A/N: Written for the Instrument Competition (prompt: Sirius and piano) and the One Shot Competition (prompt: Christmas). I do not own the characters because I am not JK Rowling.
Sirius Black was twelve years old the last time he spent Christmas with his Uncle Cygnus and Aunt Druella. It was strange, visiting there, with Bellatrix spending Christmas with her husband, and Sirius's favorite cousin, Andromeda, already removed from the elaborate family tree. She had only run off with Ted Tonks a few months previously; her name was absolutely forbidden.
After dinner, while the adults retreated to the sitting room for whatever it was that adults did after dinner, Narcissa was charged with watching Sirius and Regulus in the parlor. The sixteen-year-old didn't seem keen on looking out for them, and positioned herself at the grand piano in a corner of the room. As she sat and played scales, Sirius was content to sit and entertain his little brother, but after a few minutes passed, she began to play a song.
He stopped mid-word and gaped at his cousin's talent. His own mother despised music and refused to have a piano in the house, unlike so many other Pure-blood families, and he had never had the chance to learn. Up until now, he had never regretted it.
Narcissa's hands moved across the keys and Sirius found himself edging across the floor to be closer, to see what it was she was doing. "Sirius, can you come help me with this?"
"Shh, Regulus!" he whispered back to his brother. "I'm listening to Cissy!" At his words, Narcissa immediately stopped playing and turned to look at him. "Please - don't stop playing, Narcissa. I'm sorry to be a bother."
"You like that piece?" she asked kindly.
"Yes, I do. It's beautiful."
"Would you like to try it?"
He nodded, unable to force words to form. He got up from the floor and sat beside his tall, blonde cousin on the piano bench. "Hold your hands like this," Narcissa said, "and place them on these keys." He did as he was instructed, and she sat with her hands matching his. "Now pay attention to what I do, and try to imitate me."
She moved her right hand only, pinkie on a white key, ring finger reaching up to the black key below it. With deliberation, she alternated between the two keys a few times, then stopped and nodded to her cousin. He hit the notes correctly, but it sounded nothing like Narcissa's playing. "Why doesn't it sound as good when I try?" Sirius asked, disappointed.
"There are a few reasons, really. The first is that you need to practice a lot. Playing the piano is really difficult; you can't expect to be perfect the first time you try it. But secondly, and most important, music is a way to express emotion. You have to feel something. And when you press the notes, you sort of let your emotions sink into the piano. Even a piece like Fur Elise - the one I was teaching you - sounds completely different when I'm angry than when I'm thinking about Lu- than when I'm happy, or feeling melancholic. This song is about longing, and about romance." She smiled gently before continuing. "You might be too young to understand that quite yet, though. Try playing the notes again, but play them while thinking about something that you wish for."
Again, she showed him the pattern of the back-and-forth between the white and black keys, and continued for a few seconds more. Sirius placed his hand back onto the piano, thinking for a moment about the notes he was supposed to play, and then completely changing his thoughts. He remembered how little his family tolerated him, now that he was Gryffindor, how he wished they could see how wrong they were about Muggle-borns, how he wished he could be accepted for who he was. Then, his mind still on these things, he played the notes.
It didn't have quite the quality that Narcissa's own accomplished playing had, but it wasn't the same choppy sound he had made the first time he tried. "See? It makes a difference, doesn't it? With a little practice, I think you could become a great pianist one day."
"Thanks, Cissy," Sirius said, getting down from the bench. "Maybe I will get to come back here more often. But for now, will you please play me the whole song?"
She nodded and again pressed her fingers to the keys. Sirius sat enraptured through the entire song; it was as if he could feel the longing and emotions of the piece himself. He was so lost in the music that he didn't even hear his aunt and uncle coming in to the parlor. "Come, children. It's time to open your presents. Narcissa, you're getting tolerable, I suppose, but your arpeggios are completely out of rhythm. Tomorrow, I expect you to play through the arpeggios with the metronome. For the whole hour of your practice."
"Yes, mother," she said, looking down.
Regulus had already eagerly run past his aunt, ready to open their gifts, but Sirius hung back with Narcissa. "Is she always like that?"
"Yes. Especially when it comes to piano playing. I'm engaged to marry Lucius Malfoy when I graduate, and the Malfoys made it clear that they expect the wife of their son to be an accomplished musician. Mother doesn't think I'm good enough yet."
"I do," Sirius said, then looked away, embarrassed. "But I guess becoming as good as you are is really hard work?"
"I practice for an hour every day. Two days per week I am allowed to practice whatever I would like, but the other days, my mother is there, determining what pieces I will work on and reminding me of all my shortcomings. Andr- I mean, well, my other sister was always better than I am at piano. I think Mum's still upset that she left; she would have made a good wife to someone respectable. But, yes, it is a lot of practice. When I'm allowed to play for myself, I think it's worth it."
Sirius ignored the comment about his middle cousin; speaking of her was not only taboo, it would remind him all the more how much he missed having her around. He was surprised at how much work Narcissa had to put into playing. While he thought she was brilliant, and wanted to be as good as her one day, the prospect of spending all his free time in front of a piano didn't suit him. He wanted time for James, for Peter and Remus. He wanted time for Quidditch and bartering for Muggle posters he could hang in his room at home to upset his parents. He would be happy enough to just come hear Narcissa play again.
As it turned out, his parents had only kept their engagement to meet for Christmas because they had agreed to it before Andromeda had disgraced the family name. Backing out from an engagement was considered poor form, so they followed through politely. But Sirius would never set foot in his Uncle Cygnus's house again.