Everything looks exactly the same from the outside, but nothing is the same and nothing will ever be the same again. He supposes, months later, that he should have seen this coming a long time ago; it has been building, slowly and surely and inevitably, for five years. He was naïve to think that that things would ever play out differently, that the bonds of friendship, or brotherly love would somehow be stronger than hatred.
In the end, it wasn’t. Of course it wasn’t.
For the first time in his life, he steps from the platform onto the Hogwarts Express alone, hauling his trunk into the nearest open compartment and heaving it into the overhead racks by himself. He sees his brother’s face briefly in the hallway, distorted through the thick glass of the cabin door. His brother doesn’t even notice him.
Nobody seems to realize anything is different until an hour later when the train is trundling through verdant green hills. Someone asks, almost in passing, where his brother was on the platform.
“He left,” Regulus says quietly. “He doesn’t live at home anymore.” He doesn’t expand on it and they don’t ask him to, though Severus Snape has a very self satisfied look on his face that makes Regulus feel sick to his stomach. It shouldn’t, because he hasn’t done anything wrong.
But he must have, because otherwise Sirius wouldn’t have run away.
He has nightmares, the first few weeks back at school. It has something to do with seeing Sirius’s face appear and disappear in Hogwarts hallways, the way his brother’s eyes light on him and then pass on, like he doesn’t know him at all, the tight hardness of his jaw. He doesn’t talk about it with any of his friends, because how could he? The first and only time he brings it up, Evan Rosier laughs.
“He still walks around this school like he owns the place,” he says, with mixed amusement and disgust. “He doesn’t own anything anymore, right?”
“My father had him removed from the will,” Regulus says. “I’m the heir, now.”
“Suppose he thinks that penniless prince act is very romantic,” Rosier chuckles. “I think it’s just pathetic.”
“Yeah,” Regulus echoes. “Pathetic.”
His dreams aren’t terrifying because they are distorted figments of a disturbed mind. They’re terrifying because they reflect exactly what happened. The whole argument, down to the last detail. His mother’s stark-white, screaming face, the vase that Sirius hurls in the direction of her head that shatters against a wall, the spell she flings at him. The sudden, dawning realization in his brother’s eyes and then his grating, almost hysterical laughter after their mother screams that he is no son of hers, he’s an abomination, she wishes he had never been born, all he does is bring shame to his family.
“You’re right,” Sirius had said, a maniacal dancing light in his eyes. “I’m not. I’m not your son. I’m finished, I’m leaving.”
There had been a great deal more shouting after that. They had both said terrible things, terrible and true.
Their mother locked the doors, so Sirius broke a window. He took his trunk, his broomstick and the keys to the motorcycle he had bought without his parents’ knowledge. He left everything else.
He left Regulus too.
“Don’t do this, stop and think about it,” Regulus had stopped him in the hallway between their rooms.
“I have,” was all Sirius said, trying to elbow past him.
“But what about the money?” Regulus had squawked, then immediately regretted it.
“I’m a little more concerned about my soul,” Sirius had said, with disgust. Sirius’s disgust was just as handsome and exquisite on his face as his joy. And that was the last Regulus saw of him.
Regulus wakes up in cold sweats and once, just once, he cries, quietly enough to not wake any of his sleeping roommates. He feels guilty about it afterwards. Blacks don’t cry, especially about other Blacks.
The day Regulus makes up his mind, it’s a Tuesday. It’s a drizzly, overcast Tuesday afternoon in October, he is sitting in the front of the History of Magic classroom mindlessly copying down what Professor Binns is saying and he suddenly and ferociously makes up his mind.
Regulus needs to talk to his brother.
He just doesn’t know how to go about it.
Sirius isn’t hard to miss, and Regulus seems even more attuned to his presence than usual. When his brother strides into a room, and he almost always strides into them, he attracts all eyes. It’s just his way. And because they are not talking, because the words Sirius shouted still sting of betrayal in the back of Regulus’s chest, he sees him everywhere.
If he could only get him alone for a minute, Regulus thinks as he packs up his things and exits the classroom to follow his fellow fifth year Slytherins down to dinner. If he could get Sirius alone for a minute it would be fine, he could at least try for some answers.
But the problem is that his brother so rarely does anything by himself. Regulus is a reader; he is often content to sit by himself in the library or the common room with his shoulders hunched over a book. He knows that this probably has something to do with having such a loud older brother, psychologically. These days, he’s reading books Bellatrix is sending him, fascinating and old. If Sirius was like that, it would be easy to go up to him, sit down across from him in the library. But he isn’t.
He is almost always surrounded by his crowd of rowdy, boisterous Gryffindors, the sort of people who Regulus hated at first sight, the sort of people who hate Regulus on principle. As Regulus sits down to dinner next to Avery, who is chatting away about something Regulus does not care about, his eyes travel across the Great Hall to the Gryffindor table. Sirius is sitting next to James Potter, and they are animatedly telling some story, probably picking up the tails of each other’s sentences when one of them is laughing too hard to continue. A small crowd is listening to them, and Regulus can hear their laughter from here. To his left, Severus is staring in the same direction, towards the red-headed Muggleborn Lily Evans, who is laughing and rolling her eyes. He glances away when he notices Regulus glancing at him.
“I wish they’d shut up,” Severus mutters. “I can’t hear myself think with all that racket.”
“Gryffindors,” Avery agrees with great disdain.
“You better win that Quidditch match, the one that’s coming up,” Severus says to Regulus. “I might kill myself if Potter wins the Cup this year.”
“Kill him, maybe,” Avery says.
“That’s not funny,” Regulus says. Avery scoffs.
The real problem, Regulus thinks has he crawls into bed that night, the real problem is that his brother doesn’t seem to care enough to talk to him. He isn’t going to listen if Regulus just confronts him out of the blue; Regulus knows Sirius well enough to know his method of dealing with confrontation is to either laugh or get explosively angry. Regulus needs someone close to Sirius to present the idea to him so both of them have time to think about it.
James Potter is absolutely out of the question; Regulus isn’t jealous of Sirius’s friendship with Potter exactly, but he doesn’t understand it. Potter is the manifestation of everything Regulus and Sirius were raised to hate; he is loud and mischievous, bold and brash and funny. When Sirius had first introduced Regulus to James, Regulus hadn’t understood how his brother could possibly have such a close friendship with someone like that. Now, he knows that Sirius and James are much more alike that he and Sirius ever will be. Potter would laugh in his face if Regulus went up to him and asked him about talking to Sirius.
Similarly, so is Remus Lupin. Regulus considers him for a long moment as he stares at the pages of his book without taking in any of the words. Lupin is more like Regulus himself in temperament, on the outside anyway. He is a prefect, more studious, undoubtedly more sensible. But, Regulus has always been confused by Lupin and his quiet, posh tenor and his strange, scarred face. He acts like a Ravenclaw but pals around with the worst troublemakers in the school. If asked, he would probably frown and say something like “Do you really think that is a good idea?” in a polite, but condescending tone. And then there’s Severus’s theories about him, which Regulus typically writes off as ridiculous. If Lupin was a werewolf, he would never be allowed to come to school. Still, there is something odd about him.
Peter Pettigrew it is.
Sirius has always done everything first; he walked and talked first, he was first to fly a broom, first to accidentally set the drapes on fire with a temper tantrum. He was the first of the two of them to get drunk, the first to get a detention, the first to kiss a girl, the first to lose his virginity (or so Regulus assumes, as he has done neither).
He was the first to not be sorted into Slytherin, too.
Sirius doesn’t do things by halves. He is black and white, red and gold. Sirius does things spectacularly, fucks them up spectacularly too and laughs about it afterwards. Regulus does what he’s told, he does what’s right. Regulus can be conflicted, he can meet people in the middle, and he has to be the one to do this.
Regulus tracks down Peter Pettigrew the next day and after tailing him awkwardly for a good part of the morning manages to get him alone in a corridor outside the Arithmancy classroom right after lunch. Pettigrew has a round face and a mop of blonde hair, and his entire existence seems like an accident. It seems an accident he was sorted into Gryffindor, he accidentally found himself with a cool set of friends and he occasionally dates girls who often seem confused that they ended up him and not Potter or Sirius or Lupin. He looks very confused himself, an expression that sits naturally on his pink face, when Regulus shouts his name.
“What do you want, Black?” he asks.
“What makes you think I want anything?” Regulus says, almost automatically, with the condescension that has been bred into him since birth.
“No reason, see you round,” Pettigrew turns around and starts walking down the hall away from him. Regulus curses himself internally, and swallows his pride.
“Wait, stop,” he shouts. “I’m sorry, that started wrong.”
Pettigrew turns back around. “Alright,” he says, amicably enough. “Let’s start over. What do you want? I know you want something because otherwise there’s no reason you’d be talking to me. We aren’t exactly friends and I don’t exactly have any reason to like you.”
“No, of course not,” Regulus says quickly. “I’ve got a question for you. Well, a favor to ask.”
“A favor?” Pettigrew looks even more surprised, then nods. “Go on, then.”
Regulus takes a deep breath. “I need to talk to my brother,” he says, haltingly.
“You don’t need my permission.”
“Obviously not,” Regulus snaps, then sighs. This isn’t going well at all. “He isn’t going to talk to me,” he says finally.
“No,” Pettigrew agrees.
“So I need you, I’d like for you to ask him to.”
Pettigrew studies him for a very long moment, hands in the pockets of his school robes. “Okay,” he says.
Regulus had been expecting something much different. “Okay?”
“Okay, I’ll do it. I’ll ask him for you.”
“Yeah, that’s what I just said isn’t it?”
“Right,” Regulus’s heartbeat is annoyingly irregular. “Ask him, er, ask him if he’ll meet me outside the gates on Saturday, before the Hogsmede trip.”
“Fine,” Pettigrew says. “I’ll try. I wouldn’t expect too much if I were you, though. He’s very,” Pettigrew chews on his bottom lip, “er, angry might be a choice word. I’ll bring it up but that’s all I can promise. Nobody can make him do anything he doesn’t want to.”
Regulus has known Sirius since his very first moments of existence, and has known this about him almost as long. He thinks it’s a little unfair that a stranger, someone who doesn’t know him or his family, is telling him things about his own brother, but he doesn’t say anything. Instead he hears himself say in an odd, small voice, “Is he really angry?”
Pettigrew’s eyebrows draw down. It takes Regulus a minute to place the expression; it’s incredulous confusion. “What do you expect? Of course he is.”
“Then he might be angry with you for suggesting it.”
The expression clears. “Probably,” Pettigrew says. He doesn’t sound too bothered by it. “We done?”
Regulus nods, and Pettigrew turns around again. “Thanks,” Regulus calls after him, a little hesitantly.
Pettigrew stops one more time and looks over his shoulder.
“Don’t mention it,” he says. “Though there are two things I’d like to add, since you stopped me.”
“I’m not doing this for you,” Pettigrew says decisively. “I don’t really know you, and I don’t like the little that I do know about you. But he’s my friend, and I care about him, and it might not be a bad idea for him to talk about this. I think he just needs someone to suggest it to him first. But this isn’t a favour for you, so don’t think of it that way.”
“Of course,” Regulus says.
“And second,” Pettigrew’s eyes grow suddenly cold. “I know what people think of me, especially people like you. I try not to let it bother me too much. But next time, take care of your own business. I’m not a fucking errand boy.” And he turns and disappears around the corner, leaving Regulus to wonder if there’s more to Peter Pettigrew than he initially thought.
“What is wrong with you?” the Gryffindor Head Boy Frank Longbottom snaps at him when Regulus collides headlong into him as he walks back to class. Regulus shakes his head and apologizes. He picks a seat in the front of Charms and tries to pay attention, and fails. Instead, he finds himself replaying a conversation in his head; the first time he remembers Sirius ever mentioning leaving home.
It was winter, halfway through his third year at Hogwarts, Sirius’s fourth. London had been blanketed in snow, and Sirius and Regulus had been sitting in Sirius’s room, watching the streetlights in the growing darkness. It had been a few days after Christmas, after a particularly nasty screaming match following a particularly unpleasant family dinner that had ended with Sirius sneaking an ignited Filibuster’s Wet-Start No-Heat firework into Narcissa’s soup. That had ended with Regulus fleeing upstairs to lock himself in his room and wait until his mother’s rage had died down. It had taken several days. Sirius hadn’t spoken to him until he wandered into his room that evening, a closed-down look in his eyes.
“I hate them,” he had said quietly, more to the snow outside than to his brother. Regulus hadn’t said anything, because he knew. He had suffered four years of this; his father’s coldness and absence with the excuse that he was working, his mother’s increasingly erratic temper, Sirius’s dark, sullen rebelliousness and bright, startling fury.
The year after Sirius went away to school was horrible in Regulus’s memory, long and quiet. He had been terrified. He had been more terrified when Sirius had come home that summer, and things had been worse than ever. Nobody shouted back at Walburga Black. It just wasn’t something you did. Sirius had done that first, too.
Slowly though, it all became the norm.
“She’s fucking crazy,” Sirius had continued. He had started cursing around the same time he started hanging out with James Potter.
“You did explode dinner,” Regulus had replied, trying hard to hold in his laughter and failing.
“Those fireworks cost a bit but they are absolutely worth it,” Sirius had agreed.
And they’d laughed, because Regulus was thirteen and his big brother was reckless and sometimes pretty stupid, but he was also the most brilliant person on the planet.
“That still doesn’t change it though,” Sirius had said a few minutes later, the levity gone from his voice. “I hate them. She’s crazy and he just doesn’t care. I hate them so much.”
“As soon as I turn 17, the very minute I do, I’m never seeing either of them again.”
“In your dramatic career as a Muggle rockstar, with a motorcycle and tight leather trousers,” Regulus sniggered. This was an old theme, and Sirius had always been very insistent on the motorcycle and the trousers.
“Absolutely,” Sirius had nodded. His unachievable, sprawling dreams had always been a matter of great seriousness and clarity, and great scandal to their mother. The summer after his third year, when Sirius had brought home a Muggle record player, she had broken all of his records. He had just bought more, hiding them under a loose floorboard in his closet. Regulus knew where it was, and never told.
Regulus always keeps his secrets.
“I’m not joking around, Merlin knows. I’m going to do it. I’m going to leave. I could leave right now.”
“You can’t.” The thought had made Regulus’s blood freeze in his veins. The big old house, empty except for Mother and the house elves.
“You don’t have anywhere to go.”
Sirius had shrugged. “James’s. His parents love me.” And it was true; he had already begun to visit the Potter’s over Christmas and summer vacations, sometimes for weeks.
“You don’t have any money.”
“I’ll make more. Anywhere’s better than here.”
“You’d come back for me, right?” Regulus had asked, tentatively. “You wouldn’t forget me?”
Sirius had ruffled his hair, his clear eyes softening. “No. Of course not. Never.”
Regulus wonders how many of his brother’s promises have been lies.
Saturday comes, inevitably and both too slowly and too quickly. Regulus makes himself eat breakfast and drink a mug of tea. He dresses in Muggle clothes, but they barely count as Muggle; dark slacks, a black button-up. He has never really felt comfortable outside of robes.
People start filing out the doors of the Great Hall, chattering happily about having the afternoon off. It’s a nice day, warm without being too hot. Regulus takes a long, steadying breath, then pushes himself out through the crowd.
“You coming?” Severus asks, when Regulus moves away from him to turn around the corner of the castle.
“No,” Regulus shakes his head. “I’ll catch up with you, meet you in the Three Broomsticks or something. I have a few things I need to take care of first.”
He waits until the crowd of students clears a little but doesn’t see any sign of his brother. For a long, horrible moment Regulus thinks he isn’t going to come. But then he rounds a corner of the castle and there Sirius is, leaning against the wall with a cigarette dangling in between his lips. He glances up at Regulus, and then moves his right arm forward. For a wild moment, Regulus thinks Sirius is going to hit him.
“You want one?” Sirius gestures with the packet of cigarettes.
“No thank you,” Regulus says automatically.
“Suit yourself,” Sirius says, and he lights the cigarette with the tip of his wand and takes a drag. The end flares red. Regulus studies his brother for a few moments.
Fourteen-year-old Sirius Black wanted to be a rock star, sixteen-year-old Sirius Black looks like one. He’s wearing dark jeans, torn at the knees and around the cuffs, and heavy leather boots that are untidily laced and so tall they come halfway up his calves. He’s got on a battered leather jacket, and his wrists are stacked with leather and silver cuffs. His hair, which he’s always worn long, has grown out and is curling around his ears and into the collar of his jacket, dark and glossy and falling in his eyes. The jacket has safety pins stuck through the collar, and silver studs around the shoulders. He’s wearing a dog collar around his neck. And eyeliner, possibly.
On anybody else, the ensemble would look overdone and gimmicky. On Sirius, it looks effortless and don’t-fuck-with-me and cool. He’s always been that way, and it has something to do with conviction. Decide what you’re going to do and own up to it, Sirius had told him once, own up to it with aplomb and follow-through and don’t ever act like you regret it, and everyone will assume you know what you’re doing.
“So,” Sirius breathes smoke out. It curls around his chin. He looks Regulus square in the eye for the first time. “Peter said you wanted to talk. Let’s have it, then.”
“Sorry?” Regulus should have started the conversation, he realizes. Sirius arches one eyebrow.
“The slew of insults you’ve got stored up, or whatever it is.”
“I can’t just ask how you are?”
Sirius snorts. “Sure you can,” he says. “But people don’t usually schedule meetings to ask each other how they are. You could’ve, you know, just asked.”
“Not really,” Regulus replies.
“No, I suppose not. We’re all beyond that now, aren’t we.” This is too civil. Sirius hasn’t punched him; Regulus thinks that maybe he should do the punching. His right fist itches to, a little. Sirius has already made him feel silly; it’s something he’s good at.
“I didn’t know how else to talk to you.”
“I almost decked Peter,” Sirius says this casually. “Thought about it. Telling him to shut the fuck up and not showing up.”
“But you didn’t.”
“Obviously,” Sirius rolls his eyes.
Someone down the path that leads to Hogsmede calls out Sirius’s name. He glances up, smiles a white-tooth, dazzling grin and waves. Then he returns his attention to his cigarette, his face shutting down like he’s flicked off a switch.
Regulus is good looking, he knows this about himself. He gets enough attention from girls to know his features go beyond the requirements to be handsome; good bone structure, nice cheekbones, an athletic build and thick hair. Next to anybody else he’s the handsome one, and it’s undeniable he and Sirius resemble each other. They have the same dark head of hair, same aristocratically delicate features. But standing next to Sirius, nobody is going to look twice at Regulus. He’s always been painfully aware of this. It’s something about how Sirius carries himself, his way with words, the naughty twinkle he carries in his eye.
Sirius is beautiful. Regulus just looks like his father.
“This wasn’t my choice,” Regulus says.
“It was mine,” his brother counters. The tip of the cigarette flares red again, and he shakes ash onto the grass. Regulus’s heart is suddenly hammering hard in his chest, and his hands are icy and clammy. He shoves them deep into his pockets.
“It’s not too late,” Regulus says, very quietly, looking down at his feet. Sirius stares at him; an incomprehensible look fights its way across his features, then settles itself into a sneer.
“Do you honestly believe that?”
“I don’t know,” Regulus lies. “Maybe. It doesn’t have to be this way if you don’t want it to.”
“Well I do,” Sirius says. “They aren’t going to exactly forgive me if I show up on the doorstep with an apology. Oh, of course dear,” he adopts a stupid, falsetto. “I’m absolutely willing to forgive your status as a shameful Gryffindor blood traitor because of your obviously genuine remorse, come right in, let’s have some biscuits and pop you back into the will!” He laughs. Regulus doesn’t. “It doesn’t work that way, so you might as well accept that this is the way it is.”
“You didn’t have to do it,” Regulus whispers. If Sirius is going to come at him with sarcasm, he can combat it with honesty.
“I did. I don’t expect you to understand-”
“I know.” They stare at each other for a minute.
“What are you going to do? You don’t have any money,” Regulus says.
Sirius shrugs. “I don’t want their money.”
“I can, I mean,” Regulus hesitates. “If you need it, I can get it to you. If you won’t apologize.”
“I don’t want their money, or your money,” Sirius says very clearly. “Difficult concept, I know, but I don’t want anything from them ever again.”
His condescension makes Regulus’s skin crawl, so he lets himself say what he’s thinking. “How do you know? We’ve always had everything, and you’ve always bragged about it. Sure, you’re proud of being the only Black in Gryffindor because it made you different, got you attention. But you’ve always had our name to fall back on, and you just threw everything away for—for what? Your pride?”
Sirius’s face goes dark. It’s terrifying. Regulus sees a muscle jump in his jaw. “I should’ve known you’d never really understand,” he mutters. “As much as I hoped, as much as I tried, there was never any chance. You’re just like them.”
“I’m not!” Regulus shouts. He’s surprised at how loudly this comes out.
“You are,” Sirius says. The anger on his face has faded into something sick and sad. “I asked you to stop reading those books Bellatrix sends you, didn’t I? To stop listening to her. You didn’t even think about listening to me. You have to know there’s something wrong with her. You didn’t do it, I can tell.”
“Just because you’re older than me doesn’t mean you know better than me. You can’t tell me what to do. And the books are interesting.”
“Or are you just angry that I’m finally better at something than you are,” Regulus says. “And that you don’t impress her.”
“If I wanted to impress Bella, I’d spend more time biting the heads off of innocent baby animals. She’s dangerous. They’re all dangerous, and that Voldemort is the most dangerous of all.”
“I can take care of myself,” Regulus repeats.
“Not this time. You’re already in over your head. It’s not a game or a schoolyard prank or something. People are dying. Muggles are dying. I’m pretty sure Bella’s having the time of her life. And the whole fucking family’s just stood there calmly discussing it, like it was normal, complimenting her, even. Joining up with Bella and her friends won’t make them love you any more. I don’t think they’re capable of loving anything that isn’t stored in a bank account or poured out of a bottle.”
“You aren’t any better than them, or me,” Regulus says. He says it purposefully, trying to get a rise out of his brother. He feels hot under the collar, and angrier than he has in a long time. “You just like people telling you that you are.”
“There’s something wrong with them,” Sirius continues as if he hasn’t spoken. “And if you can’t see that, there’s something wrong with you too.”
“That’s not for you to decide,” Regulus grates. “You don’t know anything, you never have. You just—you just make decisions to get a rise out of her, to make people love you. I was there too you know, your whole life.”
“No,” Sirius laughs again. It isn’t a pleasant sound. “No. Normal people love their families. Normal people give their kids toys for Christmas, not ancestral swords. Normal people don’t lock their kids in the cellar when they misbehave, or use the Cruciatus curse on them. They don’t scare their kids into good behavior by threatening to blast them off the family tree and do not encourage their children to become Death Eaters, or whatever it is they’re calling themselves. They just don’t. I didn’t realize how fucked up our parents were until I met some parents who actually were alright at it. How can you honestly ask me if I’m sure I made the right choice? Of course I am.”
There is a long silence. Sirius is breathing rather heavily, and Regulus can hear the blood pounding in his ears.
“Now, tell me what you’re actually doing here,” Sirius says suddenly, crushing his cigarette under his boot. “You can’t really think we were going to have a nice polite discussion that ends in me seeing the error of my ways, do you? Because if you don’t remember, we haven’t exactly been chummy for the last year.” Regulus doesn’t say anything. “Do you want me to tell you I’ll bring you along, is that it? Because I will, if you want out.”
Regulus stares at him in disbelief. “You know that’s impossible,” he whispers.
“Why? Guilty conscience?”
“I’m not like you,” Regulus snaps. “It’s different in Slytherin.”
I don’t have friends like yours.” Which is true. Not everybody in Slytherin house is in the gang of kids who follow Lucius Malfoy, Bellatrix Black and now Avery and Mulciber. But, they are also not Blacks. There are expectations in Slytherin house, for him. Expectations set in place centuries before either of them were born. “And your friends are your friends, not mine.”
Sirius opens his mouth to say something, and for once, Regulus plows over him. “And anyway, I do actually love her. And I’m not entirely convinced that she’s wrong.”
Sirius winces, and Regulus thinks rather viciously that it’s about time his brother hears this.
When Regulus came to Hogwarts, most everyone, students, staff and teachers, already knew who he was. This didn’t entirely surprise him because he had three cousins who had recently attended there, his parents had gone there, his whole family had been in Slytherin.
It had been surprising, for some reason, the first time he’d said his name and seen the reaction. It had been in the Slytherin common room, and the Prefect had asked his name.
“Regulus Black,” Regulus had said rather timidly, uncomfortable of being singled out in front of his class.
“Well,” Emma Vanity’s eyebrows had gone up. “You’re the other Black, are you? Sirius Black’s brother? Merlin tell me you aren’t as fond of mischief.”
At the time, this had seemed enormously unfair. Slytherin was his house after all, not Sirius’s. Sirius’s name did not belong there, no matter how much his family might prefer if it had.
He had soon realizes that this wasn’t an unnatural reaction. Everyone knew Sirius, all the teachers, the other students, the portraits and the ghosts. He was first and foremost for his boundless talent for getting into trouble, and secondly for his camaraderie with James Potter. Regulus never possessed Sirius’s desire for mischief or his flair for the dramatic; people quickly realized this, and soon after forgot about him altogether.
There had been a moment, when the Sorting Hat had declared him a Slytherin, where Regulus had looked across the Great Hall and met his brother’s eyes. They had been disappointed. Regulus remembers wishing he could be more like his brother.
He didn’t want that anymore.
“I—“ Sirius seems at a loss for words. He drags one hand through his hair. “I know. I always thought that maybe—“
“What? That you could change my mind? Make me hate them too?” Regulus’s voice is louder than Sirius’s. “I know you tried. You didn’t win.”
“Winning didn’t matter. It isn’t about that at all. I left, so she won. Or I won. I don’t know yet.” Sirius is speaking in a whisper. He takes a deep breath. “Do you know when I knew? That this was how it was all going to pan out?”
“I don’t know,” Regulus’s heartrate is slowing, and he quells his anger. It seems that Sirius is going to tell him very important. “A year or two ago, I expect.”
Sirius shakes his head. He suddenly looks very fragile, and very ill, and very young. “I thought at the time that I was doing something shocking,” he says. “I hadn’t really planned on it or really thought it through. But the more I think about it, the more I know that I’ve been waiting to do it for years.”
“Since you got Sorted?” Regulus asks.
“No,” Sirius corrects him. “No. As soon as I got Sorted—well, I knew that everything was gonna be different after that. I wrote home every day—you remember, I’m sure. I was never stupid enough to think that they would be fine with it, that they’d write me and say It’s fine, we still love you. I knew that wasn’t happening, even at eleven. But I expected them to write and say they were going to fix it, that stupid Muggle-lover Dumbledore’s horrid school had messed it up, an example of failing educational standards, and they were going to have some very strong words and right the wrong. Something like that, you know. I wrote every day for a month and a half, expecting that response. And I never got it. I didn’t get anything at all.”
“I didn’t know that,” Regulus says quietly. He doesn’t remember much from that year. His parents did not really discuss Sirius’s Sorting with him directly. He heard them speak about it to their friends, to his aunt and uncle. His father, a few weeks before Regulus himself went to school, pulled him aside and told him “We expect better things from you. We expect great things from you.” Not like Sirius, it was implied. But Regulus’s father, who was tall and starkly handsome with a frightening, analytical mind, never said that.
Their mother did. Every day, after that first silent year.
“When the letter finally came, a month and a half after being Sorted, all it said was you have disappointed the family,” Sirius continues. “One line. That’s all. And that’s when I figured it out. They didn’t think it was a mistake.” Regulus tries to interrupt but Sirius talks over him. “They didn’t expect it obviously, and they were angry and ashamed and disappointed, mostly because it made them look bad and it made people talk. But she never tried to fix it because she thought that’s where I belonged. And that’s when I knew that they’d given up on me. She wanted me to behave in public at least, but I knew as soon I opened that letter that she’d given up and that it was all on you. And so I did too, I gave up on them. I decided that if they were going to be ashamed of having a son in Gryffindor, I might as well really give them something to be angry about.”
Regulus doesn’t know how to respond to this, so he doesn’t. He’s angrier, if anything, being told this. It could be true; he wouldn’t entirely be surprised if it was. But the anger burns and boils deep, deep inside of him, in his very core and he thinks But you still could have tried.
Regulus knows that this story is Sirius’s way of saying I’m giving up on you, too.
After Sirius left, the house was far too quiet. Regulus and his mother talked about it once, maybe three weeks after the fact. His father had been out, his mother drinking by herself in the parlour and Regulus was sitting cross-legged on the divan in the drawing room, facing the family tree. Sirius’s name, black letters and gold thread linking him to Orion, Walburga and Regulus, stared at him accusingly. Regulus had hardly noticed when his mother climbed the stairs and entered the room to sit next to him on the divan until her hand, adorned with a heavy silver ring, landed on his knee. She had a cigarette in a long holder in her dark red mouth, and a glass of wine in one hand. She had handed him the glass.
They scrutinized the wall together, generations and generations of Blacks, small painted portraits of dark hair and haughty eyes and a few ragged holes where faces had been removed. Uncle Alphard. Andromeda, who’s name had changed, stubbornly, to read Andromeda Tonks.
“I don’t understand why Sirius did it,” Regulus had said quietly, mostly to himself. He could feel his mother’s attention light on him. “I keep trying to, and I don’t.” He had glanced towards his mother, who was studying him with something close to sympathy on her face. As close as she got to sympathy, anyway.
Walburga Black is beautiful like an avalanche is beautiful; cold and magnificent and worryingly unstable. Regulus worries about her from a distance; he knows she loves him more than anything else, and that is enough. But this day was one of her good days; her shining dark hair was tied back from her cool, elegant face and her eyes, grey like Sirius’s, met his.
“He has never done anything in his life that requires the consideration of others,” she had said quietly, taking a drag on her cigarette with perfectly made up lips. Her quiet voice, her calm hands tucking a stray hair behind her ear were so contrasting to the monstrous, screaming, raging thing she could become; Regulus sometimes feels there are two women living inside of his mother, and he knows both of them.
“I know,” he had said, taking a drink from the wine glass to cover the fact that his voice was grating a little. “He’s certainly proved that. I just wish—“ he hadn’t known how that thought would end, so he stopped.
“His priority has never been this family,” his mother had said. “He does not understand what it means to be a Black. You do.” She took the wine back and sipped it. “As long as you remember that, nobody can hurt you. Nobody can beat you. This,” she had gestured towards the names on the wall, “is where we come from, it is who we are. It is our strength. Nobody can take that away from us, and nobody can hurt us.”
“Even other Blacks?” Regulus had asked.
Walburga had drawn herself up and smiled icily. She was smaller than Regulus now, but it never seemed that way. “Your brother is not a Black any longer,” she had said. “You are my son, and you are the heir.” She had risen, heavy robes swirling around her feet and crossed the room to the mural on the wall. In one graceful gesture, she plucked the cigarette from its holder and ground it into the fabric, over the small embroidered picture of Sirius’s face. The room had been filled with the smell of charred cloth, and ash had fallen onto the polished floor.
“I will instruct Kreacher to clean this up. We’ll have dinner in an hour?” she said quite calmly, flicking the cigarette onto the ground.
“That sounds fine.” It was better to have the black, gaping hole where his brother’s face had been than his brother’s accusing eyes.
“Very well.” She had turned to go back down the stairs, but paused at the top of the steps and glanced back at him. “Regulus?”
“I will not have you mention his name under this roof again,” she had said, frost and fire creeping into her voice. “You do not have a brother, not anymore. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Mother,” Regulus had replied. He couldn’t decide if he felt better or worse.
“But we’re your family,” Regulus says, snapping back to the present. He says this as calmly as he can. He wants to punch Sirius but he won’t give his brother the satisfaction. “I am your family.”
Something breaks across Sirius’s face and he lunges forward suddenly and shoves Regulus backward. Regulus stumbles over a loose stone and loses his footing, coming down hard on his tailbone. It’s so stupid that it makes him laugh and he knows he’s won.
“Is everything alright here?” a voice says from behind them. “Padfoot?” Remus Lupin is peering around the corner of the building, wearing a threadbare red sweater and jeans. How long he’s been there Regulus doesn’t know. He pulls himself to his feet again.
“This isn’t any of your concern,” he snaps. Sirius doesn’t say anything. He just exhales very slowly.
“Padfoot?” Lupin says again, taking a step forward. His hand lands on Sirius’s shoulder, right below the collar of his jacket. Sirius glances in his direction and something passes between them, something Regulus can’t pinpoint.
“You’re so fucking full of it, Reg,” Sirius’s gaze moves back to him. “You’re my family? What have you ever done to get to call yourself that?” His face is twisting and angry, and looks startlingly like their mother’s.
“I’m your brother!” Regulus shouts.
“You’ve done a pretty poor job of acting like it,” Sirius says. His voice is stony.
“You didn’t outwardly hate me, is that what you were gonna say? Fuck you. You never risked your precious relationship with our mother for me. You never backed me up, you never even tried.”
“Do you think she would have listened?” Regulus shouts to be heard over Sirius. “You’d both made up your mind by then.”
“I don’t mean in June,” Sirius rolls his eyes. “I understand why you didn’t intervene then. I mean ever. Once, in the thousands of times I tried to stand my ground against her and lost. I needed you.” Sirius’s voice breaks. Any other brother would reach out to comfort. Regulus feels rooted to the spot. “I needed someone on my side,” Sirius chokes out. “And you were all I had, for years. I risked everything just trying to survive in that madhouse, trying to protect you. And you never even tried to stand up for me, did you? Not when it mattered. It never even crossed your mind.”
“You don’t understand,” Regulus tries to interject.
“Nobody was ever on my side until James,” Sirius finishes. Lupin, still standing to Sirius’s left, meets Regulus’s eye. Regulus is shocked by the violence and the anger in his glare. “He’s my brother. Not you.”
Red-hot anger unfurls in Regulus’s chest and before he realizes it, his wand is in his hand and he’s pointing it at Sirius’s chest. He can’t seem to get enough air into his lungs. One small, orderly part of his brain thinks, absurdly, You’ve never had a detention Regulus, do you really want to start now? It gets buried pretty quickly.
“Go on,” Sirius laughs. “Hex me. Have at it. It’s what I would do.” He smirks. That smirk says a lot. I’m not sorry, it says. I’m not going to miss you.
“Black,” Lupin’s voice is warning. His hand, three faded scars crossing his wrist, is still on Sirius’s collar. Regulus thinks of one of the two rumors Snape likes to spread about Remus Lupin and wonders if there’s some truth to one of them after all.
“You want me to do impossible things,” Regulus manages to say. “Because you don’t know me at all, do you?”
“I know you better than anyone, Reg,” Sirius snarls.
“Put the wand down, Black. I don’t want to have to give either of you detention,” Lupin says. Regulus does, suddenly realizing how this must look. “Come on, Sirius,” Lupin continues. “Prongs and Wormtail are in the Three Broomsticks. Let’s go.”
Sirius glares for another long moment, then turns on his heel and heads off away from the castle. Lupin stands for another minute, then he turns as well.
Regulus wants to yell after them that they can go fuck themselves, but he holds it in. He is a Black. He has his dignity, and his legacy and his reputation to uphold. And only Muggles curse that way.
The sun is rising high over the lake. Regulus hears laughter from the direction of the path. Everything looks the same, but nothing will ever be the same again.
His mother was right, he realizes. She was always right. He doesn’t have a brother anymore.
Regulus turns and walks back into the castle.