Author's Note: Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment. Maybe I'm unable to resist peer pressure. Maybe I'm just in denial about the series ending. Regardless the reason, I have decided (somewhat against my better judgment) to continue with the second year. Real life inches ever closer, however. I might hurry through like before and get this finished quickly. I also might be forced to go more slowly, taking time to do things like eat and sleep and work at my grown-up job. There is even a chance, horror or horrors, that it might never get finished. I will try not to let that happen. All of that being said, without further ado...
I know what that boy is.
The snarled words ran through Sirius Black's brain over and over again until it seemed that they had lost their actual meaning, but the slightly sickened feeling they had caused remained in his stomach. He had felt a moment of panic when his father had first uttered them. Moments after they had walked through the barrier between platforms nine and ten, Sirius had spotted his good friend, Remus Lupin, helping their other friend, Peter Pettigrew, carry his trunk onto the train. He had waved at them, and they had grinned back, and he had turned to see the repulsed look of loathing on Orion Black's face.
I know what that boy is.
How could he have possibly known, Sirius had wondered frantically? When no other students, when not even all of the professors at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry knew, how could his father have possibly known that Remus was a werewolf? Had Sirius somehow slipped up over the summer and said something to give it away? Then, following his father's gaze, he had understood. His father hadn't been talking about Remus at all. He had been talking about Peter. The muggleborn. The mudblood.
Sirius now sat in the compartment on the Hogwarts Express by himself. While other students said prolonged goodbyes to their parents and exchanged hugs and kisses, he had sprinted onto the train as quickly as he could. His father's comment about Peter had been followed by a harsh argument. But then, Sirius realized, the summer hadn't consisted of many fights so much as one long fight that picked up again whenever he found himself in the same room as either of his parents.
"What he is?" Sirius had said angrily. "What he is is my friend!"
His father had laughed derisively. "You can do better than that," he had said, eying the blond boy with open contempt.
"How would you know?" Sirius had shouted. "You've never even met him! You don't even know his name!" The only signs that Peter was muggleborn were his exceptionally mugglish clothing, and the exceptionally mugglish parents that stood a few feet away. Peter looked almost exactly like his father.
His father's face had gone stony, turning into a statue of complete calmness. Only his gray eyes, so much like Sirius's, had shown signs of fury. "Do not yell at me," he had whispered in a voice that Sirius knew well. If they had been returning home, he knew he would have faced a severe punishment for yelling at his father in public. But he wasn't going home, not any time soon, and that knowledge had filled him with a recklessness.
"Why not? It's not like it matters!" Sirius had screamed at him, fists clenched in fury. "It doesn't matter if I yell or talk or say anything at all! You never listen! You never listen!"
He had thought for a moment that his father might strike him, right there in front of everyone, and had decided not to give him the chance. He had grabbed his trunk and raced for the train, not even looking back at his mother and brother. He didn't need to. His mother's anger would have reflected his father's, and Regulus would have looked bored and disinterested, as he had done all summer. If he minded, or even noticed, the constant fighting all around him, he never gave any sign of it.
Now Sirius sat in the empty compartment, shaking, partly from rage and partly from embarrassment. That was not how he would have chosen to begin the new school year.
"There you are!" an excited voice said from the doorway, and he felt a sharp punch on his arm. "We were looking for you!" James Potter dragged his own trunk in and shoved it onto the rack above them.
"Couldn't you have poked your head out or something?" Peter grumbled as he entered. "We had to haul these things up and down the corridor looking for you." He was having to heave his trunk alone now since Remus was tending to his own.
"Don't suppose there's any point in asking if you had a good rest of the summer," Remus said, looking at him out of the corner of his eye as he pushed his trunk up next to James's. It was strange to see him handling such a large, heavy trunk so easily. It looked like a good sneeze would send the small boy flying.
Sirius shrugged at his question rather than answer it. "How about you?"
"Not bad," Remus said. "Pretty boring once I got back from James's. I read some good books. Have you checked out our new text for Defense Against the Dark Arts?"
James caught his eye, and they both grinned. Only Remus would consider a new textbook to be exciting summer news. Remus saw their grin and rolled his eyes.
"I take it you didn't check it out then."
"Why on earth would we?" Peter asked.
"Because it's really interesting. Nothing like last year."
All four boys all rolled their eyes this time as they remembered the past year's Defense Against the Dark Arts classes. They had spent most of the year studying the fundamentals of magical theory for hexes and jinxes. It had been a lot of reading and lecturing, and even Remus couldn't deny that it had been terribly boring.
"Professor Timms finally got a clue?" James asked, settling back comfortably in the seat.
"No," Remus said, surprised. "Professor Timms left."
"Did she?" Sirius couldn't pretend to be very disappointed. "Why?"
"Apparently she decided that she bit off more than she could chew, teaching at Hogwarts. Doesn't think she's cut out to be a professor. Moved down south and opened up an eel farm."
As the train rolled into motion, Sirius glanced around the compartment at his friends, taking in their faces. Across from him, Peter was smiling and talking, completely unaware that he had been the trigger for the confrontation that had taken place on the platform. He looked comfortable and happy, and Sirius felt a fresh surge of anger at his father. He wouldn't care that Peter was kindhearted or shy, and even funny at times. He would never see that, even if he spent years in Peter's presence. All his father would ever see of the boy was his heritage.
And then there was James. James, who looked comfortable and happy wherever he went. Sirius envied him that. He envied a lot about him, actually, from the ever-present carefree look in his eyes to the bag of homemade treats that sat between them on the seat. Sirius couldn't resent it, though, because James was James. Sirius had seen him at Platform 9¾ the year before, his parents fussing over him. Sirius's own mother had kissed him goodbye, and his father had clapped him on the shoulder, but he saw fear and wariness in their eyes even then. He had fought with his parents frequently for most of his life, ever since he had learned how to read, learned that there was more out there than the narrow views they held. Andromeda, his older cousin, had fostered that and nurtured it, until the family had disowned her. Sirius hadn't seen her since she had gotten married. He had never even met Ted Tonks, and he wondered what kind of man could capture a wild spirit like Andromeda.
That day, one year before, Sirius's father had told him that he knew Sirius would do right by them, and that Hogwarts and Slytherin House would be a fantastic experience. Sirius had walked quickly to the train, not feeling at all sad to leave his parents behind. He had felt free. As he walked away from them, he had noticed the black-haired boy with glasses watching them, the look on his face a cross between wariness and curiosity. They had found each other on the train, and almost immediately, Sirius had found an ally at Hogwarts.
Sirius shook his head, bringing himself back to the present, and looked at Remus. His light brown hair had grown longer over the summer, and some of his scars seemed to have faded. He looked rather normal, in fact. It was still a week to the full moon. He seemed to have a half-grin plastered permanently across his face as they all talked and laughed, his amber eyes bright, and though he was clearly trying to appear calm and casual, he was practically shaking with excitement. Sirius grinned as he remembered.
"So how does it feel, Moony?" he asked, when a lull came in the conversation.
"How does what feel?" Remus asked, bemused.
"Leaving for your second year at Hogwarts," Sirius replied, raising his eyebrows, reminding everyone that Remus had once thought that he would never get to spend a second year at school. A flash of surprise crossed Remus's face before he attempted to look nonchalant and cool.
"Oh," he said. "Right. It's good. I mean..." Then the front came down, and a beam crossed his face, accompanied by a slight blush. "Yeah. It's good."
His friends all laughed, and James leaned over and grabbed Remus in a headlock, punching him several times in the arm, and Sirius laughed even harder at the look on Remus's face. He was laughing too, while at the same time trying inconspicuously to rub his arm.
They weren't terribly far into the journey before Sirius's face felt slightly sore from laughing. It was something he hadn't done much of during the summer, and it seemed that the muscles in his face were relearning how to do it. Number 12 Grimmauld Place, with the elf heads and the constant screaming matches, was getting farther and farther away. The thought gave him a warm feeling in his stomach.
"Maybe I shouldn't," James said for the tenth time since that had arrived at breakfast. "I mean, it's only my second year. Maybe I should practice for another year first." He said the words calmly, thoughtfully. If not for the fact that they had already had the conversation several times, he might have pulled off the appearance of complete nonchalance.
Remus and Peter already had their mouths open to begin another chorus of, "Of course you should!"s when Sirius cut them off. "Well, if you really want to wait another year, that's what you should do," he said, trying to hide his smirk as he shrugged. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the look of horror on James's face.
"What?" he cried, aghast. "You think I'm not good enough?" A look of anger crossed his face, the anger of damaged pride. "I'm good, Sirius. I'm really good."
Sirius couldn't quite keep the smirk back, and James spotted it. Sirius was ready for the punch that landed on his shoulder. He'd had a permanent bruise on his shoulder for over a year now.
Remus and Peter were both laughing at the indignant look on James's face. He scowled, then tried to look proud and dignified. "Fine," he said haughtily. "Fine. I'm going." He grabbed his broom off the table and stomped off, leaving his laughing friends behind him.
"Good luck!" Peter called after him between giggles.
It wasn't unusual for James to run on and on about Quidditch, but ever since team try-outs had been announced the week before, he had talked of nothing else. He didn't discuss homework, teachers, other students, or possible pranks. He wasn't even brainstorming any rule-breaking adventures, because he stayed out on the pitch practicing until it was dark every night, working himself so hard that he fell asleep almost as soon as he got back to the tower. To be quite frank, Quidditch was making James a rather boring friend to have.
Despite this, James was still their friend, so the three friends gathered up what was left of their toast and sausage, and headed out to the Quidditch pitch. As they watched all the hopefuls circling the pitch in a warm-up lap, Sirius wondered if James flew better or worse under pressure. He had seen James play over the summer, after all. They had played a few games of two-on-two, James and Peter against Sirius and Remus. Really though, it had mostly been afternoons spent watching James repeatedly throw the Quaffle through the hoop. The other three might as well have not been there at all.
As the actual try-outs began, Sirius was surprised to feel a pang of disappointment that James was flying rather well. He had been excited for James, had been entertained to see James's enthusiasm. Until that very moment, sitting in the bleachers, he had felt sincerely supportive. Hell, he had just manipulated James into going through with the try-outs! He knew he should be hoping his friend would make the team, but now he found he wasn't. Not really.
He didn't want James to make a fool of himself, he realized, but he didn't think he could take six years of Hogwarts with James falling asleep at eight every night. He glanced at his other friends out of the corner of his eye. He liked Remus and Peter, but they weren't James. Peter was a little too quick to agree with anything anyone else said, and it took all three of them to occasionally drag Remus's head out of a book. Sirius sighed heavily and turned his eyes back to the players. He thought he caught Remus glancing at him, but he looked determinedly ahead.
Sirius tried to feel remorseful, sympathetic, anything but cheerful and relieved. He was failing miserably.
"I didn't really want it anyway," James was muttering, pushing his dinner around with his fork. He hadn't even come to lunch.
"You flew really well," Peter insisted, and Remus and Sirius both nodded enthusiastically.
"And who knows?" Sirius pointed out. "Maybe Everett Lynch will fall off his broom and break an arm."
"Which Madame Pomfrey could mend in a heartbeat," James said gloomily.
"Right. Didn't think of that," Sirius lied.
"Who knows what could happen?" Peter said reasonably. "Someone could quit, couldn't they? Someone could get too overloaded on homework, or get sick, or just not want to do it anymore."
James looked slightly appalled at that last suggestion, but Remus had already taken up where Peter had left off.
"He's right," James," he said, reaching across him for the roast beef. His sleeve rid up to reveal a deep cut that had scabbed over, a souvenir from three nights earlier. "You're first reserve. You've still got a chance."
James didn't seem very heartened by their encouragement, and Sirius watched disappointedly as he tromped back upstairs that evening, going to bed extremely early once again.
He sighed and turned to Remus and Peter, both of whom were doing their homework. Perhaps it was Peter's inability to say no to anyone, but Remus somehow always seemed to persuade him to do his homework assignments way too early as well. Sirius didn't get it.
He surveyed his friends for a moment, bored, when he realized that something was off. Remus was determinedly not looking at him, and Peter kept glancing at him quickly, then looking away.
"What?" he said, but he got no answer. Peter's eyes merely widened slightly as he stared at his homework, and Remus's mouth tightened into a finer line. "What?" he repeated, exasperated.
"Nothing," Peter muttered, glancing up. Seeing Sirius's scowl, he quickly glanced down again. Remus, however, finally looked up and met his eyes. Sirius always got chills when he did that. Whenever Remus was forcing himself to meet his eyes – and it was quite obvious when he was – his stare was unnaturally intense. It was a bit unnerving.
"It's just that," Remus began hesitantly, setting down his quill, "couldn't you try a little harder to at least pretend, Sirius?" He didn't say the words maliciously, but they still stung. Was he that transparent? "None of us particularly like James when he's obsessed and exhausted, but it's important to him. You won. He didn't make the team. At least try to feel a little bit sorry for him, could you?"
"I do feel sorry for him!" Sirius insisted, and Remus didn't argue. He just stared at him. Sirius had to look down, breaking that slightly intimidating gaze. "Fine," he muttered finally.
Remus nodded and turned back to his homework, and it quickly became apparent that nothing exciting was going to happen in the common room tonight. Reluctantly, he headed up the staircase.
The hangings around James's bed were drawn, and Sirius wasn't sure whether or not he was asleep. He changed into his pajamas, and looked awkwardly at where he knew James to be lying.
"Hey, mate?" he said, not really expecting a response. "I really am sorry you didn't make the team." He said it very quietly, and he had no idea if James could hear him, even if he was awake. He crawled into his own bed and stared up, feeling guilty.
He thought he had covered pretty well, pretending to be hopeful for James, but if Remus could tell, then he was sure James could too. James knew him much better than Remus did. On the other hand, Remus had a knack for seeing everything, and James had been pretty distracted all day. There was no way to know without asking James, which he most certainly was not going to do.
Sirius rolled over and buried his head under his pillow. He fell asleep not liking himself very much.