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Chapter 12 : Taking Strides
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Chapter 11 – Making Strides
Sirius had been looking forward to Sunday all week. It was his one free day without detention, and he wanted to get some enjoyment out of it. The sun was shining so brightly that it looked deceivingly warmer out than it was. Sirius managed to convince James and Peter to take a walk with him.
They had only just reached halfway to the lake when Peter began complaining about the cold and the mountain of homework awaiting them. Sirius, who was desperately trying to ignore the numbness in his hands, feet, and the fact that even the muscles in his face were frozen, did not appreciate it.
Also he really did not want to go back inside if all they were going to do was homework. The work would have to get done. Even though he no longer had to worry about his grades for his parents (it was a freeing thought), he still couldn’t slack off. Part of conditions of the probation was keeping his grades up. Between his marks the last week before Christmas, assignments during the holidays, and this first week, his grades had fallen and if he wasn’t careful, the Professors would get on his case.
While Peter complained the entire way, the boys did reach the lake. Sirius went up straight to the edge eying the frozen section in the shallower waters.
“Do you think the ice would hold our weight?” He did not want to go back inside and maybe doing something out here would make them forget the temperature.
James shook his head. “I don’t think so, and it’s too bloody cold out here to risk it. If you fall in you’d surely die.” James’s voice was slightly muffled from the huge red and gold scarf he’d wrapped around his neck.
“You’d fish me out, wouldn’t you?” Sirius asked.
“No way,” James said.
“Peter?” Sirius asked hopefully.
“You know I’m rubbish at swimming,” Peter said evasively.
“I won’t go far out – you can wade. No swimming required.”
Peter looked helplessly at James.
James came to the rescue. “How about we walk back and grab some hot chocolate from the kitchens and…”
“Don’t say do homework,” Sirius interrupted.
James rolled his eyes. “I was going to say we could work on our next prank.”
Usually Sirius would light up at the word prank, but he frowned. “That’s probably not a good idea.”
“Don’t get all sullen. You can still be the mastermind behind the prank. Peter will just have to step up and take your place in the execution of it.”
Peter bit his lip. “Well my Mum as it is, isn’t happy about all the detentions I’ve been getting…”
James scoffed. “You haven’t collected even half as much as Sirius and I have. Anyway the plan is not to get caught.”
Peter didn’t look convinced. Sirius grinned to himself as they began walking. He was glad to see the old James back; the one who considered detentions as a collection, as if was something positive and to be proud of. He’d been a bit worried that the consequence-worrying James would persist and that he’d insist they all be on their best behavior until the end of their seventh year.
They boys walked in silence until out of nowhere, breaking into Sirius’s thoughts, Peter asked, “James? When are we going to-”
“Later,” James said briskly, cutting Peter off with a look. Sirius might have been confused, but James knew exactly what Peter was talking about.
“What’s later?” Sirius asked suspiciously.
Peter colored and James smiled in that charming way he did when he was lying. “It’s nothing. I said I’d help Peter with Charms.” James patted him on the back. “Let’s continue. Yea?”
Sirius nodded, he suddenly had a funny feeling in his stomach. James didn’t keep things from him, so that meant this probably had to do with Remus. Did they have plans with Remus? They didn’t have to keep it from him. He was more than capable of hearing about it. The carefree feeling he had momentarily had soured. It was happening quite often lately; his mood up and down in a matter of seconds.
The three Gryffindors trudged into the castle and they paused in the entryway to warm up. There was a group of four students huddled on the other side, but Sirius didn’t pay them notice.
“Black!” One of the members of the huddled group had called out.
Sirius looked up. As the students turned to face the Gryffindors, their identities became apparent. Five fifth year Slytherins; Mulciber, Avery, Gibbon, Walker, and Snape were glaring at them. Sirius could feel James tense beside him and Peter stepped back closer to the door as if edging for an escape.
“Black!” Mulciber called again. He had been the one who had spoken. “There’s something I’ve been wondering.”
“And what’s that?” Sirius asked without care, trying to stay nonchalant even though his heart rate had quickened. A duel would certainly spice things up, but it could also get him in a world of trouble. Did the Slytherins know about his probation?
“I’ve been wondering - how’ve you managed to stand the stench all these years? Surrounded by all the mudbloods and even when you do find a Gryffindor pureblood they tend to be bloodtraitors.” Mulciber locked eyes with James with the last word. “I’m sick to my stomach just thinking about it.”
Sirius stepped forward. “I’m not the one standing next to greasy haired gits. If anyone smells…” Sirius trailed off, but it was clear to everyone he was referring to Severus Snape.
“Let’s not forget about half-breeds,” Snape stated. The words turned Sirius’s blood to ice. Snape wouldn’t out Remus now, would he? Sirius looked sideways to James who looked equally anxious.
“Half-breeds?” Gibbon asked looking revolted. “Half-breeds in Gryffindor?”
“I’m sure there are,” Snape said snidely, his beady black eyes boring into Sirius.
“Snape may be right. My father told me there’s goblin blood in Professor Flitwick’s family. He not only went to Hogwarts, but he’s still teaching here,” Walker stated.
“Well everyone knows half the Slytherin Quidditch team has troll blood in them,” James announced.
There was a long pause of quiet. Every one of the Slytherins looked like they were ready to murder James.
“There’s no troll blood in Slytherin. Our house founder would have never allowed it,”Mulicber said with barely controlled fury.
“Yes, but do you know if the Sorting Hat can sense troll blood?” James asked. There was another silence. “I didn’t think so.” James who had taken his wand out at some point, made a show of pocketing it. “Anyway while this has all been a very riveting conversation, we need to go.”
James turned to leave, and while Peter followed promptly, Sirius did not.
“Sirius, let’s go,” James said again.
And Sirius had every intention of leaving - of walking away from a duel that could end up in his expulsion. He even started following James until he heard;
“That’s right, Black. Listen to your master.”
It took only a few long strides before he was inches from the Slytherins. His wand was out and ready. There was a flicker of fear in Mulciber’s eyes that Sirius relished, but was quickly extinguished as the others whipped out their wands. Sirius suddenly found himself outnumbered, but before anyone could call out a spell, James stepped in front of him.
“Let’s call it a draw. You go your way and we go our way,” James said his tone placating.
Mulciber shrugged; his fear gone now. “He’s your bloodtraitor, Potter. Make sure to keep him on a shorter leash!”
Sirius felt a surge of anger and the hex was out of his mouth before he could stop it. James grabbed his arm just in time so the spell hit the floor in front of the Slytherins with a loud crack. They backed away looking at Sirius as if he were crazy.
Sirius met James’s eye and he turned stalking around the bend away from the Slytherins. James and Peter followed shortly after.
“Are those idiots worth being expelled?” James demanded once they were out of earshot.
“Did you hear what they were saying?” Sirius asked hotly.
“I heard it as clear as you.”
Sirius shook his head. “Just forget it.” He didn’t want to argue and he most certainly didn’t want a lecture.
“Do you think they know?” Peter asked glancing worriedly over his shoulder.
“Know what?” James asked tiredly. He’d taken his glasses off and was wiping them clean.
“That Sirius turns into a dog,” Peter said referring to Mulciber’s comment about the master and leash.
“Don’t be thick. Of course, he doesn’t,” James stated.
Sirius rolled his eyes and made to turn left.
“Aren’t we going to the kitchens?” Peter called out to him. “That’s in the other direction.
“Not in the mood anymore,” Sirius said briskly and he continued walking. No more than a minute later James came running after him.
“Ditched Peter, I see,” Sirius remarked.
“Told him to get a thermos of hot chocolate and some sweets, and to meet us in the dorm,” James said lightly. “There’s something Peter and I wanted to give you. I’m sure it will cheer you up.”
Twenty minutes later Sirius was enjoying a large mug of hot cocoa, munching on his favorite chocolate, and sprawled out on his bed. He was also fiddling with his new wireless radio.
He found out that James and Peter had been trying to find the perfect time to give him his birthday presents. They told him they were late as it was so to make up for it they wanted to find the ideal moment, and had finally decided on this afternoon.
The wireless radio he was fiddling was from James (the box promised it would receive Muggle radio stations). The chocolate he was consuming was from Peter, who had given him a large assortment of his favorite sweets and chocolates.
Sirius continued to fiddle with his radio. He knew Hogwarts was too far from Muggle areas to get one of their stations but it didn’t stop him from experimenting. Sirius felt the bed dip as James took a seat.
“I’ve one more thing for you.”
“More?” Sirius asked looking up.
“This is from my parents and me.”
James was holding a small envelope in his hands and he handed it to Sirius. Inside was a plain thick card; his full name was printed out in fancy silver print.
“Uh – James what is this?”
James’s face split into a grin. “Since you practically live at my house now, my parents wanted to make sure you can come and go as you please without one of us needing to be there to let you in. You just need to tap your wand twice on that card and it will complete the magical contract.”
Sirius swallowed, unsure of what to say. “You didn’t need to do this,” he managed. As with most magical houses there was no actual key to be let inside the house like Muggles. The house was enchanted to only let those the owners allowed inside.
“We wanted to.”
“But – I – it hasn’t even been decided where I’m going to go in the summer,” Sirius said.
“Not officially…no…but as you can see my parents want you there. And where else would you go?”
Sirius knew there were only two possibilities; his cousin Andromeda or his Uncle Alphard…but even he knew the likelihood either would allow him to live permanently with him was slim.
“Look even if you do live somewhere else. My parents will still expect you to visit regularly. This will make it easier.”
“Thank you,” Sirius said quietly, gazing down at the card. He took out his wand and tapped the paper twice. The paper glowed as the magic activated and then returned to normal. “I’ll have to owl your parents to thank them as well.”
James returned to his bed. He fished out a book on Goblin wars and a fresh piece of parchment and settled on his bed to work on it. Peter had already started on his homework.
“Chocolate frog?” Sirius asked tossing one to Peter when he nodded. He looked around realizing it was the first time since they were back he honestly felt that he had fully fixed things with James and to lesser extent Peter. And if he pretended Remus was on prefect rounds or in the library or mailing a letter than it really would have been as if the Whomping Willow prank had never happened.
Severus Snape sat down with Mulciber and Avery at the Slytherin table for breakfast. Mulciber and Avery were shooting glares at the three boys sitting at the middle of the table next to the sixth and seventh years. Before Christmas break the seats had belonged to them, but now they were occupied by Regulus Black and his two closest friends. Regulus was now the heir to the Black family, which had considerably increased his status overnight.
As purebloods Avery and Mulciber particularly felt the blow and disliked they had been pushed to the side by a mere third year. It stung a lot less for Severus as a halfblood since in terms of blood line and family influence Regulus had usurped him even as a second son.
Snape tuned out his friends’ grumblings and his eyes unconsciously scanned the Gryffindor table. Lily met his gaze with a smile and little wave. The small gesture was enough to lift his spirits. They were no longer as close as they used to be; between studying and spending time with their respective friends; it took effort to spend time with each other. Their closeness had more to do with their shared history than anything.
Unfortunately Avery noticed the interaction. “You know, your friendship with the mudblood is holding us all back.”
Severus bristled. “No, she’s not.”
Avery nodded towards where Regulus and his mates had just sat down. Mulciber was shaking his head in agreement.
“That’s not my fault,” Snape said. “You know why he’s sitting there. If you want to blame anyone…” Snape let his voice trail off because they did know who to blame; Sirius Black.
Severus had proven time and time again to the older Slytherins that he was worth more than Avery and Mulciber at least in talent. The purity of his blood he had little control of, but he’d brewed illegal potions for them and shared the spells he’d designed. Then there was also his knowledge of curses and dark magic that outrivaled many.
“Blood-traitor Black will get what’s coming to him,” Mulciber said ominously. Mulciber was still sore about what had happened in the entryway two days ago. While most students were wary of Mulciber and Avery (with good reason), Potter and Black had not looked particularly nervous or alarmed even though Slytherins had outnumbered them six to three…well six to two and a half. Pettigrew couldn’t exactly be considered full wizard.
“I know,” Severus said. The sentence was innocent enough, but he put enough inflection in it so his roommates would get the message.
Mulciber narrowed his eyes. “What do you mean? They’ve involved you.”
Snape smirked. He’d been given a small assignment in the grand scheme some of the Slytherins had devised to get back at Sirius Black. He didn’t know the finer details (though Avery and Mulciber didn’t need to know that). He wished he knew more, but he had carefully hid that. There was a fine line he had to walk with showing his ambition, but not seeming too eager. His standing in Slytherin had steadily dropped since Lucius Malfoy had graduated. He needed a way to continue rising in Slytherin and the additional benefit of ruining Black’s life, only made his decision easier.
“Just helping out with something.”
“With what?” growled Mulciber.
“I’m not supposed to tell…if you don’t know then I don’t think you are meant to.”
Severus stopped there. He had to be careful not to rile his roommates too much; as difficult as it was. They were haughty and snobby, and Snape had never had any patience for such traits. Still they were useful for variety of reasons. Snape looked back at Regulus Black. He should also make strides to be friendlier with the younger Black. It would do him good to have an ally within the Black family. A good word from that family would help him rise quickly. He wondered how Sirius would feel about his friendship with his brother. Surely Sirius would be displeased and if he got Regulus to trust him. He might even be able to pry more information about Sirius’s home life and then throw it in his face to humiliate him further. Sirius would rue the day he sent him out to the Whomping Willow; Snape would make sure of it.
James found Remus late Sunday afternoon in the common room. He had been working on homework with Lily Evans and four other Gryffindors for most of the day. They were much more studious bunch than James and Sirius had ever been. Hanging out with them meant that his life was duller, but he did get his homework completed more quickly.
James had entered the common room with Peter and Aidan Gallagher. He looked angry as he sat down and without preamble stated, “Sirius is in the Hospital Wing.”
Remus didn’t know how to respond and he was saved from having to by Clara York asking, “Is he going to be ok? What happened?”
“He’ll be fine,” James said. He ran a head through his hair.
“What happened?” Remus asked; his voice sounded hoarse.
James grimaced. “His school bag was cursed with Dark Magic.”
Clara and Mary MacDonald gasped.
“Are you sure?” Lily Evans asked.
“Sirius touched his school bag, was jutted into the air as if he’d been shocked, convulsed for a few minutes in pain, and fell unconscious. So yes Evans I think I’m sure.” His tone icier than it had ever been when addressing Lily.
“Madam Pomfrey said the same thing, Evans,” Gallagher said. “We think the Slytherins did it.”
“Of course you do,” Lily stated.
“Who else would be cowardly enough to do something like that?” James demanded.
Lily fixed her green eyes on James. “Well how would the Slytherins even have access to Black’s bag?”
“We were in the library and we went to get a book from the stacks. His bag was left unattended long enough for it to be done. There were Slytherins in all the tables surrounding us.”
“That doesn’t make them guilty. They have every right to be in the library as any other house,” Lily responded.
“They blocked my way to get help when it happened. Wouldn’t let me through until Gallagher and Higson showed up,” James said.
“And the librarian wasn’t there,” Peter piped in.
“That’s right! When have you ever known her to leave the library unattended? It was planned. Planned by the Slytherins,” James added triumphantly.
“It does sound suspicious, Lily,” Clara said.
“What’s the motivation?” Lily countered.
“You’re joking, right Evans?” James asked and Lily shrugged her shoulders. “I know you’re Muggleborn, but surely even you know what has been going on!”
“So you think it was politically motivated?” Remus asked rescuing Lily from having to answer. “Because they consider Sirius to be a blood traitor?”
James and Gallagher both nodded.
“If this is because Black was disinherited…surely all that would be just between Black and his family…” Lily protested.
“It should be,” Gallagher stated, “but fact of the matter, it isn’t.” He was also pureblood though only half as old as Potters and the Blacks. “Because regardless of the reason Black walked out on his family – even if it was entirely personal – pureblood society saw it as him turning his back on them.”
“I just can’t understand this blood obsession,” Lily admitted. “It seems silly to me.
“It’s not silly to them,” James said coldly. “Nor Snape.”
“There’s no need to bring him into his,” Lily stated hotly.
James leaned closer towards her. “He was there, Evans. Maybe you can ask him about it.”
Lily flushed. “I don’t need this.” She swept up her belongings leaving to the girls’ dorm.
The remaining Gryffindors looked at one another silently. Remus noticed students who hadn’t been part of their conversation looking over at them. They’d likely been listening in; not that any of them had kept their voices down to ensure privacy.
“Sirius is very brave,” Mary MacDonald stated coloring slightly. “Fighting against his family. He’s defended me before when Mulciber and Avery called me a mudblood.”
“It’s rather extraordinary, isn’t it?” Fay Clark asked. She was sitting in a table nearby. She was a year above them; very pretty with curly blond hair. They all turned to look at her and she continued, “Hasn’t been a scandal like this for generations. A heir taking a stand against his family? In recent history it’s usually been daughters, second or third sons.”
“We can’t let an attack like this happen again,” Gallagher stated his voice loud enough so he was addressing everyone. He seemed to realize that most of the room had least an idea about their ‘private’ conversation. “This isn’t just about blood politics. The snakes are attacking a Gryffindor. They can’t think they can go around harassing Gryffindors – not without reproach.”
James was just as surprised as Remus by the murmurs of agreement throughout the room.
“I suppose the only thing to do is strike back,” James asserted. “They get Sirius or any of us; we get them back. And keep your eyes and ears peeled…if you see or hear anything...”
Gryffindors nodded in agreement and started chatting excitedly in smaller groups. It was then James met his eyes and Remus knew as a prefect he should say something. He was the only prefect present now that Lily had gone upstairs.
He shouldn’t allow James to encourage others into disagreements even on behalf of a wronged housemate. As usual, he couldn’t bring himself to do it. He might not be ready to forgive Sirius, but that didn’t mean Sirius didn’t deserve support. The hatred toward his former friend had subsided. He hadn’t mentioned this to James or Peter, but once or twice when he was alone or lying in bed, he’d almost decided he would give speaking to Sirius a go. Then later when he’d see Sirius, he’d lose the resolution. The familiar distressing ill feeling would return and he’d start thinking of what could have happened, and he knew he wasn’t ready for the conversation.
The next week resembled very much the way students acted right before a Gryffindor-Slytherin Quidditch match. It wasn’t just scuffles; there were spontaneous duels, cauldrons exploding, hair turning colors, and changing body parts. Madam Pomfrey was busy undoing hexes and the Professors were constantly throwing students in detention.
The Gryffindors had come out in full support of Sirius. Remus wasn’t convinced any of this had deterred anyone in Slytherin from having a go at Sirius. Remus supposed at the least Sirius had regained his House’s support and respect, even though he had lost it from his parents, brother, and other family members. He definitely looked cheerier since his return from the Hospital Wing.
At the end of that week, on a Thursday, Remus was running late to the required study hall in the Great Hall for all fifth years. He was just about to go in when Sirius came round the bend. Sirius looked disheveled and he was out of breath as if he’d been running. The bell sounded for the beginning of the class as Sirius came to a stop at the big oak doors.
Before the boys could say anything; or not say anything and walk inside the caretaker, Filch came crashing down the hallway.
Filch pointed a grimy finger at Sirius. “I caught you! I caught you, Black!”
Sirius looking genuinely confused stared at Filch as if he was insane. Of course Sirius and James had driven the man mad over the years. He was often the brunt of their pranks.
Professor Keenan stepped out of the Great Hall looking for stragglers. “Black, Lupin, you should be inside,” the Professor reprehended. He noticed Filch then. “Can I help you?”
“Trophy room has been vandalized. There’s glass everywhere. Trophies broken and overturned. Black did it, Professor.”
Professor Keenan considered the information. “Do you have proof?”
Filch grinned in a menacing way. “Course I got proof. Two portraits saw the boy.”
“Well he was crafty enough to wear a hood, but portraits saw his robes.”
“Saw Gryffindor robes?” Professor Keenan asked. Keenan was also constantly glancing at Sirius to see his reaction to Filch’s accusation. Sirius remained expressionless.
“No saw the Black family crest!” Filch pointed straight at the Black family shield adorning Sirius’s robes. Because of coldness and dampness of the castle, Sirius wasn’t the only student to wear a warmer robe over his school robes. Though there could only be one other person in possession of a robe with that symbol on it.
“Portraits also said he was carrying a rock. Used it to break he glass. Check his bag!”
Curiously, Sirius paled as Professor Keenan ordered him to hand over the bag.
It didn’t take long for Keenan to rummage through and soon enough he lifted out a large black rock. Keenan stared at the rock and then looked sternly at Sirius. “Well Mr. Black, what do you have to say for yourself?”
Sirius shrugged looking defeated. He looked even guiltier in Remus’s eyes. Professor Keenan hadn’t seen Sirius come running down the hall. Something about it all didn’t sit right even though all evidence pointed to Sirius.
“Professor, Sirius couldn’t have done it.” All eyes were suddenly on him and Remus only realized the consequences of his words after he’d uttered them. Now that he’d begun he knew he couldn’t back out. He wasn’t good at adlibbing, but he had to try. “Sirius had to stay behind in Herbology…and I waited for him – because – because we needed to talk. We’ve been fighting and we needed to talk. So we did – we talked and time just flew by. We hurried to class, went straight here. So you see it couldn’t have been Sirius. The portraits must have been mistaken.”
Filch’s face had turned an angry red with Remus’s words, but Professor Keenan looked thoughtful.
“The rock! The rock was in his bag,” Filch shouted.
“Yes, I’d like to know that myself. What was a rock doing in your bag, Mr. Black?” Professor Keenan questioned.
Sirius was ready with an answer. “James fancies himself a ladies man and I said he was delusional. So we thought up this bet. I bet him 10 galleons he couldn’t convince the girl of my choosing that a plain old rock was actually an expensive jewel with a really good concealment charm. That’s why I had the rock in my bag, Professor. He was going try this evening in the common room.” The story was ludicrous and Remus could tell Keenan didn’t know quite what to make of it. “You can ask James yourself. He should be inside.”
“That’s all right,” Keenan said. “I’ll take your word for now. This will be looked into. Mr. Filch, if you could close off the corridor to the trophy room. Leave it as it is. I’ll speak to the portraits myself and alert the other Professors. Also I’ll need to verify your story with Professor Sprout to be sure you were kept after class.”
Remus and Sirius nodded. The first rule of a good lie was to be as truthful as possible. In this case, it had just been luck that he had built the story around Professor Sprout speaking to Sirius after class. And Remus had walked back to the castle alone which meant there was no way to prove he hadn’t spoken to Sirius like he had said.
Filch was furious, and he left raging about the injustices in this school and lack of proper punishments.
Professor Keenan looked at them. “Let’s go inside.” He held open the door. Sirius went in first, as he passed Remus; he muttered a barely audible thank you. Remus entered next. He had planned to sit with Lily and a few other Gryffindors, but he knew he now couldn’t. If his story was going to hold up, he was supposed to have mended things with Sirius. If Keenan hadn’t fully bought the story (and Remus couldn’t be sure he had), it would look suspicious to not sit with Sirius after just mending the relationship. So he took a deep breath and slid into the seat next to Sirius, and across from James and Peter.
James and Peter looked at him dumbfounded before erupting into big grins. Remus forced a smile. He didn’t like to lead his friends on that things were fixed, but it couldn’t be helped. Sirius was quickly scrawling something out on a parchment (talking wasn’t allowed and technically neither was note passing), and he slipped it to James. Obviously Sirius was telling him about the story with the rock bet incase Keenan questioned him.
Then a terrible thought occurred to Remus. It wasn’t that Sirius probably was guilty of ruining the trophy room that was bothering Remus. And while he didn’t enjoy lying to Professor Keenan, he could live with that. No, the awful part was it was he who had enabled his friend, who as it was rarely thought about consequences, to get away with it. He felt sick to his stomach. He couldn’t betray Sirius now; he was sure James would think of it as the height of dishonor. He just had to survive this hour and later he’d confront Sirius.
Author’s note: So I know I promised more Sirius and Remus interaction, and I didn’t exactly deliver. The ‘talk’ you have all been waiting for will happen next chapter. I still needed this chapter to set it more up.
I’d like to thank all my readers for reading, reviewing, and sticking with this story. As always, let me know what you think with a review!
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