Author's Notes: Assumes some things about where the plot will go in the fifth book, but it's purely speculation. Set in October of Harry's fifth year.
Sirius steered clear of Severus Snape for the next few days. He thought it best, and he had his own life to get in order anyway.
Remus was working as an assistant to the Headmaster this year-it was a rather cloaked position, so the parents didn't get up in arms about a werewolf being at Hogwarts. It was uncertain as to what Albus Dumbledore needed 'assistance' on, but Remus seemed happy with the position. Sirius was staying in Remus's rooms with him until he got rooms of his own. The invitation for him to stay at Hogwarts until he got things back in order for himself was given by the Ministry, as a show of good will. Dumbledore thought it was a good idea as well, to get him reacquainted with the magical world. So far no one had pulled their children out of the school, but it was undoubtedly coming. He was enduring reproachful looks and people veering aside in the corridors everywhere he went. Some of the children even turned and went the other way at his approach.
Sirius had been given back his wand, which had been held at the Ministry rather than destroyed-something that sounded very odd indeed. He spent his days practicing and brushing up on his magic. He was a little rusty, but as the Muggles said, it was like riding a bike. It came right back to you.
He also spent his time writing out the accounts and letters for Peter's trial-those were things he didn't have trouble remembering. That day was still as fresh in his mind as though it were yesterday.
Other than that, he didn't have anything to do but wander the castle, read, and meet for tea with various instructors to discuss how he might benefit their curriculum. Moody thought his experience with members of the Dark Lord's inner circle might be beneficial to Defense Against the Dark Arts. McGonagall thought his Animagus status would make a lovely study for Transfiguration, so she could both teach the class in human form and have a transformed Animagus to use as an example at the same time. Trelawny seemed to be under the odd impression that her students would get a thrill out of her doing a proper and in-depth reading of his bleak and uncertain future.
Of course, the one instructor he didn't have tea and conversation with was Professor Snape. When they did by chance pass in the hallways, Sirius was always either ignored or fixed with a look so dark he was certain his blood would turn to ice. Then Snape was gone in a swish of black robes, like some horrific shadow passing him by.
But, as fate would have it, late one afternoon as Sirius was passing through the courtyard, he came upon the man himself. It was a warm, breezy afternoon, the sort of mild, lukewarm weather that comes with autumn. Snape was sitting on a bench in the corner of the courtyard, hunched over a roll of parchment, huddled there like some sort of dark animal. Sirius thought about just passing him by, but there were only a few other people milling about-all of which scattered when they saw him-so this seemed the perfect opportunity to speak with him.
"Severus…" Sirius was certain to call out to him well in advance, so he wasn't sneaking up on him.
Snape's head snapped up at once, his hair ruffled a bit by the breeze, dark eyes narrowing into angry slits and his lips pursing.
"Do not address me familiar, Black." He said in a voice thick with ice. His slender fingers began swiftly rolling the parchment up.
Sirius resisted the urge to roll his eyes, stopping in front of him. "Pardon me, Professor Snape…" It felt odd to call him that.
"Why are you speaking to me?" Snape had the parchment rolled up, and tapped the ends to straighten it. "I don't want anyone seeing you in my presence."
Sirius looked around-the courtyard was empty now. Even if it wasn't, he would have stayed right there. With a sigh, he pushed his hair back from his face, and tried to make himself seem as non-confrontational as possible.
"Sev-Snape. I wanted to apologize for what happened the other night. It was no way for us to start over."
Snape stared up at him, looking faintly surprised for a moment before regaining his sour demeanor. In the direct sunlight, he looked like the boy Sirius remembered from his youth, almost. Severus was a man who kept to shadows and hid himself as much as possible, but in the open like this…Sirius could see the exotic and darkly beautiful creature he once was. He had very striking features that in the wrong sort of light-or absence of light-looked harsh and gaunt. Yes, he did have a long, rather large nose, but it suited his face. His forehead was noble and proud, eyebrows arched and smooth, high cheekbones and a slender, pointed chin beneath softly pink thin lips. His face was very nearly delicate. His skin was naturally pale, so much so that it had its own luster to it. His eyes, pupils completely black, were intense and fathomless. And his hair-though it was rather unkempt these days-was actually very fine and a color of pure black rarely achieved in most people. Sirius suspected its greasy nature had more to do with the potions he kept company with than lack of hygiene. It hadn't been like that in school.
Sirius didn't realize he was staring, swept back in time, until Severus snarled at him, those delicate features contorting in anger. The lines on his face were etched perfectly to support that expression.
"What are you staring at!" He snapped, and shifted as though quite uncomfortable. He pulled his cloak tighter around him, concealing and formless, making Sirius wonder whatever happened to the boy who wore clothes that complimented his tall, svelte frame and made Sirius drop his books as he passed in the hallway more than once.
Sirius shook his head, almost ashamed at himself for the things he was remembering, and gave him a sheepish smile. "Sorry…just thinking how you've changed so much…"
Severus pursed his lips, screwing his face up in a look of disgust. "I could say the same of you. You really are looking quite old these days…"
Sirius smirked, and without being asked, sat down on the bench next to him. Severus lurched away as though he'd been slapped, scooting to the end of it.
"I suppose I am…" Sirius turned toward him, watching him. "I suppose I have reasons to be."
"Don't you have anything better to do than bother me?" Severus was teetering on the edge of the bench, looking tense, looking as though he were about to get up and run away. "I'm busy…"
Sirius snorted, glancing at the parchment clutched tight against his chest, those long, supple fingers wound around it, the nails so pale they were barely visible. Severus gave him a dark and evil glare, tossing his hair back, and for a moment Sirius just gazed at the long, slender curve of his neck, before looking down again, figuring all this gawking was only going to get him another slap in the face.
"As I said…" Sirius chose his words carefully. "I just wanted to say I'm sorry, about the other night…"
"I slapped you, imbecile…" Severus's voice was a hiss. "I'm the one who should be apologizing, but you're more likely to be named Hogwarts Favorite Visiting Dignitary than have that happen."
So clever. He could insult and maim at the same time, preying upon every sore spot. He'd always been very good at that.
"Yes, but I threw you up against the wall…" Sirius ventured a look back up at him, of course finding him sour and disdainful as always. "There was no call for that, no matter…what…you said."
Severus snorted, and tossed his head again, pushing his hair behind his ear. "So benevolent. You always were, weren't you?"
Sirius quirked an eyebrow, then frowned, daring to ask the question that was foremost in his mind. "Do you really not believe I'm innocent still?"
Severus seemed taken off guard by the question, that harsh expression softening for a moment. Then it grew dark again, his words snappish and full of bile. "What does it matter what I think?"
"It matters to me…"
Severus gave a sharp, harsh laugh that sounded more like a bark, his head jerking back. "That's rich, Black!" He fixed him with the most disgusted look Sirius had ever seen on a human face. "What I think matters to you? Is that supposed to be a joke?"
Sirius sighed, his shoulders slumping a bit. He thought for a moment, Severus's dark eyes fixed on him and glittering, then spoke softly and carefully, fully expecting to be torn limb from limb for bringing this up.
"I've spent too many wasted years, too much wasted time to squander any more. I'm not going to spend the rest of my life speaking to you from behind this wall of hurt and shame. I've lost enough of my life, and I refuse to lose any more to ridiculous things that could just be talked out if I gave it the time…"
Severus sneered, as Sirius expected he would. "Such drama, Black…what are you going on about?"
"I'm talking about Remus Lupin."
They both fell silent, that icy tension between them growing even thicker. Severus looked away, straight ahead of him, with a sharp, jerking motion of his neck. Sirius studied his profile, seeing him go tense, lips pursed, brows drawing down sharply.
"Remus Lupin…" Severus finally said, softly, but speaking the name as though it were the most vile curse. "And what exactly could you have to say to me about Remus Lupin?"
"Only that I was once a silly and superficial little boy, and Remus Lupin was cute and popular, and I…I made a mistake."
Severus snapped his gaze back to Sirius, dark and cold-but there was something else there now, too. Something barely controlled beneath the surface, threatening to break loose.
"Yes, that always was the problem, wasn't it? Popularity. Your cool, popular friends thought I was beneath them and went out of their way to tease and ridicule and humiliate me. And you couldn't stand to be apart from the crowd…"
He went on, talking swiftly and pointedly, as though something had broken loose inside him. "You always came to see me in secret and wouldn't even look at me when you were around others. Oh the shame if your smart, pretty, know-it-all friends had found out! So you took the first made-up piece of totty who came along to make yourself look more acceptable in their eyes. Never mind that you were stringing me along for nearly a year, whispering all those carefully contrived little lies in my ear at night!"
Sirius didn't say anything-he just sat there and took the barrage of obviously long pent-up anger and disgust. He deserved this. And maybe it was good for Severus to finally be able to say it.
"And then to add insult to injury, you try to kill me with an insipid prank!" Severus continued his furious tirade. "Your swollen pride just couldn't let me slink off into my misery quietly, could it?"
"That was a year after I left you!" Sirius tried to keep his voice level. "It had nothing to do with our relationship…it was just me, being a conformist little git, going along with the people who said 'let's play a prank on dowdy little Severus!'"
Severus's upper lip curled in disgust. He looked away again.
"I'm supposed to believe that you weren't the mastermind behind it?"
"I wasn't…" Sirius looked down, his voice going soft again. "It was James who came up with the idea. We just went along, because we thought it would be funny…"
Sirius saw him move out of the corner of his eye, and knew he was looking at him again, but didn't look up.
"James saved me…" Severus's voice got soft too, but it became more sinister as it did. "If he hadn't been there-"
"He felt guilty." Sirius interjected. "It wasn't supposed to go that far. It was just supposed to scare you. James never would have hurt anybody, but he was capable of being a jerk…I think we were a bad influence on him."
There was silence for a moment, then Sirius dared to look up. Severus was staring straight ahead again, brows drawn down, an odd look of concentration on his face, as though he were trying to figure out something.
"Be that as it may…if you're even telling the truth…" Severus looked back at him, eyes cold and glittering. "The fact that you went along with it after what we shared was deplorable in its own right. It wasn't bad enough you left me for that…trollop…but then you had to deal another blow by humiliating me and putting my life in danger!"
"I know…" Sirius looked down again, finding his gaze too much to bear. For the first time in years, he felt something akin to true emotion awakening in his frozen heart. "And all I can say to you-because I know you don't want to hear my apologies-is that silly, shallow, foolish young man who hurt you when we were in school died in Azkaban. I barely even remember who he was."
"Well I remember!" Severus snapped. "I find him ridiculously hard to forget!"
"Severus, I don't know how to make it up to you…I…"
"Stop addressing me familiar!" He leapt to his feet, fists clenched, so that the parchment in his hand crinkled. "You lost that right a long time ago!"
Sirius got to his feet as well. Severus backed up a few steps, as though Sirius were going to attack him.
"I'm sorry, ok! Believe me, I've had a long damn time to mull over my sins and do penance for them! You can't imagine what I've been through, or the ways I've paid for my transgressions…if you did, you might be satisfied! I was an idiot for leaving you! I was an idiot for trying to stay with the crowd, because you were the one thing that wasn't superficial to me back then!"
Severus looked around sharply, as though making sure no one was within earshot to hear this. He kept his voice low and deadly as he spoke.
"You were an idiot…then, and certainly now! How dare you say these things to me! You wanted your pretty little prize and you got him! Well you can just have him now as well, though I daresay he's not much of a prize anymore…" he sneered mockingly.
"Remus was fun, but he wasn't you…" Sirius found his fists clenching at his sides. "He was willing to be dangled on the end of my string, but you never were! That's what I always liked about you. You were never my follower. You refused to be pushed around by me."
"Apparently you didn't like it enough to keep my company, or even acknowledge me in public!" Severus's voice was starting to rise, taking on a shrill edge.
Sirius just stared back at him, his breathing quick, their eyes locked-Severus's were full of rage, burning black and deadly. His narrow shoulders were heaving. He looked like he might take a bite out of Sirius's face at any moment.
"I still love you Severus." Sirius's voice was soft, nearly a whisper.
This time, Severus didn't toy around with a simple slap. Sirius was shocked to find he had such an incredibly good right hook for such a relatively small man. When he finally regained his senses, he was blinking up at the hazy autumn sky, wetness running from his nose, and Severus was gone.
Sirius moved into his own rooms at the end of the week, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione would often come up in the evenings to spend time with him while they did their homework. Hermione brought him a magical flowering plant from the greenhouse that changed colors every hour to put in his windowsill, and Ron gave him a quilt his Mum had made, which he claimed was too 'bloody scratchy' for him. It felt wonderful though, almost luxurious, and Sirius felt warmed by their kindness.
Harry spent more time with him than the others, sometimes popping in to see him between classes, even. Sirius helped him with his schoolwork and dispensed fatherly advice when he needed it, and after awhile he started to wonder if maybe they couldn't be something like a family one day after all.
Remus stopped by to see him occasionally, but it was hard for them to talk. All too often the conversation turned to the past, and they both got too depressed to discuss it. It was another world, another time…
Sirius saw Severus in the hallways still, passing by swiftly and without looking his way, but he didn't try to talk to him again. Every time he spoke to him he ended up with a sore jaw. Madame Pomfrey had given him a very odd look when he'd gone to her for care after the last incident, but he didn't tell her who had done it. Thankfully she didn't ask, either. She just seemed to want to take care of him and get him out of there. Perhaps she was glad someone had punched him.
His ill welfare seemed to be the general consensus of the school as time went on as well. Stay away from Sirius Black. Talk about him in the corridors. Fear or despise him. The professors stopped asking for his assistance, and those who would speak to him were very curt and had a forced politeness to them. It was getting to the point where Sirius began staying in his room most of the day to avoid scrutiny.
Then the inevitable happened.
Dumbledore called Sirius to his office on Wednesday-three days before the Masquerade that Hermione had been rattling on and on about all week, trying desperately to convince him to show up. At this point, he was actually undecided. He was growing more and more aggravated with everyone's attitude toward him, and thought it might be nice to show them they couldn't keep him down.
Past the Gargoyle ('gummy bears,' he was told to say to it) and up the winding staircase to the Headmaster's door. He felt a bit like he was back in time, being sent up for yet another bit of misbehavior.
When he walked in, Dumbledore stood up from behind his desk, eyes unusually somber behind his half-moon spectacles, his white beard winding down the front of his sky-blue robes. He didn't look too terribly cheery.
"Sirius…" he motioned to the chair on the other side of his desk. "I'm afraid we have a bit of a problem."
Sirius sat down, uneasily, the Headmaster sitting down behind his desk as well. He folded his hands on top of it and sighed, staring off into space for a moment as though searching for the words to tell him something.
"What is it?" Sirius asked, feeling a pit opening in his stomach. He'd had enough bad news to last him a lifetime.
"Twelve students have been pulled out of Hogwarts by their parents this week…" Dumbledore said hesitantly. "And I've gotten the threat of five more just this morning."
Sirius's heart sank, his shoulders slumping. He thought it might be something like that.
"It's because of me, isn't it?" He asked. "They don't want their kids near me."
Dumbledore shifted in his chair a bit, then nodded and sighed. "Sirius, there will always be ignorant and intolerant people in this world…people who don't understand, and let their inability to understand make them afraid…the Ministry knows you're innocent, I know you're innocent, and a good many people know you're innocent. But those are not the people whose voices are readily heard…"
"I know," Sirius held up a hand. "You don't have to explain it to me, Headmaster…I knew things like this would happen. I was prepared for them."
He was…but still, it hurt. Perhaps in a deep, secret part of his heart he'd had some fantasy about being welcomed back into society with open arms and laughter.
Dumbledore sighed again, looking down at his hands, twiddling his thumbs. "Given the circumstances, I think it would be best-"
There was a knock at the door. They both looked up at it. Dumbledore sat back a bit and cleared his throat. "Come in…"
The door opened, and somewhat to Sirius's surprise, Severus stepped in. He was dressed in his teaching robes, a long black tunic and black pants underneath, his hair rather orderly and tucked behind his ears. When he saw Sirius, he stopped short, screwing his face up.
"I'm sorry, Headmaster…" he said. "I wanted to speak with you about my curriculum…I didn't know you were detained. I'll come back later…"
"No," Sirius got to his feet. "It's all right. I'm not staying. I think the Headmaster has said all to me that he needs to." He gave Dumbledore a polite nod. "I'll have my things together and be out of here by morning."
Dumbledore looked like he wanted to say something, raising a hand, but he stopped, perhaps because Severus was there. Severus gave Sirius an odd, darkly questioning look, but Sirius avoided his eyes, moving toward the door.
"I'll speak with you this evening, Sirius…" Dumbledore called after him. Sirius nodded and swept past Severus, leaving the room.
Back down the stairs and past the gargoyle, then out into the corridor. His mind was reeling, his heart aching. He wondered vaguely if there was ever going to be a place where he would be accepted again. And behind all that was a sense of anger-damn these people who wouldn't allow him a life, damn the people who had put him in this situation to begin with.
He was so wrapped up in his thoughts that he didn't realize someone was behind him until he got to the stairs. Severus swept up beside him, and Sirius came to an abrupt stop.
"Hit me on the right side this time…" Sirius tapped his right cheek, giving him a dark look. "I think the left side has had enough punishment."
"You're leaving?" Severus ignored his words. "Leaving Hogwarts?"
"Doesn't that make you happy?" Sirius turned and started down the stairs.
Severus didn't answer that. He followed him. "Why are you leaving?"
Sirius snorted. "People are taking their children out of school because of me. I don't want to cause any more inconvenience."
"Surely you knew this was going to happen."
"Yes, and surely I'm leaving."
Severus stopped him on the first landing, placing a hand on his shoulder. Sirius actually flinched a bit at the touch-it was so unexpected, especially the emotions it evoked in him.
"If you leave now, you're going to prove them right. You're going to let them have their way."
Sirius frowned, looking at him questioningly. Severus quickly averted his eyes, his expression still cold and stony, but with an odd uneasiness just beneath the surface, too.
"Why do you care?" Sirius shrugged the hand off his shoulder. "You hate me. You're certainly not going to lose any sleep over this." He turned to head down the second flight of stairs.
"Yes, I hate you." Severus's voice made him stop on the second one. "But what I hate more is injustice, and if there ever was one, this is it."
Sirius turned to look back at him. He stood over him on the landing, dark, brooding, and yet…there was something of the old Severus there too, the young man he had loved and adored, and betrayed.
"What would you have me do?"
"Stay. Go to the Masquerade."
Sirius looked at him as though he were mad. Severus remained composed and calm, though. He was dead serious. He always was.
"I'm not going to the Masquerade…" Sirius said bitterly. "To be gawked at and pointed fingers at? For everyone to sneer at me and whisper behind their hands? Why should I expose myself to that?"
A muscle twitched at the corner of Severus's mouth. "Perhaps I want you to see how I've felt most of my life…and perhaps because it's the right thing to do. And if you truly are a different man now, then the ability to grasp right and wrong should no longer elude you."
Sirius stared at him for a long moment. The words came out of his mouth before he could stop them. "And perhaps, somewhere in that blackened heart of yours, you still do care about me…"
It wasn't the smartest thing to say, considering Sirius was standing at the top of a very tall stone staircase. But the expected lunge and tackle didn't come.
"We'll see if you still have the guts you once did…" Severus turned to go back up the stairs. "If any of the old Sirius Black is still left in you."
Sirius frowned, watching him climb the stairs again, straight and stiff, his hair swinging against his shoulders.
He stopped, but didn't turn around-just sort of turned his face to the side, so his profile was outlined against the sunlight streaming through the stained glass windows at the top of the stairs. "What is it, Black?" He noticed he wasn't being yelled at for 'addressing him familiar.'
"Are…you going to the Masquerade?"
Severus was still for a moment, then he turned his head forward again and continued up the stairs. "I don't like masks. I've had enough of them."
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