CHAPTER 2: JUMPERS AND HEDGEHOGS

"Socks?" Sirius asked, a quizzical look on his face.

"Yes," Severus told him. "Socks."

"Besides what I got you, the most interesting thing you got for Christmas was SOCKS?"

"What's wrong with socks?" Severus asked, throwing him a dirty look.

"Well, you got gypped then. I got a new racing broom, a lunascope, a cursed music box I used on Regulus, a couple of wicked-looking masks that turn you into different people when you wear them, a subscription to Quidditch Quarterly…" Severus's interest trailed off as Sirius ticked off a lengthy list of Christmas acquisitions," …and six new sets of dress robes. Who needs that many dress robes? I swear Mother's crazy. I mean, more crazy than I though she was. If that's possible."

Severus rolled his eyes and hid behind his book. He'd been sent three pairs of socks, some parchment, a box of cheap chocolates that tasted like chalk, and the book he was now reading, entitled Olde and Forgotten Bewitchments and Charmes. The book was from Sirius, of course. He'd picked it out because it was, "big, dusty, and boring-looking, so I figured you'd eat it up."

He was right.

"Hey, Severus," Sirius suddenly asked. "You remember my cousin Narcissa, right? The one who graduated last year?"

"Possibly," he responded, squinting down at a blurred passage. What male in his right mind could forget Narcissa Black?

"Well she's getting married, and guess who her fiancé is-- Lucius Malfoy!"

Severus only grunted. He would've wondered why Sirius seemed so pleased about it, but as reasoning through Sirius Black's thought processes was far too taxing an affair, he'd given it up long ago.

"You know him, right? Blond Prefect, graduated a few years ago…"

"Yes, the pointy one," Severus answered with a frown. He pictured the older boy's light grey eyes looking haughtily down a narrow nose, his lips pursed in an expression of barely-repressed disgust. "I remember him."

"So I always thought he was a total prat, you know? Smarmy little prick with a broomstick up his arse who'd do anything to make himself look good. Always had his nose in everyone else's business. But it turns out I was wrong," he shrugged.

Severus thought back to their experiences with Lucius Malfoy, who had indeed strode about the castle as though he'd a broomstick up his arse. Though he'd been Slytherin prefect, his only benefit to decent Hogwarts society seemed to have been his ability to spew brilliant invectives at the drop of a hat. During their two shared years at the school, he'd let drop a number of highly inventive and particularly vulgar swears that Severus had made a distinct and fruitful effort to incorporate into his own vocabulary. Despite the inspired cussing, Malfoy was a self-important busybody, and both boys had both fairly hated him.

"I'm on pins and needles, Black," Severus prompted. "Do tell."

Sirius beamed.

What followed was a long and rambling tale of spilled desserts, remarriages, a drunken Bella, Hogsmeade weekends, pureblood rights, Mudbloods, and Snidget hunting which ended in the perplexing phrase, "and he's going to have dancing girls!"

Severus's brain, as adept as it had become over the years to interpreting Sirius-speak, was at a loss. Noting his page number, he snapped his book closed and swung himself into a sitting position. "I don't suppose you could say that in something approximating normal English, could you?"

Sirius rolled his eyes as if Severus were the idiot here. "When I asked him if we could have dancing girls at his little pureblood politics meeting he invited me to next Hogsmeade weekend, he agreed without even blinking! 'If you want dancing girls, then that is what you shall have,' he told me. Isn't it brilliant?"

Severus's mouth hung open, and he coaxed it into speaking with difficulty. "He invited you to a political meeting, and you asked for dancing girls?"

"Yeah, and he said I could have them! Just like that, no problem! Now that's what being your own man, head of your family, is all about: being able to do whatever the hell you want without having to ask anyone's permission!" Sirius jumped up on the end of Severus's bed and twirled himself precariously around one of the bedposts. "We're going to talk politics, get pissed on obnoxiously expensive booze, and watch dancing girls! How perfect is that!?"

Watching the other boy spin with his strange grace, his bed shaking gently with his movements, Severus found himself asking stupidly, "…what kind of dancing girls?"

Sirius shrugged, leaning out from the bed at a forty five degree angle, only a strong arm away from dashing his brains out on the floor. "Ones that are good at dancing, I suppose, who cares?"

Yes, who cared indeed? Severus had a lot of studying to do, a nice new book to read, and no interest whatsoever in dancing girls. Even if they were really, really good dancers in very, very tiny outfits with long, silky hair and shimmering bangles hanging about their slender ankles. No, no interest at all.

"Anyway, if it's any good, I'll ask if you can come to the next one. You can use big words and impress people and explain all the politics stuff to me after. Want to try out my new broom?" he asked suddenly. "It's a Cleansweep, much better than those puttering old Moontrimmers they keep as school brooms. Come on then, let's go!" he said, jumping down. Sirius could undoubtedly switch gears faster than his new Cleansweep could turn across the pitch.

"I'm sorry, you've seen me on a broom before, have you not?" Severus asked crossly, crawling back to retrieve his book and flopping onto his back. Flying lessons had been one of Severus's worst experiences at Hogwarts, nearly having been bucked off his own broom, and he'd rarely been on one since. Travelling by Floo powder was just fine until he learned to Apparate, thank you very much.

"Severus, that was first year, I'm sure you're much better now!" Sirius insisted.

"Wouldn't bet your new broom on it," Severus mumbled, jerking his book in front of his face. Having forgotten how heavy it was, he brought it a bit too close and banged his nose rather painfully. Luckily, Sirius didn't see.

"Well, don't think not flying is going to get you out of going to Quidditch matches with me, because it's not! We're against Ravenclaw next week, and you're coming if I have to drag you there. And we're winning this time, so nobody's going to get upset!" Sirius told him as he headed out the door.

Dolt, Severus thought. Maybe Severus didn't go into conniptions at the very thought of the game, and he certainly didn't secretly keep a tear-out of the Falmouth Falcons seeker under his mattress, but he still wouldn't dare miss a match. Quidditch was practically the only thing he deemed worth putting down a book for, and Sirius knew it.

Slytherin's first match this past November had resulted in a close loss against Gryffindor, an occurrence which had sparked one of the only true fights Severus and Sirius had ever had.

James Potter was chaser for Gryffindor again this year, and despite the Slytherins' highly disruptive booing, he managed the position brilliantly. Severus's throat had been sore from the unaccustomed yelling, his shoulder hurt where someone had shoved him, and even with a warming spell, his toes were inhumanly cold in his worn shoes and holey socks as they trekked back to the dungeons. Sirius was talking about broomsticks and ugly-haired gits and what the Slytherin team SHOULD have done to Potter, and Severus had told him to shut up, there was nothing he could do to change the fact they'd lost, so stop going on about it.

Sirius had said something back about him not understanding Quidditch in the least if he could talk like that, and Severus had countered with what he deemed a highly accurate, expletive-filled assessment of Sirius's own mental capacity. That it had actually come to blows demonstrated perfectly what a hold the sport had on them both, as Severus was always insulting Sirius's intelligence to no ill effect.

Severus had ended up with some nasty bruises, and they hadn't spoken for three whole days. It had been utter misery. Sirius was surely the only living being capable of being so unspeakably loud without uttering a single word.

Just when Severus had felt about to explode from the strain of it all, the utter ear-splitting silence, Sirius had burst into tears, fallen at Severus's feet, and begged to be forgiven. "I swear I didn't mean it, Severus! I'd completely lost my mind! Quidditch fever had taken me over! Please don't hate me forever and become best mates with a Gryffindor to punish me! I was so so SO WRONG!"

Given the truth of this statement and Sirius's relative stress level at the time (it took place in the heat of the Evans Fiasco, as Severus had taken to calling it), Severus had granted the other boy clemency. He had even said some mildly supportive things about his next choice of gifts.

Slytherin's second match was an entirely different story. Severus had warm new socks, and this match was against Ravenclaw. Ravenclaw was a team well-known for being more brains than brawn, and luckily for Slytherin, their current team had both.

Despite Slytherin's obvious and undeniable superiority, the match lasted nearly three hours. Sirius chalked it up to the thin layer of ice that was shimmering over the grounds, remnants of a winter storm the night before. "All that glare is bound to interfere with Nott's vision. Shiny ice, shiny snitch-- even a professional seeker would have a hard time of it."

In the end, all shininess aside, Slytherin left the pitch with the win, 310 to 200. Their second Quidditch match happily won and the points in Slytherin's grasp, there were no fights, and things went back to normal that very night. That is to say, Severus studied like one possessed, and Sirius pestered him and obsessed over Gryffindors whilst getting top points on nearly everything without bothering to crack a book.

It wasn't right at all that he could do this, and it made Severus so angry that he stayed up all night revising for History of Magic and Astronomy, which he'd been neglecting of late. The next night, he felt guilty for spending so much time away from his Defence text, so he forced himself to stay awake until he'd re-read the entire thing again.

The night after that, he was so tired he couldn't sleep, so he sat in the common room in front of the fire drawing diagrams of the anatomy of various magical creatures until his quill began slipping from his fingers. The wild, inky trails it left across his parchment as it spiralled to the desk brought to mind the undulations of dancing girls. Not seeing the purpose in returning to his room at such a late hour, he curled up in his cushy green chair, tipped his chin down against his chest in a way he knew would make him snore even worse than usual, and fell into a fitful sleep.

Sirius woke him up a few hours later and dragged him up for breakfast, but he felt groggy and bleary-eyed. Without a single protest, he munched soggy toast and helped Sirius come up with a plan to replace the Gryffindor boys' regular school ink with magical disappearing ink so that their homework would go blank overnight.

Severus should've known straight off that all this unthinking helpfulness was a bad sign.

"So what do you think they do, anyway?" Sirius asked him in the middle of Transfiguration, quite out of the blue.

"I haven't the foggiest idea what you're on about," Severus told him, scowling through an insomnia-induced daze. Why did his buggering pincushion still have hedgehog feet? No matter what he did, he couldn't seem to get rid of them. It made no sense at all; he was usually fairly good with Transfiguration. He'd even gone so far as to ask Sirius for help, but although he'd got it on his third try, he couldn't explain how he'd done it. Sirius could never explain anything.

"They always come to class looking all sickly, and Lupin doesn't come at all. I think they're up to something."

Severus sighed. Indeed, the Gryffindor boys looked like Hell warmed over, and Lupin had been conspicuously absent again this morning at breakfast, but it's not as if that was anything new. He informed Sirius of this.

"Yeah, but why? I mean, it happens all the time! Does Lupin have something contagious? I couldn't bear to catch some Gryffindor disease. How vile. Haven't you got rid of the feet yet?"

Severus looked back down at his pincushion, which was now attempting to walk off his desk. "Why do you always ask things you already know the answers to?" he demanded, feeling the onset of a headache as he stared down at the creature. "And if he had anything catching, he wouldn't be allowed here around everyone else, now would he?"

Sirius pondered that for a moment as he Transfigured his pincushion into a hedgehog and back again. Just like him to rub it in. "You're right. Probably just the jumpers, then."

"What the hell are you saying? What jumpers?"

"Mr Snape, Mr Black," McGonagall's sharp voice cut through the drone of working students, "is there a problem?"

"No, Professor," Severus answered quickly, changing his awkwardly ambling pincushion back into a slightly dazed hedgehog to have another go at it.

"So as I was saying," Sirius continued, a bit quieter this time, "I think Lupin's jumpers might be contagious."

With a wave of Severus's wand, his hedgehog was now footless, but also very clearly without a pincushion. "I refuse to justify that comment with a response."

"No, let me explain, it all makes perfect sense," Sirius told him, and Severus knew immediately that what was about to come out of his mouth would be entirely incomprehensible. "You see, Lupin's illness is all on account of his jumpers. You've seen how shabby they are, he even has one with a hole in the sleeve he fusses with and sticks his thumb through. After wearing them for so long, they're leaching into his system! And the other Gryffin-shites used to be fine, but this year, they're starting in. Pettigrew has rips in his trousers, he always leaves his robes open and you can see them, and Potter's tie is fraying at the bottom, plus he's a tear in the neck of his blue jumper with the green edging. AND they're both looking tired and sickly. They've caught Lupin's Jumper Sickness!"

It was at this point that Severus realized he was gaping. He jerked his head back to his footless hedgehog, determined to turn it into a pincushion even if it killed him. If the kind of moron who made up imaginary histories of contagious jumpers could do it, then he sure as hell could do as well.

Except that he couldn't.

His mind kept drifting to Quidditch and Olde and Forgotten Bewitchments and Charmes and sickly Gryffindor thumbs in shabby Gryffindor jumpers and dark-eyed dancing girls, and he was too tired, he couldn't do it at all. He couldn't transfigure the hedgehog. All his trying was worthless.

He was worthless.

Nothing he did would ever turn out right, and he could never change anything, save anyone. He was stuck, stuck in this life, in this body, in this mind that couldn't even manage to Transfigure a worthless hedgehog into a worthless pincushion, and he would never escape. He was worthless and doomed, and everyone could tell just by looking at him, but nobody did, they didn't look at him, they looked through him, because there was nothing to see, nothing but worthless, pointless, incapable, powerless, doomed--

"Severus!" He nearly jumped out of his skin as Sirius's hand touched his shoulder. "Hey, you don't look so good. You alright?"

Severus didn't answer. He just stared at the malformed hedgehog in front of him, unblinking, defeated and empty inside.

"Professor," he heard Sirius say very loudly, "I think Severus is feeling ill!"

He wasn't. It was just this bloody Untransfigurable hedgehog that was tearing his dreams to shreds. He hated it. He hated everything.

"Mr Black, what is-- oh my," he heard Professor McGonagall's voice beside him.

"It wasn't a spell, I don't think," Sirius's voice said. "He just suddenly got really still and turned all white like that. Well, not really white, more of a parchmenty yellowish colour, since all he does is read and he's absorbing the paper through osmosis or something, so--"

"Mr Snape, do you require a trip to the infirmary?" McGonagall's voice said again.

No, he wanted to say. To the morgue. My life is over. Only one of us could survive, and it's the hedgehog that won out.

"Mr Snape, are you unwell?" he heard McGonagall's voice ask him, but all he could do was grip his wand tighter and tremble at the sight of the spiny mammal staring up at him with its pincushiony little eyes.

There was a flurry of movement around him, and Severus felt strong hands on his back, turning him away from his table, his nemesis, and guiding him slowly to the door. "Come on, Severus, we'll get you a nice Calming Draught, everything's going to be fine. You great baby."

The infirmary was calm and quiet and smelled of lemon scented cleaning charms. Severus had only been there a handful of times, mainly visiting Sirius, but he found the room relaxing, and Madam Pomfrey's presence quite comforting.

"…the stress of it all… unprepared, I tell them every year… should teach the students to moderate their studies… maybe when I've more seniority… up on the bed now, Mr Snape, there we go, now drink this…" he heard her firm yet consoling voice say.

The cup she'd given him was full of something warm and slightly sweet with a consistency reminiscent of distilled murtlap essence. It left his tongue and throat feeling numb, and the sensation spread to the rest of him as he let Madam Pomfrey's gentle but firm hands lie him back against a soft feather pillow.

"I'll nick you a hedgehog so you can practice later," Sirius's voice said quietly in his ear. "And I'll skive off the rest of Transfiguration in your honour." And then the world spun gently and went black.

XXXXX

When Severus awoke, he felt a million times better, despite the lingering grogginess. Opening his eyes, he saw that the room was dark, and he wondered vaguely if the potion had damaged his vision. When the rest of his senses returned to him, he realized the darkness he was seeing was that of night, the room lit dimly by a few candles. He'd slept through the entire day.

He'd slept through the entire day.

Severus jerked up, suddenly in a panic, as this realization hit him. He'd missed Defence! His beloved DADA! After all the careful rereading, he'd slept straight through it! A steady stream of detention-worthy expletives that would've made Sirius giddy was slipping from his lips, and he didn't even care. It was a tragedy of the absolute highest order, and he HAD to get back to his room and get the homework!

Leaping to his feet, he hoisted his book bag (someone deserving of an award had placed it handily at the foot of his bed) onto his shoulder and set about the business of getting himself out of the infirmary.

"James, is that you?"

The voice stopped him in his tracks. It was rough and masculine and did in no way belong to Madam Pomfrey.

He suddenly realized he wasn't alone. A bed in the far corner had a large white drape pulled around it. A moment later, the drape was pulled aside.

"I told you two tossers already, don't come until--"

Before the drape was yanked quickly shut, Severus caught a glimpse of sleep-mussed brown hair, worn trousers, and the stark white skin of a thin, boyish chest.

"Oh. Oh, I'm terribly sorry, I--" spluttered Lupin in embarrassment, "James and Peter usually come to… I didn't-- well, I'm usually alone here, so…"

The boy was odd, of that Severus was certain. "I don't care. I just need to find Madam Pomfrey so I can get back to the dungeons."

"Oh, right, well…" he heard the sound of clothing being quickly pulled on, "it's ah, too late, actually. Past hours. She won't let you leave now. Might as not lay back down, I'd think."

"You must be joking." Of course he wasn't joking. Lupin wouldn't know a joke if it jumped up and bit him. And he'd surely been here often enough to know the rules. Severus dropped his bag with a thud at his feet.

"So sorry," the other boy replied, sounding more tired than sorry. "There's fruit in the bowl there, and some rolls, if you're hungry… not much, but then, beggars and all…"

Half-heartedly dragging his bag with him, Severus slumped down onto his bed. It was either stay here or face Mrs Norris and a probable dozen detentions. Bugger. Best to see what books he had and revise a bit more then. Perhaps his Charms essay for Wednesday was packed in his bag somewhere…

"Are you, ah, feeling better, then?" Lupin had emerged from his cocoon of white draping, fully clothed this time in a ripped grey jumper and robes, and was pulling the heavy draperies to the side with some effort. They slid on their track with the sharp sound of metal on metal. "I heard them bring you in… Sleeping Draught, was it?"

"It's none of your business," Severus told him, rather upset that he hadn't found his Charms essay. In fact, there wasn't much of any value at all in his bag, and he tossed it down onto the bed beside him in a huff.

"Ah, of course. Yes that's, I mean, not that I… it wasn't meant to seem prying, but ah… Black, he was… you know, well, he was here with you. When you came. I mean, when you came into the infirmary. Here. So I thought maybe…" he trailed off.

"What is wrong with you?" Severus asked, disgusted.

Lupin looked alarmed. "I'm just… sick, weak constitution and that--"

Severus rolled his eyes. "Well, does it affect your vocal cords?"

Lupin blinked vaguely across the room at him. "My what?"

"Your vocal cords, the things you talk with!" Severus fumed. "You've hardly managed a complete sentence this entire time, so I was wondering if your sickness affected your vocal cords or if you were just too stupid to string that many words together properly!" He couldn't believe he was to be stuck in this room all night with a sickly, inarticulate Gryffindor, of all people.

"Oh," Lupin said with a sigh that sounded quite relieved. "No, I reckon I'm just stupid. Yes, very stupid, indeed…"

Severus couldn't help but find himself impressed by accuracy of this statement. "Do you often partake in such altruistic acts of self-depreciation," he asked, "or should I feel exceptionally honoured by such a momentous occurrence?"

Lupin's laugh rattled in his throat. "Do you usually talk as though you're reading from a text?"

"Usually only when I want Sirius to leave me alone," Severus told him rather frankly.

A grin lit the other boy's pale, drawn face as he sat himself gingerly on the edge of his bed. "I wish that worked on James. He gets going sometimes about, well, anything really, and he's just…" he shrugged. "Well, I suppose I'd go on as well if I'd the energy, or the…"

As Lupin shifted uncomfortably, Severus looked around for his wand, which he'd just now realized he was missing. It was nowhere to be found. He'd had it in class though, so maybe Sirius had taken it back to their room. If it was lost, he'd have that boy's scruffy-haired head.

Lupin cleared his throat. "Could I… could I ask you something? About… well, you're friends with… with Black, right? I always see you two, you know, together, I mean around each other, during the day, and…" Severus raised an eyebrow, wondering if the question would come any time this century. "Is he… finished? With-- with Evans?"

"Finished," Severus snorted. "I hadn't realized he'd ever started." To Lupin's perplexed look, he added, "He never cared a whit about her in the first place, obviously. Just another of his addle-minded plots. How do you stand him, anyway? Potter, I mean."

Lupin didn't seem to hear his question and was turning a strangely sickly shade of salmony-pink. "So… I mean, I'm only asking because… well, James has liked her for absolutely ever, and he was really extraordinarily difficult to live with for a while there…"

"Though that was a much longer and more understandable phrase, you've still obviously not realized that I DON'T CARE," Severus told him just to be rude, as he flopped bonelessly back on his bed. Stupid infirmary, stupid book bag, stupid pasty Gryffindor. He then thought to add, "You're not catching, are you?"

"Oh--" Lupin started.

He didn't have time to finish the statement though, as the door suddenly swung open and hit the wall with a loud crash. Nearby bottles of remedies rattled on their shelves. Then the door slammed shut. Strangely though, no one was AT the door.

"Darling sweet princess Moony, have you finished your monthlies? Was there much terrible cramping? Heavy flow? Are your girl bits still--"

"James!" Lupin shouted hoarsely at the disembodied voice.

"What? I'm just joking! And Peter's-- WHAT in Merlin's name is THAT doing here?!" And suddenly James Potter was standing in the doorway, a silvery grey cloak hanging from his right hand.

"I tried to warn you," Severus heard Lupin murmur.

Potter said something back, but Severus didn't hear him. "An invisibility cloak," he whispered. This was his first time seeing one. They were incredibly rare, incredibly valuable, and Severus couldn't imagine much he wouldn't do to get his hands on one. In fact, the sight of the candlelight flickering off its finely-woven surface sent strange tingles through him.

Potter yanked it behind his back. "What're you looking at, you ugly git?" he snarled.

Severus scowled. Stupid rich, smelly Gryffindors who had everything and deserved none of it. "Oh, just take your little girlfriend and leave!" he spat.

"What did you just say?" Potter demanded as Lupin spluttered in the background.

Severus was reaching for his wand when he remembered, to his horror, that he didn't have it. He was alone, without his wand, without Sirius, defenceless. Severus sneered at the Gryffindor boys, wishing for all he was worth that there were some way to hex empty-handed.

Potter laughed wickedly and drew his wand. "What's with the snivelling face, Snape? Forgot something? Did snivelly little Snape forget his wee little wandy?"

"James," Lupin interjected, "I'm really tired and, and my leg hurts, let's just--"

"What's the matter Snivelly, can't do anything without Black? Need him to wipe your bitty bottom for you?"

"James," Lupin was tugging the cloak out of his hands, "if you don't stop, someone's going to hear you, and--"

"FINE!" Potter yanked the cloak back, nearly knocking Lupin to the ground. "Alright, fine. Let's just go and leave this hideous, greasy-haired slime here, completely untouched--"

Lupin signed. "Thank you, James."

Potter gave him one last scathing glare as he threw the cloak over the two of them and they vanished from sight. "Tell Black I'll have him," his voice said from the empty space the boys had just been standing in, "if it's the last thing I do!"

The next morning, Severus was released by Madam Pomfrey, and he was the one to wake Sirius for a change.

"An invisibility cloak!" his dorm mate gasped, wiping the sleep from his eyes. "So that's how they've been doing it! I knew they were up to something! Wait, how did you find out?"

Severus told him about Lupin in the infirmary whilst Sirius stretched and made various other overtures of fully waking. "Remus Lupin, hmm? What was he like then? I mean, other than peaky and… and jumpery?"

"He was…" What was he? Spluttering and vaguely incomprehensible surely, but surprisingly agreeable otherwise. And fairly intelligent as well, all things considered. Severus rather liked him. "…hopeless. Utter Gryffindor dung-for-brains dunderhead."

Sirius was suitably pleased with this response. "I'm going to spy on them," he determined.

Sirius contemplated a suitable plan of action with his usual single-minded focus all the way down to breakfast. The Great Hall was still rather empty and quiet when they arrived, so Sirius dumped Regulus's cereal in his lap to compensate.

"Sirius!" the boy yelped, sugary milk dribbling down his robes.

"The problem is, how do you trail someone in an invisibility cloak?" Sirius pondered aloud. "I mean, how do you even find them in the first place if they're invisible?"

Severus shrugged, sliding in next to Aubrey and dishing himself up eggs and kippers. "That's disgusting," Aubrey told him, poking with his fork at the egg yolk oozing onto his fish.

Sirius reached over Severus's head and cuffed him. "Don't mess with his food or he won't eat it, and he's skinny enough already. Pass me the bacon."

Severus slurped his lovely runny eggs and purposefully put his eggy mouth all over the rim of Sirius's glass when he stole a drink of juice. Aubrey gagged when Sirius drank from it.

"Hogsmeade weekend coming up. You going?" Sirius asked.

"Waste of time," Severus replied and wondered if Sirius's body was composed of ninety percent bacon. He certainly ate enough of it. Of course, the same could be said of him and eggs, and he didn't feel terribly egg-like. Well, maybe a little.

Merlin, what was wrong with him that he was attempting to use Arithmancy to determine his relative egg consistency?

"That's all well and good I suppose, since I've my meeting anyway," Sirius told him, licking his fingers loudly. "You remember," he leaned in close to Severus's ear, "the dancing girls?"

Severus felt his face flame and took a long drink of Sirius's juice.

"Black!" Severus was highly relieved when the harsh voice boomed through the hall. "You're DEAD!"

"Right on cue," Sirius smirked.

"I don't know how you did it, but Peter's Potions homework is completely blank, and I KNOW it's your fault!" Severus looked up, a large piece of fish dangling half out of his mouth, to see a furious James Potter, trailed by a meek and teary-eyed Pettigrew. Severus felt his hand go to his wand, which Sirius had given him back this morning.

As it turned out, he needn't have worried. "Mr Potter!" Professor McGonagall's voice called out. "Do sit down quietly, or I shall be forced to take points."

A look of intense irritation passed over the Gryffindor boy's face. "This isn't over," he spat and stalked off to the Gryffindor table, Pettigrew sniffling at his heels like a kicked puppy.

Pettigrew's desperate homework situation still hadn't changed by the time they entered the Potions classroom, and the Gryffindor's explanation to the Slytherin Head of House met with deaf ears. Too bad for him, thought Severus. He should've minded his ink.

Severus had been enjoying Slughorn's class more since he'd been paired up with Evans. This wasn't because he liked potions more, just that the class itself had become wickedly intriguing. Ever since he'd witnessed Evans's deviant methods of potion alteration, he'd been spying on her at intervals, trying to catch her at this dangerous little game. Through careful and vigilant observation, he'd found her guilty not only of the wanton, unprescribed mixing he'd witnessed earlier, but also of shamelessly improper chopping and underhanded, weak-fingered stirring.

Only after he'd seen her change a recipe two or three times would he hazard attempting such recklessness himself, but when he did, he found that the end product always turned out as well as the text instructions, if not better. It unnerved him to no end.

He made up his mind to speak with her about it just after the first Hogsmeade weekend. This plan was thwarted though, by Sirius's tales of dancing girls.

Lucius Malfoy had been good to his word, and Sirius had come back to Hogwarts with liquor on his breath and tales of a particular witch named (improbably) Edna, and her ample bosom.

"You should've come, Severus! The way she shook them! The look on Nott's face alone was worth it, I swear!" Sirius told him, twirling about their dorm in a way no inebriated person should without heaving up his insides.

Severus felt ill just watching him, which did nothing for his attempts to Transfigure the bag of jelly slugs Sirius had brought him back from Honeyduke's into an aardvark. His Transfiguration had really gone to Hell lately. He hated dancing girls. "Why was Nott there?"

"Oh, there was a fair lot of us-- Nott, Avery, Pritchard, Lestrange, Bulstrode… and a couple others I didn't know, graduated already, I think. You should really come next time, you'd like the politics. All this about the Chamber of Secrets and the Knights of Walpurgis and purebloods--"

"Can't you see I'm busy?" Severus snapped, distinctly aardvarkless. "Purebloods! What nonsense. He's just trying to recruit you because you're a Black. You HATE being a Black! I can't believe you're falling for it. What do you care about blood anyway? Your worst enemy is as pureblood as they come, you dolt!"

"Stop yelling! I've got a pleasant buzz right now, and you're ruining it with all this wretched Potter talk!"

Severus fumed. "Look, I don't care! I don't care about your stupid politics or your stupid new best mate Lucius or your stupid dancing girls, or--"

"Edna put her hand in my robes."

Severus dropped his wand.

"You should really, REALLY come next time, Severus!"

After such a conversation, speaking to someone like Lily Evans had seemed terribly lewd. Thus, it wasn't until February that Severus finally felt enough at ease to attempt it.

"I wanted to ask you something, Evans," he told her. Class had just finished, and Sirius was trailing the Gryffindors in his continuing espionage attempt, so they were relatively alone.

"The answer's no," she told him rather brusquely, shoving her books in her bag.

Highly annoying. "It's not a yes or no question."

Evans eyed him suspiciously. "It's not about Madam Puddifoot's?"

It took him a moment before he could even form a proper response. "What?"

"Madam-- oh, never mind," she sighed. "What is it?"

"I'd like to know what I'm being accused of asking you first," he countered.

"Look, I'm sorry, but the answer's no. I'm not trying to hurt your feelings. It's just that I've been asked six times in the past twenty-four hours, and I'm getting really sick of it."

Severus thought she had cheek to say something that bizarre yet look at him as if he were the crazy one. Gryffindors were indeed ghastly creatures, and he would put an end to this right now. "Evans, I have no idea what you're going on about, and I wish you'd stop because frankly, it's giving me a headache. I wanted to ask you something about Potions, if you can get your mind around the concept."

"Potions?"

"Yes, you know, class we have together in this room, Professor Slughorn, shrivelfigs? Potions, Evans!"

"I know what Potions is, Snape!"

"Then you know it has nothing to do with tea shops!"

To this she gave him that same look, the one that implied he'd gone completely off his nut, and Severus wanted to hex it right off her face. No amount of potions expertise was worth this sort of abuse. "Never mind," he told her as he turned to go. "I wasn't THAT interested."

Sirius was as baffled as he was. "Why would you want to talk about Madam Puddifoot's? What the hell's that got to do with anything?" Sitting in the common room, he was drawing something boxy and oblong on the back of an old homework paper.

"I should've known better than to attempt an actual conversation with a Gryffindor. What's that?" Severus motioned toward the paper.

"Map," Sirius told him. "What possible connection could she have with Madam Puddifoot's that six people already asked her about it?"

"That is the worst map I've ever seen," Severus informed him. "It looks like a two-year-old drew it. Do you think there's some rumour, maybe?"

"I just STARTED the map, so of course it's no good yet, but I need a better plan. Lupin was GONE again yesterday, and I didn't catch them in the cloak!" Sirius seemed quite despondent about it. "What sort of rumour? You don't think she did something indecent there? Caught snogging a seventh year in the men's toilet, you think?"

"But why would I ask her about it? None of my business who she snogs. In fact, just thinking about it has me feeling rather… violently ill. And how is a map going to help you catch them?"

Sirius grinned up at him and pointed with his quill at the messy amalgamation of geometric patterns on his parchment. "If they're wandering about the school at night, most likely going outside from the sorry state of their clothes, then there has to be a way to track them. Even in an invisibility cloak, they still have to use doors, right? So when I figure out all the possible ways they could be leaving, I'll set traps at each of them so I'll know when they go past. That way, I can trail them and find out where they're going. I've got to find all the possibilities first though. This place is bloody huge."

"I'm sure there's a map in the library that doesn't look like it was produced by rampantly mating quadrangles," Severus snorted. "Really, how can you even read that?"

"You know I don't do libraries. That's what I have you for. And I can read it just fine, here's the Great Hall, and the Main Entryway, and the corridor that leads to the stairs by the Arithmancy classroom, and if I draw a little hook over this way, that'd lead to the…"

"Stop, Sirius," he pulled the quill from the other boy's hand. "Just stop. My brain cells are withering and dying as we speak. I've had enough trauma with Evans and tea shops today, I don't need you jumbling things up any worse."

"My advice," Sirius told him, grabbing his quill back and waving it with a flourish, "is that you forget all about Evans and Puddifoot's. No good can come of such thoughts, when Gryffindors are involved."

"You asked Evans about Madam Puddifoot's?" a voice asked from behind them.

Severus turned to see Davy Stebbins approaching, an amused look on his face. Severus was not pleased and wished he'd thought to go to their dorm instead of hanging about in the common room. "Of course not, why would I?"

Stebbins's buck-toothed mouth twisted into a grin that might've been sly if he didn't look so incredibly dim. "Oh, don't play dumb with me! I know you know. So what'd she say? Half the school's probably asked her!"

"Actually," Sirius told him, "he doesn't know, and she didn't say anything. Now explain before I hex your arse cheeks together."

"Cor, you two are dense!" he exclaimed. "Valentines Day, you ninnies! It's this weekend!"

Sirius made a noise of high-pitched glee as Severus's stomach twisted. "Valentines Day? She thinks I…"

"She thinks you were asking her out!" Sirius's eyes were wide as saucers.

Severus couldn't remember ever having felt so humiliated in his entire life. Throwing his bag on the floor, he stormed out into the corridor. His heart was thumping in his ears, and his teeth were clenched so hard his jaw ached as he pounded up the stairs out of the dungeon. He heard Sirius clomping after him, but the other boy knew better than to attempt to stop him when he was taken by one of his fits of fury.

Evans was bent studiously over A Standard Book of Spells at her cluttered library desk and didn't notice Severus until he yanked it out from under her hand.

"How dare you!" he shouted, throwing the book onto the floor. It landed with a flurry of pages and scattered notes.

Evans stared up at him, a blank look on her face as though she couldn't begin to comprehend what had just happened.

"How dare you make such assumptions of me! I wanted to talk to you about Potions, about how you know to mix and cut things they way you do, why yours come out better than the book, not about some disgusting holiday! You think every boy here wants you so much it's the only thing they ever think of? This is a school, Evans! Some people actually come here TO LEARN!" He shouted the last words so loudly that a girl halfway across the library squeaked.

The whole room was staring, and Madam Pince was sure to be here soon. "If I wanted to go to Madam Puddifoot's with someone so egotistical they can't think of anything but how much everyone else thinks of them, I would've as soon asked--" he caught sight of Sirius watching them conspicuously from the end of the row and pointed, "him!"

"SEVERUS SNAPE! OUT, OUT!" the librarian's shrill voice cut through the stunned silence. Her stern face atop her vulture-neck bobbed up and down behind a shelf as she approached with alarming speed.

Severus turned back to Evans, who was now pink in the cheeks and staring at him with an embarrassedly horrified expression.

"Get over yourself!" Severus spat. And then he turned on his heel and stalked away before Pince managed to throw him out.

He wasn't two seconds out the door when Evans came flying after him. "Snape, wait! Snape!"

But he was not about to give her the satisfaction of waiting. Not to someone who was rich, brilliant, popular, and so beautiful she'd had six boys ask her out for Valentines in one day when nobody would ever, ever ask someone like Severus.

He would not give in, even when she was chasing after him and apologizing so sincerely, because she just didn't deserve it. But when she suddenly shouted, "Cooking!" he found he couldn't help himself. Cooking?

"That's how I know. Cooking. My Mum and I used to cook all the time, I've been doing it since before I can remember. It's the exact same thing, just without magic, and I'm really, really, so sorry I misunderstood you," she panted, her silky red hair falling messily around her face. "But the answer's cooking."

XXXXX

Severus couldn't stay angry with Evans for long because it didn't make logical sense for him to do. After all, she was a Gryffindor; idiocy was in her blood. You could as much ask a Gryffindor to be a rational human being as you could ask an ogre to be a kitten. Also, being the good Slytherin that Severus was, he felt duty-bound to use this situation to his advantage.

But really, cooking?

He pondered this conundrum as he suffered through another impossible session of afternoon Transfiguration, poked uninterestedly at his dinner of shepherd's pie, and laid on his bed that evening distractedly checking his Arithmancy homework for errors while reverently tracing the cover of his DADA text with the tips of his fingers. He fell asleep on top of his duvet still wearing his robes, the swirl of mixing frogspawn casseroles in his head and Sirius's low voice plotting Gryffindor extinction in his ear.

He awoke early the next morning with Sirius's thigh wedged between his own and Sirius's drool dribbling down his cheek, and he cursed the fact that his curtains weren't drawn and immediately tipped the other boy onto the floor.

"Buggering FUCK that hurt," Sirius said in a groggy voice, rubbing his forehead.

"Then stop molesting me in my sleep," Severus countered.

"As if I can control what I do when I'm asleep," Sirius groused. "Besides, better me than Evans, right?"

Severus wiped disgustedly at the spittle on his cheek and informed Sirius that if he followed him into the showers, he'd hex his bits off. He took his wand in case the other boy decided to call his bluff. When he came back, Sirius was asleep on the floor where he'd left him, and Severus decided a trip to the library before Charms was in order.

He felt more than a bit silly thumbing through Enchantment in Baking with Madam Pince glaring accusingly at him from behind the circulation desk, but it's not as though there was anything he could do about it. Research was research, and it was necessary, silly or not.

In the next week, he learned more about cooking than he'd ever care to admit, sifting through Hogwarts' entire stock of books on the subject with every free moment. It was extremely fortunate that he'd already read his DADA text eleven times through and memorized every line, so he didn't feel entirely immoral for abandoning it a while.

Sirius, who hadn't heard what Evans had told him in the corridor, had taken to staring at him oddly. He asked no questions though, undoubtedly afraid of the responses he'd get. Severus was forced to hex him only once during this entire process, when the other boy wouldn't shut up about how hungry the talking French pastry book was making him.

Severus soon came to realize that if one had a grasp of the basic principles, then substitutions, amendments, and even wild improvisations could be made; and if it was so with the yeast and eggs and nutmeg and such with cooking, then it would be the same with the dittany, gurdyroot, and unicorn hair with Potions. Thus, after cookbooks, Herbology and Care of Magical Creatures took the brunt of his newfound devotion. Knowledge was power, and he was determined to know everything.

Professor Kettleburn was more than happy to inform Severus as to the proper harvesting of graphorn horns and murtlap tumors, and he was thrilled beyond expectation at being asked about the egg-laying habits of runespoors. The man naturally assumed that Severus had taken a sudden great interest in his subject, and Severus milked it for as many trips to the Restricted Section as he could.

Happily, he found the Herbology professor just as easily swayed. Severus was also pleasantly surprised to learn that Sirius knew a good deal about the properties of magical plants, especially dangerous ones, as his family evidently kept rather a large garden of them. Tales about his brother Regulus's near-death encounters with Venomous Tentaculas certainly broke up the monotony of Sirius's infamous Gryffindor Rants.

Severus had to admit though, that he was rather impressed with his dorm mate's ingenuity. His map no longer looked as though a plethora of squares had thrown up on it, and he was experimenting with different methods of intrusion detection and tracking spells. It wasn't at all unusual now to be blinded by magnificent flashes of light, hear eardrum-shattering explosions, or be turned strange colours when entering their dorm.

And the application of Sirius's experiments was quite clearly paying off, as all three Gryffindor boys came to class one day with singed robes and purple hair.

Sirius had also begun what he'd dubbed the Jumper Diary, in which he noted suspicious Gryffindor activities, of which there were many. Of course, weeding out the behaviour that was actually suspicious from such things as "James Potter was a particular arse today," or, "Remus Lupin looked more jumpery than usual" proved particularly difficult for Sirius.

And difficulties, of course, led to the inevitable.

"If you don't stop bouncing on my bed, so help me Black, I'll--"

"But you're so much better than I am with this organization rubbish… numbers and dates and," he paused contemplatively mid-bounce, glancing at the open date book in his hand, "and jumpers, and putting them all together and making something out of it… you're really brilliant at it! You're the absolute genius master of--"

"You could try flattery some time other than when you want something from me, you know," Severus told him peevishly. Important Modern Magical Discoveries was jiggling in time with Sirius's bounces, and he kept losing his place. Indeed, even the illustration of the famous Potions Master Libatius Borage seemed to be getting a bit seasick.

"Why the hell… would I want… to do that?" Sirius asked, a bit out of breath but continuing nonetheless.

"Look, I agree the Gryffindors are up to something, jumpers or no, but I'm busy."

"You're ALWAYS busy!" Sirius shouted, and the bouncing stopped, much to Severus (and Mr Borage's) relief. "Just five minutes, come on!"

"Absolutely not."

"Snape," Sirius panted. "Consider your options. You humour my flattery once more and… take five minutes to look at the… damn Diary and have done with it, or… I go back to bouncing and do it all night-- and you know I can-- and prevent you from having… even a single moment's peace. Your choice."

Severus slammed his book shut, and Borage let out a startled squeak. "Give me a single, factual piece of evidence to convince me you are worth my time."

"I've got a whole book of factual evidence! Okay, okay!" Sirius replied, noting Severus's disdainful look. "Alright, so there's this… Lupin's absences… they're almost on the same day every month! Look!"

Severus took hold of the book that was being shoved unceremoniously in his face and followed Sirius's pointing finger to the seventh of the month. "What is that big T for?"

"It's not a T, it's a jumper! The arms are stretched out! And see, it's ripped here, like his green one--"

"You're mad," Severus told him and flipped the page back a month. Sirius was leaning over him, so he gave him a shove back onto the mattress for good measure. The odd-looking T shape appeared again among the myriad of flurried scribbles, on the seventh. The month previous though, it appeared on the ninth, and the month before that, it went back to the seventh, only to revert once more to the ninth in January. Nine seven nine seven seven.

"Useless," Severus proclaimed, flipping the book closed. "You haven't been watching him long enough to form a proper pattern. It's simple Arithmancy. And a bit of advice: don't let anyone else see this book, or you'll be thrown in prison. This definitely constitutes stalking, and I'm not testifying on your behalf."

Sirius mumbled something about how Severus never respected Sirius's research, which was infinitely more important than rat spleens and Flitterbloom, and Azkaban being nice this time of year, and how he was going to set all sort of traps next month and catch those wankers because he knew they were guilty.

Severus, of course, could make nothing of this mindless babble and threw the book back at Sirius, turning back to his own, much more reasonable research.

XXXXX

Severus hadn't melted a cauldron since second year, and he'd certainly never exploded one. The fact that he'd managed it the last class of his fourth year, when even Pettigrew had outgrown it, made him want to hide under a rock for the rest of his natural existence. Sirius would tell him later that he'd done it with such gusto that no one thought the worse of him, but Severus didn't believe a word of it. He knew for a fact that they were all laughing at him behind his back.

When Professor Slughorn had finally counteracted the various chain reactions, righted the upturned tables, and sent the afflicted parties to the infirmary, he asked Severus very genially to "hold back just a moment" from heading to his next class. When the other students had left, he sat his portly body behind his desk and motioned for Severus to join him.

"M'boy, that was quite a magnificent eruption. However did you manage to turn it pink like that?" he asked.

Severus wished with all his might that the ground would open up and swallow him. How was he to get out of this without admitting he'd only done it because Evans had? "I…" he came up with a quick lie, "I read somewhere that if you mix salamander blood and belladonna first in a separate bowl and then set them aside until they're needed, they'd stir in more evenly, but when I tried it, they congealed. When I added them to the potion, I could hardly stir it, and… Sir, why does it work when Evans does it?"

"Evans?" he asked, his interest level suddenly raised several notches.

"Yes, sir," Severus told him. "She's always doing things like that. Deviating from the recipe. I noticed it first when I was partnered with her."

"Oho, keeping an eye on Miss Evans are we, Snape? Well, I can hardly blame you, she does bear watching," he said with a knowing look, and Severus did his best not to gag. "Few times have I had a student with such natural talent. Knows it by instinct-- just when to add what, how many times to stir…"

As Professor Slughorn waxed nostalgic about another student who'd had such skills and something about a benefit concert in Prague, Severus shifted uncomfortably in his seat. "But why do her potions come out better than the book," he interrupted, remembering somewhat belatedly to tack on a, "sir? I've been researching like mad, but no matter what instructions I follow, she's always better!"

"Did your parents attend Hogwarts, Mr Snape?" Slughorn asked suddenly.

Severus tensed. "My mother, sir."

"And what was her name?"

"Prince. Eileen Prince."

"Slytherin?"

"Yes sir."

"Hmm…" Slughorn mused. "Can't say I remember her… About twenty years ago, then? No, name doesn't ring a bell… what does she do now?"

"Ah," Severus swallowed hard, his throat dry. "Housewife, sir."

"Ah yes, very good," Slughorn responded. "Are you planning on following in her footsteps?"

Severus blinked. "Sir?"

"I don't aim to demean the useful work of devoted homemakers Mr Snape, don't get me wrong. But while properly rearing future generations may be important, I trust you'll agree that it's hardly noteworthy. A slow slide into oblivion for so many talented young witches," he shook his head mournfully.

"Sir," Severus told him, fussing anxiously with a worn spot on his robes, "I don't see what this has to do with me."

"Mr Snape, I realize it's a bit early to start in about the future, but let me put this to you frankly as both your Professor and Head of House, and someone who has seen many young people like you come and go. You're a talented young man. You are of uncommon intelligence, and when you put your mind to something, you succeed. You know this, and I know this," he said, and Severus leaned closer. "But does anyone else? What do you do to separate yourself from the rest, Mr Snape? What do you do to… stand out?"

Severus was at a loss for words. No one of any importance had ever called him talented before, or intelligent. No one ever wanted to talk about his future. He hadn't been aware anyone thought he had one.

"In order to be great, you must think great," Slughorn continued. "You must aspire to beyond what others think you capable of. If you come back to this school in twenty years, you must be sure that I-- well not me exactly, since I'm planning retirement soon, I've got a modest twenty-room villa outside Naples in mind-- but you must be sure that you will be remembered, Mr Snape. Obscurity, for those of great ambition, is equivalent to death."

Severus felt himself nodding, not sure he'd ever heard something quite so true.

"The reason Lily Evans is great, and will be greater in time, is because she thinks beyond what is written. Research all you like, but it's only a starting point. Learning to think for yourself is the key. You will not become great by being a follower. And unless you want to follow your mother's path, you would do well to take note, Mr Snape. Become something amazing, something incredible, or become nothing at all."

It was as though the man had picked open his brain as one might a lock, prying out exactly what Severus wanted, needed to hear. Something amazing. Something incredible. And Professor Slughorn thought Severus could be that something. Severus was not about to let him down.

"And with that said," Slughorn leaned back in his chair, his immense weight causing it to creak against the strain, "the reason Miss Evans's potion came out and yours did not is because she added a pinch of dried Melilot while stirring to prevent the coagulation, but I suspect that wasn't visible from your angle. Lead, Severus, do not follow. Use that brain we both know you have for something other than aiding Mr Black's crusade against Gryffindor, as… fulfilling as it may be. I could use more from my own house in my little club, yes?"

"Yes, sir," Severus said when he finally regained his voice. "I will, sir." And he swore to himself at that moment that he would. He would be amazing. He would be incredible. He wouldn't end up like his mother. He'd die first.

Unfortunately, becoming amazing and incredible wasn't as easy as it sounded. As there were mere days left until the school year ended, any sort of plan he made would have to be carried out primarily in a small bedroom in Derbyshire without the aid of magic of any kind. Severus didn't want to think about that though. Thus, he distracted himself by hexing the first years' shoes to the ground, jinxing all the food at Gryffindor's table to taste like soap, cursing the Ravenclaws' Arithmancy notes to multiply their divisors by the square roots of their remainders, locking Mrs Norris in the girls' washroom, and trouncing Sirius at Gobstones until the other boy's robes were sopped and disgustingly smelly. Severus hated every moment of it.

Two nights later, the Leaving Feast was over and both the House and Quidditch Cups were in Gryffindor's ham-fisted hands, and Severus couldn't even bring himself to care. With nothing but the trip to Hell for the summer left to look forward to, he didn't even have the heart to revise Olde and Forgotten Bewitchments and Charmes, much less try out the water Aubrey had managed to Transfigure into rum. Instead, Severus lay in bed with his curtains pulled, reminding himself over and over of what Professor Slughorn had told him.

He would be amazing. He would be incredible. It became something of a mantra. Amazing, incredible, amazing, incredible, amazing, incredible…

His dimly-glowing clock read nearly three in the morning when it failed him.

Everything was quiet save the deep, hushed breathing of his dorm mates, the soft dripping of pipes, and the strange rustling sound he sometimes heard inside the wall behind his bed. It used to frighten him, imagining the strange creatures that crawled, inched, and slithered through the depths of the castle just beyond his sight. Now though, he'd do anything to have them with him always, to never be made to leave this place. If he'd ever had a home at all, it was here.

That night, the dungeon air was dank and stuffy from the hot June weather, but Severus couldn't feel it. Even with his covers pulled tightly to his neck, the chill realization of where he'd be tomorrow sank deep into his bones, and he shivered, feverish sweat running down his forehead. His stomach clenched, head spun, and it was all he could do not to be sick all over himself.

Finally, he gave in.

"Sirius." It was barely a whisper.

A rustle of bedding. "Yeah?"

"Stop being an arse."

A moment later, his curtains were parted, his sheets drawn back, and a warm weight settled in beside him. "I hate this," Sirius whispered. "I hate this, I hate this, I hate this."

"Shut up, I hate you, I'm freezing," Severus murmured inaudibly, rolling toward the warmth.

"I don't want to go, I don't want to go." Sirius's hands were fisting in Severus's nightshirt, and Severus pulled him close, tucking his messy black-haired head under his chin.

Sirius shook against him, and Severus whispered to him how worthless he was, how incapable, how Sirius would never manage alone and was doomed to nothingness, and how no one would love him, ever, ever, ever. Sirius knew what he meant, and he whispered back, it wasn't true, Severus was brilliant and perfect and could do anything, anything he wanted, and Sirius loved him and he'd never be alone, not really, not ever.

Sirius's arms around his chest were so tight Severus could barely breathe, their legs were tangled inextricably, and there was something warm and wet against Severus's neck. What it was, he neither knew nor cared, because it was warm, and real. It wasn't a lie because Sirius, his Sirius, would never lie to him, not at a time like this.

Clutching tightly at Sirius's strong shoulders, feeding off his warmth, Severus closed his eyes and dreamt of never waking up.

TBC