Cupboardful of Slytherin
Disclaimer: The following is not purely original fiction, but rather characters, settings, and situations as created by J.K. Rowling. No money is being made of this piece of fanfiction and can not be reproduced for any purposes but strictly private entertainment.
A/N: grins Isn't this a great premise for a slash SS/RB fic? What all with them in a closet? Opportunity wasted. And yes, yes, I'm still working on Shadows, and the fourth chapter is almost finished. Please don't scold me about it. Many, many thanks to auroraziazan – insert wave and a blown kiss here – for posting this for me. If you happen to like this, then you probably owe her at least one read and review as well. Just a suggestion.
A/N: Since when can we not separate the different parts of the story? sighs But I think this fic can survive if not thrive without.
Regulus had to admit, Severus Snape was a crash course in education for a sheltered kid like himself. If only he'd had this - opportunity - four years ago, he would have been much more adept at swearing than he had been. And even now it wasn't quite too late to learn.
For Snape was giving him an absolute earful. The second Sirius had gleefully slammed the door shut, Snape had turned around, flown to the door, and thrown himself against it. It took a little longer for complete comprehension to dawn on Regulus - not that he'd ever say as much to his current (and hopefully temporary) roommate. And Snape had undoubtedly hastened that dawn of understanding.
It was a few minutes into their imprisonment. Sirius's - and Potter's - triumphant laughter had dissipated; evidently they weren't sticking around for the moment Snape opened the door again. No one wanted to be on the end of a vindictive Snape. It was all well and good so long as you got his wand away from him, something Sirius and Potter had found out ages ago, but once he got it back, as eventually he always did, there was nothing short of hell to pay. In that vein, Regulus couldn't understand how exactly Sirius qualified for the House of the Foolishly Noble. Not that he was worried about it himself, but their method seemed to have an air of unGryffindorish cowardice to it.
And Snape had subsided, apparently spent. He gave the door one more good kick, which brought out no effect whatsoever, and rounded on Regulus, who had already thrown off some rubber gloves in order to sit on a pile of burlap sacks. Quite fortunately, he seemed to have taken out most of his anger on the door.
'Don't look at me, Snape,' Regulus said promptly, somehow managing to keep his voice cool, indifferent, and composed. He always tried to keep himself fairly bored: being calm was always easier that way. Merlin, if he infuriated Snape right now… Snape hated him enough to begin with: he had committed the cardinal sin of being Sirius Black's brother.
'I'll look at you if I bloody well want to!' returned Snape.
'I'd sing a different tune if I were you,' Regulus snapped.
'Well, guess what, Black - we're in here, and the only idiots who care about bloodlines are out there.' He jerked his head toward the door; his long, lanky hair was so weighed with oil that it barely flopped, something Regulus noted in incredulous malice.
'I care about bloodlines, thank you.'
'But you have no one to back you up, do you? How do you possibly expect to try to play the prince act in here?'
'Because we'll get out at some point, and then you'll answer to people whose lineage makes them your betters.' Regulus folded his arms and stared determinedly at the wall. After a while, as Snape considered and weighed his options, Regulus said: 'At least they found a big cupboard to shove us in.'
It was big enough, perhaps, but it smelled like Mrs Norris's loo.
'It's full of Filch's rejected stuff that he keeps asking the teachers to fix for him. He visits it once in a blue moon, and I saw him here last week,' Snape said gloomily.
'Thank Salazar!' In response to Snape's quirked eyebrow, barely visible, sandwiched between the shadows only partially fought by the cupboard's lone candle, Regulus explained impatiently: 'Do you want to explain to Filch what we're doing in here?'
Snape seemed on the verge of conceding the point when he scowled and shook his head vehemently. 'A detention is nothing - I don't know about you, but I have exams starting tomorrow.'
Regulus could hardly miss the sarcasm, but he could return it. 'Figures. We're locked for an indefinite amount of time in a small cupboard, lacking the necessities of life, and Severus Snape is worried about his exams.' He saw that Snape was paying no attention to him: he was standing in front of and examining the door as he stroked his chin, as if staring long enough would open it. Now, Regulus was a boy who knew better than anyone the value of being ignored, which was preferable to being tormented, but at the moment the whole affaire had made him both cranky and contrary, and he yawned expansively. 'Well, I'm not worried. I'll do decently enough, and that's all of my concern. Those from worthless bastard lines, though - they have to hustle.'
'My hustling will get us out of here far more quickly than your not worrying.'
It could not be denied that Snape had a point, and Regulus decided not to push it. Unlike his brother, he had a vague idea of how far too far was.
Five minutes later, Snape, who seemed to be doing more standing and pondering than hustling, growled with exasperation and punched the door again.
'Doesn't that hurt your hand?' Regulus asked lazily.
'This is your fault, you know,' Snape snarled, throwing himself on the ground. Instead of sitting, however, he crashed into an unseen pile of Muggle cleaning supplies.
'Or that, too?' Regulus continued, and asked, mock-interestedly, 'Or does Muggle blood cause some resistance to pain?'
For a moment there was no verbal reply, at least to him, but then Snape seemed to decide that cursing the plastic, wood, and damp yarn was relieved his feelings far less than taking them out on another human being was.
'It is your fault,' Snape repeated, although when they got out and Snape confronted Sirius Regulus was reasonably certain that Snape would decide it was, in fact, Sirius's fault. Or, if he could only find Potter, then the blame would rest solely with Potter. And, when Snape returned to the Slytherin dungeons at eleven o'clock that night from a detention for hexing one or both of the Gryffindors in question, he would find Regulus, wake him up, and again decide that Regulus was to be held responsible.
It was just the strange way in which Snape's mind worked. When Regulus came to Hogwarts four years ago, most were willing to not hold him accountable for his brother's already-infamous actions, whether out of respect for the Black family or whether out of just being intelligent enough to see that they were two different people. Snape wasn't among them. Had Snape been slightly more decent, Regulus would have empathised with him - Snape was Sirius's and his partner-in-crime Potter's chronic victim. But after suffering Snape's wrath for four years now, Regulus could see why Sirius didn't like him and almost secretly forgive Sirius every humiliation Snape-ward.
Except that if Sirius hadn't acted like such an idiot, such a fool, if he'd acted more like the pureblood aristocrat he was, then he wouldn't have harassed Snape - as much - and not with Potter's help - and Snape wouldn't decide that Regulus Black deserved to pay for it nearly as much as Sirius Black.
'Oh, yes? And how's it my fault that you rose to Potter's bait again?' demanded Regulus, whom, it must be said, had an inexhaustible supply of italics.
'You told him where I was and gave them your wand, imbecile!'
Now, this was true, and unfortunately Regulus knew that Snape had easily overheard it. But as much as he was wary of Snape - who was going to snap and start whaling away at him sooner or later - he was terrified of James Potter, and not exactly eager to cross Sirius, either. Before this year, Sirius had chosen to ignore Regulus rather than actively bully him, an arrangement that Regulus, ashamed of Sirius's well-known and unBlackish tendencies, was content with.
However, just last summer Sirius had aggravated his parents at a particularly bad time - when their cousin, Andromeda, had eloped with a Mudblood. Sirius just didn't know when to shut up was the long and short of it, and his father, angry, had punished him appropriately by doing it for him with a modified Silencing Charm.
The modification was that it was irreversible until Sirius attempted to say something that reflected properly on his heritage in front of four witnesses. And, as Sirius probably couldn't imagine how to fulfill that requirement, Mother had foresightfully written out a statement for him. Regulus had skimmed it and thought that Sirius might find imposed silence a welcome alternative to saying it. Even Regulus thought it was a touch old-fashioned and extreme - these weren't medieval times - but Sirius would never realise that, after all, they were only words, and that after saying them he could speak freely again.
No, Sirius had, rather amazingly, submitted to not saying another word all summer and had even gone off to Hogwarts, still stubbornly refusing to read the statement or anything. And somehow Sirius and Potter had decided that Regulus was at fault here. Regulus wasn't certain how Sirius had gotten the Silencing Charm off, but ever since he had been particularly vicious toward Regulus.
And the whole nasty affaire of the Silencing Charm had started Regulus's wide and healthy berth of James Potter. At the very beginning of that train ride Potter had burst into the compartment Regulus was sharing with two roommates and levitated him to the one he was sharing with two of his - and then proceeded to hex him half-senseless in spite of Regulus telling him that he didn't know how to remove the Charm without the oath or whatever, he didn't even think there was another wa - BANG! Regulus found himself choking on frogspawn and a strange feeling of his ears straining to fly. It was pretty short, fortunately, as before they could get much further than ten curses in Remus Lupin returned from the prefects' meeting. Considering Lupin was even less known back then for intervening on behalf of Potter's numerous victims than now, Regulus supposed that he had been exceedingly lucky or that Lupin was moved to pity by the bat-wing ears.
Even after Lupin convinced Potter to let him go, no one saw fit to remove the ears - Lupin had undone the rest of the damage, but either he couldn't undo the advanced transfiguration or he too was indignant on Sirius's behalf to bother. In any case, Regulus had been stuck with them in spite of the older Slytherins' best attempts all day. Upon arriving at Hogwarts, his Head of House finally reversed it and interrogated him on the perpetrator. But Regulus wasn't stupid. Cowardly, maybe, but he was no Gryffindor. He'd seen firsthand just what James Potter could do, which was more than any student of the Dark Arts, and damned if he would tattle on him. This meant that Regulus had been spared further Potter attacks until November, whereas, had he told Thorton the truth, Regulus was certain he would have been in St Mungo's for years before their first weekend of term.
So when Potter told Regulus that if he told him where Snape was hiding out and gave him his wand he would get away unscathed, Regulus'd had no qualms about revealing what he had seen just one moment before - a crevasse hidden by shadows - and holding his wand out, wrong end facing himself.
In retrospect, Regulus probably should have realised that Potter and his gang had an ability to know where people where at a given time that was as uncanny as the owner of the cupboard they were now locked in, and that it had just been a ploy to leave him unarmed.
But retrospect was stupid anyway. Retrospect apparently didn't know what kind of torment James I-Hate-the-Dark-Arts Potter could wring. And then Potter had goaded Snape, and Snape had made the equally stupid mistake of forgetting some recent skirmish over some sixth-year thing that the Gryffindors were eager to see avenged. And both of them had been thick enough to let a certain fact slip their mind: Sirius was rarely if ever anywhere Potter wasn't. He might be hidden and ready to ambush them, yes, but he would be there all the same.
And so that's why they were in the cupboard, because once Sirius had disarmed Snape, then they had one choice: run. Straight into the trap. Which was the abbreviated version of why Regulus was stuck in the filthy Squib caretaker's cupboard with the most antagonistic and insubordinate of Slytherins. The only one who dared to openly disrespect him in spite of their bloodlines, between which there was little comparison.
Regulus sighed. Snape. Potter. Not to mention Sirius. How come everyone who was really good with a wand had to hate him?
His father was unsympathetic: he said that Snape, at least, was Regulus's own fault, and that he was soft in his dealings with people. If he had made it clear to Snape right off the bat who it was with the unfaithful mother then Snape wouldn't dare to be acting that way toward him, but Regulus hadn't the self-discipline to do it, did he? Regulus had to concede that. When you could only associate with a very small and select group of pureblood students, you got bored with them very quickly, and occasionally he'd strayed…
So this dark Squib's cupboard was his punishment. Wonderful. He sighed again.
'Would you quit that?'
'Quit what?' queried Regulus wearily.
'That - sighing. I'm trying to think.'
Sirius would have said something like don't strain yourself, but Regulus didn't: in spite of any and all other shortcomings, Snape was the cleverest of the Slytherins, and everyone knew it. If anyone could move mountains and glens and an enemy's innards by thinking, it was Severus Snape.
Not that his ego, already too big for his position, needed stroking.
'It's probably the simplest Locking Charm in the world,' Regulus said. 'One Alhoramora and we'd be out. So it doesn't take that much thinking, Mr Ravenclaw. We don't have our wands; we can't get out.'
'That,' snapped Snape, 'is truly the attitude of a brainless aristocrat.'
Regulus didn't take much offence. 'Oh? Really?' He stretched out over the burlap. It itched and poked into his back- he wished he had worn his thicker winter robes, but then he realised it was quite hot and stifling already and was glad he hadn't. But at least he could get off his feet. 'And what's the attitude of the disgraced bastard?'
'To actually make use of what we learn' - he placed a subtle emphasis on learn - 'here.'
'Sounds like homework. Have fun.'
Snape responded at first with a word that Regulus couldn't say at home at the pain of swallowing soap for days and went on without a break: '…you and your brother are just alike.'
This did get under Regulus's skin. He shot up straight and promptly hit his head on the low-eaved portion of his ceiling. 'Ouch!'
'See?' Snape seemed to think this proved some point.
'You're like Sirius. He'd be foolish enough to fall for Potter's drivel.' Regulus rubbed his head as he spoke, unknowingly making a mess of his hair. Perhaps that inspired Snape's bad mood to propel to further heights - it was not unlike Potter.
For immediately Snape snarled and bounded across the room in about two steps, if that: Regulus couldn't be sure, not having seen his feet touch the ground. The school was not without rumours that Severus's mother had cheated on Mr Snape with a vampire. Feats like that didn't help Snape's cause of denying it. His fist was raised above Regulus before the would-be victim spoke:
'You attack me like some beastly Muggle and my family will get you removed from this school.'
Snape laughed sourly. 'If the almighty Blacks could really do that, you would have removed Potter long ago - such a bad influence on your brother and such a nuisance to you.'
'Potter always attacked me with a wand, Snape,' Regulus retorted, voice growing shriller. 'My parents insist I take some of this, but they have limits! And yes, with any other headmaster Potter've been out long ago!'
Stockstill, Snape considered this, and finally relaxed and the fist disappeared. 'You wouldn't have even had to help bring that about,' he said, to distract from his backing-down. 'Not the way Potter acts up.'
'I know,' grumbled Regulus, and for a moment they were united in mutual dislike of a third party. 'Dumbledore's plain daft, and his bias toward Gryffindors - letting in Mudbloods - d'you know he's actually making Evans of Gryffindor Head Girl? It's sickening.'
Snape shrugged. 'He enjoys making people think he's a little insane, but apart from his little game he's fair enough, so far as I can see. And he's brilliant.' That seemed to settle it for him.
Regulus sighed again and rolled his eyes. Snape had no real concept of what purity of blood was all about. Regulus had never actually heard Snape use the term Mudblood unless he was in a position where he felt a need to reassert his Slytherinism - never casually, in private, but instead shouting it from the rooftops. A vulnerable Snape was a dangerous and cutting Snape. Otherwise his treatment of the whole affaire was as bad as any commoner from any other House. Rather Gryffindor of him, really, and Regulus mentally stored that thought away as ammunition for the future. If they weren't found soon, quite possibly the very near future.
About a half an hour later, Snape was clearly hesitating, eyes going Regulus's way for the briefest but not most inconspicuous of seconds every so often. Regulus wanted him to quit worrying and try it, try anything. But he couldn't say that aloud and so had to wait out the battle between Snape's desperation and pride. It was a long battle, with the underdog pride fighting valiantly and never knowing when it was beaten, but after a while it admitted defeat.
When it did Snape moved very abruptly and gracelessly to pick up a mop. Regulus, noting the direction, realised its round top had been one of the other thing Snape had been looking at. Snape leveled it, eyed the keyhole, and rammed at it.
'That's not going to fit,' Regulus said witheringly, after failure confirmed that. Hoping that Snape wouldn't notice the timing was all part of his long-time strategy of appearing intelligent when in reality good marks in school were mainly due to tutors at home and a lot of smart-alecky remarks while the average dung beetle had greater reserves of logic and practicality than himself. Thus far it had worked fairly well.
With the victor desperation running on adrenaline, Snape ignored him and tried various other tools. At last he produced a rusty hook from the floor. Regulus eyed it warily. Stories of Filch's sadism thrived in the school's gossip. Unfortunately there was just a bit too much circumstantial evidence to back them up for even one so enlightened as Regulus to disregard. And here was another piece.
'Yes,' Snape hissed triumphantly as it fit in easily and a click was clearly heard. But he spoke too soon.
From the keyhole out burst blinding gold light. Snape yelled and pulled a singed left hand away, grasping it tightly with the other in a vain attempt to stem the pain as they watched the light fade, revealing smoke trailing from the keyhole. The hook had been burnt, disfigured, welded into the keyhole, half of it sticking out, so shriveled as to be unrecognisable had Regulus not known what it was.
It looked momentarily as if Snape would start another tantrum, another bout of madness. He did pound the door with his good hand and shouted useless maledictions at the two perpetrators while Regulus tried to catch all the words, storing them up for future memory. Then Snape turned, kicked over two buckets of mops and such and a bottle of cleaner that smashed, causing its contents to swell slowly and stickily on that part of the floor. But after this he lost steam, perhaps aghast at his own temper, and sat down heavily on the nearest crate.
'Why,' he demanded, glaring at the various utensils as if they had deliberately and personally offended him, 'does he have all this stuff but not a few Skeleton Keys?'
'Good question. For that matter, why all this stuff anyway?'
Snape turned the glare to him, and Regulus could've sworn that it caused a phantom but physical pain where his eyes rested.
'Meaning what?' he asked roughly.
Regulus waved a hand. 'He's always complaining about the cleaning, why doesn't he just do it magically?'
The glare changed to something pitying. 'Are you truly that thick, Black?'
In reply, Regulus sighed. Trust Snape to see right through and get the measure of his façade - him, of all people. The only positive thing Regulus could see about that was Snape's lack of credibility in Slytherin circles. Oh, wait, no! So long as he's talking in conjunction with the Dark Arts everyone will listen to him. This realisation offered the perfect opportunity to - mentally at least - try out some of what he had learned the past hour or so. Because Regulus had often been among those sitting around and staring up at Snape while he talked knowledgably and economically in regards to words about one aspect or another of the Dark Arts that they hadn't been able to comprehend on their own. He was quick, to the point, clear, and with a flair for bits of dramatics here and there. And occasionally a little creepy, even for them. Needless to say, they would be spellbound.
He had to save face.
'Unlike some people I could mention' - here Snape rolled his eyes and Regulus had to admit that one had been rather clichéd - 'I do not spend all of my time spying on others and sniffing out all the boring details of their pathetic little lives. And if I was going to spy, it wouldn't be on Filch. You're saying this situation is my fault? You're - '
'Yes I am!'
' - the one - you're the one always provoking those two and trailing them and spying' - Regulus waited for an interruption but Snape was strangely silent, and Regulus could imagine the familiar way his eyes would be glittering - 'have a bit of a thing for Potter, maybe?'
'Ah, yes.' Well, apparently that was response-worthy. 'Because I'm hopelessly attracted to clownish, egoistic, foolhardy, shallow, male buffoons.'
Regulus shrugged, a killingly casual gesture that seemed to run in the current Black generation. 'Sex is usually at the heart of obsession, Snape. And you are obsessed.'
'Not obsession. Concern.'
'Concern?' Regulus smirked, lazily. He would have added some wicked facial expressions, but it was too dark to see much. 'Aw. Sev.'
'Not that kind of concern.'
'Don't repress your feelings. 'Tisn't healthy.'
'The concern I feel is more of a public-health, civic-duty concern. And I wasn't doing anything tonight. I was trying to find a place to read.'
'What? 101 Ways to Really Polish - '
Snape made a convulsive movement as if to reach for where his wand usually was. It was about the sixth time he'd done this so far, and naturally completely fruitless, but nevertheless it reminded Regulus not to grow too cocky. Snape would make him regret it. And, since he would have to be subtle about payback to one of the Slytherin princes, it would be devious ways.
When Snape regained control and spoke again, his voice was very low and tight. 'I only keep an eye on them when I feel sure they're up to something.' Which was pretty much an admission to spying on them all the time, which was their average hour for 'being up to something'.
'Really? Big conspiracy going on?'
'They're up to something of great magnitude, yes.'
Regulus raised his eyebrows. 'Ooh. Up to something of great magnitude. We're getting very eloquent here. So d'you have any more details?'
'None that I'm about to share with you,' he snapped. 'I'm saying nothing until I get to the bottom of it.'
There was a moment of silence while Regulus considered this and Snape's mind was likely back on getting out, which was an obsession with him, whereas Regulus was growing mildly comfortable. It was relatively safe in here, and baiting Snape was relatively entertaining.
'Does Dumbledore know how much responsibility you so altruistically take on for the behalf of the school? I mean, how'd you get passed over as prefect?'
'Someone has to do it.'
Snape had found some soap and was nursing his burnt hand.
Unable to help smiling, Regulus shook his head. 'God, Snape, you're so bloody transparent.'
'Beg pardon?' His voice was unusually mild - his thoughts must have been elsewhere, too far away to care about what his cupboardmate was saying, not too far away to be irritated at the disruption. Regulus aimed to change that.
'You. Are. So. Obvious. Looking out for the well-being of the rest of us? Mm-hm. You like to think you're so deep and mysterious and so above us all, Mr Wearing-Black-Even-On-Weekends-To-Add-To-the-Intimidating-Aura, but in actuality you are just so very hilariously transparent.'
The word was low and dangerous. Regulus decided to cut to the chase.
'You only want to find up what they're up to because you're hoping it's something bad 'of great magnitude' so you can get them expelled.'
Snape's face worked wildly. He opened his mouth once, closed it, and finally tried to speak again. 'That would be - nice.'
When Severus Snape was stuck with a word such as 'nice,' one knew one had cut him close to the quick.
'Nice as in a bonus or nice as in that's-what-I-was-hoping-for-all-along?'
'What's it to you?' Snape asked irritably. He dropped the bar of slimy-looking soap back into the bucket; it hit bottom with a shallow thunk.
'Hey. Hey. Relax, mate. I don't blame you at all. But you lie to your friends - if you have any - and I'll lie to mine, but we're not going to lie to each other here.'
'Says who?' The question was antagonistic.
'Relax. It's a saying. Means I know what kind of game you're playing. So are you making any progress?'
'D'you know anything about what they're doing?' asked Snape, somewhat dully, clearly not believing that Regulus would offer any of the information that he was nonetheless sure Sirius's younger brother would have.
Again Regulus shrugged. 'I didn't even know they had some special agenda.'
'They do. It's' - another demonstration, this one under the subcategory 'Interesting Censor-Worthy Adverbs' - 'obvious if you're in their year. Potter and Bl - your brother and Pettigrew will be all bleary-eyed in class and Lupin's missing and - '
'Hospital wing,' Regulus supplied. 'If the bloody trees around here all started dying off Lupin'd catch whatever they have.'
'Does your brother ever mention his illness? Lupin's, I mean.'
Regulus laughed; it rang shallowly in the dark. 'Sirius and I haven't spoken of anything except something that's right in front of us for years. And that's only about once a week at home when we bump into each other.' Slightly exaggerated, but the truth.
Once he had adored Sirius and Sirius, ever and always and forever happy to have his ego stroked, had reciprocated in gratitude. Sirius had been flawless and wonderful and Regulus had lived on the attention Sirius would occasionally beam his way in the sort of veneration only younger siblings can ever experience, and only some of them at that. All had been well until around the time when Regulus had been eight and Sirius ten; the former had suffered from a massive inferiority complex as a result of the latter's perfection. Regulus had never forgotten the little speech Sirius had given to him, although now the memory was repulsive. Sirius had waxed both affectionate and sentimental, still retaining that tone of superior knowledge and wisdom that Regulus now despised as he talked about the star for which he was named, a binary star consisting of the larger one that everyone saw and then a smaller one that no one ever saw right off but that supported the other. 'Sirius A can't exist without Sirius B,' he had said. At the time Regulus had grinned widely, although both had fallen silent shortly after, both boys all but frightened at the lines that their sex didn't naturally cross that they just had. Sirius had antagonised him for the rest of the week until the memory faded. But it had never left. It had once meant something to him, and now Regulus wondered sourly how many girls Sirius had used that line on. Probably Mudbloods, at that - Sirius had never dated anyone higher than a halfblood. Perhaps even Lupin. There were plenty of rumours about the two. Normally Regulus laughed them off as ridiculous - a notoriously inaccurate and sensation-loving group of older girls had started them - but in his fouler moods he believed them just for the sake of having one more thing to fume over, the Black temper ever smoldering.
Shortly after Sirius's misSorting, their parents had moved Regulus from the suite next to Sirius to one clear across the other side of the house.
Snape seemed caught between disappointment and crystal understanding of why one would not talk to Sirius Black had they the misfortune of being related to him. 'It all hinges around that,' he muttered. 'They're not telling the truth.'
'Sirius hasn't told the truth in about the last decade,' Regulus said.
'I believe you.' Snape sounded as close to amused as he ever got. 'But this is a larger and more important deception than usual.'
'Don't see how. It's no lie that Lupin's ill.'
'Half the time that isn't his story, though.'
'Not that I mind,' Regulus said quickly. 'Get rid of them all, please.'
'Probably that's what'll happen, as they all seem to be in on it. I was only after those two, though.' Snape jerked his head toward the door, not that Regulus needed any clarification on the two.
'I'd have been after all of them,' Regulus said idly. 'From the start.'
'That is, if you ever did anything.'
'If I ever did anything,' agreed Regulus. 'But I mean, all of them need to go. You're right, as a civic duty. Sirius is insane, Potter is too self-righteous to live, Pettigrew's just creepy, and Lupin lets them all get away with murder.'
Snape shrugged. 'I'm telling you, I don't worry about the latter two. Pettigrew's harmless on his own. And Lupin - most prefects do that. Absolutely nothing, that is.'
'Most prefects' friends aren't actively endangering the life and sanity of everyone else in the damned castle. Potter's going around half-killing people every few weeks when he gets upset over a Quidditch practice gone wrong and he doesn't do anything.'
'I wouldn't,' said Snape.
Regulus eyed him, belatedly aware that Snape had been getting away with far too many liberties for his station during their captivity. 'In your position I wouldn't either.'
Snape ignored the winter in his tone, probably because it didn't freeze a puddle compared to his own capacity in that regard. 'So what you're saying is that if it inconvenienced you…'
Very briefly, Regulus considered this and realised that Snape was right. With that thought in mind, he moved to shift the subject.
- - -
After a few hours of a lapse in the conversation they were discussing the most unfair detentions they had ever gotten at Filch's hands when Snape suddenly sat up ramrod, smacking his head as Regulus had earlier. After a colourful exclamation that Regulus decided was his second-best yet, he told Regulus to shut up, although Regulus had already been silent.
And then he heard too - voices outside the door.
They looked at each other, a common dilemma uniting them in spite of the gaping differences in birth and background and basic personality. Lose face? Or get the hell out of there? It was an agonisingly short moment.
'What time is it?' Regulus whispered hoarsely.
Snape gave him the sort of look that McGonagall would have sold one of her nine lives to be able to achieve on unruly classes. 'I believe you're the one with the watch?'
Regulus glanced down. 'It's - my - eleven thirty.' Fairly late, that was. 'So it's probably teachers.'
Another common wince, although this was in fact a better scenario than being discovered by classmates. Regulus could not even imagine which would be worse: a rescue by Slytherins, or a rescue by non-Slytherins. Likely they would have found anything preferable.
Snape started banging on the inside of the door and Regulus defied his instincts by making no move to stop him. He needed a bathroom. The cupboard was far too small to start anything, and Snape too annoyingly, interferingly present.
And then Snape stopped dead.
He crawled off of his improvised seat and over next to the door, impatiently brushing aside hair so that he could press his ear against the bottom of the door (the keyhole, still with the hook sticking out dangerously, wasn't an option). Regulus watched the various indignities in something close to disbelief. Amused disbelief. How many times had the younger Slytherins heard his lectures on minding their own businesses to get ahead the more quickly as a result? The illegitimate, temperamental, know-it-all, paranoid bastard - bastard in more ways than one - was a hypocrite into the bargain. So many vices - busy, busy, busy! And endlessly nosy. Again, in more ways than one.
And yet Regulus had found himself almost liking him over the past couple of hours.
He could hear nothing from the other side of the cupboard, despite its size, which was probably confining to the average two-week old kitten in the opinion of one Regulus Black, used to luxury. But Snape could. Although his expression was unreadable, his eyes were much more legible - he was intrigued beyond measure.
The voices passed.
'We could have gotten out,' said Regulus plaintively.
Snape snorted, impatiently. 'Oh, you want to know what they said and you know it.'
Well, perhaps he did. And with that knowledge clearly in mind, Snape took his time in settling back down, and then stretching theatrically. Regulus refrained from trying to kill him bare-handedly and defencelessly. For one, it wouldn't work.
'They have murdered everyone who voted against the Muggle-born reeducation proposal,' Snape revealed at long last, voice hushed - maybe for fear of being overheard, maybe due to something quite different.
Regulus stared. Slowly, a grin, born of being conditioned to his opinions from birth, born of fear that someone could be so crackers, spread over his face. 'But almost everyone on the council voted nay!' he said. 'Didn't they?' His shock came through more clearly than his delight, and he mentally berated himself for that.
Snape nodded, eyes matching the width of Regulus's own.
'That must have been twenty-five people!' Votes were secret, of course, but public opinion had been very down on the proposal thanks to all the trumpeting of people like - well, people like the Potters, truth be told.
This thought provoked two others.
'Potter's sister was on that council.' And then, 'How did they find out who voted what?'
Snape very disrespectfully abused the name of yet another great historical figure. '… Can you think of anything yourself?'
Regulus's heart thumped. His cousin Orion had been on the council.
'Was it them?'
Neither of them was suffering any confusion over their mutually and tacitly decided pronoun.
'Could have been someone else.'
But neither of them believed it. A long moment passed, and both savoured it, filled as it was with potential and danger and limitless possibilities for their own gain and ideology. The first strike on their behalf in ages had just occurred. They were empowered.
'I can't believe they did it,' Regulus said inanely.
Something in his tone caused Regulus to look sharply at Snape with eyes grown used to the lack of light. Snape's tone - and his expression… both were too knowing. An invisible hand punched Regulus hard in the stomach at this point. Immediately Snape's face rearranged itself into something less telling, more ignorant, but it was too late: Regulus knew. They had approached Snape. Snape. They had approached Snape and not him. The sense of failure was heavy; indignity, even heavier.
Regulus had been nine when he (it had been he then, not they, and the they was somewhat inaccurate, only used out of a too-ample fear of him) had started his first activities, at the time mostly political and academic. His family and their circle, two things that were closely related and often one and the same, had spoken of and regarded him as a pinpoint of light at the end of a very long Floo journey, possibly one of magically impossible length. It had also been the year Sirius had become a Gryffindor, and while not given up on by their parents completely yet in the same unspoken way he was now, it still meant that more and more responsibilities and privileges found their way to Regulus. He had accepted them quickly, gladly, but fearfully. Sirius had been trained for this. He was simply winging it. Waiting for his chances. Thinking that they had better come around soon, really soon.
He may not have been the most intelligent person to sit, blindfolded by a too-large hat, and be declared a Slytherin, but he could hardly have missed that he (not himself - the other he) was a walking goody bag of chances.
Snape. Snape. How? One couldn't even be entirely sure that Snape was a pureblood.
Regulus was shrived, blindsided, numb. And all of the sudden his need for another particular room became downright painful.
'We would have heard that tomorrow,' he said, taking refugee in his old, well-worn grumbling tone. 'Should've gotten out of here while we had the chance.'
'Would you shut up, Black.'
Quarter after one. Regulus wanted to sleep and Snape was considering it, but trying to slide the metal end of a contract-and-expand mop under the door while considering. It completely ruined Regulus's chances of sleeping.
Regulus needed eight hours a night and would take any and every he could on weekends. Snape needed about three and a half. Vampiric, it was. Although that evidence was not fully damning. Certain useful traits arose if you inbred enough. Regulus had relatives who were the same way, and some weren't even particularly creepy.
''S'not going t'work,' he mumbled, stupefied by impending slumber. 'Sleep.'
Snape sat back on his heels and glared at him. The glare got curtailed abruptly when the heels gave out. Snape was no athlete. Nor was Regulus, truth be told, but he was fit as Dangerous Dai next to Snape.
'I am locked,' he said slowly, with caesuras for emphasis and intimidation in general, 'in Filch's cupboard… with you… without a book. I am not… staying here… overnight.'
'Fine. But quit that pacing betweentimes, would you? You act like you're claustrophobic or something.'
There was a long pause.
It was, evidently, Snape's turn to rapidly think of a way to save face. 'More along the lines of idiophobic,' he said. And when Snape had fallen to using bastard words, one knew he was dodging.
'Seriously?' asked Regulus, voice deceptively idle as he sat up and considered the older boy.
'What?' Snape demanded irritably, turning to the door again.
It fit, in a way, based on what Regulus knew of Snape's father.
'Your family,' he announced, 'is deeply buggered.'
'You should talk.'
- - -
So Regulus didn't. It was four o'clock and he had moved in and out of sleep. He and Snape had exchanged not a word in the interval. Regulus's eyes had adjusted so much that the dark was almost clear as daylight to him. He was bored beyond anything he had ever known before and uncomfortable by the same standard. He remembered a fragmented dream with Cecelia Higgs popping in at one point and hoped that he hadn't muttered anything that Snape could hear - he had a habit of talking in his sleep. But there had been a lot of others, so it hadn't been that kind of dream.
But at long last he could no longer help it.
'I've got to take a piss,' he announced, flatly and defiantly as Snape himself would have.
Snape's response was nothing new from the course of their imprisonment. It also wasn't very constructive.
'I was thinking about what you said,' Snape said after a moment when it became apparent that Regulus wasn't moving just yet.
Regulus ran his mind over their exchanges of the past night. He couldn't imagine what it might be, so he merely looked for something with which to spar with. 'About your real father's bloodlines? Or your unhealthy obsession with Potter that would ensure that you wouldn't be added to the gene pool, thank Salazar?'
So good were his eyes now that he could see the patented Snape scowl.
'Something along those lines,' he said evenly. 'What you said about Slytherin. Against the other Houses.'
Regulus blinked. 'When was this?'
The scowl deepened.
'Don't pretend you didn't say it now. Just an hour ago. I know it and you know it.'
'An hour ago? I just - '
Regulus cut off before saying woke up a few minutes ago. Yes, he had dozed off, and yes, apparently Snape had heard him sleeptalking.
God, he hopped it was nothing about Cecelia.
Although it could have been worse. He also found a Mudblood Hufflepuff very attractive in a warm-and-fuzzy way. Could never live that shame down.
'No one should be able to overshadow Slytherin,' Snape went on thoughtfully. 'Now, the other three have banded together more and more since big bad scary Grindelwald, but it's still peculiar. We're the ambitious ones. We're the diligent ones. We're the cunning ones. We're the unscrupulous ones. We ought to have an insurmountable advantage.'
Right now Regulus's nether region was a bit too uncomfortable to handle all those polysyllabic words.
'Not to forget we're the wealthy ones, well, most of us,' he pointed out, just from the sheer joy of being contrary. Another scowl flitted across Snape's decidedly ugly face, and a grin across Regulus's - Snape was just too easy.
'The problem lies,' continued Snape, 'in distractions and in divisions.'
Oh, no. Anaphora and now some alliteration. Snape had spent some time composing this little speech. It was going to take a little while. Normally Snape kept things short and sweet so as to not lose his audience, but he couldn't lose this audience, locked in with him and in too much discomfort to fall asleep again.
'Instead of going for power itself, we're getting sidetracked by ideals, the same as any Gryffindor or Hufflepuff.'
'What ideals?' Regulus demanded angrily.
'The ideal of blood purity and all that shite.'
You really had to admire an orator who memorised a dictionary yet wasn't afraid to use the words you never found in a dictionary. It was most effective.
Still, Regulus remembered enough of his upbringing to be outraged. 'What're you saying, Snape? Want to have us all die - '
'There you go,' said Snape, looking up at him from his lower position with insolent dark eyes. 'Righteous indignation for you, right there. Of course, you're benefiting from the ideals, you're a Black, but they're still in the way of us really gaining true power.'
'There's no point in gaining power if you don't use it for anything!'
'I've thought it out and have already reached that conclusion, thank you. You're a little behind.'
'You ought to know that if the Muggles get wind of us and our magic's getting diluted - '
'By that point we'll be so powerful that we can easily keep the Muggles under control.' Overriding Regulus's protests, Snape went on: 'Secondly, the divisions. Slytherin has forgotten how long it has taken advantage of the divisions of polite society - otherwise known as the other three Houses. They're regularly diverted by class warfare, politics, prejudice, etc, and the counter-movements thereof. Before Grindelwald, we were at the top of the heap because we roundly ignored all that - unless of course we picked a side or a course that could easily and clearly win. Now we've forgotten and have picked up on them all again. Look at you and me, for example. You're the emblem of the modern social Slytherin, I of modern works Slytherin, if you will. Those are two of several Slytherin divisions, although I think ours happen to be the largest.'
'What d'you mean, social? Works?'
Snape snorted. 'Social. Upper-class pettiness and niceties and the bloodline fixation. Works. Traditional striving for excellence and outdoing the competition by any means necessary.'
'Well. That's neutral.'
'I can't be neutral. You're an idiot, Black, But' - as Regulus gritting his teeth and almost articulating another argument - 'I do believe that you are doing what you believe is the carrying on of Slytherin tradition in the best possible way for our day and age. I don't believe it, but I believe that you believe. What must happen if that you believe the same of me and of my type - '
'Snape, you don't have a type. You're an antisocial, misanthropic, pathetic loner without a single ally here. You're the only one of this "modern works Slytherin".'
'There are others,' Snape said repressively. 'Most, however, have had their original ethic corrupted by the pressure of your majority. Mind you, they're the sort that aren't doing you any good. Point is, if we were to publicly reconcile, those who follow our views would also reconcile. Slytherin would be that much stronger.'
Regulus stared at him, and suddenly realised, between his sleep-and-toilet-deprivation, that Snape was, indeed, the most Slytherinly Slytherin he knew, and that if Salazar were to stop by for a visit today, Snape, and not Regulus, would be his choice of a protegee.
Not that he could ever admit that aloud. Not that he couldn't ignore this and not try to work to change that. But it was a truth.
'How'd we be stronger?'
'Idiots and fools would not be able to so easily mock Slytherin, to the amusement of the rest and to the helplessness of us.'
Snape was at the end of his ever-limited stock of patience.
'Because they wouldn't be picking on individuals or cliques, they'd be picking on all of us!' He looked mutinous. 'I really can't stand being part of a group that cannot understand that concept any more.'
Although perhaps not as good as Snape in that respect, Regulus was a Slytherin. 'What would that all mean, exactly?' he asked shrewdly. It almost sounded like Snape maybe had some ideals or two of his own in his plan for refuting them.
Perhaps, realised Regulus, one couldn't do anything without some basic principles to work with.
Which was frightening, because he had never fully committed himself to anything. Even his bloodline doctrines fell short of his parents.
'It would mean when the dastardly duo pick on you' (Regulus could hear the 'you' in plural despite the constraints of the English language in that respect) 'we stand up for you. When they pick on us, you stand up for us.'
'They'll kill me,' murmured Regulus, thinking of Bellatrix in particular.
Snape sighed - huffed, rather - impatiently. 'Then torment me to make up the difference. In private. What I mean is that to everyone else we present a united front. No matter the ancestry or beliefs or just personal likes and dislikes or squabbles over who claims the choicest bed in the dormitory.'
It occurred to Regulus that when Snape died (which could be soon, if he didn't stop trailing the 'dastardly duo' and performing various unorthodox acts in the sight of other Slytherins, sure signs of a death wish) he, Regulus, would be one of the very few to be able to stand up and say, 'Why, yes, in fact, I did see the old bastard being earnest once. He even presented to me some emotional vulnerability, even though that was quite inadvertently due to the earnestness.' Although he'd never admit to the circumstances.
But he rather liked the idea. After being locked in one of Filch's cupboards for so long, he was very open and receptive to anything that even had a known Mudblood's shot in Slytherin of making various tormenters back off - and this, to him, sounded as if it only had the aforementioned shot of the known Mudblood, but what of it? He just wanted to end the conversation, because a certain amount of modesty prevented him from relieving himself while they chatted.
'D'you think you'll be able to stand up to that?' he asked, sounding appropriately reluctant. In truth, the idea of having Severus I-Know-More-Ingenious-Obscure-and-Terrifying-Curses-Than-All-of-Our-Teachers-Combined-and-That-Includes-the-Head-of-Slytherin-Who-Also-Teaches-Defence-Against-the-Dark-Arts-Whenever-He's-Not-Feeling-Too-Insane-Thank-You-Very-Much-Now-Leave-Me-Alone-Because-I-Want-to-Read-or-I'll-Prove-It Snape actively on his side had great appeal, even if Regulus doubted the deal would hold up longer than a fortnight.
'Of course I will.' Snape was dismissive. He had no clue how much he sounded like Sirius, and Regulus wasn't about to tell him.
'Well. All right then. And now, if you please, kindly shut up, and throw me that bucket you're sitting on while you're at it.'
Snape threw it with aim that Regulus would have laughed at had he not been so eager to use the damned thing. And then - he stood up. As he did, Snape straightened, eyes glinting at their most dangerous lustre, but Regulus didn't notice this in his haste. The latter walked off to a corner with it while the former crossed over to the pile of burlap sacks he had been sitting on, and then crossed his arms.
The former proceeded to stare at Regulus the whole time.
'I told you once and I'll tell you again,' Regulus said peevishly as he turned back around. 'You act very suspicious. Staring at other men like that will only make things worse.'
Still Snape neither moved nor replied until Regulus tried to get back to his temporary bed and found Snape blocking his way. At last, curiosity aroused, Regulus glanced at him and met his eyes.
The angry glittering made him tense.
Snape finally spoke, voice at its most dangerous decibel.
'Did you know about this?'
He pointed to the dent in the pile of sacks where Regulus had been sitting all night. In the basin there gleamed a rusty but clearly usable Skeleton Key. Salazar only knew how Sirius and Potter had missed it. Oh, wait. Regulus had moved some stuff off the top of this pile to sit down. But Salazar really was the only one who knew how he was going to redeem himself in Snape's eyes -
Oh, wait. They were free. What concern had he for the illegitimate and possibly-a-halfblood's opinion?
'I can't believe it!'
Snape's leer deepened, features set at their most dangerous coordinates.
'You - were sitting - on - that key - all - night - long.'
Apparently he needed to break his simple sentence up just to manage articulation. The poor unloved boy had some serious self-control issues in spite of all his lectures on that virtue.
'Didn't you - feel - it?'
'I thought it was straw!'
'Straw? Straw?' Finally Snape's eyes, voice, and features returned to a more natural and less creepy state for all they were more openly angry. So great was Regulus's relief that he finally remembered that he a bunch of rubber gloves that he had tossed away must have hid the key from their gaolers.
'Yeah, straw! I mean, the burlap, the - the - well, I don't know, I've never been anywhere like this before for any length of time - '
Snape looked as though he had seen a light - which of course he had not seen since six-thirty the previous evening. Inspiration.
'Because you are a pampered spoiled prig,' he announced. 'Time to get you some proper experience with the real world.'
After the first exam was over and done with, Filch got an anonymous tip on the cupboard and found Regulus, who was truculent and taciturn with his explanations. Regulus confronted Snape about it in conjunction with his Slytherin solidarity speech later that evening. All he got was, 'Had you been in any other House, I would have waited until the morning the Express left, and if you'd starved so be it.' After a pause, Snape threw out another bone. 'Prig.'
Slytherin won the House Cup next year.
Regulus beamed to see the Gryffindors, who seemed sure that this was a sign that evil was indeed taking over the world, and almost sent that beam Snape's way before catching himself. He burned with embarrassment – and then calmed. No reason to let that spoil this night. Not with Slytherin's victory, and the feast, and his invitation to speak with some of them in just one short month.