Named after the brightest star in the sky, Sirius Black, heir to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, was always destined for greatness. But even the brightest of stars may one day fall.
Falling from grace should have not been in the boy’s cards, but destiny had other plans. This would be the year. The year of secrets betrayed. The year of lines crossed. The year family loyalty would be defined, once and for all.
Fifteen-year-old Sirius entered Hogwarts expecting a year like any other. There was the usual pressure from his family as heir to excel. Over the summer his parents reminded Sirius daily what a disappointment he was. In turn, in true rebellious fashion, Sirius had spent the summer flouting his differences from the Black family legacy – his favorite act had been covering the walls in his room with Gryffindor colors and Muggle posters. Sirius was pretty sure his parents were happy to be rid of him until next summer.
The O.W.L.s they were to take later that year to not faze Sirius either. He was naturally clever enough to receive above average marks, and if he decided to apply himself, he could actually surpass the Black’s exceedingly high expectations for their eldest son.
The Black family might have held Sirius in disdain, but at Hogwarts Sirius was popular and well-liked. Sirius, and his best friend, James Potter were considered the height of cool by their peers. It would be an understatement to say James and Sirius let popularity get to their heads. Neither boy had grown up in an environment that cultivated modesty – James an indulged only child and Sirius brought up to believe the Blacks were practically royalty, so it was not unexpected that they got carried away. There was not a student in the school that did not know who they were, and the they included Sirius’s two other good mates, Remus Lupin and Peter Pettigrew. Remus was appointed prefect over the sumer, which had caused a lot of chatter among the students. No one envied the position he was in. How would he juggle between being a prefect and close friends with two biggest trouble makers in the school? Only time would tell.
Despite their popularity, the boys mainly hung out among themselves, keeping membership to their inner circle highly exclusive. The need for such exclusivity centered on Remus’s secret; he was a werewolf. After witnessing how painful Remus’s transformations were, the boys came up with a plan to join their friend as Animagi in their second year. Two weeks into their fifth year– three years after they’d first decided on the endeavor- Sirius, James, and Peter successfully transformed into animals at will. High on their success, they’d fashioned nicknames for each other. Sirius who turned into a dog was nicknamed Padfoot; James as a stag was called Prongs, and Peter, Wormtail, as he transformed into a rat. Lastly Remus was referred to Moony. They also began referring to their group as ‘The Marauders’.
The first few months of fifth year passed very quickly. The boys attended classes, pulled pranks, and explored the Hogwarts grounds as animals on full moon nights with a werewolf in tow. There were high and low points for them all, and through it all they had each other – no longer just friends, but brothers. They threw a party in the common rom after James scored the winning goal in Gryffindors’ first Quidditch match, listened quietly as Sirius ranted and raved after an altercation with younger brother, Regulus, and tutored Peter for hours so that he wouldn’t fail Transfiguration.
On the surface Sirius’s life at Hogwarts was perfect. And most of the time Sirius could fully immerse himself in that role – carefree, brash, the center of attention. He could ignore his family problems. He could forget about loyalty and destiny. Pretending was sometimes easier than facing the problem head on. Every so often though it crept into his mind, and he’d become moody and distant. Only his friends witnessed this and only James knew how to deal with him when this happened.
As December approached it was getting more and more difficult to pretend. How could he continue to ignore family responsibility? He was the heir and once he turned sixteen his parents would begin expecting he step into his role fully. How could he ignore the fact that Voldemort was after his support? Voldemort had not spoken to him personally, but used Lucius Malfoy and Sirius’s cousin, Bellatrix to extend the offer. Three times Sirius had told them to leave him alone (never quite saying no, but certainly not giving any indication he would fold any time soon). Even after James’s life had been threatened. Even after three houses of blood-traitors had been blown apart to show wizards and witches like Sirius the price one paid for denying Voldemort what he sought. Still despite his protests, Sirius’s was pursued. As a Gryffindor and a friend to blood-traitors, his allegiance was too good to pass up.
Sirius spent nights tossing and turning trying to think of the best way to deal with this all. The different paths he could take would go round and round in his head until Sirius felt like he would scream. He needed an outlet and found getting into trouble the best one. He’d be disruptive in class or forget to complete a homework assignment. He’d hex a student in the hallway or pull a prank. There was a thrill in it that never failed to make him feel better. The chance of getting caught made him feel alive (and even if he did get caught it did not diminish the feeling of the moment); it helped him forget.
By December the teachers were so exasperated with the amount of detentions he’d accumulated, they’d begun assigning him three detentions for an infraction that only warranted one. More than half the time, James was right there with him. The only time James would not join in on the mischief was the two week time period before a Quidditch game. James had been warned by the current Quidditch Captain that if he missed practice that close to the game because of a detention, he’d be benched – star player or not.
The event that started it all occurred on a Wednesday, ten days before Christmas break. It was early evening; the Great Hall was almost empty with just a spattering of students. The ceiling reflected the clear, crisp sky outside, stars twinkling. Most of the plates and silverware had been cleared with a few half-empty dessert platters scattered about.
Sirius, James, and Peter were some of the few students that were left. Remus was in the Hospital Wing. He’d been feeling ill all day as consequence of a full moon that very night.
“Don’t you have to meet Professor Keenan?” Peter asked.
“Oh – right,” Sirius stated glancing at the time. His black hair fell into his eyes with casual elegance; just a bit longer in length than his mother approved. James raised his eyebrows; he’d been unaware of this recent development.
“Why’d he want to speak to you anyway?” Peter said, taking a large gulp of pumpkin juice.
“Who knows? I cause enough general trouble so it really could be anything.” Sirius jumped to his feet. He didn’t appear concerned about that fact. Peter was frowning perhaps wishing he could be so cavalier about this sort of thing. “See you later.”
Sirius was a bit down the hall from the Great Hall entrance when he heard James calling. “Hey! Padfoot! Wait up!”
“Look – just try not to get detention tonight-” James ran a hand through his messy dark hair. He could never get it lie flat. He was the same height as Sirius, brown eyes instead of blue-grey.
“Me? Get detention?” Sirius asked mockingly. “I perish the thought.”
“I’m not joking. Maybe you’ve been right about Keenan springing to discipline you faster than other students – but don’t forget what tonight is – if we want to join-“ James stopped mid-sentence noticing a change in his best friend.
Severus Snape had followed James out of the Great Hall unnoticed. Sirius bristled as Snape crossed their path. The bad blood between them had started the first time they met on the Hogwarts Express and had escalated through the years. This year Snape had made a habit of following the group around hoping to uncover one of their secrets.
Sirius and James shared a worried glance. How much had Snape overheard? At least they had stopped speaking candidly before they said something that they did not want Snape to overhear. Still the way Snape sneered at them, nagged Sirius especially, as if he knew something more. Sirius convinced himself it was only Snape trying to ruffle their feathers.
“Got a problem, Snivellus?” James called out.
“Just walking by. I didn’t realize that was a crime,” Snape answered nastily.
“Maybe you wouldn’t be so bloody interested in our lives if you actually had friends to speak of,” Sirius said.
Three Hufflepufff fourth year girls leaving the Great Hall heard Sirius’s comment and tittered. Snape was rather unpopular.
Snape turned a deep red. “At least Evans can stand my company. Last I heard, Potter, she rejected your invitation to Hogsmeade.”
James curled his first. He looked ready to launch a spell at Snape. Sirius put a hand on James’s shoulder. “Remember, Prongs. Tonight,” Sirius mumbled under his breath.
Snape smirked. Sirius could see Snape felt he’d won the round; hitting James as hard as possible with the comment about Lily Evans. James had grown smitten for the vivacious redhead this year, but she didn’t seem particularly taken with his romantic interest. It was certainly a sore spot for James.
“Problem here?” an authoritative voice asked. Finn, Headboy from Ravenclaw had been strolling by.
Sirius rolled his eyes. This wasn’t the first time this year they’d had a run-in with the Headboy. The power had gotten a bit to his head, and Finn was known to throw students in detention without any real cause. James, aware of this as well, launched into an answer that would minimize the chance of that happening this evening.
Sirius didn’t bother to listen; instead glared after Snape who had taken the moment to skulk away. Whatever James had said seemed to do the trick. The Headboy told them to stop loitering in the hallway and went on his way.
James returned back into the Great Hall, and Sirius continued on to Keenan’s office alone. Only now did he take a few moments to ponder what Professor Keenan wanted. He’d clashed with Professor Keenan since the first week of classes. After losing points for rudely answering a question that first day and then ending up with detention in the next class for misusing magic (ie cursing Snape when Keenan’s back had been turned only to be snitched on by a Slytherin prefect who had seen him), Professor Keenan had kept a close eye on Sirius.
Professor Keenan was a young teacher, around twenty-five years of age. Tall, dark, and good-looking; many of the girls had crushes and he’d become a favorite teacher of many in his first few months of teaching. Sirius couldn’t understand Keenan’s popularity. His mates thought he was paranoid, but Sirius was convinced Keenan had a particular interest in him. None of his friends ever found themselves in conversation with Keenan about family and responsibility. At first Sirius suspected his teacher knew his family and was keeping tabs on Sirius for them. After uncovering Keenan was Muggleborn, he had put the thought to rest. His parents might associate with a Half-blood to reign in their son, but not a Mudblood.
Sirius headed up the stairs towards the Defense Against the Dark Arts classroom. He turned the corner and the figure down the corridor caused him to come to a full stop. A haughty looking women in a long winter cloak lined with fur, stood where he was headed. Her stance was familiar and there was no hiding her anger and impatience.
The voice caused all the hairs on his arm to rise. “M-m-mother?” Sirius approached her cautiously.
“Your teacher demanded to speak with me and doesn’t even have the courtesy to be on time!”
Sirius gaped at her. A teacher had called his mother here?
“Mrs. Black,” a cordial voice said from behind Sirius, “terribly sorry to keep you waiting. Ran into two students hexing each other.” Professor Keenan paused. “I sometimes fell like I discipline more than I teach, and I believe Sirius knows something about that.”
The unease that started at the sight of his mother only increased, and he almost considered running.
“Let’s speak in my office, shall we?” Professor Keenan opened the door. Sirius could feel his mother’s angry eyes upon him. As Sirius walked past him, Professor Keenan gave him a smile and a pat on the shoulder that did not reassure him in the least.
“I’d rather not,” his mother stated sharply. “I don’t see why this couldn’t be handled over letters.”
“Mrs. Black, I would hope you care enough about your son’s well-being to give me a few moments of your time.” Keenan gestured to the seats again.
Sirius’s mother stared Keenan down and then perched herself on the seat, her back as stiff as a rod. Sirius noticed Keenan’s office was tidier than usual. The papers on his desk were all neatly stacked in piles. The bookshelves were more organized.
“Well?” Mrs. Black asked disdainfully.
Professor Keenan did not speak immediately, but considered the mother and son in front of him for a moment. “I am concerned about Sirius.”
“Concerned about his school work?” Mrs. Black asked.
“Not exactly. As someone who sees Sirius every day-”
“Is he passing all his classes?” Mrs. Black demanded.
“He is.” Professor Keenan looked taken aback.
“Then I don’t see what possibly could be the problem. I send him to Hogwarts to get a proper magical education. His teachers’ are supposed to ensure that and nothing else.”
“The problem is Sirius is becoming uncontrollable with his acting out.” Keenan looked suddenly at him and Sirius shrunk back in his seat. “As I’ve mentioned in the letter, in the past month he’s been in detention more nights than not.”
“Then discipline Sirius. It is about time someone else sees how unruly my son can be.”
Sirius sat frozen in his seat not sure if interrupting would help or make things worse.
Keenan ignored the line of thought his mother was trying, determined to get to the point of the meeting. “I am trying to see what the root of his actions is. I do not believe he is merely doing this for the sake of it. Through some of the comments Sirius has made over the past few months I believe he’s been acting out because problems arising from his relationship with you and the rest of your family.”
Sirius gulped. Where had Keenan come up with such an idea? His heart was now racing and he could feel his face heating up in embarrassment.
“How dare you!” Mrs. Black was becoming enraged and the color of her face mirrored her son’s, though for a different reason.
“Mrs. Black, please, I am just trying to help. If you’d just listen.”
“No – I suggest you listen! How I raise my son – is my business. The relationship I choose to have is my own decision. I will not sit here and let you lecture me on what I am doing wrong.” Mrs. Black’s eyes swept Keenan’s office contemptuously. Her eyes found the picture of Keenan and his brother; the picture was not moving. “You’re a Muggleborn, aren’t you?”
“I am,” Keenan answered cautiously.
Mrs. Black turned to Sirius and her gaze was so intense it was as if an icy shower had just doused him. “A mudblood, Sirius? Talking to a mudblood about our family?”
“No! I never –“ Sirius managed, but his mother had already dismissed him. She had resumed her fierce gaze on Keenan.
“I ask you do not use such language in my office,” Keenan stated forcefully.
“Oh it is easy to sit there and judge me, but you would never understand. Centuries our family has been held in the highest of regards and it is my own flesh and blood that seeks to destroy it all. Do you know what I have to deal with when Sirius comes home? Back talking and rebellion! What have I done that is so horrible? I’ve given him a warm bed, a full belly, and the best robes money can buy. I know half the things he does is just to anger me!”
“I can understand that Sirius can be a handful-“
“A handful is putting it lightly. You yourself have stated how disruptive he is being. I’ve tried to knock the rebellion out of him when he is home over the summer and back in my possession, but then he is back in the environment that has caused the problems to begin with. It is the environment of this school and Gryffindor House, and the mindset of the Headmaster – Muggle-loving fool - that has caused my son to be unmanageable. There was a time at Hogwarts when blood purity mattered and a proper hierarchy was maintained. If he’d been sorted into Slytherin House you can be sure most of this behavior would have never been allowed. Sirius needs disciplining – proper disciplining. Back in my days you received more than lines and scrubbing desks! And you wonder why the students walk all over you.”
“Mrs. Black, maybe if you spoke to Sirius in a safe, controlled environment--” Keenan choose not to reply to her statements about how Hogwarts was now run.
“Talking? Talking!” Sirius’s mother rose to her full height. “You know nothing. Do you really believe if I have a heart to heart with my son he’ll suddenly start behaving?”
“Nothing that simple, but it could be a good start-“
“Sirius is a spoiled, ungrateful brat. I’ve already given Dumbledore and any Professor my permission to use any means necessary to discipline Sirius. If you aren’t willing to use them; do not waste my time calling me here.” She rummaged around inside her handbag. It was large enough that it concealed the quick nonverbal Transfiguration spell Mrs. Black cast on her umbrella inside of it. “In fact – use this.” She threw down some sort of black strap. “Trust me when I say Sirius will be much more agreeable after a- well I don’t think I have to spell it out to you.”
Mrs. Black strode out of the office without a departing word. The offending black strap lay on the desk, both Sirius and Keenan staring at it intensely. The silence in the room was deafening.
“Does she use this on you?” The question was said quietly but clearly enough that Sirius could not pretend he had not heard.
A rush of emotion engulfed Sirius and he shouted, “Are you mad?”
“Has anyone in your family used this?” Keenan said more forcefully.
Sirius threw his arms up in the air. “Are you mental? Calling my mother in! You’ve only made things worse!”
“Please, Sirius. If you are being harmed in anyway-“
The use of his first name by his teacher only aggravated him more. Sirius felt shaken and the office was becoming more cramped as the seconds ticked on by. “You’ve made things worse! Do you understand?!”
“I only wanted-”
“Let it alone!” Sirius yelled and he could no longer stand to even look at his Professor. He was out the door. He could hear Keenan still calling for him having reverted back to using his last name.
Sirius tore through the hallways. Who did Keenan think he was? And that strap! Why on earth had his mother been carrying that in her purse to begin with? His mother had never used something like that on Regulus or him before. In fact corporal punishment was rare in the Black household; and if it was used it was usually a few slaps on the wrists or hands with a ruler. Punishments were generally long, harsh lectures, lines, recitation or revoking of precious few privileges Sirius and Regulus received. Most summers by the time Hogwarts started Sirius was only allowed in his room, the playroom-turned-into-study room, and dining room. And he was required to have supervision for two out of those three rooms.
If Sirius had been able to think clearly, he might have grasped his mother’s motivation. The appearance of the strap was supposed to shock Professor Keenan to the point he would not bother the Black’s again and rattle Sirius enough that he would be sure to think twice before acting out. Mrs. Black’s school of thought had always been that a child should fear their parents. This fear would then turn into respect. She was too proud to admit that this form of parenting had not worked on Sirius as well as it had other children.
The farther he walked the emptier the halls got. He stopped. His breathing was erratic and he leaned his forehead on the cool stone wall and banged his fist in frustration. He’d pay for this. His mother would find a way through his brother or even if she had to wait until he came home in the summer. His mother did not forget things easily. Talking to an outsider about any family issue was one rule you did not break and Keenan had made it appear as if they spoke about it weekly.
“Are you crying?”
Sirius whipped around and his mood darkened as Snivellus stepped out of the shadows. Tears had begun threatening to spill over (seeing his mother had really shaken him) and this was not the state he wanted a friend let alone an enemy see him in.
“The big bad Black crying in the hallway! Wait until your fans here this!”
“Leave me alone, Snape.” Sirius was not looking for an altercation. Running into Snape twice in under an hour was not something he wanted to deal with.
“If you prefer I could go bother Lupin.”
Sirius looked at Snape oddly. He wanted to leave. He just wished to be left alone. If only Snape had let him go; if only Snape had not uttered the next words; how different things would have been.
“He was out sick again. Full moon just like last time. Do you know where I could go find him?”
Sirius’s mind flashed to a conversation they’d had with Snape last month around the full moon. Funny thing for a wizard to be sick so often. Sirius and James had brushed aside the words; not really concerned that Snape was anywhere close to finding out Remus’s secret. “You have no idea what you are talking about.”
“Don’t I?” Snape’s eyes flashed dangerously. “I know what Remus is! I know where he goes!”
“He’s ill, Snivellus. Everyone knows that. He’s in the Hospital Wing; there’s no conspiracy.” Sirius was surprised on how calm he sounded, but his mind was racing. Snape was just guessing – grabbing at straws to form loose connections – right? Sirius was ready to walk way. He was turning away, one step and then another when -
“I was betting on the Whomping Willow tree myself.”
Sirius stopped dead in his tracks. His mind was rolling. Snape couldn’t possibly know of any connection between Remus and the Whomping Willow. There was no way he would have been able to make such a conclusion.
A funny feeling erupted in Sirius’s stomach. Was it possible Snape overhead them talking about the full moon? They were usually careful, but sometimes, despite Remus’s protests, they spoke in code in front of other students, laughing later in their dorm at the odd looks they received. They never thought anyone would be clever enough to figure it out. Snape was not only clever enough, but he had the motivation.
“You don’t know what you are talking about,” Sirius repeated as off handedly as he possibly could. He could tell he had failed miserably by the way Snape’s smirk grew.
“Oh I think I do. If you think anyone in the school still believes Lupin is visiting his sick mother, than you really are as stupid as you act.”
Sirius clenched his fists. He needed to walk away. He couldn’t let Snape get to him; not now and not about this. “Get out of my face, Snivellus!”
“I have a theory about Lupin myself– but he’s only a small fish. Now my theory about Potter and you –”
“You are delusional. James and I don’t disappear each month with Remus – what possible theory could you have about us?”
“Right like Potter and you weren’t just talking about meeting Lupin earlier outside the Great Hall?” Snape paused dramatically. Sirius grabbed his wand pointing it right at his enemy. Snape laughed. “Thought so. I happen to know Potter and you sneak out of the castle each month to join Lupin. No one else knows that! I bet whatever illegal activities you lot are up to would get you expelled faster than you can blink.”
“Who is going to listen to anything a greasy git like you says!” Sirius stepped forward his wand still trained on Snape.
“I’ll find out what you are up to. I found out about Lupin; didn’t I? It is only a matter of time. One slip up…one misstep…if not this month, then next one…every full moon so it seems…” Snape stepped toward Sirius – toward the wand.
“Why don’t I make finding you proof easier?” Sirius asked. The words were out of his mouth before their meaning registered his brain.
For the first time during their conversation, Snape looked uncertain.
“If you aren’t too much of a coward to follow through with my instructions – that is.” Snape’s eyes narrowed. “Tonight – wait until the moon’s out – that is essential – there’s a large knot on the Whomping Willow tree.”
Sirius lowered his wand, though he did not pocket it. “Use a long enough stick to prod the knot. This will freeze the tree. You can figure it out from there.”
Snape snorted. “Right, the last thing I’m going to do is poke a tree that doesn’t like to be poked. Thanks, but no thanks.”
Sirius shrugged, finally feeling an upper hand in the conversation. “Good idea. Too dangerous for someone with such limited magical ability.”
Snape’s eyes flashed and Sirius grinned at his adversary. With one last meaningful look Sirius walked down the hallway feeling a bit better. He doubted Snape was boneheaded enough to take the bait – and it would eat him up inside…and if he did, well Snivellus could use a good scare.