The Sugar Quill
Author: Alkari (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: A Simple Decision  Chapter: Default
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Kreacher hadn’t followed him

A SIMPLE DECISION

 

Summary:  Sixteen can be a confusing age, but Sirius discovers that one decision is surprisingly simple.  And that Phineas Nigellus can still surprise him.   Warning:  Contains some swearing and strong language.

 

DisclaimerNaturally I do not own JK Rowling’s characters. <span style="mso-spacerun: yes"> </span>She invented them and the wonderful world of Hogwarts.  I am just happily visiting her world for a while.

______________

 

 

Kreacher hadn’t followed him.  That was one good thing.   Sirius sagged back against the door of his room, fighting down pain.    Rage and humiliation had given him strength, but every step of the journey upstairs had been agonising, and he felt light-headed and fuzzy.  His bed was only a few steps away …

 

The pillow was blessedly cool on his aching cheek, and the room stopped swaying once he lay still on the rumpled bed.   He closed his eyes, willing himself to relax and ignore the images that flared and pulsed through his head – the scornful remarks, the screaming and shouting, the coldly implacable words spoken by his father, the slaps of his mother’s hands, the impact of those Stunners.   They’d argued bitterly – he’d given as good as he got – then his mother had lashed out at him, heavy rings flashing wickedly on clawed fingers.  He’d ducked and turned quickly to leave, trying to fend off his mother’s blows, but his upraised arm had struck her in the process.  That had been all it took to unleash their fury …

 

“It would be so much easier if you didn’t argue.”   

 

Phineas Nigellus.  His dear great, great grandfather had returned.  Sirius ignored the slightly mocking voice, knowing he didn’t have the strength to get up and hang something over the portrait.   That never stopped the old boy making comments of course, but at least he didn’t have to feel that his every move was being watched.

 

“Typical Gryffindor.  In Slytherin we learn very early that it is best to keep our thoughts to ourselves.   We do not wear our hearts on our sleeves.  That simply makes one a better target.”

 

He’d heard such comments before, many times.  Not that his mother had a heart to wear anywhere, of course.   But Phineas was right: it wasn’t worth arguing.  Not now – not any more.   He shifted, wincing as pain washed over him again.  Not a good idea, Sirius, he told himself.  Just lie there – the pain will go – you know it will wear off …   He closed his eyes, sinking into soothing blackness.

 

It was cold.  He realised he was shivering, his whole body chilled to the bone.  The room was freezing.  Why was it so cold?   Shock, a little voice inside him said.  You’re suffering from shock – you need to get warm.  Gingerly he eased himself upright, his ribs, stomach and back screaming at him, but once he was sitting up it was a little better.  It was pitch black; darkness came early these days, and it had been late afternoon when they’d argued.   A faint breath of icy air moved in the darkness - the window must be open.  Maybe Kreacher had left it that way on purpose.

 

He eased to his feet and groped his way unsteadily across the room to where his jacket hung over the chair.  Wincing, he pulled it on, fumbling in the pocket for his wand and reassured to find the familiar shape.  

 

Lumos.”    You weren’t supposed to do magic in the holidays of course, but as he’d discovered at an early age, the Ministry didn’t seem to worry about such minor spells.  In a house so full of magic, how could they detect one or two cast by an under-age wizard?   Not that they’d even be able to find Grimmauld Place anyway, not with his father’s mania for secrecy and security devices.   A sweep of his wand sent the lamp on his desk and the one next to his bed glowing into life, and he saw that Phineas was indeed watching him from the wall above his bed.

 

Either say nothing, or just sod off, he thought, stumbling across to the window and pulling it closed, then drawing the heavy drapes.   He could feel the eyes watching him, but Phineas knew him too well to say anything else at this stage.  

 

Sirius turned to light the fire, then realised Kreacher hadn’t laid it earlier.  Window open and no fire in the middle of winter - just one more little taunt on behalf of his mother.   He raised his wand towards the small pile of kindling on the hearth, but another surge of nausea washed through him, and he just managed to stagger back to the bed and pull the covers up around him as the room started to spin again.   Oh shit! he thought, fighting down the urge to be sick.   I’ve got to get over this.  That Pugillatus hex had hit him with the force of several Bludgers to the stomach, flinging him sideways against the huge old dresser.   His ribs had smashed into the corner carvings.   He closed his eyes, trying to ignore the pain and steady his breathing.

 

He opened one eye slowly.   He was much warmer now – he must have slept a little.   How long?  He opened the other eye, decided he didn’t feel quite as sick as before, and sat up slowly.   What time was it?  Nine o’clock, his watch said – ten past nine – he’d slept for nearly three hours.   He doubted anyone had looked in on him: the less they saw of him the better, as his mother had made abundantly clear.

 

In fact, it would be much better if they never saw him again.

 

Sirius was almost surprised to realise how simple it was.   Somehow, the doubts, uncertainties and lingering ties to his family had miraculously vanished.   He wasn’t even angry any more: he’d passed somewhere beyond that.   His head still ached fuzzily, but his mind was completely clear. 

 

He was going to leave.  Tonight.  There was nothing here he wanted.  Nothing here he needed.   Ever again.

 

He looked around.  His parents had given him this room on the second floor just before Regulus was born, in those long-ago days when he was still the pride and joy of the Black family – a son to carry on the name at last, after his aunt had borne three girls.  He remembered being happy here as a child, or at least he thought he did.   Yet despite his long residence, the room bore few outward marks of his own personality, apart from the books and scattered clothes.   The furniture was dark wood, ornately carved, its snake-head theme echoed in brass door handles and lamps.  The wallpaper was a subtle pattern of leaves and whorls, silvery green on green; the cream bed linen and centre door panel bore the family crest.  When his mother had replaced the bedspreads and curtains several years ago, she’d ignored his request for some brighter, more cheerful colours.    It wasn’t even worth putting up a Quidditch poster – his parents considered such things ‘vulgar’ and Kreacher had torn down the one James gave him in first year. 

 

His mother had grudgingly permitted a few suitable trinkets though, and his eyes lingered on the mantelpiece where several photographs were grouped as if for mutual reassurance.  The oval-framed one of him as a tiny, bright-eyed first year, proudly clad in his Hogwarts robes and swishing his brand new wand; next to it, he and James hovered astride their broomsticks, waving cheekily before zooming out of the polished brass frame.   And then a matched pair of pictures with the four of them – in the first, squashed together on a couch in the Gryffindor common room, the wrappings of Easter eggs like bright confetti around their feet, and in the other, sitting near the fishpond in the Potters’ garden two summers ago.   His friends - his real family …   At the other end of the mantel, the formally posed family photograph taken at Regulus’ naming ceremony stood in proud isolation.  

 

Snatches of the row in the kitchen earlier echoed through his mind.    “You have obligations, Sirius – obligations to the family of Black, to ….

 

“Meaning that I am supposed to marry a nice Pureblood girl and produce Black family heirs for you, Mother?  Preferably male ones – to carry on this wonderful NAME?”

 

“You should be PROUD of your name.!  Proud of your family and our history!   A name to be carried on into the future!”

 

“Going to put me out to stud like one of Aunt Cloris’s prized bulls?   Parade me around the Pureblood marriage market as though I’m on show?  Perhaps you will even pay me for my ‘services’!”

 

“How DARE you!  Despicable, filthy, ungrateful …”

 

He rubbed a hand through his hair, oddly reassured that at least his body was starting to feel more connected.  His ribs still hurt, but that was bearable.  A flash of red caught his eye, and he turned to look at his bedside table. 

 

Rudolph.  He found himself smiling at the card, which had arrived yesterday.  A mischievous looking reindeer winked at him, the overly large red nose flashing brightly as the animal tossed its head and stamped a forefoot.  Antlers shone darkly and there was the faint sound of bells and harness jingling.  Trust Prongs to enchant a Muggle card!  Sirius reached across and picked it up, swallowing a sudden lump in his throat at the sight of James’ familiar scrawl inside.  Christmas.  Today was Christmas Eve.

 

Merry bloody Christmas, Sirius, he thought.  Tomorrow would be another “family” celebration, another chance for his aunt and uncle to join his parents in collective disapproval of the black sheep in their midst.   A stately family dinner, with friends and other relatives dropping by later - the Malfoys for certain, with Lucius escorting Narcissa as his latest glittering trophy.  And Regulus basking in the approbation of all, the perfect son, a model Black.   Too stupid, too flattered, too weak to see the dangers he was walking into.  

 

Well, he was not going to be there.  “See you on Boxing Day – I’ll make sure Mum keeps plenty of pudding for you”, James had written.  He hoped the Potters wouldn’t mind if he arrived a bit early.

 

Sirius rose and crossed to where his trunk lay on the spare bed.   There wasn’t much to pack – all the personal items he really valued were safely at Hogwarts.  He’d only brought enough clothes for Christmas, with a few books to while away the hours he knew he’d spend in his room.  He wasn’t quite sure how he was going to get to the Potters, but he had to get out of this house.  The Floo network was probably out – his father activated security charms on the fireplace every evening before he went to bed.  They were supposed to allow household members to use the network, but he probably wasn’t considered ‘family’ right now.  The last thing he needed was alarms going off and prompting another row.

 

“Going somewhere?”   So Phineas was back.  Or maybe he’d never left, and had just been waiting and watching.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Running away?”

 

“Depriving my family of the pleasure of my company.  Permanently.  It will break their granite hearts, but I’m sure they’ll manage.”   He packed the books neatly, then started gathering and folding his clothes.  The photos he wrapped carefully in two shirts before adding them to the trunk.

 

“Looks like running away to me.”

 

“Call it what you bloody well like.   I don’t give a shit.”  

 

“You think it is so easy to toss your family aside?   You’re a Black.   You will always be a Black.  Whatever you might choose to think.”

 

“Tell that to my mother.   This evening she didn’t remember giving birth to me.  Seems I was found under the wrong sort of cabbage. ”

 

“An unfortunate turn of phrase.  Her side of the family was always over-dramatic.  You take after them, of course.”

 

“They don’t think so.   I am filthy and despicable, a disgrace to the Black name …blah, blah, blah.   As if I’d want to pass on THAT name to anyone else.”  Bitterness seethed sourly in his stomach once more.

 

“Indeed.  I suppose that means you intend to be celibate, or have children without getting married?”

 

Sirius stared coldly at the portrait.    “Who the hell said anything about having children?  Of course, that’s what THEY want me to do … marry some inbred little Pureblood twit who’ll look good in dress robes and be eternally grateful for getting screwed by one of nature’s nobility.  A virgin of course – couldn’t have her sullied before she had the thrill of marrying a Black.  And every year or so she will do her duty and produce a perfect little Black, preferably all sons.   Presumably I can stop screwing her once we have two or three of them.”

 

“You don’t have to be so completely vulgar.”

 

“My mother is.   Must’ve learnt it from her.”   He added a last shirt to the trunk. 

 

“Your parents will never really be gone from you, whatever you like to think.”

 

“Well, I’ll be gone from them.  I never want to set foot in this place again.  Never even want to see it.”

 

“You would throw away your inheritance?”

 

“Black money?  As filthy as the family name.  I’ll make my own way, thank you.”

 

“You didn’t refuse your great uncle’s legacy, I notice.”

 

Sirius snorted.  “Uncle Alphard made his honestly.  And he didn’t bribe the Ministry to get some stupid award.”

 

“Ah yes, honesty.   You Gryffindors do place such value on those qualities – honesty, integrity, bravery.  Shame the rest of the world doesn’t always operate to your noble standards.”

 

Sirius didn’t answer.  His head hurt again, and his ribs protested violently at every movement.   He sat down on the bed, removed the light shoes he was wearing and shoved them into the trunk.  It would be freezing outside, especially if he had to fly. He pulled on some warm socks and his heavier boots, then carefully readied his cap, scarf and thickest gloves, and his long winter cloak.

 

“I assume you are going to the Potter boy.   Just how do you think you’re going to get there?”

 

“Fly if I have to.”

 

“With that heavy trunk?”  The voice from the wall was scornful.  

 

“I’ll Charm it.  Sod the Ministry.”

 

“Yes.  You were never one for obeying the rules.”

 

Sirius looked up at the portrait.    Once again, Phineas sounded utterly bored, but Sirius had the impression the narrow eyes were watching him more closely than usual.  

 

“Well, you’d know.  You’ve seen me in Dumbledore’s office often enough.”

 

“Indeed.  Your juvenile escapades are a source of occasional entertainment to my colleagues.  But I admit you have interesting friends.  A half-blood werewolf is not a usual companion.”

 

Sirius froze, his stomach turning over.  Phineas had been there during that whole terrible, painful interview with Dumbledore last term.   After he had nearly sent Snape to his death at Remus’ hands.   Yes, Phineas had seen and heard everything.   Sirius took a deep breath, forcing himself to remain calm.   Getting angry was useless, and clearly Phineas had not yet told his parents anything about Remus.  Otherwise that little fact would have been hurled at him before now.  And Remus’ identity would have been all over the Daily Prophet.

 

“You needn’t worry.  I don’t intend to say anything to your parents.  I see little point in causing another to suffer merely because you are stupid and thoughtless.” 

 

 “Thank you.”   Sirius found himself nodding slightly at the green-robed figure.  Occasionally his snarky ancestor still managed to surprise him.

 

“If you are determined to be foolish, I suggest you summon the Knight Bus. You are in no condition to fly, even if you Charmed your trunk.  At least you might arrive in one piece.”

 

Sirius paused.  The Knight Bus – of course!   Damn it, he wasn’t thinking clearly.  He’d forgotten about the Bus.  It would certainly be more sensible than trying to fly, although he wasn’t sure he could get out the front door without Kreacher sounding the alarm.  If he flew, he could just leave through the window.

 

“Kreacher is at the foot of the stairs.  He will wake your mother if you try to leave.”  Phineas seemed to read his mind.  

 

“Wonder the old hag’s not down here helping me pack,” he retorted, piling in a bundle of music sheets and shutting the trunk.  “Though you’re right – she’d keep me here just to make my Christmas miserable.”

 

“You flatter yourself, as usual.”

 

The room suddenly lurched and swayed again, and Sirius sank down next to his trunk, putting his head between his knees and fighting off dizziness.  Damn it!  Phineas was right: he’d fall off his broom before he’d gone half a mile.    It would have to be the Bus … and he’d risk Kreacher’s wrath.  Oh well, if he couldn’t persuade the elf that his departure would make everyone happy, he could always boot the little toerag down the stairs to the kitchen …

 

“You are quite determined to leave?”  There was a slightly odd note in Phineas’s voice. 

 

“Give me one good reason to stay.”   Sirius looked up at the bearded figure, staring into the narrow, calculating eyes.    “I hate them.  They hate me.  It’s a perfectly simple matter.”

 

“Indeed.  Such things are always simple to the young.”  Phineas stared back at him, then stretched languidly and sighed.  “Oh, very well … just wait here.”   He rose and adjusted his robes, flicking an imaginary fleck of dust from one sleeve before turning to leave the portrait.

 

“Where are you going?”

 

Phineas paused.  “Kreacher will be interested to learn that you are exhausted and sound asleep in your bed.  And that in my opinion, you will not stir until morning.”  Before Sirius could respond, Phineas had left the portrait.

 

Sirius collected his broom, then heaved his trunk off the bed and dragged it to the door.  The effort sent spasms of pain through his ribs again, and it was several moments before he could summon the strength to don his cloak, scarf and cap.  He leant against the door, eyes closed, waiting for Phineas and listening for any sounds of Kreacher coming up the stairs. 

 

“Make sure you are outside the wards before you try to summon the Knight Bus.”  The voice from the portrait sounded as though Phineas were addressing a ten year old.   Sirius straightened.

 

“And Kreacher?”

 

“Will not bother you.”

 

“Meaning what?”

 

“Meaning exactly what I said.  I assured him you had not moved from your bed.  Your parents and brother are asleep.   I suggest you stop wasting time – you should reach your friend before midnight.”

 

Sirius opened the door and pushed his trunk through.   It slid almost noiselessly across the carpet onto the darkened landing.   His body screamed at him again; two flights of stairs were not going to be easy.  But at least it seemed he wouldn’t have to deal with Kreacher.  He paused, then walked back into his room.  In an odd sort of way he was going to miss his sarcastic relative. 

 

“Good bye, Grandfather Phineas.   Thank you for your - assistance.”

 

“Make no mistake, I did not do it out of kindness.  I find your family arguments have become extremely – tiresome.”   Phineas dabbed delicately at his mouth with a lace-edged handkerchief.

 

Well, he should have known better than to expect anything else.   Sirius stared at the figure for a long moment, then waved his broom in mock salute.  

 

“Try to contain the family celebrations.  My mother throws things when she gets excited.”

Phineas returned the stare, then turned abruptly and swirled out of the portrait.  The canvas was an empty patch in its gold frame.  The house was silent.

 

Sirius shut the door behind him and looked down at his trunk.  The staircase stretched into the darkness below.  Well, if the Ministry hadn’t come running at the use of Stunning hexes in a quiet corner of London, he doubted they’d detect a simple levitation spell.  

 

Wingardium Leviosa”.   One of the first Charms students learnt.   The trunk lifted a few inches off the floor and he guided it towards the stairs.  He did not look back.

 

________________

 

 

Author’s notes:  This fic occurs at Christmas in MWPP’s sixth year: I have assumed that the Prank occurred about October.  I have always thought that Phineas and Sirius might have had an ‘interesting’ relationship, and that the old boy might have had a sneaking fondness for his independently-minded descendant!   Thanks to Seriously Sirius, Eir de Scania and members of the Our Original Fiction work group for their comments and input. 

 

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