Chapter 1: This House Is Not A Home
The artistry is most exquisite.
The subtleties of shade and colour contrasting with the bold brush strokes of the lettering is striking, yet not at all jarring to the eye.
He steps closer to the tapestry, marvelling at the level of detail present in the knotted roots of the tree.
It is amazing that even after so many hundreds of years, the charmed pigments have held onto so much of their original vibrancy.
Equally impressive is how subsequent artists have so closely matched the original lettering, beautifully mimicking the work of those long dead.
Only after a lifetime of familiarity with the tapestry is he able to discern the minute differences in the lettering of the newer names, such as the extra flourishes present in the final strokes of "m" and "n" or the tiny curlicue in the "o" that varies ever so slightly.
He doubts that the casual observer would note these inconsistencies, not that anyone other than his own family and a select chosen few have had occasion to ever see it.
The notion strikes him then as it always does: How sad it is that so many talented artists have toiled away for so long on a piece doomed to be viewed by so few.
It's like a masterpiece undiscovered, or one snatched up and hidden away by a selfish collector.
And though the tapestry is immensely old, the preserving charm slows the fading of the oils, the inevitable disintegration of the finely woven fibres.
In spite of this, he notes a handful of new stains here and there, as well as a loose thread at the rightmost bottom corner. As his inspection continues, he is surprised to find a hole in the fabric.
Reaching out with a forefinger, he touches the imperfection ever so gently. Bits of thread fall away from the perimeter of the ragged hole, and he watches them flitter downward, as leaves in an autumn breeze.
Not so surprising after all, he muses, stepping away to lean against the arm of an increasingly mouldy chaise.
A scrabbling from the far corner of the parlour breaks his concentration.
He turns his head just in time to see a rippling of the dusty, velvet curtains shrouding the large front window of the room. A feeble squeal confirms the responsible party. A moment later, another squeak, this one far shriller, sounds in response.
He smiles and stares at the tapestry once more.
Doxies in the parlour.
Another sign of the continuous slide, the inexorable descent into disrepair and decrepitude.
Every day, one more stain on the wallpaper, another tiny nick to the woodwork, just a speck more dirt clinging to the mop boards.
Expensive finery dulling with the passage of time, cloaked in ever increasing layers of tarnish and dust.
Meticulous plasterwork, riddled with cracks and stains, adorned with cobwebs.
The systematic decay of Grimmauld Place isn't a revelation.
He's been aware of it for as long as he can recall.
A little more grime here, a bit dingier there. It's not at all accidental that the wall sconces and oil lamps burn lower and dimmer year after year, so that now, their paltry light barely penetrates the deepest reaches of the silent halls and rooms.
He looks up, unable to discern exactly where the walls meet the high ceiling. It's as if the heavy, flocked wallpaper fades away into blackness, leaving nothing but a dark, looming abyss overhead.
No reason to call attention to the blight, to the putrefaction. Best to shroud it in shadow.
It all makes sense, really.
It all fits.
The tapestry of the family tree is but the last item to finally succumb to the pall that hangs over The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.
All the bluster, every machination, every manipulation has been for naught. Every arranged marriage, every selected spouse, each excision of those heretics and traitors who failed to tow the line has brought them to this pointless future, a dead end.
Manic obsession over one's pureblood status has been their undoing.
The tapestry should have served as a warning rather than a mere expression of bloated family pride: far too many Blacks wedding Blacks, too many joinings with other tainted pureblood families.
Tragic that his ancestors adhered to the family motto in such a literal fashion.
Admittedly, the notion that a person is superior simply by virtue of one's bloodline is rather irresistable. That philosophy has been drilled into him from the very beginning, and he'd embraced it wholeheartedly as a universal truth.
The idea of innate superiority is most seductive. Not only that, but it felt good, lending him a sense of worth that seemed to be sorely lacking in others who weren't "pure".
His arrival at Hogwarts had been responsible for opening his eyes to the reality of the world, a virtual lifting of the blinders his parents had saddled him with.
He's observed firsthand how so many of the pureblood students flaunt their perceived supremacy over the so-called mudbloods. They bully and connive, constantly scheming and relying on their vaunted bloodlines to rescue them from any difficulty. Not all of the purebloods wallow in their heritage; there are exceptions to every rule, of course, the nauseating Weasleys being a prime example.
For the most part, though, he finds the majority of purebloods to be no more intelligent or in possession of desirable physical prowess than anyone else. Rather, many are shockingly deficient academically, some bordering on full-on mental impairment. Emotional problems are rampant amongst the pure, as is a reliance on regular doses of mood altering potions.
He's seen parents swoop into Hogwarts to save their defective offspring more times than he can count. While the school most likely benefits from the Galleons passing over the Headmaster's desk, it does little to address the underlying problem. Worse, it perpetuates it.
Not exactly the most desirable of circumstances, to be sure.
His epiphany reached completion during a third year Care of Magical Creatures class, of all things.
A lesson on dragons happened to spend a great deal of time focusing on the various breeds and the problems inherent in maintaining the integrity and quality of the various species. Controlled propagation is clearly a tricky business, as expert dragon breeders regularly cull portions or entire clutches of hatchlings in order to eliminate undesirable qualities, which range from minor issues of size and coloration to congenital defects or deformities. Behavioural aberrations that manifest weeks to months after hatching are also swiftly and similarly dealt with.
Most unfortunate that his ancestors hadn't adopted a similar methodology to deal with the deleterious effects involved with in-breeding in wizards...
Initially, he's considered his singular insight to be some sort of blessing, a gift that he's been given in order to turn the tide, to perhaps arrest his family's tumble into madness.
Now he realises his naiveté, how simplistic he's been in believing that he was somehow special, somehow able to change centuries of delusional behaviour.
Clearly, his is a curse rather than a gift, a profoundly perverse joke played upon him by an uncaring universe.
As far as he can tell, it may well be too late.
Time and fate have made their decisions, and he is powerless in the face of such relentless, primal forces.
His parents and their generation are too far gone, too damaged to ever be reached by logic or reason.
Their hearts have hardened and their minds so thoroughly twisted and warped that they are capable of nothing but malevolence and darkness, contempt and hatred.
Even those of his own generation seem lost, content to dance as the fires of destruction lick at their toes.
Worse, he fears that he's been irrevocably affected by the rancour, by the vitriol that seems to permeate every inch of the crumbling house.
Shaking his head, he runs two fingers over the blackened circles marring the tapestry's fabric.
Names blasted away in rage, as if the doing of it might eradicate the associated person as well.
Aunt Andromeda, Uncle Alphard and a handful of others who dared go against the grain.
He lingers over the most recent blastpoint, pressing his fingertips to the blackened circle and willing it away.
It's utter futility, he knows, but he does it anyway, an oddly satisfying ritual.
Closing his eyes, he struggles to push aside the darkness within, to force it to a distant part of himself and lock it away. But it defies his efforts, the darkness seemingly growing stronger by the day.
He knows it will overwhelm him soon, the sheer press of centuries of foulness and perversion sending him spiralling into the black void of insanity.
It's as if he's one of those deficient dragon hatchlings, outwardly fit but stricken with a heretofore invisible defect lying in wait, ready to erupt and consume him.
Perhaps if he removes himself from his toxic surroundings, he can save himself. It's the only course of action that seems sensible. It may not work, but he must try.
It all depends on a single person, the only individual in the entire world that he trusts. The only one that knows him, the one person capable of providing the faintest glimmer of hope.
Opening his eyes, he stares at his own name painted on the tapestry, certain that it won't be long before it, too, is removed, consigned to oblivion.
~~~~~ * ~~~~~
Regulus flops into the hideous chaise, raising clouds of dust in the process. The entire house is falling into disrepair, and he's the only one that sees it.
Yet another issue that isn't discussed.
Whatever it is that Kreacher does all day, it certainly isn't related to cleaning. His family's house elf has grown increasingly moody and erratic over the last few years, so much so that Regulus finds that he's uncomfortable in the creature's presence. Consequently, he's hanging about in the parlour whilst Kreacher "cleans" his room. The odd mumblings and violent outbursts are simply too unsettling to deal with.
He leans back, hands behind his head.
It is only the second day of the Easter hols, and he's already bored and anxious beyond belief. He wouldn't even be at Grimmauld if one of his fellow Slytherins hadn't infested the Dungeons with a particularly virulent species of Niffler, rendering them uninhabitable until the annoying things could be eradicated. Normally he'd remain at school during breaks, preferring the solitude of the virtually deserted rooms and hallways of the castle to the oppressive dreariness of Grimmauld.
He'd begged Slughorn to allow him to remain, promising to keep to himself in his dormitory, but it was for naught.
Nine more days until he could return to Hogwarts. Nine days trapped in the dusty, dark and mouldy mausoleum that passed as his home.
He'd love nothing more than to take up his battered Cleansweep and practise the latest manoeuvres, but Quidditch is somehow taboo. Most parents would display pride at the fact that their son had been made a Seeker on the Slytherin House team, but the Blacks? Oh, no. It was something to be tolerated, not celebrated. An unwanted by-product to be ignored.
His parents had never seen him fly in a match...
Regulus hates everything about the house, so heavily fortified and warded that the entire outside world is blocked out. Nary a sound nor ray of sunlight ever penetrates the curtained windows.
A clink of glass on glass wafts from the adjoining study, followed by a muffled curse. A moment later, the obvious sound of a glass shattering and more curses.
Not even half ten on a Saturday and his father is well into his cups.
Most unsurprising, really.
His hopes to spend the hols studying for his upcoming O.W.L.S. have been dashed completely, as he's finding it virtually impossible to concentrate on his texts. While the Dungeons are, well, actual dungeons, they're open and relatively bright, filled with an underlying air of life and excitement, nothing at all like Grimmauld.
When Slughorn had refused his request to remain at Hogwarts, Regulus briefly considered asking one of his fifth-year dormitory mates if he could spend the hols with them. He'd quickly dispensed with that option, as the prospect of spending ten days with Evan Rosier, Amycus Carrow or Rudolphus Lestrange had been far too dismal to contemplate. Wilkes and Carrow were marginally better prospects, but they'd left before Regulus had been able to ask them.
Wilkes would have certainly been amenable to the idea, but weathering the hols with the only person at Hogwarts whom he could call “friend” was rife with its own problems. Regulus likes Wilkes, as much as anyone, as far as that goes. It is readily apparent that Wilkes likes him, perhaps a bit too much for Regulus's tastes. Their shared times alone in the showers and Astronomy Tower have been pleasurable and somewhat adventurous, but nothing more. Trysts really, and that's precisely how Regulus categorizes their amorous encounters. By the moony expressions he's noted in his housemate's eyes of late, it's far too evident that Wilkes is imprinting far more importance on things than he is.
The very last thing he needs right now is to have word of his homosexual tendencies find their way back to Grimmauld.
He shifts in the chaise as doxies rustle about in the velvet curtains behind him, their squeaks rising in frequency and intensity.
"Breeding, no doubt," he mutters to the empty room.
No matter. With any luck, he may only have to return to this depressing place two or three more times before graduation.
If only Slughorn hadn't sent out that mass owling about the Dungeons, he might've had the stones to actually slip into West Diagon and spend the hols there.
He considers that possibility once more, the appeal of it incredibly intoxicating.
How enjoyable that would've been, yes?
Free to come and go as he pleases, able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city, or not. To immerse himself in his texts or take long walks at his leisure, with no one hovering overhead, smothering him.
That sort of holiday would be fantastic. Heavenly, even.
But the intricacies of pulling off such a plan assert themselves, restraining his wings with lead weights.
Still thirteen months shy of his seventeenth birthday, he cannot Apparate without being tracked and apprehended by the Ministry, thus forced to resort to a public floo. And since none of Grimmauld's fireplaces have been connected to the network for decades...
Add to that the fact that Grimmauld Place is solidly in Muggle London and hell and gone from Diagon Alley, the chances for a successful escape diminish to nearly zero.
“Regulus Arcturus Black!”
He jumps in the chaise, jolted from his reverie as if struck full on with a bludger. “Mother,” he yelps awkwardly, hoisting himself up.
“What is the meaning of this?” Walburga Black holds out a small, yellow and black object, her knuckles white as she clenches it tightly. “How dare you bring this abomination into our home!” Her voice rises and cracks on the last word as she raises her head up, her eyes wide and wild.
Regulus stands and shoves both hands into the back pockets of his trousers. Hanging his head to avoid having to look at the creature that was once his mother, he notes Kreacher peering from behind her voluminous dress. He knows without looking what it is in her hands. “You had no right to sift through my things.”
“Nonsense. We have every right to protect you from the dangers that lurk at every turn. Thank Merlin we can depend on Kreacher to help us help you.”
Regulus notes Kreacher's immensely satisfied expression. “It's not evil.”
“What is it?” she repeats, waving her fist at him.
“It's called a Walkman, Mother. It plays music, just like the Wireless. It's a harmless device—”
“It's Muggle!” she shrieks, advancing on him and waving the electronical thing over her head. “Haven't we taught you how evil such things are? How perverse? Where did you get such a monstrous thing?”
“Mother, it's a trifle. Nothing—”
“You will tell me, this instant!”
Regulus draws himself up, taking a deep breath. He forces himself to look his mother in the eye, swallowing hard as he does so. It is most difficult to maintain his gaze, as so much has changed. Her hair is unkempt, run through with ever increasing streaks of grey. Loose strands stick out from her bun in all directions. Her eyes are yellow and sickly, ringed with red. Drops of spittle and possibly gravy stain the bodice of her dress, and the handkerchief tucked into the crooked belt at her waist is filthy.
If madness has a likeness, he's sure he's staring at it.
“Declan Wilkes lent it to me.” He instantly regrets his words.
His mother nods, grinning with satisfaction. “I should have known. A Wilkes! Mud in the blood, that's for certain!”
“I'm sorry, Mother, but I don't see the harm. It just plays music.”
Walburga laughs, a scratchy cackle that sends a shiver down Regulus's spine. “Didn't seen the harm, did ya? That's how the unpure work, isn't it? Eh? They weasel their way in, pretending to be one of us, and then you're lost!”
“I don't see how—”
“That's enough! I'm tired of your insolence!”
Regulus's stomach churns. He steps toward her, holding out his left hand. “I apologise, Mother. You're correct, of course. I shouldn't have been so weak. I should have seen through Declan's ruse to subvert me. It won't happen again. Give me the thing, and I'll return it to him once I'm back at Hogwarts.”
Please, please, give it to me...
Walburga chuckles again. “I'm not so sure that you truly see the error of your ways.” She nods, her sneer a crooked slash of red lip colour. “Of course, return this travesty to that blood traitor.” She makes to hand it to him before flinging it toward the wall with all her might. The Muggle device shatters into dozens of brightly coloured pieces that scatter to the faded oriental rug.
Regulus chokes back a reply, anything he might say a futile gesture.
“There. Clean that up and remove it from my sight,” his mother says, clearly pleased with herself, smoothing her wrinkled dress with shaking hands. “Most fortunate that Kreacher found that disgusting piece of trash and brought its presence to my attention.” She bends and strokes the sparse, wispy hairs on the top of the wizened house elf's head. “What would we ever do without you, dear Kreacher?”
“I serve the Mistress,” Kreacher replies, leaning into Walburga's dress. He wraps his spindly arms around her leg, grinning widely.
Regulus tears his gaze away from the pair, throwing himself to the floor to collect the remains of the Walkman. He has some galleons hidden away, so he'll easily be able to make good with Declan and replace the device.
Floorboards creak as his mother walks to where he's crouched on the floor.
“Oh yes, most fortuitous, indeed, that we've discovered this latest transgression. At least we can remove the blight that threatens to destroy all we've worked for.”
He looks up to find his mother towering over him, hands clasped at her waist, her expression one of smug satisfaction. Regulus stands, clutching shards of the broken Walkman in both hands. “What do you mean?” he asks, his heart climbing into his throat.
She tosses her head blithely. “Clearly the standards of Slytherin House have fallen precipitously. Your Father and I should have protested the traitor Wilkes's sorting, as well as his overall admission to Hogwarts.” She lays a hand on his shoulder. “Mummy and Da will take care of this, my son. You are all we have left, our best and brightest hope for the future. So you understand that me must ensure that the plague of this disgusting mudblood and his entire family pay the price for attempting to sway you from the course most right and true.”
Regulus shrugs out of his mother's grasp. “Declan isn't the problem. He's a friend who's done nothing but be kind to me.” He advances on her, pieces of the ruined Walkman dropping to the carpet.
Walburga snorts, acutely aware of her son's increasing anger. “Now, now, my dear Regulus, this is for your own good. We cannot possibly allow you to succumb to the evils that befell...so many others before you! What sort of parents would we be if we allowed that to happen?” Her eyes bulge in their sockets as Regulus walks her into the wall next to the doorway.
“Leave Declan alone!” Regulus roars, shoving his mother into a corner. “Don't you dare mention this to Slughorn. If you do, you'll regret the day you slid from your mother's womb! You will not harm him in any way, do you understand?!” He thumps the wall with his fist for emphasis, vaguely content that the first signs of fear creep into her eyes.
A low sniggering distracts him momentarily and Regulus turns his head in time to see Kreacher scoot from the parlour.
Walburga takes advantage of Regulus's bewilderment to flail at her son with both hands. While slightly shorter than he, she uses her larger bulk to send Regulus sprawling to the floor.
“Orion! By the Gods, Orion! Help me!”
Regulus scrambles to his feet, his brain racing.
How had he let this happen again? Hasn't he learned a single fucking thing? Once again, he's allowed his emotions to take control, to overshadow reason.
He never should have come back to this hellhole.
Sirius has been right all along.
Walburga shrieks and falls to the floor, holding her soiled handkerchief to her forehead. “Orion!”
Nearby sounds of broken glass followed by thumping bootfalls reach Regulus's ears.
He sprints for the door to the hallway, only to have it blocked by a swaying form towering over him. “Father,” he manages to utter before seeing sparks. Searing pain shoots through his head as the parlour turns upside down.
“It's like the other one all over again,” Walburga cries out, pointing at him.
Regulus sits up, his ears ringing from the effects of his father's punch.
Kreacher stands in front of Walburga, his protective stance obscenely absurd. “Ungrateful whelp,” the elf growls.
“We done somethin' wrong, we did, Wally.” Orion advances upon him, swaying unsteadily, shoulder-length hair a tangled mess, his vest askew and waistcoat rumpled nine ways from Tuesday.
“He attacked me,” Walburga warbles, hoisting herself to her feet. “For no reason. For no reason!”
“Aye, that's what I thought. Hoped I wouldn' have to resort to this again,” Orion mumbles, whipping his wand from his trouser pocket.
Regulus crawls away from the spectre bearing down on him, taking refuge behind the chaise. “I didn't attack anyone. I simply lost my temper. I assure you, it won't happen again.”
“Oh, I know it won't ever hap'n again,” Orion replies. With a deft flick of his wand, the chaise flies across the parlour, destroying itself against the far wall.
Regulus closes his eyes, steeling himself for the inevitable.
The last thing he hears is his father's bellowing “Crucio!”
~~~~~ * ~~~~~
A slight rush of sound, like gentle surf breaking on the shore.
He rises up and new sensations intrude upon his cocoon of safety.
Something sharp pressing into his back.
His head throbs ever so wonderfully as the darkness lifts, his stomach twisting itself into knots.
The voice becomes recognisable.
“...get up this instant. Regulus, do not try my patience any longer!”
He opens his eyes to his mother's countenance suspended over him, her expression one of disgust.
“Why must you be so difficult?” she huffs, absently patting at the stray hairs that have escaped from her tight bun. “You know I have a meeting with the Sisters of Purity today, and it is just like you to create a spectacle at the most inconvenient moment. I do not need this, Regulus, really I don't!” She tilts her head to one side, wagging a pudgy finger at him. “And now your Father will be out of sorts for the rest of the day. I do hope you're pleased with yourself!”
Regulus sits up, the queasiness in his gut slowly fading away. It isn't the first time he's felt the effects of his father's wrath, and he knows that the headache will linger for several more hours. He reaches behind him and finds the piece of the ruined chaise that he'd fallen on—the splintered end of one of the arms—and flings it across the room toward the rest of the chaise debris.
“And do clean yourself up. You're quite the sorry sight,” his mother quips, turning on her heel and leaving the parlour, her dress swishing in accompaniment with her squeaky boots.
“Is Master Regulus all right?”
“Fine,” he groans, rising to his feet. “Thanks so much for showing her the Walkman.”
Kreacher smiles. “I serve the Mistress first. Did not intend for her to see, oh, no.” The elf's expression turns disturbingly apologetic. “Merely curious about device. Interested in dirty Muggle thing. Mistress discovered me examining it.”
“And I'm supposed to believe that?”
“Master free to believe what he wishes, of course.” Kreacher turns to face the jumbled remains of the chaise. With a flick of a finger, the mass of ruined wood, fabric and springs begins to jiggle, slowly lifting from the mouldy carpet. Another minute twirl of the elf's finger, and the debris commences to spin in mid-air, quickly putting itself back together amidst a series of cracks, clangs and pops. “Much better.”
Regulus watches as the reconstituted chaise floats back to its previous position. “You could have at least cleaned it while you were at it,” he says, indicating the stains on the seat cushion.
Kreacher shrugs, one ear laying flat on his head. “Oh no, young Master. Cleaned chaise would not fit. Would not match rest of house. Kreacher would have to clean everything if he cleans one thing. So much work that way. House would not be house, yes?”
While the elf's skewed logic baffles his addled brain, it does make sense, in a warped way. He drops into the chaise, raising a cloud of dust. “You had to put that back, too?”
“Is as it was.” Kreacher cackles and flicks his finger once more. The scattered parts of the Walkman fly toward each other and likewise reassemble themselves. The repaired device sails across the room to hover before Regulus. “There you are, Master. Filthy Muggle thing good as new.”
“Thanks, I guess.” Regulus snatches the Walkman and turns it over in his hands. “So you really believe that Muggles are a substandard species? When is the last time you've ever been outside, in Muggle London?”
Both ears fall as Kreacher frowns. “Never been to disgusting Muggle areas. Only leave house when Mistress asks. Only been to Diagon Alley!”
“Then how do you know anything about them? Or mudbloods? Without seeing them for yourself, how can you be sure that they're so bad, so completely evil?”
Kreacher cackles again. “Do not need to see. I know because Mistress tells me. I know because Kreacher's mother tells him same thing.”
Regulus studies the Walkman. “But I am your Master as well, correct?”
“Yes, is true, indeed.”
“So if I tell you that Muggles are simply people without magic, that they're like wizards and witches in every other way, what then?”
“But that is not true, oh no,” Kreacher replies, confusion working its way into his features.
“I'm saying it is true. I'm telling you that everything you've learned about Muggles and their ways is incorrect. And since you've never seen them or how they live firsthand, you must believe me.”
Kreacher's mouth opens and then closes. He strokes his chin with thumb and forefinger, a gesture so unintentionally comical that Regulus can barely restrain his sniggers.
He loves toying with the house elf, challenging the creature's beliefs and strongly held opinions. The most amazing thing to Regulus is how completely closed and circular Kreacher's logic is. No matter how many facts Regulus throws his way, no matter how deftly he destroys each and every one of Kreacher's theories, the elf never alters his original premise. Ultimately a pointless game, but one that Regulus enjoys playing. After the morning he's had, he certainly deserves some amusement.
“Ahh!” Kreacher exclaims, snapping his gnarled fingers. “Muggles are evil. So Kreacher has never seen them or how they live. Do not need or want to see evil things, oh no. Since Kreacher never see, then Muggles must be evil. So very simple, Master.”
Regulus slouches into the chaise, laying the Walkman in his lap. “Yes, right. Some things are very simple, indeed.” He rubs his temple, his head still throbbing.
“Good thing Master Orion enjoys his morning firewhiskey, oh yes. Firewhiskey and wands do not go together at all.”
It's a valid point. If his father hadn't been so pissed, he'd most likely be waking up at St. Mungo's rather than the parlour. The chances are better, however, that he'd see a flying skrewt before seeing his father completely sober.
“I think that's all, Kreacher. I'd like to be alone now, if you don't mind.” He waves dismissively, closing his eyes.
“Very good, Master. But Kreacher has something of interest.”
Regulus opens his eyes to find Kreacher standing next to the chaise.
“Find this whilst cleaning Master Orion's study.” Kreacher extends a hand, palm up. With a soft pop, a tiny wooden case, much the same size as a pack of Muggle cigarettes, appears in the elf's palm. “You will know what to do with it. For you know who,” he finishes cryptically.
Regulus takes it and turns the case over and over. The finish is deep and rich, and it is rather heavy for its size. “What—”
“Mistress out all day for meeting and Master Orion soon be asleep in study. Good time for trip to West Diagon, yes?”
Regulus looks up to find the house elf in the doorway, a mischievous grin showing a wide array of yellowed teeth. The creature's motivations boggle his mind, but then again, that isn't anything new. His expression clearly betrays his distrust and confusion as Kreacher snorts and tosses his head.
“Anyone ask, I will tell them you are sequestered in room, studying for O.W.L.S. exams. No one expect to see Master Regulus until breakfast tomorrow.”
“Why should I trust you after what happened this morning? How do I know you won't tell Mother everything the moment I'm beyond the wards?”
Kreacher shrugs. “You do not know. Part of adventure, yes? No pleasure in knowing everything that will happen, is there Master?” The elf turns on a heel and disappears down the dim hallway.
“Unbelievable,” Regulus mutters, sliding the tiny, brass catch and opening the lid of the box. “Bloody effin' Hell!”
He snaps the lid closed as Kreacher's wild laughter echoes from the depths of Grimmauld Place.
Chapter 2: All Is Illusion
His escape from Grimmauld is flawless.
As Kreacher predicted, his mother is engrossed in applying pounds of cosmetics in preparation for her Sisters of Purity meeting, while his father is passed out in the study, snoring away in his squishy armchair.
No one takes note of his frenzied packing; he's out of the house, through the warded garden gate and into the back alley without incident. He crosses the park across the street without looking back, keeping his head down to avoid making eye contact with the few Muggles he encounters.
He reaches The Leaky in record time, ignoring old Tom's perfunctory greeting and making his way to the grubby courtyard behind the inn. Tapping the bricks with his wand, he darts through the opening and into Diagon Alley.
Regulus shifts his rucksack as he threads his way through the mid-day throng of humanity choking the main street. He detests crowds, especially when the majority of those in it are disgustingly cheerful and impudent. They smile and nod to him as they pass, but he doesn't return the empty gestures, preferring to either completely ignore them or, when assailed with a particularly offensive display of faux civility, to repay the offender with his most fastidious sneer.
He wonders which of the smiling wizards he's passing have just given their wives a sound thrashing, or how many of the laughing witches had recently reddened their child's backside unnecessarily.
The façades these liars put in place when in public sickens him. The masks they wear are obvious, clearly unreal, just like the layers of make-up his mother applies daily.
It's delusional thinking that he abhors and actively avoids.
Better to wear one's true face, no matter how unpleasant it might be.
He pauses for a moment before Quality Quidditch Supplies, mesmerized by the display of the latest Cleansweeps in the shop's expansive front windows. While he most definitely needs a new broomstick before his next match, he's too anxious to be on his way to peruse the stock let alone make a purchase.
Ducking down a blessedly empty side street, Regulus quickens his pace, heading away from Diagon proper and into the oldest section of Wizarding London. The cobbled streets and alleys narrow as he goes, the buildings on either side of him growing older and more unkempt.
The air is heavy and dense, rife with the promise of more rain to come. He looks up at the sliver of grey sky visible between the looming buildings just as a low rumble of thunder breaks the silence of the empty street.
His fingers close around the box in his jacket pocket, the wood smooth and warm beneath them. Leave it to Kreacher to find it; Regulus was certain that he'd never see the item inside ever again. Sirius is sure to be pleased.
A few more yards and the road opens into a small square, a mossy fountain trickling away contentedly. Six narrow streets empty into the square, and Regulus heads down the third one on his right. It's so cramped that if he were to outstretch his arms, he could brush the buildings on either side with his fingers.
Another flash of lightning is followed by a crack of thunder, and the first raindrops thunk into the multitude of puddles pocking the alleyway.
Regulus takes the next right, then left, then right again, knowing his route by heart. He makes his final turn down a blind street when the heavens open and loose a deluge upon him. He sprints the final hundred yards, lighting flashing and thunder rumbling almost continuously. He's drenched to the bone as he climbs the front steps of the last row house on the left and darts inside, closing the wide front door and leaning against it to catch his breath.
A lone wall lamp illuminates the grimy entranceway. The carpet is threadbare, and where the wallpaper isn't badly stained, it is beginning to peel. He'll have to speak to Uncle Alphard about the state of his rental flats.
“Starting to look a bit too much like Grimmauld,” he thinks aloud.
He brushes his long fringe out of his eyes, mounting the stairs and extracting his wand. He's mostly dried off by the time he reaches the top of the staircase, pocketing his wand to knock on the door of flat 2B. His fist stops just before contacting the blistered and chipped surface of the door; grinning, he carefully turns the knob, delighted to find the door unlocked.
His brother can be so predictable!
With a firm push, Regulus slips inside the small flat, Sirius's name dying on his lips.
The state of the room isn't what's so surprising.
One of the many things his brother is not is neat or tidy. So it isn't the clothes strewn across every available horizontal surface, or the overflowing ashtrays, empty firewhiskey bottles nor the colony of odorous Muggle take away boxes that startles him. Though the lively pornographic centrefolds tacked to the walls are a new addition, they're hardly unexpected, nor unwelcome.
What has temporarily rendered Regulus speechless is the tableau writhing about on the huge brass bed dominating the room: Sirius is completely starkers, flat on his back, eyes squeezed shut and both hands magically lashed to the tarnished bars of the head board. An extremely skinny arse flexes away atop Sirius, a sheen of sweat clinging to pale, scarred skin.
“Shit.” Regulus slams the door as hard as he can, which causes an immediate cessation of skinny arse flexing. He watches with immense satisfaction as Lupin's head whips about to stare at him, face ashen, eyes wide.
“Nice day for it,” Regulus offers, dropping his rucksack and shrugging out of his jacket.
Lupin utters something unintelligible and tries to crawl off the bed whilst concealing his erection, only succeeding in tumbling to the floor most unceremoniously.
Sirius shifts around on the rumpled bedclothes, his cock fully hard. “Still haven't learned to knock, have you?” he says, smirking.
“Still haven't learned to lock your door when you're fraternising with rough trade,” Regulus shoots back.
Lupin jumps up, sandy hair a total mess, both hands covering his wilting dick. “I am not rough trade.”
Regulus snorts, kneeling to root through his rucksack. “Compared to that twat Potter, you are.”
Lupin opens his mouth to respond but Sirius interrupts him.
“Don't you need to use the loo, Moony?”
“Loo? Actually I don't—”
“I think that you do.”
Lupin looks from Sirius to Regulus and back again. “Honestly, I don't.” He scans the room and snatches up his clothes. “I do believe I will get dressed now, as the mood is most definitely broken, I should think.” He stomps into the loo, slamming the door.
“Is he always so dramatic?” Regulus quips, sitting on an arm of the ratty sofa that faces the hearth.
“Yes, he is,” Sirius replies with a wicked grin.
“Am not!” Lupin huffs from the loo.
Regulus admires how nonchalantly his brother lies there, as if having a conversation whilst naked and bound to a bed is an everyday occurrence. As far as he knows, for Sirius it most probably is commonplace.
Not for the first time, he marvels at how fortunate fate has been to his older brother, in not only providing him with a wantonly carefree attitude, but with a handsome body as well. Unlike himself, who takes after his short, stocky mother, Sirius more closely resembles their father: tall, lean and perfectly proportioned, with just the right amount of muscle. Sirius's hair is more desirable as well, jet black and straight, the polar opposite to his grey-black mane of unmanageable waviness.
Sirius is quite the looker, all told, and he knows it, too, wielding his good looks like a weapon.
Regulus's gaze takes in Sirius's broad chest, a light dusting of short hairs covering both pectorals. A thin trail leads down the centre of his stomach, terminating in a thick bush surrounding Sirius's sizable cock. Larger than his own, naturally, and still at attention, as it happens. His eyes meet Sirius's, and the knowing behind his brother's fathomless, grey eyes nearly takes his breath away. He shifts about on the sofa's arm, the pressure on the front of his trousers becoming just a bit of a problem.
Sirius smiles and turns his head toward the loo. “Erm, Moony? If it isn't too much trouble, how about releasing the bonds? I do believe my arms are falling asleep.”
The door opens just enough for the tip of a wand to fit through. With a flick, the leather ropes unwind and fall to the mattress. Without a word, the wand retracts and the door slams shut again.
Sirius sits up and stretches luxuriantly, rubbing both shoulders. He plumps up the pillows behind him, leaning back and summoning a pack of cigarettes. He lights one with his wand, pulling on it and throwing one arm behind his head. He shows no intention putting on any clothes or covering himself, which pleases Regulus no end.
Always the exhibitionist!
“So,” Regulus says, his tongue too thick and uncooperative.
Sirius blows a trio of nearly perfect smoke rings, the fingers of his free hand drifting across his abdomen as if searching for something. “So, Mum and Da are Mum and Da, and here you are.”
“I just can't tolerate that house any longer. You know how it is.”
“Indeed I do. Why do you think I left two years ago?” Sirius's hand wanders lower, the tips of his fingers brushing against the head of his now flaccid, yet still fat, cock.
“Because you were fucking Potter.”
“Correction, little brother. James fucks me.” Sirius shrugs. “That was simply a bonus, gravy if you will. I would have moved in with the Potters even if James wasn't as confused as he was. Or is.”
The door to the loo flies open and Lupin steps into the room, violently stuffing his mis-buttoned shirt into his trousers. “I submit that James has finally gotten his head on straight, no pun intended. He and Lily are to be married, you know. You're simply jealous that he's found someone else to shag rather than you. Where are my shoes?”
“Here. Behind the sofa.” Regulus points to the floor next to his feet.
“Rather rude eavesdropping on someone else's conversation, my dear Moony.” Sirius purses his lips, creating a respectable skull with his cigarette smoke. “Besides, who ever said that James stopped shagging me when he started fucking Lily?”
Lupin ceases his hopping and drops his remaining shoe. “You can't be serious?”
Regulus and Sirius snigger in unison.
“Most amusing.” Lupin struggles to jam his foot into his shoe. “James wouldn't do that to Lily,” he mutters to the carpet.
“He isn't; he's doing it to me,” Sirius replies. “Bloody bi-sexuals. They'll shag anything, really.”
Lupin shakes his head and returns to putting on his shoes. “You're disgusting, truly.”
“Not as disgusting as someone who's so frightened of their parents and societal norms that they'll hide their true selves and marry simply out of convention. Like our dear friend James.”
“I don't know at all what I see in you,” Lupin replies, smoothing his hair.
“I do.” Sirius grips his dick and strokes it.
Regulus barely restrains his laughter, locking eyes with Sirius again.
“Well, I think I've had enough of this for one day.” Lupin glowers at Regulus. “I doubt I'll be back tomorrow, so you'd best make other plans, Sirius.”
“Come now, don't be like that. Petulance doesn't suit you.” Sirius crushes out his cigarette and leaps from the bed. “You're always so uptight around full moons.” He grinds his groin into Lupin's thighs. “And don't pretend that you weren't aware of James and I. You know him as well as I do, and there certainly are no secrets in that dorm room of ours.”
Lupin stares at the ceiling as Sirius's hands caress the werewolf's ass. “I suspected that you two were still involved. Your silencing charms are most atrocious.”
“Who says we even cast silencing charms?”
“You're a pig.”
“And you love it.”
Lupin barely conceals a grin. “Regardless, you could've had the decency to tell me, you know.”
“I know,” Sirius murmurs, suckling and biting at the skin of Lupin's neck. “I simply assumed you knew and didn't care. Even that dullard Pettigrew managed to sort things out. You're right, though, I should have said something. Please forgive me?” He slips both hands down the rear of Lupin's trousers.
“I don't fancy sharing you, with anyone,” Lupin gasps.
“Merlin on a crutch,” Regulus blurts out, stalking over to the corner of the flat to root about in the cold box.
“Fine. The next time James wants to climb into my bed, I shall send him packing.”
“Why don't I believe you?”
“I wouldn't,” Regulus comments, still sifting through the cold box.
“Ignore him,” Sirius says. “See you tomorrow then? Same time?”
Lupin's hands clamp onto Sirius's arsecheeks. “Tomorrow.” He plants a sloppy kiss to Sirius's forehead and moves away toward the hearth. Sparing Regulus one last withering stare, he Apparates away with a much louder than necessary crack.
“How—why—do you put up with that?” Regulus snorts, popping the cork on the last bottle of butterbeer.
Sirius flops onto the bed and lights another cigarette. “He's got a nice, long cock.”
“I shouldn't think that would be enough to compensate for the rest.” Regulus sits next to his brother.
“The lycan thing, you mean?”
Regulus shakes his head. “It's not that he's a werewolf. Actually, that's his only redeeming quality.”
“Now you're just being hateful.”
Sirius's remark stings more than it should. “I'm not being hateful. He's a poncey git, plain and simple.” He guzzles his butterbeer and makes to study the design of the hideous carpet. “And he's incredibly naive if he believes that you'll actually stop letting Potter fuck you.”
“I never said anything of the sort. I merely promised to rebuff James the next time he slips between my bed curtains. A world of difference, actually.”
“So Lupin's not only shockingly gullible, he's an idiot as well.”
“Remus has his issues, but then again, don't we all?” He leans back on one arm, blowing smoke rings again. “Hasn't had an easy way of it, and if you got to know him, you'd feel differently. He puts up with me, which really says something.”
“Yes, it says that he possesses incredibly poor taste, not to mention low self-esteem.”
“Someone's in a right foul mood today,” Sirius barks out, jumping from the bed and grabbing the nearly empty bottle of firewhiskey from the cluttered counter top.
“I find that being Crucioed before noon really tends to have a souring effect on one's outlook.”
Sirius takes a sizable swallow of the alcohol. “They'll never change, you know. They'll only get worse as time goes on.”
“And that's all you have to say?”
“What would you have me say?” Sirius paces the room, bottle in hand. “Our parents are monstrous, vile people and it's our rotten luck to live with that fact. Is there something in this that you're not aware of? Some aspect of our situation that hasn't been discussed, analysed or dissected previously?”
Truthfully, Regulus has no idea what he wants his brother to say, either. What he's after is more than mere words, something unspoken yet immediately unimpeachable. He watches as Sirius pushes the dingy curtains aside. Lightning flashes, immediately followed by a thunderclap that rattles the window panes.
Sirius notices Regulus noticing him. “What?”
“Would you mind putting something on? The sight of you prancing about like that is—distracting.”
Sirius rolls his eyes. “You are in a state.” After a few moments of searching through piles of clothing, he pulls on a pair of Muggle denims, leaving the zip down and button undone. “Better?”
“So what was it this time? Grades? Poor performance on the Quidditch pitch? More murmured longings to be in Gryffindor rather than Slytherin? Didn't clean your plate at tea?”
“Declan Wilkes lent me his Walkman for the hols. Kreacher found it and gave it to Mother.”
Sirius picks up a glass from the sink and sniffs it. “Detestable creature. Watch yourself around him; he cannot be trusted.” Shrugging, he fills his glass with firewhiskey. “So you dared bring Muggle filth into the house. Honestly, a Walkman though? Plays those awful cassette tape things, doesn't it?”
“What's that got to do with anything?”
“A real appreciator of Muggle music would know that cassettes are an imperfect medium, all full of hiss and distortion.” Sirius shoves several days' worth of The Daily Prophet off of a small table to reveal his battered phonograph. He opens the lid and carefully holds up a large, black disc. “Vinyl provides the most accurate playback of the recording.” Replacing the record, he summons his wand and taps the phonograph device three times, causing some mellow, Muggle jazz to emanate from the machine's tiny speaker. “Delicious, isn't it?”
“Is it possible for you to ever stay on point?” Regulus rubs his forehead. “Walkman or phonograph, the end result would be the same and I'd still be sitting here hoping to have an intelligent conversation with you.”
“Now who's being overly dramatic?” Sirius snorts, turning off the phonograph. Folding his arms across his chest, he adopts an exaggerated posture meant to suggest attentiveness.
“They never treated you this badly,” Regulus says. “You always brought Muggle things home.”
“And not all of them inanimate, as I recall. But that was then, little brother, before the great disappointment.”
Regulus nods, remembering all too well the depth and breadth of their father's rage at Sirius's coming out as queer part way through his brother's fifth year. If conditions at Grimmauld had been steadily slipping since Sirius's sorting into Gryffindor, they'd entered a full-on tailspin following that particular revelation. “The second great disappointment, you mean.”
Sirius nods, pulling a face. “No one was more surprised when that manky Hat croaked out Gryffindor. I had no idea the thing was so fickle. The Hat did place Pettigrew in Gryffindor that night as well; perhaps it was simply having an off year.”
“Actually, you're a good match for that house. So full of yourself, you're ready to burst at any moment.”
“Love you too, little brother. So why the sudden urgency?”
“I don't think I can stay there any longer, Sirius. You wouldn't believe the dreadful state of the house. And still, they go on as if nothing's amiss.”
“You expect too much of them,” Sirius replies softly, sitting next to Regulus. “They're beyond redemption and they know it, although they'll never admit it to anyone, especially themselves. So they lash out at the only one they can.” He sips his whiskey. “You should get out of there. Soon.”
“I know, but where?” Regulus's heart leaps into his throat as Sirius furrows his brow in thought.
“That bloke Wilkes sounds decent. Perhaps his parents would take you in?”
“No,” Regulus replies far too quickly. “That wouldn't work at all.”
“Why not? Doesn't he, well, fancy you?”
Regulus jumps from the bed as rain pelts the windows. “No, it's not—that's not the point. I—”
“You want to get out and if that's your only option, you should take it. I know the family. Sturdy, if a bit on the boring side. Perhaps not as dull as the Potters, but close.”
“Declan's parents—they're nothing like Mum and Da, but they're still beholden to all that pureblood nonsense. They wouldn't be thrilled to find that their son and I are shirtlifters, that's a sure and certain fact.”
“Don't tell them.”
“I wouldn't, but I'm positive Declan would. He's so immature that he still believes love can conquer all.”
“So, you're in love with him?”
Regulus pulls a face. “Absolutely not. He's the deluded one, not me.”
“But you're still shagging him, eh?”
“That's irrelevant,” Regulus barks, rubbing the back of his neck. “Just believe me when I say it wouldn't work.”
“Fine. One of your other housemates, then.”
“Not a chance. All of them and their families are far worse than the Wilkes are.”
Sirius strokes the stubble on his chin. “Aren't there some Ravenclaws that you're friendly with? Oh, what's his name? Ewan Carmichael? You two used to be thick as thieves if I recall. Surely he'd be pleased to have you.”
Regulus shakes his head in frustration. He does enjoy Carmichael's company from time to time, and while they've enjoyed themselves in the empty locker room on more than one occasion, the admittedly attractive Ravenclaw is even more childish than Declan. “I don't really know him that well,” he lies. “How many times do I have to tell you there's no one from Hogwarts who'll take me in?”
“You'll never find a solution by being so negative, little brother.”
“I don't need a lecture on positive thinking, Sirius.” This isn't at all how Regulus wants things to go. He's planned out everything, practised the conversation over and over in his head, and now that the time has come, he's botching it completely. Why can't he convince his brother see the only solution?
It's so blasted obvious!
“Then what's your point? You keep telling me you need to get away, but you've shot down each and every one of my suggestions out of hand.”
Frustration overtakes Regulus as the storm outside intensifies.
“I don't know what the fucking point is! All I know is that I want—I need—”
Words fail him once more and he leans his forehead to the window casement. A moment later, arms encircle his waist. He breaks out in gooseflesh as Sirius's breath washes over the back of his neck.
“Slow down, dragonarse,” Sirius soothes, hugging him tightly. “Take deep breaths and imagine that calm sea, yeah?”
Regulus closes his eyes and leans into Sirius, placing his hands over his brother's. He struggles to visualise that mythical body of water, their very own “calm sea”. How many times had they come to each other back home, one or both of them distraught over something horrid that their parents had done? He cannot begin to count all those times, when they'd held each other in silence, imagining placid waters, sometimes for hours. “I'd forgotten how much I need this,” he whispers, as much to himself as anyone else.
“You know how to do this on your own,” Sirius reminds him.
“It's not the same—without you.”
“Perhaps, but you've gotten through incidents like this before,” Sirius continues, “and you'll be fine this time. No worries. Right now, I've got ya.”
His anxiety melts away instantly. Regulus turns around, throwing his arms around Sirius and burying his head into his brother's bare chest. The tang of Sirius's musk is irresistible. Sighing contentedly, he slides his hands down to rest on the loose waistband of Sirius's denims. “I knew I could depend on you. Gods, but it's horrid at home with you gone. I miss you so much.”
“As I could imagine. I do tend to brighten up any room.”
Regulus snuggles against Sirius, closing his eyes and allowing his fingertips to drift down inside the back of his brother's denims. He sighs, feeling more relaxed and content than he has in months. He hasn't truly realised the gaping hole left in him by Sirius's absence from Grimmauld Place. He's been limping along, a wounded shadow of himself, incomplete without his brother. Being in Sirius's arms again makes him feel light hearted, almost giddy. Perhaps things really do tend to work out for the best. He's never believed such nonsense, but right here and now, anything seems possible.
“I miss being with you so much. I go into your empty room, and the silence...the emptiness...it's too much to bear."
“I suppose I've seen this coming on for some time now,” Sirius says, stroking Regulus's hair. “You've no idea how difficult it was to leave you behind, with those people, in that place. You understand that I had to get away, and going back there...well, I can't. I'm surprised that you've lasted this long.”
“If I can get away from them—” Regulus tails off, relishing the feeling of his brother's body.
“You will, Reg. We'll get you out of there straightaway.”
“It can be just like it used to be, remember? Both of us together again. And don't worry, I'll stay out of your way, I won't touch any of your things, and I'll make myself scarce when your wolf boy comes round.”
Sirius pushes him away, his head cocked to one side. “Whatever are you going on about?”
“Moving in with you, of course. At least for now. If you speak to Uncle Alphard, you might persuade him to allow me to move into one of the other flats here, once one is available, that is.” Regulus's heart sinks as Sirius shakes his head.
“You can't move in here.”
There is a finality to Sirius's statement that chills Regulus to the bone.
“You said you'd help me, didn't you?” Regulus tries to hold on tighter as Sirius pulls away.
“Yes, I said that, and I will help.” Sirius stalks around the sofa, hands planted on his hips. “Meaning that I'd be happy to go with you to speak with the Wilkes, to explain the situation at home. To support you and assist in convincing them to take you in. To find another alternative should that prove unworkable. But to move in here? With me?” He throws his arms wide. “That's simply not possible.”
The room seems to tilt sideways as more lightning flashes beyond the windows. Thunder rocks the entire flat as Regulus stumbles toward the sofa and drops into it. “But you must let me stay here. I've nowhere else to go.” He twists about on the cushions, attempting to catch Sirius's gaze. “Please, Sirius. I need you.”
Sirius refuses to look at him, continuing to pace the small flat like a trapped animal.
Time slows to a crawl as water begins to plink from the ceiling into a small pan on the table. Seconds drag and the very air in the room becomes concentrated, heavy and oppressive.
This isn't happening.
He's made some progress but it's all slipping away now. He's got to convince Sirius to take him in. There's no one else in all the world that can save him.
“Please,” he repeats, sickened by the neediness of his own voice.
“We can't go back to the way things were,” Sirius says evenly. “It's too easy to fall into old habits. We're both older now, stronger and smarter. Having you here would be...counterproductive.” He meets Regulus's gaze, the anguish in his eyes tempered with a implacable coldness.
Regulus moves to his brother, throwing his arms around Sirius's waist. “How can you say that? There was nothing that we couldn't face, because we knew we had each other to depend on. You're the only one I really—”
“Don't!” Sirius wriggles out of Regulus's embrace.
“Don't what? Speak the truth? Don't remind you how it was then, how we withstood the madness, together? The things we did, what we said to each other?”
Sirius moves away, shaking his head. “The past is just that, Regulus. We need to look ahead if we're ever to leave it behind.”
“Some things need to be remembered,” Regulus murmurs, his mind aswirl.
More lightning, and then a revelation!
How could he have forgotten?
“Wait, wait!” he calls out, leaping from the sofa and snatching up his jacket.
Sirius ceases his pacing and regards him hesitantly.
Regulus extracts the wooden box. “You'll never guess what this is! Kreacher found it in Father's study.” He crosses to Sirius and offers up his prize. “Go on. Look inside.”
Sirius takes the box, turning it over in his hands, studying it intently.
“Open it!” Regulus cries out, rushing toward his brother, startling him in the process.
“Calm yourself,” Sirius says sharply, pausing a moment before releasing the catch and opening the box. His eyes brighten as he views what is inside. “Merlin's balls, but I'd never thought I'd see this again! I was certain that Father destroyed it.”
His brother's reaction causes some of the weight to lift from Regulus's shoulders. “I couldn't believe it either. Looks no worse for wear, eh?”
“No, not at all,” Sirius replies. “Here, help me move the table.”
The brothers shove the small table and chairs against the wall, clearing a space in the centre of the room. Sirius carefully extracts the tiny object from the box, setting it on the floor. Summoning his wand, he murmurs an incantation, and with a bright flash, the thing is instantly returned to its normal proportions.
“Good thing I know every one of Da's spells forward and backward,” Sirius says, his eyes locked onto the restored object. “Hello, beautiful.” He runs his fingers over the motorbike's gleaming front fender. “It's been far too long.”
Regulus watches as his brother mounts the bike and places both hands on the handle grips. Sirius's smile is bright enough to ignite a thousand suns. He remembers the day Sirius first brought the Muggle contrivance home, purchased with Galleons Uncle Alphard had given him for his fifteenth birthday. A 1962 BSA A-7, whatever that was. One motorbike was much like any other to him, and he hasn't a clue as to the particular allure of this machine, although it's evident that Sirius does.
“I thought Mum was going to pass out right there in the garden,” Sirius recalls.
“Da almost touched it,” Regulus adds, recalling the faint glimmer of appreciation that had manifested in their father's dull eyes. It had been clear that their mother had wanted to dispose of the motorbike immediately, but Orion had inexplicably overridden her wishes. Their father never explained his reasoning then, or his abrupt change of heart barely six months later.
Everything went profoundly wrong immediately after that.
“You'll have to shrink it again to get it outside,” he says, placing a hand on Sirius's shoulder.
“Damn right we will,” Sirius replies, eyes ablaze. “Thanks for this. We'll definitely take her for a spin once this blasted rain stops.”
“Sounds brilliant.” Regulus picks up his rucksack and plops down on the sofa. “I shouldn't have any problem sleeping here, although I'm sure the bed's much more comfortable.” He musters what he hopes to be his most winning smile, yet when he glances at his brother, it fades instantly.
Sirius isn't smiling. In fact, he isn't even looking at him. Instead, he leans forward, hanging his head so low that his collar-length locks graze the surface of the motorbike's petrol tank.
A sense of overwhelming loss and hopelessness washes over Regulus in a suffocating wave.
“You don't think that this alters anything?” Sirius asks, his expression somewhere between confusion and anger. “I'm grateful that you brought the motorbike to me, but you can't stay here. This is mine, understand? You've no idea what it's taken for me to get this far.” He swipes the hair from his face, anguished but clearly steadfast. “You've got to find your own path, little brother.”
“I don't know what that means!”
Sirius dismounts the motorbike, the unfastened denims barely clinging to his narrow hips.
Regulus hoists himself from the sofa, his head throbbing. “You're all I've got, Sirius. You're my last hope. I need you.”
“You seriously overestimate me. I don't have any answers.”
“Yes, you do. Look at you! You've escaped, you got away from the insanity and you're happy. You've friends, people who love you, who want you. You've got a fucking future! All I want is a chance for the same thing. You can show me how to do that.”
Sirius stares at him for a long moment before turning away. He grabs the bottle of firewhiskey, draining it in a single gulp. “And you deserve a chance for happiness as well. Everyone does.” He whirls around, his face red. “But you've got to do it on your own terms. Simply doing what I do isn't valid, Regulus. You've got to stop pretending to be me and finally be yourself.”
For the first time, the flames of anger flicker to life in Regulus's heart. “Pretending to be you? Is that what you really think I'm doing here?”
“I think—no, I feel that you're grasping at straws, trying to latch onto something, anything to pull yourself out of the rubbish heap that is our family. Honestly, I don't blame you.” Sirius drags his fingers over the saddle of the motorbike. “You've got to work to be your own person, not some half-arsed copy of me.”
“I don't want to be you, Sirius. It's not—what little brother doesn't look up to and admire his older brother?”
“You're pushing too hard. It's more than that, and you know it.”
“That's total shit,” is all Regulus can muster.
“Is it? You never had any aspirations to be sorted into Gryffindor until I was,” Sirius spits out. “And it was only after I told you that I fancied blokes that you decided you harboured similar feelings. You couldn't possibly have known what you wanted back then. How could you? No one that young knows what they truly want.”
“Oh, I see. So what you're saying is that I'm queer only because you are?” Regulus storms across the flat, sweeping the counter top clear with a swipe of his arm. “I don't know why I'm the way I am, any more than you know why you're the way you are. You weren't any older than I am when you decided on your path or whatever the fuck you call it.”
Sirius stands there impassively, weathering his onslaught as though made of marble. “You've deluded yourself. Can't you see? You believe you're in love with me and that doesn't make you queer. That's someplace neither you nor I need to go.”
“I don't know what the fuck I am!” he bellows in response. “All I know is, I want this.” He drops to his knees, savagely yanking down Sirius's denims. He grins crookedly at the sight of his brother's heavy erection. Pausing only a second, he grasps Sirius's cock at the base, laving the head of his brother's erect member with relish. He then swallows as much of Sirius's prick as he can, sucking and slurping for all he's worth. Sirius's hands wrap around his head, their fingers digging into his hair, holding on for dear life.
That Sirius isn't pushing him away or protesting speaks volumes.
Regulus continues ravaging Sirius's cock, taking in the entire length until he feels he might gag. Sucking off Declan has never been like this, but then again, his housemate's prick is not nearly as magnificent at his brother's. He slowly works his way back up Sirius's erection, dragging his teeth along its underside.
Sirius gasps and pushes him away then, stumbling into the back of the sofa, denims at his thighs, his fat dick red and heavy. “All right, intent on proving to me that you're a good little shirtlfiter then? Here's a little lesson you'll find most useful.”
Regulus watches as Sirius shoves his denims down, kicking them off and then sending them flying across the flat.
“Let's see if you're as good as your word, little one.”
Sirius advances on him, eyes wide and feral. He roughly grabs Regulus's shirt and shoves him toward the bed.
The backs of Regulus's knees hit the edge of the mattress and he loses his balance, collapsing into the tangle of bedclothes. “I'll show you what I'm good for,” he hisses, sitting up and yanking off his Slytherin tee shirt. He kicks off his trainers and pulls off his socks, Sirius staring at him hungrily all the while.
The storm outside continues unabated, a mere spark in comparison to the inferno now raging deep within Regulus. Ripping open the button and zip of his trousers, he rolls back onto the mattress, lifting his legs into the air and shoving his trousers and y-fronts off in a single, fluid motion. He then scoots across the mattress, spreading his legs wide. He toys with his fully erect prick, his other hand behind his head. “Time to put your Galleons where your mouth is, big brother. Show me how wrong I am.”
Sirius stands there, his expression glacial.
“What are you waiting for, prodigal son of Grimmauld Place? You know you want to. Do it.”
More lightning and thunder.
Angry rain pelts the cloudy windowpanes.
The tiny flame of the wall lamps flickers in an errant, indoor breeze.
“You don't know what you want.”
“It won't change anything.
“Just fucking do it!” Regulus grasps his aching cock, stroking it feverishly. He cannot make out Sirius's face clearly in the increasing gloom, but he senses a faint smile upon his brother's lips.
After what seems like an eternity, Sirius climbs into the bed, his knees astride Regulus's hips. He utters an incantation and the leather straps wrap around Regulus's wrists, entwining themselves about the bars on the headboard and stretching themselves taut. “This won't make any difference,” he whispers, lowering his body onto Regulus's.
Regulus gasps when their hard cocks align; he gulps for air as Sirius presses fully against him, bare skin to bare, sweat-slicked skin. He strains against the bonds, which are apparently charmed to exert precisely opposite pressure in matching proportions.
“Change is the only constant,” he hears himself say.
Sirius mutters another spell and a warm sensation engulfs Regulus's groin, quickly spreading under and around his bollocks. Sirius begins to grind his erection into him, languidly at first but with gradually increasing speed.
Regulus bucks himself upward and into his brother, timing his movements to match Sirius's. He cranes his neck, licking at Sirius's collarbone, attempting to nip and bite at Sirius's skin.
Sirius finally looks at him then, eyelids heavy with lust, his sweaty hair hanging down and torturing Regulus's brow. “Decide. No going back after this.”
Regulus jerks his hips into Sirius's. “Shut your hole and get to it.” He yanks on the bonds with all his might, causing the headboard of the bed to smack into the wall. His heart pounds in his chest, anticipation of the step they're about to take making his head swim. How long has he dreamed of this, the ultimate consummation of their relationship?
Sirius says something, possibly another incantation, perhaps a curse to the Fates. The next moment, he's hoisting Regulus's legs up and over his shoulders. Sirius re-positions himself, jamming the head of his erection into the crack of Regulus's arse.
The world dissolves into a shower of sparks as Sirius drives his cock into him. The pain is exquisite, mind numbing, completely devouring and insatiable. He cries out, thrashing his head back and forth as Sirius ploughs into him, deeper and deeper, tearing him asunder.
“Gunnnnnhhh,” he groans, thrusting upward and impaling himself fully upon Sirius's cock. He wants to yell, to sing, to pray—everything all at once, but words are impossible. He clenches around Sirius's cock, holding his breath, relishing the moment.
Sirius shatters his hastily constructed world in a nanosecond, slowly withdrawing his length, only to slam it back home once more. His brother repeats the process, faster each time.
Regulus's universe fades away until everything, Hogwarts, Grimmauld, Diagon, the dingy flat—all cease to exist. Nothing is real but the scent of Sirius, his musk, his tangy sweat, his cock pounding into him, making them as one.
Sirius pistons his arsehole, panting now, grunting at the exertion of it.
A red heat begins to blossom deep within Regulus, mushrooming out and upward, consuming him molecule by molecule. He lets go, submitting to the maelstrom of lust as the icy hot inferno blots out further cogent thought.
He has no idea whether he's spoken or screamed his brother's name. The essence of Sirius permeates him, weaves its way into every part of his body, so that all of him virtually sings it in an endless loop.
Regulus comes then, his ejaculate coating his abdomen, droplets of his semen spattering his chest and chin. His throat constricts and he gasps for air, yet still Sirius ravages him. Just when he feels as though he can take no more, he senses a slowing to Sirius's movements, a notable shortness of breath.
The next instant, Sirius shudders to a halt in mid-thrust, arching his back and uttering gibberish to the ceiling.
Regulus draws in a deep breath as his brother's load fills him. He pauses for just a second before ramming himself upward into Sirius one last time, railing against the magical bonds with all his might..
Sirius slumps down, spent and breathless. “Statem Solvo!”
The binding leathers unwind and Regulus throws his arms around Sirius. He clenches himself around Sirius's softening cock, attempting to prolong their connection as long as possible. He nuzzles the side of Sirius's neck, suckling his way upward until his lips meet Sirius's.
Sirius attempts to pull away, but Regulus persists, thrusting his tongue into his brother's mouth.
Sirius briefly returns the gesture before pulling out of Regulus and flopping sideways onto the mattress. “Doesn't change a thing,” he says breathlessly.
Regulus meets his brother's gaze but doesn't respond.
His blood runs cold at the fear in his brother's eyes, at the abject terror threatening to erupt from Sirius's every pore. It's so clear now, so obvious that even a blind man could have sensed it. All these years, he's imagined that Sirius has succeeded in conquering their past, that his brother had put Grimmauld Place and its infectious decay behind him.
Now, he sees the truth.
He's been such a fool.
He understands now.
He knows that Sirius hasn't conquered a thing, how the same sense of dread that eats away at his own heart is still at work in his older brother. All the bravado merely a false front, a pathetic attempt to conceal the creeping darkness and consuming despair overwhelming Sirius's soul.
Regulus understands that Sirius is not his salvation but merely a harbinger of what is in store for him.
There is nothing else to say.
Truth is truth.
He rolls on his side, facing away from his brother, pulling the thin sheet up to his waist.
It's all clear to him now, every bit of it. He's been right all along in that Sirius is the only one that could help him, the only one that could illuminate his true path.
Mostly right, anyway.
Some things simply aren't meant to be.
With a hastily muttered Nox, the flat is plunged into darkness.
~~~~~ * ~~~~~
Electric blue skies without a cloud in sight.
Regulus closes his eyes again, the wind roaring in his ears. He holds Sirius tighter, burying his head against his brother's broad back.
The motorbike's engine wails and screams as Sirius navigates them through the cramped streets of Diagon.
Regulus is numb, blank, as if the previous night's thunderstorms have surged through him, leaving him clean yet barren.
It's all just another lurid joke played upon him by a callous universe, nothing more.
His mind wanders until he's aware of the distinct sounds of traffic and motorcar horns.
He opens his eyes, blinking at the brightness of it all.
It's strangely flat, unreal, barely two-dimensional.
A few more moments pass and Sirius brings the motorbike to a jerky halt.
Regulus looks around blearily, the familiarity of the small park finally registering upon him.
“We're here,” Sirius says, not bothering to kill the motorbike's engine.
Regulus dismounts the cycle, adjusting his rucksack and staring at Sirius.
“Let me know what I can do to help.” Deep grey eyes, bottomless, immutable, stare back at him.
He knows I know.
“You already have.”
Sirius averts his gaze. “I'll go with you to see Wilkes' parents, if that's what you still want. You understand why we can't be together, yeah? How it would be the ruin of us both?”
Regulus remains silent, studying his brother, memorising every freckle and pore, the grey of his eyes, the fall of his raven locks on his shoulders...
“Good bye, Sirius.” He turns away then and trudges across the park.
He doesn't turn around when the motorbike's engine revs repeatedly, nor does he look when the tire squeals against the pavement.
By the time Regulus reaches the kerb in front of Grimmauld Place, the sound of Sirius's motorbike is lost amongst the endless cacophony of Muggle London. He rounds the back of the block of row houses, calling out the incantation that drops the obscuring and protecting wards for number twelve.
He steps through the back door, navigating the dim, narrow hallway.
Regulus stops to gaze into the study, Orion asleep in his desk chair, his head lolling crazily to one side. If not for the laboured snores, one might think him to be dead.
“Did Master Regulus enjoy his little adventure?”
Regulus looks down to see Kreacher peering up at him, the elf's expression one of immense satisfaction.
“It was most—illuminating,” Regulus replies flatly.
Kreacher snorts. “Knew that it would be, I did. Kreacher rarely wrong about such things.”
“When my father wakes, please tell him that I need to speak with him. About Lord Voldemort.”
“Very good Master,” Kreacher answers. “About time. Father will be most pleased, indeed. Is there anything else?”
“As a matter of fact, there is.” Regulus rummages about in his rucksack and removes Declan's Walkman. He stares at the Muggle device briefly before handing it to the house elf. “Destroy that thing, immediately. I have no further need of it.”
Kreacher takes the device, nodding sagely. “As you wish, Master.” With a soft pop, the elf disappears.
Regulus shuffles into the parlour, dropping his rucksack at the doorway. He flops into the hideous chaise and stares at the tapestry of the family tree.
All things must pass, even The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.
Oblivion is inevitable, inescapable, it seems.
He may have failed to escape his destiny, but there are still options.
Minor variances that a person can affect before the looming finality of it all.
To leave a mark, to ensure that one's name continues even after the actual person is dust.
Though his decent into shadow is certain, why must he make that journey alone?
Aren't experiences always best when shared?
Why not take as many down with him as he can?
Regulus shifts in the chaise, a grin tugging at the corners of his mouth.
It's a brilliant idea.
Quite elegant, really.
Just like the tapestry.
“The artistry is exquisite,” he says to the empty room.
~~~* fin *~~~