"Something wrong?" Moony asked. It was Saturday morning on the penultimate weekend of term, and the post had arrived.
Sirius held up the envelope up to his friends. "My mother's written to me,"
"Oh Merlin," James grimaced, "Bad luck,"
"What's the problem with that?" Peter chipped in.
"Because Sirius' mum only writes when she's pissed off with him," James explained impatiently. He was right. Neither of Sirius' parents wrote often anymore- what was there to say?- but if they did it was normally Dad. His letters were boring and brief, informing Sirius of tedious family news. Occasionally Dad would report that an obscure relative had died and Sirius needed to send a note of sympathy. Sirius would snort, tear the letter up and toss the pieces on the floor. But this morning's envelope was addressed in Mrs Black's spidery scrawl.
"What've you done this time?" James asked.
"Breathed too loudly, ate too fast, stood wrong, existed," Sirius muttered. It sounded like a joke but it wasn't. Sirius' heart had started pounding the moment he'd recognised the handwriting. Mother's letters weren't amusingly embarrassing; her tellings-off weren't the sort of thing everyone would laugh about later. They were fierce and cold and cruel. And they were frightening.
"At least it's not a Howler," Pete piped up. Everybody ignored him.
Sirius took a vicious bite of his toast, and opened the letter.
I hope you are having a good term and applying yourself to your lessons. The family reputation for academic excellence must be upheld. Another family tradition that must be upheld is the annual Christmas festivities, and this is why I am writing to you. Regulus has mentioned that you are not planning on returning home for the Christmas holidays. This is not acceptable. Christmas, as you know, is the central event in the Black calendar, even more so this year given the unfortunate events that have lately befallen our family. It is the duty of us who remain true to our noble and most ancient House to unite in celebration at this time of year.
I will be writing to your head of house to explain the situation and inform her that you will not be staying at Hogwarts over the holidays. Your father will pick you and Regulus up from King's Cross next Saturday.
No. No no no no no. Sirius was trembling with rage. No no no.
"What's she got to say?" James prompted. Sirius didn't reply so James plucked the letter from his hands and began to read out loud.
"Don't," Sirius instructed through gritted teeth, "I don't want to hear it,"
"Okay, okay," replied James, and held it further out in front of him so Remus and Peter could lean over to read it too. Sirius ignored them. He wanted to smash something. The Marauders had planned this Christmas for months. They were all going to spend Christmas at Hogwarts to work on The Project and get into mischief. James, Pete and Remus had all asked their parents, but Sirius had planned on not asking permission and taking his punishment when it came later. But now the whole idea was ruined.
"What does she mean, 'unfortunate events that have befallen our family'?" Peter piped up.
"She means his awesome cousin eloping with a Muggle-born," James elaborated.
Sirius' head was pounding. Regulus has mentioned. Regulus has mentioned. "That…bastard," he choked out.
"Who? Your cousin- I thought you said she was a legend?"
"Regulus. What a piece of shit," Sirius seethed. He couldn't remember ever being so angry. Why did everything good in his life have to be ruined by his family?
"Sirius," said a careful voice, "Keep calm,"
It was Moony. He'd been unusually timid with Sirius over the last few weeks. Sirius supposed that he was meant to care.
"We can work something out," jumped in James, "Come on, let's think,"
"No," grunted Sirius.
"Yes we can. Pete, why don't you come to mine at the start of the holiday, and then-"
Sirius snatched the letter back off James, stood up and stalked away.
He didn't know how long he'd been walking for or how many laps he'd done of the castle. He'd smoked his way through most of his cigarette packet and it had started to snow. Furious thoughts swirled in Sirius' head; damn his vile mother, damn his wretched baby brother, damn all his family. They didn't even want him there for Christmas; they'd spend all of the holidays griping about his hair and his tone and 'that Lubert boy you're friends with, Sirius, isn't he a half-blood?'. Although perhaps that's exactly why they wanted Sirius home; nobody ever hid how much they enjoyed moaning and mocking him and asking why he couldn't be more like his brother. Once they'd tired of playing Everything Wrong With Sirius, the adults would stay in the dining room having long, awful discussions about the Ministry and the Dark Lord while Sirius and his cousins were dismissed to the drawing room to play. What "playing" actually entailed was having the same conversations the adults were having nextdoor but in more hushed voices. Cissy would swoon as Bella described with relish the Dark Lord's latest activities. Regulus, wide-eyed, asked fascinated questions, and Bella would scoff, "Don't you know?" before launching into a lengthy answer. The only reason it was bearable for Sirius was Andromeda being there to roll eyes with or play a secret game of exploding snap. But Andy had run away in the Spring, been blasted off the family tree and seemed unlikely to be mentioned ever again. Sirius was thrilled that she'd got away from the family but he hated her for leaving him.
Sirius crumpled his cigarette packet and buried his hands in his pockets. He glanced up to see where he was; round the back of the astronomy tower, opposite the owl shed. Four kids were darting around hurling handfuls of snow at each other; two girls, a fat blond boy and-
The yelp was out of Sirius' mouth before he knew what he was doing, and then he was marching towards them calling his brother's name. "Regulus. Hey! Look at me when I'm talking to you,"
Regulus spun around, and his face dropped into an expression of puzzled panic. Rage powered Sirius into a run and he pelted across the snow. He stopped for a second in front of Regulus, staring at him with loathing. Then he punched him in the face.
"You grass!" Sirius yelled, "You absolute snake,"
Regulus toppled sideways. "Ow! Sirius!"
"You squealed on me. Well, I'm about to make you squeal,"
"What have I done?" Regulus wailed. He sounded terrified. Pride flickered inside Sirius' chest.
"You told them I wasn't coming home," he spat, giving his brother a shove, "I knew you were pathetic but I didn't have you down as this much of a traitor,"
"I didn't mean to. I…I just mentioned it, I thought you'd have told them already," Regulus squawked. Sirius grabbed him by the throat and threw him down onto the snow. He booted a kick into Regulus' ribs, then his stomach, his hip, his leg. Regulus' bony frame flinched and twitched as Sirius' feet pummeled into him. The thud of boot against body was delicious.
"Ow," whimpered Regulus, and that was an even more satisfying sound. Sirius aimed a kick at Regulus' head but Regulus covered his face with his arms. Sirius went for his chest instead. Thump.
"You friends have run off," he taunted, "Because they don't like you. Nobody likes you,"
"Sirius, stop," Regulus pleaded, his voice a reedy treble. Sirius obeyed, for a moment, stepping back to admire his handiwork. Perfect Prince Regulus cowering in the snow with tears on his cheeks and blood in his mouth and Sirius' bootprints on his coat. Shivering and frightened and alone. Sirius stood over him like a hyena over a carcass. He'd had never felt so powerful. He was the big man and Regulus was a snivelling little boy.
"I will never forgive you," he hissed, "I'll make your life hell. You told them! Y- you told them". As Sirius repeated the words his voice made a strangely choked squeak, and before he could stop them tears were dribbling down his face. He was shaking and his breath came fast and heavy with tears. "You had to ruin it, didn't you? For once I was looking forward to Christmas, I've found people who actually care about me. But you had to narc, didn't you? Had to prove you're everybody's favourite and drag me back to our revolting family and, and-"
Sirius was sobbing by the time he'd got the words out. The crying wouldn't stop and he'd keeled over so he was kneeling beside Regulus in the snow. Regulus was still on his back, looking even more scared than he had done when Sirius was beating him. Sirius looked at his pale, bewildered face and felt rabid. This was all Regulus' fault, everything was Regulus' fault and now he had the audacity to be here seeing Sirius cry. Sirius lunged at him, clawed his face and rammed his fist into Regulus' gut. Then he shoved him away.
"Get lost!" Sirius roared, "Get lost, you little prick!"
Regulus gaped at him.
"Go on! Run!"
Regulus scrambled to his feet, backed away from Sirius and pelted off towards the castle, limping slightly on the leg Sirius had kicked.
"I hate you!" Sirius screamed at Regulus' retreating back, "I hate you all!"
He crumpled back onto the snow, gasping. Sirius wasn't sure what had just happened but he knew that it had drained him. He exhaled heavily, closing his eyes as his breath clouded in the air. Hatred buzzed inside him but weariness was seeping in too. He felt so tired. Exhausted with his family and his brother and school and girls and Quidditch and his friends and Snape and Slytherin and the Dark Lord and his family and his brother and the whole dreadful world.
Sirius rolled onto his back, and stared up at the sky until the tears froze on his face.
Thank you for reading, I hope you enjoyed this story. Please review to let me know what you thought. Thanks again.