The first thing Sirius Black noticed that it was bright.
Almost… almost unbearably bright. Not the candles, he was used to having spots in his vision thanks to the hundreds of candles that lit the ouse owned by his parents, and apparently Hogwarts as well. No, it was more the Houses with their bright house badges, the banners illustrating each one floating from the ceiling, the sparkling plates, the chattering friends seeing each other again after months apart. Bright wasn't the word to describe it, Sirius decided. It was more cheerful. The headmaster with his long silvery beard wore a permanent smile as he surveyed the hall, and all the people in the same room. None of them were trying to kill each other, offering death threats, or even glaring at the others. All the Houses were content with speaking among themselves with anticipation for the Sorting and which of these abnormally small and pecky students would join them.
Sirius recognized many of them, if not their faces then the general description that he had heard from his family. There was cousin Bella, talking animatedly with her sister and another Slytherin boy that Sirius was sure he had seen visit at Christmas once or twice. Actually, now that he thought about it, he was positive he knew at least the faces of many of the Slytherin. He was related to about half of them, anyway.
Sirius jumped visibly, whipping out his new wand with a curse learned from his parent's expansive library on his tongue. But it was just That Potter Boy. Sirius had been trying to avoid calling him by name directly… James. James Potter. According to his parents, spawn of the number one blood traitor family in Britain. If his family saw him associating with a Potter… he nearly shuddered at the thought.
James raised an eyebrow, looking from the green table to Sirius and back again. "You okay?" He asked. "You're looking a bit…"
"Too many pumpkin pasties." He excused himself quickly, managing a genuine smile. James… The Potter Boy, Sirius corrected himself, grinned back.
"I still can't believe you've never had a Chocolate Frog before today." He laughed. "Though I think it's cruel that they don't have professional Quidditch players on the cards."
"Agreed." It was suprising how easily his unease melted away with the easy subject-Quidditch. "My parents don't like most of the wizards on them."
James was clearly confused by this confession, and Sirius was slightly worried that he had scared the boy back to the huddle of people who the other pureblood was probably related to. Gryffindors, Sirius guessed. James had talked family for a while on the train, how they had all been in the same house and he was sure he would be in the same one.
"Anything else would be good, too, though." He had admitted when Sirius had asked what would happen if he didn't get Gryffindor. In truth, because what with his own family lineage, he couldn't expect to be sit anywhere else by the time of the next sorting then by the rest of his family. James had expressed his belief that birds of a feather flew together, he was sure he would end up in Gryffindor. Selfish as it was (and he knew), Sirius almost wanted The Potter Boy to be sorted into Slytherin, just so he could have a friend who wasn't the same as the rest of his family. Pureblood maniacs, the lot of them, never referring to anyone of other blood status in less than derogatory terms. But Sirius didn't need to be the hat to see where James was going. He was proud, he was brave, and he wanted to be in Gryffindor. You couldn't argue with that, and if truth be told, Sirius wouldn't wish him in Slytherin. It was just another thing that set him apart from the rest of his family. That was when James had made a face and said, "Anything except Slytherin, that is. I think my parents would Avada me if I ended up there."
Sirius was all too familiar with the Unforgivable Curses. With the training offered to him by his many relatives and the only spell books in his house being full of dark magic, Sirius was sure he could probably blast all the other First Years before the sorting began.
Not that he was proud of this, of course. He detested his ability with the wand, his dark curls falling in front of dark eyes, his selfish tendencies, anything and everything that made a reference between him and his large family. He hated the new robes, bought in Knockturn Alley, he hated the fancy clothing (themed green) that he had been bought for excursions to Hogsmeade. Nevermind that first years couldn't even go to Hogsmeade-his parents, a term he used loosely, hadn't cared.
"Too many Bertie Bott's Every Flavored Beans more like, mate." James clapped him on the shoulder, an unfamiliar gesture of kinship. Sirius smiled bitterly. "Remus, anyone that pale can't be healthy."
True, his skin had always been a fair shade of alabaster, but he was feeling sick. Still, he insisted to James and the other boy that it ran in the family. Though he tried to give off an air of confidence, he looked down at the other boy enviously. The slightly ragged appearance, black circles under his eyes, but a warm smile and a note in his hand that Sirius assumed was from a mother who cared.
"Remus Lupin." They shook hands. "You're Sirius, I presume?"
Sirius barked a laugh, maybe a little too forcibly. "Yeah, Sirius, just hold on the bad jokes."
Remus blinked, a little unnerved at only knowing Sirius' first name. The pureblood could tell. It was just a natural reaction, when one gave something; they expected to be given the same in return, including last names.
"Please," he grinned. "Like Remus is much better? I've always wanted something normal like James."
"Merlin's beard, no." James ruffled his already unruly black hair. "I'm James the third, actually. I'd trade for Remus any day."
All three eleven year olds jumped as a severe looking witch, dressed all in black with a pointy hat to boot, took the place in front of the first years. Above the other's heads, Sirius could see the frumpy old hat. Around him, some of the Muggle borns were murmuring with nerves and confusion. Sirius swallowed nervously. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see Bellatrix, Narcissa, Orion, Cygnus, could see their glittering eyes, so like a snake lunging for prey.
"Now," she witch began. "When I call your name, you will come to the front and sit upon the stool. From there you will be sorted and join your new family."
That sounded promising, if he wasn't already joining his so-called family.
Sirius swore under his breath. Why, oh why did his last name start with B? In the wizarding world, your family was everything. Maybe if he could just pull this Professor McGonagall aside and tell her the circumstances, so maybe he could be sorted privately.
"Definitely a Hufflepuff," James murmured under his breath to the two boys. "All the Abbots end up there. Nice people, though."
"SLYTHERIN!" The boy hadn't even had his entire name announced before the Sorting Hat announced his fate. Or doom, depending on how you looked at it, thought Sirius.
"Poor bloke." He muttered fervently. Both Remus and James grinned.
That was when time seemed to freeze for Sirius. The trio had been laughing a moment before, completely at ease among the tense first years, and then his name had been called.
Sirius froze, as did Remus and James. Their mouths dropped open. The witch with the hat pursed her lips, frowning as she scanned the anxious crowd.
"Has to be another Sirius." James muttered, looking around. "Not a Black… you can't be. And I thought you were alright."
Sirius didn't look at Remus or James. The Potter Boy, he assumed he was now, because no way would James ever talk to him again. The Great Hall had grown quiet, except for muted murmurings that Sirius could hear all too well. He had always been able to hear too much.
"Dark wizards, the lot of them. Not a single one hasn't been in Slytherin."
"Descended from Muggle hunters, did you know?"
Sirius made his way to the front, returning McGonagall's glare with a confidence that he didn't feel inside. He didn't think it could get any worse as the crowd of frightened first years parted for him, but of course, he had forgotten cousin Bella.
"Don't even bother, Professor!" She stood with her arms raised above her head in glorious defiance to the way the other students sat hushed around her. Sirius felt like throwing up. "He is of the Noble House of Black! Send him home, over here, where he belongs."
"That is quite enough, Miss Black." The Professor announced in a tone that clearly settled the matter, keeping her eyes trained on Bellatrix until well after she had settled back into her seat.
"We already sent your letter to mum, Sirius!" Narcissa called out. "We figured you might get lost on your way to the owlery, see. But it's expected, of course. Come and wipe the filth from those mixed bloods off your robes."
The hall froze, and Sirius felt as if the icy glares were directed at him only. He set his jaw, staring out at the Great Hall defiantly with his hands balled into fists.
"Before anyone else speaks out of turn," the pinched professor called out in a tone as cold as the atmosphere in the Great Hall. "I will remind you that no matter how far your family ancestry falls back, that will not earn you any extra points at Hogwarts. Now, Mr. Black, if you please."
Sirius closed his eyes, seating himself on the stool, feeling ready to curse his family into oblivion. Wishing the voices would just stopstopSTOP. He wasn't Narcissa or Bellatrix. He wasn't his father or a Malfoy, he was just… just…
Another Black. The noise abruptly stopped, save the weary voice sighing in his ears.
After feeling a jolt of surprise, Sirius attempted to glare mentally at the hat. No, I'm not 'just another Black.' He insisted, already wishing he hadn't sat on his hands so he could snatch the hat from his head.
Of course you're not. The hat placated him in that irritating tone that neither let Sirius know if he was a friend or enemy. But that is your last name, is it not? Whether you like it or not, you are a Black.
Well I don't.
And that's what made you stand out. The hat surprised him. Sirius was sure that he jumped. Normally I would have just shouted out "SLYTHERIN!" And been done with you, but you're different. I can tell. You don't like your family, do you?
Sirius bit back a rude retort. His father had a hat back at home, and he had learned the hard way not to mouth off to speaking articles of clothing. No. Did you hear them?
Don't care much for rules, do you? The hat chuckled, bringing back that strange feeling of cheer. It was unfamiliar to Sirius. That's something you share… but you stand out. Anyway, this isn't a social hour. Anytime you want that and stop by Dumbledore's office. Not Hufflepuff, obviously. You're much too aggressive for that. You feel the need to prove yourself, that you're different. You don't like dark curses… but you're very bright. You know more than many of the students here for second year. Not Ravenclaw, though… You like people to be straight with you, you don't care much for riddles or that sort of thing, do you?
Obviously not. Sirius couldn't hold back the sharp words. It was down to Gryffindor or Slytherin. All or nothing. The hat didn't realize how tightly he was strung.
Not Slytherin. He found himself praying. Please, please, not Slytherin.
You Blacks never cease to surprise me. The hat chuckled inside his ears. As you wish.
Sirius' eyes flew open, unable to process what he had just heard. From the impatient looks of his family member's faces, he had been sitting there for five minutes at least. It hadn't felt like it.
The Hall seemed to echo with the singular word the hat shouted out for all ears, echo and fade into dead silence.
Sirius nearly fell off the stool, and had to grab his new professor's hand to steady himself. Her stern face had softened slightly as she nodded toward one of the tables. With a grin, he began to take a step toward the table farthest from his family with the lightest feet he thought he had ever felt. And again, he underestimated his family.
"Miss Black and Miss Black," McGonagall addressed them sharply. "Do you wish to be forcibly taken from this Hall?"
"There must have been a mistake, Professor." Orion stood up, his deep voice rumbling throughout the hall. A few others of Sirius' distant family members got to their feet, as well, as if they were willing to fight the Sorting out. "You see, we're all in Slytherin."
"You'd think I'd have noticed." She noted sharply. "Except for him, now if you don't all sit down this moment I will have to resort to-"
"Sirius Black, if you take one step towards that table I swear I will hex you to next year."
"Shut up, Bellatrix."
Sirius wasn't even aware the words had left his mouth, or at how loudly he had spoken until the entire hall looked upon him.
"What?" She got from her seat, stumbling a few steps toward him, her heavily lidded eyes narrowing threateningly. "What did you just say you little-"
"I said shut up." He cleared his throat for emphasis. "So if you understand English, I'd sit back down before one of us hexes you into next year."
Cousin Lucretia practically snarled. "There is no 'us'!" She snapped, pulling out her wand and gesturing toward the angering Gryffindor table. "There is you and them. Now get over here!"
"Mother will hear about this!" Bellatrix shrieked, even as both Professor's McGonagall and another shorter man escorted her from the room. "You always were strange, Sirius Black! You're a disgrace to a noble family-don't you dare, you step away from that table right now-"
The doors shut behind her with a bang, leaving dead quiet behind until a Gryffindor third year moved aside for the newest member of their house and clapped Sirius Black on the shoulder.
And that was when the cheering started, and Sirius hadn't felt happier in his entire life. That is, until "Lupin, Remus" and "Potter, James" were also declared Gryffindors and sat down on the bench beside him.
"Knew you were all right!" James laughed, punching Sirius in the shoulder. "Don't think I would've told anyone if my family was as crazy as yours, either."
"Definitely not." Remus chuckled. "But that was a right show there, haven't had as much fun watching those nutcases, I mean, I'm sorry, you don't seem to like them very much, but-"
"Call them whatever you want." Sirius laughed, helping himself to some more Bertie Bott's beans from his pocket. "I couldn't care less."
And suddenly, cheerful didn't seem so bad anymore.