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    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.’

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