After arriving back at Spinner's End, Snape transfigured Black back into a human and left him out cold in the extra bedroom. Then he hugged Miri, sent her back to Hogwarts, and prepared for the mutt's inevitable awakening.
Black woke up 29 hours later.
Consciousness returned abruptly to Black. He felt too warm and muzzy, and the sick feeling of despair was gone. He jumped upwards, taking in the room at a glance. Gloomy, battered furniture. He tried to remember how he got here, but drew a blank. It didn't really matter too much. All that mattered was finding Wormtail, because, because James was gone and nothing could take that back. He remembered hunting for Wormtail, confronting Wormtail, being dragged to a dark cell, dementors outside, seeing Snape of all people. He rushed for the door.
Halfway down the stairs, he sighted Snape at the foot of the staircase. Without waiting for further invitation, Black bellowed and charged. Unfortunately, he wasn't quite up to speed yet. And the paranoid little snake was a really fast draw.
"Petrificus totalus." As his legs snapped together and his arms snapped to his sides, Black's forward movement continued, leaving him unable to stop his face from crashing into the stairs. His movement was arrested by another spell once his nose was two centimeters from the edge of a stair near the bottom. Snape cooly levitated him into the kitchen, then stepped into view. He was smirking. "Intelligent and articulate as always, Black. And such gratitude. After all I've done for you…" Of course the coward had no qualms insulting someone who couldn't reply. Black's face felt hot. He wanted nothing more than to punch this murdering death eater in the nose. And then pick him up and do it again. Snape's smirk widened, clearly enjoying Black's helplessness. "Now I know this will likely be a painful task for your underutilized brain, but if you could just think for a moment, this will be much easier on both of us." If only he could move, he'd wipe that infuriating smirk off Snivellus's unfortunate face…
"I liberated you from Azkaban, when no one else would. Consider that for a moment." If only he could move, he'd make Snape's nose a lot more crooked. "I'll give you some time to process that then." Snape maneuvered him into a chair and retrieved a sort of basin from somewhere. Then Black watched as the little freak carefully removed silvery strands from his temples; the basin must be a pensieve then. Eventually, Snape cooly retreated to the other room and returned with a book, whereupon he proceeded to sit down across the table from Black and read, leaving Black helpless and unable to do anything except, well, think. He wondered if Peter was somewhere in the house. Snape's presence at the Potter residence on Halloween clearly indicated that Snape was in cahoots with the rat.
An eternity later, Snape carefully marked his page and set the tome down, allowing Black to move his head freely with a flick of his wand. Feeling slightly calmer now, Black got straight to the point. "Where is he?" Snape's eerie eyes narrowed, boring into his. Black stared back right into Snape's soulless eyes. Unlike the man in front of him, he wasn't a coward.
He wasn't expecting Snape's response. "Does that mean you didn't actually manage to kill him then?"
"I will." His own voice sounded hoarse in his own ears. "I'll get him, and there's nothing you can do to protect him…"
"Why?" Snape's voice was suddenly very soft, "do you assume I would have any motivation to protect your little friend?"
"Uh, because you're both a member of Voldemort's little fan club?" Snape stiffened. "And I saw you the night he betrayed us all, and he was Secret Keeper, there's no way you could've gotten in unless he told you, I'm not an idiot."
Snape gave him a look that obviously questioned the validity of that last statement. Then he wordlessly shoved the Pensieve in front of Black and snapped, "I have placed my memories of October 31st in this. It might benefit you to view them."
Black wasn't stupid. "I'm not interested in anything that came from your greasy head, thanks."
"Lily and Harry - you do remember Harry don't you? Your dear godson? - Lily and Harry are in danger you witless oaf. And if Pettigrew," Snape spat out the name like he tasted something foul, "Pettigrew is still alive then they might be in even more danger then I thought. Now, will you man up for once in your life and help them or are you going to continue to wallow in self pity?" Strange, it sounded like Snape wasn't in cahoots with Wormtail. "By all means, do keep up the goldfish impersonation. It's extraordinarily realistic." Closing his jaw, Black glowered at Snape who merely jerked his head towards the Pensieve, black eyes narrowed in challenge.
Well then if it was going to be like that, Sirius Black was no coward. Without hesitation, he plunged his head into the Pensieve and noticed that it seemed to be a dark night…
Azkaban hadn't improved Black's personality in the slightest. Trying not to fidget, Snape waited for him to finish with the memories already. He wasn't really happy about showing Black any of his memories, especially not one in which he had betrayed visible fear, but he knew that this was the fastest way to force Black to acknowledge that he was not the enemy.
Finally, Black resurfaced, only a little bit wild-eyed. "You, you…" he spluttered. "I thought you were a Death Eater."
"I am." Snape crossed his arms.
Snape took another deep breath. "I've been working as a spy for the Order of the Phoenix." He didn't see any need to specify for how long. To prove his words he cast his Patronus, a silvery magpie.
Black just stared at him incredulously, not doubt remembering Dumbledore's assertion that no Death Eater could cast a Patronus.
"Really Black, where did you think Dumbledore was getting his information from?"
"Why would you deign to help the Order?" Snape sat up and tried to look arrogant. "I had my reasons, Black."
For once in his life, Black stopped to think for a few seconds. "It was Lily wasn't it?"
"I had my reasons," snarled Snape, unwilling to continue this topic any longer.
"Did you kill Regulus?"
"What? No!" Despite his predictability, Black still managed to surprise him sometimes.
Black's eyes were wide open, searching. "You're telling the truth aren't you? You really didn't have anything to do with his disappearance."
"I thought we established that." Snape was feeling more impatient by the second. "Now, I know that you want to find Pettigrew, but Lily and Harry could both use your help right now."
"What do you mean? Voldemort's gone, they'll be fine."
"No! They won't! Who do you think the Death Eaters blame for the demise of their master, Black?" Finally, Black's eyes widened as realization sunk in. "If you go after Pettigrew again, you'll just get yourself thrown into Azkaban! What's more, Lily or Harry might die for your stupidity!"
Black just stared at him in shock.
Drawing a deep breath, Snape picked up his book and stalked into the next room to stare at the page and listen for any sound from Black. The Gryffindor was uncharacteristically quiet for the next few hours. He paced back and forth in silence. Once, he tried to leave the house, but upon finding the door looked, he gave it up remarkably quickly.
Eventually Miri arrived with the evening meal (she'd been rather insistent about continuing to bring food although Snape was no longer at Hogwarts), and they found themselves back at the table. Neither of them had much appetite. Finally Black set his fork down, cleared his throat, and announced, "I've decided. I...I'll protect Lily and Harry. Once they're out of danger, then I'll hunt down Wormtail again."
"So then, let's go now. And get out of this dump." Black glanced around him with considerable distaste.
"Not just yet."
And so Snape got to explain to Black that everyone thought he was a traitor now. He backed up his words with more memories and a few newspaper clippings. Black's knuckles turned white as he stared at the newspaper, and he came out of the Pensieve looking ashen. Then he wanted to go to Hogwarts and tell his everyone the truth at once, convinced that if Dumbledore or his pet werewolf could only see him, they would realize their error in judgement at once.
Snape asked him if he were absolutely certain that they would not simply call the Aurors to drag Black (and probably also Snape) back to Azkaban. Eventually, Black admitted that maybe he wasn't completely sure about Dumbledore, but he stood by his conviction that a chat with Lily and Lupin would change their minds.
Naturally, Black wanted to go and convince his friends at once. "And how will you ensure that no one else sees you first? Or that the people you're trying to convince won't just scream as soon as they see you?" Snape pointed out the flaws in that plan, trying to be the voice of reason here. Part of him wanted to simply allow the man to get himself thrown back in prison - he'd done his due diligence for Regulus at this point - but there was a possibility that Black might just have a chance to give his life to protect Lily and Harry or something disgustedly noble like that at some point. Besides, if the Aurors thought to question Black on how he'd escaped, they might manage to implicate Snape. Snape was terrible at memory charms, and didn't trust his own ability to completely wipe his involvement from Black's mind. Even if he managed to perform the charm correctly, an obliviate could only do so much.
Like he'd already done so many times today, Black gaped at him.
"You do need a chance to explain yourself to them, but you need a plan first. Otherwise you will end up back in Azkaban. Do you want that? Alright then. Do they know that you are an Animgus?"
Black did his goldfish impersonation again. "How did you know?"
"Because you were a mutt when I found you at Azkaban. You turned yourself back into a," Snape paused delicately, "man without a wand, there is only one spell which works that way."
"Oh. Umm, yeah, they know."
"Alright." Snape voiced his potential plans out loud until he realized that Black was not paying the slightest bit of attention. He wasn't sure why he'd ever expected the oaf to be of the slightest help anyway.
Disclaimer #import Disclaimer;
A/N Before posting chapter 20 I made some fairly major changes to chapter 17, because a lot of it was frankly way OOC. It doesn't have a huge impact on the plot or anything like that.
Reviews are pretty much the only thing that will motivate me to write. Thanks to everyone who's left one!
This chapter is dedicated to kazetoame for the helpful, uhh, motivation.