“So the one who brought all the chocolate, that was your Uncle Benjy?” Sirius asked, idly moving his rook across the chessboard.
Peter had brought a muggle chess set with him for the train ride, thinking that the others might enjoy it. As the only one of the four boys to have a muggle childhood, Peter often delighted in exposing his friends to various muggle innovations. He’d brought chess, Monopoly, Sorry! and Battleship with him to entertain them on the long train ride. Naturally, they’d begun round robin chess and Battleship tournaments almost as soon as the train left Kings Cross.
“Cecil,” Remus answered, shaking his head lightly, his eyes focused on the board, trying to decide how best to counter Sirius’ move.
“Right,” Sirius said, looking disappointed with himself. “And he’s your father’s brother.”
Again, Remus shook his head, “Mum’s.”
“Bloody hell,” Sirius swore, fisting a hand in his curls.
Remus tore his eyes away from their game and fixed Sirius with a look.
“Sirius, it doesn’t matter,” he said, trying to calm his friend down, but it was no use. Sirius looked furious with himself, but Remus couldn’t understand why remembering the names of his family members was so important.
“IT DOES MATTER!” Sirius exploded, slamming his fist against the compartment door, and it shook noisily.
All three boys looked at him with alarm. They had become acquainted with Sirius’ temper in their first year, and knew well enough that it was best to avoid angering him, but they had never seen him like this. His hands fisted in his messy black curls, ready to tear them out.
“Sirius, it’s all right, just calm down,” James said, trying to pacify his friend.
“Let’s go for a walk,” Remus suggested, flashing his friends a meaningful look. He sensed that Sirius needed some breathing room – he was never any good at processing emotions in front of other people.
“No, I don’t –“ Sirius seethed.
“Too bad, I’m hungry, so let’s find the food trolley,” Remus cut him off, pulling him to his feet and pushing Sirius out the door of the compartment.
Sirius started moving quickly, walking like he was late for something. His agitation was evident in his movements, and Remus tried to keep up while keeping enough distance. When they were a decent distance from their compartment, in a car that was mostly occupied by older students from different houses, Remus finally spoke.
“You wanna tell me what’s going on?” he asked, grabbing Sirius’ wrist.
“I’m a bloody idiot, that’s what,” Sirius grumbled in reply, his hands curling into fists at his side.
“No, you’re not,” Remus answered automatically. “Why are you trying so hard to memorize my entire family tree?”
“I don’t know, I just...” Sirius couldn’t seem to find the words, and he looked at Remus, willing the other boy to understand without them, but Remus just waited patiently. “You matter to me, and your family matters to you, so...”
Sirius shrugged, and Remus nodded, smiling. Remus had sometimes wondered if Sirius’ offhanded remark about the inferiority of magical creatures last spring hadn’t affected their friendship more than either of them realized. Sirius seemed to have learned from the mistake, and Remus had genuinely forgiven him, but still... sometimes it niggled at his mind. Forgiven or not, neither of them could ever quite forget that it had happened. And there were moments, every now and then, where Sirius seemed to be extra... well, sweet, to Remus, and he had sometimes considered that it might be his way of trying to make up for what had happened. Remus wondered if that’s what this was, Sirius’ demonstration that Remus’ family, his values were important.
“Thank you,” Remus offered, and Sirius seemed to relax a bit at the words. “But you don’t have to memorize everyone in my family to show me that you care. Just being a friend to me is enough right now.”
“You miss her a lot, don’t you?” Sirius asked quietly.
“All the time,” Remus answered sadly. “But it’ll be easier at Hogwarts, I’ll be busy and it won’t feel quite as strange that she isn’t there.”
Sirius nodded, not sure what else he could say. He’d never met Remus’ sister, but he knew that they had been close, and he couldn’t imagine how painful it would be to lose Regulus, as it was, let alone if he and Regulus had grown up as close as Remus and Zeva had.
“For the record,” Remus said, interrupting Sirius’ thoughts and placing his hand on Sirius’ shoulder. “Asking about her, that’s how I know that you care about me.”
Sirius smiled, and the two of them hugged briefly, before setting off for their compartment again. Peter and James had taken over the chessboard, and Peter was soundly thumping James, who was down to two pawns, a rook, a knight, and his royalty.
The rest of the train ride passed less eventfully. Sorry! had gotten perhaps too competitive, and they had all needed some time to cool off after finishing it. Peter narrowly beat Remus in the chess tournament and James won battleship handily. When the food trolley finally made its way to them, they had gorged themselves on food, until they felt like they would never eat again.
As the sun dipped low over the horizon, Peter, Sirius, and James all dozed off, while Remus pulled out a book and began to read. The final hour to Hogsmeade passed, and Remus shook his friends awake as they pulled into the station.
As the four boys disembarked at Hogsmeade Station, they looked around wondering what they were supposed to do this year. Last year the first years had been called to cross the Black Lake by boat, but they had no idea how the second years had been transported.
“Marlene!” Sirius called, running after the third year girl.
“Hey, what’s up?” she answered, slowing her steps to allow the younger boys to catch up to her. She had grown over the summer, her skinny legs much longer than Sirius’.
“Good summer?” Sirius asked, but he didn’t wait for an answer. “Clearly we don’t take the boats this year, so how do we get to the school?”
“I hope we don’t have to walk,” Peter groaned, rubbing his face tiredly.
“Don’t worry, Pettigrew, you don’t have to walk far,” Marlene laughed. “There’s some carriages that will take us up.”
“Excellent,” Peter sighed.
They followed Marlene up the path to the large wrought iron gates at the edge of Hogwarts’ grounds. Students poured into carriages, six apiece, all lined up, waiting to be occupied. As soon as the doors closed, the carriage would set off, pulled by nothing but a pair of harnesses hanging in midair. The four boys clamored into a carriage with Marlene and Emmeline Vance.
Peter alone seemed content with their company, smiling awkwardly at the older girls. Sirius was looking around, trying to see if he could watch Regulus following Hagrid into the distance. Remus was searching for Georgiana, no doubt, eager to see his best friend outside of their little circle. James was staring into the distance, lost in thought as he watched Lily Evans’ braid disappear into another carriage with Severus Snape. He never could believe that she would be friends with him, the utter dirtbag that he was.
Their carriage set off with a jolt, carrying them up the pathway to the towering castle looming above them. The scenery whisked by them, trees and the lake and the quidditch pitch. Before long, they were pulling up to the carved oak doors of the Great Entrance and climbing out of the carriage. Without ceremony, the students – all but the first years – proceeded through the doors and the Entrance Hall, and into the Great Hall, taking their seats at their house tables.
There was chatter filling the Hall as students caught up with their friends that they hadn’t seen since the end of last term. Even Peter and Remus seemed more talkative than usual as they passed by other Gryffindors. Those who hadn’t been at the funeral offered Remus their condolences, no matter how well they knew him. Sirius rolled his eyes at the insincerity of it all, unable to understand why people would go out of their way to offer sympathy they didn’t really feel to someone they couldn’t care less about.
He flopped into a seat and craned his neck to look toward the doorway, waiting to see when the first years would be brought in to be Sorted and join their new houses. Eventually, Professor McGonagall led the first years through the doors and between the rows of tables, bringing them to a stop in front of the long, high table of professors. She made her speech about how the Sorting would proceed, and then prepared to begin.
Sirius sat at the Gryffindor table, fidgeting as he watched the first years get sorted into their houses. It was a new experience for all of them, sitting on the benches and waiting to find out who would join their ranks, instead standing in terror waiting to find out what test they would be subjected to in order to find out where they fit. Up and down the tables, the second years stuck out like a sore thumb. They were the students sitting with a mix of relief at knowing their place and discomfort at not knowing what to do with themselves Those with younger siblings being sorted – Sirius, Calliope Kendrick, even Caspian Calanon – looked the most nervous.
The Sorting started, and Lloyd Aubrey – Bertram’s younger brother – went to Hufflepuff, followed by a muggle-born named Simon Beringer.
Sirius never wanted Regulus to face the kind of anger from his parents that he’d been subject to. He knew that if Reg were sorted into any house but Slytherin, his parents would be furious. Maybe not as furious as they had been with him, they would find a way to salvage it for darling Regulus, but they’d still be angry. And yet, Sirius felt that being out of Slytherin was Reg’s only chance to get away from their parents’ toxic ideology. He knew that not all Slytherins were bad people, that they didn’t all believe in blood purity and wizarding superiority. Artemis Arandur was lovely, Anselmo Durion was nice enough, and Sirius thought Dagdan Rowle might be on the right side of things, though he was so quiet it was hard to tell. But Sirius knew Reg wouldn’t fall in with those people, the good ones. Reg was quiet, shy, he would gravitate towards the people they already knew from their parents’ parties and they playdates they had been forced into as children. That meant the Warwick twins, Crabbe, Yaxley, and Heino Selwyn. All the people Sirius worked hard to avoid, or better yet, piss off.
Sirius watched as Regulus walked up to the dais, a nervous expression on his face. Even from far away, Sirius could see his brother’s eyes darting from professor to professor, looking for some reassurance that he had nothing to worry about. He took a deep breath as he sat on the stool in front of everyone, his eyes closed as he waited for the Sorting Hat to be placed on his head. It dropped down around his ears, hiding his eyes from the view, and the entire Hall collectively held its breath.
The minutes seemed to drag on, and Sirius felt like his heart was stopped as he waited for a decision. At last, the hat began to stir, opening its mouth, and Sirius raised himself off the bench slightly.
“Slytherin!” it shouted, and Sirius immediately felt himself deflate.
Regulus looked over his shoulder as Sirius as he walked over to the Slytherin table, amid cheers from the pureblood families they had long associated with. He shrugged, and from the look in his eyes, Sirius knew that Regulus was not surprised by his sorting at all, but he thought it might not have been the result he was hoping for.
With a sigh, Sirius sank back into his seat, pouring himself a goblet of pumpkin juice. He paid little attention to the rest of the Sorting Ceremony, barely noticing the new Gryffindors that joined their ranks. A little girl with an innocent looking face and a broad smile sat down next to Lily, and he thought he heard her call the girl Mary. Caspian’s sister, Saxa, ended up in Gryffindor as well, naturally gravitating toward her brother. Two unremarkable boys sat down the able from them, and one who looked like he might be useful at Quidditch once he grew a bit.
James, Remus and Peter were happily chatting about the new year, wondering what the Defense Against the Dark Arts professor would be like, wondering which first years would be the most fun to prank. Sirius couldn’t join their conversation, he couldn’t think about anything. The only thing that kept running through his mind was that he had just lost his brother, probably for good.