Severus sat, huddled silently on the marble step. It seemed Lucius had left hours ago.
The body had not moved.
Severus did not know what he had expected of it.
He rose and walked slowly across the hallway. His footsteps precise, echoing hollowly in the desertion. Entering the study, he knelt before the fireplace; the fire was burning low; the floo connection was dying. He tossed a pinch of powder into the flickering light. "Hogwart's... Deputy Headmistress' Study..." His voice cracked as he called through the flames.
"Minerva...help me?" He glanced hesitantly behind him. "Everyone's…gone."
Silently, Minerva waited. She stood cautiously before Severus, where he still knelt numbly on the hearthrug. In time; without attempt to meet her eyes or answer her question, Severus rose, and Minerva followed him from the fire-lit study.
The two somber figures emerged into the cavernous hallway. Minerva saw the body, small and withered amid the great space. She repeated her question.
"Severus. What happenedhere?"
His dark eyes avoided hers. "Too many things. Lupin and Black are invisible, but they're here. Cast the Priori Incantatem." He handed her Remus' wand. "It will give you what you need. I can't help you, Minerva."
"You don't have to. Go back to Hogwart's, Severus." Her voice was unusually soft as she nudged his shielding hair aside to stroke the pale hollow of his cheek. "Not to those dungeons of yours, you hear, go to my rooms. Wait for me there."
Without once raising his eyes he nodded, inclined his head in gratitude, and with one final glance at the prone figure of his father backed into the study.
Remus stumbled on the hearth as he was launched through fire into Minerva's study; Sirius hurtled through after him, careering into his back and jolting Remus forwards against the desk. Remus turned, rolling his eyes at Sirius who quipped mildly, "Smooth." and ran a hand through his tousled hair.
Remus shook his head in amusement but stopped short, catching sight of Severus in a dark armchair. "..Hello."
"She – she flooed to get Dumbledore." Remus reassured him softly. "Just in time too. The floo connection was deteriorating."
Sirius said nothing to Snape. He moved past Remus, further into the room.
Remus' gaze flickered after him, before his attention returned to Severus. "Are you alright?" Severus nodded, his eyes downcast. "There was nothing we could do...to help you, I mean – I…I'm sorry. It always seems to be the way."
"Your…your wand…is it alright?"
"Wh...oh, yes." Remus sighed, patting it where it lay concealed within his robes, fondly.
Sirius shifted sharply. "That's it? That's all you've to say?"
Severus looked over at him, nonplussed.
Sirius scorned in disbelieving frustration, "Lucius Malfoy just killed your dad- "
"-Yes." Severus cut him off sharply. "Thank you, Sirius, it hadn't escaped my notice."
"Well you could've fooled me, Snape! He just killed him outright-"
"I was there, Black!" Severus shouted, angered by Sirius' unexplained, unprovoked aggression. His voice softened in his confusion. "What is it that you -?"
"Did you not even care!? Not enough to want vengeance?"
"On your FATHER!"
Severus quavered, collecting himself.
"You would rank vengeance over respite? He is dead! It is over!" Severus allowed his voice to lower. "Am I to fault Lucius for acting on my behalf? I will not quibble over the method of my father's demise…"
"You…you just lay there, Severus." Sirius' voice was hoarse, weakened to a rasp by emotion. "You let him touch you…you even responded- "
"-How dare you!" Severus was on his feet in a matter of moments, seizing Sirius' robes and shoving him hard up against the wall. "How dare you presume to judge me? Do you think I have not fought his advances enough times to understand the futility of such resistance? When he wants to take me, he takes me - he has never once failed or been successfully distracted from that aim! This has been my whole life; you think you have some source of perspicacity that I lack?" The spirit seemed to drain from Severus, even as he held Sirius, unresisting, before him. In misery, his grip slackened, and he tore his eyes from Sirius'.
"At least with compliance it need not be so violent." There was a void of movement in the room.
"Don't you look at me!" Severus shoved himself from Sirius, his head lowered in shame. "He has always been stronger than I; he has always been more powerful. I have never had a chance…and you would presume to judge me now, for attempting to utilise the one slight advantage I ever had over him? For using his attraction to my advantage?" Severus' dark eyes implored Sirius' understanding from beneath the limp strands of his hair, before disappearing into their depths once more.
His aching voice added brokenly, "I do not need you to be disgusted by me fro my compliance, Sirius. I am disgusted by myself, that I considered it worth it."
With his last words, Severus was already fumbling with the door handle, wrenching the door open and surging into the passageway, the door rebounding off Minerva's office wall in his wake, as his thundering footsteps signaled his hasty departure.
Sirius turned to Remus, his eyes black with dismay, and Remus, motionless, pre-empted him. "Not a damn word. You go after him, and you do it now."
Sirius was gone. Hurtling down the corridor, Severus' black form staggered before Sirius.
"Severus!" Sirius threw himself after his fleeing opponent, "Severus-"
As he caught the thin man by the wrist, spinning him about to face him, Sirius saw, to his shame, that blinding tears had been the source of Severus' unsteadiness.
Sirius crumpled with guilt. "Please…" He begged, unreservedly.
Severus' eyes clouded with confliction.
Sirius shook his head, overwhelmed by desperation to express himself. "I was…way out of line. I just… had this idea of…what he had done to you…in my head, and seeing you…behave as you did… It just threw everything into conflict; who to believe; who to blame; what to feel…"
Severus choked. "Not the black and white distinction you so prefer..."
"-Exactly." Sirius sought desperately to dispel the wronged man's tears. "What I said…it was a failing of mine that I was so outraged. Your submission to him…not only was it purely business of your own, but equally I… I've no doubt that in calculation it was your best option- I-"
"-Oh SHUT UP, SIRIUS !"
Sirius recoiled in surprise as Severus slammed his palm against the wall with a cry, before sinking his head desperately into his hands.
Sirius stood in stunned silence.
"It isn't what you said. It's…that I agree with all that you felt, despite the vehemence of my...protestation ..." Severus took a shuddering breath, his eyes clenched closed as he leant in defeat against the wall, "That is what has me so devastated; not your words, but…that I share your sentiment."
Sirius gazed at Severus hopelessly, floundering under sheer incomprehension. Severus shielded his face.
"I lied to you, Sirius. I have fought him. Always, since my mother died, no matter the consequences. He…all of it…has always sickened me. I have been unable to lie still and bear it. But…last night...last night I felt nothing as he began to touch me, I just…fell away. Do you understand? I felt nothing, I felt utterly hollow…dead. Inside. Just detached, as though it had all reached some point of absurdity beyond reality.
He broke my spirit. He finally severed it. And I was just…blind to it. I saw it only through your eyes, when I suddenly realized that he had contrived to have you watch, and…it tore me back into myself. Last night marked…something. And I don't ever want to feel that way again. I won't let it happen. It frightened me - I have never failed myself so completely, and I won't do it again."
Severus' hand fell from his eyes. "Still, it is…upsetting to me; to be sure of the depths to which my acquiescence might have sunk…had you not…" His lip trembled, and he shook his dark head hopelessly. "There is no such disgust."
Sirius stood silently in the deadened air of the corridor.
Severus' tears had abated with the substitute outpouring of his hidden explanation. Sirius was not sure that this second outpour on Severus' part had not touched him the more deeply. He drew a long, much-needed breath.
"You've…just got to let it go."
Severus looked sideways at him.
"You have to let it go. You internalise all this… anguish, and you think you're hiding it, but you're not. It's the first thing people see about you. It's just…there. In the way you hold yourself, in the way you respond to-" He broke off at a loss, shaking his head. "People don't even know what they're seeing. How could they..? Most people wouldn't even be able to - " His eyes found Severus' once more. "This has…defined your entire life, Severus - the way people have treated you…the way I…" Severus' eyes dropped, his mouth tight, and Sirius' words faltered. "It frightens people - threatens them - to see those kind of experiences in a person, that sort of… knowledge. And it isn't your fault. But you have the power to free yourself from it. Just let it go. It isn't who you are it's just…something that happened to you. Don't let people know it."
There was a prolonged silence, and Sirius realized suddenly that Severus was vibrating with anger, visibly struggling with the internal decision not to walk away.
"I…think you are under some illusions, Sirius." His voice was tremulous with intensity, as he backed delicately away from Sirius before asserting quietly. "I think you would like to excuse us, both of us, by attributing our shortcomings to… events outside of our control. But...the way you treated me…the way you continued to treat me until…" Severus swallowed tightly. "That was never about me, Sirius, that was you and your problems - if you had never met me it would have been another man. And I'm not looking for an apology, you didn't know me, couldn't know who I was… just as I didn't, and don't know what it was about you that made you find my behavior so repellant. What has changed your attitude towards me is your shame, now that you know more about my life .
As for myself, I am not a nice man. I cannot prove that without my father I would have been a better one. Regardless, it doesn't change the person I am now, and without that person, I'm nobody else. I don't understand how you can expect me to dismiss my personality.."
"It is not your personality, it's your behavior-"
"Oh, damn it, Sirius-"
"No, you listen to me, you're right that I didn't know you, I'd never been close to you, I hated you purely because of your behavior – and the way it made me feel, alright?" Sirius rolled his eyes at Severus' attempt to interrupt, "I admit, it's may have been more me than you, but everything you did - exasperated me! No, Sev don't – what I'm telling you is since I…I've known you, your circumstances, - your behavior doesn't makes me feel…unsure of myself, or…angry at you any more. It makes me angry at myself for having misinterpreted it in the past-"
"Sirius." Severus sighed, "These are lovely words, and I'm aware that Gryffindor's are prone to such flamboyant gestures, but I assure you your reaction is one of temporary shock only, and that before long you will find my character inexcusable, because you have a low level of tolerance, and I am uncontrollably defensive. Whatever you may reason out in your head, I will inevitably provoke you to outrage, you will instinctively attack me, and with little change we will doubtless continue our conflict of-"
"There will be change." Sirius set his jaw in anger. "I attacked Harry in your defense. I wish to god I hadn't - because don't get me wrong, he means, and will always mean, a damn sight more to me than you – but I attacked him in defense of you. Because my feelings towards you have changed, and I am determined to see that you are treated differently, beginning with myself and with those close to me."
Severus' countenance had changed entirely. After a moment, Sirius shifted under the unwavering concern expressed by Severus' features.
"I'm sorry." Severus said into the quietness. "That must have been…" He broke off. "He is…with Poppy still?"
Sirius nodded his grim, downcast affirmation. "Minerva has told me he will be perfectly fine in a couple of days. She says he…understands, but-"
"You should go to him." Severus said, interrupting Sirius' anguished debate. "He…Harry loves you, Sirius. He's a perfectly intelligent boy; he will understand. Children are…most forgiving."
"That's what devastates me the most…he's been through enough, he shouldn't have to forgive me… he should be able to depend on me, I-"
"The world of magic is an unpredictable one. Its dangers are as limitless as its possibilities and we must all accept the unreliability of the people within it. He will forgive you, Sirius, he will have forgiven you already, and he will not allow what happened to taint your subsequent relationship, do you understand?"
"And I apologise for your having been placed in a situation that so compromised you. That is entirely my responsibility, you were there only to help me, and it endangered the person most precious to you-"
"This is what I'm talking about, Severus!" Sirius insisted fervently, " I'm past all that! I don't resent you for what happened –you were no more responsible for my decision to enter your father's potions laboratory, than you were for your father's contriving to lure me there, or for his designing that potion in the first place! – My fury at Harry was fueled by anger at myself for having so often treated you just as badly in my ignorance. Besides, Harry should not have bloody been there in the first place, the inquisitive little sod," Sirius rolled his eyes with half-hearted frustration, "and once you find out what it was he came to apologise to you for, you'll be even less convinced that anything that happened is your responsibility."
Severus was still silent as Sirius breathed heavily having finished his emotional tirade. Severus raised his eyes seriously. "Still...I do see now why it should be so important that this… newfound understanding between us should bring about a revolution in our relationship. It was…more costly for you than I had understood."
"And I just feel that…with so much being out in the open now, it's an opportunity for you to…relax a little. It must have been such a terrible burden upon you, and now there will be some of us with whom you don't need to be so…guarded. I just think that it's too important a chance to let it slip through your fingertips, Severus. I really do, I mean – all that defensiveness - this could free you."
Severus' eyes were averted again. His lips were pursed with self-restraint and gnawing unease, unwilling to discuss his personal life in such serious terms, however absurd he recognized such prudence to be, given what had so recently been exposed to Sirius about himself. Nonetheless, Severus nodded his affirmation of the sense behind Sirius' assertions.
Sirius smiled, sighing with a blanket emotion of relief. A sudden intangible exhaustion seemed to overwhelm them both; there remained so little tension between them; so much had been said; so many emotions vented, there seemed suddenly a gulf where before there had been such hostility separating them. They looked at each other, suddenly feeling the formality of their standing staunchly opposite one another in the open corridor to be slightly superfluous and absurd. They nodded at one another, they smiled in the strange, floating relief of the freedom between them, and Sirius' grin, and his fondness for the strange bond they seemed to share escalated to the point where he almost felt he was going to laugh inexplicably. He fancied internally that Severus may have been experiencing close to the same sensation, for the other man suddenly gave a definitive nod, and insisted, "Right, I need to –" gesturing his continuance along the corridor. He looked back at Sirius with a grimace, "In all honesty, I'd rather avoid Minerva, I cannot see myself relating to her all that has happened. If she wishes to have details I will…select certain memories with which to provide an overview of our time in Albus' pensive." Severus raised his eyebrows sardonically.
Sirius nodded. "But you're going to be okay?"
Severus smiled. "I'm going to be fine."
Sirius leaned in the opposite direction down the corridor. "I'll get back to Remus, then. I'll…see you around, Severus."
"Indeed." Severus smirked, good-naturedly.
Sirius inclined his head, and began to walk away.
Severus stood in the corridor, watching Sirius walk away, his head swimming with thoughts, as the light-hearted ease of company faded back into darker, more powerful memories of the last few days. A little while after Sirius had rounded the corner of the corridor, and been lost to Severus, Severus turned to walk away, without any more definite intention, than to drift in the general direction of his dungeons, taking advantage of the school's current student-free state.
He barely had time to turn around, however, before he was brutally torn from his melancholy reverie.
"Severus Snape!" The shrill voice reverberated through the empty corridor, as the plump, red-faced Mediwitch stormed towards him up the corridor.
"Poppy!" Severus exclaimed, half delighted, half terrified.
"What have you been doing to yourself? Minerva has had us both beside ourselves with worry! I returned immediately when she managed to contact me – oh, look at the state of you, you impossible man!"
"Poppy, I assure you-"
"Don't you dare!" Poppy cried, raising a finger in warning at his attempts at resistance. "You are coming with me this instant." She seized him by the arm and began to steer him briskly down the corridor, undoubtedly in the direction of the hospital wing.
Severus sighed, and resigned himself to her inevitable care and charge of him. Her grip softened as they neared the end of the corridor, and Severus looked down and the fondness displayed in her soft features with trepidation. "Incidentally, my dear, I am, as always, so glad to see you safely returned to us."