AN - First off, hey there and thanks for checking this story out! It's an idea I've been mulling over for a while, focusing mostly on Sirius's growing estrangement and eventual separation from his family, a major turning point in Remus's lycanthropy and Lily and James's relationship, and other important events of the time. I always prefer to stay as close to canon as possible.
Please let me know your thoughts, etc. in the form of a review :). I do take everything on board and enjoy hearing what people have to say!
Year of the Wolf
It was the fifth time James Potter had passed through the barrier to Platform Nine and Three Quarters and still the same sense of eager happiness grew within his chest. The loud chatter of emotional families, the cloud of steam that drifted like a weak mist above their heads, and the smell of the train and the many caged pets. It was better than Christmas, better than Hallowe'en.
He didn't recognise the voice but returned the greeting nonetheless as he played the usual game of 'pick the first years from the crowd'. They seemed to get smaller every year.
'Have you found your friends yet?' asked Mrs. Potter as she appeared at his side and began to fuss over his appearance.
'There's the Blacks,' said Mr. Potter, craning his neck above the crowd. 'No Sirius though.'
James followed his gaze, finding it hard not to scowl at the parents that made his best friend's home life hell. Walburga tended to Regulus with affection he had never seen her show her eldest son, and neither she nor her husband seemed to even register that they were one son short, let alone care.
'He's probably on the train already,' James yawned.
There was no sign of Peter either, but Remus waved in the distance, evidently unable to pull himself away from his parents for long enough to say a proper hello.
The holidays had seemed so long this year. Peter had been travelling around Europe with his mum for most of them, so it had been just James, Remus and Sirius, but a couple nasty full moons and family 'obligations' had forced their meetings to be more sporadic than any of them had hoped.
Barely a week had passed since Sirius was snoring in a makeshift bed on his bedroom floor, and he was already anxious to share a room with his three best friends again.
'Go find them!' his mum chuckled. She kissed him on the cheek and made one last futile attempt to flatten his hair. 'Take care of yourself and your friends, and try to stay out of trouble.'
'More "do" than "try",' his father added with a knowing smile.
'Don't know what you mean,' James said as he hugged his parents. 'I'm always good. Promise you'll send owls?'
'We always do, honey,' said his mum.
The buzz of anticipation rang in his ears as he clambered on board the train, dragging his trunk down the corridor. There were a lot of complaints as he pulled it over a few toes trying to find a compartment with a familiar face or two. Owls hooted, cats meowed and even the occasional toad croaked through open compartment doors as he made his way to the back of the train.
The compartments became less densely-populated as he progressed, and eventually he saw the familiar form of Sirius Black, slumped against a window seemingly asleep.
'Morning, beautiful,' he said with a grin as he stowed his trunk safely away and slung his bag onto the seat. Sirius barely grunted to acknowledge his presence, and James took this as the first sign that something was wrong.
'Well aren't you a ray of sunshine?' James commented glumly. 'Maybe I'll go sit with the Slytherins.'
'You'll do no such bloody thing.'
'Aha, it talks! C'mere, mate, I missed you.' James held out an arm for a hug, a fist-bump or even a handshake, but Sirius just looked at it darkly from beneath his hair.
There was a darkness to his eyes that had become increasingly more common over the years, and it caused a knot to twist in James's stomach. He knew exactly what had happened without his friend needing to say a word. He never was quite sure how to deal with issues regarding Sirius's family. Even Sirius did not know sometimes, and usually the move he made was the wrong one and it led them right back to square one.
'I walked out,' he said, pushing his hair out of his face. 'Wandered round London for an hour or two before I realised I didn't have a clue what I was doing. Came back and they hadn't even noticed I was gone. Call me stupid, but if your child, the supposed heir of the family, walks out, you would at least look up and think "hang on, we appear to be one short here", am I right?'
'Don't stress yourself out over them, Sirius,' James pleaded. 'They're not worth it.'
He wanted to say so much more, but there were never words to translate his feelings into. There was nothing he wanted more than to just take Sirius out of that toxic environment and place him in the loving one he had at home, but Sirius was too proud to accept help, would rather hold his head high and play the hand he was dealt rather than walk away, however unfair that hand was.
'Yeah,' Sirius said. It was a long, drawn out word that rumbled in his chest. And when he turned back to James, the gloom was gone and he had mustered a rather convincing smile. 'So what've you been up to since I last saw you?'
'Missing you,' James said in an airy voice. 'Every minute of every day.'
And he wasn't even lying.
Professor Mcgonagall flashed the boys an impatient look as they entered the hall, James staggering under the weight of Sirius on his back. It was a scene perhaps made more comical by the fact that Sirius had a considerable lead on James, and most of the other students in his year, in the height department, but when he had unexpectedly jumped aboard as they entered the hall James had taken it like a champ and carried on like a bow-legged pony carrying Horace Slughorn.
'Thanks, old chap,' Sirius said when he dismounted at the Gryffindor table, perfectly imitating the voice of the crazy knight Sir Cadogan.
'I think my vertebrae have fused together,' James complained. He arched his back dramatically, pressing a hand into his spine for greater effect. 'You need to lay off the pastries, Black.'
'Nonsense! I'm a growing boy.'
'Grow any more and you're going to grow straight out of your robes,' teased Remus.
'I maintain that it's you three who are shrinking.'
'We're not the ones who are starting to compromise the integrity of the cloak disguise.'
Sirius glared at James, but any retort was stolen as the hall fell into silence and the Sorting Hat began its annual song.
Remus won the ensuing round of "who will end up in which house?" and wore his victory with an annoying sense of smugness.
Despite their friend's distracting smarminess, James could not help but notice the ferocity with which Sirius attacked the food on his plate. It very closely mirrored the way he had scarfed down pasties and cakes on the train. Evidently his parents had found his behaviour bad enough to exclude him from a family meal or two in the days preceding the start of term, and their house elf was never any help in procuring snacks. James sighed in dismay. He wouldn't go so far as to say that his friend had brought it upon himself, but he didn't do himself any favours.
If the others noticed anything out of the ordinary, they did not say. In fact, Peter began to tease Sirius, earning him an obscene gesture.
'It takes a lot of energy to power something this godly,' said Sirius rather modestly.
Their trunks had arrived ahead of them, as always, when they reached their dormitory with it's four four-poster beds, and a cosy warmth filled the room, which smelled faintly of burning coal.
Peter was still describing a tour around Budapest that he had taken with his mother as they changed into their pyjamas. Remus nodded along politely, but James and Sirius had both tuned out before they had even reached the portrait hole.
'Everything okay?' James whispered as he edged towards where Sirius stood beside his bed.
'Mate, you've been staring at your socks for the last five minutes.'
'They're nice socks.'
James levelled his eyes at the grey-eyed boy and Sirius sighed.
'I was just thinking,' he said. And then he smiled, and for once it reached his eyes. 'About how glad I am to be back.' It wasn't entirely a lie, but James could see that the trick lay in the way he worded it. Then, he leaned in a little closer. 'Kind of worried about Remus too. Well, how he's going to handle the whole animagus thing. We're getting close, it could be weeks away. He's going to flip out.'
'Therein lies the point of keeping him in the dark until it's over,' James whispered back. 'When it's done it's done and after all the work we've put into it he's not going to have much choice other than to give it a shot, is he?'
With that, he left Sirius alone with one last wary glance and clambered into his own bed, relishing the warmth of the sheets. The lights were barely out when sleep came for him, and he dreamt of a field, four legs and an irate Moony.