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
Warning: that dreaded "first person, present tense" type of story...
Shade More Than Man
Epilogue: Like Him
He is lying in his armchair, relaxed, resplendent in his crimson home robes. Potter's gift. I resent the set of robes with childish vehemence. He'd laugh at me for it, if he knew.
Red suits him. It lends its colour to his cheeks and brings out his eyes. I can't help marvelling at his beauty. His hair cascades down in a shining mass of black, strands curling around themselves, clinging to his forehead and temples.
There's a small smile curving his delicate, sensual lips. No malice. There is not a hint of malice or lowliness in him, and that's perhaps what draws me to him most. If he's angry, he'll bellow his wrath, let it out, announce it to the world, let it dissipate slowly. He won't sting with hurtful words disguised in niceties, he won't smile hypocritically from behind hateful eyes. He's fair and straightforward in his anger, as he is in his love.
He moves in the chair and his whole body rolls fluidly. He's still too thin, his high cheekbones too pronounced, his collarbones standing out too sharply. And he's perfect, in this ascetic beauty.
I'm staring at him and he notices.
"What?" he asks, his eyes twinkling. "What did I do now? Why are you scowling at me?"
I feel my scowl deepen. "Eat," I say curtly.
He grimaces, pushes his plate away and stretches his shoulders--I feel my mouth go dry at the sight. "I'm full. You have to stop force-feeding me, Severus." He is trying to gather his hair and work out the tangles. "I have to cut it," he announces irritably. No patience at all. I hope he doesn't cut his hair, even though I won't say a word about it.
I make a show of sighing in exasperation and get up to get a brush, all too eagerly. "Let me."
He murmurs appreciatively as I brush his hair. He likes to be touched. He likes when I touch him. I wonder why. Why does this amazing creature hide here in the dungeons, with the unneeded, damaged furniture and the unneeded, damaged man? Of course, he's been damaged too. One day I'll make him whole again. At first I thought about it bitterly, petty in believing that when he gets better, he'll leave me. But he seems inexplicably happy here, in this forsaken place. I'm beginning to grow accustomed to the idea of spending my life with him.
Of course, it only means that the awakening will be all the more bitter.
He rests his cheek on my arm, nuzzling.
"Don't squirm," I berate him harshly, carding my fingers through his hair in delicate strokes.
"You don't have to do this. I really should shorten it a bit. It's grown too long," he mutters.
"Grooming is part of the fun of having a dog," I shoot automatically and cringe at my own crudeness.
He only chuckles. "Careful, or I'll bite." He leans back and offers me his upside-down smile.
He's always turning my jeers and malicious remarks into jokes, knowing them for what they are--a reflexive reaction; a lifestyle. A shield. Sometimes I'm frightened by the depth of his insight into me.
I braid his hair carefully, but loose strands still escape to his temples. He thanks me with a kiss, and goes to change into his stern teacherly robe. He still looks stunning. Yesterday I heard a student calling him a 'delicious hunk'. I took points and gave her detention for disrespectful behaviour towards a teacher. She is right, though. He had been the most attractive boy in our year at school. Of course, he looks very different now than he did as a young boy. There are lines etched in the corners of his eyes and around his mouth that add depth and texture to what used to be just a pretty face. He's less pretty now, and more beautiful; with this marks of hurt, despair, betrayal, laugher, and love.
"I'll see you at dinner," I say pointedly when he returns, and he groans.
"Please, stop it. You are horrible, you and Sparky."
Sparky. Even the house-elf likes him. The wretched creature took to bringing him his meals in person and chatting delightedly. In all the years of ordering meals to my quarters, I don't think I've ever chatted with any of the kitchen elves.
"You have to put some fat on these bones," I say bitingly. "Contrary to popular opinion, it's not pleasant to make love to a skeleton."
He only huffs, and then he comes up to me and hugs me.
"Why are you so grumpy today?" he whispers in my hair. "Is something wrong?"
I know my own worth. I am a valuable man. I don't go around denigrating myself. My potion-making skills are highly above average. My students very rarely fail their exams. I'm intelligent, strong, resilient. I can take a lot and still find my dignity afterwards.
But this is beyond my control, beyond my scope of experience. I've never been romantically involved. Romantically. Hah. I snort into his shoulder.
"Nothing's wrong. I'm just my charming self. Get used to that."
He licks my ear in response, wicked man. It isn't long before my hands fall down to cup his buttocks. We are pressed so close together it's beginning to be difficult to breathe. I didn't understand the need for bodily comfort before I got involved with Sirius Black. I knew it existed in other people, but I never suspected that it could affect me; that I carried such an emptiness within me. He showed me.
I think I must have sighed involuntarily, because he tightens his arms around me for a while, and then lets me go, puts me away at arm's length, searching my face.
"You're off-colour. Are you sure you are all right?"
"Yes. Go on, you will be late." Big day. He's going to teach McGonagall's class on his own today. For the first two weeks of the year she supervised him in the classroom, but now the old hag finally took off somewhere and he is on his own.
He frowns a bit, looking uneasy. "Right. Well. I think I should do all right..."
Of course he will. He has yet to learn that teaching is about yelling the little brats into submission, and telling them exactly what they need to learn. He's doing hard work, reading volumes on Transfigurations and on approaches to teaching; even some Muggle pedagogy books that for some inexplicable reason smell horribly of lamp-oil and broom grease.
I used to resent Black's popularity when we were at school. I thought it was undeserved. Now, I can see how much he puts into it--not just the work; anybody could do that to ease off their own nervousness before teaching. But he is investing all his heart, his very soul. How he can risk so much for such a little thing is beyond me. And his students like him. I heard them talk--even the vicious Slytherins like the Gryffindor teacher. Unheard of. House-elves like him. Students like him. He must be good with small, semi-sentient creatures. Huh. The sarcasm doesn't really help as much as it used to. He deserves to be liked, and he suffers when he cannot have that human acceptance and contact. Azkaban must have been worse than hell for him. I understood that too late.
Damn it all, *I* liked him, after we were forced to give each other tutoring during the summer holidays. Of course, I hated him all the more after that; or so I thought, when the tension between us was mounting and boiling.
He sighs a little in my arms and I realise he's still waiting for my encouragement, silly man.
"Of course you'll be all right," I say. "You could hardly be worse than McGonagall. Nobody could."
He snorts and shakes his head, amused. We have to go. Classes. I hate classes. My students don't like me, no fear of that. He gives me a last kiss and goes.
We see each other at dinner, briefly. Exchange pleasantries. His lessons went well, as was to be expected.
When I get back to our quarters after a long day of teaching abominable dunces, I am treated to the sight of Harry Potter sprawled in *my* armchair.
Carefully, I school my expression. No scowling, sneering, jeering, glaring or anything else that could be construed as a sign of hostility. I am supposed to be nice to Harry. I stretch my lips in a painful smile and say,
"Don't try so hard. Sirius isn't looking," the little bastard advises, smirking. Liberated, I glare. What a joy.
"What are you doing here?"
"I came to bring you your present. You didn't come last weekend."
I was invited to deliver a speech at the Alchemist Convention. It was a good excuse.
Not that I was desperately looking for excuses, and it worries me. The pair of inane men Sirius calls his friends is beginning to grow on me. It's less and less difficult to 'be nice', especially since Potter learned he doesn't have to take my every scowl to heart.
"I was busy. What present?" It's suspicious. My birthday isn't until October, and besides, Potter doesn't know about it. I hope.
He throws a packet at me. "It's just a little something. To express our gratitude for improving the Wolfsbane potion. If we knew you were going to get an Order of Merlin for developing the Soul-Heal Draught, we would have got you something more smashing."
Hah. If I knew myself. It was announced at the blasted convention. Dumbledore's work, no doubt. Sirius was absurdly happy when I told him; kissed me half to death, and gave me a blow-job. No gift from Potter could come close.
I open the packet. It's an emerald-green home-robe with silver trimmings. Matching the red one he gave Sirius. That's... It's actually nice. I blink, wondering how to slither myself out of saying that aloud.
"You like it." He looks so smug I want to hex him to wipe that expression from his face. I only grunt.
"I'm glad. I wasn't sure it was a good gift," he admits.
Oh, all right. I sigh inwardly and smile at him without much effort. "Yes, I like it. Thank you."
He beams at that.
"Are you going to give a party? About the Order?"
"There's going to be an official celebration." I grimace. A horrible fate, but I have to go. Sirius should like it, though. He's proud of me.
"You could let us organise something for you," he suggests. "Just let us know how many friends you'd want to invite..." his voice trails off as he sees my expression.
Friends. After Lucius Malfoy, I took great care not to ever have friends. It's strange how one's perspective changes over the years. Maybe I could invite some staff members. Perhaps Giles, if he's going to stay in Britain long enough this time.
"... or we could have a quiet celebration, just the four of us," Potter amends quickly. "The new Marauders."
He's saying it to distract me. I know that but I can't help rolling my eyes. It was Sirius' idea. I don't know if I'm supposed to be a replacement for Pettigrew. I hope not. I really hate Gryffindors and Hufflepuffs who turn bad. With Slytherins, you know what to expect. Even Ravenclaws are cold enough that it's not surprising when they choose the Dark Arts. But evil, self-serving Gryffindors? Insult to injury.
"I'll think about it," I cut the conversation short. "How did you get in?"
"A house-elf opened the door for me," he says smiling. Sparky is going to die a painful death.
Potter keeps smiling. He's grown accustomed to me. I'm no longer afraid he's going to try to convince Sirius to leave me, though I'm sure he still wonders how it could have happened between us.
To my ultimate horror I realise I must have said a part of that last thought aloud. I must be growing prematurely senile! Potter watches me keenly for a while and I prickle under that coldly superior gaze. Finally, he shrugs and says,
"I guess you aren't such a bastard after all." How magnanimous of him.
"You are obviously good for Sirius," he continues. "He looks happier than I've ever seen him. Calmer, too. You understand him in some way I, or even Remus, can't. And you aren't bad-looking," he states. Indeed. Aren't I. "Actually, you're quite a catch." He's able to deliver that straight-faced. My admiration of Mr. Potter grows a notch.
"Add to that that I'm going to be rich and famous. Actually, one has to wonder what *I* get out of this exchange," I say coldly.
He starts frowning but recognises the conversational feint and completely ignores my words.
"That romantic, dark, brooding persona of yours really stimulates imagination," he declares.
I'm afraid I lose it. "I am NOT brooding!" I snarl.
"Yes you are..."
"No, I'm... Potter. Shut up."
He only grins cheekily. I knew it. I knew that once he learned to work around my malice and prickly remarks, he'd become unmanageable.
For some reason, I've grown tired of my cynicism. I feel the urge to talk, babble actually.
"Do you know what his name means?" I ask and Potter looks at me surprised.
"The Dog, a star?"
"No. It doesn't mean 'a dog'. It's *another* name for that star. Look it up. It means 'the brightest.' The brightest star in Heavens, so bright that the astronomers had to make a new category just for it."
"I didn't know..."
I don't listen to him. "Some say the word, Sirius, comes from an ancient name for the sun. And he was like that when I knew him. You say he's happier than you've ever known him. Ask Lupin about it. He'll tell you Sirius is a shadow of his old self. I made a vow to myself that I would bring him back. First it was because I could, and because I enjoyed my power over him, stemming from that." That feeling lasted for the ten hours of his drugged sleep, until he first opened his mouth and showed me where I could shove my power, without even realising it. "Quickly, I understood I wanted to help him heal because I liked the man he once was. I felt connected to him. An old school enemy is almost as good as an old school friend, Potter. You'll notice it some day."
Potter made an outraged and inexplicably disappointed face at the mention of my wanting to have power over Sirius, but relaxed back as I continued speaking.
"You wanted him to need you?" he states rather than asks.
"Yes," I answer anyway. It made me feel... I thought it was poetic justice, that the great Sirius Black needed the lowly Slytherin to help him. He was right, Sirius was, when he said there was some cord binding us together through all these years. Jealousy, anger, lust, need.
"But he doesn't need you now. Not like that," Potter remarks.
Despite everything, I'm starting to smirk. "Not like that," I admit, and Potter blushes a bit. Isn't that charming.
We talk about the neutral subject of Potions for the rest of Potter's visit. Fascinating, how his mental capacities seem to have woken up from their habitual slumber now that he finally sees there is a point to studying. It's a pity I cannot curse all my Sixth and Seventh Years with lycanthropy to make them study. It might do to look for a more... acceptable curse. Something that would require a complex potion to cure. Something causing impotence. And acne. Yes.
I manage to cheer myself up quite a bit, owing much to the fact that Potter is glancing at me warily as I smile at my thoughts.
When Sirius finally comes home, I retire to our bedroom, leaving them to their chatter. Once, I would have eavesdropped to confirm they were saying nasty things behind my back. Now, I rather cringe at the thought. Strange, how all the little tricks and attitudes that were once supposed to protect me have become a part of me, painful and petty like an ingrown nail. Sirius navigates his way around them with surprising tolerance. It's not that he doesn't mind; but he accepts. I think this is why the relationship might work, for the first time in my life. This, and the fact that he's a good man and a bad boy all in one.
My, my, aren't I poetic today. Most probably have caught a cold. Some of Poppy's Patented Flu Fighter should be around here somewhere… yes. Awful taste. That should do the trick.
My bad boy has just said goodbye to Potter and comes to the bedroom. He's… glowing. If I didn't know better I'd swear he put some glamour on himself.
"A good day?" I ask even though the answer is obvious.
"Yes. Everything went surprisingly well. I'm sorry I was so late--some Seventh Year students wanted to schedule their extra classes."
Of course. One day we are going to have a serious argument about teaching methods. It won't be pretty. All it will take is one Gryffindor that comes crying to their favourite teacher after the awful, ugly Potions master was mean to them. I wonder… but no. We already had our fights, more or less serious. No need to immediately assume the worst.
"You really don't seem like yourself today," he says with a frown. "Are you sure you're all right?"
I motion to the bottle of Flu Fighter. "Nothing a foul-tasting draught wouldn't cure," I say with a shrug. He leans over to check my fever and I capture his mouth in a kiss. The slick heat makes me want more. "I want to fuck you," I whisper.
His mouth curves in a smile that makes his whole face light up. So very different from any other lover I ever had, who would either be offended, calculating, or frowning at my impudence. But sex with Black is not a tool to get closer to what I want, or a way to mark my position. It's an end in itself, strange and satisfying.
When he gasps and flexes below me, face flushed and eyes closed, I can't help marvelling at his power over me, and mine over him. All the fame and recognition I had once coveted pale in comparison to this--a night in bed with a man who wants me as much as I want him. What more could I ever desire?
~ END ~
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