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Practical Applications of Arithmancy

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The real punishment began when his father returned home from Belgium. By then, the bruise across Sirius’s cheek had turned a yellow-edged purple, and he’d been locked in his bedroom for two days with his wand confiscated. Kreacher let him out for dinner that evening to welcome his father home, and Sirius made the rare decision to keep quiet and try not to draw attention to himself.

Punishment would be inevitable, but he’d known that all the way back when he’d decided on his elective classes. His parents had given him directives as to precisely which classes he was allowed to take. They’d even bought all of the appropriate books for them, as outlined on the supply list that had accompanied Sirius’s Hogwarts letter for third year. What Sirius’s parents hadn’t known was that that list with all of the books for Divination, Arithmancy, and Ancient Runes had been a fake.

Really, it was their own fault for falling for the ruse. With as many times as McGonagall wrote home about Sirius’s misdeeds, his parents should have been able to recognize her handwriting by now. Meanwhile, James—who was in on the ruse but definitely not aware of the eventual, inescapable consequences—had bought Sirius the books for the electives he was really taking.

There was no mention of Sirius’s classes or exam results over dinner, but unless there were guests family meals were almost always full of silences and brief, stilted small talk. Regulus kept sending glances Sirius’s way though. Sirius could see his brother out of the corner of his eye, but he couldn’t tell if Regulus looked worried or self-satisfied.

Even after two days in his room with limited food, Sirius didn’t eat much. He didn’t have the stomach for it. He’d known what would happen when his parents found out he’d replaced Arithmancy and Ancient Runes with Care of Magical Creatures and Muggle Studies. At least, he’d known what would happen in an abstract sense. His parents would be angry, and they would punish him.

There was nothing new about that.

He’d been hoping though, that the punishment would come exclusively from his mother. It was easier to deal with her reprimands. Walburga Black had a temper, but she was usually straightforward, and Sirius knew what to expect when he angered her. There would be yelling. There would be pain—usually backhanded slaps or stinging hexes. Then there would be some sort of exile—to his room or the cellar, as the whim took her. When his exile was complete, there might be some simmering anger left, but the matter would by and large be over.

His father, on the other hand, was creative. Orion Black didn’t usually bother disciplining Sirius for his minor infractions and rebellions. He was content to leave that to Walburga, but when he did get involved…

Sirius shuddered and pushed potatoes around his plate without eating them.

When Kreacher had taken away the last of the plates, Orion finally spoke.

“I would like to see you in my study, Sirius,” he said. His tone was mild, not at all like the screams and howls Walburga had leveled at him when she’d received his grades and had seen the unexpected classes.

Futile though he knew it was, Sirius wanted to run. Hiding in the house would do no good; this was his parents’ domain through and through, but if he could make it out the front door…

And go where? Sirius was fourteen, he still had two-and-a-half years until he could legally be free of his parents and this place. Running would get him nowhere, and it would only make whatever punishment he was already facing worse.

Sirius rose, despising his own fearful obedience, but today was one of the rare times when his common sense won the war over his impulsive anger. Without a word, he followed his father out of the dining room. As he started up the stairs he heard his mother whisper to his brother behind him. “No, Regulus, you stay here. There’s no reason for you to see this. You would never insult your family like your brother has…”

She wouldn’t understand it, but Sirius flashed a rude Muggle hand gesture down the stairs in his mother’s direction. That made him feel a little better, if only for a minute.

Orion Black kept his study up on the first floor, next to the library. It was not a room Sirius entered often. It was not a room anyone other than his father entered regularly, not even his mother. The room itself was deceptively cozy. There was a fire crackling in the small fireplace—just big enough for sending or receiving floo-calls, but not for actual travel—which chased away most of Grimmauld Place’s perpetual chill. The light from the fire and the gas lamps cast a warm glow over the large mahogany desk and the brown leather furniture. There were bookcases lining the wall behind the desk, but they were full of his father’s business records, not real books.

One of those account books lay open on the desk. Sirius eyed it as he stood in front of the desk, not daring to sit until his father gave him permission to do so. What was in this book, Sirius wondered. Perhaps tallies of bribes paid to ministry officials and dirty Aurors? Maybe it was an inventory of all the cursed objects in Grimmauld Place and their approximate worth? More than likely though it was something evil only in its banality.

Orion took his seat behind the desk, but seemed content to keep Sirius standing. Sirius didn’t mind, it put him at the same height as his father, which he rather enjoyed. It would probably be the only thing he enjoyed about this evening.

Without speaking, Orion opened one of the desk drawers and pulled out a familiar scroll of half-crumpled parchment, the remnants of a seal with the Hogwarts crest still clung to it. Sirius watched as his father smoothed out the parchment, flattening wrinkles that had been made by Walburga as she’d nearly torn the letter apart in her rage.

“Do you know what this is, Sirius?” Orion asked. He sounded so calm, so normal. Sirius didn’t trust it for an instant.

“Yes, sir,” Sirius said. When Orion merely stared expectantly at him, Sirius added, “Those are my exam results.”

“They are,” Orion said. “You’ve done very well. High marks across almost all of your classes and top of the class in Charms. Your Herbology and History of Magic scores leave something to be desired, but even they’re not terrible. Under other circumstances, marks like these would be cause to celebrate. Do you know then, why your mother and I were upset with this report?”

Sirius ground his teeth together. He hated it when his father did this, when he pretended to be gentle, to be rational. Rather the sharp, honest truth of his mother’s angry curses than his father’s false concern.

“It’s because I changed my electives, sir,” Sirius said flatly.

“Yes,” Orion said, “and you lied to your mother and I about it. What’s done is done now, but I would like you to account for your actions, Sirius. Tell me, how will your future be served by taking classes on the care of magical creatures and—” His nose wrinkled. “—Muggle studies? What useful skills are these classes teaching you?”

This hadn’t been what Sirius was expecting, but he should have, he supposed. No reasons he could give would be good enough for his father. This was merely another way for his father to make him feel like an idiot, like the choices he’d made were the wrong ones.

“I would have been bored if I’d taken Ancient Runes and Arithmancy,” Sirius said. There was no way he could actually avoid punishment, but he might be able to mitigate it if he played this the right way.

His father raised an eyebrow but gave a slight wave of his hand, a gesture for Sirius to continue.

“They only actually teach Anglo-Saxon Futhorc and Medieval Runes for the first three years at Hogwarts,” Sirius explained. He tried to mimic the way Narcissa spoke about fashion, like it was both a tragedy and a personal insult when Twilfitt and Tattings didn’t have in the exact lace trimmings that she wanted. “I already know Futhorc. The tutors you hired before Hogwarts made sure of it. Also, Medieval Runes are barely ever used for actual spellwork, it’s a reading language, one that’s good for very little except showing off at a certain sort of pompous book clubs.”

Orion actually laughed. It wasn’t a particularly kind laugh, but it was genuine. He had succeeded in amusing his father, Sirius realized with a start. He wasn’t sure if that was a good thing or not.

“That was well argued, Sirius,” his father said in that same placid, patient tone. “There is practical use in the class, but you’re right in your assessment as well. Up through O.W.L.s, Ancient Runes is primarily a basic, theory and literature based class. I’ll cede the point to you.”

Sirius blinked in shock. Had he just won an argument against his father? Was such a thing possible? It had certainly never happened before.

“In light of your persuasive argument, I will not punish you for, shall we say, exchanging Ancient Runes for Care of Magical Creatures. Both have their specialized purposes, but for most wizards they ultimately amount to little more than hobby classes. However—”

And there it was. Care of Magical Creatures was definitely the lesser of Sirius’s two sins. His mother hadn’t even bothered to yell about that one. Her son taking Muggle Studies though; that had earned Sirius a bruise.

It would be no different with his father. There were no eloquent arguments he could make against Arithmancy that would sway Orion to accept his interest in Muggle Studies. There were no excuses, so he simply told the truth.

“I took Muggle Studies because I was curious,” Sirius said frankly. “At that point I’d known Muggleborns for two years and none of them were what you and Mum and everyone else says about them.” He paused. Honestly, he hadn’t expected to make it this far into his explanation. Walburga never would have let him get past saying “Muggleborn” instead of “mudblood.”

His father didn’t say a word though, didn’t rise to strike Sirius or reach for a wand to curse him for his impertinence. He just sat there, his hands folded and his expression impassive. He was so still. Sirius was never still, Regulus must have inherited their generation’s entire store of it, because Sirius was forever moving and shifting and fidgeting.

That stillness, the judgmental, condescension in it made Sirius’s temper flare. He lifted his chin and braced himself for whatever his temper was about to bring down on his head.

“I don’t know if you and Mother and all the others who think so lowly of Muggles and Muggleborns are lying or if you really do have your heads so far up your arses that you actually believe all the wretched things you say. Either way, I don’t believe any of it.”

Now, he thought, steeling himself. Now his father would have to react, would have to do something.

“I see,” his father said slowly, considering. “Tell me, Sirius, what do they teach you in this Muggle Studies class?”

There was a trap somewhere in this conversation. There had to be, but for the life of him, Sirius couldn’t find it. He probably wouldn’t, not until he stepped right into it. His father seemed to sense his hesitancy, because he made a small, encouraging gesture with one hand.

“Come now, you’re clearly fond of the class. You feel it’s worthwhile, so make your case as you did against Ancient Runes.” His words were draped in reassurance, but Sirius could feel a challenge within them. Perhaps he was simply imagining it, but he rose to meet it all the same.

“We learn about the Muggle world, about how they live without magic, all the things they’ve invented to make up for the lack of it,” Sirius said. “They’re not stupid like Mother always says. Did you know they can fly too? They have great metal machines that can fly through the sky carrying lots of people all at once. There’s also cars and electricity and all sorts of things, and we steal ideas from Muggles and turn them magical all the time, like the Knight Bus, the Hogwarts Express, and the wizarding wireless. They use magic, but they’re all based on Muggle ideas, Muggle inventions.”

His father nodded and smiled gently with utter condescension. “I thought as much,” he said with a sigh. “They are teaching you the novelty of the Muggle world, all about the clever little toys they make and their imaginative ways of overcoming their deficiencies. It’s quite unfortunate that the curriculum in this Muggle Studies class of yours is so selective—your headmaster’s biases, no doubt—because the class could be useful if it actually gave students the proper context for things. I’m sure your history class fails in that respect as well, but we’re getting rather off topic, don’t you think?”

Sirius didn’t reply, but his father didn’t seem to require an answer this time.

“We were discussing your classes in practice, not theory,” Orion said. “So, tell me Sirius, what are the practical applications of Muggle Studies?”

Hope was a terrible, stupid thing to indulge in within the walls of Grimmauld Place. Sirius had learned that years ago, but he still felt the strain of it, stretching and pulling threads in his mind. Maybe…just maybe if he could find the right answer he could change his father’s mind. Orion wasn’t completely unreasonable like Walburga was. He’d admitted when Sirius had made good points about Ancient Runes, and he’d praised Sirius’s exam results.

His father waited, elbows on the edge of the desk, chin resting on his steepled fingers. Orion Black was nothing if not patient.

“There are…there are lots of jobs I could get at the Ministry if I know about Muggles,” Sirius finally said. He knew it was the wrong answer. Walburga would have started screaming about how no son of hers, no son of the House of Black, would take some lowly government job.

“Is that what you want to do with your life, Sirius?” Orion asked. He wasn’t shouting, but there was no doubt he believed the same thing as Walburga. “Do you want to spend decades pushing papers around a little desk in a crowded ministry office?”

Sirius squirmed. He didn’t want to prove his father right, but he was. Sirius would go mad if he had to spend his days at some boring ministerial job.

“Not that you will need a full-time career,” his father continued.

Sirius was surprised, he’d expected the conversation to come to a grinding halt until his father dragged a painful answer out through Sirius’s clenched teeth.

“Generations of this family have worked very hard to ensure that the House of Black is beholden to no masters; that we will never need to toil so that others may profit from our labor. Yet, that privilege cannot be maintained without continued hard work.”

He looked pointedly at Sirius. “You have benefited every day of your life from the wealth and privilege of being a part of this family, Sirius, and one day it will be your responsibility to provide that same privilege to your own children.” Orion ran a hand over the account book open on the desk before him. “One day, it will be your turn to work hard for your family.”

Sirius bit the inside of his lip. He couldn’t tell his father that he would have been happier with a family like the Potters, who managed to have both money and love, or even Remus or Peter, whose families were far from wealthy, but who were richer than the Blacks in so many other ways. Sirius also couldn’t admit that he didn’t think he wanted to have children or even get married at all. His father would just laugh and say he was too young to know what he wanted.

Orion stood, and Sirius flinched, fearing that somehow his father had guessed at his thoughts anyway. “Come here, Sirius,” he ordered. Sirius slunk around to the other side of the desk eyes watching his father’s hands. One of them rested lightly on his wand, just the fingertips, but it was enough to make every muscle in Sirius’s body tense.

Sirius’s own wand was up in his bedroom, but it might as well still be at Hogwarts for all the good it would do him now. Not that he would ever dare raise his wand against his father. As much as he might rebel against his parents, Sirius still knew there were lines he couldn’t cross. Especially not with his father.

He tried to keep his father’s leather chair between them as a sort of shield, but Orion pulled out the chair and gestured to it. “Sit,” he commanded.

Sirius sat gingerly, and his father pushed the chair back toward the desk. It made him feel trapped, like an animal with its foot caught in a snare. His downcast eyes drifted to the open book. It was full of numbers and strange symbols. Equations Sirius could even begin to decipher.

“Do you know what this is?” Orion asked, gesturing to the ledger.

“An account book,” Sirius mumbled.

“That’s correct,” Orion said. He even smiled like he was proud.

Orion leaned around the edge of the chair and pointed to a column on the far left. “This here, this is a list of our assets, our investments, the businesses our family has a hand in,” he said. Sirius stared at the list of things. They meant nothing to him. “And do you know what these columns are?”

Sirius followed his father’s finger as it traced a horizontal line across the page. “Equations…” Sirius mumbled, “…arithmancy equations.”

There it was. Finally. They were coming to the point of this whole thing. Sirius almost felt relieved, though instinctively he braced himself for whatever was coming next.

“Correct again,” Orion said. That façade of paternal condescension was slowly slipping now, revealing the ice that always lurked beneath it, dark and cold as the space between stars. “Are you beginning to understand why your mother and I thought it was important for you to learn arithmancy at school?”

Sirius stared at the book and chewed on the inside of his lip, debating if it would be worse for him to answer or keep silent.

A heavy hand came down on his shoulder and Sirius jumped.

“This is important, Sirius,” his father said. “These are things you need to know if our family is to continue to flourish. Do you understand that?”

“Yes…yes, sir,” Sirius mumbled.

“Good.” Orion closed the account book and removed it from the table. He left Sirius sitting straight-backed and tense in the chair as he returned the book to the shelves behind the desk. Sirius listened to every small shift of the floorboards, the whisper of leather against leather as the book was slid back into place. That was followed by the shuffle and crackle of parchment. Sirius dared to turn just enough to see his father gathering up another account book along with a stack of parchments and what Sirius recognized as his unused copy of Numerology and Grammatica, the Arithmancy textbook.

“Since you have chosen to shirk your duties at school, you will make up for them this summer,” Orion said. The books made a thump as they landed on the table in front of Sirius and the papers slid across the blotting paper in a messy pile.

Sirius stared at it all, barely daring to breathe.

This was it? This was his punishment? He’d been expecting…well, he wasn’t sure what. Extra homework over the summer wasn’t thrilling, but it wouldn’t be so bad. It wasn’t like there was anything better to do at Grimmauld Place. Maybe he could even use it as an excuse to get out of a few noxious family events this summer.

Orion opened a drawer, pulling out quills and an inkwell and setting them near Sirius’s right side. “You will complete this account book, and you will do so perfectly, or you will do it again and again until it is perfect. Do you understand, Sirius?”

“Yes, sir,” Sirius said quietly, still barely daring to believe he’d somehow managed to get off so easily. He reached for the textbook, trying not to smile. It wouldn’t do to let his parents suspect that he didn’t hate this punishment.

“One last thing,” Orion said. “Put your left hand on the top of the desk.”

It was a strange request, and suspicion slid through Sirius’s relief like a knife. “Why?” he asked.

His father gave him a basilisk smile, eyes cold enough to kill or petrify. “Because I am your father and I told you to.”

Very slowly, trying to imagine what his father could possibly want and what he could do about it, Sirius pulled his left hand away from the arm of the chair. He laid it flat, palm pressed against the polished mahogany. He was wondering if he should keep his fingers spread or close together when his father struck.

The spell was silent, but Sirius saw the flick of his father’s wand in the corner of his eye. Instinctively, Sirius tried to pull away. He brought his hands up to shield his face, only the left one didn’t move. Sirius felt a dull tug of pain across his palm, one that wasn’t entirely unfamiliar.

Halfway through second year, Sirius and his friends had found the spell for sticking charms in a fourth year textbook. Sensing the potential for mischief, they memorized the spell. Then they’d caused chaos. They stuck trousers to chairs, socks to shoes, hats to heads, and Severus Snape’s enormous nose to a soup spoon.

They’d done a lot of practicing on each other before perfecting it, and, for the better part of a month, Sirius had wound up with body parts stuck to various objects and surfaces. That had been all in good fun and everyone but Snape had a laugh. This was something entirely different.

Sirius yanked violently at his stuck hand again, but his palm remained fixed to the desk. If he’d had his wand Sirius could have freed himself in an instant, but without it he was trapped.

Bile rose in his throat as Sirius once again, futilely tried to pull his hand loose from the desk. His father’s wand cracked down sharply across the backs of his knuckles. Sirius yelped and tried to curl his fingers in, but there was no give to the sticking spell whatsoever.

“Stop that, Sirius,” Orion said sharply. “I thought you had accepted your punishment with some modicum of dignity. Now you’re behaving like a spoiled child.”

“You…you want me to stay here, to stay stuck to this bloody desk until I finish your account book?” Sirius asked. His voice cracked halfway through the question, and he hated how childish it made him sound. He felt childish though. His heart was pounding in his chest, his entire body was trembling, and he was blinking rapidly to hold back tears of anger and fear.

“Correct,” his father said. “We need to make sure you absorb this lesson properly, and that you fully understand the consequences of your actions, Sirius.”

“I—what am I supposed to do when I have to sleep, or when I have to piss?” Sirius asked. Now he really was the animal with its foot in a snare. Sirius tried twisting his fingers, but it did no good. His father’s wand rapped him across the knuckles again.

“Don’t be vulgar, Sirius,” Orion chided. “Kreacher will bring you your meals as well as a chamber pot. Your needs will be taken care of, but this is not meant to be a game you can play at or a lesson you can skive off.”

Orion’s heavy hand clapped Sirius on the shoulder. From the corner of his eye, Sirius could see the flash of the silver signet ring on his father’s finger. “This is your responsibility, Sirius,” Orion said, “and there is no escaping it.”

He gave Sirius’s shoulder as squeeze, hard enough to make Sirius squirm, though he imagined it looked warmly paternal from the outside.

“Please don’t,” Sirius whispered. “I’ll do the work—I promise I will! Just please, not like this.”

Orion huffed as he released Sirius’s shoulder and stepped around to the front of the desk. “I don’t doubt that you would, Sirius,” he said. “You’re a very smart boy, but that’s not the point of this exercise. If we are to maintain and grow our power, our preeminence, this family will require more than your clever mind and your sharp tongue. It will require your dedication, your resolve, and your respect.”

Watching as his father turned away, Sirius had to bite his tongue to keep from begging any more than he already had. It would do no good and he’d only embarrass himself all over again. His eyes were fixed on his father’s retreating back though, and when Orion paused in the doorway, Sirius let a small sliver of hope pierce through his despair.

“I suggest you begin immediately,” Orion said without looking back. Then he shut the door.

*

Sirius’s left hand began to cramp after only a few hours. The rest of his muscles started to twinge and ache soon after. When his foot fell asleep, it took Sirius a long time to shake and flex all of the pins and needles out of it.

He was trapped, able to sit in his father’s chair and stand up, but unable to move beyond the reach of his left arm. True to his father’s word, Kreacher brought him meager meals and refreshed the humiliating antique chamber pot he was forced to use. However, no blankets or pillows were brought as night fell, and when exhaustion finally caught up to him, Sirius was forced to curl up in his father’s chair in a vain attempt to catch a few hours of restless sleep.

He cried the next day, and screamed, and begged. He made promises, swearing he wouldn’t get in any more trouble at school, that he would drop Muggle Studies and start a year behind in Arithmancy when he returned to Hogwarts. His father never responded. He didn’t even come to check on Sirius’s progress.

Desperate and in near constant pain from the contorting around his entrapped hand, Sirius broke. He opened the textbook and read.

It took him two days to read most of the textbook. It took him another day to read the documents his father had left and complete the account book.

Three days of study and work and nothing else, and in the end it was wrong. His father scoffed when he finally came back to the study, Kreacher having passed on Sirius’s frantic message that he’d done as his father had commanded.

“You’ve made mistakes, a great many of them,” Orion said. “This won’t do. You obviously haven’t learned your lesson yet.”

He vanished the account book with a spell and conjured another blank one. “Do it again,” Orion said as he set the book in front of Sirius, who was hunched forward, trying to relieve some of the cramps and shooting pains in his back and shoulders. “And this time, do it correctly.”

Another two days this time. Sirius reread chapters of the textbook. He scribbled equations on scrap parchment and made notes in the margins of his father’s documents.

Never had he imagined stillness could be so painful. The walls of the deceptively homey study pressed in on him, and Sirius found it hard to breathe, and even harder to focus on the equations and his textbook. His moods swung wildly between terror and despair and anger.

He tried to cling to the anger. The anger at least felt like strength. When he was angry he didn’t feel completely beaten. He didn’t feel entirely pathetic.

His second attempt was wrong too, though not quite so wrong as his first one. “You’re learning,” Orion said as he vanished the second account book.

“Please…father, please…” Sirius begged. He just wanted a day away from this fucking desk, an hour. He wanted to lay down, to move his fingers, to take a bath. He hated begging his father for this, for anything, but it was too much. Deep aches had settled in his muscles and joints, and the hand stuck to the desk had gone frighteningly numb.

Orion said nothing as he placed another blank account book in front of Sirius.

He went slower this time. In part because he had to; it was more difficult to focus and almost impossible to keep his hand from shaking as he wrote. He was more careful this time, triple checking each equation, reading every bill of sale and invoice carefully. On this attempt, Sirius lost track of time entirely. A few of the meals Kreacher brought him went untouched and the pain seemed to settle into something eternal, something that had always been there and always would be.

He didn’t think about his friends or school or even his father. Sirius’s world narrowed to that account book. When he managed a brief fitful nap he even dreamed of arithmancy, numbers and symbols swimming through his brain and combining into improbable things like flowers and hippogriffs and spells.

Sirius woke from some sort of fugue state—something that wasn’t sleep but certainly wasn’t consciousness either—to find his father standing in front of the desk, flipping through Sirius’s latest account book. Sirius winced and felt tears welling up in his aching eyes. He didn’t even remember finishing this time. That couldn’t be a good sign.

The thought of starting over again, of slogging his way through hundreds of equations again and again and again, made Sirius despair. He didn’t want to do it again. He wasn’t sure he could. What would happen if he just…didn’t? Would his father leave him stuck to this desk all summer? Would he come up with some new punishment? That would actually be a relief after days—or was it weeks? Possibly years?—of being trapped here.

His mind was beginning to drift again, afloat on a sea of arithmancy. He’d seen a silver letter opener in one of the desk drawers, perhaps it was time to see just how stuck to the table his hand really was. The spell couldn’t go too deep, could it? If he was willing to lose skin and a bit of flesh, he might be able to cut himself free.

The account book dropped onto the desk in front of Sirius with a loud thump. Sirius jumped, startled out of half-dazed visions of sawing off the palm of his own hand with a dull little knife. He pulled away from the noise before he even realized what it was. He expected a spike of pain through his left arm and shoulder all the way to his spine when the movement tugged at his stuck hand. Instead, Sirius went toppling backwards, knocking the chair over and tumbling onto the rug.

He stared in shock at his left hand as the fingers curled inward after days of being stretched straight. He was free. He was free!

And fuck did it hurt!

He had no control over his fingers as they twitched and throbbed and burned. Sirius wrapped his right hand around his left and hugged it close to his chest, his entire body curling protectively around his hands.

It took him a minute to realize that his father was speaking to him. Worse, his father was smiling at him.

“—knew you could do it,” Orion was saying. Sirius gritted his teeth and tried to focus around the pain and the dizziness.

“I hate you…” Sirius croaked. He didn’t even realize he’d said the words out loud until his father chuckled.

“I’m sure you do. But one day you won’t,” Orion promised him. “One day, when you’re head of this family, you’ll understand. You might even be grateful for this lesson.”

Acidic bile rose in his throat and tears that burned just as much stung the corners of Sirius’s eyes. This wasn’t even about him, Sirius realized. He had spent days upon days suffering for his father’s pride, for his father’s legacy. The bloody Noble and Most Ancient House of Black was a thing that swallowed them all in his father’s mind, and no one person, not even all the living members combined, would ever be more important than the family itself.

“I don’t want it,” Sirius said. “Just…just make Regulus your heir. He can have it all. I don’t care. I don’t ever want to be head of the family.”

Orion laughed again, like Sirius had just told him a vaguely amusing joke. “That may be the first thing you and your mother actually agree on, Sirius” he said.

With a small groan and a pop of his hip, Orion lowered himself until he was sat back on his heels next to Sirius. Unlike Sirius, Regulus, and Walburga, Orion’s eyes were blue, a pale, bright blue Sirius had heard others describe as “striking” or even “beautiful.” There was no anger in those pale eyes, no madness or mania either. Everything his father did to him—everything his father ever did—was calculated. Deliberate.

“Your mother lacks the proper temperament for understanding these matters though,” Orion said with a shake of his head. “I won’t deny that your brother would be a more amenable heir, but he is not the better choice.”

He reached out and raised Sirius’s chin gently until Sirius had no choice but to meet his father’s pale eyes. “Make no mistake, your brother is an asset to this family. He is making far more valuable connections than you are, building more advantageous alliances, and he exemplifies our values and traditions in ways you never have, Sirius.”

Orion gave an exasperated sigh and let go of Sirius’s chin, allowing him to drop his head back onto the carpet. “Your brother is not a leader though. He is too eager to please others, too worried about upsetting his friends and enemies alike to ever stand up to them when it matters.”

Smiling as though he was immensely proud of the wreck his oldest son currently was, Orion reached out and gently brushed the unwashed, sweat-damp hair from Sirius’s forehead.

“As much as your rebelliousness may irk your mother and me, Sirius, I know that you have the strength of will to lead this family, to ensure our future remains bright.”

Sirius shook his head as much as he could with his cheek pressed to the rug. “I won’t do it,” he said. “I won’t become you, and I won’t lead this family anywhere. I’d rather die.”

Orion just kept smiling as he stood. “Given some time, I fully believe you’ll reconsider, Sirius. This, after all, is only the first of your lessons.”