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  CHAPTER 1: THE BLACKS


    ‘Sirius! Time to wake up, son.’
   
    His mother’s voice. Unusually gentle. Sirius Black opened his eyes to see her standing over his bed. This occurrence had often struck terror into him, but today she was actually smiling.
    ‘You don’t want to be late for your big day!’ she said brightly.
    That was it! September First! The day he was to start Hogwarts - the day he had been looking forward to avidly ever since he’d got his letter of acceptance back in June. Sirius woke up properly and sat up in bed, rubbing sleep out of his eyes.
    ‘Good morning, Mother,’ he said, remembering his manners.
    ‘Good morning,’ she replied. ‘Now then, did you finish your packing last night as I instructed?’
    ‘Yes, Mother,’ said Sirius. ‘All except my toothbrush and comb.’
    ‘Good boy,’ said his mother. ‘Now listen carefully to me. Your father and I have not mentioned this before, but we have a rather unpleasant experience ahead of us today. I didn’t want to worry you until absolutely necessary.’
    Sirius’ face fell.
    ‘What is it?’ he asked, biting his lower lip.
    ‘Well,’ said his mother, ‘the Ministry hasn’t yet got round to building our own railway station in London, so the school train is still leaving from King’s Cross. It means travelling through Muggle London, I’m afraid.’

    ‘But Muggles kill wizards, don’t they?’ Sirius breathed in horror.
    ‘Indeed they would if we gave them the chance,’ his mother told him grimly. ‘But we shall all be in disguise, Sirius. It’ll be all right. But you must do exactly as your father and I tell you. They’re slippery characters, Muggles. Some of your classmates will be Muggle-born, and you must not trust them, no matter how they may seem to fit into our world. Fortunately for you, Sirius, you’re from a decent pure-blood family of ancient name. You will almost certainly be Sorted into Slytherin, which only accepts people like us. Your connection with Mudbloods should be minimal.’

    Sirius sighed with relief. A few nights ago he’d had a terrible nightmare. He was at Hogwarts, and he’d made friends with a boy who had Muggle parents, and he’d been invited to stay with the family in the holidays. When he got there he was dragged off to be executed horribly, just like the mediaeval witches and wizards in his mother’s big History of Magic book. Sirius had been taught to read from that book. He’d woken up screaming from the dream, and his father had come to comfort him. Usually he would have told his son to shut up and pull himself together, but when he found out what Sirius’ dream had been about he was oddly sympathetic.

    ‘You see, then, why they can’t be trusted?’ he said soothingly, as he tucked Sirius back into bed. Sirius had nodded fervently in reply.
    ‘Father, do the parents of Muggle-borns kill their own children?’
    ‘No, no,’ his father said. ‘That would defeat the object. Muggle-borns wouldn’t exist at all if their parents hadn’t killed a witch or wizard and stolen their magic. They give the ability to the child while it’s still in its cradle. It’s how Muggles infiltrate our world ... if it weren’t for people like us, they’d bring the whole system down.’
    ‘So they’re even worse than Mudbloods, then?’ asked Sirius, shocked at the thought that such evils were still going on.
    ‘Well, we call them all Mudbloods,’ said his father. ‘You mean half-bloods, I suppose. They are abominations, hardly better, but perhaps that is not worse than murder.’

    ‘You needn’t be afraid,’ his mother told him now. ‘Just do as you’re told, as I said. Over on your chest of drawers is a set of Muggle clothes. Put them on, don’t be embarrassed, it’s necessary for today, for the disguise. Think of it as an adventure.’
    She turned to go.
    ‘Oh, and when you’re dressed, can you make sure your brother’s on his way down? Breakfast won’t wait forever.’

    She left, shutting Sirius’ bedroom door behind her. Sirius shuddered once more at the memory of his dream, then got up and went over to look at the Muggle clothes - jeans, that looked to Sirius like stiff long underwear, a T-shirt, which to wizards was underwear, and a green jumper. He’d never worn a Muggle outfit before. Even though he lived in a house concealed in the middle of a Muggle street, he had never been allowed out except by Floo Powder, so he had only ever worn wizard’s robes. He was pleased to see that his brand new black leather Hogwarts boots had been put with the outfit. Sirius had been looking forward to wearing these most of all. He pulled them on quickly before throwing off his striped nightshirt and the T-shirt and jumper. He found he had to take the boots off again before donning a pair of jeans, the strangest garment he had ever seen in his life. It took him five minutes of twisting and writhing before he realised he’d put them on back to front. How much easier the fly was to button up, when it was at the front!
   
    By the time Sirius had laced up his boots, brushed his teeth and combed his hair, he was longing to get the Muggle clothes off. He’d never been so uncomfortable. The jumper itched and the waistband of his jeans rubbed against his skin. But if it was either that or being murdered by Muggles, perhaps even to steal his magic for one of their own children, he would rather have been uncomfortable any day.

    Sirius was just putting the toothbrush and comb into his overnight bag, when the bedroom door opened and his nine year old brother, Regulus, came bursting in. He slammed the door behind him and flung himself face down onto Sirius’ bed, looking distressed. Sirius noticed that he, too, had put his jeans on back to front. He felt a rare flash of pity for his little brother - after all, he wouldn’t see him for months when he was at Hogwarts. He sat down on the edge of his bed and gave Regulus a gentle shake of the shoulders.

    ‘Hey, what is it?’ he asked, trying to copy the comforting tone his father had used the other night. ‘Is it the clothes? Aren’t they horrid? But we have to wear them or we’ll get murdered by the Muggles. Don’t worry, Regulus, I’ve figured it all out, I’ll help you get them right. Stand up and I’ll ...’
    He stopped talking as Regulus turned around and sat up.
    ‘It’s not that!’ he said. ‘Sirius, please don’t go away. Don’t leave me alone with them! Can’t you pretend to be sick or stupid so you have to come in two years with me?’
   
    Sirius was taken aback. Whatever he might have been expecting, it wasn’t that. He and Regulus did not usually get on, and Regulus was definitely their parents’ favourite. He was better behaved, more polite, neater, tidier - a better son, all round. Sirius hated it, and he quite often hated Regulus because of it. It wasn’t that he didn’t try to behave himself, or that Regulus didn’t sometimes misbehave, and get punished. But somehow, Sirius nearly always seemed to be the one in trouble. Mostly for asking questions. They always told him he asked too many questions.

    ‘That’s nice,’ he replied to Regulus. ‘Typical of you. You don’t care a jot for me, you just want someone at home to take the beatings. Someone for you to show up, blame everything on. Isn’t that right, Reggie, eh?’
    Regulus’ eyes filled with tears.
    ‘The waterworks might work with Mother, but it doesn’t work on me,’ Sirius said coldly.
    ‘What makes you think I’m their favourite?’ Regulus sobbed bitterly. ‘They’re always telling me what a good boy you are, how much cleverer you are than me. And don’t call me Reggie!’

    He threw himself back on his stomach again, beating his fists on the bed, still crying. Sirius realised abruptly that he was feeling sorry for his brother, and felt cross with himself for it. There was no room for being shy or sensitive in the Black family, but Sirius was cursed with both. He’d tried to conquer his failings, but as his father was fond of saying, in the eleven years he’d been alive, Sirius had hardly improved at all. Reminding himself again that he wouldn’t see Regulus for ages after today, Sirius patted him awkwardly on the back. None of them were that good at affection either, and Regulus froze for a second, surprised.

    ‘Do they really say I’m better than you?’ he asked gently. Regulus nodded into the bed.
    ‘They’re playing a mean game then,’ he said. ‘Not that we should expect anything else. But I’ll be back in the holidays, so maybe they’ll leave you alone then and start back in on me.’
    ‘Maybe,’ said Regulus. He sat up and rubbed his eyes. ‘So how do I get these stupid things on then?’
    ‘Other way round,’ said Sirius, with a small laugh. ‘That’s right,’ he added, as Regulus righted himself. ‘OK - you’d better go and wash your face and hurry up about it, breakfast’s ready. We’ll be in enough trouble already for being late. Quick!’
    Regulus got up and ran out of the room without a backward glance. Sirius sighed as he remade his bed, hoping his mother wouldn’t notice the tear stains on the blanket. He looked around his room to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything. He put on his watch, and smoothed his hair in front of the mirror.

    Sirius was a slender, pale-skinned boy, a shade smaller than average, but that didn’t bother him because all the men in his family started off short and ended up tall. He had hair as black as his surname, that fell pleasantly over his forehead and curled just a little on the ends. He had a small straight nose, a determined mouth, well defined jawline, and deep set dark eyes. Regulus looked almost exactly like him, but perhaps a little more delicate, not such a strong chin, and his eyes were larger and rounder. The boys they knew teased him for looking like a girl, but Regulus was wiry and could beat any of them in a fight. Only Lucius Malfoy and Rodolphus Lestrange - five years older than Sirius and decided bullies, the pair of them - had succeeded in hurting them. The presence of those two, about to start their last year at Hogwarts, was the only aspect of school Sirius was really dreading. He almost wished he’d be Sorted into a different house, to avoid them ... but he didn’t want to imagine what his parents would be like if he didn’t make Slytherin ... and Sirius’ stomach plummeted to his toes.

    What if he didn’t? What if he was like his Uncle Alphard and got put into Ravenclaw for his brains? They’d beat him every day he was at home, and send Howlers every day he was at school. Sirius’ shoulders slumped as he took his overnight bag downstairs and put it by the door, and wandered into the dining room.

    ‘Don’t slouch,’ his father said from behind his newspaper.
    ‘And eat up,’ said his mother, ‘we’ve got to leave in twenty minutes. Why is it that your brother can come to breakfast on time and you can’t?’
    ‘Maybe because I was making sure I had all my stuff for school! Ow!’
    His mother’s eyes had flashed, there was the sound of a whip cracking, and Sirius’ lip was bleeding. He put his hand to his mouth.
    ‘Don’t answer back,’ she snapped. She flicked her wand in the air and the wound healed. ‘Eat your breakfast.’

    They ate as they always did: in silence. Regulus was dry-eyed and smirking at Sirius getting into trouble. Life had returned resoundingly to normal. The Blacks’ house elf, Kreacher, cleared the plates, and Sirius’ mother ushered them all into the Ministry car his father had hired for the occasion.
    ‘Sit up straight and no messing about,’ she told Sirius and Regulus, as the car pulled out of Grimmauld Place and headed for the centre of London.
    ‘Mother, may I have my wand now?’ asked Sirius.
    ‘Certainly not,’ she answered. ‘You’re not having it until we reach Platform Nine and Three Quarters. You are not to be trusted.’
    Regulus sniggered. Sirius punched him in the arm.
    ‘Ow! Mother, Sirius just hit me!’
    ‘Right,’ she barked, twisting round in her seat and pointing her wand between his eyes. ‘That does it. I won’t put up with any more bad behaviour from you, Sirius. Petrificus Totalis!’

    Sirius froze in his seat. His mother only performed the counter-curse three quarters of an hour later, when the car pulled up outside King’s Cross station.

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