Disclaimer: I don't own any characters or settings you recognise from Harry Potter. They belong to JK Rowling. I just play with her ideas!

This one's for Paddy - an absolute darling, and always reliable to leave the biggest review on the page!

Sirius Black can't help but suspect that someone played a cruel trick on him at birth.
The first ten years of his life seem as though they passed in a suppressed state of limbo. All of a sudden upon leaving Grimmauld Place, he discovered what living really was …
And promptly decided he never wanted to return.
The biggest problem that he can isolate, now, is that he's so far behind in everything; in life. And perhaps this is the cruelest joke of all, because now, he's doomed… doomed to chase time, always one step behind.

The Boy (1971)

It is a mistake. Everything is a mistake.
He shouldn't have been born into his family. He shouldn't have been Sorted into his House.
To be a Black is to be part of a legacy (and the rules and traditions and expectations that come with it), but not to be part of a loving, caring family. The Blacks do not love and care – or if they do, they don't show it.
Sirius knows he'll never live up to this name; but even more so, he knows that deep down inside he isn't worthy of the Gryffindor name either. Better to be a family failure in Slytherin than a Gryffindor blood traitor.

"Mr. Black, the Sorting Hat doesn't make mistakes. Did you hear me?"

The Professor's voice cuts through his thoughts, and Sirius turns his attention back to the formidable looking woman cloaked in emerald green.
What on earth is Gryffindor's Head of House doing wearing Salazar Slytherin's colours? Sirius thinks wildly.

He is out of his depth at this school.

"There's a first time for everything, Professor," he finds himself replying evenly, bolder than he feels.

He doesn't realize it, but Minerva McGonagall can read the panic in his eyes. His argument is flawed, of course. If there's a first time for everything, then surely, there's a first time for a Black to be Sorted into Gryffindor. The Professor regards him with great interest.

"Mr. Black, you will return to the Gryffindor Tower. You will wear your house colours with pride. You belong in my house, and I suspect it has nothing to do with the greatness of your family's lineage."

"Toujours pur," Sirius mutters under his breath. Toujours pur is one big joke, now. He's lucky if his name isn't blasted off the family tapestry.

"You will remain in Gryffindor, and that is the end of the matter, Mr. Black. Have I made myself clear?"

"Yes professor." Resignation.

Perhaps, Sirius wonders thoughtfully, it will make a difference if he proves just how unworthy of Gryffindor he really is?

The portrait of the Fat Lady eyes him warily as he gives the password. In the common room, talk stops as he makes his way towards the Boy's Staircase. He isn't alone, then; everyone seems to understand that he does not belong.
Sirius sighs, feet dragging slowly up the stairs until he comes to the door labeled 'first years'. Deep down inside, he knows it won't be any different in Slytherin. There, he would be the freak who was Sorted into Gryffindor, although at least he'd have his cousins for company. Drawing a deep breath, he pushes the door open. The three boys inside pause. James Potter grins.

"I wondered where you'd gone, Black. I was just telling Remus here," he gestures to the pale, sandy-haired boy that Sirius vaguely recognizes from dinner, "that we should prank the Slytherins in honour of your Sorting. Brilliant, eh?"

Sirius shrugs, feigning indifference as he sinks down onto the woven red blanket covering his new bed.

"If you like, Potter," he replies, secretly pleased.
That'll show them, for laughing at me!
He remembers the horror on his cousin's face, imagines she's already written home to his parents.

The third boy, shorter and plumper than the others, beams, clapping his hands together eagerly.
"Well I think it sounds like brilliant fun," he puts in earnestly.

The four boys regard each other conspirationally.
Finally, Sirius rubs his hands together. "Right boys, let's plan some mischief."

Perhaps, he thinks, watching a fourth year Slytherin boy yelp – perhaps he's finally in the right place, after all.

The Marauder (1974)

Sirius has had a brother before, but nothing like this. Reg is always the go-between, the mediator between Sirius and his parents. These boys, though: these are his equals. They befriended him because they wanted to, not out of some twisted blood-loyalty. They're a strange bunch. James, the wealthy only child, bright but eternally bored; Remus, the shy, timid boy with a secret too big to handle alone; Peter, the apple of his mother's eye and yet nothing particularly special. Sirius is the rebellious one. He feels as though he has something to prove to the world. Not to these boys, though. They're brothers.

Together, the four boys lean forward expectantly, gazing at the blank, mottled brown piece of parchment.
This is it.
This is the summation of their years of countless pranks and Full Moon escapades.

Sirius licks his lips and clears his throat. "I think Moony should do it."

"But it was your idea!" Remus protests. "And you and Prongs did the spells!"

"So did you, and Wormy!"

James clears his throat, drawing his wand. "There's an easy way to settle this, gents. I-"

"How about we all do it?" Peter interrupts.

For a moment, James seems miffed, but as this seemed to have drawn Remus and Sirius' attention, he shrugs and smiles. "That's just what I was going to say, Pete."

Peter beams.

"Wands at the ready, then?"

Sirius draws his eagerly. Remus glances around the circle, his honey eyes serious, as the four put the tips of their wands to the parchment.

"One…. Two…."

"I solemnly swear that I am up to no good."

The parchment is still. Nothing happens.
James, Sirius and Remus exchange looks of disappointment, although they are far from defeated.

Peter's eyes, however, widen. "L – look!"

It is as though the parchment is blossoming. It unfolds and spreads across the table, little inky lines flowing across its surface like waves. The Marauders Map is alive. James lets out a whoop of delight, and Peter gives Sirius a high five. Remus sits quietly, hands clenched together in triumph, blissfully happy. Sirius gazes at his best friends, delighted.

He isn't a Black anymore, he decides suddenly. He's a Marauder, and these boys, these three best friends beyond his wildest dreams – they're his brothers, and all the family that Sirius will ever need.

The Graduate (1978)

He doesn't know what he's going to do about leaving Hogwarts. He has his flat and a trainee-ship as an Auror lined up with James at the Ministry, but beyond that… Hogwarts is his home, and the first place he's ever been truly happy. Sirius isn't so sure he's ready to leave that behind. Not yet.

He's not ready to go, even though he knows he must.

At least, he supposes, he is doing better than Remus. Remus is leaving for nothing. The Aurors won't take him, and neither will anybody else. He reckoned that, of course, without Dumbledore, who had pulled Remus aside quietly one day. Sirius still doesn't know what they spoke about, but he does know that Remus will tell them when he's ready. Remus learnt his lesson long ago about trying to keep secrets from his friends. The Marauders don't believe in secrets.

"Oi, Padfoot! You coming?"

It was James' idea to go for one last fly around the grounds. The others are in the air, now: James drifting carelessly, Remus perched more carefully and Peter … Sirius bites back a grin as Peter wobbles dangerously.

He kicks off, rising quickly to meet them. "Sorry, was just thinking."

James grins, turning effortlessly on his Nimbus 1000 to raise his eyebrows at Sirius. "Anything worth sharing?" he murmurs, interested.

Sirius shrugs. "Not really."

Those intelligent hazel eyes sparkle knowingly, but James seems to decide not to press the matter. Instead, he turns to the other two, smile bright.
"Let's go, then, lads! Try to keep pace!"

And off he shoots, instantly so far ahead of them that it's impossible for Peter to even attempt to catch up. Some people are just not made for flying.
Sirius exchanges a wry look with Remus. That is James – always so far ahead of them, in everything. So far ahead of them in life. Being James, he isn't the sort who has the patience to wait for them to catch up, either.

Sirius suspects he never will.

By the time James realizes they aren't behind him, he is a very tiny figure in the distance. He stops and turns, flying loop-the-loops in impatience. If anyone was ever born to fly, it is James.
Sirius jerks his head towards the aero-acrobatic spectacle. Remus is also watching it, quietly amused, although Peter's eyes are focused ground-wards, and he seems to be calculating just how far he potentially has to fall.

"Don't look down, Pete. Just hold on tightly and if you do fall, I'm sure Prongs will be fast enough to catch you, mate."

Peter eyes Remus doubtfully, but Sirius rolls his eyes.

"Oh, grow some balls, Wormy. Ready, Moony?"

They set off more slowly, Sirius taking his time to examine the grounds for what he tells himself is the last time, although this is knowledge his mind refuses to process. He's not ready to grow up, not like the others. He's restless, yes, but that's more to do with his impatience to…
Catch up.
Beside him, Remus contemplates the sky curiously, completely unconcerned about his increasingly unclear future, and Peter is holding on for dear life.

The Best Man (1979)

James is laughing – his eyes are sparkling, his mouth beaming, his skin glowing. But those mischievous eyes, the ones that Sirius is so accustomed to seeing glancing around eagerly in his direction – those eyes are hers now.

He only has eyes for Lily today.

And Sirius wonders if this is what it's going to be like. For years, it has always been Lily-this, Lily-that with James, but now…. He and the Marauders feel like a third wheel to their marriage, instead of Lily being a fifth wheel to the Marauders.

And he loves Lily. He truly does. She's the sister he never had – the one who asks the thoughtful questions that fall beyond the comprehension of the boys; the one who offers a sympathetic ear with a mug of steaming tea; the one who smiles at him when he's feeling wretched, and reminds him it's all right to be human.
She's the one who has made his best friend, his brother, the happiest, luckiest man alive (and dead).
She's James' "the one."

And even though he's delighted for them both, because there's no two people Sirius Black loves and cherishes more (unless he counts Remus and Peter) … secretly, privately – so privately that he'll take it to his grave – he's devastated for himself. Because James is a married man, and in some ways, that spells the end of the Marauders. He doesn't need the brotherhood any more, even though he still loves and welcomes them into his home with open arms –
Family, always family, he said.

But he doesn't need the Marauders anymore; not like Sirius does. James was the first person who saw Sirius for who he really was, and accepted him all the same. Now, James had Lily and he doesn't need Sirius, not like he used to.

Never again.

And Sirius knows this is just the beginning, because inevitably, Remus will marry too, and maybe even Peter. But not Sirius. He doesn't like his chances. He's not the sort of person who falls in love. Not like James, who today only has eyes for Lily.
Really, Sirius can't blame him. She's radiant and the most beautiful woman in the world (and not just because she's made James so happy). If it was between him and Lily, Sirius knows he'd probably choose her, too. Not that it's a matter of choice, but more simply…. Fact.
And the fact of the matter is, he's never seen James happier, which is all that really matters. So Sirius will enjoy their wedding, and his role as best man, because he knows that no matter what he does, he'll always be the best man, never the groom. He isn't husband material – not like James and Remus and maybe even Peter.

Sirius drains his glass of champagne, setting it gently down onto the table. Peter sits beside him, obviously bored and putting on a very poor show of hiding it. Remus is on the dance floor with Sirius' little cousin: Remus, always the gentleman, he appears greatly entertained by the prospect of condescending to dance with a purple-haired six year old.

James and Lily are, of course, in each others' arms. James isn't really much of a dancer, but Lily doesn't particularly seem to care. He's already swept her off her feet.

Sirius draws his chair back and stands with a sigh. He fixes a grin, a telltale 'I'm-clearly-up-to-no-good-and-possibly-thinking-lewd-thoughts-about-your-wife, Prongs' look, and sets off to borrow the bride for a waltz.

Note: This is Part One of a three-shot. The second installment will be posted when I find the time to write it. As this is obviously a work in progress, I'd love to hear your thoughts. I hope you all enjoyed it!

Thank you for reading,