Dark wizards are more compassionate. That's what I learned from my father-to see all beings as they are and treat them the way they ought to be treated.
My brother doesn't agree. He was the one who could never have a familiar. He said it was because cats just didn't like him but I thought he was too mean to attract a pet. He was the one who didn't know how to treat the house elves. He was the one who bullied Severus Snape-with a gang of friends, when Severus was all by himself.
Sirius thinks he's so liberal and tolerant. He's a snob, picking on a half-blood with no money.
At any rate, my father says, it's the mother's side that determines wizarding culture. Severus's mom is a witch so he's just as good as a pureblood. Severus cares more about magic than anyone at this school-a great deal more than my stupid brother does.
Regulus Black was always looking at me. I first became aware of how odd this was when we were returning to Hogwarts for the spring term of 1977. I caught his eyes on me in the bustle of Platform 9 3/4. He barely hid his stare. I moved further down the train platform and pretended to be absorbed in checking my trunk. Firsties with their big owl cages and wizarding parents came between me and the Black family contingent, which was fine.
He was handsome, like his older brother, if not as showy, and he wore very expensive shoes under his robes. They had money. I was constantly pulling down my school robes; I looked like a scarecrow. My mother couldn't afford new school robes twice in a year and I'd had a growth spurt. She let the hem down and added a little length by magic, but I was in agony that someone might notice--they seemed to shimmer in and out by my ankles.
Even in the midst of all that adolescent self-consciousness, I stood by Lily for a moment on the platform, just to say hello. She was never happy to greet me in front of her friends. I thought I was doing a good job ignoring it, just being friendly. At that age I prided myself on not wearing my heart on my sleeve. The truth is, I looked like a wet Wednesday, except more belligerent.
I had vowed that if anyone called me Snivellus, I'd hex his balls off.
Stepping onto the Hogwarts Express was always the first moment of being back at school, for me. It was so old fashioned. Not like the shabby combination of Edwardian slums and post-war concrete where I lived. It was all brass fittings and dark curtains on the windows. I walked through the carriages, trying to look casual and still find an empty compartment. Now there's a charm on the train to keep the students from sitting alone--there probably was back then, as well. Regulus Black looked up eagerly as I passed the window of his. I inclined my head to him without smiling, trying to look like some sort of toff. He slid the door open.
"Come sit with us, Severus," he said, his voice a little creaky. He was sitting with Rabastan Lestrange, who was in his last year and doing NEWTS, and Evan Rosier from my year. Rosier turned his handsome face away from the corridor to wince at Black, but moved over. He pulled a deck of cards out of his book bag and jerked his head toward Rabastan. I sat next to Regulus as quickly as I could. The other two started to play some kind of divination game with the cards. All Rosier needs is a scarf over his head to look like my old gran-on the Muggle side. She read tea leaves as well.
"How were your holidays?" Regulus asked politely. He looked scared. It's true, I did hex the first person who asked me about my summer when we arrived back at Hogwarts in the fall. No reason to take out my frustrations on him, though.
"Fine, thank you, and yours?" I looked out the train window, as if to say, "Don't actually tell me, please."
"Grand, thanks to you. I used your spell on my brother. He was very surprised!"
Which spell? Did he have to mention it in front of Rosier, who copied everything? Not to mention the problem of whether Regulus had spoken the spell out loud in front of his brother. If he had, Sirius Black would certainly pretend to have invented it himself and would teach it to everyone. I could imagine a whole school full of people, hanging in mid-air. I didn't want to be one of them.
He looked alarmed; my annoyance must have shown in my face. "I found a book in my parents' library I think you'll want to see," he said. Good save, and finally something potentially interesting.
I took the book from him with the same reverence with which he offered it. He didn't mention the title out loud, and I guessed that I might be reciting a spell if I did so. It was a grimoire, in crazy old Latin. A book on the summoning of demons! That was nothing we ever even mentioned at Hogwarts. Demons sounded like something out of Muggle religion. Were there magical creatures called demons?
"Do you really read that fast?" Regulus asked. Oh Merlin what a freak. He was making conversation with me, like a girl with a crush. I made a "hmmm," noise (what could I possibly say, "Yes I read faster than you do, and my willie is bigger, too.")
"What?" I said, "Do you need it back?"
"No, no. You can have-I mean, you're welcome to borrow it from me when we get to school, make a more thorough study."
I tried to relax enough to smile. He beamed. He was as pretty as a girl too.
"Thank you," I said softly. Somehow his friendliness made me shy. "May I have just one more minute with it now?"
He didn't interrupt as my minute stretched to twenty. He curled into a corner of the seat and said nothing. I didn't bother to keep track of him after that. What if he didn't allow me more time with this valuable book? There was no way I could understand this without a dictionary and hours of study. I hoped he would keep his word. I had to remind myself not to lose my temper with him. Sometimes I did let myself get angry more than was good for me, just to keep the rest of them on their toes.
Finally I handed it back to him, as we were about to pull into the station, and we all got off the train. I walked a little ahead of the rest of them, and heard Rosier cough. He moved in close to Regulus. Going to talk about me, eh? I had a spell for listening. I cast it silently.
"Not very wise, Reg," he said. "You're letting Snape see one of your family grimoires? Do you really want Snape to be able to call up demons?"
"What do you mean?"
"He's a bit of a hothead, our Severus," Rosier said. He smirked.
"He's a good student," Regulus said. "He's committed to the future of magic."
Oho, that made more sense. Regulus didn't have a crush on me. He wanted me to join him in this Death Eater lark. No fear--it sounded like the wizarding world equivalent of the Boy Scouts.
Rosier leaned in, and then spoke in a normal voice. "You're going to recruit Severus Snape. You're mad."
Rosier was a pillock. Regulus clearly thought so, too. "He invents his own spells, Evan. All you've ever invented was a stupid card game where nothing even explodes."
"Seriously, Reg," Rosier said, all pretty teeth and blue eyes, "Snape? He's a loose cannon-wears his heart on his sleeve. Think he can keep a secret from anyone? The moment he loses his temper, he'll tell it all."
"Right, Evan, says the person telling me all this on the Hogsmeade train platform." He walked away, still smiling as though Rosier had told him a joke.
Not a bad fellow, all in all, Regulus.
We went in to the Great Hall for the Spring Feast, and I sat in my spot with my back to the corner, looking at the Gryffindor table. I couldn't help looking at Lily. She was always so beautiful.
Sirius Black stared back at me with an ugly expression, and then looked over at his brother.
Regulus was watching me, again. He could see my pathetic expression, my ceaseless, useless pining after Lily Evans.
His face, when I finally looked at him, was blank, a little sad. Was he disappointed that I was smitten with a Mudblood? I knew they used that term for her, my shining, perfect girl.
"Ask me if I care, Regulus Black," I thought. "Ask me if I care, who her parents are. She didn't care who mine were. Fucking purebloods, who even gives a shit." But I didn't say a word out loud, and I was rewarded.
That evening, Regulus gave me his grimoire and I sat in a corner of the Slytherin common room, taking down notes from behind a bookstand. I had a dictionary. I realized halfway through the third chapter of the book that I had seen the demons it described.
I translated, laboriously, the sentences explaining that the demons would be enslaved until they were given clothing. To cover their human-like forms, the wizard should order them to use the symbols of their slavery to cover themselves, but without making a gift of the object.
I was stuck on the word "towel" for a few minutes. In the background, I heard Regulus Black speaking with soft intensity.
"That's the problem with witches. They're too influential," he said.
"You just don't like girls," Rosier said.
"It's not about that!" Regulus said. "It's about following people just because they're sexually attractive. Girls are too smart to do that."
Rosier laughed. "I don't know, Reg."
"Aren't you full of yourself, Evan," Rabastan laughed too.
Regulus seemed even more intent to persuade them. "A girl from a Muggle family," he began.
"A Mudblood bitch," Rosier said. Regulus drew an exasperated breath.
"Don't use that word," he said. "It's wrong. A nice young witch from a family that doesn't know our traditions can't influence a young wizard in the right direction. That's all I'm saying. If men influenced women in the right way, it would be no problem. If you know a beautiful Mud---Muggleborn witch, with good magic, then you should provide her with guidance."
"I know how to provide guidance," Rosier said.
"Oh shut up," someone else said, or perhaps it was me in my own head. Shut up, shut up
"We can't make all our life decisions based on sex," Regulus said primly. "We have to make magic primary, and not live according to the mores of people who refuse to acknowledge its existence in the world."
"You mean Muggles," Rosier said. "You think they refuse to see magic, not that they can't see it."
"It's a decision every one of us has to make, every day--to affirm our way of life, or to turn to our Muggle friends and their ways."
"Not you," I said to myself. "Never you. You have no Muggle friends. You know nothing about their way of life. You memorized this pretty speech." I wondered whether it was for my benefit, all that nice talk about Muggleborn girls. I knew how they really felt.
But I couldn't worry about it all for long. They might have had time for conversations about the nature of magic and wizarding politics. There was an exam in Defence Against the Dark Arts and I wanted to come first, to beat the Gryffindors. For the entire next week, I tuned them out and did nothing but revise for Defence.
The next time I saw Regulus, I was lying in my bed behind a curtain and wondering how I could kill myself without anyone finding out. Crawl away and die, crawl away and die, I couldn't stop thinking it. Exposed before half the school, hung upside down with my own spell, and then, to make everything so much worseI couldn't even think it. I loved her so much, so much, and I knew she was never going to speak to me again.
I might as well be dead, I thought. Alone in the dormitory, the curtains drawn around my bed, I thought no one would disturb me. I thought wrong. Apparently my reputation for hexing people when I was in a bad way hadn't penetrated Regulus Black's thick, patrician skull, because there he was, looking down at me.
"Get the fuck out," I said.
"Severus," he said, and I could hear he was afraid I would lose my temper. Good.
"Leave, you little queer."
He gasped. "I'm not! I'm not queer."
"Of course you are," I said. It was true, then, but I could see how he wished it weren't. As if it mattered. "You heard from someone who saw my todger and felt cheated you didn't have a look?"
"I'm sorry," he said. He was nearly weeping. "It was my fault. I know my brother figured out your spell because I used it on him."
"Shut up," I said. He sat down on the edge of my bed. "Shut up," I said again, a little more quietly. Don't tell me you're sorry. Don't make me care about you.
"I thought you would hex me. Or punch me."
"I might," I said. He didn't move. "Who the fuck cares about the stupid spell," I said. "I called Lily Evans a Mudblood."
"Oh Severus," he said, and there were tears in his voice now for certain. "Merlin, I'm sorry." There it was, everything.
"You would never say something so vulgar as that, would you, Reggie?" I was almost inert, lying down like a corpse, yet I couldn't stop lashing out at him. "If only I could just die," I said out loud.
"I'll...I'll take revenge for you. I'll--"
"You can't do anything about this. You can't take back humiliation. It's not like a cut that heals over. I won't get over this--there's no magic for it."
If he hadn't been there, it would have been me sobbing at that thought. Instead, he stood there and quietly, gracefully, cried for me. "You're so noble," he said. It was absurd and incredibly gratifying.
I pressed my advantage. "Being a wizard isn't all magical birds and flowers, is it, Regulus. It's all about money and class and who owns whom."
"No," Regulus said, "It's about making the right choices, choosing magic over the people who ignore magic."
I turned over. "You've never had to choose between Muggles and wizards."
"Everyone has to do that."
"Not you. You're one of the owners. Your family calls up demons."
"They might have once, " he said, carefully. He wasn't sure.
I rolled over, sniffled and sat up."Do you have house elves?"
"Of course! Where do they come from?"
"We've always had them. They're magical creatures."
"Idiot," I said, almost affectionately, "Your family called up demons from hell and enslaved them. What are they called, Blinky and Binky and Boffin?"
"What are you talking about?"
"Hogwarts is served by demons, or djinn, if you prefer. All our meals are brought by enslaved supernatural creatures."
"They're elves. I mean, they have magic"
"You've never asked what an elf is. They're the same as demons, and they're slaves. Everyone in the wizarding world has to serve someone. Haven't you noticed that yet? Probably not, as you're one of the masters."
"That's not right. That's not what my father said" He looked stunned, as though he'd never thought of this before.
I allowed this to fade into the air. "Now tell me, Regulus. How do you think of it? What you're doing, here? How do you think of it?"
"I think--I think we're friends, Severus."
"Do you," I said. "So this is friendship." I lay on the pillow, exhausted. It was so comfortable, the Hogwarts bed. I might stay in it for the rest of my life. "I'm not a creature you have to propitiate with offerings in order to reward me for my services."
"No," I said. He was closer. He opened his hand and extended a long thumb to touch my lower jaw, and then my lip.
"You do want something," I said.
"No, yes, I don't know. You're-I think-I like you, Severus."
"You want to get off with me," I said. "I thought you might."
"No, not like that," he said. "I--like you more than that. I don't just--I think you're a very good wizard." He sat there, looking at me, not releasing my hand, for a minute.
"Oh just--you idiotic--fine," I said, and sat up, and grabbed him properly, and kissed him.
"Oh," he said. He was smiling very widely. "I didn't think you would-"
"Shut up, Regulus," I advised him.
We snogged a little. It made me feel good that he was so pleased and I would have been glad to do more, but he was shy. At least, that first time he was. He just held my hand and smiled at me like I was the best thing he'd ever seen.
I still go back to this memory of him, years later. It's the one thing I can't regret, when all the rest of my demons press on me. I don't blame him for taming me, for recruiting me, for civilizing me. All I recall is the feeling his smile raised in me, my unambiguous happiness.