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Chapter 8 : The Hogwarts Express
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A/N: This is a long one, but I can't promise all future chapters will be this long. Thanks to anyone who may have started reading this story years ago and is still continuing with it.
The Hogwarts Express
August 30th. Whatever else Sirius had told himself about the safety of Hogwarts and Harry needing friends his own age, September 1st was not a day he wanted to dawn. Ever. Deep down, Sirius knew he was being selfish. Harry deserved a life with friends and freedom from home. Without Hogwarts, Harry would grow up surrounded by his father, his godparents, and his uncles. What kid wanted that? But ten minutes to midnight, sitting alone in his dark kitchen, reaching for the full glass next to an open whiskey bottle, Sirius could care less what Harry wanted. And that thought drove him to refill his glass. What kind of father put himself over his son? Since the day he first saw his son, Sirius knew the boy would be accepted to Hogwarts one day. Eleven years, and Sirius still couldn't accept that his son would leave home. He filled his glass again.
"Padfoot, you up?" James Potter called from the living room, his voice quiet enough to not carry to the second floor where Harry was asleep.
Sirius sighed and placed a half-empty glass on the table. When he stood, his legs shook from the sudden rush of alcohol to his brain, and he grabbed a chair, nearly toppling it, to stay upright.
The room swayed like a boat at sea, but Sirius managed to stumble to the living room without falling by using countertops and walls to steady himself.
"Wow. Mate." James tried to get an arm around Sirius, but Sirius pushed him away, almost toppling over.
"I dun eed 'elp." Sirius only needed one of his hands on the floor to push himself onto the couch. He tried to blink the blurry, rocking world into focus. "I oo 'ere? Ut ha'end?" Sirius heard something in the kitchen and tried to raise his heavy head to see.
Sirius felt too weighted down to protest, so he swallowed the thick liquid being poured down his throat. The living room and James' frowning face slowly cleared into an image Sirius could process. "Prongs?"
"I feel like I've been hit by the Knight Bus," Sirius said, bringing his hands to his face and sitting up.
"Not surprised; you polished off that new bottle of whiskey."
Sirius groaned. "Why are you here?"
"Assignment from Dumbledore. He wants you, me, Moony, and a couple other Order members on the train tomorrow."
Sirius forgot about the train Dumbledore had assigned him to guard in the past. He started drinking one night too early. Then again, a long, relaxing train ride was an excellent place to sleep off a hangover. Staying with Harry throughout the ride would be out of the question. No matter what, Sirius refused to be 'that' parent, the parent who humiliated his son by always being present while the kid tried to make friends and not get made fun of.
"You think that's a good idea?"
"If Voldemort tries to attack the train, I think it's a great idea. If not, I'd still rather be prepared, especially with Harry on-board." James sat next to his best friend. "Why?"
"I mean Moony, not the rest of us."
"Full moon's not for two weeks—"
Sirius could not pretend he didn't feel James' glare.
"Not this again!"
"No!" James jumped up. "I'm getting you another potion; you're obviously still drunk."
"Hear me out. We aren't any closer to finding out who it is now than we were twelve years ago. And Remus told me something."
"What? That he suddenly works for everything he spent years fighting against? I don't want to hear it, Sirius!"
Sirius fell farther back into the couch, if that was possible. He watched James storm into the kitchen.
"Get it together, Black," he muttered to himself. First, he got too drunk to be anything but hungover on the last morning he would see his son in months, then he accused Remus of being the traitor, and to James, no less! Last time Sirius had done that, he had almost destroyed his friendship with James, and Sirius didn't even think Remus had been betraying them anymore. He trusted the werewolf with his life. With his son's life. He had left Harry alone with Remus countless times, hadn't he?
"Here," James snarled, throwing a potion vial into Sirius' lap. "I'll see you in the morning."
But Prongs was gone. Already, green embers were all that was left of the fire James had Flooed out of.
"Dad?" Harry leaned against the railing at the bottom of the steps rubbing sleep out of his eyes.
"Harry." Sirius quickly drained the vial James had retrieved for him. "You should be in bed, pup. Big day tomorrow."
Harry nodded and yawned. "Was that Uncle James? He sounded upset."
"Nah, just tired. Go on back up to bed. You'll want to be awake for tomorrow." And I'll want to be sober.
Kings Cross Station was as crowded as Sirius remembered it being from his school days. The barrier to Platform 9 ¾ was certainly no different, except for a few new lines of graffiti.
Harry had a tight hold on his trolley, and Sirius had a tight, one-handed hold on him. His other hand clutched his wand in the pocket of his Muggle clothes. James, Remus, and Lily likewise kept a hand in a pocket.
"Okay, you know what to do?" Sirius asked.
"Go for it."
With that, Sirius released his hold on his son and watched him run towards the barrier. Briefly, he worried the barrier would be closed and Harry would be sent flying. Funny, he never had that worry when he ran through. But as soon as his son's back disappeared, Sirius and James casually leaned against the barrier and fell through too. A moment later, Lily and Remus were standing behind them on the platform.
Harry was gazing wide-eyed at the scarlet steam engine. "Wow."
"Now, Harry," Sirius said, pulling him aside. "I can't let you get on that train without going over this with you one more time. You will be the only Marauder Hogwarts has seen in years."
"Yes, we leave you with this precious artifact of our Marauding school days in the hopes that you will carry on our noble work," James said, and handed Harry a wrapped parcel.
"Thanks!" Harry said, grinning. He started to open the package but his father and godfather quickly stopped him.
"Not out here," Sirius warned him as James looked nervously at Lily.
"And remember we'll be proud of you no matter what," Remus said, joining them.
"Be careful, sweetie," Lily said, pulling Harry into a hug. "I love you."
"Love you, too."
"We'll miss you, kiddo."
"Good luck in school."
Sirius held Harry in the longest hug, and then Harry was boarding. Sirius saw him struggle a bit with his trunk and owl—whom he decided to name Hedwig after reading a History of Magic book—and moved to help, but Remus' hand on his arm and a shake of the head stopped him. A pair of red-headed boys who looked a bit older were already helping.
"Let him make friends."
"Yeah, yeah I should…"
Sirius boarded the train with his three friends and met up with Kingsley Shacklebolt—an Auror and Order member—and John Dawlish—just an Auror—in a forward compartment.
Sirius ignored greetings from the two, sat next to the window, and made a point of staring outside as Platform 9 ¾ was pulled out of view.
Not ten minutes after leaving the station, Sirius left the compartment, muttering something about the loo before sliding the door shut behind him. Carefully checking that no one was around to see, he transformed into a large, Grim-like dog and padded down the train. The few Hogwarts students still not seated were too busy searching compartments or snogging to notice Padfoot.
When Padfoot's nose led him to Harry, he could tell his son was not alone and listened by the door. His heart raced, and he kept switching his weight from left to right and back because of his sweaty paw pads. Would Harry be hurt if he knew his father was eavesdropping while he tried to make friends? But there would be time to debate with himself later; Sirius wanted to hear what Harry and the other boy were saying.
"I'm Ron, by the way. Ron Weasley."
"Harry. Harry Black."
"Oh—" The Ron boy sounded hesitant.
"Don't worry, my dad and I aren't nutters like the rest of the Blacks. He was in Gryffindor, and that's where I'm going too."
Sirius could hear the relief in the boy's voice and silently cursed his family name for being so associated with the Dark Arts that even kids knew to be cautious around Blacks if their family loved Muggles.
"My whole family was in Gryffindor too. Ug, corned beef. I hate corned beef. Mum's always forgetting; she doesn't have much time, with five of us, you know."
"You have four brothers and sisters?" Harry sounded excited. Sirius felt a pang of guilt at keeping him from other children for so long.
"Nah, six. Bill and Charlie already left Hogwarts."
"Six? That must be great! At my house, it's just me and my dad."
"What about your mum?"
"Erm, I never knew her. My dad never knew her either, says he doesn't remember her at all."
Something in Harry's voice made Sirius take a step back. Did Harry think he was lying about not knowing the identity of his mother? Before he could dwell too long on what Harry might think, approaching footsteps sent Padfoot as far into the shadows as he could manage. He watched as a young girl with bushy, brown hair pulled open the door to Harry's compartment.
"Have either of you seen a cat? I let mine out and now I can't find him."
"No, we haven't seen any cat!" Ron said.
"Well could you let me if you do? I'm Hermione Granger, by the way." And with that, the girl left and the compartment door slid shut.
"Don't know why she's bothering, looking all over the train," Sirius heard Ron say. "It's a cat, someone'll find it."
Sirius had almost reached his previous spot by the door when heard, well more smelt than heard, the witch with the trolley coming close and retreated back to his hiding place.
"Anything off the trolley, dears?" Sirius heard her ask Harry and Ron.
"You bet!" Harry said.
Sirius snorted as he watched his son load his arms with such an assortment of sweets that Sirius felt an early onset of acid reflux just looking at it all. He was, however, pleased to hear Harry offer some of the candy to his new friend, for more reasons than not wanting Harry to make himself sick on his first day.
Sirius laid on his paws while listening to the boys talk about Chocolate Frog Cards and what flavors of Bertie Botts Every-Flavored Beans they liked best. He was trying not to think about what Harry had said regarding his mother when the next person to approach the compartment was James. No hiding from James.
Before Padfoot could transform back into a wizard, James grabbed him by the scruff of the neck and hauled him into an empty compartment.
"Really, Sirius? Harry's growing up, he can't be stuck to you forever."
"I know, I just…"
"Sirius, you have to start letting him go," James said, squeezing Sirius' shoulder. "You must have heard him laughing in there. Hogwarts'll be great for him."
"He's my son, James."
"That's part of raising a kid, letting him grow up and learn to live without you there all the time. You're his father, mate, and he adores you. That's never going change, no matter how old he gets."
James' words stung. Did Harry adore him? Or did he think his father was a lying bastard who was purposefully keeping him apart from his mother?
"You're right," Sirius finally said. "I'm just going to sit here for a while. Clear my head."
James nodded. "Sure thing. Let me know if you me."
"Yeah," Sirius said, watching James leave.
Sirius hadn't been sitting alone long when the train lurched and he was thrown around the compartment. What the hell? Sirius pressed a hand to a throbbing spot on his head. He looked up and saw the seats above him. The train was upside-down. Blood smeared over the hand Sirius had pulled away from his head. He grabbed his wand and forced the door open. He hoisted himself up through the door and onto the corridor ceiling. He wrenched the jammed door to Harry's compartment open.
"Harry! Are you all right?"
Sirius let out the breath he was holding when he heard Harry over the screeches of his owl.
"You aren't hurt?"
"No, Hedwig's a bit rattled up though. Ron's okay too."
"Harry, listen to me. I want you to stay there. I'm going to lock the door so no one can get in. Do NOT open it for anyone until I come to get you. Understand?"
"No, Dad, what's going on?"
"Your dad's on the train?" Ron asked.
Sirius ignored him. "Death Eaters, stay there." He closed the door again and magically locked it so Harry could get out from the inside but no one could open the door from the outside. Sirius started up the train, carefully maneuvering around students climbing out of compartments and luggage that had already been thrown out. "Everyone get back inside!" Sirius barked. If there was going to be a fight with Death Eaters, it wouldn't be happening in the compartments, and better that the kids were out of the line of fire.
A man in a white mask crossed Sirius' line of vision, and he shot a stunner at the Death Eater. But a second masked man deflected it.
"Somebody, help!" a frightened voice called out.
"Harry, what are you doing?" Ron asked, as Harry climbed onto his fallen trunk to reach the door. "Your dad said to stay here."
"Someone needs help." Harry pushed open the door. "I'm going to help."
"Harry," Ron whined. But he still got up and followed his new friend out the door.
"Don't shut it," Harry said. "We can go back inside once we find whoever needs help." He looked around and spotted a ginger cat perched in an open compartment door frame.
"Are you in here?" Harry asked.
"Yes! Please help!"
With a little difficulty, Harry climb into the compartment and helped Ron in. He quickly spotted the bushy haired girl who had asked about her cat with her leg pinned under two trunks that jammed together.
"I-I think it's broken," she said, gripping her thigh and crying. "I can't get it off."
"Hold on," Harry said. He and Ron started pushing on the trunks. Parents could put charms on their kids' trunks to make them light, but weights of these trunks were painfully obvious. When the boys had the trunks tilted high enough, Hermione pulled her leg out.
"Th-thank you," she said, drying her eyes with the back of her hand. "Do you know what happened?"
"The train was attacked by Death Eaters."
The girl's eyes got wide. "You mean those horrible people Professor Vector told me about?"
"Wait, you're Muggleborn?" Sirius had told Harry professors would visit Muggleborn students the summer before their first year to take them and their family to Diagon Alley for school supplies and explain how to get onto Platform 9 ¾.
"Why does that matter?" she asked, obviously offended.
"It doesn't to us, but if the Death Eaters find out—You have to come back to our compartment with us. There's a charm on the door so they can't get in," Harry told her.
"But… I can't walk."
"We'll help," Harry said, and pulled one of her arms around his shoulders.
With Ron on Hermione's other side, the wizards managed to get the witch into the corridor. Before they could get back to the compartment, though, a masked woman slammed the charmed door shut.
The witch took off her mask and grinned at Harry. "You're my blood traitor cousin's brat, aren't you?"
Harry knew who this had to be, Sirius had warned him about her enough times. And that meant she did know exactly who he was.
Harry took a step back, pulling Hermione and Ron with him.
"Don't try to run from me, little baby Black. I'm not going to kill you. I only want to take you far away. I'll bring you back, too. I'll let your worthless father see all the pain I'll put you through before I kill him. The last thing he'll hear is you screaming in agony. Won't that be fun?"
The crazy witch inched closer, wand drawn.
Harry looked around, desperately, for Sirius.
"You sick nutter!" Ron said, unbelieving.
Bellatrix Lestrange laughed. "A Weasley, calling me a nutter?" She laughed again.
Harry couldn't remember being so scared in his entire life. Where was Dad?
Her wand flashed, and Ron was thrown into a wall and knocked out.
Harry tried to drag Hermione with him, tried to get away from Bellatrix's outstretched hand, but her long, cold fingers found his neck. Harry kicked at her clawed the hand at his throat, but that only made Bellatrix laugh again.
"Dad—" he choked out.
"Don't worry, you'll see your father again. I promise."
"Sooner than you think." Sirius' wand was a blur as he moved to curse his cousin.
Bellatrix dropped Harry to defend herself. "It's been too long, Sirius," she said, and again laughed that damned laugh.
"Not long enough!"
Sirius was fast, but Bellatrix was faster. Her spell hit him in the chest, and Sirius crumpled to the floor.
Bellatrix reached for Harry again. "And now, Black—"
"Now, you will release my student," an authoritative voice commanded.
Harry was freed from the Death Eater's grip, and he crawled as quickly as he could to his unconscious father. "Dad." He lightly shook his father's shoulder. "Please get up, Dad."
"Please move aside, Harry. I will help your father as much as I can, but then I must return to the rest of my students."
Harry recognized Albus Dumbledore. Hermione's leg was in a heavy cast, and Ron was awake. Bellatrix was gone.
Harry nodded and moved over as much as he could. Dumbledore muttered incantations too fast and quietly for Harry to understand, but a moment later, Sirius groaned and clutched his chest.
"Dad!" Harry flung himself onto his injured father, causing him to hiss in pain, but Sirius held Harry as tightly as he could anyways.
"Sirius, I believe it will be best if you remain conscious for the remainder of the trip," Dumbledore instructed.
"Yeah, whatever you say."
After checking nearby compartments for other students and finding them empty, Dumbledore started to make his way back up the train.
A silvery stag, a patronus, stopped in front of Sirius. James' voice came out of its mouth, asking "We're all okay. How are you and Harry?"
Sirius waved his wand and a silvery dog shot out to answer.
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