Chapter 7 : Eight of Clubs
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He has never been more relieved to see the light seeping out from underneath his grandfather’s door. Letter crumpled in his hand, he grabs the handle of the door and bursts in without any ceremony.
“Regulus! It’s Regulus!”
His shouts die away into the room, and he freezes, glancing around the scene. They all stare at him in return, not a muscle moving between them. Immediately, he feels foolish and rude, but he refuses to back down, staying exactly where he is.
“Sorry,” he apologises. “I didn’t realise you were busy.”
“You would have known that if you had knocked,” Walburga sniffs, adjusting the teaspoon on the side of her teacup delicately, her mouth set into a hard, thin line.
“Sorry,” he repeats himself, the word slipping out automatically, though he doesn’t look at his mother as he says it, watching his grandfather for a signal – anything – to say he can continue. Patience has never been his forte, though, and when Pollux only frowns, one eyebrows raising slightly, he blurts out,
“It’s Regulus. Something’s going on. I don’t know what, but it’s to do with Regulus.”
“What are you blabbering on about?” his father demands, his eyes narrowing shrewdly. “What has to do with Regulus?”
“I –“ Sirius pauses, feeling foolish all of a sudden. “I don’t know. Not exactly. Something’s going on, though, and it’s something to do with Regulus. That’s why I thought I’d come and tell you – in case you knew anything.”
It’s a crap excuse, but he prides himself on having thought of it last minute nonetheless. Even though he’s pretty sure none of them are convinced by it, former Slytherins all, since they’re all looking at him like he’s turned into a jellyfish without noticing.
“Sirius,” Pollux sighs, adjusting the quill lying on his desk so it is perfectly aligned with the sheet of parchment prepared already. “Do you have any reason to think that something is going on which has to do with Regulus, or is this just pure speculation?”
The tone in which he says it speaks volumes about his belief that Sirius actually has any proof, and Sirius has to swallow a spark of anger that they just don’t get it; can’t they see he’s serious?
“Yes,” he insists, crossing the room and dropping the letter on his grandfather’s desk, picturing his mother’s wrinkled nose at the scrunched paper with a flare of amusement. “There. Someone left it on my pillow yesterday. I don’t know why, but there must be some reason. It doesn’t make sense otherwise.”
Carefully, Pollux picks up the piece of parchment in both hands, slowly smoothing it out and flattening it onto the desk. Sirius doesn’t need to look down to see what the letter says; he already knows it, can see the curve of the individual letters on the page.
“Well?” he hears his mother ask, impatient. “What does it say?”
“‘Regulus’,” he answers for his grandfather. “It just says ‘Regulus’.”
The snort he hears from his mother tells him everything he needs to know about their thoughts on the note and his interpretation of it, though he forces himself to keep looking at his grandfather and not just leave, hoping that he might think differently.
After a moment, Pollux sighs, his hand tapping on the top of his desk once, and then leans back on his chair, glancing up at him.
“This is it?”
He isn’t disappointed, he tells himself, feeling his nails digging into his palm by his sides, hands clenched into fists. He isn’t disappointed because what did he really expect? His parents and grandfather to start jumping around all over the place, squawking about murder and killers because of a note someone left on his pillow? It was a stupid idea in the first place, but a small part of him thought – persisted – that, maybe, given everything that’s been going on, they might just take it seriously.
He hadn’t thought they’d just not even consider it.
“Er,” he flushes, shifting uncomfortably in place. “Well, yeah. That’s it. I just thought… you know, you might like to know. Since I didn’t write it, and someone must have put it there for some reason – it was sealed and everything, I swear. Given what’s been happening I thought, you know, it would be best.”
It’s the most ineloquent thing he’s said in years – even beating the time he’d tried to stammer out a reply to a local muggle girl’s invitation to a ‘seen-ee-mar’ (which sounded to him like some kind of weird freak show or public execution – if they still did those) – and he shoves his hands in his pockets at the end of it, trying to appear nonchalant about it. He has to admit, though, sounding like an idiot is not really going to help him argue his case. Not that he ever had much of a case to argue to begin with.
Pollux closes his eyes for a moment, taking in a slow, deep breath (Sirius can actually see his chest move beneath his shirt and robes), and when he opens them again, he directs the thin, wan smile to the crumpled piece of paper, not Sirius.
“I appreciate your concern for your brother, Sirius – it is most natural,” he says patiently, with the air of one having to talk to a child who simply refuses to stop asking ‘why’. “Particularly at times like these. However, I highly doubt this really means anything. There is no killer, after all, and without a killer Regulus is hardly in danger. Throw it away and forget about it; it’s just rubbish.”
It takes him a little while to do anything other than stand there, staring at his grandfather. Then, he gives a jerky sort of nod and mutters ‘yeah, sure, thanks’. Avoiding the gazes of both his parents, he steps forward and scoops up the piece of parchment, slipping it into his pocket and leaving the office without another word.
In the corridor outside, when he’s sure he’s out of both earshot and sight for anyone just outside it, he swears loudly and bashes the wall twice with his fist. A painting of a woman in a corseted dress with a hat and fur stole gasps and hisses indignantly at his coarse language. He gives her a rude hand gesture in return, not caring if she recognises it or not.
Leaning against the wall, propping himself up facing it with his forearm, the side of his hand red and smarting, he curses again, repeating the word over and over again, like some kind of strange, offensive prayer.
How could he have been so stupid? Of course they wouldn’t care, of course they’d think it was nothing – and, really, he’s not even sure he’s convinced that it is something, if he’s honest with himself. He should have known better than to go to his grandfather, should have kept it to himself. It’s not as if he can’t watch out for Regulus; he’s nearly seventeen, after all.
Behind him, someone clears their throat.
Straightening up, caught between irritation and embarrassment at being found swearing like a sailor (at least, he thinks that’s the phrase Lily likes to use about him and James), he turns around, arm dropping down to by his side, a harsh ‘what’ jumping to the front of his throat, waiting to fire out of his mouth in a heartbeat.
His father merely raises an eyebrow at him, his expression faintly disapproving, and any sound he had intended to make dies before it lives.
“That letter,” Orion asks slowly. “May I see it?”
Of course, before the question has really been asked, his father’s hand is already held out, palm turned up, waiting for it to be handed over. Not really a question then, but Sirius is used to it – it’s been his father’s habit ever since he could remember.
‘Thinking too fast for his mouth’ is what his mother always mutters when it happens.
“Um,” he begins, hesitating just a moment, before taking it out of his pocket and handing it over. “Yeah, sure.”
He stands there, unsure of what to do – if anything – watching as Orion unfolds the piece of parchment and gazes at the word inked into it. His father’s expression doesn’t change as he studies it, eyes sweeping over the curve of the letters, the flicks off the end of the ‘s’ and the tail of the ‘g’.
“Do you recognise the handwriting?” he questions eventually, and Sirius is so ready to answer that he blurts it out almost too fast.
“No,” he shakes his head. “No, I don’t.”
It hadn’t actually been something he’d considered when he’d found it and first read it. He’d been so fixated on who had sent it and why they’d sent it, why it just said ‘Regulus’, that he hadn’t stopped to think about something so obvious as whose handwriting it is. Now it’s occurred to him, it seems strange that he doesn’t. If someone inside the house sent it, surely he should recognise it? Surely someone should recognise it?
Carefully, Orion folds it up, looking pensive. Sirius holds out a hand to take it back, but his father simply tucks it into the breast pocket of his jacket, ignoring him completely.
“I must go back –”
“How did you get out?” Sirius interrupts eagerly, curious.
“It is an office, Sirius,” Orion says coldly. “Not Azkaban. I walked out of the door. Regardless, I must go back and you should go and find something to do. If you want to find your brother, I believe he and the Crouch boy are in your grandmother’s old drawing room.”
It is a dismissal, and a pretty clear one too. He nods, shoves his hands in his pockets and makes his way out of the corridor. While he’s annoyed he doesn’t have the letter any more, his father’s suggestion isn’t a bad one, though he’s not sure whether Regulus will want his company or not.
Too bad for him, he thinks with a smirk as he rounds the corner (and successfully shocks a portrait of his great-grandfather into silence with a polite nod and smile), he’ll just have to put up with it either way.
The rest of the house is silent as he takes the stairs two at a time. Then again, if his parents and grandfather are in the study, Regulus and Barty are in the old drawing room, Uncle and Aunt are… well, dead, and he’s obviously here, that doesn’t really leave many people to be wandering around the house. Still, it’s at times like this he appreciates the warmth and noise of the Gryffindor Common Room – even of the Potters’ house.
His grandmother’s old drawing room – preserved and kept sparklingly clean even after her permanent relocation to the south of France – is on the top floor of the house, for no discernible reason, tucked away between a guest bedroom and a set of stairs. He vaguely remembers reading something as a child which suggested it had used to be a parlour for visiting ladies to use or something similar, but he doesn’t care enough to wonder.
Pushing open the door, he is met by an annoyed look as whatever conversation had been going on before he arrived stops abruptly.
“What?” Regulus demands. “Does mother want me?”
“Don’t be stupid,” he rolls his eyes in response, ignoring every little gesture or sign – from Regulus’ glare to the way Barty's studiously ignoring him – which tell him he’s not needed and should go away. Instead, he soldiers on and sits down on the sofa opposite them, glancing once at Barty. “If mother wanted you for something, she’d send a house-elf. Although I’m sure she wishes I was, I’m not one.”
Regulus glares at him for a moment longer, seemingly about to defend their mother, before he slumps back into the arm of the sofa, head resting on a silver-embroidered cushion, with a mutter of ‘whatever’.
They sit like that for a moment or two: the two brothers opposite each other, separated by a delicate glass and mahogany table laden with books, and Barty Crouch ensconced in a velvet-covered armchair in the corner, immersed in a large, leather-bound volume. On the mantelpiece, a china carriage-clock keeps time slowly.
Despite the open window, the sash for it fluttering loosely in the wind, the room feels stuffy and almost humid. He’s willing to bet no one’s been in here for years – not deliberately, at least, and wonders, briefly, why Regulus had chosen to come here. The idea of sitting in a hot, suffocating room at the top of the house for hours on end when his own room, which is nice and cool and airy, is only a hundred metres down the corridor baffles him.
Then again, he’s never much liked the idea of sitting about reading books, either.
“So,” he tries, sounding casual and almost bored. “What are you doing?”
It’s a stupid question. It’s a stupid, stupid, stupid question, and as soon as he says it he knows he’s in for it now. He waits, therefore, silently, for the first blow to come.
“Reading,” Barty’s voice is quiet, but still sharp and blatantly amused. “Or have you gone blind?”
Regulus sniggers to Barty’s left, playing idly with the end of a window sash in a manner that puts Sirius very much in mind of a kitten with a ball of string.
“No,” he replies easily, forcing himself to give a little light-hearted smile. “Just asking.”
“Oh,” Barty doesn’t look up from his book, but enough of his expression is in his voice that it doesn’t matter. Contemplative, he sounds almost disappointed. “That’s a shame.”
Sirius feels his jaw clench and takes a breath, choosing to look around the room or out of the window – it’s a good view, he has to admit, he can see all the way to the little church in the muggle village not-so-nearby from here – rather than keep trying to make conversation. It’s exhausting and not giving any results; giving up seems the easy, sensible option.
He’s busy tilting his head to better see a little gold statuette of a dog in one of the large, glass-fronted cabinets in the room, when the silence breaks.
“Why are you here?”
When he looks up, Regulus is watching him, his expression somehow simultaneously sporting the same controlled, collected look their father has and a confused frown. The effect is bizarre, but surprisingly intense.
“What do you mean why am I here?” he retorts quickly. “Why can’t I be here?”
Regulus shrugs, looking away and studying the sash as he twines it around his fingers, weaving it in and out of them.
“You can be here,” he acknowledges. “You never were before, though. Why are you here now?”
Sirius doesn’t really know what to make of that – all carefully said in a light tone, one trying too hard to be casual – and feels his forehead crease as he frowns at his brother. He notices that in the corner, Barty has frozen, eyes fixed on the page in front of him.
“What’s that supposed to mean?” he demands after a moment in an effort to hide the fact that he really has no idea what Regulus is trying to get at with that comment.
“Nothing,” Regulus assures him quickly, almost before he’s finished asking. “Nothing. Just curious, that’s all.”
Regarding his brother closely, taking in the way he can’t keep his hands still, the concentration he’s putting into playing with a bit of old cord, and the indentations his teeth are making into his bottom lip, Sirius concludes that whatever it is, it’s definitely not ‘nothing’. It obviously means something to Regulus, and it’s meant to mean something to him.
“No, it isn’t,” he says confidently. “What do you mean?”
For a minute, Regulus doesn’t say anything, and Sirius just watches him twirl the end of the sash around his middle finger before letting it slide away again, twisting his wrist round to grab it again. He isn’t sure Regulus is going to reply at all, and is about to repeat himself when the other opens his mouth,
“It’s just that you’ve never been interesting in sitting in the same room as me, and now you want to be all friendly or whatever – trying to hang around all the time, asking me how I am and things. It’s weird. You haven’t wanted to know for ages, so why now?”
Barty hasn’t turned a page in the last two minutes; his hand hovers over the bottom corner, but doesn’t land.
“Well, I –” Sirius begins, but the words (of course I’ve wanted to talk to you – we’re brothers, right? – I’ve always wanted to know, you just haven’t been around) stick in his throat. There’s more than a bit of truth in what Regulus said, after all, and he can feel the guilt starting to swirl around in his stomach, thick and bitter.
“Well what?” Regulus snaps at him, his tone unmistakeably harsh.
“Why can’t I want to know now?” he demands in reply, leaning forwards. “What’s so wrong with that? I’m allowed, right? Besides, you say I haven’t been talking to you, but it’s not like you’ve exactly been friendly with me. You never tried to talk to me either, so don’t blame me for that.”
Regulus’ fingers tighten around the window sash, knuckles white through the skin. Swinging his legs off the sofa, he sits up, giving Sirius a furious, flushed glare. Sirius glowers back in turn, barely aware of Barty, in the corner, having looked up from his book, glancing between the two of them, unsure of what to do.
“Blame you?” Regulus repeats contemptuously. “Why shouldn’t I blame you? It’s your fault. It’s not my fault. I haven’t been ignoring you, no matter what you might like to pretend to yourself. You’ve been ignoring me – you’ve been ignoring me for years. You’re pretty damn good at it, as well, as you’ve proven.”
His fault? His fault? He hadn’t said anything about blaming anyone – definitely hadn’t said he blamed Regulus – and now Regulus is accusing him?
“It’s not my fault! You can’t blame me for you being always too busy swanning around being the favoured son – mummy’s precious baby boy,” Sirius sneers in reply, feeling his temper rising sharply, hands clenching into fists. He’s been itching for a good fight ever since this started, and now it seems like he’s finally getting one. Well, he would be, if he didn’t feel so frustratingly guilty over something this trivial. “Too busy being perfect to come and talk to me, right? Don’t want to associate with your bloodtraitor brother? Or are you really too scared to come and find me?”
He glares at him again for good measure, before adding,
“But, you know what, I’m not the one who still cares about who ignored who – I’m not the one who brought this up. You did. You’re still annoyed about this, even now, and why? I’m going to hold your bloody hand while you wail about how terrible your life is. I’m saying I want to talk to you now and you’re whining about the past like some snivelling little baby. Grow up, for god’s sake, and get over it. It’s as much your fault as mine.”
Jumping up from his seat, Regulus grips the window sash tighter, feeling it start to press into his skin.
“I’m not asking you to hold my hand, you imbecile,” he throws back, voice getting louder. “I’m asking you to actually want to bloody talk to me once in a while, but no, that’s too much for ask for you, isn’t it? You’re not interested in me, you don’t care about me – so stop trying to act like you do. I don’t believe anything you say any more. How can I when everything that comes out of your mouth is trash? Why can’t you just leave me the hell alone for once like you’re so bloody brilliant at doing?”
He doesn’t know whether it would feel better to punch his brother or run out of the room – possibly jump out of the window for a quicker exit.
“You’re a stupid, pathetic, little prick. Why would I care about you? It’s not like you care about me either,” he shouted back, fingers digging into the armrest of the sofa, beginning to push himself up and out of it.
Pausing, taking deep satisfaction in seeing Regulus’ shocked, angry expression, he continues, quieter now, though no less venomous,
“Fine. Have it your way. I’ll leave you to it. If there is a killer, I damn well hope he gets you next! I won’t bloody mind!”
A hiss of breath from the corner, and then Regulus breathes out,
Before he’s really registered it, Regulus is lunging for him, taking the window sash with him. The windowpane creaks, wrenches and then falls to the floor with a crash. Splinters of wood fly everywhere; the smashed glass leaves worthless, miniature diamonds littering the carpet. He turns away, ignoring Regulus’ strangely swollen eyes and pale, furious expression, and runs out of the room.
His feet pound as he races down the corridor, though as fast as he is, his feet can’t go any faster than his heart – beating in double-time. Words, phrases echo in his head, and louder than all of the rest he can hear Regulus’ last, hissed remark.
Shaking his head, hoping desperately that no one else heard their argument, hoping that Regulus isn’t following him to continue it (though he wouldn’t be too worried if he did – he’d love to punch him right in his stupid, pretty, baby face. Break his nose, then maybe he’d stop whining about people ignoring him), he rounds the corner of the landing.
He hears a shout – a warning – a squeal and then a thud and a shrill cry. All he sees is a blur of grey and dark brown, and maybe, maybe a flash of light blonde. There’s the feel of something warm hitting him (or has he hit it? He’s not sure), and he stops, hand reaching, grasping for the bannister.
Mouth open, leaning heavily forwards, each foot on a different step, he freezes, helpless to watch as Narcissa, seemingly unconscious, keeps tumbling down and down and down the stairs until finally she stops at the bottom.
A hand lands on his shoulder, and he jumps as a voice murmurs into his ear.
“Sirius, what have you done?”
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