Back straight, head held high, Sirius Black stepped onto Platform 9 3/4 at Kings Cross Station. Today was the day he would claim an important part of his birthright: his place at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry as a proud member of Slytherin House. He stood tall in his new robes with a green-and-white striped school scarf draped about his neck, though the day was rather warm for it, trying to hang on to an air of disdainful boredom, but it was difficult amidst all the hustle and bustle. His poise lasted only until his younger brother arrived on the platform, jostling him from behind.
"Watch it, Regs," he snapped.
"Sorry," mumbled Regulus. "Didn't know it would be so easy to get through, did I?"
Sirius hadn't known either, of course, but he had approached the entrance to the magical platform with all the dignity he could muster, hoping that he was not about to humiliate himself by ploughing face-first into a solid brick wall. Regulus, on the other hand, had clearly taken it at a run.
The two boys stepped out of the way as their parents appeared behind them, followed by Kreacher, who pushed the trolly containing Sirius's school trunk and owl, a magnificent jet-black bird named Midnight. Everything in the trunk was new -- the most expensive money could buy -- and the only thing that was missing was a top-quality racing broom. First year students weren't allowed them, which Sirius felt was monumentally unfair, but his father had promised that, if his marks were good this year, he would have the very latest model for his twelfth birthday next June.
"Put it on the train -- carefully," his father directed the house-elf, as another trolly almost careened into him. "Then you may return home."
"Hi, Sirius!" called a voice. Peter Pettigrew and his mother were trotting over to them.
"Hi," said Sirius a little stiffly.
"A bunch of us already have a compartment on the train," said Peter. "Wanna sit with us?"
"Who's there?" Sirius asked. One of the most important aspects of going to Hogwarts was making contacts with other children from good families, thus assuring himself a prosperous future. He wanted to be sure to start out on the right foot, and he wasn't sure sitting with Peter was it.
"Rab Lestrange," Peter told him. "Evan. A girl called Maddy. She's a first year, too. Oh, and your cousin Narcissa and her boyfriend."
Sirius considered it. Rabastan Lestrange and Evan Rosier both came from excellent families, and were, like Sirius, only just beginning their education at Hogwarts. He didn't know any girls called Maddy, but if she was sitting with those two, she was probably safe. Sixteen-year-old Narcissa, of course, was family, and seventh year Lucius Malfoy soon would be, but he knew he should be careful of seeming too close to them after the scandals of the previous year.
Not that it had been either of their faults, of course. Lucius couldn't help it that his betrothed, Molly Prewett, had eloped with the son of a notorious blood-traitor family, but it was still an embarrassment. His fallback had been Sirius's other cousin, Andromeda, but she had done the Prewett girl one better, and run off with a Muggleborn wizard, which left Lucius with the youngest of the three Black sisters.
Sirius's parents had made a number of scathing remarks at the time, leaving Sirius with the distinct impression that most of the problems men faced in life were caused by the unruly nature of women. He glanced at his mother for guidance.
She pursed her lips. "The family should be seen to support Narcissa," she said at last. "But go carefully, and don't appear too friendly. If they make a mockery of this family, they're done for, and I won't have them dragging our good name through the muck any more than they can help."
"Yes, Mother," Sirius said, then turned to Regulus. "Well, I guess this is it."
"Yeah," said his brother, mouth trembling. "Wish I could go with you." Sirius hoped he wasn't about to start blubbing like a girl right there on the platform.
"You'll be starting before you know it," Sirius told him. "And by the time you do, I'll be able to introduce you to everyone you'll need to know. We'll be the Kings of Slytherin."
Regulus grinned at that. "Write to me?"
"Every week," Sirius promised.
He allowed his brother to grab him an a brief hug before turning to his parents.
"Watch yourself," his mother reminded him for the thousandth time. "Dumbledore lets all sorts into that school. The Mudbloods will be easy to spot, but the half-bloods can be tricky sorts. Don't trust anyone until you know who their families are."
His father offered him a firm handshake. "Remember that you're not just another boy going to school, son," he said. "You're there representing our family and our good name. The others are going to know you're better than them. Some of them will resent you for it, but most should fall into line quick enough once you take your proper place in Slytherin."
"I won't forget," Sirius assured them. "See you at Christmas."
He gave Regulus a last wave, and turned away. Peter was hopping impatiently from foot to foot as his mother made a last attempt at trying to straighten his robes and his hair.
"C'mon, Pete," he said.
"Bye, Mum," Peter called, breaking away from her.
"Have fun at school, Petey," Mrs Pettigrew called tearfully. "I love you!"
Peter blushed. "You too," he mumbled.
"Mama's boy," Sirius teased, as they made their way to the train.
"Shut up, Black," Peter replied, but Sirius knew he didn't really mean it. Peter knew better than to address a son of the House of Black like that.
Sirius was amazed by the sheer number of unfamiliar faces on the train. He had thought he knew half the population of the Wizarding world, especially the ones close to his own age. They didn't seem to know who he was either. Hardly anyone stood aside to let him pass unhindered as he and Peter struggled through a sea of jostling adolescents towards their compartment. He lifted his head a little higher, and made disdainful eye contact with a few. They would learn soon enough who he was.
At least the children in his own compartment -- when at long last they reached it -- knew the proper order of things. They scooted down, unasked, to give Sirius a seat by the window. Across from him was Lucius Malfoy, who held his own window seat by right of seniority, in addition to being of good family. Malfoy gave him a wary look, but nodded in greeting.
"Malfoy," Sirius replied, returning the nod.
Narcissa flashed him a quick, tight smile of familial acknowledgment before returning her simpering blue eyes to Malfoy's imperious profile. His right hand was clutched between both of hers.
Rabastan Lestrange and Evan Rosier had their faces pressed against the window into the corridor, playing a game of trying to guess people's Houses as they went past. Every time they pointed out a Hufflepuff, they would hoot and snort rudely. Hufflepuffs were not well-regarded by Slytherins. Hard work and loyalty were well enough, but they were nothing compared to being born into the right family. The House had a reputation for the highest percentage of Muggleborn students in the school, and Sirius had heard they were proud of the fact.
A dark-haired girl with large green eyes sat watching Lestrange and Rosier's antics. When Sirius inquired after her family, she introduced herself as Madeleine Yaxley. Her mother was Cartimandua Venuti, daughter of an old Italian Wizarding family who had come to Britain only in the last century. Her father had been Boniface Yaxley, and from the way Madeleine spoke of him in the past tense, Sirius assumed he must be dead. Yaxley was an old Wizarding family name in Britain -- one of his great aunts or somesuch had married one -- so Sirius left it at that.
By this time, the train was well underway.
Looking around the compartment, Sirius saw his future. Malfoy and Narcissa were both Slytherins already, of course, but he guessed that the rest of this lot would be, as well. Except Peter. He viewed the short, blond, baby-faced boy with contempt and pity.
He'll never make Slytherin, he thought, tugging self-consciously at his scarf. Hufflepuff, probably. They'll let anyone in. If Peter were Sorted into Hufflepuff, that would be the end of their friendship. Sirius wondered if he would miss the other boy.
Just then the compartment door slid open to reveal a pale, sickly-looking boy with golden brown hair and large, nervous brown eyes, wearing patched and shabby robes.
"No room," sneered Narcissa, looking at the boy's clothes, and not his face.
In fact, Sirius was the only one in the compartment who looked at the boy's face at all. He had some odd scarring, Sirius noticed, and turned away quickly when he caught Sirius looking at him. He closed the door again and was gone, without ever uttering a word.
"Who was that?" Sirius asked without thinking.
The other children shrugged.
"Who cares?" said Narcissa disdainfully. "Probably just some Mudblood. Did you see the state of his robes? Our house-elf is better dressed! I would be too embarrassed to show my face if my robes looked like that!"
"Yeah," said Sirius, putting the shabby boy out of his mind. "Me, too."
At Hogsmeade Station, Narcissa and Malfoy wished them well as they were rounded up along with the other first years for the traditional journey across the lake. Their guide was a huge, hairy man whose name Sirius did not bother to remember, who confided that it was his first time escorting the new students.
"Ten Galleons says his boat sinks," Sirius muttered to his fellow future Slytherins.
"Don't think you'll find anyone to take that bet, mate," Lestrange said.
The children around them were buzzing with excitement as their party split up into two separate boats. Yaxley went with Lestrange and Rosier, while Sirius and Peter found themselves sharing with a sullen-looking, black-haired boy and a pretty, redheaded girl who appeared to be friends.
All around him, Sirius could hear the four Houses of Hogwarts being mentioned with varying degrees of anticipation and fear. Some of them would shortly find themselves sorted into Hufflepuff, or that notorious blood-traitor House, Gryffindor. Ravenclaw wasn't so bad, but only the truly elect were singled out for Slytherin. Sirius wasn't worried; Blacks were always Slytherins, as far back as anyone could remember, just as all Weasleys were Gryffindors. Sirius wondered idly if the red-haired girl in the boat with him was a Weasley before he remembered that the Weasleys never produced girls.
"Who are your family?" he asked, just to be sure.
She seemed to think he was being friendly, and smiled at him. "I'm Lily Evans," she said, putting out her hand. "My family are from Yorkshire."
"Evans," he said thoughtfully, not shaking the proffered hand. "That doesn't sound familiar. Are you at all connected with the Weasleys?" He unconsciously used the disdainful inflection with which his parents always said the name.
"Oh, no!" the girl said with a pretty laugh. "My family aren't wizards at all! I'm the first." She looked proud of the fact.
Sirius wrinkled his nose. "Muggleborn," he said in disgust, turning away.
The other boy in the boat was eyeing him with mistrust.
"I suppose you're Muggleborn, too?" Sirius challenged him.
"No," the boy scowled. "My family are magical."
"Who are they, then?"
"Snape. Sheffield." The boy gave him a contemptuous look, as if daring him to make something of it.
"Never heard of them, either. How far back do they go?"
"My Mum's from the Prince family," Snape said defiantly. "Heard of them?"
Sirius shrugged. "And your father?"
The boy dropped his eyes, lips pressed tightly together. It was the girl who answered, voice sharp.
"Sev's dad is a Muggle. And there's nothing wrong with that."
"Lily," the boy said imploringly.
"Well, there isn't," she told him. "He's just being a snob, Sev. Don't pay him any mind."
Sirius snorted and turned his back on the pair in disgust. As if he should care what some Mudblood girl thought of him!
The rest of the short trip across the lake was made in silence.
Though he had been well-schooled in the belief that almost everything should be beneath his notice, it was hard for Sirius not to feel a little bit awed when he gazed up at the ancient walls of Hogwarts castle towering over him for the first time. The castle was immense -- far too large for the mere three-hundred-odd students and two dozen or so staff it contained. In the time of the school's founders, the castle had been build first as a refuge -- a safe place to accommodate the entire population of Wizarding Britain in a world increasingly hostile to magic -- and only secondarily as a repository of knowledge and institute of learning. The castle was big enough that Sirius believed it.
The excited chatter of the new first years subsided as they crowded into the entrance hall. Sirius paid no attention to Deputy Headmistress McGonagall's explanation of the Sorting Ceremony. As far as he was concerned, it was just a formality. He would go up, put on the Hat, and then walk to the Slytherin table to join the people with whom he would be living for the next seven years. Slytherin being the largest House, there would be a lot of them; plenty of people for him to make connections with, and begin building a promising future for himself.
They filed into the Great Hall, which was lit with hundreds of candles beneath the twilight blue sky, and clustered near the staff table, many casting nervous glances at the crowd of older students who stared at them with frank interest.
Sirius was a little surprised to see how worn and shabby the Sorting Hat was. But then, he supposed it must be very old. A rip opened in its brim, and it began to sing a song of some sort, but Sirius didn't pay much attention. He stood, looking at nothing in particular, waiting for his name to be called as Peter twitched and shifted beside him.
The names were read alphabetically, which suited Sirius well enough. Better that they didn't keep him standing around forever. His name was preceded by only three others; two Slytherins and a Ravenclaw.
At last, McGonagall called out, "Black, Sirius!"
Back straight, eyes forwards, he approached the stool, sat, and put on the Hat that would confirm him in his destiny.
"Oh, ho, ho!" said a small voice in his ear. "A Black, eh? Well, well, well. A clever one, too."
Sirius waited impatiently for the Hat to say "Slytherin". Why was it taking so long?
"Oh, so you think you're going to be in Slytherin, do you?" said the Hat. "I wouldn't be so sure about that! Too much the rebel for House Slytherin, I fear. Now, let me see .... There's enough loyalty here for Hufflepuff, but not enough hard work and dedication. You're clever, but you don't like to study, so not Ravenclaw either. Really there is only one place for you, and it has to be GRYFFINDOR!" it finished, shouting out its verdict for all the hall to hear.
It had to be a mistake. This simply could not be happening. Sirius felt faint. There was a stunned silence from the Slytherin table, and a babble of confused whispers broke out at the other three. Slowly, all eyes on him, he stood and walked down the centre of the room to an empty seat at the Gryffindor table. There was none of the cheering and backslapping which had greeted the three students Sorted before him. Everyone was looking at him. He heard a nasty giggle from the Slytherin table. His cousin Narcissa.
"I guess he's not one of us after all," she said loudly.
Numbly, Sirius sank onto the Gryffindor bench, into a space that had been left clear for the newest additions to the House. All down the table, eyes turned towards him. There was no overt hostility, but there was silence and wary curiosity. Sirius's eyes were firmly fixed on the table in front of him.
A moment later, someone sat down on the bench next to him.
"Hi," said the redheaded girl from the boat, trying once more to be friendly. "Looks like we're housemates. I didn't catch your name --?"
"Go away, Mudblood," Sirius growled.
There was a sharp intake of breath all down the Gryffindor table. The girl didn't seem to know the word, but recognised it for an obvious insult. She stopped trying to talk to Sirius, and slid down the bench a little, turning instead to introduce herself to another new Gryffindor girl.
The Sorting continued, and as each new member of Slytherin House was announced, Sirius's expression became more and more sour, and he slumped lower and lower in his seat. Even a poncy-looking blond boy named Lockhart was sorted into Slytherin, while he, Sirius, heir to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, was stuck in Gryffindor, the House of blood-traitors. What would his parents say? He would have to tell them.
But as he ground his teeth and contemptuously watched Lockhart take his seat among the Slytherins, his view was blocked by someone standing uncertainly across the table from him. Startled, he looked up into the face of the pale, shabby boy from the train.
"Is it all right if I sit here?" the boy asked, voice barely above a whisper.
Sirius nodded, forgetting to sulk for a moment. The boy sat down, and Sirius looked at him expectantly, thinking that he would introduce himself, or ask Sirius for his name. He did neither, only stared down at the table as Sirius had been doing moments before. Sirius wondered what House he had expected to be in.
A few minutes later, Peter plopped himself down between Sirius and the Muggleborn girl.
"This is brilliant!" he said. "The Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin, but I asked it to put me with you instead, and it said OK!"
Brilliant, sulked Sirius. Even pathetic Peter had a shot at Slytherin.
Peter was quickly followed by a black boy with wildly curly hair and glasses. He shook hands with everyone within reach, grinning broadly and introducing himself as James Potter, saying how happy he was to be in Gryffindor. Sirius could tell that he was the sort of boy to whom people took an instant liking, and stubbornly resolved not to like him.
Perhaps if he didn't get on with the other boys in his dormitory, the headmaster would be forced to transfer him to Slytherin. Instead of introducing himself to the Potter boy, he stared resolutely across the room, just in time to see the sullen, dark-haired boy from the boat being sorted into Slytherin.
Even common Mudbloods get Sorted into Slytherin, he thought in horrified disgust. Mother and Father will be furious! Maybe they'll write to Dumbledore and make him move me.
He paid no attention during the start of term announcements, which included the appointment of the new gamekeeper, Rubeus Hagrid, the big man who had taken the first years across the lake, and who was apparently already well known around the castle, and the introduction of the new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Hextilda Tynedale.
The food appeared at last, but Sirius found he had little appetite for it. He remained silent, ignoring the cheerful chatter around him, letting Peter introduce him to the others as necessary, and replying to any direct questions with no more than a shrug. The only thing he really noticed during that interminable meal was that the pale boy across from him neither spoke nor ate any more than he did.
When the students rose to adjourn to their common rooms, he trailed along behind the rest of the Gryffindors, as if hoping to disassociate himself from them. He barely paid any attention when the Gryffindor prefect -- a tall, sandy-haired sixth year named Fabian Prewett -- gave them the password, "Dragon Bogies", with a mischievous grin. All he could think about was what he would tell his parents.
If it hadn't been for Peter, he probably would have spent the night standing in the middle of the common room, staring at his feet and feeling sorry for himself. But Peter grabbed his arm and dragged him up the spiral staircase to a room near the top of the stairs, which contained four large, curtained four-poster beds, their school trunks, and James Potter. The shabby boy was nowhere to be seen.
"You blokes want to play Exploding Snap?" Potter asked.
"Maybe," said Peter uncertainly.
Sirius didn't answer, but went straight to his trunk and began rummaging around in it for ink, quills and parchment. Better to just get it over with before his parents found out from someone else.
Potter seemed untroubled at being ignored. "Well, we can't very well play with two. C'mon. Peter, wasn't it? Let's go down to the common room and see if we can get anyone else."
Peter shrugged, and as the door closed behind the two boys, Sirius heard Potter ask, "What's his problem, anyway?"
Sirius hunched his shoulders and climbed up onto the bed against which his trunk rested. Let Peter tell him, he thought. What do I care?
He knew the Potters were pure-bloods, but they were an old Gryffindor family of the sort that thought Muggles were people. They did not move in the same circles as the Black family, and thus Sirius had never crossed paths with James Potter before today.
Pulling the curtains closed around him gave him a small measure of relief. He was alone; no one was staring at him, though no doubt they were still talking and laughing about him in the Slytherin common room several floors below. He unrolled a piece of parchment onto the flat surface of his Transfiguration textbook, dipped the quill into the inkwell on the nightstand, and held it poised to write -- what?
What could he say to make his parents understand that this wasn't his fault -- that he hadn't asked for this or wanted it or in any way deserved what amounted to a cruel joke?
Dear Mother and Father, he wrote at last.
I am writing to Inform you that the Sorting Hat has decided to put me in Gryffindor. I think it must be a Mistake. I don't know how else it could have Happened. Everyone is being Horrible about it. I don't know what to do. I'm sorry. I just thought you should Know. Peter got Sorted into Gryffindor, too.
Your Obedient Son,
He stared at the parchment, wishing there were some good news he could offer to soften the blow. A drop of moisture appeared, smudging the text. He quickly blotted it away, angrily wiping his eyes.
Blacks don't cry, he reminded himself. But Blacks didn't get Sorted into Gryffindor, either.
Rolling up the parchment, he slid off the bed to fetch Midnight from his cage, just as the door to the room opened and the pale boy came in.
"Oh," he said, stopping when he saw Sirius. "Hi."
Sirius surprised himself by responding. "Hi."
They stood staring awkwardly at one another for a moment.
"Remus Lupin," the pale boy mumbled at last, eyes dropping to the floor.
It took Sirius a few seconds to realise the boy was introducing himself. "Sirius Black," he said.
"Nice to meet you," Lupin told his shoes. "Er -- G'night."
The boy almost dove onto the fourth bed and yanked the drapes shut around him.
Sirius shrugged and turned back to his owl. With trembling fingers, he tied the unwelcome news to its leg, and went to open the window.
"Fly away home," he said softly as the owl disappeared into the night. "Tell them it's not my fault."