It was a bright Monday morning in early September 1976. At this hour, London's King Cross Station was buzzing with commuters. The place was positively swarming with stressed out-looking business people carrying suitcases and newspapers as they hurried down the platforms to catch their train on time.
In the very middle of this chaotic and fast-moving rush hour crowd, somewhere between platforms 9 and 10, a young girl, wearing a light blue skirt and with pigtails in her straight hair, noticed something rather peculiar taking place right in the middle of them the many adults around her did not. "Mummy, mummy, look!” she cried, tugging impatiently on her mother's sleeve to draw attention. “That girl just fell right through the wall!"
"Don't be silly, Emily,” her mother replied patiently while continuing to look for the right directions on a large message board. “People cannot pass through walls."
"No mummy, I swear I saw-" the girl started again, but she trailed off helplessly at the stern glare of her mother, who gave an impatient sigh. "Sweetheart, I don't have time for this nonsense. What you thought you saw simply cannot happen."
"It was not real. End of discussion. Now move along, dear, we have a train to catch in the next ten minutes."
The mother grabbed her protesting daughter's hand and dragged her along to the nearest entrance of an intercity train to Exeter, ready to depart from platform 9. When the little girl was about to board the train after her mother, a mischievous-looking guy in his late teens winked at her before disappearing through the massive brick wall he had walked straight in to. He only had the briefest of seconds left to hear the girl crying: "Mummy look! That boy just-" before he left one world behind and entered another.
The guy had arrived at platform 9 3/4 and was about to board the Hogwarts Express to start his seventh and final year at the school of witchcraft and wizardry. He could not be happier to return to Hogwarts and spend one more carefree year hanging out with his mates and pranking younger students before graduating and having to adapt a more serious way of life: having fun was going to be his top priority this year.
He was still smirking to himself about the little prank he had just pulled on the Muggle girl when he noticed two fifth year Ravenclaws – Dee Greengrass and Hyacinth Birch if he remembered correctly – were smiling at him. Hyacinth was even winking flirtatiously. Hang on, did they think he had been smiling at them? Not that this little encounter surprised him that much.
To be Sirius Black was to be a catch for many of the girls at Hogwarts. He knew he was not a bad -looking fellow. To be honest, he had started taking shamelessly advantage halfway through his third year, when he started growing tall and athletic, which especially complimented his aristocratic features (about the single good thing that comes with being a Black).
Still, he was not particularly interested in getting closer to either Dee or Hyacinth, so he merely waved back nonchalantly and pretended he did not see the disappointed look on their faces as he moved along the platform while looking for his friends. Luckily, Remus happened to be standing only a few yards away. "What's up, Moony!" Sirius said, carelessly dropping his trunk next to Remus's and flopping down on top of them.
"Morning Sirius. Had a good Summer?" Remus asked, for a moment blissfully unaware of what had taken place in late July, before his mind shot back into gear and he pulled a face. "Arghh sorry Pads. Besides the fact you getting kicked out of Grimmauld Place, I mean... James told me. That must have been a rough day, man."
Sirius shrugged, responding in the same cold and indifferent way whenever someone asked him about his family background or the way his parents treated him. "It wasn't too bad, actually. Was bound to happen at some point. My parents weren't sorry to watch me go and if anything, it is only a blessing I will not have to see that sour face of my mother ever again."
"And the Potters took you in?"
Sirius smiled. "Yeah… James's parents rock. I spent most of the Summer at their place and visited Andromeda last week. She was totally cool about the whole thing. Said she thinks my parents letting me go might be the first decent thing they have done in this century. What have you been up to?"
Remus was still laughing at Sirius's last comment when he said: "It was not too bad, I suppose. The transformations were a bit lonely, though…"
"Oh yeah, I really missed those moony nights, too!"
Remus arched an eyebrow. "I could do perfectly well without those full moons and you know it. It is just easier when you guys are around."
Sirius kindly patted his friend on the back. "Of course, I knew that's what you meant, mate. It's yet another reason why we should rejoice in returning to Hogwarts."
When he turned around to look at the Express, his eyes suddenly fell onto a brunette who had just arrived on Platform 9 ¾. He felt himself straightening up ever so slightly. This happened to be one of his Gryffindor classmates, Mary Woods*: official best friend of Lily Evans, who had been James's object of affection for many years. It was not that odd Sirius liked watching Mary; most of the boys at Hogwarts did, because she was a pretty girl. Although she had not always been that popular.
During their first few years at Hogwarts, Mary was an intelligent, but shy Muggle-born who spent most of her days studying in the library with Lily and their other close friend, Brice McDonald. However, somewhere around the fourth year she had transformed into a fine-looking young woman.
The transformation was not lost on Sirius, who preferred chasing girls over impressing his professors. He fondly remembered that one clear Autumn afternoon in the courtyard when he noticed that some locks of the brown wavy hair falling in loose curls onto her back almost seemed auburn in the sunlight. Not to mention the countless minuscule freckles on her cheekbones, which he knew for a fact she hated, or that she slightly screwed up her nose whenever she disagreed with someone. But the most striking thing about Mary Woods had to be her eyes, which were a remarkable grey-blue shade that stood out compared to her pale skin and dark hair and and lit up every time she laughed.
He was handsome and popular and she was beautiful and popular as well. To any unsuspecting observant, Sirius Black and Mary Woods would make the perfect Gryffindor couple. There was only one problem: Mary totally hated his guts. He could not even remember the last time she smiled at him. In fact, the only looks she would generally cast him these days were those of utter detest.
For the life of him Sirius could not figure out why. Or actually... That was not entirely true. Sirius suspected Mary's open hostility towards him had something to with his status as Hogwarts' most infamous womanizer. Either that or the fact he had dated Brice for about a week in fifth year before dumping her for a Beauxbatons exchange student.
Either way, everybody at Hogwarts knew Mary disliked Sirius. He did not think this was a fair assumption, though. In fact, he knew for a fact that if she would agree to go on a date with him, he would soon convince her that his intentions were sincere. He did truly fancy this girl after all, although Sirius was not nearly as head over heels as James seemed to be with Lily Evans.
However, Mary having a change of heart was not about to happen anytime soon. The sullen look on her face when she approached him and Remus was not exactly promising. Still, Sirius thought confidently, I bet I can make her smile today.
He casually leaned back against the pillar, making sure he looked cool in his faded jeans and black leather jacket, and eyed her from head to toe. "Woods, looking great this morning. What'd you do all Summer? Driving the local men in whatever country you were visiting mad with your dazzling appearance?"
Sirius thought this was a rather nice compliment – and not inappropriate at all – but Mary did not seem amused. She rolled her eyes in annoyance before ignoring him completely and asking Remus about whether he had already heard that Lily (a former prefect) had been named Headgirl.
"Yeah, she's written me about it over the Summer," Remus replied. "I guess it will be quite the happening once she founds out that James was made Headboy."
Mary blinked, looking astonished. "What?! She is going to freak out! How in Merlin's name did that happen?"
Remus shrugged apologetically. "She doesn't know, Mary. James guessed you and Lily were corresponding all the time. He told me to keep this quiet so it could be a nice surprise."
Sirius snorted. "I actually told him to. Thought it could be another funny encounter between the two. Cannot believe the prat went for it, though. He ought to know better by now."
Remus shook his head, sniggering, but Mary was shooting him another annoyed look. "You know, Black, I should have known you would be the one to…"
James, a thin and tall guy with glasses and black untidy hair standing up in every possible direction, was calling them as he leaned out of one of the carriage doors. "You lot looking to miss the Express? It's almost eleven o'clock!"
Sirius, Remus and Mary simultaneously turned to look at a large clock hanging above the platform and swore as one. It was only two minutes to eleven. They got hold of their trunks and hurried off to the carriage door where James was still waiting for them. He helped to get all the trunks into the Express before the three of them could try and hop on it themselves.
Remus got in first. Mary was up next, but right after she had placed both her feet on the stile, the train gave a sudden jolt, which caused her to lose balance and fall back into Sirius, who happened to be standing right behind her. Mary froze in his arms when he caught her and held her tight so she would not fall down. Time seemed to stop for just a moment before the Express bolted again and slowly started to move.
"Come on, you two, hurry!" James called, while Remus leaned forward to pull Mary onto the carriage. Sirius only just managed to jump on after her, because the carriage door was slamming shut only a few seconds later.
Mary was still panting slightly when she got up on her feet to check on her cat Coco, traveling in a box she had tied on top of her trunk. Luckily the feline appeared to be in good shape, although she was mewing in a rather annoyed manner. Coco hated being stuck in a narrow space with no possibility of escaping, so Mary was not too worried about it.
"Phew," Remus said, leaning back against a window for a moment as he wiped his forehead. "That was pretty close."
"I say this is a promising start of our last exciting year at Hogwarts, Moony," Sirius grinned. "You didn't hurt yourself there, right?"
The last part was directed at Mary, who looked embarrassed and started to blush, making Sirius wonder if she was thinking of their close embrace from mere moments ago as well. He certainly did not mind catching and preventing her from falling down, but he suspected this feeling was not mutual.
Mary cleared her throat. "Er no, not really."
Sirius could see she was hoping he would not comment on her reddening cheeks, but he could not help himself: he had to tease her about it. "Now Woods, I gotta say... A short distance running like that and you're already successfully impersonating a tomato. Perhaps it's time you started working on that stamina of yours a little, love."
Mary was now looking downright miserable. James chuckled appreciatively before following Remus towards a carriage upfront. Sirius was about to head after his friend, when - "Sirius, wait up," Mary suddenly said hesitantly. "I would not have made this train without you guys, so it's only fair to… er... I just wanted to ehm… 'thanks' would be the word I'm looking for, I guess."
Sirius could not help but looking a little smug here. "My pleasure."
"No really, It was my pleasure. When I mentioned this was a promising start of the year, didn't you think I was referring to you?"
And with that, Sirius gave her a last playful wink before turning around and walking off in the direction Remus and James had disappeared earlier, leaving an utterly bewildered Mary behind. Just the way he liked it.
Author's note: * If anyone is wondering why Mary's last name is Woods and not MacDonald: I originally started writing and posting this story online in 2006, well before the release of Deathly Hallows. So that's why I will leave the "canon" MacDonald out of this story, and include my OC's Mary Woods and Brice McDonald. Hope that doesn't bother anyone!