Chapter 2 : A Fall From Grace, Part I
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Sirius Black is as brave as any eleven-year-old can be. At least he thinks he must be because living with the Black family can make anyone brave enough to at least face their own demons. But as he is standing on Platform 9 3/4, the scarlet train before him waiting to usher the first Black since Narcissa to Hogwarts, the excitement of leaving his family and his determination to become the prince he is destined to be has vanished. Now his breakfast is flip-flopping in his stomach and a cloud of expected failure is hanging above his head.
Mrs. Black is speaking to Sirius but he is only half-aware of what she is saying. All he can think about is what might happen if he fails his parents somehow. He can imagine the letters saying, “We are disappointed in you” and it is this disappointment that he isn’t sure he can bear. Sirius is the first male Black to attend Hogwarts since his own father and there is much to be expected of him. He must respect the professors and do well in his studies. He must make Slytherin proud and it will only be a matter of time before his classmates beg to follow him because Sirius was born to be their leader.
“You are their prince,” Mrs. Black is saying and a quick, subtle poke from Regulus startles Sirius from his daydream. He glances at his mother nervously, but she has not noticed his lack of attention. “Make them respect you, Sirius. Never lower yourself to their standards. You are a Black, you will follow our standards. There is a lot to be expected of you.”
Sirius smiles disarmingly at his mother and replies, “I will make you proud.”
Sirius can see Regulus is about to begin pouting and quickly intervenes. He wraps his arm around his brother’s shoulder and says quietly to him, “It’ll only be a few more years, Reg.”
“Don’t do too much to make mum and dad proud. There won’t be anything left for me to do when I get there,” Regulus sighs.
“Don’t worry. They’ll still love you best,” Sirius responds, his stomach sinking as the shrill whistle of the Hogwarts Express pierces through the clamour of the families on the platform.
Mrs. Black is trying her best to straighten Sirius’ tie and smooth out the wrinkles of his shirt as he boards the train.
“We will see you at Christmas,” Mr. Black tells Sirius, grasping his small hand firmly in his.
Sirius smiles and turns away, dragging his trunk after him as he searches for a compartment. He finds an empty one near the back of the train and drops his trunk, then sticks his head out the window to call goodbye to his parents and Regulus. The train jerks forward and slowly begins to pull itself out of the station, leaving the crowd of parents waving to their children behind. Sirius’ stomach jolts at the realisation that he really is leaving his family and the weight of his parents’ expectations settles itself heavily on his shoulders.
The compartment door slides open and Sirius looks up to see his older cousin Narcissa standing in the doorway. Narcissa is not one of his favourite cousins—she’s too dainty and girly for his tastes—but she has a quality that draws everyone’s attention towards her. She’s the fragile Black sister; prettier than plain Andromeda but not quite as beautiful as the dark, exotic Bellatrix. She is only a few years older than him but she always acts older than her age.
“Mother and Father wanted me to make sure that you boarded the train all right and that you don’t associate yourself with anyone you shouldn’t. I would rather not spend the train ride babysitting you, so don’t speak to anyone you’ve never met before at our parents’ parties and don’t get into trouble,” she says. She arches a thin eyebrow and waits for Sirius’ protests, but Sirius doesn’t say a word.
Narcissa lets out an audible sniff and turns on her heel, her blonde curls bouncing on her shoulders. She knocks over a startled first year on her way out and doesn’t stop to apologise.
Sirius gets up and sticks his hand out to the girl sprawled out on the carpeted floor. She grabs his hand firmly and he pulls her up.
“I’m sorry about my cousin,” he apologises.
“It’s all right,” the girl replies, brushing herself off. “I was just wondering if I might sit with you. The girls I was sitting with are awfully boring and I just couldn’t stand being in that compartment any longer.”
Sirius smiles amicably at her and with a sweeping gesture, motions for the girl to come in. She rolls her eyes and sits down next to the window.
“I’m Sirius Black, by the way,” he introduces himself as he sits down across from her.
The girl brushes a loose strand of hair out of her face and smiles. “Lily Evans. It’s a pleasure to meet you.”
Sirius frowns. ‘Evans’ doesn’t sound like any pureblood names he’s heard before and his stomach sinks at the idea of her being a half-blood, or even worse, a mudblood. He thinks that she is a pretty girl. Her striking green eyes contrast with her dark red hair and her cautious smile is charming it its own way. She seems friendly and outgoing—she has an air of confidence around her that makes her stand out. But he knows he must not—cannot—become friends with her. Purebloods simply do not associate with Mudbloods. The question is on the tip of his tongue and before he can think to stop himself, he blurts, “Are you a mudblood?”
She sits back, her confidence faltering slightly, her eyebrows raised in question. “Excuse me?”
“I’m sorry. I just didn’t know and I needed to because…” he is rambling and Lily is still uncertain of how to react to the question.
“What is a mudblood?” she inquires.
“A really foul name for someone whose parents aren’t wizards,” a voice answers from the doorway. “It’s only used by rotten dark wizards who think they’re better than everyone else.”
Sirius head snaps up and he says, “Who are you?” to a boy he can only assume is another first year with unruly black hair and thin-framed glasses. The boy’s hands are shoved in his pockets and he has a bit of chocolate smudged on his cheek. Sirius can’t imagine what his parents would do to him if they ever saw him in that state.
“James Potter,” the boy says with a wide grin that seems to scream, ‘I am God’s gift to the world and I know it!’ Sirius wants to vomit.
“Thanks, but no one asked for your opinion,” Sirius replies coolly. He crosses his arms over his chest and glares angrily at James.
James gives him a once over before saying, “You must be a Black.”
“What’s it to you?”
“You shouldn’t be around him. He’s of a bad sort,” James says to Lily, reaching for her arm to drag her out of the compartment. “You can sit with me, if you’d like.”
Lily shakes off James’ hand. “I can decide for myself who to sit with, thanks very much,” she retorts. “And I most certainly will not be sitting anywhere near you.”
“What did I do?” James exclaims. “He’s the one who called you a mudblood.”
“I did not,” Sirius defends himself. “I was just asking…”
“Yeah, so that you know who to torture with your dark magic when we get to Hogwarts,” James snaps angrily.
“What do you know about anything? Your parents are a bunch of blood traitors. You don’t know anything about preserving tradition and bloodlines.”
James tackles Sirius and the two begin rolling around on the floor of the compartment, each trying to gain advantage over the other.
“Don’t you say that about my parents,” James grunts, tugging at Sirius’ shirt. Sirius feels a sharp pain as James’ elbow knocks him in the nose.
“Then don’t say anything about mine,” Sirius pants as he flips James so that he is now on top.
“That’s enough!” Lily yells.
The boys stop tussling about and look at her. Her face is bright red and her lips are pursed in a thin line. Sirius wipes at his nose with the back of his hand and smears the blood on his pants. James pushes Sirius off him, fumbles for his glasses and shoves them back on the bridge of his nose.
“You are the most immature boys I have ever met in my entire life,” she says exasperatedly. Then she turns on her heel and stalks out of the room in search of another compartment.
Sirius pulls himself onto a seat and glares at James. James stares back before storming out of the compartment, leaving Sirius alone. Sirius examines himself; his nose has stopped bleeding, but there are spots of blood on his freshly pressed white shirt, which is now wrinkled. He sighs and opens his trunk, pulling out his black Hogwarts robe to cover the stains and wrinkles. As he pulls on the robe, the compartment door slides closed and when his head pops out of the neck of the robe, he finds his cousin Narcissa standing before him, her hands on her hips.
Sirius sighs and prepares himself for the reprimand he knows will come. Narcissa opens her mouth and Sirius prays for the slowing of the train, signalling their arrival to Hogwarts. The train doesn’t slow down and neither does Narcissa.
Sirius breathes a sigh of relief as he steps off the Hogwarts Express. He straightens his robes, tightens his tie, and looks around. A monstrous man, twice as large as any man should be, is calling out for the first years by the bank of the lake and Sirius pushes his way through the crowd of older students. Once he is clear of the older students he finds himself in step with James Potter. He looks at James out of the corner of his eye and hopes for some sort of wart to pop onto his face. He wouldn’t be so confident then, Sirius thinks. James, with a short glance at Sirius, quickens his pace.
“I don’t believe this,” Sirius mutters as he matches James’ pace.
“I’ll get there before you,” James hisses between his teeth.
“Not if I have anything to say about it,” Sirius retorts, sprinting towards the giant of a man.
“Whoa, there. Slow ‘t down,” the man says, outstretching his arms to catch James and Sirius before they tumble into the lake. “You’ll get ter the castle ‘n good time. Inter the boat then. My name’s Hagrid, by the way.”
“Hello Hagrid!” James says cheerfully as Sirius clambers into the first boat he sees. To his dismay, James climbs in after him.
“Can’t get your own boat, Potter?” Sirius asks.
“Sod off, Black,” James mumbles.
The boat tilts a bit as two more boys climb into the boat and Sirius grips the side of the boat tightly as he waits for the weight to even out.
“Oh, look who it is,” one of the boys says. “Sirius Black.”
“Snape,” Sirius says to the boy with the sallow face. Sirius has met Snape a few times at his parents’ parties but he does not particularly like him. Sirius knew of his family—this was the type of boy he should be friends with—but Snape holds too many secrets in the folds of his robes and Sirius is certain that there is something not right about him.
The boats begin to move forward across the lake and Sirius wishes that they would move faster. There is a silence between the four boys (Sirius isn’t sure who the fourth boy is) which makes him rather uncomfortable. Not to mention the fact that Snape is staring at him with a curious sort of fascination and James is not-so-subtly glaring at him. Sirius glances at the boat beside them and spots Lily’s red hair among the four students. She’s speaking animatedly to a thin, sickly boy who looks positively frightened of her.
“Yeh’ll get a glimpse of Hogwarts jus’ as we go ‘round the bend,” Hagrid calls from the first boat.
Sirius turns expectantly in the boat and as they curve past an outcropping of rocks, the darkness that surrounds them is shattered by the light of the castle. There are a lot of gasps and ooh-ing from the students and Sirius himself is quite taken aback by the sight. The boats hit the bank of the lake gently and all of the students scramble out of them to get a closer look at the castle. Hagrid leads them up to the castle where they are met by a stern-looking woman, Professor McGonagall she introduces herself as, who leads them into the castle. Sirius takes a deep breath and steps forward into the vast Entrance Hall, the entire time reminding himself of how brave he is supposed to be.
Professor McGonagall opens the door to the Great Hall and Sirius’ stomach does a few back-flips and somersaults. But he remembers his mother’s words and he stands up straighter, walking into the Great Hall with a regal air about him. He is their prince, he tells himself, and he must be brave, must be certain of himself. There is no faltering, no uncertainty. He is a Black and he must act like one.
The procession of students stops before an aged three-legged stool that holds a tired, worn hat. Sirius looks towards the Slytherin table and Narcissa is watching him carefully. She nods at him in an encouraging sort of way and Sirius knows she won’t tell his parents about the fight on the train; listening to her reprimand him is punishment enough, Sirius thinks.
He turns back towards Professor McGonagall and the hat, watching with rapt attention as the hat begins to sing. Sirius sighs in relief—he simply has to put the hat on and wait for it to declare ‘Slytherin!’—no challenges to perform or spells to execute in order to prove his worthiness. There isn’t much he can do to fail his parents now.
Professor McGonagall unrolls a parchment and alphabetically begins to read the names of the first year students. The first student is sorted into Ravenclaw, the second into Hufflepuff. ‘Ayers, Rebekka’ becomes the first Gryffindor. Sirius’ name is fast approaching, but he finds that he isn’t quite as nervous as he thought he would be. It is expected that Sirius is sorted into Slytherin—all Blacks are Slytherins, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. He’ll step up to the stool, place the hat upon his head, and then sit beside his cousin.
“Black, Sirius,” Professor McGonagall calls sharply.
Sirius sits down on the stool and places the hat upon his head. He jumps, startled, when the hat begins to talk to him.
‘Another Black, eh?’ it says.
‘Just sort me into Slytherin and get it over with,’ Sirius thinks.
‘Slytherin?’ the hat sounds surprised. ‘Oh no, dear boy, you are most definitely not a Slytherin.’
Sirius heart stops beating for a second. ‘Ex-Excuse me?’
‘You could be a Slytherin,’ the hat amends. ‘But you are better suited for Gryffindor!’
The finality of the last word rings in Sirius’ ears like a death sentence and the Great Hall is suddenly silent. It is not only Sirius who expected to be sorted into Slytherin—the entire school knew about the Black family and their history of dark wizards. A Black in any other house but Slytherin is practically unheard of.
“Well,” Professor McGonagall is saying, “you should join the Gryffindor table, Mr. Black.”
Sirius takes the hat off his head and as he gets off the stool, he doesn’t dare look at the Slytherin table. His hands are shaking like mad as he puts the hat back on the stool. The Gryffindor table now seems miles away and full of unfriendly faces, sneering and jeering at him. As he walks away from the house that he was destined to be in and towards the house the hat has chosen for him, Sirius can feel the crown slipping from his fingers.
Sirius sits down at the very end of the table, ignoring the whispering of his new housemates, and watches the sorting with a detached interest. Lily ends up being sorted into Gryffindor and she sits down across from him, smiling sympathetically. Sirius frowns. He doesn’t need pity from her, and his failure seems to become heavier as the thought of a mudblood sympathizing with him passes through his mind. The sickly boy Lily had been conversing with is now joining them at the Gryffindor table and he sits down beside Sirius, eyeing Lily warily.
“Hello Remus!” she says brightly.
“’lo Lily,” he replies quietly.
“Sirius, this is Remus Lupin. Remus, Sirius Black.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Sirius,” Remus says.
Sirius nods his head in greeting and looks at the boy more properly. His nose is a bit thin, he has flecks of grey in his brown hair, and his eyes are an uncommon shade of golden brown, but he has a genial smile that seems to brighten his fragile appearance.
To Sirius’ dismay, James is also sorted into Gryffindor, after another boy, Peter Pettigrew. James glares at Sirius from his place beside Lily.
When the food appears, everyone digs in, but not before an older student calls out, “Everyone, make sure that Black doesn’t poison your food when you aren’t looking.”
James pulls his plate closer to him and eyes Sirius suspiciously. Sirius glares at him while stabbing angrily at his food with his fork.
“Stop acting like a five-year-old,” Lily snaps at James. “Sirius won’t do anything to your food.”
“He’s a Black, Lily. He’s no good. He shouldn’t be in Gryffindor,” James says angrily, waving his fork about, jabbing a piece of meat at Sirius.
“At least you’re brave enough to talk about me in front of my face,” Sirius snorts.
“I’m not afraid of you,” James says, puffing his chest out. “I’ll take you on at anytime.”
“Sod off, Potter,” Sirius retorts, flicking a lump of mashed potatoes at James’ face.
James wipes his face with the back of his hand and readies his own spoon with mashed potatoes but Lily puts a restraining hand on his forearm.
James ‘harrumphs’ before saying, “Can’t think of a better insult, Black?”
“Can’t find a mudblood that needs saving? At least your presence will be wanted there.”
“Don’t say that word,” James hisses. “You definitely don’t belong in Gryffindor. Go back to where you’re wanted—with all the rest of the dark wizards.”
Sirius looks up towards the Slytherin table and Narcissa is staring at him with a look of disbelief written on her face. She frowns slightly and Sirius sighs, knowing his parents’ disappointment will hurt more than Narcissa’s. He puts down his fork and waits patiently for the Headmaster’s word that signals the end of the feast, and then obediently follows the Prefect to their common room.
Gryffindor House is not what he expected. It is certainly different from the stories he has heard about Slytherin House. The common room, decorated in the house colours of red and gold, emits warmth and home, a quality that Grimmauld Place sorely lacks and one Sirius is certain Slytherin House condones.
As he sits in his four-poster bed, surrounded by red instead of green, by three sleeping boys with names such as Potter, Pettigrew, and Lupin, instead of McNair, Nott, and Snape, Sirius knows that he has stumbled from the throne as a disgrace. Now Regulus (little prince, so rightly named) holds the crown just as he’s always wanted and Sirius thinks that perhaps it is Regulus who was destined to be the prince all along.