A/N: MaryRoyale spent a lot of time inventing the complex Black family structure, and I must give her credit for designating Arcturus as the Patriarch of the family. Her stories are amazing – go read them!


Sirius was not looking forward to spending Christmas with his family, even though he and Reggie had been friendlier since Hermione's interference began. Well, friendlier in a distant way. There was still the matter of their House differences to overcome, and years of acrimony. At least now neither was actively attacking the other, giving each other civil nods in passing and across the Hall at breakfast.

It was enough, for now.

No, Sirius was worried about his parents. His mother, Walburga, was as crazy as they came. Even as a child he had sensed there was something wrong with her. It was in the flashing of her eyes and the venomous words that dripped from her pursed lips. His father, Orion had become more withdrawn as Sirius and Regulus grew older. The quiet, solitary man was a far cry from the regal figure of Sirius's early childhood. A man who once made public appearances, and attended the Wizengamot, to advance their family's position now sent proxies instead. On one thing only did he voice an opinion: his sons' duty to their house.

Neither parent was going to be thrilled at his choice of steady girlfriend, and Sirius was certain that Regulus had kept them informed of the blossoming relationship. It was the sort of thing his Slytherin little brother would do.

He was not surprised when they weren't there to greet the boys at King's Cross, nor that they did not respond to greetings when the boys had made their way to Grimmauld Place. Regulus avoided Sirius's eyes as they trudged up the stairs to their respective rooms – one proper Slytherin green, the other defiant Gryffindor red.

Sirius surveyed his room with distaste, solemnly swearing to not unpack his trunk. The pin-ups on the wall, while still exciting in a dirty kind of way, had nothing on his beautiful girlfriend. He suddenly wished he had a picture of her, and decided that he would go to Diagon Alley at some point to purchase one. It was as good an excuse to leave the house as any, now that he was likely not welcome at the Potters. Cousin Dorea had been most emphatic in her letter to him – he had better treat Hermione like the lady she was, or there would be consequences. His response had assured her that he was really serious about Hermione, and their correspondence had ended there.

But really, Dorea or his cousin Charlus were the least of his worries. James was still angry with him for taking Hermione's side over the last few months. They had barely spoken to one another since Halloween, and he missed his pseudo-brother dearly.

With a crack, Kreacher appeared in his room. The elf's face was twisted in habitual disdain, which only deepened when he laid eyes on Sirius.

"Dinner is ready, Young Master," Kreacher said, bowing low. Sirius glared at him and did not respond.

~0~

The days between the train ride and Christmas passed quickly and slowly. Sirius managed to avoid his parents, and Regulus, for the majority of it. Every time Regulus tried to corner his brother - to talk, to listen, to just communicate - Sirius managed to elude him. It was a big house.

"We are expecting company," his mother told him as he entered the dining room on Christmas Eve. Regulus nodded calmly, every inch the Slytherin, but inside he was quaking. His letters to Cousin Bellatrix had gone unanswered and unacknowledged. The guilt of writing them grew with each stroke of his quill. He planned to seek his father's advice on the matter, but that would have to wait for another evening apparently.

The doorbell howled and Kreacher went to answer it. A short moment later, Lucius Malfoy followed Kreacher into the dining room.

"Lucius," his mother simpered, a fake smile pasted across her face. "What a pleasure it is to welcome you into our home."

"Charmed, Lady Black," Lucius replied with a bow. "My Lord Black."

Orion barely acknowledged him, choosing instead to stare moodily into his brandy. Anyone else but a Slytherin would have missed the slight furrowing of Lucius's brows, but Regulus didn't. He wondered at his father's nonchalance, but it was such a frequent state of being that it warranted no comment in his opinion.

"You have my most sincere condolences, Lady Black, on the loss of your cousin."

"Oh! Dear Bella, a true example to us all of the power of the House of Black. Such a tragedy."

Lucius raised a single eyebrow at Lady Black, who grimaced but did not elaborate.

"What brings you to our humble home this evening, Lord Malfoy?" Regulus asked, skipping over the awkward silence. Lucius smiled thinly in reply.

"I was rather hoping to speak with your brother," Lucius replied. "Unlike some in his family, he has forgotten his proper place in the world."

A cacophony of hurried steps heralded Sirius's arrival in the dining room.

"You're late," was his mother's only greeting.

"I'm so sorry," Sirius snarked.

"Watch your tongue when you speak to your mother, young Black," Lucius warned, drawing Sirius's attention. The younger wizard froze.

"What are you doing here, Malfoy?" he asked, bravado straightening his spine. Behind Malfoy's back, Regulus tried to get Sirius's attention.

"Sirius!" his mother thundered.

"Mother! I'm simply surprised that a filthy Death Eater like-"

Walburga and Malfoy's curses hit Sirius simultaneously, knocking him backwards into the wall. He huffed in pain, dropping to the ground. Regulus looked on with wide eyes.

Orion stared into his brandy.

"It's a perfectly reasonable question," Sirius wheezed. He spat blood onto the ancient carpet and Walburga called for Kreacher.

Though long used to the grimness of his childhood home, Regulus shivered as the party entered the Small Dining Room. The walls were hung with dark red velvet that looked as old as it was – from the 19th century at least. Dark wood and flickering candles gave the room a forbidding air, and in no way tempted his already waning appetite.

Regulus and Sirius were across from each other at the long dinner table in the less formal dining room. The formal dining room seated twenty-four comfortably; this eight place-setting table was a breakfast nook by comparison. His father, Orion, sat at the head. There was a glazed look in his eyes and he ate little. Walburga was next her husband, eating with precise viciousness. The potatoes must have had Muggle relations to be speared so cruelly beneath her fork. Lucius rounded out their party, seated at the foot of the table.

"Pass the potatoes, please?" Regulus asked his brother. Sirius did so, earning a scoff from their mother.

"You could not Summon them? I am disappointed in you Regulus."

Regulus kept his eyes on his plate, scooping out the mashed potatoes into a large heap. "We are still forbidden from using magic away from Hogwarts, Mother. I meant no offense."

She scoffed again. "Pish posh. We are Blacks. Even if the Ministry could find this house, they would not approach. They still respect pure blood, no matter how lax their policies have become. Do you not agree, Orion?"

Orion made a noncommittal noise and Walburga smiled thinly. Lucius toasted silently in agreement and returned to watching Sirius, which he had been doing for most of the meal.

"To which policies are you referring, mother?" Sirius asked.

"Oh, the ones that allow Muggle-borns wands and such."

Sirius rolled his eyes but did not rise to the bait. His father hummed again. Regulus ate his potatoes.

It was a typical Christmas Eve until it wasn't.

His parents were in the habit of questioning both sons closely about their schooling – not just academics, but also their social interactions – after the close of their Christmas dinner. This was more relevant for Regulus with his Slytherin politicking, but it was a chance for both parents to put down Sirius.

After dinner was finished, Regulus and Sirius followed their parents and guest up the stairs to Orion's study. While their parents seated themselves in the arm chairs before the fireplace, the boys took up their expected positions: shoulders back, feet apart, arms folded behind their backs. Walburga's wand was out and the cruel smile distorted her mouth. Orion's gaze was fixed on the flames, and he drank mechanically.

To Regulus's surprise, Lucius took up a post near the door. His cane-wand rested in his hand, primed for action if it would be needed. He smiled thinly at Regulus, who did his best to conceal his shiver. Judging by the amusement in Lucius's gaze, he was not successful.

"Regulus, how does your House?" Walburga asked.

Regulus described some paltry interactions with some well-connected sixth years and kept an eye on his brother out of the corner of his eye. Sirius's eyes said he was a million miles away, probably thinking about Granger.

Regulus did not know what to think about his brother's girlfriend. On the one hand, he had been told all his life that Mudbloods were worse than worthless. There was centuries of doctrine and precedent for this conclusion – how many had become Minister, or made great magical discoveries? None!

On the other, he knew what his eyes told him. Hermione Granger was a powerful witch, more powerful than him for certain. She cared for his brother, and believed that the brothers Black should lay aside their differences. It was something he had wanted for a long time, ever since he was Sorted, but for the first time there seemed to be a chance of it happening.

How could he hate the witch that gave him back his brother?

"And what of your letters to Bellatrix?" Walburga asked Regulus, jarring him from his wandering thoughts.

"What letters to Bellatrix?" Sirius asked sharply, turning to look at his brother.

"Hold your tongue! It is not yet your turn." Walburga glared at him. "Regulus, continue."

Regulus's eyes darted a glance at his brother, and he blushed. "Unfortunately, I have not heard back from Cousin Bellatrix since Halloween. I have sent only one letter since, and stopped when I did not hear back. I assume she had all the information she needed.

"And what information was she asking for?" Lucius asked. Regulus cleared his throat and shot a apologetic glance at Sirius.

"A witch appeared in the school at the Welcome Feast. Bellatrix wanted to know about her."

Sirius Black was a shoot first and ask questions kind of wizard. That's why what happened next was so predictable.

"You were writing to Bellatrix about Hermione?" he shouted, abandoning his interrogation pose and shoving his brother against the mantle of the fireplace. "After everything she's done for you? After the kindness she's shown us? You would do that? Why?"

"Sirius!" Walburga shouted.

Orion looked on vacantly.

"I-" Regulus couldn't get the breath to reply – Sirius had hit his windpipe.

"Why?"

"I didn't know her then," Regulus choked out. "I didn't know."

Sirius shoved him again before being violently thrown across the room. Regulus coughed and looked around at his parents.

Orion looked on vacantly.

Walburga brandished her wand.

"That's enough, Sirius Orion. You have much to answer for. Crucio!"

Sirius screamed.

"Your brother has been doing his duty to his family, keeping us informed of your little affair. Who is this mudblood? Who is this whore? Crucio!"

Sirius's body jerked unnaturally, his face contorted in pain. Tears streamed down his face, and he was sobbing. Lucius chuckled from the door. Regulus looked on helplessly between his brother and his father.

His vacantly staring, uninvolved father.

Unbidden, early memories of his father arose. Orion holding Walburga back from casting jinxes at Sirius shortly after his first year of Hogwarts. Orion taking his wife's wand when they were children and she got a bit too overzealous.

He wondered what had changed to keep his father from protecting them.

He shuffled over to his father, wincing at the new bruises that were surely blooming on his back.

"Father?" he whispered, barely audible over Walburga's shouting and Sirius's cries. "Father? Please, help us."

"Why was the Dark Lord so interested in her? Answer me! Crucio!"

Regulus waved a hand in front of his father's eyes, unsurprised when they did not follow the motion.

The realization hit him with all the subtlety of a troll. His father was being Imperiused! How had he not seen it before?

Unlike Sirius, Regulus was a good Black. He read his Dark Arts books, even the ones about Unforgiveables. He could fix this.

Regulus dug for his wand, which was in his pants pocket, and pointed it at his father.

"Libertas Mens!"

Orion took deep, gasping breath, and grabbed his son's wand. In a flash he was on his feet, advancing on Walburga. Lucius attempted to stop him, but was flung through the door and out the house with a flick of Orion's wand.

Orion neared his wife, wand raised.

"Avada Kedavra!" Walburga's shrill Crucios were cut off by the whirring of invisible wings and a flash of green light.

Regulus hurried over to his brother, who was coughing up blood onto the dark carpet. He ignored the still body of his mad mother.

"That is the last time you harm this family, Walburga" Orion said quietly. "That is enough."