Harry Potter | Sirius & Walburga | 700 words | G | at AO3
Summary: When there's no higher ground to be had, sometimes you can still find a small square of the common kind.
His mother's yelling had exhausted itself over hours, down to a hissing, broken-voiced trickle of spite and reproach, begun and left off again seemingly at random. Sirius sat with his head in his hands, numbly enduring.
"... that the name means nothing to you ... spit on your ancestors like a filth-loving child." Walburga's voice was beginning to rise again. Sirius hunched his shoulders, curling his arms around his knees and letting his face press against his knee caps.
"Squandering every gift you were given, as if it were nothing to be a Black, all of your family nothing to you, selfish, arrogant – and will you never climb down off your high horse and look after your brother at school?"
Sirius jumped, lifting his face in shock. His mother's painted eyes gazed down at him, wild and dark and crazed as always, and apparently confused about time, now. He scrambled up from his seat on the floor, his back scraping against the cold cobwebby wall of the entranceway.
"You never said that," he said hoarsely.
Walburga's hands tightened on her lap and she leaned forward within her frame. "I say that all the time," she said jaggedly. "'Regulus is homesick, Sirius', 'Who gave your brother that black eye, Sirius?', 'Look after him once in a while, Sirius.' But you, you can't see past your wretched associates at that school –"
"You never," Sirius said. "You never said any of those things to me."
"I said –"
"You said Regulus deserved a better brother! You said Regulus would have to carry the burden of the family honour alone! You said Regulus told you whenever I got into detention, which was a lie, by the way, I know you had one of the portraits spying on me!" Sirius dragged in a breath, his fingers gripping the portrait frame now. "You used him as leverage against against me, you old hag, you do not get to say you told me to look after him, or to –"
"THAT WAS ALWAYS WHAT I WAS SAYING." Walburga had risen from her seat, now, towering over him from the greater height of her portrait. "You could never listen, you could never step away from your misplaced pridefulness, your traitorous rebellion against family and House, your –"
"SHUT UP, MUM!"
Sirius panted, slumping against the edge of the portrait, the ornate frame digging into the arm he had braced against it. Walburga drew breath to speak, and Sirius exploded into words again. "Shut up, just shut up! I tried, okay? Even when you were setting us up against each other! I tried, I still ... I tried to look out for him."
He finished on a low breath, and there was silence. Sirius had his eyes squeezed shut.
Eventually Walburga sniffed.
"Well, really," she said. "Is that any way to talk to your mother?"
Sirius looked up. A breathless laugh escaped him.
His mum sat back down, taking her time settling her robes about her. Presently, without looking up from the painted drape of her sleeve, she said, "You really tried?"
Sirius closed his eyes again. "Not hard enough," he admitted. "I should have tried harder to reach him, I shouldn't have let him get so ... I should have saved him from you and the rest of the family."
"You should have saved him from your Muggle-loving friends and their kind, who drove him to take up arms," Walburga said sharply.
Sirius opened his eyes and met her gaze: those dark eyes that looked, everybody had always said, so much like his. "I should have saved him," he said simply.
Walburga inclined her head in agreement, silent and sad.
"Well," she said at last, "there's no need to take it so hard. You never were very good at follow-through, Sirius."
Sirius laughed. "Oh, look at you for follow-through. When you threw me out of this house you said you would never speak another word to me. And here you've done nothing but chatter like a bird since I got here."
His mother's banshee rage followed him as he fled up the stairs. He wasn't sure if he was crying or laughing, but he felt weirdly lighter than before.
He felt better than he had in a while.
For the prompt: Sirius Black and Walburga Black, "Climb down off your high horse and look after your brother at school!"