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"Do you have all of your things?" It was at least the four hundredth time James' mother had asked that question since breakfast and both boys rolled their eyes.

Four days of avoiding the subject of his parents had done wonders for his mood. Now, standing on Platform 9 3/4, he caught himself glancing up each time someone new came through the wall.

"We have everything, Mum," James promised, leaning over his trunk to kiss her on the cheek.

"That's what you say every year," she chided, squeezing his arm. "And every year I have to send something along."

"I didn't actually forget that box of sweaters from Aunt Agatha," he reminded her. Sirius sniggered, elbowing Remus in the ribs, wondering how many of them were still hanging from the top perches in the owlrey.

With Mary and James now occupied in a near argument over the Aunt he hadn't seen in nearly a half-dozen years, George took the opportunity to catch Sirius by the elbow, guiding him away from the throng of parents and students exchanging goodbyes. "Have you seen them yet?"

Sirius shook his head, glancing toward the entrance reflexively.

"Well, you'll see them eventually," he replied. "Sirius, up to now, I haven't said anything because I knew you didn't want to talk about it but permit me just this one indulgence?"

The train whistle spared him - shrieking above the throng to announce the final call for passengers. Trying to make his smile reassuring, Sirius clapped James' father on the back and said a quick goodbye.

"You're always welcome," George assured him.

They said their goodbyes in a hurried rush, Sirius' strained smile giving way as soon as they were out of sight. Explaining the full scope of what the last week had been to Peter and Remus wasn't something easily accomplished. It was even less so under James' mother's watchful eye - so it didn't surprise him that Peter and Remus were still regarding him suspiciously as they dragged their trunks from car to car in search of an empty compartment.

"What did my father want?" James asked conversationally, sliding the car door open and crossing into the next one.

Sirius opened his mouth to answer, not sure what he planned to say, but stopped when he caught a glimpse of Severus Snape poking his head out of compartment. Sirius groaned at once.

None of the Gyffindor's liked Snape. For most people, the greasy hair and snide remarks were enough to put them off spenidng any time with him. James, who hated him more than most, had a particularly loathing with far more to do with Lily than anything. For Sirius, it was different.

Since their first day at Hogwarts, it was obvious they would never be friends. With his pureblood background, family stature and the name of Black at his back, Sirius had the impression he was everything Snape ever wanted to be. The more Sirius besmirched the family legacy he'd been handed, the more Snape hated him. For his part, Snape's descent into the Dark Arts did little to endear himself to Sirius. After six years, they didn't need to exchange words to be certain precisely what one thought of the other.

"That's bold," Remus observed, following Sirius' gaze to the cruel smile playing across Snape's face.

Sirius bristled. It wouldn't have taken a savant to realize that the thing that had Snape experimenting with facial expressions entirely new to him was with the fresh scar on Sirius' temple or, more accurately, the story that had led up to it.

"Fancy that," James quipped, dropping his trunk and pulling his wand out of his pocket. "I just found a book in the library - 100 Hexes You Have To Try."

Sirius ignored him, pulling open the door to the nearest compartment. It wasn't unoccupied, but the first years - already changed into their Hogwarts robes - didn't need to be told to get out. The biggest among them, a boy who barely looked eight, let alone eleven, leapt out of his seat and began dragging his trunk out into the corridor without so much as a word.

"This might be the kind of behavior Dumbledore was hoping you wouldn't engage in with a prefect around," Remus suggested, following Sirius in and shoving his trunk under one of the seats. Peter hesitated before following suit, leaving James in the corridor alone. "Do you intend to do something about that?" Remus asked, looking pointedly in Sirius' direction.

"I haven't read the book," he replied, pulling a pack of exploding snap cards out of his pocket. "I doubt I'd be of much use."

"Sirius..."

"Fine," he intoned, rolling his eyes. Leaning out the compartment door, he gestured to James. "Oy! Ignore it."

"Afraid I'll box you round the ears like your father did?" Snape asked, raising his eyebrows.

Sirius scoffed, looking back at Lupin for only a fraction of a second before drawing his wand and heading down the corridor. "James, what was number ninety-three?" he asked.

"Twitchy Ears," James answered, grinning.

"That won't do," Sirius replied, baring down upon them and stepping inside. James had Snape cornered on one side of the compartment, his wand resting on the seat in the other. Snape, perhaps too accustomed to their abuse, refused to look frightened.

"There's always a stinging hex," James offered.

"It's been done," Sirius countered, pretending to mull over the decision a while. "Have you ever practiced the knee-reversing hex?"

"Now you mention it, I haven't, Sirius."

"Well I should think you'd relish a chance to try," he suggested, grinning darkly at Snape. "After all, what are we if we stop trying to improve ourselves?"

"Indeed," James replied, pulling back his sleeve. "Patella Retrorsum!" he cried, flourishing his wand dramatically.

There was a brilliant flash of red sparks, followed by two loud popping sounds, but when the smoke cleared, Snape was still standing before them, scared but unscathed.

"Well that was a bit of a let down," James observed, putting his wand back into his pocket and patting Sirius on the arm. "I'm sure it will go better next time."

They left the compartment without another word, either to Snape or each other. "Did you get it out of your system?" Lupin asked, smiling in spite of himself.

"For the time being," James answered, collapsing onto one of the benches and winking.

"What did you use?" Peter inquired, sitting up straighter with excitement.

"A knee reversing hex. It was a good show but the ending was dreadfully anti-climactic. Peter," James asked, his tone changing abruptly. "Don't we have some business to attend to?"

Remus got up at once. "I think I'll head over to the Prefect's compartment and see if there is anything I should be doing," he said promptly, excusing himself. James smirked.

Dumbledore's decision to make Remus Lupin a prefect had been a source of infinite entertainment among the three of them since he'd gotten the letter. Of all of them, Remus was arguably the most responsible and it wasn't as if there were a number of other fifth years to choose from. The only other Gryffindor boy in their year was Alfred Morton and he was so hapless there was a fifty percent chance he would pin the badge on upside down. Still, if making him a Prefect had been Dumbledore's way of imposing a collective conscience on them, it was a failed effort. Whenever any of them so much as intimated doing something he could be compelled to tell Dumbledore or Professor McGonagall, he simply left the room.

"Are you coming?" James asked, standing in the compartment door again. Sirius shook his head and leaned back on the seat, draping his jacket over his eyes.








“Where’s Remus?”

The voice at the compartment door was high-pitched and girlish, despite the owners’ honest attempt to couch it with irritation but it still registered an octave too high to be a welcome sound in the middle of a nap. “Lily,” Sirius grumbled, reaching up to knock the jacket off of his face. “Do you think you could possibly go away and come back never?”

It took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the mid-afternoon sunlight outside the window, but that didn’t stop him from scowling in her direction when she didn’t leave like the others had, letting herself in instead and sitting down on the bench across from him. “I thought you were James,” she supplied a few seconds later, swinging her feet idly.

“I’m not Remus either,” he pointed out, making no effort to soften his tone. Her politeness surprised him. He hadn’t seen her since their accidental meeting at the record store in London. With the tumultuous nature of his life in the last week, the minutes passed more like months than anything else, but she wouldn’t be subject to the same time line. "If you're here to lecture me though, now really isn't the best time," he added, thinking of her friendship with Snape.

She didn’t answer.

“Did you mean what you said in London?” she asked finally, looking up from under her eyelashes. For a moment, he was confused, but the weight in her tone was foreboding and impossible to mistake for anything other than sincere concern.

It was concern he had no intention of indulging. “Yes,” he answered slowly, letting the word linger in the empty space between them – the silence sounding far louder than the students wandering past the open compartment door. Yet again, she didn’t answer, waiting quietly for him to continue. Resigning himself to the notion that he wasn’t going to get back to his nap until he’d dealt with her, he sat up, leaning against the glass. “The Bay City Rollers are dreadful.”

Lily rolled her eyes, sparing him the slightest smile in spite of herself. “And I should be listening to what, The Ramones?”

“It wouldn’t hurt,” he suggested, digging in his jacket pocket for a pack of Droobles.

Distracted, he didn’t notice the change in her countenance as she brought the subject back around to the question she’d really been asking in the first place. “I meant,” she started, tilting her head to see his expression. “Your family, Sirius. Did you mean what you said?”

“That they’d kill you for being seen with me?” he asked, not giving her a chance to answer. “You can relax. I assure you, they probably didn’t even register your presence,” he answered darkly.

She hesitated for an instant before responding. His answer wasn’t what she’d meant either, but it was more telling than she’d expected it to be. Foolhardy bravado was commonplace when any of them – even Remus, quiet and considerate though he was, could be nudged into their swaggering tendencies – so that didn’t surprise her, but the sadness residing just under the surface of his calm expression betrayed the truth of his fears despite the confidence he was trying to display. In that instant, he reminded her of Severus more clearly than either of them would have been pleased with. "I didn't mean that either," she said carefully, waiving off the piece of chewing gum he offered her. "Do they really watch you?"

"Does that surprise you?" he asked in turn, raising an eyebrow.

The easy cadence he'd always maintained, brought about by equal parts masochistic amusement, confidence and dismal reality, had evaded him for days but, as he talked to her it seemed to be returning to him. It struck him as surreal to have a conversation about his family as if they last week hadn't happened - as if he hadn't run away mere hours after their last conversation. In the few hours since he'd stepped onto platform 9 3/4's, he'd been asked by no less than a half-dozen of his housemates and a handful of Slytherins (though with somewhat less friendly concern) if the rumors were true. They'd caught him in the corridors, stopped by the compartment and woken him up to ask. How it was possible that she didn't know escaped him.

"It does, a little," she answered finally, her expression a mixture of horror and sympathy. "What happened to your forehead?" she asked.

"Nothing," he answered stiffly, going silent again.

"Does it bother you - that they follow you, I mean?" she tried again, the pity in her voice all too evident.

"If you're looking for someone pitiable to rescue, try Snape. I hear he's having a bad day," he fired back, retrieving the book Remus had abandoned on the window sill and pretending to read.

She hesitated a few moments before getting up but he didn't watch her. Instead, turning the page despite having read no further than the first paragraph. "Do you know where Remus is?" she asked again, annoyed.

"Not a clue," he answered indifferently, his eyes on his book. He didn't set it down until after she was gone, the telltale sound of the train clunking along it's track rising and falling again as she moved from car to car. Idly, he wondered what was keeping James and Peter.

He didn't wonder long - minutes later students in the corridors began winging as a disembodied foot trod on theirs or an invisible something nearly knocked them over. "Budge up," James ordered, rattling the window in the door as he pushed it all the way open.

Sirius moved his leg seconds before something heavy was dropped onto the seat beside him. When James pulled off the cloak, the heavy thing was revealed to be a wooden crate marked on each end with stamps reading "Fragile! Explosives!"

"Fireworks?" he asked, kicking the invisibility cloak out of the middle of the floor while James pried the crate open. "How do you plan to get those past Filch?"

James laughed. "I'm going to put them in your trunk."

"And how do you presume that will help?" Sirius asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Dumbledore isn't going to let Filch search you after what's happened. One look at that scar and you'll be waived by and given an ice lolly. You could put a half dozen death eaters in there and no one would notice," he argued, reaching down to drag Sirius' trunk from underneath the bench.

"Where was that attitude when I wanted to hide my pot in your trunk last year?"

"That was just for you, Sirius," he pointed out in his best impersonation of his mother, already loading fireworks into Sirius' trunk and barricading them with books. "These are for everyone."

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