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Then and Now by Infantasia
Chapter 13: "More Than Kin and Less Than Kind"
“More Than Kin and Less Than Kind”
Seventh Year, 1977
It had been at least a good ten minutes since Regulus told me he still harbored a grudge against Sirius, and he had left me in suspense since then. His hands were clasped, his elbows resting on the tabletop. In fact, his entire body was so tense that I could only presume that he was in the middle of recalling all the unpleasant memories that were involved. It got to the point where I almost told him that I didn’t want to hear the story, just to spare him some angst and pain, but he suddenly looked up, as if he had heard my thoughts.
“Are you sure you have the patience for this?” he asked dryly. “This isn’t exactly a short story.”
“I’ll listen as long as you still want to tell me,” I said.
Regulus snorted. “You were always a bit too nosy.”
“Hey,” I complained, but I wasn’t truly offended.
He took in a deep breath. “Well, I’m sure you know that Sirius has never really been the quintessential Black. He always had a bit of a rebellious streak in him, even when we were little kids.
Sirius had never liked the way our mother and father treated half-bloods and Mudbloods. He was told, just like I was, that their blood will always be inferior to ours. I accepted the idea, but he rebelled against it. And so when he came to Hogwarts his first year and was sorted into Gryffindor, he was both thrilled and anxious. For the first time in Sirius’ life, he would be able to get away from the Black family ideals, but at the same time, he knew that most Gryffindors would only see his name and condemn him for it.”
I understood what Regulus was saying. I still remembered my first glimpse of Sirius during the Welcoming Feast. He had been sullen and brooding, and even his good looks at eleven hadn’t been enough for girls to approach him. He had been alone the entire night, but the next morning, he had appeared in class with James Potter by his side, best mates all the way.
Needless to say, it had been somewhat startling, seeing a Potter and a Black interact in such close quarters.
Regulus was continuing the story. “Naturally, Mother and Father were furious when they found out about the sorting. They sent him numerous howlers, some of them, as I heard, had exploded in the Great Hall. It was the start of an intense hatred and animosity that eventually escalated in the summer between your fifth and sixth year.”
Walburga Black’s voice, shrill and grating, could’ve been heard miles away. It was a voice not meant for normal human ears and Regulus strongly resisted the urge to cup his hands around his ears to block out the noise. In fact, if it weren’t for the fact that he was currently sitting in the drawing room, he would’ve done so. But the act would’ve been considered an act of weakness on his part, something that the Black family was strongly against. And so he closed his eyes and prayed for his mother to come to her senses.
“SIRIUS BLACK! WHAT THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?”
Regulus lowered his book, just in time to see Sirius storming down the stairs, his suitcase floating right behind him. It was haphazardly stuffed, with clothing peeking out from various corners. It looked like it had been packed on a whim.
Sirius jumped down the last three steps and landed on the first floor smoothly. He whipped around and glared at his mother the moment she turned the corner of the stairs, huffing and puffing as she did.
“Could you please stop your bloody shouting?” he snapped. “For Merlin’s sake, woman!”
Walburga clearly was not pleased. “How dare you talk to me like that? You have utterly no respect for your elders and no respect for the Black family tradition!”
Sirius crossed his arms. “You’re absolutely right, Mother. Congratulations. For the first time in your useless existence, you finally got one thing correct.” His glare was contemptuous. “I don’t give a damn about our bloody traditions because nothing about them has earned my respect.”
“Fool!” she spat. “You have no idea what consequences you’ll face for saying something like that.”
“Does it look like I care?”
“You would if you knew what was good for you.”
Sirius raised an eyebrow coolly. “Well it looks like I don’t. Have a good summer, Mother. I’m sure you’ll be throwing parties now that your disappointment of a son has left you for good.”
Regulus closed his eyes with an exasperated sigh. This had to be at least the third time that Sirius had pulled the ‘I’m-leaving-for-good-now’ card that summer. And Walburga hadn’t fallen for any of them. In fact, it had only served to make the situation worse, and it was only because of Orion Black that complete disaster had been avoided every time. But he was on a business trip for the week.
“If you take one step out of this household, I will not hesitate to blast your name off our family tree.”
Sirius rolled his eyes. “I couldn’t give a shit, Mother. Do as you please.”
There was a pause as Walburga took this situation in, and then a small smile crept onto her face, one that was full of mockery and disgust. “You’re going to see those filthy blood traitors again, aren’t you? The Potters,” she sneered.
Sirius’ dark eyes were furious. “Shut up. James’ mum is twice the person you’ll ever be.”
Her lip curled. “So quick to defend. You must really love them.”
Regulus’ heart sank slightly. He had known, since the first moment Sirius met James Potter, that his brother had found a best mate and a new brother. It had been painful at first, knowing that Sirius had already turned his back on the Blacks, but he gradually accepted it. Instead, he contented himself with spending time with Sirius during summer vacations.
But with every word that came out of Walburga’s mouth, Sirius was one step closer to leaving the household for good. And that meant he would be losing his one and only brother… for good.
Sirius’ expression was one of severe disdain. “You talk as if you know what love is.”
“Love is a foolish and useless emotion,” she sniffed. “You honestly think that our bloodline could remain so pure if all of us believed in as childish a thing as that? Your father and I are second cousins who married to preserve the purity of the Black family. We did it out of devotion to our heritage, not love.”
Sirius groaned. “Did you seriously have to tell me that?” He made a gagging motion with hands and mouth. “You really are a twisted person. I have no idea how Reg and I turned out as normal as we are.” He paused with a frown. “Or actually, never mind. We aren’t normal, considering we have you for a mother.”
“That’s enough!” she shrieked. “You are an ungrateful fool and I am sorry to have ever given birth to a traitor like you.”
Regulus jumped slightly at the sharpness of her tone, but Sirius didn’t seem to be affected.
“I guess I really shouldn’t feel insulted whenever people call me a son of a bitch now. Looks like I really am one.”
If Regulus were a girl, he would’ve placed his face in his hands and wept. He had never seen an expression of such fury and resentment on Walburga’s face before. It was almost frightening. And then before anyone had registered what had happened, her palm lashed out across Sirius’ cheek, knocking his face to the side.
There was a moment when everything was frozen, and then Sirius slowly turned his head back. Regulus noted with a pang that one of the many diamond rings that adorned Walburga’s fingers had sliced open the skin on Sirius’ cheek, leaving a large and bleeding cut.
He was visibly shaking with rage. “You… you just hit me.”
There was smugness radiating from every pore on her face. “You bet I did. In fact, I should’ve done it a long time ago, but your father always got in the way.” She sighed then. “Orion was always a bit too soft on you.”
“Fuck you,” Sirius spat. “Fuck you and your prejudiced ways.”
Her fist lashed out again, this time catching Sirius in the eye. He let out a cry of pain and stumbled back, unsuspecting of the blow. Regulus was standing up now, his eyes wide and alarmed. As cruel and unfeeling as his mother could be at times, he had never thought her capable of physical abuse.
Sirius lowered his hand from his right eye and Regulus saw a dark ring around his eye. It would swell horribly in a few hours and Sirius probably wouldn’t be able to see out of it. Just how hard had Walburga punched?
“You’re so bloody lucky that I possess at least a strand of morals, else you would be so dead that you wouldn’t even know just how you died,” he hissed.
Walburga tipped her head back and laughed – no, cackled. Regulus realized with a sick jolt that she was thoroughly enjoying the situation. She was enjoying the pain she had inflicted on Sirius. “Son, you really are a coward. As much as you wish, you have never been and will never be Gryffindor material.”
Sirius’ jaw clenched and his fists dropped to his sides. His eyes were so dark they were rumbling and it looked like it was taking him an extraordinary amount of will to keep from fighting back. Because Regulus knew that as much as Sirius hated Walburga, he would never raise a hand to her.
“Believe whatever you want,” Sirius finally said. “But I am leaving this time. And I’m not turning back. Don’t try to stop me.”
Walburga smirked. “I’d like to see you try.”
She lifted her wand.
Sirius eyed it with a wry smile. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you? Sadistic bitch.”
“I don’t love inflicting unnecessary pain on you, son.” Her voice was regal, if that was even possible in this situation. “But punishment is necessary for betraying the Black family.”
There was a sudden loud crack that filled the still air and Regulus blinked. He hadn’t seen anyone move, but Sirius was suddenly leaning against the wall, doubled over, right hand covering his left arm.
His teeth were gritted in pain.
Regulus’ eyes widened and he stumbled over to where Walburga stood, proud and content. “Mother, you didn’t,” he breathed, absolutely horrified.
Her smile was sinister. “It was necessary. If he takes another step, it will be his leg.”
“You broke his arm!” Regulus cried. He had never thought Walburga would do such a thing. She had always been so good to him, had always given him everything he had wanted. And yet here she was, physically destroying her own son. “Mother, how could you? Sirius is your son!”
“He’s no son of mine,” she drawled, watching with undisguised glee as Sirius let out a pained breath. “I should’ve disowned him the first moment he was sorted into Gryffindor, but Orion wouldn’t let me. Now, however…”
Regulus shook his head in disgust and quickly moved over to Sirius. Casting Walburga a glare, he quickly helped Sirius over to the drawing room and sat him on the leather armchair that he had previously occupied.
Sirius winced when he accidentally jolted his arm.
Regulus frowned. “Do you think you can fix this yourself? I would, but I can’t use magic out of school yet.”
Sirius moved to reach for his wand, but Regulus handed him his instead. Sirius gave him a grateful glance and pointed the tip of the wand at his arm. There was a dull glow and then he blew out a breath of relief as the pain evidently dulled.
“Is it all good now?”
He nodded slowly. “I don’t think I did a complete job, but I’ll see if James knows a few more spells about healing. He’s always been better at this than I have.”
Regulus’ heart sank. “So you really are leaving then? For good this time?”
They simultaneously turned towards the landing and saw that Walburga had left after that declaration of disownment. She had probably left to blast Sirius’ portrait off the family tree, something that she had wanted to do for a long time.
“How could I not?” Sirius said. “You heard her, Reg. She’s an absolute monster.”
“But she’s our mother, Sirius. As cruel as she is…”
Sirius snorted with a roll of his eyes. “Of course you would speak for her. She has always been proud of you. You’re the star of the Black family, the perfect Slytherin.”
Regulus was shaking his head before Sirius had even finished. “Don’t talk like that. Those are just angry words. You know you’ve never been happier that you were sorted into Gryffindor.”
He smiled briefly. “True.”
“So don’t go blaming Mother for being upset with you. It can’t be helped. You knew it the moment you were sorted.”
“I can still blame her for being a prejudiced idiot. The Potters are purebloods through and through, but you don’t see them casting baleful glares at everyone who’s not.”
Regulus’ eyes dimmed and he lowered his gaze to the cushions of the nearby couch. “Must you compare everyone to the Potters?”
Sirius was slightly repentant, but only slightly. “They’ve become an important part of my life, Reg. I know you don’t completely understand, but James has been through a lot with me.”
“I bet you wish you were born into their family instead, right?”
There was a pause as Sirius tried to figure out how to answer the question. “Why are you asking me this?” he finally asked.
“I guess it doesn’t really matter,” Regulus said, as blasé as he could be. “I already know the answer.”
He stood up, suddenly unable to sit so closely to Sirius. “I know we argue and disagree on pretty much everything in existence, but…” He struggled to find the right words. “But you didn’t have to so blatantly favor James Potter.”
“He’s my brother,” Sirius said softly.
Regulus whirled on him. “Then what the hell am I?”
“You’re my brother too.”
“No, I’m not,” he said. “Remember last summer when Potter came to visit for two days? You forgot my existence. The two of you ignored me completely and then you left and never came back.” He realized he was sounding like a whiny little kid at the moment, but he couldn’t bring himself to care. “Did you even care about how I felt?”
Sirius was wearing an expression of faint bewilderment. It occurred to Regulus then that Sirius really hadn’t known and hadn’t cared.
“I just… I thought you’d be happier that I was gone,” Sirius finally said, though it sounded choked. “Mother always seems to dote on you more when I’m not around.”
“So you did it for my good?” Regulus snorted. “Oh please. Save it.”
“But you know what? I don’t care anymore. You can leave and go with your Potters and leave our family for good.”
He was looking at the ground.
“I just want you to know that once you leave, you won’t ever get to come back. This house will be forever closed off to you as long as Mother and Father are still alive. Are you honestly okay with that?”
Sirius ran a hand through his hair, looking drained and tired for the first time that day. “I haven’t been happy here in a long time. I… I’m okay with it.”
Regulus struggled to keep his face blank. “Fine. I hope you’re happy with your decision.”
Sirius held up a hand. “Reg…”
He couldn’t bring himself to look at Sirius. “You were always my role model, you know that? I always thought it was amazing how you had the guts to stand up to our parents the way you did. For the longest time, I had aspired to be like you, to learn from you. But…” His voice trailed off. “But that was before.”
Sirius looked genuinely apologetic, but it was too late.
Regulus’ smile was wry. “I’ll see you in school.”
And he vowed, from that moment on, to fully push Sirius out of his life.
Regulus finished the story with a wry twist of his lips.
I, on the other hand, was absolutely aghast. “And so… so Sirius has been staying with James’ family ever since?”
“I would assume so.”
I slumped into my seat, feeling completely overwhelmed. It had always been known that Sirius didn’t get along with his family. I just hadn’t realized that Sirius and Regulus were actually friends outside of school, that they hadn’t hated each other as much as we had all thought.
“But you hate him now?” I asked tentatively.
Regulus’ eyes darkened. “I hate him for leaving the family and for choosing James Potter over me.” His jaw clenched and he looked away decisively. “For the next few weeks my mother cried herself to sleep every night and my father had to face accusations from our relatives.”
I frowned. “But your mother disowned him.”
“She doesn’t regret doing that. She hates the fact that he forever ruined the Blacks’ reputation. She would look at that tapestry and wail and cry because there’s a black mark on it now.” He smiled wryly. “Needless to say, I spent most of my time outdoors that summer.”
I didn’t know what to make of this. It had never occurred to me that Sirius’ family life had been filled with such turbulence. It made sense why he never mentioned his family.
And yet at the same time, it did seem as if he and Regulus had some sort of bond. It might not have been as strong as the bond he has with James and the rest of the Marauders, but the two of them were friends. Despite what Regulus believed, I was certain that Sirius must’ve felt at least some regret when he left his family.
Suddenly, I recalled his words, spoken to me from what felt like a lifetime ago.
When you have a sibling who hates your guts as much as Regulus hates mine, you’ll understand.
That was what he had told me when I had so naively asked why he and Regulus ignored each so fastidiously.
So maybe Sirius did feel remorseful for what he had done. His nature had never been cruel.
“Maybe you ought to speak to Sirius about this,” I offered hesitantly. “Tell him how you feel.”
Regulus snorted and leaned back in his seat. “It’s been two years. I’m over it.”
I assessed him carefully. “But you’re not, are you?” I asked softly. “You’re not completely over it. If you were, you wouldn’t be so disdainful.”
“I’m disdainful because he turned his back on his lineage.”
I sighed, realizing that this situation was hopeless. The family feud between the Blacks probably wasn’t something I should’ve gotten tangled in. And yet…
“But maybe you could-”
Regulus held up a hand, effectively cutting me off. “I didn’t tell you the story so you could try to fix our problems.”
I tipped my head. “Then why did you tell me all this?”
His smile was crooked. “So you could know what you were getting into by dating either one of the Black brothers.”
“I see,” I said wryly. “Even though I’ve already dated one?”
Regulus chuckled. “Yeah.” His smile faded then and he leaned forward, his voice low. “Neely, I’m sure I made it clear a while back that I like you. A lot.” His touch was gentle, but his voice was serious. “I want you, Neely. I want you to be my girlfriend.”
My breath hitched. While he had said this to me before, hearing it again, stated so blatantly and truthfully, made my heart dance a little jig in my chest. “Regulus, I… I like you too.”
His smile was breath-taking. “I’m glad to hear you finally say it.”
I couldn’t help but agree. “I think I’m glad to finally admit it as well.”
“But… you still have feelings for Sirius. You said you couldn’t hurt him.”
I swallowed. “Yeah.”
“So what would you like me to do?” His voice wasn’t accusatory. In fact, he sounded completely understanding. “Do you want me to… back off?”
“No!” I said, startling even myself in my quick response. “No, don’t. Please don’t back off. I think… I think I’ve made my choice.”
Regulus tipped his head slightly. “You have?”
“Yes.” I took in a deep breath to steady my nerves. “I want to be with you. I want to give us a shot.”
There was a moment’s pause as we both took the situation in, and then Regulus leapt from his seat and was at my side in less than half a second. His dark blue eyes were sparkling, so bright that they could’ve been mistaken for a cobalt blue.
And then he pulled me close, his lips hovering just a gentle inch above mine. From here, I could see just how long his eyelashes were, how beautifully they veiled his gaze. And now, his gaze was filled with desire and longing.
“You sure about this?” he whispered.
I smiled and closed the remaining distance between us. And as our lips met, the butterflies in my stomach erupted, and I was certain, more than anything, that I had finally made a good choice. I didn’t know if it was the right choice, but I knew without a doubt that it was something I would not regret.
Even if it meant hurting Sirius.
The news of our new relationship spread quickly.
At first it was just a whisper of speculation, a curious glance here and there when people saw that we were spending more and more time together. But then someone saw us holding hands – I had heard it was a Ravenclaw Second Year – and suddenly, the rumors were no more.
It was a fact, an undeniable fact: Regulus Black of Slytherin was dating Neely Grey of Gryffindor.
Some called it a scandal, some thought it was romantically rebellious, and others called it an abomination of nature. I didn’t quite understand what the last one was about, but nevertheless, the point was clear. Some supported us and others thought we were disgusting.
It looked like Pamela really had been right when she had said we’d be the hot topic of the impressive Hogwarts rumor mill.
The Gryffindors expressed mixed feelings about my getting together with Regulus. Lily congratulated me on finally making a choice, and I knew she was sincere when she said she would be supportive of any decision I made, as long as it made me happy. The Marauders, of course, were divided down the middle. Peter gave me a brief smile and a ‘congrats’ and Remus just gave me a firm hug but he offered no words. I hadn’t even seen head or hide of Sirius, and James seemed to be ignoring me just as fastidiously.
Al, who had walked to Potions with me, was skeptical about the relationship at first. But then she grudgingly had to admit that Regulus was a pretty good student – everything about her was grades-first – and gave her blessings, albeit with a few warnings.
“I’ve heard he isn’t a player, but he is a Slytherin, and you know Slytherins don’t exactly make the best of friends,” she had said.
“Maybe not,” I had replied, “but they do make good boyfriends.”
She let the situation go after that, but I had the feeling that she would be looking out for me, just as I knew all my other friends would.
I had been a little more worried about Regulus’ side of things, since Slytherins were known to be a lot more ruthless. But surprisingly, he had nothing too significant to report.
When I had asked why, he had shrugged modestly, but his smirk was displayed for the world to see. “I’d say some of the Slytherins are scared of me, and the others hold the Black family in high regard, so they trust my decision.”
“So they were supportive?” I had asked, completely shocked.
“They’re not exactly supportive, but at least the majority of them won’t interfere.”
It wasn’t an answer that would leave me worry-free, but it was good enough.
The days gradually blurred into one another, and before I knew it, there were only three more weeks till winter vacation. The year’s first snowfall had occurred two days ago, on a Sunday, and Regulus and I had spent the day frolicking around in the snow. He got along surprisingly well with some of my friends, and had even participated in a snowball fight with Lily and Al.
And it was on this day, officially one week and six days after I had gotten together with Regulus, that I spotted Sirius standing alone on the bridge that connected two of Hogwarts’ towers.
Needless to say, his presence sufficiently shocked me. It had been a long time since I had truly interacted with Sirius. He had developed an uncanny ability to either avoid me completely or to make sure he was always surrounded by people when he saw me. So the fact that he was alone and very visible made me certain that he was intentionally waiting for me.
He looked up when he heard me approach and I slowed to a stop, suddenly too afraid to take another step closer. Everything that had played out between us two weeks ago suddenly washed over me and I felt that familiar surge of undeniable guilt well up. What could I say to him after all that I had done to him? An apology suddenly seemed too insubstantial.
But then Sirius smiled. It was only a slight curve of the lips, one that was barely there, but it was more than I expected. “Neely.”
My grin was shaky. “Hello Sirius. How have you been?”
I nearly winced at the formality of my words, but he didn’t seem bothered by them.
“I’ve been dealing. Can’t wait for the winter holidays, of course, but presents are going to be a bit of a hassle.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean. I don’t think I’m going to think about shopping until the last minute.” I glanced at him shyly. “Um… you’re going home with James, right?”
Sirius nodded. “The Potters are very welcoming. And it’s fun at their house during the holidays. Remus and Peter usually come to visit as well and it all just becomes a huge festive party.” There was an awkward pause and then he chuckled wryly. “But of course, you would know all about it since… you’ve been to one before.”
The silence descended. Sirius shuffled slightly and stuffed his ungloved hands into the pockets of his robes. I tucked my chin lower into my scarf and fidgeted uncomfortably. Now that the pleasantries were over, what was next?
An apology, I decided. It was time for me to apologize. For good this time.
“Sirius,” I started, but he immediately cut me off, as if he had been waiting for this the entire time.
“Don’t say anything. Please.” He lifted his dark eyes to mine and I saw the turbulent emotions swirling within. “I think we’ve both said and done enough, but I believe I owe you an apology for the way I’ve acted.”
I wanted to protest, because Merlin knew I should’ve been the one apologizing out of the two of us, but he wouldn’t let me continue.
“I know I haven’t behaved very well towards you these past few days. I’ll admit, it was because I had considerable trouble dealing with your relationship.” He had some difficulty getting that last word out. “But I can see that you’re happy with Regulus, and he seems to be treating you well.”
Sirius looked at me anxiously, and I realized belatedly that he was waiting for a confirmation on my part.
“He is,” I said honestly. “Regulus really has been fantastic to me.”
He swallowed. “Right. So given all this, I think it’s time for me to really bow out.”
I could hardly breathe. Had I really heard Sirius right? Was he finally letting the past go? Even when I finally agreed to date Regulus, I was always prepared for a backlash on Sirius’ part. He had never been one to give up on things easily, and the fact that I had literally put him through hell before was more than enough reason for him to make my life difficult. And yet…
“I know it’s hard to believe,” Sirius said, evidently reading the expression on my face. “But I’ve realized that it’s useless for me to hold onto something that you clearly don’t want.”
I was so touched that I was tempted to reach out and pull him into a tight hug. “Thank you, Sirius. Thank you. You have no idea what that means to me.”
He bit his lip. “Does that mean you forgive me? For all the hell that I’ve caused you these past few weeks?”
I shook my head. “There’s nothing to forgive. I didn’t exactly behave very admirably either.”
His lips curved slightly. “So are we calling it even then?”
“Yes,” I said firmly.
“Well. That’s good I guess.”
The pause came again, but it didn’t feel awkward anymore. In fact, it almost felt like the closure we had been craving for so long. And it suddenly made me feel bold.
“Sirius?” I asked tentatively. “If it’s all right with you, could I make a proposition?”
He frowned, looking slightly intrigued. “Sure.”
I held out a hand. “Let’s be friends? I don’t think I’d be able to live without you in my life.”
Sirius’ face relaxed into a soft smile and he reached up and touched my cheek gently. “Is that really what you want?”
“Of course it is.” I shook my hand in his face insistently. “Now are you going to shake it or not?”
His smile widened and his warm fingers closed around mine. Our palms touched. “Friends then.”
Author's Note: So Regulus and Neely are now officially a couple! :) Who's happy? Haha. From the responses that I've received inthe last two chapters, it seems like half of you guys prefer Sirius and the other half prefer Regulus. It was kind of amusing and rather frustrating at the same time :) So now we've at least reached some sort of conclusion, though this is, by far, not the end of the story. I think we're about halfway though :)
Hope you're all liking this so far! Please review and let me know what you think about this temporary resolution :)
Chapter Title: Hamlet, Act 1 scene 2