“It’s a great programme,” Frank said, calmly, “really, I think we’ll be able to make a difference.”
“‘Make a difference’?!” Lily scoffed, her face hot, “You’re sixteen! What could possibly be more important than your education? Than your friends?”
Frank exhaled loudly through his nose, “If we want to win this war, we’ve all got to make sacrifices.”
“You can become perfectly respectable Aurors after you’ve finished your education,” Lily pursed her lips, hands trembling.
“And we will finish it.” Alice avowed, “Just more quickly—it’s like an apprenticeship, sort of. We’re doing what’s best for the whole wizarding community.”
Mary’s lips twisted, curling around each other in the picture of disapproval; “You’re setting yourself up, that’s what you’re doing - getting yourselves sent off to die, —it’s bloody ridiculous! What’s wrong with you two?! Are you thick?”
“We’re doing no such thing.” Alice said, sharply. “This is for us, Mary; we’re not asking for your permission. Dumbledore needs us - not to mention how much this will build my career, why does everything have to be so morbid with you lot? I’m going into something I love—I want to protect people, to help them, and that means even through war.”
And that was that.
A blanket of tension threw itself over the friendship group after the admission of Alice and Frank’s embarkment. Lily was the most torn up—after all, she had been the closest to Alice.
As much as it was harsh to admit, it didn’t affect Sirius much. He’d never been very close to Alice - or Frank, for that matter - in fact, he’d barely been cosy with them at all. They’d always seemed so much older, despite being the same age. Frank was in Sixth Year, and Alice was quite friendly with older girls too - the couple had always been in their own world, a more fully fledged world, in some ways.
Despite this, one question clouded Sirius’ mind; why them?
The two weren’t particularly smart, especially in subjects like Defence and Charms—it made no sense for them to be chosen for the Early Youth Policing Programme. Sirius didn’t recall either of them being particularly enthusiastic about working for the Ministry, or enrolling into a duty of protection and enforcement.
The couple had a shared love for Herbology, a subject which many students adored, a subject which was useless in Auror training—and yet, Alice and Frank had been the ones chosen for this programme. Alice and Frank, who were amicable, inexperienced, cautious and mildly reticent.
It was a question Sirius would become extremely familiar with very soon. Though at that moment, it seemed almost gruesome, the question, and he wondered whether he was being pessimistic.
He wasn’t the only one wondering what was going on, it appeared the rest of the boys were curious too.
“Don’t you think it’s strange,” James said, “they never showed any interest before…?”
“Just be glad it’s not us.” Remus shrugged, and Sirius wondered whether he was still included in the notion of ‘us’. He was swinging on the hind legs of his chair, resting on the opposite side of the room because he hadn’t been invited into the conversation. Will it always be like this, he wondered, grimly, do you look at me and see a burden? Do you even see me at all?
“Why shouldn’t it be us?” James asked, strongly, “We’re Gryffindors, aren’t we? I want to help!”
“You want to help now ?!” Peter uttered, anxiously wringing his hands, “You don’t think it’s a bit early to be thinking about all this…?”
“I agree with Wormy,” Remus said, hardly, “I have enough on my mind—don’t need a bloody war to make it any worse.” Is he referring to me? Sirius thought, nervously. He so badly wanted to step in, he wanted to remind Moony of the time he’d called Sirius brave; though he supposed the timing was slightly inappropriate. Sirius and James loved standing up for people, and Sirius knew, secretly, Remus did too.
“Oh, c’mon, it’s just like having a Defence Against The Dark Arts lesson… just, all the time. And you’re fighting with horrible people, Slytherins, basically, imagine how rewarding it would be!” James huffed, blowing his fringe out of his eyes.
“Prongs, in case you haven’t noticed, you and S-” Remus paused mid-sentence, pursing his lips slightly as if he hadn’t been the one who brought up the name in the first place. “…Black are the only ones who actually enjoy throwing hexes at people. Plus, it’s not a lesson, you could die, did you know that?”
“Yes, Remus,” James tutted scornfully, “I am fully aware of the risk of joining a war—my parents are, quite literally, fighting in it. I think I have more experience than you do.” Sirius was unsure why James thought it was a good idea to bring up his parents in front of Remus, though he supposed James was a bit like him; he didn’t think.
There was a long, drawn out moment of silence. Remus sucked in a large amount of breath, through his teeth - it reminded Sirius of him in his wolf form, a bit. In fact, when Remus was angry, he developed a strange animal grace - a grace which Sirius could watch for hours.
“Go fuck yourself, Potter.” Remus stood up, marching toward the doorway furiously.
“Oh, c’mon, please, I didn’t mean it like that-!”
That clearly wouldn’t help, Sirius thought to himself; of course Remus knew he hadn’t ‘meant it like that’, it didn’t mean he wouldn’t get offended. That was the thing with Remus, intent wasn’t an excuse for him. Sirius was the opposite, as long as someone’s goal was moral, it didn’t matter what mistakes they made. Maybe it was easier in his case, not many people made mistakes around Sirius Black.
“Oh, for Pete’s sake!” Mary grunted out, as her trunk brought on a huge racket from clunking down two of the steps.
“How goes it, MacDonald?” Sirius asked teasingly, gently nudging the bottom of her trunk upwards.
“It’s those blooming textbooks,” she griped, “never saw why they make them so hefty. How they expect children to carry bricks around, I’ll never know.”
“Just put a reduction charm on them,” Sirius said, as if it was obvious.
“My entire family are muggles; can’t just casually perform charms in my bedroom.”
Sirius shoved the trunk further, making room for his own to come through, “Yeah, right. Sorry, forgot,” he said, sniffing, “don't really need your textbooks over the summer though, do you?”
“S’pose, but Marlene’s convinced I’m gonna make something of myself—just ‘cause I’m the best in the class for Care of Magical Creatures,” Mary sighed. “Anyway, McGonagall’s making me study Alchemy over the summer. As if I don’t have enough on my mind, The Runaways have come out with a new album!”
“ Eugh, ” he wrinkled his nose, “they sound awful.”
The Runaways were a girly pop band - definitely not cool enough for the boys to listen to. That’s what Remus had said, at least. Come to think of it, Sirius missed music. The record player had been left to soak up dust since the incident—it seemed Moony wasn’t in the mood to listen to Bowie or T.Rex; Sirius didn’t blame him, of course, though he did miss the graceful voice of Elton John.
“Don’t knock ‘em ‘til you’ve tried ‘em. It’d be cool to see them on the telly - you’d like them, girls wearing skimpy clothing? Just your area, eh?” She grinned, nudging him by the shoulder. A queue of people had built throughout the entire carriage—full of teenagers chatting loudly to each other.
“Sure, but I don’t need some girlie band for that. Got Peter’s magazines, haven’t I?” He laughed. “Have you got a grip on this now?” Sirius asked, pointing down to her trunk.
“Oi, I was fine before, didn’t need your help,” she replied snootily, snatching the handle back.
“Nothing wrong with being a bit feeble,” Sirius joked, winking at her.
She tutted, curls bouncing with the shake of her head, “That’s not how you talk to women, Black. Besides, watch it, will you? I’m planning on taking your job next term, bet I’ll be a better Beater than you.”
“Pfft. I’d like to see you try-”
“Move, Black.” A voice spat, “You and your fat girlfriend are taking up half the hallway.”
“What did you just say to me?” Sirius spun on his heel, coming face to face with a crooked nosed boy. He felt his heart speed up; he hadn’t had an interaction with Snape since the incident. He’d intended to avoid the boy for as long as possible—which wasn’t too difficult, since Snape was still following Remus around, noseying his way into every corridor he entered, and Remus was avoiding Sirius. Therefore Snape was, unconsciously, avoiding Sirius too.
“ Move. ”
“Oh, c’mon, Snivellus.” Sirius drawled, regaining his casual demeanour, “Don’t you have manners? Go on, what’s the magic word?”
Snape scowled, “Learnt a lot of muggle phrases, have you? I didn’t know the Blacks taught Muggle Studies—thought they looked down on that sort of thing. Is that why you got binned off? Did they find out about your dirty-blooded girlfriend?”
Sirius flinched forward, but Snape didn’t move,
“Be careful who you threaten, remember what I know, Black.”
“Oh, for goodness sake, bugger off, won’t you?” Mary said, exasperated, “Honestly Snape, get a hobby.”
“Haven’t you figured it out yet?” Snape said sweetly, “You’ll catch the lurgy off him, shouldn’t stand so close, aren’t you aware of who he’s been hanging around?”
“What’s he talking about?” Mary whispered to Sirius, and it took a moment for him to realise she was actually worried. He ignored her.
“At least I don’t hang around with Death Eaters.” Sirius hissed, darkly, “At least I actually have friends. ” He was ready for a fight, a proper one; after all, Snape was the reason for all this, wasn’t he? He was the reason Moony hated him.
Except, Sirius knew that wasn’t true, and he hated himself for it. Even so, Snape still deserved some punishment - he clearly hadn’t learnt. If Snape wasn’t ready to grow up, maybe Sirius wasn’t either.
You have to be the mature one. The voice in his head said.
“Sirius,” his arm was yanked, and suddenly he toppled into the compartment, “what are you doing?”
“Snape was just-”
“Don’t talk to him.” James ordered, sternly, “Please… don’t make things worse than they already are.”
You were, the voice said, you were going to cause a scene.
I wasn’t. I wasn’t. I wasn’t.
The journey was long and tiring. Sirius felt heavy in the summer heat; he so badly wanted to turn into his dog form, it was easier to fall asleep when he was a dog, mostly because it was easier to forget his problems. It would also be easier for Remus to ignore him—there was a certain difficulty in disregarding someone who was forced to be a part of the conversation. With Mary and Lily riding with them, they had to ignore the tightness hanging over the two boys.
But eventually, the two girls headed out to find Alice. They were going to say their goodbyes - the group were unsure when they’d see the couple again, but it was inferred that it wouldn’t be very soon.
The four boys were unsure how to sit with each other in such close circumstances. They tip-toed around conversation - in fact, they didn’t really talk at all. Sirius found himself pondering on whether he should simply walk out, to leave the awkwardness behind and sit in the bathroom for the rest of the ride.
He was sure his presence was irritating Remus—well, of course it was. He wished Remus would just tell him that; he wished he could express his anger in a way that wasn’t just silence. Sirius had backed off for the past few weeks; he didn’t want to, but he had to. He worried that this would only aggravate Moony more, surely making an effort to apologise would serve a greater deal than simply ignoring the situation altogether?
Euphemia and Fleamont had visited Hogwarts after the incident, Sirius knew that much. However, he hadn’t seen them, and he was unsure of how they’d reacted. He was aware that the parents had probably been more involved than both Sirius and James knew—though he imagined it was quite a difficult meeting to structure as the Potters were advocating for both Sirius and Remus. And really, what was there to talk about? He doubted Snape’s parents could press any charges against the former Black heir; Remus was an easy target, he supposed, but Sirius hoped Dumbledore knew how to deal with any issues revolving around him.
“Sirius, please sit.” Fleamont offered, gesturing his hand to the chair at the opposite side of the table.
Anxiousness took over him—he was reminded of the Black family meetings. The way his parents would sit opposite him and Regulus in order to view them, to judge them from every angle, to sneer their way and hold their gaze.
“It was an accident!” Sirius blurted out, shakily, “I didn’t mean to!”
“It’s alright,” Euphemia said, kindly, “please do not worry. We just want to talk to you.” She looked tired, Sirius noticed, he wondered how bad things had gotten. The war was constantly evoked in every conversation, there were always small comments which reminded him of it, a constant shoulder shake - perhaps it was selfish of him to ever forget about it.
There was a short moment where both spouses took a simultaneous breath - Sirius realised they weren’t going to sugarcoat anything. “Why would you do such a thing to your friend? Why would you want to hurt someone?” Fleamont asked. He was frowning.
“I’m so sorry.” He replied, pleading, “I didn’t mean to… I wasn’t thinking!”
Euphemia bit her bottom lip nervously, sympathy lacing her voice, “Monty, maybe we should-”
“No,” he said, strongly, “he needs to learn, Effie. What kind of people would we be if we let this happen again?”
The worry in Sirius’ chest rose like a bath that was about to overflow. He stayed silent.
“Has he not been punished enough?” Effie replied, softly. Her eyes flickered to Sirius’, warm and brown, welcoming and mellow.
They released him, eventually, after a long lecture Fleamont gave him on the importance of loyalty and care. Sirius reached for the Om necklace hanging around his neck, placing the symbol between two fingers as he promised he would try to be better.
“Sirius?” James said, as Sirius trudged up the stairs with his head hung low.
“Can I hug you?”
Relief settled over him like dust. “Please.”
James clung to him.
I was justified when I was five
Raising Cain, I spit in your eye
Times are changing now the poor get fat
But the fever's gonna catch you when the bitch gets back
Eat meat on Friday, that's alright
I even like steak on a Saturday night
I can bitch the best at your social do's
I get high in the evening sniffing pots of glue
I'm a bitch, I'm a bitch, oh, the bitch is back
Stone-cold sober, as a matter of fact
I can bitch, I can bitch 'cause I'm better than you
It's the way that I move, the things that I do, oh-oh-oh
- The Bitch Is Back, Elton John