Unlike the year before, Sirius did not show up for an impromptu visit during the summer, much to my disappointment, but instead arrived right on schedule in Italy, where he was greeted by the sun and my mother with a large plate of food for him, sitting him down at the table of our modest villa immediately with a glass of pumpkin juice and a large bowl of spaghetti in true Italian style.
Nobody commented on his weight as he ate ravenously, nobody pointed out that his trousers were falling from his shrunken hips or that through the vest he was wearing his ribs and spine were visible. My dad noted how he'd grown again and my mum agreed, saying he was probably taller than me now, everyone pretended not to notice.
He looked less beaten and bruised than he had last year, but I also knew that he had gotten better at healing charms this year, and I hadn't missed the viols Remus had snuck Sirius as we pulled into King's Cross station last year.
So, when walking through the streets of Forte behind my parents, I tried again to ask him what happened there.
"It's nothing mate, really," he said with a weak smile and a wave of his hand. I looked at him skeptically. "Not like last time," he assured me, "they ignored me this time, for the most part," he kept the smile on his face, as if he wasn't talking about starvation.
"Sirius, if things were this bad," I gestured at his sunken cheeks and protruding ribs, "why didn't you come?" Sirius shook his head.
"I can't leave them, Jamie," he explained with a sad smile, the kind a parent uses when explaining the inevitability that one day they won't be there any more. "It's worse when I leave them. It was horrible after I legged it last time…" he trailed off. He had said too much. Quickly he tried to change the subject. "You seen the Prophet?"
"Haven't had the heart," I admitted, "I don't want to see a name I recognise." Sirius nodded in agreement.
"Too many muggleborns I like, too many to keep track of, too many to care about. They've stopped accumulating all the names over a week, they ran out of space. They'll only keep a person's name on the list for a few days now before they're bunked off. They're spreading out, getting some of Wales and Ireland." That was another thing. The threat had ceased to be a he. Now it was a they.
"It's really a war, isn't it?" I murmured, and Sirius agreed.
"A war fought in shadows. This is a coward's war," a fire burned in his eyes, a hatred of the Death Eaters, especially those he knew, whose cowardice was reflected in their night raids and their immense numbers against the few and their terrorism, in their reluctance to come out and face the rest of us like warriors.
"Any news from Dromeda and Ted?" I asked, our only link to the Auror's office, Sirius' cousin was our main source of information apart from what the Daily Prophet was printing- or not printing as had been the case, in order to not cause a scare quite yet.
"Nothing good, the Auror numbers are dwindling, they're taking more and more students to try and compensate, lowering the grade boundaries for Defence Against the Dark Arts NEWTs. But really they're just putting less qualified people in the field too early." I winced at the thought of someone fresh out of school being faced with three, maybe four Death Eaters, none of which had any qualms about doing dark magic.
Bringing a hand to my forehead I squinted against the sudden stab of the sun's light through a crack between quaint whitewashed houses. A pair of girls on bicycles rolled by, ringing their bells and waving, giggling. With the heavy conversation we had just had, a wondered in awe how it was possible they didn't notice, how none of the muggles noticed, the lives the world was losing in such masses.
People die every day, I reminded myself. Most of them not in secret wars. But so many of them still lost their lives, many more than the few our little community lost. And yet nobody had the capacity to care about the millions against the odd one or two who were more special to them.
"Let's not talk about this now, Jamie," Sirius said, seeing how the topic had stressed me.
"It's fine," I assured him, "I just feel so helpless sometimes. I wish I could grown up already, be an Auror, fight this battle, see this Voldemort locked up," Sirius flinched at the name. I frowned at him. "What was that?" I asked. He looked at me feebly, he clearly didn't want to say. I continued to stare at him until he answered.
"We aren't supposed to say his name," he murmured, almost inaudibly. This was the real threat. The fear Voldemort instilled in the public was his greatest weapon. It would be of no use to him to lead a community of people he had killed, but people who feared that he would kill them, they would be much more compliant. Not saying his name was the beginning.
"Voldemort." I said assertively, and then dropped the subject, still spitting and steaming, leaving it to be picked up when it had cooled.
The two girls who had passed us earlier rode by again, giggling even louder than the last time. Suddenly I realised that they had been following us, daring each other in excitable Italian to talk to the attractive English boys. Fearlessly, one waved over, before the momentary brazenness was gone and she blushed violently when Sirius waved back. Silently, we confirmed these two to be our distraction.
And so we spent the remainder of the summer being young and reckless whilst we still had the chance. The girls had rapid Italian names we soon forgot amongst the flurry of other girls with equally foreign names and lips and liquor, all willing to be thrown into the bubbling concoction that was to be our summer. By the time it was time to return home to London, Sirius was once again well fed and well built, with a larger grin on his face as he reminisced of encounters with girls he never knew.
Neither of us mentioned Hester or Lily. They were the unobtainable, and whilst our entire Hogwarts careers we would aim for them we were by no means expected by them or anybody else to cease any other activity which didn't include them. If anything, it was encouraged in an unspoken way, a sort of understanding that the girls wouldn't be kissing us, but we should by all means be free to kiss.
Both of our Hogwarts letters were waiting for us when we arrived back home, and we opened them excitedly, impatient to return back to the wizarding world after having spent so much time amongst muggles, picking our words carefully. They came with an extensive shopping list and the thrill of a trip to Diagon Alley.
Sirius had his own vault in Gringotts, he had set it up with the money his Uncle Alphard had left him after his death. It seemed Black family rebels stuck together, there was one in every generation. Sirius collected his money from there whilst I went alone to mine. Though I knew that Sirius' own family had a vast amount of wealth and that he had probably seen a vault like mine before, I was uncomfortable having access to mine whilst he could only dream of his. We met outside afterwards, coin pouches heavy and jingling, eagerly awaiting the spending to come.
We started off at Madam Malkin's, as both of us had grown again over the summer and our robes were too short.
"Don't you boys ever stop growing?" she asked almost disapprovingly as with a flick of her wand the sleeves on the robe Sirius was trying on shortened to a perfect length. We shook our heads and smiled.
Next to Flourish and Blotts, where the primary chunk of our list insisted we go. Fourth year required quite a few books, including an extra book on identifying ingredients and technique in Potions, two extra History of Magic textbooks on the history of French and African wizards as well as the British, and four new Defence Against the Dark Arts books.
"Blimey, this is a lot of reading to do in one year," Sirius grunted as he lifted his bag full of books onto his shoulder. "What's up with the Defence workload this year?"
"Professor Ashworth left," I reminded him, we had seen her with the rest of her Veela family during one of our exploits in Italy, whereupon she had thanked us for our constant "encouragement" she called it, though we thought of it more as flirting, and apologised that she would not be returning next year. It seemed that since everybody had found out that she was Veela, nobody had taken Professor Ashworth seriously. She became so upset with her situation that she resigned and came back home.
This meant, once again, that there was to be a new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor, and apparently one who was very big on homework.
Without the supervision of our parents, Sirius and I decided the more mature and adult choice to eat lunch was undeniably Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour, so the two of us sat down to have a nice frozen and creamy imitation of shepherd's pie and mashed potato with a side of peas and waited for Remus and Peter, who had both written saying they were also coming to buy their school books today.
Remus arrived first, promptly, as we sat down, his books in his hand. He was beaming.
"Have you seen these books?" he asked excitedly once the formalities of 'hello's and 'how were your holiday's were out of the way. With an exasperated sigh we both nodded.
"Yes, Remus, there are a lot of them. Isn't is wonderful?" Sirius spoke in a clearly mocking monotone, but Remus ignored it. Of course, a stack of books on the persecution of witches in Africa to this day was probably equal to how we felt whenever England won a match in the Quidditch World Cup.
"But have you read them? They all look fascinating, we'll be doing some really interesting spells this year!" trust Remus to be excited for the academic part of Hogwarts. Me, I was looking forward to a certain redhead with a flair for insulting me and hexing me before a compliment had fully passed my lips.
Thankfully, Peter didn't arrive long after to join us as we tried to convince Remus that no, school was not fun and no, neither was reading the innumerable books we were lagging around. Finally he threw his hands in the air and sighed, digging in to his ice cream lunch with a shrug that meant we'd never understand.
I enjoyed that afternoon. I had missed this over the holidays, the easy back and forth of four friends. Even in silence we all had something shared between us, a sort of connection which made our ties with each other so strong they were almost impenetrable, and yet so effortless they were welcoming to those on the outside. We were more than some club where members had to be approved. We had no selection process, it was simply chance that threw us four into a dorm.
But we were a family, and so for most others that made them jealous and they called us elitist. They pointed fingers and called us arrogant, told us it was unfair for us not to include them.
They simply didn't understand. We didn't try to be, we just were. Marauders by blood.
A/N: Hello, I am tired so this might be a bad chapter I am just too delirious to tell.
This year is going to be darker than the others as the Marauders prepare to face the war that is about to directly affect them. Soon we will see combat training, tensions between the Slytherins rising, the formation of the Order of the Phoenix and maybe even an attack. The story of the Marauders is, in the end, a tragedy, and so it will begin to get more tragic. Enjoy the light-hearted fun where you can find it but no longer expect it to be a constant.
Nonetheless, I hope this chapter isn't too terrible, review if you think it is. Or isn't. Just review will you my lovelies? Almost 200 now! x