Regulus Black hated the piano.
Regulus hated having to spend his summers and holidays doing repetitive tutoring to make him a proper man. Math, writing, poetry, art, penmanship: he hated every single one of the lessons he was forced to endure with snide tutors who believed in archaic forms of punishment if their lessons were not learned. But the worst of all, he believed, was the piano lesson. Regulus had no rhythm, he couldn't feel the music the way his tutor wanted. He could spend hours on a single stanza, only to have the man insist that it was still not correct.
Regulus slowly withdrew his fingers from the piano keys, fresh off his sixth failure to the opening of Caprice. He dragged his sweaty palms down his trousers and cast a reluctant glance up at his tutor.
“Paganini would throttle you, himself, if he could hear what you've done to his work.” The older, distinguished man laid his fingers on the sides of his glasses to adjust them and took a long, soothing breath. He cursed Regulus under his breath and slowly got up from the piano bench. “I expect that intro to be perfect by our next lesson.”
“I'm trying.” The young boy rubbed at his face and gripped the front of the piano bench to keep his fifteen-year-old attitude in check.
“You're not trying hard enough.” With that, the tutor swept his robes from the stand by the door and turned his nose to the ceiling. “Or you're just completely hopeless.”
Regulus looked away from his tutor while the man took his leave from Grimmauld Place. He slammed his hands down on the piano keys, sending a garbled sound through the room. “You're not trying hard enough.” He mimicked the tutor's tone and facial expression spot on. “Maybe I am just hopeless.”
“You can say that again.” Sirius Black bounded down the stairs and threw himself onto the piano bench beside his brother. “I take it that your lesson is over? Good thing too, I think the neighbors were ready to call in the police on account of murder.” He flashed Regulus a huge smile and nudged him in the ribs. “You know, because you murdered that song. Don't you get it?”
“I got it, Sirius; it just wasn't funny.”
“Take it back. Say I'm hilarious.” Sirius' fingers wiggled in the air, making a slow approach towards Regulus' neatly groomed hair.
The younger Black covered his black strands protectively. “I take it back! You're bloody hilarious. Don't you dare touch my hair.” Identical grey eyes held each other, gauging who would break first.
A soft laugh caused both boys to turn towards the stairs. James Potter was leaned against the railing, arms folded, watching the brothers with an amused expression. “Sirius, stop picking on him. You can't muss up his precious hair; what would mummy say?” Despite the almost cruel nature of James' words, his tone remained light and playful. “You know I'm joking, Regulus. Scoot over.”
James slid onto the piano bench to Regulus' free side, crowding the too small space. Regulus found himself uncomfortably squashed between the Gryffindors. The tight space didn't bother him as much as James did. Having the older boy pressed up against his side, giving him such a sweet grin, staring straight into his eyes...it made Regulus' heart jump into his throat.
“Let me out.” Regulus' words were lost in mumbles as he forced his gaze anywhere other than James. It was becoming a harsh routine for his brother's best friend to have that effect on him. He didn't like it. At least, he told himself he didn't like it, but the fact was, he did like it. Very much. Too much, in fact. And because he liked it too much, he didn't like it. It made his head spin just to think about.
Regulus couldn't even pinpoint when James' presence started making him feel...funny. He'd been around the boy for years now. Sometimes, Sirius invited him over during the summer because unlike his other friends, James was a Pureblood, and therefore their parents didn't object. He'd been around James plenty of times at school when Sirius would allow him to sneak up into their Gryffindor dorm.
But there was something different about this summer. Every time James got within ten paces of Regulus, the boy's heart started to race and his hands got twitchy and his mind went blank. He couldn't talk properly or think properly around the older boy. It was wonderful and horrible at the same time and it was so confusing, Regulus could barely stand it.
The younger boy pushed against his brother in an effort to escape his awkward situation, but Sirius, ever the stubborn Gryffindor, remained in place.
“I don't know why you always sound like you're torturing this poor thing,” James mused, calling all attention back to him. He placed his fingers on the piano, having to lean slightly against Regulus to do so, and began to move them gracefully across the keys, properly recreating what Regulus had been failing to do all afternoon. His timing and technique were flawless and by the look in his eyes, he very well knew that.
Regulus huffed and closed the sheet music that lay open on the stand. James merely grinned and carried on, finishing the song without any need for guidance.
“Show off.” Sirius reached behind his brother and thumped his friend in the side of the head just as the boy finished the last note.
“Oi, easy Black. You'll damage something in there.”
“I think there's plenty of damage up there as it is, Potter.”
“Could you two go away?” Regulus shoved his elbows into Sirius and James, attempting to pry the boys away from him. “I need to practice this or I'm never going to get it right.”
The Gryffindors conceded to get off the bench, but James was not finished. “You can practice all you like, but it's never going to be right, Regulus.” When the younger boy shot him an angry look, he held up his hands in surrender. “That wasn't an insult. I'm telling you...you just don't have the heart for it. Music isn't like math or potions, it's gotta be inside of you.”
“Well, as charmingly poetic as that was, James, I don't think my tutor would take lack of heart as an excuse not to get this right.” He let out a small sigh and opened his sheet music once more.
“Come on, Prongs, let's get out here before he starts playing that thing again. My ears can't take it.”
Regulus hated the little nicknames that the quote-unquote Marauders used. He didn't understand them and any attempt to ask was always met with laughter and a flat out refusal. But the nickname wasn't what caused Regulus to fluster at that moment. “Get out of here? Where are you going? Did mum say you could leave tonight? I had plans tonight and mum said I couldn't go, there's no way she said you could go somewhere.”
“You're right. She didn't say I could go anywhere. Because I didn't ask her.” Sirius barked a laugh and checked his reflection in the mirror beside the door.
“You can come if you want.” Sirius and Regulus both looked at James with a slow wonder. Neither spoke for a moment, making him shift his feet and look between them. “What?” he laughed. “He can come. He's old enough. You're sixteen, right?”
“We'll say he's sixteen. They won't check.” James shrugged and turned towards Regulus with his hands out. “Wanna go?”
“I can't go with you. I don't know where you're going and I just said that mum told me I can't go out.”
“Well now wait.” Sirius pushed James out of his way and hovered over his brother. “What exactly did you ask mum?”
“I asked if I could go to Rosier's.”
“And she said no?”
“Are you hard of hearing?”
“Don't be a smart ass, I'm trying to make a point.”
Regulus sighed and threw up his hands. “She said I don't want you going over there tonight.”
A sinister grin pulled across Sirius' lips. He exchanged sneaky glances with James before looking back to his brother. “So she didn't say that you couldn't come out with me and James, right?” When Regulus looked as though he were going to continue arguing, Sirius waved him off. “Fine, just stay here then. Sit on your little bench and play your little song and be a little mummy's boy.”
“Wait!” Regulus twisted his hands in his lap and chewed his bottom lip. “I wanna go.”
A smug smile flashed onto Sirius' face. “Well come on, you have to change clothes first.” He looked back at James and held up a finger for the other boy to wait before dragging his brother upstairs.
Regulus was in near disbelief at his own actions. He'd never defied his parents' wishes before. Despite Sirius' insistence that it wasn't directly disobeying because their mother had not forbidden them to go, Regulus knew that she wouldn't like it. So he knew that he was going against her. But he couldn't stop himself. He didn't even know where James and Sirius were taking him, all he knew was that he'd never wanted to go somewhere so bad in his entire life. And why? Just because James invited him?
The younger Black felt weird and out of place in Muggle clothing even though he blended in perfectly on the slightly crowded London pavement. Perhaps it was just the fact that Sirius' clothes were a bit too big on him that was making it all so uncomfortable. Or perhaps it was because James wouldn't stop smirking at him.
“What?” Regulus was thankful for the late hour; the buildings cast enough shadows over him to hide the faint tint of red that flooded to his cheeks.
“Nothing. You just look so....” James sighed and shook his head, he couldn't even begin to explain what he was thinking.
“So what?” Regulus looked down at himself and started tugging at the hem of his shirt.
“He thinks you look like you're going to be sick.”
James swatted the back of his hand against Sirius' arm and frowned. “I didn't say that. I don't think that. Not...exactly. You just look like you're gonna pass out or something.” He shoved his hand into his hair and tangled the already messy strands around his fingers. “Just forget I said anything, alright? You need to relax; have fun. This'll be great.”
“Come on, I see the place.” Sirius grabbed onto James and Regulus' arms and began dragging them along behind him, paying no mind to the people he was forcing them both to bump in to.
Regulus attempted a few apologies and pried his arm from his brother's steel grip. “Gods, Sirius, slow down. You almost made me knock into a kid back there.”
“He's just excited.” James offered up a crooked grin while also freeing himself from his friend's hand.
“Excited about what, exactly? You still haven't told me where we're going.”
“Music, Regulus! I'm excited about music.” Sirius rounded on his little brother and grasped him by the shoulders. “And not that lullaby nonsense that you were playing earlier, I mean real music. The kind of music that crawls inside of you and screams everything that you have bottled up inside, everything that you can't say for yourself. That kind of music.”
Regulus gritted his teeth and put his hand over his brother's wrist. “You're hurting me a little.”
“Sorry.” The older boy quickly removed his hands from Regulus shoulders and watched as the boy rubbed over the spots his fingers had dug in to. “I just get worked up sometimes.”
“This is nothing.” James snorted and put his arm on Sirius' shoulder. “You shoulda seen how mental he got over the new Centipedes record last Christmas.”
Sirius' entire body stiffened up and he put his hand to his mouth to restrain himself. “Beatles, James. They are not the Centipedes, they are the Beatles.”
“Same thing.” James widened his eyes and took a step back from his friend's death glare. “A bug is a bug, Sirius. They're all the same to me.”
Sirius put his hands to his head and groaned. “Hopeless, you're both bloody hopeless.”
The three boys filed into the small bar and pushed their way towards a table in the far corner. James was right about the place not checking for ages and that was a relief considering Regulus had no Muggle identification. Getting in was no trouble, but Sirius was outright denied alcohol and returned from the bar with three Coca-Colas.
“I told you they wouldn't sell you beer.” James wore a teasing grin as Sirius handed out the drinks.
“Had to try.”
“I'm glad they didn't.” Regulus cradled his glass and scooted closer to the table.
Sirius flicked a scrap of goodness-knows-what laying on the table, hitting his brother square in the chest with it. “Don't be a baby. Just because you can't drink, doesn't mean we shouldn't be able to.”
“I can drink, I choose not to.” Regulus frowned as he dusted off his shirt and threw a quick glance towards James. “I don't like the idea of drinking, don't look at me like that.”
“I'm not looking at you like anything.” James laughed and leaned closer to the younger Black. “I don't think there's anything wrong with that. You don't have to drink if you don't want to.” He offered up a smile that made Regulus flush red. Even in the dark lighting of the bar, James could tell, but he didn't comment on it. Instead, he pointed towards the stage and tapped Sirius on the shoulder. “Show time.”
Regulus was sure he would hate the band the moment they stepped onto the stage. He had never been more wrong. From their opening note to the final chord, he was entranced. He felt like a complete rebel sitting in a Muggle bar, listening to a Muggle band, enjoying music that would make his parents tear their hair out. He smiled and clapped and cheered right along side his brother. He couldn't remember having that much fun in...ever. By the end of the night, a permanent smile was etched across Regulus' face, a mirror of his own brother.
“I'm getting the feeling that you had a good time!” James was still speaking a little louder than normal as the three stepped out of the bar into the London night. He threw his arms around Sirius' and Regulus' shoulders and pulled them closer. “I haven't seen you two get along so well since his first year.” He nodded towards Regulus and grinned over at him. “You should come out with us more often.”
“I um...I....” Regulus swallowed back a lump in his throat and shrugged, feeling the weight of James' arm around his shoulders twofold. “Yeah, that would be...um...uh -”
“Stop stuttering over there.” Sirius pulled away from his friend's embrace and hurried up to the nearest coffee shop window. “We need coffee, a lot of it. Who else wants coffee?”
Regulus bit his lip and cut his eyes up towards James. “I like coffee.”
Even though Sirius had pulled away, the older boy had yet to drop his arm from around the younger Black. He gave the boy a squeeze and steered him inside the shop. “Then coffee we shall have. What time do you two have to be home?”
“Doesn't matter. We'll be in trouble regardless of the hour.”
As the three took a seat with their coffees, Regulus found it odd, but pleasing, that James chose the seat next to his. His mind kept drifting back to those few moments that the older boy had his arm around him. He longed for it to happen again, but couldn't understand why. Had Sirius felt the same turning in his stomach when James' arm was around him? Did James enjoy the minor show of affection as much as he did?
Regulus sat in silence, watching James and Sirius talk about the band they'd just seen and decide if they'd be going to another show. The two Gryffindors shared a cigarette that the younger boy declined. Regulus had always found smoking to be rather disgusting, but the longer James held the cigarette to his mouth, the more appealing the idea became. He didn't realize that he was staring at James' lips until a pair of fingers snapped in front of his eyes.
“Regulus? Damn, did you fall asleep?”
Regulus started and looked over at his brother. “What? No. ...what? What do you want?”
The older boys sniggered behind their hands and exchanged cryptic glances. “I asked you if you were ready to go about six times,” James pointed out. “You were just...lost in space or something.”
“Oh, sorry. I just have a lot on my mind, I guess.” Regulus ducked his head to the table and shifted in his seat. “But yes, I'm ready to go whenever you two are.”
“Alright, I just have to do one thing before we go.” Sirius pushed away from the table and made a line towards the bathrooms.
Silence laid over the table for a minute before James put his arm on the back of Regulus' chair, making the boy jump. “Sorry.” The older boy laughed quietly and patted the younger boy's back, letting his hand rest there. “Didn't meant to startle you. So...did you have as much fun as you were putting on, or was all that for your brother's sake?”
“No, I did.” Regulus found it hard to concentrate with the other boy's hand on him, but he tried not to let it show. “It was a lot of fun. It was.”
“Not worried about getting in trouble?”
“Oh, I am. I'm completely terrified about what kind of trouble is waiting for me, but there's nothing I can do about it now.”
“Well let me ask you this -” James put his hands on the table and leaned against it, looking back towards Regulus with a big, goofy grin. “Whatever trouble you get into...was it worth it?”
Regulus met the older boy's hazel eyes and tangled his fingers around the hem of his shirt. “It was very much worth it.” He dropped his gaze to the table and batted the handle of his coffee cup between his hands. “You had fun? I mean...you didn't seem to like it as much as Sirius did.”
James gave a small, uncaring shrug that Regulus couldn't see. “I had fun. It's all a bit new to me. I'm not used to that kind of music yet, it's really Peter and Sirius' style. I'm learning to love it though.”
“What kind of music do you usually listen to?”
“I don't. Not really. I've never been too much of a music person, I think it's because I had to go through so much tutoring when I was younger.”
“You had tutors?”
“Of course.” James snorted and relaxed back into his seat. “All good Pureblood boys must have the proper tutelage.” He laughed again and nudged the younger boy when he spotted Sirius heading back over to them. “If you want, I can help you with the piano.”
Regulus opened and closed his mouth silently for a moment, but before he could work up any proper response, Sirius was upon them. The three gathered themselves and headed back towards Grimmauld Place. James stayed behind, bidding the Blacks goodbye at the end of the pavement rather than walk to the house and risk any backlash from the discovery.
Sirius was first through the front door and was instantly met with his mother's harsh gaze.
“Where have you...?” Walburga's words trailed off at the sight of her younger son sneaking into the house behind the elder. “Regulus? You...you took – Your brother?” She rounded back on Sirius and narrowed her eyes. “You dragged your brother into one of your filthy adventures?” The woman put her hand to her heart and turned away from the sight of her sons. “And he's dressed like a Muggle. Dear gods, my Regulus.”
“Oh, stop being so dramatic.” Sirius rolled his eyes and started for the stairs, but his mother instantly blocked his path.
“You. Into the sitting room. Your father is waiting. Regulus....” She held her hands towards the younger boy and tightened her lips. “What has he done to you?”
“He hasn't done anything to me. I wanted to go.” Regulus shrunk into himself with fear, but his mother's expression of sadness did not change. “I'm...I'm just going to go to bed.”
Walburga nodded and let out a shaky breath as she watched her son vanish up the stairs. “Burn those hideous clothes!”
Regulus wanted to laugh at his mother's dramatics where he was concerned, but he was too worried. True, he'd gotten off with no punishment due to the sheer fact that Walburga was convinced Sirius had dragged him along, but his brother was far from in the clear. The young boy slipped into his brother's room and sat in the center of his bed to wait for him. He glanced up at the photos on the Gryffindor's wall, hugged his knees to his chest, and let his eyes settle on James' smiling face. Once again, he felt that awkward, heart racing, stomach turning confusion. “What's wrong with me?”
Notes: The piano piece mentioned in the opening scene is Caprice by Niccolò Paganini.
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