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In Which Sirius Black Fails to Argue with a Hat

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Ignoring the rules works great, once they figure out what rules you really can ignore. Fuck Gamp, anyway. Most of his rules are bullshit. Ignoring Golpalott is a bit more complicated, but he mostly natters on about Alchemy. Sirius almost dismisses his rot entirely until Regulus points out that Alchemy is changing one thing into another, and what are they doing again?

Fucking Golpalott. Sirius was happy to avoid that shit until his N.E.W.T. years, but no, his little brother wants to become an Animagus! Sirius gets to bash his face into a book because Golpalott doesn’t know how to write things down in simple terms. It takes the arsehole five pages to explain a concept that can be boiled down into one sentence.

Then there is the other problem.

“A Half-blood? In my house? Sirius Orion Black, you have gone too far!” Mother shrieks.

Sirius refuses to wince, even though his ears hurt. Nobody can shriek like Walburga Black. “Please do me the honour of hearing me out, Mother.”

It should be Regulus doing this. Regulus would have her eating out of his hand by now, but they agreed—Sirius needs to practice. The more their parents think Sirius has Embraced Evil and become a True Black, the more chances they’ll have to be away from this fucking place, both for visiting Cokeworth and for roaming about Muggle London.

Mother visibly reins herself in. “Very well,” she grates out. “I will acknowledge your rare bout of good manners. Please explain your motivations for asking me to desecrate my household with a Half-blood.”

“A properly Pure-blood-raised Half-blood Prince,” Sirius emphasizes. “A young Half-blood Prince who is seriously contemplating a legal adoption of his mother’s name in order to escape the connection to his Muggle father. Imagine if this Half-blood were to witness and adopt our family’s gracious ways, Mother. Consider that he might then have the societal clout to marry a Pure-blood, and once that occurs…”

“A resumption of the Prince line. It would be a few generations before they would be considered Pure-blood again, but that is indeed how it starts if one of the family has sullied themselves with filthy Muggle blood,” Mother mutters to herself.

Sirius clenches his jaw and thinks about how much he hates this bigoted harpy shrew. Mother has constantly proven that she’s hated Sirius since he was old enough to walk. He used to be jealous of Regulus, who liked being a Proper Black and was always adored. Now Sirius is just grateful, because it means Regulus didn’t have nearly as many encounters with toxins, venoms, dangerous creatures, curses, hexes, and straight-up poisoning to “toughen him up.”

“We’re too few already, Mother,” Sirius says. “Would it not be proper for us to grant another family the opportunity to regain its standing in the eyes of Wizarding Britain?”

“That smacks of altruism, Sirius,” Mother warns him.

Sirius gives her a bland look. “Not at all. He would then owe me for every benefit he gained for his entire life.”

Severus might kill Sirius for saying that. Or he’ll find it funny. Some days, Sirius really doesn’t know which response it will be. Right now, though, the goal is to get Severus Snape into this fucking house. Sirius needs to get Severus into the library, and they have to find something—anything—that will ease a werewolf’s transition.

Remus’s parents were kind enough to send an owl when Remus didn’t turn up after the full moon. That was better than silence, but the letter was almost worse. Remus is too sick to come back to Cokeworth, and while Remus’s parents didn’t say why, they all know the reason.

The next full moon is on ninth September. They don’t have much time.

“At last, you are thinking like a proper Slytherin,” Mother praises him, and Sirius feels queasy. This isn’t really how to be a proper Slytherin at all. That’s Severus and Regulus, proving that it’s about loyalty to those you can trust and trade with, the ones who have your back while you plot for each other’s benefit. It’s even Lily, in a way, with her fierce protective nature combined with a Gryffindor’s lunatic bravado. It’s Remus, who keeps ploughing along like everything is fine, keeps smiling, even though his life becomes a complete shambles every time the moon is full. Sirius doesn’t fit in either of those two categories, but at least the others don’t mind.

“You may invite the Half-blood into the house, though he is not to show his face at table until I feel he is acceptable company during meals. The elves will provide for you both while he lives as a guest in your room. Do you understand?” Walburga asks.

“Yes, Mother,” Sirius replies. That’s better than he hoped for. He’ll just have to order the house-elves not to shriek, moan, and cry at having to serve food to a Half-blood.

Got it done, Sirius writes that evening on his charmed scroll, making sure to mutter the right word so the message goes out to everyone. Severus, you officially get to be terrified by the Black family.

The others must have been waiting about to find out what happened, as the responses all flood in at once.

Wait, Mother listened to you? emerges in Regulus’s fancy print.

Remus’s handwriting is kind of terrifying in how shaky it is. Better you than me, mate.

We’re sure we can’t get me in, too? Lily asks.

Not if I terrify them, first, Severus declares.

Sirius addresses them one at a time. Regulus: shut up, of course she did. Remus, we’re going to fix it, now please have tea or take a nap or eat an entire chicken in a bowl of bone broth or something. Lily: you don’t speak French, Mother knows everyone’s eligible daughters, and Uncle Pollux has cursed the doorways so that anyone Muggle-born dies immediately if they try to enter the house. No, I’ve no idea how, or if it’s a lie, but I don’t think that’s the sort of shit we should test. Severus, I will pay you if you pull that off.

Can we maybe not challenge Severus into trying to get himself killed? Regulus asks.

Please. Antidotes exist, Severus responds, and Sirius grins at the scroll.

The next day, he takes the Floo down to the King’s Cross Floo hub, tumbling out in a proper somersault that sees him back on his feet. It’s not as good as never falling at all, but Sirius at least makes it look intentional. The Max family, waiting for the next available Floo, even applauds his exit. Sirius grins, bows, and wanders off through the barrier into the Muggle side of the station.

His eyes almost slide right over Severus before he realizes who he’s looking at. Severus looks like a white twig that someone decided to dress in black. His hair is pulled back in a tail; he’s wearing black trousers and a black t-shirt with faces on it. The faces are accompanied by the word Queen in oddly fancy lettering.

“You dressed like a Muggle?” Sirius asks, horrified. His family will murder them both.

Severus rolls his eyes. “Relax, idiot. I have a cloak I can put on before we arrive. I didn’t want to stick out like someone’s severed thumb by wearing it in the middle of London.” Severus eyes Sirius. “The waistcoat and jacket at least sort of blend in, even if they’re anachronistic.”

“I have no idea what that last word means, but mate, I’ve at least seen enough at the train station to know that this is not the weirdest shit that Muggles are wearing this year,” Sirius says. “Why are you labelling yourself a queen?”

Severus gives him an odd look. “It’s. A. Band. They play music. Instruments? Singing? You’ve heard of that, yes?”

“Yes, but not in terms of advertising it on your clothing. Come on.”

“We’re not taking the Floo?” Severus asks as Sirius leads them out of the station.

“Can’t. Unless I announce you to the house at the front door, it won’t let you in. Trust me, you do not want to bounce off of someone’s Warded Floo, especially ours.” Sirius glances around until he spies one of the few Ministry-funded hireable cars that do a terrible job of blending in with Muggle taxis. “Especially since it’s less bouncing and more splatting.”

“I see.” Severus refuses to let go of his small bag as they climb into the back of the Ministry car.

The driver behind the wheel gives them a sour look. “I’m not for hire, kids. Scram.”

Sirius narrows his eyes and retrieves his wand from his sleeve. “Yes. You are.”

“Oh! Should’ve done that right off, lad. Where to?”

“Twelve Grimmauld Place.”

The driver makes a sour face. “Why on earth would you want to go there?”

Sirius stares at the driver. “Because I live there.”

“Oh.” The driver activates the charms that set the car in motion before hunching down in his seat as far as he can go without disappearing entirely.

“You know you’ve made it in Wizarding Britain when people are terrified of your address,” Severus says dryly.

“It’s worse if you ask to go to Malfoy Manor. They turn colours and refuse to go until you bribe them.”

Severus glances at him. “When did you have occasion to go to Malfoy Manor?”

“Cousin Narcissa’s betrothal to Lucius Malfoy, which became official after her graduation last term. She’ll be married to the twit next summer,” Sirius replies, trying not to grimace. That had not been a fun…engagement. Calling it a party was an insult to parties.

“I’m not certain who to feel more sympathy for—Narcissa, or Lucius.” Severus narrows his eyes. “Definitely Narcissa. Lucius is a complete imbecile. I thought she hated that wanker’s existence.”

“Arranged marriage,” Sirius says shortly, trying not to dwell on everything he’s trying to toss together so he can avoid the same fate. It will probably take being disowned, but when it comes to deciding between being disowned by people he hates or marrying someone he hates, he’ll take being disowned so he can avoid both.

“Oh.” Severus is silent for a minute. “I hope Narcissa castrates him after she has an Heir.”

Sirius snorts. “At least she’ll have the sanity to remember that she’s supposed to wait until after the kids come along. Pretty sure Cousin Bellatrix castrated Rodolphus before the ink on their marriage contract was dry.”

Both of them shiver. Bellatrix Black Lestrange is almost as terrifying as You-Know-Who.

“What about Andromeda?” Severus asks.

“Dunno. Uncle Alphard says she has a kid now, but that’s all I know. Disowned,” he adds when Severus looks confused. “She married a Muggle. Blight on the family. Ruination. Et cetera.”

“Good for her,” Severus murmurs.

“Here you are, gentlemen!” the driver blurts out as the car comes to a halt. “Twelve Grimmauld Place. Please get out of my car so I can leave!”

“Wanker,” Sirius mutters as he gets out. He pays the fare and stiffs the idiot on the tip. He’ll save that money for someone with better manners. Maybe he’ll even figure out how to get into Gringotts without his parents knowing and convert more money over to Muggle so he can give it to Muggle cab drivers, instead.

Sirius waits for Severus to pull a robe from his bag. “Extension Charm?” he asks when the full-length robe emerges from a bag that’s too small to hold it.

Undetectable Extension Charm,” Severus corrects. “Otherwise, what’s the fucking point? Where is the house? I only see numbers for Eleven and Thirteen.”

“Yeah, and as far as our mystery neighbours are concerned, there isn’t a Twelve.” Sirius holds out his hand. “No, seriously, you have to hold my hand. I could tell you the Fidelius Charm all day long and it wouldn’t do you any good at all if you weren’t directly interacting with a Black.”

“Oh.” Severus grimaces when Sirius grabs his hand. “I don’t like…touching people.”

“I promise I’m not contagious,” Sirius says, grinning. “Pura semper sanguinis.”

“Always Pure-blood.” Severus makes a derisive noise. “That’s a stupid password.”

“And that’s why you need to be introduced to the house by a Black.” Sirius drops Severus’s hand, deciding to be seven shades of mature and ignore it when Severus hastily wipes his hands off on his robe. “Come inside, don’t let the house-elves get away with anything, and also don’t touch anything anyone in the family tries to give you unless you’re dead certain it’s me or Regulus.”

“Dead being the key word?” Severus asks as they climb the front steps.

Sirius nods and opens the front door after the magic recognizes his hand on the knob. “Yeah. Literally.”


*          *          *          *


Sirius realizes he’s managed to start forgetting that Severus Snape is fucking terrifying when he introduces Severus to Walburga Black. Any hint of a Midlands accent is suddenly gone from his voice. Severus addresses Walburga with spot-on Pure-blooded manners: a guest greeting their host while also informing said host that they are equals. Severus is perfectly polite while being just as openly snide as Sirius’s mother; honestly, Sirius thinks Severus managed to be even more disdainful than Walburga, and that takes some serious talent.

This is how Severus survives as a Half-blood in Slytherin House, Sirius thinks. If Severus really did change his name to Prince, no one would ever know he was a Half-blood unless Severus told them.

“You act above your station, child,” Mother says, instantly recalling Sirius’s attention to the problem at hand.

Severus is already freakishly tall for a fourteen-year-old. Sirius has no idea how he manages to make himself look even taller. “I am not. The Prince family might not have ancient or noble attached to our name, but that is because Wizarding society tends not to attach such titles to the Jewish families despite the fact that the Prince line can trace its lineage all the way back to Antioch Peverell, and then further still, until we lose track of the family in the seventh century. Can you claim a similar length of time for the Black family’s existence, Madam Black?”

Mother looks spitefully impressed. “Can you prove it, Half-blood?”

“Half-blood Prince,” Severus responds in a hiss that just barely rates above a snarl. “The genealogy documentation is stored in the family vault. We can easily prove that we are one of the oldest Wizarding families in Britain, of a lineage that probably arrived on this island when the Romans dwelled here. It is you who are speaking to one who is above your station.”

Mother sits back in her chair. “He may attend supper with the family, Sirius. Do not be late.”

Sirius knows a dismissal when he hears one. “Mother,” he acknowledges, and guides Severus out of the parlour before Severus decides pre-emptive poisoning is in order.

“No wonder you were an imbecile at Hogwarts,” Severus states the moment Sirius has his bedroom door closed and locked behind them. “Your behaviour was actually an improvement upon your mother’s excellent example.”

“Think you meant horrible example, there,” Sirius replies, flumping back on his bed. It’s too big, a giant four-poster with a mattress that tries to suck him into the ticking every night. “I hate that woman.”

“If the rest of your relatives are like her, supper will be interesting,” Severus says, but at least some of the Cokeworth influence is back in his voice. “The library?”

Sirius shakes his head. “We’re not pressing our luck. Tonight we hide in here until supper. Tomorrow I’ll tell the elves to bring breakfast, and we’ll visit the library when my nutter family leaves to do…whatever shit they get up to during the day. I try not to think about it.”

Severus nods. “Thank you.”

Sirius sits back up. “What the fuck for?”

The wide smirk on Severus’s face is a terrifying work of art. “I don’t get to tell off people like her very often, especially when it’s justifiable. That was fun.”

“You’re fucking mental, Sev.”

Severus tilts his head with a thoughtful look. “Some days I truly think I am. If so, at least it’s the useful sort of mental,” he says, and Sirius laughs.

Regulus comes by after judging that a solid hour is probably long enough to delay. The door will only open if it’s really Regulus knocking and putting his hand on the doorknob, so Sirius isn’t concerned when his little brother darts into his bedroom and closes the door. “Hi, Severus!”

Severus’s smirk becomes more genuine. He likes Regulus in a way he doesn’t like anyone else except for Lily, except it’s not the same thing. It’s one of those other weird puzzles that Sirius is trying to figure out, because Severus is a complicated piece of work.

Then there is the no-touching thing. Severus seemed genuinely freaked out by touching. Sirius wants to ask, but Regulus is here, and even he knows that’s the sort of thing you ask a friend about in private.

“You got invited to supper? Wow,” Regulus says, impressed. “That doesn’t happen very often. Wanna know what you’re in for this evening?”

“Enlighten me,” Severus replies.

“Well, you never got to meet cousin Bellatrix. I know we’ve talked about her a lot—”

“Marital castration was the topic, I believe,” Severus says dryly.

Regulus shrugs. “Rodolphus Lestrange probably got off easy if it was just that. She’s mental. She’s…you don’t want to meet her. You just don’t, but sometimes she randomly turns up for dinner because Uncle Pollux is her grandfather, and Mother and Aunt Cassiopeia are her great-aunts, and Father is her third cousin.”

Severus stares at Regulus for a moment. “Sirius, do you have a scroll? I think I need to write this shit down.”

Sirius opens his desk and retrieves a scroll, a writing board, and a quill he hasn’t chewed on. “Wait’ll you see the family tree in the parlour tomorrow. It gets wild.”

“Just…” Severus shakes his head in irritation as he writes down everything Regulus just said. It’s even in the proper order, because Severus listens and retains information like a scary fucking sponge. “Tell me who I should expect at dinner tonight, and how they’re related to the two of you.”

“Okay…well…” Sirius glances at Regulus, who shrugs. “Mother married her first cousin once removed. Regulus and I are first cousins once removed because of that.”

“God’s sake,” Severus mutters. “I’m not sure if I should apologize for all of the inbreeding jokes or not.”

“Nah, don’t bother,” Sirius says. “They’re true.”

“Father had three siblings—I’m named after one of them—but they all died without having any kids. His first cousins, though, they make things interesting,” Regulus explains. “Our first cousins once removed, Callidora, Cedrella, and Charis—they married Harfang Longbottom, Septimus Weasley, and Casper Crouch—that’s Barty Crouch’s uncle.”

“That first-year Ravenclaw?” Severus then makes a face. “Is there anyone you are not related to?”

“You,” Sirius answers at once. “Yeah, our family was probably being anti-Semitic, or they were just miffed because the Princes don’t have any appellations attached to the name.”

“You didn’t even know what being Jewish meant. Neither did Potter, for that matter,” Severus adds, frowning. “What an odd blind spot.”

“So maybe he wasn’t being an anti-Semitic toe rag. Maybe Potter was just being an arsehole.” Sirius is glad to give Potter that, even if he feels weird about it, but anti-Semitism is way too close to the way Death Eaters like Cousin Bellatrix think. Potter can be an arsehole all he likes as long as he doesn’t decide to be like Bellatrix Black Lestrange.

No, not going to happen, Sirius decides. Potter’s parents would hand him his arse. Then his grandparents would be after what remained of his arse, right before Uncle Charles and Aunt Dorea took a turn.

“You didn’t get to meet Andromeda, either,” Regulus is saying, “but she’s actually okay, even if the family disowned her and Mother burnt her off the family tree. She married this nice bloke named Ted Tonks—Uncle Alphard snuck me out to meet them once after she had a baby she named Nymphadora. Narcissa is…” Regulus makes a face. “Herself, really. Anyway, they’re our first cousins, first cousins once removed, second cousins, and third cousins.”

Severus stares at Regulus. “What the fuck.”

“It gets better,” Sirius says. “Our great-grandfather by our mother is Cygnus Black II, who is also our grandfather because of our father. Uncle Pollux is both our uncle and our great-uncle. Same with Aunt Cassiopeia, Uncle Marius—he was burnt off the family tree and kicked out for being a Squib—and Aunt Dorea. She married Charlus Potter, Henry Potter’s brother, but they don’t have kids. No idea why. Nobody quite dared to burn Aunt Dorea off the tree, not with Henry Potter being so popular, but no one will talk about her, either.”

Severus glances up from where he’s been madly scribbling on his scroll. “You’re related to Potter?”

Sirius shrugs. “Just by marriage. Second cousins once removed, or something like that. Anyway, Uncle Alphard and Uncle Cygnus aren’t our uncles. They’re our first cousins and first cousins once removed, and second cousins. That happens a lot because we all have the same great-grandparents.” Sirius thinks about it. “Shit, no, wait, Potter is also a second cousin once removed because of his mother. I keep forgetting about that, because it’s how we’re related to Remus. His grandmother was a Pryce, and that links us to the Graces and the Lupins and at this point you might need strings and charts because it’s a disaster.”

“It’s the generation gap thing. We’re the kids, they’re the adults…” It’s Regulus’s turn to shrug. “I think it just made everyone feel better about how we’re related to Cousins Andromeda, Bellatrix, and Narcissa. See, we all have the same great-great-grandparents.”

“Wait. If you’re all sharing the same great-great-grandparents, that means your father and all of your first cousins are also your third cousins.” Severus squeezes his eyes shut. “I’m not all that religious, but I am suddenly so very glad to be Jewish. It means we’re not a part of this complete cesspool of a family tree!”

Regulus gives Severus an apologetic look. “It never actually gets better.”

Severus nods and picks up his quill again. “How the fuck are you related to the Longbottoms and the Weasleys, then?”

“Okay. So, Father’s first cousins are the three C-sisters,” Sirius says, and Severus nods warily. “That means Callidora and Harfang’s kids are his first cousins once removed. Same with Septimus and Cedrella; Arthur, Ignatius, and Bilius are first cousins once removed. Since Arthur and Molly already have two kids, they’re first cousins twice removed. Cousin Algernon isn’t married, but Cousin Robert married Augusta Burke, so that’s how we’re related to Frank Longbottom in Gryffindor. If he marries Alice Max like everyone is wagering on, then we’ll be linked back to the Max family again. Cousin Charis has three kids with Casper—that’s Casper Junior, Charles, and Selene Crouch. She’s a year ahead of us in Ravenclaw.”

“And the scandal with Blythe Petersen, the Ravenclaw who’ll be a seventh-year when we go back to Hogwarts,” Regulus adds, grinning. “I mean, it’s this big secret and nobody knows, except everyone who’s a Black knows because we have to shun Cousin Casper for having a kid with a Muggle. None of the adults care that he cheated on his wife—it’s just the Muggle bit that cheeses them off.”

“There’s a Prewett besides Molly in there, too, right?” Sirius asks Regulus, wracking his brain to try to remember.

“Arcturus, Father’s brother. He married a Macmillan, and they had Lucretia Black, and she married Ignatius Prewett, Molly Prewett’s uncle!” Regulus yells triumphantly. “I’d forgotten about that one, too! And they had Ignatius II, who died young, and Henry Prewett, who I think just married Joy Dunbar.”

“And the Prewetts link us to the Derricks, the Crouches and Graces again, and…” Sirius sticks out his tongue. “Ew, I think the Carrows, too.”

Severus seems to have given up on writing any of it down. Sirius doesn’t blame him. “This is fascinating, in a grisly crime scene kind of way.”

“Then we’re back to Barty Junior, whose Mum is Anna Burke Crouch.” Sirius drops down to sit on his bed again. “Her brother is Basil Burke, and her sister is Miranda Burke. Ravenclaw Octavian in our year, he’s another double first cousin, and so is Allenford Selwyn Junior, Madlyn Selwyn, and Hector Selwyn.”

Severus twitches. “The Selwyns are…ugh.”

“Hector married Teresa Runcorn, and she’s not all that bad,” Regulus says. “They have a kid named Florentia, and she’s…four, I think. It’s been a while since we’ve seen them because Uncle Pollux and Hector argued over something and Uncle Pollux is still angry about it.”

“Cousin Madlyn married Geronimus Greengrass. Their kid is—”

“Guinevere Greengrass, that terrifying blonde girl a year below us.” Severus hits himself in the face with the writing board with a good solid thunk. “Keep going.”

“Cousin Impatience had a child with somebody she won’t talk about, which means it’s definitely the sort of scandal that would make Mother furious,” Regulus says thoughtfully. “That’s Irene Selwyn. She’s in your year.”

“I tend to avoid Irene whenever possible. Is there anyone in Hogwarts the two of you are not related to?” Severus asks through his hands.

“Still you,” Sirius points out. “And Lily, most likely. We can’t say we’re not related to anyone who’s Muggle-born or Half-blood, though.”

“Why not?”

“Relatives who were burnt off the family tree for marrying Half-bloods or Muggles,” Regulus says. “Like Phineas Nigellus Black II. He married a Muggle, so they might have grandkids that are running around Hogwarts with us and we don’t even know it. Cousin Belvina married a Burke that Headmaster and cousin Phineas Black didn’t like, so she’s burnt off the tree and probably has a bunch of kids and grandkids. Sirius and I agreed a few years ago that we shouldn’t date any Burkes, just to be safe.”

“Iola Black married a Muggle, too. She’s burnt off the tree, and we know they had kids, because one of them rated well enough as a Half-blood to marry a Rothschild—the English Protestant branch, not the Jewish French branch.” Sirius looks at Severus’s curling shoulders and decides he probably needs a break from the cesspool. “If it makes you feel better, nobody except Narcissa has married a Malfoy in at least seven generations.”

“Same with the Lestranges, actually. Cousin Andromeda was supposed to marry Rabastan Lestrange while Bellatrix got Rodolphus.” Regulus shudders. “I don’t blame Andromeda one bit for running off with a Muggle-born. Rabastan is the sort of nutter nobody wants to meet in a dark alley.”

“Yeah,” Sirius agrees. “Merlin pity the poor sap who ever has to marry him.”

Sirius is pretty sure that supper that evening goes smoothly, because nobody dies and nobody is poisoned, but he can’t really remember it because he spent most of the meal hypervigilant about panicking. Fortunately, no mad cousins or mad cousin’s brother-in-law turn up. It’s only Sirius, Regulus, Severus, Mother, Father, Uncle Pollux, and Aunt Cassiopeia…which is sort of like saying that being bitten by an adder is harmless because it wasn’t a cobra.

At some point they’re back in his room, Regulus is talking about going to bed, and Severus is shoving a corked phial into Sirius’s hands.

Sirius stares at it. “I wasn’t poisoned tonight.”

“Drink the fucking potion, or you will be,” Severus orders.

Sirius drinks the potion immediately, because oh shit, what did he miss—and then reality screeches back into place like a Muggle automobile hitting a brick wall. “Oh.” He shakes his head to finish clearing it. “Sorry.”

“Geeze, Sirius. You didn’t even recognize a Calming Draught,” Regulus says in blatant worry.

“Yeah. I kind of noticed that.” Sirius swallows down the last of the taste (not bad, he is definitely going to be asking Severus for his altered recipe, or maybe just buy stock in his friend’s potions) and gives Severus the empty phial. “Thanks.”

Severus nods and tucks the phial away into some hidden pocket in his robes. “You were right, by the way. That was…foul. I’d prefer not to repeat the experience, but if I’m here for the full week, I don’t think I’m going to be given much choice.”

“It’s just us. You can tone down the Pure-blood posh shit,” Sirius reminds him.

Severus grimaces and then shakes his head, much as Sirius had just done. “Yeah. Okay. Right. Better?”

“Definitely,” Sirius answers. “Did I miss anything important while I was panicking?”

“Your mother wants to marry me off to a number of detestable people the moment I turn seventeen in order to continue the Prince family line proper,” Severus says dryly. “None of them were Jewish, and all of it was contingent on me changing my name first. The only person she mentioned that didn’t make me want to sick up was Alice Max, but I’m pretty sure Longbottom would kill me if I poached his girlfriend through your mother’s scheming.”

“She mentioned Guinevere, Irene, and Selene, Vivian Hobart—”

“Who’s already bloody engaged to Geoffrey Prewett,” Sirius interjects, starting to make the same face Severus is.

“And Florentia Selwyn,” Regulus finishes.

Sirius stares at his little brother. “I know we’re Pure-bloods, with some stupid shit ideas about marriage…but Florentia is four years old.

Regulus shrugs. “I know.”

“Then there is the fact that marriage requires…” Severus pulls another face. “Touching people.”

“What’s with the touching thing, anyway?” Regulus suddenly asks Severus, which almost makes Sirius groan aloud. No, no, no—you don’t just ask people that! “I’ve seen you holding hands with Lily and stuff.”

To Sirius’s surprise, Severus doesn’t bolt, but he looks uncomfortable. “Lily understands that I sometimes have trouble…letting go. But it isn’t anything to do with dating, or trying to trap her! I just…”

Severus looks really young when he’s not sneering, Sirius realizes. It makes him wonder if that’s why Severus sneers at everyone all the time.

“Oh. I get it.” Sirius doesn’t realize he’s the one with the epiphany until Regulus and Severus are both looking at him. “Our parents didn’t touch us unless they were hurting us, but I had Reg, even when we were, sort of, uh…”

“Lily’d say ‘fighting like rabid cats,’” Regulus supplies.

“That, yeah. You didn’t have anyone until you met Lily,” Sirius says. “Then Petunia nearly ruined it, didn’t she?”

Severus leans back. “Lily told you?”

“Nah, I guessed. Lily’s older sister is bloody creepy, stalkery, and kinda evil, and I’m saying that as a Black.”

Severus tries to volunteer to sleep on the floor. Sirius looks at him, looks at his stupidly oversized bed, and tells him not to be ridiculous. They can sleep on it sideways, still be fully supported, and have like, a mile of no-man’s land between them. Severus snorts at Sirius’s explanation, but he does give up on trying to sleep on the floor. Then Sirius tells him that his house-elf would come in the next morning and panic at seeing a guest on the floor.

“I guess there’s a good reason why I’m not being offered a guest bedroom in this massive house,” Severus comments after he’s changed for bed. He is all but hiding beneath full length pyjamas, and it’s summer. If 12 Grimmauld Place wasn’t a massive pile of brick that didn’t understand how to be warm, Sirius would be wondering when Severus was going to bloody melt.

“The guest rooms might be rigged. Poisons, traps, curses, hexes…the bed might eat you…literally…” Sirius smiles at Severus’s flat stare. “I told you that my family is fucked up. Oh, and don’t touch anything in the library tomorrow until I grab it first. Cursed against theft.”

“Got it.”

Even with six days to search, they don’t find anything. Sirius wants to tear out his hair. Severus might actually have done that to himself, but if he did, Sirius isn’t saying anything. He’s been mostly tongue-tied all week.

His family has decided that they like the Half-blood Prince. They keep praising Sirius for his acute political acumen, and Sirius is not ashamed to say he had to look up that last word in a fucking dictionary.

Yes, right, fine, he’ll be utterly weirded out by his family suddenly turning daft later. At the moment, he’s too busy worrying about Remus. “What the fuck are we going to do?” he asks Severus as they ride back to the train station. As he’d promised that rude buggering Wizarding cabbie, Sirius took them around the block and then flagged down a Muggle cab. At least that one wasn’t a rude wanker. More like not-quite-as-rude, but it’s still an improvement.

“I don’t know.” Severus is staring straight ahead, the tip of his tongue up over his right front tooth as he thinks. “Maybe we shouldn’t be looking for answers in a book. Maybe they were never there in the first place.”

“So, we’re back to Regulus’s bit about rules.”

“Fuck the rules.” Severus nods. “Fuck the rules, and trust our own magic to know what it’s doing more than we do.”

Sirius scowls. “Man, I’m going to be a fucking dog, aren’t I?”

“At least then you’ll know that someone in your family has more skill in Divination than your mother. Did you read those cards this morning?” Severus asks, grinning. “A fox is in her henhouse. That was hilarious.”

“Oh, yeah. I always look. I’m just smart enough not to tell her what they say.” Sirius glances at him. “If you manage to be a fox, you’ll be a cat-dog.”

Severus raises an eyebrow, but doesn’t look too put-out. “As long as it’s not an albino fox, I don’t think I’d mind that at all.”