"I thought it was you," Sirius says, stepping into a tucked away sitting area behind Scribbulus Everchanging Inks.
Regulus looks up from what appears to be his sixth year Transfiguration text, his eyes wide and mouth agape. Sirius thinks that particular stunned look on his baby brother's face is worth a laugh and chuckles, earning him a sharp look in return. Regulus uncannily resembles Mother when he pulls that expression, and Sirius' laughter dies off quickly.
"Sirius," he acknowledges, nodding curtly before returning to the book.
It's obvious that he's not going to receive an invitation to tea, but Sirius can't help but think that Regulus is forcing some of the coldness in his actions. He can't really be so indifferent to Sirius' presence. Sirius is certainly not unmoved by his. After leaving home, he thought that he would never want to see anyone in his family again, but he had been wrong. Spotting Regulus from across the street made him realize just how much he did miss his brother. And to some degree, Regulus had to miss him too.
Sirius strolls closer to the bench that Regulus is occupying with a casual grace all his own. He sits down, crossing his legs and resting his arm across the back of the bench, and peers over Regulus' shoulder to read the book.
Regulus can sense Sirius' actions and turns quickly, lips pressed into a thin, irritated line and eyes narrowed. He closes his book with a loud thud, grey eyes locked on grey. Sirius smirks in victory at finally gaining his brother's undivided attention.
"You're so obnoxious," Regulus hisses, but his relaxing expression tells Sirius that he only half means it.
Sirius shrugs. "So how have you been, little brother?"
It seems strange to call him that, Sirius thinks. Strange because Regulus, now seventeen, is almost as tall as he is and has finally grown into himself. "Cute little Reggy" has somehow become a fetching young man, and for a moment Sirius wonders where all the time has gone.
For years, Sirius spent every waking moment in his brother's presence pointing out their differences. He didn't want to be just "one of the Black brothers"; he wanted to be Sirius and Regulus could just shove off and be Reg. But he realizes now that they are similar in some ways.
Looking at his younger brother, studying his face, Sirius sees how much they look alike—same strong jaw, same high cheek bones. They share the Black eyes, a cool grey that can pierce, and the same dark hair. Sirius has spent the better part of his teenage years growing it out to various lengths while Regulus has always kept his trimmed if not cropped. Sirius opens his mouth to tell him that if he grew it out just a pinch more, his chances of taking a bird into a broom cupboard would triple instantaneously, but he stops himself. That's something a big brother would do, and Sirius knows that Regulus doesn't see him in that role any longer.
"I've been well, thank you," Regulus replies tersely.
Sirius diverts his eyes. "And Mother and Father?"
He pretends like it doesn't matter, pretends like he doesn't care about his parents' well being. Unfortunately, he can't stop himself from caring quite yet. He left less than a year ago and is still bizarrely attached to that god-forsaken house and those wretched people he called parents. They spent years sending him admonishing letters expressing their disappointment and wasted hours of their lives shouting at him over the school holidays, but in some fucked up way, it showed that they did care. And now, having not heard a word from them since last Christmas, their silence is deafening.
"Mother is getting along alright," Regulus says softly. "But Father has recently fallen ill with a chest cold. They've been occurring rather frequently lately."
"Yeah?" The touch of worry in his voice surprises him.
Regulus abruptly straightens up. "Not that you care."
Sirius scoffs. "Of course, I don't. Sod them. Sod the whole family."
He wonders if Regulus buys it or whether he can see through Sirius' forced offhandedness. Judging from the look in his eyes, Reg knows, and is simply too polite to call his big brother out on his bullshit. Sirius swells with respect for his younger counterpart.
"How about you, Sirius?"
"Been alright, I guess" he says dismissively with a shrug. "Staying with the Potters. Not much else going on."
"To the contrary. According to the Prophet's society page, you've been squandering your inheritance on "frivolities" and a motorbike."
"You read about big brother in the Prophet, Reg? I'm touched."
"I hear about it via word-of-mouth actually—namely Mother's and Aunt Druella's. But off the record, I think the motorbike is brilliant."
Sirius smirks and cuffs Regulus on the arm, proud. When he usually recalls his life with Regulus, memories surface of him being a prim-and-proper Mama's boy. Sirius forgets those moments where Regulus showed his daring side or when the two of them bonded over the summers.
So much rubbish went awry last summer that Sirius nearly forgot about spending a weekend at Uncle Cygnus and Aunt Druella's vacation home. He was miserable for the most part, but he did recall nicking some gillyweed from the storage cupboard with his brother and then sneaking off to smoke it together. That was a rather spectacular moment of brotherly bonding, come to think of it.
"Despite what the articles say about your visiting Muggle brothels, I hope it isn't true," Regulus says. "Lupin seems like a nice bloke and probably hasn't done anything to warrant your promiscuity."
Sirius furrows his brow, amused. "Are you worried about my love life, Reg?"
"Take the statement as you will, Sirius."
"I don't fuck around on Remus, alright?" he explains, shoving his hand into his pocket and pulling out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He holds the pack out towards Regulus. "Want one?"
Regulus rolls his eyes. "No, thanks."
"How about a sugar quill then?" Sirius offers, pulling one out of his shopping bag.
"You were the one with the sugar quill addiction, even when we were boys. That should have been Mother's first clue that you weren't interested in girls. All that sucking you did..."
"Alright, alright." Sirius drops the sugar quill back into the bag and pulls out a small box of Peppermint Toads, shoving it into Regulus' hand. "These, I know you like."
"Thanks," Regulus says, surprised.
When Sirius lights his cigarette, he catches sight of the time on his wristwatch and remembers that he needs to get over to Quality Quidditch Supplies to meet James. But as he glances at Regulus, who is eagerly popping a Peppermint Toad in his mouth, Sirius feels guilty. He doesn't want to leave Regulus here, even though the younger boy would probably be happy to get rid of him.
"Listen, Reg…" Sirius begins, but isn't sure what exactly it is that he wants to say.
"I'm to be married," Regulus tells him abruptly, his voice easily communicating his misgivings about the situation.
"Mother and Father have it all arranged. The wedding will take place the summer after my graduation."
Sirius recalls his own betrothal—how he fought his parents, how he outed himself, how he refused to be married and threatened to run away. He hadn't wanted that for himself. But even more than that, he doesn't want it for Regulus. Regulus has spent so much of his life being their mother's puppet—doing what she asks, never questioning, never rebelling. And to think that he'll never know love even after all he's sacrificed to be the perfect son? It's too much for Sirius to comprehend. If anyone should be making sacrifices to the greater good, it's him. He's the older brother, after all. And because of his selfishness, Regulus will pay.
"She isn't the same girl they were going to have me marry, is she?"
Regulus shakes his head. "No, it's a French bride this time. Mother says she's pretty enough, complacent enough. She says that love isn't important, that it can come later."
"You don't have to put up with their bullshit, Reg. You can leave like I left." Sirius sighs. "Look I know we don't get along, but you could stay with me for a while. I'm going to have a flat of my own soon."
Regulus looks at him, his eyes full of disbelief. "I can't be you, Sirius. I can't turn my back on our parents. I may not like the arrangement, but I will do it for the sake of the family. Someone has to live up to their responsibilities."
Sirius feels like he should be ashamed of his previous behavior, but he isn't. He left the family because he would never have been able to survive in it. And as much as he and Regulus look alike, as easily as they can share a conversation or a joint or a name, they're two entirely different people.
"I'm sorry, Reg."
He isn't sorry for leaving, but for not being the brother that he should have been to Regulus. Sirius stands and looks down at his younger brother—stares at the face so remarkably similar to his—and thinks that in another time, in another place, they could have been real brothers.