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 Nicest Thing My Mother Ever Did for Me
Chapter Two: A Warm Welcome
The first full day of classes started out well enough. In the rush to get down to breakfast on time and to find the classrooms without getting too badly lost, James didn't even bother to pick any fights with Sirius. Professor Flitwick, who taught Charms, proved to be a very good teacher, and every member of the class managed to perform their first charm by the end of the period. Sirius felt relieved that the academic portion of the school year was off to a good start even if the social aspects were not. History of Magic was so tedious that Sirius could easily imagine that their ghostly professor had literally died of boredom. He thought it beneficial that they had the subject before lunch rather than after. A full stomach and the monotonous tones of Professor Binns could prove a potent sleeping charm.
Sirius tried to avoid any problems during lunch by pulling out his copy of Hunt for the Red Dragon and continuing to read. He only had one or two chapters remaining.
"Must be a good book," Remus said. "It kept your attention on the train, too."
Sirius looked up and smiled, relieved that Remus was still speaking to him. "I read on the train because the girls wanted it quiet, but it is a good book. Lots of action. I'm almost done; you can borrow it when I am."
"Thanks. I will." Remus then opened his History of Magic text and began to read rather than continue the conversation.
* * * * *
As they approached the Potions classroom for the last class of the day, James, at the front of the Gryffindor first-years, suddenly turned around and announced to the others, "Guess who we have Potions with? I suppose the teachers wanted Black to feel at home."
"At home" was exactly how Sirius knew he would feel, but that was not a pleasant thought. As he looked at the faces of the Slytherin first-years waiting around the closed classroom door, he realized that here was one group who despised him even more than his new housemates. He had known most of the new Slytherins all his life. They had considered him "strange" and "different " before, but now they knew just how deep those differences were. Each and every one of them knew that either consciously or unconsciously, Sirius Black had rejected their house. He had rejected them and everything they believed in.
"Have you written home about the Sorting yet, Sirius?" Bellatrix asked in a deceptively sweet tone. "I have. I wrote to your parents too, just in case you haven't found time."
"I knew you would; that's why I didn't bother." It was only a half-lie. He had known that Bellatrix would write home immediately to crow over getting into Slytherin and to snitch on Sirius going to Gryffindor. And he had suspected that she would write to his parents as well. Bellatrix, like Regulus, could never overlook an opportunity to tattle on her siblings or cousins. However, that had not been the reason he had not written to his family. He knew this news would infuriate his parents, and he hadn't felt any compunction to speed the process.
The door suddenly swung open, forestalling the need to continue the conversation. The students filed in and chose to segregate themselves according to houses; Slytherin took the left side of the room, and Gryffindor took the right. Sirius took a seat at the back of the room in an attempt to make himself as unobtrusive as possible to both groups. He was not surprised that no one sat with him, but he was surprised when Remus sat at the table immediately in front of him and then turned to whisper to him.
"I thought she was your sister," Remus said quietly as he took out material to take notes, "but she said 'your parents.'"
"My sister? Bite your tongue. She's my cousin, and that's bad enough."
"That's enough conversation," the professor said as he rose from his seat and circled to the front of his desk. After taking attendance, he said, "I am Professor Serrault. I must ask for the safety of everyone in this room that you treat your lessons in Potions with the seriousness they deserve. Fail to pay attention to my instructions or to the work you are doing, and the results could be catastrophic." As Serrault circled the room dictating a long list of safety rules, James passed a folded piece of parchment to the girl behind him, who passed it in turn to Remus, who passed it to Sirius.
"Black," it read on the outside. Sirius unfolded it when he was certain the professor would not see. "Are your parents going to be disappointed that you're a Gryffindor? Boo-hoo. That almost makes it worth having you in our house."
"And finally," Serrault said, "under no circumstances are you to test any of your potions on yourselves. Beginning your fifth year, you will have a few limited opportunities to observe firsthand the effects of your potions, but only after I have checked your potions to make sure they are indeed correct. I wouldn't even allow a werewolf to test a potion made by a first year student.
"Now, you will make a simple potion today, just so I can observe how well you follow directions. I wish each of you to work independently. If you are sharing a table with another student, you may continue to do so, but please use separate cauldrons."
Serrault waved his wand at the blackboard behind his desk, and the instructions for Soothing Salve appeared in a neat and precise hand. Sirius copied the instructions down and was pleased that it seemed to be quite easy to make. He wondered briefly if Lily would know how finely to shred the daisy roots, since she'd never watched a parent prepare a potion, but as she was sharing a table with Eurydice, he figured she'd do fine.
Sirius finished shredding and measuring his daisy roots before the willow bark and eucalyptus leaves had steeped long enough, so he took a moment to look around and see how his classmates were faring. Most were still preparing their daisy roots, but everyone seemed to have shredded them to the same consistency. Severus Snape and Rodolphus LeStrange, sharing a table two rows ahead of Sirius, had also finished preparing their daisy roots and were just waiting for the right moment to add them to their cauldrons. Snape looked back at Sirius and smiled slightly before turning away to whisper something to LeStrange. Sirius did not like that smile. It reminded him of the look his younger brother would get whenever he knew that Sirius was about to be punished.
He couldn't afford to dwell on it; it was time to add the daisy roots and stir seven times. As Sirius measured out the final ingredient, mallow sap, a glass vial suddenly rolled across the floor and stopped nearly at the base of Sirius's cauldron. LeStrange hurried after it.
"Why are you out of your seat, LeStrange?" Serrault demanded.
"I was just picking up a vial I dropped, Professor."
"Back to your seat then."
LeStrange hesitated a moment beside Sirius's cauldron, but the Professor watched him until he began to head back to his seat. As he walked away, Sirius noticed that he was clutching something in the fist that had been nearest Sirius's cauldron. Foiled from dropping whatever it was into Sirius's cauldron, LeStrange chose an alternate target. He dropped a fistful of glittering black powder into Remus's cauldron just before retaking his seat.
Sirius didn't think that Remus had seen the extra ingredient, but before he could warn him, Remus's potion began to froth and foam. Remus suddenly backed away from it and wrinkled his nose in disgust. A moment later as large bubbles began to break on the surface, Sirius understood why. A stench of decay rose from the potion.
"Lupin! What did you do?" the professor shouted as strode quickly toward the foul-smelling cauldron. He vanished the fetid brew with a wave of his wand and the incantation, "Evanesco! Adding an ingredient of animal origin to a potion that can only accept botanical ingredients. Either you're incompetent or a deliberate trouble-maker. Which is it?"
"I didn't add anything like that, Professor," Remus said.
"I knew you'd be trouble, Lupin, but I didn't expect it so soon. Detention and twenty-five points from Gryffindor."
"He said he didn't do it, Professor," James said angrily. "He doesn't even have any ingredients out that could have done it. Maybe he did it when he was out of his seat." James pointed at LeStrange.
"I didn't see LeStrange do any such thing. Did you?" Serrault asked. James shook his head slightly. "Unfounded accusations are uncalled for."
Sirius had seen, but he couldn't bring himself to say so. Tattling just seemed so—low—nor could he allow Remus to suffer just because he wasn't willing to tell.
"I did it," Sirius said. James immediately turned in his seat and glared at him angrily.
"Really?" the professor asked in a tone of disbelief. "And just what did you add to Lupin's potion?"
"Beetle eyes." This caused Snape to turn and look at Sirius appraisingly. Sirius had obviously seen but chosen not to tell.
The professor accepted Sirius's answer. "Another twenty-five points from Gryffindor, and detention with Mr. Filch at eight o'clock. You can meet him in the Entrance Hall. Lupin, your detention will be here with me."
"Why should Remus have detention?" Sirius demanded.
"He needs the opportunity to make the potion correctly. Don't you agree, Lupin?"
"Yes, Sir." Remus began to pack up and put away his supplies.
Sirius leaned forward and whispered, "I didn't really do it, Remus."
"I know," Remus whispered back.
Sirius finished making his potion in silence. He found himself wishing that it were something more harmful than a Soothing Salve. He knew just the people whom he'd test it on if it were.
Remus was one of the first out of the room when class was dismissed, but Sirius lingered, waiting for Snape and LeStrange.
"You're so dead, Black," James said as he deliberately bumped Sirius's shoulder in passing.
Snape walked over calmly and looked Sirius in the eye. "Beetle eyes. Clever of you to put them in Lupin's cauldron. How ever did you know they'd affect the potion that way?"
"Watch your backs," Sirius said as he hoisted his bag over his shoulder. "I may not want to involve the teachers, but that doesn't mean I'll let you get away with hurting my friends."
"Friends?" Snape sneered. "They aren't your friends. They don't like you any more than we do." He glanced back at LeStrange and Rosier now standing just behind him. "And as for 'watching our backs,' I hardly think one of you stands much of a chance against all of us. Odds in our favour, aren't they?"
* * * * *
Sirius's pace quickened as he got closer to Gryffindor Tower and his dormitory. He knew that James was probably waiting for him and itching for a fight, but that thought did not deter him. In fact, he was rather looking forward to it. None of the upperclassmen paid much attention to him as he entered the common room, which meant that news of Sirius losing them fifty points on the first day of classes had not yet become common knowledge. Sirius knew that situation wouldn't last long.
Remus had taken a seat at one of the large tables in the common room, and appeared to be getting an early start on his first Charms assignment. He didn't look up when Sirius came in, nor did Sirius disturb him. His concern was James.
James was sitting on his trunk staring at the door when Sirius came in. He immediately rose to his feet, hands balling into fists at his sides. Peter was sitting on his own bed, reading his History of Magic text. When he saw Sirius enter and James stand, he seemed to shrink back into the pillows as if willing himself to disappear.
"Didn't take long for your real loyalties to show themselves, did it, Black?" James demanded angrily.
"And you've been so certain that you know my 'real loyalties' without even bothering to know me. You're a self-righteous bastard, Potter." Sirius dropped his bag to floor, ready for the fight that was coming.
"What's there to know? I saw the way your family paraded through Kings Cross wearing robes and cloaks. You hate Muggles so much you can't even bear to dress like them."
"That was my mother's doing, not—"
"And you started bullying Remus and Peter right from the start."
"I have not!" Sirius glanced over at Peter, hoping he'd believe him. Peter stared back fearfully.
"Making fun of Peter's name at the Sorting? Screwing up Remus's potion? Couldn't stand to have a mixed-blood student do well in Potions class? What do you have against Peter? His family not wealthy and well-connected enough for him to be worthy of a little kindness?"
"I wasn't making fun of his name." He looked at Peter imploringly. "Was I, Peter? Did you think I was making fun of you before he put the idea in your head?" He didn't care whether or not James believed him, but he hoped Peter would.
"I—" Peter looked nervously at James and then at Sirius again. "I didn't think so, but—"
"Just try to deny what you did to Remus," James challenged as he stepped closer, effectively blocking Sirius's view of Peter.
"Remus believes me that I didn't do it, so what business is it of yours?" Sirius too stepped closer. He had a few inches of height on James, and he used every bit of it as he tried to stare him down.
"It became my business when you cost my house fifty points! Didn't get sorted into Slytherin like you wanted, so instead of helping them win house points, you'll help your friends win by—"
The first punch caught James in the gut, hard enough to double him over slightly. A moment later, James charged forward without straightening and drove Sirius backward into the floor. They became a messy tangle of struggling limbs and desperate punches as each tried to make the other feel more pain than he.
"Petrificus Totalus!" someone shouted and James suddenly went stiff. "Petrificus Totalus!" the voice shouted again, and Sirius felt his entire body freeze up from the inside out. He tried to look toward the doorway and the voice, but could not even move his eyes. He could feel his heart pound against his ribs as if his chest was suddenly too small a cage. He tried to take a deeper breath but could not. He continued to breathe shallowly. Voluntary movements were impossible, but the involuntary ones continued. The room suddenly seemed to tip and turn violently as someone picked Sirius up around the waist and carried him to the wall. He watched as Remus walked away from him, picked up James in the same way, and carried him to the opposite wall.
"I don't know if you can hear me," Remus said as he crossed his arms and looked between the two stiff bodies propped up so they could stare at one another, "but I'll just hope you can. If you two want to kill each other, fine. But since this fight probably started because of what happened in Potions, let me just say that Sirius did not put anything in my cauldron. One of the Slytherins did it. There didn't seem to be any point in saying so since Professor Serrault wanted to give me detention no matter what. Sirius only said that he did it because he wanted to get me out of trouble. Now, if I unfreeze you, do you promise not to kill each other?" He raised an eyebrow as he looked at each of them in turn. "I'll take your silence for a 'Yes.'"
Remus pointed his wand at James and said, "Finite Incantatem." James instantly relaxed and let out a deep breath. He wiped away a trickle of blood from the corner of his mouth and scowled at Sirius. Remus unfroze Sirius as well.
"Told you I didn't do it," Sirius snapped. He resisted the urge to touch his bruised cheekbone or jaw.
"Maybe one of the other Slytherins did it, but it's still your fault that we lost fifty points, you damn snake," James retorted.
Sirius took several strides forward ready to fight again, but Remus pointed his wand at him. When Sirius stopped in his tracks, Remus lowered the wand and looked at James.
"How on earth do you figure that?" Remus asked.
"If Black had been willing to tell the professor who really did it, they would have lost the points instead of us. First day of classes and Gryffindor is already in last place. Black proved where his loyalties lay today, and I won't forget it."
"I'll get back your precious fifty points within a week," Sirius retorted as grabbed his book bag and took it to his bed. "Will that satisfy you, you pompous prick?"
"You're supposed to earn points for Gryffindor. Let's see you earn fifty points more than I do, then I'll be satisfied."
* * * * *
It had taken Sirius two hours to mop the entire Great Hall without magic, and he still had to do the Entrance Hall as well. Sirius made a mental note to avoid getting detention with Filch any more than absolutely necessary. He wrung out the mop and stared down at the filthy water. He'd have to empty out the bucket and refill it with fresh water and cleaning potion again before doing any more. He closed his eyes for a moment as he curved his spine backward to stretch his muscles. The bucket clinked. Sirius opened his eyes just in time to see the murky water flung out of the bucket and all over the clean floor. Then the bucket was flung after it as if by an invisible being.
"Ruddy poltergeist!" Sirius swore.
* * * * *
Sirius was a bit surprised to see his Aunt Io's owl drop a letter in his porridge the next morning. Or rather, he was a bit surprised to see a letter that was not in a red envelope. The owl did not even bother to land before flying across the room toward the Slytherin table. Sirius wondered if his aunt had found a way to disguise a howler as an ordinary letter so he opened it carefully. A greyish-brown powder spilled out as he unfolded the parchment, and the skin around the knuckles of his right hand suddenly crusted over with a thick brown growth. The parchment itself was blank. Sirius supposed that the powder, whatever it was, said all that his aunt wanted to say.
He didn't know what it was, or how to cure it, or even if it could be cured. He did know that the effects of poisonous potions and powders rarely got better without an antidote. He looked up at the staff table and saw that the professor best suited to help him was indeed having his breakfast. He used the blank parchment to scoop a sample of the powder back into the envelope and headed for the Potions teacher.
"Excuse me, Professor Serrault," Sirius said, "but I received some greyish-brown powder in a letter this morning and it did this to my hand."
The elderly teacher beside Serrault put on a pair of pince-nez and peered at Sirius's hand intently.
"Do you have a sample of the powder?" Serrault asked.
"Yes, Sir. In this envelope."
"Looks like the result of wartcap powder," the elderly wizard said to Serrault.
"Perhaps," Serrault agreed, "but I'll have to test it to be certain. I can do it after my first class."
The older wizard snorted. "Wartcap growths are permanent after half an hour. Wait until then to treat the boy and his fingers will never bend normally again." He then tapped each of Sirius's fingers with his wand, and the scabby growths disappeared. "If this happens again, young man, just tap the growths with your wand while imagining your skin unblemished. It should work."
"Thank you, Professor—"
"Swiven. I teach Defense. Haven't seen wartcap in years. Did you get it from whoever did that to your face?"
"Multiple enemies, eh? Looks like you'd better pay close attention in my class."
* * * * *
"Good morning, class. I am Professor McGonagall. In addition to being your Transfiguration teacher, I am also the head of Gryffindor. In a moment, I will tell you what I expect of you as your teacher, but judging by the looks of two of you," the stern looking witch gazed first at Sirius and then at James, "perhaps I should begin by speaking to you as the head of your house. Would one of you please tell me the reason you are both sporting bruises today?"
Sirius looked over at James's black eye. He hoped it hurt as much as his own bruises.
"I tripped, Professor," James said. Sirius was slightly surprised by the lie. He had thrown the first punch, and James could have used that fact to ensure that Sirius got into trouble. After all, which one was the Head of Gryffindor more likely to hold responsible for the fight, a Black or a Potter?
"Black?" she asked.
"We both tripped on the stairs, Professor."
"I see." McGonagall pursed her lips tightly. "Then let me give some advice to the class at large." Despite her words, she looked deliberately at Sirius. "Whether or not this is the house you hoped to be in is irrelevant. This is your house now." Sirius scowled. She obviously thought the same of him as every other Gryffindor did. The professor then looked at James. "Whether or not your housemates are people you would choose for friends is also irrelevant. Your house is your home away from home; your housemates are your family. Sometimes family members have conflicting personalities or differences of opinion, yet they do need to live together and so must learn to tolerate one another." She looked back at Sirius again. "My office door is always open if you have a problem you cannot solve alone. That goes for each of you." She looked at Remus for several moments before quickly sweeping the rest of the class with her gaze.
* * * * *
Sirius measured his writing assignment for Transfiguration, "Seventeen inches," and frowned. He still had at least three more paragraphs to write if the essay was to be as complete as he wanted, but Professor McGonagall had asked for fifteen inches. Sirius didn't know the professor well enough yet to know if she'd prefer a detailed essay even if it was too long, or if she'd resent the extra work that correcting an overly long essay would create. Ordinarily, Sirius wouldn't care. He'd just write what he wanted and let the grade take care of itself. However, he had vowed to get fifty more points than Potter within a week. He had thought it would be relatively easy. Without any effort at all, he'd always been top of his class in primary school. Unfortunately, James had proven himself Sirius's equal in every class today.
"Black," an upperclassman with a deep voice said as he bumped Sirius's shoulder.
"What?" he asked angrily without looking up. He was quickly learning that the Gryffindor common room was not a good place for him to do his work. Only his stubborn unwillingness to back down from a fight kept him from fleeing up to his dormitory. He'd only have to deal with James's hostility there.
"The Headmaster wants to see you. I'm supposed to take you."
Sirius looked up in surprise. The teenager looking down at him had a prefect's badge pinned to his robe. "Why?"
"You'll find out when you get there, won't you?"
Sirius quickly put his things away in his bag. He stood up and hesitated for a moment before slinging the bag over his shoulder. He didn't want to keep the Headmaster waiting while he put the bag in his dormitory, nor did he trust any of his housemates not to do something unpleasant to it if he left it behind. The prefect set off with long strides, and Sirius had to walk quickly to keep up. Sirius tried to memorize the way as they went, but the castle was a maze and he soon lost track of the turnings.
The prefect stopped in front of a large gargoyle and said, "Cockroach clusters." The gargoyle looked down at the prefect and stepped out of the way. "Professor Dumbledore is waiting for you," the prefect said as he gestured toward the spiral staircase that had been hidden by the gargoyle. The steps were constantly moving upward, and Sirus had never seen anything quite like it even in his old school. He hesitated for only half a second before stepping on. As he climbed up, he found that he rather liked the moving steps. He could climb them just as easily as regular steps, but he'd arrive twice as quickly.
When he reached the landing at the top of the stairs, a large oak door stood ajar just in front of him. Force of habit caused him to peek in before knocking. A wizard with long white hair stood looking out the window with his hands clasped behind his back. At the sound of Sirius's knock, Dumbledore turned and smiled.
"Come in, Mr. Black. Thank you for coming so promptly."
Sirius came a few feet into the room and tried to take in as much of the circular office as he could in a surreptitious glance. His natural curiosity was at war with his upbringing. His parents had told him more than once that when in the presence of one's elders or superiors, it was improper to look anywhere but at them or where they bid. Time and time again, he'd gawked a bit too openly when accompanying his mother in calling on her friends only to be punished for it when he got home.
"Have a seat," the Headmaster urged as he placed a hand on the back on a tall chair in front of his desk. He then took a seat behind the desk without waiting to see if Sirius would obey. The Headmaster gestured toward a bowl of lumpy chocolates on the corner of his desk. "Would you care for a chocolate?"
Sirius thought about the password. "No, thank you."
"Good evening, Sirius," a more familiar voice said from the wall. Sirius immediately spotted which portrait had addressed him.
"Hello, Great-Grandfather." There was actually one or two more "Greats" required, but Sirius could never remember how many, especially since the number might vary depending upon whether Sirius was tracing his ancestry through his father's line or his mother's.
"Only the second day of classes and you're already in enough trouble to be summoned here. Can't say that I'm surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised."
"Sirius is not in trouble, Phineas," Dumbledore said reprovingly.
"He will be," Sirius's ancestor promised. "He's very intelligent, but he doesn't always think."
"I'd prefer to form my own opinion, Phineas," Dumbledore stated firmly. There was a note of dismissal in his tone.
"Very well," Phineas replied with a sniff. He closed his eyes and settled his chin down onto his chest as if napping, but Sirius was certain that he would listen alertly to every word.
"I received a letter from your parents," Dumbledore said. "Apparently, they are very disappointed that you were sorted into Gryffindor, and they requested that you be given another opportunity to be sorted."
Sirius thought that "demanded" might be a more accurate verb. He should have realized that his parents would interfere if Sirius were not in the "proper" house. He glanced up at the Sorting Hat on a shelf behind Dumbledore and felt his stomach begin to twist.
Dumbledore watched Sirius intently. "Ordinarily, I tell parents that it is against school policy to be resorted."
Sirius released a breath he hadn't realized he was holding.
"However, Professor McGonagall informed me that both you and Mr. Potter were a bit 'accident-prone' last night. I also know that you've already had detention for pulling a prank against one of your own housemates. I'm concerned that perhaps you are having difficulty fitting into Gryffindor. If it were possible to be resorted, would you be interested?"
"No," Sirius said immediately.
Dumbledore smiled and leaned back in his desk chair. "Why not?"
"As for 'fitting in,' it doesn't really matter which of the houses I'm in. I'm not going to 'fit in' in any of them. Three of the houses will hate me for being a Black, and the Slytherins will hate me for what I believe. And as long as I'm going to be hated anyway, I'd really prefer not to be in Slytherin. No offense, Great-Grandfather."
Phineas opened his eyes for a moment and scowled, but he did not comment.
"And what do you believe, Sirius?" Dumbledore asked. "Don't worry, what is said in this office stays in this office. Phineas will not repeat our conversation to your family."
Sirius wasn't sure he had as much faith in Phineas's discretion as Dumbledore did, but what he had to say was already well known to his parents. "I know what I don't believe. I don't believe that purebloods are better than Muggle-borns, or that witches and wizards are better than Muggles. My Uncle Alphard married a Muggle. Her name was Tess. She was smart, and funny, and kind, and—and my parents spoke about her like she was some kind of bug. They acted like she was a completely different species because she couldn't do magic. So she couldn't do magic, big deal. Tess could play the piano. Did that mean she was better than my mother who couldn't play a note? Well, actually Tess was better than my mother, but not because of that." Phineas cleared his throat to remind Sirius that he was listening. "You don't like my mother, either," Sirius pointed out to his ancestor.
"Have you said any of this to your housemates?" Dumbledore asked.
"We haven't exactly had any heart-to-heart chats," Sirius replied.
"It seems to me," Dumbledore said with a smile, "that your housemates have prejudged you unfairly. Perhaps you could find an opportunity to let one or more know what you believe so they will know who you really are inside."
"Perhaps. It won't be easy. James hates me, Peter is afraid of me, and Remus prefers being alone."
"I sincerely hope that your difficulties with your housemates come to an end soon, Sirius, but I also hope that this has been a good learning opportunity for you." Sirius furrowed his brow. He wasn't sure quite sure what Dumbledore meant. "It isn't very often that someone born with your advantages has the opportunity to experience prejudice first-hand. Now that you have been sorted into the same house as a few students who will be dealing with prejudice the rest of their lives, I have high hopes that this experience will help you empathize."
"You mean like Lily Evans," Sirius stated.
"And others. Muggle-borns aren't the only ones who face prejudice within our world."
* * * * *
"Someone's getting a howler," one of the Gryffindors called out. Sirius looked up at the arriving owls and saw a bright red envelope clutched in the talons of a screech owl headed directly for him.
"Thanks ever so much, Eris," Sirius grumbled as his mother's owl dropped it in front of him. "You couldn't have dropped this in the lake?" The owl flew away as swiftly as she could. This wasn't the first howler she'd delivered to Sirius, and she knew better than to linger. "Sorry about this, everyone," Sirius said to the table at large. Only Sirius knew that he was apologizing not only for the volume but for the venomous bigotry with which his mother had probably filled the message. No one was sitting too close too Sirius, but no one in the Great Hall would be spared hearing his mother's tirade. He opened the smoking envelope.
"I THOUGHT I COULDN'T BE MORE HUMILIATED THAN WHEN I HEARD THAT MY ELDER SON HAD BEEN SORTED INTO THE HOUSE OF RECKLESS IDIOTS AND MUDLOVING BLOOD-TRAITORS,"
Sirius felt like crawling under the table and hiding. The Gryffindors had disliked him when they merely suspected what his family was like. Now that his mother was leaving them with no doubt, they'd undoubtedly despise him even more.
"BUT THEN I FOUND OUT WHAT WAS WORSE. TO RECEIVE A LETTER FROM THAT MAD OLD FOOL OF A HEADMASTER—"
Sirius glanced up toward the staff table and saw that Dumbledore was smiling broadly.
"—AND YES, I KNOW HE CAN HEAR THIS, YOU INSOLENT LITTLE BRAT—AND READ, 'AFTER SPEAKING WITH SIRIUS, I'M CERTAIN THAT HE IS IN THE CORRECT HOUSE.'"
Sirius smiled back.
"I CAN ONLY IMAGINE WHAT KIND OF MISGUIDED RUBBISH YOU SAID TO THAT DODDERING LUNATIC, BUT I'M SICK OF IT, SIRIUS BLACK! TIME AND AGAIN YOU REJECT THE HIGH STANDARDS AND IDEALS WE TRY TO TEACH YOU. COUNTLESS GENERATIONS OF WITCHES AND WIZARDS HAVE KEPT OUR BLOODLINES PURE, BUT DO YOU SHOW THE SLIGHTEST AMOUNT OF GRATITUDE OR FAMILIAL PRIDE? NO!"
The reference to pure bloodlines drew Sirius's eyes back to the screaming letter. Both Lily and Remus were sitting only a couple of yards away. Sirius didn't dare look in their direction.
"I'M HOLDING THOSE DAMNED MUDLOVERS ALPHARD AND ANDROMEDA RESPONSIBLE FOR FILLING YOUR HEAD WITH THOSE RIDICULOUS IDEAS ABOUT MUGGLES BEING OUR EQUALS. IF I EVER CATCH YOU WRITING TO EITHER OF THEM AGAIN, I'LL SNAP THE NECK OF YOUR OWL MYSELF!
"I'M WARNING YOU NOW, DON'T YOU DARE BESMIRCH THE DIGNITY OF THIS FAMILY BY MAKING FRIENDS WITH THOSE WHO ARE BENEATH US! YOU MAY BE STUCK IN A HOUSE WHICH PERMITS MUDBLOOD FILTH, BUT YOU ARE NOT TO ASSOCIATE WITH IT!"
Sirius cringed at his mother's final words and stared at the red envelope as it burst into flame. Someone at the table began to applaud, then another, and another. Sirius looked up in surprise. Not only were the Gryffindors applauding, they were smiling at him. James suddenly stood up and the rest of the table followed suit. Sirius heard the bench behind him scrape on the stone floor. He turned and saw that many of the neighboring Ravenclaws were joining in the standing ovation.
The prefect who had escorted Sirius to Dumbledore's office approached him with an outstretched hand. "Welcome to Gryffindor, Sirius," he said loudly enough to be heard over the applause.
Sirius grinned as he shook the upperclassman's hand. "That was probably the nicest thing my mother ever did for me," he thought.
* * * * *
Author's Note: Once JKR introduced us to Sirius's family in OotP, all my previous conceptions of Sirius and James being friends before Hogwarts or hitting it off immediately flew out the window. This idea took its place. If you wanted to see more of Remus and Peter, sorry. James wanted to steal center stage, and Remus was only too glad to try to remain unnoticed (for now).
If you liked the story, may I suggest you do two things. First, REVIEW! Pretty please! Second, why don't you read the sequel, "Choosing the Head Boy"?