And so here we are, after five years in the making.
Many thanks to Cae-Leigh Anne, .2019, NotSureHowToMingle, zikashigaku, Warga, 19irene96 and auri-australis for your wonderful reviews. But thank you also to all the silent supporters that have followed this from the start, all the fans who have followed or favourited, and those of you who just stuck with me to see what would be at the end!
The first thing Regulus noticed was the cold.
He shivered in the gloom, despite having used "Lumos Maxima" twice already. His slippered feet already missed the warmth of his ancestral home as they shuffled over the uneven rocks, and for a brief moment he wondered exactly how he had forgotten something so simple as shoes.
The second thing was the oppression.
He was reluctant to cast a warming charm, though he could hear Rabastan scoffing at him in his mind. Scared of a little atmosphere? his best friend would tease, a glint in his devilish green eyes. Still, the most he did was gather his robes closer to his body. His face betrayed nothing and he was grateful that he wouldn't cause Kreacher more worry than he already had.
If all went to plan, Kreacher wouldn't need to worry for another day in his life.
Emma's ears popped as she stumbled out of oblivion onto her old welcome mat, still frayed at the edges. She gasped, barely hearing the faint noise of Kreacher's departure. Regulus's body was heavy in her arms and she shifted underneath his weight to transfer it onto her left shoulder.
'Lucy!' she cried, knocking on the door with her wand hand. 'Bast?' When there was no response, she banged even harder, not caring if she woke the neighbours. 'Bast! Rabastan, open this door right now or I'm breaking it down!'
There was a scuffling noise, and Emma continued to pound on the door even as the chain was taken out of the latch. The door creaked open to reveal a blearily-eyed Rabastan, his hair mussed in a way James Potter could only dream of.
'Emma, wha-' he mumbled, tiredly slurring his words as he rubbed his face with both hands. 'Don't you know what time it is -'
'Yes, I fucking know,' Emma cut him off, her voice tightly controlled to a lower volume now that she had her attention. She pushed past him through the doorway. 'Where's Lucy? Bast, where is Lucy, I need her right now!'
'She's in France, visiting her parents…' Rabastan's voice trailed off as he registered Regulus's presence. 'Reg? What happened to him?'
'Doesn't matter - can you help him?'
He bent over to check on the barely conscious man, Regulus's shallow breathing all too evident in the quiet that followed Emma's pleading words.
'I… I've never seen anything like this,' he muttered eventually, his voice shaking as yet again he ran a hand over his face. 'Maybe Luce…'
'That'll take too much time,' Emma replied shortly, her mind a whirr. She felt her heart beating rapidly in her chest, so fast and so hard that she thought it might burst out if she didn't take immediate action. 'I have to go.'
'Emma, wait, what-'
His words were met with empty air.
'Kreacher w-will drink,' the house-elf said bravely, his voice cracking. 'If Master asks it, Kreacher w-will d-do it.'
Regulus eyed the tears on his servant's - his first friend's - cheeks, fresh from the Dark Lord's torture and not yet dried. A wave of repulsion overcame him and he fought the urge to vomit.
The words felt like the surest of his life. Regulus, the little lion. Regulus, the brightest and bravest star in the galaxy. Cypress, the wand wood of the noble and self-sacrificing, the brave and the bold. Finally, he would live up to his name and destiny.
Regulus stepped up to the plinth, to the crystal goblet that had reduced Kreacher to his worst self. His hand did not tremble as he dipped it into the basin's liquid, but the veins in his fingers felt aflame with nerves.
Emma reappeared in Godric's Hollow. She swayed where she stood, feeling the effects of casting the Fiendyfire. With a few blinks of surprise, she realised that she had miraculously managed not to splinch herself.
Then again, she had focused on the little cottage her parents used to own with all her might. There were some things etched into her memory that she could not escape.
Regulus felt like dead weight in her arms, and for a second, she hesitated to cast a Featherlight Charm. Vaguely, she remembered Madam Pomfrey's warnings about using magic on someone damaged by magic. The grey pallor of Regulus's face stayed her wand, though as she stepped forwards she suddenly noticed that both of his legs were bleeding from bites she hadn't seen before.
And why would you? The wetness could have come from the water, a rational voice said in her mind. Ignoring the voice, her body sent a few guilty pangs to her heart. I should have known. I should have stopped. I should have…
There were too many "should haves" in her mind. She battered them away and locked them in crates too dark to notice. Occlumency was good for more than just lying to the Dark Lord, it seemed.
The lights were on inside, Emma noted, as she opened the small gate. That was a good sign. Ever since the war had worsened, James and Lily had been spending more and more time in their cottage. Emma had no trouble convincing James to strengthen the wards on his house, especially once it was clear there was a spy within the Order. In return, he had keyed her in, despite her insistence that she would never come back.
She had never been so glad to be ignored.
Stumbling up the path as quickly as she could, Emma thought to call out, to ask for Lily directly. But as she opened her mouth, she felt that she had barely the strength to hold Regulus up, let alone force her voice across the distance.
Ironically, the thought of letting Regulus down buoyed her and she rolled up her sleeves, wiping the sweat from her forehead before carrying on at a jog up the path. For the second time that night, she found herself pounding a front door down, panting from the exertion. As she leaned against it, the door opened easily and a black cat wound around her ankles in thanks as it snuck in in front of her.
Regulus moaned and shifted, his grey eyes roving beneath their lids.
'Regulus?' she asked frantically, propping him up against the open doorway as she felt his forehead. It was cold and clammy. 'Regulus, can you hear me?'
His eyes fluttered open, but they were a dull grey instead of the silver she had come to know and love. Hastily, as if it would cure him, Emma pressed her lips to his own. They were cold and unresponsive, and she felt tears streaming down her cheeks without warning.
'Regulus, I'm going to get Lily. Hold on, she'll save you,' she told him brokenly, hugging him to her in an effort to keep him warm. His feet found purchase, and she felt his weight ease a little as she slung his arm over hers.
'Lily!' she shouted, her voice returning with her breath.
Lily will help us. She has to. A vague image of the gentle redhead swam into her mind. She hadn't seen Lily for months, not since they had left school. A lifetime ago, her logical voice reminded her. Who knows how much the war has changed her?
'No,' she whispered aloud. Regulus had known Lily, even come to consider her as a friend. She would help him. And if she didn't want to, James would convince her. James could convince anyone.
'Lily!' she screamed again, hearing the panic in her voice as Regulus's head started slipping. She should tell her someone was injured, should explain the situation. But coherent thought could not form into coherent speech.
There was a murmur of voices from the kitchen and the sound of running footsteps. Emma sagged her head back in relief at the thought of help coming.
It's going to be all right, she told herself. Whatever it was, whatever the Dark Lord did to Regulus, we can fix it. Once Regulus comes to, he can make a plan. Or I'll make a plan and he'll point out all the flaws and make it better.
Her arms ached and shuddered with the effort of holding Regulus up next to her, and she took a few steps into the hallway. The kitchen door flung open and two figures emerged, a man and a woman.
But something was wrong. The man was too wide, the woman's face too round.
'Intruders!' the man yelled back, just as the woman's sharp eyes zoned in on Emma's bare forearms.
'Death Eaters,' she corrected coldly, drawing her wand.
The man's wand was out half a second later as they shouted in unison.
As if in a dream, Emma noted that they both sent nonverbal stunners to follow up. She ducked, and then saw no more.
The potion tasted like… nothing.
It was cool, as if drinking from a fresh stream of water without any of the sweetness. Kreacher pulled on his bat-like ears nervously, so Regulus gave him a soothing smile and took another gobletful.
And then the delusions set in.
It was no longer Kreacher standing there, but Sirius. His face was bloodied and his clothes were torn. He had his hands clutched to his chest, hiding them from the world. But the worst of it was his face. Such pain and agony, Regulus had never seen, not even during the Cruciatus.
I trusted you, Sirius's voice whispered in his ears. You were supposed to protect me from her.
'I did!' Regulus cried desperately, wishing he could reach out to his brother. Instead, his hand scooped up another glass of liquid. 'I tried!'
You failed. Sirius unfurled his arms, revealing a hole in his ribs where his heart should beat. She took it.
'I did everything I could,' Regulus whispered, feeling his eyes fill with burning tears. 'I was just a child.'
So was I.
Something brushed at the edge of Regulus's consciousness, a cup pressed to his lips. The liquid was soothing and he gulped it greedily, eager to drink the pain away. When he looked up, Sirius was gone.
Consciousness flickered into being. Emma opened her eyes to a world upside down and her brother's voice arguing over her. A cat's sideways yellow eyes stared at her from across the hall.
'That's my sister, how dare you -'
'She's a bloody Death Eater, James, open your eyes -'
'James, how were Frank and Alice to know-'
'Who the fuck bloody barges in and doesn't expect-'
'She shouted for help, was she going to cry you to death -'
The cat wasn't upside down, nor was it sideways. Emma was just lying on the floor. She lifted her head and it felt like Atlas shifting the world. The cat meowed and ran away.
She blinked slowly, squeezing her eyes shut to try and make sense of things. Her tongue felt fuzzy and her brain numb. When she opened them, the room swam back into view, slowly focusing until she no longer saw double. She turned her head and saw Regulus's usually neat and tidy black hair, now a messy mop of water and algae dripping onto the floor.
Reality slammed back into her like a hammer and she gasped.
'Lily,' she said weakly, but it was enough.
Four heads turned down to look at her and suddenly her weak body flooded with adrenaline. Before she could realise what she was doing, her wand was out and she was crouched over Regulus.
'You,' she spat at the couple.
One was blonde and the other dark, and they both had the kind of face that she would trust in an instant if she hadn't known what they were capable of. She vaguely recognised the woman - from school? From a duel?
Immediately, she cast a Shield Charm, and the woman mirrored it a second later. Definitely an Auror. Or a member of the Phoenix.
'Stop!' James shouted, his face like thunder. He crossed to stand between Emma and the couple, his hands splayed out and his wand forgotten in his pocket. 'We've just talked about this.'
The arguing started again, and Emma crawled over to check on Regulus. His legs were bound with bandages, but he wasn't moving. She brushed the hair out of his face, her fingers lingering on his cheek. It was still cold.
Sensing a presence above her, she snapped her wand back up, only to be met with the luminous green eyes of Lily Potter.
'Easy,' Lily murmured, holding her hands up to show she had no wand. 'I'm not going to hurt you.'
'Can you help him?' Emma asked, lowering her wand in a heartbeat. She would take any chance she could.
Lily's large eyes filled with sadness and pity. She reached out a delicate hand to touch Emma's arm. Emma flinched as the Gryffindor's cool fingers touched the inflamed Dark Mark on her skin. The Dark Lord had called while she had been unconscious, but how long had that been for?
Despite that, Lily did not move, and Emma felt a lump rise to her throat at the act of kindness. She took Lily's hand and placed it on Regulus's unconscious body. At least his breath was no longer rattling.
'Help him,' Emma pleaded, her voice as low as Lily's. 'You're my only hope.'
Her voice caught in her throat, and she leant over to clutch Regulus's cold hand in her own.
Perhaps she hadn't realised it before, because Regulus's hands had felt like ice since they had left the cave. Perhaps it was because she had been focused on the threat above them. But now, as the ringing started in her ears and Lily's lips moved without sound, she realised why Lily didn't have her wand out. Why Lily wasn't helping.
Regulus's hand was stiff in hers, his palms, always soft to the touch, unyielding in her grip. Hesitantly, unwillingly, she laid her head on his chest. His rattling breath, that she had been so worried about, had gone because there was no breath left.
The lump rose to her mouth and she felt fresh tears spring from her eyes. She was supposed to be in shock. She wasn't supposed to cry yet. But as the pain formed a knot in her heart that felt it would burst and her mouth twisted shut to keep it all in, her body betrayed her in the only way it had left.
Dimly, she felt Lily's hand on her shoulder as she hugged Regulus to her, feeling her body wrack with sobs and pretending that it was his moving with breath. She willed her warmth to flood into his veins, and for a moment, she believed it true. But when she raised her head eagerly to see the light in his eyes, they remained stubbornly shut.
Accidental magic, that hateful voice whispered in her mind as she shook her head, clenching her hands into fists.
The word burst from her mouth and then her throat tightened around it, allowing no more. Why would Regulus give up like this, moments away from being saved, after surviving so many Apparition attempts?
'The Stunners,' Lily replied softly. 'One might have been enough, but two in his condition…'
Emma looked around at that, feeling her eyes burn with fury. Lily withdrew, alarmed. The argument had stopped by now, and James looked aghast, his face as grey as Regulus's had been but a few moments ago. The two behind him had at least the decency to look ashamed, though their stiff backs and raised heads showed that they still believed in what they had done.
'Emma,' James started, taking a step forwards.
Her wand twitched, itching to use dark magic. Itching to burn the whole place down with Fiendyfire, to hell with whoever she took down with it. The adrenaline suddenly flowing through her veins burned, as though her arms and legs had been set aflame.
She had to leave. She would not regret the deaths of these two nameless enemies.
But she would regret James and Lily's.
And she would regret what became of her.
So she turned tail and ran as fast as she could to the wards, despite James and Lily both calling after her.
The liquid burned through Regulus's throat and into his stomach. It felt like fire eating him from the inside out. He writhed and moaned, hoping that it would leave, and found himself begging for more, for the precious coolness in his mouth and the respite it gave him from his nightmares.
He covered his eyes with one hand, but curiosity had him peeking out all the same. She was still there. The white feathered dress from their wedding day swayed in a non-existent breeze. Her face was beautiful, as it had ever been, her blue eyes alight with joy and purpose.
She noticed him and knelt down. The slippery rocks did nothing to the floating fabric of her dress, and that was important, for some reason. As for himself, he could feel the damp moss on his clothes, the clamminess of his hands from the chill.
They must all die, don't you see? Emma asked, her voice sweeter than he remembered it. Emma's voice was light with laughter or harsh with anger and fear, but never sweet. But this time it was. All the Muggles, all the Muggleborns.
She laughed, and the laughter was cruel and mocking in its gaiety. She rose to her feet in one smooth motion and twirled and twirled until the feathers took flight. All the Muggles, all the Muggleborns, all the blood traitors. And you. She stopped, her blue eyes staring straight into his soul. And you, you traitor.
'No,' Regulus mumbled. 'We're going to fix things, remember? We're going to make the world better.'
She cocked her head, her black hair falling like a waterfall onto one shoulder. The world will only be better, she said slowly, when you're no longer in it.
'But I love you,' Regulus cried, tears leaking from his eyes. 'Don't leave me!'
But Emma only laughed again and twirled into nothingness, replaced by the sweet liquid that was his lifeblood.
'Emma? Emma, I've been looking for you everywhere,' Rabastan cried frantically, running towards her and grasping her by the shoulders. 'I asked Kreacher, but all he would do was box his ears with Walburga's old stockings and I've told my brother you were attacked; he called the Dark Lord but I was too worried to go, did you go? Where's Regulus?'
Dazed by the onslaught, Emma's brain felt as though it was moving through particularly thick slime. The ringing in her ears hadn't abated, though it had quieted to a hum. She frowned at Rabastan, whose large warm hands still gripped her arms. Her body sucked in the heat, greedily gulping it up through her still-damp clothes.
Abruptly, she realised that she was shivering. A silly thing to be worried about, and one she felt guilty for. There are more important things than feeling cold, she admonished herself as the sobs rose up through her throat once again. It was as though some strange creature had taken control, using her voice and body as a medium and all she could do was push it in one direction.
Regulus. She needed Regulus. He had been able to calm her, when all seemed lost. He was her rock, the person she clung to when life's currents were roaring all around them. Now that he was gone, what was left? James, Rabastan, Lucy. The tattered remnants of an existence that no longer made sense.
The Dark Lord.
He had killed Regulus, as surely as the two in the cottage had.
Alice Fawley. The name came back to her along with the badge. A Hufflepuff Prefect who had tried to comfort her in her third year when she cried over Gryffindors. Her voice had been kind, back then. Before she had become Alice Longbottom.
She didn't deserve to be remembered.
Emma tried to summon her righteous anger, the one that burned as mightily as her Fiendyfire serpents. In its place, she felt… tired. She let the thought of Alice Longbottom slip away.
It was easy to close her eyes, to step into Rabastan's embrace. To bury her face in his chest and seek comfort in the softness of his pyjamas, the ones streaked with Regulus's blood and now streaked with her tears. He sniffed, once, twice, and then his sobs roared like a gale.
He had always been a bit of a Hufflepuff on the inside, after all.
'Water,' Regulus croaked, his throat like dry parchment. He clutched a locket to him as if his life depended on it, but for the life of him couldn't remember its significance. At least the illusions were gone. 'Need water.'
With a snap of his fingers, Kreacher summoned a drink into existence. Regulus took it gratefully, but when he tried to drink, it evaporated.
'Kreacher,' he tried to say, but the word stuck in his throat. He mimed drinking and the house elf looked confused, his large eyes crinkling into his wrinkles.
There had been liquid in the basin. Regulus dragged himself upright, swaying as he stood. For a moment, he thought he might vomit. He retched, but nothing came out. He gripped the basin, stabilising himself on the cool marble. A glint caught his eye.
A locket, like the one he had on his chest. It had replaced the potion. How odd.
It looked the same, only… darker. Heavier.
Drawn by something he could not name, Regulus reached down and plucked the prize out of the cauldron. It was the same, but different. This one had no discernible clasp.
'Master,' Kreacher tugged on Regulus's robes, his voice rising to a high-pitched whine. 'Dark magic. That is what the Dark Lord made Kreacher hide. Dark necklace.'
There was something important in the house-elf's words. Regulus couldn't think, not with the all-consuming thirst fighting for dominance.
There had been water in the lake.
Some small voice shouted, screamed for attention. He would listen to it later.
For now, Regulus needed to drink.
'Rudy's gone to get Bella,' Rabastan said comfortingly, lapsing into childhood nicknames. He kissed the top of Emma's head. It felt wrong. She didn't deserve comfort. Not when Regulus had lacked so much of it.
She pulled away, brushing the droplets from her face. She could no longer tell which were hers and which were Rabastan's, whose long eyelashes were dripping with silent tears. His green eyes were bright with revenge. She narrowed her eyes and thinned her lips, staring into them. Maybe if she focused enough, she could take some of his energy for her own.
'Just tell me who did it.'
Emma shied from the intensity of his voice, but not before she saw his worried frown. Guilt and self-hatred warred within her heart, but neither was able to break her barrier. Anger had been her shield, once. Now, when she needed it most, it eluded her, flitting through the fragments of her soul.
'Longbottom,' she whispered.
As if on cue the Mark burned again.
'He's coming,' Rabastan breathed, his face set in hard lines. 'They'll pay for this, I promise you. If it's the last thing I do.'
At his earnest face, Emma realised that he was speaking the truth. He would hunt Alice Longbottom to the ends of the earth, if he could. And the Dark Lord would hunt him too, once he knew the truth of Emma and Regulus's deception.
'Thank you, Bast,' she said, overcome with how much she meant it. She touched a hand to his cheek, feeling the slight stubble that now grazed it. She worked her jaw, unwilling to ruin the moment she wanted to treasure. 'You've been a good friend. The best.'
'I still can be,' he replied in a hurt tone, confused. 'Emma, we'll get the bastards together. We can defeat them, bring Regulus back.'
He thought she had escaped the Longbottoms. He didn't realise that she had left Regulus in a panic, scared of what she might become.
'Send my love to Lucy,' she said instead, stepping back over the entranceway. And then, because she didn't like that finality, 'I'll see you soon.'
Regulus sighed in relief as the cool water lapped at his cheeks.
His mind cleared from the fog, he rose to his feet and turned, lifting the locket from around his neck. He made the switch with only the slightest twinge of guilt.
Emma would understand. At least, he hoped she would.
'Umm… Master…' Kreacher's voice was filled with trepidation.
'What?' Regulus snapped, regretting his tone as soon as he saw the house-elf's eyes fill with tears.
Before Kreacher even raised one trembling finger, Regulus felt a sharp pain in his calf.
'Ouch,' he hissed, turning around.
The sight before him had him stumbling back. Inferi, more than he had ever seen before, crawled towards him, rising from the murky depths. He tried to back away, and instead tripped as the nearest ones dug their claws in further, dragging him towards them. His wand cluttered to the ground, rolling away.
'Master!' Kreacher shouted, horrified. The elf snapped his fingers and the pressure on Regulus's leg relaxed. Then Kreacher screeched and Regulus twisted to see his trusted servant disappear under a swarm of bodies.
'Kreacher!' he yelled, relieved when Kreacher Apparated out of harm's way. He tried to scramble away from the corpses, but there were too many. All too quickly they were gaining ground, and he felt his bare feet touch the water's edge. Panicked, Regulus realised that they weren't going to get away.
We aren't going to get away, he corrected himself as he saw Kreacher reappear on the altar. But that doesn't mean one of us can't.
'Kreacher!' he shouted, splashing out of the water in a demented leap of faith. 'I order you to take the locket and destroy it! Tell no one and do nothing else until the deed is done! Go, now!'
The last thing Regulus saw was his house-elf's betrayed face before he sank into the depths of the pool. At least, he told himself with a smile, Sirius will be proud of me.
He closed his eyes to the pain and instead imagined himself swimming in the Black Lake, Emma's insouciant laugh reverberating through his thoughts.
Emma gasped for breath as she reappeared in Godric's Hollow. Her left thigh grew warm and wet and when she pressed her hand against the cloth of her robes, it came away with blood.
I was bound to get unlucky at one point, she supposed, realising that she had splinched. Hopefully, that was all she had left at Rabastan's flat.
Reluctantly, she half-limped, half dragged herself to the hateful cottage.
Why do I do this to myself? she asked herself, regulating her breathing as she got closer. Her leg buckled, nearly causing her to collapse, but she refused to let it until she found herself in the warm glow of lanterns on the cottage front porch.
If she sat here, just for a minute, she could pretend that the sleepy village of Godric's Hollow was just that, a sleepy village. The soft light could be just that, an evening coming to a close as she and James drank hot chocolates on the sofa in the living room. Regulus would be reading a book about history, too dry and complicated for her to begin to try to understand, but he wouldn't mind if she poked his feet with her own. On the edges of her conjured image hovered Lily and their other friends.
A life that they might have led, if war hadn't dragged them all down with it.
She shifted, and her robes crinkled. Frowning, she felt within the pocket for the soggy parchment. If she cast a warming charm just so, then it might still be legible.
'Emma!' her brother's surprised voice came from the doorway, but she barely heard it, absorbed by the slanting, perfect calligraphy that she knew so well.
If all goes to plan, I will be back long before you read this and you will awake as I safely remove the note from your pocket. If all goes to plan, you will never read this.
Nevertheless, I feel the need to write this note, for as you so often say, nothing ever goes to plan. And so, if you read this, I want my last words to you to be of love and happiness, to bring you joy even through the sadness.
Do you remember when we boarded the Hogwarts Express for the first time? I told you once that I fell in love with your laugh on the platform, though I was too young to understand it yet. Well, that may not have been the entire story. You see, when a black kitten jumped onto the train behind you and I scooped up, it was the first spontaneous act of my life. I knew that we had to meet, and Fluffy - as I now know him - was the only way I could think how.
The second impulsive act of my life was that day in the rain, when you kissed me with fireworks and my feelings tumbled out of my mouth like leaves swept in the wind. I threw my caution in the air and you caught it with two hands, and you've been catching me ever since.
From the moment I became aware of myself, of my family, of my place within it and the tensions without, I have known that I have lived on borrowed time, preserved and stolen from Death by my caution. And then you showed me a cause worth fighting for, even if that cause ended up to be the wrong one.
And so here we are, seven years on. Nothing has changed: I am still caught within the Dark Lord's web and I am still in love with you. And yet everything has changed and I can see a chance to make things right, to snatch peace with both hands and never let go. Perhaps Ollivander wasn't so wrong all those years ago, in the end. The Dark Lord will meet his match on fairer terms by the time I am finished. Look through my files, they include information about the objects we were searching for.
And please, take care of Kreacher. You are all he has now, and he is yours by marriage, by law. I can only hope that when we meet again, you will forgive me.
Yours faithfully and forever,
A hand gently shook Emma's arm, and with a shock, she realised that her brother was kneeling in front of her.
'Emma?' James asked, sitting alongside her.
Emma drew in a breath. A deep, shuddering one. The kind that rejuvenated all the oxygen in your body just as you thought you would expire. And for the first time in a very long time, she felt the absence of chaos. Though her heart still felt like a gaping hole, she was no longer in turmoil.
The Dark Lord would be defeated. One day. But she knew in her bones that the fight no longer belonged to her. Regulus had been the one to spark her interest in the war, and it was only fitting that he be the one who snuffed it out.
Besides, something had shattered within her mind. The Dark Lord would be able to read her like a first year Herbology essay and she would risk all of her loved ones, on both sides of the war. And then, what would Regulus's sacrifice had been for?
It was the coward's way out, but self-preservation had always been the Slytherin way.
'James,' she said, and her voice was sure. James startled, ruffling his hair even as he frowned at her. 'I need you to do something for me. And you're not going to like it.'
'Anything,' he replied eagerly, his hazel eyes scanning hers as he took her hand in both of his. 'I swear.'
'You're going to have to be brave for the both of us,' she warned. 'I need you to promise.'
'Of course,' James swore again, making a strange motion above his heart.
To the Dark Lord,
I know I will be dead long before you read this but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret. I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can. I face death in the hope that when you meet your match, you will be mortal once more.
They held Regulus's funeral by the sea.
Or rather, James dug the grave and Emma gave him one final kiss as the seaside wind blew her hair in her face. She smoothed his jet black hair to the side, preserving the neatness Regulus had so loved in life, and crossed his arms across his chest. He looked like a marble statue, she thought, as she sat back on her feet. She motioned with her wand and he rose gently, before falling into the space below. With another whisper lost in the wind, the soil lifted into an arc, settling back as if nothing had ever been there before.
She would write the inscription when it was all over. So that everyone could see his sacrifice. But for now, there would be one last plot. One last deceit, before the war was over. Instead, she closed her eyes and drew on the remnants of her Herbology knowledge. Her wand warmed between her fingers, and she knew even before she looked that poppies would flower here year round.
I won't forget you, she thought fiercely. Or what you've done, or where you've been, or what you mean to me.
A sudden panic seized her heart and she turned to her brother, as solemn as he was hours ago when she told him of her plan.
'And you'll come back for me,' she said, her voice quavering despite herself, 'when it's all over. You promise?'
'I promise,' James replied, his face a mask of agony as he choked on a sob. He had never been good at hiding his emotions.
Neither of them had.
Emma refrained from taking a step forward, from hugging him as if it was the last time she would see him. She refrained from saying goodbye, even as he shakily rose his wand and pointed it square at her.
After all, James never broke his promises.