Title: Candle in the Window

Rating: PG

Summary: When Sirius Black has nowhere else to go, he winds up at the unlikeliest of places.

Pairing: Friendship between Sirius/Severus

Peering through a curtain of unwashed black hair, Severus Snape narrowed his eyes as he pulled open the front door and caught sight of the shadowed figure on the other side. Snowflakes glistened in Sirius' shiny hair, and his grey cloak flapped in the chill breeze as December did its best to punish him with a fresh arctic blast of icy air against his exposed face. Unblinking, Sirius wrapped his arms around himself. His hands were bare, the skin pink from the cold. "Aren't you going to let me in?"

Making no move to draw back and admit Sirius into the house, Severus stared back. "It's late," he said, rather harshly.

"You weren't sleeping," Sirius surmised, accurately enough. He glanced at Severus' clothes: the rumpled white shirt unbuttoned at the neck, black trousers creased from wear. Jerking his head, he indicated the front of the small, ramshackle little residence that was the home on Spinner's End. "There was a candle in the window."

Frowning, Severus shrugged. "I was working. There are essays to grade, assignments to write, lessons to plan. The students, errant though some of them certainly are," he spoke, lingering his gaze on Sirius as he did so, and drawling slightly, so that Sirius would now precisely to whom Severus referred, "deserve whatever education I can manage to cram into their great empty heads."

"More like down their throats, in the form of poisons," Sirius responded tightly, his voice constricted. "Harry has mentioned your threats to me, all the suggestions that he might wake up one morning to find Veritaserum has been slipped into his breakfast juice...or that he might not wake up at all, if he crosses you. Oh, Severus," he continued, smirking slightly even as he trembled in the onslaught of the wind. "Quarrelling with mere children, trying to frighten the youngsters in your care -- threatening your charges. To see what you've been reduced to, after showing so much promise back in our own Hogwarts days." Haughtiness glimmered on Sirius' visage for a moment, a hint of the man he had once been.

"No worse than being trapped in a prison, fighting nothing but shadows, and painful memories," Severus snapped back, stealing the grin from Sirius' face. He stepped back and opened the door wider, exposing the red-lit interior of the house, and the fire flickering in the grate. "Well," he spat, as Sirius gaped at him, "come in! You're letting all the cold air in." He allowed Sirius to pass, then closed the door, renewing the protective spells on the locks and hinges. "Well, what is it? I trust you didn't come simply to exchange insults, for as much as I would love to indulge in a verbal skirmish with you, I can scarcely enjoy my victory against you -- no challenge, you see." He frowned once more, deeply. "Why have you come here, and now? Shouldn't you be back at home, cowering in 12 Grimmauld Place, chatting to that house elf and nothing but the portrait of dear old mum to keep you company?"

Offended, Sirius nonetheless managed to keep himself under control. "I --" he began, but his proud tone faltered. "There was no where else to go," he admitted reluctantly, voice softening considerably. "I -- I had to get out of there -- had to get away," whispered Sirius urgently. He tugged his cloak closer, although the room was warm enough. His silvery eyes shone. "Walls closing in," he managed, "couldn't breathe. Everything constricting, and the dust, dust over everything. I couldn't stand it any more." He raised his head, meeting Severus' bemused gaze. "Had to get out of there, just for a little while."

"Surely you could have found someplace else," Severus commented resentfully, looking over Sirius sceptically. Mistrust was etched across his features. "Why here?"

Exasperated, Sirius yanked off his cloak and tossed it aside. His hands shook. "I told you!" he exclaimed roughly. "There was no place else I could go. I'm a wanted fugitive, an escapee from Azkaban prison! Everyone knows my name, recognises my face -- it's not as though I could simply meander on in to the Three Broomsticks and ask Rosemerta for a pint, now is it? What was I to do, Snape, check into the Leaky Cauldron for a room with a view?" Sarcasm grated as he chuckled mirthlessly. "I'd be arrested in minutes, if some ne'er do well didn't try to gut me first, thinking I'm one of Voldemort's own. And speaking of him..." Sirius glanced up. "I trust his lot would find me a valuable prize as well. Blood-traitor Black, wasn't that how Lucius Malfoy referred to me? I hear he's still walking around free as a bird. There was nowhere else, nowhere safe."

Severus raised an eyebrow, appraising the other man. He nodded. "Tea?"

"I'd rather some wine, if you've got any. Tonks drank up my stores last meeting."

"Fine," Severus nodded. He clicked his fingers, and the wine bottle and two glasses floated to him, summoned from the kitchen to his side. He poured a small measure into each, and handed one to Sirius. "I'd offer a toast," he started, lips twisting in cruel amusement, "but that might encourage you to stay."

Glaring back, Sirius poured the wine down his throat. "I won't be long. I just needed a few moments away, someplace where the air wasn't so thick with mould and filth and timeless decay. Someplace where everything under my fingers didn't turn to dust."

"Poetic," Severus smirked. He sipped his own wine delicately.

"I wouldn't expect you to understand," Sirius answered gruffly. He handed back the glass, and looked towards the window, where the snow pounded down. Perhaps a run along the river, or through one of the parks. If I go as Padfoot, no one will notice, no one will see. Even the sting of furious winds and the blizzard of snowfall sounded delicious to him after being cooped up so long at 12 Grimmauld Place. "I shouldn't have come," he announced, reaching for his cloak. "I can see I'm not welcome here, and you're busy, busy with your work." His voice was heavy with envy at the thought of accomplishing something productive and useful. I'm wasted in that house, made useless by Dumbledore. How can he let the rest go, and keep me there, trapped? "Much appreciation, for your hospitality."

Sneering, Severus stepped aside, giving Sirius passage towards the door. "Oh don't trouble yourself on my account," he remarked coldly, his voice laden with sarcasm. "Only, some of us have actual work to be doing, something to contribute to the rest of the world. I wouldn't want you to feel left out, just because not everyone cares to sit around commiserating with you about what could have been." Turning up his lip, he sneered. "What was it you wanted, Black, a sympathetic ear? A shoulder to cry on?" he asked, incredulously. "Did you honestly think -- are you actually claiming that you believed you would get any measure of sympathy from me?"

"What would know about sympathy, Snivellus?" Sirius asked darkly. He jammed his hands in his pocket, fingers closing around his wand. "Go on, tell me, have you ever felt anything?" Tensing, he withdrew the wand; out of the corner of his eye he noticed Severus doing the same. "Did you feel sorry for Lily and James, even, for causing their --"

He was not able to finish, for Severus' curse flew fast and furious towards him, and he had to duck to avoid being struck directly in the face. Purple light flared, crashing into the wall and leaving a small hole in the plaster, from which the wallpaper hung in jagged strips. Instead of feeling horrified, Sirius smiled, warmth blossoming in his chest. Yes, he thought, as much as he hated himself for it. This is what I wanted, that's what I was after. "Missed," he spat at Severus, face mirthful and eyes shining. "I see being Voldemort's lapdog hasn't improved your aim any." Rising up, he fired a curse of his own, which singed the edges of Severus' trousers as it passed, and just missed hitting his leg as he side-stepped it.

"Azkaban made you rusty," Severus retorted, his black eyes narrowed.

"Mother's wand," Sirius explained, holding it up. "They snapped mine when I was arrested. Never saw fit to bother having a proper trial, never stood before the Wizengamot, but they broke the wand easily enough. This one's never worked properly since I found it in the bureau drawer." He took advantage of Severus' distraction, hitting him squarely in the chest. Severus flew backwards, knocking into a bookshelf, then crumpling onto the ground, tomes and volumes scattering down around him. "That went well enough," he laughed, until Severus' Sectumsempra tore across him, cutting his face and ripping past his shirt to mar his chest.

Kicking aside the fallen books, Severus righted himself. "Cocky, as ever. Gryffindors!" he remarked, shaking his head. Sirius collapsed at his feet, still conscious, but streaming with blood from his wounds. His mouth opened and closed silently. "Yes, that one's new," he answered Sirius' silent question, nodding. "I never dared use it back at Hogwarts. You were always together, the four of you, always on your guard, and the teachers in the hallways -- I'd have been expelled if I'd tried. Here," he offered, after a moment, extending his hand. "Get up."

Hoisting himself to his feet, Sirius cast a healing spell over his body. Pain seethed through him, but it was delightful all the same, to actually feel something. For just a moment, the numbness was thwarted. "Better -- better sit -- sit down," he gasped breathlessly, grinning despite the pain. Aching, he collapsed into the chair Severus conjured. Raising he head, he cocked an eyebrow. "Any more of that wine, by chance?" he requested breathlessly.

Severus conjured it and handed it over, taking a seat in the chair opposite. "You're not so bad at duelling," he observed, studying Sirius as he drank the wine and reclined weakly in the chair. Blood dripped slowly from his wounds, but he was already on the mend. "Just too cocky. You let your pride distract you. I wouldn't have gotten that hit in, had you stopped laughing and paid attention to the fight."

"Severus Snape, admitting defeat?" Sirius asked, surprised.

"Hardly defeat. Admitting --- admitting that you are not the worst I've duelled," Severus responded. He refilled Sirius' glass and leaned back, sighing. "Not bad, actually, for a Gryffindor."

"And you're not as hopeless as some Slytherins," came Sirius' answer. He smiled, canines flashing. "That was..." he started, then sighed, waving one hand. "Good. That's the first time I've felt alive in -- months."

Unwilling to answer in agreement, Severus simply nodded. "My door is always open," he remarked slowly. "Next time you need someone to try and kill you, just stop on by." The hint of a smile played upon his pale lips, but he looked away before Sirius could catch his eye. "Much more invigorating than reading your godson's pathetic attempt at writing an essay."

"I'll keep that in mind," Sirius remarked, nodding. He rose from his chair, every movement awkward, as the injuries inflicted by the curse had not quite managed to heal yet, but despite the physical agony, inside he felt much lighter. "Better go," he sighed, laughing a little. "Mum's portrait might be getting lonely. And Tonks was supposed to come by tonight, to drop off a report." He smirked. "Just between you and me, I think she fancies Remus."

Shaking his head and pulling a face as though he had tasted something bitter, Severus moved to open the door. "I shudder to think -- furry pink werewolf cubs," he grimaced. "One does hope Lupin has more sense than to indulge."

"He has," Sirius assured him. Hesitant upon the stood, he paused, and, carefully, settled one hand lightly on Severus' shoulder. "I -- thanks," he amended quickly, and smiled briefly at Severus' understanding not. "Later then, Snape," he said, waving.

"I'm sure my heart's all aflutter with anticipation," Severus retorted ironically, mouth twisted as Sirius chuckled. He watched as the other man limped out into the flurry of snow, then closed the door. It was late, indeed, and he finally felt tired enough to sleep. Sparing a glance at the essays on the desk, he decided they could wait. It was several days until Christmas, and even more until the holidays were over and the students would return; he had time to rest. For a moment, he shuffled towards the window, intent on blowing out the candle there, but at the last second, he drew back, allowing it to flicker. As he traipsed off to bed, mind full of puzzles and questions, the candle remained there against the glass, burning brightly against the darkness outside.