The Great Compromise
“Yes, my Lord?”
“Tell me, Lucius,” a high, cold voice resonated around the enclosing stone walls. “A sixth year brewed this potion for us tonight?”
“A fifth year, my Lord,” Lucius Malfoy answered. He flicked his fingers, signaling Nobbs the House-elf to pour more of the the delicious mead into the glasses of the guests assembled around in the Great Banquet Hall of the Malfoy Manor in Wilkinshire. “By the name of Severus Snape. But, please, let me first acknowledge what a great honor it is for my family and myself to be in your presence tonight, my Lord.”
He paused and raised his wine glass in a toast. With his wand in his right hand, Malfoy conjured a little twirl; a green snake swam in mid-air like a holographic projection. “To Lord Voldemort, scion of the great Salazar and the noble savior of pureblood wizardry! To the Dark Lord!”
“The Dark Lord,” many voices around the hall echoed Malfoy and everyone tasted the deep, enriched tones of the honey mead made specially for the occasion from the Greengrass apiaries and winery. At the back of the Hall a witch commended the wine to Lady Greengrass who smiled at her and gestured the house-elves to pour more.
“And this child, Snape, you say?” Lord Voldemort asked Lucius Malfoy, who nodded eagerly. “I fear it is not a name I am familiar with. Is the boy from a Spanish or Latin wizarding family? I believe the fine wizarding families by the Mediterranean have tendency towards certain fine skills.”
Lucius paled slightly, but in the light of the candles, he didn’t look any less bloodless than before.
“No, my lord,” he answered. “I’m afraid Severus is an English wizard, but his name belongs to a muggle father. However, he has left his filthy half-blood heritage behind now, with his witch-mother dead last summer and is completely willing and ready to enter into your service.”
“His skills are certainly fine for a lowly half-blood,” Voldemort commented. He had had Julius Spitzer test the Polyjuice Potion with a series of hairs from the heads of various muggles, and the results had been splendid. For a sixteen year old to brew a Polyjuice that had no glitches with more than two transformations was an achievement worthy of entry into the Potion Masters Guild. “His mother must have been from an ancient and noble wizarding heritage.”
“A pity,” Orion Black iterated from the opposite side of the table, three places down the left of Lord Voldemort. “Pure, ancient blood wasted to breed with such lowly muggle filth. If, perhaps, if young Mr. Snape had been fathered by someone of magical standing, he may have been much more magically talented than he is.”
“Oh, Severus Snape is certainly talented,” Bellatrix Lestrange piped up from her uncle’s left. “Cousin Regulus has kept me informed on the boy, and I have, too, seen him at several times last summer. Believe me, he’s as skilled at wandwork as he is with potions. Perhaps, even more so than many his age, if you hear him talk spell theory with Rodolphus -,”
“Quiet!” hissed Orion Black, trying to shush his niece. Tom Riddle did not appreciate unimportant people speaking out of turn.
“No, Orion, it is completely alright,” Voldemort assured the flustered wizard. “But, Mrs. Lestrange-“
“Bellatrix, my Lord!”
“Bellatrix, I would be much more pleased if you did not strain yourself,” said the handsome man, his red eyes cold as he smiled at the younger witch. “In your delicate condition,” he nodded to her swollen belly. “We await a pure, new magical soul, who needs peace and quiet.”
Bellatrix glowed at his words, which, effectively shut her up for the rest of the night. Instead, she would peer at her pregnant bump and light up like a charm everytime she remembered that she had a magical child inside her, a child that might one day be joined in the ranks of someone asa great and powerful as the kind Lord Voldemort and do important deeds to the magical world. Indeed, any child of hers will revere the great leader, not to mention being unfailingly pure and perfect for his approval.
“Do continue about this Severus Snape,” Voldemort nodded to Malfoy. “He seems to be a very promising fellow indeed. Potions and wandwork do not always excel hand in hand, and I have been in the need of a loyal potion maker for a while now.”
“I remember,” Cygnus Black said, his seat on Lucius’ right, looking straight at Voldemort. “You were exceptionally skilled in Potions and all kinds of spellwork at Hogwarts, my Lord. Several trophies and medals still adorn your name in the Trophy Hall, and my daughter tells me that Slughorn still brings out the Serpent Charm at each frivolous party of his, telling everyone about the day you made the best batch of the Draught of Living Death in his class.”
Voldemort, rather Tom-like, smiled, his chin high. For a moment, many in the hall were transported decades back, to a time when Tom Riddle was the most accomplished of their peers, and his pride of his achievements, the surety he had in himself, and the incredible confidence of the strange dark-haired boy that had lured them into following him.
For a long moment, no one spoke. Tom Riddle seemed to take half an eternity to revert back into the mask of Lord Voldemort, his eyes brightly alit as he scanned the faces of the uptight witches and wizards who fancied themselves part of his army. These were insufferable fools he was looking at, but nevertheless, his means to achieving the end that he had spent most of his life working towards; his contempt of their foolishness coupled with the pride he felt as he watched them scurry under his commands were, needless to say, sufficient rewards of the present.
“So, Mr. Snape wishes to serve our great cause?” he enquired of the fervent-eyed Mr. Lucius Malfoy. “Despite his lineage, he does not fear standing up against people of similar, even filthier blood? Is he willing to serve the greater good?”
“Yes, my lord,” Lucius replied. “Severus Snape understands such lowly beings aren’t worthy of magic. He has no regards for mudbloods, or filthy half-blood pretenders. He has great respect for you, my lord, and even greater will to serve for the great cause we all believe in. He has willingly chosen to help us in what ways he can, and does not fear the wrath of the weaklings. He has, afterall, been practicing to outshine the idiots ever since he has been able to read. I believe his class records convey exactly how talented he is in the fields of Potions and Curse works. Severus Snape is ready to be an ally, my lord.”
“Under your grooming, no doubt, young Lucius.”
Lucius Malfoy beamed as he replied. “Perchance, my lord, that I may have been able to point him in the direction, towards the right leader.”
“It has been noticed, Lucius, how much you have done to serve this great cause,” said the handsome man with red pupils. “It must be time, I think, for you to join my inner, dedicated circle of soldiers.”
Lucius’ face was shining with joy and his eyes glinted at the hint of being promoted into Voldemort’s personal service. Across him, Bellatrix Lestrange scowled. Of those in their generation, Bellatrix & her husband had been the first to join the Inner Circle of Death Eaters, an honor several older wizards and witches were yet to receive under the guidance of Lord Voldemort. The Lestrange witch did not appreciate Lucius Malfoy’s offer to join with the band of trusted followers that she counted herself part of; he was too young, too obsequious, too superficial to be ruthless enough to please the Lord.
She smirked, her scowl disappearing at the thought. The Dark Lord will be displeased with Lucius Malfoy when he fails to complete his tasks, and she and Rodolphus would once again be the more faithful followers.
“It will be a honor to serve you under the title of Death Eater, my lord,” Malfoy said, his head respectfully bowed. “I will do all I can to aid you to the best of my capabilities, my Lord Voldemort.”
“We shall see, Lucius,” the wizard said, his magnificence undimmed. “Especially when your first task will show us how worthy you are of the Dark Mark.”
Regulus wanted to slam the heavy book on the backside of a blonde head belonging to a gangly teenager, who was currently poring over a very minutely carved manuscript by the Alchemist Nicholas Flamel.
“How did the date go, Reggielulu?” Alex Messiers asked, cheerful beyond words, as Regulus missed and the book hit the table wit a resounding thwack. The dulcet tones of Madam Pince pinched through the ears at a distance, a sign that she would probably throw them out in 2 more minutes or one more sound.
“Just too horrible,” Regulus muttered, sliding into a chair near Messiers, who had the gal to look apologetic. “We started off at Honeydukes, where she spent so much time picking out sweets for the Hog’s Head barman (for Merlin’s sake, that barmy old snoot!), and when we finally left that hellhole of an inn to go to the Three Broomsticks, she started seeing white cheetahs, all of a sudden! And just when I thought I might actually figure if I fancy her or not, she runs off to greet that oaf, Hagrid. It was a horrible, horrible day, and I’m just glad I didn’t do something stupid, like tell her I’m imagining that you think I have funny feelings for her!”
“She didn’t have a clue, did she?”
“I’m not sure I have a clue, either, Messiers,” the younger boy hissed. “She’s my good friend, yes, but I’m not in love with her.” He inhaled slowly and looked at the older boy. “You do know that everyone else thinks you’re the one in love with Harys, you know, what with hanging out with her all the time.”
Alex blanched at first, and immediately blushed deeply under Regulus’ stare. The Black boy frowned; this was uncharacteristic behavior for the Great Alexander du Messiers.
“That’s… wrong on several counts, Reg,” he said quietly, gripping his book tightly enough to stem the blood flow into his knuckles, which stood out pale and white.
“It’s not that M isn’t a lovely witch,” Alex blurted out immediately, feeling Regulus’ questioning stare on him. “But, unfortunately enough, I don’t feel about her the way you do.”
Regulus twitched, anxious, but annoyed. “And of what way do you think I feel about her, Messiers?”
“Well, you know, it’s a popular rumor around here that you may fancy Harys a teensy amount.”
“And you believe in rumors?” Regulus snorted. “If what’s said about you were even real in the most minimal sense, you’ve gone around fancying at least half the birds around the school, having flings and flirts with almost every other Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff.” He leaned forward, noting how Alex tensed at the admission. “But that is not the case… is it?”
Alex Messiers looked at Reg Black icily. The younger wizard triumphantly leaned back on his chair, glad to have made his point clear.
“I don’t fancy random birds, Regulus,” he said seriously. Almost unconsciously, his eyes flicked to a corner of the library. “I’m not an aviary-phile, or whatever it is. Now scoot off and let me study for my OWLs in peace. Merlin help you if you waste another second of my chances to beat your miserable brother, cousin and best friend in the OWLs.”
Regulus frowned, clearly displeased to be cut off so suddenly from proving to Alex Messiers that he was not fancying Ms. Harys. He scowled, and irritatedly noted that Messiers was equally flustered with something at a rather certain corner of the library. Following the gaze, Reg Black saw a rather sunlit patch in the corner, a table with entirely too many books upon it, and Remus Lupin and Dorcas Meadowes smiling at each other, their hands twitching their lips into grins each time they accidentally touched hands on the table.
Regulus looked back to the pink-cheeked Alex, who was very determined to stare at his book.
I don’t fancy random birds, Regulus.
“Merlin’s Pants, Harys! LEAVE ME ALONE!”
“Not until you tell me why you’re pulling a toddler’s tantrum everytime we are in the same room, Black!”
It was a strange day, the Friday that was Maitri’s birthday. The Slytherins had a practically non-intellectually stimulating schedule that day: Double Care of Magical Creatures, Divination, Double History of Magic and Astronomy at Midnight.
However, it turned into an irritating day for many when yet another brawl spilt between a Gryffindor and a Slytherin, no matter how odd it was for these particular two people to fight. Especially after the way both of them had been, if not close, sort-of-friends the year before, and had made it to the finals of a contest as amicable teammates.
But, in the end, people looked over, saw the red and the green of their ties and shook their heads, amused and irritated that some dunderheads were too stupid to see beyond the name of long-dead founders whom they supposedly shared traits with.
“I’ve had enough of your presence, you slimy snake,” Sirius Black retorted with the fiercest ire he could muster. “Than have you talk to me as though we could ever be associated!”
“Shut your trap, Black!” Maitri Harys snapped back at the boy, as irate as ever. “Where was all this hatred of associating with me when you needed my help with getting girls to fall in love with you? When you stupidly got injured in a Death Eater attack and would have wrackspurt-ed yourself into disfiguration if I weren’t there?”
The tired, irritated batch of fifth-years who were subject to witnessing this sorry, if not pathetic, argument glared at their two disputing classmates, making sure they were yards away. Even James Potter, who would usually side with Sirius Black against a Slytherin, stayed away, tring to distract Remus, who was already fighting off a massive headache. Peter and Severus look warily at Harys & Black, then at each other and then looked away as though disgusted by the presence of each other. Lily Evans looked over at the two, but couldn’t really care more, for she was late to an OWL revision period in Arithmancy and sped away, exasperated.
If anything, the argument exhausted the fifth-years more than the two hours of chasing fire-breathing salamanders in the icky, muddy ground of melting snow with Kettleburn brandishing his walking cane at anyone who looked too idle.
“I never asked for your help!” Sirius yelped back. “It is not my fault that you wanted to be my friend!”
They were outside the Great Hall, which was closed off with the seventh-years for the Pre-NEWT preparation exams. A sixth-year prefect standing outside the doors in vigil hissed at him to shut up, not aware that she was repeating Maitri a few moments late. Both of them grumbled and continued to mutter insults at each other, both with hands on their wands in thieir pockets, but neither drawing more attention to themselves until they were well out of sight of any patrolling upper-year prefect.
Just as the Gryffindors and the Slytherins parted in the first floor to different corners of the castle did Maitri break out of the mutterings.
“It wasn’t me who apologized for choosing the wrong bloody house!” Maitri swore under her breath, just loud enough for Sirius to hear. “It wasn’t me who wanted extra help to pass in Care of Magical Creatures!”
Sirius lunged at her, and, instead of attacking her in a duel, he dragged her by the neck of her robes into the nearest deserted classroom.
“I never asked for you to complete my assignments!” he snapped quite angrily at her, once he cast a Silencing charm on the walls of the classroom.
"You never stopped me either!” Maitri hissed back. “Don’t you blame me for being friendly enough to help you!”
“You aren’t completely innocent, Snake-brain,” Sirius said viciously. “You became my friend because you wanted to be friends withsomeone who would improve your social status.”
Maitri thwacked him on the side of his head as far as she could reach, as hard as she could.
“OW! You bat-brained witch!”
“I told you to leave me alone at the lake that day, which you’ll remember if you use that sphagetti-infested thing you call a brain! You and your entire deranged family!”
As much as Sirius wanted to hit Harys, he stopped himself. His fingers was halfway around his wand, itching to cast a curse on the girl – one of the creative, blisteringly painful ones that Bellatrix had practiced on him all summer. He would never resort to muggle fist-fighting like Harys, who would never shirk off her low, uncultured muggle roots.
Sirius mentally slapped himself for thinking about the muggleborn-ness of Maitri Harys. It suddenly reminded him that he wasn’t actually angry with her as he was with himself.
“What did you drag me in here for?” Maitri asked, glancing around the unused classroom with distaste. She lightly hugged herself, feeling sorry for herself on her fifteenth birthday, having to fight with someone she had once been friends with, and miss Divination, a class in which she was allowed to banter psychic theories with the professor for fun. Maitri really liked Professor Nostradamus and his quirky theories about muggle psychology.
“Well, I can’t have you screaming all over the castle about you getting me passed in Care of Magical Creatures!” Sirius retorted, relieved to find a source to feed his anger. “I’ll have you know that I wouldn’t have actually failed!”
“Then why did you shove every piece of your homework at me and beg me to do all that?” Maitri asked, more confused than angry. And then, something clicked into place; how could she not have connected this before? “Wait, it’s a family thing, isn’t it? You’re pretending to care less about academics because of your Marauder thing, but you will work to top everyone off because you’re too proud of your family, and cannot bear if the Black name went down academic drains because you didn’t care enough!”
Sirius choked on thin air. “You are crazy,” he said, regaining his stance. “I would have just tried more. It was just handy that you helped, but I would have found some way to keep my grades up and spend some quality time with Emily – and a measly Magical Creatures drawing was not all my homework, thank you.” He spat the last few words snarkily enough, but all Maitri picked up was from the phrase before.
“So, you manipulated my help to spend more time with Emily,” she said, staring at him. “Well, I suppose that can be accepted,” she admitted with a sigh. “You must already be regretting not spending more time, since you won’t be able to, anymore.”
Sirius looked at her coldly. “How can you live?” he asked bitingly, his anger peaked, now that she finally touched the nerve of the hatred he had held against her. “Knowing that you let her die?”
Maitri froze as she looked at the boy, unable to believe that he had been the one to say those cruel words. But the harsh hatred in his eyes confirmed that he believed she was at fault with the way Emily MacArthur had perished.
“I let her die?” she repeated in a horrified whisper, feeling like something very large sat on her windpipe, suffocating her. “I let her die, Sirius? What about you? You were the one who was there when she actually died.”
Sirius flinched, painful memories flooding back into his mind. Memories that had taken months of transfiguring into a dog to repress. Memories of Emily screaming, flailing, thrashing and then, suddenly still, with her eyes rapidly filling with broken blood vessels, taking away the blue vision he had loved ever since the day he met her.
Nightmares of her smiling and then suddenly dying in his arms. Nightmares where he had had his wand pointed at her, turning her smiling form into one of death and desolation; nightmares where he had immediately turned his wand upon himself, not wanting to live anymore in a world she had escaped from.
“Yes, Harys,” he repeated, his voice hoarse from the pain he was feeling inside. “You could have just as easily pulled her to safety as you did with all the others. You could have healed her mind just as you healed her body. You made it more painful to see her die, because she looked perfectly well, you know?”
His voice broke, unable to find a way to express his pain without any hysterics.
Maitri shuddered at his words, feeling nausea creep up inside her head. Despite the many many times Alex Messiers had told her it wasn’t her fault, Maitri had nurtured the feeling that she should probably have healed Emily’s mind as wel as her body – even if it had killed her. Emily’s death, so soon after her refusal of Voldemort’s morbid offer, had wrecked her a lot of nights. Maitri had even stopped going to the Founder’s room to brood, because the Hufflepuff and Gryffindor portraits threatened to alert Dumbledore when she didn’t tell them why she was depressed, especially since it wasn’t a school matter they couldn’t be held to keep as a secret.
“Maybe if you had endeavoured to keep her out of You-know-who’s interest – like the little attention seeker that you are,” Sirius went on, his voice wavering and quavering with anger and pain. “If you had just kept on reminding everyone what a perfect little muggleborn in Slytherin you are, how much discriminate you, how difficult it is for you to be at Hogwarts! Oh, the entire endless list of cribbing and complaining that you carry around like a blooming bag of bloody despair, maybe you would be the one in her place, and you’d be finally out of misery, and Em- Emily and I would have still been together!”
Tears pricked the corners of Maitri’s eyes as Sirius’ tall, lanky frame towered over hers. Tears of indignation, resignation, fury, helplessness and pain mingled with each other as she whipped her wand out at him.
“Maybe if you had stayed away from her,” she cried at Sirius. “Her entire family would be alive. Instead, you had to interfere with her life, pul her into your twisted Black schemes, make sure the entire Pureblood community knew you were in love with a muggleborn – what did you think that would prove? That you’re rebellious? “
Sirius flinched at her words, and backed away as Maitri stepped forward, her book bag slipping off her shoulder and hitting the floor with a dull thud.
“No – instead, you drew all attention to her, Emily, the girl you claim to love,” she continued, her tone vicious. “You brought the vile eyes of the Pureblood maniacs and the Death Eaters on her, you let everyone know she was a muggleborn – you, as in Sirius Black who has his own death scheme hanging around his neck to pull James Potter into the fold of Death Eaters – you are the sole reason she and her family is dead. Had you left her alone, she might have been spared. She was tortured to death because you needed an incentive, a reminder that you were a Black and the twisted Blacks never should associate with one of our kind.”
She spat his name with such disgust that it made Sirius cringe. And then, the words finally registered in his brain, sending him into a frenzy of disbelief and panic.
“How do you know of – of that pact?” he asked, horrified. “Of my order to convert James into – into one of those-”
“Evil murderers?” Maitri finished, sneering. “How do you think I know? Voldemort. Had a private torturing session with him, you know. Fascinating man; tells you all kinds of things that can make you lose your sense of world and go crazy.”
Sirius blanched. “You – him – er, what?” he spluttered incoherently, unable to come to terms with the information he was presented with. He gulped the rising fear in his throat. “He – he tortured you?”
“How else did you think I ended up at St. Mungo’s?”
“Er, you were found in the rubble of demolished tower,” he said slowly, all traces of anger slowly dissipating away in confusion and disbelief. “I thought that was how you were injured – well, mostly. I – I thought You-Know-Who did not want to hurt his precious -”
“Slytherins? Well, I was not exempted from the torture,” she said, her wand still pointed at his chest, but with less anger than before.
She winced as she remembered how it had been to wake up in that dark, rotting cell with an acute sense of loss. “They had my knees scrapes and toes broken so that I wouldn’t escape. My palms were stuck together because someone clearly knew I could do wandless magic, and I already had bruises from a great big ugly Death Eater jumping on me at Diagon Alley when I was summoned by Voldemort.”
She paused, watching him as he flinched once again at the name. “I don’t think he was very happy to confirm that I, a dirty mudblood, was indeed of the Slytherin house, and I was taught that in a more practical way than you can imagine. Rachel Perkins later told me I was unconscious for more than a day after the torturing session.”
“But look at you!” Sirius cried, panic slipping into his voice. “You healed! What kind of bluff is it that you’re trying to tell, that you survived despite the harshest of tortures at the hands of the Dark Lord?”
“Look at me!” Maitri screamed, brandishing her wand for forcefully, though hesitating to curse him, waiting for him to attack her first. “For the past few months I’ve been pushing myself to death trying to figure out the same reason. I’ve been to St. Mungo’s twice more because there were complications with an earlier injury from the Trafalgar Square attack years ago, and because my blood showed symptoms of unnatural, inhuman ancestry. How do you think it is, to live knowing you aren’t even completely human, when your entire house already has a grudge because you are human enough! Not only a mudblood, should they know I was a half-breed, too, I don’t think I would live to see the next day. Not even a Whisperer can come back from the brink of death twice.”
Sirius did the most baffling action at that precise moment. He staggered back, his eyes unfocusing on the girl in front of him and growing wide and fearful at something invisible and in vivo.
Maitri raised her eyebrows into a frown as she took in his confusion. Something was so familiar about that action that it triggered a new set of memories into Sirius’ head. He faintly remembered from the pensieve incident, how there had been a grimy blood-splattered witch who had stormed into the torturing hall with the lanky Ravenclaw, Moon, and how she had tried to shield Emily, and how Moon had tried to shield both the girls by stepping into the middle of the dueling circle, earning the anger of his cousin Bella and You-Know-Who. He remembered briefly about Regulus muttering “Whisperer Blood” over and over again to him, and Alex Messiers telling Peter that Harys survived nearly three Death Eater attacks.
In turn, this triggered older, suppressed memories of the various threats he had received once word had gotten around that he was in a relationship with Emily MacArthur, how his parents had completely jailed him over the summer, how scared Emily had been around the end of the year, especially during and after the lakeside brawl between himself and Severus Snape-
Maitri lowered her wand as Sirius’ hands flew to the sides of his head. Animosity forgotten, she rushed to his side as he crumpled to his knees, his head hurting with the accumulation of painful thoughts. Frantic, Maitri tried to reach into his mind with hers and try to calm him down, but the rush of memories was too strong for her to stop him from hurting himself.
Unable to think any faster, she cast a quick “Petrificus totalus” on Sirius Black and levitated him to the nearest source of some Calming Draught – the Hospital Wing.
“Merlin’s Beard, child! What’s wrong with – Goodness!” Madam Pomfrey jumped up as she saw Maitri burst into the Wing, levitating Sirius awkwardly. “What happened to Black?”
“I think he needs a Calming Draught,” Maitri said, lowering Sirius to one of the beds and releasing him from the paralysis charm. As if on cue, his entire body curled up, and his elbows pressed so close into each other that Maitri was afraid his shoulders might dislocate. Somehow Maitri struggling to straighten Sirius jump started Poppy Pomfrey into action and she rushed to the boy within seconds, vials of Dreamless Sleep and Calming Draught in her hands.
Maitri helped Madam Pomfrey forcefeed Sirius both potions, regretting what she had yelled at him. The sight in front of her was so eerily similar to what had happened to Emily, and threatened to upend her stomach of the scarce breakfast she had had before she left for Care of Magical Creatures earlier that morning. Spent and shaky, she sat beside his bed, pulling her knees up to her chest and curling her arms around them, scared of what might happen to Sirius.
Despite Madam Pomfrey’s insistences that she head down to lunch, Maitri didn’t budge, not wanting to leave Sirius alone, in case he woke up and started clutching his head in anguish, again.
Nevertheless, she had to leave when Potter, Remus and Peter crashed into the hospital wing, all three shocked and wild about the eyes. Potter threw her a very dirty look as he crossed him on the way out, indicating that he suspected her of injuring his best friend. Maitri flinched, but mustered enough glare to throw back as much hatred and mistrust she could to match Potter and left with a single nod to Madam Pomfrey.
Sirius woke several hours later, opening his burning eyes to the sight of three very anxious faces peering down at him.
“Hello, Sirius Black,” Peter said, gulping. The boy held up a few fingers and waved them in front of Sirius. “I’m Peter Pettigrew. Can you tell my how many fingers I’m holding up? Please count and say very slowly.”
“Are you barmy, Wormtail?” Sirius croaked, his voice broken and his throat dry. He felt as though he had slept for days. “Why on Merlin’s skinny arse’s sake are you quizzing me kindergarten math?”
James let out a great “Ha!” and clapped Sirius on the shoulder, his eyes lighting up. Remus ruffled Sirius’ hair like a serious older brother, and had a smile to suit.
"You had us real worried, mate,” James said, running his fingers through his very unruly hair. “When you pulled an antic on us, ditching us, and going nada for more than an hour! We had to give Slughorn a slip and run all around the castle looking for you until Nearly Headless Nick told us he saw that snake levitating you here!”
Sirius was too tired to contradict James, and tell him Maitri Harys wasn’t as repulsive as he made her sound, but he had been the one antagonizing her for the past few months, and hence, wasn’t going to sacrifice his pride and defend her. Nevertheless, he felt simmers of that crushing guilt returning to him, and he regretted ever accusing her of what he was slowly coming to terms as his fault.
“Did Poppy tell you what’s wrong with me?” he asked his friend. James and Peter looked at each other blankly, but Remus answered for them, being as responsible as he was.
“She told us you had a panic attack due to serious stress,” the werewolf said quietly. “And that had this gone on for some more time, your nervous system may have suffered some serious damages.”
“A nervous breakdown?” Sirius croaked. Remus nodded.
“Right now, you’ve been given a few potions, Sirius,” Remus continued, fishing a piece of parchment from his pocket. “I have the list here. We’re all supposed to make sure you take these without fuss for, er, a week, I think. Poppy was sort of worried about you throwing a hissy fit.”
Sirius frowned when he noticed that the cheerful medi-witch wasn’t anywhere around. “Where’s Poppy?” he asked.
“Down at Slughorn’s office to get some stock of this, I’d say,” James said, pointing at that parchment in Remus’ hand. “You messed up, mate, like, seriously messed up.”
Sirius nodded in agreement, squaring his jaw. He felt strangely woozy (compliments of calming droughts, no doubt) and light-headed.
“Were you both fighting about the MacArthur bird?” Peter asked softly. The other three turned to him sharply, causing him to flush in embarrassment.
“Real tactful, Wormtail,” James said sarcastically, swatting at the back of Peter’s head.
Peter ducked James’ hand. “Were you?” he asked again, resolutely looking at Sirius, who kept quiet.
“Peter, it’s not always about Emily,” Remus said in a tired voice.
“No, Remus,” Peter said resolutely. “Lately, everything has been about Emily MacArthur; Sirius was completely fine before he ever got involved with her – he was friends with Harys, remember? Now he turns upon half the muggleborns who were – for Merlin’s sake, tortured by You-Know-Who, and has panic attacks and nervous breakdowns.” Somehow, talking his mind out seemed to make Peter stronger, and the other three watched their small friend grow a backbone as he continued to reason against the boy in the hospital bed.
“You have to learn to let go of her ghost, Sirius,” Peter said firmly. “You cannot go around mourning the dead for all the while that you are alive.”
“Shut up, Wormtail,” James hissed through his teeth.
“No, he’s right,” Sirius rasped. “It was about Emily. I tried to push my guilt off onto Harys, and the curse backfired.”
James looked at Sirius in horror as Remus and Peter exchanged looks of confusion and dismay. The boy in the bed cleared his throat before continuing, only a little less raspy than before.
“I tried to pin Emily’s death on Harys,” he explained in a tone that wasn’t very much audible, but given the silence his friends were currently showering him with, the words were as loud as a boomerang charm bouncing off a spell-cast bell. “I told her how much more painful it was for me to watch a physically healed Emily to die of mental nerve failure. I told her it her should have been her, with all her attention-hogging about being unfairly put in Slytherin, her own housemates turning against her and all that codswallop, that it should have been Harys who must have been put out of her misery and not Emily, who had a whole life ahead of her with me – ,” Sirius stopped, his emotions catching hold of his voice, finally.
Peter made a stifled cry, his expression horrified, while Remus looked aghast. James looked pained as he gently squeezed Sirius’ arm, reassuring him that they were there to listen.
"And this back fired because?” Remus asked gently.
He knew Sirius was insensitive at times, and wouldn’t really harm Harys, but he also knew for weeks that Harys had blamed herself for the deaths of the muggleborns and the muggles at the infernal death-hold of You-Know-Who. Despite his repeated reasoning of her non-invincibility, somehow Maitri Harys had always connected her newly-discovered Whisperer-blood to that and her own latent discovery of it, and that it didn’t really matter to her if she died saving others, but that she survived when others died.
Remus was aware that Harys felt unnecessary guilt concerning MacArthur’s death, and was surprised to know that she had stood up for herself, somehow, and made Sirius’ accusations rebound on himself.
“She told me she was tortured by You-Know-Who,” Sirius said, his voice finally empty of emotions. “And that she had been physically injured several times just because the evil git was angry that she was a Slytherin and a lowly muggleborn, and that she would have died if she knew that would have saved Emily. And she accused me of dragging Emily and her entire family into this mess, and that my Black name was the one that twisted her brain and brought her death, and not the horrific memories of what had happened to her family.”
Sirius would not have imagined the room could get any quieter than at that moment, when it felt like even their breathing had ceased for a long minute. Four adolescent boys sat in that quicksand of sound, sinking in the inappropriate truth in the accusations of another angry adolescent.
No matter how much James detested Harys, he knew she was spot-on about the issue, and he knew Remus and Peter would agree with her, too. But, on the other hand, Sirius was their best friend, who was, after all, just a fifteen year old boy stuck in a dangerous family, just a little boy who made the same mistake everyone his age were allowed to, except those with his surname.
It was, finally, James who broke the piercing silence.
"My parents may be willing to adopt you,” he said, trying to lighten up. “Merlin knows why you still call yourself Black – you practically live over at my place during most of the holidays, and for who knows what, my parents seem to like you more than they like me. I bet that might lessen your name screwing things up – at least the dark part of it.”
Peter chuckled at the proposal, and Remus smiled a little. Sirius found himself close to tears when he realized this was the way they showed him they weren’t leaving his side, but sucked it up and cracked a watery smile.
“Nah, Potter’s a pretty potty name,” he joked back, showing signs of returning to his old, jovial self. “Besides, it mught just irk my family when I become an Auror; just imagine the headlines: AUROR BLACK CAPTURES DARK WIZARDS WITH SAME SURNAME. Bound to irritate Mother dearest to the maximum.”
"I’m not sure about that,” Remus said skeptically. “But I’m sure you’re never getting a job in Daily Prophet with your really soddy skills in wording headlines.”
“You’re a prat, Moony!”
“Careful, Prongs. I’ve heard it isn’t good for people with inflated heads like yours.”
“Oi, half-breed, wait till tomorrow night!” James grinned at his friend. “Then we’ll see who’s the bigger, prancier idiot.”
“Atleast I’m not the one with two forks for a head accessory!”
Sirius grinned widely as James and Remus bantered. Peter laughed hard, rocking back and forth on his chair when Remus went into detail, describing James’ stag form, remarking about how tame the animal was, compared to a wolf. James retaliated. Remus snapped back smartly.
When Madam Pomfrey found them an hour later, all four of them were laughing hard and shoving playfully at each other, making comments about various animals. The irate mediwitch threw them out after James commented that Pomfrey would probably turn into a really frightening hen had she been an Animagus.
“He meant well, Poppy,” Sirius whined. “You are like a mother hen to us!”
“Enough of this cackling business, Black,” she snapped, waving her wand over him. The pillows fluffed themselves up and the sheets stretched themselves smooth where he wasn’t lying upon. “You still have to take your potions.”
Sirius grimaced as he swallowed two vials of utter bitterness. “Can I leave now?”
“You’re staying the night,” Pomfrey told him firmly. “I’ll be monitoring your nerve system patterns during your dreams – just in case the panic sets in again. Professor Slughorn is brewing up something to keep that in check.”
“Am I really that prone to panic attacks?”
Madam Pomfrey sighed and sat down on the chair James had vacated.
“Listen, Sirius, I had to do a thorough check over you when you were unconscious,” she said. “And I found that you were subjected to more injuries than just accidents in school.”
Sirius looked at her solemnly, wondering whether she was talking about Cousin Bella’s curses or his Animagus scruffles with Remus. He gulped, wondering what excuse he could give about the second one. “And?”
"I can guess that you had been subjected to a few not very legal curses,” she replied, her eyes narrowing. “Now, this is not my field of expertise – finding out the kind of curses. My job is to only rectify the damage caused on a person, and I found several things out of ordinary in your cells, boy. You have been subjected to anomalic curses, or indulged in physical muggle behaviours resulting in tissue and muscle strains, whether by fights you pick or crossfires, you have been hurt and not administered healing.” She matched his stare, not once doubting her own words. “The stress has been built up on your nerves for many weeks, though much more than I would have anticipated for you to hold it in. If I hear Lupin correctly, you have lost someone dear to you last summer, is that right?”
Sirius swallowed and nodded, lowering his eyes. He didn’t understand much, but it was clear that his nerves were frayed, and should have been fried by now, if not for the emotional buffer that his animagus transfiguration had provided.
“Oh, Sirius,” Poppy said sadly. “You do realize that those who truly love us never leave us, don’t you?” She caught hold of his hand and slowly directed it to rest over the middle of his chest. “They’re in here, always with us. Now, do you think Ms. MacArthur would have wanted you to kill yourself over losing her? Shouldn’t you be living enough lives for yourself and her?”
Sirius watched Poppy Pomfrey go with a sad smile, and wondered how the witch was able to dispatch such deep philosophy while saving the school from sicknesses at the same time. And for the first time in months, he tried to push his emotions back and consider the words of those who still considered him a friend, despite his crazy mood swings and relashings. James. Remus. Peter. Poppy. Emily.
He took a deep breath and closed his eyes. Maitri.
Sirius knew that none of his friends wanted him to waste away in this state of nervous panic that he was subjecting himself to by repeatedly reliving the nightmares of the terrible summer of 1975. He knew he must not let his life suffer the way it did, that no one should live with the knowledge that their scars could be healed and choose not to, but suffering had seemed right. It was, after all, the one way he could traditionally mourn the loss of Emily. What else could he do, after all? Rebel openly against the most powerful wizard in the nation and run away from his own blood family?
What family? His mind asked snidely. Regulus chooses to fraternize with Severus Snape more, Narcissa has become a Malfoy in all but name, Bellatrix savours his pain, his father finds him incompetent and his mother hates him a little more every passing day since he was sorted into Gryffindor.
In contrast, James’ parents offered him refuge every time the cursings got worse, every time he needed an escape. Remus’ parents treated him like their own child. Peter’s mother was more proud of Sirius than she was of Peter. James was there for him, through success and failure, through loss or gain. Remus never let him slack, whether academically or otherwise. Peter believed in him and James more than anyone else – like he was a younger brother looking up to his big brothers to amaze and bedazzle him.
His family, Sirius mused sadly, was not the one which he was bound to by blood, but the one he had forged over years with friendship. It was the family that was always there for him, always believed in him, and always supported him. It the family for which Sirius would not hesitate to give up his life to protect.
And in that momentuous realization, Sirius healed from that tear in his heart that used to belong to Emily Rose MacArthur. There were scars, yes, terrible, terrible scars from his loss of the girl he loved, but he now knew it was the one edge he needed to be pushed outside the dark circle of the part of his family that worshipped pureblood-ism and Voldemort.
Sirius had never felt this free. He doubted whether it was from the calming droughts he had ingested, or from the other, strong pain-relieving potion that he had been forcefed in order to numb the pain of his nerves getting healed, but Sirius did not doubt whether it was, indeed, true; he was free of his impending obligations with his family, he was free of the guilt over Emily’s death, now that it was easier to think of her as a part of him instead of a corpse with red eyes, and Sirius was, finally, free to do as he liked, since he had three best friends to live, and die, for.
Severus Snape was extremely suspicious of Remus Lupin and was deperate to find out what the Gryffindor was apparently suffering from, and no matter how many times Lily Evans tried to dissuade him against the notion, Severus wasn’t giving up on his sleuthing.
But even then, Severus wasn’t exactly sure what motivated him to visit Sirius Black in the Hospital Wing a day after the latter had been confined to the Wing.
Every other student enjoyed the spare Saturday morning at the Hufflepuff-Ravenclaw match while Severus had been in the library, listening to two fourth year firls discussing about the elder Black’s enamouring features and his unfortunate current disposition. Minutes later, he surprised himself by walking into the Hospital Wing.
Severus knew that Poppy Pomfrey was at Hogsmeade, placing orders at St. Mungo’s from the Post Office and the Ravenclaw NEWT student who was supposed to be an in-school intern for the medi-witch was sitting at the medic’s chair, buried in the latest issue of The Healer. The girl, a seventh-year Slytherin by the name of Diane Wilson, nodded towards a closed-off cubicle when he asked her for Sirius Black.
“Ah-Poppy, can I -,” Sirius started and stopped abruptly when he realized that his visitor was not Madam Pomfrey. His eyes hardened. “Come to gloat, have you?” he hissed at Severus.
“I certainly cannot tell you how enjoyable it is,” Severus snapped back with a smirk. “That our positions of power and ridicule are now switched.”
Sirius stared at the greasy boy for a minute before sniggering.
“If you weren’t so evil,” Sirius said, laughing. “I would still be exerting my power of ridicule on your pompous head, you know?”
Severus’ look of annoyance deepened and his smirk became a scowl. He glanced at the table beside Sirius, where his wand was placed and back at the boy.
“What is to stop me from hexing you senseless when you are here, Black?” he asked, picking up Sirius’ wand from the table and twirling it in his fingers. It was hawthorne, like his own, and was strange to hold. Severus looked at Sirius to note his reaction, but the boy did not seem to care much; there was irritation on his face, not livid anger. Severus put the wand back down, disappointed and intrigued.
“What are you here for, Snape?” Sirius asked, not making any sudden movements as he watched the other boy act place his wand back on the table. “Don’t you have any other bloody prejudiced git to meet and discuss your petty dark lord with?”
“Contrary to your beliefs, Black,” Severus replied, surprising himself by being utmost polite and non-violent. “We gits do not gather into groups to discuss about the wizard who is trying to make a better world for us. We do what you oafs do – keep our strengths in numbers, and unlike you, we have enough brains to count, too.”
“Har, har,” Sirius said drily. “So why don’t you go join your gitty group and leave me alone? Since you have brains, I suppose you can use them to invent ideas that could actually make you less evil than more.”
Severus narrowed his eyes on Sirius. “That wasn’t even funny, Black,” he remarked. “Aren’t you supposed to be the heart and soul of Gryffindor cheerfulness?”
"Gryffindor cheerfulness being the key phrase, Snivellus. Now you are really annoying me. Where’s that brain you said you had? Did you pour it into one of your foulest potions?”
“Pity your friend, the veritable Mr.Lupin is not as snarky as you are,” Severus said, enjoying the view of Sirius’s face becoming more twisted with irritation. “Maybe, if he were as irresponsible towards life in general as you are, his indiscretions may seem more logical.”
“You’re talking illegible again, Snivelly,” Sirius spat back. “And unlike you, Remus uses his brain to communicate, not confuse. It’s a wonder you even get to classes without anyone helping you, but then again, you could be using a Directive potion, which keeps you an ugly, evil, greasy, tosspot.”
“There’s something wrong with Remus Lupin, is there not?” Severus asked, brushing away the insults. “His reasons, unlike what you claim, aren’t all that convincing to me, Black. And you’re hiding it from the entire school for some reason, are you not?”
Something struck Sirius incredibly funny about this situation. Here was a Slytherin dark-wizard-wannabe, claiming that he was intelligent, and demanded to know what was Remus’ problem. Sirius knew he didn’t even have to use so much of his own brain to keep count of the days Remus did not attend class and find out the reasons in his second year. He grinned at Snape, who was stupid, which fact was all more clear with the new Mood Lightening potion (of course, Pomfrey had a different name for it, and Sirius didn’t remember it) coursing through his body.
“He’s dangerous, isn’t he?” Snape demanded again, furious now that Sirius was grinning at him. “Lupin is harbouring some disease that is dangerous to all the students – he’s going to get someone killed!”
“He’s no more dangerous than you, Snivellus,” Sirius replied, still grinning. “If I were you, I’d worry about that greasy hair, which is a health hazard. In a few years people are going to choke at the sight of you, and all you worry about is if Remus is sick.”
Severus leaned forward, jaw tightened and a vein pulsing on his temple. “If he’s so tame, why don’t you tell me where he disappears off to every month?”
Sirius, still grinning, leaned even forward, keeping his face a few inches in front of Snape. “I guess the best way is to follow him.”
Severus felt mulish. “I tried,” he muttered. “The Whonping Willow does not allow anyone but Lupin to get close.”
Sirius dropped his voice low. “What if I told you there’s a knot about the Willow’s roots, which, when touched, will stop the tree for a few minutes – for as long as one needs to get into a secret tunnel?”
Severus forgot to smirk, forgot to scowl, forgot to sneer, as he took in Black’s words. They sounded prophetic, like something Professor Nostradamus would tell when he predicted the outcome of an event that was to happen thirty years later on a Pacific tectonic plate. Severus almost forgot to keep breathing when he realized that Sirius Black was telling him the actual truth about his own friend.
Severus left the Hospital Wing, not daring to even let loose a smile in fear of jeopardizing the information that had newly been imprinted in his mind. Now, all that mattered to him was getting the Headboy to pair his Prefect patrol with Lupin and reserve the slot for the dungeons and the ground floor. The fact that his prefect partner stood him up will give him enough reason to counteract his little trip to Whomping Willow.