Morte O Merce

By ClueGirl

 

 

Ite, caldi sospiri, al freddo core;

Rompete il ghiaccio che pietá contende,

E se prego mortale al ciel s'intende,

Morte, o merce sia fine al mio dolore.

 

Francesco Petrarch, 1304-1374

 

 

            “Why?” 

            It should have been a shout, a scream, a snarl, anything but that ice-locked whisper.  Everything about the man spoke of towering rage, from his whitened, flared nostrils to his bloodless lips drawn back to show the gleam of teeth.  His furnace-black eyes were bellowing at me, but the only physical sign he gave of wanting to break my neck was to flex his fingers, which were no doubt sore from his greeting-blow. 

I stared at those hands, thought I could spot a trace of blood as he clenched them  --  open, closed, open again, half reaching, snapped closed white and tight against his black robes.  The blood could have been his, because how often do wizards have occasion to clobber each other across the face when a well placed curse could do so much more damage – but I chose to believe it was mine.  That was what I’d come here for, after all.   I stared at those fingers and prodded gently at the fierce throb they’d left on my cheekbone. 

“Good entrance, mate,” I resisted the urge to laugh; if I started, I might not stop.  Ever.  “Much more believable than last time.”

            Snape lunged at me again, stooped like a raptor and pinned me against the corner with a hand around my throat.  Stars glittered as my head hit the wall, and I let out my breath in a long wheeze.  “Yesss...” Yes, hit me.  Hate me just like always -- just like before.

            “Stop it!”  He ground, looming in to put his sallow, unlovely face barely an inch from my own.  The tails of his fine wool robes puddled across my sprawled, naked legs as he crouched over me, and I could feel the cold leather of his boot heel against the outside of my thigh.  His breath smelled of black tea and something else, cold, sweet, perhaps a bit alcoholic.  “Explain this...” At a loss for words, Snivellus?  How unlike you, “perversion!  What in every definition of Hell do you think you’re playing at?”

            I swallowed, and his fingers tightened at the movement, but then released.  “I’m not paying you for questions, Astred,” I rasped, not meeting the metamorph’s eyes, trying to preserve the costly illusion, my only link to the past, “I’m paying you to kick the shit out of me.  I don’t have to tell you why.”

            The hand tightened again, and that smudged fist hiked up.  I steeled myself for the blow; it never fell.  The man wearing Snape’s face stopped, stared, and then gave that cold smile – perfect, exactly perfect.  You’ve never been able to get the smile right before, mate, and now you have to waste it with prying, you...you...  I sniffed, stiffened in horror.  Oh, sweet Merlin, something’s wrong.  You’ve never managed to get the smell right either.  Now the smell’s right.  You’re not you, Astred,  you’re Him!

            He understood.  His smile grew razors as the blood drained out of my face.  “You are not paying me anything, Sirius Black.”  My full name, which Astred never knew.  No question.  It was Snape -- the real one -- his black-pearl voice now rough with a furious tremble, “And you most certainly do have to tell me why you’re paying a metamorph concubine to impersonate me.”

            I couldn’t breathe, but he wasn’t choking me.  I couldn’t push him off, but he wasn’t holding me down.  I kicked and he grunted.  And then he was holding me down, hard, hard against the wall with his hand round my throat and his knee grinding bruise and fine wool into my thigh.  Merlin, don’t let him feel that I’m hard as-

            “R-remus...” I grasped for the ghost I came hunting, but the name could not invoke him this time.  I wasn’t close enough, not bruised enough.  “Damn!”

            “Lupin?”  Snape demanded, shaking me, “Is he part of this as well?  Gryffindors shagging in packs like you do everything else?”

            That did the trick.  I shoved and toppled Snape onto his arse.  “Shut up!  He doesn’t know!”  My voice cracked.  I drew my legs up in front of me, huddled into the corner.  “He can’t know.  Oh god, Severus, please.”  The dark place dragged at me, clawing up out of my throat – an emptiness so vast it could swallow every soul in Azkaban, starting with what was left of mine.  No escape.  No reprieve.  “Just go.  Leave me alone.”

            He didn’t.  I could feel his eyes on me, more weight compressing my body into despair.  They took everything else from me, and now that he knows, he’ll take this away too.  I wonder what it will be like to feel nothing?  Maybe that’s where dementors come from; human souls squeezed dry, hollowed out and filled with endless hunger.  No wonder they eat the joy first.

           I flinched as his hand closed on my knee.  A high, thin noise escaped me, and I grimaced.  Scream like a girl, Black, they like that, don’t they?

Something about the sound stopped him, and his hand stayed where it fell, tense but gentle, like a panther’s velveted paw.

            “I do not think your being alone is wise just now,” he said, and his thumb moved a little against the side of my knee.  Probably he meant it as a kind of comfort (which is all wrong, and I’d chastise Astred for it, but this is Snape-for-real, and he can do what he wants to me, because I asked him to, and oh god, that thumb is making me harder, and why won’t he leave?)  “Are you cold?”  He asked at length.

            I laughed, couldn’t help it.  But then I bit my tongue to stop the hysteria from swamping me.  “Not as cold as you.  Bastard.”  Come on, give it to me.  You always wanted to pay me back, and here’s your chance – I’ll never be more helpless, you Slytherin git, so...oh Merlin, will you hold that thumb still?  “Bastard,” the word caught in my throat.

            His eyes narrowed, but he didn’t rise to it.  He would have once.  Who told him he could grow so mature and canny while I was rotting away in – slam that door, lock it, don’t think of them while you’re looking at the only thing they didn’t take from you.

            “No.”  I blinked, startled into meeting his eyes, where I found myself suddenly trapped as in pitch.  “I will not hit you again, Black.  Not until you explain to me why you want me to.”  Why couldn’t those eyes be sharp, hateful, vindictive?  Why couldn’t he give me some kind of anchor to hold onto instead of drawing me in and drowning me?  “Now tell me where your clothes are, because despite your transparent bravado, you are cold, and far too thin for nakedness in an unheated room.”

            “Bathroom,” I sighed.  His hand lifted as he turned away.  I dropped my forehead onto my knees and hugged my legs close and tight as my erection began to fade.  My hair wants washing, I suddenly realized, and a comb too.  God, what a wreck I’ve become.  No wonder Mother screams when she sees me...

            “Come on,” Snape’s shadow returned with his voice to eclipse the firelight.  I looked up into his outstretched hand.

            “What?”

            “Get up.  There’s a bath drawn in there, and you clearly need it if you intend to employ any of your standard grooming-based insults.”  Almost – just a glimmer of the old, vicious Slytherin there.  I tried to snarl a response, but failed.  It wasn’t enough -- this new, watchful man had faint derision and pity in his eyes, but no doorway to the past.  My Snape is merciless.  This Snape only acts like he is.  Strangling a groan in my throat, I let fall my head again. 

            Then I heard him move, felt his taut, powerful fingers lock around my wrist.  I yelped as he wrenched me to my feet.  Snape caught my sprawling stumble against his chest.  Didn’t used to be broader than mine.  Used to be skinny and frail-looking and -- he wrapped an arm around my waist to hold me up against him, because I couldn’t seem to stand on my own.  Pathetic – go on, Snivellus, say it.  You know you want to say-

            “Can you walk?”

            A laugh escaped before I could bite it off, and I had to shake my head.  “No – not at present.”

            And then he picked me up.  Just like that, with a stoop and a swipe of arms that had no right to be strong enough to do it.  He murdered the past and waltzed on its grave as he carried me – me, who used to outweigh him by three stone of muscle – into the bath, where the steaming water waited.  Astred always bathed me afterward, since I would often be too weak to do it myself.  I’d always made him take his own face for that though.  Can’t do that this time, can you, Padfoot?

            “Snape?”  Damn that quaver in my voice.

            “What?”

            “Put me down.”

            I was surprised when he did.  He steadied my balance, but then let go, and I climbed into the tub on my own.  I didn’t want to see him, or for him to see me, but I could feel his eyes on my back, fixed on the bruises just yellowing from last time.  He closed the door and pulled a stool from the vanity to perch beside the tub as the water eased up around me.  His gaze weighed a ton on my neck.

            He wasn’t going to leave me alone.  He would make me tell him why, and he would not understand.  Who could understand it?  Perhaps if it was something as simple as masochism it’d be easy – but then it wouldn’t have to be Snape, would it?  Anyone could make me hurt and get me off.  No.  Nothing so simple at all.

            “Azkaban,” I began, staring at my feet through the steaming water.

            “The dementors, of course,” he replied.  I glanced up as he unbuttoned his outer robe and slung it onto a hook by the door, but he stripped no further, so it was probably just the heat.  “I have heard from others who were there.”

            I laughed, a bone-dry sound in the humid air.  “Who, Hagrid?  Those rich Death Eaters who skipped through with a slap on the wrist?  They don’t know.  Not really.”  He handed me a flannel and a bar of soap, but not without wrinkling his nose at the perfume.  I didn’t like lavender much either, but I used it anyway. 

“It’s different for Lifers.  What the dementors are allowed to do to us... what they are allowed to-” I swallowed as my voice cracked again, “take.”  He took in a breath, a long, hissing one, but I went on, knowing I’d never get through it if I let him interrupt.  “It’s not just joy, it’s not just peace, or contentment they take, it’s...” I covered my face, not to weep, but to shiver.  How can that coldness blast through me so without icing over the bathwater?  “They take it all, Snape.  Everything that could make you feel those things again.  Memories, bits of your soul that don’t grow back when you leave, and who cares anyway, because you’re never meant to leave, are you?  You’re meant to lie there when they come, lie still and submit, and hope they eat you a little faster than the poor bastard in the cell next to you, so you can stop feeling altogether.”

            Silence then – a long one.  “Does Lupin know?”

            I shook my head, unable to look up.  “I can’t tell him.  I can see what he feels, I can smell it in my animal form, and in a way, I know what it is, but...” God, how could this fit into words?  It was a betrayal so deep and vast it threatened to swallow me every time I looked into Remus’s amber eyes.  “But it’s as if everything we had, the friendship, the trust, the love -- it all happened to someone else, and I’ve just been told about it.” A bitter laugh escaped me, and I choked it off.  “He’s giving me ‘time’ and ‘space to think’, but no matter how I think, I can’t feel it.  And I want to feel it, remember it properly.  I want it more than anything in the world, but I can’t.  It’s just not there.  Nothing’s there anymore.  Nothing good.”

            There.  Said at last, those huge, toxic words.  Exhausted and relieved, I lay my head back against the lip of the tub, and hardly cared as tears slid down the sides of my face.

            “But you remember me.”  What bitterness in that voice.

            “Of course.  I never loved you, Snape.”  I slid under the water so I wouldn’t have to hear what he thought of that.  I shook my head to wet my hair and listened while my heartbeat echoed in my ears.  He was standing over me when I came up for air.  I wondered if he’d been about to reach in and grab me, but he just handed me a bottle of shampoo which slipped out of my fingers and splashed us both.  Snape sighed loudly and snatched it out of the water.

            “Oh, for Merlin’s sake, Black,” he opened the bottle, “just hold still, will you?”  He poured the soap on my head, and reaching up to lather it, I found his hand already there.  It felt good, those strong fingers massaging my scalp, but it also made my stomach clench in queasy fear.  Don’t you dare!  Don’t you dare be kind to me, you wanker -- don’t give them a way to take you away from me too!

            “So,” he said, “it appears I must revise my opinion of your cleverness, Black -- or at least of your acting abilities. You have managed to convince Lupin, Dumbledore, young Potter, et al that you love them in some measure.  Perhaps I should surrender my role as the Order’s spy to a more competent liar?”

            Pathetically grateful for the stinging words, I pulled away from his hands and scrubbed my own damn hair.  “Lupin sees what he wants to see, so it’s not hard to show him that, and pretend it’s true.”  I want it to be true, damn you!    “Dumbledore... well, I’ve a piece of him left.  From that night after the Shrieking Shack.”  Guilt, shame, horror at having so gravely disappointed the man.  Oh yes, Dumbledore’s still around.

            “And Potter?” Snape asked, rinsing his soapy hands beside me and stirring tiny, tickling wavelets along my skin.  I ducked back under the water, hiding from the question for as long as my lungs could take it.  But Snape hadn’t budged when I came up again – he still crouched like a gargoyle at the end of the tub, black eyed and implacable.

            “I don’t remember him as a baby,” I sighed under his stare, “All I have of him is from the last two years, after I escaped to go after Pettigrew.  There’s nothing to pretend with Harry; he’s real, he’s my godson, and I do love him.” Which means he can be ripped out by the roots just like the rest, and don’t you see how that scares me?

            He didn’t move, and didn’t stop staring.  After a moment, I gave up and let him think while I watched his white silk shirt go limply translucent in the steam.  I forced myself not to shudder, though it felt as if his eyes were peeling away my skin, flaying loose muscle and sinew to get to the bones beneath.  Perhaps he does see.  Maybe the heartless bastard can know what it’s like to need to feel something – anything – even if it’s pain.

            “You know you must stop this,” Snape said at last.

            I started to laugh, but he cut me off.  “You have not asked me where Astred Rhychdir is tonight.” 

            I swallowed, waiting and wringing the flannel into knots around my fingers. 

            “He sought me out, Black – he came to me in Hogsmeade, and he told me what you pay him to do.”

            “No!  That little-”

            “Indeed,” a grim smile there, “He recognized you as a fugitive, and he wanted an accomplice to hand you over to the Ministry and collect the bounty for him.  His Guild contract would relegate the reward to his Directress if he tried to collect it himself.”

            “But Celeste wouldn’t-”

            “Not if she knew,” Snape agreed, “Lady Benedetta takes her client confidentiality very seriously indeed, but if Astred had succeeded, he would hardly have cared about being banished from the PillowGuild and ostracized in his field.  He would have been rich beyond a whore’s dreams, even on half of what the Ministry is offering for you, and you would have been back in Azkaban again.” 

            Azkaban.  Again. 

Everything went grey. 

Then Snape was shaking me, calling my name.  “-hear me, Black?  You are safe,

calm down!”

            I stared at him, working it out.  He’d got my hands clenched together by the wrists, pinned in one of his own.  My right arm stung, and I could see deep bite marks there, as though I’d tried to gnaw free.  My heart trip-hammered, and I tasted blood in my mouth.  My tongue felt bitten.  Snape was soaked, his white shirt little more than a film plastered against a body pale as milk and spare as bone.

            “You’re safe,” he said again, holding my gaze, “and the Order is safe as well.  Mr Rhychdir is sleeping off a dose of Tabula Rasus and a memory charm in an upstairs room of the Hogshead inn.  He will never remember what almost happened, unless-” he shook my wrists for emphasis, jolting me against the tub, “you return here with another such asinine request, and then may Merlin help you, for no one else will be able!”

            I tried to pull away, though the clench of his fingers makes my wrist bones grind.  “Let me go, Snape.” 

He didn’t.  “No.  I want your word on it.  As a Gryffindor.”

            “I can’t-”

            “You must!  I will not allow you to endanger the Order-”

            “Damn it, don’t you think I know?!”  Yanking against his hold didn’t work, so I lunged toward him, up to my knees as the water heaved over the side of the tub and swamped his body from the chest down.  “Don’t you think I’d stop if I could?  I can only pretend so long before that...” nothingness -- that’s what it is, that nothingness where I ought to be.  I swallowed, pleaded for mercy from the least merciful man I knew.

“Severus, I have nothing else.  Take this away from me, and I will run mad, and while you may not give two damns about my sanity, at least think of what a danger I will be to the Order then!” 

His lips went white, his eyes narrow and fierce as I shouted at him.  And that expression, I knew how to read. Anger, spite, unyielding resentment; Severus Snape, through and through.

            “Or is that what you want?” I demanded, leaning close, daring, “It is, isn’t it? You can’t work out how to send me back to... there without looking bad yourself, so now you have a clever way of destroying me without dirtying your-”

            He backhanded me, raking knuckles like steel across my words and rattling my teeth.  I would have fallen but he kept hold of my wrists, steadying me.  His breath sounded in the room, loud, and oddly even while he waited for me to straighten up. 

I stared at him and my heart battered achingly at my ribs.  He stared back, his eyes black and hot and hard with hatred... then the edge of his mouth curved up just a trifle, and he gave the shadow of a nod.

            Something snapped loose inside my chest – painfully crippling in its release.  I was instantly hard, and dizzy with the rush of blood to my cock.  There you are, Sirius – been awhile since I’ve seen you about.  Care to stay for a bit now things are just getting good?   I let out a breath I didn’t know I’d been holding, and returned his nod.

            He drove his fist into my stomach, and I collapsed wheezing around his arm.  Only his grip on my wrists kept me from going face first into the bathwater.

            “Not so big once we get you away from your friends, are you, Black?”  He sneered, the words tickling like ants across the back of my neck, “You’re just a little thing, really, a frightened little bully who finally gets to feel what it’s like to be the helpless one.”  He hauled on my arms, slung me out of the bath and sent me sprawling across the swamped floor.  “But I suppose you Gryffindors really are only brave in groups of three or more, aren’t you?”

            Yes.  Like that.  I got my hands under me just as he snapped a kick to my chest – flat-footed so as to bruise, but not break my ribs. Leather slapped against skin and my breath gagged out of me, but still I had to grin.  There Snape was, real and whole, and missing no parts at all – not a ghost of a memory, not a shapeshifter playing a role, but him – and therefore by proxy, Me.  He stooped, grabbed my wet hair, and pulled me up to my knees.  His soaked wool trousers were shrinking indecently around his narrow hips, giving off a creaking, steamy musk of lavender soap and Snape’s body.

            “Find something funny, Black?”

            I breathed a sore laugh, nodded fractionally.  “You, Snivellus -- all big and self-righteous.  Bet you’ve-” He slapped me again, I rolled with it.  “-wanted to do this for years, haven’t you?”

            “You’d like it if I had, wouldn’t you?”  He sneered, giving my head a shake and twisting my hair viciously, “Bring me down to your Neanderthal level, let you imagine I was just like you underneath it all?”

            I pushed a hand against his thigh and gave him a dare wrapped in a smile.  “And yet here you are.”  He blinked, almost shocked as I ran my hand higher, brushed the bulge of his crotch under the straining wool.

            “And yet, here I am.”  He let me touch him, let me feel the blood filling his cock until I could hear the seams of his trousers creaking with the stress. I glanced up, found his eyes drifting closed, angry mouth relaxing, hand softening in my hair.  No, dammit!  I ground the heel of my hand against him, made him gasp and flinch.

            Stronzo di merda!  He snarled, yanking me upright by my hair and then throwing me back against the wall.  The shelf of toiletries collapsed by my head, spilling with a crash across the floor as Snape pinned me upright.  I groaned, shuddering as he drove a fist into my stomach, and a knee between mine.  When I collapsed into him, my balls ground against his thigh. 

            “You have something to say to me, Sirius Black?”  Snape hissed in my ear, pressing his chest against mine, and grinding me with his thigh, “Something you mouthed without meaning in the Headmaster’s office some twenty years back?”

            I groaned, reached for his fly with shaking fingers.  “Yeah.  You-” he knocked my hand away and ripped the placard off his ruined trousers, sending buttons flying like shrapnel around the room, “You should really learn to take a joke, Snivellus.”

            He pulled back, eyes blazing.  For a moment I thought I’d gone too far – that murderous intensity of his locked on me, and I caught my breath.  He leaves now, you idiot.  He leaves, or he really tries to kill you!  But he only cracked his fist against my jaw, rocking my head against the wall and making me see stars – making my cock twitch and ache with the reality of it.  Again he hit me, and again.  I thrust into the crook of his hip, groaning at the heat I found there.  I was so close to coming – so damn close.

            “Can’t you hear me laughing, Black?”  Snape asked mildly, forcedly, grabbing my aching chin to make me look at him, “Because I am amused at your little joke,” he shifted, thrust my knee aside, and suddenly that wasn’t his hip my cock pressed into.  Oh ho, Snivellus, what a boner you’re sporting there!  Who’d have thought?  He shoved against me, steel to steel, grating friction as hard and desperate as his blows had been.  I could see sweat beading on his pale forehead, glossing a sheen over one jumping vein.  “in fact, I’m dying with hilarity on the inside.”  Another thrust, and his hand wrapped around us both, dragged a whine from my throat.

            Then he stopped.  Statue still, rock-solid.  If not for the racing pulse in his cock, clamped hard against my own, I could have thought him petrified.  Teetering on the edge, I hunched against him, frotting for his hand, his cock, anything.  He moved away, held me against the wall with a hand in the hollow of my shoulder and let icy air fill the void where his body had been.

            “What happens now, Black?”  Snape asked, and oh how lust snagged up that gleaming voice of his.

            “I don’t- You can’t just-” I shook my head, grasping at my shattered thoughts.  “What do you mean?”  I managed finally.

            “What does Rhychdir do next?  How does this scene end?”  He didn’t smile, and that was good, because I think I would have found a way to kill him if he had done.

            “That sack of spite’s not here,” I ground out, glaring, “you are.”  I put my hand on his belly, dragged my fingers down through crisp curls to the velveted thrust of his manhood.  It jumped as I wrapped my fingers around it, and the heat flared in Snape’s eyes.  “You tell me what happens.”  Don’t say you want to leave, you bastard.  Not yet.  Don’t take me away with you -- I’m not ready to go!  I put the desperation I couldn’t voice into my hand, working him in kneading, urgent strokes.

            He let me do that for a long moment, somehow managing to keep his sneer intact even while his knees were trembling.  Then abruptly, he leaned close again, and his mouth brushed my ear with a cruelly twisted smile.  “On your knees, Black.”

            And there’s Remus – randy and dominant and sixteen years old as the afternoon sunlight hammers through the Shrieking Shack’s grimy windows.  He’s as much an alpha today as he will be when fur covers him tonight, and his eyes glow like brass as he shoves me down and opens my mouth.  I give him what he needs, and I know when this full moon is over, he’ll make it up to me in tenderness.  Because he loves me.  He loves me.

            I went, shivering with lust and memory.  Feeling fully real for the first time in months, I took Snape’s thick, heavy cock into my mouth and sucked.  He thrust short and fierce past my tongue, nudging my throat and not caring when I gagged.  His fingers clenched in my hair, and I groaned.

            Yes.  More.  The smell of him curled around my memory as I sucked – heady and familiar in its maleness, but cut with phantom odors that were uniquely new.  Hot, wet wool, bitterness like patchouli or myrrh, something sharply resinous, oceanic...  Snape shifted, bracing himself on the wall.  His ripped-open trousers wetly grazed my cheek, distracting me with the smell of lavender.

            I hooked my fingers over the sundered waistband and skinned them down over his goose-prickled thighs without interrupting my mouth’s business.  He sighed appreciatively, toed off his boots as though he had much practice, and then kicked the trousers away.  His abdomen shifted against my forehead as he slipped the drenched silk shirt over his head.  It drifted like a sheet of ice across my back when he let it drop, and my moan made his heavy balls tighten in my hand.  Fuck!  Don’t you come, you bastard, don’t you fucking quit on me now!

            As if he heard my thought, Snape hit me again, knocked my face away from him with hardly enough force to sting.  All the same, it made my belly clench and my cock jump and weep.  I’m here.  I’m real.  I’m real.  I let out a shuddering sigh, still chasing that shadow of Remus behind my closed eyes.

            Then Snape’s voice slashed through like a razor.  “Get out of here.” He flung the door open with a bang.

            “No-” I surged upright, furious and desperate.  Then he hit me again, and meant it that time.  Spitting stars, or maybe teeth, I sagged back against the doorframe, too dizzy to resist when he heaved me over with one foot.

            “Who said you could walk, Black?”  Snape demanded, hauling me onto my hands and knees by my hair, “I want to see you slink to the bed like the beaten dog you are.”  Oh that.  Of course.  Glad to see you’re still on board, old viper.

            “Fuck you, Snivellus.”

            “Getting there, yes,” he smirked shoved me along with his foot, “now move.”

            “So I guess this answers it.”

            “What, precisely?”  He kicked me down again, and I let him, though my knees made alarming noises on the floor.

            “Why you were always sniffing about after us -- you just wanted a piece of me.” That time he didn’t stop me getting to my feet, but merely stood watching – the very image of cold loathing, as long as you didn’t look below the waist, where his rampant cock purpled with blood and impatience.  “Didn’t you?”  I challenged.

            “Didn’t everyone?”  I blinked, startled by Snape’s response, because I honestly hadn’t thought my accusation true.  He grinned at my discomfiture, brows lowering in an expression at once triumphant and indescribably lewd.  “Come now, Gryffindor – this is no time to pretend humility.  We both know the world revolves around your much-admired arse, though I cannot fathom how such an easily-had commodity manages to retain its value.”

            And of all things he could have said, that managed to get under my skin.  I clenched my fists as all at once my Irish swept over me in a heated flush.  “Bastard!”

            He flinched back as I swung on him, and my fist just barely grazed his jaw.  I saw his gut-punch coming, but overextended as I was, I could do nothing to evade or block it.  He drove his fist under my ribs, and everything went still and white for a second.  I realized distantly that I couldn’t seem to draw a breath.  Or stand.

            “Well,” Snape’s voice panted in my ear as I collapsed against him, “You’re certainly more like your old self now, aren’t you?  Not that that’s anything to be particularly proud of.”

            “Huh.  Shit. Head.”  I managed, clutching at Snape’s shoulders as he hefted me aloft and slung me across Astred’s bed.  I made a mental note to gain some weight before I let the greasy git touch me again.  He dropped to the mattress beside me, and I could still do nothing more than struggle for breath.

            “My point exactly,” he sneered, wiping sweat from his lip, “The old Sirius Black restored in all his aggravating glory.  Why if not for this-” he grabbed my cock and tugged a groan from my belly, effortlessly rekindling the fire, “unresolved issue, I should almost think we were finished here.”

            “Ohgod,” I thrust weakly in his grip, hearing Remus’s voice tickle in my ear.

            I’m sorry I hurt you, Sirius.  You shouldn’t let me – not when I’m like that.  You shouldn’t keep coming here.”  His touch is warm, soft, urgent, and it contradicts his words to the letter.  I cover his hand with mine as the precome threads over our knuckles.

            “Don’t be a prat.  Get down here and kiss me while I come...”

            A snort.  “Well, if you insist.”  And then Snape did. 

            I don’t know which hit me harder, the idea of my having said that aloud, or the feel of his jaw digging into mine as his tongue shut me up.  But my orgasm was rushing at me like a freight train and the unfamiliar texture of the kiss, the tension of feint and thrust between his tongue and mine, the black-tea taste of his mouth all served to speed it on.  I panted and roared into his mouth, and he swallowed it all, pumping tightly as the fire tore out of my belly and poured across our fists.

            He kept kissing, kept kneading, gentling as the pulses slowed.  Finally, Snape lifted his face away cocking his head to look down his nose at me.  “All done then, Black?”  The attitude was spoiled by the flush resting high across his cheekbones, and by the plump, thoroughly kissed lips.  I couldn’t help but smile.  Good man, keeping the game up still.  But I’m not that selfish, no matter what you want to think of me, you git.

            I slid my free hand into his lap, wrapped my fingers around the silken heat of him and replied through my teeth.  “Not by half.  Was that the best you’ve got?”

            “Not by half,” he replied, rolling across me, hooking up one leg on his arm.  I caught a flash of teeth behind his black hair – a grin or a grimace, I couldn’t tell – it was enough to almost pretend...  It’s James, blue eyes intense as he works me, scissoring his fingers, twisting them while I writhe on the grass under the stars.  “Gonna fuck you so hard...” he whispers, leaning over me, “Remus will have to sleep on the wet spot!” I groan, and Remus takes my hand, puts it in his pants as he covers my mouth with his.  Then James takes his fingers away, and I could almost scream if I didn’t know what was coming next...

            “Laxare lubricarius,” Snape muttered above me, shocking the precious phantoms loose.

             I felt the cold, prodding tip of his wand in the last place any wizard wants someone else’s wand poking him.  “What the hell are you-” I tensed to heave him off me, but then suddenly the spell took effect and I could only gasp and hunch into the delicious unwinding of it.  Everything felt hot, slick, and eagerly ready.  “Holy shit, Snape,” I panted a laugh, “trust a perverted freak like you to know a spell for that.”

            “Yes,” he leered, “I suppose you rather did.”  Then he thrust home with one lunge, rocking my hips up off the mattress and blinding me with pleasure as he hit the sweet spot dead on.

            “Fuckyes!” I gasped, reaching up for the headboard bars.  I shoved against them, grinding down, impaling myself further.  “Oh Holy – Ah!”

            Alright there, Sirius?

            Yes.  God, yes, Jamie.  I just- I need- oh God, yes please like that!

            C-careful, you’re so fucking t-tight...don’t want to hurt-

            James, if you don’t fuck me proper right now, I swear I’ll chase you down in animagus form and eat you!

            “H-harder!”  I heard myself demanding breathlessly as Snape’s cock and Jamie’s memory pounded into me, “Don’t stop, oh God don’t stop!”

            He didn’t – not for a long time, he didn’t.  Not till we were both slick with sweat, panting and trembling.  Not till the only language either of us could manage was growls and whines, roars and screams.  Not till my balls turned inside out for the second time that night and splattered come as hot as blood across my chest and belly.  Not until his orgasm roared out of him, smothered in his mouthful of my shoulder.

            Then he stopped, and for a while, so did the world.

 

 

 

 

            “Black.”

            I didn’t respond, didn’t react.  I’m asleep.  I’m passed out.  I’m fucking dead, Snape.  Can’t you tell when a man’s dead?  I’m not going to talk about this.  I’m not!    I know how to feign sleep – it’s something one learns quickly in Azkaban – I kept my breath light, even, kept my eyes relaxed, my tongue soft in my mouth to create the fluttery edge of a snore.  It was good enough to fool a dementor, but something told me it wasn’t going to fool Snape. 

            After a moment, I heard him sigh, felt the bed move as he rolled toward me, reaching.  But before he could grab me, shake me, or whatever he’d planned to do, the door opened, and a woman’s soft, throaty voice whispered in the gloom.

            “Severo?  Sei tu addormentato?”  I managed to turn my startled twitch into a sleepy murmur and a sheltering curl into the wall, unnoticed as Snape sat up. 

            Non ancora, Celesta,” he said.  I waited till I felt his weight leave the bed before peering through my lashes.  I could just see them reflected in the mirror as they cheek-kissed, neither one mentioning, or apparently concerned with the fact that he was as naked as I.  “Not yet.  Is there trouble?”

            “I came to ask you that, Severo.  Delphine’s in the next room, quite certain there’s been murder done here,” she smiled, her lips voluptuous and dark against her pale olive skin.  Celeste is famous for that smile – sin incarnate, temptation on six inch heels, and everything a Courtesan ought to be.  She set glasses and a bottle on the sideboard, poured wine for them both.  “Will he be alright?”

            Snape looked back at me, then nodded and took the glass.  “Blackwood must see to him before he leaves this time.”

            Her brow knitted, and those famous lips made a moue of annoyance.  “Of course Blackwood will see him, Severo.  Had I known what Astred was doing to him, I would never have let him leave here unattended!”  She snorted and adjusted her sable wrap over her narrow, artistic shoulders.  “That is why I pay a mediwizard, after all – I have a reputation to maintain!”

            “Not with this customer, Cugina,” Snape said.

            She wrinkled her nose.  “Of course not, Bela.  I know this is one of yours, but it’s the idea of it.  If we harm here, we heal here, always.  Father would roll in his grave to know bruises like that ever walked out our doors!”  I held very still as she glared at my purpled back, swirling her wine angrily, “That cagatta, Rhychdir has a lot to answer for.”

            “He does indeed,” Snape growled as his face settled into a fierce glower.

            Celeste took his arm, leaned her head against his for a moment – her heels put them of a height.  “You want me to sack him, don’t you Severo?”

            “I would not presume to tell you your business-”

            “But,” she laughed, “you want me to sack him.  Or to feed him to the Thestrali, which I think might be a better idea, no?  I do not trust that little chiavato.”  She patted Snape’s hand, her long, varnished nails gleaming in the torchlight. 

            “Which is why you ought to keep him here,” Snape sighed, “This man is alive only by fortune’s grace.  If Rhychdir had gone to Malfoy instead of me...” That thought settled an iceberg in my belly, and for a moment I forgot to breathe. Probably not Azkaban at Malfoy’s hands...probably something much worse.  “Someone must keep watch on his treachery.”  Snape’s voice cut the panic through just in time.

            “Of course, Severo; keep your friends close, your clients a little closer...” Celeste trailed off, arching an eyebrow at him.  When he did that students trembled, but on her, the expression was hopelessly, dangerously cute.  I wondered which of them taught it to the other.

            “And your enemies closest of all,” he finished the proverb, “I remember Zio Paolo’s lectures as well, Celesta.”

            She cocked a significant look at me, then finally to him, letting her eyes wander down his whippet-lean, sunless body and back up again while she smirked into her wineglass.  “So I notice, Severo.  You kept him quite close indeed, poor man.”

            “Him?”  Snape shook his head, and a strange softness entered his voice – thoughtful, perhaps a little sad.  “No.  He is not my enemy.” 

            Aren’t I?  News to me.  You’re not going soft on me, are you Snivellus?

            Her eyebrows lifted.  “So?  Then I would not want to see him that you do call your enemy.”

            “No, Bella,” he agreed, “you would not.”

            They drank a toast to that, silent agreement with a single chime of crystal for emphasis.  “So,” Celeste said, refilling their glasses, “I have reports for you.  We have had a lot of traffic lately – Ministry as well as the Morte Mangiatori.  Will you come to my office to review them?”

            “Not tonight,” he said, setting his half-full glass down, “He ought not to be alone just now.” 

            “Mm.  I will not tell Solange you came then.  You know how jealous he can be.”

            He chuckled at her, a sound almost as alien coming from Snape as that faint hint of Italian accent he’d begun to sport since Celeste came in.  “A possessive Courtesan – only here.  You indulge them all, Direttora,” he began. 

            She tapped her finger to his lips to interrupt.  “I do.  And you, Severo, are not presuming to tell me my business – Remember?”

            He caught her finger, turned it over his knuckles and kissed it once.  Gallantry that could have had him pulling chicks better than James on a House Cup weekend if he even once decided to use it with his clothes on.  Si, Direttora.”

            “So.  I will leave you.  Ring the bell when you want Blackwood to come.”  She swept to the door and threw him a wink.  Ciao, Severo.”

            Ciao, Celesta.”

 

            He sat in the chair and watched me while I breathed low and even, and watched his reflection in the darkened window.  We both knew I wasn’t sleeping, but I suppose Snape felt secure enough to allow me my illusion while he finished his glass of wine.  When he poured the last of the bottle into two glasses, I sighed and gave up the ruse.

            “You drink it.  I don’t want any.”  My Irish blood could thin the hardest whiskey, but one glass of the grape would have me hungover for a week.

            “Mm.  What do you want then?”

            Whiskey, a nice stiff shot of Obliviatus, a big black balloon full of artificial joy, a biscuit, my fucking soul back...  “To go home.”  I sighed.

            “Always more difficult than it seems.”  Snape agreed.

            “Especially with my mother’s portrait right there by the door.”  I rolled over with a laugh.  “She’s better than a foulmouthed parrot and a crap-slinging monkey all in one.”

            “And about as pleasant as either.”  Snape got up, turning to the sidebar, where he pulled out an amber bottle.  The whiskey – a peaty Scottish single malt, tickled my nose as he brought it to the bed and set it on my stomach beside my hand.  The chill of the glass felt good against my bruised ribs, so I held it there and watched Snape settle beside my feet, facing me along the length of the bed.

            “You’re reading me, aren’t you?”  I accused.

            He nodded.  “Unintentionally, I assure you.  Legilimency is a... side effect of sex for my family.”  I stared at him, wondering why it didn’t make me furious to imagine Snape peeking into my private thoughts.  Hell, why should I care if he sees inside?  I can’t make sense of this wreck in my skull, and I live here – what can he get from it?

            “Bet that makes for interesting pillow talk after the Death Eater orgies.”  I said at last.  Did he just squash a smile and hide it in that wineglass?

            “Between MacNair’s uninspiring sadism, Malfoy’s narcissism, Pettigrew’s barely restrained corprophagy, and your cousin Bellatrix’s incessant compensatory dominatrix act, the pillow talk is really about the only reason to attend at all.”  A joke.  It’s the end of the world!

            I laughed.  “Especially when your sister’s running one of the most exclusive Houses in Hedon Alley.  No need to stoop to stunted weeds when you’ve got your choice of Celeste’s hothouse flowers, eh?”

            “Cousin.”

            “What?”

            “Lady Benedetta is a cousin on my mother’s side,” Snape replied, a bit of his old sneer returning, “Is your command of Italian really that poor, or were you too busy ogling her backside to eavesdrop properly?”

            “Hers was covered at least,” I said before I could stop myself.  Whereas yours is blindingly white, so tight I could bounce a knut off the divot and hit the opposite wall, and... I blinked, remembering what else was unique about Snape’s arse.  “And what’s with that tattoo, anyway?  Death Eaters expanding their recreational inkings these days?”

            He raised an eyebrow, and his lips thinned, pressing the pink softness of recent kisses into a pale slash.  “Haven’t I hit you enough for one evening, Black?”  But it wasn’t actual anger in his eyes now, nor pain at my jab either.  Something more hollow, like disappointment.  Ouch. Now why should that hurt?

            “Never thought I’d hear you turning down the chance for a free shot at me,” bravado saved me from a stumbling apology.  I sat up, sore stomach jumping from the stress, and drank the liquor in one shot.  I’d have preferred a proper Irish blend, but who was I to refuse Rhychdir’s expensive scotch?  “After I got away from you in the Shrieking Shack, I rather figured you’d find the thought of kicking my arse a source of endless joy.”

            “Did you now?”  Snape’s voice was bitter as he stretched his legs the length of the bed and crossed them at the ankles.  The pose should have made him look at ease, a leggishly elegant odalisque, but it didn’t – instead he seemed armored, a bit more buttoned up, despite the complete nudity of us both.  Leaving.  Yeah, that’s the leaving look.  I should know, I practically invented it.

            “Oh come on, Snape,” I prodded, “you never so much as accepted my apology for that prank in school, and it was just a prank, by the way.  You were still on about it damn near twenty years later on.  You don’t so much carry a grudge as fucking treasure it!”  I lay my hand over the bruise beginning to darken my ribs where he’d kicked me “And I’ve some rather spectacular proof that you were, in fact, enjoying yourself.”

            “Had your apology held a shred of contrition, I might have valued it more!” Snape’s cheeks flamed with high color for a second, “Had you even come to me... But no.  You did not understand me then, and I doubt you’ll do so now.  And this is not about my disinclination to waste my forgiveness anyway, Black, it’s about you doing and saying anything you can think of to get what you want.  As usual.”

            “Sure,” I said, gripping the glass painfully, half hoping it would shatter, “if that makes you feel better about getting off tonight, I can go along with that.”

            He scowled, arms crossed over his chest, swirling his wine while a muscle jumped over his jaw.  Then he seemed to come to a decision, draining his glass and standing in an oddly fluid movement. 

“It is called a sigilum,” he said, planting his arse before me so the elegant sprawl of ink was just at eye level, “It has nothing to do with the Dark Lord or his followers.  They will, in fact, most likely never actually see one in their collective lives.”

I traced the lines across his sacrum with my eyes, almost recognizing some of the shapes, ratios and interlacings.  Arithmancy and Calligromancy had gone into the design, and something else – something that made those lines faintly lambent in the dim firelight.  “It’s magic,” I said, resisting the urge to touch the glittering pattern, “What does it do?”

“Many things,” came the grudging reply, “the Legilimency, for one.  Certain… compulsions for me when under the effects of the Legilimency for another.”

            I blinked, still untying the knotted lines with my eyes and wondering idly whether the fine hairs along his hips would rise if I brushed a finger there. 

“Why the hell would you get something like that done?”  I asked,

“Family tradition,” the words were clipped and sharp, “It is done to all children of… certain bloodlines that live to see the age of sixteen, no matter the future they choose for themselves.”

I thought about that while my eye picked out the glyph for ‘heart/soul’ from the tangle, and traced it to ‘lover’, ‘healer’, and ‘slave’ in the same line.  I thought about Celeste, looking like she won the same genetic lottery that Snape lost.  I thought about something my insane old great-and-then-some-Grandfather Phineas used to say about sex.  “Sometimes it’s just skin, boy, and sometimes it’s for littering too.  But sometimes it changes the shape of your soul – with the right partner, that is, and if you’ve deep enough pockets to pay for it.” 

Certain bloodlines.

“So what you’re trying to tell me,” I made my voice hard, “is that coming from a family of pimps, you know how to guess what a john wants?”

            His head moved slowly, curling back to cast a murderous look at me.  “No.  It means when you thrust your needs upon me, I am strongly compelled to meet them,” his eyes glittered, “repulsive though I might find the task.” 

“Bullshit.”  I called, “You’ve never given in to anyone like that, least of all me, whom you hate!”

“Having never presented yourself to me for anything of this kind before, you have no means to know, Black,” he growled, half-turning.  I poked at his hip to turn him back and let me keep looking.  “Not that I would have accepted you if you had, that is.”

“What, family frown on freelancing, Snape?”  Why did I say that?  Piss him off more, and he’ll clam up and leave, Sirius, is that what you want?

I watched in the mirror as Snape’s thin lips twisted into that familiar ironic sneer, but for himself, it seemed, not me.  “Any fool can tell from a look at my face, I have no neglected calling in the PillowGuild.  No one cares about my proclivities but me.”

            Well sure, you git – who wants to fuck a sour scowl like yours?  Not like it’d kill you to smile or anything.  I bit that back, and didn’t let his hip go, though the muscle twitched under my hand.  “Good job you’ve Potions to fall back on then, isn’t it?”  I said, “Aphrodisiacs can always do the trick for a guy like you.”

            His balance shifted.  He was going to walk away.  Really away.  Way to screw it all up, Sirius.  I brushed a finger over the sigilus before Snape could move out of reach.  I almost thought it moved, tingled as he shocked still.  The fine, delicate hairs did indeed rise under my finger’s tracing.  I found the glyph for ‘passion’, and for ‘concealment’ nestled against each other.  ‘Silence’ peered out, half hidden in his cleft.  Snape’s breath hitched, and he shivered when I traced it.

            “So I should pay you after all.”  He tensed again, but I kept tracing, kept talking. “Because it was good, you know.  It was what I needed.”  I let my hand drop as he turned, looking up to meet his eye, and to avoid staring at his crotch.  “I can’t explain it, but-” I spread a hand across my chest, feeling my ribs lean out hard through thin muscle, “There’s more of me here now, and I can go on with the act – you know?  I can keep on pretending I’m me.”  Maybe even believe it for awhile as well....

            “For how long?”  Snape asked, his voice like tight-drawn silk, “And at what cost when your addiction to who you think you used to be overwhelms your good sense again?”

            Bastard!  I looked away, thought about storming out of the room.  But he was right.  I knew it was nothing more than a tourniquet, what he had done for me – the hemorrhage was still going on inside me, and sooner or later, I’d have to stem the tide again.  Or drown in the nothingness. 

            Then I thought of the glyph ‘silence’, and swallowed.

            “That depends,” I whispered, staring up at him.  Understand.  Please understand, Snivellus!  And don’t hate me so much you’ll deny it for spite! “On how hard I have to search to find what I need.”

            I didn’t touch him.  I’d done the leaving often enough to know that clinging’s always what slams the door in the end.   And he was very close to leaving.  Something fought itself in his eyes and at the corners of his mouth – something not at home on that face.  I watched the battle, afraid to name the combatants for fear one of them should be pity.

After a moment, Snape slid to his knees before me, splaying my legs to accommodate his ribs between them.  If I leaned in half an inch, my nose would bump his.

            “And what if I can prove to you that you do not need it?” He asked.

            No.  Oh Merlin’s balls, Severus, no please don’t put your hands on my face, not like that, not while you’re looking at me like that!  Please don’t kiss me... my stomach twisted in sick fear, and I held my eyes wide, staring at him in horror lest he turn into a dementor when his lips touched mine.

            But his lips were soft, and his breath smelled dark red and sweet of wine as he coaxed his way into my mouth. His hair drifted against my chin as he tilted his face to slide that nose next to mine, kissing gently, urgently.  He made a noise, a tiny, soft moan in the back of his throat, and that helped – dementors make no noise, not in passion or in hunger, or in slack, satiated greed --  Slam!  Lock the door, wedge it shut and run away!  Don’t let them in here where Snape is real, and has a pulse, and strokes his fingers against the back of your neck and that spot just behind your ear...

            I choked on a whimper and Snape answered, deepened the kiss, digging his jaw into mine.  He smoothed his fingers into my still-damp hair, along my ears, down the line of my jaw and throat in an endless cycle of caresses.  I trembled under his delicately sweeping fingers, far more frightened than I had been under his punishing fists.  Sweet.  No, Severus, not so sweet.  No, no, no... I felt him swallow my sob, press his chest closer against mine, They’ll find it, they’ll take it, rip it out, rape it out, and they’ll take you too, and please, please stop!

            He sighed at last and pulled away, wrapped his thin, strong arms around my quaking shoulders, and simply held me.  “You can’t even try, can you?”  I shivered as his disappointment gusted in my ear.

           “I’m scared.”  I said, putting all my will into holding myself upright, and not collapsing into those arms which felt good, terrifyingly good around me, but were simply the wrong ones.  “I need to hate you, Snape, and I need you to hate me too.” 

I felt his arms harden at the words, felt the jaw next to mine clench. “Stop.  Don’t.”

But I pressed on, desperate. “That’s the only way I have back to myself – back to Sirius Black.  You don’t know how little there is left...”

            “And you don’t know how lucky you are,” Snape let go, pulled away and stood all in one graceful movement.  He should have had his robes on to make the most of that swirl.  “To have your past expunged, even by so violent a means.  Sirius, don’t you know how many men would kill to have the second chance you’ve got now?”

            I had to laugh, and not in a good way.  Hysteria bubbled up out of my lungs like bloody foam, the absurdity of Snape’s words crashing through the outrage that accusation justly deserved.

            “No.  Not Azkaban, you fool,” he thundered, looming over me.  “I mean now – right now, when you have all your life to write over!  You have a clean slate, and all you can do is pine after the scratchings you’ve lost!”

            And that did it.  That broke the ugly laughter into ice-shards of fury.  I stood, shoved Snape back.  “I lost people, Snape!  I lost friends, real ones, who loved me!  Your flinty little heart might never have opened up enough to let anyone really matter to you, but mine did!  The dementors tore them out by the roots!”  I shoved him again, “So don’t you dare judge me, you sanctimonious bastard, and don’t-” I poked his chest, backed him up another step, “you-” another step, “dare-” another, “EVER-” at the wall now, “kiss me like that again!”

            His dark eyes narrowed, glinting with a canny light as Snape tilted his head a little to the side.  “Just so,” his mouth twisted into that ugly, vicious smirk, “And does your breaking yourself to bits so you can remember those whom you have lost bring them any closer?  Are James and Lily somehow less dead when your ribs need taping and your nose runs blood?” How strange to hear their given names curl out on Snape’s silky growl.  “Is Lupin any less alien to you when you’re spitting teeth?”

            I turned away, cold now and tired of being naked.  “Get out of here.”

            “Oh, I will,” he answered, stepping past me to yank the silk coverlet from Astred’s rumpled bed, “when we’ve finished.”

            “We’re finished now.”

            “Hardly begun,” his voice sunk to a rumble, “and you know it.  We have yet to touch on the vulnerability your…proclivities present to the Order.  Or what I am to report about it to Albus.”

            I whirled to glare.  “You – damn it, don’t you dare!”

            He stared at me, eyebrow raised over his sneer.  “Then give me a reason not to.  Give me a reason to believe no one outside the Order will be able to use you to compromise everything for which we strive!”  His voice warmed with anger, and he threw the coverlet aside as he began to pace, “Damn it, Black, HE is returned!  This is no time for self-delusion – The Dark Lord may be nothing but a shadowy threat to you, but I have SEEN Him!  I have seen His hunger, and I promise you, He will never overlook something like this as a means to destroy your godson!”

            “Harry!”  I breathed as my stomach clenched painfully, driving the taste of scotch back into my throat, “No!”

“Yes!”  He whirled on me, “A fool could see how your loss would affect that boy – for Merlin’s sake, Black, Harry Potter took on dementors for you! Do not for a moment imagine that He would fail to use such a tactic!”

I bit my lip and took my glass to the sideboard for a refill.  “What do you want me to do then?”  I asked, turning away from the pool of spilled liquor spreading across the wood, “It’s eating me alive, Snape!   I can’t find a way to stop it!”

“Then let me try.”  No tenderness in that voice.  He might as well have been promising me a course of purgatives for a week.  “Bring your… problem to nobody but me.”

I turned to stare, remembering how he hardened at my declaration of hatred.  “You would do that?”

“Do not interrupt.  In return, you will allow me to examine you.  Deeply.  Each time you come to me, you will submit to my purposeful Legilimency.  Perhaps I will discover a sounder plan than to keep throwing sand into the breach.”  His bony shoulder rose, then fell – an eloquent shrug to firmly place me in his personal indifference.  I was not fooled, for I could see the lingering shadow at the corner of his black eyes.  “Most likely, I will find nothing worth knowing, but I prefer research over blackmail, and so I am willing to try.”

I thought, staring at the wall behind him.  I thought of the glyph for ‘lover’, and how it intertwined with ‘healer’ on his back.  I thought about the things Snape would never tell about himself – not to someone he loved, and most certainly not to someone who declared his intention to hate him no matter what.  I thought about the skinny kid who used to follow us around until I made him the butt of one joke too many.  I thought about the angry man who wanted to trade my freedom for his Order of Merlin.  I thought about the man who had saved Harry’s life more than once, and who heaped the boy with public scorn to keep from being ordered to betray him.

Then I thought about emptiness that swallowed up my thirst for vengeance and the fear of prison enough to drive me out of hiding in the first place.  And how long will it be before you get another shot at Peter?  How long can you use fruitless hatred as an anchor?  And when he’s dead, Padfoot?  When the betrayer is broken into bits, and you have nothing left to try for, what will you do then?

Then I nodded.

Then he nodded as well.  “I will ask Lady Benedetta for a pair of linked portkeys,” he said, turning to recapture Astred’s dusky silk duvet, “safer than brooms or floo powder.”

“Of course.”  I nodded, going to the wardrobe for my clothes.  Linked portkeys would alert the owner whenever one of them was used, so Snape would know when I needed…keep that door closed, Padfoot. 

Snape would know, and be able to respond, even if he was within Hogwarts’ anti-apparation wards.  I watched the man from the corner of my eye as he transfigured the coverlet into a barely passable replacement for his ruined trousers.  They hung like sacking on him – greenish gray and still creased from our having rolled on them earlier.

            I pulled on my own robes and fished my wand out of the pocket as his second spell did nothing but turn the fabric onto its bias and restore some of the downy fluffiness.  “You’re hopeless.  Let me.”

            “I am perfectly capable-” he began.

            “You look like a clown.  Hold still.”  He scowled, but allowed me to re-transfigure the things.  A moment later, the trousers were alike to those wadded against the bathroom wall but for three details; they had all the buttons attached, they were the right size, and though I’d made the fabric black, I’d not turned it to wool.  For no good reason that I could think of, except perhaps that I liked the sheen of the silk.

            I tugged at the flared hem, then stood, not sure where to look.  “I’m sorry, Snape.”  I didn’t know what I was apologizing for, but something in me just shoved the words out, and meant them as well.

            He was silent for a long moment, then he sighed.

            “As am I, Black,” Snape said, and turned to ring for the mediwizard, “as am I.”

 

 

 

 

 

Ite, caldi sospiri, al freddo core;

Rompete il ghiaccio che pietá contende,

E se prego mortale al ciel s'intende,

Morte, o merce sia fine al mio dolore

 

Francesco Petrarch, 1304-1374

 

 

(Go, burning sighs, into that frozen heart;

Shatter the ice that now with pity vies,

And if a mortal prayer can reach the skies,

Let death or mercy end at last this smart.)

 

 

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