The Sugar Quill
Author: Szandara (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Real Reason  Chapter: Default
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The Real Reason

The Real Reason


A missing scene from the Order of the Phoenix


By Szandara





Remus walked into the kitchen, shaking the rain from his cloak.  He had put on the kettle for tea before he noticed Sirius, so still was the figure at the table, his face hidden behind a curtain of dark hair, his head in his hands. 


"What’s wrong?" Remus asked quietly, pulling cups and plates from the old dresser with a flick of his wand.  He kept his voice calm, but a note of fear was ringing inside him.  For the past few months, Sirius had been constantly in motion, vibrating with the tension of being confined in his hated childhood home, unable to act.  Remus had teased him that after the cleaning, they would move on to replacing the floorboards he had worn out with his incessant pacing, but he had privately worried that Sirius would be unable to contain his frustrated energy, and do something dangerous and stupid.  It was why he had not fought harder against Padfoot’s excursion to Platform 9 3/4, which had seemed almost a reasonable risk, at least compared to some of the plans Sirius had come up with.   He had spent too much time talking Sirius out of mad plans, for finding Wormtail, for revenge.  But the refrain "Trust Dumbledore" seemed to be wearing as thin as the hall carpet, as thin as Molly Weasley’s patience. 


And this utter stillness, somehow, was worse.


Sirius did not lift his head until Remus set a steaming cup of tea before him.  He took a sip, reached out to add another lump of sugar, and drank again.  Remus watched patiently, not allowing the worry he felt to reach his face. 


"I’ve been remembering." Sirius’ voice was hoarse, and Remus sighed, hearing the weight of regret.  He had been feeling it too, in the two days since their fireplace conversation with Harry.   The incident by the lake had been all too typical of their fifth year at Hogwarts; they’d been so full of themselves.  With reason, they’d imagined.  They were, after all, clever enough to learn and perform the Animagus transformation, which McGonagall had said was a challenge to adult wizards, one she hadn’t mastered until she was almost thirty.   They had created the Marauder’s Map, and with it had gotten away with countless pranks and adventures for which they should have been expelled.  They got some of the highest marks in their year, James was a Quidditch star, Sirius had charm to spare. 


And he, Remus, had been transformed by their friendship and trust.  Arriving at school, he had been sure that he would go through life friendless and alone, isolated by his "condition," as his parents and Madam Pomfrey so delicately called it.  He could hardly believe that he had not one, but three close friends, and two of them were the most popular boys in the school.  He would do anything for them; after all, hadn’t they become Animagi for him? He knew Peter felt the same way: amazed and honored to be one of the Marauders, and a little unsure of his right to be part of the group; willing to do whatever it took to keep that place, even when common sense or fear said to hold back.   It was hard to criticize James and Sirius: quite simply, they were leaders, and he and Peter were followers.   And being their follower was still the best thing that had ever happened to him. 


"Me, too, Padfoot.  I hate the fact that Harry had to see James the way Snape saw him.  It’s not as if Harry has a lot of other memories to balance that one." Snape, thought Remus, probably didn’t have many happy memories to start with, and he was pretty sure none of them included James.  He buttered a slice of bread gloomily and put it in front of Sirius, his mind wandering.  Harry looked so much like James, but he was so different.  Better, Remus had to admit to himself.  He couldn’t imagine the Harry he knew being thoughtlessly cruel. 


But then, at fifteen Harry had been tested in ways James never had. 


"I need to explain things to him.  I wish I could have told him the whole story, but there wasn’t enough time.  Merlin’s shorts, when am I ever going to have time to actually be with him?" Sirius muttered.  "I can’t be his godfather the way James and Lily wanted, because I’m putting him in danger just by being near him!" He banged a fist on the table, making the plates rattle, and a teaspoon danced off the edge and fell to the floor with a dull clunk.  The stillness returned as Remus sipped his tea, ate his buttered bread.


"Tell him what, Padfoot?"


"The real reason Snape hates me so much." A pause.  Sirius turned toward Remus.  "I don’t think I ever told you, either.  Or James, for that matter.  He’s got good reason to hate me, and maybe even James, but I wish the greasy git wouldn’t take it out on Harry–he doesn’t even know what happened."


Remus lit a candle in the darkening kitchen, as he watched Sirius.  The man had more pain than anyone should have to bear, he thought.  He’d been punished enough for a thousand lifetimes, and he would keep punishing himself with guilt and regret.  And Remus knew that he could give his friend nothing, except the knowledge that he was not alone.  But he understood the value of that; every month of his teenage years he had learned it from this man, and their two lost friends. 


"So tell me.  The whole story.  It might make it easier if you tell me first."


Sirius’ shoulders sagged.  "All right.  But not over tea.  Pull out that bottle of Ogden’s you’ve been hiding from me, and we’ll go in the drawing room."




"Go and play with Severus.  This is an adult conversation." The drawing room doors shut, and two ten-year-old boys grinned at each other.  Sirius and Severus couldn’t remember a time when they hadn’t known each other, hadn’t been friends.   Their families visited often, for the Snapes and the Blacks were equals in lineage and wealth, comfortably part of the same proud social class, secure in their shared political opinions.  They considered their sons suitable companions for one another, and were pleased that they would attend Hogwarts in the same year.


The families had common views on childrearing, as well.  Affection and indulgence were not appropriate for boys who would belong to the ruling class of the wizarding world.  Strict rules, with an emphasis on education, respect for breeding, and good manners were what mattered.  Criticism was a far better teacher than praise.  Children knew their place: above house-elves and Muggles, but obedient to the adults in their lives, who would teach by example how to wield power. 


The two boys walked as swiftly as they dared to Severus’ room.  Though the long corridors of Snape Manor were made for running, they knew from experience the portraits of Sev’s long-dead ancestors would tell on them.   Sev rang the bell and haughtily ordered tea and chocolate biscuits from a nervous house-elf.  After a few games of exploding snap, they found themselves lying by the fire, talking.


"I wonder what they’re talking about down there," Sirius said, brushing the fringe of the elegant carpet.


"Dark magic, of course," Severus replied.  "My dad knows lots of it.  They had this dinner party the other night, and I heard them talking about it.  Best way to keep the halfbreeds in line, he said." He was practicing his father’s haughty tone, having noticed its effect on people. 


"My mum uses it on the house-elves,” Sirius mused.   “She’s always jinxing them with boils or something, whenever they don’t get something exactly right.”  He paused, picturing his mother.  “She’s hard to please.  I think we’re all supposed to read her mind and know what she wants, and if you don’t know before she asks you, you’re already in trouble." Sirius lay back, staring at the ceiling.  "I can’t wait to get to Hogwarts."


"I just hope I get to go," said Severus, pushing his hair out of his eyes.  "My dad says he doesn’t think I’ll learn what I need there, because they don’t teach Dark Arts.   He wants to send me to someplace called Durmstrang, but Mum says it’s too far away.  They’ve been arguing about it."


Sirius sat up.  "They can’t! You have to go to Hogwarts! Who will I hang out with if you’re not there? I know what, I’ll ask my parents to talk to them.  You know how your dad is with my dad." Severus smiled.  It was good to have Sirius for a friend.  Taller and better looking than Severus, he never seemed to be at a loss or afraid, although he seemed to go very still when his parents were present.




But Sardinia Snape lost the argument, as she usually did, and when Sirius Black boarded the Hogwarts Express, his friend was already miles away at Durmstrang Academy.  They had promised to keep in touch, but Sirius was quickly caught up in a new life, new friends, and new ideas.  James Potter was the happiest, most energetic boy he’d ever met, always ready for adventure.  As he became closer to James, Remus and Peter, Sirius began to realize that not everyone agreed with his parents and the Snapes. 


"Dear Sev,


Hope you had a good Halloween! Sorry I didn’t write sooner, but I’ve been really busy here.  Hogwarts is a cool place, the castle is amazing.  I wish you were here instead of Durmstrang."


Sirius brushed the end of the quill against his nose, wondering how much he really meant that last bit.  It was hard to picture Severus and James together.


"I think my parents are disappointed I’m not in Slytherin, but the people in Gryffindor are pretty cool.  There’s this guy named James who is really funny and likes to play pranks on people.   Last week we snuck into the girls’ bathroom and made the mirror say things like "you’re getting spots" and "your hair looks terrible." Nobody else knew why all the girls were in such a bad mood, it was pretty funny. 


You know what else is funny, they don’t teach any Dark Arts here but they have a course called Defense Against the Dark Arts, where you learn counterjinxes and shield spells and stuff.  I’m really good at Transfiguration, even though Prof.  McGonagall is as strict as my mum! But at least McGonagall’s fair."


Sirius looked at that sentence.  It seemed to suggest that his mum wasn’t fair.  Well, that was true.  James was always saying that you couldn’t argue with the truth, and the truth was, the more time he spent away from home, the more clear it became to Sirius that he didn’t like his parents, and they didn’t seem to like him much either.  In fact, his mother didn’t seem to like anyone. 


"Anyway, I’ve still got to write twelve inches of parchment on the uses of dragon blood for potions (my least favorite class), so I’ll sign off.  Bye!




It was the only letter he sent to Severus all year. 





They had commandeered the best couch in front of the common room fireplace.  Remus was playing wizard chess with Peter, and Sirius and James were alternately coaching them and talking.


"I’ve made a decision," James announced.  "I’m going to become an Auror when we get out of school."


"Why?" asked Sirius idly, thinking of the homework he still needed to finish.


"I want to do something important, and what could be more important than catching Dark wizards? My dad says anyone who does Dark magic is dangerous to all of us.  It was Dark magic that made the Muggles turn against us centuries ago, they used to burn and torture witches and wizards, or anybody they thought was a witch."


"So who cares what Muggles do? It’s not like burning actually does anything."


"Well, it sure didn’t do any good to the Muggles they burned by mistake.  Don’t you think that’s horrible, to kill someone that way? And that’s why we have to have all these stupid laws about staying secret from Muggles." James turned to the chessboard.  "Peter, you idiot, listen to your bishop! He’s right!"


Sirius was thinking about the burning Muggles.   James was right, it was a horrible way to die.   It had been a shock to realize that some of the students at Hogwarts were Muggle-born, and even more of a shock to find that some of them were better at magic than he was.  Most of them were better than Peter, who was certainly as pureblooded as the Blacks, if not as rich.  His mother thought she was so superior to Muggle-borns, but she thought she was superior to everyone.  Was she right? Or was she just arrogant and conceited? He’d seen her be wrong: more than once he’d been punished for something he hadn’t done, but even when the facts had become clear, she had never once admitted to making a mistake.  Maybe she was wrong about a lot of things. 



"That’s what learning is for," Remus said.  "So you can think for yourself.  So you know enough to make up your own mind, instead of believing what somebody tells you." They were walking across the courtyard, red-and-gold scarves dangling on an unseasonably warm November day. 


"Yeah, but we’re supposed to believe what the teachers tell us," objected Peter.  "We’re just learning to listen to somebody other than our parents."


"Right, but we’re learning from a lot of different people, with different ideas," said James.  "Growing up means we have to choose which ones we think are right and which ones we think are full of crap.  Like Professor Galileus, he’s got a brain like a niffler." Their ancient, absent-minded Astronomy teacher was the butt of numerous jokes. 


"And we’re learning from each other, too," Sirius observed. 


"You’ve got to choose, is what my dad says," Remus said.  Sirius knew Remus loved his parents deeply, which had surprised him at first.  It had never occurred to him to love his mother or his father, or that they would want it.  Fear and respect were required in the Black household, not affection.  "People don’t want to think for themselves, it’s easier to just believe what ‘everybody knows’ is true," Remus continued, making quotation marks with his fingers for emphasis.  "But if you choose to look at the facts and make up your own mind, you might find the truth is different from what ‘everyone’ thinks it is."


Sirius had recalled that conversation later, in the midst of their Animagus research, and thought he understood what Remus had been trying to say.




Several things happened during the summer after their first year. 


Sirius found himself looking at his parents differently.  For the first time, he was judging by a standard other than the one they had set, and he grew angrier and more rebellious as the holidays went on.  After his second night in the attic with the ghoul, however, he learned to keep his mouth shut. 


Severus’ father died, in an accident no one would talk about.  The Blacks, of course, attended the funeral, where Sirius saw his old friend.  He looked pale and small; while Sirius had grown considerably over the past year, Severus had not, and he looked as if he hadn’t been eating well, either.  Although Sirius had hoped to get a few moments alone, the heir of the Snapes stood stiffly beside his mother, greeting the mourners and accepting their murmured condolences, until after the Black family had left.




Both Sirius and Remus, as it turned out, missed the Hogwarts Express that year.  The journey was the day after a full moon, and Remus was still recovering, while Sirius had come down with a rather nasty virus and was shaking and shivering in bed, attended by a house-elf and ignored by his disdainful mother.  It was the fourth day of the term when the boys sat down to their first meal together in the Great Hall.


Sirius leaned back, staring up at the enchanted ceiling.  It was good to be back; Hogwarts was starting to feel far more like home than the gloomy house in London.  Peter was excitedly telling them what they’d missed.  It amused Sirius to realize how much Peter had enjoyed having James to himself for a couple of days. 


"So we got a compartment on the train, and we were saving spaces because we didn’t know you weren’t coming, and this kid tries to sit with us.  Little skinny greasy-haired git in these dark green robes with fancy trim.   We told him our friends were coming, and he says in this obnoxious voice, ‘I was unaware that the Hogwarts Express had reserved seating.’" Peter was pretty good at imitations, and Sirius laughed at the tone, not unlike his father’s usual manner.  "So then James stuck a foot out and the kid tripped over it and got a bloody nose."


"And this was a nose to be reckoned with, too," said James, grinning.  "Far too big for his face.  And then–you won’t believe the nerve–he pulled out a wand and hexed me!  I had this major boil on the tip of my nose, it was really disgusting.  I didn’t even have a chance to grab my wand."


Peter jumped in.  "We’d never seen him before, we figured he was a first-year.  I mean, how would a first year know that kind of a Dark spell? Anyway, he marched out of the compartment with his huge nose in the air, trying not to drip blood all over his robes, but he did anyway.  Stupid git.  And the worst part is, it turns out he’s in our year–he’s a transfer from some European school.  At least he’s not in Gryffindor."


"So where did the Sorting Hat put him?" Remus asked.


"Slimy Slytherin, where he belongs," replied Peter.  "Slimy Slytherin Snivellus."


James picked up a roll.  "I still owe him one for that boil." He tossed it in the air and caught it, with a smile Sirius recognized and had grown to love, a smile that meant a prank was being born.  "Good thing Madam Pomfrey fixed it right up.   Good looks like mine are meant to be admired."


As they left the Great Hall, Sirius glanced at the Slytherin table and recognized Severus, sitting slightly apart from the others.  "Wait a minute, guys.  Hey, Sev!" he called.


Severus Snape looked up from his plate.  He had introduced himself as Severus, and no one here knew him wall enough to give him a nickname, or seemed likely to.  His glance took in the four Gryffindors–that nasty piece of work from the train that he’d given a boil, his smarmy little friend, somebody he hadn’t met, and…




Dignity, he thought.  My father didn’t leave me much, and the whole wizarding world will know it soon enough, but the Snapes will always have dignity.   He rose, and using the formal tones he’d developed for family gatherings, which had served him well at Durmstrang, he spoke.




Maybe if Sirius knew these boys, he thought, he could ask them to stop harassing him.  Severus wasn’t afraid of having enemies–he’d learned a few useful things at Durmstrang, after all.  But it was a pointless waste of his time, having to watch out for petty tricks.  He had a lot to do, if he was going to regain the position and fortune of the Snapes.  And his mother had made that goal very clear. 


James was laughing.  "You know Snivellus? You’ve met the new premier git of second year?"


"Hey Snivellus!" yelled Peter.  "We were just explaining how we met you on the train! How’s your nose, Snape?"


Sirius looked at James, and said "My family knows his family, that’s all.  Let’s go up to the common room."


He turned his back to Severus Snape, and the four boys walked out of the Great Hall.




Remus poured the remains of the Ogden’s Old Firewhisky into his glass.  He was already drunker than he wanted to be, but Sirius needed another drink even less than he did.  Maybe he could spill it. 


"I must not have been paying attention–I remember I was still pretty exhausted that night.  But I guess I missed that part of the conversation.  I never realized you knew each other."


Sirius was staring into the flames.  "Well, after that night, we didn’t.  We pretended we’d never seen each other before.  And there were all those rumors about his father’s death, and Dark magic, remember? He got a reputation for being interested in the Dark Arts, and by that time it was starting to be an issue at school."


"Oh, I remember ," said Remus.  "That year was the first time I heard about Voldemort.  By the time we finished, everyone had taken sides, and it was pretty clear which side Snape would be fighting for."


"The sad thing is, Remus…the sad thing is, I decided.  I chose.  That night, that first night back at Hogwarts, I decided I couldn’t be friends with Severus any more.  I told myself it was because he was from a school where they taught Dark Arts, and his family were all Dark wizards, and I didn’t want to be that any more.  I didn’t want to be like my brother, or like the Blacks and the Snapes.  I convinced myself that I was making an honorable stand for my own, new, independent beliefs." Sirius laughed, a sound utterly divorced from humor.  "I made a choice, and look where it’s gotten us."




"I could have stopped James, but I encouraged him, I egged him on, for years.  His friendship was more important than anything.  And now…" Sirius picked up the bottle, turned it upside down, and watched a last, slow drop fall into his glass.  "I betrayed my first friend, and Harry’s paying the price."


"I could have said something too, you know.” Remus replied.   “I should have.  It was a side of James I really didn’t like.  But he had such charisma–he was so much fun that it was easy to forgive him." Remus sighed.  "And Peter–"


"Let’s not talk about Peter," Sirius interrupted, his voice hard.  "I knew…I knew Snape had it rough, I’d been to his father’s funeral.   And I knew his family, they were just like mine.   But it was easy enough to drop him.   My mother stopped inviting them when it came out that they’d lost their money.  The Snapes no longer had enough status for Mrs.  Black." He paused.  "Snape has every right and every reason to hate me."


Remus was thinking again of the scene  by the lake, the one Snape recalled with such clarity, that Harry had seen in the Pensieve.   He’d known that Lily Evans was kind to Snape, that she spoke to him in the library sometimes, smiled at him in the halls.  Not that it was anything special, Lily was kind to everyone.  She was popular not only because she was pretty and smart, but because she treated everyone like a friend.  Only the most snobbish of the pureblood crowd disliked Lily. 


The day she’d learned that he was a werewolf, she had simply hugged him, and whispered, "Remus, that must be so hard for you." It was falling in love with Lily that had made a difference in James.  Remus had always thought that James had simply decided to become the sort of boy Lily would love, and had done so, just as he had always done whatever he set his mind to. 


But after Snape had called her a Mudblood, she no longer looked at him or spoke to him, as if he had become invisible to her.  That was how Lily Evans dealt with those who called Muggle-borns inferior.   They simply disappeared from her personal map of the world.  He and James had admired that ability, and Remus tried to emulate it, when people talked about werewolves in his presence. 


"So that’s why Snape hates you." Remus regarded his friend for a moment, and maybe it was the drink, but the question popped into his mind and out of his mouth before he had a moment to consider.  "So why do you still hate him so much?"


Sirius looked down, shaking his head.  There was a long silence, punctuated only by the crackle of the fire.  Remus was about to change the subject when Sirius spoke, his voice low and shaken.  "Because every time I look at him–every single time I have looked at him since that day in the Great Hall–it reminds me what a shit I was.   I hate myself every time I see him, and I take it out on him." He sighed.  "That’s the truth, and I don’t think I’ve ever admitted it to myself.  And I wouldn’t have, if you hadn’t gotten me drunk, Moony."


"Hey, the firewhishky, whiskhy, whis---this stuff was your idea," said Remus, holding up his glass. 


"Not that he doesn’t make it easy–he baits me on purpose, he knows just where to poke to get a reaction," Sirius muttered.  "Course, he’s known me longer than anyone who’s still alive, unless you want to count that obnoxious house-elf."


Sirius stood up, almost losing his balance.   "I’m going to bed."  Reaching the hall, he stumbled against the wall, and his mother’s portrait began to shriek her usual invective, setting off a torrent of profanity from her son.  Remus considered getting up to referee, or at least clear the field, but he heard Sirius stomping up the stairs before he could raise himself from the armchair.  The shrieks died away.  Unthinkingly, he sipped at the last of the whisky. 


They had all learned, too late, that a single mistake could have consequences beyond what even a true Seer could predict.  Fate was a web, strands reaching from the past to the future to touch and entangle in complex ways.  If he had not foolishly ventured into the forest one full-moon night, he might not be a werewolf, and might have been trusted as the Potters’ secret-keeper.  If Sirius had been on the train that day, his friendship with Snape might have survived, might have steered a lonely boy away from bitterness and the life of a Death Eater.  If Snape wouldn’t teach Harry Occlumency, and Voldemort was able to manipulate the boy…enough.  The future was a mist, his head was aching, and the Order had work to do.  All he could do was face each day as it came, and try to help Sirius find some kind of peace. 


Someday, Sirius would have time to be with Harry and help him understand about James.  In a couple of years, perhaps, Sirius and Snape might even be able to be in the same room without hatred and bitterness.   Or so Remus hoped, as he tossed the last sip of Ogdens into the drawing room fire.




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