Title: One Red Thread

Summary: After finding himself stuck in Gryffindor, Sirius must learn to toe the fine line between two opposing forces—that of his Dark family and his Light friends.

Warnings: Frequent swearing and later mentions of sex, smoking, drinking, etc. Some occasional violence in later chapters. Walburga Black is also insane in this story.

Chapter one:

"Sirius, if you cannot straighten up you will be stuck with crooked robes this year, and be an absolute laugh among your peers at school!"

Sirius resisted the urge to roll his eyes, and instead made a deliberate display of adjusting his position. He was sure he couldn't possibly stand up any straighter, but leave it to Walburga Black to find fault. The tape measure was now taking note of the length of Sirius's ears, and he fought the urge to swat it away.

Satisfied with her son's new posture, Mrs. Black turned back to her sister-in-law, Aunt Druella, and continued their gossip. "Can you believe the nerve?"

"Some people simply have no sense of conduct," Aunt Druella surmised, sipping her tea. "But I suppose if one is brought up without any of the proper teachings or etiquette expected in higher society, we can hardly count ourselves surprised."

"But a mudblood!" Walburga whispered just loud enough for Sirius to overhear, placing a delicate hand over her heart. Aunt Druella shook her head darkly. "In The Dorchester, no less!"

"I can only imagine what the restaurant had to endure—"

"Oh, they were removed at once!" Walburga informed her, setting down her teacup in its matching porcelain saucer. "It is no small insult to the Roux family to bring the filth of the lower classes into such an esteemed restaurant. Needless to say, moving forward, only pureblooded families can request a reservation."

The tailor measuring Sirius finally stepped away and Sirius was able to let his tired arms drop to his sides. He had received his Hogwarts letter the week before, and so Walburga had arranged for custom robes of silk and fine virgin wool "for each of the seasons." Regulus had been jealous of all Sirius's extra attention, but now, hovering on the far side of the room, he appeared glad that he was not the one being accosted by pins and measuring tapes.

"Sirius, step over here," Walburga said suddenly, not looking over at her son. It would be beneath a witch of her status to gesture or even turn her gaze; instead it was Sirius who must place himself in her line of sight. Sirius did as he was told, careful to step lightly. Walburga often complained of Sirius's "thunderous footsteps" and insisted the sound was nothing short of a herd of rogue Hippogriffs.

"He's gotten quite tall," Aunt Druella remarked.

"Indeed; I suspect he may have inherited his Grandfather Arcturus's height," Walburga replied. Sirius kept his mouth shut tight. He wanted to ask his mother why he had to stand so still and straight if all that would come of it was two ladies remarking casually about his appearance. But he knew better.

Walburga had a few strips of fabric in her lap and held them to Sirius. "You are in need of new dress robes. Which color do you prefer?"

They were all shades of grey, emerald, and navy. Dreary colors made worse by the dull texture of the fabric. Walburga was very particular about the colors her sons were allowed to wear in society, insisting grey brought out the pale color of their eyes.

Sirius thumbed through them twice, unable to think of something he could care less about. "What about my dress robes from last year?" he asked, careful to keep his tone light. It would not do well to incite an argument with his hot-tempered mother. "Can we not extend the length?"

Aunt Druella gave him a small smile full of superiority while Walburga insisted, "Certainly not. You are expected to be dressed in the latest fashions—I will not have my son at the Ministry's Christmas Ball in the same robes that are now mimicked among the lower classes."

Sirius gave a sort of half-shrug and chose one at random.

Walburga examined the pale grey swatch carefully. "No, select something darker," she finally decided. "The lighter shades make you too youthful."

Sirius could practically feel the amusement radiating out of his younger brother in the corner. Sirius wanted to turn around and announce that Regulus would be next in line for such a torture as selecting robe colors. Instead he chose a dark emerald green and grey wool blend, the first dark color his eyes caught.

Walburga, satisfied with the selection, set the swatch on the table nearby. "And a set of dress robes in this color," she said without looking up. The tailor, a thin, rather petite man with red hair, quickly snatched up the fabric as though he was unwilling to be close to the Black matriarch for too long.

"Mother," said Sirius hopefully before she could dismiss him from the room. "Will you take me to Diagon Alley today?"

It was shortly after breakfast, and Sirius didn't have lessons with their governess until tomorrow. That left the day wide open, and Sirius was eager to get his own wand.

"Certainly not," she said curtly. Her dark eyes caught sight of Sirius's slightly crestfallen face and her normally stern features softened. "It is the weekend, and I suspect Diagon Alley will be filled with the lower classes, all rushing to fit their errands into one day. We shall go on Monday after breakfast," she allowed, and Sirius grinned widely. "Now find some useful employment while your Aunt and I talk," she added pointedly.

Sirius didn't need telling twice. He all but ran to the door, and Regulus followed Sirius out of their mother's private parlor and down a flight of stairs toward their day room. Sirius threw himself over the arm of the davenport, letting his feet dangle over the edge while he looked up at the painted constellation on the high ceiling.

"You'll write me when you get there, won't you?" Regulus asked, his tone betraying his jealousy.

Sirius turned his head to look at his brother. "'Course I will," he said confidently, and Regulus smiled. "By the time you get there, I'll know all the passages and corridors, and the best way to get to classes. And if there really is a giant squid in the lake."

"Cissy says there are ghosts," Regulus informed him, trying to keep a brave face.

"And acromantulas, centaurs, and maybe even dragons!"

Regulus looked frightened at that. "D-dragons?"

"Well, sure," said Sirius flippantly, waving a hand. "How else do they keep the school safe from the muggles?"

"I overheard Aunt Druella talking to Bella," said Regulus quietly. "They think Andromeda has a muggle boyfriend."

Sirius sat up at that, frowning. "How's she dating a muggle if she's at Hogwarts?" he asked.

Regulus sighed. "Maybe he's a muggleborn. I don't know, I just heard Aunt Druella telling Cousin Bella to talk to Andromeda—stop the rumors, you know."

"There wouldn't be quite so many rumors if Aunt Druella didn't gossip so much," Sirius decided, laying back down on the davenport. "How did you overhear?"

Out of the corner of his eye, Sirius saw his younger brother shrug, settling himself down on a nearby chair. "Yesterday, during lessons with Grandfather—I think they forgot I was in the same room."

Sirius smirked at that. "Can you imagine? Andromeda and a muggle—I think Mother would die."

"You can't tell anyone I've told you," Regulus pressed, sounding earnest. "I wasn't supposed to know, and if anyone hears—"

Sirius waved a hand flippantly. "Who'm I going to tell it to? It doesn't matter, anyway. It's not like Andromeda can marry him or anything. Besides, everyone's too busy crooning over Cissy and her boyfriend, and wondering when they will get married."

"Who's he?" Regulus asked.

"Lucius Malfoy," Sirius supplied. "You've met him once—tall, blonde fellow. He was at Aunt Druella's stupid dinner two weeks ago."

Regulus looked thoughtful for a moment before his pale face broke into a wide grin. "He's the one you kept calling 'Lucy,' right?"

"I don't think he took to me, much."

"Well, you'll have to mind your manners," said Regulus in a poor attempt at mimicking their mother's strict tone. "You'll be going to Hogwarts now, and you mustn't embarrass everybody."

Sirius suddenly felt gloomy at that. "I don't know anyone in my year," he told his brother. "Cissy's closest to my age, but a bunch of Fifth Years aren't going to want to be seen with me."

"What about Evan Rosier?" Regulus asked. "He's a year older, but we've met him."

Sirius half-shrugged. "I guess. He's just…a bit of a prat, really."

"You'll talk to me when I start at Hogwarts, though, right?" Regulus asked, suddenly looking very unsure. He was two years younger, and everyone in the family constantly remarked how very taken he was with his elder brother.

"'Course I will," Sirius said confidently. "I can't let you fall into the wrong hands, can I?"

Regulus grinned at that.

Suddenly there was a loud crack and their House Elf, Kreacher, appeared in the doorway. He gave a ridiculously low bow and said to the floor, "Master Arcturus is requesting your presence."

Sirius straightened up and looked around at Regulus before saying, "What, both of us?"

Kreacher straightened up. "Yes, both Masters Sirius and Regulus." The Elf's tone was neutrally polite, but Sirius didn't miss the sharp look in Kreacher's eye when he looked at him. Kreacher had never dared to let it be known, but Sirius suspected the House Elf strongly disliked him. Perhaps it had something to do with having to constantly clean up dungbombs, or assist with removing all the itching powder from the table linens before family events.

Grandfather Arcturus was stern and seldom seen around the Black family house, except at dinner. He was an esteemed member of the Wizengamot and International Confederation of Wizards, specializing in Wizarding Law. He was tall and broad-shouldered, with stern black eyes and a heavy hand. His deceased wife had to charm all of the family china and crystal to withstand his firm grip. Sirius and Regulus took lessons from Grandfather Arcturus once a week, his schedule permitting, to learn about the Black family traditions, lineage, wealth, and general prestige. Grandfather Arcturus was stern and intimidating, and as a result, Sirius and Regulus dreaded their lessons with him.

Sirius and Regulus got to their feet, quickly going over their appearance with one another—shirttails tucked in, ties straightened, and hair in place—before heading to the far side of the house that Grandfather Arcturus lived in. The entire second floor was reserved for his own particular use, equipped with libraries, a study, and two private parlors for guests. As Sirius and Regulus made their way down the highly-polished corridor with trepidation, they realized they didn't actually know which part of the house Arcturus would be in.

They passed the door to his smaller parlor when they heard a throat clear itself loudly. Sirius stopped dead in his tracks, and Regulus—who had been following closely behind—smacked into him.

Grandfather Arcturus was sitting at a writing desk, with what looked like several pocketbooks stacked nearby and an ivory abacus in front of him. The Black brothers knew better than to dare interrupt Arcturus, and instead waited patiently by the doorway until their grandfather was ready to receive them.

Sirius had only stepped foot in this particular parlor to investigate its contents secretly. The Black House skeleton key had been carelessly dropped in the first floor landing, and Sirius had pocketed it in order to explore all the secret, locked rooms of the house he and Regulus were banned from. The parlor itself was very handsome with cherry paneling and ivory wallpaper. A china cabinet and bookcase were neatly arranged on one side while several armchairs and sofas were arranged on the other. There were charmed windows in between the two sides, leading to a lovely view of the garden despite the fact that the wall in question was an interior wall of the house.

Without much warning, Arcturus suddenly snapped his pocketbook shut and turned to face his two young grandsons with an unreadable stare. Sirius habitually straightened up, eyes slightly downcast as he waited for Grandfather Arcturus to speak.

"When is Walburga taking you to Diagon Alley?" Arcturus asked lazily, stuffing his notebook inside a chest pocket of his jacket.

"On Monday, Grandfather."

He gave a non-commital "Hmmm" at that. Sirius and Regulus shot each other looks out of the corners of their eyes.

"And she has prepared a tailor to fit you for school robes?"

"Just this morning, Grandfather."

"She will spend a fortune, no doubt," he grumbled. As far as Sirius knew, the Black family fortune was almost endless between investments and interest, but Grandfather Arcturus had always watched the family books very carefully regardless. "I suspect you will grow out of that fine silk in a month's time."

Sirius didn't reply.

"Since you will soon be leaving us for school, I have added thirty Galleons a month to your Gringott's allowance," Arcturus said.

Sirius had to fight the urge to smile. He felt Regulus fidget next to him.

"And on your behalf," he continued. "I have invested ten Galleons a month of that allowance. You will inherit your wealth at seventeen, but there is no reason you should not learn to invest your money now."

For a split second, Sirius was torn between disappointment at losing those ten Galleons a month and the fact that he wouldn't have much opportunity to spend money anyway. He put on a careful face, the first skill he ever learned as a Black, and said politely, "Thank you, Grandfather."

"You have a brave face, Regulus, but not a very convincing one," said Arcturus, turning on his younger grandson. "Your turn will come in time. Do not be jealous of your brother, but instead be grateful that you do not have to lead by example. It is never easy being the eldest sibling."

Regulus's voice was quiet, but much more convincing than Sirius would have managed if their positions were switched, "Yes, Grandfather. I am very fortunate to have Sirius as my elder brother."

"Now," said Arcturus, turning slightly in his seat to face his grandsons head-on. "Your Grandfather Pollux is hosting the Malfoy family for dinner next weekend, and I want you both to behave," he said, adding emphasis to the last word as he looked between them. "No pranks, no jokes of any kind." He paused, then added in a kinder tone, "While I personally suspect the Malfoy boy could use a ribbing, your Aunt Druella—and therefore your mother—will not hear of it. This is a very important time for Narcissa, and while Druella is not my blood, she is still a Black. If either of you should step out of line, I will not ask your mother to hold back her hand. You understand?"

Sirius knew all too well the cruel punishments his mother was capable of, far worse than the simple and straightforward blows Grandfather Arcturus used.

"Yes, sir," the Black boys said in unison.

"Then we have an understanding," said Arcturus. "Now, I have work to be done. You are excused."

Sirius and Regulus were careful to step lightly until they reached the staircase, where they ran up it to the top floor. Their bedrooms were across the hall from one another, and other than the joint bathroom, were the only rooms up here. The hallway was more of a wide landing, and was equipped with a davenport and a few portraits. Sirius and Regulus had long since dragged an extra armchair up here, much to their mother's annoyance. They flopped down on the furniture, breathless.

"An extra thirty galleons a month?" Regulus said incredulously.

"Well, really it's twenty," said Sirius, shrugging. He let out a heavy breath. "Can you believe that, though? What on earth am I going to do with that much money at school?"

"Maybe it's more of a show than anything else," said Regulus knowingly. "I don't think Grandfather actually expects you to be able to spend it."

"True," said Sirius, shrugging again. "Let's go find Kreacher—I'm starving."

It was very difficult for Sirius to focus on his schedule that weekend. The governess, a rather sour-looking Miss Nerissa Bole, arrived at ten o'clock on the dot. Sirius and Regulus were long in the habit of being prompt, and were leaning lazily against their table until the door knob turned. They bolted up, standing respectfully at their chairs while they waited for Ms. Bole to take her usual seat. Regulus almost tripped over his chair leg in the process, and Sirius had to grab his arm roughly to catch him.

Ms. Bole's dark eyes flashed over them warningly before she took her usual seat. Sirius and Regulus exchanged one last mischievous look before taking their own.

Ms. Bole pulled out her two practice wands, setting them on the table in front of her. "We will continue our practice of household charms today," she told Sirius. "Your father requests that you master the most commonly-used charms before beginning school."

Sirius took the wand gloomily—he was tired of boring household spells and would much rather practice something more exciting, like dueling or transfiguration.

"And Master Regulus, you shall resume your practice of wand technique—absolutely no incantations," she added warningly at the look on Regulus's face. She turned back to Sirius, and said, "This afternoon we will practice Reparo, a very useful spell to master when in the presence of rowdy young boys." She said this last bit almost bitterly, and Sirius couldn't help but wonder if she was still sore about him accidentally making her tea cup explode the month before.

They began the lesson simply enough—Ms. Bole provided a mirror which she shattered over and over until Sirius could repair it seamlessly. By the end of the two-hour lesson, they had progressed to a crystal goblet full of water. Sirius was able to repair the goblet well enough, but couldn't figure out how to get the water to go back inside of it in the same movement.

At twelve o'clock sharp the clock chimed for lunch. Sirius and Regulus ate their roasted vegetables and herring in their day room while Ms. Bole retired to their mother's private parlor. By one o'clock, it was back to lessons for another two hours. Ms. Bole assigned Regulus several sections out of her beginner's Potions book to memorize while Sirius was given a lengthy and rather boring chapter in History of Magic to review. Finally, the clock chimed the end of their lessons and Sirius and Regulus turned in their work before hurrying out of their day room and into the garden. They would only have half an hour before their mother insisted that they join her for an hour of reading in her tea parlor. Sirius wouldn't mind the reading hour so much if he had actually been allowed to choose his own reading material. Whenever Walburga was cross with him, she often made him read chapters out of Nature's Nobility.

Sunday was a day of leisure for the Blacks, which meant Sirius and Regulus only had to endure an hour-long French lesson after a late brunch, and then joined their father and Uncles Cygnus and Alphard at the Black summer estate in Eastbourne for hunting. Sirius wasn't sure if the activity could rightly be called "hunting." His understanding of the sport involved tracking prey, but his father and uncles merely lounged around on a well-manicured lawn while grouse were set loose from traps. Sirius and Regulus were considered too young to participate, but this time around Orion Black handed his wand to Sirius.

"Did your governess teach you how to stun?" he asked, guiding Sirius into the appropriate stance while Regulus watched on with barely-concealed jealousy. Sirius's father and uncles, of course, did not use stunning charms while hunting, but Orion Black was not about to teach his son how to kill before he had learned to master his magic.

"Yes," Sirius lied. He knew how to stun, but it was not Ms. Bole who taught him.

"Track the birds with your eye," Orion instructed, guiding Sirius's arm. "Follow their flight path, and aim for the space right in front of them."

The first attempt barely grazed the goose; feathers flew everywhere and the bird let out a scandalized cry before straightening up in its flight path and hurrying away. The second attempt was dead-center, and the bird dropped out of the air. Uncle Alphard's retriever bounded forward and scooped the stunned bird up before trotting over with the prize.

"Take it home to your mother," Uncle Alphard told the two Black boys after the bird's neck had been snapped. "You may inform her that my dogs had a taste of it first, and found grouse to be acceptable fare."

This appeared to be some kind of joke among the older men, because they all laughed heartily at that. Sirius offered an unsure smile, watching as Uncle Cygnus's House Elf scurried off toward the house with the dead bird.

The goose ended up being dinner that night, though Sirius noticed his father was careful to assure Walburga that Alphard had not brought his dogs hunting.

"I don't understand why he insists on those disgusting beasts to accompany him," Walburga sniffed over her first course. "Such a muggle habit to keep dogs around."

"Your brother will do as he pleases," said Orion diplomatically, taking a sip of wine. "He always does."

"And that is precisely why my brother has found himself a perpetual bachelor," Walburga replied. "No sensible woman would keep animals in the house like some common witch."

"Mother," Sirius spoke up, careful to keep his eyes on his own plate even as he felt his mother's latch onto him. "What time are we going to Diagon Alley tomorrow?"

"After breakfast."

"Immediately after breakfast?" he tried hopefully.

Walburga set her silverware down on the table in a dramatic display of irritation before continuing, "We will go when we go, Sirius. Not all of us have unlimited leisure time, and have other appointments to keep."

Sirius knew his mother had nothing to do tomorrow other than gossip with Aunt Druella, but knew better than to say so. Walburga simply liked to assure everyone that they were a great inconvenience on her, and how she suffered so.

"May I come?" Regulus spoke up.

"Certainly not," Walburga replied. "The necessary errands will take long enough as it is, I do not need to babysit the two of you in a place like Diagon Alley."

Sirius shot an apologetic look over at his brother, who was careful not to look crestfallen at the dinner table. The pouting would be reserved for the privacy of his bedroom later that evening.

Sirius was unable to eat much breakfast that morning; too great was his excitement. Walburga insisted that her eldest son finish his plate, and even demanded that he eat seconds in spite of the fact that Sirius was not a big eater. It was a deliberate gesture, designed to prolong the point until they left for Diagon Alley and go disguised as motherly concern. Yet "motherly" and "concerned" were two things Walburga never was. Sirius had to force the food down, constantly stealing glances at the clock in the corner of the breakfast room when Walburga wasn't looking.

Finally he was able to slip away from the table and run upstairs to change. He anticipated his mother scolding his choice of clothing, insisting Sirius was out to embarrass her in public, and so Sirius had carefully selected his nicest summer clothes in his wardrobe. He combed his hair neatly, and made sure that his shoes weren't scuffed. When Walburga finally appeared on the first floor landing, even she couldn't find something out of place.

"Straighten your socks," she instructed.

Or maybe she could.

Sirius hastily did as he was told. Walburga looked him over once more, then said, "We will be apparating there."

Sirius knew it was too much to hope for his mother to use the Floo Network—only the men in his family seemed indifferent to the soot—and so took his mother's arm with his tongue between his teeth.

Once the nauseating spinning had subsided, Sirius followed his mother up the cobbled lane as they made their way toward the wizarding bank, Gringott's. Walburga, despite insisting what a great inconvenience the shopping trip imposed on her schedule, walked at a leisurely pace. Sirius had to force himself to walk slowly—too slowly for anyone in their right mind—to keep pace with his mother. Walburga, of course, marched down the middle of the street without a mind to who or what they might run into. Everyone around them seemed to catch on to her great self-importance, and took care to step out of her way.

Once in the bank, Walburga refused to wait in line and instead beckoned the nearest goblin over with a snap of her fingers. Sirius waited quietly beside her, aware of the stares they were receiving. Walburga was either oblivious or indifferent as she began barking out instructions to the goblin before he had quite finished with his current customer.

With their money bags full several minutes later, Sirius and Walburga headed for Flourish and Blotts. A few students and their parents were inside, casually skimming the endless rows of books.

"You there," Walburga said to the salesgirl unpacking several boxes of what appeared to be Advanced Transfiguration. "We need all the textbooks required of First Year. And I would like them from the back of the shop, not what you have on the shelves—too many people have been touching the pages and damaging them."

Sirius wondered what Walburga expected to happen to his own textbooks the moment he reached school, but kept his mouth shut. Walburga knew her status on society, and was not afraid to make sure everyone else did, too.

The salesgirl stood up, frowning at being spoken to like a servant. She caught sight of Walburga's expensive robes, and put on a tight-lipped smile. "Of course, ma'am."

While the salesgirl disappeared in the back, Walburga skimmed over a selection of books of rather questionable content. Sirius was left alone to wander the shop for a few minutes, and gravitated toward the Defense Against the Dark Arts section. It was easily his favorite subject with his governess, but Ms. Bole didn't touch on the topic as much as she did with Transfiguration or History of Magic. He found a text on beginning dueling, and decided that it would be his first purchase with his new allowance from Grandfather Arcturus.

"Mother, I am buying this book," Sirius told Walburga when he found her coming out of the classical fiction section.

Walburga took the book from her son's hands and skimmed through the pages for several silent minutes. "Very well," she said, snapping it shut. "We shall order a new one along with your schoolbooks. You there—" she said, catching sight of the now-annoyed looking salesgirl. "A new copy of this one as well."

"That's our last copy," she replied, setting the heavy tack of Sirius's still-wrapped books on the counter.

"That's okay," Sirius said before his mother could speak. Walburga gave the girl an exasperated look, as though she ought to sympathize with Walburga's unspoken "boys will be boys."

"Those texts are to be mailed to our address on file," Walburga informed the girl, extracting her velvet purse.

The girl frowned. "We have to send three extra owls to carry the weight—it's three times the standard mailing charge, plus an additional fee—"

Walburga gave her a smile before setting down a large handful of gold coins. "It is a small matter."

The girl didn't reply, instead counting out the money and handing Walburga her change and invoice. Sirius paid for his book, insisting he would carry it out and didn't need it mailed. Walburga didn't argue the point, instead checking her watch with a bored expression.

This was all a display, of course. Walburga might speak poorly of Diagon Alley, but in truth she loved being in the public's eye. She adored the jealous stares, and savored every opportunity to subtly imply her status was unattainable. Even other society women let their eyes linger on Walburga's expensive custom robes just a little too long. The one thing Walburga adored more than being the center of everyone's attention was pretending to be modest and oblivious to it all. She cherished twisting the knife of jealousy in every witch or wizard she met while out in public.

It took a subtle cruelty to stand at the top of society, and Walburga was the master at it.

After the bookstore came the apothecary. Once again Walburga arranged to have the supplies neatly wrapped and delivered by owl post to save her the slight inconvenience of carrying a few packages. Normally Kreacher accompanied Walburga on her shopping trips for that very reason, but today she had insisted to keep their party to just herself and Sirius. Sirius was sure this was to silently let every business in Diagon Alley know that she could afford to have her purchases mailed to her out of whimsy.

Sirius had already been fitted for robes, so they bypassed all of the tailors and instead headed for Scrivenshaft's Quill Shop for miscellaneous supplies. Sirius was allowed to pick out whichever quills he liked while Walburga selected several pots of emerald and black anti-blotting ink. There were numerous rolls of parchment, ink remover, a handful of silver-tipped eagle-feather quills, and a fine leather case all neatly wrapped up and added to Walburga's list of mail-orders.

It was a fine day, and so Walburga allowed them to stop at Florean Fortescue's Ice Cream Parlor for sundaes. She and Sirius were seated at the best window seat, enjoying their mid-afternoon treat when Walburga caught the eye of Epona Mulciber and her son, Lucian. Sirius was familiar with the family, having seen them at the Ministry Christmas Ball each year. The Mulcibers, as far as Walburga was concerned, were not high enough in society to warrant an invitation to any of her own events as there was "far too much blood-mixing" in the Mulciber line. Epona herself was only half-blooded, but Walburga insisted the woman pretended to be pure.

"My, what a pleasure seeing you out and about," Epona said, walking over with her son in tow. Epona had pale skin and reddish blonde hair that she kept neatly braided against her head. Her pale eyes searched over Walburga and Sirius, silently taking in their expensive robes. Lucian and Sirius had not gotten along since Sirius had played a prank on him two years before, and so both boys carefully looked the other way while their mothers pretended to talk. Really it was more a carefully-choreographed dance of social niceties and subtle insults. "You must be purchasing Sirius's school supplies!" she said, looking between them and noticing there were no packages. "Oh, but you've only just begun—we can't always get an early start, can we?"

"Actually, I've found it to be more convenient to have Sirius pick out what he prefers and to have them mailed to us. It saves one the trouble of having to carry such a load around town, don't you think? And our poor House Elf was much too busy preparing our weekend dinner to accompany us today," said Walburga. Her tone was expertly crafted to accompany the pointed smile she gave the other woman. "But I see that you have just come from the tailor! Did you use Fancourt's Fine Robes or Twilfit and Tattings? We had a tailor come and fit Sirius just the other day from Twilfit's."

"Madam Malkin's is perfectly suitable for student robes," Epona Mulciber said stiffly. "Children will grow out of them rather quickly, and I can only imagine the singed sleeves and spilled potions ingredients. It really is more sensible to have a sturdy robe that can withstand the day-to-day activities of children, is it not?"

Walburga pursed her lips. "I believe it must be, if one is concerned about the cost of replacements."

Sirius looked up at the rude insinuation, looking from his mother to Epona. Epona, remarkably, kept her face passive, even smiling. "I believe it is more about the message. I certainly would not want to send my children to school with such an ostensible display of wealth as custom robes—Lucian and my girls will learn to focus more on their studies and prospects, and rather less on showing off their possessions. Even among society, that kind of pride is rather tasteless."

Walburga wasn't bothered by the insult. Both women knew Walburga Black was far too wealthy—by birth and by marriage—to let petty jealousy do anything other than fuel her endless pride. Sirius had heard enough of society witch gossip to know that Epona's remark reflected more poorly on her own jealousy than on Walburga.

"We must be going, now, so we shall leave you two to your afternoon of shopping," said Epona with a warm smile. "Come along, Lucian."

Walburga offered her a smile in return, but did not bid her any farewells. When the Mulcibers left the shop, Walburga turned to Sirius. "You must carry yourself with the proper decorum at all times," she told him. "Petty jealousy will find its way to you. It is part of your inheritance as a Black that you are superior to those of not only inferior birth, but inferior status. Those beneath you will cling to your robes with their hands out, begging for favors, friendship, even money. It would be rude not to engage with lower people from time to time as a form of pittance, but never forget your place, lest they forget theirs."

Sirius simply nodded his understanding.

"Well, we have made arrangements for all of your supplies," she said, extracting Sirius's school letter from her robes. "That leaves us with the task of selecting you an owl, and then we shall go to Ollivander's."

Sirius lit up at that.

Walburga was careful to stay near the front of the shop where the floor was free of owl droppings while Sirius roamed the rafters, peering in the dim light for an owl that stood out. He would have to have a handsome owl, certainly, and not one that was too slight. Most of the birds were asleep at the noon hour, but a few were hooting quietly in their perches, watching Sirius as he moved through the room. Then, in the far corner, he spotted a pair of wide orange eyes. Sirius moved closer, and saw that they belonged to a beautiful eagle owl with a tawny and black spotted plumage. The owl ruffled a few of her feathers, readjusting her position on her perch. She regarded Sirius with curiosity, clicking her beak at him.

Sirius held out his arm tentatively, hoping his mother didn't notice when the owl's claws snagged threads out of his sweater. The owl gave a soft hoot before hopping forward.

"Mother, I have found the one I like," Sirius announced when he neared the front counter.

"Ah, an eagle owl!" said the shopkeeper. "A very distinctive species—the one you have is still very young. They grow to be larger than snowy owls, but are just a hair smaller than great grey owls. Very suited to all climates, particularly mountainous regions. The one you have there came to us from a breeder in Mongolia."

"What is their temperament?" Walburga asked.

"Eagle owls are apex predators. They have a very calm disposition, but can be aggressive and territorial if they feel threatened. With proper wizarding care, eagle owls often live up to sixty years."

Walburga nodded approvingly at that, withdrawing her coin purse. "Very well. And we shall of course need all the necessary equipment to care for this owl. What is your best owl cage?"

Sirius remained where he was while his mother and the shopkeeper examined owl cages. "What should I name you?" he asked the owl. The owl shook her feathers and let out a few droppings on the floor that missed Sirius's foot by inches. Sirius laughed at that. "Well, you're a Black owl, so we should follow Black family tradition. How about Lyra? I think that could be rather fitting."

The owl hooted in reply and closed her bright orange eyes sleepily.

Walburga appeared then, a large silver cage in the shopkeeper's hands just behind her. She caught sight of the droppings on the floor, and her nose wrinkled. "I do hope eagle owls don't let their droppings fall just anywhere."

"No more than other owls, ma'am," said the shopkeeper, ringing up their purchases. "They all do their business wherever they please."