Thanks go out to J.K. Rowling for creating such a fantastic world and letting us play with it. The characters and setting in this story are hers, this story and interpretation are mine.
Life As Usual
By Olive Hornby
She paced back and forth just inside the door, her insides churning with a strange mixture of emotions that she didn’t want to think about too closely.
He should have been home already.
The school year had been over for a week. Regulus was already home, holed away in his room with his books and potions and Dark magic. She’d tried to ask him about Sirius when he went down to the library, but as usual, mention of his brother only made him angry and he’d stormed away and locked himself up.
But Sirius’s extreme tardiness was not as usual. She was used to him not coming home until he absolutely had to. He’d come in hours after Regulus before. Once, he was a whole day late, but never a full week. Each night she spent pacing by the door filled her with apprehension and dread.
Surely no son of hers would defy her so blatantly.
Maybe he was hurt; that would be fine, as long as he survived. She’d thought for a while now that he was becoming complacent and soft, too much exposure to poor influences at school perhaps, and a little toughening up would do him good. Or maybe he’d gone to meet with the wizard who was causing such an uproar among the Mudbloods and Muggle-lovers; maybe he’d finally wised up.
Somehow, she doubted it.
She’d contacted his school already, and she knew he wasn’t there. She was sure that Regulus knew where he was--he was always keeping tabs on Sirius--he just wasn’t saying. She scowled, and limped to the kitchen, rubbing her neck absently.
Kreacher was there, busily working on dinner. He lit up when he saw her, and bowed deeply.
“Mistress! Kreacher only just started preparing Mistress’s dinner. Kreacher is most sorry that he is not done yet so that Mistress can eat--”
She tuned him out, pulled a piece of lamb out of the pile of food that Kreacher hadn’t yet prepared, and went back to her vigil by the door, gnawing absently on the lamb.
An hour passed.
She could smell the food in the kitchen now, and she heard Kreacher clomp upstairs to announce to her husband and younger son that dinner was ready. Kreacher’s distinctive gait coming back down the stairs was followed by Regulus’s equally distinct footsteps. Where Kreacher’s steps sounded uneven and awkward, Regulus had a smooth, even gait that she prided him for. Regulus was a clever boy and would go far, she had often assured herself. If only she could convince him to take proper care of himself.
Her husband did not come down. That was as usual, and she certainly wouldn’t miss him. He often complained that no normal people would have dinner at such an hour and that the noisy damn house-elf ought to just call it breakfast and quit waking him up over it, but she ignored him. Her family was not normal, after all.
They were Blacks, and that meant that they were exceptional.
She crept into the kitchen and saw Regulus quickly collecting food. Kreacher was nowhere in sight, no doubt out looking for her. She quickly made her way up behind her son.
“Regulus,” she said, a spark of sick glee rushing through her when her son twitched violently and whirled around to face her. He scowled at her, and she scowled right back. He was her favorite, ever since Sirius had developed his defiant manner at least, but he had an attitude that she often didn’t appreciate, and she was never entirely certain what was going on in his head. She liked to keep him off-balance as much as he liked to do the same to her, and they both knew it.
He was, on the surface, the perfect Black. He was shrewd and calculating, and far too old for his years. This didn’t bother her, of course; she simply liked to be in control of her sons, and it was difficult to control what she didn’t really understand--her frequent fights with Sirius were proof enough of that. She had tried to spend time with Regulus once, and that had ended poorly.
With Sirius openly defying her at every turn, she loathed to think that her little Regulus held no more regard for her than his brother.
It wasn’t that she entirely distrusted him, she just didn’t entirely trust him. Some distant, long-forgotten part of her longed for the days when her sons were small boys, happy in each other’s company and easy to deal with. Even then she had been ill, but not to the same extent. She squashed that line of thought quickly. Too much had changed, and there was no going back.
“Yes, Mother?” he said, his voice so carefully timbred that it sounded like he was reciting lines from a play.
“Have you heard anything from your brother?” she demanded.
Regulus’s scowl slowly metamorphosed into a sneer.
“Why do you ask me? You know he hates me,” he said.
“You spend your entire school year with him! Surely you heard something!” she snapped. Such insolence... had it been Sirius she would have cuffed his ear already, but Regulus was allowed a bit more leeway. He was the one she had high hopes for, not Sirius, not anymore. Sirius had somehow gotten away from her entirely, and she still wasn’t sure how or why.
Regulus clamped his mouth shut tightly and turned back to pile more food on his plate.
Her irritation with him surpassed her breaking point. How dare he ignore her? She snatched his arm and whipped him around violently to face her.
“Don’t lie to me, Regulus,” she said, her voice falling to a deadly whisper. “Where is he?”
“He told me not to tell you,” he retorted, yanking his arm out of her grasp.
She laughed. Regulus cringed visibly, and even to her own ears, her laughter sounded unearthly, wrong somehow. It didn’t matter, though. Nothing had been right for a long time.
“Since when have you done what he told you to? You two haven’t gotten along since you were six or seven,” she said.
“Seven,” Regulus clarified promptly, disdain tainting his rich, patrician voice, so much like hers used to be. “And he and his friends have already gone after me before. I just don’t want a repeat. Bunch of bloody cowards they are, ganging up the way they do.”
His anger seemed to melt to something softer, almost like melancholy for just a moment, but the fleeting expression vanished so quickly that she wasn’t sure she’d actually seen it at all. He continued bitterly, “They’re always after me.”
She snaked her hand out so quickly that Regulus didn’t even see it. She grabbed his left ear and twisted it viciously toward the floor.
“Just because your brother is not here does not mean that you can take up his disobedient ways,” she snarled. “Do not change the subject! I asked you a question!”
She saw the tears involuntarily forming in Regulus’s eyes, but held fast. He didn’t make a sound except for a single sharp intake of breath. Inwardly she praised him. Had he cried out in pain--or worse, begged her to let go--she would have been disappointed by his weakness.
“He’s at Potter’s,” Regulus finally gasped when she yanked harder. “He said he wasn’t coming back.”
She released him and he rubbed his ear, scowling fiercely at her.
“And when were you planning on telling me?” she hissed.
He shrugged, shrinking away from her slightly.
That would not do at all.
She bared her teeth as she moved in closer to him. Even though he was taller, she held herself such that she seemed to loom over him. He gritted his teeth and turned his head away, but his body was trapped between her and the counter.
“What have I told you?” she demanded.
“Lots of things,” he snapped back irritably. “Is there a particular nugget of wisdom you had in mind?”
Insolence again... but she would make her point.
“A Black bows to no one,” she said. She could see little flecks of her own spittle striking Regulus’s face. “Not even one of our own. You backed down from Sirius and you’re backing down from me now. You’ve no justification calling your brother a coward when you can’t stand up to your foolhardy brother and shrink away from your old, sick mother.”
“You’re not sick,” he scoffed. “You’re--”
“Silence! From now on, you will answer my questions directly--”
“No, I don’t think so,” Regulus said coolly, edging away from her.
She narrowed her eyes at him. “What did you say?”
“I said no,” he repeated smoothly. “You want me to stand up to people, and I’m standing up to you. I will answer your questions if and when it suits me. A Black, after all, bows to no one. Not even his old, sick-in-the-head mother.”
He snatched his half-filled plate and darted out of her grasp as she stared slack-jawed at him. He dashed back up the stairs and slammed his door before she could pull herself together enough to chase him down. Regulus was usually fairly easy to intimidate; his sudden boldness astonished her.
That was certainly not how she’d intended that conversation to go.
She screamed in anger and frustration and flung her arm across the counter, knocking all of the food Kreacher had spent the better part of an hour preparing flying to the floor. Kreacher apparently heard her and finally showed back up in the kitchen.
“Mistress should be mindful of broken dishes,” he said frantically, his uneven eyes goggling madly. “Kreacher will clean this and make more, Kreacher is sorry that his food displeased Mistress--”
She stormed out of the kitchen and went straight for the fireplace. So her son was at Potter’s? She’d known of his association with those Muggle-loving blood traitors for a while, but had chosen to turn a blind eye to it for the most part. Sirius was already corrupted, somehow; at least Regulus had the sense to associate with a better class of people, and that was what mattered most. At least one of her sons had good sense.
Still, she was infuriated that her own flesh and blood would opt to actually stay in the home of such ruffians when he had a perfectly fine bed in a perfectly fine home. A Pureblood home.
As if he was too good for them.
As if the Potters, of all people, were better than the Blacks.
Her elder son had some foolish ideas in his head indeed.
She tossed a handful of Floo powder into it. “Sirius Black!” she bellowed.
His head appeared almost instantly in the fireplace. He was facing the right of the chimney, but quickly turned to face her, and she could tell he had simply been walking past the fireplace when she called. His hair was rumpled and he was wearing his nightclothes. He looked startled, and she took smug satisfaction in that.
“Why haven’t you been home?” she demanded loudly.
He scowled just as furiously as Regulus had earlier. “That place is not my home,” he said. “And I have been there. I snuck in to get my things. I won’t be back.”
The whole world seemed to go white and she clenched her fists and trembled in fury. “You will come back here this very instant,” she hissed.
“No, I won’t,” Sirius snapped. “I’m sick of your little games and Regulus’s lies and nastiness and Father’s stuck-up Pureblood garbage. All you do is mess with people’s heads, and I’m not going to be your target anymore. Pick on Regulus instead, mess with his head and shove your crazy ideas down his throat. I’m of age; you can’t make me come back, and I want no more of any of you.”
It was all she could do to articulate her next words through her rage. “I will not have my son turn his back on his family and all we stand for. If you are not back here in ten minutes I will disown you!” she said in a deathly soft whisper.
“Don’t hold your breath, Mother,” he said disdainfully, and suddenly he was gone.
She clenched and unclenched her fists, staring at the empty fireplace. Sirius could have been shaped into a fine wizard, a credit to his kind with his natural charm and charisma that was so rare in the Black family, but he had all but spit in the face of everything they valued. She’d had such high hopes for him once. She’d kept him fed and clothed all these years, kept a roof over his head, tried to teach him to be a proper wizard, and this was her repayment. She gritted her teeth so hard that her jaw felt sore and her teeth threatened to break.
Both of her sons scorning her. One hiding upstairs, lost in his own world, and the other run away and swearing never to return. At least one was potentially salvageable. Regulus she could still control, but Sirius was now out of her hands.
She knew what she had to do.
She slowly and stiffly walked over to where the old Black family tapestry hung on the wall.
A fierce scream of fury escaped her lungs as she carefully took aim and blasted Sirius’s name off of the tapestry. The new burn mark overlapped an older one and they blended together in a dark, messy blur, a testament to what Blacks thought of blood traitors and other dead weight in their midst.
At least she still had one child left. She would have to be more careful in her future tutelage of Regulus. She wouldn’t let him get away from her as Sirius had.
She crept through the house, muttering and wailing about the sorry state of her family until the sun began to rise, then she retreated to her room alone, as usual.