Tugging on his heavy trunk, Steve smiled thankfully at Bucky as the taller boy grabbed the other end, helping him lift it onto the train. “I swear, Steve, this damn thing is heavier than you are,” Bucky teased, grinning. Steve blushed, but didn’t say anything; Bucky was probably right. Glancing over at their mothers waiting on the platform, Steve swallowed back the lump in his throat, waving one last time. He was glad they’d said their proper goodbyes before leaving; he didn’t want to make a scene on the platform. He was eleven years old, he shouldn’t cry at saying goodbye to his mother. “Come on, short stuff,” Bucky urged, clapping Steve on the shoulder. “Let’s go find us a compartment."
Dragging his trunk along behind him, Steve followed Bucky, glad for the other boy’s presence. He’d been so terrified that Bucky would get his Hogwarts letter and he wouldn’t; or worse, Steve would get the letter and Bucky wouldn’t, and then he’d have had to survive Hogwarts alone. But both their letters had come, and Steve couldn’t be happier. Sure, he’d miss his mom, and he doubted he’d be in the same house as Bucky, but… at least they’d be in the same castle.
Bucky found them an empty compartment and hoisted both their trunks into the luggage ruck with an ease that Steve was jealous of. He only hoped Bucky didn’t abandon him when he realised he fit in at Hogwarts and Steve didn’t, and he started making new friends. “Hey, daydreamer,” Bucky said to snap him from his thoughts, ruffling Steve’s hair. “Sit down before you fall down, the train’s about to start moving.” Steve nodded, taking the seat opposite Bucky, and felt his cheeks go pink when his feet didn’t even touch the floor. He tucked them up underneath himself in order to hide his shortness, though he figured Bucky had noticed. It didn’t surprise his taller friend when Steve dug through his threadbare bag for his sketchbook and pencils, keeping his gaze determinedly away from his mother as the train pulled out of the station.
“You don’t have to babysit me, y’know,” Steve told Bucky quietly. “If you wanna go find other first years and make friends, you can. I’ll hang out here and draw.” Bucky shot him the all-too familiar look that read ‘Steve, you’re an idiot’.
“I’ll have all the time in the world to make friends after we’re sorted,” he replied patiently. “And I want to spend my first ride on the Hogwarts express with my best friend. Even if he’ll probably spend the whole time in his own imagination,” he added with a grin, nodding towards the sketchbook. Steve shrugged sheepishly, not denying it.
“Thanks,” he said quietly, making Bucky smile.
“No problem, short stuff. Go on, go ahead and draw. I’m just gonna read for a little while,” he added, taking a book from his bag. Steve nodded, glancing out of the window at the beautiful scenery rolling by and propping his sketchbook up in his lap, open to an empty page. He didn’t want to let the ride go by without drawing it.
Steve was surprised at how short the train ride seemed to be, but figured he’d lost track of time while drawing as he usually did. Bucky didn’t seem to mind the lack of attention, and when Steve looked over at him when they had the announcement of being half an hour away, he was asleep. Setting his sketchbook back in his bag and carefully boxing up his pencils, he got up and went to shake Bucky’s shoulder. “Buck, come on, we need to get changed,” he urged, smiling in amusement when Bucky groaned feebly, cracking an eye open. “We’re almost there.” Nodding, Bucky got to his feet with a yawn, pulling both of their trunks down so Steve could get his uniform out. He almost laughed at the size of his own clothes compared to Bucky’s, not hesitating in stripping off his t-shirt to pull his uniform shirt on. Bucky had seen his scrawny ass naked a hundred times, one more wouldn’t hurt.
Steve felt his palms grow clammy and his face heat up as they pulled into Hogsmeade, his heart beating a mile a minute. “Just breathe, Steve,” Bucky murmured, placing gentle hands on Steve’s shoulders. Their foreheads pressed together, and Steve instinctively matched Bucky’s breathing rhythm, as he did every time his friend snapped him out of an impending panic attack.
“I’m scared, Buck,” he admitted in the tiniest whisper, and Bucky squeezed his shoulders reassuringly.
“Don’t be, Steve. You’re going to be sorted, and even if we’re in different houses, you’re still my best friend. They’re not going to send you back home, and you’re not going to puke in front of everyone,” he insisted, having heard all of the worries before. Steve let out a whine in the back of his throat, and Bucky smiled. “Come on, short stuff. You might surprise yourself.” With a sigh and a steadying breath, Steve pulled back, nodding determinedly. He could do this.
They joined the crowd of nervous first years, Bucky a good head taller than all of them, and followed the large man with the lantern down a short path to the edge of the lake. Steve’s stomach rolled at the sight of the boats, and a stocky dark-skinned boy shot him a concerned look. “Wow, you look like you’re gonna pass out. You okay, man?” Steve opened his mouth, but no words came out, and Bucky placed a hand on his shoulder.
“He’s fine,” he said firmly, and the other boy raised an eyebrow.
“Sure, okay, just checking on him. He doesn’t look so great.” Bucky’s hand didn’t move, and Steve felt his legs turn to jelly when they were told to get in the boats.
“Come on, Steve; you promised me you wouldn’t puke,” Bucky reminded cheerfully, directing him towards a boat. The stocky boy joined them, as did a blonde-haired boy with a mischievous expression.
“Dude, if you’re going to hurl, do it over the side of the boat, please,” the blonde said as soon as he saw Steve’s face, and Steve couldn’t help but snicker.
“Don’t worry, I think I’m good.” As he spoke, the boats jolted into movement, and he gripped the edge with white knuckles, biting his lip so hard he thought it started to bleed.
“Easy there, soldier,” Bucky soothed, rubbing his back gently. “You’ve got this.” He glanced up at the other two boys, who were staring. “He gets seasick real easy.” The blonde snorted, raising a narrow eyebrow.
“No, really?” he replied sarcastically. “Shift up.” Carefully nudging the dark-skinned boy aside, the blonde sat in front of Steve, leaning forward to meet his gaze. “Hold out your hands.” Confused, Steve did so, and flinched on instinct when the other boy took his wrists in his hands, pressing gently on his pulse points with his thumbs. “Old trick, helps motion sickness. It’s to do with balance and junk; I don’t really get it, but it works.” Steve blinked, trying to focus himself. He did actually feel better a little bit.
“Thanks,” he choked out, and the other boy sent him a grin.
“No problem. Clint Barton, by the way,” he added. Steve managed a tentative smile that was probably more of a grimace.
“Steve Rogers, nice to meet you.” Bucky’s hand continued to rub circles on his back, and that combined with Clint’s little trick was making the nausea recede easily.
“James Barnes, call me Bucky,” Bucky introduced, eyes darting up to meet Clint’s.
“Bucky? Where the hell did you get that name from?” Clint queried. Steve grinned to himself, not needing to look to see Bucky shifting uncomfortably.
“His middle name’s Buchanan,” Steve filled in, and Bucky cuffed him over the head.
“Damn it, Steve!” he whined as Clint began to snigger.
“Buchanan? Aw, dude, that’s a terrible middle name. I can see why you go by Bucky. What about you?” he added, turning to the fourth member of their boat.
“James Rhodes. But a lot of people call me Rhodey,” he offered.
“Bucky and Rhodey. Is James not a good enough name anymore?” Clint remarked, shaking his head. “How you doing there, Steve?”
“Good, thanks,” Steve assured, looking up. His breath left him all over again when he saw the castle, though this time he didn’t really mind.
“Damn,” Bucky murmured, and Steve nodded in agreement. Rhodey let out a low whistle. The trip from the boats to the side-chamber of the Great Hall was a blur of ‘whatever you do, don’t puke’ and Bucky’s guiding hand to Steve, and he could feel himself shaking as he followed the others into the main hall. He couldn’t stop the nightmare of being told they’d made a mistake, he was too weak and he should go home from playing out in his head. It was a good thing his surname didn’t begin with A; he was completely zoned out during the explanation of the Sorting Hat, and the hat’s song. Bucky flashed him a grin when his name was called, sauntering up to the hat and perching on the stool. There was a beat, before ‘GRYFFINDOR!’ was yelled out, and the red-and-gold clad table burst into raucous applause. Bucky beamed as his robes changed, and Steve tried to smile. There went any chance of them being in the same house. Still, he wasn’t surprised; Bucky was practically Gryffindor to the core.
He smiled when he saw Clint go into Hufflepuff; that was where he was most likely to be sorted, at least he might have a friend there. It was a long wait for his name to be called, and he almost missed it, too busy being relieved that Rhodey made Hufflepuff too. Two people who were nice guys in the house he was likely to be in, maybe it wouldn’t be so bad being without Bucky. When Selvig called his name, Steve stepped forward, concentrating on putting one foot in front of the other so he didn’t fall over in front of the entire school. Sinking onto the stool in relief, he jumped when the hat spoke to him. ‘A little nervous, ey?’ it chuckled, its voice low. ‘Don’t worry, you’re not the first. Now, where do you fit in?’
‘Nowhere,’ Steve thought automatically, and the hat hummed in disapproval.
‘Now, that’s not true. You just haven’t found your place yet. But I know exactly where it is; and remember Mr Rogers, I’m never wrong.’ Before Steve could ask what the hat meant, it shouted out ‘GRYFFINDOR!’ and Steve gaped. The table burst into the same applause that they’d given Bucky, though Steve was sure he could hear whispers of ‘how the hell is he a Gryffindor?’ echoing around the hall. Still, he left the hat on the stool and headed for the open seat next to Bucky, unable to believe it when his robes changed colour and his tie became a deep red and gold. What had the hat meant? How could it possibly think he was suited for Gryffindor? He wasn’t brave! He just didn’t know how to run away from a fight; that was stupidity, not bravery.
“Congrats, short stuff! I didn’t know you had it in you!” Bucky cheered, clapping him on the shoulder with a wide grin. Steve blinked, still shell-shocked.
“Neither did I,” he replied faintly, making Bucky snort. The hat’s words still rung out inside his head. He hoped he ‘found his place’ soon, because he doubted he’d last two seconds in Gryffindor until he did.