Another Black, hmm? said the Hat. Ambitious, yes. But strong-willed, like your brother.
Not like Sirius, Regulus thought. Not Gryffindor, please.
Well, then, if you say so. "RAVENCLAW!"
Regulus exhaled, doffed the hat, and shuffled to the Ravenclaw table, as "Chambers, Barbara!" was called forth. The blue-and-bronze eagle banners drifted overhead, and more importantly, rows of empty plates waited on the table. The trouble with going early in the alphabet was that he had to wait for everyone else. But then, he did not envy Girolamo Yaxley's position either. Did the hat even consider the minds of the last few first-years, or just shunt them wherever to make the Houses equal in number?
"Wotcher, Black!" said a tall girl with short pigtails. "You're Cissy's cousin?"
"Yeah," said Regulus, amused at the thought that Narcissa might go by a nickname.
"Brilliant, she's aces at Gobstones."
"Cresswell, Dirk!" joined Hufflepuff, and Regulus tried to smile. These were the people he would spend the next seven years with. Even if they were weird, he could make an effort at getting along.
They had Astronomy with the Slytherins, and Herbology with the Gryffindors. Charms, however, was only the Ravenclaws, and this was by design. Professor Flitwick, a tiny little man who stood on top of his desk, was their Head of House, and gave them another "welcome to Hogwarts" speech.
"Each of us on the staff would be honored to assist you in every way we can," he said, "but I in particular wish you to know that my door is always open—no password required." The students laughed and groaned; they had taken to sticking together to make sure someone or another would be able to open the enchanted door. "I hope you will each be a credit to Hogwarts and to Ravenclaw House, but be aware that I shall not hesitate to dock points from you should the need arise!"
"Now," Flitwick continued, "Charms is one of the most wide-ranging branches of magic. Who can tell me what is required to perform magic?"
The students glanced at each other anxiously. The door already asked them enough tricky questions; now the professor wanted to know what magic was?
"A wand?" ventured a girl named Gillian.
"Right you are, Miss...Fairwell, is it?"
"Yes, sir," she said.
Flitwick climbed down from his desk, then up a stepladder perched at the front of the room, drew a large circle on the chalkboard, and labeled it WAND. "Very good. What else?"
Alan Oxbridge raised his hand. "An incantation."
"Well done!" Flitwick added another circle, writing INCANTATION. "Most of the spells you will learn in your first few years come from the Latin tradition. In time some of you may study Ancient Runes or pursue other traditions of spellwork. What more? Anyone?"
Hazel Jenkins volunteered "Moving your hands?"
"Ah...Jenkins. Are you Ross's sister?"
She blushed. "Yes, Professor."
"Your brother had a fair bit of trouble with his swishing and flicking, as I recall. Never fear, we'll get you settled!" He drew another circle, overlapping the first two, called MOTION. "What else?"
By this point he was running out of space to put circles. Regulus hesitated, then, seeing no one else raise their hands, put his up.
"Yes, sir. Um, blood?"
Gillian Fairwell giggled, and Flitwick seemed to smile ever so slightly. "The sort of magic that requires bloodshed is not something we teach in this class, or first year at all, for that matter. If you continue to NEWT level in Defense Against the Dark Arts—"
"I don't mean blood magic," Regulus rushed. Was the professor going to embarrass him in front of the whole class, their first day? "I mean pure blood. Wizarding blood."
"Ah," said Flitwick. He waved his wand at the chalk, and the three circles began moving, creating space to create a fourth, CAPACITY, that danced in and out. "Yes. It is true that a Muggle cannot use a wand to cast spells. One must be a witch or wizard to do so. But it matters not whether you are Muggle-born or your family has been in the wizarding world for many generations. There shall be no bigoted tomfoolery in my classroom, is that clear?"
"Very good. And what else?"
"What?" Regulus said. The diagram was already making him dizzy; it seemed an overcomplicated way to express something every Pureblood knew.
"Wand, word, wave, wizard...will. The intent and purpose behind a spell can render it every bit as powerful, or powerless, as the physical act!" He drew a fifth circle, WILL, then began shooting sparks at the board with his wand. "Now of course, not all of these will be represented in every act of magic. There are times when you may find yourself casting wandless magic under stress, or thanks to deep familiarity. There are nonverbal spells, and there are spells that will respond to nearly any movement. But proper understanding of magical theory takes all five, and you must have a grasp of all of them before you can proceed. In this course…"
What Flitwick envisioned for the course, it transpired, was that they would have a solid grounding in the principles of magical theory and the textbook Magical Theory before they could ever lift a wand. Looking at stars, cutting up vegetables, reading books and writing lines? For a school of magic, this was rubbish Muggle work.
When the Ravenclaws weren't in the tower, looking out over the grounds, they were usually in the library, commiserating over essays. At least Professor McGonagall let them start Transfiguring things, but the matches that Regulus was supposed to be turning into a needle were never particularly sharp. So he and Alan flipped through Miranda Goshawk's textbook together, looking for advice, or at least some way to make their essays less boring.
One day Alan was running late, and Regulus paced the stacks rather than crack open the textbook on his own. "Regulus?"
He glanced up; perched on a ladder, a familiar figure was shelving a book about lycanthropy against the back wall. "Sirius?" His brother had little to say about the academic portions of his school term.
"How's it going?" Sirius climbed down, grinning. "Haven't seen you, mate."
"It's busy." Regulus shrugged, stepping forward to face him. "Writing essays. You know."
"Ah, it'll get better. They have you flying yet?"
"No," Regulus said. Of course he knew how to fly, could fly rings around most of his class. If they let him.
"Well, you'll do great, you just—"
"Ahem!" said Madam Pince, the stern-faced librarian. "This is the Restricted Section."
Sirius produced a folded parchment from his robes. "Professor McGonagall said I could research advanced Transfiguration."
She squinted dubiously. "And you?"
"I was just talking to him," Regulus protested.
"You can do your chattering somewhere else."
"Well," said Sirius, pacing back to the main section, "I suppose I'll catch you around?"
"Suppose," Regulus echoed dully. Alan had made it, and he didn't want to keep him waiting.
But a couple weeks later, he found himself in Professor Flitwick's office. The man barely looked human—was he some kind of half-breed? Elves had odd magic that human wizards didn't. Maybe that was what he was getting at with all those circles on the walls.
"Regulus!" said Flitwick. "What can I do for you?"
"I, er, was wondering if you could write me a pass for the Restricted Section."
"The Restricted Section?" Flitwick echoed. "What topic would you like to research?"
"If there's something you wish to study that the regular library doesn't have resources in, I would be happy to assist you. But you ought to make sure you've checked the card catalogs first, they're quite thorough."
"Werewolves. Well, I shall check with Madam Pince, but I suspect that whatever the Restricted Section has will be even more out-of-date than the main stacks, and those can be a bit...condescending towards other Beings."
Regulus glanced down at the tiny professor again and considered this. "There's no rush."
"How are your classes coming? Your essay was quite well-written, but you ought to cite your sources."
"Everyone knows that wizards can't fly without brooms. Levitate for a while, sure, but not fly."
"Does everyone know that?"
"Well…" Regulus was tired of trick questions. "Yes."
"What is common knowledge to you might be uncommon to your Muggle-born classmates. That's one of the reasons we start with high-level theory, to get everyone on the same page."
"But it's boring," Regulus protested.
"Do you find it too easy? I can see about assigning you some extra reading, there are some fascinating journal articles about alchemical developments…"
"That's all right."
"Ah." Flitwick smiled. "I shall see if I can find any new studies of werewolves."
As Sirius had noted, the first-years started flying lessons a few weeks later. While it didn't meet as often as a full-fledged class, it was one of the few "courses" almost everyone enjoyed. Those who took to it naturally, like Regulus, would much rather be flying than writing essays; those who didn't appreciated the chance to have Madam Hooch give them pointers on something practical.
"Can we play Quidditch?" asked one of the Hufflepuffs. Regulus was trying to see how quickly he could fly while maneuvering between the hoops on a Cleansweep Five.
Hooch laughed. "There are more than enough things that can get you sent to the hospital wing in your first term. I'll not be adding Bludgers to that list."
"But we can still throw a Quaffle around," said Alan. "Can't we?"
"I don't see why not," said Hooch, summoning a Quaffle from the storage shed. Then she started doing some charms on it. "Black, if you need a challenge, perhaps you could help your classmates with their passing skills?"
Regulus drifted back towards the others. Alan hurled the Quaffle with one hand; Dennis Stanhope, a Muggle-born, swerved down quickly and got his fingers to it, then struggled to steady his broom. Gillian guided her Cleansweep down to the grass to retrieve the Quaffle and hurl it at Regulus. "Think fast!"
Regulus zoomed forward, then further still to meet the ball. He felt its weight, then tossed it unceremoniously towards one of the Slytherins.
"Oi!" she called. "Is that your best aim?"
"This is rubbish," said Regulus. "This is charmed, it's like a kiddie ball."
"Most Quaffles are," said Hooch. "Unless you'd like to tell Daisy Pennington that her innovations were a waste?"
"I'm not in any hurry to meet her," Regulus muttered. Then he took off again. Really, Quidditch was a game! It wasn't going to be an O.W.L. subject. If you didn't already know how to catch a ball from the back of a racing broom, why would you want to learn?
"You're very agile," Hooch said at the end of the hour. "Have you thought about going out for Quidditch next year?"
"Maybe," said Regulus. Of course he'd thought about it. But what if he didn't make the team? Anyway, they didn't let first-years try out anyway, so it didn't matter.
But whether students were athletes themselves or not, almost everyone seemed interested in attending Gryffindor versus Ravenclaw, the first match of the year. It couldn't hurt to see what he'd be up against if he did try, Regulus figured, and he was sick of Herbology homework.
Fortunately for his prospects—though unfortunately for Ravenclaw's chances in the Quidditch Cup—the match was a rout. Gryffindor's Chasers and Beaters flew rings around their opposition, and only the ineptitude—or subtle cruelty—of the Gryffindor Seeker prolonged the drubbing. When Ravenclaw's Beaters finally pulled off a two-pronged attack, it wound up being a foul on an opposing Chaser who nearly fell off his broom, leading to a penalty that his teammate easily scored. The Gryffindor fans made their disapproval known. All but a few.
"Maybe Shacklebolt's so beat up he can't play next match!" one of the Gryffindors crowed. "Then Gauville will have to pick me!"
"Don't be a prat," said someone else.
"He's not being a prat," a third boy said. "Besides, Pomfrey'll fix it, she can deal with anything."
It was Sirius, sitting with two of his Gryffindor mates. "Wotcher," said Regulus. "Didn't know you were a Quidditch fan."
"I'm not," said Sirius. "These gits dragged me here."
"I didn't drag you," protested the second boy.
"Loudly encouraged, then. Lads, this is my brother Reggie; this is James Potter and Peter Pettigrew."
"Regulus," Regulus corrected. Reggie was a baby name. Quickly changing the subject, he addressed James. "So you're a reserve, then?"
"Yep," James said. "When Wallace graduates reckon I'll be a starter."
"They should put you in now," said Sirius. "Bit of a mercy rule."
Before James could discern whether he was being insulted, the Gryffindor Seeker finally swept up the Snitch, bringing the game to an end with a score of five hundred and ten points to seventy.
"Bad luck," Sirius said. "Better work hard on your essays, your lot might stand a chance at the House Cup at least."
"They're not 'my lot,'" said Regulus.
"Eh? Did you infiltrate Hufflepuff when I wasn't looking?"
"I mean, they're not—just because a hat says I have to sleep in the same tower as them doesn't mean we're mates."
Sirius laughed. "Brilliant. Next thing you know you'll be telling me just because some bloke's ancestors have been shagging their cousins for centuries doesn't mean he's a great wizard."
"What?" As harebrained as Sirius could be, Regulus was pretty sure even he would draw the line at kissing their cousins, disowned or otherwise.
"Ah, never mind. You just get good marks, little swot."
"Because you and your mates are going to lose so many points for being out after hours?" Regulus said.
Sirius took this in, then laughed. "Mum and Dad must be bored if they're exaggerating about me that much. With you at Hogwarts now I don't know what they'll do with themselves."
"C'mon," said Peter, "don't want to miss the party."
Sirius hustled off with his friends, without so much as a wave goodbye. It didn't matter, Regulus thought. Better a swot than a duffer-puff. And if Ravenclaw were that rubbish, it wouldn't be hard for him to earn a spot the next year. He'd be a Seeker, where he could really make a difference. With a real Seeker, maybe they could have...could have only lost by two hundred, instead of four.
Maybe the other teams would be worse, though. If that Potter kid played for Gryffindor—no, he remembered. The Potters were a Pureblood family. He'd probably grown up on a broom, too.
Untying his scarf, Regulus climbed back to the castle. Maybe he'd revise his Transfiguration notes. McGonagall could be humorless, but at least she actually let them wave wands.
Grimmauld Place was always decorated splendidly for Christmas; charmed lights glittered in the trees, holly adorned the handrails on the stairs, Aunt Elladora's portrait pursed her lips at the idea of being caught under mistletoe. Sirius and Regulus had an enchanted train set that they'd found new pieces for in their stockings every year growing up, and the tracks had sprawled to include most of the windowsills in the drawing room while the trains gave tiny puffs of smoke as they made their rounds.
Mother and Father had got Regulus a small brass telescope, which was elegant even if he didn't need it for class. Sirius was less pleased with his formal dress robes. "Are these Bella's hand-me-downs?"
"They're traditional," said Father. "You'll look mature at balls."
"We don't have balls," said Sirius. Regulus giggled.
"Well, you never know when old traditions will come back in style."
"You're right!" said Sirius. "Maybe I ought to sign up for Divination. Ask my tea leaves when I'll ever want to wear this."
"If you're not going to wear them, I'll take them," said Regulus. That shut Sirius up.
Aunt Dru and Uncle Cygnus came over for Christmas dinner. In the past, they would have brought Bella and Andromeda along, but Bella was with her husband's family and Andromeda was a traitor, her name excised from the family like a supernova leaving the constellations behind. So it was just Narcissa who politely passed the chutney and declined second helpings, sounding more like Aunt Dru every year.
"Is it true you're a Gobstones champion?" Regulus finally blurted. He hadn't seen much of her since starting school, either, but maybe she was just busy with N.E.W.T.s.
Narcissa laughed. "More luck than skill."
"Playtime is one thing," said Uncle Cygnus. "But you have quite enough work to be doing without making a mess of yourselves."
"I'm not sure about that," said Father. "The marks the professors give out these days are quite inflated."
"What're you taking for N.E.W.T.s?" Sirius asked, perhaps to keep the subject away from his own marks. "Is it true you have to hex the examiners?"
"You'll know as soon as I do," said Narcissa. "In History of Magic, we had to write these nonsense essays about how goblins…"
Regulus bit into a second helping of turkey.
Christmas at the House of Black really was the best meal, he decided, better even than the Arrival Feast. As the adults rose from the table, with Mother and Aunt Dru resuming their yearslong conversation about how the Ministry were really a bunch of duffers who'd give anyone a job, Regulus approached the stairs down to the basement. "Oi," he whispered. "Kreacher?"
Kreacher Apparated up the stairs rather than climb them, his hands soapy from the sink where he'd been summoned. "Is Master Regulus enjoying the dinner?"
"Of course, it was wonderful," said Regulus. "I was just wondering—there's hundreds of us at Hogwarts. Do they have elves to cook for all of them, too?"
"Oh, yes!" said Kreacher. "They is using all sorts of elves at Hogwarts—cookers and cleaners and even forest beasties!"
"So I could—or Sirius, or anybody, a Muggle-born even, could just call up one of the elves and have them cook for us?"
"Kreacher is thinking so, but Kreacher does not know the names of the school elves. The masters does not want us knowing each other's true names. We is not wanting blood traitors and filthy Muggles to be ordering us around, you see."
"Right," said Regulus. "Well, er, get back to it."
Kreacher Apparated back down the stairs, a soap bubble marking the place where he'd come and gone. Regulus stepped on it and the rainbow dissolved. Then he hurried back to the drawing room. The enchantments on the train were starting to fade and it squeaked every time it rounded a corner. Maybe there was something in Miranda Goshawk's books that could make it whistle properly.
Author's note: I'm not sure what happens next in this timeline. Maybe Flitwick's influence pushes Regulus to make slightly less terrible decisions. Then again, I don't really like the idea of Sorting as destiny, so maybe he goes down the same roads anyway.