Trying Something New
Remus appeared reluctant to answer Peter's question. He was pretending he had not heard a word his friend said and turned away to put his book and other belongings back in his bag. Only when he finished doing this and was about to leave the compartment did he realize he could not get out, because his way was being blocked by his friends, who were still staring at him expectantly.
"What?" he asked, trying to act casually but not quite succeeding at this.
"Are you serious, Moony?" Peter said, snorting loudly. "Come on, you can tell us."
Remus shot them a quasi-confused look, pretending he had no idea what they were talking about, making Peter and Sirius laugh aloud. James on the other hand lacked Peter's patience and tact. "Come off it!" he said, crossing his arms impatiently. "You and Mary having that telepathic moment over a minute ago - what was up with that?"
Remus shrugged. "Beats me."
"Yeah right, and I'm a female Unicorn having the hots for Hagrid."
Remus sighed before hoisting his bag over his shoulder. "Fine. It was just a look of understanding. At least that's what I think it was. Mary was simply checking if it would be okay to leave you behind, James. If that answer is not satisfactory for you or if she was referring to something else, I must have misunderstood. Can we go now? In about a minute the Express will depart and we'll all be heading back to King's Cross station instead."
Peter shrugged, apparently buying Remus's obvious lie, and set out to leave the train and find them a carriage. Even James, who was shaking his head in disbelief, decided to leave things for now and follow Peter instead. Sirius however lingered behind while watching Remus's back disappear in the corridor.
"You coming, mate?" his friend asked after a moment, poking his head back around the compartment door.
"Yeah, yeah," he muttered absent-mindedly.
While Sirius was following Remus out of the train, he simply could not stop thinking about how Mary had been smiling at Remus. There was definitely something going on between those two. No matter how hard his friend was denying it, Sirius was not buying it one bit. He knew smiles like that like the back of his hand. A smile Mary certainly had never given him. With a jealous pang in his stomach, he continued to try and make sense of what the exchange between her and Remus could have meant.
Suddenly he got struck by a terrible thought: what if Mary fancied Remus?
Sirius frowned. He recognized Remus was a fine bloke and all, but when it came to getting the girls, Sirius was in a bit of a different league. Remus may be nice and smart (all Hogwarts girls liked him), but he was also kind of shy when it came to the opposite sex. One of those inconvenient side-effects that comes with being a Werewolf, apparently. Sirius on the other hand had girls falling for him wherever he went. But what was starting to frustrate him more and more, was that his charm did not seem to have the least effect on Mary. On the contrary, she seemed to be downright allergic to his charm.
He suddenly stopped in his tracks: that must be it! The reason Mary was attracted to Remus instead of him was because his friend was nice and less... presumptuous. Perhaps if he acted more like Remus for a while, that would to the trick. For example, he could pretend to be studying a lot, hold off playing pranks and be righteous and nice - just nice without being flirtatious - to Mary, and find out if that would change her mind about him. Without any of his friends figuring out what he was trying to do, of course. Brilliant!
"Sirius, these things won't hang around here forever, you know. We're already late for the feast," James called, interrupting Sirius's thoughts. He quickly hopped onto the very last of the horseless carriages waiting for them at the station's entrance. As soon as he closed the door, the carriage set off to Hogwarts.
Sirius put his hand under his chin and stared out of the window.
It was a remarkable clear night; hundreds of stars were shining down on them from the sky. Apparently he was named after one of them, but he had never been able to tell which one it was. He had never thought to ask his parents, and now it was too late. He would never figure it out, because he was never going to speak to them again. He vigorously shook his head to get rid of the familiar sharp ache in his heart. It was better this way; he was better off this way.
"What's eating you, mate?" Remus asked, who was watching him closely.
"Nothing, everything's cool."
"I bet Padfoot's just thinking of another way to win Mary over," James grinned.
Sirius grinned back confidently. "Right you are, Prongs. I hereby predict Woods will be dreaming about me and my ravishing self before the end of the month."
"But… Doesn't Mary like, hate your guts?" Peter asked.
Sirius hit him playfully around the head. "If only you knew as much about women as I do, Wormtail, you would have learned by now that love and hate aren't that different from one another."
"Exactly," James piped in. "Which is why this is the year I will finally conquer fair Lily's heart."
"Yeah well, in your case you'll find that distance might be practically irreconcilable after all."
They all laughed before realizing the carriage had arrived at Hogwarts. The four of them jumped out and bolted up the stairs of the castle. When they were about to enter the Entrance Hall, they spotted a group of anxious-looking first years waiting alongside Professor McGonagall, preparing themselves to walk into the Great Hall. When McGonagall noticed the four latecomers, she beckoned them to line up in front of her. "You are late. Where have you been?"
"Well, that's actually quite a funny story, Professor," Sirius replied, determined to make his "act like Remus"-plan do the trick. Remus usually stood up for them if they had done something mischievous, and often got away with it too.
"Someone, we assume one of the Slytherins, bewitched our carriage and made it take off in the opposite direction-"
"-Mr. Black, do you know what is making the carriages move?" McGonagall interrupted, narrowing her eyes at him.
"Er well no, not exactly. But…"
"If you did, you would never pretend that a bewitched carriage is the reason for your lateness. Thirty points from Gryffindor. ("But Professor!") And if I catch you lying to me again, you will be cleaning cauldrons for a month. Have I made myself clear?"
"Off you go then. The Sorting Ceremony will take place in a few minutes."
The four guys walked on without a word, eager to leave McGonagall behind, and headed into the Great Hall. When they approached the Gryffindor table, Lily, Mary and Brice were already there, looking at them in a reproachful manner.
They quietly sat down opposite the girls. Sirius – making sure he had flopped down across Mary - remembered his new resolution and shot her an apologetic smile. "Our carriage was having some technical difficulties. It didn't seem able to move forward, so we had to fix it first. That's why we're so late."
Contrary to what he was expecting (this was another excuse Remus could have come up with), Mary merely glared at him. "Do you plan on sitting there all night? Because if that's the case I will have to look for another seat."
Sirius blinked, taken aback by her latest vicious sneer. "No, of course not, you were here first," he muttered. "I'll just go then..." Feeling defeated, he rose slowly and sat down on the other end of the table, next to Remus.
As he was watching how McGonagall and the group of first years walking into the hall for the Sorting Ceremony, he silently tried to reflect on what just happened. So far his "be like Remus"-act was not going well. In the last five minutes he had managed to piss off both McGonagall and Mary. He scratched his head, feeling quite disheartened. This was not how he had imagined things to go at all. Apparently being Remus was not everything either.
"Mary, don't you think that was a bit harsh?" Brice, who had watching Sirius and Mary's latest encounter with a frown on her face, whispered as soon as he sat down next to Remus.
"No, the prat deserved it," Mary whispered back.
She dared to shoot a look across the table where Sirius appeared to be listlessly staring at the enchanted ceiling. Or was he just being moody? She could not really tell. "Okay, you're right. Maybe I was being bitchy. But Sirius is a big guy with an ego the size of Scotland. I'm sure he'll live."
She glanced over to the front of the hall where the Sorting Ceremony had finally begun. They watched "Anderson, Zelda" and "Arai, Alonso" getting sorted into Ravenclaw before Brice turned back to her and said: "So you're going to apologize, then."
"What? No of course not!" Mary replied, a little louder than she had intended. Lily and Peter, sitting nearby, shot her a curious look. Then - thankfully - "Bennett, Megan" became the first Gryffindor of the year and the Sorting regained their full attention. They all applauded their newest house member before the Sorting would continue with "Donnelly, Louise" being placed in Hufflepuff.
"I think it would be the right thing to do," Brice persisted, making Mary grown.
"The right- Oh, come on! Who do you think you are, Mother Theresa?"
Lily had given up on actively following the Sorting Ceremony and giggled, but Brice was giving them a blank stare. "Who?"
"Oh," Mary replied modestly while waving a dismissive hand, "just this famous Muggle philanthropist who's helping out orphans in India. Never you mind."
Brice sighed and gave up on trying to persuade Mary. Instead, she turned back to the Sorting, where "Langdon, George" was just being placed in Slytherin.
Mary leaned back so she could catch Lily's eye behind Brice's back and grinned. Her best friend smiled back knowingly. Both of them were Muggle-borns. There had been a time where they had been insecure about their position among the half- and pureblood students such as Brice and James. But now, Mary was actually feeling quite proud of her Muggle ancestry. It was like having the best of both worlds, or so it seemed.
Peter suddenly sighed morosely. "I wish they would hurry up with this bloody Sorting. I'm starving." To support this statement, his stomach gave a loud rumble.
They laughed as Peter clamped both his hands to his belly in a desperate attempt to make the rumbling noise stop. Luckily for him, with "Williamson, Zack" joining Gryffindor, the sorting ceremony had finally come to an end. McGonagall made the Sorting Hat and the stool disappear with a single wave of her wand. After she had joined the other Professors at the staff table, Dumbledore got up from his seat.
"Welcome to all the new and old students for another year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Let me start by saying it gives me great pleasure to have most of you back with us. Due to recent developments in our world, some parents have decided to keep their children at home until things settle down. However, I am pleased to see most of them have placed their trust in the protection Hogwarts can provide once more."
The Hall remained dead silent. Everybody knew what Dumbledore was referring to. Over the past few years, the dark wizard Voldemort and his Death Eaters had been on the rise. Although Mary had spent her Summer in the Muggle World, some attacks taking place in the wizarding world had made it to the Muggle news. And Brice had also written to her and Lily with weekly updates. Which is why Mary knew there had been several disappearances and killings in July and August. One of the victims had been Trudy Billings, last year's Defense against the Dark Arts Professor.
Mary glanced past Dumbledore and noticed someone else was now sitting in Billings's seat, a was a tall, dark and serious-looking man. His hands were folded on the table and he appeared to be following Dumbledore's speech with great interest.
"As most of you already know," the Headmaster continued in a solemn voice, "Professor Billings was present at Gringotts when the Death Eaters attempted to rob it. She fought bravely, but unfortunately she got stuck under one of the falling bookcases and could not make it out of there in time. I feel terribly sorry about what happened to this terrific teacher and she will be greatly missed."
After a moment of silence, the Headmaster gestured in the direction of the tall man. "I did find a wonderful replacement to continue Professor Billing's great work. I could convince Professor Zabini to finally join our staff as your new Defense against the Dark Arts-teacher."
Zabini stood up for a moment and made a formal bow to the welcoming applause and wolf whistles that followed.
"Zabini? Allisons dad?" Lily asked, looking surprised.
Mary shook her head in amazement, shrugged and as the noise died down, focused on Dumbledore again.
"Furthermore, I would like to announce that Mr. Filch added more products to his list of banned items. Anyone who would like to learn more about the products Mr. Filch is referring to, is welcome to ask him any time. However, although there are many other things left to be said, now is not the place, nor the time."
He smiled and clapped his hands. Within the blink of an eye, every table in the Great Hall was filled with plates of delicious food and drinks.
"FINALLY!" Peter roared. He was the first one to dive in and load his plate with roasted pork, Yorkshire Pudding and stew, and started to stuff the food into his mouth at an alarming rate.
"Take it easy, Pete, the food isn't running anywhere," James noted with a grin on his face.
"Are you actually going to finish all of that?" It was Nearly-Headless Nick, who had floated over to James and lowered himself down next to him.
Peter swallowed, took a large swig from his goblet of pumpkin juice to clean his mouth and shot the Gryffindor House Ghost a daring look. "That's right, Nick. Tell you what, if I'm still hungry after devouring this, I might go for another round."
"That's just repulsive," Nick replied while rolling his eyes and taking a glide towards a couple of fourth year Gryffindors, joining in on their conversation instead.
"I wouldn't refer to that as repulsive," Sirius said, grinning.
"Admirable is more like it."
Peter shrugged and continued to eat. They all followed his example and enjoyed the delicious welcoming feast that the House-elves had prepared for them. By the time they got to the desserts, they were discussing Billings's death. "I mean, what were they thinking?" James was saying. "Robbing Gringotts, that's practically impossible."
"And it's not like they succeeded," Brice noted.
"Hang on, are we talking about the same thing here?" Mary asked, shooting her friend an incredulous look. "In case you hadn't noticed, every single one of those Death Eaters managed to disapparate before any Auror had arrived on the scene."
"Aha yes," James replied, "but they weren't exactly able to get their hands on whatever they were looking for. I can only imagine how Voldemort responded by the time his little minions dared to return empty-handed."
"You know what's been on my mind ever since?" Lily suddenly asked while pushing her only half-finished plate of trifle to the centre of the table. "Did you guys notice the types of wizards and witches who are disappearing and being killed the most in these attacks?"
"Muggle-borns," Remus said softly. "People like-"
"Me and Mary, that's right. I know nothing is going to happen to us at Hogwarts, but this will be our last year. What if things have not settled down by the time we graduate?"
Nobody really knew how to answer that question and neither did they want to think about scenario until they had to. Peter was about to open his mouth and say something reassuring, but he was interrupted by Profesoor McGonagall appearing next to their table. "Potter, Evans, I hope you enjoyed your dinner. The time has come to discuss your new duties as Headboy- and Girl. Please follow me to my office."
"Bye, guys," James said quietly as he got up from his seat and followed Lily and McGonagall out of the Great Hall, leaving the others to ponder their thoughts.
Remus sighed eventually and looked at Mary. "But it is awful, isn't it? Killing off people just because of their ancestry... Ridiculous." He shook his head.
Brice huffed and crossed her arms. "I think it's sick. And all because those ancient wizarding families prefer keeping things "pure". A lot of them agree with Voldemort, you know; they seem to believe all of this Death Eaters crap is just fantastic."
Sirius had been remarkably quiet throughout dinner, playing more with his rabbit stew and hasbrowns than actually eating it, but he finally looked up to respond: "Not all families."
"What do you mean?"
"There are still quite many pureblood families who don't side with Voldemort or his ideas. Not my own family, of course. They're all a bunch of wankers, although there is one exception. My cousin Andromeda believes Voldemort is a deranged lunatic. According to her, he should be sent off to Azkaban and have Dementors not only guard him 24/7, but also sit on his face in turns."
Peter and Remus burst out laughing and Brice chuckled. Even Mary could not help but snort; the image of a Dementor sitting on Voldemort's face was absolutely priceless.
"However," Sirius continued more seriously, "I have to admit my parents are the worst of the worst. I've been arguing with them over this for years, but ever since Voldemort is truly on the rise, it has gotten worse."
"Is that why they kicked you out?" Peter asked bluntly.
An awkward silence followed, in which none of them quite knew how to respond. They all stared at Sirius, who was glaring at Peter over his goblet of pumpkin juice, but he was not saying anything either. Peter seemed to understand he had made a big mistake by revealing Sirius's recent orphaned status and started to apologize, but he was cut off by Mary. "Is that true, Sirius? You've been thrown out by your parents?"
~* End of Chapter ~*~