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When Black Met Potter: September '71 by Eleanor Larkin

Format: Novella
Chapters: 10
Word Count: 33,571
Status: COMPLETED

Rating: 12+
Warnings: Mild Language, Mild Violence

Genres: General, Humor
Characters: Lupin, Sirius, James, Pettigrew, OC
Pairings:

First Published: 07/23/2009
Last Chapter: 08/03/2009
Last Updated: 09/02/2009

Summary:


Eleanor Larkin's banners by the magnificent Romulus Flitney.

Ever wondered how Sirius first met James? What the close-knit Gryffindors thought when a member of a Slytherin family was Sorted among them? How the Marauders discovered their first secret passage? How James got his first Invisibility Cloak? This fic is for you! This is my version of the Marauders' first month-and-a-bit at Hogwarts. I hope you enjoy it. Let me know what you think!


Chapter 1: The Blacks
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  CHAPTER 1: THE BLACKS


    ‘Sirius! Time to wake up, son.’
   
    His mother’s voice. Unusually gentle. Sirius Black opened his eyes to see her standing over his bed. This occurrence had often struck terror into him, but today she was actually smiling.
    ‘You don’t want to be late for your big day!’ she said brightly.
    That was it! September First! The day he was to start Hogwarts - the day he had been looking forward to avidly ever since he’d got his letter of acceptance back in June. Sirius woke up properly and sat up in bed, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.
    ‘Good morning, Mother,’ he said, remembering his manners.
    ‘Good morning,’ she replied. ‘Now then, did you finish your packing last night as I instructed?’
    ‘Yes, Mother,’ said Sirius. ‘All except my toothbrush and comb.’
    ‘Good boy,’ said his mother. ‘Now listen carefully to me. Your father and I have not mentioned this before, but we have a rather unpleasant experience ahead of us today. I didn’t want to worry you until absolutely necessary.’
    Sirius’ face fell.
    ‘What is it?’ he asked, biting his lower lip.
    ‘Well,’ said his mother, ‘the Ministry hasn’t yet got round to building our own railway station in London, so the school train is still leaving from King’s Cross. It means travelling through Muggle London, I’m afraid.’

    ‘But Muggles kill wizards, don’t they?’ Sirius breathed in horror.
    ‘Indeed they would if we gave them the chance,’ his mother told him grimly. ‘But we shall all be in disguise, Sirius. It’ll be all right. But you must do exactly as your father and I tell you. They’re slippery characters, Muggles. Some of your classmates will be Muggle-born, and you must not trust them, no matter how they may seem to fit into our world. Fortunately for you, Sirius, you’re from a decent pure-blood family of ancient name. You will almost certainly be Sorted into Slytherin, which only accepts people like us. Your connection with Mudbloods should be minimal.’

    Sirius sighed with relief. A few nights ago he’d had a terrible nightmare. He was at Hogwarts, and he’d made friends with a boy who had Muggle parents, and he’d been invited to stay with the family in the holidays. When he got there he was dragged off to be executed horribly, just like the mediaeval witches and wizards in his mother’s big History of Magic book. Sirius had been taught to read from that book. He’d woken up screaming from the dream, and his father had come to comfort him. Usually he would have told his son to shut up and pull himself together, but when he found out what Sirius’ dream had been about he was oddly sympathetic.

    ‘You see, then, why they can’t be trusted?’ he said soothingly, as he tucked Sirius back into bed. Sirius had nodded fervently in reply.
    ‘Father, do the parents of Muggle-borns kill their own children?’
    ‘No, no,’ his father said. ‘That would defeat the object. Muggle-borns wouldn’t exist at all if their parents hadn’t killed a witch or wizard and stolen their magic. They give the ability to the child while it’s still in its cradle. It’s how Muggles infiltrate our world ... if it weren’t for people like us, they’d bring the whole system down.’
    ‘So they’re even worse than Mudbloods, then?’ asked Sirius, shocked at the thought that such evils were still going on.
    ‘Well, we call them all Mudbloods,’ said his father. ‘You mean half-bloods, I suppose. They are abominations, hardly better, but perhaps that is not worse than murder.’

    ‘You needn’t be afraid,’ his mother told him now. ‘Just do as you’re told, as I said. Over on your chest of drawers is a set of Muggle clothes. Put them on, don’t be embarrassed, it’s necessary for today, for the disguise. Think of it as an adventure.’
    She turned to go.
    ‘Oh, and when you’re dressed, can you make sure your brother’s on his way down? Breakfast won’t wait forever.’

    She left, shutting Sirius’ bedroom door behind her. Sirius shuddered once more at the memory of his dream, then got up and went over to look at the Muggle clothes - jeans, that looked to Sirius like stiff long underwear, a T-shirt, which to wizards was underwear, and a green jumper. He’d never worn a Muggle outfit before. Even though he lived in a house concealed in the middle of a Muggle street, he had never been allowed out except by Floo Powder, so he had only ever worn wizard’s robes. He was pleased to see that his brand new black leather Hogwarts boots had been put with the outfit. Sirius had been looking forward to wearing these most of all. He pulled them on quickly before throwing off his striped nightshirt and the T-shirt and jumper. He found he had to take the boots off again before donning a pair of jeans, the strangest garment he had ever seen in his life. It took him five minutes of twisting and writhing before he realised he’d put them on back to front. How much easier the fly was to button up, when it was at the front!
   
    By the time Sirius had laced up his boots, brushed his teeth and combed his hair, he was longing to get the Muggle clothes off. He’d never been so uncomfortable. The jumper itched and the waistband of his jeans rubbed against his skin. But if it was either that or being murdered by Muggles, perhaps even to steal his magic for one of their own children, he would rather have been uncomfortable any day.

    Sirius was just putting the toothbrush and comb into his overnight bag, when the bedroom door opened and his nine year old brother, Regulus, came bursting in. He slammed the door behind him and flung himself face down onto Sirius’ bed, looking distressed. Sirius noticed that he, too, had put his jeans on back to front. He felt a rare flash of pity for his little brother - after all, he wouldn’t see him for months when he was at Hogwarts. He sat down on the edge of his bed and gave Regulus a gentle shake of the shoulders.

    ‘Hey, what is it?’ he asked, trying to copy the comforting tone his father had used the other night. ‘Is it the clothes? Aren’t they horrid? But we have to wear them or we’ll get murdered by the Muggles. Don’t worry, Regulus, I’ve figured it all out, I’ll help you get them right. Stand up and I’ll ...’
    He stopped talking as Regulus turned around and sat up.
    ‘It’s not that!’ he said. ‘Sirius, please don’t go away. Don’t leave me alone with them! Can’t you pretend to be sick or stupid so you have to come in two years with me?’
   
    Sirius was taken aback. Whatever he might have been expecting, it wasn’t that. He and Regulus did not usually get on, and Regulus was definitely their parents’ favourite. He was better behaved, more polite, neater, tidier - a better son, all round. Sirius hated it, and he quite often hated Regulus because of it. It wasn’t that he didn’t try to behave himself, or that Regulus didn’t sometimes misbehave, and get punished. But somehow, Sirius nearly always seemed to be the one in trouble. Mostly for asking questions. They always told him he asked too many questions.

    ‘That’s nice,’ he replied to Regulus. ‘Typical of you. You don’t care a jot for me, you just want someone at home to take the beatings. Someone for you to show up, blame everything on. Isn’t that right, Reggie, eh?’
    Regulus’ eyes filled with tears.
    ‘The waterworks might work with Mother, but it doesn’t work on me,’ Sirius said coldly.
    ‘What makes you think I’m their favourite?’ Regulus sobbed bitterly. ‘They’re always telling me what a good boy you are, how much cleverer you are than me. And don’t call me Reggie!’

    He threw himself back on his stomach again, beating his fists on the bed, still crying. Sirius realised abruptly that he was feeling sorry for his brother, and felt cross with himself for it. There was no room for being shy or sensitive in the Black family, but Sirius was cursed with both. He’d tried to conquer his failings, but as his father was fond of saying, in the eleven years he’d been alive, Sirius had hardly improved at all. Reminding himself again that he wouldn’t see Regulus for ages after today, Sirius patted him awkwardly on the back. None of them were that good at affection either, and Regulus froze for a second, surprised.

    ‘Do they really say I’m better than you?’ he asked gently. Regulus nodded into the bed.
    ‘They’re playing a mean game then,’ he said. ‘Not that we should expect anything else. But I’ll be back in the holidays, so maybe they’ll leave you alone then and start back in on me.’
    ‘Maybe,’ said Regulus. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. ‘So how do I get these stupid things on then?’
    ‘Other way round,’ said Sirius, with a small laugh. ‘That’s right,’ he added, as Regulus righted himself. ‘OK - you’d better go and wash your face and hurry up about it, breakfast’s ready. We’ll be in enough trouble already for being late. Quick!’
    Regulus got up and ran out of the room without a backward glance. Sirius sighed as he remade his bed, hoping his mother wouldn’t notice the tear stains on the blanket. He looked around his room to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. He put on his watch, and smoothed his hair in front of the mirror.

    Sirius was a slender, pale-skinned boy, a shade smaller than average, but that didn’t bother him because all the men in his family started off short and ended up tall. He had hair as black as his surname, that fell pleasantly over his forehead and curled just a little on the ends. He had a small straight nose, a determined mouth, well defined jawline, and deep set dark eyes. Regulus looked almost exactly like him, but perhaps a little more delicate, not such a strong chin, and his eyes were larger and rounder. The boys they knew teased him for looking like a girl, but Regulus was wiry and could beat any of them in a fight. Only Lucius Malfoy and Rodolphus Lestrange - five years older than Sirius and decided bullies, the pair of them - had succeeded in hurting them. The presence of those two, about to start their last year at Hogwarts, was the only aspect of school Sirius was really dreading. He almost wished he’d be Sorted into a different house, to avoid them ... but he didn’t want to imagine what his parents would be like if he didn’t make Slytherin ... and Sirius’ stomach plummeted to his toes.

    What if he didn’t? What if he was like his Uncle Alphard and got put into Ravenclaw for his brains? They’d beat him every day he was at home, and send Howlers every day he was at school. Sirius’ shoulders slumped as he took his overnight bag downstairs and put it by the door, and wandered into the dining room.

    ‘Don’t slouch,’ his father said from behind his newspaper.
    ‘And eat up,’ said his mother, ‘we’ve got to leave in twenty minutes. Why is it that your brother can come to breakfast on time and you can’t?’
    ‘Maybe because I was making sure I had all my stuff for school! Ow!’
    His mother’s eyes had flashed, there was the sound of a whip cracking, and Sirius’ lip was bleeding. He put his hand to his mouth.
    ‘Don’t answer back,’ she snapped. She flicked her wand in the air and the wound healed. ‘Eat your breakfast.’

    They ate as they always did: in silence. Regulus was dry-eyed and smirking at Sirius getting into trouble. Life had returned resoundingly to normal. The Blacks’ house elf, Kreacher, cleared the plates, and Sirius’ mother ushered them all into the Ministry car his father had hired for the occasion.
    ‘Sit up straight and no messing about,’ she told Sirius and Regulus, as the car pulled out of Grimmauld Place and headed for the centre of London.
    ‘Mother, may I have my wand now?’ asked Sirius.
    ‘Certainly not,’ she answered. ‘You’re not having it until we reach Platform Nine and Three Quarters. You are not to be trusted.’
    Regulus sniggered. Sirius punched him in the arm.
    ‘Ow! Mother, Sirius just hit me!’
    ‘Right,’ she barked, twisting round in her seat and pointing her wand between his eyes. ‘That does it. I won’t put up with any more bad behaviour from you, Sirius. Petrificus Totalis!’

    Sirius froze in his seat. His mother only performed the counter-curse three quarters of an hour later, when the car pulled up outside King’s Cross station.

Chapter 2: Going to Hogwarts
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    CHAPTER 2: GOING TO HOGWARTS


    Stiff from the Full Body Bind, Sirius staggered along beside his mother. His father pulled the luggage trolley on which was his trunk and his overnight bag. He had begged for an owl, but he’d only been cuffed over the head in return. There were no pets in the Black household. Even his parents used post office owls.
   
    Sirius looked fearfully around at the Muggles. He’d hardly seen any before. He watched them, going about their business, buying newspapers and cups of coffee, talking and laughing. He relaxed a little as he continued to look. They didn’t look very dangerous to him. They looked like ordinary decent people - just like witches or wizards, except that they were wearing jeans, suits, T-shirts, jackets, just like Sirius and his family were wearing to blend in with them. Sore and bitter, not wanting to feel anything his mother had told him to feel, Sirius forced himself to stop being scared. He watched the Muggles with growing interest. He wondered ... he couldn’t help wondering ... had they been lying to him all these years? He looked over at Regulus. He was clinging to their mother’s hand, looking frightened, hardly daring to raise his eyes from the ground. Sirius smiled to himself.

    Well, I am the clever one, he thought. I bet they have been lying. I bet there’s nothing wrong with Muggles. I bet ...
    But then his mother’s voice echoed in his head ...
    ‘They’re slippery characters, Muggles ... you must not trust them ...’
    As they started down the escalator to platforms nine and ten, Sirius saw a man in a dark suit, carrying a briefcase, hurrying past them. His face was twisted into a nasty scowl. Sirius’ heart beat faster and he drew closer to his mother.
    All right, he thought. Maybe they’re not all killers. But I bet he’s killed at least three wizards. I bet he bottles magic and sells it to Muggle parents. I bet his briefcase is full of the stuff ...
   
    ‘Here we are,’ said his father, as they approached the barrier. He smiled as he watched a mother and daughter go through onto Platform Nine and Three Quarters. ‘Goodness, Malburga, doesn’t this bring back memories?’
    ‘Indeed it does,’ replied his mother, unsmiling - but when she had smiled at Sirius earlier, that had been the first time he remembered the expression crossing her face since last Christmas.
    She’s probably only got one in her per year, thought Sirius, grinning to himself.
    ‘You can get that insolent look off your face,’ she snapped. ‘I suppose you’re thinking about how old we are - I suppose we seem old to you. Perhaps we don’t need to come and see you off after all.’
    She looked at her husband. He hesitated.
    ‘Are you going to condone rudeness, Orion?’ she barked.
    ‘Of course not,’ he replied in a low voice, ‘I just think it’s rather harsh. After all, he’s only eleven, and he’s going away from home for the first time.’
    ‘But ...’     began Sirius.
    ‘Don’t interrupt!’
    Sirius hung his head as his parents carried on arguing. He’d have been quite happy to go through by himself. He looked at Regulus.
    ‘In case they do make me go through on my own,’ Sirius said, ‘bye, and good luck, I guess.’
    ‘Bye,’ said Regulus indifferently. It was as if their earlier conversation had never happened.
   
    As the elder Blacks continued to snap at one another in hushed voices, another family approached the barrier. A man and a woman each held a hand of their son, a boy who looked about Sirius’ age. Another man pushed a trolley on which a trunk, backpack and a cage containing a barn owl were piled up all higgeldy-piggeldy. The boy was small and skinny with messy dark hair and hazel eyes that twinkled behind glasses. He and his parents had been swinging their arms and laughing, but they stopped at the barrier, and the boy listened to his parents and, apparently, his Uncle Kevin, reminiscing about their first times at Hogwarts. It was all very light-hearted, laid back and cheerful. Sirius watched them, trying not to stare. He had never seen a family like that before.  The father was scruffy-looking like his son, the mother was pretty, though not in a glamorous way, and Uncle Kevin looked a bit slow witted, but quite nice all the same. The boy, seeming to grow bored with the adults’ conversation, looked curiously at Sirius and grinned. Sirius grinned back.
   
    ‘Are you a first year too?’ he asked. Sirius nodded.
    ‘Cool. Aren’t you going through then?’
    ‘When my parents have finished talking,’ said Sirius.
    ‘Oh,’ said the boy. ‘They don’t look very happy,’ he added in a low voice.
    ‘They’re angry with me,’ said Sirius. He felt so awkward and embarrassed at this boy, whose family seemed so happy and relaxed, seeing his parents being their usual abusive selves, that he wanted to sink into the floor.
   
    ‘What did you do?’ the boy asked, astonished.
    ‘I smiled about something, and Mother thought I was smiling about something else,’ said Sirius miserably. He found it hard enough to talk to strangers without having to explain his parents.
    ‘Wow,’ said the boy. He glanced up at Sirius’ mother. ‘She sounds scary.’
    ‘She is,’ said Sirius. He couldn’t help laughing. He was imagining how his mother would deal with such an untidy, outspoken child. Seeing that it was all right to have called his mother scary, the boy laughed too. Sirius relaxed. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d just laughed with someone. He wondered if he ever had. Plenty of people had laughed at him, or he and the same people had laughed and picked on whoever was the current target. But there was no spite in this strange boy’s face.
    ‘James!’ his mother said in a kind, gentle voice that took Sirius by surprise. Did anyone’s mother really sound like that?
    ‘Sorry Mum,’ said James. He turned back to Sirius. ‘See you later!’
    ‘Bye,’ said Sirius.
   
    He watched the boy and his parents disappear through the barrier. He looked at his watch and suddenly felt anxious - it was five to eleven, and his mother and father were still arguing about whether to send him through alone or not. Sirius looked at his trolley, lying abandoned at his father’s side. Did he dare? He’d probably get into an awful lot of trouble, but it couldn’t be any worse than usual, could it? At least - it couldn’t be worse than missing the train to Hogwarts ... the train to freedom, the train that would take him away from his sniping, spiteful family and into a school full of people who wouldn’t care who he was or what he did. Maybe it would even be full of boys like James, who just talked and laughed and joked as if they didn’t have a care in the world, and whose first question wasn’t what your surname was or what house your parents had been in at Hogwarts. But even if it was full of people just like those he knew, Sirius wanted to go, and the clock was ticking ... four minutes to eleven ...

    He grasped the trolley in both hands. James and his parents had just walked straight at the barrier and disappeared, hadn’t they? Well, if they could do it, he, Sirius, could do the same. Who needed parents? He broke into a run, expecting to be called back at any moment, but no one called him, no one stopped him.
   
    Sirius hurtled through the barrier and onto Platform Nine and Three Quarters. He was immediately struck by the sheer number of people, milling around, saying goodbye to their families, shouting to one another, their animals screeching or croaking or miaowing. The Hogwarts Express, a scarlet steam engine, stood there in all its glory. Most people were getting aboard. Sirius looked around for the bespectacled boy called James, but he couldn’t see him. He saw twin girls, one with long hair and brown eyes, one with short hair and unusual golden eyes, farewelling a luxuriously dressed man and woman from the window of one of the compartments. He saw a dark haired, clever looking, very handsome boy hugging and kissing his parents goodbye. He helped a nervous looking younger brother, obviously a first year, get his stuff onto the train, squeezing his shoulders comfortingly as they said final goodbyes to their parents from their compartment window. Sirius felt a horrible pang of jealousy. Why did everyone else have these lovely families, while he and all the children he knew had parents who bullied them and siblings who hated them? He was comforted slightly to see a girl with auburn hair and bright green eyes, trying to say goodbye to her sister, but she scowled and folded her arms, and wouldn’t speak to her.

    ‘Come on, Lily, the train’s about to leave!’ a boy with a large nose called from one of the doors.
    ‘Coming, Severus! Bye Mum, bye Dad,’ said Lily, and rushed onto the train. Her father passed her luggage through the door.
    Sirius sighed - he’d have to move everything himself. He found an empty compartment and managed to get all his stuff, and himself, inside it, just before the train whistle blew and they began to move off. Parents waved, younger brothers and sisters shouted their goodbyes. Sirius felt slightly sick. His family hadn’t even bothered to come after him.

*





    Sirius felt very tired by the time the train reached its destination. After changing with enormous relief into his Hogwarts robes, he’d found a crowd of boys he knew from their parents’ functions, and they’d all crowded into a compartment and played Exploding Snap, practiced some spells, and eaten Chocolate Frogs, Every Flavour Beans, Cauldron Cakes, Pumpkin Pasties and all sorts of other things from the lunch trolley. It had been fun until someone had hit him with a Leg Locker curse. He’d had to lie on the floor for an hour until Lucius Malfoy, who was passing, had performed the counter curse.
    ‘You owe me a favour,’ he had said, and swept off again. Sirius had groaned inwardly. Lucius was the last person he wanted to owe a favour, but neither had he wanted to spend the whole journey on the floor, so he was mostly just relieved to sit down again.

    The train screeched to a stop, and students began pouring out onto the platform of Hogsmeade Station. Sirius and his friends grabbed their stuff and joined everyone else. They followed all the other smaller kids towards a voice that boomed out: ‘Firs’ years to me please! Firs’ years this way!’
    The voice turned out to belong to a huge man with lots of black hair and beard, who introduced himself as Rubeus Hagrid, Hogwarts gamekeeper
    ‘That’s Hagrid to you, now follow me! Leave your trunks and everythin’, they’ll be taken up separately.’
    Rather timidly, keeping close together, the first years followed Hagrid down a winding path to the Black Lake. On the other side of it, glimmering with hundreds of candles in hundreds of windows, was Hogwarts castle. Hagrid gave them a moment to gape at the place, before directing them towards a fleet of little boats moored nearby. Sirius was separated from his friends and ushered into a boat with the twin girls he’d seen at King’s Cross, and, to his delight, the bespectacled boy.

    ‘Hello again!’ he said cheerfully. ‘I’m James Potter, who are you?’
    ‘Sirius Black,’ Sirius replied shyly.
    ‘A Black, eh? Wow. I’ve heard your family’s rolling in it.’
    ‘I suppose we are,’ said Sirius with a shrug.
    ‘I heard the Blacks are pureblood maniacs,’ said the twin with the long hair. She looked disdainfully at Sirius. ‘I dare say you’ll be put in Slytherin with your own kind, so you won’t have to slum it with us normal people.’
    ‘Shut up,’ said James. ‘You’ve never met Sirius, how do you know what he’s like?’
    ‘Well, don’t be shy,’ said the girl. ‘Tell us. Do you use that word, Mudblood, and think we’re all scum? Eh?’
    ‘Ignore her,’ said her twin. ‘We’re four generations pureblood, she’s just trying to get you going.’
    ‘Four generations probably isn’t enough for his sort,’ said the first girl.
    ‘Well why don’t you give him a chance to say what he thinks?’ James said reasonably.
    ‘I -’ Sirius hesitated. ‘I don’t know.’
    ‘You don’t know?’

    ‘Well, my parents are pureblood maniacs right enough,’ said Sirius, still angry enough with his mother and father not to want to agree with them, ‘but I’ve only ever met other purebloods, and I’m going to wait and see what I think.’
    ‘Good for you,’ said James, grinning as the girl sniffed and turned away. ‘I’m what most people think of as pureblood - but I suppose your parents might call me a Mudblood.'
    ‘I wish you wouldn’t swear,’ said the girl, but her sister told her to shut up and she went back to staring at the castle.
    ‘As I was saying,’ said James, ‘my dad’s as pureblooded as they come, but my mum’s Muggle-born. She’s a talented witch, too. Dad says some people put it about that Muggle-borns are using stolen magic, but we all know that’s not true. I’m not sure how I’ll go, all the spells I’ve tried seem to have worked OK, how about you, Sirius?’
    ‘Um - OK, yes,’ said Sirius.

    Actually, all his practice spells had worked perfectly, but he didn’t want to brag when this boy was giving him a chance. He wished he could be as confident as James, who seemed as if nothing at all bothered him. He carried on talking as if he didn’t have a care in the world, and Sirius mostly listened, laughing at the many jokes and silly comments, and feeling pleased with himself when he managed to make James laugh without much effort. Nobody laughed much in his household, and he wasn’t very experienced at frivolity. But if only James would keep being his friend, maybe he could learn to be funny. He thought of how irritated his family would be if he chattered on idiotically all the time. He laughed.
   
    ‘What’s so funny?’ James asked.
    Sirius told him.
    ‘You mean your dad doesn’t make jokes? I thought all dads did. They make the worst jokes in the world, but they’re still funny.’
    ‘Not my dad,’ said Sirius.
    ‘They’re pretty strait-laced in your family, then,’ said James, ‘if you don’t mind me saying.’
    ‘Well, you saw them,’ said Sirius. ‘And they didn’t even come to say goodbye. Not that I care, of course,’ he added, but his careless tone was forced.
    ‘Well, never mind,’ said James, generously. ‘They say your house at Hogwarts is like a family, so you can have a break from your real one when you’re at school.’
    ‘If I’m in Slytherin they’ll all be like that,’ said Sirius gloomily. From today’s experiences he no longer felt afraid of associating with Mud ... with non-purebloods.
    ‘Well you don’t seem like a Slytherin to me, from what I’ve heard,’ said James. ‘I hope you and me are in the same house. I reckon I’ll make Gryffindor or Ravenclaw ... oooh, here we go!’
    Hagrid yelled at everyone to duck. The boats turned into a dank tunnel and came out in a sheltered harbour.
    ‘Everyone out! Follow me, keep up now!’
   
    When all the boats had pulled up, and everyone was on dry land again, they followed Hagrid  up onto the grass near the magnificent front door of the castle. He knocked with his gigantic fist, and the door was immediately opened by a tall, black-haired witch who introduced herself as Professor McGonagall - the Deputy Headmistress, who had sent out the Hogwarts letters. Sirius remembered reading her name. He felt awed by her, as obviously did everyone else, except perhaps James.

    Professor McGonagall led the first years into a little room off the Great Hall, and said she would tell them when the school was ready for the Sorting Ceremony. Sirius suddenly felt very nervous indeed. He knew how his parents would be if he didn’t get into Slytherin, and that scared him. But more than anything else at that moment, he wanted to be wherever James was, even if it meant being in Gryffindor or Ravenclaw, where there were bound to be Mud ... non-purebloods.
    But James has been nicer to me than anyone, ever, thought Sirius. Why shouldn’t I want a friend who doesn’t tease and curse me all the time? Why do people need to be like that?
   
    Shortly, Professor McGonagall returned, and directed the first years to file out of the little chamber and into the Great Hall. Sirius forgot his troubles for the moment, staring up at the ceiling, which was bewitched to look like the sky outside. What seemed like thousands of candles glittered in mid-air above their heads. Hundreds of students sat at long tables that ran from one end of the hall to the other. They stared at the new first years, who walked nervously up to the end of the hall, where an old pointed hat sat on a stool - the Sorting Hat. Beyond that was the teachers’ table, and in the centre was the Headmaster, Albus Dumbledore.   

    ‘I’ve only ever seen him on a Chocolate Frog card,’ whispered James. ‘Hey, Sirius, look at that girl there - see her, with the reddish hair?’
    ‘She’s called Lily,’ said Sirius, looking where James pointed, just ahead of them in the line. ‘I heard someone speaking to her at King’s Cross.’   
    ‘Don’t you think she’s pretty?’ James whispered.
    ‘I suppose,’ said Sirius with a shrug. ‘I think girls are stupid.’
    ‘So do I,’ said James quickly, ‘but there’s no harm in looking, is there?’
    Sirius shrugged again. He hoped James wasn’t going to turn out to be one of those soppy types. He and his friends had never had time for that sort of thing. If anyone showed the slightest tendency to be romantic, he was usually pushed into the nearest body of water ‘to be with all the other wet fish.’

    ‘Quiet please, everyone,’ said Professor McGonagall. There was something in her tone of voice that made Sirius feel very nervous again. ‘The Sorting Ceremony will now begin.’

Chapter 3: Being Sorted
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CHAPTER 3: BEING SORTED


    ‘Oi! Black!’ hissed a voice behind Sirius.
    He turned round to see Guilelme Zabini beckoning to him. Sirius smiled a goodbye at James, and shifted backwards to join the sons of his parents’ circle.
    ‘What’re you talking to him for? We’re your friends aren’t we?’ said Lucas Bulstrode. Zabini nodded emphatically in agreement.
   
    ‘Silence!’ snapped Professor McGonagall before Sirius could so much as shrug. The Hat had been singing, but it had finished now, and the Professor was holding a long roll of parchment.
    ‘Atkins, Rowena!’ she barked.
    A pretty, dark-haired girl with two long plaits moved shyly up to the stool. She took the Sorting Hat and placed it upon her head.
    ‘HUFFLEPUFF!’ shouted the Hat. One of the tables broke into cheers, and Rowena went to join her house.
    ‘Not surprising,’ said Zabini drily. ‘All the Atkinses end up in Hufflepuff. Their blood’s as pure as it comes, but they’re too stupid for Slytherin.’
   
    ‘Bertram, Carl!’ called McGonagall. The brown-haired boy whose elder brother had seemed so protective at King’s Cross approached the front.
    ‘RAVENCLAW!’ said the Hat, almost straight away. Carl Bertram scrambled down and ran to the cheering Ravenclaws, sitting next to his delighted brother who banged him on the back.
    ‘Black, Sirius!’

    ‘See you over there,’ said Lucas Bulstrode, while Guilelme Zabini grinned and winked at Sirius. But Sirius was so nervous he hardly noticed. He moved hesitantly up towards the Hat. When he placed it on his head it fell over his eyes.
    ‘Another Black, eh?’ whispered the Hat in Sirius’ ear. ‘I bet you’re expecting to be in Slytherin. Would it surprise you to learn that I don’t think you fit the Slytherin mould?’
    ‘No,’ Sirius thought back. He’d been listening to the Hat singing about all the different houses. Slytherins, it said, were clever, but would use any means necessary to achieve their ends. He found himself thinking, hoping, that he wasn’t like that - hoping, in other words, that he was different from everyone he knew. It unsettled him, but he had an overwhelming feeling that this moment was going to change the course of his life.

    ‘You are a very clever boy, Sirius Black,’ the Hat continued. ‘One of the cleverest whose head I have ever looked into. I have glimpsed the minds of both your parents, your uncles and aunts, your cousin Narcissa, over there at the Slytherin table - indeed, your illustrious predecessor, Phineas Nigellus Black, who was once Headmaster of this fine institution. Only your uncle Alphard was as clever as you.’
    ‘He was in Ravenclaw,’ thought Sirius. He didn’t want to be in Ravenclaw with those soppy Bertrams. He wanted to be in Gryffindor with the ‘pure at heart’ - that would make his parents the angriest.
    ‘Yes he was,’ said the Hat. ‘But though you may have the brains to shine in that fine house, I can also see courage - great courage, and the potential for incredible loyalty where it is deserved. I think I know where to put you. GRYFFINDOR!’
   
    The Hat shouted the name of the house to the whole room. Sirius felt a surge of pride and relief, and expected the Gryffindors to cheer and welcome him ... but there was only a stunned silence, followed by loud booing from the Slytherin table, except from Malfoy, Lestrange, and his cousin Narcissa who stared in disbelief. Mortified and overwhelmingly disappointed, Sirius slunk over to the Gryffindor table. No one made room for him. He had to squeeze onto the end of one of the benches. He put his head in his hands, desperately holding back tears.
    ‘Silence!’ shouted Professor McGonagall. ‘I am ashamed of all of you, but my own house most of all. Slytherins, you will have ten points deducted from your total when term begins. Gryffindors will lose twenty.’
   
    That shut everyone up, but it didn’t make Sirius raise his head again. He listened to the names being called - Harmony Bones was made the second new Hufflepuff, while Lucas Bulstrode got into Slytherin. Lily Evans, the girl whom James had thought was pretty, was cheered enthusiastically as she took her place at the Gryffindor table. Jerome Goyle, another of Sirius’ old friends, predictably made Slytherin. Then there were a lot of names he didn’t recognise, so he looked up for sheer curiosity. ‘Grant, Hannah, Haran, Jones, Jorkins, Longbottom ...’ then ‘Lupin, Remus,’ a pale, thin, serious-looking boy, made Gryffindor. Sirius found himself waiting nervously for James’ name to be called. If only James got into Gryffindor, at least he would have one friend ... ‘Macmillan, Morris, O’Brien, O’Brien ...’ Sirius was pleased to see that Flora, the long-haired twin who’d got stuck into him on the boat, was put into Ravenclaw, while her nicer sister Laura was Sorted into Gryffindor. Then ‘Perks, William’ was made a Hufflepuff, ‘Pettigrew, Peter’ a Gryffindor after much deliberation, then ‘Prewett, Cassandra,’ who had once stolen her mother’s wand at a party and set fire to Sirius’ hair, was made a Slytherin ... they’d missed out James!
   
    ‘Quinn, Brianna!’ called Professor McGonagall. Sirius saw his new friend looking worried and confused.
    ‘Oh - wait a moment, Miss Quinn - I am sorry, but I appear to have skipped a name on the list. Potter, James!’
    Sirius sighed with relief; so did James. He ran up to the Hat as if he was afraid Professor McGonagall would change her mind. The Hat fell over his eyes, too, as he jammed it onto his head. After a moment it shouted: ‘GRYFFINDOR!’
   
    Sirius cheered with everyone else as James replaced the Hat onto its stool and came over to the Gryffindor table. A few people shifted to make room for him, but very deliberately he bypassed them, and walked right to the end, where he sat down next to Sirius. They both grinned and clapped each other on the back.
    ‘All right?’ said James. ‘Gosh, I thought there’d been a mistake and they were going to send me home!’
    ‘I thought so too for a minute,’ said Sirius.
    ‘Oh, hey,’ said James, in a much lower voice. ‘I thought they were rotten to you. Just because you’re a Black - I mean, my grandma on my dad’s side was a Black! All the old wizarding families are related, your name doesn’t make you a Slytherin.’
    ‘I was really glad the Hat put me here,’ said Sirius gloomily. ‘Now I feel like I’d like to be re-Sorted. I won’t have any friends here.’
    ‘You’ll have one,’ said James firmly.
    ‘Thanks,’ said Sirius, a little awkwardly. He had no idea why James had decided to stick by him like this, but he was very grateful.

    He didn’t know what else to say, so he just sat in silence and watched the rest of the Sorting. ‘Quinn, Brianna’ became a Hufflepuff, ‘Riley, Claire,’ a wiry, sporty-looking girl, a Ravenclaw. Morgana Rosier, another acquaintance of Sirius’, became a Slytherin. A couple of names down the list, Lily Evans’ friend Severus was also made a Slytherin. She looked a bit disappointed, but to Sirius it was a foregone conclusion - Severus Snape was a sullen-looking, greasy-haired boy who seemed to fit in very well among the Slytherins.
   
    Then Linda Travis approached the stool. Sirius looked at her with interest - there were lots of Travises. He was related to some of them. They were all, or had been, Slytherins. Rowan Travis, a deathly pale second-year with a face like a weasel, was a particularly nasty one. He watched his cousin Linda intently from the Slytherin table. When she was made a Ravenclaw, the Slytherins didn’t dare boo, but the Ravenclaws fell into a stunned silence. Then the Bertram brothers began to clap, and at the look on Professor McGonagall’s face, so did the rest of them. Linda sat with the Bertrams, who immediately began to befriend her.

    It was almost over now ... ‘Tremaine, Adela’ ... ‘Wood, Gregory’ ... ‘Yaxley, Drucilla’ ... and finally, Guilelme Zabini sauntered proudly over to the Slytherins to almost deafening applause.
    ‘All your old mates are over there, right?’ said James to Sirius.
    ‘Yep,’ said Sirius. ‘But I don’t think I’ll miss them.’

    After a magnificent start-of-term feast, the first years trooped sleepily upstairs behind their prefects. The Gryffindors followed a tall, deep-voiced sixth year boy named Kingsley Shackelbolt, who everyone seemed to call ‘Bolt’ for short. He took them up stairs, along corridors, up more stairs, until they all felt quite lost.
    ‘And watch out,’ Bolt said, as they passed a portrait of two ladies who were currently having a tug-of-war with a hairbrush, ‘the teachers aren’t very sympathetic about new students getting lost. Most of you will probably get points taken off for lateness if you’re not careful. Best to allow plenty of time to get places, your first few weeks.’
    ‘I’d rather stay in bed a bit longer, thanks,’ said James. Sirius laughed.
    ‘Suit yourself,’ said Bolt, overhearing. ‘But you’ll soon learn to hate losing house points. No one in Gryffindor will thank you for it. If you’re the sort of person who only thinks about yourself, there’s a shortcut to the Slytherin common room just down there.’
    ‘There you go Black, your dream escape!’ someone called.
    ‘Ignore them,’ muttered James.
   
    Presently they came to a portrait of a very fat lady who woke from a doze to ask them for the password.
    ‘Galloping gargoyles,’ said Bolt, and the portrait swung back, revealing a good-sized hole in the wall. ‘Remember that,’ he added to the first years, ‘or you won’t be able to get in.’
    He led them into a large common room decorated in the Gryffindor colours, full of chairs and tables for doing homework, and squashy armchairs for relaxing. Sirius and James exchanged a pleased glance. Sirius was sure it would be a much better common room than whatever Slytherin might have. For one thing, he’d heard it was in the dungeons, whereas the Gryffindor common room was near the top of a tower.

    Kingsley Shacklebolt led the first years through a stone archway on the other side of the common room. There were two staircases spiraling upwards into the tower.
    ‘Girls, you’re the one on the right - boys, the left. Yours are the dormitories marked “first years,” obviously. Now I’m sure you’re all very tired, it’s been a big day for you today, so I’d advise you all to get some sleep so you’re refreshed for when classes start tomorrow. You’ll find your luggage has been brought up already. You will receive your timetables tomorrow at breakfast. That’s about all I think, so welcome to Hogwarts, and welcome to Gryffindor. I’m sure most of you will do us proud. Good night.’

    ‘I’m sure he looked at me when he said “most of you,” ’ Sirius said to James as they climbed the stairs to their dormitory.
    ‘What of it?’ said David Morris, another new Gryffindor. ‘If you’re decent you’ll prove it, Black, and if you’re not, well, that’s your own fault isn’t it?’
    ‘He is decent,’ said James.
    ‘Oh yeah? How long have you known him?’
    ‘Only since this morning,’ James admitted, ‘but I can tell things about people. Sirius is all right, and unless he proves otherwise I’ll duel with anyone who picks on him, all right?’
    ‘Fine, fine,’ said David, putting up his hands. ‘I’m willing to give him a chance.’
    ‘Will you please stop talking about me as if I’m not here?’ Sirius asked quietly.
    ‘Sorry,’ said James with a laugh. He pushed Sirius forward into their dormitory, a round room with a high vaulted ceiling, furnished with five magnificent four-poster beds, and wardrobes and cabinets for their possessions. ‘Yep - you’re definitely here.’

*

    ‘So who’s everybody, then?’ asked David Morris, when they’d all changed into their pyjamas and chosen beds. James’ was by the window, and his barn owl, Winnie, perched on his bedside cabinet for a while before soaring out towards the Owlery. ‘I was too busy eating to pay much attention at the Feast. I’m David Morris.’
    ‘Well, I’m James Potter,’ said James, ‘and this is Sirius Black as you know. I didn’t catch you two others’ names either I’m afraid.’
    ‘I’m Remus Lupin,’ said the pale, thin boy. His voice sounded pale and thin too.
    ‘I’m Peter Pettigrew,’ said a chubby, fair-haired boy who Sirius had barely noticed being Sorted, he had been so anxious about James.
   
    ‘Good to meet everyone,’ said David Morris. ‘Well, we all know Black’s background, what about the rest of you? I’m Muggle-born myself. I can’t wait to get to know Quidditch, I’ve heard it’s better than anything we’ve got.’
    ‘What’s your football team?’ asked Remus.
    ‘Man U. Yours?’
    ‘I don’t really have one, but my dad’s a huge Celtic fan. He’s Muggle-born. As for Quidditch, well, we all support the Holyhead Harpies in our family.’
    ‘I’m a Falmouth Falcons man,’ said James. ‘I can’t wait for Quidditch tryouts, can you?’
    ‘They say first years shouldn’t even bother,’ said David, dismally.
    ‘I wouldn’t bother in any case,’ said Remus. ‘I - get ill, you see.’
    ‘Sorry to hear that,’ said Sirius. ‘What’s the matter with you?’
    ‘Um - well - they don’t know what it is, actually,’ said Remus, all in a rush, looking at Sirius suspiciously. ‘But I get it a lot. I’d be no good for Quidditch.’
   
    ‘I’m trying out, I don’t care what they say,’ said James. ‘Shame first years aren’t allowed their own brooms, but at least there are school ones. My dad says they’re hopeless but they’re better than nothing.’
    ‘I’ll try out too, I guess,’ said Sirius.
    ‘Good thinking,’ said James. ‘Nothing wins people over like Quidditch. If you did well you’d be the most popular kid in no time.’
    ‘But you’ve got to understand,’ said Remus quietly, ‘it’s nothing personal, but people find it hard to trust a Black.’
    ‘I get it,’ said Sirius through gritted teeth, ‘but I don’t have to like it.’
   
    ‘Oh, come on, enough talking!’ said James, leaping up and jumping on his bed a few times. He grabbed his wand. ‘Let’s practice some spells! What’s anyone learned so far?’
    ‘Nothing,’ said Sirius, ‘my mum wouldn’t let me have my wand until today.’
    ‘You mean you haven’t studied?’ said Peter Pettigrew, speaking for the first time since he introduced himself. ‘I’ve been reading like crazy, I don’t want to fall behind. I’ve always been hopeless at learning things.’
    ‘You’ll be all right,’ said James airily. ‘Hey, check this out!’
    He said an incantation, and a jet of blue flame shot from his wand to hang in mid-air for a moment, before James put it out with a flick of his wand.
    ‘Brilliant!’ said Peter, staring in awe at James.
    ‘Cool!’ said Sirius. Jumping up on his own bed, he tried the spell. It worked! He laughed with pleasure.
    ‘Hey, you’re a natural!’ said James.
   
    ‘OK, I’ve got an idea,’ said Sirius. ‘We jump on our beds at the same time, we cast the fire spell, and whoever gets it the highest wins.’
    ‘Wins what?’ asked James, out of breath from bouncing.
    ‘I dunno - I’ve got a box of Every Flavour Beans in my pocket.’
    ‘That’ll do,’ said James with a grin. ‘OK - ready? One - two - three - FOR THE BEANS!’
   
    They both jumped as high as they could and cast the fire spell. James’ was just a few inches above Sirius’.
    ‘That’s not fair, I’m taller than you are!’ protested Sirius. ‘Your mattress must be springier.’   
    ‘Rubbish, I’m just better at jumping!’ said James. ‘Come on, let’s go again.’
    Counting together this time, they leapt into the air, and this time, Sirius won.
    ‘Best of three?’ he said breathlessly.
    ‘Let’s do it!’ said James. ‘One - two - three - whoa!’   
   
    James had overbalanced in mid-air; he fairly flew across to land on Sirius’ bed, crashing into him just as he was casting his spell. Sirius’ wand arm went haywire, and the spell shot straight into James’ bedroom curtains, setting them alight.
   
    ‘Oops,’ said James.
    Sirius wriggled out from under him.
    ‘Yeah,’ he said.
    They both stared at the fire, spellbound for the moment.
    ‘Oh no - oh no, we’ll all burn to death!’ Peter cried, running around in circles for a few seconds before rushing out of the room.
    ‘Idiot,’ said David. ‘What good’ll that do? Anyone know a water spell?’
    Sirius and James both shook their heads.
    ‘Shouldn’t someone go for a Professor?’ asked Remus Lupin.

    It turned out that Peter had done just that. Half a minute later Professor McGonagall came running in, and put out the fire with a powerful jet of water from her wand.
    ‘Well,’ she said, ‘your bed is soaked, Mr Potter, but I can soon fix that.’
    With a wave of her wand the water rushed back into her wand tip with a loud rushing noise, and the curtains repaired themselves.
    ‘Anyone hurt?’ she asked.
    The boys shook their heads.
    ‘Good,’ she said curtly. ‘Now - Mr Pettigrew here told me what happened, and needless to say I think the pair of you, Black and Potter, were behaving extremely foolishly. Even the smallest Muggle child knows that to play with fire, especially indoors, is very dangerous indeed.’
    ‘Sorry Professor,’ said James, his eyes downcast.
    ‘Sorry Professor,’ echoed Sirius.
    ‘It’s your roommates you should be apologising to. They’re the ones who might have died because you thought you’d play a stupid game,’ said the Professor crossly. ‘Be that as it may, I think I have a suitable punishment for you. Twenty points will be taken from Gryffindor, and you will both receive detention. You will come to my office straight after dinner tomorrow evening and I will tell you what you have to do. For now, I suggest you all go to bed. If I hear any more bad reports about you two tonight I’ll have you in detention for a month. Now good night.’
   
    She swept out of the room, not seeming as if she wished them a good night at all. As soon as she was gone, Sirius and James burst out laughing - since none of them had burned to death, it all seemed like a fantastic joke now.
    ‘Go ahead, laugh,’ said Remus sarcastically. ‘Lucky Peter used his head, that’s all.’
    ‘Oh, don’t be such a stick-in-the-mud,’ said James. He got into his own bed, and drew the curtains.
    ‘Good night all,’ he said.
   
    Sirius was still laughing as he drew his own curtains, and as he lay down to sleep, he thought he couldn’t have been Sorted into a better house.

Chapter 4: The First Day
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CHAPTER 4: THE FIRST DAY


    Sirius and James didn’t have the best first day they could have hoped for. For one thing, there was the prospect of detention hanging over them, and they had no idea what they were like. For another, word had got round that they had lost twenty points for Gryffindor on their very first night at Hogwarts and no one would speak to them except their fellow first years, and even they weren’t much company. David Morris said an indifferent ‘Morning,’ Remus Lupin gave a weak smile in their direction. Peter Pettigrew was the most annoying. He wouldn’t leave James and Sirius alone. He followed them to breakfast and was so distracting that they all got lost. James promptly told Peter to ‘get lost.’ Sulkily, Peter joined the other first years, who were all sitting together, looking at their newly received class timetables, avoiding Sirius. Only Laura O’Brien came up to say hello.
   
    ‘Hey, I heard you started a fire last night!’ she said with a grin. ‘What on earth were you doing?’
    ‘We were practicing a spell,’ said James.
    ‘And jumping on our beds at the same time,’ said Sirius, smiling sheepishly.
    Laura laughed, her golden eyes twinkling at them.
    ‘Sounds like your dormitory’s more fun than mine,’ she said ruefully. ‘All the girls are nice and everything, but they started talking about shoes, and none of them were the least bit interested in Quidditch.’
    ‘What’s your Quidditch team?’ asked James.
    ‘Falmouth Falcons,’ said Laura promptly.
    ‘Mine too!’ said James. ‘Though they’re not nearly so good since the Broadmoors retired.’
    ‘I know, isn’t it tragic?’ said Laura. ‘All the fun’s getting sucked out of the game. Hey, are you two trying out for the school team? They say first years never get picked, but I’m still going to try. I might get reserve or something.’   
    ‘I’m going to try out,’ said James. ‘Want to come and see Madam Hooch with us at lunchtime?’   
    ‘Why not?’ said Laura. ‘Anyway, see you in class.’   
    ‘Bye Laura,’ said Sirius.
    ‘Oh - don’t call me that,’ she said. ‘Everyone at home calls me Merlin - because of the eyes. And so my name doesn’t rhyme with my sister’s. It’s hideous, being a twin.’
    She grinned again and went back to her place.

    ‘Hideous being the twin of that Flora girl, anyway,’ said James.
    ‘Yeah,’ said Sirius. ‘But at least Merlin doesn’t seem to think I’m a Dark wizard in disguise.’
    ‘I don’t think Merlin thinks about much except for Quidditch,’ observed James.

    Just then the post came - hundreds of owls swooping in, dropping letters on people’s heads and in their laps, or into bowls of cornflakes. When a large, red envelope fell onto Sirius’ empty plate, he knew his day was about to get rapidly worse.
    ‘Oh dear,’ said James, gulping. ‘Well you’d better open it.’
    ‘I knew she’d do this,’ Sirius said bitterly, ‘I just knew it.’
    He opened the envelope, and the Great Hall was filled with a magically magnified, very angry woman’s voice. Malburga Black sounded on the brink of insanity - not that that was all that unusual, Sirius reminded himself, as he felt the eyes of the school boring scornfully into him.

    ‘I ALWAYS KNEW YOU WEREN’T FIT TO BE A BLACK! YOUR FATHER AND I ARE DISGUSTED! YOU’RE A DISGRACE TO THE FAMILY! THERE MUST BE SOMETHING FUNDAMENTALLY WRONG IN THAT PATHETIC LITTLE HEAD OF YOURS, IF THE SORTING HAT PUT YOU IN GRYFFINDOR! IF YOU WEREN’T ELEVEN YEARS OLD I WOULD TURN YOU OUT OF THE HOUSE! DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT MAKING FRIENDS WITH THOSE PEOPLE, SIRIUS ORION BLACK! I HAVE EYES AND EARS IN THAT SCHOOL, AND BELIEVE ME THEY WILL BE WATCHING YOU! IF I HEAR ANY UNFAVOURABLE REPORTS YOU’LL WISH YOU’D NEVER BEEN BORN! BUT PERHAPS THEN WE MIGHT AGREE ON SOMETHING!’
   
    The Howler ripped itself into tiny pieces and disintegrated. The Great Hall was completely silent. Sirius had slumped down in his chair, tears burning the backs of his eyes. Pride was the only thing that stopped him running out of the room. People were staring at him from all directions.
    It was James who came to his rescue. He stood up and bellowed at the school.
    ‘What’s the matter? Haven’t any of you had a Howler before? I bet you have. Mind your own bloody business!’

    Professor Slughorn, the Potions master, promptly took five points off James for swearing, but his words had the desired effect. Slowly, people went back to their breakfasts, and a buzz of chatter filled the Hall once again.
    ‘I’ve lost my appetite,’ said Sirius, swallowing a few times, pulling himself together.
    ‘Me too,’ said James. ‘Come on. It’ll probably take half an hour to find the classroom. What have we got first?’
    ‘Transfiguration,’ said Sirius. ‘Then Herbology, then break, then double Charms before lunch.’
    ‘OK, let’s go,’ said James.

    He jumped up to leave, but Sirius stayed put.
    ‘What? Don’t you want to get out of here?’ he asked laughingly.
    ‘James - I appreciate you being my friend, and everything,’ Sirius said slowly, looking up at James who was still standing. ‘But it’ll be a bad start for you. I don’t want you to be hated just for sticking with me. You don’t even know me. It’s not fair on you.’
    ‘Look, don’t be a git,’ James began, then he frowned. ‘Hey, you want to be my friend don’t you? Are you saying that to get rid of me?’
    ‘Of course not!’ Sirius retorted hastily. He wanted to be James’ friend more than anything in the world, and he hadn’t dreamt that James might take his words the wrong way.
    But at least he seemed to believe him. He simply said: ‘Good,’ dragged Sirius to his feet, and marched him out of the hall.

*



    The boys were glad to be distracted by the morning’s classes. In Transfiguration they were  impressed by Professor McGonagall turning herself into a cat and back again (‘I’m going to learn to do that when I grow up!’ James whispered delightedly to Sirius), before she set the Gryffindors the task of turning matches into needles. Sirius and James both managed this straightaway, but they were the only ones who did. About halfway through the class, Lily Evans caught up with them.
    ‘Nice one, Evans,’ James called to Lily. She smiled briefly, but it didn’t look as though she was keen on James using her surname.
   
    They found Herbology dull. Sirius lost five points for getting his quill eaten by the Venomous Tentacula - he had been using it to tickle the plant at the time - but Lily made up for it by getting ten points for knowing the average lifespan of a Puffskein. James made daft remarks and the class laughed, but when Sirius tried to join in, only James seemed amused.
    ‘Don’t worry,’ he whispered, when Sirius looked fed up about this. ‘They’ll come round.’

    After break was Charms, where the Gryffindors were joined by the Ravenclaws. Professor Flitwick split them all into pairs. He thought he was being kind by putting the O’Brien twins together - ‘after all,’ he squeaked, ‘I expect you’ll be missing each other, being in different houses’ - but although Flora didn’t seem to mind, Merlin looked fed up. She looked like she was hoping to work with James or Sirius. James was annoyed at being paired with little Peter Pettigrew, but nothing like as annoyed as Sirius, because he was forced to work with Carl Bertram. The worst thing was, Carl seemed really nice, so Sirius couldn’t even feel justified in his resentment, which he knew was only because Carl had such a nice, loving family. Sirius felt petty and childish. He forced himself to try and be nice back.

    ‘Tell me one thing,’ said Carl, after the first hour of class, when their pathetic reserve of small talk had died down and they had both just about mastered the Wingardium Leviosa charm. ‘Are you like your family? Do you hate Muggle-borns?’
    ‘No,’ said Sirius firmly. ‘I was brought up to hate them, but I’ve met loads in the last couple of days, and there doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with them.’
    ‘Well, it’s obvious from that letter you got that you’re not like your family,’ said Carl, with a wry smile. ‘People are laughing at you, but they’re not saying you’re a Slytherin in disguise any more.’
    ‘Good,’ said Sirius curtly. He wasn’t in the mood for talking about it.
    ‘I’m a Muggle-born,’ Carl went on, clearly feeling it was safe to speak freely now. ‘My dad’s a doctor and my mum’s a psychiatrist. Me and my brother Noah are the first wizards in our family. I was worried Noah would be the only one, but then I got my letter so it was all right.’
    ‘Well,’ said Sirius, ‘surely there’s nothing wrong with being a Muggle.’
    ‘There isn’t,’ said Carl, ‘but I’d hate to be going to some boring old Muggle school while Noah’s off learning to be a wizard.’
    ‘Yeah, I see what you mean,’ said Sirius, even though for the last few years, he’d been hoping secretly that Regulus would turn out to be a Squib. Unfortunately his younger brother was already showing signs of magical talent.
    Oh well, thought Sirius. At least he won’t be in Gryffindor.
    He was in a better mood by the end of class. He’d won some of his points back by being the first student to get the Wingardium Leviosa charm perfect. Peter Pettigrew started looking at him admiringly now, as well as James, while David Morris grinned and said: ‘Good one, Black.’

    After Charms it was lunchtime, and the first years poured out of the classroom, all saying how hungry they were. Sirius felt the same. He’d never had to use his brain for that long before, and his head was spinning. He followed the others, hoping they all knew where they were going. Carl Bertram was still chattering away, and Sirius listened politely, not wanting to be mean and make himself even more unpopular. They met a bunch of second years coming out of Defence Against the Dark Arts. Two of them broke away from the others and joined the first years. When Sirius saw who it was he groaned. Rowan Travis and Orville Crabbe. They stuck out legs to trip people up, and got Peter with a Leg-Locker curse, before Travis came up and shoved Carl Bertram roughly from behind.

    ‘Oi - you Noah Bertram’s brother?’
    ‘What if I am?’ Carl replied coolly.
    ‘Your brother’s a nasty little tick, that’s what. He deliberately pretended to get the Expelliarmus spell wrong, and I got a wand up my nose. Could’ve killed me. He’s stayed back to ask Professor Pringle something, the teacher’s pet. Coward too I dare say, doesn’t want to face me. But since he’s not here I think I’ll take it out of you. Where’s your money bag?’
    ‘Piss off, Travis,’ said Sirius, stepping between him and Carl.
    ‘Piss off yourself, you traitor,’ said Travis. He was bigger than Sirius, and he pushed him aside easily. He lunged at Carl’s belt.
    ‘Give it here or I’ll charm it off you, then you’ll be sorry!’ Travis said, an ugly smile on his face. A small crowd had gathered, watching the altercation but not doing anything. Crabbe had his wand drawn and along with the other Slytherins, was keeping any potential help at bay.
    ‘Doesn’t look like you’ve ever had a belting,’ said Travis scornfully. ‘Bet your dad’s as pathetic as you are. Hasn’t got it in him. It’s a shame - a few lashes and you might grow some balls.’
    He raised his wand. Carl held on to his belt, obviously not thinking to draw his wand.
    Fight back you idiot, Sirius thought. He stepped forward to try and help again, but Crabbe’s large, heavy foot crunched down on his, and two hands like a pair of boiled hams shoved him backwards.

    Suddenly, there were cries of ‘Ouch!’ from the crowd, and people jumped up in the air to avoid a series of tiny blue lightning bolts that stung their ankles. Noah Bertram came striding through the gap, wand drawn ... but when he reached Travis he put it back in his belt and grabbed him by the collar from behind. His face was livid with anger. Travis was caught by surprise and for a moment, let himself be half-carried down the corridor. The crowd of students, including Carl, followed.
    ‘Noah! Noah, what are you doing?’ he asked anxiously.

    Noah turned Travis around and wrenched the wand from his hand. He shoved him roughly against the stone wall, with Travis’ head narrowly missing a carved wooden shield that hung just above.
    ‘Don’t you threaten my brother,’ Noah spat furiously. ‘If you so much as breathe heavily on him again I will disembowel you with my bare hands. Do you understand, or do I need to speak more slowly? Use smaller words, perhaps?’
    ‘Oh, I understand,’ said Travis, with a nasty smile. ‘Those threats are nothing new for Muggles and Mudbloods. My parents have books that still contain the screams of decent pureblooded witches and wizards who’ve been tortured by your kind over the centuries.’
    ‘That never happened,’ said Noah icily. ‘Weren’t you listening to Professor Binns this morning? The people who got tortured were Muggles - they’re hopeless at recognising real magical folk so they mostly just picked on each other. If any Muggle ever caught a real witch or wizard, they protected themselves with magic!’
    ‘Propaganda,’ sneered Travis. ‘Any decent wizard knows that.’
    He shook himself free of Noah’s grip and looked about to lunge for either his or Noah’s wand. But Noah, who hadn’t been raised to rely on magic, simply drew back a fist and aimed a vicious punch right at Rowan Travis’ nose. Travis ducked; the Slytherins burst into laughter as Noah’s fist connected with the wooden shield, cracking it in several places. There was also the nastier noise of bones cracking, and Noah gasped with pain, clutching at his bloodied, broken hand.

    But that was nothing to what happened a split second later. The shield was obviously covering the trigger to a secret passage, because the wall collapsed under Travis’ weight and he disappeared behind it, the passage shutting itself up again immediately. His face, before it was blocked from view by stone wall, looked so surprised and panicked that it was funny. It was now the Gryffindors’ and Ravenclaws’ turns to laugh ... all except the Bertram brothers, who had run for the hospital wing.
    ‘Rowan! Rowan, can you hear me?’ Crabbe yelled. He pushed at the shield, but nothing happened. The force of Noah’s punch must have damaged the trigger. Sirius and the others laughed harder, especially when they heard a faint, muffled banging and shouting.
    ‘Serves him bloody well right!’ Sirius said loudly, addressing the Slytherins. ‘You lot can’t get away with bullying forever. Something was bound to happen!’
    ‘Come on, let’s get Filch,’ said Crabbe sullenly. He and the other Slytherin second years slunk down the corridor and out of sight.

    *



    Sirius hadn’t done much in the fight, it’s true. But when they all entered the Great Hall for lunch, the Gryffindor first years moved up to sit with him and James, and they all talked and laughed as if there had been no animosity between them whatsoever. After they'd eaten, Sirius, James, David and Merlin clattered cheerfully along to sign up for Quidditch trials. At dinner the Bertrams were both there, with Noah’s hand looking as good as new. They both nodded hello at Sirius; Carl had obviously told his brother that Sirius had tried to stick up for him.
   
    Sirius and James still had their detention to do that night ... or so they thought. It turned out that they had to master the water jet charm that Professor McGonagall had used to put out the fire. They’d be using it all the next afternoon, cleaning out a blocked pipe that apparently ran the length of the second floor.
    ‘But we’ve got double Defence then!’ James protested.
    ‘Then you will have to work hard to catch up, won’t you?’ was the Professor’s reply. ‘Still,’ she added, as they got up to leave her office, ‘well done, the pair of you. You may be a pair of mischief makers, but most fourth-year wizards couldn’t learn that spell in an hour.’
    ‘Thanks, Professor,’ they both replied, a second from unison.
    ‘Very well,’ she said. ‘To bed, both of you - and no shenanigans tonight, please.’

Chapter 5: Settling In (Sort Of)
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Author's Note.

Sirius' and James' first detention is the subject of a forthcoming one-shot fic - bear with me!



CHAPTER 5: SETTLING IN (SORT OF)


     Sirius and James were both soaking wet and cold when they got back from their detention, and were neither of them particularly eager to repeat the episode. So for the next few days they kept their heads down and tried to get through the veritable mountains of homework all the first years were convinced they’d been set. Poor Peter Pettigrew moaned and groaned for hours every night. He would probably have failed everything were it not for Remus and Lily helping him out.

    As for Sirius and James, they had been inseparable from their first day onwards. They were good company for each other; they were equally intelligent, they had similar senses of humour, and they found they could make not only each other laugh, but everyone else as well. Soon enough, their classmates were laughing at things Sirius said too. Sirius felt settled, popular and appreciated.
    He couldn’t write home about it of course, his parents wouldn’t have wanted to know he was happy in Gryffindor, and he was sure Regulus wouldn’t care. But he did have occasion to write to somebody, after he received a letter at the end of the first week of term.

Dear Sirius (it read),
    I hope you’re settling in nicely and enjoying school. Congratulations on making Gryffindor, it is a fine house. I know many people in our family set a lot of store by being in Slytherin, but don’t take it to heart. The average wizard lives to be over seventy, and your time in one of the Hogwarts houses is seven years of your life. In other words, my dear nephew, houses are not everything. I don’t expect your mother and father would be very happy to read this letter, so let’s make it our little secret, eh? Write to me whenever you like, I would be interested to hear how you’re getting on.

    Your affectionate uncle,
        Alphard Black.


    Uncle Alphard was Sirius’ favourite relative. He was the clever one, the one who’d been in Ravenclaw. He always gave the best presents at Christmas and birthdays, and he was the only member of Sirius’ family who hadn’t inflicted some sort of physical pain on him at some point in his life. Sirius wrote back to him straight away.

Dear Uncle Alphie,
    Thank you for your letter. I’m settling in fine. The Gryffindors didn’t like me much at first because I’m a Black, but we’re all quite good friends now. The best friend I’ve made is called James Potter. He says he’s got some Black blood in him somewhere, but he doesn’t look anything like us except for his hair, and even that sticks up all over the place. Mother would have forty thousand fits if she saw him. She sent me a Howler when she heard I got into Gryffindor. You’re right, they’re not too happy. But I don’t mind that really. I’m getting good school marks so hopefully they’ll be pleased with me for that. The work’s really easy, but there’s a lot of it!

    Your nephew,
        Sirius.
    PS - I won’t tell Mother and Father about the letter.


    Sirius wasn’t lying; he was settling in fine. Until something happened to turn all the Gryffindors against him again. It was all Lucius Malfoy’s fault. Him and the rest of the Slytherins. Once the damage had been done, Sirius felt like kicking himself for not realising what they were up to ... but it had started off so simply.

    It was the third week of term, the day after Sirius and James had served a detention for sneaking into the Forbidden Forest after Herbology one afternoon. (Their resolve to behave themselves had lasted a grand total of nine days.) They’d been up until midnight on Sunday, chopping wood ‘since you seem to be so fond of it,’ said Professor McGonagall. On Monday morning Sirius was tired from the hard work, and not really concentrating on anything. So when Lucius Malfoy, a boy he’d known all his life, came up to him in the Great Hall after breakfast and greeted him, Sirius automatically said hello back.
   
    ‘So how’s it going?’ Lucius asked in a friendly, offhand way. ‘Sorry you didn’t make Slytherin. I’m sure you’d have made us proud.’
    ‘Don’t be so sure,’ said Sirius coldly.
    He expected to be jinxed, but Lucius just laughed loudly as if Sirius had made a hilarious joke. He slapped him on the back so hard that Sirius nearly overbalanced.
    ‘Ah, Sirius, you’ve always had us in stitches. Always ready with a good line! My dad always reckoned you’d be some sort of writer one day.’

    Lucius had walked away before Sirius could reply. If he hadn’t been so tired he would have been suspicious. He had never made many jokes before starting at Hogwarts - any ‘good lines,’ as Lucius called them, would have been called rudeness and earned him a beating at home.

    All that day and for the rest of the week, various Slytherins, including the first years, came up and chatted to Sirius. He felt quite pleased that his old friends hadn’t forsaken him. He’d been sure they would never speak to him again after he made Gryffindor, and for nearly a fortnight, they hadn’t. But they all came up, alone or in pairs, shook him by the hand or clapped him on the shoulder, and said things like: ‘Bad luck about that Howler mate,’ or ‘Never mind, eh, my mum can be a bit of a dragon too.’ Rodolphus Lestrange, with the confident swagger of the rich and very good looking, accompanied Sirius halfway around the school, talking animatedly and hardly seeming to notice when Sirius didn’t say much. All the times he’d bullied Sirius over the years, made him cower with fear at the sight of the angular face with its cruelly twisted smile that never touched his pale blue, icy eyes, might never have happened.

    By Friday, people were whispering that Sirius Black was exactly the sort of two-faced Slytherin scum they’d all thought he was. Even James seemed puzzled - ‘if you’re not their friends, as you say, then why are they all still speaking to you?’
    ‘I don’t know,’ Sirius had replied. ‘Believe me. I really don’t.’
    ‘Well - I guess,’ said James, but he still frowned, and if it wasn’t Sirius’ imagination he behaved a little coldly towards him that day.
    Then at dinner, Noah Bertram accosted Sirius as he was getting up from the Gryffindor table. There was a concerned look on his face. Sirius knew the word ‘sanctimonious’ from his mother’s History of Magic book, the word ‘pillock’ from everyday life, and he thought both of them.
       
    ‘Look here, Black,’ said Noah. ‘You told my brother you don’t hate Muggle-borns, and all that, right?’
    ‘Yeah, so?’ said Sirius, feeling harrassed.
    ‘Well look - I know it’s none of my business, but you’re hardly going to improve your reputation by staying friends with all those Slytherins you grew up with. You stood up to them the other day, why the change of heart?’
    Sirius opened his mouth to explain that it was them talking to him, not the other way round - that he’d been glad to have been Sorted into Gryffindor and he didn’t care if he never saw or spoke to any of them again. But pride stopped him. He wasn’t going to be told what to do by the likes of Noah Bertram.
   
    ‘You’re right,’ he answered instead. ‘It is none of your business.’
    ‘Then it looks like we were wrong about you,’ said Noah, sounding very sad about it.
    ‘Oh yeah - we!’ exploded Sirius. ‘Always we. Do you two only have one brain between you or what?’
    ‘Don’t get like that,’ began Noah, pleadingly.
    ‘Shut up,’ snapped Sirius. All his feelings about his own family came rushing out in a jealous rage.    
    ‘You think you’re so perfect, don’t you, you neat little Ravenclaw brothers with your wonderful school marks and your lovely pious little family. I bet you’ve never had a row in your lives, have you? You just get on so well all the time, don’t you, and your parents are so proud of their little darlings, aren’t they? You just skip through life like a pair of fluffy rabbits, you don’t realise that everyone around wants to vomit every time they look at you.’
   
    Noah raised his eyebrows.
    ‘If you want a fight, Black, I think you’ll find I’m a match for you.’   
    ‘Huh! Don’t tempt me,’ scoffed Sirius.
    He turned away, but Noah grabbed his shoulder angrily.
    ‘Don’t turn your back on me after insulting my family like that! Do you think you can just walk away, you Slytherin scum?’
   
    Think of Sirius’ resolve as a length of rope that has been half chewed through by rats. Then someone starts pulling at it, not knowing that it’s close to breaking. Slowly but surely the frayed fibres tense and snap, until there’s just one small piece left intact. At the words ‘Slytherin scum,’ that small piece broke in two.

Something in Sirius’ brain flashed red.

    The next thing he knew his knuckles were hurting, and Noah Bertram was sprawled on the floor in front of him, blood pouring from his nose.

*




    On Saturday morning, Sirius woke up in the hospital wing with a bad headache. Slowly it all began to drift back to him. He’d punched Noah Bertram on the nose - well, he asked for it, thought Sirius angrily. Then Carl Bertram had jumped him, sending them both flying over the Gryffindor table and covering several people in bits of roasted vegetables. Sirius had been caught by surprise and Carl had got the upper hand quickly.
    Well, Sirius admitted awkwardly to himself, I suppose I asked for it, really.
    He couldn’t remember what happened next.

    ‘I’ll say this for you,’ said a familiar voice beside him. ‘There can’t be many first years who’ve got up to that much in their first three weeks.’
    Sirius turned his head to see James sitting beside his bed - James, who he thought might have abandoned him! Sirius couldn’t help grinning.
    ‘What happened to you?’ he asked, trying to sit up. James was sporting a black eye under his glasses, but looked otherwise unharmed.
    ‘I pulled Carl off you. You were knocked out - hit your head on the table I think. I got Carl on the ground, got a couple of punches in. Then he hit me. Then McGonagall and Slughorn broke it up, packed us all off to the hospital wing. We’ve all got detention except Noah. I lost thirty points, so did Carl. You lost fifty because you started it. Noah lost ten points for provoking you. But everyone except the Slytherins thinks the Bertrams are heroes. They’re saying awful things about you, and no one’s said a word to me. Oh, I tell a lie, that Lestrange bloke came up to me and said: ‘Come and join us. You and Sirius were obviously sorted into the wrong house.’
    ‘What did you say?’ Sirius asked weakly. His head was fuzzy and he could hardly think straight.
    ‘I told him to get knotted of course,’ James said savagely. ‘You realise it’s their fault, don’t you? The Slytherins? I’ve figured it out. They were pretending to be friendly to turn everyone back against you. And it’s worked, too.’

    ‘You believe me, then? That I wasn’t being friendly with them?’
    ‘I thought back over it,’ said James. ‘I never saw you look pleased to see them.’ Not quite meeting Sirius’ eyes, he added: ‘Sorry I doubted you before.’
    ‘It’s OK,’ Sirius said quickly. ‘No hard feelings. Thanks for sticking up for me and everything.’
    ‘No problem,’ said James, ‘what are friends for? Now listen. We’ve got to get Madam Pomfrey over here to check you over, say you can get up. It’s Quidditch trials this afternoon!’
   
    ‘Oh - oh no, I forgot,’ groaned Sirius. He put a hand to his head. ‘I don’t think I can manage it, James. You go without me.’
    ‘No way! You’re coming and that’s that,’ said James. ‘Like I said before, nothing wins people over like Quidditch. Soon get you back in their good books.’
    ‘What if I don’t want to be? What if I don’t care?’
    James put his head on one side and looked shrewdly at Sirius.
    ‘But you do, don’t you?’
    Sirius didn’t say anything.

Chapter 6: Quidditch Trials
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CHAPTER 6: QUIDDITCH TRIALS


    ‘Come on, Madam Pomfrey, please!
    ‘No, Potter. You heard what I said. Black has concussion, he needs rest.’
    ‘But he can have rest later! He just has to get up for a couple of hours!’
    ‘To play Quidditch!’ Madam Pomfrey pursed her lips.
    ‘Not to play, to try out! It’ll only be for a few minutes, Madam Pomfrey! Come on, he needs this!’
    ‘He needs to play Quidditch?’
   
    ‘Listen,’ pleaded James. ‘You don’t want to be ina - inun - uh, busy, with people who’ve been beaten up, right? I mean, your - your valuable time, Madam Pomfrey, should be spent on important things like brewing Pepperup Potion, flu season is coming you know. And if Sirius plays Quidditch it’ll show he’s on Gryffindor’s side, the fights will stop.’
   
    ‘Hmm,’ said Madam Pomfrey. The idea was obviously attractive to her. Healing Noah’s broken nose, and Carl’s two broken ribs, had ruined her Friday evening, which was usually spent with a book and a cup of cocoa. She looked over at her desk, where her cocoa still stood, cold and untouched, and a romantic novel - A Short Spell In Heaven by the popular writer Jacinta Roebuck - was propped open on its spine. James had not failed to notice these things. In fact, he had turned his head sideways to look at the back of the book, and he was wondering vaguely why the length of the hero’s wand was so important to the plot as to be part of the blurb. It was only other day that Professor Flitwick had assured them all so fervently that size wasn’t important ...

    ‘Very well,’ said the matron at length. ‘But if Black isn’t brought straight back here after the trials are over there’ll be trouble, do you understand me? Endangering the health of a friend is liable to lose you even more points from Gryffindor, young man.’
    ‘He’ll be OK,’ said James reassuringly.
    He hastened over to the bed where Sirius still lay, looking fed up - not that he could blame him. It had been a rotten trick on the Slytherins’ part, turning two houses against Sirius. James, whose mother had had occasion to accuse of being self-centred and thoughtless, really felt for Sirius; he had done ever since he had met him on Platform Nine and Three Quarters.

    He had looked at the Black family, cold and unfeeling, except for the boy his own age whose eyes were full of quiet sadness, though he stood as straight and rigid as any of them. He had watched the parents arguing over how cruel they were going to be towards their son. Even his brother didn’t seem to care about him. James, an only child, had always wanted a brother, and he couldn’t believe that Regulus didn’t appreciate the one he had. Somehow, James had known from that moment, he was going to be friends with Sirius. He felt a sense of duty, as if it was up to him to unlock whatever was behind all that pain, bring out the real person. He had felt determined to befriend him, to stick by him. And apart from that short moment of doubt the day before, he had.

    In the three weeks that they had known each other, James had already noticed Sirius begin to change. He had loosened up, lost some of his shyness, smiled and laughed more. James’ mother was right - he had never worried about anyone but himself before. But as he watched his friend open up under his influence, James felt a sense of responsibility; he had someone depending on him, and he actually didn’t mind. He wouldn’t know it until he looked back many years later, but he was beginning to feel what it was like to have a brother.

    James dragged Sirius out of bed. He groaned, but didn’t complain. James saw Sirius’ clothes neatly folded on a nearby chair, and he threw them at him, telling him to get dressed quickly. Quidditch trials started in just over an hour, and they needed time to get some breakfast. When Sirius had put his boots on the wrong feet, and his robes on back to front, Madam Pomfrey bustled in with a small glass containing a lime green potion.
    ‘Drink this,’ she said, ‘it’ll help you keep your strength up. But you’ll feel pretty tired when it wears off, I don’t recommend it except in special cases. I want you back here as soon as the trials are over, do you hear me?’
    ‘I hear you,’ said Sirius. He grinned cheekily. ‘I heard you the first time.’
    ‘None of your lip, sonny jim. Look at the state of you.’
    Deftly she yanked off his boots and put them on the right feet.
    ‘Oh, I wondered why my feet hurt,’ said Sirius vaguely. He sat there like a passive doll while she shifted his robes around. Then he drank the potion.
    ‘Mmm,’ he said thoughtfully. ‘That’s not too bad considering it’s medicine!’
    ‘It has a lot of sugar in it,’ said Madam Pomfrey. ‘The rush will keep you going. According to the recipe, if you drink more than three glasses in a twenty-four hour period, all your teeth will simultaneously drop out.’
    Sirius winced. James chuckled; he knew Sirius was vain about his teeth. But he had to admit, if he was Sirius he’d probably be a lot vainer himself. James knew very well that Sirius was the type of boy who grew up to look like the people in magazine advertisements, and he, James - well - wasn’t.
   
    But he didn’t mind. It was for girls to torment each other for their looks. He’d seen some of the Slytherins chanting ‘Carrot top!’ at Lily Evans. At the opposite end of the corridor where it happened, he’d been making his way up to defend her, when Severus Snape appeared and did it for him. James was surprised until he remembered that Sirius had said they were friends. They’d known each other before Hogwarts, or something.
    ‘Leave off, you idiots!’ Severus said. ‘Her hair’s auburn, not ginger. Are you blind? Do you realise how stupid you all look?’
    ‘Why don’t you mind your own business, Severus!’ said one of the girls. ‘Why are you so interested in a Mudblood? Not turning traitor like Black, are you?’
    ‘Of course not,’ snapped Severus. He turned to Lily; once he stopped facing the Slytherin girls his face softened.
    ‘Go on, Mudblood, get out of here if you know what’s good for you,’ he said. He left just enough space between his other words and ‘Mudblood’ to let her know he didn’t mean it, but not to make it obvious to the Slytherin girls. Lily obviously got the hint, because she didn’t look upset when she turned around and walked off down the corridor.
    ‘Oh, hi Potter, what are you doing here?’ she asked. She persisted in using his surname because he always used hers.
    ‘Nothing much, are you OK? I saw them bullying you. I was going to tell them off ...’
    ‘Oh, don’t worry, Severus fixed it,’ Lily said cheerfully. ‘See you later.’
    ‘Do -’ James hesitated, feeling suddenly nervous. ‘Would you like me to walk with you a bit?’
    Lily laughed, striking his pride full on.
    ‘Don’t be silly,’ she said. ‘I’m fine, I told you. Thanks though, and all that.’
    She walked off. The next time James saw Severus Snape, he felt not his usual indifference, but a burning hatred that he couldn’t explain.

    *



    James herded a still-vague Sirius into the Great Hall for breakfast. It was quite late, and not many people were still there. The Bertram brothers were thankfully absent. Lily was there, with her friends Annie and Vanessa. James immediately felt awkward. He’d felt awkward in her presence ever since that day with the Slytherins.
    ‘All right Evans?’ he said, ruffling her hair as he and Sirius walked past.
    ‘Hey - get off, Potter, you numbskull!’ Lily said crossly, smoothing her hair down. James laughed as he walked away. Somehow, teasing her made him feel better.
    ‘What’re you winding up Lily for?’ asked Sirius, helping himself to some orange juice.
    ‘Dunno, just felt like it,’ said James with a shrug. ‘Girls always spend too much time on their hair, serves ‘em right to get it messed up once in a while.’
    ‘Fair enough,’ said Sirius. He blinked a few times, and James immediately felt concerned.
    ‘Are you feeling any better?’ he asked.
    ‘Getting there. I think that potion’s working,’ said Sirius. He smiled reassuringly.
   
    They ate quickly, since the Quidditch trials were in twenty minutes and they still had to get to the broom shed. First years weren’t allowed their own brooms, and they would have to borrow the school ones. David Morris and Merlin O’Brien were engaged in an epic whinging session about this, and didn’t stop until they’d all chosen brooms and were walking towards the Quidditch pitch.
    Kingsley Shacklebolt, the Gryffindor captain, was waiting for them, along with the rest of the team. Older students, who had their own brooms, were already there. There were eight people trying out in total. James’ heart sank - what chance did they have, as first years?
   
    ‘Hello, first years!’ Bolt called cheerfully. ‘Great, now we’re all here, we can start. Now, in case you don’t know everyone, this is Bessie Marsden, Chaser, Mark Prewett, Chaser, Patrick Hallam, Seeker. I’m the third Chaser. We’re looking for two Beaters and a Keeper today. I’m going to test your skills in all areas, so don’t go for just one position. First years, you know it’s very unusual for anyone so young to get into the team, but we go on skill not age. It’s just that older people tend to play better. This isn’t always true, so try your best. Now - when I blow my whistle I want you all to fly around the perimeter of the pitch as fast as you can. I want to see how tight your turns are.  I won’t be judging you on speed because I know the school brooms would put you at a disadvantage there. Keep going until I blow my whistle again. Mount your brooms now.’
   
    They all did as they were told. James and Sirius were both experienced flyers, but David had never been on a broom before their first flying lesson. But now he shouted ‘Up!’ and sat astride his broom as if he’d been doing it all his life.
    Bolt blew the whistle, and immediately everyone rose into the air and flew off around the pitch. James had always found flying easy, and Sirius was pretty good too. It looked like Morris was a natural. Some people veered off at the corners, but the three first year boys turned perfectly every time, except that Sirius missed just one. They must have flown round six or seven times before Bolt blew his whistle again and they all clattered back to the ground. He was holding a clipboard and scribbling away with a quill.
    ‘Well done, everyone!’ he said. ‘Right - now let’s see how well you hit a Bludger! Don’t worry, Madam Pomfrey’s sitting right over there, so any injuries will be Healed straight away.’
   
    They spent the next ten minutes dodging Bludgers and hitting them. James found he was good at dodging but couldn’t hit to save his life. Merlin seemed fairly good at both. There were four standouts, and James was happy to see that two of them were first years, and one of them was his best friend. He had suspected that Sirius would have some skill at hitting things, and privately felt that it would be very good for him. The other was David Morris, but James, even trying to be as objective as he could, didn’t think he was quite as good.
    I wonder if they’ll get it? he mused to himself.

    Next it was time to test their reflexes. The three Chasers got into formation, and all the people trying out took it in turns to guard the goalposts. James found he could do this fairly well. Sirius was hopeless. David obviously still had his mind on the previous task, because he dodged the Quaffle a few times rather than saving it. He retreated to the ground, blushing furiously.
    Merlin O’Brien was a different matter. She seemed to be able to predict where the Quaffle was going before anyone shot the goal. She saved everything so efficiently that the Chasers decided to step it up a notch, but no matter what they threw at her, she let nothing into the goal hoops. Everyone applauded when her turn was over. She looked flushed and happy. James couldn’t imagine anyone who more belonged on a Quidditch pitch. If he’d been captain it would have been a foregone conclusion.

    ‘All the positions we’re looking for have been tested,’ said Bolt. ‘But we’re always on the lookout for reserves, so I’d like to see how you go at some basic Chaser formations, and we’ll also test for Seekers.’
    The Seeker test was pretty straightforward - first Bolt lobbed some ordinary Muggle tennis balls into the air, to see who could catch them. James was proud to find he was the only one who caught them all, though several people only missed one or two. Sirius was one of the worst, but he applauded James enthusiastically. Then Bolt let out the Golden Snitch, and had two people race for it at a time. James was paired with Luke Randall, a second year who had proved an expert with a Beater’s bat, but couldn’t catch a Snitch to save his life. James’ eyes and reflexes were better; he was also a better flyer. He streaked ahead of Randall and felt a rush of triumph as his hand closed over the struggling golden ball.
    Yes, he thought triumphantly. If only they were looking for a Seeker this year!

    There was only the Chaser test to go. Both James and Sirius did all right at that, although they were a bit wobbly trying to keep in formation. Bolt acted as Keeper when they tried to shoot goals, and only Mindy Hampton, a seventh year girl who was last to have her go with the Quaffle, got one past him. Bolt grinned and called ‘Well done!’ before blowing his whistle.
   
    ‘OK, guys, well done to everyone!’ he said, after making a few final notes. ‘It’ll be a tricky choice this year. Go and find seats in the stands, I’m going to confer with the team, and we’ll call you back over when we’ve decided.’
    ‘Nerve wracking hey?’ said Luke Randall.
    ‘I’ll say,’ said David.
    ‘I think I’ll throw up if they don’t get back to us in five minutes,’ Merlin said earnestly. Her golden eyes looked very bright; she was hugging her knees and rocking back and forth in her seat as if this was the most important thing in the world.
    ‘I’d be happy enough with reserve,’ said Sirius with a shrug. ‘I didn’t really expect to get in this year.’ Then he winced and put a hand to his head.
    ‘Are you OK?’ James asked worriedly.
    ‘I think I’d like to go back to bed soon,’ Sirius admitted.

    Bolt and the others didn’t seem to take all that long, although Merlin kept asking everyone how many hours it had been. The whistle blew again as the tall captain beckoned them over.
    ‘OK, we’ve made our decision,’ said Bolt. ‘I won’t keep you waiting. We’ve decided the new Beaters will be Mindy Hampton and Luke Randall. David Morris and Sirius Black will be reserves, since you two were the next best. You’ll be given preference at tryouts next year, when Mindy’s left.’
    Everyone clapped. Mindy and Luke beamed and shook hands with each other.   
    ‘Next is the position of Keeper. Now I said we went on skill not age, and I think you’d all agree that Laura O’Brien was far and away the best. So congratulations Laura, you’re our new Keeper!’
    Merlin jumped up and down and shrieked and said thank you, and only just remembered to remind Bolt about her nickname.
    ‘Kevin Newton and Wendy Quinn, you’ll be reserves,’ the captain went on. ‘Now - none of you were too bad as Chasers, but there were no real standouts this year. Everyone who didn’t get in may be called upon as reserves as of when someone’s needed. But I’d like to name James Potter as reserve Seeker. I thought you played excellently, Potter. I may well have you play a couple of times this year, just to see how you do under pressure. Seekers are hard to find, and a real match is the best kind of training. Patrick won’t hold it against you, he did the same when he was your age.’
    Patrick Hallam grinned at James.
    ‘I’ll help train you up too, if you like,’ he said. ‘Let’s book the pitch tomorrow and do some practice.’
    ‘OK,’ said James, grinning back. He was excited - to think, he might soon be playing in his first real Quidditch match!
   
    They all walked back up to the school in high spirits. Gryffindors didn’t tend to be bad losers, and even those who hadn’t got anywhere congratulated those who had. Sirius seemed as delighted that James had got a reserve position as he was with his own success. When he banged him on the back and told him he’d be brilliant, James felt even better than when he’d been praised by Kingsley Shacklebolt.
    But it didn’t escape his notice that Sirius was flagging. He kept blinking vigorously to dispel flashing spots of light in front of his eyes, and he even seemed to forget where they were going a couple of times. By the time they reached the hospital wing, he was leaning heavily on James.
    ‘Right,’ said Madam Pomfrey, bustling over (she’d gone straight back after the Beater tryouts had finished). ‘Let’s get you back into bed then, young man. All right, Potter, you can let him go now, he’ll be all right with me. He just needs rest, he’ll be fine by tomorrow.’
    ‘Go on,’ said Sirius. ‘You should be celebrating.’
    ‘Nah, I’m not in the mood,’ lied James. ‘I’ll keep you company.’
    ‘Well you can help him undress then, Potter, I dare say he’ll find you less embarrassing than me,’ said Madam Pomfrey. She smiled at them and went away to get Sirius a glass of water.
   
    ‘I don’t need help,’ Sirius protested, but he almost fell over trying to get his boots off.
    ‘It’s my fault you’re feeling so rotten,’ said James, when Sirius was tucked up in bed. ‘I shouldn’t have pushed you into getting up.’
    ‘It’s OK,’ said Sirius. He smiled. ‘You were right. Didn’t you notice? They were including me as much as anyone today. It’s almost like last night never happened.’
    ‘I hope it lasts,’ said James. ‘Quidditch types aren’t the same as everyone else. You’re playing on their team so you’re OK by them - the others might be harder to convince. But at least you should have a few more friends now, and Quidditch players are popular so it’ll hopefully bring the others round, at least that’s what I thought.’
    ‘Thanks,’ said Sirius. ‘If it wasn’t for you ...’
    But he stopped then, obviously embarrassed.
    ‘How about I go and get my chess set?’ James said. ‘A game or two might, you know, help you to focus.’
    ‘Thanks,’ said Sirius again, ‘but I think I might just go to sleep, actually. Go back and congratulate Merlin, if she hasn’t fainted with happiness by now.’
    ‘All right,’ said James. ‘Get better.’
   
    Back at the common room, the Gryffindors were engaged in all-out celebration. The first years were ecstatic that one of their own had been chosen to play Quidditch, and everyone else just spotted the opportunity for a knees-up. Congratulations flowed in for James, too, as reserve. A few people asked him where Black was. When James told them Sirius was resting because he had concussion, one or two frowned and said it served him right, but the majority said to tell him ‘Get well soon’ from them.
    ‘He’s an idiot,’ said one of the fifth years, ‘but at least he’s willing to do something for Gryffindor.’
    ‘OK, OK,’ said James. He had been hit with a sudden flash of inspiration. He stood up on one of the tables and shouted for attention. Everyone looked at him. For a split second he felt nervous, but James Potter was a born performer, and he soon launched into his speech.
   
    ‘Listen, you lot,’ he said. ‘I want to tell you something about Sirius Black - as his mate, and a witness to what’s been going on. I know you think he’s some sort of traitor, but he wouldn’t have been Sorted here if he was supposed to be in Slytherin. Can’t you see they’re jealous? You know what an important family the Blacks are to that lot. Sirius is clever and talented, and he would have made them look good - so they’re trying to make him look bad to us, in revenge! Sirius never asked them to come and talk to him. And as for punching Noah Bertram, well, I was pretty near when it happened, and I tell you, Bertram provoked him! Are you really going to side with a Ravenclaw against one of our own? And he is, I tell you, he is one of us! You’re right, Richard or Ronald or whatever your name is, Sirius is willing to do something for Gryffindor. But if you carry on treating him like an enemy he’ll stop being willing. Driving someone away because of what family they come from is a Slytherin thing to do. I thought Gryffindors were better than that.’

    ‘We are,’ called someone. ‘And I haven’t seen any evidence that Black is one of us.’
    There was a murmur of agreement.
    ‘But if you lot carry on bullying him you’ll make that true!’ said Merlin, jumping up beside Sirius. She obviously thought as the hero of the hour, her words might carry some weight.
    ‘We’re not bullying him, we’re protecting ourselves!’ said another voice in the crowd.
    ‘Yeah, we don’t want to be infiltrated!’ said someone else.
    ‘Well I think Sirius is all right,’ said David Morris. He joined Merlin and James on the table, making it creak under three people’s weight. ‘Come on, you two ... Lupin, Pettigrew ... you know him! If the Slytherins are only pretending to be his mates to turn us against him, what other evidence is there that he’s a traitor?’
    ‘None,’ said Peter. ‘I think he’s all right. I always thought so.’
    He looked at James for approval. Resisting rolling his eyes, James nodded at him. He knew very well that Pettigrew had been gossiping along with everyone else, but if the little rat was willing to help now, that was fine by him.
    ‘He’s been nice and polite to me,’ said Remus Lupin, in his quiet, shy voice.
   
    ‘I think we should give him another chance,’ said Bolt. ‘Give him a week. Everyone be nice and normal with him, see how he responds. If we’ve still got any doubts after that, we’re quite justified in shutting him out.’
    ‘You won’t regret it!’ said James. He and the others jumped down from the table.
    ‘But don’t say anything to Black!’ said Bolt, raising his voice above the chatter that had instantly restarted. ‘Just be normal. This is an experiment.’
    ‘Right,’ said a few people. They were all getting bored now. They were far more interested in partying than whether some little first year was popular or not. Someone brought out a radio and turned it up to full volume. A few of the older ones fetched some food and drink that they’d got from Hogsmeade.

    James was just reaching for a Pumpkin pasty when Mindy Hampton touched his arm and beckoned to him. He followed her out of the common room, where she ducked out of sight under the girls’ staircase.
    ‘What?’ James asked, puzzled. He joined her. She towered over him.
    ‘You’re absolutely sure about Black? It’s not just that you’re his friend?’ she hissed.
    ‘If I wasn’t sure about him I wouldn’t be his friend,’ said James.
    ‘Right,’ said Mindy. ‘I asked Bolt and we’re playing Slytherin the Saturday after next, the first match of the season. I’m going to get mysteriously ill. And I shall tell Bolt that Black’s the better reserve.’
    ‘So he’ll get to play?’ James said. ‘That’s brilliant - he can make a big show of clobbering the Slytherins, and ...’
    ‘Exactly,’ said Mindy. ‘It’ll help. Now I’m off to bed, because today I really do have a cold coming. See you later, Potter.’
    James felt he could definitely enjoy the party now.

Chapter 7: Gryffindor vs Slytherin
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CHAPTER 7: GRYFFINDOR VS SLYTHERIN


    For the next week, the Gryffindors’ collective attitude to Sirius seemed to have miraculously changed. When Sirius came back from the hospital wing on Sunday, people clapped him on the back and congratulated him on making reserve. Someone gave him a bottle of Butterbeer that was left over from the party. No one mentioned the Slytherins, or James’ speech. They just pretended that the previous week hadn’t happened. Sirius didn’t ask questions, he just hung round with James as usual, was polite when people talked to him, and slowly, James noticed the furrow go out of his brow, the slump go from his shoulders, and the good humour return to his face. Word got round to the Ravenclaws about what had really happened with the Slytherins, and the Bertrams came up to shake hands with James and Sirius. There were stiff apologies all round, and they were back to nodding terms again, just six days after the fight. After a week had passed, there was no further mention of ‘experimenting.’ Sirius simply melted into the framework that was Gryffindor house. Almost as quickly as he had become hated, Sirius became just another face in the common room.

    Yet as far as James and Mindy Hampton were concerned, there was no harm in making sure of things. The day before the Quidditch match, after a quick conference with James, Mindy began to complain that she wasn’t feeling very well. She didn’t eat any lunch. In the common room that afternoon she went up to Kingsley Shacklebolt while he was finishing his homework, and they conferred quietly in a corner for a few minutes.

    Sirius and James were sitting with the other first year boys. They had a Transfiguration test on Monday, and Remus, Peter and David were all sweating over it. Sirius and James were playing Exploding Snap. They’d only had to read through their notes once before they knew it all.
    ‘Snap!’ called James, for the fourth time in a row.
    ‘Cheat!’ retorted Sirius. ‘You can’t just get it that quickly so many times, you must be looking!’
    ‘Cheat? Cheek more like!’
    James launched himself at Sirius and there was a friendly scuffle. It ended abruptly when they knocked into the table and made Peter’s ink bottle teeter precariously.
    ‘Take it somewhere else, you two!’ said David. ‘You may not have any trouble with this stuff, but we regular people find it murder.’
    ‘Yeah, you could make yourselves useful,’ said Remus. ‘Look at the girls. Lily knows it all too, but she’s not messing about, she’s helping the others.’
    James looked over at Lily. Remus was right - she was sitting there as patiently as could be, testing Annie Cuthbert.
    I’ll show her, he thought. I’ll teach her to call me a selfish bighead.
    For she had done, that very afternoon. She had seemed to grow to dislike him more and more, as the term went on. Everyone else laughed when James played up in class. No one cared any more if he lost a few points here and there. But Lily was different.
    ‘Come on, Peter,’ he said, trying to make his voice sound kind. ‘I’ll test you.’

    *





    Sirius tested David and Remus once he realised he’d lost his Exploding Snap partner. It wasn’t too bad. He found David nice enough but a bit wooden, not much personality. But he quite liked Remus. He felt sorry for him, being ill so much. He’d been away for three days the week before, and had come back looking awfully pale, but just said: ‘It’s my normal sort of illness.’ He wouldn’t elaborate.
    But even apart from that, Sirius had the feeling he didn’t know everything about him. He respected Remus’ right to secrecy. After all, he hadn’t told people everything about himself. Even James didn’t know what things were like for him at home.
   
    Sirius looked thoughtfully at Remus. He understood his shyness and lack of confidence. He’d had it himself when he started Hogwarts, and still did a little. He didn’t stop to think that the root of Remus’ detachment might be different from his own. As far as Sirius was concerned, it meant there was something about him he didn’t want people to know. For Sirius, it was the hatred and fear he had for his family, the store of painful memories. It was knowing that sooner or later he’d have to explain away the nightmares he’d had since he could remember, that he was sure had only stopped because he was in a different place ... every night before he went to sleep he worried that he was going to wake up screaming ... and what a relief, though it made him feel guilty to admit it, to hear Remus tossing and turning, moaning in his sleep! Yet he couldn’t help feeling curious. Did Remus have an abusive family too? He’d talked quite fondly about them, so unless he was a very good liar it wasn’t that. So what was Remus’ secret?
   
    ‘What?’ asked Remus.
    ‘Oh. Sorry,’ said Sirius. ‘I wasn’t staring at you, I was staring into space and just happened to be looking in your direction.’
    ‘Well, I’ve been waiting for about five minutes for you to ask me the next question,’ said Remus, apparently not noticing the not-very-good lie.
    ‘Sorry,’ repeated Sirius. ‘OK - what’s the incantation for ...’

    ‘Excuse me,’ said the deep voice of Kingsley Shacklebolt. The boys looked up to see him standing next to their table.
    ‘Sorry to interrupt,’ said Bolt. ‘Black, can I have a word please?’
    ‘Sure,’ said Sirius, glancing an apology at Remus.
    He followed Bolt to a seat near the fireplace.
    ‘OK, Sirius, it’s like this,’ said Bolt. ‘Mindy Hampton’s sick. She’s not going to be able to play tomorrow. I’d like you to take her place.’
    Sirius was silent for a moment, taking it in.
    ‘Well? You’re a reserve, we’re calling upon you. What do you say?’
    ‘Yes, of course I’ll do it!’ said Sirius, with a big grin. ‘But I haven’t touched a bat since the tryouts!’
    ‘I’ve thought of that,’ said Bolt. ‘Let’s get Randall and go out for a practice. There’s still a bit of light left. Bring Potter if he’s finished his homework.’
    ‘OK,’ said Sirius. ‘Can you just give me five minutes though? I’ve got to finish something off.’
    ‘Yeah,’ said Bolt. ‘Oh, and there should be a set of robes in that old trunk in the dressing room. We always keep a couple of spares just in case. I’ll see you on the pitch.’
   
    ‘Thanks!’ said Sirius. He stood up; he was going to go back and finish testing Remus before disappearing for the rest of the afternoon. As he looked over at the corner where his friends were sitting, he noticed James watching him and Kingsley Shacklebolt intently, grinning. He looked away quickly when he saw Sirius.
    Sirius was puzzled. Had James known Kingsley was going to ask him? At any rate he looked pleased about something. Sirius rushed over.
    ‘James, guess what!’
    ‘What?’
    ‘Mindy’s ill, she can’t play, so I’m going to be in the match!’
    ‘Hey, that’s fantastic!’ James said, jumping up to bang Sirius on the back. ‘Congratulations - want to go and practice flying?’
    ‘Yeah, Bolt and Randall are going to meet us. But I wanted to finish testing Remus first.’
    He sat down before James could argue, and smiled encouragingly at Remus.
    ‘Where were we ...?’

*





    Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, with a slight breeze. Ideal Quidditch conditions. After the flying practice the night before, Sirius was feeling confident. He hadn’t missed a single Bludger, or been hit by one, and he was flying well too. Mindy had lent him her broom, a Nimbus Nine Hundred.
    James was surprised to find he was feeling a bit odd when he woke up on Saturday morning. He’d planned to get up with the rest of the Quidditch team, but he overslept. He looked at the clock on his bedside table - half past ten! He couldn’t believe it! He sat up with a jerk, too quickly because the blood seemed to rush from his head and he collapsed back on his pillow, dizzy. He dressed hurriedly and went down to  the common room, to find there was no one there except Mindy.
    ‘Hey, aren’t you going to the match?’ he asked.
    ‘No,’ she croaked. ‘It’s fate, or karma or something. I really am sick! I think I’ve got flu!’
    She dissolved into a fit of coughing. James told her to get well soon and moved on. There wouldn’t be time for breakfast now. He’d have to take his place in the stands. It took ten minutes to walk down there. He felt really tired, as if he’d hardly slept at all. And he must have slept for twelve hours.
    ‘Oh well,’ James muttered to himself as he joined the last tangle of people making their way into the Quidditch pitch. ‘I suppose you can oversleep. That’ll be what’s done it.’
   
    He took the steps two at a time and joined his fellow first years on the very top tier. Lily and Remus had made a banner all in red and gold that said: ‘GO GRYFFINDOR GO!’ and changed every so often to ‘GO SIRIUS GO!’
    ‘Last minute change,’ said Remus with a grin, when James complimented them on it.
    ‘Didn’t you make anything?’ asked Lily.
    ‘No,’ said James. ‘I was going to, but then we had flying practice, and I was whacked after that.’
    ‘Are you all right, James, you look a bit pale,’ said Remus, squinting at him.
    ‘That’s good coming from you,’ teased James.

    At eleven o’clock on the dot, Madam Hooch flew out onto the pitch. The audience cheered.
    ‘Here comes the ref, bang on time as usual!’
    Bobby Jordan, a Gryffindor fifth year with a cheeky grin and dreadlocks, was commentating through a magical megaphone.
    ‘He’s been commentating since he was twelve,’ said Annie Cuthbert, who always seemed to know everything about everyone. ‘Professor McGonagall has to sit next to him to stop him swearing, but she knows no one else is as good as he is, so she doesn’t stop him doing it altogether. And apparently he’s got a little brother who’s coming to Hogwarts next year, so he’s going to teach him all about it for when he leaves.’
    ‘OK, welcome to the first Quidditch match of the season!’ Jordan cried. ‘It’s Gryffindor versus Slytherin, and should be a tough battle. Both teams have new blood this year. Let’s bring them out and see how they do!’
   
    The crowd erupted into applause as the players ran out onto the pitch. James saw Sirius, dressed in robes that were slightly too large for him, next to Merlin, who looked excited and nervous. Kingsley Shacklebolt led them out, and along with the Slytherin team they mounted their brooms and shot up into the air. Some of them did a few loop-the-loops, and the audience applauded them. Then Madam Hooch blew her whistle, and they all took up their positions.
    ‘Captains, shake hands!’ she ordered.
    They did so. Madam Hooch released first the Golden Snitch, then the Bludgers, which flew straight up and hovered dangerously around the players. James saw Sirius heft his bat nervously. Randall said something to him and he grinned.
    Holding the Quaffle, Madam Hooch flew up so she was exactly in the centre of the pitch. Then she blew the whistle again, throwing the ball up into the air.

    ‘And they’re off!’ Jordan yelled into the megaphone. ‘And Shacklebolt has to dodge a Bludger straight off - but Black’s given it a good whack and it’s speeding down towards the Slytherin goal posts! Serves them right for spreading lies about him ... oops. Sorry Professor.’
    ‘He’s really biased,’ explained Annie Cuthbert.
    ‘You don’t say,’ said James. He was feeling irritable. The noise of the crowd seemed louder than he’d expected, and it was giving him a headache - and he still felt really tired.

    It was ten minutes before the first goal was scored. Bolt and the other Chasers spearheaded down the pitch in tight formation, passing the Quaffle with practiced skill. Prewett caught the ball from Bolt, and lobbed it with all his might at the right goal post.
    ‘GOAL! FIRST GOAL OF THE MATCH!’ Jordan yelled. ‘TEN POINTS TO GRYFFINDOR - GOOD ONE, PREWETT!’
    The Slytherins booed. Their Keeper was also called Prewett. They were an old and very large wizarding family whose sympathies were not necessarily in accord. Whole branches detested whole other branches - it was like the Black family but on a much larger scale.
    The Slytherins stepped up their game after that, but it also got dirty. Their Chasers were penalised for stooging Merlin. Bolt took the penalty, but Prewett saved it. A groan ran through the Gryffindors in the audience.
    ‘Bad luck, Bolt!’ called Jordan. ‘Now it’s Slytherin in possession - Goyle passes to Nott - oooh, that’s got to hurt!’
   
    The Gryffindors cheered as a Bludger, hit by Sirius, struck Nott full in the stomach. The Slytherins called time out so Nott could get his breath back.
    ‘Looks like Gryffindor’s not suffering from playing a reserve!’ Jordan said triumphantly. ‘Black’s on fire!’
    ‘GO SIRIUS!’ yelled the first years - all except James. His limbs were feeling very heavy and he had to sit down. No one seemed to have noticed, but he was glad about that. He didn’t want a fuss.
    ‘Bloody Mindy Hampton,’ he muttered. ‘She’s given me her bug.’
    His head was pounding and his eyes were straining. He took off his glasses and closed his eyes. No one noticed him slip off the bench.

*





    Sirius felt invigorated by the excitement of the match. He knew he was playing well. When his Bludger hit Nott he felt a cruel satisfaction that shocked him a little, but he shook off the mood and concentrated on the game. The Slytherins were back in it now. Sirius found himself having to dodge Bludgers that came at him too fast to hit. Randall saved him from being smashed in the head.
    ‘Watch out Black, they’re really going for you now!’ Randall called.
    ‘Bring it on!’ Sirius called back, hiding his nervousness. Randall grinned.
   
    After half an hour, Gryffindor led thirty points to nothing. Both Keepers were good, but Merlin was unstoppable. In the stands, people were gawking at her. No one had expected a first year to be that good.
    ‘She’s practically professional standard!’ said David.
    ‘Well you know why, don’t you,’ said Annie in a superior voice.
    ‘Why?’
    ‘Her parents are super-rich, that’s why,’ said Annie. ‘They’ve got a Quidditch pitch in their back field.’
    ‘How do you know these things?’
    ‘My sister Liz, in Ravenclaw,’ said Annie. ‘She overheard Merlin’s sister Flora telling the Bertrams.’

    Their attention was drawn by the Slytherin Seeker, Antony Parkinson. He’d been doing what most Seekers did, keeping high up and out of the way, looking for the Golden Snitch.
    ‘Looks like Parkinson’s seen the Snitch!’ said Jordan. ‘He has! He’s going for it! It’s heading for the Slytherin goalposts!’
    ‘Hey - look at Randall and Black!’ said someone in the Gryffindor stand. They all looked. The Beaters were hitting one of the Bludgers back and forth, moving down the pitch after Parkinson, waiting to be close enough to strike. The Slytherin Beaters hadn’t failed to notice, either. One of them belted the other Bludger down after them.
    ‘PARKINSON’S INCHES AWAY FROM THE SNITCH!’ Jordan yelled. The crowd stood up, staring as Parkinson stretched out his hand ...
   
    It all happened very quickly. The Bludger had gone straight for Sirius. Seeing it, he had hit the other one as far away as he could. Then he took aim and whacked it hard towards Parkinson.
    CRASH!
    It didn’t hit him, but it hit the end of his broom. Parkinson veered off course, swearing loudly in frustration. His fingertips had just been touching the Golden Snitch. His broom spun as he hurtled straight towards Prewett ... and streaking past them went Patrick Hallam, leaning forward with his arm stretched out ... and before the Snitch could get away he snatched it out of the air, just as Parkinson crashed into Prewett, leaving them both sitting on the same broom. Parkinson’s broom smashed into the goal post and broke in two.

    The crowd erupted. The Slytherins began to leave, but the other three houses cheered and clapped and jumped up and down.
    ‘IT’S ALL OVER!’ yelled Jordan. ‘GRYFFINDOR WINS A HUNDRED AND EIGHTY POINTS TO NOTHING! LET’S HEAR IT FOR CHASERS SHACKLEBOLT, PREWETT AND MARSDEN FOR SCORING SUCH BRILLIANT GOALS! KEEPER MERLIN O’BRIEN, TO WHOM WE OWE SUCH A FANTASTIC LEAD! PATRICK HALLAM FOR SEIZING THE MOMENT! AND LUKE RANDALL AND SIRIUS BLACK, BEATERS EXTRAORDINAIRE, FOR SAVING THE MATCH!’
   
    The Gryffindors were all hugging and cheering. Sirius hung back. He wasn’t sure how to deal with public displays of affection. He saw the first years running onto the pitch, and brought Mindy’s broom down to the ground, glad for an excuse to get away.
    ‘Well done, Sirius! You saved the match!’ said Peter.
    ‘Yeah, brilliant. Couldn’t have done better myself.’
    That was David, the other reserve. He and Sirius shook hands amiably.
    Sirius was grinning from ear to ear - until he noticed that someone was missing.
    ‘Hey - where’s James?’ he asked.
   
    The first years all looked round.
    ‘Oh - isn’t he here?’
    ‘Where is he?’
    ‘Have you seen him?’
    ‘Actually,’ said Lily, ‘I don’t think he’s been around for ages. Do you suppose he left?’
    ‘No, surely not, not when his best friend’s playing!’
    ‘Well,’ said Remus, ‘I don’t think he was feeling very well. He didn’t say anything, but he didn’t look like himself.’
    ‘Oh no, maybe he went to the hospital wing,’ said Peter. ‘Let’s go and check.’
    ‘Did anyone actually see him leave?’     asked David.
    ‘No, but we wouldn’t have noticed, would we?’ said Annie. ‘We were all too busy concentrating on the match.’
   
    They all decided to go back up to school and look for James. Everyone but the Slytherins was still at the pitch. In their hurry they passed their retreating opponents, and they had to dodge curses that were sent their way. Sirius got hit with the same lightning bolt curse that Noah Bertram had used on the Slytherins at the beginning of term. He noticed it was Guilelme Zabini who had done it. He immediately sent a Leg-Locker his way. It missed and hit Severus Snape instead.
    ‘I’ll get you for that, Black!’ he growled.
    ‘Don’t call him that,’ said Morgana Rosier. ‘Call him Sirius. He’s not fit to be called a Black.’
   
    They didn’t get the reaction they wanted. Sirius was grinning all over his face by the time he and his friends got back to the castle. They looked everywhere for James. He wasn’t in the common room, the dormitory, the hospital wing or the Great Hall. As a last resort they checked the library, but he wasn’t there either.
    ‘Where can he be?’ asked Peter.
    ‘I think he mustn’t have left the pitch,’ said Remus. ‘Let’s go back to where we were sitting. He might have fainted and we didn’t see him lying there.’

    They ran back down to the pitch, this time coming upon scores of friendly faces. They all wanted to congratulate Sirius. The Gryffindor team asked where they were going.
    ‘We’re having another party! A bigger one this time!’ called Patrick Hallam. ‘I’ve got a secret weapon - got it in the holidays. I swore if we won at Quidditch I’d use it to get up a really big bash. We’re going to set it up now and we need all the help we can get!’
    ‘We’ll be there!’ said Lily. ‘We’re going to look for Potter.’
    ‘Don’t bother, there’s no one left at the pitch,’ said Bessie Marsden.
    ‘No, we think he’s there. We’ve looked everywhere else.’
    ‘Fine, but don’t be long!’ said Hallam. ‘And if you find Potter tell him I want a word with him, will you?’
    ‘OK,’ said Sirius, mystified. James and Hallam had become quite good friends since they’d started doing Seeker practice together, and he supposed it must be some Quidditch thing.
    ‘I’ll come with you!’ said Merlin.
    The first years carried on towards the pitch. The sun was high in the sky and quite hot for early October. It burned the backs of their necks as they ran up to the stands.
   
    Sure enough, they found James, out cold under one of the benches. His glasses were sticking out of the breast pocket of his robes.
    ‘James! James, wake up!’ said Sirius anxiously. He shook him by the shoulder but he didn’t stir. He was, at least, breathing.
    ‘He’s on fire!’ said Sirius, feeling his forehead. ‘James - come on, wake up.’
    Finally James shifted on the hard stone floor, and opened his eyes. Quickly Sirius passed him his glasses.
    ‘Wh - what happened?’ James asked thickly, before bursting into a fit of coughing that made everyone but Sirius stand back warily. Sirius helped him to sit up.
    ‘Anyone got any water?’ croaked James.
    ‘No, but we’ll get you up to the hospital wing as soon as we can,’ said Sirius. ‘Do you think you can walk?’
    ‘Sirius, don’t be an arse. You know what I mean - what happened in the match?’
    ‘We won,’ said Sirius. He was going to tell James what he’d done, but for some reason he wanted to be modest about it. ‘Hallam pulled off a spectacular catch. And Merlin was brilliant.’
    ‘So was Sirius!’ said Merlin, stepping forward to bang Sirius on the back. ‘You should have seen him - he sent a Bludger at Parkinson just at the right moment! He gave Hallam the opening!’
    ‘That’s brilliant, mate,’ James said weakly. ‘I knew you could do it.’
    He put out his hand to shake Sirius’. Sirius took the opportunity to haul him to his feet. He supported him on one side, Merlin on the other, and the first years began the slow trek back up to the castle.

    About halfway up, however, James passed out again.
    ‘Oh, hang on,’ said Lily. ‘I’ve had a brainwave. Something I read the other day ...’
    She took out her wand and did a complicated motion with it, saying an incantation under her breath. James immediately became weightless, enabling Sirius to carry him comfortably, and speeding up progress.
    ‘Clever!’ said Sirius. ‘Where did you learn that?’
    ‘The library,’ said Lily offhandedly. ‘You should visit it some time.’

    When they got to the hospital wing, Mindy Hampton was tucked up in bed, sound asleep.
    ‘Oh - another one, is it?’ said Madam Pomfrey sympathetically. ‘I wondered which one of you Gryffindors would come down with it first. Highly contagious, this strain, even before the symptoms show properly. Has anyone else felt unusually tired? Any muscle aches and pains?’
    ‘No,’ they all said.
    ‘Well, I’ll give you a dose of medicine just in case. It should stave it off, but if anyone starts to feel funny, come straight up here to me. I don’t want an epidemic on my hands, thank you very much.
   
    ‘That’s a neat little spell,’ she said, as she took hold of James and laid him on an empty bed. ‘Which one of you thought to do that?’
    ‘Lily did,’ said Remus, shoving her hand in the air. She giggled.
    ‘Well done, Miss Evans, well done,’ said Madam Pomfrey. ‘It’s not every first termer who can do that.’
    She gave them all a dose of a very nasty-tasting potion, and told them to take it easy for the rest of the afternoon. They all promised her fervently that they would. No one said anything about the party.
    ‘Now, these two should be back for dinner tonight,’ she added, gesturing towards the recumbent forms of Mindy and James. ‘My treatment for flu usually takes three hours. Miss Hampton should be up and about very soon, and I’m going to start Potter off on it now. Provided that the cases aren’t worse than I thought, they’ll be right as rain this evening. Potter was at the Quidditch pitch was he?’
    ‘Yes,’ they all said.
    ‘He fainted during the match,’ explained Annie.
    ‘Well, I think you all did very well getting him up here so promptly and efficiently,’ said Madam Pomfrey. I shall recommend to Professor McGonagall that you each take five points for Gryffindor - and between all of you I think that makes forty-five, hmm ... I can’t give Potter points for fainting, so ... well, Miss Evans, you may take another five points for such an excellent display of quite advanced magic.’
   
    They all thanked her profusely. They had regained fifty points! That ought to make the older students sit up a bit!
    ‘If we can keep doing stuff like this we might just make up all the points Sirius lost for being a moody git,’ said Remus teasingly.
    ‘Leave me alone, or I’ll moody-git you too,’ said Sirius. Everyone laughed at his choice of words.
    ‘Seriously though,’ said David, ‘I don’t think anyone’ll be calling you a traitor now, Sirius.’
    ‘No,’ said Sirius.
    That got him thinking. He walked on a bit ahead of the others, going over last night’s events in his head. He hardly noticed Remus fall into step with him.
   
    ‘I wonder if you’re thinking what I’m thinking?’ said Remus quietly.
    ‘Try me,’ said Sirius.
    ‘Well, I think James caught the flu off Mindy Hampton because they were making plans about you playing Quidditch,’ said Remus. ‘I reckon Mindy was going to fake being ill so they’d have to bring you in as reserve. When Bolt got you over to ask you to play last night, James muttered: “Yes, she’s done it,” and smiled like anything. He didn’t think anyone noticed, but I did. And when I found out what Bolt wanted to see you about I put two and two together.’
    ‘But why?’ Sirius wondered.
    ‘Because James thought - and he was right - that if you played in the match against Slytherin you’d be more popular,’ said Remus. ‘I doubt either he or Mindy realised she was actually ill. Talk about rotten timing.’
    ‘Well, I hope they don’t miss the party because of me,’ said Sirius. He was feeling quite guilty, but also, despite himself, quite pleased that James had been scheming on his behalf. He’d just have to find a way to make it up to him, that was all.

    ‘Hey, Remus,’ he said.
    ‘What?’
    ‘Have you had this flu thing? Is that why you were away last week?’
    ‘No,’ said Remus. ‘I was just my normal sort of ill. You know, like I told you about.’
    ‘Well, you were lucky in a way,’ said Sirius. ‘It was full moon, and our dormitory got the full force of it. You could read by it it was so bright. I couldn’t get to sleep for ages.’
    ‘I know how you feel,’ said Remus. ‘I don’t much like the full moon either.’
    He sounded very sad for a moment, but he was quick to change the subject. They let the others catch them up, and the conversation soon turned to the party, and what Patrick Hallam’s secret weapon might be.

Chapter 8: Effrego!
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CHAPTER 8: EFFREGO!


    When James and Mindy didn’t come down for dinner, the Gryffindors, at Sirius’ pleading, decided to postpone their party until they were better. Sirius and Remus went up to the hospital wing to see what was going on. The matron accosted them at the door.

    ‘I’m sorry, children,’ said Madam Pomfrey. ‘I can’t let you go in. It’s a worse case than I thought and they’re both highly contagious. I was just going to tell the Headmaster. Now you’re sure neither of you are feeling at all different from normal?’
    ‘No, Madam Pomfrey, we’re fine,’ said Remus.
    ‘Well, go back to your dormitory now, please. I will inform you when you can see your friends.’
    ‘But he’ll be all right won’t he?’ demanded Sirius.
    ‘They, will be fine,’ said Madam Pomfrey firmly. ‘Now come on, back to your dormitory.’

    ‘Thank you,’ said Remus.
    Sirius felt too subdued to talk. As they turned around and walked back to Gryffindor Tower, he was thinking that if James hadn’t been scheming to get him into the Quidditch team, he wouldn’t have talked to Mindy Hampton, and he wouldn’t have got sick.
    ‘It’s not your fault, you know,’ said ever-perceptive Remus.
    ‘I know,’ said Sirius with a sigh. What else could he say, after all?

    By Monday, there were notices up all over the school declaring that anyone displaying certain symptoms should go to Madam Pomfrey immediately. Hypochondriacs inundated the hospital wing, as well as a few genuine cases that were put into quarantine. At dinner Professor Dumbledore stood up and told everyone that they shouldn’t panic, it was all under control, and the treatment just took a while to work. It was unusual, in the wizarding world, for illnesses and wounds not to be Healed straightaway, but nasty strains of influenza like this were not unheard of. Mindy Hampton was said to be the first case, having probably caught it in the Hog’s Head. It wasn’t frequented much by students, but Mindy’s friends had dared her to go in.

    Sirius found himself missing James more than he’d ever have guessed he would, but at least the others weren’t ostracising him now. At breakfast on Tuesday morning, all the first years sat together. Sirius noticed that Lily Evans was more talkative with James absent. He wondered why she disliked him so much, and, moreover, why he seemed to like her so much. He paid her far more attention than any of the other girls. Sirius supposed he fancied her.

    He looked around at them all. Merlin was thrashing Peter in a spirited game of Gobstones, while keeping up an argument with David Morris about the relative merits of Nimbuses and Comets. Sirius occasionally chipped in on the conversation. Remus was finishing the chapter of A History of Magic that they’d been set to read. Annie and Vanessa were gossiping about someone called Joseph Atkins and his girlfriend. Lily was trying to draw out Polly Hannah, the other new Gryffindor girl, who was so painfully shy that she hardly said a word to anyone.

    They all went off to Charms. Sirius was paired with Remus, a relief, because he wasn’t in the mood for Carl Bertram. They were told to open their books at page eighteen and work on making objects dance. They were each given a piece of fruit or vegetable and told to get on with it. Sirius and Remus got a cucumber.
    ‘Hang on,’ said Sirius. He pulled out a pocket knife. ‘It’ll be funnier like this.’
    Remus looked on in amusement as Sirius deftly cut some bits of cucumber out of each end, making it look like it had legs and a spiky haircut. Then he carved out some holes about halfway up, and stuck a cut out bit in each side. Now it had some arms. Grinning, Sirius danced it about on the tabletop.

    ‘Surely you don’t think you’ve finished,’ said Remus. He took Sirius’ knife and carved two eyes, a nose and a mouth.
    ‘There,’ he said. ‘I think his name’s Jeff.’
    ‘Nice to meet you, Jeff,’ said Sirius, pretending to shake the cucumber’s hand.
    ‘Very creative, Mr Black, Mr Lupin,’ Flitwick squeaked sarcastically (proving that one can squeak sarcastically). ‘Have you actually started working on the spell yet?’
    ‘Don’t worry, sir, we’ll start now,’ said Sirius. ‘What is it that you do?’
    He looked at the page in front of him, studying the wand movement. Flitwick watched him with eyes narrowed. A few people glanced over at them, wondering if Sirius and Remus were in trouble, giggling at what they’d done to the cucumber.
    ‘And you say ... “Tripudio!” Is that the right pronunciation?’
    ‘Yes,’ said Flitwick.
    ‘OK,’ said Sirius. He moved his wand swiftly from side to side and then pointed it at the cucumber. He had a captive audience now.
    ‘Tripudio!’ he said commandingly.
   
    The cucumber stood up on its makeshift legs, grinning its inane, carved-on grin. It looked as if it was taking a moment to find its feet. Then, whirling like a dervish, it tripped lightly across the desk, coming to a stop in front of Sirius and falling flat on its face. The class laughed loudly.
    Flitwick’s face split into a grin and he clapped.
    ‘Oh, well done, boys, well done!’ he said.
    ‘Wait, I haven’t tried it yet,’ said Remus. ‘Show me the wand movement, Sirius, I’m hopeless at diagrams.’
    He watched carefully as Sirius repeated the movement, mirroring it with his hand.
    ‘OK,’ said Remus. Taking a deep breath, he now did the movement with his wand.
    ‘Tripudio!’
    The cucumber stood up again. This time it tapdanced lightly around, and landed on its back. Everyone applauded.
    ‘Excellent!’ squeaked Flitwick. ‘Take ten points each for Gryffindor. Keep practicing, see how long you can keep it dancing.’

    Sirius and Remus grinned triumphantly at each other. When Flitwick moved on they had a goodnatured argument about who had made the cucumber dance better. They practiced a few more times before becoming bored.
    ‘Let’s flip ahead a bit,’ Remus suggested, picking up his book.
    ‘There’s not going to be anything good in there,’ said Sirius.
    ‘I was thinking we could just get ahead - do next week’s work so we don’t have to do it then,’ said Remus. ‘I could do with being ahead instead of behind for once.’
    Sirius shrugged.
    ‘What’s the point when it only takes us five minutes to learn things?’ he asked. ‘Give me that, there must be something worth trying.’
   
    He flipped through it until he found a likely-looking spell.
    ‘Aha,’ he said with a wicked grin. ‘That’s what we want. Look.’
    He pushed the book over so they could both see the page he’d turned to.
    ‘ “The Effrego Spell,” ’ Remus read aloud. ‘A useful alternative to the Alohomora charm, Effrego can be used in a hurry and on a greater variety of materials. It has the effect of a small explosion, breaking apart its target object. Please note that the Effrego spell is ineffective on living things including plants, but will work on wooden objects and foods that have been harvested.’
    He looked at Sirius, his mouth slightly open.
    ‘You wouldn’t.’
    Sirius chuckled.
    ‘But that’s not fair!’
    ‘Think about it,’ Sirius whispered. ‘A few well-timed Effrego charms ... there’s no wand movement with it, you just have to point ...’
    ‘You’re not allowed to hurt Jeff,’ said Remus, picking up the cucumber and holding it protectively.
    ‘Just watch.’
   
    Sirius looked around for a likely-looking victim. He grinned evilly when he saw that Carl Bertram was about to try the dancing spell on a fat watermelon.
    ‘Right,’ said Carl to Flora O’Brien, who was his partner. ‘On the count of three ... one ... two ... three ... Tripudio!’
    ‘Effrego!’ whispered Sirius, pointing his wand in Carl’s direction.
   
    The watermelon promptly exploded, showering Carl and Flora with its pink flesh and seeds, leaving them gasping with shock. Sirius shook with silent laughter. Remus, despite himself, was doing the same.
    ‘What did you do?’ demanded Flora, taking out a handkerchief and wiping her face clean.
    ‘I don’t know,‘ said Carl, aghast, ‘I did everything the book said ...’
    ‘Let me try next time,’ she said crossly. ‘Excuse me, Professor Flitwick, we need a new subject.’
    ‘I’m afraid I only have a pineapple left,‘ said Flitwick, ‘and I’m not sure I want to give you that, after seeing what happened to the watermelon.’
    ‘But Professor, I haven’t had a go yet!‘ protested Flora.
    ‘Very well,‘ said Flitwick, ‘but be very careful.’
    When Flora tried the spell it worked, of course. Sirius wasn’t going to risk hurting anyone. The pineapple did a merry dance across the desk. Carl tried it again, but he wasn’t confident enough now; the pineapple moved a bit, then lay still. Carl looked fed up.
   
    By the end of the lesson, Sirius had disintegrated every harmless fruit or vegetable in the room. Flitwick couldn’t understand why his first years had apparently become so inept at the dancing spell, especially since many of them had managed it before their subject exploded. He was about to set them all extra homework when he happened to pass the desk where Sirius and Remus were working. He saw the book open at the wrong page, and the intact Jeff lying beside it. He frowned.
    ‘Black, give me your wand,’ he said, a distinct note of suspicion in his voice.
    Sirius surrendered it, fighting a desire to laugh.
    ‘Priori Incantatem!’ Flitwick chanted.
    Sirius groaned inwardly as his wand showed the Effrego charm.
    ‘Hmm,’ said Flitwick. ‘Black, I expect you in my office at break. The rest of you, please practice the charm tonight, and I will test you on it quickly tomorrow. Class dismissed.’
   
    ‘Thanks a lot, Black,’ snapped Flora O’Brien, when the Gryffindors and Ravenclaws were on their way to their next classes. ‘Do you know how hard it is to get watermelon stains out, even with magic?’
    ‘Well, you don’t have to,’ said Peter Pettigrew, ‘the school house elves do. And I bet you’ve never had to get a stain out of anything in your life.’
    ‘That’s not the point!’ said Flora.
    ‘Oh, get a grip, sis. Get a sense of humour,’ said Merlin, who had bits of banana stuck in her hair and didn’t seem too bothered about it.
    ‘Yeah, it was funny really. No one got hurt,’ said David.
    ‘That’s true,’ admitted Carl. ‘That’s why our watermelon exploded, but not the pineapple, right Sirius?’
    ‘Of course,’ said Sirius. ‘It was just a bit of fun.’
    ‘But we’re all behind now!’ complained Adela Tremaine, a Ravenclaw girl with a voice almost as shrill as Flitwick’s.
    ‘Rubbish. I saw you make your carrot do ballet before it exploded,’ said Carl. ‘Anyone who was going to do it in the first class it was introduced has done it. Come on. We’ve got Transfiguration. See you Gryffindors later.’
   
    ‘Wow,’ said Peter, falling into step with Sirius and Remus. ‘I didn’t think Carl Bertram would stick up for you, Sirius.’
    ‘He’s nothing if not fair,’ said Remus. ‘He only fought with Sirius because Sirius punched his brother. Have you got brothers or sisters, Peter?’
    ‘No,’ said Peter, shaking his head. ‘You?’
    ‘I haven’t,’ said Remus, ‘but Sirius has, haven’t you Sirius?’
    ‘I’ve got a brother,’ said Sirius. ‘He’s nineteen months younger than I am.’
    ‘And how would you feel, if someone went up and punched him in the face?’ asked Remus.
    ‘I dunno,’ said Sirius. ‘I think I’d say: “Go on mate, you’re doing me a favour.” ’
    ‘No,’ said Remus. ‘I don’t believe you.’
    ‘You don’t know him,’ said Sirius. ‘He’s a right little toerag, is Regulus. Give him an inch and he’ll stab you in the back. He’s like all the Slytherins. I’m sure he’ll be one when he comes to Hogwarts.’
    ‘But surely you wouldn’t let someone hurt him?’ Remus said incredulously.
   
    Sirius opened his mouth to argue, but paused to think.
    ‘No,’ he admitted with a sigh. ‘I know I wouldn’t. We, um - well. We get the belt at home, if we misbehave. I’m sure a lot of people do, especially the old pureblood families. I know Lucius Malfoy did when he was younger. And I know when Regulus gets it, sometimes I want to wrench the belt out of the air and tear it to pieces.’
    ‘If he doesn’t deserve it, you mean,’ Remus said gently.
    Sirius nodded.
    ‘Does he mostly deserve it? Do you?’
    ‘I don’t know,’ said Sirius. ‘It’s not always clear why my parents do what they do.’

    ‘I’ve never been hit,’ said Peter. ‘I haven’t got a dad, you see. Just my mum, and she’s an invalid.’
    ‘Sorry to hear that,’ said Remus. Sirius wondered what Peter would think if he knew that in the Black household, it was the mother who dealt out most of the beatings. But he didn’t say anything. He felt like he’d said too much already.
    ‘It’s OK,’ said Peter. ‘Actually she saw a Healer the other day and apparently they’re trying out some new potion they’ve invented. She’s agreed to be guinea pig.’
    ‘So - she’ll die of it eventually? Her illness?’ asked Sirius.
    ‘We hope they’ll find a cure,’ said Peter. He looked like he didn’t want to talk about it any more, so the others dropped the subject just as they reached their Potions classroom.
    ‘Know what I think?’ said Sirius.
    ‘What?’ asked Remus.
    ‘I think we ought to plan some sort of prank to play when James gets better. Sort of a “welcome back” thing. What do you think?’
    ‘Yeah, he’d like that,’ said Remus. ‘As long as it’s nice and harmless, like your Effrego charm.’
    ‘Can I help?’ asked Peter. ‘I’d like to help. I like James.’
    Sirius hesitated. Peter was hardly the sharpest tool in the shed. But he was nice enough, and perhaps he could be quite useful ...
    ‘OK,’ he said. Peter looked delighted.
    ‘But just us three, OK? If we involve too many people it’ll be too hard to keep secret.’
    ‘Fine with me,’ said Remus. ‘You can keep a secret, right Peter?’
    ‘Of course,’ said Peter.
    ‘Great,’ said Sirius. ‘Now we just need a plan.’

*



    At break, Sirius tramped unenthusiastically up to Professor Flitwick’s office, expecting some horrible detention. But all Flitwick did was hand him a mop and bucket and march him to the Charms classroom.
    ‘I want all that cleaned up in the next twenty minutes!’ he said firmly. ‘I have another class then.’
    ‘Can’t I use magic?’ complained Sirius.
    ‘No,’ said Flitwick, and left. Sirius puffed out his cheeks and set to work. As he cleaned up all the scattered bits of fruit and vegetables, he began thinking carefully about what to do when James came back. He thought about all the things he’d learned in the past just-over-a-month, and discarded most of it, wondering if it was time to go to the library and read up on a few more advanced spells. Admittedly he hadn’t looked to the end of his set books yet. Maybe that was the best place to start.

    Sirius worked quickly, and there were still five minutes left of break when he’d finished, so he hurried off to the washroom to splash his hands and face. As he was picking a potato peeling out of his hair, Patrick Hallam came out of one of the cubicles and washed his hands.
    ‘All right Black?’
    ‘All right. You?’
    ‘Pleased I ran into you. You’re Potter’s best mate, you’ll be able to help.’
    ‘Oh, that’s right, you wanted a word with him didn’t you?’
    ‘And I never got it,’ said Hallam. ‘Remember that secret weapon I told you about?’
    ‘Yeah,’ said Sirius, ‘but what’s that got to do with James?’
    ‘That’s nothing to do with you - not yet,’ said Hallam. He winked conspiratorially. ‘I need you to do me a favour. Potter said you were trustworthy, but I know he didn’t want to tell you about the secret weapon until he’d got it. Unfortunately he’s ill. I need you to get a message to him. And I need a reply by tomorrow night.’
    ‘What if Madam Pomfrey won’t let me see him?’ worried Sirius.
    ‘You don’t have to see him, just make Madam Pomfrey deliver the message,’ said Hallam impatiently. He handed Sirius a piece of parchment, folded up and sealed. ‘Wait outside for the reply. Get it to me by dinner tomorrow, OK?’
    He turned to go, and was halfway out the door before Sirius spoke again.
    ‘What if James isn’t conscious?’
    Hallam clicked his tongue with annoyance.
    ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it. If you don’t manage to get it to him come straight to me. But try, OK? Use your powers of persuasion. You’re a good looking kid. Charm her. Look cute or something, I dunno, just do it, all right?’
    He left the washroom, and Sirius stood there for a moment, feeling vaguely insulted at the words ‘Look cute.’ Then he looked down at the message in his hands. He put it securely into an inside pocket of his robes.

    Then, realising he’d be late for Transfiguration, he hurried off, determined that nothing was going to get him kept in at lunchtime. He behaved like a model student all the way through the double lesson, though his fingers itched to try the Effrego charm on the tiny pumpkins they’d all been given to try and turn into pillboxes. Too many eyes watched him suspiciously, including Professor McGonagall’s. Sirius didn’t risk it. He was so distracted by the letter burning a hole in his pocket that he couldn’t manage a pillbox that wasn’t orange. Everyone laughed at Merlin, whose pumpkin turned into a Golden Snitch and flew out the window.
    ‘Your mind is not on your work, Miss O’Brien,’ said Professor McGonagall, handing her another pumpkin. ‘Five points from Gryffindor.’

    As soon as she dismissed them for lunch, Sirius rushed up to the hospital wing. He knocked on the door. Madam Pomfrey stuck her head around it, and tutted when she saw who it was.
    ‘I’ve told you before, Black ...’ she began.
    ‘No, no, I’m not trying to get in,’ Sirius reassured her hastily. ‘But how is James, Madam Pomfrey?’
    ‘The treatment is working,’ said Madam Pomfrey stiffly. ‘He is awake and feeling a bit better, but still contagious. You can’t see him.’
    ‘I was wondering,’ said Sirius, ‘since he is awake - I’ve got a message for him from one of the other Gryffindors - could you please take it to him and ask him to answer it?’
    Madam Pomfrey’s eyes narrowed.
    ‘What could it possibly be that it can’t wait a few more days?’ she asked.
    ‘Apparently it’s urgent,’ said Sirius. ‘Please? Surely a couple of minutes reading and writing won’t hurt?’
    ‘I suppose not,’ admitted Madam Pomfrey. ‘I will take it to him.’
   
    Sirius handed her the note, and she disappeared behind the hospital wing door. He waited about ten minutes, which seemed like hours. Then, to his relief, the door opened.
    ‘Here we are,’ said Madam Pomfrey. ‘He said to say hello and not to worry.’
    She handed him both the original note and two replies, one addressed to Sirius and one to Hallam.
    ‘Thanks Madam Pomfrey!’ Sirius said brightly. Only dignity kept him from skipping back to Gryffindor Tower. The common room was deserted because everyone was in the Great Hall, eating lunch. Sirius made himself comfortable in a chair by the fireplace and opened the note addressed to him. He found a few lines scrawled in James’ messy handwriting.

    Hi Sirius,
        I hope you’re not coming down with this awful bug. Luckily it’s starting to go away now. You caught me at a good time. Yesterday I wouldn’t have had the strength to write anything. I’m glad Pat’s still going through with the plan. Deliver the note to him ASAP and do whatever he asks. It’ll be worth it in the end, trust me. You can read his note to me and my reply, that might make it a bit clearer. Please burn this note and Pat’s original one.

    See you soon,
        James.


    Sirius grinned. He unfolded Hallam’s note and read it quickly.

    James, sorry to hear you’re ill. I want to know whether you still want me to get the secret weapon for you. I’m going to send this note up with your friend, Sirius Black. You said before that we could trust him. I hope you’re right, because if I’m caught we could both be in big trouble. Reply saying yes or no about the rendez-vous and about Black too. Get Black to burn this note after you’ve read it.
    Patrick
.

    James’ reply was even shorter:

    Yes to both. Sirius will do whatever you need him to. Can’t wait to get out of here and see it.
    James.


    Sirius took out his wand and placing both notes in the fireplace, cast the blue flame spell at them. They were reduced to ash in a matter of seconds. Sirius used the water jet charm to put the last vestiges of the fire out, and ran down to the Great Hall with James’ note for Hallam.
   
    Hallam looked up when he saw Sirius. Sirius winked. Hallam stood up and approached him.
    ‘How’s it going Black?’ he asked jovially, holding out his hand as if to shake Sirius’. Sirius took the hint; the note was already in his right hand and in a second it was in Hallam’s. The tall Seeker carried on walking past Sirius; as he did so he whispered in his ear: ‘Await instructions.’
    Burning with curiosity and the thrill of a possible adventure - what was that rendez-vous that Hallam had talked about? - Sirius joined his friends at the Gryffindor table.

Chapter 9: Two Cunning Plans
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A/N.
      Hello there readers of mine. I wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who's reviewed so far. None of you have pointed out a flaw I have noticed myself, so I will point it out here. I FORGOT ANDROMEDA! In my version of events Bellatrix is younger than Sirius and she hasn't started Hogwarts yet; Narcissa is five years his senior, Andromeda left just before he started. But I was going to have her come and see him off, or write to him, or just mention her somewhere - and I forgot! Perhaps in a future edited version I'll put her in, but for now I'll leave the story as it is.


CHAPTER 9: TWO CUNNING PLANS.

    When lessons ended that afternoon, Sirius went up to the common room, where people were coming in in dribs and drabs, to start their homework. Sirius wasn’t going to do his that night. He had better things to do. He gathered his school books on his bed and drew the curtains around it. Settling himself comfortably, he began to flick through The Standard Book Of Spells: Grade 1. Quill in hand, he circled a couple of likely-looking charms. A plan began to form in his head. He grinned to himself - he’d already learned most of what he needed to know after all. He didn’t need to go any further. There was just one more thing he wanted, and he needed the library for that. He shoved all his books back in his bag, grabbed a quill, a bottle of ink and a couple of bits of parchment, and ran off to the library.

    With a pile of books on a table in the far corner of the room (as far from Madam Pince the librarian as possible), Sirius found himself quite enjoying his task. In the library books were far more interesting spells than could be found in his set textbooks. He made quite a few notes for future reference. Some of them, he knew, James would be very interested in. James’ dad worked for the Department of Charm Innovation at the Ministry of Magic; quite a few nifty little charms invented in the mid-twentieth century had a caption that said: ‘Developed by H. B. Potter.’
   
    It took a couple of hours before Sirius found what he was actually looking for - how to delay the results of spells, and how to set up a trigger so that they’d work when he wanted them to. He frowned. It was pretty advanced magic. But as he read through the instructions, another idea hit him. Surely he could have several spells work in the same plan, without the need for a trigger? What he needed to know was how to make one spell work on several objects. He soon found that: it was a similar technique to the trigger, but simpler. He finished making his notes and checked his watch. The others would be at dinner now. He shoved his stuff into his pocket and hurried towards the library door.
    ‘Hey! You! Black!’ snapped Madam Pince. ‘You don’t get away that easily! Go and put those books back! I’ve enough to do without having to clear up after you kids. Go on.’
    Worth a try, thought Sirius, trying not to look too sullen as he put the books back on the shelves, as fast as he could. He didn’t want dinner to be over by the time he got down there.

    He made it in plenty of time. He filled his plate with food and looked around for Hallam, but he wasn’t there. He couldn’t really talk to Remus and Peter with the others around, either, so he just joined in the general conversation. None of it was very mind-blowing. Apparently Joseph Atkins had gone too far with his girlfriend and she was now cold-shouldering him. Merlin was engrossed in a pocket Quidditch game she’d received in the post that morning. It looked like a photo frame, except you could actually control what the people in the picture were doing. Sirius looked over her shoulder. She was playing as Keeper of course, tapping the picture with her wand to make the player move. She wasn’t missing a single goal. Peter was disappointed over the marks for his latest lot of Potions homework, and Remus was trying to console him.

    Then Dumbledore got up and made an announcement that was far more interesting to Sirius. The ill students would all be back on Friday, if there weren’t any other reported cases.
    ‘Friday!’ he whispered to Remus.
    ‘So we reschedule the party for Friday night,’ Sirius heard Kingsley Shacklebolt saying.
    Good, thought Sirius. That’s perfect.

    As they were walking back up to the common room, someone tapped Sirius on the shoulder. Patrick Hallam was beckoning to him from behind a statue of a one-eyed witch. The tap had obviously been a spark from his wand.   
    ‘I forgot something,’ said Sirius. ‘I’ll see you lot later.’
    No one questioned him. When his friends had disappeared around a corner, Sirius went to join Hallam.
    ‘Hi Pat,’ he said, ‘is it instruction time?’
    ‘Yep,’ said Hallam grimly. ‘Now listen carefully, Black. Where we’re standing now is the entrance to a secret passage. It leads to Hogsmeade, where my rendez-vous is. At eight o’clock tomorrow night you will meet me here. I will go through the tunnel and you will keep watch. I shouldn’t be more than an hour. At nine o’clock, presuming the coast is clear, you will open the passage and let me out. Any questions?’
    ‘Just two,’ said Sirius. ‘One, how do you open the passage?’
    ‘Simple,’ said Hallam. ‘You tap the statue with your wand and say: “Dissendium!” ’
    ‘OK,’ said Sirius. ‘Two, I thought you already had the secret weapon, you mentioned it after Quidditch.’
    ‘I’ve got mine,’ said Hallam. ‘I couldn’t get more than one, and James said he wanted one. He’s paying me quite a bit to get it, hence me not minding the risk. Now is that all, because I don’t want to be caught hanging round here tonight.’
    ‘Yep, that’s all,’ said Sirius. ‘Assuming you’re not going to tell me what it is.’
    ‘James wanted it to be a surprise,‘ said Hallam with a shrug. ‘OK. You leave first, don’t wait for me. I’ll see you tomorrow night. Don’t talk to me before then unless I talk to you. And don’t chicken out.’
    ‘No fear!’ Sirius said indignantly. ‘I’ll see you later.’
    Cautiously he poked his head around the statue. No one was there. He moved quickly into the middle of the corridor, and sauntered up to Gryffindor Tower as innocently as could be. As soon as he reached the common room he was hailed by Remus - he and Peter were having trouble with their Transfiguration homework. With a sigh at the mundanity of it all, Sirius suppressed his excitement about tomorrow night’s adventure and went to get his school stuff.

*




    Wednesday went very slowly for Sirius. It was partly excitement and partly nervousness. He wondered how much James was paying Hallam; after all, if he were caught he’d be expelled or, at the very least, Gryffindor would lose an incalculable number of house points. And if he, Sirius, were caught, out of his dormitory at night, and lost the points that offense would incur, he knew the Gryffindors would never forgive him. His popularity, twice won and once lost, would disappear in a puff of smoke. On the other hand, the prospect of an adventure thrilled him. He just wished James could be with him to enjoy it. Maybe sometime, the two of them could sneak down that passage to Hogsmeade, do some exploring. First and second years weren’t allowed on the Hogsmeade weekends that the older ones took.
   
    Sirius wondered why Hallam, who could go to Hogsmeade on the designated Saturdays, had this meeting at such a strange hour of the night - was it something illegal? He hadn’t thought of that ... why hadn’t he thought of that? It seemed so obvious. But surely James, even reckless as he was, wouldn’t risk being arrested. Would he? Sirius had no idea what happened to underage wizards who broke the law, but he’d heard enough about Azkaban prison to turn him into a model citizen. Surely they didn’t send kids there ... surely they’d just put them under house arrest ... the thought made Sirius shiver and turn pale. Expelled from Hogwarts - eternity at home with his parents.
    Well, I just won’t get caught, that’s all, he thought firmly. And neither will Hallam. And it’s probably not illegal. It’s probably just rare, something you can’t get in the shops.

    He refused to think about it any more. He had something to do, anyway ... he’d barely been aware of where he was all day, but they were coming out of Defence Against the Dark Arts and heading for Potions, which they had with the Slytherins. Friday’s prank was going to take place in Potions. Sirius winked at Remus and Peter, who were in on the joke. While they mixed up laughter potions, they all took surreptitious glances around the room.

    Although in the lessons they had with other houses, everyone muddled in together, there was a strict divide between Gryffindor and Slytherin. The tables were arranged in rows, with a walkway leading down the middle from the door to Slughorn’s desk. The Gryffindors always sat on the left - Slughorn’s right. Everyone always sat in the same places.
    ‘Right,’ Sirius whispered to Remus. ‘It should be quite simple. Now all I have to do is get in here. We’ve got Potions straight after break on Fridays so finding the time isn’t the problem. I just have to convince Slughorn to let me in here. What do you think?’
    ‘He’s a soft touch,’ said Remus. ‘You’re good at Potions, he’ll listen to you. Just crawl a bit.’
    ‘Ugh,’ said Sirius, wrinkling his nose.

    But he knew Remus was right, so when Slughorn dismissed them, Sirius hung back. He went up to Slughorn’s desk, where the Professor was beginning to mark the homework they’d handed in at the beginning of class. Sirius took a deep breath.
    ‘Um - Professor - excuse me?’
    ‘Oh, Sirius, hello,’ said Slughorn, scribbling ’10/10, excellent’ on Severus Snape’s work, and then looking up and smiling kindly at him over the top of his glasses. ‘What can I do for you?’
    ‘I was just wondering,’ said Sirius, ‘it’s a bit embarrassing really, but I thought you’d understand ...’
    ‘Well, I’ll do my best,’ said Slughorn. ‘Spit it out, boy, whatever it is. It can’t be all bad, can it?’
    ‘Oh no,’ said Sirius innocently. ‘The thing is, Professor, I’m just a bit worried about Gryffindor ... about our house points, I mean ... I lost a fair few in Herbology the other day, and I was hoping to be able to win them back, so I thought maybe if I could do something to help you ...’
    ‘Ah,’ said Slughorn. He pushed his glasses onto the top of his head and looked appraisingly at Sirius. ‘Now you understand, it’s not usual for students to ask for house points - what did you have in mind?’
    ‘Well, sir, I know we bring our own basic ingredients to class, but you nearly always have things to add, and they’re always laid out so neatly on the tables before we arrive, and I thought maybe I could come early on Friday, since our lesson’s right after break, and put them out for you. Save you a job, you know.’
   
    ‘Oh,’ said Slughorn. He looked pleased - and tempted, Sirius noted with satisfaction. ‘Well, it is very kind of you, m’boy - we’ll be brewing a cure for boils on Friday, and there’s the unfortunate job of laying out stinging nettles and snake fangs. If you were to do that for me, I suppose I could see my way clear towards, perhaps, fifteen points, for being helpful? No more, mind.’
    ‘Oh no, that would be perfect,’ said Sirius hastily. Since he wasn’t really doing it for house points, there was no reason to negotiate. He thanked Slughorn and promised to be in the classroom at the start of break.
    ‘There’s one thing though, sir - how will I get into your store cupboard? I mean - if you were there to open the door for me, it’d almost make it pointless me coming to help.’
    This wasn’t necessarily true, but Sirius hoped Slughorn would fall for it. He did. He told Sirius he’d leave the key on top of the cupboard. Delighted, Sirius ran off to lunch, and whispered his success to Remus and Peter. They both gave a subtle thumbs-up in return, and all three of them pretended to be very interested in what Annie Cuthbert was saying, to divert any suspicion from themselves.

    ‘... and I saw Daisy Meadows come around the back of Hagrid’s hut, and I couldn’t help wondering, so I stuck around for five minutes, and lo and behold, there was Joseph!’
    ‘So they are back together,’ mused Vanessa.
    ‘And up to no good by the sound of it,’ giggled Annie.
    ‘I can’t believe she let him talk her into it,’ said Lily.
    ‘We-ell,’ said Annie slowly, ‘we don’t know what they were doing of course. But why else would they be sneaking off to the Forbidden Forest?’
   
    ‘Do you know,’ said Remus in a low voice to the other boys, ‘I think I’ll be very glad when Joseph Atkins leaves Hogwarts.’
    ‘Don’t get too excited,’ groaned Peter. ‘He’s got a brother or a sister or both in practically every year. Seems to me Joseph’s parents are as bad as he is.’
    ‘And they’re a nice looking lot, too, unfortunately,’ said Sirius with a grin. ‘D’you think Annie and Vanessa would be interested in them otherwise?’

*




    After dinner that night, Sirius rushed through his homework just for something to do. At ten to eight he pretended he’d forgotten to return a library book (he’d got one out that day, especially) and hurried out through the portrait hole. He shoved the book into his pocket and went down to the one-eyed witch statue. It was about a minute to eight when he reached it - it took quite a while to get down from Gryffindor Tower.
    Checking to make sure no one was coming, Sirius ducked behind the statue. Hallam was already there. He was wearing a satchel slung across his body, and a fat money bag hung from his belt.
    ‘Oh good, I was afraid you’d be late,’ he whispered. ‘Now, you should be well hidden behind here. Got a watch? Good, you’ll need it. Remember - nine o’clock sharp, open the statue. Not before. If I’m not there, close the passage and wait ten minutes before opening it again. Keep doing that until I arrive.’
    ‘How did you get the money from James?’ Sirius asked.
    ‘I didn’t, he’s going to pay me back,’ said Hallam. ‘And by the way, if he doesn’t he’s not getting his ... what I’m going to get for him tonight. Plus I’ll give him a good thrashing.’
    ‘I’m sure he’ll pay you,’ Sirius said.
    ‘Right,’ said Hallam. ‘Here goes. And Black ... if you’re not here to let me out I’ll give you a good thrashing.’
    ‘Can’t you get out on your own?’ asked Sirius.
    ‘Of course,’ said Hallam. ‘But I’m not risking that. Anyone could be walking past.’
   
    He tapped the statue and said: ‘Dissendium!’
    Noiselessly, the one-eyed witch’s hump moved, revealing a sizeable space in the floor, and a flight of stone steps leading down.
    ‘OK - just tap her again to close it,’ said Hallam. ‘Wish me luck!’
    But he was gone before Sirius could say anything.

    Looking furtively up and down the corridor, he gave the witch a tap, and the passage closed. He settled himself down behind the statue to wait. He took out the book he’d borrowed and flipped through it - it had an interesting hex on page fifty-two, how to make someone’s feet grow slowly bigger, so they didn’t notice it until their shoes were crippling them. It was a combination spell, a mixture of a basic engorgement charm and a more difficult bit applying it to the human body and specifically to the feet. An engorgement charm on its own, the book said, had a crude, fast-acting effect on body parts, but for anything more subtle, it got more complex.
   
    Sirius remembered someone asking Professor Pringle, their Defence Against The Dark Arts teacher, if they’d ever learn how to do two spells at once. He had replied that the most basic combination spells were OWL level, and they got more complicated during NEWTs. He wasn’t sure that even he would be able to accomplish any OWL level stuff. He laid the book aside and looked at his watch, groaning softly when he saw it was only ten past eight.

    He decided to think through what he had to do on Friday. It hadn’t ended up being nearly as complicated as he had originally thought. He was glad to know, for future reference, how to compose a spell trigger, but what he’d come up with in the end consisted of three quite simple spells. First there was the one that made an object change colour and flash. Most people knew that one; they used it to make eye-catching banners for Quidditch. Secondly there was the faithful old Effrego charm, and lastly, something called the Chameleon Charm, which did exactly what it sounded like it did. He had sent for an essential prop via a catalogue that promised forty-eight hour delivery, so he was expecting it to arrive with the Thursday morning post. The most difficult part was bewitching the objects in question - there were going to be ten of them - to start flashing at a certain moment, all at the same time. But reading up on composing a multiple charm trigger, a much more advanced version of what he actually intended to do, made that seem quite easy to Sirius. He patted the pocket that still had his notes. Definitely not a wasted library session.

    Going over his plan took up another ten minutes. Sirius shifted uncomfortably on the cold stone floor, and then froze in horror as Filch walked past with his cat slinking at his side. He held his breath until they’d gone, and forced himself to let the air out of his lungs quietly, not the usual relieved huff. He shivered. It was getting towards the middle of October, and it was already starting to get chilly. The nights would be drawing in soon, and there would come the day that Sirius dreaded the most: the half-term parents’ visit. He hoped that Dumbledore would find his parents so horrible that he’d cancel it forever. But at least his teachers would have good reports about him - perhaps Sirius’ mother and father would be nicer to him at Christmas.

    Despite himself he wondered if they’d bring his brother with them. He hadn’t dared to write and ask Regulus what he wanted to know, because if their parents read it they’d both get into trouble. But he couldn’t help being a little concerned. Regulus had seemed genuinely scared to be left alone, particularly with their mother. And if she’d hurt him more than usual ... Sirius gritted his teeth angrily at the thought. Despite his intense dislike for Regulus he knew he loved him, not in the fond way most people loved their siblings, but in a fierce, protective way. It was the only thing he could have felt, growing up the way they had.
   
    In his rational mind he often felt quite satisfied to see Regulus victimised, because more often than not it was Sirius, not his younger brother, who got it in the neck. But there was also that nagging emotion, somewhere deep inside him, that made him want to step in front of him, take his place, though he knew it’d be no good to try, so he never had. And at the various times when he had heard his brother cry out in pain, a violent, murderous anger rose up inside him, almost choking him. It was frightening. But it only ever lasted a second or two. It would crash over him like a wave and disperse. And his rational self would take over again, saying, truthfully enough, that Regulus did not deserve his sympathy.

    For all that, Sirius hoped Regulus wasn’t having too bad a time at home. But he cursed Hallam for putting him in a situation where he had nothing to do but think of Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place, and the horrors that awaited him there. He could manage to stay at Hogwarts for Christmas and Easter, but there was no avoiding going back for summer. He shuddered. Two whole months with his mother’s violent outbursts, his father’s indifference, his brother constantly irritating him and scheming to get him into trouble, and the inevitable punishments ... he remembered being locked for hours in a tiny, cramped cupboard with hardly any air, and he felt a sudden fit of claustrophobia and longed to get out into the corridor ...
    Sirius shook himself out of the memory, and to his relief, his watch showed five to nine. He watched the seconds tick by. Three minutes to ... two minutes to ... one minute ...

    A clock in the distance chimed nine o’clock. Sirius stood up as quietly as he could, stretching, twitching from side to side to make his cold, numb backside feel normal again. But then the familiar sound of pattering feet made him shrink back against the wall ... but it was no good this time. Mrs Norris had his scent. Sirius had nowhere to run. He watched in horror as her face appeared around the side of the statue, looking at him with those huge, too-intelligent red eyes. She hissed softly at him, turned around and left him alone.
   
    No! thought Sirius in panic. She’ll be off to get Filch ... Pat, you’d better be here ...
    He tapped the witch.
    ‘D-dissendium!’ he whispered shakily.
    The hump opened, and to Sirius’ intense relief, Patrick Hallam grinned up at him with the end of his wand alight, and came quickly and silently up the steps to stand beside him. He didn’t seem to notice the urgent look on Sirius’ face.
    ‘I got it,’ he said, patting the satchel. ‘Not a hitch.’
    He tapped the statue with his wand, and the passage closed.

    ‘Never mind that!’ Sirius hissed. ‘We’ve got to run! Mrs Norris saw me just now, she’ll have gone for Filch!’
    ‘Oh, damn,’ whispered Hallam. ‘You idiot! What’d you let her see you for?’
    ‘I didn’t let her,’ Sirius snapped, ‘she came behind the statue and looked straight at me. It was just as I was about to let you out.’
    But Hallam didn’t look worried, he just looked a bit annoyed.
    ‘Oh well,’ he said, ‘I suppose James’ll just have to lump it. I’ll have to spoil the surprise I’m afraid.’
   
    Sirius frowned; he couldn’t help being curious even above his panic. He expected Hallam to reach into the bulging satchel. But instead he reached into his robes, and pulled out a strange, shimmering object. He threw it over both of them ... and they promptly disappeared. Sirius almost laughed out loud in recognition. As it was, he just grinned.
    ‘So that’s what all the fuss was about!’ he said. ‘But how did you ...’
    ‘Later,’ whispered Hallam. ‘Come on, let’s get back.’

    As quickly as possible without tripping over each other, the boys made their way down the corridor and up to the next floor, covered by Hallam’s secret weapon - his Invisibility Cloak. Sirius went over it in his head: rare object, Hallam must have found a seller in Hogsmeade, bought one for himself, confided in James during one of their Seeker training sessions, and James must have begged Hallam to get him one. And tonight had been the only opportunity. Sirius couldn’t help feeling excited. If James had meant it as a surprise for him, surely that meant they’d both be involved in using it. Sirius could only imagine the adventures they’d have, sneaking round the castle, unable to be seen even by Filch and his cat! He supposed Hallam had meant to use it to nick food from the kitchens, for the party. But by the time they reached their common room, Sirius had already thought of fifty more interesting uses for the Cloak. If only he’d known about it, he wouldn’t have had to butter Slughorn up to get into the Potions room early on Friday..
    ‘Where did you get them? Who from?’ Sirius demanded, when he and Hallam were seated together in a secluded corner of the common room.
    ‘I’ve got a cousin in Egypt who deals in antiques and rare goods,’ said Hallam. ‘Rare things sometimes aren’t so rare, in Egypt. But anyway, he was over here on business, and we met up for a drink in the Three Broomsticks. He told me he had a couple of Invisibility Cloaks on him, and was I interested in buying one? I said I was, and I bought one straight off. I wasn’t sure who to tell, but I trusted James, so I told him while we were practicing for Quidditch. I happened to mention that my cousin had more than one for sale, and he begged me to get him one. And I don’t think he got them through strictly - shall we say orthodox means? So he couldn’t exactly send it through the post. So he agreed to meet me. He’s ex-Hogwarts so he knew about that secret passage. We planned it all out. I’d decided to use Potter as a lookout, but then he got ill, so I asked you. Simple as that.’

    ‘Wow,’ said Sirius, shaking his head and laughing. ‘James will be happy that you managed it, anyway. I’ll hide the Cloak in my trunk until he comes back, if you like.’
    ‘OK,’ said Hallam. He opened his satchel and took out a soft, lumpy parcel, which he handed over.
    Sirius said goodnight to Hallam, and raced up to the first year dormitory. Only Peter was up there yet, and he was fast asleep and snoring. Sirius suddenly felt very tired. He stuffed the Invisibility Cloak into his trunk, locked it, and hid the key in his bedside cabinet. Then he changed into his pyjamas, and much earlier than he usually did, he went to bed. He fell asleep almost straight away.



Chapter 10: The Marauders Unite
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    CHAPTER 10: THE MARAUDERS UNITE.


    When Sirius and the others woke up on Friday morning, James was there, getting dressed.
    ‘Hello!’ Sirius said warmly, with a big grin. ‘Glad to be back?’
    ‘You bet I am,’ said James, grinning back. He finished putting on his robes and threw himself across Sirius’ bed, squashing his legs under the blankets. ‘I hate being ill. I’m never ill. Bloody Mindy Hampton. But it wasn’t her fault, I suppose. So what have you lot been up to?’
   
    ‘Not much,’ lied Sirius, but inside he felt like jumping up and down with excitement. ‘We postponed the Quidditch party so you and Mindy’d be able to come.’
    ‘Hey, great!’ said James. ‘I didn’t dream Bolt would do that.’
    ‘Well, I talked him into it actually,’ said Sirius. ‘And since the party was partly in my honour, he agreed. Plus, you and Mindy are on the team.’
    ‘Thanks,’ said James. ‘So, um ... did Pat ...’

    ‘Oh yeah!’ Sirius said, jumping up. He lowered his voice. ‘I’ll show you at lunch.’
    ‘You’ve got it?’ whispered James. ‘Can you guess what it is?’
    ‘I know what it is,’ Sirius replied, as he began to dress. ‘We had to use Pat’s one to get away from Filch and that awful cat of his.’
    ‘What do you think?’
    ‘I think it’s brilliant,’ said Sirius, grinning again. ‘It was still a pretty good surprise, even if it was a bit early.’
    ‘I've always wanted one,’ said James. ‘My dad's got a really good one, he says it's been in the family for years and I can have it one day ... but of course I couldn't go past the chance of getting one of my own. Dads never understand why things are important now. We'll use it tonight. I bet Hallam’s planning to sneak down to the kitchens. We’ll follow him and see where to go. Then we can go whenever we want.’
    ‘Sounds good,’ said Sirius, lacing up his boots. ‘Come on, let’s get to breakfast.’
    ‘Hey, wait for us!’ Peter said petulantly. He was only just starting to get dressed.
    ‘Don’t rush on our account. We’ll see you down there,’ said James carelessly.

    ‘So anyway,’ he went on, as he and Sirius climbed out through the portrait hole ‘why lunch? We can nip up here at break, before Potions, can’t we?’
    ‘Sorry, no,’ said Sirius. ‘I’ve got to do something for Slughorn. I’ve got to be there early.’
    ‘Not another detention?’
    ‘No, I volunteered for this,’ said Sirius. On the spur of the moment he decided to use the same story he’d spun on Slughorn. ‘I thought I’d try and get some extra house points. I’ve lost quite a few so far this term. Wouldn’t hurt, would it - I mean, they’re all treating me OK now, but I thought I’d do a bit extra.’
    ‘That doesn’t seem like you,’ said James with a frown.
   
    ‘Well, you haven’t known me that long,’ said Sirius. It was a perfectly reasonable thing to say, but he wasn’t surprised when a flicker of hurt crossed his best friend’s face. They both knew how quickly they’d become close; in fact, Sirius felt that James knew him better than anyone. But at least James would know by lunchtime why he’d made the remark.
    ‘Fine,’ James said with a shrug. ‘Do you want me to help you?’
    Aargh! thought Sirius. I didn’t expect that. Damn you for being a good mate.
   
    ‘Um - no, you need all the freedom and fresh air you can get after being sick,’ he said feebly. ‘Remus and Peter already agreed to help me. Why don’t you grab a broom and have a quick fly, or something?’
    ‘I could,’ mused James. Sirius smiled inwardly - he’d learned quickly that the way to James’ heart was through flying and/or Quidditch.
    ‘Yeah, do,’ he said. ‘Seriously, I mean, I got myself into this, didn’t I?’
    ‘And Lupin and Pettigrew are helping? Are you pretty good friends with them now, then?’ asked James. Sirius detected a hint of insecurity in his tone. He wanted to laugh; as if he would abandon a friend like James! He often wondered why James wanted to be his friend, shy and subdued as he knew he often was, even though he’d improved considerably under James’ influence.
    ‘I’ve been knocking round with them a bit, yeah,’ he answered. ‘But it’s not like they could replace you,’ he added quickly. ‘You’re still my best friend.’
    ‘Well that’s all right then,’ said James. He looked reassured; Sirius wanted to laugh out loud again, but of course he didn’t. They took their places at the Gryffindor table and grabbed some toast.

    As the post came in, Sirius was reminded of what had come the day before. He patted the inside pocket of his robes. He felt butterflies in his stomach, and crossed his fingers under the table. It had to work - it had to! He was not all there at all in their double Herbology lesson, and he was supposed to be helping James catch up. Luckily James didn’t really need help. He scribbled down Sirius’ notes from the past week in about quarter of an hour, and was answering questions better than anyone else in the class by the time the lesson was over.
    ‘Boff,’ Sirius teased as they left, giving James an affectionate push.
    ‘Blockhead,’ retorted James. ‘And teacher’s pet too, off to help Slughorn now aren’t you?’
    ‘Shut up,’ said Sirius with a grin. ‘You’ll thank me for it later.’
    He ran off before James could ask him what he meant.

    Sirius was out of breath when he reached the deserted Potions classroom. Remus and Peter were both waiting for him.
    ‘OK, Pete, you stand guard,’ said Sirius. ‘Knock on the door as soon as you hear anyone coming. I don’t want anyone knowing we’re here, someone might get suspicious.’
    Peter nodded and sat down outside the classroom as if he was simply waiting for the teacher to arrive. He opened his book and pretended to study.
    ‘Upside down, Peter,’ Remus said gently.
    ‘Oops,’ said Peter with a grin. He turned the book the right way up.
    Sirius and Remus went into the Potions classroom. Remus shut the door behind them, and Sirius stood on a chair to get the key from the top of the cupboard, which good as his word, Slughorn had left for him.

    ‘Poor innocent Slughorn,’ Sirius said as he opened the cupboard and looked for the right ingredients. ‘He’ll probably take back his fifteen points when he sees what I’ve done. But it’ll be a laugh.’
    ‘Too right,’ said Remus. ‘James’ll love it. I don’t know how you think of these things.’
    ‘And you don’t mind helping, right?’ Sirius asked. ‘I’ll take all the blame.’
    ‘Don’t worry about it,’ said Remus. ‘This is too much fun to pass up.’
    ‘Great,’ said Sirius. ‘I’ll get the stuff.’
    Sirius was so engrossed in the plan that he almost forgot to don his dragon hide gloves to handle the nettles, which were in a large jar at the front. They looked freshly picked. He got the scales from the top shelf and measured out the three ounces he knew they needed each. That made quite a lot of nettles. He and Remus laid the stems in neat piles at each place - twenty bunches of nettles. Sirius decided he wouldn’t like to be a teacher when he grew up. Then he went back to get the snake fangs; these were already sorted into the amounts people needed, on glass slides. The boys put those out, too.
    They worked as quickly as they could still to do a good job. Sirius didn’t need to displease Slughorn any more than he was already going to. He shut and locked the cupboard, put the key on Slughorn’s desk, and then ... it was time to start putting his plan into action!

    Sirius took the small packet from inside his robes, and opened it. It contained a number of extra-strong water balloons. Sirius counted out ten. Taking out his wand, he cast the water jet spell into each, filling them as full as he dared. He concentrated extra hard, hoping that the water would retain the properties given it by the spell. Remus took each balloon as Sirius handed it to him, and tied it off carefully. Then, with a bit of double-sided Spellotape, they fixed each one to the bottom of each of the Slytherins’ cauldrons, which had already been put out for the coming lesson. On each one, Sirius then cast the Chameleon charm; sure enough, the balloons seemed to disappear, looking just like the flat bottoms of the cauldrons. Sirius grinned to himself. He performed the finishing touch - a tricky little charm that meant only a subtle swish of his wand would set the balloons glowing.

    ‘Genius,’ said Remus admiringly.
    They’d finished with just two minutes left of break. Breathing hard, not with exertion but with anticipation, Sirius put his wand back in his pocket. He and Remus hurried out of the room, hoping that Peter hadn’t been lax in his guarding. He hadn’t. No one else had arrived yet.
    ‘Everything in place?’ he asked.
    Sirius and Remus nodded.
    ‘Brilliant,’ he said.
    ‘Now just promise neither of you will laugh. It’d give the game away, it’s essential no one knows something’s up.’
    ‘Promise,’ said Peter.
    ‘Lips sealed and hanky ready to stuff in my mouth,’ said Remus with a smile.
    ‘Right,’ said Sirius.

    Presently the first of the students began to turn up for class. The Slytherins muttered insults in Sirius’ direction, but for once he didn’t react. He just thought of what would happen to them later. Then, as James strolled up, Severus Snape took his revenge for the week before, hitting Sirius with the lightning bolt curse ... taken by surprise, Sirius fell over.
    ‘Ow!’ he growled, more embarrassed than hurt. ‘You snivelly little git!’
    James’ eyes flashed and his face became livid. He shot a Leg-Locker curse straight at Snape. The Gryffindors began to laugh - all except Lily.
    ‘Stop it!’ she said, shoving James out the way. ‘Leave him alone!’
    She performed the counter-curse. Snape got to his feet quickly, straightening his robes and glaring daggers at James and Sirius.
    ‘Keep out of this, Evans,’ snarled James, but Sirius held him back. He had to stop the fight before Slughorn arrived - he had to believe everything was normal.
    ‘He’s not worth it,’ he said in a low voice. Leaning close, he added in James’ ear: ‘Not today. Trust me.’
    James shot him a curious look, but he took the hint. They turned their backs on the Slytherins. Remus, who knew exactly what was going on, launched into a joke. By the time Slughorn arrived, everything seemed normal again.

    ‘Good morning, good morning!’ Slughorn said jovially. ‘How are we all?’
    He opened the door and strode into the dungeon without waiting for an answer. The students followed him inside and took their seats. Sirius and Remus couldn’t resist exchanging an conspiratorial look. James, on Sirius’ other side, saw it, and looked a bit jealous again. Sirius nudged him and smiled. James nudged him back.
    ‘All right everyone!’ said Slughorn, settling himself behind his desk. ‘Today we shall be curing boils! Open your books at page twenty-three and follow the instructions carefully. You may begin by putting on your gloves, chop your nettles finely, and grind your fangs to a powder. Don’t slack off. If the mixture is too lumpy it’s more likely to cause boils than cure them. You may talk quietly. Get to work then, come on!’

    Chattering in low voices, the children all put on their gloves, picked up their knives, and began chopping nettles and crushing fangs. They studied the instructions in their books and worked quickly. Sirius was distracted. He watched the Slytherins carefully. He had to pick his moment. It had to be when they were about to put their nettles into the cauldrons. Then he thought of a nice extra touch. He closed his eyes, imagining the water that filled each balloon. Slowly, under the table, he swished his wand from side to side.

    Oh well, he thought, only time will tell.
    He watched Snape out of the corner of his eye. He was easily the best Slytherin at Potions. And it looked like he’d finished ... he was leaning over his cauldron ... Sirius swished the wand again.
    ‘Lumos rouge multi,’ he whispered, his hand in front of his mouth to hide his words.
   
    ‘Hey,’ said Snape to Morgana Rosier, who was next to him. ‘Look at that!’
    ‘What?’
    ‘My cauldron, look! Why’s it doing that?’
   
    Sirius clapped his hand to his mouth to hide the enormous grin that was threatening to spread across his face. Composing his features, he went on chopping his nettles.
    ‘Mine’s doing it too!’ said Morgana. Out of the corner of his eye, Sirius saw her point into her cauldron.
    ‘Hey,’ said Snape, ‘who else’s cauldron has a red spot?’
    Simultaneously, the Slytherins all stood up and peered into their cauldrons.
    ‘Now!’ hissed Remus. Sirius nodded.
    ‘Effrego!’ he whispered, pointing his wand surreptitiously across the room.

    There were ten cries of surprise, as the balloons burst, sending the compressed jets of water shooting up into the Slytherins’ faces. And Sirius’ final touch had worked - the water was now glimmering in the Gryffindor house colours, scarlet and gold. Boys swore and spat; girls shrieked and their hands flew to their faces, dashing the coloured water from their eyes and wringing out sopping wet hair.
    The Gryffindor first years erupted with laughter. Slughorn leapt to his feet.
    ‘Enough, enough! Sit down, everyone, please! Remain calm!’
    ‘Ugh, what is it?’ Morgana shrieked. ‘Is it poison? Am I coming out in boils?’
    ‘No, you were always that ugly!’ shouted Sirius. Peals of Gryffindor laughter rang out in response. Three of the girls reached for pocket mirrors, just to make sure. Even the boys tried to borrow them. Slughorn’s shouts were to no avail; for about a minute, the Potions dungeon was utter chaos. Finally the Professor managed to quiet them. He came forward to taste a drop of red liquid.

    ‘Never fear, it’s only water,’ he said reassuringly, making calming gestures with his hands. ‘Sit down, all of you. It’s just a harmless practical joke.’
    They all seemed convinced at last. The Gryffindors’ laughter subsided too, and soon everyone was sitting down, still and silent.

    ‘Now,’ said Slughorn sternly, staring intently at the Gryffindors. ‘Would anyone like to own up to this?’
    For one small moment, they all stared back at him, intimidated. Then Sirius stood up.
    ‘Please sir,’ he said, trying and failing not to sound cocky. ‘It was me. I did it.’
    ‘I thought so,’ said Slughorn, eyes narrowed behind his glasses. ‘You tricked me, Sirius. I’m afraid I won’t be able to award you those points now.’
    ‘I guessed as much,’ said Sirius. He knew his eyes were twinkling - he couldn’t stop them.
    ‘Was it just you? Was the plan and execution your own?’
    ‘Yes sir,’ said Sirius. He nudged Remus with his foot to stop him from saying anything.
    ‘Well,’ said Slughorn. ‘Your prank seems to have been rather ingenious for a first year. And it was, as I said, harmless. But you have nevertheless disrupted my lesson. Twenty points will be taken from Gryffindor, and you will come back here at lunchtime and scrub out the cauldrons - for this class and the next. Do I make myself clear?’
    ‘Yes,’ said Sirius. He wrinkled his nose. A nasty job, but he had been expecting something of the kind.
   
    It was then that James jumped to his feet.
    ‘Please sir,’ he said hurriedly. ‘I can’t let Sirius take all the blame. He wanted to, but I won’t let him. I helped.’
    ‘I did too,’ Remus added, standing up.
    ‘And me,’ Peter said reluctantly, responding to a kick from James.
    ‘Then you three will help Sirius at lunchtime,’ said Slughorn sternly. ‘Slytherins, you will each come up here and I will cast a drying charm. Single file now. Gryffindors, you will continue your work in silence, please. If I hear a peep out of anyone for the remainder of this lesson I will take twenty points from your house.’
   
    Both houses were as good as gold for the rest of the hour. When they departed the dungeon for their next classes, the Slytherins did so sullenly, their faces streaked with red and gold. The Gryffindors, on the other hand, were light on their feet as they walked up to their Charms lesson. Several people banged Sirius and his friends on the back or shook hands with them.

    ‘I never thought I’d laugh that much in lessons!’ said Merlin.
    ‘Nor me,’ said David.
    ‘I must admit, it was good,’ conceded Lily. ‘How on earth did you manage it?’
    She was looking at Remus; she got on best with him of all the Gryffindor boys. But Remus held up his hands and grinned.
    ‘I just tied the balloons up. Honestly, it was all Sirius.’
    ‘Yeah, I wasn’t in it at all,’ said James. ‘I just didn’t think Sirius ought to have all the punishment, when we’d all had fun.’
    Sirius smiled his thanks, feeling rather overwhelmed by all the attention.
    ‘It was just you? Wow!’ said Annie Cuthbert admiringly. ‘I can’t wait to get to Charms so we can tell the Ravenclaws. I bet they’d never have the guts to do something like that!’
   
    They all demanded a blow-by-blow account of how Sirius had thought of the trick, what had gone into it, how he’d convinced Slughorn to let him into the classroom - every detail. As Sirius launched into his tale he forgot to be shy. He found himself enjoying all the admiring faces looking at him ... James’ best of all.
    ‘So welcome back, invalid!’ Sirius finished with a laugh.
    ‘Thanks heaps, Sirius!’ said James, incredulous that the whole thing had been for his benefit. He threw an arm round Sirius’ shoulders as they walked. Sirius, who couldn’t remember receiving so much as a peck on the cheek in his entire life, stiffened for half a second before he returned the gesture. He felt as if some door inside him had been unlocked. His shyness had melted away; he had entertained the people around him, made them laugh. He was as cheerful, confident and appreciated as James was.

    And it was because of James. Sirius knew that, not that he would be comfortable saying it out loud. James, his friendship and loyalty, and Gryffindor ... Sirius truly felt like a Gryffindor at that moment. He continued to feel it all the way through Charms, as he was made to recount his tale to the fascinated Ravenclaws. They laughed like anything when they heard Sirius had been at the Effrego charm again.
    ‘We’re fine with that one, since you didn’t use it on us this time!’ quipped Carl Bertram.
    ‘Just watch it, Bertram, or I will blow up a pineapple!’ Sirius retorted good naturedly. Several people laughed.
    ‘Blow up a pineapple? What the hell are you talking about?’ demanded James.
    ‘Tell you later,’ said Sirius, with a conspiratorial wink.

    Even though they had an unpleasant job ahead of them, Sirius, James, Remus and Peter talked and laughed exuberantly as they trooped off to the dungeon that lunchtime. They’d all been working together in Charms, and Sirius noticed that James stopped being jealous when he saw that he was being made well and truly welcome. Sirius wouldn’t have had it any other way, of course. But although James was his best friend, he didn’t mind having two other boys to give them a hand with a bit of mischief-making every now and again. He liked Remus a lot, and he enjoyed drawing him out of himself, making him join in the fun - exactly what James had done with him. Sirius began to understand why James had been so determined to be his friend. It gave you a warm feeling, knowing you were making a difference to someone, making him feel good about himself.    
    (What Sirius didn’t know was that he had the same effect upon James.)
   
    And Peter? He just tagged along, really. But he admired Sirius and James so much that Sirius for one found it quite flattering. And he was quite good fun, in his way. He shared their sense of humour. He was the only one who could beat James at chess, which Sirius felt was good for both of them. So what if he wasn’t as clever as the others? Remus wasn’t anywhere near as clever as Sirius or James, but they still got on well with him. Sirius found them all good company as they scrubbed out the cauldrons, before stacking them neatly in the large storeroom behind the dungeon. He and James taught the other two the water jet spell to help things along. But Remus only managed a feeble trickle, and Peter couldn’t get it to work at all until they were almost finished.

    ‘Don’t worry, you’ll get it,’ Sirius reassured them. ‘Keep in with me and James and you’ll probably get plenty of practice.’
    ‘Thank goodness we’ve finished, I’m starving,’ said James. ‘Come on you lot.’
    He opened the door and waved them all out into the corridor.
    ‘But don’t eat too much,’ warned Sirius. ‘I’ve a feeling we’ll be well fed at our party tonight.’
    No matter how much they pressed, Sirius and James wouldn’t tell the other two why they found that so funny - ‘you’ll have to wait until tonight,’ James said. ‘I’ll show you then.’

    When Remus Lupin, Peter Pettigrew, Sirius Black and James Potter entered the Great Hall together for lunch that Friday, in October 1971, some people who saw them thought they had a different air about them. They were no longer just a bunch of Gryffindor first years thrown together in a dormitory and in lessons. They were a cohort. In years to come, they would be known as the Marauders. And out the front, leading the way, ever inseparable, were Black and Potter, the brightest boys in their year, with their heads full of enough schemes for magical mischief-making to last a hundred years.


THE END



A/N.

Well, that's it! I hope you enjoyed the story. Please leave a review, especially if you haven't yet done so. I'd really appreciate your feedback.

If you liked this story, try my Marauders Trilogy. :-)



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