This story draws on Mincot's characterizations of young Sirius and Severus in her "A Ministry Christmas," "Andantino" and "The Knight of the Mirrors;" it refers directly to events in "Andantino." I have 'updated' that reality to incorporate new information about Sirius' past, but kept Mincot's essentials in place. She has graciously given me permission to play in her world. We are both, of course, playing in JKR's wonderful world and mean her no harm or infringement of any sort.
Enormous thanks go out to Mincot for her massive and wholly unsolicited betaing effort and to Gufa for adding that sweet Sugar Quill polish!
Requiem for the Enemy
We all have to grieve in our own way.
Grieve? I know it sounds terribly presumptuous, coming from me, but there it is. Do I miss him? Not a bit. I hated him from the day we met at the age of eleven. Do I mourn him? Undeniably. It has a lot to do with the way he died, of course. I suppose if he had gotten himself toasted by a dragon or even snacked on by that werewolf friend of his I'd be able to say good riddance with a little more conviction. But he didn't, and I suspect it will be my fate to take every death in the coming war as a source of personal guilt. How many times did I stand beside Bellatrix Lestrange as we directed our curses toward the unsuspecting and the defenseless? What would have happened if I had simply turned my wand toward her instead? Would his life have been saved? How many others? How many more will die now, with Voldemort's favorite plaything returned to him?
I know what Albus would say. Many times have I heard his comforting platitudes about complex outcomes. And I imagine he's right. It would be an arrogance worthy of Potter to think that a single action of mine could change the world in such a way.
But to return to my late enemy, I had two amicable conversations with him during the whole of our acquaintance. No. He was civil to me twice. On the first occasion I was as unpleasant as possible in return. Both conversations found the same topic: the only thing we shared. I saw it as the great contradiction in his character. In retrospect I imagine that he felt the same about me. But whatever odd whim of fate gave us so many things to hate each other over also gave us one talent in common.
Whatever his faults, Sirius Black was an excellent musician. Good enough even as a schoolboy to recognize a like talent though it came in the form of his favorite object of torment and scorn. When I look back on our encounter in that chilly stone practice room at Hogwarts I recognize the respect in his eyes; at the time, I was unable to accept it. There was too much between us; he had pushed me too far, hated me too well, and then there he was, playing my piece, asking questions, looking into a part of me that I allowed no one to see. He wanted my music? Something that was pure and good and mine alone and didn't come burdened with stringy hair and a hooked nose and not enough money? How could I let him have that as well when he had already taken so much from me? I sometimes wonder, though. What if I had accepted his offer? "Have you considered practicing in the morning?" I do believe he was offering an odd sort of pact. Peace. Friendship? Perhaps not, but I imagine if I had agreed I would have faced fewer pranks. Fewer nasty pranks. Even friends weren't safe from the "fun" ones, of course. That was Black.
The second occasion on which we managed to interact politely was just this year in that perfectly awful house of his. How that family managed to produce him I will never understand. His brother, yes. I remember his brother; he was a coward, but he would have felt at home there among the elf heads. As for Black, our antipathy was as strong as ever, but I think of this particular episode as a moment's détente, an easing of tensions. It was unique in our relations, and it proved that there could be sympathy between us. Could we ever have made anything of this tiny patch of common ground? Perhaps not, but now I will never know. Bellatrix Black Lestrange took that chance away with a swish and a flick and a jet of red light.
Molly and her team had spent the morning working on the piano in the parlor; apparently the Perpetual Tuning Charm had kept the instrument at the ideal temperature, humidity, and magical energy level to support a thriving colony of Chizpurfles. But Molly, in her efficient if slightly obsessive way, had eliminated them, renewed the charm and dusted and polished the instrument to an impressive shine. That afternoon she sent me (the woman can be surprisingly dictatorial) to fetch him for teatime. Ridiculous, I know, but there it is: no one was exempt from teatime at Grimmauld Place when Molly Weasley was in charge.
"Black, it's time for--" I stopped midsentence as I came through the doorway and was struck by the unnatural silence of an occupied room. He was sitting perfectly still before the piano with his hands in his lap staring rather vacantly, it seemed, at the precise row of ivory and ebony. One thing that had never changed about Sirius Black from the day I met him was his perpetual motion. He was never perfectly still. "Black?" I asked. I was surprised, as always, that a piano could have such an impact on him. The idea took the usual bite from my voice, I think. Perhaps that was why he responded as he did. Without malice. Without sarcasm.
He turned his head slowly and raised his eyes almost as an afterthought. "Do you still play?" he asked quietly.
I opened my mouth, out of surprise, perhaps, but also in the fruitless expectation that an answer might tumble out of it. When it did not, I shrugged. "I don't have much time any longer. You?"
It was a stupid thing to ask; I realized that immediately. Suddenly I understood perfectly the scene I was witnessing. This was the first time he'd even thought about music--making music--for, what, fourteen years? What did I think he would have been playing? This piano clearly had not been touched since...perhaps since his own footsteps last rang through these halls. Did I think he'd had one in his cave outside Hogsmeade where, Molly had been revolted to learn, he'd been subsisting on rats? In Azkaban? Even I can't write music that dark.
His answer was an echo and a confirmation of my thoughts. "Me?" he ran his index finger tentatively over the keys as if he didn't dare press them, and his hand returned to his lap. "I'm not sure if I remember how."
And for that brief moment I understood Sirius Black. As he had looked inside of me that day in the practice room, his words allowed me a glimpse into him. He wasn't referring to the mechanics of fingering or the discipline of scales, mind and muscles working together. He had not forgotten how to play.
He had forgotten why.
I saw clearly then, for the first time, through all my haze of ill-will, precisely what had happened to this man. I understood the appalling injustice that had been done to him. And even though I could not like him--could not even forgive him, really, for what he had done to me--I was glad then that Albus and Potter and Granger had fooled us that night; that they had whisked him away so absurdly on a condemned hippogriff; that he had not been Kissed. Perhaps one day he would find music in himself once again; then his fingers would slowly reawaken and remember how of their own accord. Perhaps I...
I moved away from that thought before I could complete it. There was a silence between us as we both stared at the keys. Their black and white seemed jarringly unambiguous as I thought about injustices suffered and inflicted, deserved and undeserved. Where had Black made the right choice, and I the wrong one? For all his nasty schoolboy pranks, his vindictive and thoughtless cruelty, what had led him to be a member of the Order while I had the Dark Lord's mark branded on my left forearm? What had stopped his wand at torment while mine went on to torture? To Avada Kedavra? Had he ever spoken those words?
I couldn't blame my choices on circumstance. Not in this house, this room, before this man. My eyes traveled up from the worn bars of ivory to the raised piano lid, where the crest of the noble and most ancient house of Black writhed with serpents carved in the polished wood. Toujours pur.
Sirius Black's upbringing clearly had all the ingredients of a Dark wizard's. And it wasn't the influence of his beloved Hogwarts House either; for all their honorable pretensions, Gryffindors are fallible too. Black learned that the hard way--from a friend. Pettigrew, who had never done a thing without his friends' approval, had been the betrayer. Not Black or Potter, who were arrogant and willful, or even Lupin, who was a werewolf.
I had lost myself in this reverie, having known nothing that could respond to his statement. But he continued. "You, though; you should keep playing. And composing. I meant what I said then, you know. You are very talented."
I nodded my acknowledgement. It wasn't the most gracious way of accepting a compliment, but language was complicated between us and it seemed the most honest way. He stood up then and moved past me to the door. "You can play here if you ever want--" he stopped and made a vague gesture, "It would be good to...But I wouldn't..." Another abortive gesture, "I'd leave you alone." Then he left the room.
I never did it. I believed he was sincere, but pride is a difficult thing to manage, even now. He did mean it, though. Sirius Black was a bully, but he did not go back on his word. He did not deal falsely or break promises. And he loved music.
That was the best side of Black that I ever saw: not even ten sentences of truth and half of those incomplete. We had hardly a sliver of common interest, and even that we had both lost along the way; he to a mirthless stone cell and I to a skull and a snake writ black upon my arm. Why, then, is it that, now, after years of silence, the notes are forming once more in my head? That I am again drawing the close lines on my parchment and filling them with sound? I could buy the parchment already made now, of course, but I don't. I could buy a special quill and line the parchment easily in five minutes, but I don't. As he pointed out to me so many years ago, that is not what's important. That was another thing that he was right about and I didn't understand.
Perhaps it is an irony that he would appreciate. That I should be writing this for him, whom I hated most and understand least.
Requiem for the Enemy who Chose Right.