Chapter 5, Family Feeling
'The Ancient and Most Noble House of Black,' Sirius' father intoned, as though reading from a script rather than simply speaking to his eldest son, 'is more than just a name; it holds a reputation, values and purity in the upper echelons of our society.'
Six year-old Sirius was bored; he much rather be playing with Regulus upstairs in his bedroom, and he wanted a slice of the cake he'd seen Kreacher putting in the oven that morning.
'The name alone holds respect in every reputable circle of society, but a name is nothing without action and a man to hold it. As the heir of the Black Family, you must never be seen to be anything less than the greatest of men; no one deserves your respect, you do not apologise to anyone, you do not show emotion; you are a Black and no one is better than you.'
Sirius tried to stifle a yawn from where he sat in the hard backed seat, thankfully his father was facing the window, his arms clasped behind his back and did not notice.
'In five years you will be at Hogwarts School,' Sirius brightened at these words, and his feet began to swing, just above the floor as he imagined it, 'In five years you will need to be the perfect image of the Heir of Black. History rests on your shoulders, boy.'
Sirius could remember those words in his Father’s study at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place as he sat in silence in an empty classroom. He was now in his third year at Hogwarts and in the midst of the greatest undertaking of his life; becoming an Animagus.
He remembered the years that followed, and the hypocrisy and all the stupid little rules that tradition had demanded of him. He had learned all those things his parents had wanted him to; he had learned not to show emotion, he did not give respect unless someone earned it, he did not apologise to anyone. Those were just a few of the habits he was still unable to break, and he realised, with much more maturity than he felt, that some of the things his parents had engrained into him would be with him for the rest of his life.
Some things he could change though, and had.
He had always accepted his parents rule, but when they began to force their ways on him; using words and actions that a six year-old boy could never understand, he inwardly began to revolt. Presenting him with his first proper broomstick, he had been ecstatic with happiness and hugged his mother and father; they had taken it away immediately, "Until you are able to show behaviour more becoming of a Black.”
Later that day, after a small tantrum, he had walked into the drawing room where his mother was perusing a book and asked clearly, 'Mother, could I please have the new broomstick that you were going to give me this morning?'
His Mother told him that they had "got rid of it".
Sirius had been unable to understand his parents actions; he still wasn't entirely sure of what they had been hoping to achieve with such ridiculous displays. He had realised, even as a child, that something was wrong.
Outwardly, he became everything his parents wanted, although he spent more time with his female cousins than perhaps they would have liked. He enjoyed his cousins company, but as they all grew up they all began to change; Bella started to hex him instead of hug him, Cissy became more aloof; trying to be an adult. Only Andy seemed to stay the same; treating him as she always did, with affection and consideration. He realised later in life that she had probably saved him from turning into a bitter shadow of his parents; she had put the idea into his head that he need not be in Slytherin, "The Sorting Hat said I would do well in Ravenclaw, but I told it I had to be in Slytherin; now all my friends are in Ravenclaw and I'm not," she had confided in him one summer.
When the Sorting Hat put him in Gryffindor he had been appalled; what would his parents think? He was so ashamed and scared that he had cried himself to sleep his first night ever at Hogwarts. He had received a Howler the next morning; apparently Cissy had written home and told her parents, who had told his parents. The Howler had told him not to bother coming home for the Christmas holidays. Sirius had sat at the breakfast table through the laughter from the Slytherins with supreme indifference; he had vowed the night before that he would never, ever cry again.
The Gryffindors had closed ranks around one of their own; no matter that he didn't want to be in their house, he was a Gryffindor whether he liked it or not. At first he had tried to stay aloof from his dorm-mates, but the Slytherins teased him and it was only when James punched Avery in the face for hexing him that he began to tentatively return their friendly advances. Soon they were waging a constant war against the Slytherins and ended up in detention several times, Professor McGonagall wrote to his parents; he received another Howler.
He laughed at it.
James won him over though; they didn't talk about his problems at home, they simply included him in everything they did and Sirius was relieved to be distracted from his misery. It was only when Sirius found Peter after a whole day of being missing; Avery, Mulciber and Wilkes had locked him in a broom cupboard on the sixth floor. It was only then, when Sirius realised he was genuinely angry that they had locked Peter up, that he realised he had made friends in Gryffindor.
That Christmas he spent a few days at James' house before returning to school; he couldn't intrude on James' family on Christmas Day. That was the worst and best Christmas he had ever had; he received presents from each of his friends, but none from his parents. The Gryffindor scarf, giant box of Bertie Bott's Every Flavour Beans and Oddball's Oddball Gobstone set were the best presents he had ever had. For the whole of that Christmas Day he sat in front of the fire in the Gryffindor Common Room waiting for his friends to come back to school.
He, James and Peter had spent the rest of the year prodding Remus for answers about why he went home every month. To give him credit, Remus' story had held up until the last two weeks of the year; when he had to go home, despite term ending so soon. Sirius had been unable to sleep the night that Remus went home; he was puzzling over in his head how James could have beaten him again at chess. He had got up and gone to the window ledge, where a pitcher of water and some glasses always stood. He poured himself some water and watched the moon out the window, trying to spot the different constellations he had learnt about in Astronomy. It was then that he heard the faint howl, the blood had almost frozen in his veins and then suddenly a rush of memories, too coincidental to random came back to him; he went across to James' bed, woke him and told him that their dorm-mate was a werewolf.
By Fifth Year, Sirius knew he was a completely different person to the boy his parents had put on the train on the first day of his Hogwarts career. Outwardly he knew he appeared to be almost the replica of his parents, only in the wrong house; he knew he was arrogant, unforgiving and detached to the point of being cold, but he was in Gryffindor and that spoke volumes to anyone with the sense to see it.
Inwardly, he knew all these things; he knew he couldn't escape being a Black, so he embraced the parts he wanted and accepted that no matter what other people thought, he had the best friends anyone could ever wish for. James had taught him a lot in the last few years; mainly about trust. He had never had to explain himself to James; James just seemed to understand, though he often ended up telling James everything later on. Sirius already knew that without James, their year in Gryffindor would never have been the same.
Now they were Animagi, which Sirius could still hardly believe, despite his cool approach to the whole transformation. He lay back on his bed; the door was securely locked with spells even his father couldn't unlock, not unless he wanted to smash a hole through the wall. He looked around at the Gryffindor hangings, the motorbikes and the girls in bikinis strewn around the walls; last year's Quidditch team photo had just arrived and it was stuck over his desk.
He knew his parents hated his room, but he had learned the value of the Permanent Sticking charm after his mother had torn down the first lot of Gryffindor hangings he had put up. James would have laughed at his reason for learning that charm, and Sirius wondered what his best mate was doing now. He was probably having a great dinner with his parents, laughing as he regaled stories from the school year.
On the other hand, he might just be sitting in his room, like Sirius and staring at the wall; it was always so hard to tell with James. One minute it could seem he was having to restrain himself from bouncing off the ceiling, the next he could be a mood so dark that you couldn't get a word out of him. Sirius had never asked the reason for this; just accepted it as James had accepted him. Though James had never explained his dark moods; he was a bit like Remus in that respect, though you knew what Remus was thinking about.
James seemed to bend the world around him; Sirius, Remus and Peter had all changed but Sirius realised that James had always been the same, almost. Fifth Year had got a bit out of hand; James had seen Snivellus fawning over Evans one too many times.
A house-elf appeared in the middle of the room, and his bat-like ears drooped slightly as he eyed the decorations distastefully, saying, 'Dinner is served.'
Sirius looked at him and added, 'Master,' haughtily.
The house-elf paused before grudgingly adding, 'Master.'
Sirius sat up; it was time to face the parents, he wondered if they even knew he was home yet. He had caught a Muggle taxi from Kings Cross to Grimmauld Place and got Kreacher to let him in, but not after he'd been made to stand ten minutes in the rain; apparently Kreacher had apparated Regulus straight home from the station.
He got up from the bed, checked his reflection in his mirror, which said, 'You look fine, darling,' in a voice reminiscent of James' Mum and he made his way down to the dining room.
'Hello, Mother. Father,' he said as he took his place at the Black Family table.
His parents ignored him and his Mother asked Regulus how the run up to fourth year exams was going.
'Fine,' Sirius said loudly, 'You know, I stopped ignoring people when I was twelve; it's immature, selfish and downright rude.'
The conversation stopped abruptly.
His father turned an intimidating eye on him, 'We will not be spoken to like that, young man.'
'Wow, you're not completely deaf then; it's only selective hearing. Pass the carrots, Reg.'
Regulus automatically reached for the carrots, but his father stopped him with an outstretched hand, 'Apologise, Sirius,' he said in a dangerous voice.
Sirius tried to look thoughtful for a moment, then said sarcastically, 'I seem to remember, Father, that you told me never to apologise to anyone I didn’t respect, and I'd hate to disobey you.'
'Leave this table, boy.' His father shouted across the table, his face beginning to turn red.
'Gladly, I'd rather enjoy the company of the empty kitchen.'
'Get out!' his mother screamed at him.
Sirius' concealed rage snapped, he stood up and shouted, 'Fine! I hate it here; all you lot have ever done is ignore me and spout your "purity" bullshit as though you were the fucking rulers of the universe! Here's a fucking wake-up call; you live in a dingy house in a backstreet of London; this is the sodding Twentieth Century! NO ONE GIVES A DAMN ABOUT THE FUCKING "HOUSE OF BLACK"; LEAST OF ALL ME!'
He took a deep breath and looked at his family; his brother looked shocked, his father looked as though he had been mortally offended and his mother was apoplectic with rage. Then, suddenly, she stood up and slapped him across the face, her signet ring cutting open his cheek.
'GET OUT OF THIS HOUSE, YOU UNGRATEFUL BRAT! YOU'VE BEEN NOTHING BUT A DISAPPOINTMENT SINCE YOU STARTED SCHOOL; YOU'RE A BLOOD-TRAITOR, FILTH, NOTHING BETTER THAN-'
Sirius didn't bother to find out what he was not better than, he fished out his wand, pointed it at his mother and said, 'Silencio.'
Then ignoring the blood flowing down his cheek, he stalked out the room, turning the corner just in time for the thrown dish cover to clang off the corridor wall behind him. He began to run as he reached the stairs, taking them three at a time; his body started to shake with emotion. He slammed open the door to his room, threw everything he could think of into his trunk and shrunk it down to an inch or two across, then, enchanting it to be feather-light he stuffed it into his pocket. His father was shouting on the other side of the door at him; his hands began to shake more violently. He wrenched the door open, pushed past his father and bounded down the stairs.
A hex burned a hole into the wall above his head as he landed at the bottom; his mother was brandishing her wand from the doorway of the dining room, a napkin still clutched in her other hand, 'YOU DISGUSTING LITTLE-'
Sirius didn't care to listen to the rest, he was already halfway down the next flight of stairs and a curse whipped past him as he reached the hallway leading to the front door. He pulled his jacket off the rack by the door, and disappeared out into the drizzle and smog.
He didn't know what time it was when he knocked on the front door of Potter Manor, near Grove Hill, on the South Downs. He had taken a train, a taxi and walked for more than an hour in the dark to find it; there was no road. He had nowhere else to go other than Hogwarts, but James' parents had always been kind to him. He knew James would welcome the company, but he didn't know what his parents would say.
He raised a tentative fist, and feeling nervous for the first time since his first school Quidditch match, knocked.
The door opened a few minutes later to reveal an intrigued looking James, whose expression didn’t change as he took in the muddy shoes and blood streaked face.
'You alright, mate?'
'Come in then, don't worry about the carpet, Cheery'll sort it out.'
Sirius stepped inside, dripping muddy water all over the wooden floor and carpet, 'What about your parents?' he croaked.
'They'll be fine with it, you know where your room is? Grab a shower and I'll get Cheery to make a sandwich or something. Mum’ll probably want to have a look at your face.’
Sirius just nodded and made his way slowly upstairs as he noticed James went towards the living room, rather than the kitchen.
He showered in a daze of exhaustion, before Mrs Potter sat him down and with more worry and care than he had ever seen on her face cleaned the cut along his cheek and frowned, ‘I’m afraid that’s going to leave a scar, Sirius.’
‘Mmm,’ was Sirius only reply as he kept his eyes on the carpet, not sure why he was feeling so ashamed.
‘Well, good night, dear,’ she said, gathering up the cloth and potion she had been using. She turned in the doorway and said, ‘Sleep well,’ before pulling the door to. James’ Dad must have been waiting outside because he heard her say quietly, ‘Someone hit him, Charlus, and that cut had a minor curse on it. They threw him out of the house; he hasn’t said as much, but he’s got his school trunk with him. Who would do that to a sixteen year old?’
The concern in her voice meant more to him than anything his parents had done in a long time. He fell asleep emotionally and physically exhausted.
The next morning it was as though Sirius always lived there; Mrs Potter simply said, 'Good morning, dear!' examining the cut on his cheek before kissing him on the forehead and shooing him away from her baking. Mr Potter simply yelled, 'Morning!' from where he was working in his study. In Sirius' opinion James' parents were the best in the world.
A week later, he was as much a part of the family as Cheery, their house elf, the various re-homed Crups running around, the collection of Puffskeins, or the mischievous, oddly vegetarian Jarvey that chased the Gnomes round the garden. Indeed, sometimes Sirius thought he was just another stray taken in by the Potters; a bit like the little Jobberknoll that had been rescued and now sat on the perch in the kitchen.