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Chapter 26 : The Runaway
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“Get the salt, Kreacher.”
Sirius cringed as the ugly house-elf bowed and exited the dinner room while lapping praise on his mother. When Kreacher came back with the requested condiment and apologised for not creating a meal that satisfied Walburga’s taste buds, Sirius made an indiscreet vomiting noise. Walburga retaliated by throwing the pepper shaker at him. While he managed to dodge the bottle, a cloud of pepper snuck up his nose and into his eyes, making both red and watery.
“Is my poor baby crying?” Walburga taunted him as she laughed wickedly. “That will teach you to practice some decorum at the dinner table.”
“What can I say, I learn by example,” said Sirius as he dabbed his eyes with his napkin.
“If only that were true,” said Walburga with a curled lip.
‘It’s not worth it.’
Sirius repeated the mantra in his head, determined not to rise to her bait. Her taunts were worse than her screams. At least he could laugh at how the angrier she was, the more high-pitched her voice grew. Better still, at her most frenzied, she would lose her voice for days afterwards. She had potions to remedy the problem but Sirius had long taken to flushing them down the toilet.
The beginning of summer was the nadir of his year. He would spend the first few weeks at home to keep up appearances then migrate to the Potters for the rest of the summer. It was the compromise he had reached with his parents so that they wouldn’t make a scene and show up at the Potters’ residence to demand he come home, which was what happened in his first year.
“I’m trying out for Quidditch. As Seeker.” Regulus looked at his mother. “I hope that’s okay.”
“That’s perfectly acceptable.”
Regulus’ shoulders sagged in relief as he continued eating, avoiding Sirius’ look of disgust. It was pathetic, nauseating even, the way Regulus craved their parents’ approval. Didn’t he realise that everything was conditional? That Walburga and Orion weren’t capable of warmth or affection or Merlin forbid, love.
When he was much younger, Sirius used to pester his parents for a third sibling. Small, slight Regulus was shy and timid and was never keen to stray far from Walburga when Sirius wanted to go on adventures like climb trees or play Quidditch. After his parents kept refusing his request, he asked his Uncle Alphard who was always jolly and direct.
“Sorry, my lad, I highly doubt that’s ever going to happen.”
“Your mother’s felt she’s done her duty. She has her heir and the spare,” Uncle Alphard shrugged and snuck Sirius some Bertie Botts Every Flavoured Beans.
Even something like building a family was treated as clinically calculated. It had been one of the earlier signs that made Sirius seriously reconsider his stance in his family. There was something nonsensical about their long-held beliefs and outdated values. Only because his mother expressly forbad it, Sirius would sneak out of the house and go to the nearest playground where he mixed with children of all descents and found that what kind of blood they had made no difference to who they were as people.
His enlightenment led to his slow fall from grace in the eyes of his parents. The Gryffindor sorting was the final straw. His parents quickly switched their attention to the then mostly overlooked Regulus who rose to the challenge of being the better son.
Speaking of the better son, Regulus continued to prattle on about his studies, the clubs he had joined, the group of friends he was part of. Walburga would occasionally nod but it was abundantly clear she wasn’t paying attention. Sirius listened with disinterest but grew angry as Regulus began dropping names.
“Mulciber? Avery? Malfoy? Snape? What are you doing hanging around with scum like them?” Sirius demand.
“You dare…” Walburga slowly rose from her chair. “Regulus couldn’t have chosen a better set of friends. I should wash your mouth with soap for using such language.”
Sirius ignored her and fixed his gaze on his brother. “They’re not your friends. They wouldn’t look at you twice if it weren’t for your last name. They’re nothing but demented bigots who want to collect people like you to corrupt and warp your mind to initiate you into their twisted world.”
“SHUT UP, BOY! Don’t listen to a word he says, he’s just jealous you’ve found yourself such respectable friends. Which is more than can be said about the rat pack he’s chosen to associate himself with.”
“I’d die for my friends and I know they’d do the same for me. Would yours?” Sirius asked Regulus, who shrank into his seat.
“Nobody said anything about dying,” Walburga replied haughtily. “Our kind look out for one another and that’s what Regulus needs since his older brother has chosen to forsake him and everything this family stands for.”
“Family? This isn’t a family! It’s an institution. ‘The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black’, ‘Toujours pur’… It’s all a neat pack of lies. Everyone knows we trim the family tree to rid it of ‘undesirables’. There’s no use ignoring the fact that we have Muggles and Squibs as our ancestors. But my favourites are the so-called ‘blood-traitors’ because at least they have the balls to break away from this dysfunctional and destructive family.”
The more Sirius spoke, the more purple Walburga’s face got. Her red eyes were inflamed as a protruding vein throbbed in her forehead. At first, she opened and closed her mouth like a bewildered goldfish but then a far more sinister expression overcame her features.
“Perhaps Bellatrix will be able cleanse you of such misguided thoughts,” said Walburga, triumphant as Sirius was struck dumb. “Cygnus and I thought Narcissa would be a more suitable match but Bellatrix has expressed interest in you. She says she likes the challenge of breaking you in.”
The blood in Sirius’ veins suddenly ran cold. He always suspected that his mother intended to marry him off to one of his cousins but Bellatrix… There was next to nothing that scared Sirius but Bellatrix and her off-kilter ways always made him nervous. As children, he would watch in horror as she gleefully tortured animals, then disappointed when Andromeda stepped in to put the creatures out of their misery. Bellatrix was the embodiment of all the absolute worst traits that pervaded the family lineage except she intensified these qualities with a streak of unstable brutality.
Sometimes, he could still see the ripped-out fur that floated in the air and the burnt flesh that filled his nostrils. But the inhuman sounds they made, of pain and suffering, those are what haunt him most.
“Cleanse me? Break me in? Sounds like I’m to be her pet project,” said Sirius.
“After you graduate, that’s exactly what you’ll be,” said Walburga. “She’s a fine girl. Reminds me of me, in fact. You don’t deserve her.”
“Oh yes, the similarities are endless.”
“With this union, you will atone for your treason and sire heirs to carry on our proud bloodline.”
Sirius got up so fast and so suddenly, his chair fell over. A tempest was brewing inside him at the thought of an arranged marriage to a certified psychopath, of his brother falling in with a crowd that would destroy him and of his mother, who cared more about tradition and duty than her children’s happiness and well-being.
“You’re sick if you think I’m going anywhere near that – that lunatic!”
“YOU HOLD YOUR PUTRID LITTLE TONGUE, BOY! I’M YOUR MOTHER AND AS LONG AS YOU LIVE UNDER THIS ROOF, THE HOUSE OF MY FATHERS, YOU’LL DO AS I SAY!”
“FINE! YOU SHOULD HAVE SAID SO YEARS AGO IF IT WERE THAT EASY!”
“WHERE DO YOU THINK YOU’RE GOING?”
“Out of this hellhole,” he mumbled though he doubted she heard him.
Sirius kicked the chair out of his way for good measure and made sure to stomp on every step of the stairs. He slammed the door and waited. The walls barely muffled her screams and he imagined her breaking the china and throwing silverware with Regulus attempting to pacify her. His eyes burned while tears of fury leaked from his eyes. He shoved his fists into his sockets to keep anymore from flowing out.
Kreacher was forbidden to enter his room while he was at number 12, Grimmauld Place so his trunk was still overflowing with clothes, robes, books and other things he hadn’t bothered to unpack.
Why had he even stayed this long? There was no sentimentality, certainly no attachment to this house for it was more a house than a home. Walburga had call this place the house of her fathers and she had done everything she could to preserve this ideal. Every piece of furniture was made from black, ornately-carved wood that was darker than the shadows they cast. There were chandeliers in every room, including his. But they were too high for Kreacher to dust and clean properly which was why the crystals no longer sparkled, coated by a film of dirt. Portraits of his ancestors were hung on all the walls, almost covering the grey silk wallpaper. His stomach turned as he thought of eating off the same China plates with the same silverware that generations of Blacks had before him.
The only personal touches that existed were the gold-plate bearing his name on the door and his choice of decorating his room. A smile crossed his lips as he looked around at the pictures on his wall and Gryffindor paraphernalia. He would leave them here as a reminder that his family couldn’t erase him completely.
It was only when he heard a door slam that Sirius leaped into action. He poked his head out the door and when the coast was clear, his footsteps padded on the worn baroque carpet as he levitated his trunk behind him. Walburga would have holed herself up in the tapestry room, tracing her lineage and going through dusty tomes of old family albums. That was one of the only things that ever lifted her spirits after one of their fights.
“Is this how you’re going to resolve things? By sneaking off into the night?”
It was a worn, almost defeated sentiment, one that didn’t match the young boy who uttered them. Regulus had changed out of his dinner robes and was standing there shivering in his oversized green-striped pyjamas. There was always a draft in the Black House though Sirius always joked it should be warmer with the hot-air tripe that emitted from the esteemed lady of the house.
“Why? What are you going to do to stop me?”
“If I knew how, I would.”
“Don’t pretend to care, Regulus,” said Sirius bitterly.
Just as the silence duped Sirius into thinking Regulus had left, his brother proved his hopes wrong. “It’s funny how much pride you take in being a Gryffindor when really, you’re just a – a coward who runs away from his problems.”
That did it. The accusation made Sirius drop his trunk with a soft ‘thud’ on the floor as he spun around to face Regulus. “Sod off, you arse-kissing weasel!”
“You’re so like mother, it’s scary.”
Sirius struck Regulus hard, his knuckles stinging as it collided with Regulus’ cheekbone. Regulus clutched the side of his face but didn’t cry out or allowed any tears to fall. Meanwhile, Sirius bottled-up his own shock at what he had just done though he couldn’t stop the sudden trembling that overtook him.
“Shouldn’t you be going through the Daily Prophet cutting out clippings of your hero?” Sirius jeered, attempting to muster back shreds of his bravado.
“Better than all those indecent things you’ve stuck to your wall.”
“Enjoy them, they’re never coming off.”
“Guess that’s the only thing I can count on not to abandon me.”
Before Sirius could register the words, Regulus ran back into his room. No matter what mood he was in, Regulus always closed doors noiselessly, turning the knob so that it wouldn’t click against the door and only releasing it when it was in the hole. Everything he did was muffled, as though the slightest reverberation would set off a chain of catastrophe. It was almost as though he considered his presence an intrusion.
Suppressing any feelings of obligation to comfort, Sirius resumed bringing his trunk with him down the stairs. The portraits watched him and muttered darkly but they would be glad to see him gone for all the moustaches, monocles, blackened teeth, breasts and stink lines he had drawn on them over the years. However, he paused when he got to the second landing. In front of him was the door to his father’s study. Decades of marriage to Walburga had made Orion’s study akin to a sanctuary. He never joined them for meal-times or any family activity for that matter, preferring the safety of his locked door.
While they mostly lived off the vast Black family legacy, Orion further supplemented the fortune by running his own security firm where he provided his fellow pureblooded associates with strong, well-placed magical defences. Defensive magic had always been his greatest talent. Uncle Alphard said it was because Orion suffered deeply from paranoia. Thoughts of persecution, conspiracy and assassination had plagued Orion his whole life and socially crippled him which was why they never received or entertained any guests.
“Cousins marrying cousins, it’s unnatural. With all that in-breeding, it’s no wonder our bloodlines are tainted by mental instability,” said Uncle Alphard. “That’s why you’ll never see me marry. Oh no, there’s enough bad seed and rotten apples in this family tree without my adding to it.”
Uncle Alphard couldn’t make excuses for his sister’s behaviour but he always encouraged Sirius to have some compassion for Orion. For once, Sirius felt his uncle was wrong because if anything, Orion was the worst of the lot. He allowed himself to be henpecked first by his mother and sister and eventually browbeaten by his wife. Even if he did stand up to them, what difference would it have made? They were all of one mind, clutching tightly to the idea of pureblood supremacy and delusions of their supposed practically-royal status.
Bright light peeped out from beneath the solid door. Orion was probably leafing through a dusty tome detailing the horrors of the Salem Witch Trials. Despite his affliction, Orion had a macabre reading habit, as though the injustice suffered by wizards and witches through the ages justified his equal fear and hatred of muggles.
Sirius didn’t dare bend down to look through the keyhole, suspecting that he would lose an eye in the process due to Orion’s security measures. If anyone had asked, Sirius couldn’t quite explain why he was standing there. Perhaps somewhere deep inside laid the dormant hope that his largely absent father would suddenly rouse himself from his self-induced paternal coma and stop his first-born from escaping their decrepit castle and the evil witch that held them in her clutches.
It was a ridiculous fantasy and worse, a cliché one at that.
And so, completely and utterly devoid of tearful farewells, beggings to stay and verbal curses thrown at his retreating back, Sirius would leave full of confidence that he would never again in his natural life step foot in number 12, Grimmauld Place.
James sighed and inadvertently fogged the two-way mirror they were using as communication.
“Mesopotamia. Don’t ask me which part, it’s all desert to me. We were in Egypt last week. The girls were all covered up and I’ve got sand everywhere. And when I say everywhere, I mean everywhere.”
“Spare me the details! Merlin, of all the summers you decide to go on vacation.”
“Hey, don’t go off on me. You know well enough that my folks and I go on a trip for a few weeks before you come to stay over. Forgive me for not taking Divination and prophesying your early arrival,” said James sarcastically.
“Well then, what am I supposed to do now, twiddle my thumbs until you get back?” Sirius shot back.
“I’d suggest you get comfortable on the streets but you’re far too pretty to survive as a tramp for long,” James snickered. The streetlight above Sirius illuminated his sour expression and finally made James appreciate the dire straits his best friend had gotten himself into. “Look, we’ll be back in two weeks, two and a half tops. Until then… perhaps you could get yourself settled somewhere.”
Before James could give specific recommendations, Sirius quickly said good-bye and tucked the mirror back in his trunk. He got up from the bench carved with swear words and initials in hearts and spent the better part of an hour trying to navigate the Borough of Islington. In the end, he found himself back at the playground he used to frequent. Mostly vandalised and graffiti-stricken, equipment like the seesaw, slides and swingsets were much smaller than he remembered.
Hopelessness was starting to creep in as he weighed his options. One in particular stood out as the most appealing but it was also the most impractical. Luckily, Sirius was never one to dwell too much on consequences. With that in mind, he stuck out his wand hand and waited.
The Knight Bus seemingly appeared out of thin air as it careened towards him and came to an abrupt stop. A frazzled-looking woman in a pale lavender dress who looked like she hadn’t slept in days didn’t so much greeted as received him with little lucidity. In her arms was a kicking, screaming infant and the source of her less than professional state. Sirius graciously declined her offer of help and brought his trunk into the bus himself.
“Theresa Shunpike,” she said by way of introduction. “I’ll be your conductor this evening. Welcome to the Knight Bus, emergency transport for the stranded witch or wizard. Sorry about Stanley. He’ll quiet down once we’re on the move again.”
Sirius glanced doubtfully at the little red-faced human mass of noise and hoped to Merlin she was right. The last thing he need was to subject himself to ear-deafening torture.
“Do you happen to have a directory?” he asked.
“Right there behind you. Hang on.” She settled her son in a nearby crib and turned on the hanging musical mobile to amuse him. The strong smell of milk and baby powder pervaded the air as she got close to him. “I didn’t catch your name, love.”
“Sirius, Sirius Black.”
“Well then, Sirius Black, who are you looking for?”
“Do you have ‘Kent’ listed?”
“Wake up, love. We’re here.”
There was no need for Theresa. Her son Stanley was the perfect alarm clock, bursting into banshee screams every time the bus came to a halt. With an extra three Sickles, Sirius had asked the driver and Theresa’s cousin, Ernie Prang, to spend the night dropping off the other passengers before Sirius’ stop. It would not endear Sirius to the Kent household should he turn up in the middle of the night.
For better or for worse, he was determined to make a good first impression.
He thanked Ernie and Theresa, even deigned to pat baby Stanley on the head, while paying the twenty-eight Sickles fare plus tip to round it out to thirty. Theresa thanked him profusely and hoped to see him on-board very soon.
The air was still wet with morning dew when Sirius stepped off the bus, which disappeared as soon as both his feet touched the gravel road. According to the directory, he was in St Mary Mead, 25 miles from London. The sleepy, quaint village was some distance away from the actual Kent residence.
Having grown-up in cramped, narrow Grimmauld Place and dusty, congested London, it was quite the culture shock for Sirius to be there. The deep greens and bright blues with smatterings of colourful flowers hurt his eyes that were more accustomed to greys, browns and blacks. There was so much land in the countryside that the Kents had no nearby neighbours on their lane that broke apart from the main street.
He pushed aside the thought that this might not have been the best idea and pushed opened the vine-covered gate. The Kents lived in a Tudor-style bungalow whose white walls were practically covered with wayward ivy. In fact, it was more an overgrown jungle than a garden where plants and small trees grew tall and wild without system. He gave a light tap on the white door with window panels and waited.
Just as he raised his fist to knock once more, a face peered from the other side of the door and after a quick assess of him proceeded to open the door.
“Hello there,” she said brightly with a slightly girlish tinge. “How may I help you?”
Tall and svelte with dark tumbling curls, this incredibly pretty (though not quite beautiful) young woman struck Sirius as vaguely familiar. She looked to be at least twenty years old which meant they had been in Hogwarts at the same time. He stared at her a few seconds too long before he remembered what he was there for.
“Is this the Kent residence? I’m a friend of Dollie.”
Her long lips twisted in confusion. Suddenly, her face lit-up and she turned around to holler up the stairs.
“DOROTHY! YOU HAVE A VISITOR!”
Now it was Sirius’ turn to be confused.
“Actually, it’s Dollie. Dollie Kent.”
“DON’T BE RIDICULOUS, WHO IN THEIR RIGHT MIND WOULD BE HERE AT THIS HOUR?” someone called back. Speak of the devil.
The young woman shook her head in amusement. Sirius looked over her shoulder and sure enough, Dollie was standing at the top on the stairs looking like she was watching a procession of ghosts marching into her home.
“Black, what are you doing here?” she said as she sprinted down taking two steps at a time.
“You young ones nowadays certainly have odd nicknames,” said the woman.
Dollie pushed past her and without saying another word grabbed Sirius by the arm to lead him into the hybrid jungle-garden. Beside the farthest wall was a double two-seated swing set painted white. She didn’t get on but stood in front of it facing him with her arms crossed. She didn’t look angry so much as bewildered.
“Watch your step. Dad will kill you if he found any of his ingredients smooshed.”
“Cute PJs,” he smirked.
She glared at him as she pulled down her pink-on-pink polka dot shorts that matched her top.
“Don’t change the subject.”
“Stupid Helen,” Dollie said as she gnashed her teeth.
Sirius whistled. “Eight months together and I didn’t even know your real name. Hell, I don’t think I even know your middle name.”
“Eight months and a half wasn’t it?”
“Who knows, I was too happy to keep count.”
It was a morning of unexpected surprises. Unable to meet his gaze, Dollie shuffled her feet as she spoke to the grass.
“Please, don’t make me ask again. Tell me why you’re here.”
“Long version or short?”
“For now… abridged.”
“The Potters went to Mesopotamia, leaving me high and dry. I need a place to stay until they come back,” Sirius explained, preferring to keep the less-savoury details to himself.
“What about Pettigrew… or Lupin?” she mentioned the second option with great hesitation.
“Peter’s dad walked out on them when he was four so his mum gets very lonely.” Sirius tried not to think of Mrs Pettigrew’s hungry gazes and suggestive double-entendres, the touches that lingered longer than was appropriate. “And the Lupins aren’t terribly well-off. I’d only be a burden to both.”
“What makes you think you won’t be one here?”
“You’re right. This was a rubbish idea. I’ll go find an inn here or go back to London for a stay at the Leaky Cauldron.”
“No, wait, I didn’t mean that.” Dollie looked back at the house. “It’s just – my dad will need some convincing.”
“If anyone can do it, it’s you. But only… only if you want me here. Just say the word and I’m gone.”
“You always make things out to be simpler than they really are.” She searched his face. It seemed she couldn’t find what she was looking for because she sighed wearily and looked down at her bare feet. “If I do it, if I can convince my dad to let you stay until Potter gets back, it doesn’t mean – that we’re…”
“I know,” he acquiesced; filling in what she was struggling to say. He felt her stiffen as he leaned in closer. “By the way, I don’t know if you’ve noticed but it seems we can’t help but have an audience for all our trysts.”
The curtains quickly drew close as Dollie turned around glaring.
“That silly lot, they must all be burning with curiosity. Well then, come inside and meet the family. Brace yourself.”
A/N: Since it was only briefly mentioned in the books, I had more freedom and leeway in depicting the famous 'Sirius leaves Grimmauld Place' scene. I didn't want Walburga to end up a screaming caricature which is why I may have held back a bit. But I hope you liked my interpretation of the scene, it was fun delving deeper into the Black Family dynamic.
You know the drill. Leave me a review below, I'd love to hear what you think.
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