Moody gained strength slowly but surely over the next few days. He slept a great deal and spent his waking hours carving a new wooden leg, the old one having been a casualty of the rhino transfiguration. When Snape offered to construct the new one magically, Moody declined.
"It needs my own touch," he said, "and it occupies my time. But I'm not going to stay cooped up here much longer, Snape. I've got to get moving, do something. Otherwise, I might as well still be on a shelf with a horn on my head."
"I believe it was your own decision to be a rhinoceros," Snape reminded him. "A joke for Minerva, isn't that what you said? So you've only yourself to blame."
"Fuck off," said Moody, but there was no heat in it. He'd been sitting up, but now he leaned back against the pillows, and a streak of red appeared on the linen behind him.
"What's this?" Snape demanded, striding to the bed. "You're bleeding. How long were you planning to keep this a secret?"
"Didn't know about it, did I?" retorted Moody, leaning forward so that Snape could examine him. "This is a yet another new pleasure for the invalid."
Snape ran gentle fingers over Moody's back. "Your skin is cracking," he said. "I should have expected this; stasis dehydrates you. I'll heat some oil and give you a massage."
"The hell you will!" Moody roared. "I've never had a massage in my damned life."
"Just consider it yet another new pleasure," said Snape.
Not many who had known Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody in his Auror days would have been prepared for the sight of him lying face down on a bed, a towel folded over his naked backside and his head on a face cradle that had been transfigured from some of the junk in the shop. But beyond muttering, "I feel like a bloody wanker," he raised no fuss as Snape tipped warm oil onto his back and began to smooth it in with deft strokes of his long fingers.
And although Moody tensed visibly when Snape removed the towel and the long fingers slid onto his buttocks, he said nothing.
"The skin damage is extensive, but not deep," Snape noted, moving down to scarred thighs. "One or two oil treatments should be sufficient."
If he also noticed Moody's straining erection, he gave no sign of it.
In the evenings, while Moody carved, he and Snape talked. Of war details at first; Moody had a good deal of history to catch up on. Old warrior that he was, he heard the casualty lists in stoic silence and nodded his approval of Snape's descriptions of some of Minister Shacklebolt's new policies.
And he listened without interruption on the night that Snape finally explained the story behind the death of Albus Dumbledore. When the younger man's voice broke on the words, "he begged me," Moody still said nothing. But he reached out to grasp Snape's sinewy arm.
Gradually their talks moved on to other topics, Moody regaling Snape with lurid tales of his younger days in the Auror corps, and Snape eventually unbending enough to mention one or two of the difficulties of his own long tenure as Dumbledore's spy. They were more alike than either had realised: loners both, not given to trusting, but loyal to their very few real friends. Snape was intellectual and brooding, Moody practical and straightforward, yet both, in their own ways, were deeply thoughtful men. Though neither would have admitted it, they ended each evening's conversation feeling something suspiciously like regard.
The new leg was ready after about a week, and though Moody attempted to maintain his usual irascible expression, he couldn't completely conceal his joy at the chance, after two years of enforced paralysis, to move under his own power.
"Go on about your business, mother hen," he snapped when Snape positioned himself to walk beside him. "We're talking about, what? ten metres here? I can manage."
Snape rolled his eyes. "What you'll most likely manage is to fall flat on your face. And I don't feel like spending the rest of the day healing whatever bones you break when you do. Now I walk with you, or you don't walk at all."
Moody glared but gave in. "Suit yourself," he shrugged. "Far be it from me to keep you from showing your dom side." He grinned sideways at Snape. "Doubt that you get much chance to."
Snape's own grin was positively feral. "You've no idea."
Moody was still smiling, or perhaps just grimacing, when he took his first step.
Yet the walk across the narrow room was difficult, and the trip down the corridor was even worse. Moody made it only halfway to the loo before he had to lean against the wall, blinking sweat from his eyes. He waved away Snape's offered arm with a snarl, but the very next step proved to be too much for him. He slumped into the other man's arms, and both pretended not to notice the support charm Snape was forced to cast.
Moody kept his head down as he stood there, breathing hard, and when Snape brushed a hand over his hair, he didn't shake it off.
It was during the third massage that Snape took things into his own hands, so to speak, and moved Moody's convalescence to a new level entirely.
The late-afternoon sun had turned the small spare room into a warm, ochre-coloured cocoon when Snape entered carrying his beaker of warm oil. Moody was waiting for him, already lying face-down and apparently close to nodding off.
"Your skin is almost back to normal," Snape said as he smoothed the first handful of oil over Moody's back. His fingers dug deep into the knotted muscles, eliciting a moan or two of approval or pain from Moody, but Snape didn't react; he just continued, silently, to work his way down the battered body until he reached the joining of buttock and thigh. Then he paused. He touched the inner thighs lightly but deliberately and then paused again.
"I can stop here, if you like," he said, his voice as smooth as the golden liquid in his hand. "Or I can go on. Your choice."
He waited another moment and then said softly, "old man."
A long minute passed, and then, slowly, Moody opened his legs, exposing soft balls and a glimpse of hard cock above them.
"You'd best finished what you started," he growled. "Wouldn't want to impede my recovery, would you? Boy."
He sucked in his breath as Snape's slick hand grasped his cock and slid slowly along its length. Up, and down, and up again, the rhythm in counterpoint to the other hand now circling Moody's arse.
Time seemed to stop in the yellow-flooded room; there was only silence, and heat, and the soft sound of skin on skin, and then, at length, the jerk of Moody's hips as he groaned and came.
The silence returned and stretched out until finally, Snape straightened from his kneeling position and stood up. Only then did Moody turn and look at him.
"You. . .?" he questioned, but Snape shook his head.
"Another time," he said, and with an oddly-formal half-bow, strode quickly from the room.
A few days passed without either man referring to their afternoon encounter in the sunlit bedroom. Moody continued to practice with his new leg, and despite the disappointing beginning, was able to improve each day. It wasn't too long before he could walk from bedroom to toilet to kitchen on his own, using only the antique walking stick that Snape had fetched him from the shop.
"Not dark, just old," Snape had said as he'd put the ivory-headed cane in Moody's hand.
"Where'd you get this, then?" Moody'd asked, squinting at it. "Fashions for Fops?" But he had hefted the stick in his fist appraisingly and thereafter didn't stir without it.
He'd been fairly steady on his pins for almost a week and had taken to joining Snape for breakfast in the small kitchen when Snape, sitting down one day with the black coffee that was his only concession to the morning meal, said, "I'll be going out later, but I'm confident you can manage on your own. I should return by dinner."
"Where do you think you're going?" Moody demanded. He'd leant his wooden leg and stick against the counter and was massaging his stump as he talked.
Snape's lip curled slightly. "What I think," he said, "is that where I go is none of your business."
"Yeah? Well, what I think is that you're going after that kid who brought me in here, to try to get a line on his family's dark artifacts. And if you think you're going to do that without me, you've got another think coming."
Had Moody been a con man trying to sell blatantly-forged antiques, Snape couldn't have looked at him with greater disdain. "As I believe I once told you," he said icily, "I prefer to work alone."
"Balls to that. If you're going to dig into the dirt of dark arts, you're going to do it according to basic Auror procedure. We work in pairs."
"I think not." Snape sent his coffee cup to the sink with a wave of one hand, and with his wand in the other, he Summoned Moody's leg and walking stick to himself, shrank them, and placed them in the pockets of his frock coat.
"What the. . . ? Accio leg!" Moody roared, whipping his wand from his own pocket. To the evident surprise of both men, the miniaturized leg actually soared out of Snape's coat to hover in the air briefly before clattering to the floor.
Snape bent unhurriedly to retrieve it. "Well, it seems that your magic is on the mend," he observed coolly. "It often happens that way -- strong emotion will energise it."
"Dammit, boy. Give me back my fucking leg."
"Do I have your word -- as man and Auror -- that you will stay here until I return?"
Moody slammed his fist on the table. "Aye," he snarled finally. "My word."
"Excellent," Snape said, returning leg and walking stick to their proper size and placing them next to Moody's chair. "Until this evening, then."
If Snape had expected Moody to be sullen or angry when he returned, he would have been disappointed. The old Auror met him in the shop, having negotiated the stairs for the first time since his recovery, and was frankly gleeful.
"Watch!" he called, and began Summoning objects large and small from the counters and shelves. He sent them whizzing mere inches past Snape's head, shouting with approval as Snape stood unflinching, not moving even when an antique awl went sailing point-first within millimetres of his nose.
When everything had returned tidily to its original place, Snape started calmly towards the rear of the shop. "You've been practising," was all he said.
Moody roared with laughter. "You're a right Slytherin bastard, you know that?"
He stood for several moments looking at the door through which Snape had disappeared before he, too, started for the staircase to the upper rooms.
Snape was in his own bedroom untying his cravat when Moody clumped up behind him and stood within touching distance. Then he did touch, stretching out a hand to loosen the cravat himself. He let his fingers graze Snape's lightly and moved his mouth close to Snape's ear. The younger man was standing very still, breathing deeply, and into the silence Moody whispered,
"Ever been fucked by a man?"
There was a pause as their eyes met in the wavy mirror over the bureau. Then Snape smiled his feral smile.
"Care to find out?"
Morning found each back in his own bed, and when they met in the kitchen for breakfast, there was no hint of the fire that had marked their couplings. If Moody were remembering the arousing feel of a pale, sleek flank under his hands, if Snape were recalling the kick of pleasure that had filled him as he filled Moody, neither indicated it by so much as the flicker of an eyelid.
Moody puttered about making tea and porridge. "Now that I've got my magic back," he said as he sat down, "I'm going to do something about the pitiful wards you've got on this place. They wouldn't keep a sodding kitten out."
"Excuse me," said Snape, "but I am able to manage my life quite well without any doses of paranoid interference. My wards are perfectly adequate."
"Bollocks," snorted Moody. "The greenest kid in Auror training could blast through your defences in no time. Don't worry, though; I'll work on it. Now, what about that boy who brought me here? Find any trace of him?"
For a moment, Snape looked as if he might not answer, but then he shook his head curtly. "No."
Moody didn't gloat. "Been thinking," he said. "Kid must be Hogwarts age."
"Early teens, yes," Snape nodded. "I've thought of that, that he might be a student at Hogwarts. But I don't recall ever having seen him before. He could easily have escaped my notice during my year as headmaster; I did no teaching then, and" -- here his lips twisted wryly -- "I had a few other things on my mind. But before that year, he would have been in my classes. And he wasn't."
"Remember every student, then, do you?" asked Moody.
"Yes. Unfortunately," Snape said. "At the very least, I would have remembered seeing him before. And I don't."
"Still. He's a school-age kid in wizarding Britain. We should at least check out Hogwarts."
"I agree. I thought I'd floo over there this afternoon. Talk to Minerva."
"Good." Moody scourgified his cup and bowl and sent them zooming back to the cupboard, a pleased look crossing his seamed face as they settled in without a sound. "I'm going with you."
"Out of the question."
"Dammit, boy. I said I'm going, and I'm going. You wouldn't deny me the chance to shock the hell out of Minerva, would you?"
"Don't call me 'boy.' You're not coming with me because I don't want to have to endure the endless explanations that Minerva will require about where you've been the last two years. Save your touching reunion for your own time. I have work to do."
Moody leered. "Don't you want to find out the punch line of the rhinoceros joke?"
"It's not as if you can stop me, you know. I've got my magic back. And my leg." He leaned forward, his leer now verging on the obscene. "And as you well know, I've got my fucking strength back. I can floo wherever I damn please."
Snape sighed and pushed his chair back with a screech. "Fine. Come along, then. But if Minerva hexes the hell out of you for shocking the hell out of her, don't expect me to heal you."
The Headmistress of Hogwarts, her stern face and black hair nearly unchanged from Snape's student days, was working at her desk when his head appeared in the fireplace.
She looked up and smiled. "Severus. How are you? Is everything all right?"
"I am quite well. As to everything being all right, well. . .that's something you may decide for yourself, after you see who it is I'm bringing with me. May we come through?"
"Of course." She began to rise, but Snape cut in quickly, "Don't get up. You'll want to be sitting down for this."
"Goodness, Severus, you're being mysterious. Just how worried should I be?"
But Snape's head had already disappeared, and a second later the man himself was stepping into the room, closely followed by Moody, walking stick in hand.
"Hullo, Min," the latter said.
"Alastor?" McGonagall stared, the colour sliding from her face so precipitously that Snape took a step towards her in concern. But he needn't have worried; she was out of her chair and in Moody's arms before Snape could have reached her.
Moody hugged her tightly enough to rob her of breath and then stood back and grinned, his hands still on her shoulders. "Miss me?"
McGonagall ran one hand over his rugged face and used the other to wipe her eyes. "Damn you for drama queens," she said, smiling through her tears. "The both of you. Well, go on -- sit down and get comfortable, because you're going to be here until I have a satisfactory explanation."
"Get comfortable?" Moody glared at the straight-backed chairs ranged in front of the desk. "Who could be comfortable in these cast-offs from an Azkaban interrogation room?" With a wave of his wand, he changed one wooden chair into a plush armchair and sank into it. "Didn't you hear the lady?" he barked at Snape. "Sit down, boy. I've got a story to tell."
"Don't make a novel of it, old man," Snape said, moving away to examine a stack of books on a table in the corner. Taking one to the wide window seat, he sat down with his back to the others, while Moody, waving away the offer of tea, launched into his tale.
"Yep, a rhino," he was saying ten minutes later. "Complete with a ruddy great horn sticking straight out of my head. Standing at attention. That was for you, Min. For old times' sake. Get it?" And he cackled until he coughed.
McGonagall rolled her eyes. "Yes, I get it. More's the pity. Old times, indeed."
"Yes, well. Good times while they lasted, eh, Miss McGonagall?"
She smiled and touched his hand. "Good times, Mr Moody."
Snape continued to read, but he turned the pages with an annoyed snap that caused Moody to glance at him from under bushy brows. But then the talk turned from the rhinoceros to the boy who had brought it into the shop, and Snape came over to rejoin the conversation.
"The boy is what brought us to you today, Minerva," he said, taking one of the hard wooden seats. "Well, that, and Moody's -- not my -- desire to dazzle you with his resurrection from the dead. I need to find that cache of dark objects that Moody says the boy's family has. He was Hogwarts age, but I don't recall ever seeing him here."
He described the boy in detail, and McGonagall looked thoughtful. "He doesn't sound familiar to me, either. Not all wizarding children attend Hogwarts, of course. But if he was born in Britain, he'll be in the birth book."
She stepped to a cabinet against a far wall and murmured an incantation over it; when its doors opened, she removed a parchment folio and spread it on her desk. "I'll include all the boys who turned eleven in the past four years and who didn't end up coming here," she said, occasionally stopping in her perusal of a page to tap a "copy" quill onto a blank sheet.
"Here you are," she said at last, handing the now list-covered parchment to Snape. "Almost two dozen. I've marked the ones to whom I spoke, though I don't recall any of them fitting your description. Filius visited the others. He's on holiday just now, but he'll return on Monday, if you want to question him."
"I do," said Snape, at the same time that Moody said, "We do."
The two men each eyed each other for a moment, until Snape smirked and said, stressing the pronouns lightly, "I will be going now, Minerva; I'd like to get started. Moody, I'll see you this evening. Unless you and Minerva have more, er, catching-up to do? Some further discussion of rhino horns, perhaps?"
"Keep your shirt on," Moody grumbled, Summoning his stick. "I'm ready to go." Heaving himself to his feet, he put his hand on Snape's shoulder to steady himself and turned toward the fireplace. "I'll be back another day, Min," he said, not moving his hand. "And we'll talk. Meantime, I'm leaving with the potions master."
McGonagall looked from him to Snape and back again. Then she smiled. "I see. Like that, is it?" she asked.
"I think so, yes," Moody replied. Still with his hand on Snape's shoulder, he reached for the jar of floo powder.
The flat above the shop seemed cramped after the spaciousness of McGonagall's office. But Moody moved about the kitchen almost cheerfully, whistling through his teeth. Snape leant against the doorframe and watched him with a mixture of irritation and sardonic amusement. Finally Moody thumped the floor with his wooden leg and snapped, "What?"
"The rhinoceros was a penis joke? What -- you're regressing to adolescence in your old age?"
"A penis joke? No, boy, it wasn't a penis joke. It was a cock joke. A raging hard cock joke to remind Minerva of the good times we spent in her bed. Is that what you want to know?"
Snape scowled. "This is how you choose to inform me that you're involved with Minerva?"
Moody shook his head and sat down. "Not involved. Not that way. Friends, is all. We've gone through a lot together, Min and me, one way and other. And yes, we've done the nasty -- maybe half a dozen times over the years. War makes strange bedfellows; you take your comfort where you find it. Min knows that as well as I do."
"You're telling me that Minerva McGonagall goes in for casual comfort sex?"
The scarred mouth quirked. "I see you still haven't got to know her very well, have you? When it comes to sex, 'casual' is all Minerva ever wants; she's given her heart to her job. Besides, she knows my usual inclinations don't lie in her direction." He gazed at Snape steadily before continuing, "In any woman's direction. If you get my drift."
Snape didn't move from the doorway; he merely raised a slow eyebrow. "Like that, is it?" he asked, echoing McGonagall.
And Moody again responded, "I think so. Yes." But this time, he added, "If you're interested."
"You've had internal injuries, Moody," said Snape. "I'd be remiss if I let you wander off before you were completely healed."
"Aye. And it's not as if you don't need someone to come with you on these scavenger hunts of yours. Fine, then. That's us sorted. We'll start on Minerva's list tomorrow."
"We? Hmm. I'll have to give that idea some thought. Tracking down dark artifacts is a subtle science, Moody, a thing of finesse and delicacy. In other words, the opposite of you. So perhaps you should just stay home. The last thing I need is a paranoid ex-Auror tramping around like a herd of. . .rhinoceros."
Moody got to his feet and stumped round the table to shove his dented chin into Snape's face. "The day will come when you'll be glad of a little paranoia on your arse," he said, his voice a low growl. "Death Eater or no Death Eater, you're a rank amateur when it comes to the dark arts, and don't you forget it."
Before Moody could finish his last word, Snape thrust his arm across the other man's chest and pinned him against the wall. "I think you'll find," he said, something tugging at his mouth that could have been either snarl or smile, "that there are a number of things neither one of us is going to forget."
Moody's good eye glinted; he could not have been unaware of the hard length of Snape's cock between them. "Trying to be the one on top, are you?" he asked, grinning and moving his hand to the other's hip. "Well, we'll see about that. Boy."
Snape leant forward and nipped the smirking lip. "Oh, yes," he said. "We'll see. Old man."