Disclaimer: I own very little.
A/N: Thank you all for reading this far, and my apologies for being so horrible about updating. Here, however, is the last chapter of Deepest Bonds. Yes, folks, I've actually managed to finish a HP story. You may stop gasping in shock now. It's only been -- what, over two and a half years?
The Last Struggle
Severus' delight at being reunited with his mother, it turned out, was rather short-lived. Soon after arriving to Hogwarts, she began to show signs of an illness Madam Pomfrey couldn't properly identify aside from confirming that it was apparently not contagious. Relieved by this news though still rather distressed, Severus spent almost all of his free time with his mother, determined not to lose a single moment of the time he was finally able to spend with her after years of not even seeing her once. Soon she was completely bedridden, only conscious half of the time.
Sirius observed this with more than just a mere touch of concern. Of course, he was concerned for Sarina, who was a nice woman – not that he could even understand the emotional attachment Severus had to her, the only person who had cared for him during his early childhood – but more than that, he was worried about the Potions Master himself. Every time he had been seeing his mother, Severus seemed a little more tired, a shade paler than before, a bit more irritable. Despite Madam Pomfrey's constant reassurances that the disease was not contagious, he couldn't help but worry. This didn't seem like it was merely the stress getting at his slave.
His suspicions were confirmed when, one day, Severus collapsed into his arms.
"I am extremely sorry, Sirius," Madam Pomfrey sighed, agitated. "I should have known better than to just rely on the standard diagnostic spells. Those never bring the best possible results in cases like this…"
"What is it?" asked Sirius curtly, watching her closely. "What's wrong with Severus? Has the disease suddenly turned out to be contagious after all?"
"I wish it were that simple," the mediwitch said. "However, the disease is indeed not contagious – not in ways the standard spells would recognize, at least. It appears it is something that only a slave can catch or spread. It also takes some time for the first symptoms to show up."
"Only a slave?" Sirius repeated. "Then – Sarina –"
"Most likely, yes." Madam Pomfrey nodded seriously. "She already had caught the disease before coming to Hogwarts, and as the symptoms began, she unwittingly spread it to her son. My spells indicated it was safe to be around her, and it is to us, but poor Severus…"
"Damn it," Sirius cursed. "This is all my fault. If I hadn't brought her here…" The thought of Severus just moments before, extremely pale as he lay still in a hospital bed, came back to haunt him. He had seen Sarina getting worse and worse all the time and didn't want it to happen to Severus.
"It's not like you could know, Sirius," Dumbledore reminded, suddenly appearing from behind him. "Your intention was merely to make Severus happy – and that you accomplished more than well. I have never seen Severus as genuinely happy as he has been lately. I think that, should we ask him, he would still prefer the chance to meet his mother, disease or not."
"But still," Sirius argued. "It's my responsibility to keep him safe, and not only did I fail to do it, I also caused him to fall gravely ill!"
"Now, I'm sure it's nothing that serious," Dumbledore reassured him. "After a few days Severus will probably be up and about again, telling you to stop spouting nonsense. It's not like any disease has ever kept him down for long, right?"
With these words, Sirius felt a little more hopeful. Of course, it would be over soon. Severus was simply too stubborn to let anything truly bad happen to him.
This hope was nigh completely crushed when, late that night, Sarina Snape finally let go of life.
The news of his mother's death were, unsurprisingly, hard on Severus. As Dumbledore brought him the news, he stared at the Headmaster for a while as though not understanding what he said. Of course, he did understand, his eyes being alert instead of the fever-induced absent gaze they somehow slipped due to the illness. He understood it, and even better he understood the possible indications of it.
His mother had died of the same disease he now had. His hopes were getting very slim.
Stubborn or not, everybody has their limit. It seemed Severus had finally met his. The severe illness combined with the loss of his newly regained mother, added on top of a lifetime of slavery and torture, would have killed a lesser man with their weight. Being Severus, the Potions Master chose to bear his burden instead, not succumbing to despair – but the faltering he experienced was enough. Enough for the disease to get even worse, that was.
Hope was not exactly in abundance in Sirius' mind.
"Why won't he get any better no matter what we do?" Sirius demanded. "Is the disease incurable or something?"
"It isn't impossible to recover from," Madam Pomfrey sighed. "Indeed, a rare variant of it is known among other wizards as well. However, as slaves rarely are in very good physical condition, the strain is usually too much for them and they die. Despite the excellent care he has been receiving lately, Severus still isn't well enough to pull through."
"So there is no way to save him?" Dumbledore asked very quietly. To his great disappointment, the mediwitch simply shook her head as though unable to say it aloud.
After a moment the pressuring silence was broken. "There is one way," Sirius said very slowly. "There is one way that just might manage to save him."
"Oh?" Dumbledore raised a questioning eyebrow. "And what might that be?"
"Cast the slave's bond on me, with Severus as my Master." The Animagus's eyes were perfectly serious. "Through the bond, I should be able to give him the strength required to recover."
"That might work," Madam Pomfrey gasped. "But – the bond can't be cast on you, Sirius. You would have to be the son of a slave for it to be cast on you."
"She is right, Sirius," Dumbledore said seriously. "I'd have thought you would be aware of these things by now, given how enthusiastically you have been researching the subject."
"Slavery isn't the only subject I've been researching," Sirius told them. "While reading my mother's diaries, I stumbled across some rather upsetting information. Upsetting at the time, that is – but, right now, it might mean survival for Severus." Looking the Headmaster squarely in the eye, he finished, "My biological mother was a slave."
It took, naturally, quite some explaining. After the full story and a quick glance at Amanda Black's diaries, however, Dumbledore accepted Sirius' words as the actual truth. Not that he had any reason to lie, anyway – who would voluntarily claim to be of a member of a family of slaves? The best he might obtain from it was getting Dumbledore to cast a spell that would fail completely due to his lack of the proper blood lines. This, of course, would not help Severus at all.
However, there was no lack of such blood, as it had turned out. And Sirius was determined to go through with his plan.
"Are you sure about this, Sirius?" Dumbledore asked very seriously, standing with the other wizard beside Severus' bed. "In the very best scenario, this will not work at all since he is already bound to you as your slave. If it works, there is no telling the outcome. All in all, it is very unlikely your plan will work at all."
"But if I don't even try, he will die, won't he?" Although the Headmaster did not answer aloud, his expression spoke loud enough. "As it is, I simply can't do anything else. There's no way I can just let him die, not if there's even the slightest chance of helping him."
"You truly are devoted," Dumbledore noted quietly. "I think that, if there is any way to save him through this bond, you will be able to do it."
"Then let me try," Sirius said seriously. "Let me find that way."
"Just remember that, once cast, this bond is irrevocable," Dumbledore said gravely. "You will have no chance to regret later."
"If Severus dies, I'll regret it forever," the Animagus replied. "Now, cast it, Albus."
Very slowly, the ancient wizard started to recite the incantation required.
The next thing Sirius knew, he was lying in a hospital bed, Dumbledore standing beside his bed. Blinking, he looked up at the ancient wizard. "…Albus? Did it work?"
"Yes – and no," the Headmaster replied, a twinkle in his eyes. Sirius immediately felt a lot better. "No, it didn't work as far as the attempt to bind you as Severus' slave is concerned. However, it did indeed work to make Severus feel better."
"How so?" asked the Animagus. "If the bond didn't work, then how –"
"Apparently, the opposite bonds cancelled each other somehow," the Headmaster told him. "You are not Severus' slave – but, in exchange, he's not yours either."
"Then what is he?" asked Sirius. "If he's no more a slave –"
"He is an ordinary wizard," Dumbledore finished for him. "Yes, exactly. Apparently the Ministry is having quite some trouble trying to register him, though. Children of Wizarding blood are usually registered at birth and Muggleborns upon starting school. However, he already has Wizarding degrees which make either of those impossible. However, regardless of how they do it in the end, the officials have no choice but to register him as an ordinary wizard, not anybody's possession anymore."
"And the disease?"
"Gone." Dumbledore smiled. "We are not sure exactly how it works, but apparently the disease somehow attaches itself to the slavery bond, and with that gone, it could no more linger in Severus. He is still tired and worn, yes, but will recover with no trouble, according to Poppy."
"Great." All the tension that had lingered in Sirius' body left him now. "Where is he now?"
"Waiting for you, I believe."
Never before had Sirius got out of bed so fast.
Severus, Sirius noted upon seeing the Slytherin, seemed indeed tired. The other man was pale – not that that was anything new – and apparently exhausted. However, he was awake now, and looked much better than the last time Sirius had seen him. This could only mean that he was getting better.
"Severus," Sirius sighed happily, and the Slytherin turned to look at him. There was a look in his eyes Sirius couldn't properly identify.
"Ma -" started Severus at first, out of habit, then shook his head. "Sirius," he said, a tired smile gracing his lips. "Sirius... that feels good to say."
"That's good," said Sirius softly, leaning down to kiss his lover's forehead. In the background, Dumbledore walked away, a small smile playing on his lips. "Because it feels really good to hear you saying it." And it did. He doubted any other word in existence could bring him more joy.
"Of course, there are also other things... I can call you now," Severus added. "Like idiot... or love."
Okay, cross that. 'Love' did indeed make him even happier. However, now Sirius grinned. "I should hope you will use the latter more frequently," he said, "but somehow, I find that unlikely."
"That's your own fault," Severus replied, "for being such an irritatingly stubborn, never-yielding typical Gryffindor and going through with that idiotic plan of yours."
"That 'idiotic plan' saved your life and gained you freedom," Sirius reminded. "Not all Gryffindor-made plans fail, you know."
"Of course not," Severus replied with a smirk. "Only 98.7 of them do." Then, he turned serious. "Albus told what you tried to do," he said. "All I can say is that, regardless of everything you have done in the past, I no more have any doubt about which one of your actions is by far the most thoughtless, idiotic one."
"Thank you for your trust," Sirius replied. "But it worked, didn't it? Just not in the way I planned for it to."
"And thank every lucky star you may have that it didn't," Severus spat. "At the very best, the result would have been a disaster to both of us."
"But it wasn't." Sirius grinned. "And for that, you may thank the Gryffindor way of thinking."
"There are many things I might say about the 'Gryffindor way of thinking', Severus replied dryly, "and thanking it is not one of them."
Still, Sirius grinned. Apparently the disease hadn't changed the Severus he knew and loved.
At least, not for the worse.
Unsurprisingly, the news of the bond disappearing soon reached others. Dumbledore patiently herded off all journalists seeking to interview the two men. Some – including all the students of Hogwarts – thought it was all just a ploy. At least the students were cleared of any doubts they may have harboured, though, when they heard Severus yelling at Sirius about his absolute idiocy, using his full name loudly and clearly. Though the fight didn't last long and was cleared easily – after all the years of having to watch his mouth around his Master, Severus had been mostly horrified as soon as the initial rage had worn off – it definitely made clear to anybody in the hearing range that, indeed, the two men were as equal as they could be at the moment.
Despite all the yelling, the names he got called, and the snarkiness and sharp comments directed at him, Sirius was happy. He became a bit happier every time Severus called him an idiot and didn't flinch afterwards, every time the Slytherin had got tired of waiting for him to show up and eaten by himself, every time the other man told him to go to Hell and did the exact opposite of whatever he had suggested. Of course, he also became annoyed, but still happier, too. In the end, what did it matter if Severus wished him to the deepest pits of whatever underworlds he could come up with – and there were many? At least he didn't ask for permission before casting the curses Sirius only barely managed to dodge.
It wasn't the most ordinary of relationships, true, but then, it had never been. However, it was, behind all the animosity and pent-up aggression, a loving relationship, not that either of them was prone to admitting that around other people.
It also made Sirius happier that Severus was changing around others as well. It was a slow process, true, but bit by bit he was losing his reputation as the most hated teacher in the school. He still loved sneaking around after curfew to catch students out of beds, and he still wasn't above playing favourites, but the said favourites were Ravenclaws more often than not and picked according to their skill, not their parents. Naturally, anybody making any comments about slaves was bound to have detention for the rest of the year, but then, they could only blame themselves for that – and the same applied on every lesson.
Still, despite the fact that most of the more popular teachers had to deal with such things regularly, Severus had been quite shocked when he had received his first ever love letter from a student.
Now, strolling through the castle on his way to their rooms – Severus still wasn't very fond of eating in the Great Hall, and became rather annoyed whenever he was late, so he shouldn't dally – Sirius looked up at the statue of his old friend as he passed it.
"He's a good man in the end, that old snake," he said softly. "And I'm going to do my best so that he can be even better."
The statue smiled – a bit sadly, perhaps, but still smiled. "I see that," it replied. "If I were you, though, I would hurry."
"Indeed," Sirius replied with a chuckle. "However much the habits may still linger, at least he no more has much reservations about taking his anger at having to wait out on me." With this, he hurried away. Severus had probably started eating without him – as usual. Stupid impatient Slytherin.
Still, the thought made him smile.