Disclaimer: Unprofitable fanwork. Cover image adapted from stockfreephotos dot com.

Warnings for pain, alcohol, scorching bits, tense-play (yes, it's intentional), AUness, language (including regional language for a few chapters in the early 20s) and wizards completely being completely oblivious to (or disinterested in) muggle gender/relational norms.

Notes: Please consider this any permutation of fic, tribute, swiss cheese, divergence, noncompliance, and straight-up mild-to-wild AU that lets you suspend disbelief (anyway, hello, wands?) and enjoy the ride. Concepts from DH in particular, especially backstory, will be used selectively. This fic works from a conception of HPverse formed between HBP and DH; information from DH such as people's relative ages may not be taken into account.

Housekeeping: This story was going to go longer, but I've had a tough couple of years and it wasn't happening, so I made the call. During posting there was some drama, which some reviews reference. Due to a fear that ffnet would remove the story, I originally commented on the situation so that readers would understand what was going on, just in case (and in case being called publicly on her behavior might shame the person who was threatening me into inaction). No longer being worried, I am re-posting without that commentary, for a more streamlined reading experience. Some polishing may happen, you never know.

Please give Sirius a few chapters to sober up before you stop reading in disgust. The wallowing won't last forever ;)

Cover art on AO3

"Your cousin's in hysterics," Snape answered him impatiently. This did not, in his opinion, answer the question. Snape's hands were cannibal-soup-red in the hot water, around the mottling stains of his work.

Sirius had to think for a minute about why he was noticing that. There wasn't really a why to it, though, and even the first flicker of a moment spent on Snape was more than enough.

Instead, then... his cousin? Arthur wouldn't be hysterical. Not like him in the least. Solid bloke, Arthur. Wonderful, unflappable Arthur. Nobody appreciated his beautiful girl like Arthur. Even if he wouldn't let Sirius sneak out to find out how badly she'd been squished when Hagrid had borrowed her on the last night that ever was. Cautious bastard.

"Maleficent," he was prompted, in the same impatient tone.

"Shun't call her that," he told the bastard aggrievedly. Talking to Snape, even in defense of Molly (who was an, okay, a not very good but definitely generous cook with at least two fine holy terrors to her credit, even if she was a bit of a nosy parker and a lot of a nag) was a much less valuable use of his time than thinking about his bike. It was really very rude of him, but that was ol' Sniv all over.

A flat, cool look washed over him. He wasn't particularly susceptible to arrogant sneers that could have come off his aunt's face at any time, and the lovely rosy fuzz around his head made ignoring it even easier. "It's her name. You're slurring."

He was not. Not in the least. "By hand," he pointed out, though, instead of arguing. Because, really, now that avoiding stupid discussions about his perfect diction had reminded him, why?

"By mouth," the snippy little squit quipped, and settled the wet plate into a drying rack.

"You are. The dinner plates. By hand," he repeated. "The hell, Snape?" Slow poison on his skin sinking into the ceramic or something, must be. They'd all be dead by pudding, and Sirius would have to explain abandoning Harry to James. Or, worse, Lily, the probably-harp-laden harpy.

"Perhaps, once you've stuck your head in the cistern, you'll think to wonder instead," he was snidely informed, "why Maleficent is in hysterics."

"You should try hissssssterrecs," Sirius informed him right back. "Do you good, tightarsed, buttoned-up-"

"Excellent suggestion," Snape clipped off, and hurled the hot sponge at his head, where it stuck to his forehead for a moment before he caught it, leaving a splodge of vervain and rosemary scented bubbles. It dripped down his face, smelling of lemon verbena and rosemary. Molly, Sirius knew, used Mrs. Skowrer's, or Crockett's elbow grease. He tried to remember whether vervaine was used in any poisons; he was sure rosemary wasn't.

"I'll just go do that," Snape was viciousing on, as if anyone cared, "and you can finish here."

Pyrrhic victories were probably what cyanide tasted like, Sirius reflected, watching the tight, vanishing back. Such a sweet air about them, until they hit the tongue.

There was something terribly wrong here. Because usually it was Beaters who threw things at Chasers, right? He'd thrown lots of things at Sniv over the years, on and off of brooms, so maybe that was it.

No, Sniv was a hurler himself (and a biter, and a scratcher, and knee-er, and a kick-you-in-the-face-er, and a try-to-claw-out-your-eyes-er) so that wasn't it.

It was because he appeared to be up to his wrists in really quite extraordinarily hot water. Huh. He wasn't sure when that had happened, but at least the cold water tap worked, because he was pretty sure that when he stopped feeling no pain he was, well, going to stop feeling no pain. There was really something wrong with that man, although this was not news. He was quite sure this was not within human levels of tolerance.

After a moment, the heat got past the soggy layers of his brain. Jerking back, he broke a mug. When Molly came running, red-eyed he pretended to be his favorite coz making a two-pronged attempt at Remus's affections. It had seemed like a good idea when he started.

Too long later—when the storm had passed, because Black blood is strong and Molly has it, and Black tornados smooth out into peace once they've run out of roar, if they're not bolted down to fester forever—he did, actually, ask.

The answer was a new torrent: choking dust and vicious ornaments! Thieving thieves with muddy boots and men who don't mind if they live worse than pigs and this house where magic barely makes a dent! Kreacher, Kreacher, Kreacher, perversion of all the daydreams of help an elf-raised mother of seven on one government salary has had since the starry honeymoon glaze wore off.

Kreacher was foul, of course, but Sirius has never had a particular problem with doing magic in the house. Magic came as harder these days as everything else, not any harder than when he'd been in the wind, eating on four legs out of bins but getting things done.

"That's why I keep asking you to help!" she told him, strident, with a definite note of storm-winds rising.

But she wasn't his mother. Not, therefore, obligated to stand still for the new tempest, he beat a hasty retreat before getting too tempted to shut her up by telling her she could sometimes make the formalities Snape took with her name behind her back seem apt. It would be a bad idea, not least because he was liable to spoil his suave and handsome image by tripping over his tongue.

In his more honest moments, he couldn't blame Sniv for having a down on nicknames, but Molly's real one was worse than his, and why be honest about Snape? Wouldn't be appreciated. He'd tell the man to have a heart, but that would have been like telling Voldemort to calm the fuck down and smell some roses, or telling Jaime to comb his hair. Some things just were never going to happen.

Drunk again? black eyes ask later. He knows his return glare is weak, is sapped. But there's nothing else for him to do, except what Molly orders. Pointless. Useless. What she wants is pointless. Let the filthy bones of the family show bare. Let everyone see the rot at its core. Let the house wear the death of the Blacks like a banner, until it collapses under the weight of unsupported centuries. It's impossible to understand why she fights it so hard; no one could ever want to live here. If the walls were gleaming and the furniture was clean and comfortable and aired, if there were harmless yellow flowers on every table, the evil of the house would still creep into a man's bones, pluck at his hairs one by one, turn his muscles to lead and molasses.

These days, even Buckbeak smells like mold and damp wood.

You're pathetic, those eyes tell him, turning away from a successful negotiation with said hippogriff. Their owner's long hand, still sticky from raw meat despite a cursory wipedown, holds a pair of vials half-full of horsehair trimmings and feathers the hippogriff had graciously groomed out himself. And, different in a way that it almost makes him smirk himself to realize he can decipher, You're a fool.

It's almost, almost funny, as loose-limbed and numb as he feels, but he has the idea that he's missed a message. Missed something Snape thought was important for him to catch. But who cares what Snape thinks?

"Do you think he just never eats?" he asked Remus idly, when the chair the prat had been offered stood empty again, leaving Molly pretending so hard not to take it as a personal insult to her cooking that you'd have to be deaf, blind, and Kreacher not to know what she's thinking. "Some truth to those vampire rumors, eh?"

"He's a House head, Sirius," Remus answered mildly, most of his attention on Molly's platters in a way Sirius didn't like to think about, a veiled intensity in his eyes that calculated to the square centimeter how much food he could take without leaving others hungry or drawing attention.

One of the lesser reasons Wormfood had to have his head on a pike was so Sirius could have access to his own damn vault again. The Weasleys couldn't afford to support HQ, and Dumbledore's stipend always felt stretched, just-barely-enough. He was probably pinching it from the school's budget, which might have been another reason for Snape's attitude, as if that needed more fuel. Must be nice to be a Dark Lord with filthy-rich supporters. "He has to help supervise meals in the Great Hall."

"There are thirteen of 'em plus Dumbledore!" Sirius protested, meaning the faculty entire.

Remus only shrugged, asking rhetorically, "Have you ever seen Severus take anything less than seriously?"

"Aren't you tired of making excuses for him?" he demanded.

There's a flash in those pale eyes as Moony turns to look at him. For a moment, he feels an urge to cringe, show his throat, creep up and touch noses, and he doesn't know why. But then Remus grins (tiredly) at him. "Very," he says, and effectively distracts Sirius from the weariness behind his threadbare face by snitching a whole baked potato off Sirius's plate.