Thirteen, Beware- It's The Devil Himself
His whole family are here. Mother, Father, baby brother, Uncle, Aunt and three cousins. They're clustered around Narcissa singing Happy Birthday, harmonising with each other in that smug way they have. Even Andy, who is usually alright, is joining in. She's beaming and has one arm hooked lovingly around Cissy's shoulders. Sirius had never understood how Andromeda can be so normal and non-Black, while also being nice to her sisters. Bellatrix is going to join the Death Eaters and Narcissa's a silly, simpering girl. Andy's so cool that Sirius sometimes forgets that she's a girl too- that's probably why she's soppy about the other two. Girls are wet like that, even cool ones. When they finish singing, drawing out the final "you" for ten seconds, Andy presses a kiss to Cissy's cheek. Sirius tries to keep a calm look on his face as Narcissa grins up at them all with her white teeth, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. She looks different to the rest of them. Sirius, Andy Bellatrix and Regulus all have dark hair and features which Mother describes as "strong". There's nothing strong about Narcissa. She's all delicate features, dainty nose and pale skin. Her hair is white-blonde and shiny. Sirius has often heard people say that she's beautiful. Sirius thinks she looks like a ferret. When Sirius starts school in September people will think he is beautiful. He knows he's good-looking. He'll probably be the most handsome boy in his year, which will come in useful even though he doesn't think he likes girls yet.
It's only four weeks 'til term starts now. Well, four weeks, five days- Sirius glances at the clock on the drawing room wall- nine hours, fourteen minutes and thirty-one seconds. Thirty. Twenty-nine. Then he will be gone. Then he will be free. Mother and Father sometimes use, "Or we won't let you go to Hogwarts!" as a threat, but Sirius knows it's an empty one. They're desperate to get rid of him. Mother took him shopping in Diagon Alley the day his letter arrived, preparing for him to leave as soon as she could. It suited Sirius fine though, because he's been able to shut himself in his room to practice with his wand and books. First he tried wingardium leviosa, and after a few attempts he'd managed to levitate a chocolate frog card. Then he'd moved on to avada kedavra. That one wasn't in the Standard Book of Spells Grade 1, but Sirius had read about it and knew what it could do. He'd channelled all his anger, hatred and hope into the spell, but the spiders on his bedroom curtains stayed resolutely alive. After an afternoon Sirius had given up on that one and gone back to the Standard Book of Spells, and now, a fortnight after the trip to Diagon Alley, he could make a goblet levitate in front of him for a full half-minute, and turn a matchstick pointy. He'd hoped to spend the rest of the Summer practising magic in his bedroom and only coming downstairs for meals, but Mother had insisted he be here for Narcissa's birthday visit. It's her sixteenth, not even an important one, but Kreacher had baked a cake and everybody wanted to fuss. Narcissa likes fuss. And since Mother was making him come down, and since it was Narcissa, and since it's so close to school starting and Sirius has to go out with a bang, he's given his cousin a birthday surprise. And it's going to happen any minute now.
Narcissa blows out her candles (Sirius smirks, remembering how many times he's spat all over the cake when puffing out his own birthday candles), and Uncle Cygnus hands her a knife. Cissy cuts into the cake, slicing downwards, and everybody claps. Regulus gapes like he's never seen a cake before in his life. Sirius used to wonder if this sort of pathetic excitement was Regulus being a brown-noser, or if his little brother really is that stupid and easily-impressed. Nowadays, Sirius doesn't care. He won't have to see his baby brother much more after September. One quick punch to the stomach every holiday should be enough to remind Regulus who's in charge.
Narcissa slices her cake down the centre, then into quarters, then eighths, which is stupid because there are nine of them here. But then Cissy cuts a slither off one eighth and puts it onto a plate for herself.
"It's your birthday! You can have more than that," barks Bella, but Cissy shakes her head coyly and puts the knife down. When she blew out her candles she probably wished to keep a two-inch waist forever. Girls are stupid.
Aunt Druella plates up the rest of the cake, and Narcissa takes a bit of her tiny slice. Sirius sits up straight for the first time since they all arrived. He hopes Cissy's piece of cake is big enough- the plan will still work if someone else realises, but it's Narcissa's birthday so Sirius hopes that it's her who gets it first. She chews on her minuscule slide. Chews again. And then her pointy face twists into a frown.
"What?" asks Andromeda, who's by now removed her arm from around Cissy's shoulders.
"The cake tastes funny," Cissy murmurs. Sirius grits his teeth to stop himself smiling.
"Let me see," demands Bella, chomping into the slice Aunt Druella just plated up for her. The same expression of distaste spreads across her face too.
"There's something in it,"
"It's probably just undercooked," suggests Aunt Druella.
"No. Somebody's put something in it,"
"Let me try," announces Uncle Cygnus, taking Bellatrix's plate.
"Is it poison?" asks Regulus. For once Sirius' idiot brother is on the right track. Sirius is glad he's got them all bickering with one another- finally a disagreement which doesn't involve him. Well, sort of.
"Maybe the eggs are off," Andy suggests.
"It's my birthday," whines Cissy.
Mother's voice cuts through their squabbling: "Kreacher! Come here this minute!"
Everybody shuts up. It takes several moments for the house-elf to stagger into the drawing room. He's an ugly, creaky thing. Like everybody else in this family, he hates Sirius. Sirius hates him back.
"Did you put something in this cake?" Mother demands.
"Kreacher put flour, eggs, butter and sugar into a bowl," the house-elf recites in his creepy, croaky voice, "Kreacher mixed the-"
"Did you put anything in the cake that shouldn't have been in there?"
Kreacher considers for a long moment, then croaks, "No, mistress,"
Mother grabs Kreacher by his ear. "Lies!"
"Kreacher only put in the cake what is in the recipe," he protests, swinging in Mother's grip. Again, Sirius has to bite back laughter- partly at how frightened the house-elf looks, and partly at the thought that he might be about to get away with this.
Uncle Cygnus takes another vicious bite of cake, swallows, and says, "A likely story. He's poured something into the mixture," he pauses to, swallows again, then says slowly, "It tastes like broom-polish,"
There's a beat. Sirius cringes. Then, simultaneously, everybody's head swivels towards him.
"You," breathes Father.
Mother bridles, readying herself to shout, but Uncle Cygnus gets there first. "Sirius, come here,"
Sirius slides off his chair and walks around the side of the table toward him- not too fast so it looks like he's hurrying, but not slow enough to seem like guiltily dawdling.
"Did you put broom polish into this cake?" Uncle Cygnus asks. After much begging and many false promises to be good in return for it, Sirius got his first real broomstick for his last birthday. It's one of his most treasured possessions.
Sirius thrusts his chin up and meets his uncle's eye. "No,"
Uncle Cygnus' voice quietens threateningly, "Are you lying to me?"
"He is, of course he's lying," growls Mother, letting go of Kreacher's ear so that the elf drops to the floor with a squeal, "You put it in, didn't you?"
When Sirius was younger he might have added that Regulus must have done it, but he knows by now that it's best to stick with simple, direct denial. Besides, perfect prince Regulus is never blamed for anything.
"You did! I know you did!" Mother crows. She reaches out for Sirius, clutches onto his collar and yanks him towards her, yelping, "You little devil, you'll be lucky if you ever see that broomstick again,"
Who cares? In four weeks he can order a new one. Mother doesn't understand what "devil" means. It's just a word to her, but Sirius read the Bible (well, bits of it) a few months ago. This was partly to wind up Mother and Father, and partly to find out what his family thought was so ridiculous about the book and the beliefs it talked about. Turns out the Devil got kicked out of Heaven because of his pride. As if pride is a bad thing. Sirius' family were right then (for once)- it is a stupid book.
Mother raises her free hand. Sirius braces himself for the blow and suddenly, with shock, realises that she's aiming for his face. He's has been smacked plenty of times before on the hands, arms, back, bottom, back of the legs- but never the face. And they're in a room full of people. All his family watching, Andy watching. Bellatrix watching. Sirius doesn't make a decision, he just knows: his cousins will not see him slapped in the face by his mother. They will not. Mother can shout at him, take his toys and his broomstick away, lock him in the cellar with the doxies. She can beat him black and blue later, but she will not humiliate him. Sirius twists in his mother's grasp and ducks down, using the momentum to jerk his collar out from her fingers. His knees meet the floor and he crawls under the table, elbows the chair out of the way, pushes Regulus' legs aside to get past him, leaps to his feet on the other side of the table, and races out of the drawing room.
Mother snarls his name and Uncle Cygnus booms, "Boy! Stop right there,"
Sirius doesn't stop. He bolts into the hallway and to the front door, flicks the bolts on the front door unlocked and yanks the door open. Sirius races down the front steps, and then he's out in the street and tearing along Grimmauld Place. Number eleven, ten, nine. He's a fast runner. He's had lots of practise. He's passing number four, nearly at the corner when he hears Bellatrix's voice screech after him:
"Sirius, you little devil!". There's that word again. As if it's a bad thing. The Devil must have been bored out of his mind in Heaven with all the angels boasting about how perfect they are.
"Get back here!" adds Mother.
Sirius glances over his shoulder to see the pair of them and Andy leaning out of the front door to watch him.
"Orion, go after him!" Mother shouts into the house.
Sirius flicks two fingers up at them all (Andromeda isn't really deserving of the insult, but she didn't defend him either), sprints to the end of the road and round the corner, laughing to himself. It doesn't matter if Father comes after him. It doesn't matter that even if Father doesn't catch him, Sirius will have to come home at some point. What matters is that he's got one over on his family, and he's kept his dignity. Pride is the most important thing. Sirius hoots happily up at the July sunshine. The Devil didn't fall at all, Sirius reckons. He escaped.
Thank you for reading this story. It's been fascinating to get inside of the heads of the people in this extraordinary family. This is my favourite story I've ever written and I hope you have enjoyed it to. Please review to let me know your thoughts.