenty years of no contact. What was he supposed to say? 'I spent the whole time in prison as murderer though I wasn't guilty?' He didn't feel like admitting he'd been imprisoned at all. Guilty or not, it clung to you and dirtied you all the same.
Back in February, he had written a cautious letter to Derek, the cousin who had inherited the farm, inquiring about his health and not saying much about himself.
Derek had replied promptly, reporting that they were all right; that 'they' now meant him, his wife and his three children; that they thought cousin Stuart's youngest might be a witch; and giving dozens of other little facts that made Sirius feel a part of the family again. He hadn't asked questions about Sirius' past, apparently sensing that it was a touchy issue. In fact, Sirius reflected, Derek was probably the only member of his Muggle family to whom he would confide his past without feeling uncomfortable.
The ugly weather also had a more pleasant result: Sirius, not willing to go for long walks in his human form in such conditions, was spending most of his free time in the dungeon. Snape insisted that the confinement was making Sirius quirky, and took it upon himself to provide him with necessary stimulation.
Sirius was delighted by the changes in Severus. He seemed to be taking off his closed-off, forbidding and distant persona at the dungeon door now. He didn't shun casual touch, and Sirius no longer had to transform into a dog or demand to be washed to get some bodily comfort. They made love more often; to Sirius' surprise and sometimes exasperation, Snape turned out to find sex hilarious.
They spent more time laughing in bed than anywhere else, as if the large, ancient piece of furniture was another world where different rules were in force and where you could be a different person. As soon as they started treating sex less seriously, the initial problems with penetration and bad memories vanished into thin air. They found that they both liked it best side by side, with Sirius lying half atop Severus, and moving in languid, unhurried thrusts, or begging Severus to stop making him laugh because he was losing his rhythm. At other times, their lovemaking was quiet and intense, and they clung to each other afterwards, drawing comfort from the closeness until they fell asleep.
Severus didn't become any less sarcastic or cynical, but instead of resenting it, Sirius now found it humorous. He realised that their bickering might sound like vicious quarrel to the outside world. He also realised he wouldn't want it any other way. He couldn't imagine spending his life with someone patient, acquiescent and polite, or having to acquiesce to someone.
They had spent the last weekend of the spring break visiting Harry and Remus. Snape and Harry had to be separated to avoid nasty scenes; it was obvious that neither of them was willing to step down. As a result, Sirius had spent the evening talking with Harry, while Remus entertained Snape.
They had to get up early the next day. Sirius felt grouchy and became aware of a sentiment that lay buried at the bottom of his soul for more than twenty years: he didn't like Mondays. They ate breakfast quickly and in silence. Snape had to hurry to his classes. Sirius was badly needed in the Forbidden Forest; spring was the breeding season for many creatures and they were becoming aggressively territorial.
He missed dinner and came back home eleven hours later, once again exhausted, aching, covered in mud and bleeding from several bite wounds. One look at his lover convinced him that, unlikely as it sounded, Snape had had an even worse day. He was seething.
"That woman is utterly impossible! She's failed seven students from my house. Seven! Do you hear that? And I am supposed to be the partial, unfair teacher!" He was pacing back and forth angrily.
"I'm guessing you mean McGonagall?" There was only one female teacher Severus detested so much.
"Of course I mean McGonagall! Seven of my Slytherins had to retake the last test she gave. And she still failed three of them!"
"I believe you don't fail someone at a test; they fail it," Sirius said tiredly, wiping mud off his face.
"Oh, she's doing it on purpose! She was positively gloating during the staff meeting today! The Hufflepuffs were doing just as poorly, but she let them pass! Three students! You should have seen her, smiling like the cat that got the canary."
"I'm sure you'll fail as many Gryffindors," Sirius comforted him somewhat distractedly.
"I can't!" There was a depth of frustration in Snape's voice. "I've already let them all pass. Well, I teach those children what they need to know, whether they like it or not! Even the biggest dunces will get out of my class knowing what they are supposed to know by the syllabus."
He stopped suddenly and looked at Sirius. There was a strange glint in his eyes.
"You wanted to earn your keep, Black."
"You will tutor those children. You'll give them proper teaching, and it'll show that hag who's going to laugh last."
"Tutor them? Are you kidding?" Sirius was close to panic. He was supposed to teach? Alone against a bunch of Slytherins!
"No, I am not kidding. You told me yourself there are different approaches to teaching Transfiguration. Let's try yours."
Sirius thought about it for a while, peeling off the wet robes. "All right," he said finally. "I'll do it. But you have to promise you'll try to be nicer to Harry. For a week," he qualified hurriedly, seeing Snape's expression.
"Blackmail? Why, Black, I'm proud of you." Snape was smirking. "I can agree to that. One week."
"Yes. And no, it doesn't mean you can avoid seeing Harry for a week! I'll try to teach those kids of yours, but I can't promise there'll be results. I might not be able to help them at all."
"Just give it a try. Show them Transfiguration is not something inexplicable and overwhelming. You can do that. And," Snape looked thoughtful, "it'll be an excellent occasion for you to interact with people. You will like it, you'll see."
And so the next Thursday, Sirius had his first lessons with the three Slytherins.
Severus had procured an empty classroom for the tutoring--a disused, draughty, large room with bare walls and rows of squeaking, dusty, wooden tables. Sirius noticed with trepidation that his three students were already there, sitting as close to the door and as far from the blackboard as possible. Instead of climbing the pulpit, he took a chair and sat in the aisle, facing the two boys and a girl. They stared at him.
"Let us introduce ourselves first," Sirius said awkwardly. He swept his hair back to cover his embarrassment and smiled at his students with some effort. "My name is Sirius Black." It felt strange to be announcing his identity so brashly after years of hiding behind a parade of false names.
"Please tell me your names, which year you are in, and what kind of problems you have." He pointed to the youngest pupil, a small, sulking girl glaring at him with the air of a duchess made to suffer the presence of her inferior. She had pale yellow hair, a pale, plump, sallow face and pale green, bulging, gooseberry eyes that provoked thoughts of house-elf blood happening somewhere along her undoubtedly impressive lineage.
"Narine LeMarchant," she said, still scowling. Sirius wondered how long it would be before she became cross-eyed.
"First year, I guess?"
Narine nodded. When she volunteered no more information, Sirius sighed and looked at the next student. He had to forcibly remind himself not to stare at the child's unusual appearance, similar to that of some Muggles he had seen during his years as a fugitive. The boy had silver studs piercing his eyebrow and left nostril. He wore black eyeliner and black lipstick. Multiple rings decorated his fingers, and his fingernails had been inexpertly painted black. Sirius had no idea the fashion had become popular among wizarding children.
Noticing that the boy looked at him challengingly, Sirius gave what he hoped was a benevolent smile and asked for the child's name.
"Forrest Green, with double 'r' in Forrest," the boy supplied readily. "Third year."
Narine cackled unexpectedly. "His name is Eustace," she drawled.
"No, it's not! I can choose my own name, LeMarchant, I'm not a pet!"
"And he's a Mudblood," Narine continued with malicious glee.
Forrest, or possibly Eustace, flushed red and raised his chin arrogantly. "I'm Muggle-born. So was Voldemort!" he finished defiantly.
"Idiot," the third of Sirius' students said, shaking his head with disgust.
"He was not! " Narine yelled. "Only a stupid Muggle would say that!"
"Yes he was! And he still turned out to be the most powerful wizard in the world!"
"Will you both shut up?" the third kid mumbled, gesturing his head towards Sirius.
Narine and Forrest fell silent, and all three students looked at Sirius expectantly. With an inner groan, he realised he was being tested. Should he berate them for speaking of Voldemort? Gloss over the argument and move on? Rectify their assumptions?
"Technically, Voldemort--Tom Riddle--wasn't Muggle-born," Sirius said tiredly. Narine scowled triumphantly at Forrest. "But he wasn't a pure-blood either," he continued. "Riddle's father was a Muggle, but his mother was a witch. Don't you pay attention during history lessons?"
"We don't talk about it in classes!" Forrest said disdainfully. "It's forbidden!"
"If you are fascinated with Tom Riddle and want to know more about him, I suggest you ask Professor Snape," Sirius said, wondering whether Severus would thank him for it. "His knowledge of recent history is quite extensive."
At the mention of Snape's name, all three children paled. Forrest gulped with difficulty and said, "Er... No, thank you. I'm not that interested in Voldemort. Really. And I don't think he was a great wizard at all," he added hastily.
Irritated at what he mentally dubbed Slytherin conformism, Sirius said sharply, "He was. Tom Riddle, or Voldemort if you prefer, was a very powerful wizard. Too bad he hadn't managed to overcome his insecurities after he came to Hogwarts--you do know that he was raised by Muggles, don't you?" The children, who were listening with rapt interest, shook their heads in denial. "Riddle was abandoned by his Muggle father. When his mother died, he was raised in an orphanage. He was afraid of Muggles and he hated them. This feeling later turned into an obsession that blinded Tom Riddle to reason, and finally led to a war in which more wizards have died than Muggles."
He was simplifying the matters, trying to keep the story short and accessible even to the youngest, Narine. "So I'd suggest that you learn from Voldemort's mistakes, and that you try to find out more about the things you were told to hate or be afraid of. You should try to make your own mind about them and decide whether they are worth all that hatred or fear," he finished lamely. Edifying speeches were not his strong side.
"Like Dark Arts?" Forrest immediately arrived at his own conclusion.
"Like Mudblood Slytherins?" Narine asked with a nasty smirk.
"I'm not offended, you little inbred house-elf," Forrest countered loftily. "You aren't worth my hatred."
"Mudblood, mudblood, mudblood!"
"Children!" Sirius snapped. "Enough of this." He was trying to suppress a growl.
Surprisingly, Narine and Forrest seemed cowed. Sirius turned to the last student who hadn't had the chance to introduce himself yet and asked him for his name.
"Maximillian McIvor. Sixth year," the boy answered in a listless voice. He seemed bored. "Don't mind those two, Sir, they're just trying to get attention, poor souls."
"What about you?" Sirius was amused by Maximillian's patronising attitude towards the other children.
"He's a disgrace to his name," Forrest piped in helpfully.
"Quite true," Maximillian agreed. "I am also indolent and slothful. And before you ask, no, I don't have any ambition at all."
"A Slytherin without ambition? That's a novelty," Sirius smiled.
"Yes, quite. I used to be a sensation until he came along," Maximillian said wryly, gesturing towards Forrest. "Sic transit gloria mundi."
"What did you say?" Forrest inquired, frowning suspiciously. "Sir, what did he say about me?" Maximillian just rolled his eyes and didn't seem inclined to explain himself.
"He wasn't referring to you, Forrest. He simply said that his fame has faded quickly," Sirius said, wondering whether he should petrify them to actually start the lesson.
"Now, let's get to the point. You are here because you have trouble with Transfigurations. Before I can help you I need to know exactly what problems you have. Take out your wands and let's try to transfigure these buttons into chopsticks." He gave a handful of wooden buttons to each of his students. "It's probably too easy for you, Maximillian, so I want you to transfigure yours into butterflies. You have as much time as you need..."
By the end of the lesson, Sirius was covered in cold sweat and exhausted.
Narine put so much angry energy into her transfigurations that she succeeded in blowing up her buttons and a good part of her desk into splinters. Sirius barely managed to cast a shielding charm in time to protect Forrest and Maximillian from flying wood. Teaching, he thought grumpily, required battle-honed reflexes. Forrest was cheating in every way humanly possible, trying to mask his ineffective transfigurations by additional charms and glamours. Sirius shuddered to think what McGonagall would do if she caught him doing that in her classroom. Maximillian proved to be helplessly behind in his reading and exercises; it seemed that he needed to make up for six years of not learning anything.
Sirius talked them through the steps necessary to transfigure the buttons, demonstrating several different ways to achieve the same result. Eventually, both boys caught on and were able to produce a range of chopsticks and very wooden-looking butterflies. Narine still blew up everything she pointed her wand at. When they ran out of buttons for her, Sirius decided to call it a day.
"How did it go?"
Sirius groaned in response, falling into his armchair and squeezing the bridge of his nose. "I don't know how you do it: weeks and weeks, with so many of them. I'm exhausted after two hours with just three kids," he said indistinctly.
"Yelling helps," Snape supplied obligingly. "Also hissing, growling and threatening. Being nasty is fun, too."
"You obviously were born for this, Severus. It's a battlefield! Only you are on your own, and the enemy outnumbers you greatly. And you can't kill them."
"Unfortunately, that's frowned upon," agreed Snape. "I'll brew you some Feverfew, it'll help ease the headache."
"Thank you." Sirius stretched, popping his joints. "So, you have Muggle-borns in Slytherin now? How did that happen?"
"We also have Mister McIvor," Severus said sourly. "Personally, I don't know what's worse."
"I've always wondered how the Sorting Hat works, exactly. To sort someone into Slytherin when they have no ambition? Unless he cunningly hides his motives, of course," Sirius said. You never knew with the Slytherins.
"The Sorting Hat!" Snape snorted. "The Sorting Hat is a showy scam, but it's tradition. The children sort themselves, Sirius. They mostly go to the house where their parents and siblings went, or where their friends from the Hogwarts Express have just been sorted. Otherwise a third of the Weasleys would have been in Slytherin, and thank Merlin that didn't happen."
Warmed at being called by his name, Sirius agreed. "Ron and Percy seemed to have plenty of ambition, that's true. But it still doesn't explain Maximillian. Why would he want to go to the house of cunning and ambition, if that's so contrary to his attitude?"
"Can you imagine McIvor appreciating Hufflepuff hard work, or Ravenclaw pursuit of knowledge? Or Gryffindor noble struggles?" Snape asked bitingly. "To tell the truth, I imagine the boy was told by his parents he should be a Slytherin, so there he went. No mystery about it. I just hope he graduates with the rest of his year; if I hear his father lecturing about the deplorable state of Hogwarts' education one more time, I swear I'll poison that old goat."
"The kid seems intelligent, or at least definitely not stupid. Perhaps he needs a motivation to study."
"I'll give him motivation!" Snape growled. "If he gives you any trouble just mention I'll be assigning detentions for those who misbehave in your class. How did it go with LeMarchant?"
Sirius sighed. "Not good. If this child had been born five hundred years ago, I swear she would have been a hag. I almost lost an eye today." He recounted Narine's Transfigurations failures briefly. "Forrest should manage without problems once he reviews, though."
"Who?" Snape frowned in surprise.
"Er, Eustace? Green. He wants to be called Forrest. The kid wearing black eyeliner and lipstick? And silver piercings?"
"Forrest, indeed!" Snape looked furious. "He came to class wearing that? Unbelievable. Why didn't you throw him out?"
"I didn't know he wasn't supposed to be wearing makeup," Sirius admitted sheepishly. "So many rules have changed at Hogwarts. I thought maybe the dress code had been relaxed as well. And anyway, it's his free time, technically," he added placatingly. "Let him wear what he wants."
"If you give them a finger they'll chew off your arm," Snape warned.
"Yeah, I'm beginning to see that," Sirius agreed tiredly. "Listen, am I supposed to talk about Riddle if they ask? I don't want to cause you any trouble with the Ministry."
Snape twisted his lips with distaste. "The official policy regarding education on recent history hasn't been approved yet. Most feel it's safer to shush the children. You can tell them to come to me with their questions, that should shut them up." He got up and brought Sirius the brew that had been left to steep in a teakettle, adding some honey to mitigate the bitterness.
"That's what I did." Sirius grinned. "Actually, I was surprised at how compliant they were. I was afraid I'd have to hex them to get them to follow instructions." He sipped the Feverfew gratefully.
Snape looked conceited. "I can get my house to behave, I believe."
"We are going to see Harry tomorrow. You have a debt to pay," Sirius said darkly. "And after what I've been through today I think limiting your sentence to a week was hasty."
Unfortunately, they didn't manage to visit Harry until the next Saturday. Sirius had to spend long hours in the Forbidden Forest, and Snape was busy grading papers. Up to his ears in rolls of parchment, he was so cross and disagreeable that Sirius preferred to steer clear of him.
He concentrated on his own classes, trying to find reading material that would interest Maximillian and pondering ways to convince Narine to actually start learning. His subsequent classes, on Wednesday and Friday, went smoothly. He was growing more comfortable with his students and wasn't afraid to growl at them now and then to get them to behave. The boys did the reading he assigned them, and were going through subsequent exercises with minimum stumbling, although they still needed coaching at every step. On Wednesday, Forrest appeared without his jingling metal collection and with a clean face. He was sulking.
"Is it still Forrest?" Sirius asked seriously. "Or should I address you as Mr. Green?"
"It is Forrest, Sir," the boy replied, regarding Sirius favourably. "They can't take my name from me," he added mutinously. Narine sniggered, and Maximillian rolled his eyes.
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