Introspection
An entry to the "Turn Back Time" contest that fits neatly with my Muriel stories.
by Daintress

He sat back on his haunches and gazed around at the trees. They were not appreciably larger than he recalled. -Twelve years- No noticeable expression could be found on his features, and he thought, fuzzily and not for the first time, that Padfoot could deal with it better than he could.

Sirius Black had never had a disposition for introspection. In fact, the very idea of him sitting calmly and pondering something would have sent Prongs into hysterics. -Don't think about James- he scolded himself firmly, blinking. But twelve years of forced silence would quiet even the rowdiest of souls. He was willing to accept the change, if it meant he could keep his soul at all – something he no longer took for granted.

The dementors were coming for him. He knew that much from the newspapers he'd nicked as he traveled. Headmaster Dumbledore had granted permission for them to guard Hogwarts, unknowingly protecting Pettigrew from the one person who knew him for what he was. A flash of bitterness welled up in him, but his tense muscles didn't so much as twitch. Dumbledore. What could have been different if they'd only told him? But James had been insistent. "Don't trouble him with this," James had said, his boyish grin still as ready as ever on that handsome face. "We're the Marauders. We can handle it ourselves." Sirius had known this for the show of false bravery that it was, but had given in. It had always been them against the world. Only now did he see the arrogance of it, the folly. After all, they'd known for certain that there was a mole. Sirius had suspected Remus. James had suspected Deesia -Don't think about Deesia- and they'd both been wary about Hestia Jones, Caradoc Dearborn, and Fabian Prewett. But not with all the gold in Gringotts could they have been convinced –

The sound of a twig snapping brought him wheeling around, thoughts forgotten as his survival instinct kicked in. The darkening wood should have appeared practically impenetrable, but his heightened senses allowed him to find the threat much more quickly than a human could have done. Puffskeins, several of them, were wending their way inelegantly through the trees. His eyes rolled up in unexpected humor. He'd had a puffskein as a child, he remembered dimly. He was sure he'd had one. Or had it been Regulus'?

Now there was a name he hadn't thought of for years: Regulus Black, the good son; Regulus Black, the Slytherin; Regulus Black, the death eater. Regulus Black was dead. His eyes drifted back toward the black mass in front of him. He had no good memories of Regulus from school. If anything, his own brother had hated him more than Snape had done. His mind shied away from thoughts of Snape as he cast his memory back further, looking for and finding a time when Regulus had been his best mate.

A Christmas party at Malfoy Manor was the first time he'd really seen potential in his younger brother for any kind of fun, or at least any fun that didn't directly involve hexing him while their parents weren't watching. Sirius had been eight, and Regulus only six.

The Malfoys were known to be stuffy and overbearing about nearly everything, so it hadn't been any surprise to Sirius to find himself bored within the first few moments of their arrival. A simpering house elf had taken his traveling cloak, and after several minutes of dull, adult conversation, a second elf led them into a reception parlor.

Regulus, noticing that their parents were not following, had grabbed the sleeve of Sirius' robe to make him aware of the fact. "So?" he'd asked challengingly. Regulus had looked completely out of his depth for a moment. The idea of being separated from Mother appeared to be too much for him, and Sirius had just resigned himself to an evening alone with Lucius, and whichever of their common cousins had been blackmailed or threatened into attending, when the younger boy squared his shoulders.

"So nothing," he'd replied, his tone an exact copy of Sirius'. Then he'd marched past him into the room with all the righteousness a six year old could muster, which was quite a lot. It had been a much more interesting evening with Regulus NOT attached to their father's leg. Together they had managed to borrow Lucius' toy wand and charm the deviled eggs to look like eyeballs, which Regulus (who looked the most innocent) slipped into the punch bowl.

A low grumble had begun from somewhere nearby, and it took Padfoot a moment to realize that it was him. His muzzle opened and a short bark emerged. It occurred to him that he was laughing. Laughing over charmed eyeballs in the Malfoys' ruby punchbowl. He couldn't recall the last time he had found anything funny, and the thought sobered him. How could it be funny? How could anything about Regulus make him laugh now, knowing how he'd failed him? For he had: he had failed him just as surely as he'd failed James and Lily.

Being sorted into Gryffindor had been his salvation and he knew it, but it had been his brother's damnation. He knew that as well. Looking back, he could imagine how it had seemed to Regulus. The older brother he had adored - had striven to be like – had betrayed the family by breaking tradition, by making friends with mudbloods. Their mother had probably talked about it all the time that first year, and Regulus could hardly be expected to ignore it. Sirius had come home for his first Christmas Holdiay from Hogwarts to find that Regulus hated him. If he'd only been a little more understanding. If he'd only talked to him instead of automatically returning his hatred, instead of taking his anger with Mother out on Regulus. If he'd only worked harder to convince him that the dark arts weren't the panacea they'd been taught that they were. If only...

But there was nothing for it now. His brother had died and died poorly, from all accounts. Bellatrix had been certain to make him aware as they sat, separated by the echoing stone of the prison walls. He could still hear her voice carrying around corners, bounding and rebounding as though she'd hollered into a well. She'd watched Regulus die, and told Sirius everything, intent on tormenting him even beyond what the dementors could do. How he'd hated her. She, too, had once been counted an ally in that surreal period of his life before he'd begun school. But he couldn't bring himself to hate her now. Unhinged as she was, she was family. All he had left, really. But family had never been important to him before, and frankly applying the Slytherin familial loyalty clause to Bellatrix was a paved and labeled path back to hell. He determinedly put her out of his mind.

A light had flickered on in the castle ahead of him, and his canine eyes focused on it, identifying it as candlelight, though no color seemed evident. The school was nearly deserted just now, but soon the students would be disembarking from the train and making the trek back to Hogwarts. A vision of the Hogwarts Express flickered before his eyes, incongruously red against the blacks and grays of the forest around him. What he wouldn't give to be boarding that train as a first year again. Another chance to do what he should have done from the beginning, what he WOULD have done if he hadn't suddenly, inexplicably, begun to care what James Potter thought.

He remembered it clearly. Even in his animagus form the images were crisp and clear and bright. He could see himself standing in the corridor of the train, a Slytherin crest already attached to his robes, though he'd not yet been sorted. He'd had every intention of hexing that boy until he could barely walk. He wanted to be in a cabin by himself with the new pureblood boy he'd met on the platform so they could talk, and this Peter kid wouldn't leave. But as he'd raised his wand, James had frowned. And Sirius had known, KNOWN, that if he just hexed him, he and James could never be friends, not truly.

In that single moment, he recognized now, he had decided the fates of them all. If he'd done it, if he'd hexed Peter Pettigrew that first day, he would have been sorted into Slytherin, and Regulus would have never hated him. He would never have come to know James and Remus. There would have been no Marauders. Maybe Peter would have gone into Hufflepuff, where Sirius had been sure he was headed on that day so long ago. Maybe Sirius himself would have taken the mark. Maybe there would have been no betrayal, and today James Potter would be head of the Aurors, alive to see his son off on the Hogwarts Express. Maybe.

He shook his head as if to clear it, an odd mannerism in his current form. He couldn't stay here, couldn't dwell on what might be different now, had he only been the person his parents expected him to be. He had never truly wanted to be that person, and he couldn't let his guilt drive from him the unexpected courage and honor he had found among the Gryffindors. It had gotten him this far, after all.

If he could have set his jaw, he would have done so. It was time to move on – go somewhere safe where he could plan his assassination attempt. There was no going back now, and no way to fix what was done. But forward? Forward there was Harry. And he would do whatever had to be done to ensure that the betrayal that had sent him to Azkaban was not repeated. He would do whatever had to be done to ensure that Harry was protected better than James had been.
AN: This is my entry for the Turn Back Time contest at Toujours Pur (a link to which site you can find on my homepage). The contest ends with the end of October, so I'll repost and let you know how I did!