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Platitudes and Avoidance

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“Blood is thicker than water, Sirius,” Sephtis hisses in Sirius’s ear as the Slytherins and Gryffindors enter Slughorn’s classroom. Sirius knocks his shoulder into Sephtis as he pushes past.

“Just ignore him,” Peter says. “Just let it go. Forgive and forget.”

Sirius shoots Peter a nasty look and stalks over to James. “We’re switching partners,” he says. Sirius shoves James out of the way and towards Peter. He slams his book down when he plops into the seat next to Remus.

“Alright, everyone. Settle down, settle down,” Slughorn says. “Today, I want you all to think outside the box. What the mind can conceive, it can achieve.”

Sirius heard nothing more of Slughorn’s explanation. Leaning on his hand, elbow propped on the table, his mind shut out all sound. He saw only the wisps of smoke, or maybe it was steam, that swirled out from under a lid on a cauldron that sat on Slughorn’s desk. The distinct taste of leather formed in his mouth. He gripped his forearm and dug his nails into his skin.

“Goodness sake, Haserot,” Slughorn booms, snapping Sirius back to reality. “Haven’t you heard the proverb, ‘the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?’”

“For fuck’s sake,” Sirius grumbles.

“Oh,” Remus says, sounding a little surprised. “Welcome back to Earth. The year is 1977. I’m honored to witness your first moments on this plane of existence after your long time away. How was–”

“Fucking hell, Remus. Shut it.” Sirius rolls his eyes.

“Come now, Blatchley. Winners never quit,” Slughorn says over the murmur of bubbling potions and students conferring with each other. Or, students complaining to one another.

Sirius whispers to Remus, “I swear to every god there is, if Slughorn throws out one more platitude today –”

“Remember everyone, teamwork makes the dream work!” Slughorn croons to the class. Remus stifles a laugh. Sirius drops his head onto the table over and over. “Rome wasn’t built in a day, Black,” Slughorn says, standing next to Sirius. “You’ll have better luck next time.”

“Yes, sir,” Sirius says through gritted teeth, not looking up at Slughorn.

Slughorn begins to say, “It doesn’t matter how many times you fail, as long as –” He’s cut off by a loud crashing and whooshing sound. Sirius pulls Remus under the table just in time to be shielded from a splash of glowing orange and pink sludge. “Well. Well, then. I think that’s enough for today,” Slughorn sputters, trying to not let the failed potion drip into his mouth or eyes.

Sirius vanishes the gunk from his and Remus’s belongings and dashes out the door. As Sirius strides down the hall, he mutters to himself, “Everything is going to be ok. Everything happens for a reason. Everything always works out in the end. It will all look better in the morning. Patience is a virtue. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Other people have it worse. You’ll never face more than you can bear. This will hurt me more than it hurts you.”

“You ok?” James asks, a little breathless.

Sirius jumps at James’s sudden presence. “Did you just run all of the way here?” Sirius chuckles.

“Uh, yeah. No. No, I just… uh,” James huffs. “I really need to get back in shape.” Sirius laughs. “You looked a little out of it today during potions,” James says. Sirius rolls his eyes and shrugs. “Need to talk about anything?”

“Nah,” Sirius says, plopping his bag down on the floor next to a table in the library. He chuckles under his breath and says, “But if I hear one more platitude today, I’m gonna lose it.”

James laughs quietly. “Yeah, what was all of that about anyway? At least half of those were pure muggle sayings.”

“Pure muggle is an oxymoron,” a voice hummed from behind them, making both Sirius and James jump.

“Sephtis, I swear to every –”

“God there is. I know, I know,” Sephtis steps out from behind a bookcase as he finishes Sirius’s sentence.

Sirius looks at James. “Am I really becoming that predictable?”

“You do kind of say that a lot,” James nods.

“Really?” Sirius says. He runs a hand along his chin, rubbing what will one day be worthy of being called a beard. “I didn’t realize.”

“Yeah. You also rub your face when you’re deep in thought,” James points out. Sirius stops and pulls his hand away from his face, looking at his hand like it has truly offended him. Sirius laughs. James laughs, too. Sephtis does not laugh. He clears his throat.

“Oh, yeah? Well you preen whenever you see Lily Evans,” Sirius jeers.

James feigns shock. “I do no such thing!”

“You do, too. You mess up your hair because you think it makes you look cool.”

“It does make me look cool.”

Sirius holds up a hand and continues, “You tug on the hem of your shirt and smooth out the wrinkles across your chest.” James reaches out to fake-punch Sirius in the chest. Sirius bats James’s hand away and goes on, “And you stand frozen for five solid seconds every time you see her so you’ll always miss the chance to ask her out!”

“Excuse me,” Sephtis says. Neither Sirius nor James give Sephtis any attention. The two get into a poking and swatting match littered with giggles. Sephtis watches with wide eyes and his upper lip turned up in disgust. It isn’t long before he stalks away.

“Gentlemen!” Madame Pince, the librarian, whisper-shouts.

Sirius and James stop their warring immediately and say in unison, “Sorry, Madame Pince.”

“One more outburst and you’re out of here for the term! Understood?”

“Yes, Madame Pince,” Sirius and James say together. The librarian turns on her heel and marches away silently. Sirius and James look at each other and snicker.