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If you grant the possibility of a divine entity, you cannot deny it the power of self-disclosure; obviously any entity or being worthy of the term “god” would possess, without effort, that ability. The real question (as I see it) is not, Why theophanies? but, Why aren’t there more?

—Philip K. Dick, VALIS

 


 

this resort moon
stalks our lavishness
calls down the involuntary
only to crash through
oncoming mental grids
roars past nothing
past a thousand petal laughter
children’s caricatures of angels
turned fowl
turned fool
turned carnivorous
a bed
an absence

—kari edwards, “Process”

 


 

When he fell through the other side of the Veil, Sirius collapsed.

Everything was dark for a long time after that; eventually, Sirius realized he was cold, too. When he became aware that he existed, that there was an ego in the midst of all this id, there was a flood of jumbled images and sounds and sensations, and he gasped and opened his eyes.

“Padfoot?” Harry cried, and Sirius went under again. 

 


 

The next time his eyes opened, he was able to keep them open, though not for very long. Everything was bright and loud and much too fast, and hurt to look at; when he focused his vision on a single point, that point seemed to slow to a monstrous, infinitesimal crawl. “Black?”

“Lily says hi,” Sirius said, and went under again.

 


 

Sirius became aware, gradually, that he was still alive; it took about a week for this awareness to translate to lucidity. He opened his eyes for a few seconds here or a few seconds there, catching glimpses of life, snatches of speech, instants of instances which might have become memories.

Then, suddenly, he was awake, looking up at the very lovely body of his very favorite muggle swimsuit model. “Huh,” Sirius managed, and tried to sit up; this was such an obviously futile endeavor that he gave up after about ten seconds. “Bugger.”

“Indeed,” came a voice, and Sirius shifted his eyes to the side. “It’s been a month.”

“A month?”

“A month,” Snape said, and came and sat down next to him. “I’ve been treating you.” He looked down. “I—you said—I hate you. Do you remember—”

“Lily,” Sirius said, and Snape bit his lip. It was such an unfamiliar gesture that for an instant, Sirius was dumbfounded; then he had a blinding flash of a thousand Snapes doing the same thing a thousand times, and sighed. “She—I don’t know, erm—I think part of what I’ve been doing for this past month—”

He coughed, and Snape summoned a glass of water for him, sticking a straw into his mouth. He appraised Sirius, then moved him so he was reclining against the headboard. “Thanks.”

Snape grimaced, and Sirius laughed. Then he started wheezing, and Snape sighed and shoved another potion down his throat, looking dismayed but resigned as he drifted back into unconsciousness.

 


 

Remus and Harry were both sitting by his bedside the next time he woke. Sirius smiled, though it felt like a grimace; Harry jolted, then settled back down. “Padfoot,” he breathed, and Remus sat bolt upright.

“Hey,” Sirius said, and coughed until Remus sat him up and gave him some water. “How’s it been here in the”—more coughing, and more water—“land of the living?”

“Boring,” Remus said, leaning forwards and smiling the specific smile which indicated that, yes, his pain was distracting him, and no, he did not want you to make a point of trying to help him, so please shut the fuck up. “How was being dead?”

“He wasn’t actually—” Harry started, at the same time Sirius said, “Enlightening.”

“What?” Harry said.

“Enlightening?” Remus repeated.

The coughs that erupted from Sirius were unlike anything he had ever experienced, even at Azkaban; it felt as though his lungs were being scraped up through his throat with about a thousand different knives and hurled out of his teeth. There was the dim awareness of penetrating black eyes above and a firm grip on his hand before he lost consciousness.

 


 

Albus was the next one to come by. Sirius thought perhaps he should still think of him as Dumbledore, but whatever he had undergone in the Veil—still just a prickly mass of incoherent and confusing images—had revealed enough about Albus to him (overworked, overburdened, exhausted, always just a little out of place, a constant wellspring of childlike joy) that he had trouble thinking of him as anything other than just a man. “Albus, hey,” Sirius said, and smiled when he propped Sirius up. “Howzit?”

“Better than you, I suspect,” Albus said. “That was a very stupid thing to do, you know.”

“Look who’s talking,” Sirius said, and Albus blinked. “You need to start treating Harry like an adult. None of this would have happened if you’d taught him Occlumency yourself.”

Albus frowned. “Sirius—”

“It isn’t a criticism,” Sirius said, and Albus’s mouth snapped shut. “But you need to start treating him like your equal. He’s prophesied to defeat Voldemort, but the character of that victory depends on how we behave now.”

Albus’s eyes widened. “You know about the prophecy?”

Sirius closed his eyes, recited it, and opened them again. Now Albus was pale. “I went beyond death,” Sirius said, looking into Albus’s eyes and seeing only all the children he had one day been. Albus tilted his head, smiled, and searched his own gaze in return. “The Veil is a veil of—it shrouds what lies afterwards. Or, erm—after isn’t—time isn’t linear there. There is no there there.”

“Gertrude Stein?”

“Who?”

Albus sighed and looked away. “You went beyond death.”

“Yes.” Sirius sighed too. “I’m not the same person anymore. Or, I—I saw—how much do you know about the garden of medicinal flowers?”

“The dharmakaya?”

Sirius smiled, and Albus smiled back. “I saw the whole thing,” Sirius said. “And I saw—my life. A trillion times.” He sighed and coughed, accepting water when Albus gave it to him. “I’m still trying to integrate the whole thing. And it’ll never be completely accessible in the mortal realm. But I—” He shook his head, then stopped for a long moment to recover from a bout of dizziness. “If you ever need someone—or just want someone to talk to, I—well, I’m here. And I hope you—please know that you’re loved. By so many—you’re so loved.”

Albus teared up a little. “I’d pat you on the arm if I could move my hands,” Sirius said, and grinned when Albus laughed.

 


 

Snape lingered in his room again a few days after Albus determined, via trial and error, Sirius’s inability to provide more than a cursory amount of pertinent information related to the war without contracting a splitting migraine and Remus and Harry stopped clinging to him literally every single waking second, sitting down next to the bed after he’d administered his potions and looking away. “You—” he began, and then fell silent again.

Sirius waited, but Snape didn’t talk; after a long moment, he sighed and groaned. “Prop me up, eh?”

Snape obliged. “Lily,” Sirius said, and Snape held himself. He was again assaulted by phantom familiarity, the déjà vu on steroids he had experienced the first time they’d tried to have this conversation. “I’m still getting fatigued pretty quickly. And it might—the way the knowledge was imparted to me was, erm—not linear. It isn’t—recall is tied to specific aspects of the mortal realm. A lot of it’s going to depend on you. I—”

He broke off and coughed, and Snape gave him more water. “The most important bit is that she loves you,” Sirius said, and Snape looked up, then away again. “She, erm—she’s been trying to help you from beyond the dead for about fifty years now. Not that—like I said. It isn’t—there wasn’t—even verb tenses aren’t exactly applicable in terms of—but she begged me to take care of you.”

“And her son?”

“He’s already got help.” Snape’s eyes widened, and his hands clenched in his robes. Sirius had a flash of him doing so on a dozen different occasions, all somehow layered over each other into the composite whole he saw before him: Severus Snape, exposed, hunched into himself, failing not to care. “And he’s willing to accept it. She—you’ve been destroying yourself. She said—”

He closed his eyes. “More water?”

Sirius nodded, and Snape gave it to him. “She said you’ve been squandering her sacrifice.”

Snape recoiled, then pushed back his chair, stood, and fled the room.

 


 

The next time Snape lingered was about two weeks later. This time he propped Sirius up as soon as he decided to stay, then sat on his own hands and kept his eyes affixed to the floor. “I’ve given my life to her cause,” he said in a very small, very quiet voice. “She sees that as a waste?”

“Some means are in themselves ends,” Sirius said, though he was pretty sure the words were hers. He watched, unsurprised, as Snape ran away again.

 


 

This time it only took about three days for Snape to speak. “Why should I believe you?”

“Because you love her,” Sirius said, and Snape left.

 


 

The week after that, Snape approached after he was wrapping up PT, though this still mostly consisted of trying to stay upright in a chair instead of in bed. Snape brooded in the doorway as Harry helped Sirius to bed, his dark eyes tracking their every movement, then sat when Sirius waved Harry away. “I still don’t know how to believe you,” Snape said, sitting in perfect stillness. “It’s all too much.”

He looked up and blinked when Sirius laughed, then watched him with just the barest hint of embryonic tenderness. “You’re telling me!”

Snape’s mouth twitched, and Sirius let himself laugh as a thousand thousand instances of that look passed through his memory. “The Veil,” Snape said, and looked away again. “You experienced something.”

“I went beyond death,” Sirius said. For an instant, Snape’s eyes closed, and then they opened again, though he was still staring down at his own hands. “I experienced—I’m not so sure it was an experience so much as an—an exposure.” Snape looked up and tilted his head, and Sirius sighed. “It’s—we can’t—the point of life is that we can’t know. We aren’t—it’s against the rules.” Snape’s eyes widened, and Sirius frowned and rubbed his temples. “I—it’s very difficult to—but Lily is persistent. And so is your god.”

“I’m agnostic.”

“Your god disagrees.”

Snape bit his lip and looked down. “That bloodthirsty old bastard,” he muttered, his head jolting up when Sirius laughed. “What does he want?”

Sirius opened his mouth, then closed it. “I don’t know.”

“And what does Lily want?”

“A lot of things.” A rush of knowledge and feeling overwhelmed him, and he began to tremble, trying to get the words out as fast as he could. “Power. Sensation. World peace. Vengeance. To hold you. She wants everyone to love you the way she does. She—she wants you to apologize to Harry, and to her. She wants you to love again. She wants you to grovel on your knees. To forgive yourself. She wants you to fuck strangers and dance all night and get a stupid tattoo. To go to the beach and the park and have a pet cat. She wants you to live.”

Snape blinked very rapidly, then stood. “I’ll be back,” he said, and shook himself. “I—sorry.” And he fled.

 


 

The next day, Harry approached him in his room as usual. About half an hour into the discussion, he sighed, his eyes focusing on the wall to Sirius’s left and his lip curling downward. “Something weird happened last night.”

“Oh?”

“Fucking Snape approached me,” Harry said. He grimaced again, then shook himself. “He—he said—he said you talked to my mum while you were in the Veil. That she—he got down on his knees and apologized for—am I going completely insane?”

“Nope,” Sirius said. “She asked me to try to get through to him. I guess it’s working.”

Harry bit his lip and looked away. “I—did she have anything at all to say to me?”

Sirius opened his mouth, then closed it when he realized tears had begun to stream down his face. “Close your eyes,” he said, and Harry obeyed. “Let me try—”

He had no idea what kind of magic he was mucking around with as he tried to send Harry the wave of feeling that had overtaken him, but figured he had been successful when Harry gasped. “That’s from your dad too,” Sirius said, unsure how to feel when he realized that his voice had never wavered even once from the tears. “They—and I feel that way too.”

“Oh,” Harry said. There was a beat, and then his face crumpled, and he started bawling.

Snape approached just as Harry had finished crying, maybe an hour later; he blinked, then took a step back. “Sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—”

“It’s fine,” Harry said. Snape blinked again as he stood. “Obviously I—obviously my mum loved you, so—he’s all yours.” And he leaned down, hugged Sirius, then kissed his cheek. “Thanks, Padfoot.”

“Yeah,” Sirius said, and Harry left. Snape rubbed the back of his neck, then came and sat at Sirius’s bedside. “That’s one great kid, eh?”

Snape looked down. “Quite.”

“He said you apologized to him. On your knees.”

“Well, that’s what she wanted.”

Sirius looked away too, and there was a long silence. “So there are rules about what can and can’t be—the physical limitations of this universe are there for a reason. It’s—there’s a reason they’re called laws. And I—Lily gave me—I saw something. I—a beam of pink light.” Snape tilted his head, and Sirius laughed. “A lot of it has to do with the—the next billion years of muggle physics.” Snape’s eyes grew huge, and Sirius laughed again. “But simply put, I suppose—it isn’t so much that every single instance of every single—the existence of a variable isn’t enough to make a new universe. But your life is a significant enough variable that it—every universe is an infinitely recursive probability tree. And that tree branches off of a certain—a number of fixed points. So everything else recurs and changes every year on—what’s the Jewish new year called?”

“Yom Kippur.”

“—on Yom Kippur, at least here, in terms of—this universe is made up of the body of your god. That’s why I was allowed to—Lily is one of his favorites. But the fixed points—that’s how you tell them apart. Universes, or dimensions, or—and I—you’re one of the fixed points of this universe. Or this multiverse, or—Harry’s prophecy was for you.”

Snape looked up. “What?”

“It’s a fixed point,” Sirius said. “As was Lily’s death. At least here. It was—the prophecy was her fault. That’s why I survived. She feels guilty about—she wanted to help you, and it—anyway, I was exposed to about a trillion iterations of my own life.”

“What?”

“Tell me a childhood story.”

Snape blinked at him, then looked down. “I—I guess—alright. Okay. I, erm—Lily and I grew up together. I don’t know if you knew—anyway, erm, she—we—she liked to play tricks. I suppose it’s a bit—I’m surprised she didn’t fall for Potter sooner. One trick was—there was a very old man who lived on my street named Daniel Jenkins. He had a daughter—”

“Anna.”

Snape looked up and blinked again. “Yes.”

“She had… long blonde hair. Dirty blonde. A gap in between her front teeth. And a cat named Mr. Jitters. He had white forepaws, but the rest of his body was grey.”

Now Snape was shaking. “You knew her?”

“You told me that story,” Sirius said. “On about six million of the worlds where we were lovers.”

Snape looked like he wanted to run away, but didn’t move. “Oh.”

Sirius sighed. “Will you hold my hand?”

Snape started shaking even harder, then reached out and took his hand. “I hate you.”

“Yeah, I know.” Sirius sighed, squeezed his hand, and released it. “That’s enough for today, I think. Go process this.”

“Okay.” Snape stood. “Did she want me to—is there anything else I should be doing?”

“Pray aloud to her,” Sirius said. Snape blinked. “Dear Lily, who art in—in—”

He tried to summon the specific nebula, and got overcome by a wave of vertigo so dizzying he had to lie back down. “Dear Lily. And close it with—pray to her. And re-familiarize yourself with the fundamentals of semiotics and divinatory symbolism too. She’s been using it to try to talk to you since—she’s been sending you signs your whole life. Dreams too. It helps to write them down. To—half the multiverse wants your attention.”

“Thank you,” Snape choked out, and fled. 

Sirius sighed, sat up, and reached for the journal Harry had procured for him, shaking away the vestiges of his vertigo. Was he still in the universe he’d died in, the one he’d left behind? Did the concept even have meaning anymore? How was he supposed to know if it was relevant until it became relevant? How was he supposed to chart his place in the multiverse if he couldn’t see any of the future fixed points? And for all he knew one of this universe’s fixed points was a genocide on a planet thirty million light-years away; he couldn’t assume anything just based on Earth’s history, and he barely even had access to accurate muggle histories, even if he did feel like wasting his entire life on this.

But then, that was half the point of using him for this whole thing; Sirius’s will was strong, but it wasn’t a stake in the game the way Snape’s was. Nobody could predict what Snape was going to do next; Sirius was just a stupid mutt, naïve and loyal to the end. All he wanted was to keep his friends and loved ones alive.

I didn’t sign up for any of this, Sirius thought. For the record. I would have loved to have let the Department of Mysteries simply remain a mystery.

 


 

The next day, Snape came back. Sirius tried not to watch him in open affection, but wasn’t sure how to stop himself; he’d hated Snape before he died, but Lily’s love for him had been so all-consuming that Sirius thought it probably would have been futile even without all the memories of falling in love with him. “Hey.”

“Hey,” Snape said, and sat down at his bedside. He inspected Sirius, fed him a few potions, and sighed. “I took your—she sent me a dream last night. And then a white chrysanthemum when I attempted to interpret it.”

Sirius gave him the kindest smile he was capable of. “She must be over the moon that you’re finally listening.”

Snape rubbed the back of his neck and looked away. “I dreamed about—there was a field with blue grass, and a red-haired woman—but it wasn’t her. And then—” He shook his head. “I don’t—why the hell am I telling you about my dream? Just because she forced you to bring back a message doesn’t mean—Merlin, I’m sorry, you don’t give a damn about—”

“Severus,” Sirius said. Snape stopped halfway out his chair, blinked, and sat back down. “Of course I care. It’s—Lily’s love for you is very literally one of the most powerful feelings any person has ever felt in the history of human existence. She’s started wars over it. She’s destroyed empires and killed gods over it. She’s created tens of billions of universes over it. You really think exposure to that kind of love doesn’t change you?”

“That doesn’t mean you care about my dream,” Snape mumbled, though his entire face was red.

“Yes, it does,” Sirius said, and Snape fell silent again. “Anyway, I remember—I already told you I have billions of memories of falling in love with you. I—in one universe you were—this was a bit of an outlier. A—a joker. Anyway, you were a shaman. Dreaming was part of how you—you told me about your dreams every single morning when you woke up. They’d been lucid since you were born, more or less. Every night you would travel to far-off astral realms and help people all over the multiverse.” He squinted. “I think you were a woman in that universe. Maybe you were transsexual?”

Snape blinked, then schooled his features after his mouth twitched upwards. “Well, somehow I doubt my dreams are as interesting as hers.”

“There’s no way,” Sirius agreed, and Snape’s lips twitched again. “You met—Joan of Arc. In blue grass.”

Snape’s eyes widened. “Merlin, she was wearing chainmail.”

“What else?”

“She told me that life was a curse,” Snape said. “But that sometimes a curse must be dealt if we’re ever to learn. Then flowers started blooming out of her eyes and ears and mouth and nose, and I realized we were in an ocean of blood. When I cried, the blood turned to moonstones, and then I started slipping on them, and I—” He rubbed his forehead. “It got a bit confusing after that. And the quality of the dream was—it was like it was already a memory as I experienced it.”

“An exposure,” Sirius said, and Snape’s eyes widened before he looked away again. “Thank you for telling me about your dream.”

Snape turned red again, and Sirius sighed. “I don’t suppose you feel like cuddling?”

“What?”

“Lord knows I’m touch-starved,” Sirius said. “And I know full well that even the most sexually active you doesn’t ever cuddle anyone, much less get touched more than about once a week. At least not—I can cross off about three hundred billion versions of your life by the way you tie your shoelaces.”

Snape looked down. “Try once a year.”

“Has it been that long for you?”

“Five,” Snape said, and twisted his hands in his robes when Sirius sucked in a harsh breath. “I—”

“You don’t have to.”

Snape sighed and shook his head a few times. “I—I don’t know that I can.”

“That’s fine.” Sirius resisted the urge to sigh as Snape twisted his hands in his lap and looked down at the floor again. “You held my hand yesterday. Do you want to start there?”

“I want to lie down in bed with you.”

Snape flushed again, but didn’t take it back. When Sirius held out a hand, he took it.

 


 

Snape was stumbling when he showed up the next day. Sirius appraised his swaying stance and trembling hands and unfocused eyes, then sighed. “You’re drunk, aren’t you?”

“Yep,” Snape slurred. “Only way I could think of to make myself—” And he approached, kicked off his shoes, laid down on the bed, and buried his face in Sirius’s side. “Merlin, Padfoot, you’re so warm.”

Sirius sighed again, and wrapped his arm around Snape’s shoulders. The man began to shake, and Sirius rubbed circles into his back as he wept. 

“Sorry,” Snape whimpered after a few minutes. “Sorry, I—I—”

“It’s fine.” Sirius rubbed circles in Snape’s back, hoping they soothed him at least a little. “Do you want to talk about it?”

He felt a prickling on the back of his neck as Snape opened his mouth to speak. Remus walked in, then did a double-take. “Snape?”

I guess we’re in a story, then, Sirius thought. That was much too good of timing.

“Would you get him a sober-up, please?”

Remus blinked, then shook his head and laughed. “Yeah.”

When he got back, he handed it to Sirius, then made to sit. Sirius shook his head, and he crossed his arms over his chest and raised an eyebrow.

“He’s been—Lily asked me to help him,” Sirius said. Snape sobbed into his side, and Remus’s other eyebrow shot up. “When I was in the Veil. And she—well, it wasn’t exactly a request so much as a demand that I love him. We’re trying to get him used to touch again.” Or for the first time.

“You love Snape?”

“I love everyone now,” Sirius said. Remus blinked, then tilted his head and smiled at him, polite bemusement outweighing skepticism, if only by a hair. “But I do love him in particular, yes.”

Now Snape was weeping again. Sirius went back to rubbing his shoulders. “That’s fucking weird,” Remus said. “But I guess I’m not in a position to tell you—I mean, he’s crying in front of me, so clearly he does have feelings. And obviously whatever Lily felt was important enough to tell you about from beyond the dead is—well, I can’t claim to know better than she does, can I?” He frowned, then sighed. “I’ll give him the shovel talk when he’s coherent again.”

Sirius sighed too. “Thanks for the sober-up.”

“Uh-huh,” Remus said, and left.

Sirius went back to Snape, who was sniffling against him now. “Sorry,” he mumbled, over and over. “Sorry.”

“I’m glad you’re here,” Sirius said, and ran a hand through his hair. Snape whimpered. “Do you want to sober up?”

Snape shook his head, and Sirius laughed and kept petting him. “That’s fine. I have a potion here for when you decide you do.”

“You shouldn’t love me,” Snape whined. “I’m disgusting.”

“You know you’re saying that to someone who spent the majority of the eighties licking his own unwashed arsehole, right?”

Snape let out a startled laugh, then clapped a hand over his mouth, looking horrified. “Fuck.”

“That’s a lovely sound,” Sirius said, and Snape turned even redder. “And it’s—in most universes where you and I get together, someone else is usually the first person to break the seal on you laughing. You’re just too used to how devastatingly funny I am. I’m kind of glad it got to be me for once.”

Snape whined again, and buried his face back in Sirius’s side. “It isn’t fair. How come you get to remember all these lives together? Why do I have to be the one to take it on faith?”

“Well, I did have to die first.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

Sirius laughed and rubbed Snape’s back again. “And my brain was already sort of primed for it, in that I spent all those years more or less only existing as a dog. I know how to… to completely separate my ego from my id. How to sublimate my ego to the point that—not that you aren’t good at it too, but I’ve spent a solid third of my life literally not existing at all. Which was helpful in terms of the—I was exposed to a special kind of space that’s more receptive to—to communing with the astral plane. Even without that, you’ve been—you spend as much time tormenting yourself as you do trying to erase that self. It’s—sometimes thinking at all overwhelmed me before I died. So I can—I think if you had unfettered access to this information, you’d pursue it so obsessively that it would destroy you.”

A beat, and then Snape groaned. “Alright, sober-up time.”

Sirius laughed and handed it over, and Snape sat up against the headboard, plastered himself to Sirius’s side, and intertwined their fingers. “Don’t let me run away if I instinctively flinch,” he said. “Only if I—”

“Yeah.”

Snape closed his eyes and downed the potion, his entire body tensing as it took effect. “Still want me here?” he asked, wrapping his other arm around himself and closing his eyes. “I can leave.”

“I’m the one who asked you to cuddle to begin with.”

“Because Lily forced you to care about me.”

Sirius sighed. “If I really wanted to, I could have just taken that to mean—there are other ways to help you.”

Snape opened his eyes and let his head fall onto Sirius’s shoulder. “I guess so. It just feels—you deserve someone—I can’t promise to be kind to you. Or to—”

“You always do this,” Sirius muttered, pinching his nose, and Snape fell silent. “It’s—I knew about fucking Mr. Jitters. Do you really think—I probably know more about you than you do. I—do you have any tattoos?”

Snape blinked. “Aside from the Dark Mark?”

“When did you get that?”

“What?”

“What was the date?”

Snape looked down. “I, erm—the summer after seventh year. A month into it.”

“July twenty-eighth or twenty-ninth?”

“Thirtieth, I think.”

“So you got initiated at Malfoy Manor.” Sirius frowned, closed his eyes, and thought. “It was—they wanted you to rape and murder a muggle woman, but you just killed her. Took her into a bedroom and told her to cry and moan while you pretended to gloat. She didn’t have to fake the tears. She had red hair, which was why you couldn’t make yourself—she reminded you of Lily. Lily always told you she thought it was ridiculous to act like rape was worse than murder when a good fifth of the women she knew had been raped, but you didn’t see any reason to put her through both things when she was going to die either way. You started a fire a few days later so you wouldn’t have to look at the inferius, and blamed it on Rosier. Bellatrix crucioed him over it. You already knew deep down that you’d made a mistake, but you didn’t have anywhere else to go.”

A long silence. When Snape spoke, it was through more tears. “Yeah.”

“I know you,” Sirius repeated. “Any more tattoos?”

“I—‘unearned suffering is redemptive.’ It’s—”

“Principle four. So you were on your quest here.”

“Quest?”

“To change their minds.”

Snape drew in a shuddering breath. “Yeah.”

“Still got them memorized?”

“Do you?”

Sirius laughed. “It’s aggressive mentally, spiritually, and emotionally, remember? If I have to persuade you of the righteousness of allowing yourself to be loved, I’ll do it. Though I’ll admit that I’d prefer to skip to the part where you realize that the restoration of community necessitates the extension of endless forgiveness to oneself, especially”—he poked Snape’s side—“when one is perpetuating a great deal of internalized spiritual violence.”

“No wonder I fell for you so many times,” Snape whispered. “I’ve got a sleeve of lilies, too. And tally marks over my heart.”

“Your victims.”

“Yeah.”

“I’ve got fourteen,” Sirius said, and sighed. Snape squeezed his hand. “You’ve got… seventy-eight?”

“Seventy-three.”

“Guess you never took that beach trip to Bristol with Lucius.”

Snape laughed again, though it sounded torn out of his throat. “I was busy brewing all weekend.” 

“Well, take it from me. You wouldn’t have had fun.”

Snape was silent for a long moment, then shook his head. “You love me.”

“Yeah.”

“Lily loves me.”

“Yeah.”

Snape kissed Sirius’s shoulder, then let out a very long sigh. “What can I do to deserve it?”

“You already deserve love,” Sirius said. Snape scoffed, and he sighed. “Or maybe it’s less about—you didn’t think there was an afterlife.”

“No.”

“But there is.”

“Evidently.”

“Then all our problems will come with us.” Snape drew in a breath, and Sirius sighed again. “Reflect on Dr. King in light of that. We can talk about it more tomorrow. And I—if you still feel the need to do me favors, then either teach Harry Occlumency or get Dumbledore to do it. And make sure Dumbledore doesn’t—doesn’t do anything stupid about—his hand.”

“His hand?”

“Don’t let him look for the ring alone,” Sirius said. The instant the words escaped his mouth, he got a splitting migraine so intense he collapsed onto the bed and covered his eyes with his hands. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”

 


 

Before the Veil, Sirius had always found his dreams to be indistinguishable from reality. He found himself, without explanation, solving problems from his waking life, lost in a maze of fear and pain and base desire, drifting without direction from aimless task to aimless task. The air tasted the same when he was asleep as it did upon waking.

After the Veil, dreams were dreams. The world was the world.

 


 

Snape came by the next morning with his usual array of potions; afterwards, though, he lingered. Sirius smiled and patted the bed next to him, trying to convey his sincerity with his eyes. He figured it was working when Snape’s face softened; he still didn’t look kind, or less severe, but the tight lines at the corners of his mouth and eyes smoothed out just a fraction, and his jaw and fists both unclenched. “Hey. You wanna cuddle? Talk? Just be together?”

Silence, and then Snape climbed onto the bed and drew Sirius into his arms. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d been held, and closed his eyes, savoring the sensation while it lasted.

“I had a dream last night that I was carrying you,” Snape said. “We were at the bottom of a mountain, and it was—somehow I knew I was Sisyphus. We were Sisyphus. There was—but you were pushing—instead of a rock it was the sun. I told you that we couldn’t—there was no point in trying to move the sun, and you said, ‘It’s only a star. Each of us is a universe.’ So I carried you, and we pushed together, and then—when we reached the top, there was an ocean, and you started drowning. I realized I had dropped you, and I kept trying to reach you, but it was—and then Lily was there. She said I couldn’t save anyone until I put on my own life vest. Then we—then it was a bit obscene.” He ducked his head when Sirius laughed. “But it—and then we were in bed together, and I was holding you, and you begged me to care for you the way you’ve been caring for me. Except you were a gigantic bug for some reason.”

Sirius laughed again, and Snape shrugged. “You took that to mean I needed to be held?”

“Well, erm—”

“You were right,” Sirius said, gripping Snape’s arms when he tried to pull away. “It’s been years. This feels—keep holding me.”

“Okay.” Snape sighed, relaxed, and tangled their fingers together atop Sirius’s stomach. “I don’t know if I—I’d like to love you, I think. But it’s—I’ve got no bloody clue if I do or if I’m just—just projecting my feelings about Lily onto you, since you’re her mouthpiece. I don’t want to—to use you.”

“That’s very kind of you,” Sirius said, and Snape’s grip tightened, then relaxed. “Thank you for telling me how you feel.”

Snape huffed. “I wish you’d stop thanking me.”

“I know.”

Now the huff resembled a laugh. “Of course you do. You know absolutely everything about me.” The motion of a shaking head behind him. “It’s bloody terrifying.”

“I know that too.”

Snape sighed, and Sirius did laugh. “Sorry, sorry. You know there are some universes where we were together in school, but we both forgot all about it?”

“Really?”

“Check your Gringotts vault,” Sirius said. “Maybe you’re projecting your feelings about me onto Lily.”

 


 

The next day, Snape came back. “Nope,” he said; when Sirius laughed, his whole head tilted down with the force of his suppressed smile. He frowned, then sighed. “Merlin, it’s instinctual.”

“Yeah. It helps to practice in the mirror.”

Snape made a disgusted noise, and Sirius laughed. “Lie with me?”

“Alright.” Snape climbed onto the bed. “I did find some old—there were some letters from her. I gave them to Potter.”

“You’re so sweet,” Sirius cooed, and Snape groaned. “My sweet Severus.”

Snape shivered. “Okay, that was definitely about you.” He frowned. “Call me yours again. I—claim me.”

“What the hell do you think I’ve been doing for the past month?”

Snape shivered again, and Sirius grinned and rolled on top of him. “I doubt I can do this for more than a couple minutes,” he said. “But I’m gonna give you a hickey.” He nipped at Snape’s neck. “Mine.”

By the time he was done, Snape was hard and shivering against him. Sirius flopped back onto the bed and laughed. “Good?”

“Let me do you now,” Snape said, and rolled over.

“You should do me do me,” Sirius said. “Fuck me.”

“Not yet,” Snape said, and bit down. “If you know everything about me, then you know I never got to be a stupid teenager, and that I desperately want to—to—”

He cut off, and Sirius rubbed his back. “You know there are universes where you took me to the Yule Ball?”

“Really?”

When Snape pulled away, his eyes were bright again. “Give me a hickey, Sev. I want to brag to all the other girls about how I did it behind the bleachers. It’s not like they’ll know I’m lying.”

Snape reattached himself to Sirius’s neck. Sirius vocalized his approval as loudly and sincerely as he could without losing the light humor of the moment; by the time Snape pulled away, Sirius’s arms and chest were both covered in hickies too, and his entire face was loose and happy, even if he still wasn’t smiling. “I think they’ll believe you now.”

Sirius blinked, then giggled; Snape looked awed. “Tell me what you’re thinking right now.”

“It feels good to submit to a higher power,” Snape said. “Even if that’s just you.”

He bit his lip and looked away, then looked back up and blinked when Sirius moaned. “Oh, God, I wish you’d fuck me,” Sirius whimpered. “Merlin, you’re so attractive.”

“You don’t have to lie.”

Snape sounded petulant. Sirius groaned. “You know there are universes where this whole thing is fiction? Muggle women worldwide are utterly obsessed with you. They name their kids and their dogs and their goldfish after you. They tattoo does on their tits and your dying words on their arses. There’s literally nothing sexier than a tall, dark, mysterious martyr with a tortured past. I’m not lying.”

Now Snape’s entire face was bright red. “My dying words?”

“Well, usually it’s just ‘always,’” Sirius conceded. “Your dying words were ‘look at me.’”

“Look at me?”

“You wanted to die looking into Lily’s eyes. You gave Harry your memories of everything that happened between you.”

Snape looked away. “Oh.”

“He named a kid after you.”

Snape looked back up, his mouth twisting in disgust. Sirius didn’t bother not to be comforted by the return of his sneer. “That’s repulsive.”

Sirius laughed, and Snape blinked. His mouth twitched, and then he sighed and flopped back down next to Sirius. “I suppose I’ve got to stay alive just to prevent that.”

“And for me?”

Snape sighed, and Sirius sighed too. “Sorry.”

“It’s fine. I just—it’s one thing to know intellectually that I’m not allowed to be suicidal anymore, and another to actually—to be faced with having to live a life. I thought Lily died hating me until—every time you and I talk I’m overwhelmed again.”

Sirius sighed and tugged Snape into his side. “Well, tell you what. Interrogate me.”

“What?”

“I owe you a life story or two,” Sirius said. “You can even use Veritaserum if you want.”

Snape stiffened. “I—really?”

“Yes,” Sirius said. “Bring some tomorrow. If it’ll make you—I don’t have anything to hide.”

“I’ll think about it,” Snape said, in a tone that meant I’m definitely going to do that. “I—what’s your favorite color? Your favorite animal? Your favorite book? Your—”

He nearly laughed when Sirius kissed him.

 


 

The next day, he avoided Sirius’s eyes. “You brought Veritaserum, eh?”

Snape looked up and blinked, then rubbed the back of his neck. “I—yeah. But you don’t have to—to—”

“I offered,” Sirius said. “Dose me, babe.”

Snape sighed, grimaced, and came to him. “Okay,” he mumbled. “But I—I’m not going to ask too much. Just—just a few things. And I have the antidote here in case—your exposure—”

“Okay.”

Snape shook his head and put a few drops of the potion on Sirius’s tongue. After a minute, everything became hazy and distant, and Snape sighed again. “What’s your full name?”

“Sirius Orion Black,” Sirius said. “Lord of the Ancient and Most Noble House of Black. Also known as Padfoot and Snuffles. At least in this universe. I have a lot of other names elsewhere. Siri, Sigrid, Saoirse, Riri, Rion—”

“That’s enough.” Another sigh. “Who's Minister for Magic?”

“Cornelius Fudge or Rufus Scrimgeour. I don’t know.”

“Yeah, that one’s on me,” Snape muttered. “It’s Scrimgeour. What’s your date of birth?”

“November third, 1959.”

“Okay, it’s working,” Snape mumbled. “Do—do you love me?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“Because you’re you.”

Sirius was distantly aware of Snape’s entire face turning bright red, but was too preoccupied by the sensation of floating to care. “Did Lily really tell you to help me? Did you really go beyond death?”

“Yes.”

Snape let out a long, shuddering breath. “Okay,” he mumbled. “Okay. I—is there anything you want me to ask you?”

“Yes.”

“What?”

“Whether I’ll keep loving you.”

A long silence. “Will you?”

“Yes.”

Another silence, and then Snape administered the antidote. “Sorry,” he said at once. “Sorry, I—sorry—”

“Severus,” Sirius murmured, and Snape burst into tears.

 


 

The next morning when Sirius woke up, he felt a prickling on the back of his neck. So I’m in a story, he thought, and was overcome by vertigo. What kind of story?

He made a list of all the times he’d gotten signs, strange memories, too-lucky coincidences, and felt like he was being watched over the past month; unfortunately, this list was about five pages long, and took him more or less all day to make. So I’m either in a freakishly detailed story, or I really do exist, too, Sirius thought. I’m just being fucking watched. That’s fun.

That night, he dreamt of a bright blue orb above a lily field which said, “It’s a romance. The story ends here.”