Several years passed before I had cause to re-enter my father’s study. I was nine then and had just returned from my third escape attempt that year. Well, when I say returned, I mean dragged by...you know, actually I can’t remember. I always used to think it was Bella, but this was during school term, so therefore it couldn’t have been her. There is also no chance that it could have been dear old Mum; she would never sully herself by traipsing through Muggle London in search of her ungrateful son. Perish the thought. No, and it definitely wasn’t Father because I had to wait for an hour until he got back from a business meeting. Well, whoever it was, they had a firm grip and highly polished buckled boots that clicked on wooden floors. And a cane, I definitely remember a cane.
You must not think that my running away was because of any extremity of feeling, quite the contrary, really. By the time I was nine I had lost what little regard I had for my parents. My previous desire to be contrary had resulted in the small acts of rebellion common in young children (even more common for me); now, at least in my view, it was all-out war: Sirius versus the Family.
So far, the Family was winning.
After all, They had the advantage of numbers, experience, magic, and tradition. I, on the other hand, had only my innate wits, a considerable amount of anger, and the wary backing of Andromeda. In other words, I was fighting a losing battle. But I had never been one to give up -- even when faced with insurmountable odds. I knew that there was no way I could win while I lived under Their roof, but I would not always be pinned down where They could reach me.
Hogwarts shone for me like a beacon of hope at the end of a long, dark, miserable tunnel. This hope was fuelled by Andromeda’s wonderful tales. Hogwarts became a symbol of everything that number twelve, Grimmauld Place was not: a place where every meal was a feast, a place where people might laugh at my jokes, a place where I could actually speak to Mudbloods -- no -- Muggleborns. It would be a place where I could meet new friends, have fun, and make my dreams come true. I used to lie on my bed and just imagine what it would be like, when in two years’ time, I boarded the Hogwarts Express to take my place at the premier school of magic in the world. I would escape from my cousins, find a carriage full of people, and join in the conversation. Of course I would impress everyone by being the first Black to enter Gryffindor, and make huge amounts of friends of whom my family would disapprove. I might also -- possibly -- excel in the classroom, but only if I felt like it. Yes...it was an amazing vision.
It kept me going, the knowledge that every day I survived, it brought me one day closer to my escape, a time when I could finally break away from the sheer torment of living with a mad mother, a fanatical father, and a bratty brother. Unfortunately, this remote prospect was sometimes not enough. Hence my feeble attempts to run away, which inevitably ended in humiliating capture and painful punishment. This didn’t deter me from continuing to escape into the Muggle world, of course. I may have been very talented for a nine-year-old, but I wasn’t too bright when it came to matters of self-preservation and that strange semi-mythical thing called “patience”.
It didn’t take much to send me scrambling over the back garden-wall. The news of a Family gathering or a particularly dull lesson in the afternoon was normally enough. Strangely, it didn’t really matter that I usually got only an hour of freedom at most. It was the statement that counted; nothing said “I hate you and your beliefs” more clearly than running away to Muggle London.
This latest escape was a particularly good one, actually. Some Muggle kids were playing one of their strange games a couple of streets away and called me over when they noticed me sulking in the shadows. At first they mainly wanted to know why I was wearing a dress. I explained that it wasn’t a dress, but a robe, at which point their leader began to taunt me for wearing a poncy dress and having a poncy accent. I punched him. Then we had a fight.
It is very difficult to duel the Muggle way in wizards’ robes. I still think I would have won if I had been wearing the cloth tubes -- the trousers -- that they wore. As it was, he beat me soundly. He gave me a lovely black eye in the process, I might add, as well as loosening one of my baby teeth. (The tooth came out later that week, and I buried it at the bottom of the garden. Due to the lovely nature of my Family, I was well aware that your tooth in someone else’s hands could do a lot of damage.) I fell down at the end and can remember thinking that now the whole lot of them were going to descend upon me. However, the leader abandoned me after only a few parting kicks. To my astonishment, a slightly smaller boy -- who seemed to be the second-in-command -- pulled me up, slapped me on the back, and invited me to play for his team. He told me I had put up “a real corker of a fight”.
That was my first introduction to the peculiar game of foo-ball. I had no idea of the rules, but as there didn’t appear to be any, that was all right. We raced up and down the street whooping and hollering as a large mass of humanity. We were presumably following the Quaffle-like ball, but I only caught rare glimpses of it -- so tight was the scrum around the unlucky boy who held possession of it.
My robes got in the way at first, but then I hitched them up using one of the other boys’ “ties” (narrow cloths around the neck, only Merlin knows why) and was just as able as any of them. I even helped score a goal by punching the Keeper in the stomach at a crucial moment, a deed for which I was given a resounding cheer by my teammates. The cheer was accompanied by lots of friendly punches.
I had never been as happy as I was that day, surrounded by Muggles of the lowest sort, engaged in a game I had no hope of mastering, and covered in muck from the badly-kept street. My fifth-best robes had been almost torn to shreds by the strange demands I was making of them.
Whoever it was who collected me appeared at this point. I didn’t notice the new arrival until a cane landed with a dull sort of finality on my shoulder, and my team mates had disappeared with a swiftness that rivalled the top speed of the latest Nimbus model on display in Diagon Alley. The first part of my punishment was delivered with great attention to detail, which I found wearying and rather painful, to say the least. Good Merlin, that cane was heavy!
However, the bruises I received from the cane were heaven compared to what awaited me back at Grimmauld Place.
As I have already said, I was dragged back home, and by the ear as it happens. I am sure that my right ear is still significantly bigger then my left ear. I was then dumped outside my father’s office under the watchful eye of Kreacher, while my “walking companion” entered the “inner” sanctum to report that my re-capture had been a complete success. I immediately pressed my left ear to the dark wood of the door (my right was rather too tender to be submitted to such indignities). Kreacher muttered a bit, but he shut up when I hissed a quick command to be silent. At first I couldn’t understand either of the voices. However, as my hearing adjusted, I could make out the tail-end of their conversation.
“...always been difficult,” my father sighed.
“But this?” the other voice replied. “Running off to Muggle London on a regular basis? Never in all my life....” The voice trailed away, and there was silence for a while.
“You had better call him in,” my father said, breaking the silence. Hurriedly, I drew my ear away from the door and leaned as casually as I could against the wall, wincing as a particularly sore bruise made itself known. My nonchalance was not appreciated by my captor, and I received another hard knock about the shoulders before being shown into the room.
Not surprisingly, the study hadn’t changed a bit. The inkstand I could remember so vividly was in exactly the same place as when I’d last seen it, although this time I hardly spared it a glance. At nine years of age I was much too old to be fascinated by inkstands, even ones with sharp teeth and glowing, red eyes.
To be honest, I expected him to shout, to shake his finger at me, or to be -- at the very least -- slightly annoyed. Instead, my father was freakishly calm. He asked me to describe exactly what I had been doing on my little excursion, which I did, stumbling and stuttering under his steel-like gaze. Then he told me to tell him exactly how I had escaped, which was something Mother had somehow forgotten to do after my last foray into the city. I lied of course, but eventually, under sterner questioning, the truth came out. He noted the information down methodically on a small sheet of parchment, as though my misdeeds were something on par with a grocery list, not that my father had ever written a grocery list in his life....
After submitting my wrongdoings to parchment, he calmly informed me that the back wall would be cursed to throw me across the garden if I put one finger on it. I would now be obliged to spend at least six hours of each day with my mother. And finally, if I missed one more Family event, he would increase that amount of time to twelve hours per day, and he would tell Kreacher to wake me up every hour on the dot for a month.
My father may be an emotionless bigot with the mindset of someone older than the Hogwarts founders, but he isn’t stupid, at least not in the conventional sense. The punishments he had devised for me were pretty much the only ones that were going to affect my behaviour. Spending six hours a day with Mother was torture to the extreme, and I was faced with the prospect of more if I deviated even once from the devised use of my time. There are times when even I have to admire the dedication with which my parents attempted to pound their ideals into my less-than-willing head, but this was not one of them. This time, I was just furious.
Father then began his fiendish plot to destroy every brain cell I possessed by sending me to talk to my mother. Needless to say, the six hours I spent with her were reminiscent of one of the deeper reaches of hell. I will skip over that...bit.
When I eventually collapsed into bed, with muscles stiff, head pounding, and bruises screaming, Regulus poked his tousled head around the door. He ought to have been asleep hours ago, but he knew that there was no chance of him being punished when I was in so much trouble.
“Mother thayth that you’re a ‘Black Theep’ and a ‘Dithgrace To Our Name’,” he informed me in the lisp that he put on to impress grown-ups with his sweetness.
“Oh, go off and bang your head against a wall, Reg,” I replied wearily. “It might knock some sense into your thick skull.”
He was too used to my threats to disappear, but he did drop the lisp. “She says that I should be disappointed to have you as a brother.”
“And are you?” I continued trying to pull off my shoes without bending any of my aching limbs.
“Not really,” he answered, to my surprise. “But I think I’m smarter than you.”
“And why’s that?” I said, genuinely interested for once. I even abandoned my futile shoe-removal technique to stare at him.
“Well, you haven’t figured out how to make them like you again, have you?” he said simply. Then, with a quick, “G’night, Sirius,” he was gone, leaving me with my thoughts and a huge number of painful bruises.