[Notes: Takes place in the summer just after Sirius's fifth year at Hogwarts. There's a good deal of domestic violence in this story, so read at your own discretion. I wrote this fic because I think the books do a bit of a disservice to Sirius by never referencing what finally made him decide to leave Grimmauld for good when he was a teenager. It's just my own interpretation of the family, and I've based Orion Black on the idea one of my friends has of him. Comments very welcome!
He found the whiskey in the desk of his father's study under a pile of old, yellowed receipts from Gringott's. He'd been looking for the key to the cupboard where they'd hidden his wand when his hand touched the cold glass bottle. The key was nowhere to be found, but the whiskey would do.
He left the study, unscrewing the bottle as he crept back to his room. Passing Regulus's door he heard his younger brother's voice, quietly practicing a spell he'd learned in Defense this year. They hadn't taken Regulus's wand. The Minister would be damned before he would send someone to Grimmauld Place to reprimand him. There was a story about the last time a Ministry official had arrived on Number 12's doorstep that he had never really understood—a man in pale robes, a paper, his father as a child—now only a joke among the family. The elder members laughed and snorted about it but never expounded upon it.
The whiskey burned his throat. It was only his second taste of liquor this strong. The previous year he and James had nicked a bottle from a shop in Hogsmeade under the cover of the cloak, a gift for the four of them on Remus's birthday. Prior to that there had been wine by the bottle and an occasional glass of brandy allowed him on holidays, but never whiskey. It was his father's indulgence.
A gaggle of half-naked women greeted him upon his entrance. At fifteen Sirius was not yet a discriminate man—his walls boasted every complexion, every length of hair, every style of clothing a woman could wear that still left the absolute least to the imagination. Their oiled bodies ranged from the thinnest runway models to voluptuous burlesque dancers. None of them moved; they each held the position in which they had been photographed, a static existence on glossy paper. Witches might have been more tantalizing—paper women shaking their barely-covered breasts, spreading and closing their slick legs—but the Muggle images infuriated his parents more. The man who sold the magazines to him had stared but never asked for ID. The staring, for once, hadn't pissed him off. Sirius imagined it wasn't every day a teenager dressed in thick black robes entered a convenience store and asked for every men's magazine available. He had had to ask Remus's help in counting out the money, pitiful, blushing Remus who had refused to go into the store with him and then refused to look through his purchases.
The motorcycles were more for his pleasure than the girls. He could have his fill of women at school; if he only asked, he could have almost every female on campus dressed like these Muggle models, begging for his attention. But the bikes were something he couldn't see every day, were, in fact, something he'd seen only a few times before. He'd begun to think he would buy one as soon as he graduated from Hogwarts, despite Remus's assurances that they were considered expensive.
He fell onto his bed, still clutching the whiskey. The bottle found his lips again and he drank greedily, swallowing against the urge to gag. His head swam. The burning faded into a dull, aching warmth.
From downstairs came the sound of his mother's voice, shrill and dissonant. Her heavy footsteps reverberated through the floorboards of his room. She had begun gaining weight rapidly over the past two years and there were whispers about her impending death. Some thought she had been infected with some kind of parasite that had festered in the dark bowels of the house, or that perhaps she had eaten the flesh of some dark creature that would not be digested, swelling and gathering strength in her stomach until she finally burst with it. Great-uncle Alphard had suggested it was the result of a curse and many in the family agreed, save for Uncle Cygnus. If it had been a curse, its beginning coincided with one of Bellatrix's visits, during which she had become enraged with Walberga. No one had known—not until tonight, at least—the cause of their argument or what Bellatrix had said to her, but the possibility that his daughter had so cursed his own sister was something Cygnus Black wasn't yet ready to consider.
A low rumble, a thin growl that resonated in the whiskey bottle, in Sirius's bones. His father's voice. He could make out none of what they said but knew it was about him. His cousin had left unsatisfied and injured. Orion had denied her the privilege of punishment; it was his right, he said, and he would exercise it when he chose.
No sooner had the hem of Bellatrix's robes passed out of the doorway than Regulus had crept up to his bedroom, going by the back stairs to prevent drawing their parents' attention to himself and trusting the carefully-written sign on his door to keep them out. He loved to hear of his older brother falling into disfavor with their parents but was repulsed by the sight of it. He had an ear for violence but not the stomach for it. A fine Death Eater he would make, once Bellatrix got her hands on him, a blind coward and a fool. It would be up to him to uphold the family's honor after tonight. Sirius knew there could be no forgiveness for him, not after what he'd said, what he'd done to Bellatrix.
"Good luck, kid," he muttered, and lifted the bottle in the direction of Regulus's room. A stray drop of whiskey rolled down from the corner of his mouth. He doubted he and his brother would be on speaking terms for the next month.
There was a shuffling sound in the hall just outside his door, a dry hiss, as if something were being dragged. The doorknob turned, despite having been locked. A wrinkled gray head emerged in the crack.
"Go away, Kreacher." He swallowed the last of the whiskey and gave the bottle a halfhearted shake at the elf.
"Master desires a word with his son." There was pleasure in his voice, in his small, inhuman eyes. He relished these summonses.
"I told you to go away."
"Kreacher can only do as Master commands, and Master has commanded him to bring the oldest son." The elf waited, tapping a large, impatient foot.
Sirius pushed himself up from the bed, letting the bottle roll off onto the floor. The whiskey formed a belch deep in his stomach that rose slowly into his throat. He looked directly into the elf's eyes and didn't stifle the sound. "What does the old bastard want? Is this about Bellatrix?"
Kreacher looked for a moment as if he might protest, but seemed to think better of it, no doubt suspecting a greater punishment than he could mete out was coming to the boy. "Master doesn't need to tell Kreacher his business. Master orders Kreacher to bring him his son and Kreacher does."
He didn't lock the door behind him. The key had disappeared when he'd first received his wand.
Kreacher made no move to follow him. The elf stood in front of the door, folding his scrawny arms over his chest. "Master waits for his son downstairs, in the family room."
Sirius snorted. The Blacks' "family room" was designed simply to display the tapestry, that great piece of dry-rotted cloth with all their names written across its many branches. He had begun to doubt the branches' accuracy—though it was never openly spoken of, he'd come to believe there was a physiological reason for the small numbers of children the Blacks bore and their short lifespan, one rooted not in curses and dark magic but a shallow gene pool. Given Narcissa's appearance, he wouldn't have been surprised to learn her father wasn't Cygnus Black but one of the Malfoys.
There was a black spot on the tapestry near Sirius's name, the first in several years, falling between Bellatrix and Narcissa. Andromeda had gotten out just before Sirius went to Hogwarts and her name was still an unspoken obscenity to them all. Rumor had it she'd had a baby and that the Mudblood hadn't left het yet.
The creaking stairs announced his arrival. His father stood waiting for him by the door, shoulders rigid, his hands clasped behind his back. He was a slender man but so tall that he still appeared formidable. His features, like his son's, were sharp and angular and one corner of his mouth seemed perpetually upturned, as if he might grin at any moment. His dark eyes promised that the grin would be terrible.
His robes, like everything around him, were unfaded black, impeccably clean and thick. It seemed quite plausible that there was no body beneath them, no soul—only a conglomeration of foul air, the night itself. He wore a high collar; the only flesh visible was that of his face and hands. Everything about him was immaculate—his combed black hair, the polished gems that adorned his rings and the clasp of his cloak, the shined boots that poked out from under his robes. Only his fingernails were unkempt, broken and uneven as if he had recently been engaged in a struggle.
There was no sign of Sirius's mother. Undoubtedly Walberga had already been sent to bed, silenced at last by her husband once he decided it was time to deal with the matter at hand. Her best weapon was her voice and her capacity for screaming insults; Orion's was his wand. It protruded from the side of his cloak, a thin black rod, deeply engraved with lines and whorls that had no meaning now.
"Come in, Sirius." His voice was soft and hoarse, the sound of dry leaves rustling over pavement.
The door shut behind them, though Sirius hadn't touched it. Metal tumblers rattled as the lock turned—the wand now in his father's hand, though the man hadn't seemed to move. His hands went to his sides but his posture remained the same, erect, impervious. Orion Black was not man anymore, not in this room, where the names of his predecessors kept vigil over him. He was the oldest son of the primary vein, his own name written very near the core of the fabric tree, the true scion of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.
Sirius repressed a shudder. He hadn't known true fear of his father in years but he was growing nervous. The whiskey soured in his stomach. He brought his heels together, mimicking his father's stance as both he and Regulus had been taught to do when they were still very young. "Sir."
His father crossed the room, closing the distance between them to only a few uncomfortable feet. He made no move to sit. The wand waited, docile but ready, in his hand. "You have upset your mother. I want you to understand that. Your mother, and no doubt your uncle has heard of your behavior by now." He paused. "The Dark Lord himself, perhaps."
Sirius could only nod. He tried to swallow and failed, a large, whiskey-flavored knot having risen in his throat.
Orion took another step toward him. When he spoke his voice was calm, almost seductive, but carried with it the promise of violence under that seduction, a man who might kiss his lover even as he strangled her. "What you have done to your cousin is reprehensible."
A smirk threatened Sirius's mouth. He fought against it, balling his hands into tight fists at his sides, the very mirror of his father.
Bellatrix had come to the house just after dinner. The four of them were sitting in the family room, Orion enjoying a glass of brandy in silence, Walberga looking delighted as Regulus droned on about the latest news in the Daily Prophet—the Dark Lord on the move, the unexplained disappearances of Muggles and Mudbloods alike, when there came the sound of the door opening down the hall, and Kreacher's gravelly voice announcing, as if the woman were a guest come to a regal gala: "Madam Bellatrix Lestrange!"
She was alone—it was not a social visit. Her thick robes looked those of a queen, indecipherably dark colors that turned black as she entered the room under a smooth cloak, bound at her throat with a large green clasp shaped like a snake. Her sleeves were long and loose, forming a bell that reached halfway down to her knees. Since she had taken the Mark she wore sleeves in that style, risking exposure, daring anyone to glimpse the black skull-and-serpent. Often in the company of her family she let her left sleeve fall down to her elbow, announcing her pride—the only woman the Dark Lord had accepted into his ranks, his very own protégée. She refused to speak of her meetings with him but whenever he was mentioned a light came into her eyes that couldn't even be found in Regulus's or Orion's.
Her mouth opened for the usual litany. The Dark Lord is omniscient. The Dark Lord is merciful. The Dark Lord loves his loyal servants and has given them a high calling. And as her litany progressed, as Regulus, only thirteen years old, stared at her in complete reverence, she came to kneel before Sirius, taking hold of his wrists. The Dark Lord had just taken the Malfoy boy into his service and now called the son of Black. The Dark Lord knew of his transgressions but would forgive him if he repented and would place him at his right hand. Under the scrutiny of her wild, ecstatic eyes Sirius had been unable to protest, and it was only when she drew back her sleeve to show him the Mark, when she pressed her wrist into his own and he felt her skin, the tattoo burnt into it, still so hot, still alive with him—
"Get the fuck away from me!" he shouted, and without realizing he had even moved he kicked her. His foot connected with her chest and she went sprawling back onto the floor. Her wand flew out from her robes, crackling as if in tune with its mistress's mind. She scrambled for it and he drew his own. He heard his father rising, his mother's screech, his brother's protests. Bellatrix's fingers closed around the base of her wand. Panting, her mouth curled into a snarl.
The curse hit her in the face, next to her right eye. She screamed and, dropping the wand, clutched at her eye, moaning hysterically. He had never seen her frightened before. The eye was swollen, pushing at its socket, and bloodshot. He could see—could almost hear—it throbbing. A thick stream of tears erupted from the injured eye and the tears became blood, pouring down her face as she sought, frantically, mindlessly, to push the eye back into her skull.
And then there were arms around him, his father's slight but strong arms, and the wand was wrenched from his grasp. His fat mother bawled on the sofa.
Sirius didn't remember how he'd gotten into his bedroom, whether he had gone up himself, defenseless, or if his father had delivered him there. It seemed he'd gone unconscious for hours, listening to the sound of Bellatrix's pitiful screams as his mother attempted to undo the damage.
Orion stared at him, patience embodied. "What you did to your cousin," he repeated, "is reprehensible. Have you nothing to say to that?"
He tried to swallow again. His throat made a wet gulping sound.
"Answer me, boy!" His father's hand came down on his cheek. "Answer!"
Sirius yelped. The force of the blow knocked him backward but he kept his footing, rubbing at his cheek. The bone wasn't broken.
"What?" He jumped back from his father, fearing another attack. "What do you want me to say? She put her hands on me!"
"What you did—"
"I know what I did. Do you want me to apologize, is that it?" He wasn't sure if it was the whiskey or his own adrenaline that woke his bravado. His hands trembled. "Is that what you want, an apology? You won't get it. I won't." He felt the urge to spit on the floor at his father's feet.
His father chuckled. He had never chuckled before, not in Sirius's presence. The sound drove a chill through his bones, hammered him cold. "An apology? You are not required to give one. I'm afraid an apology would be insufficient in this instance."
He struggled to keep up his pretense of courage. He shifted his weight to one leg, cocked his hip defiantly. "Then what do you want? You want me to cry? What do you want—a blowjob and a beer? What?"
"Silence!" He slapped him again.
This time the nails caught the skin—Sirius felt a tearing, a ripping. He cried out and fell to the floor, striking his torn cheek. Orion advanced and Sirius pushed himself backward to avoid the pointed boot. "God! What—"
"Silence! Shut up!" His father screamed down at him, bellowed. "You-… you-…. Abomination! Ungrateful whelp! Whore of a child!"
The boots found him. Sirius held up his hands to shield his bleeding face but they pummeled his defenseless chest and back. "Stop it! Stop it, Father, stop it stop it Father stop it bastard!" He realized he sounded like a child and didn't care. He felt his ribs crack. There was another crack, another, another, he couldn't stop him, he couldn't move, he couldn't take another one—
Pain wracked his body. A shriek erupted from him. Every muscle, every vein, every inch of flesh contorted, seemed to twist against his bones. His blood boiled.
A rupture, a spurt of blood. The curse set his back ablaze. He tried to push himself away from his father but the curse found him again, paralyzing him. He was bleeding, he could feel it, from his eyes, his ears, his mouth. Something warm puddled under his legs, whether blood or piss he couldn't tell. His father shouted the curse again and something seemed to burst in his chest. His lungs emptied in one long, wheezing breath. He wanted to die but death wasn't coming, it was coming but not quickly enough, his vision blurred to nothing, the floor disappeared, first the sight and then the feel of it, and he was falling, dying—
—Cold, he has never been this cold before, nor has he known pain. There have been discomforts, there have been aches and lacerations, but this is agony. This is—
—Hell and he is alone, there is no one else in this room that no longer exists, there has never been. His father is only a phantom, a memory. There is no mother. There is no brother, neither the biological one he has rejected or the one to whom his very soul clings. There is no crazed cousin or Dark Lord and there never has been. Every thought, every word, every sound has come from himself—the quick tromping of James's hooves over the winter-hardened ground is only his own feet kicking against the pain, Remus's wild howls are only his own screams. He is dying in Hell and there is nothing after—
"Crucio." His father's voice was quieter, the curse weaker. He was panting now. Sweeping his hair out of his eyes with his free hand he planted the boot against Sirius's ribs a final time. "Can you stand up?"
Sirius fought to lift his head. He could see nothing but the dark blur of the floor, his own blood spread out before him. His heartbeat pounded in his ears. "…pl-…s…."
"What's that, boy?" Orion bent over him, snatching him up by the hair. "Are you going to beg now?"
He turned against the hand that gripped him, that tore his scalp. When his father's face came into view he spit into it, a great phlegmy wad of saliva and blood. "No." He didn't sound strong at all—his voice came out as a whimper. He tried to spit again but lacked the fluid and strength.
His father dropped him, resumed his composure. "Then would you care to explain yourself?" he asked calmly, and the only sign of his former rage was the sweat on his forehead.
"To expl-….what?" Gasping, Sirius dragged himself toward the corner, folding his trembling legs protectively over his battered chest.
Orion sighed; his patience, for now, had returned. "Your deplorable actions with your cousin."
Disbelief. "What? She… she wanted me to…"
"To what, Sirius? What great crime was she asking you to commit?"
Sirius felt a growl within him. "You know damn well what she wanted."
"What she wanted is not—"
"It is a crime, are you so stupid you don't know that?" His voice was hardly above a whisper. The pain was still there but ebbing slowly. Every inch of him throbbed, ached, screamed. "The Ministry has outlawed any association with the Death Eaters." A trickle of blood leaked from the corner of his mouth. His legs shook so violently that his shoes clattered on the floor.
His father laughed—another dangerous chuckle, the rumble of a thunder god waking, of darkness closing a horizon. "The Ministry, Sirius, is a conglomerate of fools. They are in no position to make such judgments. You would know that if your primary concern were not to disgrace this house."
"She would have killed me, then," he croaked. "All of them—they're all going to die."
His father's face hardened. "There are some things, Sirius, that are worth dying for." Sirius saw the wand rise again, saw the light at its tip: a bright green, the very color of poison. He heard his father's snakelike whisper—"Avada—"
The dog was on him before he could get out another syllable. Man and wand both fell. His claws sank into his father's shoulders, piercing the thick robes. Orion, astonished and terrified, raised his hands to shield his throat and the dog's teeth found them, tearing the bony, long-nailed fingers. A new blood filled his mouth. The dog snarled and the man began to scream and sought to cover his face lest it be destroyed. The dog's massive paws found the delicate places between bones and pressed into them. He swallowed the blood as it mingled with his own, great, stifling gulps of blood that only made him thirst for more. His father's flesh tore audibly. The man bellowed beneath him and the vibrations of the voice excited him. He barked into an exposed ear and his father's ragged fingernails dug into the dog's thin lips, splitting them. The dog yelped but maintained its hold. The throat was near, he could smell it, the throat and all its blood, the purest blood in all of England.
His mother's voice, shrill and maddening. He relinquished his father's flesh and backed away from his body, baring his teeth in a low growl. His mother stood in the doorway in her nightdress, her hair wild, her thick hands pressed defensively into her breasts. Orion tried to sit up. The wand lay next to him and both their eyes went to it at once. Orion, covered in blood, reached for it as the dog sprang. Teeth closed around the wood and the boy was standing in the dog's place, the wand clutched in his mouth.
There was no time left.
He raised his father's wand high above his head, fighting against the urge to faint. "Accio wand!"
Something upstairs shattered. The wand came flying down over his mother's head and he made a grab for it, tossing his father's foul, accursed stick away. His hand closed around it. His legs faltered under him as he bolted for the door.
The night was cold, swallowed him. He limped too quickly down the stairs and fell, rolling down into the street. There were no cars, no one out walking. The door to Number Twelve rattled behind him and, tucking his wand into his robes, he became the dog again, bolting on four swift legs into the rain.
It was miles from Grimmauld Place that he finally stopped running. His parents hadn't followed him. They would send someone to look for him, no doubt, if only the family hawk, but he'd seen nothing yet. Pain wracked him and he whimpered with every step. His paws were ragged; his breath was so hot and explosive that it plumed out before him. He was still bleeding but from where he couldn't tell.
There are some things, Sirius, that are worth dying for.
He couldn't go back. He had always suspected his father might try to kill him eventually but never like that, and he had never anticipated he might attack his father so brutally. There was no way in hell he could ever go back there, no matter what the family did or what the cowards in the Ministry might decree. The decision had been made for him before his father had even spoken to him.
He had to get inside and there was only one place he could go from here. Even if they put him out in the morning, even if the Ministry sent someone to drag him away at first light, he had to stop moving soon or he was going to die.
It took him an hour to find the house, disoriented and weighed down by his thick, wet fur. The night was late and every window was dark, save for one in the corner room upstairs. Stopping, he threw back his head and howled. The cry that burst from his lungs was unlike any the dog had ever made before—lost, mournful, the sound of a beast that has fled from one side of the earth to the other. The curtains upstairs moved to reveal the outline of a face. Only seconds later the front door opened and the dog disappeared, and the boy, weeping and stinking of blood and piss, ran into his brother's arms.