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In Which Sirius Black Fails to Argue with a Hat

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Sirius Black meets James Potter on the train to Hogwarts. He joins Potter in mocking that pale-skinned kid with the lank black hair, just as he would in other universes. James is the first person who spoke to him without giving a damn that he’s a Black, and Sirius is not going to be turning his nose up at that, thanks.

(He maybe feels about .5 seconds of regret, but it’s mostly regret that forms once Sirius realizes that the greasy kid was in the company of a temperamental ginger girl who all but screamed Future Gryffindor.)

When the train starts, they collect a blond boy who looks ill named Remus, and a shorter, round-cheeked kid named Peter. They’re polar opposites–short and plump, tall and gaunt. Sirius has no idea what makes James find the three of them acceptable–he’s a bloody Potter, he could claim anyone–but Sirius will take it.

Sirius is the first of all of them to meet the Sorting Hat. He thinks it’s going to be fine. He knows you can argue with the Hat. It’s the only useful thing Phineas’s portrait told him before Phineas Nigellus Black discovered why Sirius wanted to know, and now the portrait won’t speak to him. Wanker.

The Sorting Hat argues back. Sirius is suddenly terrified, because the Hat is insistent that Sirius needs Slytherin. No. He does not. His entire family was in Slytherin, and they’re completely mental. He hates Slytherins! He doesn’t want to be one! Any other House. Any. Other. House.

Your family doesn’t know what it means to be silver-and-green, the Hat says forebodingly. You’ll show them all, you’ll see! and then it shouts “Slytherin!” and Sirius’s heart falls down to land in his shoe.

Fuck.

The redhead is Lily Evans. Gryffindor. Remus: Gryffindor. Peter, after a full minute of nervous sweating with the Hat on his head: Gryffindor. James: Gryffindor before the Hat settles onto his head. The greasy kid, Severus Snape (what kind of Wizarding name is that? Is he even British?) is a Slytherin.

Sirius would like to say that his train enemy and himself spent the Feast properly glaring at each other, but noooo, he doesn’t even get that out of all this. Snape is too busy staring at the Gryffindor table, where Evans is staring right back.

No one is staring at Sirius from the Gryffindor table. Thanks, wankers.

Surprisingly, after the Feast, Potter slips him a note. Don’t worry, still friends. We all know you’re not like other Slytherins, the note says, and Sirius feels a brief ray of hope. James is such a complete Potter. Sirius’s parents would hate him.

Sirius doesn’t sleep well that night. Neither does anyone else in the Slytherin dormitory, as they’re the ones listening to Sirius Black shout at the top of his lungs about Stupid Sorting Hats and Stupid Slytherins and This Is Complete Bullshit and He Will Set That Hat on FIRE–

“If I help you set the Sorting Hat on fire, will you please shut up?” Snape hisses at him.

Sirius blinks. “What?”

Snape hexes Sirius into silence without saying the spell aloud (NOT. BLOODY. FAIR.) and then pulls his pillow over his head. Sirius realizes he was being offered assistance to set the Hat on fire about ten minutes later, but he was distracted by trying to figure out a) where the hell did his wand go and b) what spell was that, he wants to know. Except then he would have to ask the Greasy Git, and that is just not on.

Sirius gets a letter from his parents the next day. They’re proud of him for Sorting into the House of their Forebears, and Trust That Sirius Will Not Bring Shame To The Family. Sirius tears it up and throws it in the rubbish bin. His family is proud of him for sorting Slytherin. It’s the only time they’ve ever said it. They don’t actually care about him.

James, Peter, and Remus really do remain his friend. It’s baffling, but if the Greasy Git and the Evans girl can be friends when they’re in opposing Houses, why can’t he? James says Sirius is not like other Slytherins and it gives Sirius a warm, happy feeling to know that he isn’t going to be tarred with the family brush a second time.

Sirius helps his friends with hexes and jinxes and basic charms whenever they encounter Snape. James says the git deserves it for being the wrong kind of Slytherin. Sirius hears nothing off about those words at all, even when Evans is yelling at them, telling Sirius he should be ashamed of bullying someone from his own House while shouting at James that he is the wrong kind of Gryffindor.

That’s Sirius’s first year in a nutshell. He hates everything except classes. He’s a good student, which surprises him. His parents, aunt, and uncle never told him he was actually intelligent. It would be great if he wasn’t sharing top marks for his year in Slytherin with the Greasy Git.

(No one can do snide looks like that kid. Sirius thinks his own family has nothing on Snape’s range of derisive expressions. Maybe he practices in a mirror.)

Second Year is pretty much just like the first. Do well in classes, tear up unread letters from his parents because he figured out by the third letter last term that they are all variations on Be A Good Slytherin and Don’t Shame the Family. They’re probably doubling down on the last bit since they found out he’s friends with a Potter. They don’t want to discourage his friendship with a fellow Pure-blood, but Potter is a Blood Traitor so that is bad, but the Potters are wealthy and one does not alienate fellow wealthy Pure-bloods. Trying to follow that logic gives Sirius a headache, so he stops trying.

James, Remus, and Peter are his friends, so it’s fine. Snape is kind of terrifying in terms of how many bloody hexes he knows. Evans gets so riled up with James that she sets his robes on fire with accidental magic.

Sirius makes a note: do not directly anger Lily Evans. He doesn’t want to be on fire.

Second note: be more subtle about hexing Snape. It isn’t worth listening to Slughorn bluster on about Bringing Shame To The Black Family Name and Endangering His Time At School and They’re All Slytherins and Sirius stops listening after three minutes because Slughorn really likes the sound of his own voice.

In Sirius’s third year, Regulus Black comes to Hogwarts. Sirius watches his brother walk into the Great Hall, just as awed as every other baby-faced firstie, and resists the urge to bury his face in his hands. Regulus is not going to argue with the Hat. Regulus would be insulted if the Hat put him anywhere except Slytherin.

Yep, that is his baby brother in Slytherin. His baby brother who thinks Sirius is now his hero.

That does explain why Sirius was sent Away to family on the Continent during the summer. Apparently “pride in their Eldest Slytherin Son” only goes so far, and Regulus should not emulate anything else about Sirius, ever.

Of course, this being Hogwarts, their parents can’t stop Regulus from following Sirius around like a puppy…unless Sirius is with his friends. Then Regulus makes himself scarce. Sirius still has no idea what to do with a cheerful, enthusiastic, “We’re both Slytherins, isn’t it great?” Slytherin shadow, so he spends every moment possible with James, Remus, and Peter.

Regulus always corners him in the library when Sirius is trying to study. Sirius has to endure his brother nattering on and on and on about “his friend Severus.” (Sirius has to be reminded who the hell that is. Snape. Right.) Severus is smart. Severus is helping Regulus. Severus showed Regulus how to do this one potion better and it was so perfect Slughorn said he wanted to frame it. (Bloody how?) Regulus talking about how Severus brewed the same potion the same way and Slughorn didn’t say a word to him, and has Sirius noticed that their Head of House is rather odd about that? (Sirius had not noticed, but he tries not to notice Slughorn at all.)

Severus, Severus, Severus. Sometimes Regulus mentions Evans, but mostly it’s all about Snape Who Is Apparently a Genius.

Regulus has found someone else to shadow, and it is The Enemy. Sirius wants to scream, but Pince is one of the most terrifying creatures in existence. Fuck his life.

That term is a disaster. Nothing attacks the school. No Howlers from Sirius’s parents. More rumors about that daft bloody idiot Voldemort and Death Eaters, yes, but that’s all they are–rumors.

It’s a disaster because Sirius has his blinders ripped off and he loses his best friend. Dis-as-ter.

James Potter never lifts his wand at Regulus the way he does at other Slytherins (particularly Snape). Not for the first two months.

Then James forgets that Regulus Black is Sirius’s brother.

Hell, Sirius might have forgotten that Regulus is his baby brother, or never really realized it in the first place. Their family is really, er, broken.

Either way, James sees Regulus before Hallowe’en, and all he sees is a Slytherin to hex and laugh at.

Sirius listens to it happen for about a minute (sometimes he’s a bit slow) before reality crashes down on his head. Then his fist crashes into James Potter’s face.

It’s a shame he didn’t take his uncle up on learning how to punch people properly. Madam Pomfrey gets on his case over breaking his hand on Potter’s jaw.

Before Pomfrey, though, he is staring at James, who is sprawled on the floor and staring up at him in shock. “What was that for, Sirius?”

Sirius points at Regulus, who is being helped up from the floor by…by Evans and Snape, actually. “THAT’S MY BROTHER, YOU WANKER!”

Everything might have been fine and salvageable if James, after two years of rule and having the Final Say over who the Enemy is, hadn’t said, “He’s just a Slytherin!”

Sirius has no idea what he cursed James with after that, because he sort of stopped thinking or seeing anything but red. He is a Black and his family’s temper is infamous. It takes half the staff quite a while to fix it. Sirius doesn’t care. He is still furious through the rest of the day. Through a week’s worth of detentions that he can’t remember because he’s too angry.

McGonagall sighs when she realizes that Sirius Black scrubbed a hole clean through her blackboard while giving it the fiercest scrubbing it has ever been subjected to in its long life. Slughorn is annoyed that every bottle of potions ingredients in the classroom has been scrubbed so much that not only do they blind him, all of that clean crystal reflecting the torchlight, but Sirius scrubbed the labels off, too. McGonagall and Slughorn commiserate over the fate of their classroom items in the lounge.

Dumbledore lets out a heavy sigh and says they shouldn’t be surprised by Sirius’s behavior, given his family and House affiliation. Minerva and Horace, who had been pleased to have two major friendships spanning the No Man’s Land separating their Houses, both stop speaking to Dumbledore for an entire week. They are not friendly with their employer for the remainder of the term.

(”I told you that our employer has particular issue against Slytherins,” Horace says.  “I’m aware,” McGonagall replies, as she is deeply disappointed in her mentor.)

Sirius spent that week of detentions realizing several things. He did mention that he can be slow, and he admits it, but also maybe he should add “idiot” to that description.

James called Sirius the right sort of Slytherin. No one else was the right sort of Slytherin—they were all the wrong kinds of Slytherin, even first-years. Even Regulus. This is third-year. He should maybe have noticed by now.

Remus never helps them hex anyone unless they hex Remus first. Sirius really should have noticed that. He’d sometimes heard Remus’s token protests, but he never realized that Remus always fell back when James, Sirius, and Peter lifted their wands.

Peter does everything James does. Sirius would say that is creepy, but he was, apparently, doing the same thing, so he really can’t.

Snape is treating Regulus like he’s…useful? No, that’s not right. Not when Sirius has spent every day practically since term started listening to Regulus chat up how much Snape has been helping, and he hasn’t asked for anything from Regulus in return. Not a thing. Which is…odd. Maybe Snape doesn’t know how this is supposed to work.

Maybe Sirius doesn’t either. He’s never demanded that James, Peter, or Remus give him something in return when he did anything for them.

(James did—Potter did. Not always, but he did. That burns.)

Sirius remembers that Snape once offered to help him set the Sorting Hat on fire. He’s self-aware enough to realize that it was a case of vested self-interest in terms of sleeping, but he still offered. Everyone else just told Sirius to shut it.

Oh, bloody fucking hell. Sirius stops polishing the suit of armor (which protests at once about a job left unfinished) and buries his face in his hands. He is just like his ruddy fucking useless twat parents. He’s a prick. A pillock. A jerk. Sleeze. Slime.

He has a good vocabulary. Sirius spends the rest of that detention calling himself every name he knows, A through Z.

The letter Z needs more swearing.

“Have they managed to figure out how to make Potter less resemble a blueberry?” Snape asks him on Saturday morning.

Sirius stares at him. “What?”

“Potter. Have you not visited your imbecile friend in the hospital wing?” Snape asks caustically.

Sirius scowls and begins stabbing at kippers. “He isn’t my friend.”

There is a minute of silence. “I see.”

Sirius tries to wait him out, hoping Snape will go away. It’s no good; Snape is one of the most insanely patient bastards Sirius has ever, ever met. He is off his fucking rocker in terms of how long he’s willing to wait for someone to speak, for a potion to bubble. He just…he watches everything.

Sirius realizes later that he watches everything, too, it’s just that he’s a lot less patient about everything else. He watches everything because in the Black Family Townhouse, you watch everything so that you aren’t poisoned, stabbed, eaten, or otherwise made Dead.

He did say he was slow about noticing things.

Finally, Sirius explodes. “Potter always said I was the right kind of Slytherin! But he was wrong. He was fucking wrong.” He stabs at another kipper so hard it flies off his plate and lands in front of cousin Narcissa, who gives him a look of complete disdain for flinging breakfast at her. “Sorry,” he mutters in her direction. “Evans said that Potter was the wrong sort of Gryffindor. She’s right.”

“Lily is usually correct, yes,” Snape says, and Sirius snorts. “It’s a shame that it required Potter attacking your own brother for you to notice.”

Sirius wonders if he can repeat Evans’ trick with robe-burning. “Yeah. Rub it in some more.”

Snape only says, “You should take a look at the Gryffindor entering the Great Hall.”

Sirius glares at Snape before giving in to curiosity. Potter is walking into the Hall, followed by Peter. Remus is sort of drifting in after them.

James Potter is the color of a fucking blueberry.

“The fuck?” Sirius blurts out. Other students are laughing. He doesn’t, but it isn’t from a magical burst of maturity. He’s just too baffled. Sirius does not know how to turn people into blueberries. “What did you do?”

“I’m not that creative,” Snape lies. Bastard. “The blueberry appearance, including the swelling effect for the desired round shape, was performed by Lily. Not that any of the staff knows that you had assistance in the hexing of Potter, of course.”

“No shit?” Sirius asks. He’ll recognize the bit about “assistance” later. (Yes, still slow, not news.)

Snape surprises him. Again. “No shit.” Sirius has never heard that kid swear. Lots and lots and lots of creative spells, but no swearing. “Never infuriate the witch who taught herself how to fly before she knew magic was real.”

“You can do that?”

Snape rolls his eyes. “Obviously.”

“You can’t do it, though.”

“Also obvious, else I would have employed the skill to avoid you four idiots.”

Fair enough. “Why are you friends with my brother?” Sirius asks.

Snape’s derisive looks are better than Narcissa’s. If she needs to practice, Sirius can tell her who to ask. “Because, while Regulus Black still maintains some unfortunate views regarding blood purity, he is not an idiot.”

“Blood purity.” Sirius frowns. “Snape isn’t a Wizarding name, is it?”

“You only now noticed?” Snape retorts dryly. “Of course it isn’t. I’m a Half-blood.”

Sirius gives him a blank stare. “But you’re in Slytherin.”

“Excellent deduction. That would explain why I have to share a dormitory with you.”

“Shut up.” Sirius shakes his head. Evans is a Muggle-born. Slytherin is for Pure-bloods, but Snape isn’t a Pure-blood. Regulus isn’t an idiot.

Okay, he knew that one. Sirius is well aware of the fact that he is the idiot.

“Do enjoy the blueberries that the elves have suddenly provided for the remainder of breakfast,” Snape says, and gets up to walk away.

Sirius looks down to find that yes, they suddenly have blueberries. When the fuck did Potter cheese off the house-elves?

Then he glances at the staff table. McGonagall looks…awfully smug.

Shit, what did Potter do to piss off McGonagall?

Remus corners Sirius in the bathroom on the third floor at the end of the next week. “Can we talk?”

“As long as you’re not going to watch me take a piss,” Sirius replies, confused. No Gryffindor has come near him for the entire week except Evans…and some of the first- and second-year Gryffindors. Those implications, he understood immediately, and felt like sicking up. He really is a completely blind, idiot wanker.

“No!” Remus exclaims. “That’s unsanitary. I just—can we still be…mates?”

“I thought you were Potter’s friend?” Sirius asks, and then winces. Yeah, James has definitely become Potter. Potter cinched it by lifting his wand at Evans, and Sirius just—no. Evans helped him, and that is not allowed, and now Evans is mad at Sirius for trying to fight her battles for her and Sirius does not understand girls at all.

“I don’t know if he really…” Remus shifts back and forth on his feet. “The full moon was harder without you last week.”

“It was?”

Remus nods and looks miserable. “Yeah. Yeah, I…I dunno why. It just…Peter and James were there, but it was harder. I felt like shit for most of the week.”

“That’s rough.” Sirius had thought maybe Remus looked worse, but Remus had been with the others and Sirius was trying not to get another detention. He just put in a week’s worth and dealt with the Howler for Bringing Shame To The Family. (He wonders who wrote the letter home, and what it actually said, because the Howler didn’t mention Potter at all.) “Wait. I—yeah. I’ll still be your friend. You didn’t attack Regulus. You don’t…you weren’t doing that to anyone.”

“You were,” Remus mumbles, staring down at the floor.

“Yeah, but I’m a fucking wanker,” Sirius says. Remus smiles, and for some reason, that’s all it takes. They’re still friends.

Sirius returns to the Slytherin Common Room before dinner and goes to the portrait of Salazar Slytherin, the one that doesn’t look like a pile of ancient cobwebs masquerading as a person.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with the public portrait? Their portrait of Slytherin is just fine.

“What makes a good Slytherin?” he asks.

The portrait gives him an amused look. “Manners and the ability to control ones’ volume.” Slytherin hasn’t really forgiven him for Sirius’s first year. “Or would you like to know the traits that embody our House?”

“You mean aside from being a Pure-blood?” Sirius asks, annoyed.

Slytherin raises an eyebrow. “Have you ever wondered how the definition of Pure-blood might have changed in a thousand years, Mister Black?”

“Uh, no?”

The portrait sighs. “Sometimes you idiots drive me to despair. Tell me, where is Pure-blood found in regards to resourcefulness, cunning, ambition, determination, self-preservation, fraternity, and cleverness?”

“Uh.”

The portrait rolls his eyes. “I thought so. If you’re going to be loud, do it somewhere else, all right?”

Sirius does. He goes upstairs to the top of the Astronomy Tower and shouts the word “FUCK!” at the sky while everyone else is eating dinner.

Resourcefulness. He is not really great at that. Cunning? Pfft. No. Ambitious? Complete failure. Determination? Well, he came to Hogwarts determined not to be a Slytherin, and look how well that turned out? Self-Preservation…okay, that, yes, he can do, or he wouldn’t have lived long enough to be a student in Hogwarts at all. Cleverness? Somehow, he doubts that is strictly about grades, though you do need a certain amount of cleverness to understand why McGonagall wants them to transfigure matchboxes into snails.

(No, really. Why.)

Sirius spends the rest of the term trying to figure out his own brain. While he’s doing that, there is sort of a paradigm shift going on around him. A big one. By the time he notices, it’s too late and he’s stuck with the results.

By the end of term, Sirius, Snape, Regulus, Lily Evans, and Remus are all friends. He has no idea how the entire fuck it happened, but once he stopped hexing Snape it just sort of fell together. Now he has a scary ginger friend, a werewolf friend (Sirius is dreading letting that wolf out of the bag), he finds his brother less annoying, and Snape is still terrifying, but at least it’s no longer terrifying aimed directly at Sirius. Most of the time.

They share a single train car back to London, all five of them, and nobody dies or is even remotely hexed. Sirius keeps waiting for things to go wrong and it doesn’t and that? That is the oddest fucking thing about the entire year.

“I still don’t get why Potter started in on you when you had just met,” Regulus says to Snape.

“Because Potter is an anti-Semitic toerag,” is Lily’s contribution as they’re pulling up to the station.

“What does anti-Semitic mean?” Sirius asks. It’s rather daunting when four other people look at him in varying degrees of dismay. “What?”

“How can you possibly be this uneducated?” Lily asks.

“I didn’t know, either!” Regulus squeaks. “Severus had to tell me!”

“Someone tell me!” Sirius whines.

“I’m Jewish, you complete idiot,” Snape says.

“Oh.” Sirius considers that. “What does that mean, then?”

“OH MY GOD!” Lily shouts, and starts smacking him in the head.

“Ow! Fuck! Stoppit! LILY!”

Remus laughs at him and says he deserves it. Yeah, Sirius totally does.