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    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.

    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.’

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