Disclaimer - Usual. I don't own the characters or storyline. Thank you, Rowlings.

Chapter 20

It was the day after their return to school. Classes had begun and the boys were just leaving Transfiguration.

"Mr. Black, a word," Professor McGonagall stated.

Sirius glanced at the others and nodded for them to continue without him. He then turned and walked up to the professor's desk, waiting quietly for her to speak.

"A disturbing rumor has reached my ears, Mr. Black, about a certain incident at the train station in Hogsmeade." Professor McGonagall looked at Sirius over the top of her spectacles.

Sirius stood silently, though his breathing increased in speed.

"Have a seat, Mr. Black. Do you know to what I am referring?"

Sirius sat, thinking about how to answer that question. He decided to play dumb. "No ma'am."

"Really? I was told that you attacked a Slytherin." She waited for a response, but when none came she continued, "Miss Bellatrix Black – your cousin." Again there was no verbal response, but Professor McGonagall noticed definite signs of agitation. Sirius had clenched his fists and was staring intently at some spot to the right of her, frowning. Professor McGonagall leaned forward, "Sirius…" She waited for him to look at her. "Sirius, I cannot help you if I don't know what's going on."

Sirius looked away again and said scornfully, "You cannot help me, anyway." Seeming to realize the tone he had taken, his face softened and he said, "I'm sorry, Professor. It's just a family thing."

Professor McGonagall decided to try the direct approach. "Did you attack your cousin?"

"She deserved it."

"That is not what I asked. Did you attack your cousin?"

Turning resolute eyes back to the professor, Sirius answered, "Yes."

Professor McGonagall seemed to consider what to do next. "Seeing that the incident occurred before the term started, I… will not deduct points or dole out a detention. However, be warned, Mr. Black. I do not take this incident lightly. Pranks are one thing; this display of malevolence was something else entirely. If you act out in such a way again, your next meeting will be with the Headmaster. Do not put your future at risk when you have the potential to be more than what someone else has dictated for you."

Sirius nodded his understanding, and he was genuinely touched by the professor's words. It had been a rare occurrence for him to be encouraged by an adult to do what he thought was right. His Uncle Alphard was the only one of his adult relatives who seemed to think he was heading in the right direction – away from the family. "Thank you, Professor," Sirius said quietly.

She stared at him sternly for another moment, then nodded and dismissed him.

Outside the room, the other Marauders waited for Sirius to emerge.

"So, what did she say?" James asked, almost immediately.

"She told me to behave," Sirius answered.

James whistled and Remus asked, "That's it?"

"Technically the event occurred before start of term. I got lucky."

"I'll say," Peter responded, amazed that Sirius had been let off so easily.

Smiling, James nudged Sirius. "Maybe ol' Professor McGonagall likes you, eh?"

"Well, you know," Sirius sniffed and pulled on nonexistent suspenders, "Minnie and I – we go way back."

The boys broke out in laughter and headed to their dorm.

Despite the turbulent start, second term went a lot smoother for the boys. They had a fairly established routine set from the previous semester at school. They went to class, went to the library, and practiced spells in some of their free time. James and Sirius went every Monday to watch the Gryffindor Quidditch practices, and they got to know the guys on the team fairly well. Remus helped Peter with his classes and Peter, in turn, helped Remus research. It wasn't his favorite thing to do, but Peter figured he owed it to Remus. They spent most weekend nights investigating the castle. Of course, there was also the pranking, hexing, and charming each other, the Slytherins, and everyone in between. Many detentions were served, mostly by Sirius and James but, to the surprise of all, they didn't really lose their house many points, except for that large sum deducted at the beginning of the year. And Remus continued to take trips "home."

The seventh-years were all preparing for their N.E.W.T.s, which meant that Bellatrix, Lucius, and Rodolphus were studying non-stop. None of the other Slytherins were willing to take on the Marauders without their fearless leaders. Besides, most of the Slytherins agreed it was a family issue and not their place to get involved. While Severus Snape never actively attacked the Marauders, he was one who enjoyed skulking about so he could get the boys in trouble for their deeds – which peeved James to no end.

Also during the second term, Professor Slughorn invited new students into his unofficial "Slug Club." James and Lily were the only first-year Gryffindors invited to join. It bothered James that neither Sirius nor Remus had been invited.

"Why do you reckon that is?" James asked one night.

"I'd guess it's either that he doesn't want to be associated with the dark arts or he knows I don't exactly get along with my family. That's why I'm out."

"What about you, Remus? You do well enough in his class… And I'm sure he knows you do quite well in the others, too."

Probably doesn't want to be associated with a werewolf. "Dunno," Remus said. "Don't really care, though." That wasn't entirely true. He knew his credentials were at least as good as a few other students who attended the meetings. And, if anyone needed connections, it was him. But he had come to accept, a long time ago, that he would be excluded from most things because of what he was.

"You don't care? That man has connections I could only dream of. I wish I'd been invited," Peter ended sulkily.

"Well… I'm not going anymore," James decided. He figured if his friends weren't good enough to be invited, he didn't think he wanted to be considered "worthy."

The end of year feast arrived on a relatively quiet note. It was announced that the professor who had taught Defense Against the Dark Arts for the past twenty years, Professor Huntsman, was retiring and next year there would be a new appointment to the position. And Hufflepuff managed to pull out the win for The House Cup.

Remus leaned over and whispered, "Slow and steady does win the race." The other boys nodded.

Hufflepuff usually did not win points for getting answers correct in class, but they were also least likely to offend or get into trouble. They managed to win the final Quidditch match of the season (which, to Sirius' amusement, nearly killed James), thus ensuring their victory for The House Cup.

The train ride home, however, was not smooth. James was the only one not experiencing some kind of anxiety. Peter was not looking forward to going home and finding John still around. From the letters he had received from his mum, John was becoming more prominent in her life – and Peter thought he had been around too much before.

Remus had mixed emotions about going home. He was looking forward to the break – no more school work, except the usual summer assignments, and, more importantly to him, no more lying. But he was not looking forward to being cooped up once a month in the small basement cell and the bloody collar. Also, Remus suspected that his friends were getting more suspicious of his monthly visits "home." Remus knew that initially the boys thought that the visits were random. Sirius was the first one to pick up on the fact that it was a monthly event. Sirius had not, as of yet, said this to the others, for which Remus was grateful, but he suspected that James had also caught on.

Sirius seemed to bounce around the emotional grid. He'd be angry one minute and anxious the next. He was very excited about being able to see his brother, whom he hadn't spent any real time with in nine months. But he was worried that he'd still have to earn the right to see Regulus, and didn't know if he would be able to accomplish that, the injustice of which angered him.

After three hours on the train, Sirius announced that he needed to take a walk. James and Remus exchanged concerned looks and James decided to follow him.

"I don't need an escort, James," Sirius said dully.

James held up his hands. "Hey, I'm just stretching my legs."

When Sirius remained silent, James started up a conversation. "So… what do you reckon is going on with Remus?"

Sirius glanced at James. He had pondered the same question many times since their night in the hospital wing. "Dunno. But… do his trips away seem rather…"

"Regular?" James supplied.

Sirius nodded. He suddenly stopped walking and was listening to voices in the compartment to his left. James gave him a questioning look, but he just put his finger to his lips to indicate James should be quiet.

"… We shouldn't be talking about this on the train. Someone might overhear."

Sirius glanced at James and mouthed, "Narcissa."

Lucius was next to be heard. "She's right. The Dark Lord would not be pleased to be discovered so soon. His plans…"

"Are already in motion. We're proof of that," Bellatrix responded.

"He's planning on getting the Defense Against the Dark Arts position next year." That was Rodolphus.

"And be so close to Dumbledore?" Lucius asked.

"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer," Bella answered coldly. "Though I think he has other reasons for returning to the school as well."

"Besides, it's a ripe recruitment field," Rodolphus added.

"Shh!" Narcissa again tried to hush the others. "Honestly, this conversation is best left elsewhere. Besides, you three may be done with school, but I still have a couple years."

"Don't worry, my dear. I'll be waiting for you," Lucius said. He was barely audible behind the closed doors.

"Honestly! You two need to get a room!" And before Sirius and James could move, Bella threw open the compartment door. When she saw them, a stunned look crossed her face then quickly melted into her usual sneer. "Well, well. What do we have here?"

"Don't get your knickers in a knot. I was just stretching my legs," Sirius answered, trying to cover for the fact that he and James had been listening in.

"Hmm," Bella chuckled lightly. Putting her arm around Sirius, she pulled him into the compartment.

Sirius looked at her arm and turned his head toward James just as Bella slammed the compartment door shut, making him jump slightly. He was trapped and surrounded.

James banged on the compartment door, but Bella just yelled over her shoulder, "Go away!" Then she turned her attention to her cousin. "You know, we were just having a conversation you might be interested in, Sirius."

"Oh?" Sirius searched the cabin for anything he could use to help him escape, though he took some comfort in the fact that the other occupants of the compartment looked uncomfortable and Narcissa was downright nervous.

"Bella," Rodolphus said in a warning tone.

"Sirius, you know how they tell us the future awaits, and for those ready to seize it, it can be whatever they make of it?"

Sirius was thoroughly confused by this conversation. He looked at his cousin suspiciously.

"Well take a good look around, cousin. This," she said, waving her arms to include everyone in the compartment, "is the future. It's not just coming. It's here. And you might want to consider that when you go back to your little, insignificant friends."

"I think someone's had a bit too much butterbeer," Sirius said incredulously. His curiosity got the better of him, though, and he asked, "Who's 'the Dark Lord'?"

Everyone in the compartment shifted uncomfortably and Narcissa breathed in with a hiss.

Bella smiled, "Your future."

"Okay. I'm just gonna leave now. You have fun with your 'future,'" Sirius said using his fingers as quote marks for the word "future." And to his surprise, they let him leave.

As he stepped into the corridor and closed the door, James ran up to him, followed by Remus and Peter.

"Sirius?" James sounded thoroughly frightened.

"Nutters!" Sirius stated.

James made a face. "What?"

"I think she's gone completely mental. She just yammered on about 'the future' and being 'the future.'"

"And she didn't try to hex you or anything?" Peter asked.

"No," Sirius said, and chuckled in confusion. But a thought occurred to him, "Oo, but… We should head back to the compartment."

All four boys returned to their seats and Sirius made sure the corridor outside was clear as he closed their door.

"But, what do you think they were talking about?" Sirius looked at James questioningly.

James shrugged and shook his head. "No idea."

"Care to share," Remus interrupted.

James explained, "We overheard them talking about a 'Dark Lord' and being Dumbledore's enemy."

"What?" Remus asked aghast.

Sirius nodded, "Yeah. They said something about the Dark Lord applying for the Defense Against the Dark Arts position and using it to keep an eye on Dumbledore and recruiting students."

"Well, her exact words were 'keep your friends close…'" James clarified.

"'…and your enemies closer,'" Remus finished. He had that far off look, again, that said he was thinking hard.

The Marauders spent the next several hours trying to puzzle out what this might mean, but they couldn't figure it out. None of them had ever heard of a Dark Lord before and certainly didn't know Dumbledore to have any enemies - not that any of them would know, as Remus pointed out. They all agreed that Dumbledore was powerful enough to attract an enemy or two, especially since he was known for defeating the dark wizard Grindelwald. They also agreed that this could only mean something bad was coming.

As the train came to a stop, they all agreed to keep their ears open over the summer and find out what they could.

As Sirius stepped off the train, he was surprised to see his grandfather standing in the station. "Grandfather?" Sirius bowed respectfully out of habit, but then he looked around for his parents.

Pollux Black smiled at his grandson. "They're not coming." He put his hand on Sirius' shoulder. "You're coming to live with me this summer."

"But…" Sirius was stunned. "Is Regulus…?"

"No. Just you."

Sirius' head fell to his chest. He felt stupid for having gotten his hopes up.

"They didn't want you to potentially influence your brother." Sirius nodded, but didn't look up. Pollux bent closer to Sirius and said, "I think they are wrong." At that, Sirius' head popped up and he stared his grandfather in the eyes. "If your brother's beliefs are so easily swayed, then perhaps he doesn't believe them either. Come. We have a long journey ahead of us." As the two of them walked away, Sirius turned and waved to his friends.

James watched the exchange between grandfather and grandson. He thought perhaps Sirius might have a better summer than he's had in years. But something knotted in James' stomach, and he couldn't help but wonder what was going to happen to his friend.

- - - - -

A/N - Thanks again for the reviews. No worries, the story extends well beyond first year. I'm finishing up seventh year as we speak, but I thought that small chunks of story would go over better than a behemoth that's over 100 chapters. So I'm stopping part one here and will pick up the story where this leaves off in The Way We Are Part Two - coming Thursday.

Thanks as usual to Mom and mei mei and my beloved Beta-er/sounding board/ and idea person - J.A. Carlton. Thanks so much.