Chapter 1: Prologue
'How did such a demon hide amongst them for so long?' Regulus asked himself, clawing at his throat, gasping out for breath, desperately trying to keep his focus through the pain. Burnt, rotting flesh filled his nose, the taste infecting his mouth, Regulus's eyes watering as swallowed down lungfuls of smoke into his dry throat.
The flames around him flicked again, retreating towards him as more dead rose from watery depths. Oh, how he wished to plunge his head into that lake, to sate this damnable thirst. The very thought of it had the ring of fire around him shrinking further, allowing the predatory dead closer.
No man could come up with this torture. An endless thirst drawing Regulus toward his death, pain having him doubled over, clutching his wand as horrifying visions assaulted his senses. Another devastating spectacle ran rampant through his skull, parading the mutilated forms of his family… his brother... his wife.
Only a demon would create such things to be sure.
Only an evil, terrifying, buffoon of a creature would attack him with such things. HIM.
Gritting his teeth, Regulus straightened. Conjured fire burnt away the inferni, the rotting animated corpses subservient to that idiotic creature, all the way back to the water's edge. Never before had he been so certain that they had been deceived. No being with an ounce of humanity would torment someone with such visions and expect them to break.
Regulus was a Black. Black's do not break when you threaten those they care about, they do not buckle, they do not get scared. They. Get. Even.
No half-blooded, inhuman, monster would break a proud son of the house of Black.
"Master Regulus," the voice of Kreacher, his servant rang out over the crackling fires.
Looking down at him, Regulus saw his house-elf, a frail creature in a loincloth barely a third of his height, staring at him with a mix of fear and wonder. Not fear of him, never, but concern for his beloved master. In his hands was that demon's treasure, an object that could not be allowed to exist, lest they all be lost.
Darkness began to cloud the edges of his sight, blood trickling from Regulus' mouth, his fists clenched as his fire started to boil the lake around him. Seizing a moment of clarity through the pain and delirium, Regulus looked at this forearm, glaring at the mark of the demon.
Would he know? Was Regulus' mind secure enough from that monster that he wouldn't discover the deception too early? Could his family be safe if the demon did learn what had happened?
"Take it," Regulus Black bit out, grabbing the back of Kreacher's neck to force their eyes to meet. "Destroy it, Kreacher, and tell no one of what happened here. Promise me Kreacher."
"Of course Master," Kreacher nodded, but still felt a chill go through him at the sight of Regulus' grey unwavering eyes.
"And keep them safe Kreacher," Regulus gasped out, "keep her safe," the house-elf taken back by the pleading in his master's voice. At Kreacher's nod, Regulus gave a bloody smile, a hint of the 'Black madness' in his eyes. "Thank you Kreacher, you were the best house-elf our family could ask for. Now go."
Grinning, Regulus Black turned towards the water, never daring to look back as he marched.
Kreacher didn't leave. Not as Regulus walked tall like any Black should. Not as the fire parted for its master before flickering and fading. Even as shadows embraced him, Kreacher watched, only escaping the cave as Regulus was pulled beneath the surface by a hundred hands, thirst finally sated.
Blackest depths consumed the noble families last star, but his light never truly dimmed.
Regulus Black died with a smile on his face, with his eyes closed, mind on warmer things.
Miles away, Kreacher arrived in the family house, wailing.
The rooms would keep his secrets, voice never carrying as he hammered away at the accursed object he was charged to destroy. Lesser families would have just tried to use muggle, non-magical, means to destroy the object, or some minor charms their small minds were capable of. Kreacher had the entire arsenal of the noble and most ancient house of Black, hundreds of years of dark artifice, with the mourning despair to use every single object.
Hours of fury later, a broken whimper that cut Kreacher away from his own ravings. It didn't originate from this room, but Kreacher could hear anything that happened in this house, especially any sound made by his mistress.
Arriving with a crack, Kreacher heard his mistress Walburga Black let out a pained sob, not a sound any would expect from the matriarch of house Black. Fingers tracing the wall, tears flowed down the woman's aged face as she convulsed with growing lament.
Before long, the years of propriety and control crumbled away as the lady of the house broke into unrestrained cries. Drawn by Walburga's anguish, a shadow crossed over the door, raven hair flying wildly as the young lady Black rushed in to see what had upset her mother in law.
It was easy to see when her mind registered what was written on the family tapestry. Dropping to her knees, silent tears flowed down her face, mouth trying to form some sort of denial.
But it was useless. The family magic could not lie about such things, unapologetic reality staring back at those left behind as Walburga traced the words.
Walburga Black was not the fastest griever, but the wizarding world didn't lend itself well towards denial, at least not concerning those who were definitely dead. Letters arrived offering condolences arrived before the remaining women of house Black even sent out the news. The purest, most deluded, families, sending their useless sympathies at the loss of such a bright star.
Which led Walburga promptly into anger. No. RAGE, furry at the hollow words of men who likely serve the demon who took HER son. Kreacher, ever the loyal servant, tried to remove anything valuable from her warpath, leaving light meals in an attempt to get his mistress to eat.
Days into weeks of outbursts eventually led her to the Black Library. Tall stacks of the most esoteric arcane grimoires were searched. There had to be something, someway, anyway! No cost was too high for her precious star.
While Walburga starved herself in search of knowledge, the young Widow of House Black wrote letters to those who mattered: the Wizengamot; family; ... Sirius… When Walburga finally burned out, she couldn't even find it in her to be angry about the latter's lack of reply.
Waking to the ringing of a cloth, Walburga tiredly watched her daughter in law, part of her hating the girl. How could she be so calm? How was she looking after Walburga when she should be on her own sickbed from grief alone?
That probably wasn't fair.
Walburga remembered happier times, Regulus coming home from Hogwarts school, telling her and Orion, his recently late father, of this girl. Thank god she was pureblood, for even Walburga herself doubted she could move Regulus' heart away from the raven-haired girl. When he spoke of school, he spoke of her. Regulus even had a rare fight with Walburga's disgraceful- with Sirius about her.
Not that he needed to. The girl admonished Regulus herself as she healed his cuts and bruises; her eyes would never wander. They married at the first opportunity, straight out of school! Good thing too considering as it was almost too late…
A light dapping of wet cloth against her forehead brought Walburga from her newest loathings. Her daughter in law gave a soft smile, one that was far from her eyes, skin glowing just a tad too pale as she always was.
"We need you better soon, Walburga," the thin woman whispered as if the sound could break one of them.
"We?" Walburga chuckled humorously, only for her daughter in law to guide Walburga's hand to her stomach.
Confused, Walburga looked between the woman's dark circled eyes and her hand. Sending a pulse of magic, Walburga's mind stalled as she felt not her own magic, nor the girl's, but another's.
"Regulus' light shines bright," Walburga gasped out, unable to take her hand away.
Looking between the two, Kreacher had no idea what they were talking about. Though he was glad that colour started to return to his mistress' face for the first time in months.
"KREACHER!" Walburga's voice shouted out, gaining flinches from the other occupants of the room as she threw the covers off the bed, leaping to her feet. "Get this woman to a bed immediately, and cook something healthy for her."
"You need rest more than me, Walburga," the girl objected. "It's still early days for me, you should focus on getting better yourself-"
Glaring at her silly daughter, Walburga gave her a look. One easily be translated to, 'I will tie you to the bed for nine months and force-feed you if necessary'. Holding up her hands in surrender, the young Widow made her way to her room as Wulburga went to the kitchens to supervise Kreacher.
Faster than non-magically possible, the three were in the same room, a tray packed full of food in front of the resting woman. When Kreacher finally asked why they were suddenly so happy, he too rejoiced.
Regulus Black had left behind a child. Well, in eight or nine months at least.
Not that anyone outside the house knew. Walburga couldn't think of any she could trust completely; from her traitorous son to Regulus' possible killers, none could know until the child was safe.
The previously catatonic head of House Black was more animated than ever in the coming months. No expense was spared, no craving left unsated, no risks permitted. Yet, despite her and Kreacher's actions, no resident of Grimmauld place was blind to what was going to happen.
Regulus' gaunt-faced Widow least of all.
Shown most when she passed an open book from the Black Library to her mother in law.
"Are you certain?" Walburga asked, voice trembling in the most alien way for those who knew the dreadnaught of House Black. "There's a chance you could…"
"I know," the heavily pregnant woman replied, a thin but content smile on her face. "But this is worth it."
Stillness dragged on between the two women, both knowing what this decision would mean. Part of Walburga cursed herself, wishing she would object, deny the future mother this request. But how could she?
"She will be strong," Walburga whispered, resigned to the fate they had chosen.
"Have you thought of a name yet?" Walburga tried to remove what was to come from her mind, with little success.
"I'll tell you on the day," the Widow replied, squeezing Walburga's hand with far less force than she should have had.
"So I'm too emotional to say no?" Walburga chuckled, her world lighting up slightly.
"So you're too emotional to say no," the Widow agreed, coughing out a laugh of her own.
For the entire nine months, no one entered or left Grimmauld place. Invites were declined, obligations ignored, requests burned. Only Kreacher ever ventured out, even then only for supplies, making sure his Mistresses wanted for nothing.
After too many dizzy spells, the Widow was confined to her bed rest. Never leaving without Kreacher and Walburga there to help. Even magic was forbidden; too taxing on her body, but the woman never complained.
All too soon, yet far too late, the end of the pregnancy finally arrived. Laying in bed, the Widow was handed her precious cargo, wrapped in the house colour's gurgling like any happy newborn should.
"Leonis." The woman whispered, her voice echoing through the other occupants. "Leonis Black; so Regulus will always be at her heart."
For the rest of her life, Walburga would remember the image before her, a smiling mother cradling her beautiful baby girl.
Neither she nor Kreacher could tell precisely when the new mother stopped breathing.
Perhaps it was moments after she spoke her daughter's name, or seconds before they noticed her vacant eyes. Carefully Walburga extracted Leonis from her mother's embrace, pulling her free of the weak, pale arms littered with freshly carved runes that held her.
Placing a soft kiss on her daughter's head, Walburga whispered her thanks, knowing she'd never fully be able to repay this debt.
Walburga didn't cry.
She denied herself, for now, knowing that it would just upset the beautiful new life in her arms. No one would take this star from her. Leonis would light the way for Black family, burning her way to greatness.
Regulus' last light would shine, Walbuga would make sure of it.