Sirius leaned on the iron railing of the balcony and took a slow drag from his cigarette. In truth, the balcony could only really be called a balcony if one were being very generous. It was hardly a foot in width and could only be entered by a door more appropriately termed a window. It was a precarious perch, probably meant more for ornamentation than actual use, but Sirius liked it there. Besides, Remus wouldn't let him smoke in the flat. Not that he would have anyway, that wasn't the point of smoking.
Like many other of his more rebellious habits, he had first started smoking because of his mother, who called cigarettes "muggle poison" and had thrown quite the fit (less of an exaggeration with Walburga Black than with most mothers) when Sirius had come home smelling of smoke. He had had a long and fascinating conversation with an old muggle with a motorbike who had merrily puffed away at his cig the entire time. The then thirteen-year-old Sirius, who had felt he might as well commit the sin if he was to receive the punishment, used a summoning charm to acquire a pack of cigarettes from the nearest store and snuck out onto the roof of Grimmauld Place to try the muggle diversion that very night. In retrospect, it was fortunate that Mrs. Black had punished him for the lesser sin of smoking rather than for actually speaking to such filth, else he might have been forced to flee home and infringe upon the Potter's hospitality far earlier than he had.
There is little space for silence or solitude in the life of a teenage boy, perhaps in particular a teenage boy who is a resident of Gryffindor tower. Smoking was a reason, an excuse, to leave, to get out, to get away, to the roof or the Astronomy tower or behind the greenhouses, a reason to feel the air on his skin, even at times like these, when snow clumped on the railing of the tiny balcony and that air was well below zero, a reason to be alone just long enough that he didn't have to admit that's what he needed, just long enough for his cigarette to burn down to the filter.
Sirius tapped his cigarette on the railing and watched the ash begin to fall to the alleyway four stories below. What he was about to do was risky, and potentially very stupid, but as Sirius knew well, some things were worth the risk. He took out his wand, vanished the remains of his cigarette, and ducked inside the flat. He put on James' invisibility cloak, which James had lent him the night before in exchange for a few questions and a promise to be careful, and disapparated.
Sirius had gotten up early the day before. He had nothing to do that morning and had had some intention of making breakfast before he was interrupted by an owl tapping at the window. The bird dropped a message on the kitchen table and left abruptly. Sirius read the message and promptly sat down at the table and stared at it until Remus, who had been somewhat unnerved by his uncharacteristic silence when he got up to make his morning tea, put a hand on his shoulder and said, with some concern, "Sirius?"
Sirius hadn't noticed his approach and would have been unsettled had anyone else come upon him that unawares, but he knew Remus, knew his energy and his presence so well that it was more comfortable for him to be there than for him not to be, even though Remus was absent more and more often now.
Sirius let out a deep breath, closed his eyes, and handed him the piece of parchment. Its message was short and terse.
Our father is dead. I thought you ought to know. The service is tomorrow at one.
Remus sat down at the table beside Sirius and watched his face carefully for some sign of how to interpret this. He looked utterly lost.
"I don't know why he contacted me. It's not as if I wouldn't have seen the obituary in the Prophet. And it's not as if I could go."
It was true. The Order might hold funerals sacred, but the Death Eaters had no such qualms. Most of the Black family could still be counted on to uphold propriety and tradition long enough to delay attacking Sirius until after the funeral, but dear cousin Bellatrix was unlikely to let Sirius leave alive.
Sirius' reaction was not typical to the death of a family member, but Sirius' relationship with his family was hardly typical. It could hardly be called a relationship, really.
"Maybe he thought it would be better if you heard it from him?" Remus suggested.
"Why?" Sirius asked. "It's not as if I'm particularly sorry he's dead." He sighed deeply. "But I'm not happy either. I don't even hate him like I do my mother. He was hardly ever there…. He taught me Astronomy, I suppose," Sirius laughed bitterly. "I remember asking him once why all the Blacks were named for stars. You know what he said?"
Remus shook his head.
"'No, the stars are named for Blacks.'" Sirius laughed again, and ran a hand through his hair. "I don't know if he was joking or not. For the longest time I believed him, too." He smiled slightly and shook his head. "But… It's almost as if I heard some stranger had died."
Remus knew that that was not entirely true, and at the least Sirius was disturbed over his own lack of feeling, but it did not warrant mentioning.
"I think he wants me to go." Sirius said suddenly.
Sirius turned to Remus and nodded. Remus covered his mouth to hide his frown. It was really too early for this. Sirius could be more than usually unreasonable on the subject of his little brother.
"Are you going to?" He asked carefully.
"I can't! I've already said that!"
Remus looked at him shrewdly. "But you're thinking about it anyway."
Sirius sighed and put his face in his hands. Really Moony knew him too well. How had he let that happen?
"Yes. Not openly of course," He continued before Remus could call him an idiot. "I could borrow James' cloak."
"Why, though?" Remus asked. Sirius seemed unlikely to need the closure, or to want to listen to some minister talk about what a loss his father was to the wizarding community. "Why take the risk?"
Sirius scooted the message towards himself, a very solemn expression on his face, and tapped Regulus' signature. Of course. It was as Remus suspected. To most others, Sirius' concern for his younger brother might have seemed out of character, especially since, to Remus' knowledge, they hadn't spoken since Sirius had graduated from Hogwarts. However, despite the very little good Sirius had to say about most of the rest of his family, he had always defended Regulus. Regulus is young. Regulus is stupid. Regulus is innocent. Regulus needs guidance. Regulus needs to be protected.
When Regulus started at Hogwarts Sirius made the attempt to take him under his wing. On the train Sirius hadn't let him out of his sight, but Regulus didn't take to his older brother's protection very well. Two years of his parents' tirades against Sirius and Gryffindor house had made him more than suspicious of Sirius. During the carriage ride to the school Sirius had been inconsolable, muttering to himself "He won't be in Gryffindor, I know he's chickenshit. Maybe Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff. That would be okay…. No, he's stupid. And he's lazy, too. He's going to be put in Slytherin and I'm going to lose him and there's never going to be any hope for him ever."
During the Sorting, Sirius had gripped the house table as if it were a cliff he were dangling off of, and when "Black, Regulus" was sorted into Slytherin Sirius made a strangled sound and slammed his head and elbows into the table, perhaps so he could pretend the tears that were filling his eyes were caused by pain, and not by grief and rage at losing his idiot little brother, his Reggie.
The very first weekend that he and his friends were allowed to visit Hogsmeade Sirius made a point of visiting the post office in order to buy a Howler. Despite Remus' and Peter's urgings not to, he sent it to the Slytherin common room that very night, saying, in sepulchral tones, "ANYONE WHO HURTS MY BROTHER ANSWERS TO ME."
The howler made Sirius' life, and by extension the rest of the third year Gryffindor boys' lives, hell, as many of the older Slytherin students had not taken well to being threatened by a third year. Bellatrix in particular made a point of proving that Sirius was no match for her. Yet she held back slightly, still believing that Sirius' will would eventually be broken, and that he would abandon his mudblood and blood traitor friends to crawl back to the house of Black, begging for forgiveness.
James had relished the excuse to curse Slytherins. Peter had relished the chance to prove his mettle. Remus had lost a lot of sleep. Most of the curses Remus knew he learned that year, and he had used them often, either defending Sirius from Slytherin attack or tearing after him when he went marauding after some student who had done real or imagined injury to Regulus--to be sure that Sirius didn't kill them. It was that year that the Marauders acquired their group name. It was also that year that James' and Sirius' insult war with Severus Snape turned violent.
Regulus did not thank Sirius for his efforts. Far from making Regulus' life easier, some of the Slytherins tormented him just to goad Sirius. After Sirius proved himself as good as his word many of them avoided him altogether. Andromeda took Sirius aside and told him that a weak Slytherin was a dead Slytherin, and that Sirius wasn't doing Regulus any favors by implying he needed protection. Sirius didn't listen, however, until in the middle of an attack on Snape, Regulus cursed Sirius himself. It was a minor jinx, but it did the intended damage. Sirius had paced the Gryffindor common room in a rage that night. How could he value Snape, Snivellus, more than his own brother? How could he defend that greaseball, that sniveling piece of filth, who wasn't even pureblood? Lily had taken him to task for his hypocrisy, and no one in Gryffindor tower had defended him.
So it was that Regulus won the respect of the Slytherins and Sirius seemingly lost all hope of ever reclaiming his brother. He remained protective, however, even as Regulus' views became more and more obviously in line with those of the rest of the Black family--and the rising Dark Lord. Sirius went so far as to refuse to aim bludgers at Regulus in fifth year when Sirius played Beater for Gryffindor and Regulus played Seeker for Slytherin. Gryffindor lost that match, and James didn't speak to Sirius for a week.
So it came as little surprise to Remus that Sirius wanted to see his little brother so badly, especially if Sirius thought that Regulus had made some indication, no matter how vague, of wanting to see him.
Remus' honey brown eyes met Sirius' pale grey ones. "You know," he said carefully. "This could be a trap."
"The thought occurred to me," Sirius said wryly. "But I don't think so. Probably he doesn't want me to see me at all and I'm just delusional. But… I have to see him. I have to talk to him if I can."
Remus smiled sadly at his friend. Sirius had weighed the consequences as best as he was capable, and had already made his decision. This conversation was a mere formality."I'm not going to be able to talk you out of this, am I?"
"No." Sirius smiled too, but didn't meet Remus' eyes this time. "I'm sorry."
Sirius arrived in front of an ornate black gate. Unless he was very mistaken, his father's funeral would be held in the private chapel on the grounds of his Uncle Cygnus' estate. He would be buried in the family cemetery right beside it, where centuries of Blacks had been laid to rest. The house of Black was too pure to mingle with those of lesser blood, even in death. Even good old Uncle Alphard was buried there, as his will had not been read until well after his burial and exhuming him might have caused a scandal.
The gate was charmed to allow only those of Black blood (or their invited guests) to pass through, but Sirius had that in plenty. It opened silently to allow him entrance and closed with a slight clank behind him. He knew the place well, though he had not set foot there in years. He, his brother, and his cousins had played here often, usually whatever game Bellatrix thought up. Muggle hunting had been a favorite. Sirius and Regulus, city children, had relished the opportunity to run wild across the expansive grounds while visiting with Uncle Cygnus and Aunt Druella. He had but one purpose now, however, and began to crunch through the snow away from the wide lawn that led to the manor and toward a narrow tree-lined path to his left. Sirius stopped and cursed inwardly. The snow. How had he not thought of that? If he had he could have could have charmed a pair of shoes or something, but there was no time now. He continued on and hoped that no one noticed the extra set of footprints, at least until he was well away from the manor.
He continued through the frozen trees, checking often for his undesired relatives, but he saw no sign of them until the chapel came into view, a gothic cathedral in miniature. And there was his dear old mum, wearing a traditional black witches' cap with an equally traditional black veil, being helped up the steps by his cousin-in-law Rodolphus Lestrange. Sirius hurried after and just caught the door after they passed. The chapel had room for about fifty. An invitation to a Black wedding, or funeral for that manner, was coveted. Now it was filled to capacity. The chapel had seven stained glass windows depicting, in full color, and thanks to magic, full motion, scenes in the life of Christ. The largest of these was behind the altar and depicted the crucifixion, which Sirius remembered watching with the sympathy born of fellow-suffering during Bellatrix's immensely long wedding. The Blacks, like many of the older wizarding families, had taken on the new religion only in appearance, and believed that Christ and his disciples had been wizards, who, taking pity on the pathetic lives of their muggle neighbors, performed "miracles" to help them and heal them. The muggle authorities feared their power, and Judas Iscariot, perhaps the first blood traitor, had turned Jesus over to them. The entire story was relegated to little more than an object lesson about what happened to wizards who got too chummy with muggles. It was not until years later that Sirius ever heard of Jesus' teachings, or of his alleged sacrifice for the sins of the world, from Peter of all people.
A wizard with a powdered wig was pounding out a dirge on the pipe organ, which was the size of the chapel itself. Its pipes, unrestrained by the usual laws of physics or acoustics, curled up the walls, looped into complex knots, and twisted around the rafters, until each ended, at over a hundred different points in the chapel, in a spitting snake head.
His mother and Regulus sat in the front pew, the chief mourners, and then his aunt Lucretia, a grim and skeletal looking woman, followed by his uncle Cygnus, his mother's brother, and his wife Druella. Behind them were Bellatrix and her husband Rodolphus, his brother Rabastan, Narcissa, who was very pregnant, and Lucius Malfoy. Behind these were dozens of witches and wizards from families of repute. As a child Sirius had been forced to memorize all their names, playing the dutiful heir, but none of them meant anything to him now except those who were known or suspected Death Eaters. All sat in terse and respectful silence.
Sirius was already regretting his decision to come here. He felt much like some escaped animal who had come back to its cage and was very afraid of being trapped inside it again. He swallowed his anxiety and walked straight up the aisle, his footsteps drowned out by the impressive volume of the organ. He approached his father's coffin and spray of funeral flowers and paused to look. Orion Black looked much as Sirius remembered him, except his face was gaunt, hollowed out, and his dark hair was streaked with gray, where Sirius only remembered the gray at the temples. He had not been very old, not for a wizard, and Sirius wondered exactly what had caused his death. His coffin was of sleek black ebony, and carved with runes meant to invoke peace and rest. The lining was silver-gray velvet, a close match to the color his eyes would have been were they not closed forever. Their gaze had been calm, stoic, unflappable and unreadable. Sirius remembered him in stark contrast to his mother's hysterics. Though his mother had taught him how to talk, how to walk, how to dress, how to act like the scion of the house of Black, a prince of wizards, it was his father whom he had learned from, whom he had mimicked, whose very posture and choice of cuff links somehow implicitly stated that he ruled the world. As a young boy he had idolized him. As a young man he had not yet removed all traces of him from his bearing and his speech. He would never be able to remove them from his face. He could only recall his father revealing emotion one time, when he had scowled and slapped Sirius across the face the day that Sirius had told him he was leaving. Though Sirius would never admit it to anyone, he felt a twinge of regret, looking at Orion Black lying in an ebony box and remembering that moment.
Sirius dared not spend much time in reminiscence, however, and moved to a front corner of the chapel, where he was no one was likely to bump into him.
The organist finished his dirge and a man stood to speak. Sirius recognized him as an official from the ministry whom his father had had connections with. Sirius mind wandered as he spoke, of Orion's charitable contributions, his great intellect, his magical legacy, and he stared at the funeral flowers. Gladiolas, roses, lilies. Lily. Lily's pregnant, just starting to show. That meant James and Lily's child and Narcissa's child would be in the same year at Hogwarts. Poor kid, having to put up with the offspring of that. Any child of a Black and a Malfoy would have an ego the size of a quidditch pitch. Sirius almost
snorted. Not that I'm one to talk. He looked over at his blood kin and almost gasped when he took a good look at Regulus. He looked dead on his feet, and had deep circles under his eyes. Sirius watched as he bowed his head during the final prayer and then took his place as pallbearer. Tradition dictated that witches and wizards in mourning did not perform magic for a period after a death, so the coffin was carried by hand. In addition to being a sign of respect, the tradition saved a depressed magic user from embarrassment at not being able to perform a spell.
Three of the Lestranges, Cygnus Black and Lucius Malfoy carried the coffin along with Regulus. In some alternate universe, Sirius would have replaced one of them. In this universe, Sirius stayed in his corner until everyone had cleared the chapel, then followed the procession out the door. He stayed on the chapel steps, afraid that his footprints would be noticed if he went any further, and watched as they lowered his father into the ground in front of a black marble headstone, threw dirt and flowers onto the casket, then spoke a few more words that he couldn't hear. Someone not close enough to the family to be honor bound not to perform magic shifted a pile of dirt onto the coffin with a spell. Very slowly, the funeral party began to amble their way up the path to the manor. Sirius was beginning to be afraid that the entire trip was futile and that he was never going to be able to catch his brother alone to talk to him, but just as Sirius was about to give up hope Regulus left the group on their way to the manor and walked back toward the graveside. Sirius hurried toward him, not wanting to miss his chance, but Narcissa, noticing Regulus' absence, followed him as well. Sirius froze, then ran to where a tombstone would hide the point where his footprints ended from her view, just to be safe.
"You can't stay out here in the cold." Her voice was slightly muffled by the snow.
Regulus looked around, slightly startled, then relaxed. "No, I guess not."
"You need to take care of yourself," She said gently." If you're not back at the manor in fifteen minutes, I'm coming back here to drag you." Regulus smiled very slightly.
Narcissa patted him on the arm, then waddled back up the path. Regulus continued to stare at the grave. Sirius waited until Narcissa was hidden by the trees before he moved.
Sirius stopped mid-step. Regulus looked at his footprints, then directly where his head would be. Sirius looked around once more, then swept off the cloak.
Regulus stared at him a moment, then said "I thought you might come. You shouldn't have, but I'm glad you did anyway."
"Regulus, I…" What? I'm sorry our father is dead, not because I'm sorry he's dead, but because I'm sorry you had to deal with it? I'm sorry I haven't seen you in three years, but there's this slight problem with our family being a bunch of homicidal maniacs and us maybe being on opposite sides in a war?
"…you look terrible."
Regulus rolled his eyes. "Thanks. That's exactly why I wanted to talk to you, I don't get insulted often enough without you."
"I'd be an idiot to say you're ugly, you look just like me," he said, but that wasn't exactly true. The two were obviously brothers, and they both had the same superficial features, dark hair, grey eyes, high cheekbones. But Sirius was tall and square-jawed and handsome, while Regulus was slight and slightly shorter, and the classic Black features combined to make him look almost pretty instead of handsome.
"You are an idiot," Regulus said, but smiled as he did so.
Sirius smiled back, but was uneasy. The two hadn't been on good terms since Sirius was thirteen, and now they were bantering? "No… you look ill, or like you haven't slept in a month."
Regulus looked angry for a moment, but then sighed and looked down at the ground. There was an awkward pause.
"Look, I…" Sirius started. "I would just like to be your brother, if that's possible. I never hated you, just…"
"Just all the rest of the house of Black and Slytherin house? Sirius, I can't be all chummy with you when you hate everyone I care about. And I look terrible because, yes, I haven't truly slept in about a month. Father has been sick for the last six months, and I think Mother's going mad, and where the hell were you? And I've been trying to fight a war that I don't—" He stopped short. "I don't even know why I'm talking to you." His velvet-trimmed robes swirled around him as he turned toward the path, but Sirius grabbed his left arm. Regulus hissed as if in pain and turned on him. "Don't touch me!"
"Look, Reg, I know you wanted me to come or you wouldn't have sent me the letter. I… I'm sorry you had to deal with everything on your own, but I didn't know what was going on and I couldn't have come back anyway!"
"You could have not left!"
"No, I couldn't have! You said I hate everyone you care about? How the hell do you think I felt, staying in that house? And if I'd come to visit, you'd have probably stunned me and turned me in to Voldemort, so he'd let you join his little club!"
"You could have, I don't know, written a letter?!"
"Would you have read it!?"
Sirius anger deflated, and he remembered why he had really come. "I… Regulus, I left all that behind. We're on opposite sides of a war now." He paused, and looked at him hard. "I mean, you are a Death Eater, aren't you?"
Regulus looked away. "Yes…" he said. He looked as if he wanted to say more.
"Why did you want me to come?"
"Because…" Regulus steeled himself to finish his sentence. "You are the only person I have ties to who doesn't believe in pureblood supremacy."
For the first time today, Sirius felt a tiny golden ray of hope. Regulus continued.
"I'm not saying I'll join your crusade for equality," he said sharply. "Muggles and wizards shouldn't intermarry, it is below us. And mudbloods are not the same as us, but…. Sirius, what do you fight for? What do you kill for?"
Sirius would have liked to have responded that the Order didn't kill people, but it simply wasn't true. Yes, they killed in defense and in battle, but they were still the cause of deaths. Wizards like Dumbledore and Moody avoided killing at all costs, but most did not have the skill for such luxuries. Sirius respected the way they stuck to their spells, but had never made the attempt at mercy himself. The way he saw it a dead Death Eater on the field meant one less who would kill one of them later. He had only killed once that he was certain of, but the only thing that gave him pause on the subject was the thought that it might one day be his little brother behind the mask.
"To protect the innocent," Sirius answered simply. "To protect my friends, most of all." And for the good old Gryffindor pride, honor, and heroics, but you don't want to hear about that.
"To protect…" Regulus whispered. "Yes. That is where you and I differ, and where I made a wrong turn."
Sirius did not know what to say. He felt it was dangerous for him to say anything.
"If the Dark Lord were to fall tomorrow," Regulus said as if he were talking to himself. "No one would prevent the pure of blood from living as they always have."
"Are you saying you want out?" Sirius blurted.
"I'm saying… One should not kill a dog for being a dog."
Sirius was stung by the insult to the race of canines, but said urgently "We can help you, you know, even if you don't join us. We could hide you."
"I don't want your help." Regulus said with finality. Sirius' youthful attempts to protect him stood unmentioned between them. "I already have what I needed from you."
"You do know that if you leave Voldemort will have you killed, right?"
He didn't even wince at the name. "I imagine he'd be forced to."
"Are you sure you don't want—"
"Yes, brother, I am sure."
Regulus turned toward Sirius and saw the intense pride and equally intense fear burning in his eyes. Suddenly, his own eyes widened as he remembered where they were.
"You need to leave, you can't be seen here."
"Dammit. You're right, but… Contact me if you change your mind. Or if you just want to talk."
Sirius hesitated momentarily, then threw caution to the winds and embraced his brother. Regulus tensed, but returned the hug. They pulled apart, but Sirius kept his hands on his shoulders.
"Don't do anything stupid."
Regulus gave only a half smile in response. Sirius swept on the cloak and the two parted. He got only a few steps before he turned to watch Regulus take a bend in the path and disappear behind a stand of trees.
It was the last time he saw him.
A/N: Yeah, yeah. This probably never happened, but what's the point of fanfiction?
Encouragement and constructive criticism are always wonderful.