Summary: "You're my brother," he says.
Regulus pauses, pressing his lips together. "No, I'm not."
Fandom: Harry Potter
Characters: Sirius Black, Regulus Black
Disclaimer: I own nothing; I'm just playing with them. Really.
Original story: A Marauder's Map, by xylodemon
Notes: Thanks to musesfool for the beta. Anything still wrong with this is all me.
Falling Apart in Slow Motion (The Brother's Keeper Remix)
School flashes by in a rush of bright days and whispered secrets, in sunlight and laughter that Sirius can sometimes taste on his skin; happiness tastes like pumpkin juice, and when he maps the stars in astronomy, it feels like the most powerful magic he knows, freedom coursing in his blood, strong as the wind through his hair when he flies.
James finally kisses Lily under mistletoe that Sirius and Remus charmed to pour water over any couple unfortunate enough to be under it, but for once, Lily doesn't yell at James. She only smiles, a warm, pleased kind of smile Sirius thinks bodes trouble for them all, and laughs when James threatens to hex Sirius six ways from Sunday.
It's never the ending he thought it would be, though; James is still his, and Lily tells him so while she drinks his firewhisky, her hand cool and soft where it touches his face, the sweet, girl smell of her making him feel at home instead of threatened like it has for the last two years.
James tells him the same thing later, considerably more drunk and considerably less coherent. What he actually says is, "Pumpkin pie is...with the wine, you know, and that sort of thing, but you and me--" And then he pauses briefly while he passes out on Sirius's shoulder, "Brothers. Forways and allever."
The first thing Sirius remembers is Regulus, pristine baby robes and baby smell that made Sirius's nose itch. He had seemed tiny then, even to two-year-old Sirius, and Mother had said he wasn't allowed to play with him--"Babies are very fragile, Sirius. Like the ornaments in the parlour."
Sirius had poked the tiny bundle in the side when she wasn't looking, hadn't wanted to share Mother or his toys, and Regulus had only gurgled, face scrunched up in what might've been a smile. Eventually, Sirius kind of liked that smile, and he'd poke him just to see it, worked out that if he drew tiny circles on Regulus's belly, he would burble and laugh like Sirius was magical.
Later, when he was big enough to walk and talk and get in Sirius's way while Sirius tried to read or study the important things Mother gave him--complicated things about the House of Black Sirius didn't really understand--Regulus still looked at Sirius like that, and when Regulus asked questions and tried to follow the words with his finger, the books never seemed as bad.
Mother told him he was the heir, special, and Sirius didn't really understand that, either, but he felt important when Regulus was scared (Regulus was always scared of Kreacher for some reason, and of the paintings watching him as he slept), and thought Sirius could fix it. Sirius would let him crawl into bed beside him, could still smell that baby scent, and it still tickled his nose, but Sirius kind of liked it.
He goes home for Easter of his sixth year on a wave of broken promises and maybe, maybe forgiveness. He's got two weeks in a house he hates, with people who hate him for reasons too stupid for Sirius to wrap his head around, but he's got ten more weeks waiting when this is done, time spent in a place he loves, with people who love him, even when they shouldn't. Two weeks is nothing, a temporary prison Sirius will endure because he has to.
He's been there three days, when he realises he doesn't have to.
The stupid thing is, he never means for it to happen. He doesn't know there's a party planned, doesn't give a damn about the Black social calendar, and he hasn't worn his dress robes in a year, so it's no wonder they don't fit him.
His mother slaps him when she sees, a stinging blow he's used to by now, but it's anger he feels and not pain; it's been that way since he realised other parents--James's parents--used their hands for affection, to stroke away hurt rather than cause it.
"I will not have it," she shouts, spots of colour high up on her cheeks, her hair wild without the charms applied yet to make it immaculate, eyes that he sees reflected back at him in the mirror gone glassy with rage. "I will not tolerate this kind of disrespect in this house!"
Around his ankles, Kreacher works with child-sized scissors Regulus and he used to play with when they were younger, mostly because they weren't allowed. He glances down, takes in the frayed jeans and Doc Martens the robes are four inches too short to hide, is half expecting Regulus to tell her about the Sex Pistols t-shirt the robes do manage to conceal. Regulus stays silent, though, and Sirius doesn't want to be grateful.
"You are an embarrassment!" she shouts. "You are a disgrace to this family! Running around with blood-traitors and weaklings! With half-breeds!"
She raises her hand again, but Sirius is a smile away from laughter; the things his mother doesn't know about his friends would make her apoplectic. He thinks of telling her; it might be worth it, but he's spilled too many secrets already that he should have held more carefully, and there are other things he isn't even willing to admit to himself yet.
"You don't want to hit me," he says, instead, his voice silky smooth, just the way she taught him to be in company. He likes to stay calm in the face of her fury; it only makes her more frantic, and then she isn't his mother at all, only madness and anger and hate, and he can forget that he ever knew more of her than disgust and the burn of her hand. "You don't know where I've been."
It's his mother's turn to flinch. She pulls her hand back, and in the stillness that follows, there is the sound of ripping fabric, and when Sirius looks down, there's a hole in his robes, Kreacher prone on the floor, terror on his face.
It jolts his mother from her shock, and she's pointing her wand at Kreacher before Sirius can blink, screaming and kicking. Kreacher apparates a second before red sparks fly from her wand, and the carpet singes where they land.
"And you, filth," she continues, rounding on Sirius. The tip of her wand looms just a few inches from his face, but strangely, the cold chill creeping across his skin is emptiness rather than fear. "You are no son of mine!"
Regulus gasps behind her, for a moment the little boy Sirius could always impress, and Sirius feels like ice in the sunshine, cracks appearing faster than he can stop them. Still, what she says is true, or at least Sirius wants it to be true as much as she does.
He holds his head up, tears the robes off and smiles, every inch as proud as she wanted him to be, just not for the reasons she did. "No, I'm not."
She doesn't draw back this time, though she's breathing heavily when she lifts her wand, her tongue, always quick to scold, now as quick to curse.
"Expelliarmus," Sirius says, and the wand clatters to the ground. "Petrificus Totalus."
She follows the wand, looks oddly graceful as she falls, and the sound she makes when she hits the carpet isn't as loud as Sirius expected. Regulus watches with wide, frightened eyes, his hand moving for his own wand. Sirius would probably do the same, but it still hurts a little.
"I didn't make it very strong," Sirius says, pocketing his wand. "She'll be out ten minutes, at the most."
Regulus takes a step towards him, and Sirius sees himself in his brother's face, sharp angles and high cheekbones, eyes that always give away more than Sirius wants to tell. "You're leaving." It's not a question.
Sirius snorts and gestures to their mother. "Well, I've got to now, don't I?"
Regulus crosses his arms, in what is meant to be defiance but looks more like a child hugging himself for comfort. He makes an odd jerking motion with his head, shaking it and nodding together, and Sirius thinks if Reg had been sorted differently, they would maybe still be brothers in more than name.
"You should go, too," Sirius says. "You shouldn't stay here. She's barking."
"I've nowhere else to go," Regulus says simply. "It's not like that, in Slytherin. I don't have friends." He says it like having them is a curse, a weakness rather than strength.
"You can come with me."
"Can I." Also flat, toneless. Regulus' face could be carved from stone. "Somehow I doubt that."
He has no reason to believe he could. Sirius hasn't given him one in years, has maybe forgotten how.
"You're my brother," he says.
Regulus pauses, pressing his lips together. "No, I'm not."
The ice finally breaks, a rending that's soundless and forever, and Sirius turns away. There is truth in Regulus's words. James has been Sirius's brother for years, but it still feels like betrayal when he leaves half an hour later, and he isn't sure who's betraying whom.
When Sirius is sorted into Gryffindor, he gets seven howlers, four hexes each from his cousins, and a Marvin the Mad Muggle comic from Regulus. He imagines his parents don't know about that, but Regulus was taught by Sirius, every trick Sirius knew about avoiding suspicion and detection, and he feels a warm glow of pride that even the taunts of the Slytherins and the suspicions of the Gryffindors can't quite erase.
He gets a howler from his mother every other day for the rest of the year, detailed instructions on how he should behave for the alternate days, and once a week a letter or package from Regulus (half-eaten bag of Every Flavour Beans once, sometimes chocolate frog cards, whatever Regulus can sneak).
Later, he shares the contents of the letters from his mother with James and Remus and Peter, but Regulus's he keeps just for himself.
They stop in April when Mother finally finds out, and when Sirius comes home in the summer, full of stories of pranks and spells and his friends, she is already trying to put distance between them. Regulus still sneaks into his room at night, and listens with shining eyes as Sirius tells him, in minute detail, every story he can remember.
He spends Christmas at Hogwarts, enjoys his dinner and the endless laughter, but he falls asleep remembering the hurt on Regulus's face when Sirius spoke to him through the fire, and he feels a lump of something in his belly anyone who wasn't a Black might call guilt.
He makes sure to go home at Easter, though, but Regulus asks less, parrots lines about blood purity and weakness, and Sirius punches him for the first time when he says Remus shouldn't even be allowed to go to school with them. Regulus doesn't know it's not just about his blood, and Sirius can't explain. They don't talk for the rest of the holidays--no one sulks like a Black--and he spends summer with James.
The next time he sees Regulus, he's got the sorting hat on his head, and Sirius has pretended he isn't hoping for it to give him his brother back, but when it announces Slytherin, he knows he has been.
He looks up at the table, sees his family round his brother, and when he tries to catch Regulus's eye, Bellatrix smirks at him, puts her hand on Regulus's cheek and turns him away.
They don't speak in school after that, and James sticks even closer to Sirius's side, until Sirius forgets to notice where Regulus is and what he's doing.
They're waiting for an Order meeting when they find out. They're always in an Order meeting these days, smoky bars and abandoned warehouses, secrets traded with pints and lit cigarettes, betrayal a knife they could all wield and they all try not to think about.
Sirius sits with Peter and Lily, discussing the latest Quidditch scores like they matter at all, while James gets the drinks. Then there's a flurry of movement by the bar, and then James is by his side, hand outstretched, his other hand scrubbing at his hair frantically, and he might as well have a sign on his head--someone you know is dead.
"Lily still doesn't like your hair, mate," Sirius says, trying to work the smile across his face, because maybe if he can make this joke, James won't say whatever he's about to. "There's no point in trying to do anything with it."
"Padfoot," James says. "Regulus--"
Sirius shakes his head, and around him the bar is full of life, loud music and the bubble of conversation, but Sirius can only hear his own heartbeat.
"I'm so sorry," James says, and the pity in his voice sets Sirius's teeth on edge, makes him hold his head up and shrug.
"Forget it," he says. "Idiot got what he deserved." He can't help the way his voice trembles, and James and Peter exchange glances, James hovering uncertainly.
"Oh, for Christ's sake," Lily says, standing up. She comes round the table, wraps her arms around Sirius, and Sirius doesn't pull away. "James, it's a hug," she says, her chin leaning on his head. "You're not promising to fuck him. It doesn't compromise your masculinity." Her tone is light, but her hands stroke up and down Sirius's back, and Sirius thinks he might fall apart if she doesn't stop.
"Actually, I think hugging is less masculine," James says, dropping his hand to Sirius's shoulder.
Sirius turns his head, gently shrugs them both off, and manages to smile. "You'll never find out. I'd never let you fuck me, even if you offered."
"You have no idea what you're missing, then."
The grin comes a little more easily this time. "Bloke's gotta have standards, Prongs." He pushes back from the table. "I'll get us another round."
"Padfoot," James says again, but Sirius is already heading to the bar.
He doesn't know how he ends up outside, leaning against a wall in an alley that smells of vomit and piss and cheap whiskey, gasping in huge lungfuls of air that aren't enough to ease the tightness in his chest.
"You'll freeze to death out here," James says behind him, and then his hands are on Sirius's shoulders, and Sirius is leaning into him, being held up by him, holding on to him, because the world is so much smaller, the war leaving too many scars to count, taking from him what he should have tried harder to keep.
Regulus comes to see him once. It's unexpected, of course; he turns up at Sirius's flat on a Tuesday night--on Wednesday morning, really, and Sirius goes through every spell he knows to make sure he isn't an impostor before he opens the door. It's raining outside, but Regulus has no jacket. Sirius is glad to see him and wishes he wasn't, fortifies himself with the thought of Harry, and what Regulus's friends would do to him.
"Come to kill me?" Sirius asks when he opens the door, wand at his side.
"If I had, you'd be dead, wouldn't you?"
Sirius shrugs, cataloguing Regulus--too thin, paler even than normal for him, circles under his eyes, looking like maybe sleep is something he's heard other people talk about. "I wouldn't know. I have no idea how well they train you in death eater school."
Regulus shrugs. "You wouldn't do very well. There are actual rules to follow." He pushes past Sirius, and Sirius knows he should stop him, knows this is dangerous, but he makes no move to do so.
"Some rules," he says, back to the door, his fingers still wrapped around his wand, "are only followed by fucking idiots. How is Mother, by the way?"
"Still cursing the day you were born, I imagine."
Regulus drops down onto the sofa, like he owns it, and Sirius sees his own easy casualness reflected.
"You have no idea how much that comforts me."
"I'm sure." Regulus pauses for a moment, hands folded in his lap. "Sirius--" He starts, "I didn't come here for this."
He stands, begins pacing the living room, his eyes trying to look everywhere, like he's memorising, searching, over old books and empty coffee cups, pictures of Remus and Peter, James and Lily and Harry. Sirius curses himself for the fool he is, and his voice is sharp when he says, "What did you want, Regulus? There's no information here you can pass along."
Regulus jerks to a stop. Something flickers across his face, but otherwise his expression is blank, and Sirius remembers when he could decipher Regulus's emotions as easily as his own.
He watches Sirius for a moment, and Sirius grows uncomfortable, though he doesn't know why. "Yes," he says finally, "You're right. I'm sorry."
He strides to the door, and Sirius feels fear in his gut, nothing he can explain, but the same kind he feels before a mission goes wrong. "Reg," he says, doesn't know what else to say.
"I like your flat," Regulus says, and he smiles once, full of lost little brother, and then he leaves.
Sirius stands by the door for a long time after, but Regulus doesn't come back.
Harry is wide-eyed and shocked, and Sirius can only shrug, gesture at the tapestry in front of him.
"Haven't you seen enough of this house to tell what kind of wizards my family were?" His voice is sharper than he means it to be, but it's easier than getting lost in the guilt again. He did enough of that in Azkaban: the memory of failing two brothers playing on an endless loop, like one of those muggle records Lily used to have. Even now, if and maybe keep him awake at night--if he'd been smarter, if he'd been better, if he'd been the kind of man he said he was leaving to be, then maybe they'd all be here, maybe Harry wouldn't be alone, maybe Regulus would be more than two dates on a tapestry Sirius loathes.
It's easier to dismiss Regulus when it's bright outside and he's surrounded by people, and Sirius does, tells Harry his brother was an idiot, panicked when he realised what he'd got himself into.
When they turn away from the tapestry, he feels Remus's gaze on him, but he focuses on the food Molly's laid out, won't let himself see accusation in Remus's eyes that might all be his imagination, anyway.
In the night, though, when the house is silent, only the wind whistling through the cracks in the walls, Sirius kneels before the tapestry, touches his fingers to Regulus's name, and follows the line to his own. It's too late for apologies, and Blacks don't make them, even if it weren't, but he remembers Regulus's grin, the belief that Sirius could do anything wrapped up in it, and he stays there until the sun rises, one hand on his brother's name and one on his own, the line on the tapestry nothing to the distance that will always separate them now.