Disclaimer- JKRowling owns Harry Potter and all the related characters, places and events. I own nothing in this story but the words.
It was a warm summer's evening and the English countryside had never looked so beautiful.
The sun was descending behind the horizon, scattering rays of sunlight across the lush, green rolling fields that stretched down to the calm, sparkling sea. Up above, a flock of seagulls danced in the satin pink sky, caressing the fluffy white clouds with their distinctive mocking cries.
It was the sort of evening that took your breath away and stayed printed on the mind forever. It had the power to heal the soul, sooth the spirit and take away all troubles. Nature was a beautiful thing.
However, far below the gulls and the clouds, on a small country lane, something so out of the ordinary happened that had anyone been there to see it, they would have been completely distracted from the fantastic views.
A large, violet triple-decker bus with the words The Knight Bus written in gold lettering over the windshield, appeared out of thin air. One minute the lane was completely empty apart from an assortment of creatures going about their everyday business, the next it had been invaded by a large purple intruder that made an awful lot of noise and frightened the sparrows out of their wits.
It is very uncommon to come across purple triple-decker buses, let alone ones that vanish and reappear as they please, which was what this one seemed to be doing. It scooted along and then with a large CRACK it disappeared and came into view a whole four metres away.
The bus also had a very strange knack of completely avoiding collision. Every time it got close to hitting a tree or crumpling a hedge, they simply jumped aside out of harms way.
The very last of the strange things about this bus was that inside, the three decks were lined not with hard backed seats but with brass bedsteads, about half a dozen to each floor.
Sitting on one of these beds, gazing out of the window, was a teenage boy with dark hair that framed his handsome face and fell into his grey, penetrating eyes.
His name was Sirius Black and this was the worst night of his life.
If one of his fellow passengers on the bus had glanced at Sirius, they would have thought that he looked like a completely normal, carefree teenage boy, slightly arrogant but nonetheless completely pleasant.
But they'd be wrong.
If they had taken a closer look through the mask of a smile that Sirius had fixed onto his face, ignored the casual little tune that he was humming, and spotted the red traces of tears lingering on his cheeks, they would have noticed that this particular boy was feeling anything but normal. Sirius Black was in an emotional turmoil, and the image of a 'hard' man that he was desperately trying to keep up was the only thing that stopped him breaking down in tears for the whole world to see.
Although he was gazing through the window of the constantly jumping bus, Sirius did not see the wonderful countryside through his blurry eyes. His mind was filled with painful memories of the past few hours, doubt and shame at what he was doing - running away.
Cowardice was not supposed to be something Sirius Black had. He was a Gryffindor; he had bravery, courage - all that crap - but this time was different from jinxing Snivellus because he had attacked James, or stopping Moony from taking a bite out of Peter. This was very different. So why did he feel so bad? Why did he hate himself so much for what he had done?
Taken over by weariness, Sirius leant against the bus window, the surface of it cool against his cheek that was covered in warm, salty tears. iJust go to sleep/i, his troubled mind told him.
But Sirius knew better than that. He knew that if he dropped his guard for even one minute he would see his parents staring scornfully back at him, his brother trying not to let the betrayal and sadness show through his eyes. As Sirius saw the countryside whizzing past, he wondered how so much could come between two brothers who had once been the best of friends. When they were younger they had shared everything together, Sirius could remember their childhood games and the pranks they had pulled on their mother. He could remember the times at night he and Regulus had sat, terrified, hunched up in Sirius's bed, arms wrapped around each other, listening to their parents fight downstairs and willing them to stop. He painfully cast his mind back to the parting conversation he had had with Regulus, after his blazing row with their parents as he packed his bag.
"So you're leaving?" Regulus appeared in the attic bedroom he shared with his brother. "Only, I thought that was more a Slytherin thing, running away.■ He stared fixedly at Sirius's face. "You must belong in my house."
"I'm not a Slytherin," Sirius muttered through clenched teeth, refusing to meet Regulus's gaze.
"Really?" Regulus raised his eyebrow and said coolly, "You could have fooled me." Sirius spun around and grabbed his brother by his shirt, his heart still beating fiercely from the confrontation with his parents. His eyes glittered with an uncontrolled rage. "Don't ever say that," he whispered, his face centimetres from Regulus's, his breaths short and disjointed. "I'm not, I won't ever be-"
"A Slytherin?" Regulus pushed his brother away, eyes narrowed. "No, I don't suppose you will; Slytherins don't betray their families."
Those words froze Sirius's insides. Couldn't Regulus see the pain he was in? Didn't he realise that if there was any alternative, any other fucking way for him to survive the next couple of years then he'd take it?
Sirius felt the muscles tighten in his face. He sighed and turned indifferently back to his trunk. "I'm not betraying you," he muttered quietly.
Now it was Regulus's turn to get angry. "Of course you are!" he yelled, "You're single-handedly ruining the Black name! First you become a Gryffindor, and then you run off with that blood traitor Potter - do you think people don't talk Sirius? Are you really that bloody naive? Everybody is laughing and gossiping about us and it's all because of you!"
Sirius stared fixedly at his trunk, letting the tide of hate emitting from his younger brother wash over him - he had heard this all before, from his parents, his relatives and even some teachers.
But Regulus wasn't finished he strode towards his brother, knocked the trunk on the floor and pushed Sirius against the wall. Sirius could feel Regulus's arms on his shoulders, could hear his sharp breathing reverberating around the almost silent room, could see his reflection in Regulus's icy eyes; indistinguishable from his own glare at him with a chilling anger. He could remember how as children they had looked almost identical, so much so that they had even pretended they were twins. But things had changed. He had grown taller and stronger, while Regulus had got paler and thinner. The only thing that had ever stayed the same was their eyes, as sharp and clear as glass, forever serving as a reminder to the way things had once been.
Sirius could almost hear his brother's heart beating, his head rushing, blood pumping so loudly he thought he would scream. He could practically see the angry thoughts rushing through Regulus's mind, the biting desire to punch him, to kill him for what he was about to do. He knew the sharp, screaming pain that poisoned his brother's thoughts, pain that grew from living in a house which allowed no emotion; love or compassion. He knew what it was like to grow up in a family which knew nothing but hate. Sirius knew it all so well, he knew Regulus's feelings inside out; they were the same as his.
They stood frozen, with Sirius's eyes locked on his brother's until all he could see was Regulus staring at him and his reflection glaring at him with such an intensity he felt like he would break. It was as if they were passing messages through their eyes, communicating things that words could never convey. They had played this game as children when they wanted to converse secretly. Sirius tried to make Regulus understand.
"I'm sorry, I'm so sorry, I wish it didn't have to be this way but I can't stand another minute here with them; they're driving me insane, I'm not like them, I don't want to be like them, if only you underst-"
Suddenly Regulus hit Sirius hard across the face with a stinging, bone shattering force.
Sirius hardly flinched and instead turned his face back on Regulus's with an unreadable expression on his handsome features.
"That's where you're wrong," whispered Regulus. "I understand perfectly. You'd rather associate with Mudbloods and werewolves and FILTH," he spat the words, "than your own brother." Regulus grabbed Sirius's arm and for a moment, Sirius thought his brother was going to slap him again, until he saw that Regulus was pointing at a long brown scar that ran from the palm of Sirius's right hand and snaked up across his wrist to above his elbow.
It was the reminder from a time a few years ago when Sirius had been seriously injured in a fight with their drunken father who had first beaten up his son, and then cut him with the broken remains of a fire whiskey bottle. Sirius had stumbled away, bleeding and badly bruised, and with his mother away visiting her sister, he had to rely on a twelve year old Regulus to heal the wounds. Despite his inexperience, Regulus had done the best he could to help his elder brother until the two could get to St Mungo's. Both boys knew that Regulus had most probably saved his brother's life that night.
Regulus ran his fingers over the scar, digging his nails in tightly at the tip. "I haven't forgotten Sirius." His words were barely audible now. "So why have you?"
Sirius studied his brother's face, unable to speak. Of course he hadn't forgotten, but this had nothing to do with Regulus; it was all his parents fault. If only they were different, if only they were normal like James's parents. Why couldn't he comprehend what they did to him, what being part of this family did to him?
"Reg," Sirius tried to speak, his voice hoarse and broken. "You know I - you know I'll always... you're my brother." He stopped, finding himself unable to go on. He didn't have the words to explain the feelings of heart-wrenching guilt, pain, sadness and shame that were gripping his heart. He felt Regulus let go of his arm and saw him cross to the window on the other side of their shared room. He waited for him to say something else, half expecting Regulus to make another attack, half wishing that he would.
Regulus was looking out through the glass up at the pink evening sky. The sun was setting and towards the horizon, the merest hints of night were beginning to show with a few early stars peeking from behind the dusky clouds. He looked so serene and calm framed in the gentle twilight that Sirius could hardly believe it was the same boy who just moments ago had attacked him. Regulus seemed to have no inclination to attack him now; he seemed lost in his own thoughts, staring at the stars. Sirius was unsure whether to move or speak, afraid that he would break the uneasy calm that had suddenly fallen upon him. Just as he was about to say something however, Regulus began to speak in a tumble of mashed up words.
"Sirius, you remember when we were kids, that time on your birthday when Mum and Dad were fighting downstairs about something and they were screaming so loud that we couldn't sleep? D'you remember how we sat up here shaking, wishing they'd just shut up and you said to me - you said┘" Regulus faltered and from behind, Sirius could see him brace himself and take a deep breath, all the while looking at the stars. "You said that they didn't matter, Mum and Dad, you said that the real family was just us two." Regulus lightly put the tip of his fingers against the glass of the window, arranging them so they covered the stars that were balefully twinkling outside. "Just us," he whispered, and then so quietly that Sirius could barely hear him, "shining like stars."
Regulus finally turned around and Sirius could see the tears in his eyes. Sirius tried to speak but there were no words to describe the guilt and the sorrow, the regrets and the pain that were paralysing him. He opened his mouth and then shut it again, took a breath and slowly exhaled it with Regulus watching him through those hauntingly grey eyes.
"Just go," Regulus replied, looking away from Sirius's face and staring fixedly at the floor.
"GO!" Sirius was shocked by the way that venom and anger had suddenly replaced the sadness in his brother's voice.
"I'm sorry, I never meant it to be this way," Sirius muttered, not looking as Regulus as he picked up his bag and threw it over his shoulder, heading for the door. As Sirius walked through the cold, dark house he was impervious to the curses and shouts of his parents in the kitchen below. He was deaf to the crowing of the aged house-elf grinning wickedly at the bottom of the stairs. All he could hear in his mind was Regulus's bitter laughter ringing through the empty corridors and rooms above.
He slammed the black painted door, the laughter choke into a racking, heartbroken sob.
Sirius stumbled off the bus and on to a deserted moonlit lane, taking one long look at the darkening sky. Out of habit he found that he had automatically picked out his and Regulus's stars: The Dog and the Little King. It was so accurate. Regulus had always been royalty in their parents eyes; he was the one who followed their sick, twisted beliefs, he was the one who had the respectable, pure-blood friends. Yet Sirius had been so sure that was all an act so sure that he could change his brother, get him to see things from the 'right' point of view. How could he have been so wrong?
Sirius broke out of his reverie when he realised that he had reached his destination. He paused at the gate, gazing down the long winding driveway of a large country house, red bricked and covered in creeping honeysuckle that scented the night air. Set behind the building was a thick wood and beyond that, Sirius knew - although you could not see it - the sea. Sirius let out a deep, weary sigh and slowly walked up the driveway, the bag on his shoulder seeming heavier with every step. When he reached the blue painted door he hesitated for a moment, convinced he could hear something in the back of his mind telling him to turn back, but then shook his head impatiently and knocked firmly on the door. It was opened by a messy haired, bespectacled person who looked down at him in surprise.
Sirius took one last look at the now inky sky. "Farewell Little King," he whispered, eyes prickling unpleasantly, as he slowly turned and stepped through the open door.