torch, flambeau@strangeplaces.net
November 26, 2001

Disclaimer: Do I have to say it? Okay. Not mine. And my Latin is bad, too. Wah. Thanks go to Ellen, and also to Anna, who giggled. Do not archive this without permission.

Hair of the dog

Harry looked both ways to make sure no one had followed him, and hissed "Chocolate fudge!" The portrait that guarded the entrance to Dumbledore's private quarters smiled at him, and the door swung open. He went inside and heard people talking. Harry recognized Dumbledore's soothing voice, and he knew who Dumbledore must be talking to because there was only one person at Hogwarts who spoke in that cold, cutting tone. Snape. It was just the tone of voice Snape used when he told Harry that his potion was the wrong color, or picked on Neville until Neville looked close to crying. Harry just couldn't imagine Snape speaking to Dumbledore that way.

When he came into Dumbledore's sitting room, Harry saw that Snape was standing with his arms crossed, staring down his nose at Dumbledore, who sat comfortably ensconced in a big chair by the fire. "This is intolerable," Snape said. His greasy hair hung in lank stripes around his face, looking worse than ever. "And what is Potter doing here?"

Dumbledore smiled. "Welcome, Harry," he said.

"Thank you, Professor." Harry looked at Dumbledore, at Snape, at his toes, at a picture on the wall, where Sir Cadogan waved at him as he took tea with a trio of dancing women, at the fireplace, at Snape, and back at Dumbledore. "Er, what am I doing here?" He couldn't remember breaking any school rules lately, at least not any that would explain being summoned to the headmaster's study, at least not any that anyone knew about.

"There's nothing to be concerned about. I merely wished to give you the chance to meet someone I'm sure you don't see enough of."

Harry shot a quick sideways look at Snape, who looked almost as bewildered as he did. "I think I see enough of Professor Snape," he said. "I mean—" Too much, actually, with Potions three times a week, but he wasn't about to say that, even though Snape undoubtedly knew how he felt.

"The sentiment is mutual, Potter, I assure you," Snape said with a sneer.

"Oh, not Professor Snape." The flames crackled, and Dumbledore nodded towards the fireplace. "Here he is now."

Sirius Black stepped out of the fireplace, and Harry couldn't hold back a cry of happy surprise. It had been a long time since he'd last seen Sirius, although they wrote to each other by owl as often as it seemed safe. Sirius nodded a greeting to Professor Dumbledore, caught sight of Harry, and held out a hand, looking a little hesitant.

Harry went over to his godfather and let himself be drawn into a rib-creaking hug. Sirius was still very thin. His face didn't look quite so gaunt and hollow, but his hair once again hung halfway down his back in snarls and tangles. "It's good to see you again, Harry," he said. Then he looked up and saw Snape, and scowled.

"Well, now." Dumbledore sounded strangely pleased. "I'm certain you and Harry have a lot to catch up on, Sirius, but before you do that, there is something that needs to be settled between you and Severus."

"We don't have anything to talk about," Sirius said flatly, still scowling at Snape. Snape glared back with such a cold look in his eyes that Harry took a step forward, putting himself between the Potions master and his godfather.

Dumbledore caught Harry's eyes and shook his head, gently but firmly. "Please step aside, Harry. This is between Sirius and Severus. Boys — I mean, gentlemen, you know very well that matters need to be settled. You'll be working together more closely than ever this coming year, and I can't allow this childish animosity to get in the way of a greater cause."

"He set the Dementors on me!" Sirius snarled, sounding almost like the dog he sometimes transformed into. "They would've sucked my soul out if it hadn't been for Harry!"

"Is that why you're hiding behind Harry now?" Snape asked icily. Harry took a step to the side, standing next to Dumbledore's chair. He hated to think about the moment when the Dementor had almost taken both him and Sirius, even though he knew that Snape had believed, at the time, that Sirius was a dangerous murderer as well as the person who had betrayed Harry's parents. "You tried to get me killed by sending me to face a werewolf!"

"Remus wouldn't hurt a fly," Sirius said dismissively. "Don't tell me you're still worked up about that."

Harry knew that Remus Lupin would never deliberately hurt anybody, but back in those days, he hadn't been able to control what he did in his wolf shape. Harry looked worriedly at Sirius. He wondered if Sirius had ever thought about how Lupin would have felt if he'd hurt Snape, turned him into a werewolf, or even killed him.

Sirius and Snape looked as though they were trying to stare each other to death. Harry wondered if he should step between them again, before one of them decided to try a more hands-on method, but Dumbledore put a hand on his arm. "No, Harry. This has to be dealt with. Severus, Sirius, it's time that you both undid the wrongs of the past."

"But Professor Dumbledore, I—"

"But Professor Dumbledore, he—"

"I'm certain that you both have better things to do than to stand here and stare at each other all night," Dumbledore said encouragingly. "If you're going to work together, you have to learn to forgive each other's mistakes."

"But Professor Dumbledore, it's—"

"But Professor Dumbledore, we're—"

Dumbledore stared them both down, until Sirius looked away and Snape began to shuffle his feet, both of them looking no older than Harry. Sirius fumbled in his tattered clothing and brought out a scuffed-looking wand. Snape took out his wand, too. They stared at each other, and Harry felt his heart jump into his throat. But they couldn't mean to duel here, in Dumbledore's rooms, right in front of him. And Dumbledore was smiling and nodding.

"Finite incantatem," Sirius muttered, waving his wand.

Snape set his lips in a thin line. "Finite incantatem. Crinim viete."

Harry gasped. Suddenly, Snape's hair no longer looked lank and greasy, but soft and shiny clean. Turning to Sirius, Harry saw to his amazement that the snarls and tangles were gone, and the long, smooth strands were braiding themselves neatly down Sirius' back. He tried to remember what the spell had been. Hermione would love it.

"There," Dumbledore said, "that's much better, don't you think?"

Sirius muttered something inaudible. Snape stuffed his wand away and mumbled, "You're welcome. Thank you." He was actually smiling a little. Harry couldn't believe his eyes. Snape almost looked nice.

Dumbledore beamed at them both. "Now, Sirius, I know that you have a lot to talk to S— to Harry about."

"Yes." Sirius sounded a little subdued. "It's late, though, and Harry has an early class, don't you, Harry?"

"I don't care about that!" Harry said, and then cast a quick, guilty look at Dumbledore.

Dumbledore's eyes twinkled, though, and Sirius smiled. "I'm sure you don't, but your teachers might. I thought — if I can stay at Hogwarts overnight, we can meet tomorrow after your classes. If you bring the Invisibility Cloak, I can even come out to the Quidditch pitch and watch you fly."

Harry nodded. "That would be great!" Sirius looked a little tired. He probably needed a night's sleep more than he needed to be up late, talking to Harry. "Professor Dumbledore, is that all right?"

"Certainly. I'm sure we can find a place to put Sirius up for the night." Dumbledore rose to his feet and smoothed his beard. "Off to bed with you now, young Harry."

"Good night, Professor. Good night, Sirius." Harry walked towards the door. He stopped and looked back, thinking at the last minute that it might be polite to say goodnight to Snape, too, but Snape and Sirius were talking quietly to each other, and Harry decided that he didn't want to say goodnight to Snape enough to actually interrupt him and probably get glared at. Instead, he gave a small wave to Dumbledore, who was chuckling to himself, and went out.

"Did you have a nice time?" the portrait asked him as the door closed.

"Weird," Harry said, and scratched his head. "It was weird."

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