Disclaimer: Sirius, his family, and his school all belong to J.K. Rowling—although he would have had a happier (and longer) life if he'd belonged to one of us.
The title of a fictional wizard novel, Hunt for the Red Dragon, was created by Alkari for her story "That's What Little Boys Are Made Of." (I highly recommend it.)
Author's Note: Write enough MWPP fanfiction and eventually you'll probably succumb to writing certain key moments of their lives. I have finally succumbed to writing their first September first, but I've tried to make it different. This story is compliant with both OotP canon and with my story "Choosing the Head Boy."
The Nicest Thing My Mother Ever Did for Me
Chapter One: The Sorting
"Don't dawdle, Sirius," his mother snapped. "I want to get onto the platform and away from these filthy Muggles as quickly as possible. Must they all stare?"
The last was addressed to her sister-in-law, Io. Io was also accompanying her children to the Hogwarts Express. Her youngest daughter, Bellatrix, was, like Sirius, going into her first year at Hogwarts. Her middle daughter, Narcissa, was a sixth year. The eldest, Andromeda, already out of school, was rarely mentioned by her family.
"They always stare. The Ministry really should relocate the platform somewhere way from them," Io said.
"They wouldn't stare if we wore Muggle clothing," Sirius pointed out, again.
"And that's enough out of you," his mother said. "You've done nothing but be an irritation all morning. Honestly, I don't know which I am more grateful for. The hope that his house will straighten him out, or the fact that he won't be at home anymore to influence Regulus."
Although the "house" hadn't been named, they all
knew that "Slytherin" was implied. All
the Blacks went into Slytherin; it was family tradition. When he injured himself, Sirius was always a
bit surprised that his blood didn't run green.
The few exceptions to the "Black equals Slytherin" rule had gone into
Ravenclaw. Sirius sincerely hoped that
he would prove an exception to the rule, but he didn't want to get his hopes up
too high. Regulus strayed a bit too
close to Sirius and received an elbow to the ribs.
"I know exactly how you feel, dear," Io said in a comforting tone to her sister-in-law. "I was furious when she walked out, but now I'm so grateful that she's gone and can't influence the other two girls."
"The freak influence us? Really, Mother," Narcissa scolded, "give us a little more credit than that." And with a toss of her blonde hair over her shoulder, she pushed her trolley through the barrier.
Bellatrix followed without hesitation. She had, after all, accompanied her older sisters to the Hogwarts Express many times before. Although this was Sirius's first time here, he went though just as nonchalantly. He'd learned long ago not to show weakness or fear in front of his family. Never bleed when swimming with sharks.
The train was just as he had imagined it, just as his Uncle Alphard had described it. Vibrantly red, hissing with steam, and so almost-alive. Sirius had always found Muggle machinery fascinating, and Muggle machinery altered to be magical was even more so. He wasn't sure yet if this was a "he" or a "she," but the Hogwarts Express had far too much personality to be an "it."
"Hurry up, brats," Narcissa snarled at Bellatrix and Sirius. "I see my friends. I may have to let you sit with me today, but I promise to make your lives hell if you embarrass me."
Narcissa had been ordered by her parents to mind her younger sister and cousin on the train, and Sirius had been ordered to stay with Narcissa and whomever she deemed appropriate. "I won't have you wandering around the train and associating with mudbloods," his mother had warned.
Privately, Sirius hoped he would meet at least one student who was Muggle-born. He had a million questions he wanted to ask about Muggles. His Uncle Alphard's wife, Tess, had been a Muggle, and Sirius had been quite fond of her. The times he had snuck out of his own house by flooing over to Alphard and Tess's had been his only significant contact with Muggle culture. However, Tess's death and Alphard's subsequent decision to leave the country had left him cut off from the Muggles around him—and from the one place he had ever wanted to call "home."
"If I do meet anyone who's Muggle-born," Sirius thought, "I hope I don't botch everything by saying something stupid." Just two days before, he had caught himself using the word "Mudbloods" when discussing Muggle-born Hogwarts students with Bellatrix. He hadn't even realized that he was using the word until after he said it the second time. "How do I explain to a new friend I've just insulted, 'Sorry, didn't mean any harm. My bigoted parents just imprinted themselves on my brain, you see.'"
After Sirius stowed his truck where directed by Narcissa, he stepped back off the train to say good-bye to his brother and mother and to give her the obligatory kiss on the cheek. He knew that she didn't want it anymore than he wanted to do it, but appearances demanded it.
His mother and his aunt were deep in conversation with the Averys and the Rosiers, so Sirius risked taking advantage of a few moments of freedom. He began to wander among the other students and their families. Almost all of them were in Muggle clothing, but Sirius knew that almost all of them were wizards and witches in disguise. He wondered if any of them were real Muggles like Tess had been. One wizard could have passed for a real Muggle—except that he was wearing dragon hide boots. A witch with a young son—probably another first year—looked convincing enough in her worn jeans and navy blue jumper, but the wand in her back pocket was a dead giveaway.
"SIRIUS!" His mother's voice carried over the crowd, and he reluctantly hurried back.
* * * * *
Sirius had thought nothing could be worse than being trapped with his parents and their friends and listening to their pureblood propaganda. He was wrong. Worse was being trapped with Narcissa and her friends and listening to their "girltalk" with avaricious and bigoted twists.
"He actually sent me a letter to ask if he could sit beside me at the Sorting Ceremony."
"What did you say?"
"I sent the owl back with a note saying I'd think about it. What do you think? Should I encourage him?"
"Well, his family doesn't have much money, but he's smart enough to go far. You could do worse."
"You know that his great-grandmother was a Muggle, don't you?"
"But that's pretty far back. The rest of his bloodlines are pure."
"I wouldn't take the chance. If you marry someone with a Muggle ancestor, you run the risk of giving birth to a squib. How embarrassing would that be?"
Sirius decided that he had two choices. Either he could pound his head against the wall behind him until he lapsed into unconsciousness—and with a cushioned wall, that could take some time—or he could leave the compartment and hope Narcissa wouldn't care.
"Excuse me," he murmured as he stood to leave. Narcissa neither tried to stop him nor asked where he was going, but he was certain that when she wrote home, she'd make sure that both of their mothers knew that Sirius had wandered off alone while on the train.
The first compartment he passed was full of boys he knew, both his own age and slightly older, but he wasn't inclined to go in there either. "I'll be stuck listening to them for the next seven years. Why rush things?" He continued to wander. Some compartments were full, some had only a few people, but all were clearly occupied by people who were already friends. He had almost reached the back of the train when he glanced into a compartment and stopped in his tracks. Only three people were inside, and each seemed to be in his or her own world. A girl approximately fifteen or sixteen was deeply engrossed in a book as she chewed on the end of a lock of her hair. A boy, young enough to be a first year, was staring out the window. Another girl, perhaps thirteen or fourteen, was sitting on the floor and using the seat as a desk as she worked on an essay. "So this is where the misfits sit," he thought, and he opened the door.
"May I sit in here?"
Each of the three glanced up. "Sure," the girl writing the essay said, "as long as you aren't expecting conversation." One by one, they returned to their silent pursuits. As the "reading girl" had her feet up on one bench seat, and the "essay girl" had two books and several wadded up sheets of parchment all over the other, the only empty space was directly across from the boy.
"Hello," Sirius said as he sat down. He realized that it was the same boy he had seen with a witch who could almost pass for a Muggle.
"Hello," the boy answered with a slight smile. He glanced at the two girls and then at Sirius as if to say, "Sorry, can't really talk now," and returned to staring out the window. Sirius decided that "reading girl" had the right idea and pulled the novel he was currently reading, Hunt for the Red Dragon, out of his robe pocket.
* * * * *
In the bustle and confusion on the platform as the first-years tried to go one way to follow a very large and very hairy man, and the other students all tried to go another way, Sirius lost sight of the boy he had sat with on the train. It wasn't as if they were friends; they hadn't even introduced themselves. Sirius just wanted to know that there was someone else as alone as he was as he entered the school. "He might not even be a first year. He could be a second year."
As they drew near the small boats, Sirius discovered that he had wandered into the midst of a clump of aspiring Slytherins. Given that he had managed to insult a large percentage of them by speaking his mind at one time or another, he didn't think much of his chances of making it across the lake without going for a swim. He made a quick strategic decision to sit in the same boat as Bellatrix. Family loyalty had its limits—very finite, definite limits—but it did exist. His chances of staying dry were better if he were with her than if he were not.
One of Bellatrix's friends—"Lettice? Lovage? Something botanical,"—sat with them, as did a boy that Sirius had met a few times. "Nervous?" Sirius asked when he saw the boy clinging to the side of the boat and to the seat with white-knuckled hands.
"No," the boy answered curtly.
"Uh-huh, of course not. Your knuckles are white because you're trying to restrain yourself from going for a swim." Sirius wasn't quite sure why he was needling the other boy—"Severus Snape, that's his name," –into admitting that he was nervous. Perhaps he needed assurance that he wasn't the only one. However, Sirius knew that he'd never admit to how terrified he was either.
"You're the one who should be nervous, Sirius," Bellatrix said as she half-turned in her seat. "Who knows which house you'll be sorted into, Freak. And I'd hate to be you if you aren't in Slytherin. Your mother said—"
"Shut up, Belladicks."
"Oh, very mature," sneered the other girl.
"You too, Lettuce."
"Hmrph," she grunted with a sour expression and turned back to the front. The remainder of the ride passed in silence.
"Bellatrix is right about one thing," Sirius placed one hand over his stomach full of writhing snakes, "I am nervous about the Sorting." He knew that his parents and his extended family as a whole would be furious if he weren't sorted into Slytherin, but he still hoped that he wouldn't be.
There had been a time when the Blacks had been proud to have an occasional family member sorted into Ravenclaw, or to have an occasional Ravenclaw marry in. "It's good to know that brains run in the family," his father said when Sirius's cousin Andromeda had been sorted. And according to Uncle Alphard, when he had been sorted into Ravenclaw, his two older brothers had been quite proud of him, boasting, "He's too smart for his own good. He's a Slytherin with too many brains, so they had to put him in Ravenclaw."
Andromeda and Alphard were responsible for the family's change in attitude. Both of them had rejected their family's views on pure bloodlines and attitudes toward Muggles. Alphard had even gone so far as to marry a Muggle, and rumor had it that Andromeda had secretly done so as well. "If they had been in Slytherin, this wouldn't have happened," the family decided. A part of Sirius feared that they were right. A part of Sirius worried about who he'd become if he became a Slytherin.
At last the fleet of small boats reached the shore. Sirius stayed near Bellatrix, Lettice, and Severus as they climbed the stairs and entered the school—not because he wished to, but because he had no reason not to. His full attention was on the event about to occur, the event that would chart the course of his school career and possibly the rest of his life. A smiling witch in a yellow robe introduced herself as Professor Artemisia, the Head of Hufflepuff House, and told them that the Sorting Ceremony would soon take place. Anything she said after that, Sirius simply did not hear.
After she left the room, Sirius began to look around at his fellow first-years. A girl with blonde plaits was shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot as if she had to go to the loo. Another girl, a head taller than everyone else, kept her arms crossed in front of her as if trying to hide her premature curves. The quiet boy from the train was standing near the edge of the group, but he was too far away to speak to. As Sirius gazed around, he overheard the word "Slytherin" hissed with disdain. He looked at the boy who spoke. He had black hair and glasses and was speaking quietly—but not in a whisper—to two other boys. The black-haired boy was looking directly at Sirius with obvious dislike. Sirius stared back defiantly.
After the new first-years filed into the Great Hall, the Sorting Hat began its song about "Gryffindors defending with lionhearted courage," "Ravenclaws soaring high with new learning," "Slytherins seeking any route to success," and "Hufflepuffs striving for only what is fair." The Hat promised them all, "Your hopes and dreams I will spy, But your secrets I will keep." Sirius was a bit surprised to overhear some of his new classmates expressing surprise at how the Sorting was done. He couldn't remember ever not knowing about the Sorting Hat.
As the witch called out, "Ashworth, Adrian," Sirius took a deep breath. Being near the front of the alphabet was a mixed blessing. He wouldn't have long to calm himself into a façade of nonchalance, but he wouldn't have long to panic either.
"RAVENCLAW!" the Sorting Hat called out, and the second table from the left exploded into cheers.
"Please, oh please," Sirius silently begged.
The Sorting Hat took even less time before it called out, "SLYTHERIN!"
"No surprise there," Sirius thought.
"Alliterative names seem popular this year," a short, blond boy beside Sirius said quietly as Bellatrix strode forward. "Do you think the next name will be double-C's?"
"No, I'm next," Sirius said to the boy.
Bellatrix gave him a triumphant smile as they passed. As the hat came down over his eyes, Sirius wondered if it would help to think about the house he wanted.
"Highly intelligent, I see," said a voice in his mind.
"I'm bloody brilliant. I hope it puts me in Ravenclaw," Sirius thought.
"Not particularly modest, however."
"You can hear me?"
"On second thought, maybe not so intelligent after all. Slytherin would also be a good choice. With your natural 'brilliance' and raw talent, you could go very far. All you need is the right environment to nurture you to fulfill your birthright."
"Sod my birthright. Any house is better than being in Slytherin."
"Your family will be very angry with you if you aren't in Slytherin."
"Good. Sod them too."
"Gryff— you're kidding, right?" Sirius thought, but the Sorting Hat did not reply. As he pulled off the hat, he became aware that instead of the enthusiastic applause the previous first-years had received, there was only scattered clapping at the Gryffindor table. He looked toward the sound just as it died out. "They don't want me," he realized. "Who could blame them?"
"Please take a seat with your house," Professor Artemisia urged.
Sirius nodded dumbly and went to the table on the far left. He kept his head held high. His house hated him. His family was going to kill him—perhaps literally. But Sirius wasn't going to show fear. "Never bleed when swimming with sharks." He sat down at the end nearest the staff table, with his back toward the Slytherin table. Some of the Gryffindors stared at him, some ignored him, but no one introduced himself or herself. He was dimly aware that three or four other students were sorted, and then Gryffindor burst into wild applause. They were welcoming their first "real" new housemate. A brown-haired girl glanced at Sirius as she went past him and went to sit farther down the table. Suddenly, Gryffindor cheered again. Sirius turned to watch a red-haired girl approach the table. She smiled at him, and he did his best to smile back. She sat on the opposite bench, approximately halfway between Sirius and the students keeping their distance.
They had gotten as far as "Hi" when an upperclassman introduced himself to the girl and then whispered something in her ear. The girl looked at Sirius out of the corner of her eye as she listened. Sirius turned away and watched the Sorting.
Another alliterative name, "Greenbough, Gwendolyn," caught his ear. Sirius tried to catch the eye of the short blond boy, but he was lost amidst the slightly taller students. After another girl, "Keddle, Eurydice," became a Gryffindor, "LeStrange, Rodolphus," and "Liegeard, Sarah," both went into Slytherin. "Lupin, Remus," turned out to be the boy Sirius had shared a compartment with on the train. Sirius applauded with the rest when the Sorting Hat yelled, "GRYFFINDOR!"
"We meet again," Remus said with a smile as he sat directly across from Sirius.
Sirius grinned back. "And we can talk this time. Although, be warned. Talking to me is probably a good way to become an outcast in this house."
Another alliterative name, "McKnight, Margaret," caught his ear just as Remus shrugged to say, "So what?"
The table erupted into applause when the Hat called out "GRYFFINDOR!" again. Margaret chose a seat within conversing distance of the red-haired girl, but with two upperclassmen and empty space between herself and Sirius. He didn't recognize the surname, so she was probably not a pureblood. If she knew to be wary of him, either she had grown up a wizard family of mixed blood, or she was a Muggle-born who had been warned about him by whispering amidst the unsorted first-years.
They listened to three more students be sorted before the witch said, "Pettigrew, Peter," and Sirius saw the blond boy step forward.
Sirius couldn't help but smile to himself. "No wonder he noticed the alliterative names." When Peter took the place beside Sirius at the table, Sirius grinned at his new acquaintance and said, "You were right. Alliteration is quite popular this year." Peter grinned back.
"Potter, James," the witch called out. This caught Sirius's attention, and he looked back to the Sorting. Potter was the boy with glasses who had so openly disliked the potential Slytherins earlier. This did not surprise Sirius. He had recognized the surname Potter as being one of the pureblood families with more liberal views toward Muggles and Muggle-born wizards.
After a few moments, the Sorting Hat shouted, "GRYFFINDOR!" and the house cheered again. Sirius was applauding with the rest, but when James approached the table and sat down between Remus and the red-haired girl, James's happy grin for his new housemates was bestowed on all except Sirius. When his gaze did fall on Sirius, the best word that Sirius could think of to describe the expression was "challenge." James knew who the Blacks were, despised Sirius already, and would make sure that Sirius was utterly miserable. Sirius wondered how long it would take until Peter and Remus hated him too.
Sirius turned back to the Sorting as Evan Rosier headed toward Slytherin and the name "Shacklebolt, Isabel" was called out. Sirius glanced at the few students remaining.
"GRYFFINDOR!" Isabel smiled brightly as she hurried to sit beside the first girl sorted into Gryffindor that evening.
"Hey, Peter," Sirius said loudly enough to be heard over the applause. "There's another alliterative name coming up."
"Snape, Severus," the witch said right on cue. Peter grinned at Sirius, obviously pleased at having someone join him in noticing such things.
"You would know his name, wouldn't you?" James said nastily. "I bet your families are all chummy. What do snake-clans do when they get together?"
"Do you brew up poisons? Curse unsuspecting Muggles?"
"Bugger off, Potter," Sirius snapped back. "You don't know anything about me."
"I know you're teasing Peter about his name. 'Hey, Peter. There's another alliterative name coming up,'" James mocked.
Sirius quickly glanced over at Peter. The hurt look on his face told all too clearly that Peter believed James. "Great. We're not even done the Sorting, and he's already turned Peter against me. I bet he'll have Remus hating me by the time we finish eating."
After the last few students were sorted, the Sorting Hat and stool were cleared away, the witch took her place beside the Headmaster, and the Headmaster rose to speak.
"Since becoming Headmaster of this wonderful old school last winter, I have been quite looking forward to this first Sorting Ceremony, having the opportunity to bore you all silly with a long speech when you'd rather eat, and saying, 'Tuck in.'" He sat down without further ado, and there was a heartfelt, if brief, cheer from the students and staff alike.
Sirius turned back to the table and saw that down the center of the table were golden platters filled to overflowing with food. He noted with approval that the food was all good, hearty, comfort food meant to be reminiscent of home cooking to any students away from home for the first time and feeling a bit homesick. Not that he was. Various platters and serving dishes were passed around as all filled their plates. Fortunately, as everything was being passed counter-clockwise, Remus was the one passing to Sirius. He briefly wondered if he would have been passed anything if he needed to rely on Potter or one of the upperclassmen.
A happy buzz of conversation rose throughout the hall. Sirius wondered if any of his new housemates were Muggle-born. He still hoped to ask them questions if they were, but he knew he couldn't ask without James misinterpreting his interest. He recognized the surnames Pettigrew and Lupin as wizard names, but he didn't know much about their immediate families. The nearest of the girls was the redhead, but he hadn't caught her name. Before he could think of a safe question to ask, the subject of primary schools arose. Peter, Ivy, and Isabel had all gone to Britannia Grammar School for Mages, a state-supported school for young witches and wizards, and the two girls were good friends. Margaret—Maisie—although Scottish, had gone to Britannia Grammar's Irish equivalent. James and Eurydice—James called her "Dice"—had both gone to Emrys Hall. Sirius knew that Emrys was just as expensive than his own primary school—or more so—but unlike it, one did not have to be a pureblood to attend.
"Am I the only one who went to a Muggle school?" the redhead asked.
"No, I did," Remus answered. "I'm Remus. And you are?"
"Lily," she said with a smile. "Are you Muggle-born too, Remus?"
Sirius listened with interest, looking between them as they spoke. James, sitting between them, was staring at Sirius and waiting for him to comment.
"No, but my mum is," Remus answered.
Sirius grinned and looked down at his plate.
"Why are you smirking, Black?" James asked.
"I was just thinking that it explained why Remus's mother did a better job than most of looking like a Muggle at Kings Cross this morning."
"I noticed that your family didn't even try," James stated. "Is dressing like Muggles beneath them?"
Sirius glanced over at Remus and saw that he was staring down at his plate very deliberately. He didn't look angry or hurt, but his complete lack of expression betrayed that he was hiding his feelings. Sirius's eyes flicked back to James's triumphant smile. Sirius glared at him for a moment and then resumed eating in silence.