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
Severus found it highly amusing that McGonagall had to ask Sirius for help with her own students. He seemed to regard Sirius as his weapon against the Transfigurations teacher, and was gleeful that his machinations had succeeded.
At first, Snape took careful effort to behave towards Harry in the most conspicuously polite way he could manage; Sirius thought it might have been his way of ensuring Sirius' co-operation in regard to the tutoring. Sirius had had to ask Harry to behave like a gentleman towards Snape, even if Snape were to be insufferable. Harry had agreed, though reluctantly.
After a while though, the relationship between the two became less stilted and started approaching normalcy. They not only could be left alone in a room without maiming each other, but actually engaged in a more or less civilised conversation.
It seemed, Sirius thought, that they might become family after all.
The new students proved to be a challenge in more than one way. With the appearance of Gryffindors, the Slytherins had ganged together and fought uncompromising war on the opposing house. The Gryffindors didn't hesitate to reciprocate. No lesson passed without whispered jibes, covert taunts, name-calling and general nastiness.
Sirius, mindful of Severus' advice, snapped, barked, growled and threatened with detention, but any peace he managed to restore was only temporary. To his surprise, he had no trouble staying objective, instead of supporting his old house. Often, the Gryffindors' comments grated on his nerves more than the Slytherin malevolence.
Tom Thwaithe, an impetuous, hot-headed loudmouth from the Seventh year, reminded Sirius of himself at that age. Tom was the leader of their little group, and he was the student most often thrown out of classroom.
Caden Brawnes' behaviour was almost impeccable, but he was failing miserably in his exercises. Although he very obviously studied and tried, he wasn't able to complete any of the standard Second-Year assignments. It took Sirius almost two weeks of forcing the boy to try again and again and watching him closely to find out that Caden had trouble dissociating the verbal component from the spells he had to use. Sirius made him split his Transfiguration assignment into individual charms and utter the incantation for each as he worked, to the gales of mirth from the Slytherin side of the classroom.
But it was the third Gryffindor, a grim, dispirited Fifth-year called Nathan Stevenson, that finally made Sirius explode.
The scene started with Narine making some disparaging comment towards Gryffindors, and quickly escalated out of control. Tom sneered at the Slytherins lowering their standards lamentably with the admission of house-elves. Forrest observed quite loudly that it couldn't be said about Gryffindodos, because you had to have some standards in the first place to be able to lower them.
"Be quiet," Sirius admonished, trying to get them to do their homework. In vain.
"No wonder they are Purebloods," Nathan addressed the ceiling. "Who'd want to have children with something like that? But all that inbreeding had to produce some spectacular failures," he motioned his head towards Maximillian. "Hopefully more and more of them will be sterile."
"I can understand why your parents stopped trying after they had you," Maximillian said with sympathy.
"Boys! Get back to work." They didn't even hear him.
"Oh, is that why you are the only child? Or is it because your father couldn't get it up anymore?" Tom sniggered.
"You are really charming when you try so hard to be witty, did you know that? Amusingly pathetic. You'd made cute pets, you and Stevenson," Maximillian drawled lazily.
"You wouldn't find it so amusing if you were sent where you belong, McIvor," Nathan snapped.
"And where do I belong, my dear child?"
Sirius tried to get their attention, without success. Both boys were serious now, far beyond their normal taunts. Maximillian was grimacing scornfully, Nathan's eyes glittered with unrestrained anger.
"What I don't understand," he said vehemently, "is why you were allowed to stay at large after we won the war!"
"Allowed? You should abandon your delusions of grandeur, Stevenson. If it weren't for us, you all would be singing all hail Lord Voldemort, and licking his boots."
"There wouldn't even be a war if it wasn't for you! You are vermin." Nathan was spitting the words with cold derision, meaning every one of them. "A disease of the wizarding world. The only reason you aren't in Azkaban is because even Dementors can't stand you! You should all be offed! Normal people should kill you for sport! I would--"
"SILENCE!" Sirius roared deafeningly, his temper flaring. "Stevenson, get out of the classroom. NOW! NOT A WORD!" He was growling and baring his teeth.
The children stared at him in shock. Even Maximillian sat up from his perpetual slouch, pale-faced. Nathan jumped out of his bench and ran to the door, banging them closed after he left.
Sirius' fury subsided after the short outburst but he still felt angry, both at himself and at the boys.
"If I hear anybody, ANYBODY else make a comment like that in my classroom, about any House, you'll be seriously sorry," he ground out. "UNDERSTOOD?"
They all nodded quickly. Amanda was staring at him in amazement.
"Please, Sir, there's no need to be angry with him," Maximillian said hesitantly. "He's really disturbed. His... his parents were killed in front of him during the war... I shouldn't have argued with him at all."
"I'm glad you were able to discern that much all by yourself," Sirius barked angrily, glaring at the boy. "Get to work, everybody. I want to see your exercises completed by the time I'm back. Watch them, Amanda." He stormed out of the classroom in long strides.
Nathan stood in the hall, tense, fists clenched. His pale face was blotched with angry red stains. He glared at Sirius with such intensity that for a moment Sirius thought the boy was going to hit him.
"I hate them... Hate them all! Fucking snakes--! They should all be killed. Every one of the fucking Slytherins should be wiped out from the face of Earth..." Nathan was shaking, gritting out the words in a hoarse voice. "I wish I could curse them myself... Give them a taste of their own medicine! Azkaban is too good for those fuckers." He was trying not to cry, but dry sobs were escaping his chest.
"No, it's not," Sirius said quietly. "Azkaban is unimaginably cruel. If anything should be wiped from the face of Earth, it is that place."
"I don't understand why you are siding with them! You were a Gryffindor," Nathan choked out.
"Perhaps because the Death Eater who caused the death of my best friend and his wife was a Gryffindor, too." Sirius rubbed his face tiredly. "The world isn't spelled out for you like that. Not all Slytherins are the bad guys. Not all Gryffindors are good. It's not that easy, Nathan."
The boy was crying openly now, rocking on his feet. "I s-- saw them. They were just like him, d-- drawling and snotty." He punctuated his words by loud sniffing. "They weren't much older than him, either. And t--they had sooo much fun. My father tried to reason with them but they wouldn't listen. They didn't kill him because they had to. They did it for fun! Because they could!
I started yelling at them and my, my Mum tried to shield me... She got the curse. It should have been me. She screamed and screamed, and then there was blood running from her eyes. It should have been me, they told me so, laughing. Left me there because I couldn't do anything and it was so amusing, and went on to have a drink, to celebrate some more. I couldn't do anything. Anything!"
"Come with me." Sirius took Nathan's elbow.
"I want them all to die," Nathan sobbed, but walked with Sirius without protest. On their way down Sirius stopped a student and asked him to get the Headmaster to the dungeon. Then he guided Nathan down to Snape's quarters and seated him down in a chair.
Nathan wasn't crying anymore. He hid his face in his hands, shaking slightly.
"Severus, could you get Nathan some tea, please? I think he could use a calming potion, too."
"Why did you bring him here? You should have gone to the infirmary," Snape said grudgingly.
"I'll get Madam Pomfrey in a minute. Professor Dumbledore is on his way here. All I ask is that you talk to Nathan and decide whether he would benefit from your anti-grief potions. Please work with Pomfrey on that, Severus. Your knowledge of mind-balancing potions is more extensive than anyone's at Hogwarts or anywhere near."
A charm chimed and Albus Dumbledore rushed through the door. Noticing Nathan huddled in the chair, he furrowed his brow in concern and looked at Sirius questioningly.
"Was Nathan Stevenson one of the students you mentioned in relation to Severus' potion, Headmaster?" Sirius asked quietly.
"Yes, indeed. I've suspected he might need it very much." Dumbledore turned to put his hand on Snape's shoulder. "Will you help, Severus?"
Snape closed his eyes for a second. He looked defeated. "Of course," he said with resignation.
"He's going to need more than the potion, Headmaster," Sirius said. "Severus talked me through the most difficult days. I wouldn't have managed without his support. Nathan will need someone to do this for him."
"I'm sorry," Nathan said suddenly, his voice still rough after crying. "I didn't mean to yell at you like that. I didn't even mean a lot of things I said. I don't know why I lost it so badly."
"Believe me, I know what you're going through," Sirius said sympathetically. "I've been there myself not that long ago. Professor Snape has prepared a potion that helps keep such outbursts in check. He'll ask you several questions to find out whether you could use it. I want you to answer them, even if they seem very personal. Can you do that?"
When Nathan tentatively nodded in agreement, Sirius sent him to the bathroom to clean his face.
"Fetch Pomfrey," Snape told Sirius curtly. "I will not administer unregistered potions to an underage student without her explicit approval." He turned to Dumbledore. "I'll prepare a scroll with a list of questions for Stevenson. He'll feel more comfortable answering them in writing..."
Sirius closed the door behind him and strode briskly to the Infirmary.
"Ah, yes, Severus' mysterious patient," Poppy Pomfrey said when Sirius stuck his head through the door carefully. "Do come in. Say, could I have that bedpan back?" She smirked.
Sirius explained quickly where and why she was needed, and left for his classes, promising to stop by the next day for longer talk.
When he returned to his classroom, he found the students waiting for him, stiff and wide-eyed. The room was dead quiet, not a squeak disturbed the unnatural silence. They presented their results without looking him in the face. Sirius felt like a complete arsehole. He checked the assignments perfunctorily and dismissed them.
As they were preparing to leave, Thwaithe squared his shoulders determinedly and asked, "Please, Sir, what have you... er. What happened to Stevenson? Where is he?"
"Madam Pomfrey is taking care of him," Sirius replied shortly. He was irritated when the children paled and gasped collectively upon hearing his answer. Maximillian looked positively nauseated; Tommy Grier looked like he might cry.
"Mr. McIvor, please stay for a minute longer," Sirius added. When the rest of the students filtered out of the room, he sat down heavily and shook his head, perplexed.
Maximillian was regarding him anxiously, huddled in his chair. Sirius felt vexed.
"What? Why are you all looking at me like that? What did you think I did with Nathan, ate him?"
"We d-didn't--" Maximillian stuttered a bit and took a deep breath. "We didn't know what happened. We heard yelling, and then nothing..."
"Nathan was in bad shape, I took him to our quarters to let him calm down. He's lost too much, too soon, in a horrible way. His own despair and anger is hurting him more than anybody else, Maximillian. I'd like you to try to understand that."
"I know, Sir. I'm sorry. I should have stopped arguing with him when it got serious. I guess I lost patience. I know he in particular has his reasons to hate Slytherins, but sometimes putting up with all this undeserved condescension is too much... I forgot myself."
"I'm glad you understand that." Sirius was relieved he didn't have to launch a moralising speech. He felt tired. "Did I really scare you all that much? Weren't you ever yelled at in class?" He hoped he'd regain their trust somehow.
"Oh." Maximillian looked uneasy again. "Um. It's something Professor Snape said, when he told us we were going to have classes with you."
"What did he say?"
"Well, er. He said not to provoke you, because you were even worse than him." The boy fidgeted uncomfortably. "In fact he said you almost managed to kill him when you were together at school without even drawing your wand!" Despite himself, Maximillian seemed slightly impressed.
Sirius stared at him disbelievingly. "He said WHAT?"
"He warned us to behave really well or you could lose your temper and, well... So when you got so angry today..."
"I can't believe he did that! Slimy bas--" He swallowed the insult at the last moment.
"So it's not true?" Maximillian's curiosity was obviously piqued.
"No! Yes! No! Of course! It wasn't like that!" Sirius jumped up and started pacing around.
"How did you do that? We were wondering what kind of magic it takes to threaten someone like Professor Snape--and without a wand, to all that."
"Maximillian, I hate to say it, but you should know by now that Slytherins should not be trusted, and the Head of the Slytherin house is the epitome of that," Sirius said with a fair amount of bitterness. "I led Professor Snape into a very dangerous situation, where he could have lost his life, that's what he meant." And I'm going to kick his arse for scaring the children, he promised himself.
"Oooh..." Maximillian looked sorely disappointed. "But--you were an Auror with extensive military training, weren't you? And you led the assault on Boggiston, when Voldemort's closest supporters were cornered? Or were these misinterpretations too?"
"No, that happens to be true," Sirius grimaced. "Did Severus tell you all that?"
"And you lived through thirteen years of Azkaban and were the first man to ever escape, when you went after the Animagus Death Eater who framed you?"
"I wasn't the first to escape." Other cases simply weren't advertised so widely. "Maximillian, have mercy. I'll tell you about my eventful life another time. Did all the children think I was going to kill them with my glare if they misbehaved?" And he was so proud that they were nice in his class!
"Well, not really," Maximillian admitted. "At first we did, but when you didn't even blink at Green and LeMarchant bickering, we thought it was just a tale to scare us. Until today. You really can be terrifying if you put your heart into it," he said, but his lips twitched suspiciously.
"Please tell the others I'm not the monster they think I am. Especially Tommy Grier. Can I ask you to do that? I don't want to go after him now, he's going to be terrified by me."
"He'll live," Maximillian dismissed the concern with a shrug. "I'll talk to him and everybody else, I promise. They are going to be waiting to see if I come out alive," he smirked. Sirius groaned and Maximillian laughed without malice. "Don't worry, Sir. Rumour has it Professor McGonagall once Transfigured a boy who talked in her class into a wardrobe, and had Filch fix him with steel nails and a saw. But she forgot to change him back, and he's supposed to be standing in a storeroom somewhere in the castle to this day..." He winked and left the room.
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