In other recent updates to my other projects, I've mentioned that one reason certain projects have been on the backburner, this one among them, is because I've been tackling my last semester at university. I've since graduated, with a Bachelor's Degree in English, and am currently using my summer working on various projects of my own.
And so, I came back to this story, wondering where to go. See, I've come to a recent understanding about my own writing style, and one of the problems is that I usually don't have the entire story plotted out or even roughly outlined when I start.
This is no exception.
I spent a lot of time working on this story before finally starting to post it, but even so, I'm still not quite sure what I'm doing here. Honestly, I'm just having a bit of fun in this universe I've come to love, and using one of my favorite fictional devices—time travel—to spice things up.
This chapter is the beginning of Part 4. Which means we'll be jumping ahead a few more years. That's one thing I knew was going to happen when I started: I wasn't going to go straight through Harry's entire life story, or Sirius's, or anyone else's.
The idea was to watch these people grow.
So, we jump ahead now to about 1989, a couple of years before Harry starts school, and a very important time in Sirius's newfound career aspirations.
"You're obviously not having much luck with that tie, Uncle Padfoot. Why don't you just toss it out?"
Sirius Black was not one to be cowed by strips of ostentatious cloth. He ripped a finger through his tie's lopsided half-knot and started over. "And what would you know about it, brat? The most formal thing you've ever worn is a Quidditch jersey."
Harry Potter was not one to let people get the last word. He said, "It's a uniform. That's plenty formal."
"It's only a uniform if you're on the team," Sirius snapped back. Finally managing to make his knot look presentable, he loosened it and unbuttoned the top of his shirt. "And before you ask, the reason I'm not using magic to do this is one, I'm not a quitter. And two, it defeats the entire purpose of my subject."
"You're not a professor yet," Harry replied idly. "It's not your subject 'til you're hired, is it?"
Sirius sent a suspicious glare over his shoulder at his godson. "Well, you're just a little ray of glittery sunshine trapped in a fairy's hope chest, aren't you? Go find something productive to ignore."
Harry tilted his head to the side, stuck out his tongue, and left the room.
Sirius pointed threateningly at the mirror in front of him, snide little bastard that it was. "If this weren't regulation, I'd leave the damn tie at home. Put it in a corner, let it think about what it's done."
Remus Lupin, like the slippery shadow he'd been forced to become, didn't enter the room; he just appeared. His scarred face was older now, and more scarred, but somehow that only drew attention to the sparkle in his eye. He grinned, and Sirius wondered if his friend's teeth were always that sharp. "Would you like me to help with that?" he asked, gesturing to Sirius's neck.
"No, Mother, I'll do just fine like this." Sirius grabbed his long leather coat from where it hung on the back of a chair. "Let's face it, Moony. I'm barely scratching thirty. I can't pull off the whole 'stern professor' look. All I'll end up doing is making myself look like a joke."
"Some of the older set would say you already look like a joke," Remus noted. "The least you could do is be a respectable one."
Sirius gestured dismissively. "Kids see through tricks better than adults do. If I come prancing into the classroom trying to exert authority with my clothes, they'll immediately start thinking I don't have a bloody clue what I'm talking about. Bad enough I know I don't know what I'm doing. I don't need to clue them in."
Remus chuckled. "I suppose." He gestured. "But you know, this red-and-gold business clashes rather badly with this brooding black persona you seem to be aiming for."
Sirius sneered at his friend without looking at him. "My name's Black, Remus. What am I going to wear? White? Go make sure Harry isn't fraternizing with the damn house elf again."
Remus shook his head, then let his eyes roam about the room. "You've been in a sad state ever since we first stepped into this place," he said. "If you hate this house so much, why are we here?"
"Because it's the only house in Britain defensible enough to take in favor of the damn school, that's why," Sirius all but snarled. "And anyway, it's about time Harry had a home. This cesspool is mine, you know. Which makes it his inheritance."
Remus frowned, and fell into step with Sirius as the last Black left his bedchamber and stalked down the long, heavy hallway toward the kitchen. "It won't do much good for Harry to have a home if he knows you hate it, Sirius. Or haven't you noticed that he pays an inordinate amount of attention to the things you like and dislike? If you keep stomping around the place like it's a summer home for Dementors, the only thing he's going to do when he inherits it is burn it to the ground."
Sirius manufactured a wide grin and started skipping.
Remus sighed, shook his head, and smiled helplessly.
"Kreacher is trying to clean . . . what's the little brat doing . . . ?"
"Harry is following you," the boy replied matter-of-factly, slinking along behind the old house elf like a highly ineffective stalker. "Harry doesn't know why you keep talking about yourself like that. It's kind of weird."
"Harry might do well to stop bothering Kreacher and eat breakfast," Remus remarked dryly, looking particularly stern in contrast to the way Sirius came bouncing into the room, trumpeting a theme song for his own entrance. "And Sirius could stand to eat, too. Honestly, when did I become the mother in this family?"
Sirius blinked. "When did you think you weren't?" He smirked. He glanced at Harry. "Third person. He's talking about himself in the third person."
Remus rolled his eyes and turned away toward the sink. "You'll be the death of me, Professor. I've recently been struck with the ability to see into the future." He glared pointedly over his shoulder at Sirius. "You will be terribly rude at my funeral. Honestly, man, have you no shame?"
"I could if you wanted me to." Sirius winked, just slowly enough to be inappropriate. To which Remus rolled his eyes again, this time accompanying the gesture with an inarticulate moan of disgust that might have been in response to his friend, but could just as well have been in response to . . . whatever it was that he found nesting in the sink.
Harry plopped himself down on the floor and looked around himself, seeming to calculate something. He leaned in close to the elf. "You've been taking care of this house for a long time, huh?" he asked Kreacher, who was obviously nonplussed at the prospect of having a conversation. "I'm not sure if Uncle Remus could do as good a job as you. Maybe you could show him how it's done. I bet he wants to learn from a real master."
Kreacher grumbled wordlessly, but Remus wondered if he didn't spy just the slightest straightening of the old elf's back. He glanced at Sirius. "I think Harry is unraveling your experiment. You're never going to know how long it takes to drive a house elf into a rage palpable enough to make him use his magic on you, if your own godson keeps making him feel good about himself."
Sirius shrugged. "I know. I know. What can I do? He seems to like the old thing. You be careful around that bat, Harry. You hear me? Only my mother knew for sure how many communicable diseases are living in Kreacher's bloated meat-sack."
Harry gave a snide little look to his godfather in return for the slight.
The three of them had been living in 12 Grimmauld Place for about a month now, ever since Sirius's new position as Adjutant Professor of Muggle Studies at Hogwarts had become a sure thing. "I am not living in the castle so long as I'm working there," Sirius had said. "Puts a bad taste in my mouth, and anyway, I think Snape lives at the castle. And even if I'm wrong, Trelawney lives at the castle, and in case you haven't noticed, she's been falling all over herself to 'crystal-gaze' for me ever since . . . well, ever."
"Are you sure that's a problem?" Remus asked, rolling up his sleeves with the stern resignation of a soldier wading into a swamp. "Word 'round says she's as much of a seer as I am. I doubt she'd see much of anything."
"Dumbledore keeps her hired for a reason," Sirius said. "What that reason is, is a question for the ages. Could be she's a real seer. Could be she's just a seriously enthusiastic amateur with just enough understanding to maybe, maybe, sharpen one of her students into a real seer. Could be it's a joke. I don't pretend to know. But I also don't want to run the risk."
"Afraid of what you'll see?" Remus asked.
"No. Just don't want to be influenced. I do pretty well with instinct and intuition, thanks. I don't need to doubt myself." And with this bit of age-old wisdom, tempered slightly by the fact that real fear did, in fact, seem to be creeping up in the corners of his dark eyes, Sirius grabbed a bag from where he'd apparently sloughed it in a corner the night before, slung it over one shoulder, and said, "I'm off to corrupt today's youth—teach. Teach."
Remus chuckled. Harry saluted. Kreacher grumbled.
"All I'm saying is, the difference between you and me is—well, aside from the fact that I'm arrogant and charismatic, whereas you're just arrogant—I wash my hair every once in a while."
Severus Snape was already an expert on deadpan, offensively neutral facial expressions as a student; now, he was a virtuoso. He stared at his old enemy like he was actively looking through him at a perpetually insignificant wall, so boring that it was sentient.
"No, no, what I mean is . . . okay, let's say we're both at a ball. They still have those here, right? Would you dress up for it? Get all pretty? Or would you just walk into the Great Hall in the same robes you wore for classes, and glare everybody into submission? Take some pride in yourself, Sev!"
"Don't . . . call me that."
Sirius grinned cheekily. "Fine, fine. Let's be serious for a moment." He waited, chuckled at his own joke when he didn't get a response from his unlikely companion, and went on: "You've been in on this whole teaching business for a while longer than I have. I guess that makes you my elder, or something. So fill me in . . . what sorts of boundaries should I worry about? Like, if a student is irritating, can I just make them leave? Take points off their house? Make them do a funny dance?"
"Dumbledore has a rather laissez-faire attitude," Snape replied slowly, sounding like the words were being drawn out of him.
"Ooh. French, is it?" Sirius chuckled. "Listen to you, bringing Muggle economic theory into casual conversation. How sophisticated."
Snape rolled his eyes. "You can do largely what you like, under Quirell's supervision."
"Mm. Noted. So he sets my limits. And the ministry?"
Snape raised a sardonic eyebrow. "Unless you plan on incorporating mass-scale explosions into your lesson plans, Black, I doubt the ministry will inject themselves into your . . . business."
"So there are limits." Sirius nodded studiously. "I see."
Snape sighed. It seemed to be his natural response to anything Sirius said.
Sirius drew in a deep breath, steadied himself. ". . . Severus."
Snape went rigid.
"Harry starts school in a couple years," Sirius said. "He won't be taking my class until thirteen at the earliest, but he'll be in yours from day one. And yours is probably . . . you know. More vital than mine, in a practical sense. Right? So, um . . . you know. Now that we're both teaching. I wanted to talk to you about that."
Snape crossed his arms. "You've yet to lead a single lesson, Black. Your position is in no way guaranteed."
"I know. I know that." Sirius's face screwed up as he actively fought back his natural instinct to punch the smug superiority right off his old rival's face. Something, that same intuition that had guided him for years now, was telling him to just man up and get it over with. "But . . . listen. I know we've had rather explosive issues with each other. Stemming from back when we were on the other side of the teacher's desk. I just . . . want to make sure we're on the same page, here. For Harry's sake, if no one else's."
Snape's eyes narrowed suspiciously.
"My guess," Sirius said, "is that Harry's going to be a Gryffindor. He was born to Gryffindors, raised by Gryffindors. With you being head of Slytherin and all, well, I'm sure there's going to be some . . . static. I just wanted to—you know." Sirius growled and shook his head, looking like the dog he was known for. "Look. If there's any residual hatred going on here, take it out on me. Okay? Not him. He's going to have a hard enough time getting used to people fawning over him for being famous."
Snape blinked. ". . . What?"
"You think I haven't noticed?" Sirius asked. "You think I don't know? Harry Potter is a dead ringer for his father. Except right here," he pointed to his own eyes, "in what the old poets call the window to the soul. I know how you felt about Lily. Or, I have an idea. I may be a flippant, arrogant, largely indecent prat, but I'm not stupid. Whenever I look at that boy, I get a lump in my throat. I'm sure you're going to take one look at him and feel an indescribably strong urge to knock his teeth out. I'm asking you, both for his sake and for his mother's, don't. Take it out on me."
It had been a long time since that other part of him, that sort of spiritual intuition, had guided Sirius quite so strongly, and for such a length of time. He felt like this entire conversation—or sermon—wasn't his own; he was merely an observer.
". . . Do I look desperate enough for self-esteem that I would vent an old grudge on a child?"
"You want my honest answer?" Sirius popped off. "Yes. You were desperate enough for self-esteem to join Voldemort, weren't you?" Snape flinched violently. "I remember how we used to treat you, Severus. Hell, I still dream about it sometimes. And I'd probably apologize, except for how you decided to get back at us. Yes. I made your life hell. I admit it. And I liked it. You helped the monster that killed my best friends and made their only son an orphan. I think we're even. Don't you? Just . . . play nice with my kid, all right?"
Snape didn't have a chance to reply, before Sirius realized the time and sped off toward Quirinus Quirrell's classroom.
Every eye was drawn toward Sirius, simply because compared to Quirrell's standard black robes, the last Black looked entirely alien in his jeans, boots, button-down shirt and long leather coat. He still looked like a teenager.
His tie hung, conspicuously untied, around his neck.
The students all sat down. Quirrell made his introductions, took attendance, then made an announcement: "Starting this year, we will be joined by Mister Sirius Black, who will be working as my . . . adjutant professor."
Sirius gave a cockeyed salute. Some murmurings and mutterings went on, but Sirius doubted anyone recognized him; plenty of these students probably had heard his family name from time to time, but he thought it had to do with his outfit, more than anything else. Which was the entire idea.
"Professor Black? Any . . . introductory remarks?"
Sirius hopped off the desk where he'd perched himself and said, "Yes. Thank you, Professor Quirrell." He swept his dark eyes over the crowd of young faces. "You've been here at Hogwarts for a while now. You've had a chance to . . . absorb the culture. Even those of you that we'd label 'Muggle-born' have a strong idea of what we're about, we witches and wizards. Professor Quirrell here will be teaching you about our perspective on Muggles. Non-magic people. I'm here for a different reason."
He paused here, wondering how best to phrase his mission statement.
He finally decided on: "I'd like all of you who come from a wizarding family to raise your hand." A majority of the students raised their hands. "Most of you probably have preconceived notions about Muggles, and how they behave. Most of those notions probably aren't pleasant. I am here to shatter them. Professor Quirrell is going to give you a wizarding perspective on Muggles. I'm going to give you a Muggle perspective on Muggles. Now, you might ask yourself what right I have to be doing that. I'm not Muggle-born. In fact, some of you might know that I come from a prominent, pureblood wizarding family. So what do I know?"
Sirius began to pace in front of the students, because sitting still had never been one of his stronger attributes.
"Well, that's where you come in," he said. "If, in class, I tell you something, and you think it isn't true . . . find out. Read, observe, research, whatever. Come to me. Tell me what you've found. A teacher's job is to teach you how to think, not what to think. So feel free to argue with me." Sirius's eyes turned flinty. ". . . But make sure you're thorough. I fully intend to argue back.
Sirius sat back down on the edge of his desk, and gestured grandly to Quirrell.
"The floor is yours, Professor."
Since all we ever see of Professor Quirrell in the series is what he's like after his . . . unfortunate encounters with a certain wizarding supervillain, I wasn't and I'm still not sure how to portray him before that event.
So he's kind of a neutral presence here. I'll work on it as the story develops. I figure he was always probably rather bookish, quiet, unassuming. It's what made him such an effective agent for eeeeeevil. Right?