Burning the candle at both ends by Vee
Summary: Something is off with Professor Snape and it falls to Harry and, of all people, Sirius Black to find out what is going on. Can enemies help each other?
Categories: Teacher Snape > Professor Snape Main Characters: Sirius
Snape Flavour: Snape is Depressed
Genres: Action/Adventure
Media Type: None
Tags: Depression Recovery
Takes Place: 5th Year
Warnings: Out of Character
Challenges: None
Series: None
Chapters: 5 Completed: No Word count: 12476 Read: 1432 Published: 13 Sep 2023 Updated: 30 Sep 2023
An Unlikely Conversation by Vee
“All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.”
W. Shakespeare; Macbeth, Act 5, scene 1

Chapter 3

Sirius had waited until the Potions Master had left the garden of the abandoned house before racing through the garden himself and taking a shortcut back to his house. He then transformed back and walked casually through the long grass just as Snape came up the cracked path.

For a moment Snape held his gaze, maybe expecting some sort of insult from his school time nemesis. Sirius was waiting for the insults as well, but somehow the words wouldn’t leave his mouth. He searched the other man’s gaze, trying to find some emotion in those dark eyes. But still, Snape’s eyes were just as impassive as his face. He swept by Sirius and entered the house.
Mrs. Black started to screech in her portrait as yet another blood traitor entered her house, but like all members of the Order Snape simply ignored her.

Sirius followed the Potions Master into the living room where the other Order members were already assembled. Most of them were talking amicably among themselves, but Sirius noticed that some of the friendly chatter ceased when Snape entered the room. A few Order members shot him wary looks and Moody stared at him with open hostility.
The Potions Master ignored them, just like he had ignored Mrs. Black, and walked up to Dumbledore. “Headmaster”, he said quietly. “I must speak with you.”
Dumbledore looked up. “Of course, Severus.”
Moody glared at Snape. “Secrets, boy?” he rasped, making the rest of the conversations stop abruptly.
Some of the Order members tensed, expecting Snape to lash out at Moody like he usually did, but their spy just shrugged and left the room to talk with Dumbledore in private.


The meeting that had started so strangely turned into a hectic rescue mission that needed to be organized. Snape had told Dumbledore that an attack on a Muggle home was planned for tonight and the Order would step in to save the Muggles.
Ideas and plans were thrown back and forth, heated discussions took place and finally it was agreed on a plan of action. Usually, Sirius would have been in the middle of it all, highly frustrated that, again, he would not be part of the action. This time, however, his attention was more than once drawn to Snape who had retreated back to the far corner of the room and watched the hectic bustle impassively. Didn’t he care what would happen with the information he had passed on?
“I’ll go there with Remus, Tonks, Arthur and anyone who can hold a wand and fight and we’ll not only save the Muggles, but catch as many of those Death Eaters as possible!” Moody’s voice boomed through the room, drawing Sirius’ attention back to the discussion. “That is, if we can trust Snape’s report and don’t walk into a trap,” Moody added nastily, with a glare at their spy. His fingers drummed an impatient rhythm on the smooth dark surface of the old table, as if waiting for Snape to retaliate.
Snape, however, showed little to no reaction to words that would formerly have evoked a biting answer from him. He stood, with his arms firmly folded over his chest, leaning against the wall as if he wanted to merge with the shadows hiding in every corner of the gloomy room.
“What if his report is correct?” Sirius asked, not taking his eyes of Snape. “And we arrest those Death Eaters – won’t the others get suspicious? What if they suspect Snape to have given away this information?”
Snape moved his head slightly to look at Sirius. “They might. I’m the only Death Eater who knows about the operation without being part of it. It is probable that their suspicions will fall on me.”
Sirius looked at him incredulously. “And you are willing to risk that?”
Snape returned his stare blankly. Looking at the drawn face of his school time nemesis, Sirius suddenly recalled his own words from this afternoon.
'Why do you care anyway?'
And Harry’s voice rang through his head. 'Why don’t you?'
Fighting off those memories, he turned around and glared at Dumbledore who sat at the head of the table. “And you? Are you willing to risk it?”
Dumbledore looked thoughtful. “We have been careful so far. They don’t suspect Severus yet.”
“Can we be sure about that?” Remus interjected, putting a calming hand on Sirius’ shoulder for he could sense that Sirius was about to snap with frustration. “We can’t afford to lose the information Severus is providing.”
We can’t afford to lose our spy, was what he was really saying.
The discussion picked up again, but Sirius only half listened to it. Were they worried about their spy or about Snape? His eyes drifted over the crowd of Order members. Was anyone here worried about Snape for Snape’s sake? Dumbledore, maybe. Sirius’ eyes swept back to Snape and he wondered if he himself had started to worry about him, just like Harry. It seemed the Potions Master was playing tricks with his mind as well.
Damn that Slytherin!


The water ran over his hands. Snape watched it, half expecting it to turn red. It didn’t, of course. He took his hands back while the water continued to run. Potion stains could be seen on his pale hands and no scrubbing would erase them. It wasn’t the potion stains that he was concerned about, though. His hands went for the soap again.
'All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.'
Snape’s hands were not little and he never liked perfumed soap. Or Shakespeare for that matter. Still, it were the words of that muggle play that ran through his head as he held his hands under the running water again. The water was hot, he could feel the steam coming of it as he bent over the bathroom sink. He also felt the water nearly burning the skin off his hands, but the pain didn’t really reach him. It seemed his body was as numb as his mind.
Headquarters was deserted. Everybody had left in a hurry after they finished their meeting. They had agreed that it would be best to bring the muggles to safety before the Death Eaters could attack. Thus, all the Death Eaters would find when they arrived would be a deserted house. Moody and a few others would stay behind to make sure Voldemort’s followers wouldn’t turn on other houses once they noticed that the birds had flown. They were not to attack the Death Eaters though, if they didn’t turn on other muggles first. Moody had been furious, but most of the Order members had agreed that it would be better to handle the situation like this in order to minimize the risk for their spy.
Snape stared at his hands that were turning red under the constant flow of water and wondered why he didn’t care.

“Bloody hell!” A hand reached over the sink and turned off the water. “Sweet Merlin, Snape, what on earth do you think you are doing?”
Of course, the mutt had to stay behind while the others were out on their rescue mission. How could he have forgotten that? Snape was also sure that he had closed the bathroom door, but maybe he had forgotten that too.
The Potions Master didn’t answer, didn’t even turn his head to look in Black’s direction.
“Snape?” Black sounded insecure, something that briefly registered in Snape’s mind, but again, he couldn’t muster up the energy to focus on it.
A hand came to rest on his arm and the Potions Master flinched. Instantly, the hand was dropped again and Snape finally turned his head to look at Black.
The other wizard looked nervous, a bit panicked even. At any other time, it would have been a pleasure to make the mutt squirm a bit longer. But all that came over Snape’s lips now was a question that surprised both him and Black.
“Do you know Shakespeare? “


When the Order members had left, the dark smothering silence settled over the house again. It was a silence that drove Sirius mad. More than once he found himself whistling silly tunes just to break it. He didn’t need to this time, for as he stepped into the hallway, he noticed that the silence was broken here by something else. There was the sound of running water coming from one of the bathrooms upstairs. Apparently, the house was not as deserted as he had thought. But who …?
Of course. There was one other member of the Order who couldn’t join in the rescue mission.
Sirius looked up the stairs, frowning. What was Snape doing? The water had been running for ages and he knew for a fact that there was no shower in that bathroom, only an old bathtub that hadn’t been used in a long time. Sirius shook his head. Why would Snape decide to have a shower in his house of all places anyway?
The sound of running water kept on ringing in his ears and Sirius started to get worried. Was Snape drowning himself up there or what? As soon as that thought crossed his mind, Sirius felt an unfamiliar stab of guilt. He marched up the stairs. Time to get to the bottom of this. When he reached the landing, he saw that the door to the bathroom was ajar. The Potions Master was bent over the bathroom sink, holding his hands under the stream of water. Steam rose from the water and hung heavy in the air.
“Bloody hell!” Sirius pushed open the door as he caught a glimpse of Snape’s red and shaking hands. He reached for the tap and turned off the water, nearly burning his fingers on the hot metal. “Sweet Merlin, Snape, what on earth do you think you are doing?”
The Potions Master didn’t answer. In fact, he didn’t even move. His eyes were still focused on the red skin of his shaking hands, though Sirius doubted that he actually saw what he was looking at.
Snape’s hair hung into his face and kept Sirius from getting a good look at the other man. What was going on here? Had their spy finally snapped under the pressure?
Tentatively Sirius reached a hand out to the motionless man and laid it on his arm. The reaction was instant. Snape flinched violently and Sirius drew his hand back, startled by the Potions Master’s reaction. He didn’t attack him, for Merlin’s sake! Did Snape actually know where he was? Or was his mind still focused on the Death Eater meeting he had returned from earlier?
Finally, the Potions Master turned his head and looked at him. Sirius gulped when he met the dark gaze of the other man. What was going on in Snape’s head?
“Do you know Shakespeare?”
The question was asked in a calm, emotionless voice, but it startled Sirius nonetheless.
“Wh-what?” He took a step back.
Snape’s lips twitched, a ghost of his usual sneer flickered over his face before his expression turned blank again. “I should have known that you have no interest in Muggle literature.”
“Don’t be daft,” Sirius snapped. “Of course, I know Shakespeare.”
Reading muggle literature had been one way of annoying his mother. Well, reading wasn’t really the right word for it, maybe. He had never had the patience to work his way through any of the books, but he had stacked them up on his bedside table in plain sight for his mother to see.
“What has that to do with anything?” he asked Snape who had lapsed into silence again.
“Nothing,” the man said. He looked back at the sink and reached for the soap again.
“Oh no, you don’t!” Sirius firmly gripped Snape’s wrist.
That brought some life into the stoic Potions Master. “Let go of me, Black!”
“I will,” Sirius said grimly. “Once you stop this nonsense. Do you want to burn the skin off your hands? Merlin, Snape, I never thought you were one for washing anyway! Your hands are clean, damn it!”
Something flashed in Snape’s eyes and he managed to pull his hand out of Sirius’ grip. “They never will be,” he muttered.
Sirius frowned. “What?”
But Snape just shook his head. The anger had vanished from his face and he looked eerily calm again. Sirius found himself wishing the man would snarl at him again. “What do you mean, they will never be clean?”
Snape looked up, his gaze boring into Sirius eyes. “Did you ever feel you can’t get the stench of a place out of your clothes or the dirt from your hands, Black?”
Sirius took in a sharp breath. He knew exactly what Snape was talking about. When he had left Azkaban, he had thought that he would never be able to get clean, no matter how often he showered. He nodded, slowly, never breaking eye contact with Snape.
Something shifted in Snape’s gaze and when he spoke again, Sirius knew, even though he never had been a sensitive person, that he shouldn’t interrupt whatever the Potions Master had to say.
“What about guilt then? Do you think one can rid oneself of the guilt by doing something good? How can we wash ourselves free of our past deeds when we can’t even get rid of the stench that lingers with us?”
Again, Sirius knew what Snape was talking about and the other man seemed to sense that.
“You blame yourself for Potter’s and Lily’s death, don’t you, Black? All those years in Azkaban couldn’t rid you of the guilt you feel over the role you played in their demise.”
Sirius flinched, but Snape went on mercilessly. “They tell you it is not your fault, they tell you that you couldn’t know what Pettigrew was. And still, you know that it was you who insisted to change the secret keeper and you blame yourself for it.”
All Sirius could do was stare at Snape. It was painful to hear his inner conflicted thoughts being voiced by someone, yet somehow it was oddly relieving as well.
“A wrong choice, a wrong decision. Does it have to haunt us for the rest of our lives?” There was pain in Snape’s eyes. Finally, the blank expression crumbled and for a moment Sirius could see a lurking vulnerability in the usually cold eyes.
He slowly shook his head. “No.” His voice sounded hoarse. “We made a mistake, Snape, we both did with disastrous consequences – not for us, but for others, which makes it worse to bear. But we can make up for it. We have to. It would be another mistake to let ourselves be haunted and paralyzed by our past.”
Snape raised an eyebrow. “How insightful, Black. I’m surprised.”
Sirius smirked, welcoming the return of Snape’s sarcasm. “Yes, well, I have my moments.”
Silence followed that was neither strained nor pleasant. Finally, Snape turned around, the rustling of his robes breaking the silence. “I’ll see you around, Black,” he said, his voice neutral again.
“Can’t be helped.” Sirius gave him a weak grin.
Snape didn’t grace that with a comment but strode towards the door. Halfway through the door, though, he stopped.
“Black,” he said, not turning around.
“Snape?” Sirius tensed, wondering whether Snape would thank him now for their conversation. It was an odd thought.
“Do me a favour,” the Potions Master drawled. “Obliviate yourself.”
Then he left, his robes swishing around him as he walked down the stairs.
Sirius stared after him until he heard the click of the hallway door that told him that the other man had left.
“And why didn’t you obliviate me yourself?”
To be continued...
End Notes:
Harry will be back in the next chapters with a rather foolish plan ... :-)

This story archived at http://www.potionsandsnitches.org/fanfiction/viewstory.php?sid=3891