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Chapter 4 : Five of Spades
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The scream tears through the glass of the open windows, thin and high and piercing. Instantly, Bellatrix is on her feet, wand snapping down into her hand. Her lips mouth the word ‘Cissy’ once, releasing a single breath, before she hurtles towards the door, leaving both Sirius and Walburga looking after her in shock, both frozen in place.
Sirius swallows, feeling uneasy. Hadn’t he been desperate for something more interesting, more exciting to happen just twenty minutes ago? Well, now it looks like he’s getting his wish, and he isn’t entirely sure he wants anything exciting to happen anymore. Not if Narcissa is screaming about it; not if anyone is screaming.
His mother glances at him, and for the first time in his life, he can see she’s unsure, perhaps even a little worried. Without saying a word, she rises from the sofa, the newspaper falling to the floor with a ruffled sigh, and makes her way out of the room quickly, hands gripping the folds of her robes.
Less than a beat later, he follows. Someone screamed – and they had screamed loudly, the kind of gasping, hitched, belted scream you don’t just do when someone jumps out at you from behind a pillar. Whoever it was, they’re terrified and probably upset.
Despite everything, he finds himself wishing ‘please don’t let someone else be dead, please don’t let someone else be dead’ as he jogs along after his mother, trying to remember who he hasn’t seen around recently, but there are far too many people he hasn’t seen in the last couple of hours to narrow anything down. It doesn’t help at all, only serving to remind him of all the people he might dislike, might say he hated, but doesn’t really want dead.
They’re down the stairs now, going round to the right, straight through the archway at the back…
Imagine, his mind seems to be taunting him, imagine if it’s Regulus or your father or Narcissa herself - imagine if it’s any of them, dead and gone, body stone cold to touch and limp. Lifeless. What would he do then? He would have lost any chance he ever had, however small, of saying anything to them ever again, of playing Quidditch with his brother again, of apologising.
Cursing under his breath, he speeds up, right on his mother’s heels, hearing a door being slammed open behind them, footsteps in the distance, clacking against the marble steps and he knows that the whole family has heard and now, now they’re all coming to see what has happened now, what new tragedy has broken.
They burst out onto the veranda, feet navigating the small flight of steps onto the garden with ease, running now, having spotted figures ahead.
Walburga is the first to see and the first to reach the scene, letting out a loud gasp, her eyes wide, fixed on the body on the ground.
“Oh my,” she breathes.
Pulling up beside her, he stares too. His eyes are stuck on his aunt’s body, splayed out across the ground, skirts askance, hair loose, limbs bent at unnatural angles. There’s a lot of blood, this time: spreading out in a sick, dark pool around her, it glints in the sunlight, coppery and thick.
If it wasn’t for the blood, she’d look like a broken, life-size doll. Except she’s not, and they all know that all too well.
To one side, Narcissa is crying, holding onto her older sister, tears drenching Bella’s shoulder. Bella doesn’t seem to mind, though, letting her cry, and he thinks for a moment that her eyes seem a little damp, too, though she doesn’t let any of them fall.
Opposite, and on his own, is Regulus, his broom lying on the ground behind him. He’s pale, looking slightly ill, and shaking, biting his bottom lip, seemingly unable to look away from the blood and the satin and the long, blonde hair.
Just as he’s about to go over to his brother (because this isn’t the time to be callous, and if he’s looking after Regulus then at least he has something to do, to take his mind off the picture in front of him), his mother speaks again, and her voice is quieter than normal, but calm.
“Sirius, go and let your father and grandfather know. Bring them straight here,” she instructs him, drawing herself up as though she can simply look over and beyond the scene. “They will need to see.”
“We’re here, Walburga, no need,” his grandfather’s voice comes from behind, sounding forced, as though he’s shouting, and the next moment the two of them stride into view, his grandfather hobbling along as fast as he can with his cane, his father lingering slightly behind, already tucking his wand back into his pocket.
“What has happened? Who screamed?” Pollux demands to know, and Walburga steps out of the way to offer them an unobstructed view, even as she explains.
“Narcissa screamed,” she gestures towards the blonde, still weeping. “And Druella, well, it looks like she fell.”
As one, you all glance up at the top of the house, at the short brick wall which runs along the edge of it. For some, it’s a cursory glance, but others’ eyes linger, running over the stonework, before returning to earth.
“Yes,” his grandfather murmurs and Sirius watches him, leaning heavily on his cane, breathing fast from the exertion of racing out to the garden. He seems old and pained and almost fragile, a complete contrast to how Sirius has always seen him and always known him, and it gives him an odd feeling he can’t describe. “Yes, it certainly seems that way.”
“What should we do?” his mother’s voice is smaller than before and Sirius can’t help but feel a little bit sympathetic. His uncle only died a few days ago, and while his mother and uncle hadn’t been close by any estimation, they had been siblings; and now, now Aunt Druella is dead, falling off the top of the house. If nothing else, it just digs the open wounds deeper.
“We will need to move… move the body,” Pollux replies after a long pause, and Sirius knows he was about to say ‘Druella’ before changing his mind. “And then I think we should all go back inside. We could all do with a stiff drink or two.”
“Or three,” Bellatrix mutters, though everyone hears – and he suspects most people agree.
“Orion, could you –“ Pollux doesn’t need to say what he means, as he turns to go back into the house, offering an arm to Walburga, who takes it hastily, allowing her father to lean on her shoulder as they begin their trek back into the house.
Orion nods, although he glances at Narcissa and Bellatrix, seemingly wanting to wait until the others are all gone before summoning the house-elves to remove the body. Bellatrix gently turns Cissy around, still holding onto her, leading her across the lawn.
“Regulus,” Sirius hears his father breathe and, starting, he quickly steps over to his brother, his father following, annoyed at himself for not having gone over when he meant to.
“Hey, Reg,” he murmurs softly, reaching out and touching his brother’s shoulder. “Are you alright?”
For the last few minutes, Regulus has just been staring, horror-struck, pale and glassy-eyed, at the body on the ground, half-way to a corpse himself. Now, thankfully, he snaps out of it, glancing up at Sirius and giving a single, shaky nod.
“Yeah, I’m fine,” he whispers in reply. “I’m fine, I’m fine.”
Sirius doesn’t believe him for a second and he glances up at Orion, imploring him to take control of the situation somehow, to convince Regulus that he’s really not ‘fine’. He’s pretty sure he won’t be able to do it. From the look his father gives in return, the older man knows Regulus is shaken and upset by the scene in front of him, and swiftly moves round so his body is blocking Regulus’ view of the corpse.
“Regulus,” their father addresses him gently – it’s a tone which used to make Sirius envious, but too much has happened for those feelings to resurface, his emotional landscape already full. “Sirius is going to take you back inside.”
Sliding his fingers round his brother’s wrist, intending to tug him away to get him moving since it doesn’t look like he’ll be moving of his own accord any time soon, Sirius nods, relieved, and goes to leave, but a hand on his shoulder stops him.
“Make sure you stay with him,” his father murmurs, almost silently, into his ear, and he nods. “If you think you can, try and get him to take a Calming Draught.”
Giving a second nod, he tugs Regulus side-ways, shifting so that he’s on the inside, closest to the body. Regulus doesn’t need to look at it any longer, it’s probably already burned on the back of his skull, like Uncle Cygnus’ body, like both are on his own mind, and he feels that really it’s the least he can do. After all, Regulus is his baby brother and he looks like he wants to be sick and faint and cry, or maybe all three at once. It makes the part inside him which winces with every Bludger sent Regulus’ way in school Quidditch matches and which let him crawl into his bed when they were younger and Reg had a nightmare twinge with that small stream of guilt which tells him he should have done better.
As soon as they’re away from the body, Regulus speeds up, and when Sirius catches up to him, opening his mouth to ask what’s wrong, he gets no answer other than a quick look and a shaking head.
Rushing inside, Sirius just tails him as his brother turns left, down a short corridor, then right. The door slams behind him, and Sirius pushes it open just in time to see his brother kneeling down, bending over the toilet bowl. He instantly closes the door again, giving him privacy.
It’s a while before Regulus opens the door – maybe ten minutes or so, but he’s never been good at guessing the time and it feels like it’s been half an hour – and when he does, he’s just as pale and sickly-looking as before, though his eyes are less glassy. Sirius suspects he took advantage of the privacy to cry, alone, but his brother’s face is scrubbed clean, no traces of his sudden dash remaining.
Sirius looks at him carefully, almost assessing him, starting again to ask if he’s alright, if he needs anything, but Regulus just shoulders past him, gazing at the ground, refusing to look at him. Allowing himself a slight sigh at the fact that it seems that even now Regulus isn’t going to just forget everything from the past, he goes after him, walking quickly so that they’re almost level by the time they reach the main hall of the house.
A house-elf snaps into view in front of them, bowing deeply. Sirius rolls his eyes, crossing his arms across his chest. The sudden arrival had surprised him (he and Regulus had both jumped) but he tries to pretend, nonetheless, that it didn’t and he hadn’t.
“Master Sirius and Master Regulus, Master Orion is asking for you to go to the green drawing room immediately. Mistress Walburga is being worried,” the house-elf relays, speaking quickly. There’s a faint splatter of red on his pillowcase and Sirius wonders if he was one of the ones his father would have sent to take away the body.
Then he remembers Regulus and nods sharply.
“Tell them we’re on our way,” he tells the house-elf, wanting it to disappear as quickly as possible before Regulus notices the blood on the cloth. He doubts the other will be ill again, but he doesn’t want to risk the possibility.
The house-elf bows again and disappears with a crack, and they continue on, crossing in front of the marble staircase, and entering the room straight ahead of them.
Inside the drawing room, the mood is solemn and heavy, and even their entrance barely makes a dent in it. Everyone, Sirius can see, is there, and the room feels strangely larger than it did the last time they were in here – after Uncle Cygnus’ death.
As soon as they step inside, though, Walburga jumps up from her seat on the sofa, hurrying over to them – or, rather, hurrying over to Regulus, since she ignores Sirius entirely. He doesn’t really mind, knowing that Regulus needs the attention far more than he does. He’s not the one who just threw up in a toilet, after all.
“My poor baby,” Walburga cries, checking over Regulus closely, taking in everything, as though she’s searching for some sign of what’s wrong with him. “You look dreadful – so pale. Are you alright? Do you feel alright?”
He leaves Regulus to be fussed over by their mother, moving along the wall of the room and hovering by a small table, slightly awkwardly. There’s no respite for him, though, as he barely has time to take a breath before Orion is there, beside him.
“Why did you take so long?” he asks immediately, keeping his voice low so as not to attract attention. He needn’t have bothered, Sirius thinks: Regulus is distracted, trying to convince their mother that he’s ‘fine, really’ and escape from her mollycoddling.
“Reg went to the bathroom,” he whispers back. “He was sick. I didn’t have time to mention a Calming Draught before the house-elf called us here.”
His father just nods, straightening up, and Sirius could swear, though a small part of him believes he imagined it, that as he did he breathed ‘thank you’.
“Walburga,” Orion interrupts his wife’s fretting over their younger son. “Perhaps Regulus could do with a lie down and a Calming Draught? Perhaps an Anti-Nausea Draught as well, if necessary.”
Despite the situation, Sirius feels the corners of his mouth threaten to flick upwards into a smirk. His father, he has to admit, knows exactly how to deal with each member of their family – and especially his sons and wife. He knows just as well as Sirius does that, unless forced to, Regulus will refuse any and all potions offered to him.
It’s a trait most, if not all, of the family possess. At times, his father claims it comes from his mother’s side, and then his mother thinks it’s from his father’s side, but really, it’s all just the same. In the end, whichever one of them Regulus inherited it from, it’s a Black trait nonetheless.
“Hm,” Walburga glances over Regulus once more, looking him up and down before instantly making a decision. “Yes, yes, I think that would be a good idea. He does look very faint, and sickly – and I think we could all do with a good Calming Draught. Come and lie down, Regulus, and I’ll send for that elf to bring the potions.”
He just watches as Regulus is ushered towards the sofa, pushed down onto it so his head rests on the armrest. Regulus doesn’t look too happy about all the fussing and the potions and lying down, but he complies regardless, only too well aware that there’s no way he’s getting out of any of it now that their mother has made up her mind about it all.
Sirius does notice, though, that once he’s lying down, Regulus looks a little less shaky and liable to fall over or collapse at any minute, and he breathes out a faint sigh of relief. Of all the things they don’t need at the moment, one of their number fainting is definitely not on the list.
A snap of her fingers summons an elf, as Walburga settles herself down on the end of the sofa, by Regulus’ feet.
“Fetch me an Anti-Nausea Draught and a Calming Potion,” she orders, before eying Narcissa. The blonde is no longer crying, clutching Lucius’ hand now instead of Bella, but she still sniffles quietly and her eyes are watery, and the look in her gaze is verging on hysterical. “Make that two.”
Once the house-elf vanishes, nose brushing the carpet, Walburga turns her attention back to Regulus, who is staring up at the ceiling, eyes roving over the carved wood and reaches up to pat his hand gently, giving a tiny, pained smile.
“So delicate, my baby boy,” she murmurs. “Always so delicate.”
Sirius can’t help but roll his eyes at that. His mother always thinks Regulus is delicate, no matter what the situation is. Even if Regulus took up muggle weight-lifting, he doubts she’d stop thinking of him as a helpless babe, fragile and innocent. It probably doesn’t help that Regulus hasn’t yet lost the baby fat on his face, which, being also just under average height and slender, gives the impression that he’s much younger than he actually is.
They all sit there in silence, none of them saying anything, the only sound in the room the faint swishing of material as Bella flops down onto the sofa, her teeth biting at her lip. It’s an odd expression on her and Sirius watches her curiously as she studies the carpet resolutely. He has a strange, wild notion that she might be trying not to cry.
Damn it all, he’s gone mad.
He always knew it would happen – and sooner rather than later – but this seems a little quick, even for someone like him.
With a sharp crack, the house-elf returns, carrying a tray with three vials resting on it. Carefully, it proffers the potions to first Walburga and then Narcissa. When Narcissa doesn’t take it, Lucius picks it up instead, nodding curtly at the elf and making a shooing motion with his hand.
“Well,” Pollux’s voice cracks through the air, business-like and sharp, glancing over the assembled crowd. “Now that we are all here –"
“No, we’re not,” Bellatrix whispers, but it snakes throughout the room, malevolent and he doesn’t need to look at his cousin to know she’s glaring, her eyes lit up feverishly.
“Excuse me, Bellatrix?” his grandfather glares straight back, foregoing disinterested apathy for anger; it is the first time in years Sirius has seen him angry and he half wants to glance up at his father, though he has no idea why.
“We are not all here,” Bellatrix repeats slowly, each word heavy and solid. “Where is Crouch?”
Frowning, Sirius looks around, the phrase ‘he’s right there’ on the tip of the tongue. His eyes rake over each individual in turn, from right to left across the room. Bella is right; Barty is missing. He is the only person absent.
He supposes he should have realised: no one had come up with a crazy theory about how the person who killed Uncle Cygnus had killed Druella as well.
“Really, Bella, the boy is probably in the Library or his room or something, it is hardly the thing to be concerned with now,” Pollux drawls, rolling his eyes and adjusting his grip on his cane.
Bella whips around to face him, jumping to her feet, black curls darting over her shoulder with the force of movement. As expected, her eyes blaze and she looks wild, almost deranged. Her hands are clenched into fists by her side. When she speaks, however, her voice is strangely calm, if embellished with a faintly hysterical note that shakes and shudders.
“My mother has just died and Crouch is missing. I want to know where he is and what he was doing while we were all outside, and I want to know now.”
While the others are watching Bellatrix, wary of the seemingly impending explosion, Sirius watches Regulus. His brother is pale, his gaze fixed on Bella and he seems tense, unusually tense. Catching Regulus’ eye, Sirius quickly looks away, pretending to be focusing on Bella like the rest of them.
“Why? Do you think that he killed your mother? Pushed her off the edge, perhaps? Or did he use a curse?” Lucius sneers, his expression incredulous. Narcissa’s exclamation of ‘Lucius!’ goes unnoticed as the attention in the room is being buffeted between Bellatrix and Lucius. “I know you were cursing puppies when you were fifteen, but not all of us are psychotic. I don't think he's capable –“
“Then why isn’t he here with the rest of us? The only two people who were absent when mother died are you and him, Lucius,” Bellatrix snarled at him. “Unless you’re hiding something.”
Lucius swallows heavily and takes a step back away from her, the muscles in his face tightening. Surveying the room once quickly, as though hoping someone would help him, he shakes his head, gaze dropping to the floor.
“No, no, not at all.”
Sirius has to fight the urge to snort at that – this is Lucius Malfoy, for god’s sake, it’s almost certain that he’s hiding something, even if it has nothing to do with this weird situation they’ve found themselves in. He clamps his mouth shut, though, not wanting to get involved. It’s tense enough already without anyone adding to it.
“Bellatrix, be reasonable,” his mother takes over the reins of attempting to placate Bella, her handkerchief lying forgotten in her lap. “Crouch is a child, and he comes from very good stock – his father is a very principled man, and his lineage is excellent, though some of his views are a bit tasteless – I can’t believe he would do such a thing. As to where he is, I’m sure that’s easy enough to discover. Regulus,” she turns to look at him with the air of a poker player who knows he’s holding a winning hand. “Where is Crouch?”
The room falls silent, save for Bellatrix’s harsh breathing, as they all stare at Regulus, waiting impatiently for a response. Regulus just glances at his mother, at his father, at his grandfather, at Bella, and back at his mother.
“I… I think he was going to the Library,” he mutters, though he doesn’t sound very sure.
As Bellatrix opens her mouth once more, Sirius sees his father shift beside him.
“Enough of this!” Orion snaps before another argument can flare up. “There is a simple way to settle this. Wipsy!”
A moment later, the elf appears, flattening herself on the ground in a bow, not daring to look up, her eyes squeezed shut.
“What does Master Orion require?” she squeaked.
“Find Crouch and bring him here,” Orion barked, shooing the elf away with a hand, even as she nodded and vanished with a second sharp crack. “Now everyone can calm down – we will know where the truth soon enough. Panicking and creating ridiculous stories of murder and conspiracies will not help anyone.”
Bellatrix, clearly put out by not getting to have her say, shoots Walburga a glare in lieu of continuing the argument, and crosses her arms over her chest.
“Thank you, Orion,” Pollux inclines his head, his tone stiff. There’s a moment when the two of them are on the same, exchanging faintly exasperated glances, but it passes before anyone can really mark it.
There is not much to do while waiting, not when any second now Wipsy could return with Crouch, dumping him on the floor. Sirius can feel his heartbeat racing, and he wonders whether it’s excitement or fear – but fear for what, exactly? Fear for Barty Crouch would be stupid, fear of Bella would be possibly understandable but he scoffs at that idea (he hasn’t been scared of her, or any of his family for years and he’s not going to start now).
On the mantelpiece, a carriage clock – green-and-white patterned china, inlaid with silver and mother-of-pearl – ticks slowly through the minutes, hours and days, steadily making progress round the circle. Each tock is loud and there’s a half-second drag on the tick, making the rhythm unsteady. It goes tock-tick, tock-tick, tock-tick, like a man with a broken leg shuffling across the floor.
He has counted four-hundred and eighty-one seconds when the house-elf returns. Bella has begun to pace the floor of the room, her wand drawn and tapping against her thigh in a nervous tick; his mother is watching Regulus, who is staring at his hands, the empty potions vials sitting on the coffee table.
Wipsy arrives with a crack and lies prostrate on the floor, her thin body trembling beneath her pillowcase.
She is alone.
“M-m-master Orion,” she stutters, her voice nearly inaudible. “Wipsy has checked the whole house. Crouch is not here, master.”
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