Secrets Are Walls That Keep Us Alone
It started out as a punishment. It was just being sent to bed without dinner. It was sleeping through breakfast the next morning. It was missing a meal because his jaw was bruised in the shape of his father's fist and chewing was hard. It was not being hungry because when he was out of sight sometimes they forgot him and he could pretend he was never there to begin with.
He was hungry. The signals made it from his stomach to his brain that he'd been empty too long. But some signals are stronger than others. The bruises across his ribs were louder, more powerful than anything his stomach could hope to say. He remained empty.
Regulus stole food for him, and then he'd eat. Little bits of bread, everything kept as long as possible. His throat tightened at the thought of the days when Regulus wasn't home or wasn't able to sneak him food. He couldn't leave this room, couldn't risk it. Not after the last time.
Orion loomed over his son, his dark eyes burning with fury. Sirius stood defiantly in the middle of the living room, refusing to look away from his father's livid gaze.
"You no good little traitor," his father spat, taking a step forward, closing the gap between him and Sirius to only a foot. "How dare you even speak to that muggle-loving scum?"
Before he could retort, a fist came from nowhere and struck the side of his face, knocking him to the floor. He blinked until the black spots cleared from his vision and stood.
"Bad enough you were sorted into Gryffindor, with all the Mudblood filth." Another punch, this time to his mouth, and Sirius felt his lip split, felt the warm blood flow down his chin and drip onto his shirt.
"Anything's better than Slytherin," he snapped, regaining his balance.
"How dare you?!" his father roared, shoving Sirius to the floor.
Before he could stand, there was a sharp kick to his ribs and he gasped in pain.
"You're so weak," his father taunted. "Pathetic."
Sirius, rose shakily, a hand protecting his side. Orion was baiting him, he knew, waiting for an excuse to really hurt him. Sirius wouldn't give him the satisfaction. He remained silent.
"You ruin everything," his father continued. "You've soiled the name of 'Black' with your treachery."
Sirius glared daggers at Orion, but still refused to speak. If anything, he wished his name wasn't Black; that he could refuse to be affiliated with this family.
Orion had beaten him, left him lying on the dusty rug of the living room blinking blood from his eyes.
When he had summoned the energy, Sirius had hauled himself up to his room, where despite his pain, he denied himself the luxury of collapsing onto his bed and giving in to unconsciousness. He'd never give his father the satisfaction.
He'd been trying to leave, trying to go to James' for the rest of the summer, but he'd known going in that it was almost too unlikely to bother with. Almost.
It was the Gryffindor, that courage to the point of recklessness, the sheer obstinacy that made him ask in the first place. Every part of him knew what would happen if he asked to spend the summer with what the Blacks considered blood traitors, and yet that irresponsible bravery had made him, in that moment, fail to care.
At least, he thought, there was something left of a Gryffindor in him. Something to remind him where he used to belong, something to whisper back against the screaming doubts that said the Sorting Hat was wrong, that he should have been in Slytherin.
It was the greatest cause of his parents' disapproval, his being sorted into what they viewed as the wrong house. It had crossed his mind more than once that something as simple as his house at school should mean nothing to his parents, but in the same moment he knew it was not the sorting itself but its implications. It was the confirmation that he was different, the verification that every lesson they had attempted to literally beat into him over the years had not sunk in, that there was something about him that was wired differently, that he would not be like them. Maybe he could not. Even if maybe sometimes he wanted to.
Gryffindors are brave, daring, chivalrous. They have strong morals and the guts to follow through on them. It was what they were known for, all they were known for. And the more Sirius considered it, the more he knew that wasn't him. It used to be. When he'd hung all the Gryffindor banners all over his room, with Permanent Sticking Charms no less, it had been him. It had been him when he befriending James, Remus, and Peter, when he had become an animagus.
But the summer had been long. Weeks on end to do nothing but consider everything, over and over again, until he was positive that it was a mistake. Because the cunning, the lying, the self-preservation, it was all starting to sound a little familiar. Hadn't he spent the entire summer thus far doing exactly that? Avoiding and lying, doing anything and everything to survive? Had he not thought, more than once, that the ends justify the means, that no one would know if he acquiesced to his parents demands just to make it through the last few weeks.
But the most telling thing of all, the thing he lied about the very most, even to himself, the thing he hated himself for even as he knew it was true, that one little thought that had been there for every blow, every curse, every word. The one thought that proved, beyond a reasonable doubt, that he was not a true Gryffindor, was lurking just beneath the surface. He should have been in Slytherin, he knew, because there was a failure of that Gryffindor bravery when he thought, for that moment, that not only should he have been in Slytherin, but that he almost wished he was, because it all would have been so much easier if he could just be everything they all wanted him to be.