Harry might have been concerned with the implications of being accepted into, and going to, Hogwarts, but Sirius tried to contain his unease at losing Harry by acting even more excited than usual. Even though Sirius knew that Harry's letter wouldn't come until late July, since that's when his and James' had arrived, he could not help double checking each letter Andy (their new owl) returned with.
In the meantime, he talked Harry's ears off about his adventures at Hogwarts with his father, taking enormous pleasure in reliving old memories. Sirius rarely talked about James as a boy before this, so Harry was an eager listener, but the tales, enriched over time, made him even more uneasy about following in his father's footsteps.
"We even made a map of the castle at one point, but one of us dropped it somewhere and we could never find it," Sirius sighed. "That was towards the end of our seventh year. Doubt anyone knew how to work it, though. Probably just got thrown away as some old parchment. Still, if you hear any word of it, you will let me know, all right, puppy?"
Harry nodded, chewing his peanut butter sandwich without much enthusiasm. Where did Sirius think he was going to find time to look for the map with all of the other things he was supposed to do? He supposed that finding the map could count as causing mischief, but it seemed much easier to learn a nasty charm and use it on someone without being caught in the act.
Andy flew in before Harry had a chance to voice these concerns, a letter attached to his feet. Sirius leapt up, grabbed the letter from the feet without bothering to untie it (causing Andy to yelp in pain) and a huge grin appeared on his face.
"Harry, you have a letter from Hogwarts!"
Harry continued eating and avoided his godfather's gaze. "I might not have gotten in, Sirius."
Sirius laughed as though Harry had told a particularly funny joke. "Silly puppy. Your name's been down since before you were born. You defeated the Dark Lord. I think you'll manage acceptance at the best school of witchcraft and wizardry known to the magical world," Sirius boasted. He handed Harry the letter. "You do the honors."
Harry read over the letter quickly. "Yeah, I got in."
Sirius grabbed the letter out of Harry's hands, laughing. "We should frame it," he declared.
"When do you want to go shopping for my school supplies?" Harry asked as he swallowed the last bit of the sandwich.
"How about when you're finished eating?"
Harry set his plate aside, hiding a sigh. "I'm done."
"Great!" Sirius grinned broadly as he took the plate and glass of finished milk up to the sink. "I'll be ready in just a few minutes."
Shopping for Hogwarts supplies was more enjoyable than Harry had expected. He had been to Diagon Alley with Sirius before, of course. He remembered getting ice cream there when Sirius had to shop for something, and visiting all of the strange pets in the cluttered wizarding pet store. Harry and Sirius hadn't exactly gone often every week, but there had hardly been a year when they had not visited. As a result, they both knew their way around fairly well, and Harry knew that he would be stared at by strangers because of his scar.
"Can we get ice cream after we're finished?" Harry asked hopefully, tugging at Sirius' arm.
"Sure," Sirius laughed. "Anything for the new Hogwarts student."
Harry frowned at that comment, but Sirius didn't notice. He frowned again when he realized a lot of what he said about school seemed to go unnoticed by his godfather these days. Far from encouraging him, Sirius' recollections made Harry feel that he would never live up to his parents' reputation, and even if he did, he'd make enemies with everyone at the school, especially the teachers.
Plus, it's not like it will matter because they were first, Harry thought glumly.
He understood how Ron was feeling. He had visited his friend several months ago, and Ron's mother and father had been convinced that he would get accepted into Hogwarts because all of their family had gone ("except mum's aunt the accountant, and no one ever talks about her"). Ron's brothers, cumulatively, seemed to hold the reputation of Harry's parents. They had all done exceptionally well in school, one actually becoming Head Boy and the other just given the role of Gryffindor male Prefect. Another brother had been a Quidditch star (though Ron was sure his marks were good as well), and his twin brothers had a knack for causing trouble, but being likeable.
"Plus, they get great grades," Ron had complained.
They both seemed to sense their own insignificance after coming after what felt like a family of heroes, but Ron pointed out that at least Harry had his defeat with You Know Who to fall back on. At one point, he said that Harry could always say that You Know Who had taken away most of his intelligence when Harry stopped him from killing him.
At the time it seemed laughable, but now Harry was beginning to see it as a valid option. Certainly if Sirius continued to go on and on about James being a perfect student and troublemaker.
It was for this reason that, although most of the trip went well, the visit to Ollivander's was enough to put Harry in a bad mood.
After trying out what felt like a million different wands, Ollivander finally selected a wand that seemed to be hidden from the others. When Harry waved it and it worked, Ollivander's eyes grew wide and he started talking about how the wand chooses the wizard, and that this meant Harry was destined for greatness.
He talked about this for at least five minutes, giving many references to You Know Who throughout the speech, but after the first thirty seconds, Harry had tuned the man out. He knew it wasn't polite, but he doubted that Sirius really noticed if he was paying attention and was starting to feel fed up with all of this attention. Why couldn't he be a normal boy, with normal parents who didn't get themselves killed or get into heaps of trouble at school? Not for the first time, Harry felt positively overwhelmed by what he had to live up to.
The last stop was the pet shop. Sirius had already planned to buy Harry an owl as an early birthday present, and it wasn't until they were actually at the owl cages, peering over each of them, that Harry piped up.
"Sirius, the letter said an owl, a toad, or a cat," he pointed out, trying to draw Sirius' attention away from a large black owl with light brown eyes. Despite Sirius' admiring looks at it, a sure sign he wanted Harry to pick it out for himself, the owl looked fierce and scared Harry considerably. He had never really liked owls, and this one was enough to frighten him away from them for good.
"Yeah, but you don't want a toad," Sirius said dismissively. "What good's that for?"
"I don't want a toad," Harry agreed, trying not to think of one crawling around his clothes, creeping up in odd places. "But a cat would be kind of cool."
Sirius turned to Harry, crestfallen. "You already have a dog though," he pointed out. "Dogs don't do well with cats."
Harry laughed despite himself. "You're not really a dog, Sirius."
Sirius sighed. "They're so girly," he complained. "Sure, your mum had one, but I don't think any boy our year did."
It was a valid point. Harry didn't want to be teased—he had faced enough of that going to primary school with Dudley. On the other hand, he knew that owls couldn't live with the students—they had to live in the owlery—and wasn't part of having a pet taking care of it and spending time with it? Besides, owls were mostly used for delivering mail, and Sirius had one of those. If Harry needed to contact Sirius and didn't have Andy at hand, there were dozens of barn owls owned by the school for people without one. Harry knew that Sirius would say that having your own owl was a lot more fun than watching a random owl fly into the great hall, and this way Harry would know immediately if he got a letter or a package, but Harry wasn't convinced.
He didn't say as much to Sirius. Instead, he just looked at him with his huge eyes and gave his godfather what they referred to as the puppy stare.
"Please?" he asked.
Sirius sighed. "They shed horribly. You'll get cat fur all over your school robes."
Harry rolled his eyes. "I can just learn the Hair Banishing charm. Besides, Ron said that his family always attracts attention at King's Cross when they bring in their owls."
Sirius knew that the latter was true, and for that reason, he refused to address it. "You'll want to be careful with that or else you'll end up completely bald," Sirius grinned. "Although your hair grows so quickly I bet it would be back in a few hours." He sighed again. "Okay, if a cat is really what you want…" He took one last look at the owl cages, as though asking them to beg Harry to take one of them.
Harry grinned. "It is."
They ended up choosing a brown cat with green eyes which were practically identical to Harry's. The cat was more of a kitten at that point—it was so small that Harry could hold it with cupped hands, and seemed more interested in sleeping than shedding. With Harry, it was love at first sight, and even Sirius had to admit that, as far as cats went, this one wasn't too bad.
Harry's birthday that year went by as quickly as the rest of the summer. Before they knew it, it was August thirty-first and Sirius and Harry were running around like mad, trying to remember if they packed everything. The new cat, who Harry had named Merlie after the witch who had invented the Hair Banishing charm, sat quietly on the bed, looking bored as Sirius and Harry zipped and unzipped his suitcases, checking to see that everything was there. About three o'clock in the afternoon, Merlie finally stretched out and decided that simply watching was exerting too much energy, and lay down for a nap.
Harry, who had been up since six that morning, wished that he could join her.
The packing was finished, at least, but now Sirius wanted to go over his advice on how to deal with certain people at the school. Harry had heard the advice numerous times while growing up, but Sirius seemed to forget that.
"Now," he was saying as he sat on the orange chair across from Harry's bed, wringing his hands nervously. "The biggest git in the world who you're ever going to meet is your Potions instructor. He hated your father and me when we went to school with him because we were everything he wasn't."
"Wait, was Snape in your year?" asked Harry. He had heard about Malfoy (a fifth year when James and Sirius had been first years) and his desire to rid the school of muggle born witches and wizards. He knew about Avery, a friend of Snape's who was two years older than James and Sirius, but never acted it. Then there were a bunch of other people Sirius had mentioned who had become dark witches and wizards, like the Lestranges, but who he was sure didn't have current associations with Hogwarts.
"Yeah, old Snivelly was in our year, so we had to see him all the time," snarled Sirius. "Biggest idiot in the world, except in Potions and Defense Against the Dark Arts. Why Potions is a mystery, but that slimy weasel came to school knowing more hexes and curses than half of the professors. We made his life difficult because of it, but it didn't teach him." Sirius sighed. "Wasn't out of school for two months before he joined Voldemort. Then he came over just before the war ended. As far as I know, he was too late to be of any use, assuming he was really on our side, but he's Dumbledore's pet." Sirius shuddered. "He shouldn't be here, but he is. He's like mold."
Harry had heard worse descriptions of Snape. Sirius managed to make him sound like a combination of the biggest idiot in the world and the sneakiest and darkest man he had ever met. He thought that Sirius had been exaggerating until Percy had complained about him to all of the Weasleys. Percy never complained about teachers, so a teacher who took points off of him and warranted his complaints was sure to be a terror.
If even half of what Sirius had said was true, Snape would see to it that Harry's life at Hogwarts would be a living hell. It was yet another reason why he did not want to go.
"Thing about gits like him," Sirius continued, "is that they're the lowest form of life imaginable. Your aunt and uncle are warm compared to him, and you know that's saying something."
Harry nodded again. His aunt and uncle had always been cold to Harry, but after he received his letter from Hogwarts, the treatment grew worse. Harry knew that if Sirius hadn't been there, there was no way the Dursleys would allow him to go to that school. As it was, the rumors about Sirius' alleged madness had increased greatly, and Harry was glad that his godfather was going to live with Uncle Remus for the entirety of the school year.
"Just remember that anything he says is probably a lie, and the absolute worst thing you could do would be nothing next to him. He's hateful, vengeful, and basically an imitation of the Dark Lord. I'd also bet a hundred galleons he can read minds. So, try not to get into trouble with him, because he's not worth it. Binns is better, and I'd sleep in his class all the time."
"He didn't take off points for it though," Harry recalled, smiling.
"If he did, all of the houses would be in the negative numbers," Sirius snickered. "He probably thinks sleeping in class is what everyone does. I doubt he could keep his class awake when he was alive."
On and on the advice went. Despite knowing it all, Harry felt nervous about his first day, and was glad that he had Ron as a friendly face. The others would probably stare at him to death because of his scar, since most of Harry's other wizard friends had gone to different (which Sirius insisted meant "inferior") schools.
It was ten o'clock at night on August thirty-first and Sirius tossed and turned restlessly under his covers. He kept thinking, This time tomorrow, Harry's going to be sleeping in his four poster bed at Hogwarts. I'm going to be the only wizard in the house. He's never stayed away from home for as much as a night, and now I won't see him for several months.
He tossed and turned under the pale blue covers, trying to relax. It wasn't working. Finally, Sirius threw the covers back, switched on the lamp, and put on his bedroom slippers. Appropriately, they had stuffed animal dogs attached to the toes. Sirius pulled on his pale yellow bathrobe and tied the strings into a rather sloppy bow. Hiding a yawn, he grabbed a small package that he had wrapped earlier that day, stuffed it in his robe pocket, opened the door, and head across the hall.
Sirius knocked on Harry's door gently.
"Come in," the familiar voice called.
He could tell just from the tone that Harry had been crying. After knowing him so long, Sirius believed that he could almost read Harry's thoughts, and certainly guess his reactions with most things. Sirius tentatively opened the door. He turned on the light and saw Harry lying there, and, sure enough, there were a few non wiped tears on his cheeks.
"Can't sleep?" Harry shook his head in confirmation"Me neither. Mind if I join you?"
"Okay." Harry moved over several inches in his bed.
Sirius plopped down on the bed, leaned against the pillows, and put a hand on Harry's shoulder. "What are you thinking?"
Smart, Sirius, he chided himself.
Harry's response surprised him. It was very direct. "I don't want to go to Hogwarts."
Sirius sighed. He should have suspected this. "I'm not too crazy about losing my puppy, either."
Harry wrapped his arms around Sirius who squeezed back.
"I'm going to fail," Harry whispered miserably. Somehow, it was easier to say in the dark, when his godfather couldn't see him that well. "You and Dad were great at everything. Lessons, making trouble, being popular. Everything. I'm going to be such a disappointment."
Sirius flinched when he heard this. The words hit too close to home—his parents had never been satisfied with him after Sirius was sorted into Gryffindor. No matter how well he did, it was never enough because they'd always point out a way he could have done better. Not that they cared about marks, but it seemed as though after Sirius had let the family down by being sorted into the same house as the blood traitors, he was destined to be a disappointment.
Sirius remembered feeling trapped in Grimmauld place, and running away to James' one summer after a particularly nasty fight with his parents. It never occurred to Sirius that he was acting in a very similar manner with Harry.
How long had he felt this way? Had Harry tried to say anything before? Probably, but Sirius had just dismissed it. It must have been recent, after all of those retellings of the Marauders' events at Hogwarts. Well, he had a tendency to exaggerate, but Sirius never imagined that Harry saw the stories as anything but good fun.
"No, you won't," Sirius whispered, holding Harry close. "However you do at Hogwarts, I'm still going to love you. Even if you don't get in trouble at all, or get caught all of the time, I'll still be proud of you." He turned on the lights with a flick of his wand and stared intensely at Harry. "I don't expect you to be just like your dad. You're Harry Potter, not James Potter. You're already good at a lot of stuff it took your father years to work out." He placed both hands on Harry's shoulders again. "Just try your best and have fun. You can never disappoint me."
Harry's face grew into a wide smile. He exhaled deeply, and Sirius knew that now, everything would be all right. He grinned back. They sat in silence like that for awhile. More determined than ever to hand over his last tie to James, Sirius spoke up.
"Yeah?" Harry leaned closer in, his head against Sirius' soft, warm bathrobe.
"I have something for you. I think it might help you when you're at school."
Harry's wide eyes turned to face Sirius'. "What is it?"
Sirius retrieved the stripped package from his pocket of his bathrobe and handed it to his godson. "Ever seen this before?" he asked. Harry shook his head. "This is a two-way mirror. I've got the other half with me, and I promise I'll always keep it with me." He paused. "Now, if you ever need me, just say my name into it; you'll appear in my mirror and I'll appear in yours. Then we can talk normally."
Harry held the mirror carefully, eyeing it with great interest. "How…?" he asked.
Sirius smiled. "James and I used to use them when we were in separate detentions," he added with a grin. "Took ages to get the charm right. For awhile, you could only talk if the other person was less than fifty feet away, or else your reflection would travel to that point exactly. Scared Mrs. Norris a few times, that did," Sirius added, snickering. "But it's all worked out now."
"What if it breaks?"
"Then just say 'reparo' and it will be good as new," Sirius replied. "I know from experience."
"Thanks," Harry whispered.
"I know it's not the same as me being there, but it's something, right?"
Harry nodded. This was way better than the telephone…and besides, Hogwarts didn't even have those.
"Can I use it whenever I'm homesick? Even at night?"
Harry put the mirror and the wrapping on his desk. "I'll take this with me tomorrow," he promised, yawning.
Sirius knew the signs well. He got up and helped Harry get settled in bed, pulling the blankets over him, careful to give him enough room to breathe.
"Thanks," Harry mumbled. "G'night."
"Sweet dreams, Harry," he replied, kissing his forehead and brushing Harry's bangs out of his eyes.
"You too," he replied as sleep took over.
Sirius crept back to his room, feeling much better and extremely sleepy.
"Do you have everything?" Sirius questioned Harry the next day for what felt like the millionth time. They were standing amidst his three trunks as Harry held Merlie tightly, looking rather alarmed.
"I think so. We did the list yesterday, and I have the mirror with me. It seems like that's everything." Harry was trying hard not to laugh at the look of concentration on his godfather's face. "Um, how will we get to King's Cross?"
"The Knight Bus. Not my favorite form of transportation, but it would be nearly impossible with broomsticks. I don't fancy asking Vernon or Petunia if I can borrow the car, either," was the grim response.
Harry nodded, equally grim about the mode of transportation. He had been on the Knight Bus several times in the past few years. He threw up during about half of them.
"Well, let's go," Sirius announced. "Now, I gave you some money for treats and sandwiches for your lunch in your cloak pocket. Try not to spend it all at once," he added, rumpling a protesting Harry's hair. "You have your wand?"
"Right here, and I know about the sandwiches and money already. You only told me ten billion times," he replied, rolling his eyes. "You won't do that in public, will you?"
"Embarrass you or remind you of where things are?"
"Aren't they the same thing?"
"Good point. In that case, yes. Otherwise I wouldn't truly be fulfilling my role as guardian to you," Sirius explained in a hoity-toity manner. "Besides, all of the other parents will be doing it, and you surely don't want to be left out."
"Ha ha." Harry raised his eyebrows. Changing the subject, he added, "Which suitcase should I take, then?"
Sirius handed Harry the smallest one and the owl cage. "I can handle the rest," he promised. "Don't worry about lugging them off from the train or anything; that's done by magic."
Harry grinned widely. "Cool!"
They pulled the trunks downstairs, trying not to leave any major marks on the walls. At least, Harry tried; Sirius was resisting the temptation with all of his being. Once outside, Sirius waved his wand and seconds later, the familiar bus appeared with Stan giving his welcoming speech. They hopped on, and before long, Harry and Sirius were at King's Cross. Sirius immediately noticed the Weasleys, complaining about the place being crammed with Muggles.
"All right, Harry. Listen carefully," he instructed. "You know how your ticket says Platform Nine and three quarters?"
Harry nodded. "Wasn't that just a mistake, though?" he questioned.
"No, Puppy. No Muggle train will take you to Hogwarts," Sirius laughed. "Here's what you do. Walk straight towards the barrier between platforms nine and ten. We'll do it in a bit of a run, since it's your first time and you're nervous. It won't hurt or anything, but be careful not to hesitate."
Harry nodded again, trying not to look terrified. Sirius ran a finger through his own hair, thinking the situation over.
"Why don't we watch the Weasleys do it first? That way, you can get an idea of how it's done."
They made their way towards the Weasleys. Percy had just disappeared through the barrier.
"Now, what's the platform number?" said the boy's mother.
"Nine and three quarters!" added a small, hopeful looking girl who was holding her hand. Sirius easily recognized her as Ginny. Harry used break into the storage area to steal Fred and George's brooms with her so that they could practice Quidditch. Her red hair had become on the curly side and was more than a few inches below her shoulder. Ginny's eyes were light brown and currently wide with excitement. Upon seeing Harry, she grabbed at her mother's shoulders and begged, "Mum, can't I go…"
"You're not old enough, Ginny, now be quiet. All right, Percy, you go first. Fred, you next."
"I'm not Fred, I'm George," said the boy. "Honestly, woman, you call yourself our mother? Can't you tell I'm George?"
"Sorry, George, dear."
"Only joking, I am Fred." His twin then called after him to hurry up.
Now, the third brother was walking briskly toward the barrier –he was almost there— and then, suddenly, he wasn't anywhere.
"Hello, Harry, dear!" Molly chirped. "Sirius! So nice to see you again. Off to Hogwarts, then, Harry?"
She didn't give them a chance to respond; immediately Sirius felt himself being smashed against Harry, surrounded by Molly's arms.
"Hi, Molly. I was just showing Harry how to get onto the platform," Sirius replied once he managed to get himself untangled.
"Why doesn't he go before Ron, then?" Molly questioned, clearly concerned.
As though I don't know how to teach my own godson how to board the platform! Sirius mused, half amused, half annoyed.
"I was hoping that Harry and I could go together," was the cautious response.
Molly nodded in a parental way. "So hard to say goodbye…Yes, that might make the most sense. Well, go on, then. Best to do it in a bit of a run if you're nervous, Harry, dear," she added, echoing Sirius' advice from a minute ago.
"All right." Harry took a deep breath as though he was about to jump into the lake at Hogwarts, grabbed his trolley, and started running to the barrier.
Sirius ran to catch up with him. They were neck in neck by the time they had reached the platform.
Within seconds, they had both reappeared at the other side.
"See? That wasn't so bad!" Sirius grinned, rumpling Harry's hair. Harry looked positively mortified.
"Not in public!" he whined with a resigned look on his face, darting glances at the other children whose parents were behaving in much the same way. Secretly, Harry enjoyed the attention, and Sirius knew it.
"Too cool for a little public humiliation, Snitchy?" Sirius retorted. His hands were folded across his chest, but he was grinning widely.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Guess I should get on the train, then. It leaves in—" He checked his watch. "— less than ten minutes."
"Let your old, uncool godfather help you with your bags, at least," Sirius offered as they walked towards the Hogwarts Express.
Harry nearly snorted. "You're not old and you're not uncool!" he replied. "And thanks, I can use the help."
Sirius rumpled Harry's hair again in affection. "Look, there's Ronniekins."
"Don't let him hear you say that," he warned as he turned around slightly and saw the red haired boy race to catch up with his brothers. Molly and Ginny were just coming in from the barrier. Sirius noticed that Molly was holding her daughter's hand relatively tightly, as though she were about to break loose. Ginny, as a result, had a rather resigned look on her face. He made a mental note to try and cheer her up after Harry's train left.
Harry waved to the Weasleys as he boarded the train, barely managing to catch the suitcases that Sirius threw up towards the entrance. Ginny blushed somewhat as she waved back, immediately running a hand through her hair self-consciously.
"Someone has a crush," Sirius sang beneath his breath.
"Sirius! Knock it off!" Harry complained.
Sirius sighed. It would be no fun teasing Harry if it meant he wouldn't hear from him because of it. "All right, guess this is it, then for the godfatherly embarrassment. At least, until Christmas?" Sirius asked, looking up at his small godson.
Harry nodded. Sirius, unable to contain himself, climbed up the steps and embraced Harry in a huge hug. Harry squirmed for a minute, but then realized that he wanted the hug after all. All embarrassed feelings aside, he put his arms around Sirius and squeezed back, not wanting to let go of his godfather.
"You'll do fine," he whispered. "Just remember, you can use the mirror to talk to me anytime you like. And we'll send each other loads of owls, all right? That's why I have Andy, after all."
Harry nodded again, but still didn't want to let go. "I promise," he murmured, trying to remember everything about Sirius that he could for the long months ahead. The texture of his robes, the way his slight beard tickled Harry's chin, the way his breath smelled like orange juice. . .
Finally, Sirius broke off the hug, gradually. "You better get a compartment while you still can. If I don't get off soon, I'll be forced to take the trip, too," he warned gently.
"You could always come as Snuffles," Harry replied hopefully.
Sirius smiled, but shook his head. "Have fun. Now, last minute advice."
Harry groaned. "Didn't we go through this yesterday?"
Sirius ignored him. "I want you to get into loads of trouble, but try to avoid getting caught whenever possible. You'll save more points for losing later, and if people catch you too soon, it makes it harder to get off the hook after something big. Now, you should definitely try to work hard, but don't worry if you don't always get full marks in everything. Make friends, the real kind that will do anything for you, including helping you sneak out of detention early," he instructed with a grin on his face. "I'll miss you."
"Me too. Bye," Harry replied, both laughing and trying to wipe the tears from their faces as they separated.
The last thing Sirius saw before Apparating back to Number Four, Privet Drive were the Weasley twins being scolded by Molly for promising to send Ginny a Hogwarts toilet seat.
Harry would be all right in a few days. Sirius knew it. Even so, he was more than a little misty eyed by the time he got back to Number Four, Privet Drive.
The End (for now!)
A/N: Thank you to all of my reviewers, for their support, suggestions, and nagging me to update. As I said earlier, I will be continuing this story for all of the books, and they will be titled variations of "An Alternate Route". (The next one, which should be up shortly, will be called An Alternate Route- Year One) Hope you'll continue reading!
EDITED TO ADD: The next story in the series can be found at my author page...ffn won't let me put the url here. Please r/r!