It was the proudest day of his life, Sirius had declared on the morning of 31st July 1991, Harry's eleventh birthday, the same morning a smart-looking tawny owl arrived at the kitchen window which had specifically been left open for his arrival bearing a familiar fat envelope bearing the wax seal of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He practically beamed with joy as the newly-turned eleven year old boy practically leaped up from the breakfast table to meet the owl at the window, taking the letter in his excitement-shaken hands and depositing he pre-prepared knut into the owl's pouch before he flew off again.
"Funny that, I could've sworn the proudest day of your life was the day he took his first steps" said Remus with a smirk as he stirred his morning coffee. "Oh no, sorry, it was the day he first flew that toy broom you got him. Or was it the day he caught his first Snitch? Or the time he accidentally transfigured my favourite shoes into a pair of nifflers? Ah, now I remember, it was the time he-"
"Yes, yes, we get the point, Moony" Sirius brushed aside his partner's snide remarks. "All momentous occasions, but this here is absolutely the proudest day of my life"
"Take it easy, Harry, you don't want to rip the letter" Remus urged as the boy urgently ripped open the envelope, nevertheless unable to hide his own proud smile.
"I can't believe it, it's finally here!" Harry shouted as his bright green eyes raced over the emerald ink lettering that detailed his instructions to catch the Hogwarts Express from Kings Cross station on 1st September. He'd been raised on tales of the Wizarding school castle, endless details of the spells he'd learn and the adventures he'd have. And now the time for his First Year had finally arrived!
Remus eased the supplies list out of Harry's hands, leaving him happily still pouring over his acceptance letter.
"Guess we'd better plan a trip up to Diagon Alley then, we've got quite a list to get through. Books, cauldron, wand..."
"Yes! Finally, I get my own wand!" said Harry triumphantly.
He had lusted after his own wand since he was first old enough to understand why he couldn't have one yet.
"Don't get too excited, pup, remember you can't get away with underage magic at home once you start school" Sirius reminded him.
Remus raised a surprised but approving eyebrow at Sirius, never usually the one for responsible remarks.
"Basic potions ingredients, robes..." Remus continued reading through the list.
"Ugh, robes" Harry's expression soured a little. He hated wearing robes, much preferring to stick to Muggle jeans and t-shirts.
"Not much choice in that matter I'm afraid" said Remus, placing the parchment down on the table. "Can't get out of uniform policy. In fact, speaking of uniform..."
He glanced wordlessly across the table at Sirius for approval and received a silent but solemn nod of approval before continuing.
With a silent flick of his wand, Remus summoned a worn cardboard box to the kitchen from where it usually resided at the bottom of the wardrobe in his and Sirius's bedroom. Resting the box on his lap, he peaked open the lid just wide enough to retrieve a carefully folded piece of tissue paper from inside. Replacing the lid, Remus carefully lowed the box to the floor and out of sight.
The box contained some of his and Sirius's most precious belongings - items that had previously belonged to James and Lily.
Most of the items were those which Sirius had managed to retrieve from the wreckage of their house in Godric's Hollow the night Voldemort destroyed their world.
Having held himself together long enough to get Harry safely out of the wreckage and on the path to safety with Dumbledore via Hagrid on his own motorbike ("I'll be back for him, Hagrid, you tell him that. He's my godson. He's my responsibility now. Make sure he understands that"), Sirius had fought against every instinct in his body to break down in an emotional heap to go back into the house and gather the things Harry would one day need.
Photographs. A leather album bearing the Potter crest and the frames shots from the shattered mantelpiece, the glass broken but the images mercifully un-scarred.
Letters. The aged walnut desk James had moved over from his parents' old house, with the bottom-left drawer which was where James kept all his old letters. He never had been able to justify throwing away a letter. Sirius had never been so glad of it.
Belongings. James and Lily's bedroom was the least-damaged room of the house. There Sirius forced himself to endure the lingering smell of Lily's familiar perfume on the dresser as he gathered up the locket she kept bearing a tiny family photograph inside, the gold watch James's parents had given him for his seventeenth birthday, the gold Potter signet ring James had inherited from his grandfather but had never been lofty enough to wear. And lastly, the crimson and gold Gryffindor tie James had annoyed Lily by keeping tied in a school knot and untidily slung over the corner of the dresser mirror as a reminder of their not-so-distant school days.
The same tie, now carefully wrapped in preserving tissue paper, which Remus carefully passed over the kitchen table to James and Lily's son on his eleventh birthday, the day he received his Hogwarts letter, as they had planned all those years ago when Dumbledore first admitted defeat and handed the orphaned baby into their care.
"This is one very special present for you, Harry" said Remus gently, his voice tinted with that edge of seriousness he always used when explaining something particularly important to the boy. "This is something that belonged to your dad"
Harry's emerald eyes lit up in wonder.
Sirius and Remus, or Padfoot and Moony as he more often called them, had raised Harry in a house where stories of his parents were told as openly and as freely as if they might just have happened yesterday. He'd wanted for nothing where details of his mother and father's lives were concerned. Countless times as a young child he'd sat sandwiched between them on the sofa with a photo album open in his lap, the stories behind the flickering images of his parents being explained to him. His godfather had occasionally taken out the gold wristwatch that had belonged to James Potter and allowed him carefully try it on, but the naturally excitable and sometimes clumsy little boy knew it wouldn't fully be given over to him until he was seventeen, as was the Wizarding tradition. He hadn't minded. Besides, the heavy watch had slid up and down his skinny wrist, dangerously at risk of dropping off of him and onto the floor if he dared lower his arm.
But this was something different. Something he hadn't seen before.
Harry carefully unfolded the tissue paper, his spindly fingers surprisingly gentle, and let out a little gasp as he found the red and gold Gryffindor tie inside.
"This was your father's first school tie, Harry" said Remus softly. "He kept this tie from all the way back in First Year. See..."
Remus leaned over to turn the tie over in Harry's hands to show him the small stitching of the inner fold of the fabric. A "J.P" embroidered in gold thread against the black lining of the tie.
Sirius felt a painful knot of emotion tying itself tight inside him as he watched the little boy who so resembled James in many ways, his eyes wide with wonder as he examined his father's tie. The same tie he has seen around his best friend's neck every day for several years before he updated it with a fresh one, but keeping the original tucked away as a souvenir.
Remus silently looked over Harry in his direction, wordlessly asking if he had anything to say.
Sirius shook his head, and took a quick gulp of his bitter coffee to steady his emotions.
"Come on then, Harry, let's try it on for size" Remus prompted, pulling the boy's chair out from the table.
Harry jumped off eagerly, handing the tie to Remus.
Remus gently worked the knot, the same knot tied by James all those years ago, until the loop of the tie was big enough to slip over Harry's permanently-untidy black hair and tightened it around his neck.
It sat somewhat out of place against his bright orange Chuddly Canons t-shirt (a present unwrapped barely an hour ago from the Weasleys which Harry had insisted on immediately changing into), but the little boy beamed with pride nonetheless, proud to feel this connection to his father.
"There you go, perfect!" Remus smiled as he stood back to admire Harry.
His eyes softened a little as he took in the sight of the skinny boy with round glasses smiling up at him mischievously.
Across the table, Sirius gripped his mug in a white-knuckled hold as his mind wandered back to the long-ago days of pranks and Quidditch matches with a skinny boy with round glasses wearing a red-and-gold tie...
"Spitting image of James at that age, isn't he, Padfoot?"
Sirius snapped out of his daze at Remus calling him.
"That he is" Sirius agreed, forcing a happy smile.
"Can I wear it at school?" Harry asked hopefully.
"I'm not sure that's the best idea, pup" Sirius said uncertainly. "It's a very special tie, you wouldn't want to damage it, would you?"
"No, I guess not" Harry conceded, fondling the tip of the tie between his fingers.
"But you can still take it with you, as long as you keep it safe" Sirius added with a wink. "For good luck"
Harry's smile returned instantly.
"Anyway" said Remus cheerfully. "You'll have your own Gryffindor tie to wear instead before long!"
Harry's eyes lit up at the prospect, and neither he nor Remus noticed the sudden darkness that overtook Sirius's previous cheerful expression.
Two days later, the three wizards stepped out of the Floo fireplace at the Leaky Cauldron in London, en route to Diagon Alley for school supplies.
Harry practically bounced with excitement, his energy rippling through the fabric of his cloak, eager to finally get his own wand.
"One thing at a time, Harry" said Remus, his eyes scanning over the supplies list as they stepped onto the winding cobbled streets. "We might as well start at the top of the Alley and work our way down so we don't miss anything. The apothecary is closest-"
"Oh lighten up, Moony, the poor kid's waited long enough for a wand, don't torture him any more than necessary!" Sirius laughed as Harry charged ahead in the direction of Ollivander's.
"Fine, fine" Remus sighed, knowing when he was outnumbered.
Over half an hour of wand-testing and several broken flower vases later, Harry's new wand was boxed up; wood of holly and phoenix feather core, eleven inches long.
"Obviously you'd go for one of the rarer wand woods" Sirius laughed as they left the shop, clapping Harry on the shoulder proudly.
Harry grinned with happiness and asked if he could take his wand out of it's box for another look.
"Nope, this is staying wrapped up until term starts" said Remus, holding the parcel firmly. "You must think I don't know you at all if you think I'd let you loose with a wand without a day's training"
"Spoilsport" Sirius said with a wink, ever the bad influence on their young charge.
With the highlight of the day done and dusted, Harry's typical eleven-year-old attention span quickly wore thin as they worked their way through the less interesting aspects of the list.
He gazed curiously at the little boxes of potion ingredients; slimy newts' eyeballs, a heap of tiny little shining black rocks that crackled oddly when he let them slip between his fingers, a gruesome little pile of decapitated lizards' legs. He peered at his reflection in a shining solid gold cauldron until he was finally called away with a reminder from Moony that his list said he needed a pewter one.
"Wouldn't that just give Severus the day of his life" Sirius chuckled darkly out of Harry's earshot. "Harry Potter showing up to class with a solid gold cauldron"
"Don't be ridiculous, Sirius" Remus chided him, his voice equally low to avoid Harry's earshot. "That was all a long time ago. I'm sure Severus is mature enough now not to take old childhood grudges out on a child"
"You know what I love about you, Moony? Your unwavering faith in people who don't deserve it"
As they exited Madame Malkin's Robes for All Occasions with a brown paper parcel containing several sets of plain school robes, Remus noticed Harry had begun to lag behind them.
With just about all the patience an energetic eleven year old could muster, Harry had stood still for the robe fitting whilst Madame Malkin prodded him with clothes pins and tape measures, doing a steller job of hiding his dislike of the sweeping fabric around his ankles.
But now he was clearly bored of shopping, and yet they still had to scour the winding bookcases of Flourish and Blotts for Harry's book list before they were finished for the day.
"Hey Harry, I heard they've got that new racing broom on display over at Quality Quidditch Supplies, the fancy one that just came out?" said Remus, smiling as the words "broom" and "Quidditch" filtered through the bored boy's phased-out mind to bring him back to attention. "How about you and Padfoot go and have a look at it while I get the books?"
"Yes! Yes, please, can we?" Harry said eagerly, pulling at the sleeve of Sirius's robes.
"Course we can, kid" Sirius laughed. "Let's go, then"
"As long as you promise not to bring it home" Remus hissed in Sirius's ear with a knowing smile before Harry pulled him off in the direction of the Quidditch shop.
"Fair deal" Sirius grinned. "See you later!" he called as Harry pulled him into the swarming crowd of the Alley.
For as long as Harry could remember, Quidditch had been a key bonding factor between him and his godfather. He knew that Sirius had bought him his first ever broom for his first birthday, and in keeping with this tradition, Sirius had taught him to fly on his first real model, a present on his fifth birthday. Sirius had patiently shown him how to get his balance just right, how to steer with the lightest touch, and, much to Remus's horror, how to do a full loop-de-loop at the age of just eight.
After introducing Harry to Quidditch, Sirius had then helped him practice shooting a Quaffle, beating a Bludger (Remus had insisted they go far out into the fields surrounding their house before attempting this) and, Harry's favourite, catching a Snitch. Harry considered himself something of a Seeker, and it was by far his favourite position to both play and watch during a game.
As they arrived at the shop front of Quality Quidditch Supplies, Harry dug a way through the small crowd of other kids to join them at the window with their foreheads pressed against the glass, gazing in wonder at the gleaming broom on display inside.
"It's the fastest in the world!" one little boy said in wonder.
"Is it true it's been charmed to be weightless?" a girl asked.
"I heard the Holyhead Harpies have ordered a whole team of them" said another boy.
"It's beautiful..." Harry sighed, somewhat wistfully, leaning his forehead against the glass.
"You've got a perfectly good broom at home, kiddo" said Sirius, ruffling Harry's mop of messy black hair. "Besides, you can't even take a broom to Hogwarts until next year"
And Moony will skin me alive if I blow several months' worth of shopping money on that thing, Sirius added to himself in his head.
In truth, Remus was a big part of the reason Sirius still had any of his uncle Alphard's inheritance from the Black fortune left for them to live on, for Sirius often found it difficult to refrain from giving in to his godfatherly urge to spoil his godson.
"You'll ruin that boy before he even starts school!" Remus had told him on one occasion several years ago when Sirius had given in to Harry's hints that he was starting to outgrow his half-size Comet Two-Fifty, and by coincidence the Two Fifty-One had not long been released.
In fairness to Sirius, the boy had indeed just had a small growth spurt.
"James would turn in his grave if we sent his son off to Hogwarts as a spoilt little prat like you were"
"I was not a prat!" Sirius threw a cushion across the sofa at Remus.
"No, sorry, my mistake. You still are one" Remus threw the cushion back.
Despite Sirius's weak financial morals and lack of ability to say no to his godson, the pair were proud of the fact that he had turned into a sweet-natured and generous child who was happy to share everything he had with his friends.
"That's Lily's genes at work there" Remus had said proudly as they watched nine-year-old Harry share his new broom with the Weasley boys, allowing each of them a go in turn.
"Hey, lets go have a look inside, shall we?" Sirius put a hand on Harry's shoulder and steered him away from the glass before the boy could collapse onto the glass completely.
"I wish First Years could try out for the House teams" said Harry somewhat sulkily as he examined a Quaffle from the large ball bin inside the store.
He tossed it through the goal hoop sticking out of the bin and scored, the enchanted hoop vanishing the ball as it soared through. It appeared again a second later on top of the pile of balls in the bin.
Harry could make one hell of a Chaser, like his father, if he wanted to. But Sirius knew his godson's heart lay in only one position.
"Wow, cool!" Harry had spotted something in the robes section of the store and ran off to investigate, Sirius following behind him.
He watched the boy rush to the very back to the store where a colourful selection of players' robes hung.
He instantly recognised the team strips of the four Hogwarts houses.
But Harry had completely ignored the robes of silver-and-green, yellow-and-black and blue-and-bronze, instead rushing straight for the hanging robes of scarlet-and-gold.
The robes were for sentimental reasons more than anything; ex-students craving a little bit of schooldays nostalgia. But Harry gazed up at the robes, stroking his hand proudly along the heavy material of the scarlet robes, his fingers tracing the gold stitching.
"As soon as this stupid First Year is over, I'm gonna make the House team" he said determinedly. "I'm gonna be the best Seeker Gryffindor has ever had"
Harry turned, smiling up at Sirius, his grin fading a little when his godfather didn't automatically return his smile as he always did.
Sirius felt a familiar knot of pain tighten inside him. The same feeling he'd felt when Remus had so proudly wrapped James's tie around Harry's neck, prematurely proclaiming him a Gryffindor.
The pair had discussed the incident that night, long after Harry had gone to bed in a birthday cake-induced coma.
"I don't want him to get his hopes up, Moony" Sirius had said, leaning against Remus's shoulder as they lay in bed together that night. "He thinks he's guaranteed to be Sorted into Gryffindor because of us, because of James and Lily. I don't want him to spend his very first night in Hogwarts feeling miserable because he wasn't Sorted into Gryffindor. What's more, I can't stand the thought of him feeling like he's disappointed us for being Sorted into a different House"
Remus turned to look at Sirius, to find his normally bright grey eyes darkened with old memories, old emotions. Scars he should have known not to reopen.
He pulled Sirius closer to him, stroking a hand through his long, black hair as he hugged him tight.
"I'm sorry" Remus murmured into the top of his head. "I shouldn't have said those things. I should have realised..."
"It's fine" said Sirius, nuzzling the side of Remus's neck, the familiar scent of the werewolf instantly comforting him.
"I just want him to know that he's not under any pressure to be Sorted any which way. That he's his own person, whichever House he ends up in"
It was all very well saying those things to Remus, in the dark of night where no one else would ever hear them. As Sirius stood in Quality Quidditch Supplies, staring down at the little boy with his bright green eyes filled with innocent determination as he clutched the Gryffindor team robes, he realised he needed to nip all of this in the bud.
"Hey" Sirius said, directing his godson away from the House team robes with a hand pressed to his back. "How about we go get some ice cream, kid? I think we need to have a talk"
The pair wandered silently up from Quality Quidditch Supplies to Florian Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlour (the shop was halfway between the Quidditch store and Flourish and Blott's, if they sat outside, Remus would spot them on his way down to meet them).
Harry occasionally looked up at Sirius, wondering what he could have said or done to make his godfather go so uncharacteristically silent and grim-faced. Padfoot was never mad at him.
But they were going to get ice cream, so surely he couldn't be in that much trouble, he reasoned with himself.
He sat at a table outside on the cobbles whilst Sirius bought the ice cream. He didn't need to ask which flavour. Harry always chose raspberry ripple.
Harry couldn't help but lick his lips in anticipation as Sirius returned with two tall glasses of ice cream.
"Now, Harry" Sirius began as Harry popped the raspberry on top of his ice cream into his mouth.
"I want to talk about what you said in the shop, by the House team robes"
"Yes...?" Harry replied, giving his spoonful of ice cream an uncertain lick. He did love raspberry ripple.
"You said you were going to be Gryffindor team Seeker. But.. What if you were Hufflepuff team Seeker, for instance? Or Ravenclaw Seeker, even?"
Harry's brow furrowed in confusion.
"But I'm going to be in Gryffindor" he replied, swallowing another spoonful of ice cream.
"What makes you think that?" Sirius asked, toying with the spoon of his own ice cream.
Good thing Florian's creations were charmed to prevent melting in the sun, he thought to himself, because he wasn't going to feel like eating until this uncomfortable chat was behind them.
"Because you and Moony were in Gryffindor" Harry replied, as if he were stating the obvious. "And my mum and dad were in Gryffindor. I want to be like you"
Sirius couldn't help but smile.
"That's great to hear, pup, but that doesn't mean the Hat will automatically think that Gryffindor is the right place for you. It might decide you're more suited to Ravenclaw, or Hufflepuff, or Slytherin"
Harry grimaced in distaste.
"I'm not going to be in Slytherin" he said firmly.
"What's wrong with Slytherin?" Sirius asked. To his knowledge, he'd never badmouthed Slytherin within earshot of his impressionable godson's ears.
Harry paused, licking at his ice cream uncertainly, as if Sirius's neutral tone made him suddenly unsure of his answer.
"All the bad wizards are in Slytherin"
"Where did you hear that?"
One a month, every full moon, Harry went to stay the night with a friend. For the first couple of years, he'd spent the night at the home of Augusta Longbottom, mother of their old Order comrade, Frank Longbottom, who's son Neville lived with his grandmother following the terrible incident that permanently incapacitated Frank and his wife, Alice. With just a day's difference in age between them, Harry and Neville had become good friends through their monthly sleepovers, and had even had several shared birthday parties over the years.
After a while, Augusta had acquainted Sirius and Remus with the Weasleys. Arthur Weasley, an old friend of Frank's through the Ministry, was the father of a large and lively red-headed brood which Augusta felt their two boys would benefit from befriending.
"It will be good for them to have friends other than just each other" Augusta had said to them when she announced that Arthur and his wife Molly had invited Harry and Neville over for a day. "It'll be a good head start before they go to school. Merlin knows Neville could use some rousing"
And rousing he got. Several joint afternoon play dates at the Weasleys' sprawling countryside home later, Harry had made firm friends with the youngest Weasley son, Ron, who would start Hogwarts the same year as the two boys, and Neville, much to his grandmother's dismay, had retreated further into his shell after being on the receiving end of several pranks at the hands of Fred and George, twins two years above them.
Like the Potters and Longbottoms, the Weasleys were a family with a long Gryffindor lineage. Sirius realised too late that they had accidentally made Harry's upbringing very Gryffindor-centric. No wonder Harry had so easily believed Ron Weasley's childishly unknowingly prejudiced words. He'd never knowingly met a Slytherin before.
"Harry, I want you to understand something" Sirius said, leaning forward. It unnerved Harry a little to see Sirius so devoid of all joking; his godfather was rarely one for such serious parental talks - that was Moony's job. "I don't want you going to Hogwarts believing that there are "good" or "bad" Houses. There are good and bad people everywhere, it doesn't matter which House they're in"
Harry silently stirred his ice cream. He still looked a little uncertain.
"What about Aunt Andromeda?" Sirius asked, seeing Harry's still unconvinced-expression. "She was in Slytherin. You don't think she's a bad witch, do you?"
Harry considered. He did like his Aunt Andromeda, Sirius's cousin whom they sometimes went to visit. She always made Harry's favourite treacle tart and saved any chocolate frog cards she came across for Harry's growing collection.
"No, she isn't" Harry agreed, giving his spoonful of ice cream another thoughtful lick. "But... But even if Slytherins are good, I still won't be one. I'll be in Gryffindor. Like you and Moony, and Mum and Dad"
"Harry, just because your family belongs to one House, doesn't mean you necessarily do as well"
Sirius paused for a moment before continuing. He took a deep breath. Talking about his family history was never easy, but he needed to make Harry understand.
"Let me tell you something. My whole family were Sorted into Slytherin House, for years and years, long before I was even born. I was the first ever Black to be Sorted into Gryffindor"
"Really?" Harry sat up straighter, his eyes wide with surprise. His godfather had never really mentioned his family to him before, besides Andromeda. Harry had never felt the need to ask.
"Yes" Sirius nodded. "And my family were not happy with my Sorting at all. They thought that all Blacks belonged in Slytherin, that it was a disappointment and disgraceful for me to be in Gryffindor"
Sirius hesitated. It was an entirely justified question, but Sirius didn't want to give the most detailed answer possible.
Harry was only eleven. Sirius knew he wouldn't be able to keep the reality of his past and future from him forever, but he was determined to let his godson keep his childhood innocence for as long as possible, before the realities of his place in the Wizarding world claimed him. For now, he would keep tales of Pureblood supremacists and blood traitors out of his carefree young mind.
"Because it was the family tradition" Sirius explained. "And my family was not one which had much respect for anyone who went against family tradition. My parents made it very clear to me that they were disappointed in me for being a Gryffindor, even though it wasn't something I could help"
Sirius reached across the table to place a hand on Harry's shoulder, giving it a light squeeze.
"I don't ever want you to feel the way they made me feel" he said, his steel-grey gaze boring into Lily Evans' bright green eyes, her' kind and caring soul resurrected within her son.
"I want you to know that Moony and I don't care if you're a Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or a Slytherin. We'll still be as proud of you as we are now and always will be. Do you understand?"
Harry nodded. He did.
"And you won't ever let someone's House affect whether you'll be friends with them or not?"
Harry shook his head.
"No, I won't" he said firmly, always keen to earn his godfather's approval.
Sirius ruffled Harry's hair, his familiar smile returning once more, much to Harry's relief.
"That's my boy. Now, Moony should be done getting your books any minute now, I reckon we should get some ice cream ready for when he arrives. What flavour shall we get him?"
"Chocolate" Harry replied without a moment's hesitation.
"Perfect choice, Prongslet" Sirius smiled proudly.
He handed Harry the coins and sent him into the shop to order.
Sirius watched him run into the shop, smiling sadly at the boy who was the spitting image of his father at that age.
"I'm trying, Prongs" he sighed under his breath. "I'm trying"