The Sugar Quill
Author: Falling Damps (Professors' Bookshelf)  Story: The Black Cold  Chapter: Default
The distribution of this story is for personal use only. Any other form of distribution is prohibited without the consent of the author.

“Where are you going, Theodore

A/N: This one-shot is separate from the HD universe. Many thanks to Anya and Vala for their feedback, and most especially to Whimsy, who corrects my many Americanisms and points out all the times that my settings don’t make any sense! To you I dedicate this stoop-less little story with much gratefulness in my heart. J

 

 

The Black Cold

 

 

“Where are you going, Regulus?”

 

“Out,” he said shortly, leaving the unnatural coolness of the front entranceway, the indoor temperature carefully calibrated to fit the demands of his mother, who liked it just cold enough to require long sleeves. Shirtsleeves were low-brow. Sweat was proletarian. Of course, shirtsleeves and sweat were also normal during July, but god forbid the Blacks do anything the normal way.

 

Regulus stalked through the front door, the sound of the heavy wood slamming shut behind him coming with the simultaneous feeling of being slammed by a wave of pure heat. It nearly took his breath away, and he could feel the inside of his collared shirt, always worn underneath his robes, begin to stick to his skin almost immediately. It was hard to enjoy the forbidden sensations of sweat and shirtsleeves when, honestly, he would rather be back in the cool. But it was the principle of the thing.


Sighing, he sat down on the front steps and opened the top few buttons of his shirt. It was a compromise. If he sat still, he wouldn’t be quite so uncomfortable in this oppressive heat… hopefully. Besides, he needed to think, and the front steps of the ancestral Black home were built for contemplation. Stretching his long legs out in front of him, Regulus tried to remember the first time he had come out to these steps to think, but it was a lost cause. He had spent so much time here, so many long hours, in the day and the night, the dead of summer and the freezing winter nights with their piercingly clear starry skies. Yes, he was well-acquainted with the front steps of Number Twelve Grimmauld Place. He almost wished he weren’t.

 

Generally, if he were home and wanted to be alone, which was most of the time, he would go to his bedroom. Or to the library – he loved the library, with its comfortingly musty smell that couldn’t be found anywhere but a room filled to the brim with old books. If he wanted to be alone, he would be alone with his writing, which wasn’t really alone at all when it came down to it, because how could anyone with a quill and parchment be alone? For years he had spent his time alone because that was how he liked it, now that Sirius wasn’t here to keep him company. More recently, though, his time alone had stopped being fun and become time of necessary and often unpleasant reflection; similarly, his writing was much more than a hobby now. It was an escape – a way to stop thinking.

 

The stone steps were warm under him, and as Regulus looked out over Grimmauld Place, he was mildly surprised that it seemed to be completely deserted. It was rare that he couldn’t spy one of the neighbors coming and going with plastic bags of shopping and a mangy dog following on a leash, or those, or those rowdy Muggle children who would run around on the parched grass, screeching and laughing and waving their arms about like a bunch of chickens until their parents would come fetch them and send them scampering back wherever they came from. His own parents seemed to be about the same age, but of course they didn’t associate. They were Muggles, and his parents were inside, in the cool, in button-down shirts and light summery dress robes.

 

But today it seemed to be too hot for everyone, not just the Blacks. With this in mind, Regulus carefully and deliberately rolled his sleeves halfway up his arms – a minor rebellion – and leaned back against the steps, pushing his dark hair off his hot forehead.

 

Watching a bird soar lazily across the sky, the only sign of life in the otherwise deathly still scene in front of him, void of even a slight rustling breeze, Regulus wondered for the thousandth time if things might have turned out differently if only Sirius had stuck around. He quickly shook himself out of that line of thinking. If his brother hadn’t run off and left him here… if he had grown up with different, more balanced influences… if Mother hadn’t nearly lost her mind with grief over Sirius… if he had been raised in a world where living up to the illustrious name of Black wasn’t valued above almost all else… if… if… if… Regulus knew from long experience that this kind of introspection only led to upset, which accomplished nothing. He was already upset. No need to make it any worse – especially in this heat – because he needed to be able to think clearly.

 

He didn’t blame Sirius, not anymore. He had gone through a phase once, about the same time that he first began to wonder why being Regulus Black was so important to Mother and Dad, a phase where everything was his brother’s fault. Remembering, Regulus allowed himself a grim half-smile. That was simple, blaming everything on Sirius. Sirius shouldn’t have broken his mother’s heart and sent her, frankly, round the bend. He shouldn’t have assumed that he was the only one with doubts. He shouldn’t have denied his real family and gotten himself disowned, pinning all the pressures and requirements and expectations on Regulus alone. He shouldn’t have given up on Regulus so easily and replaced him so quickly with James Potter, a new, better brother. Yes, that was the easiest way to deal with doubts. Blame his problems on someone else.

 

Well, not the easiest way… his life was easiest before he began to question, of course, and it took fourteen long, comfortable years before that happened. Even then, it was quite a while before he could acknowledge that his doubts existed.

 

The view around him suddenly seemed to shimmer, and the sound of the wards crackling jolted Regulus back into the present. He leaned forward, squinting, wondering whether he would have to make a dash inside to avoid some unwanted visitor… but another glance at his watch told him it was only Dad back from the Ministry, presumably Apparating directly inside into the Black cold to avoid the intolerable heat altogether.

 

It had been a Monday. Regulus wasn’t sure how he remembered the day of the week, when so many of the other, surely more significant details had become blurred in his mind, but he was positive that the day he first heard Mother call his brother a blood traitor, it had been a Monday. He let his weight sink back onto the warm stone again…

 

 

At fourteen years old, Regulus blindly and vainly believed that he was of a higher station than the other children that he came across while at home. There were a few from high families – like his cousins Bella and Narcissa, the Rosiers, the Notts – but most were half-bloods at best. Mother, both born and married into the Black family, one of the oldest and noblest in Wizarding Britain, ruled early on that her sons would be raised in proper company, as she herself had been. And thus, young Regulus Black found his summer social options rather lacking, and he reveled in the arrogance of it. So on this particular Monday afternoon, instead of being out with neighborhood friends like so many other boys his age, Regulus found himself entirely alone, his collar loosened, bag slung carelessly over one shoulder, as he trudged up toward Twelve Grimmauld Place.

 

When he reached the imposing front doors, he paused to lay his bag on the dirty pavement, dropping to one knee to take off his muddy shoes and leave them outside. One of the house elves would probably find them and clean them before Mother had a chance to notice. As he worked to loosen the knots, feeling the thin cords of his shoelaces digging uncomfortably into his fingertips, Regulus heard a low jumble of tense voices, and after looking around for a moment, he realized that they were drifting out of an open window several yards away.

 

“Orion, you can not be… away from… rubbish… he is a Black… the family line…” It was Mother’s voice: low, furious, disbelieving. He recognized the sounds of Aunt Druella and at least one of his cousins, and he thought there might be others in the room, though he couldn’t tell for sure. Regulus’s interest was immediately piqued – it sounded like there was a real fight going on. Never one to miss such an opportunity, he walked quietly through the doors and padded, sock-footed, down the length of the hallway toward the room where he knew they were.

 

The door was closed and charmed silent.

 

Right there, Regulus almost gave up the entire idea, almost went back to the front door to pick up his bag and then head for his bedroom. Looking back, sometimes he wished he had. But just as he was about to turn away, he heard sounds coming from a slightly open closet to his right. Curious, he poked his head inside; it was empty except for a broom, a pile of dirty rags, and some miscellaneous cleaning supplies. It looked safe enough, and Regulus was about to step inside to investigate when he caught sight of a series of long, stringy cobwebs dangling down from a shelf above. He recoiled slightly and vowed to order the first house elf he saw to clean up that mess, but he was quickly distracted by his dad’s voice, louder, more insistent, penetrating the thin wall that separated the closet from the bordering room. Even more important than his tone were the words that he said: “But Sirius…” Regulus froze. They were talking about his brother, and they were angry.

 

Regulus hadn’t seen Sirius recently – not, in fact, since the night before, when his brother had lost his patience and risen to Mother’s bait, arguing politics with her at the dinner table. It was one of their greatest arguments, at least in terms of sheer volume on Mother’s part, while Sirius had spewed out the most fantastic oratory at a furious pace and without ever seeming to stop to breathe. Regulus never participated in these rhetorical explosions. He preferred to sit quietly and eat his dinner as Dad’s face grew redder and redder and Mother’s voice rose at least two octaves, drinking in the sight of Sirius, cool and impassioned and furious and collected and utterly brilliant.

 

It was only after these encounters that Sirius would reveal just how much effort it took to control his raging temper. Having excused himself from the table, Regulus was working on a story at his bedroom desk when a huge bang caused him to drop a blot of ink on the middle of his page, and the wall in front of him positively shook. This was shortly followed by a string of creative expletives from somewhere in the hallway – no one could swear more passionately, or more creatively, than Sirius.

 

“If you were really as much of a genius as they say you are,” Regulus called as he frantically tried to wipe up the ink stain, “you’d have figured out by now that it hurts when you punch the wall.”

 

As expected, Sirius appeared in the open doorway, rubbing his right fist, eyes flashing dangerously. Regulus met his gaze with ease; he knew that his brother’s anger wasn’t directed at him. “It’s better than punching one of our lovely parents,” Sirius said darkly, leaning against the doorframe. “I have to stay calm while I talk to them. It gives me the psychological edge.” He rubbed his hand distractedly a few more times before running it roughly through his hair. “I don’t know how much more of this I can take.”

 

Regulus laughed outright. “What’re you going to do, disown them?”

 

“I could live with James.”

 

“For the rest of your life?”

 

“If I had to.” Sirius set his jaw defiantly. “I’d do it.”

 

Regulus rolled his eyes. “You’re such a drama queen…”

 

“You don’t believe me.”

 

He looked up, startled. “Should I?”

 

“How can you live with them?” Sirius skirted the question and flopped back on Regulus’ bed, covering his face with his hands. His voice came out quietly, muffled through his fingers. “I hate them sometimes.”

 

Regulus frowned and set down his quill. “Shut up. You do not.”

 

Sirius’ eyes, staring up at the ceiling, were a wild, stormy gray. “I hate what they’re trying to do to me,” he said bluntly, letting his arms fall to the side. “I hate everything they stand for, and their ruthless, prejudiced bigotry, and I’m not going to be a part of it anymore.”

 

“Were you ever?” Regulus asked lightly, turning back to his desk, but his heart was pounding uncomfortably. He never knew what to think when Sirius was like this – grave, dangerous, filled with determination fueled by some bright fire with flames he could not see and heat he could not feel, left only to watch its shadows dancing across his brother’s face. The two years between them seemed like ten and the gulf between their experiences as vast as the ocean. He suddenly wished Sirius would go back into the hallway.

 

A grin flashed quickly, wryly, across Sirius’s face. “No, I wasn’t ever involved in it, but not for lack of effort on their part.” He paused, looking pensive, and then turned his head toward Regulus, saying, “You didn’t answer my question.”

 

“Which one?”

 

“How you can live with them so easily.”

 

“Well, they just don’t pay me much attention,” Regulus said honestly.

 

Sirius snorted. “Bollocks.”

 

“No, I mean it. They’re always focused on you, because you’re the firstborn and the heir, but you’re also the troublemaker. You take the heat, and I just slide by unnoticed.” As he spoke, Regulus saw Sirius’s eyebrows knit down into a V across his forehead like they always did when he was bothered by something, so he hastened to add, “I like it that way. You think I want them in my face all the time any more than you do?”

 

“Course not.” Sirius scratched the side of his nose. “They want me to join up, you know.”

 

“Already?” asked Regulus, though he wasn’t entirely surprised. After all, he had two eyes and a brain and, even if he hadn’t picked up on the clues at home, he knew plenty of Slytherins whose older siblings were less than discreet.

 

“Well, they haven’t said anything explicit, but I know it’s coming. Soon, too.” Sirius pressed his lips together into a hard line, and Regulus knew better than to interrupt, even though he had questions pressing to be asked. “They’ll try to get to me first, because I’m already a potential threat. There’s not a lot of love for Gryffindors.” His face was a mask of disgust, and the words burst out of him passionately: “I would rather rot in hell than fight on their side!”

 

This temporarily startled the questions right out of Regulus’ mind. “Shhh! They’ll hear you!” he hissed frantically, glancing at the open door. “Are you mad?”

 

“Maybe,” his brother laughed softly. “No madder than the rest of them.”

 

They were silent for a while, and Regulus watched his older brother lying spread-eagled on his back on the bed, chest rising and falling gently. To his relief, the strange, grave, grown-up Sirius from a few minutes before seemed to have almost disappeared, so he hazarded one of his questions into the comfortable, safe silence. “Can I ask you something, Sirius?”

 

“Shoot.”

 

“Why do you always get so worked up about the Mudbloods? I mean, I just don’t see how they’re worth all the trouble.”

 

There was a moment’s delay when Sirius didn’t seem to be responding at all, not even breathing, but then he shot off the bed as if he had been electrocuted and fixed Regulus with a piercing stare. His body seemed to be pulsing with tension and giving off an aura of restrained fury; Regulus shrank back, startled and confused, unused to being the focus of that impassioned stare, wondering vaguely whether Sirius were going to strike him. But then a curious thing happened, which seemed at the time incomprehensible: Sirius seemed to deflate, just as if he were a balloon and someone had pricked a jagged hole in his side. His shoulders slumped and he took a step backward, toward the door; his face, far from revealing barely-controlled anger, now crumpled in upon itself. “You too, then,” he said quietly.

 

“What?” Regulus asked, confused.

 

Sirius opened his mouth as though to speak but quickly snapped it shut again. “Nothing.” There were dark circles, like purple smudges, standing out against the pale skin under his eyes; he looked ill, and Regulus wondered that he hadn’t noticed it before. But his brother’s eyes were still upon him, intensely: “The last thing holding me back.” Regulus didn’t have the slightest idea what that meant, let alone how to respond to it, but he was saved the trouble – Sirius abruptly turned and walked out.

 

At the time, Regulus had scowled, hollered at Sirius’s retreating back not to leave in the middle of a conversation, and muttered angrily under his breath that his brother was a bloody dramatic git who couldn’t be normal to save his life. And then, shrugging it off, he had turned back to his writing and not given it another thought – until now.

 

Instantly he decided that, cobwebs or no cobwebs, he was going to hear what his parents were saying.

 

Regulus frowned, running one hand through his thick dark hair, as he was wont to do when considering a particular problem. He paced back and forth in front of the closet door a few times, looking for the easiest way to approach the back wall. It all looked rather uncomfortably spidery. The voices, which had been continuing at a steady, indistinguishable hum this whole time, suddenly rose, and Regulus could make out his aunt’s shrill words. “Don’t be ridiculous, Orion, you know Regulus can’t…”

 

Regulus let out a grunt of annoyance. Now they were talking about him too, and he was missing the whole thing because of a few cobwebs.

 

All of a sudden, the voices stopped, along with Regulus’s heart. Thinking that they were moving to another room and he wouldn’t be able to hear what they were saying at all, Regulus squeezed up his face and stepped gingerly though the closet door, wincing when he felt the light brush of cobwebs against his skin. But he pushed on, arms outstretched, until he was completely inside and had closed the door almost all the way behind him. Leaning back against the wall, he closed his eyes and tilted his head to the side, ignoring the tickling cobwebs on his cheeks, ears straining against the rough wall for any sound of his family. After a long, anxious moment, Mother spoke, and Regulus felt a rush of relief and excitement. They were still there, and he was close enough to make out every word.

 

“How could he? How could Sirius do this to me?” Her tone was startlingly soft and broken.

 

“Come, Auntie, you can’t honestly be surprised.” That was his cousin, Narcissa. “He’s been pushing the boundaries for years now, it was only a matter of time once he landed himself in Gryffindor and started hanging around Muggle-lovers like the Potters.”

 

“I know.” His mother’s tone was resigned. “Don’t lecture me, Cissy. I know. I just hoped… I hoped that he wouldn’t…” And then, to Regulus’ extreme horror, his mother began to cry. These weren’t the dignified tears of a noble Black woman, either – the calm, graceful tears that propriety occasionally required – these were awful, gut-wrenching, desperate, gasping sobs. Regulus shrank farther into the closet, away from the sound, embarrassed and ashamed.

 

The others ignored her. “We must keep Regulus away from that kind of influence,” Aunt Druella said, raising her voice slightly so that she could be heard above the sobbing. “He mustn’t ever be exposed to that boy and his traitorous thinking again. Who knows what damage that boy may have already caused?”

 

“No, Mother,” Narcissa replied. “Regulus is a good boy, he has a steady head on his shoulders. I don’t think we need to worry about him.”

 

“All the same, he should be kept away from Sirius at all costs…” At the sound of Sirius’s name, Mother’s sobbing increased in pitch and volume. Regulus was forcibly reminded of the way she had reacted to Sirius last night over dinner…

 

“Control yourself, Walburga!” Dad said sharply.

 

There was a furious shriek and some muffled exclamations, and then his mother’s voice rose dangerously above the melee: “How dare you condescend to me! I will not be addressed in such a tone! That boy may be dragging our name through the filth, but soon he’ll be begging us to take him back! And meanwhile, I will not stand by and watch the noble household of Black go to the dogs!”

 

“Aunt Walburga, what – ?”

 

But Regulus had heard enough and more; he began to force his way out of his hiding place, not caring that he stubbed his toe on a bucket on the way and that the cobwebs had settled in his hair. He stumbled through the closet door in daze, having forgotten entirely to pick up his bag from outside where he had left it. The drawing room door, which had previously been closed so tightly, now stood open, and as he walked past it toward the stairs, he pleaded to whatever deity there was to let him slip up to his room unnoticed. Mother spotted him and summoned him inside. He went.

 

Regulus barely had a moment to register the pale, drawn faces of his aunt and sister (his father seemed to have disappeared) before Mother grabbed his elbow in a painful, vise-like grip and thrust him down into a heavy wooden chair in front of the old Black family tapestry. “Where is your brother’s name on this, Regulus?” she asked, breathing heavily.

 

Unsure of what exactly was going on but aware enough to know it was nothing good, Regulus leaned forward with some trepidation and tapped the cloth gently on the spot that read “Sirius.” His fingertips felt drawn to the rough fibers of the tapestry, and he tried to leave them there as long as possible, tracing over the delicately scripted letters of the name with his skin. But Mother slapped his hand down harshly, and it was with a mounting dread that he let his arm drop to his lap.

 

Mother was standing behind him. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her raise her wand, but before he could realize what was happening, there was a rush of air and a flash of light and a bang that shook him to his foundation. He heard Narcissa take in a sharp breath, and he opened his eyes, not remembering having closed them. “Do you see? Do you see?” Mother demanded wildly, stepping forward into his line of vision. Her face was flushed with a horrible exhilaration as she brandished her wand at the small hole in the tapestry where his brother used to be. It was charred and still smoking around the edges.

 

Regulus noted blankly that his own name, delicately inscribed just to the side of the hole, had been inadvertently singed by the blast. Half of his “R” was gone. “I see.”

 

“You have no brother now, Regulus. Do you understand me? We are your real family. You are a Black. You are our heir now, do you understand? Understand?

 

“Yes.”

 

“And promise me you will never speak to – to that blood traitor again! You are our heir, our first-born, our good, loyal boy, you mustn’t be corrupted…” He must have looked alarmed, because Mother grabbed his shoulders in a painfully tight grip and shook them slightly, her crazed face only inches from his. “Do you promise me, Regulus? DO YOU PROMISE?”

 

Regulus looked up into her manic, wide eyes, unable to do anything but nod. And Mother’s expression contorted, twisted painfully, and melted as she dropped down beside him and gathered him close to her breast. He sat stiffly as she held him there for ages, rocking back and forth and muffling her wailing sobs in his cobwebby hair as he watched over her shoulder the small, burned hole in the tapestry smoking…

 

That day he realized that his brother loved James Potter more than he loved him. That day he learned that he didn’t even have a brother anymore. That day that he vowed to prove himself a true Black. That day he began to question whether he wanted to be a Black at all.

 

 

By now, having been outside on the steps for several minutes, Regulus could feel a distinct trail of sweat working its way down the back of his neck, under his collar and down onto his back. It reminded him of Andromeda – he wasn’t sure why. Though, following his current train of thought, he would have ended up back at Andromeda eventually, anyway.

 

He wasn’t sure what it was exactly that drove him to find his long-disowned cousin and her young family, but whatever it was had been birthed on that day that Sirius died to them. It was as if something inside were challenging him… if they were good enough for Sirius, mightn’t they be good enough for you, too? He was never able to bring himself to contact his brother directly, not after that foolish promise he had made. The few times that Sirius tried to contact him through letters, messages left in odd places, even attempts to meet face-to-face at school, Regulus had rebuffed him with cold severity. Not only had Sirius abandoned him, but he himself had made a promise; breaking it would be too much of a betrayal of Mother for him to stomach. But there were other people, other ways…

 

Meeting Andromeda had been a pleasing surprise, mainly because, as he had listened to her talk about her husband and daughter (who had an unnecessarily complicated name that Regulus couldn’t recall) and as he in turn told her a few details about his own life, he had felt for the first time in a long time a real connection to his brother and his disowned family. Andromeda looked nothing like Regulus. She acted nothing like Regulus. She was nothing like Regulus. Yet they were blood, and she was willing to give him a chance, which, in a way he couldn’t quite articulate, counted for something.

 

Naturally, his mother had no idea that he had ever met Andromeda, much less that he had spent an entire summer hunting her down. Regulus laughed dryly, imagining that particular conversation, in which he would inevitably be cast out of the ancient and illustrious House of Black forever, out with his good-for-nothing, Mudblood-loving, blood traitor of a non-existent brother. His laughter grated harshly in his ears and didn’t sound remotely funny. If Mother ever dared call Regulus a blood traitor… well, at least Regulus hadn’t abandoned his family.

 

Not yet.

 

The heat, which he had been steadily ignoring in favor of the solitude of the steps, was becoming truly intolerable, and, with a last long look across the silent street, Regulus stood up and climbed the few stone steps to the front entrance. He paused at the threshold, carefully rolling his sleeves back down over the dark skull on his forearm and buttoning his shirt before he entered. It wouldn’t be a good idea to antagonize them just now. Someday, maybe, he’d confront them… but he wasn’t even sure he was ready to think about that, yet. He loved his family, and for good or ill, Regulus was a Black.

 

Finishing the last button, he pushed open the heavy door with his shoulder and felt the blast of cold air rushing out over his damp skin. For one very odd moment, Regulus could feel both the unnatural coolness pressing his face and hands and the sultry July heat beating down on his back, but then he stepped in and closed the door firmly behind him, shutting out the sun, sweat, shirtsleeves, and dangerous thoughts that belonged outside.

//
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