I was hesitant to post this. Given the explosive fame of ATYD, it's an intimidating prospect to come into the genre with my own version (which also bears the title of a popular song from the era, inviting more comparisons), but I also really wanted to write it because I've become rather fond of the whole aesthetic. I know next to nothing about the culture, and I actually don't really have a long-term plan here. The idea of a Gryffindor Severus Snape was enough on its own for me to be unable to put this thing out of my head until I wrote it.
In life, great change—the monumental sort of paradigm shift that altered one's status quo irrevocably—was often preceded by a good deal of forethought. Consideration and time were given to deliberate one's options before proceeding with the new course of action, and things moved forward with a deliberate and steady pace.
At the very least, this was the recommended course, though it shook out such a way exceedingly rarely.
Rather often instead, great change was often the result of equally great foolishness, and it was better termed "the consequences of your own idiocy".
Today, Severus Snape was about to do something greatly foolish.
Because of a girl.
And of course it was because of a girl. It was almost a universal rule that a young lad such as himself did stupid things exclusively for the reason that a girl was involved. It was so…common, such a ridiculous pitfall for him to allow himself to walk into. Here was a boy who prided himself on being a cut above the average snot-nosed urchin, and he was playing out the worst sort of stereotype.
All because of one bloody word.
Really, he should have known she would be a Gryffindor. If Lily Evans was anything, it was an exemplary model of all the finer traits of the house. Brave, loyal, adventurous, beautiful.
Perhaps that last one didn't apply to every Gryffindor.
Still, he'd been holding out hope…but for what, he asked himself as the cluster of students before the Sorting Hat continued to shrink. Would Lily Evans really be suited for Slytherin? Not only was her personality laughably anti-Slytherin, she was a muggle-born. Muggle-born Slytherins happened once, maybe twice every few decades, thought to be a joke on the behalf of the Sorting Hat.
But what was there to do about it? The Sorting Hat could read minds; Rowena Ravenclaw had enchanted it with a sophisticated array of legilimency spells. It would be planted on his head, and he could only suspect that it would see him as Slytherin-bound, just like his mother had been.
It had been a point of pride until now, something to look forward to. But now, with Lily in Gryffindor… There was no way they'd be able to talk or be friends without attracting scorn and derision from both houses. Ravenclaw kept to themselves, and Hufflepuff were just too kind to be bothered by anyone—but Gryffindors and Slytherins got along about as well as Severus did with his father.
Oh, brilliant. That was what he needed; James Potter sniffing around Lily, annoying her, trying to charm her with his idiotic smile. There had been no other place for him, he supposed, than the house of the noble idiots.
And suddenly, Severus had an idea. The aforementioned greatly stupid idea.
It would be the height of stupidity, something completely harebrained and…and ridiculous.
Mum, though. She had made it explicitly clear that the hat, the Sorting itself, was nothing more than a formality. While his last name was Snape, he had the Prince name to live up to. Even if Eileen Prince wasn't exactly on the best of terms with her family, she still held the legacy proudly. And that legacy was one of academic success, of dignity and ambition. It was not of the sort that mingled with jocks and ruffians.
His feet felt exceptionally heavy as he made his way forward automatically, each step toward the raised platform upon which Professor McGonagall waited feeling like a step toward the headsman's block. He was about to be handed down his sentence, whether he was ready for it or not.
As he sat upon the stool, for a split-second before the hat obscured his vision, he saw her. Among the students at the Gryffindor table, he caught a flash of red hair, a warm and excited smile. And Severus yearned for her. Connections and ambitions and legacy could sod right off. He wanted to be with her.
Then the hat spoke in his head.
"Oh, now this is a tumultuous think I've found myself interrupting."
Well, Severus mused that he was very nearly done and ready to forge ahead.
"Is that so? Found your feet and feeling fleet, is it? Are you sure, dear boy? You have a keen mind, I must say. You've the talent and the ambition to make one fine Slytherin."
For a moment, he faltered. Notions of legacy and the Prince name wavered his resolve. If Mum found out he'd been sorted into Gryffindor, he might not be welcome back home. Then again, a life on the street was hardly much of a step down from their hovel.
No. Once he'd realized that Lily had been Hogwarts-bound as well, he'd resolved to stay by her side every step of the way. Even if it meant trotting into the lions' den. There was nothing more for it than to grit his teeth, square his shoulders, and do it.
"Now that is courage worthy of any of Godric's boys. Off to…GRYFFINDOR!"
The hat shouted the last word, and the table full of red and gold exploded in cheers as the hat was pulled away from his head. Minerva McGonagall spared him the slightest of smiles (Severus recalled that she was the Head of House for Gryffindor), ushering him along to his fate.
He almost fell from the platform as he made his way down, and legs that had felt like lead for the journey to his Sorting now felt like overcooked spaghetti.
And thanks to Mum, he was much too familiar with overcooked spaghetti.
Rounding the table, he made his way to where Lily sat, and the ecstatic expression on her face washed away all of Severus's misgivings for the moment.
"We're in the same house!" she said gleefully, scooting to make room. "Sev, this is great!"
"Yeah," Severus said as he sat next to her. "Yeah, great."
Oh, this was going to be a long seven years.
There's very little to be said of those days before Hogwarts that I actually wish to remember. My formative years were hardly the worst anyone's experienced, but it felt so at the time. Mother was far from nurturing, but she at the very least encouraged me to succeed. I believe she simply wanted to feel as though she had accomplished something, hadn't thrown her life away for no reason. I was her last hope. The less said about my father, the better. Truly a bitter and hateful man, the world around him never seemed to be the one he wanted, but rather than attempt to change his lot, he shouted to it, petulant and impotent and unwilling to actually do anything.
Home was Cokeworth, and Cokeworth was a black hole, a pit sucking the light from the universe. To imagine such a place existing on purpose was to consider that there was some malignant eldritch force at work behind it.
How truly surprising it was, then, that the first great thing to happen to me also came from the town. As though she herself had manifested as a force to resist the besmirching influence of that place, the beacon of light that was Lily Evans came into my life.
And, trite as it may be, that's rather the crux of my whole tale. A girl. The girl. Lily Evans.
The girl who saved my life.
July 1, 1971
Cokeworth, Midlands, England
While most of the factories in Cokeworth had shut down after the fire of 1968, there yet seemed to linger a cloud of smog in the air, a specter of an industrial age that had fizzled out with the war. Years later, the rainwater still felt dirtied as it came down upon them, the river running through town had a foul stink to it, and there always seemed to be more bugs than anywhere else, even somehow in winter. They never got visitors; those with family out of town always elected to travel for holidays and visits rather than inflict the town of Cokeworth on the unsuspecting, and anyone passing through was doing just that. There was a jealousy to the place, as though lingering for too long would have you trapped like those already living there.
It was here that Severus Snape lived. But he had vowed the moment his mum had told him he was magic that this stain on the map would not hold onto him the way it had done so many others. The cloying cling of this unpleasant hole in civilization would be powerless against his…his power.
He only needed to get his acceptance letter and start at Hogwarts already.
Then he would be out of this dump. Then he would be among his people, magic-users, learning spells and brewing potions and becoming so much more than the soot-stained masses of Cokeworth. Other children at the muggle schoolhouse talked of becoming a laborer or a shift manager like it was the highest aspiration a child could hold. A few dreamers even dared to voice their hopes of moving out of Cokeworth and going to university. They were all, in Severus's opinion, almost pitiable, unaware of how low their plans were really reaching.
All except for one.
"My name is Lily Evans, and over the summer, I want to listen to a hundred new songs I've never heard before, and to convince my Mum and Dad to let me visit Graceland in America. I want to meet Elvis and get him to sign my Hoffner bass guitar that I got for Christmas. And then he'll pat me on the head and tell me I've got what it takes to be in his band if I just keep practicing and eat lots of Fool's Gold sandwiches to grow up strong. He'll tell me he wants to adopt me, and I'll – "
"Alright, Lily, I think we've heard enough," Mrs. Robinson said with a small chuckle. "I'm sure you've a proper novel about your life as Elvis's new daughter."
"No, I actually tell him I love my mum and dad too much to leave them behind, but he can take me as his protégé," Lily insisted.
"Now that's quite a word for an eleven-year-old to know," Mrs. Robinson said appreciatively. "Go on and take your seat. I promise I'll read the whole thing when you hand it in."
With a bright smile, Lily Evans marched back to her seat, and Severus couldn't seem to unglue his eyes from her. He was sure there had never been a more beautiful girl in the entire history of the world. For a moment, her vivid green gaze locked onto Severus's, and he felt his face heat up before he ducked his head down. As she passed by him, Severus thought he might have heard a small noise of mirth from the girl, which only intensified the blush he knew was blooming on his face.
"Alright, would anyone else like to volunteer, or do I have to start dragging you lot up front myself?" Mrs. Robinson went on. "How 'bout you, Severus? Care to share your summer plans with the class?"
"Not really," Severus said, frowning to himself. His paper was boring enough on its own; having it follow the antics of class darling Lily Evans would only highlight how comparatively dull his life currently was.
"Now, Severus, every student's life is unique and interesting," Mrs. Robinson insisted.
"Yeah, let's hear how his mum crawled out of the river!" a voice shouted.
"After catching all the fish with that hook of a nose!" another called out.
"You have greasy hair and unpleasantly sallow skin!" a third (significantly less creative) student added.
Several of the kids around him burst into laughter, and Severus sneered at them before climbing to his feet and stalking to the front of the classroom. While Mrs. Robinson chided the students who had spoken out, he took his place in front of the blackboard, glaring at the collection of imbeciles that had made his young life nigh-unbearable for the last five years.
"My name is Severus Snape, and over the summer I plan to pack my things, purchase new school supplies, and when the new year starts, take a train to my new private school in Scotland. There, I'll learn things none of you can even wrap your small minds around, and I'll never have to look at any of your oafish faces ever again."
With that, he marched back to his seat and flung himself into it. Their teacher, long since used to his occasional outburst, merely sighed and attempted to keep things moving. It was, after all, the final day of school; once she'd ushered all the little blighters out of here, she'd be done with them.
"Alright, alright, who wants to go next?" she asked on a sigh, while Severus pointedly ignored the whisperings and giggles breaking out after his miniature rant. He was used to it by now, but thankfully, he wouldn't have to abide it any longer, not after today. After today, he would be done with the muggle school system. Severus Prince was eleven, and that meant one thing for a witch or wizard.
Next year, he would be going to Hogwarts.
There was only one school in Cokeworth, aptly named the Cokeworth Primary School. Here, the class divide among the inhabitants of the soot-stained town became apparent. Half of the children that attended were certainly of the well-off sort, with neatly-combed hair, brand-new uniforms, and smiling parents that picked them up in shiny expensive cars. These were the next generation of the factory-owners, the shipping facility senior managers, the landlords that divvied up the town into lucrative parcels of rentable real estate. They had never wanted for anything in their lives and would be handed down their parents' financial legacy like the monarchs of old.
Of course, half of them would very likely run those legacies into the ground in the ensuing years, but such was the nature of things.
The other half of the student body resided in, for lack of more polite phrasing, the poor side of down. Referred to in tones of varying levels of disparagement as "the 'cross-the-river crowd", theirs was a lifestyle of ill-fitting secondhand uniforms, grubby fingers smeared with the film of soot that never seemed to leave Cokeworth, and a generally more bleak outlook on the future than their upper-class neighbors.
Both crowds were insular, both were proud of their lot for wildly different reasons, and both had mutually decided that the Snapes and their house at Spinner's End were exactly the sort that Cokeworth didn't need.
And that was why—as the final bell rang and a scrum to make a rugby player proud built up from the levels of excitement only achievable by a child on the last day of the school year—Severus walked alone through a detritus of discarded tests, months-old homework assignments that had never been turned in, and several pairs of old gym socks that had him wrinkling his nose in disgust. Most of the crowd had already spilled free of the school, various cliques and niches going about their own preferred way of celebrating the final day of school. Only a few scattered students were left saying goodbyes to favored teachers, trading phone numbers to keep in touch over the summer, or waiting on a ride from a parent that worked at one of the remaining factories.
For a moment, he mused that he was leaving Cokeworth Primary School for the very last time—that he would never set foot in this building again—before dismissing the thought as pointless. There was no consideration to be given, no more dwelling on this place than was necessary. This school had brought him nothing but scorn and ridicule, and he was glad to see the back of it.
He was also, as he descended the steps, seeing the back of Lily Evans.
"Did you get your letter yet?" he asked as he reached her. Lily jumped at his quiet approach, turning to him with a rueful smile. With the sun glinting in her copper hair, Severus had to force himself to listen to her words without staring.
"Not yet," she huffed. "You sure you're not having me on? Is there really a magic school?"
"It's all true," Severus insisted. "They usually start sending the letters out on the first day of summer, Mum says."
"So I could get mine quite soon," Lily guessed. "I bet they send them out alphabetically, and that means my name is probably close to the top of the list."
"Probably," Severus said. "You might even get yours before I get mine."
"And then I go to Diagon Alley, right?" Lily asked. The pair headed for the street in front of the school, making their way down the winding lane that led home. "The secret wizard shopping district in the middle of London?"
"Yes, that's what it is," Severus said with a small smile at the unmasked skepticism in her tone. Excited as she had been to learn of the magical world, it was clear that she was still on the fence as to whether to actually believe Severus. "You've done magic, you know. You saw it."
"It could have been a breeze," Lily insisted.
"That happened to created a flower tornado with you at the center?" Severus asked, grinning now. "Some wind."
By now, the pair had reached the bridge that spanned the river, as made quite evident by the faint but no less unpleasant stink hanging in the air. Years ago, the river had been a dump site for all manner of unpleasant runoff from the various factories and foundries in Cokeworth—before a number of civil cases had been leveled at the companies doing the dumping and put them out of business—and even now, it still hadn't fully recovered from all the pollution.
The path left led eventually to the more affluent side of town, where the houses boasted spacious yards and a distinct lack of the layer of grunge that seemed to permeate everywhere else in Cokeworth. Straight ahead and across the river lay Spinner's End, a long single road with various packed-dirt streets leading off it. Save for one row of terraced housing, the houses there (the ones remaining at least) were rarely more than a single story and in varying states of decay.
It was there, of course, that Severus lived with his parents.
Today, as ever, he didn't really feel like going straight home. Mum was never around when he got there, busy with her work as a filing clerk at the Ministry of Magic. Their ramshackle townhome was even more depressing when he was left only with his father and his sullen silences, so weather permitting, he preferred to find a nice place in the park for the pair to do their homework.
There was no homework today, for obvious reasons, leaving the pair to pause quietly at the bridge.
"I should be heading home," Lily said regretfully. "Dad's got this mad idea of having a barbecue to celebrate our first day of summer break. He's never cooked in his life, but he thinks he'll have it down pat because he's a man."
"Sounds like a good way to get himself set on fire," Severus pointed out.
"Yeah, and I wanna be there when it happens," Lily giggled. "Come by tomorrow, though. We can walk to the park."
"The park is on the way to your house," Severus said. "Why not just meet up there?"
"Because that's not very chivalrous, is it?" Lily insisted, poking her tongue out at him. "You need to be the gentleman and walk me there."
"Naturally," Severus said ruefully. "How could I be so foolish? Do you need me to walk you home?"
"No, I'll run into Tuni on the way there, and – "
"Say no more," Severus told her, holding up a hand to forestall more talk. "See you tomorrow."
Lily giggled at that, snorting a bit and clutching at her schoolbag.
"Until tomorrow, then," she said. She sent him one last beaming smile before turning and marching off down the road. Severus watched her go for a long moment, enjoying the way her hair caught the sunlight as it swished left and right. Not wanting to be caught staring, however, he soon turned and heaved a sigh as he made for the bridge.
Home awaited, after all.
Before Hogwarts, it was all blackness.
Aristocracy is a funny thing, I guess. Pile enough gold in your cellar, pretty soon you get ideas about holding your life to a higher standard than others. Fancy wallpaper, mahogany moldings on the walls, buttresses. Why shouldn't my high-backed sofa be stuffed with the finest hippogriff down and upholstered by hand-woven fabrics that at least three "lesser folk" have bled over?
To Mother, it was only natural to rest atop our laurels, to look back at the rich history of our pure magic lineage and point to that saying, "We did that! Bask in our glow!" There was no concept of changing or bettering our lives, no thinking of the downward spiral as more and more families interbred and the Sacred Twenty-Eight dwindled down to the Sacred Four But We're A Bunch Of Bug-Eyed Inbred Freaks.
I hated it. I hated every second of it. To the casual viewer, we looked to be living it up, posh and refined and so above it all. Really, it was a circus, an act put on by people whose only way of feeling accomplished or superior was to pretend to be and spend enough money that everyone else was willing to get in on the act.
But there's a story to tell, and that's how it all got better. People hurt, but when you hurt together, you eventually spend more time happy than you did sad, and that's what this about, I suppose.
This is how my friends helped me not to hurt anymore.
July 5, 1971
Diagon Alley, London, England
The door to the Leaky Cauldron was always a tempting prospect. Whenever Sirius ended up in the ancient little pub, it was always on the way to Diagon Alley, to shop for new robes at Twilfitt and Tattings or withdraw yet another almost offensive amount of gold from their equally offensively-stuffed vault at Gringotts. Mother would have had him believe that that was all the Leaky Cauldron was, a doorway to Diagon Alley, to their world.
It was only within the last couple of years that he had even learned of the muggle world.
Growing up, it had always been the magical world, the wizarding families. His social circle had consisted only of those Mother had approved of. Fellow members of the Black family, the Malfoys, the Notts, the Lestranges. Lately, Mum had started to invite the Bulstrodes around, finding Bernadette Bulstrode to be "simply a fascinating woman" because of her views on hunting muggles for sport.
Finally, on his ninth birthday, out on a shopping trip with Uncle Alphard, he'd asked him about the door to the Leaky Cauldron.
"We always go out the back. What's out front?"
Uncle Alphard had opened Sirius's eyes that day.
And he'd never wanted to shut them after.
The muggle world. With their cars and their electricity and their motorcycles. Brooms were flash, but a motorcycle was loud and powerful and cool. Uncle Al had shown Sirius a magazine after that, a muggle one where the pictures didn't move. But they didn't need to with how dynamic they were. Muggle men wearing leather jackets and boots and sunglasses, riding motorcycles and smoking and hanging out with beautiful women.
"Where are they?"
"A rock concert. They're listening to The Who."
Their culture was so rich and vibrant, so massive. They had huge cities, sprawling metropolises. And they were innovative! Sirius had learned that the wireless had been invented by a muggle! Wizards had just…borrowed the technology. When he'd brought that up to Mother, she'd simply told him to hush with his "ideas".
Then Uncle Al had shown him television. Why wasn't there wizard television!?
Uncle Alphard didn't keep in touch very often lately, though Mother hadn't yet burned him from the family tree, at least. But Sirius thought of him often when he saw the door to the Leaky Cauldron, beyond which lay streets and high-rise buildings, cars and motorcycles. To walk among the muggles sounded like a blast, and he vowed someday to do it, especially knowing how much it would scandalize Mother.
Today, however, Diagon Alley was his destination, and he was actually rather looking forward to the trip. Because today, he was doing his Hogwarts shopping.
If only he could do it alone.
"I don't understand why I couldn't just wait at home, Mother," Regulus whined. Sirius spared his little brother a roll of the eyes. For all his put-upon pompousness, he often succeeded in little else than sounding like a pouting child attempting to be posh. "Kreacher could look after me."
Thanks to generations of borderline inbreeding among purebloods, the Regulus and Sirius looked nearly identical, from their pale gray eyes to hair as black as coal. Regulus kept his short (to please Mother, of course), while Sirius had let his start to grow to nearly chin-length, framing a face he had been told was "haughty but handsome" by his cousin Andromeda.
"Kreacher is hardly the sort I would consider able to look after a child," Mother said. "He's loyal and heels well, but he's too soft with you boys."
"You mean he's half mad and thinks we're bloody royalty," Sirius muttered.
Mother only sniffed quietly at that, and it was clear that she shared the sentiment. To be a pureblood meant you were royalty, at least to the common rabble. And to be a Black only elevated you to the top of the top. As Mother said, every pureblood family, all of the Sacred Twenty-Eight, owed its continued purity to the Black family. Sirius had learned recently that there was hardly a single pureblood out there that wasn't a least a distant cousin of his. When asked if that meant he'd be marrying a cousin someday, she'd treated it like the most ridiculous question. Of course he'd be marrying one of his third or fourth cousins; did he want to marry some muggle or the spawn of a blood-traitor?
Maybe he'd meet a nice muggle-born girl at Hogwarts and woo her with his sophisticated ways.
Maybe her dad would have a motorcycle.
As they made their way along the cobble lane of Diagon Alley, Mother kept her eyes forward, not even sparing passerby a glance. They weren't even worthy of her consideration, after all. Commoners going about common lives, toiling for their gold and filthying the world.
The aristocracy simply didn't abide.
"Why couldn't Father come with us?" Regulus asked.
"Your father is busy meeting with Uncle Cygnus and Abraxas Malfoy," Mother spoke. "They all wanted to discuss the possibility of your cousin marrying Abraxas's son, Lucius."
"The poncey blond that looks like a girl?" Sirius asked, earning a withering look from Mother. She didn't dare strike him for his rudeness, however, not in public.
"You'd best be polite to him," she cautioned her eldest. "He's Head Boy this year, and he's going to be your senior prefect."
There was never any question that he'd be a Slytherin, of course. It was simply irrefutable. A Black went to Slytherin, full stop. Ravenclaw would earn no small bit of disappointment but resigned acceptance, Gryffindor possible excommunication from the family.
Sirius didn't even want to think about Hufflepuff—Mother would very likely Floo to Hogwarts to personally disembowel him out of shame.
They didn't need to go to Gringotts today; Mother had plenty of gold on her. The concern of being mugged or otherwise was patently absurd, given both their reputation and Mother's propensity to sling the most horrible spells imaginable at anyone who so much as accosted them in the street.
The hapless watch salesman that had run afoul of them last Christmas still hadn't been seen since.
And so, as they made their way to Flourish and Blotts, no one spoke to them, no one approached them, no one even spared them more than a furtive look before giving them a wide berth. Just the way Mother preferred. Keep the rabble away, keep insulated in their little stifling social bubble.
How else would you expect royalty to act?
Inside the bookstore, Sirius wandered among the shelves, glad for even the short respite from the oppressive atmosphere of Mother's presence. He clutched his booklist tightly, to keep up the pretense of looking for the titles he'd need, but he wandered aimlessly among the shelves. He'd never been one for reading, never had the patience for it. Of course, the books in the Black family library (the ones that weren't full of sinister dark rituals and the like) were hardly the engaging sort, and having ancient tomes about genealogy, nobility, and pureblood supremacy dropped in his lap with demands from his father to read them cover to cover had put him off the whole notion of literature.
Some of the selection here actually looked…interesting, however. There was even an entire section devoted to muggles, which Sirius found himself wandering down after a furtive glance to make sure Mother was sufficiently engaged with keeping Regulus from climbing a shelf. Rounding a corner to the next aisle, he stopped short at the sight of another boy standing midway down the aisle with an open book in one hand. At the sound of someone else approaching, the other boy looked up.
He looked about Sirius's age, with black hair that was obviously trying to be on its best behavior but failing miserably. Even as he glanced at Sirius, the movement sent a thick lock of his fringe falling into his face, and he brushed it away from hazel eyes that widened with curiosity.
"Oi," he said, holding the book up. "You know what it means to ring someone?"
Sirius felt that was an odd way to start a conversation, but the question intrigued him enough not to be bothered by it.
"Um…not really," he said. "You mean, put a ring on them?"
"Nah, can't be that," the boy said, pointing at the book. "This bird in this book, she's wanting to talk to another character, and she talks about ringing him."
Sirius shrugged, and the boy sighed, shaking his head.
"Is that a muggle book?" Sirius asked.
"Yeah, they have a whole shelf of 'em," the other boy said. "Reckon it's fascinating, don't you? They've been going along this whole time without magic. Building cities, like."
"Exactly!" Sirius said excitedly. "My family don't get it, but it's wicked the things they've made. You know what a motorcycle is?"
The boy shook his head, and Sirius quickly reached into his robe jacket, pulling out a folded-up magazine clipping from an inner pocket and unfolding it to show the boy. It was his favorite picture ever, of a man riding a motorcycle along a deserted street. He had sunglasses and long hair and a big burly beard, and he looked cool.
"Two wheels?" the boy asked softly. "How's it stay up?"
"Once it's going fast enough, it just stays up all on its own," Sirius answered, proud that he knew that. "When it's stopped, the muggle has to hold it up with his foot, or he puts down a…a kickstand."
"That looks so cool," the boy said, and Sirius grinned at him.
"I'm Sirius," he said. "Sirius Black."
"James Potter," the boy told him.
"Hey, I know you," Sirius said. "Your father started the – "
"Sleekeazy Hair-Care line," James said with a roll of his eyes. Sirius nodded at the boy's unruly hair.
"Doesn't he give you any?" he asked.
"Oh, bugger off," James chuckled. "I happen to prefer my hair the way it is. If I use even a drop of the stuff, it goes totally flat, makes me look like some tiny businessman."
"Lesser of two evils," Sirius said, and James nodded.
"Hey, yeah, I like that," he said, gesturing at the supply list in Sirius's hand. "Hogwarts this year?"
"Yeah," Sirius said. "Finally getting away from my family, so no matter what, it'll be a gas."
"Same here," James said. "Well, it'll be a gas, I mean. My family are brilliant."
"I'm happy for you," Sirius drawled, and James grinned at him. "Anyway, if Mother catches me down the muggle books, I'll be skinned alive, so I better get moving."
"Wanna meet up and sit together on the train?" James asked. "Be more fun with a friend to talk to."
A friend? Was it so easy? Sirius didn't have friends; he had cousins and approved social contacts from other respectable pureblood families. He had Corban Yaxley with his cold smile and dead eyes and ideas about "muggle labor camps", Paul Jugson and his morbid fascination with the Imperius Curse, and Evan Travers with the eye that got twitchy when he started talking about Grindelwald's rise to power.
But James Potter, with the bright smile and fascination with motorcycles? Sirius could be friends with him.
And, to seal the deal, it would make Mother livid.
Word must have gotten around that the Black family was gracing Diagon Alley with its presence, as every shop they visited after Flourish and Blotts sported an eager clerk at the door, ready to help them get their shopping done as swiftly and efficiently as possible. Even Ollivander had a stack of wands ready for Sirius to try out, reducing the process to four minutes of fruitless waving before he found his. Mother, in her self-importance, was most assuredly under the impression that this was simply a courtesy extended because they were who they were. The Blacks suffered no less than the finest help possible, and wise was the shop that adhered to such a standard.
Sirius was sure they just wanted her in and out with as little fuss as possible. On her best days, Walburga Black was utterly insufferable.
Their final stop of the day was the one Mother was looking forward to least. In the past, all of their robes and other such clothes had been purchased from Twilfitt and Tattings, the upscale clothing shop tucked into the back of Diagon Alley. It catered almost exclusively to purebloods, never once venturing into the realm of muggle fashion as Madame Malkin's Robes for All Occasions was wont to do on occasion. As well, the clientele were the sort who had money to throw around, purebloods who needed a new set of dress robes for a formal or ball. Sirius and Regulus had been dragged to the shop on far too many occasions, to be fitted for new and stuffy outfits that they were then forced to wear to a cotillion or a cousin's debutante ball.
Unfortunately for Mother, Hogwarts loved to tout how inclusive it was and as such restricted school uniform sales only to Madame Malkin's . Thus, in order for Sirius to be fitted for his school robes, they would have to mingle with the common-folk. Inside, Madame Malkin herself bustled over as soon as they were inside, directing Sirius to a stool in the middle of the room. As he hopped up, he saw Mother studying one of the waiting chairs with a distasteful expression before openly casting a cleaning charm and sitting.
"Let's see," the seamstress said with a hum, draping a robe over Sirius and pinning it up. "Lanky thing, aren't you? You'll be outgrowing these by next year, I expect."
"I am quite good at growing," Sirius told her, and she let a quiet laugh while taking a few measurements. As he waited, the door opened with a jingle of the bell, and a girl with sandy blonde hair strode into the place. She wore a pleated skirt—which she smoothed out as Madame Malkin approached—and a cardigan.
"Hogwarts, little lady?" the seamstress asked.
"You bet," the girl spoke with a grin. Sirius detected a bit of a Scottish lilt to her words, which he decided sounded rather fetching.
Even more fetching, Mother had taken one look at her muggle clothing and curled her lip up in disgust.
"Hello," the girl greeted Sirius politely as she climbed onto the stool next to his. "Are you starting Hogwarts this year, too?"
She spoke slowly and politely, and Sirius wondered if she was trying to mask her accent. Tucking a lock of her wild hair away from her eyes, she peered over at him with a startlingly blue gaze. There was a faint dusting of freckles over her face, which bore the impish look of a troublemaker.
Sirius felt an instant connection.
"Yeh deaf?" she asked, her accent slipping through.
"Um, yeah," Sirius said. "I mean, I'm starting Hogwarts. Not deaf."
"Wicked," she said. "What house d'you think you'll be?"
"Well…probably Slytherin," Sirius said with a glance at Mother. She was watching the proceedings while ostensibly reading an issue of the Daily Prophet she'd found. Her eyes weren't moving over the words, however.
"Ick," the girl said, her face scrunching up. Mother's fingers tensed a bit as they held the paper. "I'd rather be Gryffindor, but Hufflepuff'd be nice, too. I heard they're near the kitchens. They'll have to roll me 'round to my classes, I'd get so fat."
Sirius snickered at her, and she flashed him a wide grin.
"I'm Marlene," she said. "Stick me hand out, but I don't wanna get stabbed with a needle."
"Sirius," he told her. "Been told I have a weak handshake, so no trouble at all."
Marlene's grin widened somehow, her eyes now glinting with mirth.
"I like ya," she decided. "Maybe we'll run into each other at school."
"Alright, darling, that's you finished," Madame Malkin said, holding out the folded bundle of Sirius's uniform. Climbing from the stool, he gave Marlene one last smile.
"Hope we see each other again," he said.
"You bet," Marlene said, raising her hand and wiggling her fingers in a little wave.
At the counter, Mother was already waiting with a scowl marring her features.
"Why was Sirius talking to that ugly half-breed?" Regulus asked in a low voice, and Mother glanced back at Sirius.
"I don't know, Regulus," she said, "but he should certainly know better."
And just like that, the bubble closed back up around him, trapping him airtight from the outside world in a choking cloud of put-upon superiority and disdain.
September couldn't come fast enough.