The Sugar Quill
Author: Mincot (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: Andantino  Chapter: default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

Andantino

Summary: Sirius finds out, most reluctantly, that he has something in common with Snape.

Disclaimer: I do not own JK Rowling's characters or world. They are all hers. Dang it.

Author's Note: Okay, so I lied in A Ministry Christmas--I am beginning to realize that "my" childhood Sirius is indeed a musician! Thanks go to many people: first and foremost Alkari for the conversation that sparked this story, and for lending me Remus Lupin's duel with Severus Snape (a.k.a. the butterfly incident, Sirius' musical partnership with Fiona, and Sirius' love of screamingly lurid socks. Also for excellent beta-reading. Thanks also to Durayan; she read and commented on an earlier draft, and helped me clarify what I wanted to do with the story. And many, many thanks to the members of the SQ Workshop for thoughtful commentary.

 

Andantino

(November 1974)

"How the devil did you do that?" James Potter asked, staring at the chessboard. "Hey, Remus, did you see what Sirius just did? And here I had him all set up to lose."

Sirius made a cheerful tsking sound and surveyed the wreckage. Shards of glittering ivory chips lay scattered over the board, while a few dispirited white pawns huddled at the board's far end, muttering in voices too low to hear. The black queen coursed triumphantly back and forth through the wreckage, and the black king swept his sword about in graceful, deadly arcs. When he came too close to the defeated white pawns, they would shout at him: "Oy, you there, watch your bloody great sword, you nearly lopped off my ear, what d'you think you're playing at?!"

Remus glanced up from the depths of a deep armchair and laid aside Peter's latest comic strip-Snape in potions class trying to find an antidote to an ancient spell that tattooed pink butterflies on the skin. So far the strip had made the rounds not only of Gryffindor, but of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff. "No, but it's probably good for you." He ignored James' outraged glare. "Well, you have to lose sometime. Anyway, I didn't need to see it; I heard it; Sirius, did you charm those chessmen? They're the loudest bunch I've ever heard."

"Didn't have to; they were just exasperated at Potter's generalship. Or lack thereof. And they're his chessmen, too. Guess he still has visions of pink butterflies dancing in his head." Sirius scrambled up from the floor where he had been sprawled, waved his wand at the chess set, and the piles of ivory chips reassembled themselves into beautiful, elaborately-carved chess pieces. The two sides settled into formation: the kings bowed to one another and the queens courtesied: each side trooped into its well-worn storage place. Sirius reached over and closed the chess set.

"A little showy, but effective," Remus judged. "How long has that set been in your family, James?"

"Long enough that they ought to listen to me, not to him. You know what this means-we've just got to try a re-match. I need to get back my winning record. So we sweeten the stakes. Loser gets to sneak out and get us all snacks."

Sirius grinned. "You're on. We can use my set, if you like. But it'll have to wait until tomorrow evening."

James protested. "Hey, you can't run out on a life-or-death challenge match! What's so important, anyway?

"Music practice, and I'm going to be late if I don't hurry up. That's why I didn't have fun with those defenses of yours. But I've been skiving off on my practice lately, and Fiona will kill me if I keep missing the fourth measure in the passacaglia." He grinned again at James and hunted about for his book satchel, finally locating it half under Remus' armchair. "However, Remus can easily make mincemeat of you in my stead, if you're feeling masochistic."

"I thought you practiced in the morning, Sirius," Remus said, pulling himself out of the armchair as James, muttering, set up the chess set again. The white pieces were trying to convince him to play black this time.

Sirius shouldered his bag. "You both know that all four of us were up until two last night finishing detention for ..... decorating ..... Snape's robes ....."

"And books, and hair!" James had a blissful look on his face. "Time delay pink butterflies, all over. He looked like the really ugly wallpaper some Muggle friends of my parents have in their living room. You know, I think he still has some butterflies on the backs of his hands. Remus, we owe you a lifelong debt for your heroic performance in that duel ...."

".....so I couldn't finish that essay McGonagall assigned us, and I had to write it during my usual practice time this morning. Therefore I am practicing tonight," Sirius finished. He grinned at the other two, and skinned out of the common room before either of them could say anything else.

He set off toward the practice rooms, located in a tower just off the Great Hall. Quickly he checked the pocket of his robes for his fingerless gloves. He hoped that the practice rooms wouldn't be too cold; the house elves were pretty good about starting fires regularly when they knew a student used a particular room, but the rest of the time the rooms were left unheated. And this late at night ....although students did practice at night, after all, so the rooms would probably still be warm.

As he negotiated the staircase he thought about finger exercises....scales to start off with, of course; perhaps Czerny forty-five through forty nine after that; Czerny was a good warm-up for working on the counterpoint of Bach. Sirius liked the clean discipline of practice scales and exercises. Somehow their repetitive nature let him relax, let him just exist in that precise non-verbal moment, let him enter a still and focused place that never failed to help him think through problems. Sometimes, when he was writing an essay for Binns or McGonagall and was stuck, unable to figure out what should come next or what the real point of a particular paragraph was, he would play finger exercises on the blank table top; when he stopped, he usually had found a solution.

The practice room he and Fiona both favoured lay at the far end of the hallway. Although it did not look externally any different from the other practice rooms, both Sirius and Fiona felt that the acoustics were subtly better. -Maybe it is just the piano, he thought idly as he headed down the hallway. The piano in that room had a responsive touch, and a clear but soft tone. All the pianos were in tune, but many of them had harsher, almost tinny tones from too much use and too little real care.

He reached the door, thinking about pianos, and found that it would not open. Looking up, he realized that a large red "Occupied" sign blinked on the door. He turned back in disappointment. Of course; this was the most popular room, and if anyone was practicing late, he or she would choose this room. As he hesitated, mentally running over the remaining rooms and thinking which of their pianos had the best tone, he heard the pianist within.

Sirius could identify most of the students who practiced in the morning by their touch, but this student was not one of them. Sirius listened intently. The student was playing Bach, one of Henderson's transcriptions of the Eight Organ Preludes. After a moment, he realized that it was "Herzlich thut mich verlangen," one of his own favorites. The unknown student's touch was gentle, sure; the phrasing exquisitely sensitive; the counterpoint clean, supportive. -Who is that? He's ... she's ....good. Very good.

The sound of the prelude faded away. Sirius was about to knock on the door and ask if he could have the room when the student was done, and see whether the pianist would like to come join his practice group, when the music began again.

Not the clean sound of Bach, this, but the darker music of Sibelius. The Swan of Tuonela. Sirius settled down in the hallway, unabashedly listening. If he missed his practice time he would just have to get up earlier for a few days to make up for skiving off tonight, but it would be worth the bother. He had never heard a piano sing as if it were a cello, never heard anyone who could make him hear loneliness, and sorrow, and proud desolation, could work it into his very bones with every delicate touch of the keys, could open up a windswept vista of wide, treeless plains, cold and dusky. He sat, head bowed, focusing. He himself played extremely well and with sensitivity, although he usually stayed with the clarity of Bach or Handel, or the joyousness of Mozart, and he knew, with that clear self assessment that came with long practice, that this pianist probably could not match his tone or skill in Mozart or even any of the Romantics. But he knew he could not make the piano give off the darkly lustrous sound he was hearing, even muffled through a closed practice room door. -Who is it? He quickly catalogued, and as quickly rejected, every student he knew who played. -None of them have this kind of touch. Fiona needs to meet this person.

The music stopped again, and this time Sirius heard the rustling of paper and music books. He looked up, eager to see who the pianist had been, when more music spilled out, a liquid rush of notes, without the desolation of the Sibelius, but with the clear complexity and virtuosity of the Bach. It was no piece Sirius had ever heard, and he could not place its origin. It reminded him somewhat of Howells, or Gurney. It did not have their joyousness, their certainty, but it was clearly a confident voice of its own. -I have to know who this is!

At length the piano stopped, and several minutes after that the door opened, and Sirius looked up, and swallowed. Hard. It couldn't be. It was impossible. It was not just impossible but incomprehensible.

He looked up into the sneering face of Severus Snape.

--Snape? This can't be right. I'm seeing things. But all the components were there: greasy black hair, sallow skin, hooked nose, and the faintest hint of a pink butterfly lurking on the back of Snape's hand.

"Spying on me, Black?"

It was one of the few times in his life that Sirius found himself at a loss for words. His throat worked, and finally he managed, "I didn't know you played, Snape." He paused, thinking that this would end the conversation, but Snape continued to glare at him. Slowly, trying to reconcile his image of the other boy with his honest respect for the other's genuine musical skill, he said, "You're quite good!" He hoped that the surprise he felt was not reflected in his voice, but Snape's face darkened, and he realized that Snape had heard his amazement. -Oh, smart move, Sirius. He slowly got to his feet.

"Quick save, Black. Not quick enough by half, though, just like you. Not very bright, either, but then you don't have your sidekick and your lapdogs around with you to feed you lines. You didn't think I could even read music, did you?"

Sirius bit his tongue to keep from a heated reply. -I didn't think you would even care. But Snape was too good a pianist. Trying to retrieve the situation, Sirius said, stumbling a bit, "Er--what was that last piece, Snape? It was quite good --- really complex, but the harmonies were unusual, and yet it all sounded just right --- I didn't recognize it, and I'd like to get a look at the score."

"So there's something Mister Talented Black doesn't know, is there?" Snape replied acidly. "Why should I make life any easier for you? In any case, it is none of your business. What are you doing here, anyway? You usually practice in the morning."

Sirius frowned, stung. He didn't like Snape any more than Snape liked him, but he was annoyed that the other boy had brushed off his tentative peace offer-at least as far as music was concerned. -He really is such a git! "What does that have to do with anything?" he asked, finally letting his irritation show.

"You think I actually want to share practice space with you, Black? I'd rather bed down with a drooling Yallerhound, thank you very much." Snape turned on his heel and stalked down the hall, the sleeves of his robe flaring sharply. Halfway down the corridor he whirled around. "And stay away from here in future, Black. You have your time, and I claim mine."

--Oily greasy git, Sirius thought, watching as Snape rounded the corner and disappeared from sight. -Didn't have to get all shirty about it; all he had to do was tell me. He gathered up his music, walked into the abandoned practice room, and then turned away. One of the other rooms had a piano that was almost as good; it would do for tonight's practice. The thought of touching the piano keys after Snape revolted Sirius; the idea of sitting on a bench still warm from Snape's body was an unendurable thought. -How could he be that good a pianist? How could Snape -- anyone that nasty, for that matter, be that good?

As Sirius let his surprise and anger flow away from him into the five-finger exercises, into the old ivory and wood of the piano (--Wood's old, he heard his Scots nanny saying gently, --Wood's old, child, like stone: give everything to it; it can take it; you won't hurt it and it'll be gone), he began to plan. If Snape wanted to behave like a git, then he deserved the consequences. And if he thought he could keep something secret from Sirius, he could think again.

*** *** ***

Over breakfast Sirius' news was the main topic of conversation. "I'm not saying he isn't bright enough," James said, snagging the last piece of toast, "--we have to work too hard in Potions to beat him at it, and we don't always make it even then. But I just have a hard time picturing him playing the piano."

"So do I, and I was there," Sirius said. "Gave me the grues, I might add; I almost wiped the keys off before Fiona and I started in this morning."

"I'm not talking about the quality of his playing," James answered. "I wouldn't know good playing if it reached up and bit me on the nose. But I mean, the piano's a Muggle instrument, and most composers are Muggles, and Snape's never seemed too interested in Muggle things."

"Mozart was a wizard, and Debussy. And Brumel, Tallis, Rimsky-Korsakov, Humperdinck, and Mahler. But you're right, they're really rare; most composers aren't wizards. So, yeah, it's definitely strange."

'Well, you didn't actually see him playing, did you? Maybe he has an exceptionally talented house-elf," Remus said, grinning. James choked, and sprayed toast all over the table.

Beside Remus, Peter was doodling in the border of his Transfiguration notes: Snape playing piano while oil from his hair dripped onto the keyboard and puddled in gleaming pools at his feet. Moved by some impulse he couldn't name, Sirius said, "Peter, don't put this in the comic strip, okay?"

Peter nodded without looking up, scribbled through his drawing. "I wasn't going to."

"Why not?" James asked.

Peter thought for a moment, and then said softly, "You know, I can see Snape as a pianist. He seems like the sort that needs a secret life. It's too real-I shouldn't put that on display."

James shifted in his chair. "What do you mean, Peter, a secret life?"

"Never mind his secret life," Sirius cut in, seeing where Peter was going and not too keen to follow up Peter's line of reasoning, at least not that minute. "Look, he was even more of a git than usual, and I think it's time for some payback."

"Remember that prank Tony played on you last Christmas?" Remus asked, and at Sirius' nod, said, "Why go to all the bother of figuring out just how he did it if we're not going to use it?"

"That the one that made all the church statuary come alive?" James asked. He snickered. "Pity there's nothing to animate up in those practice rooms. I'd give anything to see that nuisance's face when the piano started dancing."

Sirius ducked under the table and began rummaging through his satchel. "Quill. Quill. Ink. Parchment. Not that parchment. This parchment. Aha. Okay, we can modify it. Your butterfly charm, Remus .... "

"We've used that one," said Peter. "I know, what about one that turns his hair pink?"

"It would be enough just to make it clean," James muttered.

Remus whacked him on the head with a napkin. "No spell in the world could do that, Potter. Merlin couldn't do it."

Meanwhile, Sirius had been scribbling furiously, and finally looked up from the table. "Here, check this over."

"Sirus," James began, his tone rather exasperated, but as he scanned the parchment he first began to nod, then to smile, and finally, to snicker. "Brilliant," James said after a minute. He handed to parchment to Remus.

"That'll get him mad," Remus observed, grinning as widely as James. "Hey, don't you mean 'capillae' here?"

'Huh?" Sirius snatched back the parchment. "Yeah, you're right; thanks, Remus." He scribbled for a minute more, and then gave the parchment to Peter, who scanned it carefully.

"Well?" Sirius asked.

Peter looked up, the light in his eyes almost maniacal. "Marauders' Seal of Approval," he intoned. He looked over at Remus. "We can use your camera, right?"

Remus nodded. "I can rig it so I can work it from several feet away."

"All we have to do is follow him," Sirius said. "There's that passageway, the one behind the portrait of Alienor the Anxious, that goes right up to the other end of the hall. We can wait there and then be ready outside the practice room door."

As one, they turned around to look at Snape, who sat alone at the far end of the Slytherin table. "At dinnertime?" James asked, and Sirius nodded.

"Gentlemen, I hate to interrupt wondrous thoughts of well deserved pranking, but we're going to be late for Transfiguration if we don't get a move on," Remus said. Peter glanced up at the High Table to find that McGonagall was leaving the table, and he began cramming his quills, ink, and parchment back into his satchel.

As they left the Great Hall, James said to Sirius, "Have you thought about how we're going to deal with a revenge prank?"

*** *** ***

Sirius thought later of how little time action could take. No sooner had Snape exited the Great Hall after dinner, apparently heading toward the practice rooms, when James and Peter suddenly opened a door in the hallway. It was unfortunate that it opened outward, and that James had opened it rather forcefully, as he was mimicking some Quidditch moves for Peter and was moving at somewhat of a speedy pace. It was even more unfortunate that Snape just happened to be on the wrong side of the door as it flew open.

At that point, Sirius remembered, action slowed down. He saw the door connect with Snape's overlarge nose, knocking the other boy backward, and sending his satchel sliding across the room in an insectile skitter. Books, parchment, quills, and scores fanned out across the floor. Sirius was already diving for the music as Snape hit the ground, one hand clapped to his face. The other, however, flew out by his side, and Sirius tripped over it as he snatched at the satchel. His left foot caught in the straps of his own bookcase, pulling it and scattering its contents alongside Snape's.

Sirius snatched up the scattered parchments and books, rapidly sorting through his own material and Snape's. James and Peter, who had spilled out into the hall, were kneeling near Snape, who was groaning. Remus watched from a position in the doorway.

Before Snape could say anything, Sirius had Snape's bookbag neatly gathered into a pile, and the spells that as Snape played would send luridly-colored musical notes into the air and suspend them from his hair like balloons safely embedded into his scores.

"Gib be dat!" Snape bellowed, pushing past James and Peter. As he rose, he cried out and fell back to the floor.

"I was just sorting out yours from mine, Snape; you don't really think I want anything your greasy fingers have touched, do you?"

Snape tried to rise again, and Sirius frowned as he saw blood dripping from between Snape's fingers, still firmly clapped over his nose.

From the doorway, Remus said, "Snape, that looks nasty. Maybe you'd better go see Madam Pomfrey. And I think you've sprained your ankle."

Snape favored him with a deeply malevolent look. "Dell be domeding du, Lupin. Ab going do make sure do ged dedendion."

"What was that?" Remus asked, his voice bright.

"I think he said he was going to make sure we got detention," Sirius answered. "Come on, Snape, it was an accident. We didn't mean to hurt you." --We really didn't, he added silently. --Now, a nice embarrassing sprawl never hurt anyone.

"Lige hell," Snape growled. Ignoring Peter's outstretched hand, Snape pushed himself upright. He nearly collapsed, but James came up beside him and supported him. Peter looked at Sirius and made a face.

"Come on, then," James said. "Sirius, you're closer to our heights, you come along on his other side ...."

"Ged away frob be!"

"All right, then, just stay close if we need you on the stairs or something. Peter, you get his bookbag and Sirius'; Remus, could you go ahead and warn Madam Pomfrey?"

With much struggling and a good bit of cursing on Snape's part (Sirius, listening, thought he was actually rather creative and resolved to remember a few of the choicer combinations for future use, although he admitted it was hard not to laugh at adenoidal-sounding shouts), they finally delivered Snape to Madam Pomfrey. She looked at them long and hard as they reassured her that it had been an accident, but after a final measuring glance told them all to return to the Gryffindor common room.

"All that hard work," James began, as they headed back to the common room via a detour to the kitchens, but Sirius grinned.

"We didn't get detention, either. And I didn't put a limit on when the spell starts. Whenever he plays--now or next week, it'll go off."

"Yeah, but this way we won't know when he starts to play, and we won't get a picture of his face when it does," Remus pointed out.

They trudged up the stairs in silence for a little while. As they reached the Fat Lady's portrait and gave her the password ("pickled snails"), Peter said, "We could work out a music-activated timer for the camera, Remus. Even if someone else used the room for a few days, all it'll cost us is a roll of film or so. Sirius can set it when he goes up to practice tomorrow morning."

"Oh, yeah, just add more time to my morning," Sirius complained good-naturedly.

James shook his head. "No, that's a good idea, Peter."

"I know it is, you prat," Sirius said, whapping James with his satchel.

"Ow!"

"It's a very good idea."

It was going to be a busy night.

*** *** ***

The four worked until quite late. Sirius still had practicing to make up for Professor Leider, and all four of them still had to finish a Transfiguration essay for McGonagall and a Potions essay for Heldin in addition to their pranking plans. It was only with great difficulty that Sirius pulled himself out of bed in the morning. The other four were still sleeping: James snoring, his arm wrapped around his pillow; Remus sprawled half-off his four-poster; and Peter curled in a tight, warm little ball of blankets, with one of James' shirts wrapped around his head. --How'd he do that? Sirius wondered, as he groggily rooted for some socks; he found a pair and pulled them on. One was purple with mustard and chartreuse spots, but the other (--erch, got to change that later) was plain blue. "Remember to brush your teeth!" James' mirror advised him as he passed it. "Don't even bother with the hair."

"I'm not James, you stupid mirror!" Sirius hissed back. He hadn't bothered to unpack his satchel the night before; pulling the closest set of robes--he thought they felt like James'--one-handedly over his head, he snatched up his satchel and headed out the door.

Even stopping for the most cursory of a wash-up in the boy's lav didn't delay him much, and he got to the practice room before any of the other morning students. After quickly concealing Remus' camera--he would set it when he and Fiona left-- he began to work through finger exercises. Simple warm-ups, gradually increasing the complexity of the patterns, in each key in turn, until there was nothing but hands and eyes and the touch of the worn, warm keys under his fingers; the rhythm of his body and the rhythm of the music all in one whole.

When he had warmed up, he stopped playing, stretched his arms and shoulders. Without really looking he pulled the score for the passacaglia form his bookbag, but it had caught on something; he tugged it free, and a tangle of loose parchment spilled out. He put the score on the music rack, and was swiftly gathering up the rolls of parchment when he stopped, surprised. One of the essays was not in his handwriting, but in a cramped, fine, black hand. --Snape, he thought. I must have put one of his essays in with mine.

A sudden, cold thought struck him, and he unrolled every piece of parchment in his bag. All his own essays were there, both those he had to hand in today and those which had already been marked and returned. Nothing for Snape to use in a prank. He quickly unrolled Snape's essay, noting that several other sheets fell to the floor as he did so. The essay was unmarked, due this afternoon, for Heldin. --He would have it finished early, Sirius thought with some annoyance as he scanned it. --No wonder we have to work so hard to beat him! For a moment he considered ... improving ... the essay, but then realized that it would be only too obvious where the essay had been. He started to roll up the parchment, and then reached down for the other parchment sheets.

Music. They were music. --Damn, I missed some, was his first thought. Then he realized that these sheets were hand-written, in Snape's script. The first was a copy of selected Czerny exercises. --Wonder why he copies these out, when you can get them at Muggle music shops? Does he hate Muggles that much? Or ... it could be an assignment Lieder gave him, an aid to seeing structure, maybe? Once, when he had been having trouble with a particular set of phrases, his Muggle choir-master had made him copy out the section by hand a full three times, until he really saw, and heard, the way the phrase ought to be sung. Reluctantly, Sirius thought, --But Snape's too good; he shouldn't have had to copy out Czerny exercises. Another thought struck him. Maybe ... maybe he can't ... Sirius stopped; that thought was straying into the dangerous waters of pity.

He did not recognize the music on the second and third rolls until he began to read it closely. Suddenly still, as he thought through the opening bars, he realized: this was the piece he had heard Snape play yesterday. --Ha, you git, and you thought I wouldn't find out! But there was no composer's name on the sheets. Sirius frowned and swung back to the piano. The Czerny exercises were not named, either; Sirius' familiarity with them had let him identify them. --Okay, focus on playing this through a couple times. That would be enough to let him recognize it if he saw it again.

A quick run-through, to block out the major pieces. --That's odd, he thought, as he came to the end of the second sheet of parchment, --There's room for more music on the parchment ... it's ruled for it ...but the music just peters out. Guess Snape didn't get around to copying it all down. No more thought; just clean harmonies, inventive passages; a sense of humor, even; not one Sirius would have thought of, but sharp, morbidly sarcastic. Ah, that's why it isn't right, it's seven against eleven, damn the composer. Go back. Strange rhythm for a piece like this, but it works. And again, that's right. Sounds right. Not a cheerful piece, this, but intelligent and compelling. Watch that fingering. This is almost as much fun as Bach, but not as clean ....

The door cracked open. Sirius jumped; that odd part of his mind that seemed to make detached observations at the strangest of moments thought inanely that this was certainly the week for slamming doors, and he hoped it hadn't sent the harp three doors down out of tune; and as he turned realized that someone was saying in an icy, malevolent voice, "Give it back, you thief."

--Thief! What does he think I ... that git. Sirius rolled his eyes and looked Snape over. Snape looked little the worse for wear. Aside from some faint bruising around his eyes and a brace on his ankle, he looked as nastily unhealthy as usual. His eyes were dark with anger, and his sallow skin had gone almost green with fury. "It got mixed in with my things when our bags collided," Sirius said, keeping his voice even with an effort--all that fuss over an essay and two incomplete copies. "I didn't find it until just now; you would have gotten it back at breakfast."

"After you ruined it--copied it--bruited it about the whole school ..."

Sirius rolled his eyes and handed the essay to Snape. "Since when does the rest of the school care about an essay for Heldin?" For a moment it seemed to Sirius as if Snape's body froze, and then coiled. --Like a snake. How appropriate.

"Not the essay. I always keep copies." Even Snape's voice had become a low hiss. "The rest of it! I know you have it, I heard you playing it." Swiftly he reached for the music on the music rack, and just as swiftly Sirius blocked him.

"Tell me first, who's the composer?" Sirius asked lightly, picking up the parchment and waving it at Snape.

Snape folded his arms. His nostrils flared and his mouth set. "Why should I tell you?"

"Because you were acting like such a prat yesterday. Now, tell me like a good boy, and I'll give you back the score." He tightened his hands on the parchment, and with some satisfaction he saw Snape's body tense. Again he waved the parchment at Snape, and this time Snape snatched at the music, but Sirius was slightly taller and was able to hold it out of reach. "Come on, Snape, tell. You didn't get around to copying the whole thing, that's clear ... "

Snape stopped, became quite still, save for a glitter in his eyes. --What is he up to? Sirius thought, recognizing the signs of someone thinking very fast.

Finally, Snape said, "Now you're going to let everyone know I can't afford to buy music," Snape said. He stepped backwards, eyeing Sirius. "Go right ahead, I don't care. Give it here, Black."

For the first time, Sirius noticed that Snape's robe was frayed a little at the sleeves, and one seam under his right arm was beginning to pull loose. Faint, light lines around the hem betrayed that the robe had been hemmed and let down several times. Sirius sighed. Snape was obviously hypersensitive about his family's lack of money, and while Sirius considered Snape's behavior fair game for teasing, real family issues were out of bounds; it just felt wrong to him. Besides, this wasn't going anywhere, and he had practicing to do. He had seen enough of the piece that he could recognize it if he saw it again, so he started to hand the parchment to Snape. As he did so, he stopped, eyes narrowed, and looked hard at the score, turning his back to Snape so he could block with his body any of Snape's grabs. And then he saw what he had been missing, and turned back to Snape. "You. You wrote it, didn't you?"

Snape glared at him, said nothing. Confirmation enough.

"Look, we were just going to play a prank on you, that's all. I really didn't mean to walk off with your music. But this is ... quite good, Snape. It's very good. Have you shown it to Lieder?" It hurt him to say the words, went against everything he wanted to believe of the other boy to admit the quality of the work. --But Peter sees it too, that clear part of his mind commented. --There's something there ... something better than the way he behaves ...Oh, bugger, this isn't going very well.

Honesty made him persist, "Here, in measure forty-three, you've got this really interesting set of harmonies, and here, you repeat it, but so quietly...and if you're going with it where I think you're going ..." --This is not happening. I am not getting enthusiastic about something Snape wrote. Even if it is good. But he wrote it. Maybe he isn't so bad...now that I think of it, he never sits with anyone, not even the other Slytherins ... "You know, you're really talented. Have you considered ..." Sirius swallowed hard, and made himself look squarely at Snape. He was good. Excellent, in fact. Maybe there was something .... "Have you considered practicing in the morning?" --If he accepts, I'll tell him the spells are there and how to remove them ...the others are going to kill me for this ...

"Just hand it over, Black, and stay away from my practice room in future. You'd have it all over the school in half a day, you and those asinine friends of yours."

Sirius' head snapped up. --My practice room? All over the school? What the bloody hell does he .... "Look, Snape, this is too real for pranks. This is just here in the music room; the others don't have to know, and I don't plan on telling them." He paused, and then said, diffidently, "Think about it, will you?"

Snape's face worked for a moment, but then became smooth, remote. "If there were any musicians worth bothering about in the morning, I might consider it, but there are not." He held out his hand. "So give it here, Black."

--Did he just ...Sirius' mouth tightened, and he could feel his shoulders getting tight. --Thanks for insulting Fiona, too, you cretin. He hurled the scroll back at Snape and snapped, "You may be talented, Snape, but you're also a brainless git. It's a wonder the notes don't slide right off the parchment, it's so slick with the oil from your head. It's a wonder it doesn't ruin the keyboard."

Snape sneered. "Oh, good ones, Black, I heard that level of insult years ago. Tell me, how long did it take you to work it out?"

Sirius took a deep breath. "Let me tell you something, Snape..."

"And just why should I care what you or your fancy friends think?" Snape replied, carefully rolling the parchment into a tight roll. "Not that you lot have ever had to work for anything. Just gets handed to you." He carefully tucked the parchment into a pocket in his robes, and then looked up. His face intent, his tone deliberate, he added, "Maybe that explains how badly you sight-read. I don't know why I was concerned about you seeing this score; it was immediately clear that you didn't understand a note of this music."

Sirius went utterly still with fury. --That's what I get for holding out an olive branch, he thought. --Far from welcoming it, sodding Noah here just broke it off and threw it in my face. "You really have no idea, do you, Snape? Nobody cares about how rich or poor your parents are ... " Sirius saw Snape blanch slightly, but ploughed onwards, "Nobody really cares about whether you have to copy music, or can buy full scores, or can have your own bloody orchestra! The only thing that should count is your playing ... and writing music like that! But you sneer at everything and make fusses over things nobody else even notices, and make every class a contest over who beats who ... you don't even listen when people give you compliments! No wonder nobody sits with you and everyone makes fun of you, when you act like this."

Snape looked at Sirius for a minute, his mouth working. Finally he muttered, "Get knotted," and stalked out of the room, slamming the door behind him.

Sirius sat for a moment. All the peace from his morning's practice had drained out of him. --Stupid git, he thought. -- I should have known better than to bother ... how can he write music like that?

Slowly he turned back toward the piano. Fiona would be coming soon, and he hadn't worked on the passacaglia. He pulled out his score, unrolled it and clamped it to the music rack, and began to play through his part, although his mind wasn't fully on his task. --You'd think he'd be all-out grateful to be included in something ...but if he's going to be like that, I suppose we're better off without him. As he worked, Sirius found, with a great deal of surprise, that at least part of him regretted the way their confrontation had ended, but he quickly smothered the feeling. --Stupid ... No. No more. Phrasing. Lightly through this measure, lightly, it's the violin's show. Timing. Retard ... and go. Not too fast. Andantino, remember? Flow. Flow.

Full stop. Sirius' head snapped up. Far down the corridor he heard the faint sound of Fiona's voice as she chatted with someone before coming to the practice room. --The camera. I didn't tell him about the bleeding camera. And even if he's looking for them, he'll never find all those traps we set. He sprang up and set the spell that would cause the camera to snap a picture of anyone at the piano bench; quickly added a time-delay so it wouldn't start until that afternoon. --And when those pictures come out ...he thought, beginning to grin widely, and went back to practicing.

He was working happily and most diligently when Fiona entered the room, and thinking of Bach.

END

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