He practically bounded over to the stool, and James bit his lower lip to contain his laughter. Next to him, the brown haired boy- Remus- was covering his mouth with his hands to hide his grin.
“Is he always so enthusiastic?” Remus whispered.
“Don’t think so,” James whispered back, as the Hat proclaimed his new friend to be a Gryffindor. Sirius looked like he was going to faint, but he made it to his seat at the Gryffindor table fine. “He was pretty lazy on the train.”
A few other students were called up while James and Remus whispered back and forth without paying attention. “Evans, Lily!” was the next one James noticed, and only because she’d told him off on the train. Still, he didn’t stop talking to Remus for longer than it took for her to be sorted into Gryffindor, and before they knew it, it was Remus’ name being called.
He gave James a shaky grin as he headed to the stool. The Hat was on his head for a few seconds, clearly deciding, before it finally shouted, “GRYFFINDOR!”
Another student- something with an M- and then it was Peter’s turn. Out of everyone he’d met (and talked to) today, James would be one of the last to be sorted. He hoped Peter was in Gryffindor, they’d got on well after Peter ended up in their compartment, grumbling about stupid, power-abusing prefects (James assumed he meant Lucius Malfoy). It took a while for the Hat to place Peter, but finally it sent him off to Gryffindor. James cheered inside as his name was called and he sat on the stool.
“Hmm,” it said, speaking not quite in his ear but not quite in his head, either. “Interesting. Strong mind, loyal, and certainly brave. Cunning, too. Gryffindor could make you too lazy, and you likely wouldn’t fit in in Hufflepuff- not as well as a Hufflepuff should, anyway- but you’re certainly no Ravenclaw. But you’ve not much craving to be great, either...”
Honestly, he thought, I’d like it if people remember me.
“Well, that settles it, then. Better be.... SLYTHERIN!”
“What?” James shouted, “No, there’s got to be a mistake here! I’m a Potter, we’re all Gryffindors!”
McGonagall gave him a stern look, then nodded towards the Slytherin table. “Run along, Mr. Potter.”
He pouted, but he wasn’t stupid- he knew full well that Sortings are final. He headed for his table in a deep sulk. He ended up next to some third year who was sitting beside Malfoy, acting like he worshipped the ground the prefect walked on. Malfoy smirked at James as he sat down, but thankfully didn’t say anything.
James barely noticed the rest of the feast, though he distinctly remembered piling food onto his plate afterwards, he wasn’t quite certain he remembered eating it. He knew he had, but he’d been so lost in his own thoughts that he did so without paying much attention to it.
“Alright, firsties, boys’ dorm to your left, girls’ dorm to your right, and first thing after classes tomorrow you gather out here,” the sixth-year prefect- Athena something?- announced. “I imagine some of you-” and at this point she looked pointedly at James- “didn’t expect to be in Slytherin. It happens to someone every year, so we have the Post-Sorting Chat with the new firsties to make sure you understand how things work in Slytherin. Anyway, that’s tomorrow, but right now you lot need to get to bed. Go on.” She shooed them towards the dormitories, grinning at them in a way James found unnerving.
James was the second one into the room, and before he could even find which bed his trunk was by, he was stopped by the boy from the train- Severus, he thought, recalling what the girl with him had called him, as well as the less-than-nice nickname Sirius had responded with.
“Thought you said you’d leave if you got sorted here?” the boy asked, smirking at him with his arms crossed and an air of smugness around him.
James rolled his eyes. “I intend to, as soon as I can get my parents to sort this out. It’ll have to wait, though, I won’t be able to owl them until tomorrow,” he replied, aiming for arrogant but simply sounding worried. “I suppose you’re happy.”
Severus snorted. “No. Lily’s in Gryffindor,” he replied, “when she and I both know full well that she belongs here.”
“Too bad she’s a girl, or we could sneak out and swap. Wouldn’t solve class schedules, but I could hang out with the Gryffindors and you could hang out with your best friend,” James suggested morosely.
Severus snorted again, shaking his head. “How very devious of you. Almost... Slytherin, I’d say.”
“Ha, ha, very funny. Now, c’mon and move, I’m about to fall over I’m so tired,” James said, trying to get past him to the beds. Severus laughed, backing away.
“You’re not so bad, Potter.”
“Whatever, let me sleep,” James mumbled, climbing into bed. “I still don’t want to be here.”
Morning came all too soon for James, who’d woken in the middle of the night to nightmares of snakes and cold dungeons (and his subconscious was clearly not being subtle, a fact which annoyed him for reasons he couldn’t explain), and had a great deal of trouble getting back to sleep. He kept his eyes on his feet on the way to breakfast, trying not to trip over them out of tiredness, and grumbled to himself about how this was decidedly not how he’d expected his time at Hogwarts to start. Which would explain why, when Sirius pulled him aside just outside the Great Hall, he nearly jumped out of his skin.
“Thought you hated Slytherin,” Sirius whispered, frowning at him.
“I do. I’ll get it sorted once I have a moment to write home,” he replied, bewildered.
“Mate, I have no clue how to be a Gryffindor, you gotta help me. Look, we can swap or something, I’ll put up with that lot if I have to, just... I need a friend I trust,” Sirius begged, looking like he was going crazy. “Can I trust you?”
“My own brain betrayed me, you tell me,” James snapped. “I haven’t had enough sleep for this.” He pulled away from Sirius and headed in to breakfast, flopping into the seat beside Severus.
“You look like shit,” Severus helpfully supplied, looking at him like he might fall over or go crazy or something.
“So do you, Snivellus,” James growled, “at least I look bad because I couldn’t sleep.”
Of course, he regretted it as soon as he’d said it, as Severus’ expression closed off, hiding the brief flash of a pained look, but James had never been good at apologizing and he wasn’t up for trying for a not-quite-friend he wouldn’t even spend much time with once this Sorting business got sorted out. The surrounding laughter as the other Slytherins agreed with him didn’t help any. He didn’t want their approval. He ate quickly and left as the owls were coming in, desperate to get somewhere away from everyone so he could at least try not to upset all of his classmates before classes even started.
He headed for the owlery, stopping just outside it to sit down and write off a quick and desperate note to his parents. He shoved his quill back in his bag once he was done, and sent the note off with one of the school owls. As he turned to leave, he found Severus waiting for him on the stairs.
“You’re a git, Potter,” he began, and James opened his mouth to retort. Severus held up a hand to stop him, and continued, “but you’re clearly both sleep-deprived and upset, and someone needs to keep you from getting torn apart by the other Slytherins at least until your supposed resorting takes place or you leave.”
“And, what, you’ve appointed yourself to the job?” James snapped, glaring sullenly at him.
“It’s that or hex you, and seeing as you apparently sleep less than I do, I’d rather not anger you to the point where you might kill me in my sleep,” Severus replied with an eye roll, “besides, it’s not like either of us know any of the other Slytherins that well.”
“Wait, you don’t?” James asked, frowning in confusion.
“No,” Severus replied, eyeing him suspiciously, “the only person I know all that well here is Lily.”
“Huh. I know a few second and third years in... pretty much every house but Slytherin,” James replied. “I just figured everyone but Muggleborns did. I- are you Muggleborn? I thought Slytherin didn’t take Muggleborns...”
“No, half-blood, actually, but...” Severus replied, pausing as if he didn’t know how to explain. “My family spends more time in the Muggle world, and what time we do spend in the Wizarding world is rarely suited to making friends near my age.”
James frowned, then shrugged. “So most of your friends are Muggles, then? Cool.”
Severus began to say something, then shook his head, motioning for James to follow him. “Come on, we’ve got to get to class.”
James followed him down out of the owlery, frowning down at his shoes as he tried to work out whether he should apologize or not. “Hey,” he said quietly, before they could get out into the crowded halls, “thanks. I wasn’t... what I said at breakfast wasn’t very nice, and you’re helping me out anyway.... so, thanks.”
Severus shrugged, but didn’t turn to look at him when he spoke. “You seemed alright, last night, even if you have been a complete prat every other time we’ve spoken.”
“Yeah, well, my whole family has been in Gryffindor for... ages, I don’t even know,” James replied, “so I’m sort of not coping so well with being the exception- I suspect you might’ve noticed?”
“No, really?” Severus replied, clearly trying not to laugh. “You’ll be alright, you know. Even if you end up stuck in Slytherin for seven years.”
“Yeah... maybe.” James shot him a grin and added, “If I have friends willing to tell me when I’m a prat, at least.”
“Don’t worry, I will always let you know if you’re being a prat,” Severus said, smirking, “and not always as nicely as I have today.”
“Friends, then?” James asked.
Severus chuckled, glancing at him. “Sure you can handle being friends with a Slytherin?”
“If you can,” James answered with a grin.
“Then, yes, friends, you ridiculous prat,” Severus replied, grinning back at him.
They kept on like that- friendly poking and teasing and grinning at each other like all their troubles had melted away- right up until they got to their first class, where they found Sirius, Remus, and Peter waiting outside, standing together a short ways away from the rest of the Gryffindor and Slytherin first years.
“Right, so you’re friends with him now? What about what he said on the train?” Sirius asked, before any of them could so much as say hello.
“Relax, Sirius. It was... I dunno, a stupid misunderstanding. He’s alright,” James answered quickly. “Look, I figure at least two of the five of us feel like our lives just got turned upside down, so can we just... not do the whole snakes-hate-lions-and-vice-versa dance? I like all of you.”
“I’m okay with that,” Peter chimed in, “if everyone else is.”
“That makes two of us,” Remus added, smiling.
“I suspect you’ve been outvoted,” Severus pointed out to Sirius, clearly fighting back a smirk.
“Yeah, yeah, don’t rub it in,” Sirius muttered. “I am never going to be best friends with you, though. You’re a git. But, uh, I can be nice... well, mostly nice... if you can.”
“Potter, you realize you’re very, very lucky I like you,” Severus muttered to him, “because my first instinct is to hex this idiot.”
“Come on, if you can put up with me at my worst, you can put up with him,” James whispered back.
“Yes, yes, alright, but only because more friends means more people to watch your back when you start finding enemies,” Severus replied.
“No kidding,” Peter replied, grinning at Severus as they headed into the classroom. “Don’t most animals people consider strong and brave live in groups, anyway? A pride of lions, for example, or, um...”
“Sadly, the lion is pretty much the only one I can remember, too, at least as far as classic symbolism goes,” Remus replied.
“Well, anyway, the point is, we’re better together than fighting each other,” Peter pointed out, though he seemed less sure of his point now. “Or... something like that.”
“Exactly,” James replied with a grin. The group quieted down as they chose their seats, near the middle of the room. Severus slid into the seat next to Lily, with Remus and Peter in the seats behind them and James and Sirius to Severus’ right, the group arranging themselves to stick close to each other almost automatically.
“Hey,” Severus whispered to Lily. “How’s the lion’s den?”
She smiled at him. “Not as bad as you made it sound, but it’d be better if I had my best friend up there with me,” she whispered back. “How about you? How’s the snake pit, then?”
“Lacking in witty redheads, sadly,” Severus replied, “but with an unexpectedly witty Potter, at least.”
“The one who threw a fit about his sorting?” Lily asked. “Isn’t he one of those two gits from the train?”
“Amazingly, yes, he’s both of those, and yet somehow likeable anyway,” Severus answered. “The other one I’m not so sure about, but... I suspect befriending James means I’m stuck with Black, too.”
Lily looked at him like he was losing his mind, but before she could say anything, the professor began their first lesson. “We’ll talk later,” she whispered quickly, shooting him a look that said he’d better make more sense later, because she had no idea what he was on about right now.
Severus nodded and straightened in his seat, directing his focus to the lesson.
After Charms was lunch, and then Potions that afternoon, and then Severus and James headed back to the Slytherin common room with promises to meet everyone (and by everyone, they meant Remus, Sirius, Peter, and Lily) in the library afterwards.
The house meeting was fast- a quick outline of rules and culture in Slytherin house, which left James’ head spinning as he tried to make sense of it all. He knew, of course, that it wouldn’t be what he expected, but it was mind boggling to think that he knew so little about it when his Slytherin year-mates all seemed to know so much.
They got lost, briefly, on the way to the library, and when they finally got there, Sirius and Lily were pointedly ignoring each other, which was definitely not promising. Remus was reading and trying to talk to Peter at the same time (though it looked like Peter was doing most of the talking), and Sirius was glaring at the back of Lily’s head. She was twisted in her seat so that she could join in Remus and Peter’s conversation without looking at Sirius.
“Oh, boy,” James murmured. “This is up to you, mate, I don’t know her, I won’t be much help.”
Severus rolled his eyes. “If she doesn’t like Black, there’s not much I can do about it. I just hope she likes you, otherwise you won’t see me much outside of classes.”
James grinned at him, heading toward the table. “I am incredibly likeable, of course she’ll like me.” He dropped into the seat between Remus and Peter, still grinning. “Hello, all. Did I miss anything interesting?”
“Oh, not much,” Remus replied, sliding a piece of parchment into the book to mark his place. He closed it and sat it on the table, giving Sirius a rather pointed look. “Just Sirius here making some rather foolish assumptions, and offending everyone in the process.”
“Just because I don’t know what stories have Muggle versions-” Sirius began, before Lily cut him off.
“I don’t care if you don’t know, it’s that you treated me like a moron for asking what you meant! There’s a whole world of people out there who don’t hear stories like that, you can’t go around assuming these things!” She’d spun around to face him, and she looked like she was about ready to hex him over it.
“Alright, but there’s no need to call me names! Look, I know less about Muggles than most muggleborns know about wizards when they get their Hogwarts letter. My parents are... they don’t like Muggles much,” Sirius replied, starting off angry and then suddenly calming down. He certainly seemed sorry for his mistake and his attitude. “I want to know this sort of thing, but I’ve got a lot of things to unlearn.”
“Hold on... Black, as in Phineas Nigellus Black?” Severus asked. Sirius eyed him warily, but nodded. “That explains it, then. Go easy on him, Lily, it’s not his fault his family’s insane. ”
“Understatement of the year,” Sirius muttered. “We don’t even have a wireless set, because it was based on Muggle radios. Muggle-inspired fashions aren’t allowed- ‘Blacks are above that nonsense’, according to Mum- and even though we live in the middle of Muggle London, I’ve not spent more than ten minutes in it, if you don’t count my house which is as wizarding as possible so you probably shouldn’t. We do all of our travel by floo, or if Reg and I aren’t going, Mum and Dad apparate. The front door is only opened to let guests in, and you can’t leave from the back garden, not without a broom and the ability to talk Dad into letting you through the wards.”
“Wow. Talk about sheltered,” Lily commented. “Alright, I suppose I can forgive you, if you’ll be less arrogant about your mistakes from now on.”
“I can try, at least,” Sirius replied, grinning at her.
“And now we’re getting along!” James commented, grinning and mock-cheering. “So, what shall we talk about now, then? Something fun, please, if I think too hard on Sirius’ family and their issues, I’ll depress myself.”
Sirius laughed. “Makes two of us, then. How about Quidditch? Lily, what all do you know about it? Just so I don’t bollocks up again, I mean.”
“I know the basics, of course- Sev taught me that, he said over half of Wizarding Britain is Quidditch-mad, so it’s too important a thing to not know. I know the team names for the British and Irish League, and which ones are utterly horrible, and the important bits of the rules and how it’s played,” she replied, “and we listened to a game on the wireless once.”
“Arrows and Wasps, this past summer,” Severus added, “And we only heard the last half.”
“Oh, that was a great game,” James replied with a grin. “Wish I could’ve gone to see it, Arrows-Wasps games are some of the hardest-fought in the league. Dad and I listened to most of the game on the wireless, but we missed the end because one of Mum’s friends came by.”
“Wasn’t that the one the Arrows won by about 20 points?” Sirius asked, leaning forward to rest his arms on the table.
“Yeah, that’s the one,” James replied, frowning as Sirius’ grin widened. “Why?”
“I was there. You’re right to have wished you were, it was amazing, remember how Cole and Williams did that back-and-forth pass? So much better to see than hear about,” Sirius replied.
James grinned. “I’d kill for a Pensieve right now, that sounds brilliant.”
“You find one, I’ll show you all the whole game. It’s so very worth it, I swear.”