Chapter 5: An Old House
Laughter echoed up the empty, dark staircase while the decapitated heads along the wall stood sentinel, eyes closed and long ears drooping. The dark-wood door stood ajar, letting the firelight and lamps cast a thin glow into the dark hallway. A silver clock chimed. As laughter fell away, the thumps and chinks of glasses were heard from where the Black family reunion came to an end, everyone looking cheerful or content, except for one young exception; a young man who would have preferred a million other places than in this miserable place with this crowd, the Most Noble and Ancient House of Black.
Another boy, younger, scrawnier, stood up beaming while the rest of the table settled. "I have an announcement to make," he said, "I'm going to become a Death Eater." A great pause, and a great cheer went up and several chairs were pushed aside, knocked over as his uncles, aunts and grandparents stood to congratulate him. Mrs. Black scurried from her chair, clasping her son to her small body, crying then yelling for the house elf. As dusty old bottles of liquor were brought in Regulus sat back down, reveling in the attention amidst an onslaught of congratulations and jarring pats on the back. Only one person did not celebrate: in fact, he had not moved yet, but looked around dumbfounded, mouth agape.
"Well I can't be one just yet," Regulus explained, "some other Slytherins will prepare me over the next year until I can be fully initiated."
"Enough!" Sirius yelled, jumping up as his dark-wood chair skidded back. Everyone fell silent as the joyous faces turned to face the elder brother, whose handsome face was suddenly darkened, almost fitting his name, Black. "Unbelievable," he whispered, though loud in the silence, "He wants to be a Death Eater and you… you're all happy for it? Do any of you even realize what he will become?"
"He will be the pride of the Black family! Unlike you!" Mrs. Black said. Her face was that of a ghoul- pale and distorted- as she pointed a sharp finger accusingly at Sirius. "You ungrateful little wretch! What have you ever done? And look at Regulus. Your brother shall uphold this family's honor, working for the good of all true wizards. All your life you have dragged the family's name through the mud, you and that other filthy blood traitor Potter and your mudblood friends-"
"Don't use that word!" Sirius shouted.
Hardly seeing his father stand or raise his wand, Sirius was thrown backwards tumbling over his chair before crashing into the wall, making the cabinets rattle. Through his erupting headache and rage Sirius heard his father say "How dare you raise your voice to your mother!"
He kept one hand on the wall behind him; he stared at his father, though in the corner of his eye he saw others standing and pulling out wands. His own wand was in his bedroom. "Must you ruin everything," his father said. "This is an extraordinary occasion for your brother, and this is how you congratulate him- this jealous display?"
Sirius's head was pounding and viciously throbbing - all the fury he felt towards his family was bubbling to the surface and he suddenly did not care about what would happen to him if he fought back and said everything he had ever held back in his throat. Something clicked in his mind- or perhaps snapped- as all those fiery emotions cooled into a calm. Sirius saw what he should have done years before.
Feigning ignorance of the many witches and wizards pointing wands at him, he turned to Regulus, looked him in the eyes- as dark as his own- and said softly, "You want to be a Death Eater? Fine. Go ahead. But I won't be brother to a damned Death Eater, and I won't be in a family like this. I've had enough of this family, of this insane pure-blood hysteria." He gulped visibly, his heart beating uncomfortably, afraid of what will happen, but there was no other option in his mind. "I've had enough. I'm leaving."
In the moment of quiet shock in which, to Sirius, the world slowed all around him- his own movements delayed- Sirius reached behind him for the threshold of the door and fled. The silence lasted only a second, He hated to think of it as cowardly, but what could he do without a wand against a dozen or so armed witches and wizards. Pivoting around the staircase, he leapt up the narrow steps fast as he could, for the noise in the room was swelling and pouring out towards the hall below him; the light and breath of a spell whispered past his head.
Just feet from his bedroom he was hit with a leg-lock spell, his sprinting legs snapped together painfully, his knees cracking, but his speed propelled him headfirst through the door. Rolling over, he propped himself up, panic eating his insides as figures bounded after him in the dark amongst the angry yells and curses coming from the hallway and stairs. With an effort only desperation can bring, he pulled his useless legs in and slammed and locked the door. He kept one hand on the brass handle as he lay on the floor, only then noticing how much he was shaking. He could hear them, and for a terrible moment he thought his special lock would not hold, but he heard cries of alohamora without success, and could breathe.
Pulling himself across the floor on his elbows to the wand on his desk, he finally muttered the counter curse, relieving his legs. But what could he possibly do now? The possibility of his family breaking through still worried him as he grabbed clothes, school supplies, and miscellaneous items from every surface of his room. What should he do? He was afraid to step outside his room, so that only left one exit, if it could be called an exit. Once his trunk was tightly packed with everything he could not bear to leave behind, he looked at his hopeful exit- the window. It was old, like the rest of the house, and did not open; and like the rest of the house, it was cursed with various ancient spells and protections to keep out intruders- and impure blood. Even if he could blast it out- which he doubted- would he be able to escape the boundaries of the house. Did these protections keep in as well as keep out?
There was nothing left for him to do but try. The glass shattered easily. His trunk beside him, he stuck his head out the window, gingerly avoiding the jutting glass, and looked below. He only saw darkness, like infinity. He had never wanted a broom as badly as this moment, while Regulus's broom was tantalizing close yet out of reach. However… he looked left, knowing Regulus's bedroom window was just there.
"Accio broom!" he cried, and to his amazement he heard that window shatter as a broom soared into his outstretched hand. Then, to his horror, he heard shouts from the hall: his quiet escape was ruined. Not wasting a moment he cast a hover charm over his trunk, squeezed out the window, glass shards gripping his sleeves and clothes. With his trunk hovering behind him in the cold night breeze, he shot off, flying low toward the street.
Shouts followed him, along with more missed spells aiming for a dark shape over a dark street, until a woman's shrill voice- his mother- screamed "accio broom!" The broomstick lurched to a stop and spun about, so Sirius dangled from the end, his trunk falling to the ground. The broom began to speed back to the house so he jumped, rolling onto the pavement and street, his hands, head and body receiving numerous scratches and soon-to-be bruises. Even then the spells did not slow. Casting a shield charm behind him, Sirius stumbled to his feet and grabbed his trunk. His wand lit, he raised his right hand. The familiar Knight Bus approached just as the front door of the house opened behind him.
A young conductor was stepping down to deliver the customary speech, yawning as she went, but was rudely pushed aside by Sirius and his large trashed trunk. The balding man at the wheel stared at the man bounding up the steps.
"Excuse me- " she started indignantly.
"Hurry up! Come on! We gotta get out of here!" Sirius shouted, startling other passengers. The woman looked out at the swarm of loud angry people running toward the bright bus. "Now!"
"Ernie, step on it!" she said. With a jerk the bus roared into motion and was soon far away from that old house. Sirius collapsed onto the nearest bed, breathing hard, head bowed. He did it. He had escaped. He was free.
He heard a soft voice above him- the girl from before. "You all right, kid?"
"Kid?" he asked, looking up. "You can't be much older than me."
"Are you okay?" she asked again.
"Fine." He probably looked a mess. His body ached, he could feel scratches all along his back, and there were miniature fires blazing on his skin where he had scraped the asphalt. He looked at his arms and hands, counting all the places where skin was ripped, burned, or bleeding.
"Where's the young gentleman going, now?" Ernie called over his shoulder. "Take your time if you need to. Just call out when you know." Sirius put his head in his shaking hand- where was he going? Quickly he pulled his hand back and saw smeared blood. From his pocket he pulled out a small oval mirror and saw a horizontal cut on his cheekbone from the window-glass, but it wasn't bleeding much. He wiped it with his sleeve.
"I would like to be dropped off at Godric's Hollow." Sirius said. "And I haven't bought my ticket yet."
"All right, we can get you there in about forty minutes." She said, stifling a yawn. "A ticket is a sickle, two knuts. So I guess you figured out where you're going. Somewhere good, I hope."
Sirius took a deep breath of fresh air while the Knight Bus jumped off down the street, gone in a blink. His heart had stopped racing, although he could still feel his hands shake. The bus had been warm, bright, and relatively safe. Now he was out in the open again and the feeling of vulnerability and impending crisis was returning. Yet, at the same time, he was comforted by the sight of the old two-story house in front of him, like he was almost home from a long journey.
Slightly warm from being held so long, the two-way mirror reflected the golden street lamp behind him, "Prongs." Sirius said clearly, watching the glass. "James!" No response. "Dammit, Prongs, wake up!" After a few more minutes yelling to the mirror, he gave up. It was far too late to go ring the doorbell, especially with Death Eaters seemingly around every corner. In fact he could very well become a target now. Keeping his wand out and ready, he walked under a tall spindly magnolia tree, near where James's window was. Lighting his wand, he saw the glare of light against the window. Running his hand over the ground, he found a few small rocks and began chucking them at the window. After a few minutes of doing this with as little response as his first attempt, he moved onto a third attempt because he was not going to spend the night outside.
Placing his lit wand between his teeth, he climbed the tree, something he had done many times with James when they were younger. Sliding out on a branch, he got to within a few feet from the window. "James…" he said softly, the last thing he wanted to do was cause a commotion. "Prongs?" he said a bit louder. He shuffled further towards the window, "James! Wake up!" There was a low groan underfoot, then the branch gave way and snapped like a gunshot. Sirius found himself lying painfully over the heavy tree branch; with a groan he rolled onto the cold grass, rubbing his lower back.
"Dammit, this is terrible…"
He heard footsteps and saw an approaching light, but was too dazed from the fall to think straight.
"Don't move! You have three wands on you, and we're not afraid to attack." James said. "Who are you?" Sirius's wand flew towards the tallest of the three dimly-lit figures.
"Hold on, hold on!" Sirius called out, putting up his hands. "Prongs, it's me, Padfoot."
"Sirius?" James asked, lowering his wand and stepping towards Sirius. "What are you doing here?"
"You have no idea how terrible this night's been for me."
"James!" his father shouted, his wand still pointed towards Sirius. James stopped just short of Sirius and turned his head. "How many times have I told you- always double-check. Make sure your friends are really your friends. Go on, ask him a question."
James thought for a moment, asked, "What am I allergic to?"
"But dear," his mother said. "You don't have any allergies."
"No mum, it's a joke. This is Sirius, all right." James said as he pulled him up from the ground. "But really Padfoot, what on earth are you doing here?" James asked.
Sirius looked into his eyes, solemn. "I ran away from home."
Now all four people were bathed in the white glow from the wands. James looked shocked, his mom looked worried. "Did something happen at home?" She asked, noticing the cuts on his face.
"Well this is hardly the place to discuss this." His father said, "Let's go inside and we can talk about everything in the morning, eh? James, help him with his things." But James was already pulling the worn trunk, balancing it on its one good wheel through the grass as they headed towards the back door.
"Now Sirius, don't you worry about anything." James's mother said once they were all standing in the kitchen. "For now just get some sleep and we can talk things over in the morning. You know where the sleeping stuff is, right? Or would you like me to get it for you? Or you can just sleep with James in his bed, like you used to when you were little."
"Mum!" James said. "He's not sharing my bed- that was years and years ago. We'll manage fine. Not like this is the first time you've spent the night here, eh mate?"
His room was quite large and rather messy. The enchanted star-studded ceiling slanted slightly, the bed sitting against the highest wall, and beside the large window stood a tall cage holding a large ruffled hawk owl. Papers coated the wooden floor and desk, a large pile of clothes sat in a corner, his open trunk was full of miscellaneous items and even more papers, books and clothes. Getting on his knees, James spread his arms and scooped away various things from beside his bed until a clear patch of floor showed through. With a complicated little flourish of his wand, James made a large futon appear, fully set with flowery pink sheets. He looked at Sirius from the corner of his eye, smiling. Sirius wasn't. Sirius just looked annoyed- annoyed and exhausted.
"Right, right- I guess this isn't the time." James said and flicked his wand and the sheets changed to a dark blue. He realized he had made a mistake- now wasn't the time for jokes, though this was Sirius standing beside him. He was nervous, maybe he was still tense from believing his family was being attacked or spied on, or maybe Sirius's uneasy attitude was contagious. "You probably just want to go to sleep now, huh?" James said, throwing a pillow onto the futon. There was a loud sigh behind him.
"Sorry mate, just…" Sirius ran his hand over his face, "it's been a long night- a really long night. I'll snap back by morning." He rolled onto his temporary bed; James into his, turning the knob of his lamp until the white glow faded into blackness and strained silence. James felt so awake, both anxious and excited, he thought sleep would be hard to come by but when he opened his eyes again daylight replaced darkness.
His mind and vision were fuzzy when he awoke. He rolled onto his stomach, pulled his arm out from beneath his chest and let it drape over the side onto a warm soft thing. He jerked awake until he remembered that Sirius lay on the bed beside him. Taking and unfolding his glasses, he slipped them on and the vague black-topped oval he was looking at became Sirius's face. He was awake, and looked as though he had been so for some time. James fell back onto his bed.
"You're a mess, you know that?" James said, tapping his own cheek, prompting Sirius to touch his own. He winced and looked at himself in the small mirror James handed him. The cut was still there and looked deeper than he had thought, now slightly puffy around the edge. But more noticeable by far was a large green and yellow bruise on his cheek-bone, just below his left eye.
"What happened?" James asked, sitting up. "Did they do that? Your family?"
"In a way." Sirius said as he got onto James's bed and put his back to the wall, beside James. "It all feels like a dream. Or a nightmare."
"So what happened? I mean, why? Why now, why all of a sudden?" James asked. For a long moment Sirius didn't reply, just gazed at the caged owl and touched his bruised cheek.
"Regulus is going to become a Death Eater."
"Are you serious? I mean, yeah, your family and all- but your brother? Little Reggie?"
"I know I shouldn't be surprised." Sirius said, running a hand through his hair. "Still, we grew up together, I taught him his first charm, helped when he first fancied a girl. It was worse was when he told the family- they all… celebrated. Like they were proud of it."
"He's too young. He's only, what? Fourteen? Fifteen? You-Know-Who is no babysitter."
"He said he's going to train for a year or so. Train to be a murderer." James didn't know what to say or what to do. He had no words of comfort that wouldn't be meaningless or a lie. "And think, if we become Aurors like we always say, what then?" James had been watching Sirius's profile, but now was faced looking into his dark-blue eyes. What would they do if they ever had to face Regulus in battle- would they have to kill him? Could they?
A sharp rap on the window caught their attention and distracted both from the uncomfortable thought of fighting and killing. "Is it from Remus?" Sirius asked as James opened the window and pulled in an owl. The previous topic fell to the side. It would resurface at breakfast, but for now they fell back into more comfortable talk.
"His owl, his writing- sure is." James said, untying the letter while Sirius got some food to feed it as it transferred onto his arm. "What do you bet he's backing out?"
James began reading the letter, murmuring half. "'I've been rethinking about what we talked about, too dangerous blah blah, packs of werewolves… going to get ourselves killed or eaten, terrible risks, doo, doo, doo, don't come, we'll see each other at Diagon, yeah, yeah, already told Peter. Tell Sirius. Well, I did that." He waved the paper with mock surprise on his face. "He is so predictable."
"So what do we do, then?" Sirius asked after reading it. "Suppose it will be a bit dangerous- running around with a bunch of werewolves during the full moon."
"Oh, not you too! Not like we haven't done anything dangerous before and we've never gotten too badly hurt with Moony. Besides, it's boring around here."
"All right then," Sirius said just as they were called to breakfast. "Wasn't expecting anything less from you. Suppose it should be fun going somewhere other than the Forbidden Forest."
A/N:(edit) So, next chapter is back to Harry! This is actually the longest non-Harry chapter that I plan to write, which will actually be few and far between. This scene gets its own chapter because its an important canonical event and will have repercussions in later chapters in my story. Thanks for your opinions on the matter!
Thanks for the reviews- every one I get encourages me to write more! (and Minue, your comment made me giggle aloud)
I'd love to get the next chapter out before school starts again, since I rarely get to writing anything once classes start, but this summer's been bad. On most days I can get on a computer about twenty to forty minutes, but only a few days a week since my dad's laptop broke. Well, I'll try!