"I guess I always knew that I'd have to be the one to tell you," sighed Remus Lupin. "Snape can't--I think it would kill him. Dumbledore and McGonagall won't. They don't want to disturb sleeping dragons, so to speak, and honestly I can understand why. And Sirius Black and your father are dead. Peter too, not that I'd expect you to believe anything he told you. So it has to be me. Promise you won't hate me when I've told you."
"Remus, I--" Harry swallowed hard. He'd pushed for this conversation, and now he rather wished he hadn't.
"No, that wasn't fair. Let me tell it and then you can decide." Lupin dragged his hand across his eyes. "Well, it happened like this. We all came up to Hogwarts in the fall of 1971, and it was obvious even then that Sirius Black was the boy to put your money on. He was a lot more mature, even at eleven, than the other kids in his year, and he had bags of self-assurance--talked to the faculty as if they were below stairs, and even tried to get off on a back-slapping, all-us-pure-bloods-together footing with Dumbledore. Dumbledore cut him off at the knees, of course, and then he just turned to laughing in his sleeve at the school authorities generally, and set about forming a clique of boys whose trademark was flouting the rules and getting away with anything they could."
"The Marauders," said Harry softly. "My dad."
"Yes, James Potter was his second in command," said Remus. "He didn't have the ambition to be the ringleader, and he always was a bit of a suck-up. He wanted to be admired, whereas what Sirius wanted was power, and what Sirius wanted, he generally got. The one exception was Severus Snape."
"What on earth did Sirius want with Snape?"
"You'd have to have seen him at that age. When he first came to Hogwarts, before he learned to keep the wards in place, he was so beautiful it made your teeth ache."
"With that nose?" asked Harry.
"In an odd sort of way, the nose was part of it. It made him unusual, not ugly. Ask Hermione. She's seen him as he really is, without too many articles of clothing to obscure the view. They created quite a cause célèbre during your seventh year when you were off chasing Horcruxes."
Harry's jaw dropped. "I knew she was seeing somebody, but I thought it was Ron Weasley."
Lupin chuckled. "They're still best friends, but they definitely aren't in love with one another."
"I'll be damned," said Harry. "What wards?"
"Erm?" said Lupin.
"You said something about Snape keeping some kind of wards in place."
"Oh. Well, you know, the stringy hair, the pasty complexion, the bad teeth. That buttoned-up, buttoned-down look he cultivates. You know how some very pretty girls deliberately make themselves unattractive so fellows will leave them alone?"
"No," said Harry.
Lupin sighed, wondering privately if the famous Harry Potter had spent the last nineteen years under a rock. "Well, they do. And Sirius collected beautiful people the way a lepidopterist collects butterflies. Couldn't rest till he had them in a glass case with a pin through them, so to speak. He also collected Animagi, and Snape is one hell of an Animagus."
"He is?" said Harry. "I've never seen him."
"You have. You just didn't recognize him. I distinctly remember you making some remark about `that thestral Hermione is swanning about with over in the east meadow'."
"Snape is a thestral?"
"In his lighter moments. He's very easy to spot. He's the only one everyone can see, and he's the only one with dark eyes."
"I'll be damned," said Harry.
"I hope not. Anyway, Snape refused to be collected, so Sirius set out to collect him in spite of himself. It got to be a sort of obsession with him. Along with his extraordinary looks, Snape had a shyness about him that Sirius took for vulnerability, and vulnerability was the one thing Sirius could never resist. In Snape's case it was almost like a narcotic."
"You didn't like Sirius very much, did you?" said Harry in a resentful voice.
"I adored Sirius. He was one of those people that make the world light up. I lived to be one of his Marauders. As a kid, I would have done anything to win a thumbs-up from him. It's only in my mature years that I've begun to have penitential thoughts about what nasty little bastards we really were."
"I don't see why. Sirius just wanted Snape to be one of his crowd, didn't he? Snape didn't have to be so jumped up about it."
Lupin shook his head. "Snape wasn't jumped up. He was scared out of his wits. He'd had a very sheltered childhood, just him and his mum, nothing to prepare him for life at Hogwarts. He came from a poor family, and was a half-blood into the bargain, so he expected to be looked down on by boys like Sirius. What he didn't expect was to be victimized."
"Victimized? Victimized how?"
Lupin sighed. "Grand old British public-school tradition. Popular boys taking advantage of less popular boys in Ways We Don't Talk About."
Harry continued to look blank.
"Oh, very well. I'll spell it out for you. Sirius wanted Snape for his bum boy. He was a pure-blood and a rich kid, and he figured he was entitled. He was as surprised as anybody when Snape wouldn't go along with it. In fact he was outraged. He set out to make Snape's life hell on earth until he got what he wanted, and he more or less succeeded. Snape wasn't a boy who made friends easily, and he was stuck in Slytherin with a bunch of pure-bloods not unlike Sirius, so he really had nowhere to run. All he had going for him were his intelligence and his skill at magic, but he managed to wage quite an impressive counteroffensive for five weary years. Sirius learned in short order never to go after him without the rest of the Marauders at his back--"
"What's a bum boy?" asked Harry.
It was Lupin's turn to look blank. "Sirius wanted Snape for his--`lover' doesn't begin to say it. It had nothing to do with love. Plaything, if you like," he explained with exaggerated patience.
"You mean like sex?"
"I mean like sex. What Sirius was after was exploitation, plain and simple. He saw Snape as a half-blood who didn't know his place, and he was bloody well going to teach him his place and have what he wanted from him. That Snape hated him was the icing on the cake. If he'd been his willing partner, Sirius would have lost interest in no time and left him alone."
"Are you saying Sirius was gay?" asked Harry.
Lupin squeezed the bridge of his nose as if his head hurt. "I don't think Sirius ever went to the trouble of developing a sexual orientation. He took his fun where he found it--boys, girls, women, men if he could manage it--he never completely gave up on Snape--and oh, let's see, sheep, goats, donkeys, great-aunt Hepzibah up in the attic...to say nothing of the dogs."
"Sirius had sex with dogs?"
Lupin gave Harry a look that said he was about two seconds away from clinical hysteria. "Oh my, yes. Every so often he'd come home with a bad case of crotch fleas, and we knew he'd been at the mad bitches again."
"Why didn't Dumbledore do something?"
"I assume the mad bitches were consenting adults," said Lupin with a strenuously straight face.
"I mean about Snape."
"He didn't know. Hardly anyone did, except the Marauders and Snape. Children can be very secretive about things like that. Sirius had already branded Snape a coward and made him a target for ridicule. The last thing Snape would have done was make his situation worse by tattling to Dumbledore. At least I think that was how he saw it. What amazes me is that nobody picked up on how miserable the boy was. By second year he was so sick he almost didn't need his wards, and Sirius capitalized on that too. He never spoke to Snape without using that cruel nickname."
"`Snivellus'? What was the matter with him?"
"Asthma. Chronic poor digestion. Throwing up. That nagging cough he still gets when he's under pressure. You name it. He went down with pneumonia the winter of our fourth year, and nearly died. Madam Pomfrey couldn't understand why he didn't pull himself together and get well. Finally somebody did tip Dumbledore off to what was going on, and he started asking questions. With the result that Calvin Jones arrived from America several months ahead of schedule."
"Why didn't Dumbledore just expel Sirius?"
"Because it would have caused a huge stink and made Sirius the wronged party in the eyes of his social set. You have to remember that people like the Blacks thought they were entirely within their rights treating "inferiors" the way they did. We're talking about people who beheaded their house elves and hung their mounted heads in the front entrance hall. People who petitioned the Ministry to legalize Muggle hunting. As for lesser forms of discipline--what would you suggest? You've already seen how much effect detention had on James and Sirius. No, Cal was a much more effective solution to the problem."
"I don't see what difference he made. Well, Snape showed me that Jones saved him from being bagged, but I don't see--"
"What you saw was Sirius feeling bored and James trying to entertain his pal by giving him a little lookey-do."
"Oh," said Harry in a small voice.
"I'm sorry," said Lupin. "If it makes you feel any better, that was the last time James did anything hurtful to Snape. I think he was already having his doubts. Maybe Lily Evans was beginning to work on him. But I think Calvin was the one who pushed him over the edge. Him and a lot of other Hogwarts students. I guess you can think of Calvin Jones as the chap who tamed Hogwarts."
"I don't see how."
"I'm not sure I do either, but I'll try to explain. There's a kind of terrible innocence about Americans. They--the best of them, anyway--really believe what it says in their Declaration of Independence about one person being as good as another and everybody having rights, and how nobody is better than anybody else because of an accident of birth. Cal really believed that. He was sickened by what Sirius was doing, and because he thought it was sickening and said so, a lot of other people started to think it was too. It was as if he'd changed the focus on the camera. Suddenly Sirius wasn't the golden boy picking on weedy old Snivellus anymore, and kids who would have done anything for his approval suddenly stopped caring whether he approved of them. Especially James Potter. The Marauders were never quite the same after Mr. Jones came to Hogwarts."
"I still don't see why Sirius cared."
"Because he craved power. And to be powerful, you have to have people believing in you and cheering when you get away with whatever you want to do. Cal had the courage to see Sirius for what he was and call him on it. Sirius didn't give a tinker's damn for the school authorities, but that a fellow student--and an American at that--thought he was toe rot and said so, now that rankled."
"You'd think he'd just punch the guy out."
"He tried that--once. He discovered that Cal had very effective fists at the end of those long arms of his. Would you like to see what happened the very last time Sirius tried to move on Snape? I think he finally realized that he wasn't going to break Snape by hazing him, especially not after Cal came on the scene, so he made the very bad mistake of catching Snape out and trying to take what he wanted by brute force. The upshot was extraordinary. It's the only time I've ever seen anyone go up the stairs of Ravenclaw Tower three at a time."
Lupin fished the Pensieve out of one of the cabinets in his office and began to drop memory strands into it. Harry leaned forward...
They must have been on a landing in the Ravenclaw stairwell. The boy Harry had learned to recognize as young Snape was huddled in a window embrasure, his robes half ripped from his body, his dark eyes wide and glazed with shock. A bite-shaped bruise was darkening on one ivory-pale shoulder. A boy of about the same age, with mousy-brown hair, crouched beside him with one arm around his shoulders, trying to pull the torn robes together with his other hand. The mousy-haired boy was the one crying; Snape was beyond tears.
In the middle of the landing, Calvin Jones had a fourth boy, whom Harry recognized with a shock as Sirius, by the necktie, and was apparently using his head for a punching bag; Sirius already had a cut lip and a bloody nose, and both his eyes were starting to swell shut.
"I told you to stay away from him," Cal yelled, his face crimson with fury.
"Give me a break, cowboy," Sirius snarled. "If you want him, you can have him. I'm sick of the little bender."
"You--" Cal's fist landed hard.
"Look, cowboy, you don't understand how we do things over here. Why don't you go back where you came from, and go screw some sheep if you don't want old Snivelly?"
"Listen, fancy boy," and Cal's voice was little more than a whisper now, "yer right, I don't understand how you do things, and I don't reckon I want to. What I do understand is that everybody, everybody, even over here, has certain rights, and among them rights is the right not to be buggered by some toft just because he thinks his daddy is fancier than your daddy. You leave that boy alone, or by God I'll fix you so you don't have no tofty sons to carry on your tofty god-be-damned way of doin' things!" And he spun Sirius around by the necktie, planted an enormous boot in the small of his back and kicked him down the stairs.
There was one more memory left in the Pensieve. It was of the Ravenclaw common room, and it must have been very late at night, because the room was almost empty, lit only by firelight. Severus lay profoundly asleep on one of the couches, wrapped in an ancient and well worn Texas A&M stadium blanket. Across from him, Cal sat foursquare in an armchair, the mousy-haired boy curled up dozing at his feet. He was standing watch, while young Snape slept the first uninterrupted sleep he had enjoyed in months...
Harry straightened, his face streaked with tears. "That was you, wasn't it? You were the one who told Dumbledore. You were the one who went for help. Snape said something about you being the only one of the Marauders Calvin Jones ever really took to."
"Did he! Well, yes, ahem, yes...I sort of dropped out of the Marauders after fifth year. Oh, we were still friends, but it wasn't the same. We didn't do things together or go marauding in the old way. The only one of us that stayed really close to Sirius was Peter, and I can't imagine Sirius found that very flattering. Their relationship must have suffered some considerable strain. Sirius was never one to handle disappointment gracefully. I trust you noticed, by the way, that James Potter was nowhere in sight."
"Where was he?"
"I have no idea. Probably off canoodling with his lovely Lily. The important thing is that he wasn't at Sirius' right hand, holding the boy down or something."
"But wait a minute," said Harry. "It was after that--the next year--that my dad saved Snape's life."
"Mm," said Lupin. "Sirius sent him down the tunnel to the Shrieking Shack, knowing he'd find me in my werewolf form at the other end. I truly think that Sirius had decided that if he couldn't have Snape--and by then he knew he couldn't--he'd see him dead. He and James had an awful row afterwards, because your dad kept Snape away. It nearly ended their friendship."
"But you were friends with Snape by then, weren't you. And you were more in control of yourself when you...Changed. Do you really think you would have attacked him?"
"I don't know, Harry. It still haunts me. I like to think I would have recognized him and stopped myself. But I don't know. I'll never know. Severus and I talked about it afterwards. He was upset that I was so upset, and he promised to use his skill in potions to come up with something that would keep me in my right mind when I Changed. You know he's kept that promise. He's still working on making it taste better," Lupin added with a chuckle. "I can tell you that asaphoetida and minced garlic didn't make the cut. But at least my victims would have been able to smell me coming."
Harry scratched his head. "It didn't bother Sirius that he was using you to get back at Snape?"
"Haven't you been listening, Harry? Sirius was always using people, and thought he was entirely within his rights to do so. In my case, he thought I needed a lesson for thwarting him over Snape. He and I had a row over that. It seemed we were always having rows that winter."
"But Sirius was in the Order of the Phoenix. Dumbledore must have thought he had some good in him."
"Dumbledore, as you very well know, has always been in favor of giving people the benefit of the doubt. In any case, by that time it was more a case of Sirius wanting into the Order, and trying to buy his way in with the offer of Grimmauld Place as the Order's headquarters. Dumbledore never actually allowed him to participate in the Order's activities, up until that last battle at the Ministry, and he couldn't really have prevented that."
"Dumbledore didn't trust him?"
"Define trust. Dumbledore knew, none better, what he was, and what could and could not be expected of him. He knew that Sirius was brave and concerned for what he regarded as his honor, that in certain situations he would keep his word or fight bravely. Also that there were certain situations in which he could not be trusted at all."
"Like with Snape? Even after they were grown?"
"Exactly. He would never have sent the two of them off on a mission together."
"That explains it," said Harry. "I thought he meant that Snape was a Death Eater, but that wasn't it at all."
"What do you mean?"
"Remember when Dumbledore made them shake hands, after Voldemort returned and Cedric Diggory was killed? Sirius said something to Snape about war making strange bedfellows. And Snape got this disgusted look and said, `Over my dead body,' and Sirius just grinned and said, "If that's what it takes.'"
"You have to give him credit for tenacity," said Lupin wryly. "Or for not changing his spots, if you want to think of it that way. That's why the other thing Dumbledore would never have done, I'm afraid, was trust him alone with you."
Harry looked up, startled. "Huh? But he was my godfather."
"Yes, well, sometimes James put friendship ahead of common sense. I know for a certainty that Lily wasn't keen on the idea. But she knew Dumbledore would be looking out for you, so she gave in."
"Was that why Dumbledore kept sending me back to stay with the Dursleys, even after Sirius broke out of Azkaban?"
"Especially after Sirius broke out of Azkaban. That was part of it, anyway. And did it ever occur to you to wonder why, when you did arrive at 12 Grimmauld Place for an extended stay, you found Arthur and Molly Weasley in residence, even though they live within comfortable driving distance of King's Cross Station? And why Snape wasn't staying there, or even eating there, even though he had to Apparate from Manchester a fair amount of the time? And what Mad-Eye and Tonks and Mundungus and I were doing there? And why Molly insisted on escorting you everywhere?"
"Well, I--erm, I thought it was because of Voldemort, like you were there on some sort of business for the Order. Um, I guess not, huh?"
"I guess not. Or why Sirius was in such a snit the whole time?"
"You mean he really did want to...?"
"I don't know. I don't think so. I think you probably would have been as safe as houses with him. Probably. But `probably' wasn't good enough for Molly Weasley. I think what really made Sirius angry was that lack of trust. Since she and Arthur had to bring their own kids with them, she insisted that Tonks and the rest of us stick around Grimmauld Place too, so there'd be a ratio of at least one adult to one child in the house at all times. Sirius was always falling over one or another of us. He finally took to `sulking in his tent' just to get away from us. Ron and Hermione were also under strict orders not to let you go wandering off by yourself when Sirius was around, and Hermione at least took her orders very seriously. I don't know if you've noticed, but she never really liked Sirius very much."
"I did, and I didn't get it. She helped me help him escape from Hogwarts, but..."
"She wanted him out of Hogwarts, and away from you and Severus."
"She knew about Sirius and Snape?"
"Not the details. But she could see that Snape was--well, he wanted Sirius back in Azkaban, even kissed by a dementor, and was edgy and frightened. She always was a perceptive little number, our Miss Granger, and she's loved Severus for years. Ever since she set his robes on fire at that Quidditch match. She told me once, as soon as she did it, she felt sick for fear she'd really hurt him. Did you know that was her Boggart? Severus going up in flames, with her unable to do anything? Love like that can give you a kind of Legilimency. As Tonks keeps telling me."
"You know," said Harry, "it's kind of ironic..."
"If Sirius was this horrible person..."
"He wasn't horrible. He was a mixture of good and bad like all of us. He did some horrible things, because of the culture he was raised in."
"Yes, but, well, he'd done these horrible things to Snape, and to other people too, I guess, but in the end, he was shipped off to Azkaban for something he didn't do."
"It wasn't ironic at all. As you said, Snape wasn't Sirius' only victim. Nobody was ever willing or able to prove anything--the Wizarding community is very good at keeping the dirt under the rug--but eventually everybody just knew. I know that having grown up with Muggles, you find Wizarding justice somewhat haphazard. Well, the Wizengamot may grind slow and a bit eccentrically, but it grinds extremely small. It was no accident that Sirius was sent to Azkaban for a crime he didn't commit. Bartemius Crouch and the Wizengamot had the things he had done firmly in mind when they sent him up without a trial."
"Anyway," said Harry, "he died gloriously in battle, fighting for the Order. I think that would have pleased him."
"Killed by his cousin Bellatrix, who hated him for her own reasons," said Lupin. "Now that, I suppose, is what I would call ironic."