Author's Note: Essentially I was just curious to post something on for the first time in like three years. Mostly because the only things I've got up on here are depressingly old and I figured I'd ...show off... the fact that my writing is much better than it was in 2004. Mercifully.
UnknowableRoom dot org is the place to be, man. Check it out.
Sirius thought you could tell a lot about a family from their Christmas tree.
For instance, the Potters' Christmas tree was gigantic. It was a massive compilation of artificial branches, brightly coloured lights and ridiculous china ornaments of animals or snowmen or Santa, often doing something 'cute', like one of the mice skating on a Popsicle. There was an angel at the top, real, edible candy-canes dangling from the branches and shiny, festive Christmas baubles waiting to be broken. It was, as far as Sirius could tell, completely and stereotypically perfect.
The Pettigrews always got a real tree. For the entire month of December, their living room played host to the smell of pine, the drip of sap and perpetual fire hazard. It was, as far as things go, more traditional. Most of the ornaments were wooden, tiny little things Mrs. Pettigrew had accumulated over the years, from craft fair after craft fair. Every year, a new strand of popcorn garland was put up around it, presents were put beneath it, and every Christmas Eve, the family gathered around to put the star on the top bough. The Pettigrew Christmas tree was cozy, homey and traditional.
The Lupins, as far as Sirius knew, had had the same Christmas tree since the dawn of time, or perhaps earlier. It was, by Remus' description, tiny, scraggly, shoddy-looking and yet surprisingly endearing. ("Kind of like you?" Sirius had suggested immediately after, for which Remus had hit him.) Perhaps four feet in height, the Lupin tree hosted solely homemade decorations; there was a circular, flat piece of paper, in the center of which a much younger Remus had pasted a Muggle picture of a squirrel, cotton-balls-turned-snowmen, and a rather wonky-looking stocking that his mother had made during her short endeavors in knitting. It was not the most presentable of Christmas trees, but it was full of time, energy and nostalgia.
He frowned as he glanced up at their Christmas tree, right there in the corner of Number Twelve's sitting room.
It is big, intimidating, and ludicrously fancy. All of the lights were white. It had no skating mice, popcorn garlands or pictures of squirrels; it had things like tiny bows, miniature, golden harps and stiff, silver figurines of reindeers that, in Sirius' opinion, had probably never been anywhere near a sleigh or a jolly fat man.
It looked like it belonged in the lobby of a five-star hotel, he thought. It was elegant, impressive and entirely impersonal.
He scowled as he polished one of the silver reindeer with his thumb. He wished it had the perfection of the Potters', or the warmth of the Pettigrews', or the love of the Lupins', but then again, he thought, the Black family had never been exceptionally perfect, warm or loving.
He sighed, flicking the reindeer in the face and dropping his hand. It was midnight, on Christmas Eve, and he was standing in their sitting room, inwardly criticizing their Christmas tree. Surely there was something wrong with him?
A yawn from the doorway broke the layer of silence that had settled in the room and Sirius nearly knocked the tree over as he spun around. Who the--?
Oh. It was Regulus.
Startled sensation fading fast, Sirius arched an eyebrow. "What the hell are you doing up? Waiting for Santa?"
Regulus smirked, and in three steps, he had entered the room. As he passed by, so did the unmistakable smell of hot chocolate. "What the hell are you doing up?"
It was, Sirius realized, a rather rock-solid argument, and so he chose not to answer, and instead decided to assume authority.
"It's past midnight. Go back to bed, you prat."
"Oh, right, because you're allowed to stay up here and do Merlin-knows-what and I'm not? I'll pass."
With a defiant glance, Regulus walked to the nearest armchair and sat himself down in it, taking a drink from his glass.
"Where did you get that?" Sirius asked suddenly, jerking his head towards the cup.
Regulus stared at him with an expression that reminded him of how Remus sometimes looked, whenever one of them managed to say something completely asinine. "What d'you mean, where did I get it? Where do you think I got it? Paris?"
"Did Kreacher make it?"
"No, I did."
"You did manual labour?"
"Making hot chocolate is hardly manual labour, you lazy arse."
Sirius decided not to dignify it with a response. Regulus looked to the tree, looked it up and down indifferently, and Sirius wondered, suddenly, if his brother realized everything that was wrong with it.
It could be kind of like an experiment, Sirius thought, a scientific inquiry.
So, with an air of nonchalance, he glanced at it, and then at Regulus. "I hate this tree," he said simply.
Regulus drew his legs up into the armchair with him and took another sip from his glass. "Well, no surprise there," he muttered. "You hate everything."
It was not exactly the reaction Sirius had anticipated.
"Wh—what d'you mean, I hate everything?" he asked, his head tilting and his brow furrowing.
"It's really quite a simple concept, Sirius. You see, there's you, and then there's everything, and then there's you, hating everything. Shall I explain it with sock puppets?"
"Oh, stuff it, you prick," snapped Sirius, "I do not hate everything. In fact, of everyone in this family, I think it's safe to say I hate the least. So ha."
He held his head with a smug superiority, but Regulus did not look up from his drink in order to notice. In fact, he merely snorted.
"Says the guy who hates Christmas trees," the younger Black muttered.
Sirius scowled again. "I didn't say I hate Christmas trees, I said I hate this tree. I have no problem with Christmas trees in general, just this one."
Regulus looked up at him incredulously. "Why the bloody hell do you hate our Christmas tree?"
"Because – well – because – look at it!" Sirius gestured wildly, but the blank expression on his brother's face never changed to one of comprehension. "It's -- it's so …big and elegant and perfect and it's got all these, all these bows and stupid silver reindeer and golden harps where it should have skating mice and ugly squirrels and popcorn."
This time, Regulus' expression changed – he looked completely bewildered.
"You're completely mental," he decided.
"I am not," said Sirius, scowling. Didn't Regulus think that it was far too pretty, too polished, too artificial? Surely he, too, would have rather had an ugly knitted stocking or two? "You just don't know what you're missing."
"Ugly squirrels and popcorn?"
"No, damnit, you idiot, not the squirrels, exactly, but everything that the squirrels – you know what? Why am I even bothering? As if you have any sort of capacity for understanding the subtleties of life."
"Do these subtleties have anything to do with the Potters having ugly squirrels on their Christmas tree?"
Sirius glared. "No, actually, that's the Lupins, and – wait – how did --?"
Regulus rolled his eyes. "It wasn't exactly skill-testing, especially with your infatuation with every other family in all England."
Sirius remained indignant. "I am not infatuated."
"Yes you are," insisted Regulus. "You're so infatuated that you're comparing our Christmas tree to theirs."
"Well, it just so happens that our Christmas tree fails, dismally, in every respect."
Regulus' eyes narrowed a little and he instinctively held his head a little higher. "I happen to like our Christmas tree."
Sirius flicked a hand impatiently. "Well, yeah, but you also happen to like Bella, Kreacher, and asparagus, so your opinion really doesn't count for anything."
"You're an idiot," Regulus decided, scowling. "There's absolutely nothing wrong with the tree."
"Yes there is!" Sirius exclaimed, tossing his arms in the air, suddenly incensed. "Everything's wrong with it! It's too pretty, it's too artificial, it's too… fancy and it's too pretentious, just like everyone in this bloody house."
For the moment, Regulus simply stared at him, and so Sirius folded his arms across his chest and glared darkly at the floor. "You don't get it," he mumbled, frustrated. That summed it up, he thought. Regulus just didn't get it, any of it, and chances were he wouldn't any time soon.
True to form, Regulus shook his head and narrowed his eyes. "No, Sirius, it's you who doesn't get it. You sulk around, complaining, criticizing everything, acting like this family's been oh so horrible to you-"
With a frustrated growl, Sirius snapped his head up. "You have been horrible to me!" he snarled, taking a step forward. "If you had any idea what a real family –"
Having a temper to match his brother's, Regulus was on his feet shortly thereafter. "A real family?" he repeated sarcastically, smirking.
"Yes! Did you know, Regulus, some families actually – and you might want to sit down for this – care about each other?"
Sirius took full advantage of the height difference, leering down at his brother with a mocking glare. Regulus, for his part, had drawn himself up as tall as he could, scowling up at his elder with a look of severe dislike.
Despite the similar glint in their eyes, despite their similar facial structures, and despite the similar attitudes radiating from the pair, their likeness did nothing more than illuminate their differences.
"You… you self-important, oblivious prick!" cried an exasperated Regulus, and it surprised Sirius to see that his brother's hand was shaking. "You think it's our fault you've alienated yourself from everyone?"
"Alienated myself? How?" demanded Sirius, noticing somewhere in the back of his mind that his hands were shaking, too. "By having morals?"
"By turning your back on the entire family!" snapped Regulus. "You – you go off to Hogwarts and become a Gryffindor and you –"
"It always comes back to that, doesn't it? Has it ever occurred to you – to any of you – that I was Sorted, just like the rest of you? That it wasn't a choice?"
The pitch of Sirius' voice had gotten increasingly higher over the last few sentences, and when he was finished, a thick silence descended on the room. For a moment, neither of them said anything, and instead let the words and their meaning sink in.
It was the first time Sirius had said anything to express any sort of potential malcontent with his House at Hogwarts.
It was the closest he'd come to regret.
"You still had a choice," said Regulus when he found his voice again. "The Sorting Hat wouldn't have put you there if you didn't want to be."
"That's not the point," Sirius hissed, pulling himself back on track. "Whether or not you have your family's love and support should not hinge on what colours you wear at Hogwarts!"
"It doesn't!" snapped Regulus, taking a step closer; they were inches apart, now. "But that's not where it stopped, it's not just that you were sorted into Gryffindor, it's that you were sorted into Gryffindor and you came back that Christmas with all these… these… new ideas and ideals and beliefs, and all of the sudden you didn't care one whit about any of us, all you cared about was your worthless half-blood, bloodtraitor friends—"
Sirius' glare deepened – something Regulus had not supposed possible.
"Don't you dare – don't you dare talk about them like that!"
He shoved Regulus backwards with both hands, hard, and Regulus, caught off-guard, was pitched backwards. In the split second he was falling, his arms sprung out instinctively to grab something for support. His right hand missed Sirius' arm by an inch.
Regulus' left hand grabbed a bough of the Christmas tree, and when he fell over, the tree came down with him.
It met the ground with a stentorian crash, a cacophony of shattering glass baubles, clashing silver reindeer and crushed pine needles. Bewildered and startled, Regulus and Sirius stared at it with matching expressions of horror.
"Shit," Sirius said eloquently.
Upstairs, floorboards creaked.
Regulus looked at Sirius. "Mum," he said urgently.
"Shit," repeated Sirius.
The events that followed happened rather quickly: Sirius held out his hand and helped his younger brother to his feet, then instantly pulled out his wand to right the tree; Regulus cleaned the hot chocolate stain from the carpet and picked up his mug. Together, they murmured Reparo after Reparo while the staircase whined forebodingly.
When the bottom stair groaned in warning, Sirius had barely enough time to mutter a hasty "hide your wand" to Regulus and hide his own wand before Walburga Black swept around the corner, her eyes narrowed suspiciously.
In a manner almost militant, Sirius and Regulus turned and stood straight, watching her.
"What on Earth are you two doing down here at this time of night?" she demanded sharply, stalking close to inspect them with the air of a drill sergeant.
"Couldn't sleep," said Sirius, pride alone causing him to resist the instinctive urge to recoil from her.
"I was thirsty," said Regulus sheepishly, lifting his mug.
Her expression changed very little as she looked from one son to the other and back again. As her gaze came to rest on Sirius, her eyes narrowed ever-so-slightly more, and she took a step forward.
"And what, pray tell, was that noise, Sirius?"
Keeping his shoulders squared, Sirius thought that perhaps if Filch were not a Squib, he and Walburga would have gotten along famously.
"I tripped over the ottoman," he said calmly, with the faintest hint of a sneer. "I didn't see it in the dark."
She did not believe him; that was obvious. She rarely believed much of what Sirius said, though, and he was mostly resigned to the futility of lying to his mother anyway – in about two seconds she'd turn and ask Regulus, who would suck up to Mummy as always, tell her truth, and send her on a screaming tirade about what a bloody failure her eldest was and why exactly he should not shove his little brother into Christmas trees.
Still looking suspicious, she turned her gaze to Regulus. The corners of her mouth twitched in a smile. It was not a warm smile, but rather a manipulative one, one that Sirius thought she wore far too often around Regulus and one that Sirius thought Regulus mistook far too often for sincerity.
"What happened, Regulus?" she asked simply.
Regulus merely shrugged. "He's telling the truth, Mum. It was sort of funny, really. Sorry to wake you."
Even intense training as a Marauder could not quite prevent Sirius' eyes from widening slightly in surprise.
Had Regulus just lied on Sirius' behalf?
Certainly Regulus, too, had played a part in knocking over the tree, but as it had been Sirius who had shoved him, and it was Sirius who was his mother's favorite scapegoat, it was unlikely Regulus would receive little more than a scolding; the brunt of the blame – and anger – was sure to fall on Sirius.
Walburga pursed her lips and looked from one boy to the next. She seemed to be calculating how exactly to respond to such supposed innocence.
She straightened and sent them both a stern glare. "Get to bed, both of you," she snapped, pointing in the direction of the staircase. "Don't let me catch you down here so late at night causing a ruckus again. I expect you both downstairs, dressed and ready by seven AM tomorrow morning!"
Regulus nodded. "Yes, Mum."
Sirius inclined his head only slightly. "Yes ma'am."
Walburga placed her hands on her hips and nodded sharply. "Go."
The two walked past her and up the stairs without a word. It was only once they had reached the doors to their respective rooms that Regulus paused.
"We missed the back side of the tree. It only looks alright from the front."
Hand on the doorknob, Sirius snickered. "At least if they give me coal this year there'll be a legitimate reason."
Regulus shook his head and opened the door to his room, laughing softly. "Well, Happy Christmas, I suppose, it's past midnight now."
"Yeah." Sirius paused in the doorway of his bedroom, hand on the door frame, and grinned slightly. "G'night, Reg."
The next morning, listening to his mother explain to Narcissa and Bellatrix the precise ways in which he was failing as an heir and as a son, Sirius allowed his gaze to wander to the Christmas tree again. Regulus had been right; from the front it was still as impressive and gaudy as always, but from his seat on the armchair, Sirius could see a clump of dented reindeer and harps with broken strings.
It was strange, perhaps, but he found he liked this version of the Christmas tree much more.