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In Which Sirius Black Fails to Argue with a Hat

Chapter Text

Sirius Black meets James Potter on the train to Hogwarts. He joins Potter in mocking that pale-skinned kid with the lank black hair, just as he does in many other universes, other realities. James is the first person who spoke to Sirius without giving a damn that he’s a Black, and Sirius is not going to be turning his nose up at that, thanks.

(He maybe feels about a half-second of regret, but it’s mostly regret that forms once Sirius realizes that the greasy kid was in the company of a temperamental ginger girl who all but screamed Future Gryffindor.)

When the train starts, they collect a blond boy who looks ill named Remus, and a shorter, round-cheeked kid named Peter. They’re polar opposites: short and plump, tall and gaunt. Sirius has no idea what makes James find the three of them acceptable—he’s a bloody Potter, he could claim anyone—but Sirius will take it.

Sirius is the first of all of them to meet the Sorting Hat. He thinks it’s going to be fine. He knows you can argue with the Hat. It’s the only useful thing Phineas’s portrait told him before Phineas Nigellus Black discovered why Sirius wanted to know, and now the portrait won’t speak to him. Wanker.

The Sorting Hat argues back. Sirius is suddenly terrified, because the Hat is insistent that Sirius needs Slytherin. No. He does not. His entire family was in Slytherin, and they’re completely mental. He hates Slytherins! He doesn’t want to be one! Any other House. Any. Other. House.

Your family doesn’t know what it means to be silver-and-green, the Hat says forebodingly. You’ll show them all, you’ll see! and then it shouts “Slytherin!” and Sirius’s heart falls down to land in his shoe.


The redhead is Lily Evans. Gryffindor. Remus: Gryffindor. Peter, after a full minute of nervous sweating with the Hat on his head: Gryffindor. James: Gryffindor before the Hat settles onto his head. The greasy kid, Severus Snape (what kind of Wizarding name is that? Is he even British?) is a Slytherin.

Sirius would like to say that his train enemy and himself spent the Feast properly glaring at each other, but noooo, he doesn’t even get that out of all this. Snape is too busy staring at the Gryffindor table, where Evans is staring right back.

No one is staring at Sirius from the Gryffindor table. Thanks, wankers.

Surprisingly, after the Feast, Potter slips him a note. Don’t worry, still friends. We all know you’re not like other Slytherins, the note says, and Sirius feels a brief ray of hope. James is such a complete Potter. Sirius’s parents would hate him.

Sirius doesn’t sleep well that night. Neither does anyone else in the Slytherin dormitory, as they’re the ones listening to Sirius Black shout at the top of his lungs about Stupid Sorting Hats and Stupid Slytherins and This Is Complete Bullshit and He Will Set That Hat on FIRE—

“If I help you set the Sorting Hat on fire, will you please shut up?” Snape hisses at him.

Sirius blinks. “What?”

Snape hexes Sirius into silence without saying the spell aloud (NOT. BLOODY. FAIR.) and then pulls his pillow over his head. Sirius realizes he was being offered assistance to set the Hat on fire about ten minutes later, but he was distracted by trying to figure out a) where the hell did his wand go and b) what spell was that, he wants to know. Except then he would have to ask the Greasy Git, and that is just not on.

Sirius gets a letter from his parents the next day. They’re proud of him for Sorting into the House of their Forebears, and Trust That Sirius Will Not Bring Shame To The Family. Sirius tears it up and throws it in the rubbish bin. His family is proud of him for sorting Slytherin. It’s the only time they’ve ever said it. They don’t actually care about him.

James, Peter, and Remus really do remain his friend. It’s baffling, but if the Greasy Git and the Evans girl can be friends when they’re in opposing Houses, why can’t he? James says Sirius is not like other Slytherins and it gives Sirius a warm, happy feeling to know that he isn’t going to be tarred with the family brush a second time.

Sirius helps his friends with hexes and jinxes and basic charms whenever they encounter Snape. James says the git deserves it for being the wrong kind of Slytherin. Sirius hears nothing off about those words at all, even when Evans is yelling at them, telling Sirius he should be ashamed of bullying someone from his own House while shouting at James that he is the wrong kind of Gryffindor.

That’s Sirius’s first year in a nutshell. He hates everything except classes. He’s a good student, which surprises him. His parents, aunt, and uncle never told him he was actually intelligent. It would be great if he wasn’t sharing top marks for his year in Slytherin with the Greasy Git.

(No one can do snide looks like that kid. Sirius thinks his own family has nothing on Snape’s range of derisive expressions. Maybe he practices in a mirror.)

Second Year is pretty much just like the first. Do well in classes, tear up unread letters from his parents because he figured out by the third letter last term that they are all variations on Be A Good Slytherin and Don’t Shame the Family. They’re probably doubling down on the last bit since they found out he’s friends with a Potter. They don’t want to discourage his friendship with a fellow Pure-blood, but Potter is a Blood Traitor so that is bad, but the Potters are wealthy and one does not alienate fellow wealthy Pure-bloods. Trying to follow that logic gives Sirius a headache, so he stops trying.

James, Remus, and Peter are his friends, so it’s fine. Snape is kind of terrifying in terms of how many bloody hexes he knows. Evans gets so riled up with James that she sets his robes on fire with accidental magic.

Sirius makes a note: do not directly anger Lily Evans. He doesn’t want to be on fire.

Second note: be more subtle about hexing Snape. It isn’t worth listening to Slughorn bluster on about Bringing Shame To The Black Family Name and Endangering His Time At School and They’re All Slytherins and Sirius stops listening after three minutes because Slughorn really likes the sound of his own voice.

In Sirius’s third year, Regulus Black comes to Hogwarts. Sirius watches his brother walk into the Great Hall, just as awed as every other baby-faced firstie, and resists the urge to bury his face in his hands. Regulus is not going to argue with the Hat. Regulus would be insulted if the Hat put him anywhere except Slytherin.

Yep, that is his baby brother in Slytherin. His baby brother who thinks Sirius is now his hero.

That does explain why Sirius was sent Away to family on the Continent during the summer. Apparently “pride in their Eldest Slytherin Son” only goes so far, and Regulus should not emulate anything else about Sirius, ever.

Of course, this being Hogwarts, their parents can’t stop Regulus from following Sirius around like a puppy…unless Sirius is with his friends. Then Regulus makes himself scarce. Sirius still has no idea what to do with a cheerful, enthusiastic, “We’re both Slytherins, isn’t it great?” Slytherin shadow, so he spends every moment possible with James, Remus, and Peter.

Regulus always corners him in the library when Sirius is trying to study. Sirius has to endure his brother nattering on and on and on about “his friend Severus.” (Sirius has to be reminded who the hell that is. Snape. Right.) Severus is smart. Severus is helping Regulus. Severus showed Regulus how to do this one potion better and it was so perfect Slughorn said he wanted to frame it. (Bloody how?) Regulus talking about how Severus brewed the same potion the same way and Slughorn didn’t say a word to him, and has Sirius noticed that their Head of House is rather odd about that? (Sirius had not noticed, but he tries not to notice Slughorn at all.)

Severus, Severus, Severus. Sometimes Regulus mentions Evans, but mostly it’s all about Snape Who Is Apparently a Genius.

Regulus has found someone else to shadow, and it is The Enemy. Sirius wants to scream, but Pince is one of the most terrifying creatures in existence. Fuck his life.

That term is a disaster. Nothing attacks the school. No Howlers from Sirius’s parents. More rumours about that daft bloody idiot Voldemort and Death Eaters, yes, but that’s all they are—rumours.

It’s a disaster because Sirius has his blinders ripped off and he loses his best friend. Dis-as-ter.

James Potter never lifts his wand at Regulus the way he does at other Slytherins (particularly Snape). Not for the first two months.

Then James forgets that Regulus Black is Sirius’s brother.

Hell, Sirius might have forgotten that Regulus is his baby brother, or never really realized it in the first place. Their family is really, er, broken.

Either way, James sees Regulus before Hallowe’en, and all he sees is a Slytherin to hex and laugh at.

Sirius listens to it happen for about a minute (sometimes he’s a bit slow) before reality crashes down on his head. Then his fist crashes into James Potter’s face.

It’s a shame he didn’t take his uncle up on learning how to punch people properly. Madam Pomfrey gets on his case over breaking his hand on Potter’s jaw.

Before Pomfrey, though, he is staring at James, who is sprawled on the floor and staring up at him in shock. “What was that for, Sirius?”

Sirius points at Regulus, who is being helped up from the floor by…by Evans and Snape, actually. “THAT’S MY BROTHER, YOU WANKER!”

Everything might have been fine and salvageable if James, after two years of rule and having the Final Say over who the Enemy is, hadn’t said, “He’s just a Slytherin!”

Sirius has no idea what he cursed James with after that, because he sort of stopped thinking or seeing anything but red. He is a Black and his family’s temper is infamous. It takes half the staff quite a while to fix it. Sirius doesn’t care. He is still furious through the rest of the day. Through a week’s worth of detentions that he can’t remember because he’s too angry.

McGonagall sighs when she realizes that Sirius Black scrubbed a hole clean through her blackboard while giving it the fiercest scrubbing it has ever been subjected to in its long life. Slughorn is annoyed that every bottle of potions ingredients in the classroom has been scrubbed so much that not only do they blind him, all of that clean crystal reflecting the torchlight, but Sirius scrubbed the labels off, too. McGonagall and Slughorn commiserate over the fate of their classroom items in the lounge.

Dumbledore lets out a heavy sigh and says they shouldn’t be surprised by Sirius’s behaviour, given his family and House affiliation. Minerva and Horace, who had been pleased to have two major friendships spanning the No Man’s Land separating their Houses, both stop speaking to Dumbledore for an entire week. They are not friendly with their employer for the remainder of the term.

(“I told you that our employer has particular issue against Slytherins,” Horace says.  “I’m aware,” McGonagall replies, as she is deeply disappointed in her mentor.)

Sirius spent that week of detentions realizing several things. He did mention that he can be slow, and he admits it, but also maybe he should add “idiot” to that description.

James called Sirius the right sort of Slytherin. No one else was the right sort of Slytherin—they were all the wrong kinds of Slytherin, even first-years. Even Regulus. This is third-year. He should maybe have noticed by now.

Remus never helps them hex anyone unless they hex Remus first. Sirius really should have noticed that. He’d sometimes heard Remus’s token protests, but he never realized that Remus always fell back when James, Sirius, and Peter lifted their wands.

Peter does everything James does. Sirius would say that is creepy, but he was, apparently, doing the same thing, so he really can’t.

Snape is treating Regulus like he’s…useful? No, that’s not right. Not when Sirius has spent every day practically since term started listening to Regulus chat up how much Snape has been helping, and he hasn’t asked for anything from Regulus in return. Not a thing. Which is…odd. Maybe Snape doesn’t know how this is supposed to work.

Maybe Sirius doesn’t either. He’s never demanded that James, Peter, or Remus give him something in return when he did anything for them.

(James did—Potter did. Not always, but he did. That burns.)

Sirius remembers that Snape once offered to help him set the Sorting Hat on fire. He’s self-aware enough to realize that it was a case of vested self-interest in terms of sleeping, but he still offered. Everyone else just told Sirius to shut it.

Oh, bloody fucking hell. Sirius stops polishing the suit of armour (which protests at once about a job left unfinished) and buries his face in his hands. He is just like his ruddy fucking useless twat parents. He’s a prick. A pillock. A jerk. Sleeze. Slime.

He has a good vocabulary. Sirius spends the rest of that detention calling himself every name he knows, A through Z.

The letter Z needs more swearing.

“Have they managed to figure out how to make Potter less resemble a blueberry?” Snape asks him on Saturday morning.

Sirius stares at him. “What?”

“Potter. Have you not visited your imbecile friend in the hospital wing?” Snape asks caustically.

Sirius scowls and begins stabbing at kippers. “He isn’t my friend.”

There is a minute of silence. “I see.”

Sirius tries to wait him out, hoping Snape will go away. It’s no good; Snape is one of the most insanely patient bastards Sirius has ever, ever met. He is off his fucking rocker in terms of how long he’s willing to wait for someone to speak, for a potion to bubble. He just…he watches everything.

Sirius realizes later that he watches everything, too, it’s just that he’s a lot less patient about everything else. He watches everything because in the Black Family Townhouse, you watch everything so that you aren’t poisoned, stabbed, eaten, or otherwise made Dead.

He did say he was slow about noticing things.

Finally, Sirius explodes. “Potter always said I was the right kind of Slytherin! But he was wrong. He was fucking wrong.” He stabs at another kipper so hard it flies off his plate and lands in front of cousin Narcissa, who gives him a look of complete disdain for flinging breakfast at her. “Sorry,” he mutters in her direction. “Evans said that Potter was the wrong sort of Gryffindor. She’s right.”

“Lily is usually correct, yes,” Snape says, and Sirius snorts. “It’s a shame that it required Potter attacking your own brother for you to notice.”

Sirius wonders if he can repeat Evans’ trick with robe-burning. “Yeah. Rub it in some more.”

Snape only says, “You should take a look at the Gryffindor entering the Great Hall.”

Sirius glares at Snape before giving in to curiosity. Potter is walking into the Hall, followed by Peter. Remus is sort of drifting in after them.

James Potter is the colour of a fucking blueberry.

“The fuck?” Sirius blurts out. Other students are laughing. He doesn’t, but it isn’t from a magical burst of maturity. He’s just too baffled. Sirius does not know how to turn people into blueberries. “What did you do?”

“I’m not that creative,” Snape lies. Bastard. “The blueberry appearance, including the swelling effect for the desired round shape, was performed by Lily. Not that any of the staff knows that you had assistance in the hexing of Potter, of course.”

“No shit?” Sirius asks. He’ll recognize the bit about “assistance” later. (Yes, still slow, not news.)

Snape surprises him. Again. “No shit.” Sirius has never heard that kid swear. Lots and lots and lots of creative spells, but no swearing. “Never infuriate the witch who taught herself how to fly before she knew magic was real.”

“You can do that?”

Snape rolls his eyes. “Obviously.”

“You can’t do it, though.”

“Also obvious, else I would have employed the skill to avoid you four idiots.”

Fair enough. “Why are you friends with my brother?” Sirius asks.

Snape’s derisive looks are better than Narcissa’s. If she needs to practice, Sirius can tell her who to ask. “Because, while Regulus Black still maintains some unfortunate views regarding blood purity, he is not an idiot.”

“Blood purity.” Sirius frowns. “Snape isn’t a Wizarding name, is it?”

“You only now noticed?” Snape retorts dryly. “Of course it isn’t. I’m a Half-blood.”

Sirius gives him a blank stare. “But you’re in Slytherin.”

“Excellent deduction. That would explain why I have to share a dormitory with you.”

“Shut up.” Sirius shakes his head. Evans is a Muggle-born. Slytherin is for Pure-bloods, but Snape isn’t a Pure-blood. Regulus isn’t an idiot.

Okay, he knew that one. Sirius is well aware of the fact that he is the idiot.

“Do enjoy the blueberries that the elves have suddenly provided for the remainder of breakfast,” Snape says, and gets up to walk away.

Sirius looks down to find that yes, they suddenly have blueberries. When the fuck did Potter cheese off the house-elves?

Then he glances at the staff table. McGonagall looks…awfully smug.

Shit, what did Potter do to piss off McGonagall?

Remus corners Sirius in the bathroom on the third floor at the end of the next week. “Can we talk?”

“As long as you’re not going to watch me take a piss,” Sirius replies, confused. No Gryffindor has come near him for the entire week except Evans…and some of the first- and second-year Gryffindors. Those implications, he understood immediately, and felt like sicking up. He really is a completely blind, idiot wanker.

“No!” Remus exclaims. “That’s unsanitary. I just—can we still be…mates?”

“I thought you were Potter’s friend?” Sirius asks, and then winces. Yeah, James has definitely become Potter. Potter cinched it by lifting his wand at Evans, and Sirius just—no. Evans helped him, and that is not allowed, and now Evans is mad at Sirius for trying to fight her battles for her and Sirius does not understand girls at all.

“I don’t know if he really…” Remus shifts back and forth on his feet. “The full moon was harder without you last week.”

“It was?”

Remus nods and looks miserable. “Yeah. Yeah, I…I dunno why. It just…Peter and James were there, but it was harder. I felt like shit for most of the week.”

“That’s rough.” Sirius had thought maybe Remus looked worse, but Remus had been with the others and Sirius was trying not to get another detention. He just put in a week’s worth and dealt with the Howler for Bringing Shame To The Family. (He wonders who wrote the letter home, and what it actually said, because the Howler didn’t mention Potter at all.) “Wait. I—yeah. I’ll still be your friend. You didn’t attack Regulus. You don’t…you weren’t doing that to anyone.”

“You were,” Remus mumbles, staring down at the floor.

“Yeah, but I’m a fucking wanker,” Sirius says. Remus smiles, and for some reason, that’s all it takes. They’re still friends.

Sirius returns to the Slytherin Common Room before dinner and goes to the portrait of Salazar Slytherin, the one that doesn’t look like a pile of ancient cobwebs masquerading as a person.

Seriously, what the hell is wrong with the public portrait? Their portrait of Slytherin is just fine.

“What makes a good Slytherin?” he asks.

The portrait gives him an amused look. “Manners and the ability to control ones’ volume.” Slytherin hasn’t really forgiven him for Sirius’s first year. “Or would you like to know the traits that embody our House?”

“You mean aside from being a Pure-blood?” Sirius asks, annoyed.

Slytherin raises an eyebrow. “Have you ever wondered how the definition of Pure-blood might have changed in a thousand years, Mister Black?”

“Uh, no?”

The portrait sighs. “Sometimes you idiots drive me to despair. Tell me, where is Pure-blood found in regards to resourcefulness, cunning, ambition, determination, self-preservation, fraternity, and cleverness?”


The portrait rolls his eyes. “I thought so. If you’re going to be loud, do it somewhere else, all right?”

Sirius does. He goes upstairs to the top of the Astronomy Tower and shouts the word “FUCK!” at the sky while everyone else is eating dinner.

Resourcefulness. He is not really great at that. Cunning? Pfft. No. Ambitious? Complete failure. Determination? Well, he came to Hogwarts determined not to be a Slytherin, and look how well that turned out? Self-Preservation…okay, that, yes, he can do, or he wouldn’t have lived long enough to be a student in Hogwarts at all. Cleverness? Somehow, he doubts that is strictly about grades, though you do need a certain amount of cleverness to understand why McGonagall wants them to transfigure matchboxes into snails.

(No, really. Why.)

Sirius spends the rest of the term trying to figure out his own brain. While he’s doing that, there is sort of a paradigm shift going on around him. A big one. By the time he notices, it’s too late and he’s stuck with the results.

By the end of term, Sirius, Snape, Regulus, Lily Evans, and Remus are all friends. He has no idea how the entire fuck it happened, but once he stopped hexing Snape it just sort of fell together. Now he has a scary ginger friend, a werewolf friend (Sirius is dreading letting that wolf out of the bag), he finds his brother less annoying, and Snape is still terrifying, but at least it’s no longer terrifying aimed directly at Sirius. Most of the time.

They share a single train car back to London, all five of them, and nobody dies or is even remotely hexed. Sirius keeps waiting for things to go wrong and it doesn’t and that? That is the oddest fucking thing about the entire year.

“I still don’t get why Potter started in on you when you had just met,” Regulus says to Snape.

“Because Potter is an anti-Semitic toe rag,” is Lily’s contribution as they’re pulling up to the station.

“What does anti-Semitic mean?” Sirius asks. It’s rather daunting when four other people look at him in varying degrees of dismay. “What?”

“How can you possibly be this uneducated?” Lily asks.

“I didn’t know, either!” Regulus squeaks. “Severus had to tell me!”

“Someone tell me!” Sirius whines.

“I’m Jewish, you complete idiot,” Snape says.

“Oh.” Sirius considers that. “What does that mean, then?”

“OH MY GOD!” Lily shouts, and starts smacking him in the head.

“Ow! Fuck! Stoppit! LILY!”

Remus laughs at him and says he deserves it. Yeah, Sirius totally does.

Chapter Text

Sirius writes to everyone that summer on the parchment that he and Remus figured out how to charm. Five pieces of paper, five of them. Whatever they write turns up on all of the parchment. Best note passing system ever.

Now that Phineas is talking to him again, the portrait confessed that Hogwarts is full of secret passageways and exits to the grounds. Even passages to Hogsmeade. Sirius suggests that they find them. For posterity. Or to prove his great-uncle’s portrait wrong. Either is fine.

Besides, if no one has been in the passageways since Phineas was still alive, there could be awesome things hidden in them.

Secret passageways? Hidden bloody treasure? Do we resemble imbecilic marauders to you? Snape writes back.

Sirius shrugs and gets out a quill. If you want to be an imbecilic marauder, that’s all on you.

Hidden treasure hidden treasure hidden treasure how are you two still so ignorant about the fact that we live in a magic bloody castle? Lily writes.

I am all for maraudering our way into finding a lot of cobwebs, Remus says via parchment. Or the Chamber of Secrets.

It’s a myth, Regulus writes from down the hall.

Salazar’s portrait says it’s not and Phineas agrees with him. Then again, Phineas may hope we’re eaten by the supposed monster.

I hate you all, Snape writes. Let’s find the stupid fucking Chamber of Secrets. It has to be more hospitable than a shack once a month, Lupin.

Sirius stares at the parchment. No way. He didn’t say anything. Did he? No. He isn’t that stupid.

WHAT THE FUCK says the parchment in Remus’s handwriting.

You are a Gryffindor and thus not subtle at all, Snape says. I had higher hopes for Sirius but it took three years for him to stop being stupid.

Sirius and Lily’s exclamations of outrage fight each other for parchment space.

Can you fix werewolf? Regulus asks. I mean, it’s been a curse for thousands of years. They should know how to fix it, right?

That is rather why they call it a curse, Regulus, Remus writes, just before Snape adds, Why not? It can’t be that difficult.

Sirius rolls his eyes. Right. Sure. Curing lycanthropy can’t be that hard. Let’s also all be Animagi, too. If lycanthropy isn’t hard to cure, then becoming an Animagus has to be fucking easy.

The parchment stays blank long enough that Sirius leaves the bedroom and goes to Regulus’s room. His brother is staring at the wall, looking like he was hit with a really good jinx. “Reg?”


Aw, shit. Now they’re all in for it.

The first problem in the Grand Plan of Learning to Become Animagi isn’t the plan itself. That part is pretty straight-forward, even if entails more reading about higher-level Transfiguration magic than he would like to be doing over a summer…or ever, really. He’s a good student, but there is a time and a place and that time is not in July.

Everyone else disagrees. Sirius Black’s friends are wankers. His brother is a wanker who won’t let him sleep in, as they have to comb the family library for useful books before anyone else in the house stumbles out of their bedrooms for the day. Regulus nearly loses his fingers to a biting book with metal fucking teeth before Sirius obliterates the book with his wand.

He didn’t mean to obliterate the book so much as he didn’t want it to eat his baby brother. Regulus wraps his fingers in bandages before they hurriedly hide the evidence of the unlamented death of 1,0001 Ways To Transfigure the Dead.

“Why?” Sirius asks of the title.

“I thought it might have something useful,” Regulus protests. “We’re trying to figure out how to turn one of us who is cursed into an Animagi, and they don’t exactly talk about Animagi werewolves in the standard books.”

Sirius looks at the family library. He doesn’t think any book in this room has ever been a standard anything.

No, the difficult part is getting them all together in the same place. They could probably sneak Severus past their parents, Aunt Cassiopeia, and Uncle Pollux. Severus would just need to use his mother’s name, a Pure-blood ringer. Remus’s father is a famous wizard for dealing with Dark creatures, but Lyall Lupin is Irish, so it’s probably not worth the risk.

Lily Evans doesn’t have a chance in hell of getting into Twelve Grimmauld Place. There are curses specifically built into all the windows and doorways to execute any Muggle or Muggle-born who tries to enter. All Sirius knows about how those terrifying things work is that they’re tied to Pollux Black.

Maybe the stupid things will die when Uncle Pollux does. That’s a nice thought.

The other problem is that their parents are suspicious of anything Sirius does, even after he Sorted Slytherin, and don’t want him to leave the fucking house. Sirius sulks in his room for hours at a time over that one, chewing on the edge of his thumb. Without running away, he can’t get out of this house short of brilliance.

Running away isn’t an option; Regulus would be on his own against the four terrifying twats they’re related to—or worse, Regulus would come with Sirius, and then the Black Family would get the Wizengamot involved. The Wizengamot would send out every Auror who has ever Aurored (including the dead ones) until precious Regulus was found and properly returned to his loving family. Sirius would be thrown in Azkaban at age fourteen for kidnapping.

Regulus solves their difficulties, because Regulus Black is a conniving little shit who probably needed to be put in Ravenclaw to stave off some of the connivingness. Either way, it gets them out of the house, so Sirius will take it. Even while he tries not to gape at his brother’s sheer fucking audacity.

“Mother, I wish to visit a Pure-blood friend of mine who lives northwest of London,” Regulus says in that perfectly snooty way of speaking that their parents insist upon. Regulus doesn’t do it at school anymore, or in private, or Sirius would have punched him in the face. (Again.)

Mother looks up from the tarot cards she is busy placing on the table. Sirius glances at the layout and knows that his mother has absolutely zero talent for Divination, else there would be some hint that her sons were up to mischief. Instead, he’s pretty sure those cards are talking about her waistline relating to the weather. “You’ve only completed your first year of Hogwarts, darling. You’re a bit young to be traveling on your own, even if using the safety of the Floo.”

“I’m aware, but I’ve had some thoughts on the matter. You see, my friend is of the Prince line.”

Mother raises an eyebrow. “I wasn’t aware there was anyone from that illustrious line remaining.”

“Just the one, I’m afraid,” Regulus says with the perfect amount of deference. “His mother was disowned by her parents when she made a foolish childhood blunder and mixed her blood with someone unworthy. However, she is raising him to all of the proper Pureblood traditions. He is the smartest Slytherin in our year, and quite effective with a wand.”

Sirius almost breaks face and glares at Regulus for that. The hell he is. Severus and Sirius are tied for that honour, thank you!

“That would be Eileen, then.” Mother hums under her breath. “I did think Eileen quite sensible in school, if a bit dull. Is her son dull?”

“Quite the opposite, Mother,” Regulus assures her, smiling. “But my thought, given your concerns…do you not think that Sirius might also benefit from socializing with another properly raised Pure-blood? One of Sirius’s own age, and one who is being raised to the correct standards one should attain in life?”

Mother looks sharply at Sirius. Sirius widens his eyes a bit and lifts his shoulders to say that he knows nothing about Regulus’s idea. He is very, very good at lying to his parents. It means he’s still alive.

“Do know of whom Regulus speaks, Sirius?”

“I do, Mother. He isn’t…” Sirius nearly bites his lip. No, that won’t do at all. That will set off her shrieking about deportment. “Severus Prince and I did not get along at first due to my friendship with James Potter. Then…we didn’t want to concern you.”

Mother puts down her deck of cards. “Concern me about what?”

“James Potter and his friend Peter Pettigrew attacked Regulus. I believe they forgot in their idiocy that Regulus is my brother, and thus not to be touched. Severus helped me to stop them, and to take immediate revenge.” There. Lily helped, too, but he doesn’t dare mention Lily. Then he’d have to wrack his brain for a Pure-blood name that might conceivably have a red-headed witch Sirius’s age, which is a doomed task. His mother knows all of the witches who are Sirius’s age, since she wants to marry him off to one the day he turns seventeen.

“You retaliated against a Potter and a Pettigrew.” Mother looks pleased. “Blood-traitors, the both of them. It is good to know that you are seeing sense at last, Sirius.”

Sirius tries not to gag audibly.

“If you promise that no harm will come to Regulus, I will give the two of you leave to visit the Prince household whenever you like during this summer…unless we have other plans, of course.”

Now he isn’t gagging. He’s trying not to choke on disbelief. No screaming? No wailing? No guilt? “I promise Regulus that I won’t let anything or anyone harm him,” Sirius says.

Mother looks pleased at his wording instead of offended. Sirius wonders if he woke up in the wrong reality. “Very good. Run along. If you choose to visit the Prince household today, return in time to properly wash for supper.”

“Yes, Mother,” Regulus and Sirius chorus together. Then Regulus says, “I don’t know if it will be today, Mother. I need to write to Severus and ask for proper permission. One does not simply invite themselves into another wizard’s house without due cause.”

Mother nods and waves them off, picking up her cards again. Sirius wonders if she knows that the cards are now claiming that their house will be carried off in a sudden flood.

“I can’t believe that worked,” Sirius says to Regulus the moment they are upstairs, safe in Sirius’s bedroom. It’s the one they keep free of listening spells, as Sirius is the Misbehaving Rebel. If Regulus started doing the same too soon, the family would be suspicious. The slip with Regulus yelling about wanting to be an Animagus was easily solved the morning afterwards at breakfast, when Regulus and Sirius both proved they knew nothing about Animagi aside from their existence. The adults promptly lost interest in their “youthful shenanigans.” Regulus vowed not to blurt out anything stupid in his own room ever again.

“Of course it worked. While you were busy screaming at Mother, I was busy learning how to flatter her.” Regulus grabs Sirius’s copy of the enspelled communication scroll, a quill, and an old slate to use as a table. “I’m asking Severus if their family is hooked up to the Floo Network.”

“I really doubt it,” Sirius says, remembering what little they’ve been told about Tobias Snape. Sirius has nothing against Muggles, but Severus’s father sounds like he would get on just fine with Uncle Pollux. “We’ll have to take the train to Cokeworth. Lily and Severus mentioned that it takes a bit over an hour as long as we’re not traveling during peak times. Whatever peak times are.”

“Morning and evening commute,” Regulus mutters, still busy writing. “No, they’re not on the Floo Network. Severus is trying to convince his mother that it’s necessary and they don’t have to tell his father a thing about it, but she keeps refusing. Oh, Remus arrived at Lily’s house last night. Severus says Lily’s parents are trying to adopt a werewolf who already has parents, and that Lily’s sister despises Remus already because the werewolf has been granted the guest bedroom. Claims it’s bad enough that ‘the Snape boy’ is allowed to sully the house. Petunia Evans sounds like she’s going to be fun.”

Sirius grimaces. “Tobias Snape as a match for Uncle Pollux on one side, and Aunt Cassiopeia has her match in Lily’s older sister on the other. Yes, that sounds wonderful. We should shove them both out in front of an oncoming train.”

Regulus glances up at him. “Sometimes you sound way too much like our father.”

Sirius stares back in horror. “Please never say that to me again.”

“Only if you deserve it,” Regulus replies happily. “Oh, Severus says if we go to King’s Cross Station now, we’ll arrive in time for lunch.”

“What do we tell Mother?” Sirius asks. It can’t be that difficult to buy Muggle train tickets. He has a bit of Muggle money set aside thanks to his Uncle Alphard, who is possibly one of the only decent adult relatives they have.

“We’ll take the Floo to King’s Cross, is what,” Regulus says, rolling up the scroll before getting up to hide it in the charmed desk drawer that only he and Sirius can open. It won’t open for anything else unless the entire desk is destroyed by Fiendfyre.

Sirius is that paranoid for a reason, thanks.

“And the house-elves?” Sirius asks, knowing how much Kreacher worships their mother.

“The house-elves like me. If I tell them that we’re off to see a Pure-blood with Mother’s permission, they won’t say a thing to her about the first place we went. She would have to know to ask specifically.” Regulus grins at Sirius. “Why did the Hat put you in Slytherin? You’re bad at planning!”

Sirius throws his hands up into the air in frustration. “I don’t know! I asked it not to!”

Buying a Muggle train ticket really is that bloody complicated. If Regulus hadn’t brought his charmed scroll so he could ask Lily how to buy tickets, they would be wandering around King’s Cross until the Hogwarts Express arrives in September.

At least Sirius did have enough money—more than enough. Alphard should really explain a bit more about Muggle currency. Sirius thinks he might have enough in Muggle folded notes that he could convert them at Gringotts and rent a nice flat in Diagon Alley for a month.

It occurs to him about halfway out to Cokeworth that maybe Uncle Alphard is giving him untraceable Muggle money for exactly that sort of reason. Sirius isn’t certain if that makes him happy, or if it’s terrifying that his uncle feels the need to leave Sirius with these sorts of…of contingencies.

Do Aurors know how to search by Muggle means to find missing wizarding kids? Or do they just rely on the Trace? Regulus and Sirius’s wands don’t even have the stupid Trace. That’s only placed on Muggle-born wands. What would Aurors do without that big shining magical hint?

When the train pulls up to the station in Cokeworth, Sirius realizes something that makes his stomach turn over. He has yet to see his first Muggle town or his first Muggle household, and he’s already beginning to make plans to get himself and Regulus the fuck out of Twelve Grimmauld Place.

Chapter Text

“Not all Muggle towns look like this,” is the first thing Regulus says after they leave the train station.

“Oh thank Merlin,” Sirius gasps in relief, because this place is a shithole. He has enough manners not to say that to Lily, Remus, and Severus, who are waiting to meet them. It’s probably on his face, anyway.

“I’m so glad I warned the intelligent of the pair beforehand,” Severus says.

“So am I!” Sirius turns around in a circle, his jaw hanging open. “What the fuck happened to this place?”

“Industrial pollution,” Lily says with a sigh.

“What the fuck is that?”

“Do you pay attention to anything, ever?” Remus asks, grabbing Sirius’s arm when he stares at the blackened buildings too long.

“Unless it’s actively trying to kill me or has the potential to make me dead? Not really,” Sirius replies. Severus turns around and gives him an odd look that isn’t quite calculation, but he doesn’t know what it means.

Then it becomes bug-eyed astonishment when Regulus tells them the plan. “You actually want to meet my mother?” Severus asks in disbelief.

Regulus sighs and rolls his eyes. Sirius thinks Regulus has been practicing Severus’s expressions, even if those are usually jammed in permanent Sarcastic. “That was the plan, remember? What else did you expect us to do?”

“Fucking well bloody lie about it, that’s what!” Severus retorts, hints of an accent that is definitely not Pure-blood Posh leaking through. Sirius thinks that sounds a hell of a lot more interesting than Magical Oxford. Even Lily doesn’t sound that way, and he asks why.

“Oh, we were from Surrey first,” Lily answers, while Sirius tries to ignore the fact that Severus is giving him a death glare because Sirius noticed the odd accent. “My family didn’t move out to Cokeworth until I was eight. I met Severus during our first summer here.”

“No offence, truly, but why would anyone choose to move here?” Regulus asks.

Lily shrugs. “My father retired, his parents are from the Midlands, and it’s cheaper to live here. We even own our house, and we couldn’t afford that in Surrey!”

“This still does not explain why you are not lying to your parents so that we can avoid my mother!” Severus interrupts when Regulus opens his mouth to ask more questions.

Sirius stops gawping at the buildings and stores—he does not know what crisps are supposed to be but he wants them immediately—to snort out laughter. “Snape. Severus,” he corrects himself, because somehow during the Great Library Hunt for Animagus Hints, he stopped calling Severus by his last name. It’s still a bit odd. “Shading the truth, like Regulus did this morning, is one thing. Outright lies? I’d rather not be poisoned for dinner, thank you.”

“Lie detector spells,” Regulus explains when the others look horrified. “They’re in place in every public area of the house, though after Uncle Alphard visited, I’m certain the spells are only keyed to respond to myself and Sirius.”

Sirius is about to ask what Uncle Alphard’s visit has to do with anything when there is suddenly a wide gap between two blackened stores. A narrow alley leads to a grassy expanse that is sudden in its green openness. There are strange, rusting metal something-or-others perched here and there on grass determined to grow in the midst of all these black-stained buildings. Kids are playing with a spotted ball on the far side.

He doesn’t realize he’s abandoned the others and walked straight to the entrance to the field until he hears Remus trying to get his attention. “What?” Sirius asks, still staring.

“It’s a decent park, mate, but we still have a few blocks to go,” Remus says.

Park. This is what a park is supposed to look like? Sirius imagines the rusty things are probably not meant to be rusty, though some mental kids are climbing all over them anyway. A park isn’t supposed to be an ornamental patch no one visits. It’s a…a playground. He thinks he’s heard Lily use the term.

“What do you see?” Lily asks curiously, nudging Sirius’s arm.

Sirius’s eyes are locked on kids their age who are running in the park, even if the game they’re playing makes no sense at all. “Freedom.”

“They’re just playing,” Lily says, but Sirius doesn’t know how to explain it any better than that.

Remus tugs on Sirius’s arm. “Come on. They’re going to think we’re perving on them, Sirius.”

“Right.” Sirius follows the others, but he does look back. Once.

Severus’s house is the one they reach first, on a street named Spinner’s End. It’s a two-storey bit that looks like a cottage gone wrong, though the back garden strikes Sirius as the mad work of an Herbology genius…or maybe just a kid who is terrifyingly good at Potions.

Mrs. Snape, one former Eileen Prince, gives them a sour look when they enter her sitting room. She has black hair and black eyes, like her son, but the resemblance ends after that. Her nose looks like it’s been broken two or three times, her lips are so thin they almost don’t exist, and she is plump where Severus insists upon impersonating a well-fed rail. Sirius thinks Severus is pale, but Mrs. Snape insists upon being sallow in a way that looks like jaundice.

“I thought you were taking this lot to be the Evans’ problem today,” Mrs. Snape sneers at Severus.

Sirius glances at Severus. Okay, maybe Severus never needed a mirror. Mrs. Snape could give the mirror itself tips on how to sneer to the most vindictive, derisive effect. Severus is downright pleasant in comparison, and that’s just entirely fucked up.

Regulus got them this far. Sirius is eldest, so he gets to play his part now. “Hello, Madam Snape.” That causes Mrs. Snape to eye Sirius like a bug just wandered into the room and started speaking French. “My apologies. I’m Sirius Black, and this is Regulus Black.” Regulus gives her his most charming smile, which outshines Potter’s best efforts any day. “Our mother Walburga Black wished for us to remember her to you. She recalls you from Hogwarts, you see.”

“Walburga Black. Remembers who I am.” Mrs. Snape’s eyebrow is climbing in disbelief. “Really.”

“Of course, Madam,” Sirius answers, adding a touch of confusion to his voice. “Why would she not? Your presence is the very reason my brother and myself were allowed to visit your village.”

Mrs. Snape narrows her eyes. “I see. I hope you are not expecting favours or the like from me. You must earn them.”

Sirius smiles. “As is properly Slytherin, of course. Should I pass along any messages to my mother on your behalf?”

The woman is practically squinting at him now. “Tell her I’m pleased to be recalled by such an…illustrious family, and the Black scions are welcome whenever they wish to visit. As long as they spend their time elsewhere,” she adds, glaring at Severus.

“Thank you! I will pass that along properly.” Sirius gladly beats a hasty retreat with the others when Severus gestures frantically at them to please leave.

“I have never heard you speak like that before in my life!” Remus declares when they’re beyond the garden’s boundary. “That was terrible!”

Sirius is sticking his tongue out of his mouth. “I knowf! Geth ifth off!” He mimes removing rubbish from his tongue. “Ugh. I bloody well hate that nonsense!”

“Thank you for speaking normally again. I wanted to stab you,” Lily says, making an absolutely appalled face. “That is not how they speak in Wizarding London!”

“No, that’s not how they speak in Diagon Alley,” Regulus corrects her. “Wizarding Pure-bloods in London really are that bad.”

“No, they’re worse. Ugh,” Sirius whines. He doesn’t understand how Regulus can speak that way to their parents all the time without a constant need to vomit.

“Now will you knock off with how unnatural my accent is?” Severus asks Lily.

Lily grins at Severus, which always makes her eyes seem brighter. Sirius is still not convinced they’re not dating. “After hearing how much worse and pretentious it could be? Sure, I’ll leave it be, Sev. After this, meeting my parents should be easy!”

“Easy stressful, or easy traumatizing?” Sirius asks.

“Easy confusing,” Remus supplies when Severus and Lily are baffled by the question. “You’ll like electricity, by the way. Just don’t stick anything metal into the outlets. Might kill you.”

“THEIR HOUSE IS BOOBY-TRAPPED, TOO?” Regulus and Sirius both yell in horror.

Severus stares at Sirius hard from the corner of his eye. It’s that odd, unidentifiable look again. “You weren’t joking about the poison at dinner, were you?”

“Huh? No, why? Who jokes about poison?” Sirius asks, still trying to figure out how they’re going to deal with Yet Another Booby-Trapped House. Regulus’s shoulders are hunched, ready for fucking mutated doxies behind every closed door. “What other booby-traps do we need to worry about aside from deadly electricity traps?”

Lily sighs while Remus plasters his hand over his eyes. “All right, maybe this won’t be as easy as I thought,” she admits.


*          *          *          *


Lily’s parents are terrifying. It isn’t that they’re ugly—they’re quite pleasant on the eyes, even though they seem to be getting on a bit in years—or that they’re nasty, like Severus’s mother was attempting to be.

(Sirius deals with worse on a daily basis. Eileen Snape has stiff competition before she is even remotely terrifying.)

Lily’s parents are perfectly polite, smiling, welcoming, and nice. They’re bloody kind. Nobody is that kind. It’s not fucking normal!

“It’s like the nursery story of the two wizarding kids who find the old Muggle Grandmother’s house out in the woods, and she lures them inside with smiles and candy before eating them,” Regulus whispers when both Mr. and Mrs. Evans are out of the kitchen. They insisted on feeding them before going off to do…whatever they’re off to do for the day.

Sirius was leery of the food before Regulus reminded him of that story. Now he’s afraid to eat it.

“What are you talking about?” Lily asks before biting into a sandwich. If she doesn’t need to run to the loo just afterwards, Sirius will consider trying to eat his. “That isn’t how the story goes.”

“There are two versions,” Severus drawls, though Sirius notices that he’s all but guarding his food like a firstie being taunted by seventh-years. “And yes, both of them are designed to be as bigoted as possible against the other.”

“I’m so glad I had normal parents,” Remus mutters.

“What’s the other version, then?” Regulus asks.

“Two kids are abandoned in the woods when their wicked stepmother convinces their father to leave them there,” Lily begins to recite.

“And you think our version is bad?” Sirius interrupts.

“Shut it, you!” Lily puts her sandwich down. “They come across a house made of gingerbread, and since they’re starving, begin to eat it. Then a kindly old grandmother type invites them inside for shelter and real food, but it turns out she’s an evil witch who locks them up in cages and starts fattening them up to eat them. But the girl tricks the witch into leaning over to check the oven and shoves her in headfirst so she and her brother can escape. Oh, and the father kicked the wicked stepmother to the kerb in the meantime, so when they find their way home they all live happily ever after.”

Sirius stares at her. “Which version came first?” is the only thing he can think to ask.

“That’s what I wished to know,” Severus says. “Nobody seems to know the answer. Not even Hogwarts’ library is useful when it comes to the evolution of nursery tales. By the way, if you think The Tale of the Three Brothers hasn’t changed since it was written, you would be very wrong.”

“What’s The Tale of the Three Brothers?” Lily asks. Then it’s all of them trying to explain a classic Wizarding nursery tale to someone who made it through three years of Hogwarts schooling and still hasn’t heard the bloody story. Sirius gets distracted enough that he eats the sandwich, but there is no tell-tale graininess or off taste about it. It’s just oddly sliced and salted turkey with uniformly shaped cheese on bread with some kind of spicy mustard. It’s not bad, really. At least it’s simpler and quicker to eat than a family dinner or supper.

Regulus reminds him of reality by wanting to know what the rest of the booby traps are. “Come on. You warned us about electricity. Why not the rest of them?”

Remus puts his head in his hands again. “The electricity isn’t a booby trap, guys.”

“It’s…well.” Lily gets up and toggles an odd switch on the wall. “It powers the lights. And it keeps everything cool in the fridge.”

“Wait, that isn’t a cold box?” Regulus bounces out of his seat and yanks open the cold box door to stick his head in. Sirius is disturbingly reminded of the evil witch being shoved into the oven. “There’s a light in here!” his muffled voice exclaims.

“How did you think non-magical people kept their food from spoiling? Or how we cooked it?” Lily asks them in exasperation. “Cave fires and ritual chanting?”

Sirius grimaces. “You don’t want me to answer that question, because the answer is more insulting than that nonsense.”

Lily throws up her arms in frustration and growls out something that might be wandless hexes. “Severus!”

Severus smirks at them, an expression Sirius can see now is a lot nicer than Mrs. Eileen bloody Snape. He stands up, snagging a loaf of bread wrapped in a noisy clear bag with colourful labelling. He gets out a uniform slice and places it in a silver square on the counter. “Shove this lever down. No, it’s not a bloody booby trap, Black!”

“I’m not touching that unless you call me by my fucking name,” Sirius says in a flat voice, but he’s staring at the silver square…thing.

“Sirius. Push the lever down or I will hex you into thinking that your feet are your hands and your arse is your ears.”

Sirius shrugs. “Okay.” He pushes down on the black lever, which has some surprising resistance. The box eats the bread. “The fuck?”

“Guys! Please stop swearing, my parents are still in the house,” Lily begs them.

Remus sighs and gets up. “I’m putting the kettle on for tea. Introducing these two geniuses to Muggle Life is going to take the rest of the afternoon.”

“Oi! We’re not that slow!” Regulus protests. He finally abandons his exploration of the “fridge” to move on to the switches. One is for the light over the sink, one is for the light over the table, and one is for a light over the steps outside. Sirius would be annoyed by the flickering lights, but he’s busy trying to figure out what the silver box is doing to the bread, and also does it give the bread back, or just eat it?

Remus turns on a range that has odd round coils that turn red when they get hot, and that heats the kettle. “Electricity. Magic,” he says in a bone-dry voice when Sirius stares at him.

Then the silver box flings the bread back out. Sirius jumps into Severus’s arms in a complete panic. “FUCK WHAT THE FUCK!”

“Boys?” Mr. Evans peers into the kitchen, his glasses lowered onto his nose. He’s doing such a great job of Professor McGonagall’s Disapproving Stare that Sirius forgets to let go of Severus, who is trying to pry him off with both hands. “Is anything the matter?”

“Sorry, Dad!” Lily suddenly looks like an innocent angel. No bloody wonder she never gets in trouble at school. “You remember how I said Sirius and Regulus had never been Muggle anywhere before? We’re introducing them to normal things, and some of it is a bit startling.”

Mr. Evans glances at the toaster, the kettle on the glowing red coil, Sirius’s clinging, and Regulus’s hand still resting on the switches. Then he smiles. “All right. Just try not to be so vocal on the swearing, you lot. Your mother would roast all our ears.” Then he vanishes again, leaving Sirius baffled.

No yelling. No screaming about Proper Manners. No threats.

What kind of fucked-up place is this, anyway?

Please get off of me!” Severus yells.

Sirius finally remembers that he isn’t supposed to cling to other people even when there are metal boxes that spit out bread. “Uh. Sorry—wait, toast? That box makes toast? And you didn’t have to put it on a toasting stick? I want a toaster. I want three toasters.”

“Why would you ever need three toasters?” Remus asks, retrieving the kettle when it begins to whistle. Lily is getting mugs out of the cabinet instead of a tea service. Sirius approves of the mugs, too. Not delicate enough to break on accident by setting them down wrong, but hefty enough to break someone else’s skull if he needs to defend himself.

“Because then I would have more toast,” Sirius replies. “Who wouldn’t want more toast?”

“I want lights. Electric lights.” Regulus is staring up at the ceiling. “No more candle smoke or torches reeking if the charms give it up. Oh, and the cold box with the light in it.”

“Refrigerator,” Lily corrects.

“We’ve probably created monsters,” Remus says in a dry voice as he hands tea to Severus.

“They’re Blacks. They’re already monsters,” Severus replies.

Chapter Text

They don’t get anything Animagus-like done during that first visit to Cokeworth. Sirius isn’t really surprised. Regulus must have expected it, since he didn’t bring any of their borrowed books from the family library.

It takes the entire afternoon before Regulus and Sirius begin to relax. As long as they mind the rules about electricity—do not prod it with metal, do not stick fingers into the sockets where the glass bulbs go—it’s actually one of the safest buildings Sirius had ever been in. Mr. and Mrs. Evans keep proving that they aren’t child-eaters in disguise.

Sirius doesn’t think that nursery story (either version) should be read to four-year-olds. He really doesn’t think his Aunt Cassiopeia should be allowed to read anything to children, ever. Not even adults need that much detail in regards to exactly how the evil Muggle ate the kids.

He’s still mildly suspicious of anyone who is this bloody nice. It’s unnatural. Lily isn’t even that nice all the time.

Spending the day in a Muggle house does cement Sirius’s belief that when he snags Regulus and runs from Twelve Grimmauld Place, they should hide somewhere like this. They wouldn’t need magic to survive. Muggles do bloody well everything without magic (which does include killing each other).You don’t need a wand for most Potions, as Severus is fond of repeatedly pointing out with utter disdain. Their summer homework is always theory, and reading is for bloody everyone. There is probably some way for Aurors to track wizarding kids without the Trace; it just seems best not to chance it. Sirius can easily see himself living without Transfiguration and Charms during the summer until he’s seventeen. Regulus might whine a bit about not being able to use his wand, but he’ll survive.

That’s the entire point. Surviving. Sirius doesn’t trust his mother, father, aunt, or uncle not to accidentally-on-purpose kill them just because they wake up feeling like Murder. It wouldn’t even be the first time that happened in the London townhouse. Sirius has talked to his great-uncle’s portrait, done before he was stabbed to death by a great-great-grandmother. To be fair, she wasn’t born a Black, she married one. To be less fair, that still didn’t make her any less fucking bonkers.

Before leaving to walk back to the train station so they’re home in time for the typical late-evening Black family supper, Sirius and Regulus meet Petunia Evans, Lily’s older sister. Petunia has a long face that would be pretty if she learned how to bloody well smile. Instead, she has a sour grimace fit to rival Mrs. Snape.

Petunia turns up her nose at Lily, scowls at Remus, projects outright loathing at Severus, ignores Regulus, and decides to fall head-over-heels in love with Sirius.

What? No, this is absolutely not on!

“You’re not like the others,” Petunia croons at him when she corners him at the end of the hall. She literally lied in wait for him to get out of the bloody loo. “I can tell.”

“Look…Petunia.” Sirius tries edging around her. “I’m just as magical as they are.”

“You’re not ugly,” Petunia retorts. “Or selfish, like my dear sister.”

Sirius glares at her. The way she spits out ugly and sister is revolting. “Your sister stands up to protect others when they need it, even if they don’t ask for the help. She hates injustice and she hates bullies, and she rightly hated me until I removed my head from my arse. Severus is brilliant and teaches other kids how to do amazing things if they ask him nicely. Regulus is a conniving little genius who probably has a terrifying career in politics waiting for him, and in our world, that means a great deal. Remus is smart, crafty, creative, and one of the kindest people I know outside of your own parents. If anyone here is selfish, it’s definitely you.”

He escapes while she’s still sputtering indignantly about How Dare He! Sirius probably just made another enemy, but he’s good at that. Besides, it’s a Black Family Tradition.

Sirius spends part of the train ride home memorizing England’s rail lines, changeovers, and train stations. Just in case.

At night, after the supper interrogation of Regulus and Sirius’s agreed-upon report of How Things Went with the Pure-blood Witch who Fell On Hard Times, Sirius goes upstairs and fetches his charmed scroll from his desk. He pens a note for Remus, asking if he’s about, and then goes off to brush his teeth. He has a five-minute argument with the sink tap before it dispenses water, but the third storey bath has always been spiteful.

Sorry I missed you, mate, is on the scroll in Remus’s writing when Sirius unlocks his bedroom door to go back inside. I didn’t notice there was a message waiting until I came to bed. We should really figure out how to charm some sort of silent alert into these things. Maybe wand vibrations?

You didn’t miss me. Haven’t gone to bed yet, was just off arguing with the sink. Literally. Also behaving myself and not writing so many jokes about wands and vibrating.

He can all but hear Remus sigh. We use these scrolls in class, dingbat. Wand vibrations seem safer than something audible.

Good point. Sirius chews on the end of his quill, which is already a bit ragged. He never has the chance to use up the business end of a quill before he’s eaten the top half. I realized on the way home that I was still trying to put this entire bloody year together in my head.

How’s that, then?

At least Remus is kind enough not to remind him that Sirius spent half of the term being a complete arsehole. The way you guys were acting today. Were you and Severus friends before the whole falling out bit I had with the others?

Sort of, Remus replies. We were civil to each other. He always noticed I wasn’t participating in the other nonsense. Well, unless he decided to hit me with something because I was there. Then I’d hex him back. Fair is fair.

And you were already friends with Lily, Sirius writes.

No but yes? There is a pause as Remus thinks. That was another bit of civility because I “wasn’t acting like a toe rag” to quote the lady herself. Lily and Severus are a package deal, so once you’re friends with one, you’re friends with the other.

That explains a lot. Sirius hadn’t understood how he and Lily Evans had suddenly become friends, but once he was on proper speaking terms with Severus, she was just there. All the time. It hadn’t been a bad thing, just bloody confusing, since before that moment she hated his guts.

Are Lily and Severus dating? Sirius asks. Because I can’t tell.

Remus draws several large question marks on the scroll. Beats me. If they’re going to be that sort, I don’t think anything will come of it for another year or two. Lily isn’t looking at boys and cooing yet, and Severus doesn’t seem to notice anything is fit unless it’s a potions ingredient.

Sirius draws himself laughing. It’s not a bad sketch. He could make a go of it as a decent artist, though the family wouldn’t approve. Not that they approve of him anyway.

Then he makes himself ask the next question, though it kills the laughter. How are you getting on with Potter and Peter?

That time there is such a long, long pause that Sirius wonders if he’s going to have to write to Lily’s scroll and ask her to check on Remus in the Evans’s guest room. Then Remus finally says, I’m not. We’re not friends anymore.

Sirius blinks down at the page. What? Why the fuck not?

Because I’m friends with you, Severus, and Regulus, you daft shit! Remus replies. You really didn’t notice?

I don’t notice things unless they’re trying to make me dead, remember? Sirius bites his lip instead of the quill. Fuck. I’m sorry. I thought they just weren’t turning up on full moons because I was there. Not that Sirius can help much on full moons anyway, but Remus does better if there is someone he trusts nearby. The wolf can smell Sirius, and the wolf, on some deep level, thinks Sirius is pack.

That means at twilight once a month, Sirius goes out to secure the Shrieking Shack with magic so an enraged adolescent werewolf can’t escape it. He magically seals the second floor and then spends the night listening to scrabbling, crying, whining, howling, barking, growling, and other assorted werewolf noises before dawn brings sharp cries of human pain. Then Sirius is useful again, feeding Remus pain potions from Madam Pomfrey’s stash, convincing him to drink water, and then chivvying him back to Hogwarts through the tunnel so Remus can pass the fuck out in the hospital wing. Sirius worries about Remus during the summer, chained up in the family basement in Wales with no one nearby that smells like pack.

They have less than three weeks before Remus has to go home for the full moon. Sirius counts the days; it’s been habit since the beginning of second-year.

I’m worried, Remus writes next, as if he’s aware of Sirius’s thoughts. They didn’t do anything this year, but James and Peter know about me, Sirius. What if they tell people?

I know it sounds very much like a Black thing, but bribery is an option. The Potters aren’t that flush, Sirius responds while thinking. And on the Animagus front…maybe that’s our answer.

Please explain that magical leap of logic, arsehole. None of that Animagus nonsense says that werewolves can be Animagi!

Sirius grins. The books we’ve been reading don’t say that werewolves can’t be Animagi, either. None of them say you can, but why not give it a go? If you become an Animagus, you can prove to everyone how you “turn into a wild animal” by demonstrating it in front of the whole of Gryffindor House. Also, if the curse works the way it should, it would affect the Animagus Transfiguration magic, and your Animagus form would be a large wolf! Ta da, problem solved.

Remus draws crude eyes that stare off the page in a blank, shocked stare accompanied by animated blinking. Then he writes, Please never say that you’re stupid ever again.

No promises, mate. I proved for nearly three years straight that I’m a complete imbecile.


*          *          *          *


The social calendar that Mother planned for July utterly excludes Sirius and Regulus. Sirius dreads next summer, when he’ll be fifteen and ready to be shown off in true Pure-blood style like a marriageable bauble on a leash. Lily says the Muggles have trouble with gender equality, but Wizarding Britain Pure-blood society doesn’t.

Everyone is property. Everyone is a commodity. Everyone.

Sirius resolutely decides to not think about next year. Instead, he tries to figure out how to get to know his friends in a way that isn’t based in Pure-blood bullshit. It’s a lot more difficult than it should be, and it’s fucking stupid. No wonder he fit in with Potter and Pettigrew so well. They’re all three of them trained for this, even Remus, who is the Half-blood son of a famous wizard. Remus just got lucky enough to have a Muggle mother who insisted that Remus understand both sides of life.

Severus has a Slytherin-like trade going with Mr. and Mrs. Evans. They let him use their basement as a potions lab, and he brews Mr. Evans potions for rheumatic arthritis that actually work on Muggles.

“What’s rheumatic arthritis?” Regulus asks, swinging his legs back and forth on a worktable that isn’t currently being used (or abused) as a potions still.

“Apparently, nightmarish.” Severus scowls at liquid droplets forming and falling from the end of a glass spiral. “No, that’s bloody wrong,” he mutters, and starts scribbling notes. Sirius has no idea what’s supposed to be wrong with what looks like perfectly good Water’s Breath, but Severus’s life goals often revolve around proving everyone else wrong. The irritating part is that he usually succeeds.

“It causes Dad lots of pain in his joints. Mum thinks his job made it worse,” Lily says. “It’s incurable, but Severus has done a lot so that Dad can walk around all right.”

“Wait, he couldn’t walk?” Remus asks, startled.

Lily bites her lip. “Well. He could, but it was…shuffly. Like an old person at the market, all hunched over. It was terrible.”

No wonder Lily’s parents let Severus do whatever he wants in their basement. He’s a maniacal fucking genius. “What’s wrong with the Water’s Breath?” Sirius asks.

Severus stops scribbling notes and to glance up at him. “The standard version only gives you the ability to breathe underwater for twenty minutes. It can easily be extended. I have it up to thirty minutes, but I think it’s possible to make it last an hour.”

“Maniacal fucking genius,” Sirius repeats aloud. Severus smirks in pleasure at the compliment before his quill is scratching miniscule spidery notes all over his book again.

Lily is a girl enigma. Sirius has no personal experience with girls aside from her that isn’t terrible. (Petunia now hates him, which is convenient.) Lily doesn’t have any girl mates, either, which is surprising. Sirius asks about that when they’re outside under a tree, sent out by Mrs. Evans with sack lunches to eat in a smaller playground that’s closer than the one Sirius saw on their first visit to Cokeworth. The contraptions (swings, he discovers) aren’t rusty, but this park isn’t as interesting as the one in the middle of the village.

“Oh, I just don’t…we’re not interested in the same things, mostly. Though Alice isn’t bad. I like her,” Lily says.


“Fourth-year—well, fifth-year now—Gryffindor,” Remus supplies. “She’s the one dating that tall bloke, Frank Longbottom.”

“Oh, one of our cousins,” Regulus says. “He’s what, a second cousin?”

“First cousin twice removed,” Sirius corrects in an absent voice. He’s barely said two words to Longbottom. He has no idea what kind of person their cousin is. He knows more about Narcissa, and she’s one of the most closed-mouthed people he’s ever bloody met. Merlin, he is a complete wanker.

“Lots of personality clashing with other girls, then?” Sirius asks Lily.

“A lot of people don’t like that I’m friends with Slytherins.” Lily gives them a defiant look. “And they can cope. Just because You-Know-Who was a Slytherin doesn’t mean anything!”

“Ugh, please, let’s not talk about him,” Regulus says, tossing bread crust bits out for the doves that are starting to gather. “He’s bloody creepy.”

“Animals.” Severus is gazing at a squirrel rummaging about in a rubbish bin. “One of the books Regulus brought says that you should think of whatever animal you want to be first, so you can get over the idea and let yourself become what you’re supposed to be, instead.”

“I’ll bite.” Remus looks thoughtful. “If not a wolf, then…maybe a bird. A dunnock.”

Lily snorts out a laugh. “Why a dunnock?”

Remus grins. “They’re nondescript, dull birds that like to lurk in the background and hide. Suits, right?”

Severus rolls his eyes. “That isn’t a desire, that’s resignation, you idiot.”

Remus goes quiet. “I don’t know,” he finally says. “I’m just used to…you know.”

“I want to be a cat. I don’t really care what sort. Just any cat,” Lily says while reaching out to squeeze Remus’s hand. “Then I can scratch people who are annoying, like the bloody Prewett twins.”

“I don’t know if they count as annoying, or just enthusiastic,” Regulus says doubtfully. “They’re sort of…uhm…well, they’re kind of mad.”

“Their sister is the one who’s bloody annoying. Not sure what Arthur sees in her,” Remus says. “They’re complete opposites.”

“Maybe that’s why?” Sirius tries, even though he has no idea who this Arthur fellow is. Seventh-year in Gryffindor, maybe. Potter always avoided the upper-year students. “Maybe it keeps things from being dull.”

“Having nothing in common?” Severus sounds annoyed. “Bird.”

“Too easy. What sort?” Lily nudges him.

“Corvid. They’re intelligent,” Severus replies. “Besides, why should I be specific? You’re the one who said any cat!”

“Hippogriff,” Regulus says. They all turn to stare at him.

Remus scratches his head. “Uh, I don’t think you can be a magical creature as an Animagus, Reg.”

“Pfft. Same as the werewolf bit—nothing in those books says you can’t. Hippogriffs can fly, peck, and claw you to shreds,” Regulus retorts proudly. “Sirius, you have to say.”

“Invisible,” Sirius shoots back, making the others laugh. “I don’t actually know. I haven’t thought about it.”

“It defeats the point of becoming an Animagus if you’ve no interest in becoming an animal in the first place,” Severus points out in a dry voice.

“I didn’t say I had no interest. I’m named after the bloody Dog Star! I’m probably cursed to be a dog,” Sirius says, scowling. “Anything except a dog. Happy now?”

“Ecstatic,” Severus drawls back. “It’s a start, at least.”

“How did you and Remus create those scrolls?” Regulus suddenly asks. “Severus and I have been trying to figure it out, but we can’t.”

“Right. Those things.” Severus’s lip curls up, but if it’s derision, it’s definitely self-directed. “I’ve been prodding at mine for weeks now!”

That turns the afternoon into a crap explanation of how Sirius and Remus half-arsed the magical communication scrolls into being what they are. It’s a fucked-up blend of Transfiguration, Charms, a few listening spells, and one incident with a spilled Language Translation Potion. Potter originally voiced the idea, but then he wasn’t about any longer, and it was up to Remus and Sirius to figure it out—mostly out of spite, in Sirius’s case. Making the ultimate fool proof means of passing notes in class was something to discuss while waiting for moonrise in the Shrieking Shack during the rest of third-year. Then it was something for Sirius to continue thinking about while waiting for daylight.

There is no sleeping when an angry werewolf is one storey below your bed. No, not happening.

Severus, Lily, and Regulus aren’t happy until they see Remus and Sirius duplicate the scroll spell in front of them. That’s the work of several days, and requires asking Severus to have brewed-by-the-bloody-book only Language Translation Potion ready for them.

They can’t just build a scroll, since it has to be magically matched to another scroll or the first one has nothing to speak to—the words just sit on the page, not going anywhere. That was the blunder with their second attempt. The first attempt went up in flames and took a quill with it. Third and fourth attempts created scrolls that could only talk to one other piece of paper, and by then it was five of them, not two. Fixing that required another small fire, a half-dozen detentions, and conversations with several portraits.

Remus is the one who decides to alter one of the charms so it records the area around them instead of recording language. Severus declares that magic doesn’t fucking work that way. Lily retorts that she can bloody well fly, so he can shut it.

Everyone forgets what they’re supposed to be doing until Lily demonstrates that she’s not joking. Sirius thinks that flying is what they should be figuring out after Animagus stuff. Remus wonders if you have to be a witch to be able to fly, what with all of the Muggle stories of flying witches.

“You’re all stupid,” Regulus declares, a hint of a pout on his face. “It isn’t because she’s a girl. It’s because she’s the only one of us who grew up without being told all of these rules about how magic is ‘supposed’ to work. Lily is flying laps around this tree and proving that those rules are dumb.”

Severus glares at Regulus. “Are you implying that we should all be able to become Animagi simply because we want to?”

“Yes!” Regulus bites his lip but doesn’t back down. “If the map that isn’t supposed to work that way works exactly the way Remus and Sirius say it will, then that’s exactly what we’ll do. We’ll become Animagi because we want to. The books are all theory. The theory isn’t the problem, it’s the…the…”

“Trust,” Lily says as she lands on the ground. “Trusting each other, but also trusting ourselves. To be…whatever it is we’re supposed to be.”

“If the map fails, we read the books and do it the established way.” Severus looks like he’s bitten something incredibly sour. “Fine.”

The five of them crowd around the new scroll after Sirius closes his eyes and splashes the Translation Potion across the paper. Nothing happens for a few seconds…and then a line-drawn perfect replica of the small park begins to bloom and spread across the scroll. It’s complete with dots labelled with their names, the names of the park structures—what the hell is a teeter-totter?—and even the closest lanes butting up against the grass.

“Neat,” Lily breathes, a wide smile on her face. “Do you guys know what this means?”

Sirius glances at Remus, who shrugs. “No?”

“If you’re all still game to be marauding through Hogwarts searching out secret passages this term, then we should make a map. A map like this one!” Lily huffs when they remain oblivious. “Then we know where we’ve already been, and it’s all labelled, and we can find our way back to neat places!”

Remus and Sirius look at each other again. “Can we actually do that?” Remus asks.

Sirius chews in the end of his thumbnail. “Not all at once. Not on the same scroll, anyway, not until we have a bunch of parts ready to bring together. Otherwise I think it would…the spell would get confused?”

“Too much information.” Remus’s tongue pokes out between the split gap between incisor and canine, the result of a really, really bad night of werewolfing midway through their second year. “Map each section individually, and then figure out how to bring it all together?”

“Updating charm would be the hard part,” Sirius says. “What’s the point of a map that never changes if a room gets used for something else later on? Or if it doesn’t account for those fucking moving stairs?”

Severus’s odd, evaluating stare is back, but at least this time Sirius isn’t the only victim. “You’re both going to be canids,” he says in a peculiar tone. “Desire to know and understand the territory you reside in, remembering every detail after you’ve encountered it.”

“Is that Divination?” Sirius asks, feeling his skin crawl. He doesn’t actually want his name to be a curse!

“Rubbish. It’s called deduction,” Severus says, and introduces Sirius and Regulus to a dead Muggle author named Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Sirius takes one of the novels, borrowed from Mr. Evans, back home on the train that night with its cover Transfigured to resemble a battered copy of The Tales of Beedle the Bard. There are three in the library in the townhouse, but this one is a different printing—Regulus says they can always argue that different printings mean different translations, and he wants to compare it to the others. Sirius thinks there can’t be that much difference between books printed in the same century.

(He’s really fucking wrong about that and he admits it later.)

I’m an idiot, is waiting for Sirius on the scroll in Severus’s spikey writing later that night. There are no responses from the others, so Sirius knows the message was directed solely at him, which is…a first, actually. Severus has never sent a message on the scroll meant only for Sirius before.

You’re really not? Sirius writes back. Pretty sure once we reach O.W.L. year, you’re going to outstrip my arse on grades.

Not grades. Regulus is right, Severus replies.

He usually is, the smart little swot. What is it this time?

What he said about magical rules. Disregarding those rules. I brew potions that way. There are no fucking rules, Severus writes. I’m an idiot for not applying that to everything we do already.

Nope, still sure you’re not an idiot, Sev.

The response is immediate and angry; the spikes in Severus’s handwriting always get longer. Only Lily can call me that— and then that is crossed out with three harsh lines. No. I’m not going to do that.

Sirius gives the scroll a baffled look. Do what? You’re allowed to have preferences. Pretty sure I’d go spare if someone referred to me as Dog Star all the time.

Don’t tempt me, Severus responds. No, it’s that I have no wish to be like them.

Translation, mate?

My parents, Severus writes after a few minutes pass. They’re both cruel. They’re perfect for each other but for the fact that they also hate each other. I don’t want to be like them.

Sirius whistles. I know exactly what you mean. Still almost went and did it anyway.

I’m aware. What kind of poison?

Sirius blinks a few times. Wait, we’re poisoning someone? I thought we were trying not to be pricks.

No, idiot. When they attempt to poison you, what type?

Attempt. You’re funny, Sirius replies, mouth twisting up in bitter amusement. You name it, they’ve either attempted or succeeded. More successes than attempts, to be honest. Begging for the antidote is always a bit of a laugh. For his fucking family, at least.

Congratulations. If there is a prize for who has the worst childhood, you are definitely a contender, Severus writes back, immediately continuing with, I used to hate you. Thought you were bloody spoiled rotten.

Not sure you can be spoiled rotten when you’re so terrified of home that you’d rather live in a cave and eat rats. Sirius chews on the end of his quill again. Why, you on the list, too?

Why do you think I had no wish to present either of you to my mother? She’s yet to shut up about her plots as to what I can “get out of the poncy rich boy.” It’s gotten to the point where I am actively contemplating poisoning her just for a day’s quiet.

Sirius grins. He’s used to that attitude. Mate, I’d literally give you the shirt off my back if you needed it. Just don’t give it to your mother and things are fine.

How very spiteful.

I’m a Black. We survive on spite. And antidotes. And bezoars. Mostly the antidotes. Bezoars don’t fix everything.

They don’t, no, Severus agrees. Also, never give me your fucking shirt. I know exactly where it’s been.

Chapter Text

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.”