Chapter 5 : Six of Diamonds
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Regulus’ door looms before him the next morning. Despite the fact that it’s made of light brown wood, the handle bronze, it seems oddly imposing, as though he’s about to walk into a throne room or Dumbledore’s office. He feels like a small child about to see the Minister, and hates himself for it.
He’s going to see his brother – his baby brother, no less. He shouldn’t be scared, or worried, or nervous. It’s just a visit, just stopping by, nothing out of the ordinary; other people do it all the time with their siblings, it’s no different.
Except, he knows, it is completely different. Other people talk to their brothers, don’t ignore them at school and exchange a handful of words at best when they have no other option but to talk. Guilt churns around his stomach uncomfortably; it’s not completely his fault, but he can’t blame Regulus for everything, either. The fact that it’s only recently he’s come to grudgingly accept that he can’t simply blame his brother for it all and move on simply sends the guilt whirring faster.
He feels sick and stupid, and isn’t sure which one is worse.
Raising a hand, he hesitates a little, his palm hovering over the door handle, fingers fluttering uselessly. Should he knock? Shaking his head at his own thoughts – knock to enter his brother’s room? What is he thinking? – and summoning his Gryffindor courage, he grasps the handle, turns it in a half-circle to the right and pushes the door open, taking a single step inside the room.
“I’m not… interrupting anything, am I?” he asks slowly, seeing Regulus and Barty sitting on the bed together, quite close. Actually, as he looks again, really close. He can’t see any space between them, their shoulders jostling against each other. It isn’t overly dissimilar to how he and James and Peter and Remus sit, when they all crowd onto one bed with a heap of sweets after Hogsmeade.
Still, he could have sworn that when he’d entered, his brother’s head had been resting on Barty’s shoulder.
“No,” Regulus says simply. “Why?”
The nervousness returns: Barty is watching him, silently, with an amused, expectant look, as though he knows what Sirius is trying to do and why and is just waiting for him to back out and run away. Why does he have to be here? Why couldn’t he be off skulking in the library again, looking at who knows what? Here he is, trying to ask to talk to his brother – ask to talk to him, because they don’t talk often enough for it to be normal for him to just walk in, sit down and start chatting – and getting stared at as though he’s turned into Snape overnight.
“No real reason,” he shrugs, attempting to sound nonchalant about it, sliding his hands into his pockets defensively. “Just wanted to talk. I can come back later, though.”
Regulus looks stunned. He stays there, still and silent, looking at Sirius. His expression is unreadable, and all Sirius can do is stand there, stare back and wait for his brother to come round and make a decision either way. Truthfully, this is a better reaction than the one he expected, but he still glances at the floor, shifting in place. He’s never been any good at waiting.
The sheets on the bed rustle a little.
“I should go – I wanted to look something up in the library,” Barty says, his voice snapping Regulus out of his reverie, but not affecting the atmosphere a jot. “I’ll see you later, Reg – I’ll send you an owl if your mad cousin gets me.”
He grins brightly, as though the idea of being caught roaming the house by Bellatrix is a joke, and then shoulders past Sirius and out of the room.
“What do you want?” Regulus asks, still watching him.
“Can – can I come in?” he ignores the question, aware he’s still hovering in the doorway.
Regulus doesn’t answer, merely shrugs, but Sirius takes it as an affirmation nonetheless. Closing the door behind himself, he wanders across his brother’s room to the bed, glancing about as he goes, for want of something to do.
It’s not technically his brother’s room, of course – not the way his room at Grimmauld Place is – but it’s his often enough that it might as well be. Unlike the other guest rooms (which really are for guests, should any ever come round), it looks lived in: Regulus has tacked up a Puddlemere United poster onto one wall, alongside a poster of the Heidelburg Harrier’s star Seeker Ernst Bachmeier. A stack of books, all thick and leather-bound with embossed spines, tower up from the floor next to a broomstick and thin, light blue, dragon-hide gloves.
His perusal of the room only takes a minute, though, and before he knows it he’s sitting down on the end of Regulus’ bed, with nothing left to look at and at a loss for what to say. Glancing at Regulus once, he simply blurts out,
“How are you?”
It’s a question he guesses Regulus is probably sick of answering – he imagines their mother has been flittering around him like a moth around a light, constantly worrying and fussing and checking his temperature and whatnot – but it’s safe ground.
“Fine,” Regulus frowns, giving him an odd, faintly irritated look. “Why do you care?”
“I’m your brother,” he retorts quickly, the sting of the question hiding behind a flush of anger. Why does he care – isn’t that obvious? He stops himself from going down that line, though, since it never ends well. “And good. I just, you know, thought I’d ask.”
“Fine,” Regulus repeats, drawing his legs up and shifting so he’s sitting cross-legged. “Anything else or is that it?”
He’s half tempted to say yes and just hightail it out of there, back to somewhere which is a little bit less tense and awkward and where he doesn’t have to struggle to find the right things to say (he has letters from James he needs to reply to; he’s been putting them off for a while now), but there’s a tinge of bitterness in his brother’s voice which sticks him to his seat.
“No,” he replies slowly, though the word is out before he’s really had a chance to think it through. “It’s not it.”
Regulus doesn’t say anything about this, simply shifts a little and looks at him patiently, eyebrows raised. It’s a familiar position, this – sitting and talking, and Reg looking at him like that – and he finds he can’t hold his gaze, switching to examine the velvet of the throw on the bed, stroking the material softly, watching as the colour darkens and lightens as he brushes it.
“Look, I,” he begins, haltingly, making an effort not to say anything sappy or stupid and to think before he speaks. “Well, things are weird here, right? With Uncle falling over during dinner, and Aunt… yeah, and I just thought that since we’re, you know, brothers, I’d see how you were and things.”
Shrugging awkwardly, he wiggles one foot idly.
“You can talk to me, you know,” he blurts suddenly, stopping Regulus from speaking. “I know it’s weird… but you can. If there’s anything to talk about, ‘course.”
Regulus still hasn’t said anything, but continues to watch him. He looks confused and pensive and yet the look in his eyes is oddly warm; Sirius suspects he’s veritably blind-sided his little brother with this conversation. This time, though, he doesn’t look away or stare at the floor – he’s serious, for once in his life, and he wants to Regulus to know that as well.
He has no idea what’s going on, but he knows that his baby brother is damn well not being involved in it, no matter what.
After a moment, Regulus glances away, shifting on the bed, pulling his legs closer to himself, looking uncomfortable. He bites his lip and Sirius watches him carefully this time, a frown falling over his face. Regulus’ eyes dart to the door and then back, guarded.
“There’s nothing to talk about, as you said.”
Barty hums to himself as he scans along the shelves, looking for something interesting to read. Of course, most of the books the Blacks own are interesting – they wouldn’t own them if they weren’t – but most of them are old and dull with uninspired titles across the spines. He snorts as he runs his fingers over the gold lettering on one book, privately thinking that it wasn’t a surprise that people like his father had burned hundreds of thousands of copies of similar books if all Dark wizards named their books things like ‘Compendium of Curses to Induce Death’ or ‘Magic Most Vile’.
The sneer is audible; the consonants crunched between his teeth. Turning around, Barty sees Lucius, his infamous cane in his hands as usual, though the bottom of it doesn’t touch the ground, and he simply nods his head amicably in response.
“You’ve caused quite the stir, haven’t you?” Lucius asks casually, looking almost like a statue as he watches the boy. “Prancing around with your silly stories and ludicrous suggestions – crying murder at every turn. I expect you’re delighted with the way things have turned out.”
Barty frowned at that, tilting his head to one side in the perfect picture of childlike confusion.
“Delighted? With the way what things have turned out?”
Lucius’ shoulders stiffen and he glares, taking a step forward, hand shifting on his cane to allow him to point it at Barty, nearly prodding him in the chest.
“Do not make the mistake of playing smart with me, Crouch,” he warns him lowly. “I am not someone you want as an enemy. Now –“
“Are you my enemy?” Barty interrupts, looking at him curiously. The question, simple and forthright, has shocked Lucius into silence and he doesn’t respond for a good long minute.
All the time, Barty waits, patiently, as though waiting to find out if a senior Death Eater is his enemy or not is an everyday occurrence.
“Well, no,” Lucius begins, taking his time, trying to gather himself. “But I might be, should you continue with your little game. I am warning you – and I will only do so once – that –“
“What game? I’m not playing a game,” Barty cuts him off again, and this time Lucius’ face visibly tightens, lips pinching together in fury.
“I know your little secret,” he says eventually, eying Barty with a disgusted, angry look which has absolutely no effect. “I know. Should you keep playing this game of yours I will inform everyone present at dinner of it,” he pauses here, allowing time for his words to sink in. “Now, I understand you like to think you’re cleverer than everyone else, but let me assure you I’m not merely bluffing. Should you wish to take that chance, then by all means, continue as you are, but if not… well, then I think we have an agreement, don’t you?”
There are the beginnings of a smug smirk on his lips and Barty just nods obediently, hands clasped behind his back.
“Of course,” he echoes. “An agreement.”
“Very good,” Lucius comments, pulling his cane close to himself again, his hand stroking the top of the serpent’s head.
Barty watches him leave, his tongue flicking out to lick the right side of his bottom lip nervously, his face betraying his worry. Once he’s sure Lucius is gone, the door swinging shut behind the man with a bang, he turns back to the shelves and continues on his way, examining the titles critically.
After a while, he comes across one which catches his fancy and slides it easily out of its slot from between two thick, blue books. Its cover is scratched and a little faded, but the spine is unbroken and when he opens it, it gives a soft crack. Standing stock still, he greedily drinks in the words on the pale pages, flipping through to get to something more interesting. He’s so engrossed he barely notices the sound of the door opening or the rustle of material.
He’s still there, leaning against the shelves, nose in book, when Walburga finds him, a sour expression on her face, to tell him that his father’s owl has arrived with a letter. As he straightens up, eyes wide, and apologises, she catches a glimpse of the title of the book: Medieval Magic for the Modern Sorcerer, and finds herself compiling a list of similar books in her head, tripping towards the tip of her tongue.
She stays silent, though, and he says nothing as she leads him away out into the corridor.
He forgets to knock as he steps into his grandfather’s study, pushing the door open – in his defence, he thinks, it’s usually locked anyway – and then stopping dead in the doorway. Narcissa is seated in the spare chair and she gives him a cool glance.
“Sirius,” she utters, her hands smoothing down the fabric of her skirt continuously, in long, sweeping motions.
At first look, she seems perfectly put-together, as always, but when he walks into the room and shuts the door behind himself, rather than lingering in the doorway, he notices that there are circles underneath her eyes her make-up can’t hide, and she appears drawn, thinner than usual. The only things about her which are untouched are her lavender dress and the small amethyst pendant about her throat.
“Narcissa,” he says, leaning against his the large, wooden desk. “Why are you here? Where’s grandfather?”
“Grandfather and I were just discussing some things,” she tells him stiffly, holding her head high, barely looking at him and choosing instead to focus on the painting opposite her. “He left for a moment to go and deal with something else – I don’t know what. He should be back in a minute, though if you want to see him you’ll have to wait outside until we’re finished.”
He just shrugs at that, picking up a quill from the desk and beginning to twirl it between three fingers.
“Sure, I don’t mind. Will you be long?”
“I don’t know,” she shakes her head slightly, her hands stilling in her lap. “Maybe. It depends on… well, how long it takes.”
Her smile is weak and a little watery, and he frowns. She may not be his favourite cousin by a country mile, and he can’t count the number of times she’s ratted him out to his parents or their grandfather, but that catches his attention. Narcissa never knows exactly what she’s going to say before she’s going to say it – every word, every pause, every inflection is planned.
“Well, yeah,” he says slowly. “But do you think it will take a long time?”
She glares at him and snaps,
“I don’t know!”
“Okay, okay,” he rolls his eyes at her. “I get it: you don’t know.”
They sit in silence for a minute or so. Narcissa has gone back to staring at the painting, her eyes boring holes into it, and he brushes the feather of the quill he’s holding the wrong way, making it flutter and shudder underneath his fingers. It tickles a little, teasing a smile from him.
Eventually, bored, he puts it back down and it lies flat on the table, as though hoping it would detract attention from itself. Ignoring it, he shoves his hands into his pockets and watches his cousin curiously. He’s never seen Narcissa so out-of-sorts and unsure. Even more than her sisters, she had always appeared so completely assured and confident of her place and her worth. To see her now, with little to none of that left, it makes him curious.
“What were you talking about?” he asks, his voice breaking the silence, swallowing the ‘are you okay?’ he had almost said.
Startled, she jumps and looks at him, her blue eyes flashing wide and scared for a moment.
“What were you talking about? You and grandfather, I mean,” he repeats.
“Oh, oh – nothing,” she says quickly, glancing down at her lap. “It’s nothing. Just something silly.”
He snorts at that; she has no real idea of what ‘silly’ is. To her, it’s something which isn’t normal or as it should be, something which isn’t what a proper pureblood should do or think or feel.
“Really? Probably not as silly as me,” he assures her, not quite sure why he’s saying this to her, but he does anyway. He wants to tell someone, really, wants to know that it’s not as stupid as he thinks it is, and she’s here and they’re talking and it feels like a good time. He stalls, again. “So go ahead. I don’t mind.”
She doesn’t look at him, her gaze fixed on a crease in her dress. Her long fingers move over it, gently adjusting the material to get rid of it, the material barely making a whisper. After a while, just as he’d began to think she wasn’t interested in talking to her little Gryffindor blood-traitor cousin, she starts talking. Her voice is quiet, but the sound fills the room nonetheless.
“I’m worried,” she says softly. “About this whole… situation. It’s changing things – people – no one knows what to do or what’s going on. Lucius is… well, he’s scared, he thinks they’re after me, or that I’m next, or something, and then Bella’s desperate to leave, and I don’t want to think… I can’t think that she would do… something like that – she’s my sister – but she’s changed so much, and I don’t… I don’t know what to do.”
“Yeah, I get it,” he nods, his own voice lowered, as though to avoid people listening in. “It’s weird, to think that Crouch might be right, you know? To think that someone here might be a killer –“
“Might be!” Narcissa gives a derisive, scream of a laugh. “Bella and Lucius are. I know – they told me. She was even proud of it; at least he admitted it was ‘strange’, whatever that means.”
That makes him freeze. It’s different, suspecting something and then being told explicitly that it’s true, that it’s all true. His cousin and cousin-in-law are murderers. They’d killed people before. Perversely, he wonders how many people they’d killed, how many of them have been wizards or witches or children or just muggles in the wrong place at the wrong time…
“I guessed that maybe,” he murmurs, swallowing and gesturing helplessly. “But I never knew.”
“And as if that’s not enough,” she sniffs, her hands gripping each other tightly in her lap, continuing as though he’d said nothing. “There’s that Crouch boy going on about murder and death and how we’re all next or something and people believe it – Bella believes it. Lucius is worried. Then Regulus –“
“You noticed too?” he interrupts her eagerly.
She stares at him for a moment, her blue eyes damp, before nodding.
“I knew it! I knew something was up with him!” he feels victorious, like he’s won something, and he can’t help but grin at her.
Footsteps thump in the corridor, accompanied by the delayed tap of a stick, and they look away from each other. Narcissa’s cheeks blush pale pink, and she returns to looking at the painting. Fighting back a sneer (how can she be embarrassed about talking to him? He’s her cousin! It’s allowed! Is he really that much of an outcast?), he folds his arms over his chest and scowls at the ground, his mood turning dark.
Pollux opens the door less than two seconds later, and if he’s surprised to see Sirius there, he doesn’t show it. He glances between them, taking in the look on Sirius’ face, and the furiously blank expression of Narcissa, and pieces something together. Before he can say anything, though, Sirius pushes himself off the desk.
“Don’t worry – I’ll wait outside,” he says shortly, slipping past his grandfather, taking care not to nudge the old man, and leaving the room. The sound of the door shutting makes him flinch. It had been a stupid thing to want to ask anyway – no need for him to bother his grandfather about it. He’s perfectly capable of deciding for himself if he wants to write to his friends or not.
In the end, though, he forgets that he’d ever wanted to write to them in the first place, and the letters which arrive that evening are tossed into the drawer with all the others.
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