Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter or any of its characters, they belong to J.K. Rowling. No money or profit is in any way being made off this piece of fanfiction.

"Hadst though searched the whole earth over," said he looking darkly at the clergyman, "there was no one place so secret—no high place nor lowly place, where though couldst have escaped me—save on this very scaffold!" –Chillingworth in The Scarlet Letter
The room was dark, lit only by candles spread throughout in clusters here and there. A large group of people, cloaked in black and masked in white, gathered before a single elevated throne upon which sat the figure of a man. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say a distorted shadow of a creature than may perhaps been a man at one time, but was now most certainly nothing less than a monster.

The group of followers stood several meters away from their lord, and that distance was necessary. One's safety could not be promised beyond that point. After all, their lord was much like a basilisk; no one ever saw his face unhooded, unshadowed, and lived to tell the tale.

A lone figure had overstepped that predetermined, unspoken boundary. However, it made little difference. His fate had been sealed long before he set foot in the meeting room. He hadn't even bothered to wear his Death Eater mask, content instead to stand proudly and bear the punishment for his so-called crimes with grace and dignity befitting his station. He was a pureblood wizard, after all, a man of nobility and of valor. And now, for once, he would act on that valor.

Finally, after a long, tense silence, their exalted master spoke, his voice as distorted as the rest of him. "You are a traitor, Black. You have betrayed our cause." Regulus stared into the man's face with unwavering violet eyes, his gaze obstructed only by several stray strands of silky fine black hair. "However, even more than that, you have betrayed our trust. Do you understand the gravity of your trespasses, black? We put great faith in you. You betrayed our trust with your seditious actions. Your sin is unpardonable—unforgivable. For unforgivable crimes, one must face Unforgivable punishments, isn't that right?" Several of the masked figures gave shouts of approval. "Do you know which one I will use, Black? Do you know what the punishment for your crime is—the worst among the unforgivable crimes?"

"Death," the young man murmured, closing his eyes tightly in resignation. He was trembling violently now, though whether it was out of fear or exhaustion not even he knew for certain. It was no surprise to him. He had known his fate the moment he'd turned to Dumbledore for help—no, he'd known long before that, from the very moment he accepted the Mark. The only end to which such a path could lead is death. Regulus had died the moment he was given the Dark Mark. Any life he had left in him was drained daily as he carried out the atrocious wishes of a madman. Perhaps death was the better option all along.

Voldemort grinned sadistically and raised his wand. "I always admired you, Black, so I will give you a quick death if you bow down and kiss the hem of my robe. Be thankful for my mercy."

Regulus smirked sardonically. "Been there. Done that. I'd rather die than kiss the tainted feet of a mudblood like you."

The smile faded instantly. For a moment, Regulus recognized fear in the Dark Lord's eyes, but it was quickly replaced with overwhelming rage. "You insolent little rat! Crucio!" Regulus doubled over in pain and soon collapsed to his knees. He heard his former master utter vile insults such as "blood traitor" and "Muggle-loving scum" among others.

Regulus bit his lip, the metallic taste of blood filling his mouth, but did not make a sound. He refused to give Voldemort the satisfaction of hearing him cry out. However, such sentiments only lasted so long, until the pain became unbearable. Soon enough he was screaming in agony.

The intense pain eventually began to fade into the back of his mind as memories of his life flashed before his eyes. Memories of his childhood, for which he had generally been confined to the library or to his room with private instructors. Memories of his family members, most of whom had put great effort into making him a perfect Slytherin pureblood elitist. Memories of Hogwarts, the school that had offered him freedom on a tight leash, a fleeting, teasing taste of a life he could never have. Memories of serving Voldemort, of stealing, killing, and destroying in the worst possible ways imaginable.

And finally, Regulus recalled memories of the one person whom he had always wanted to believe better of him. If Sirius hadn't been so terrible to him in their youth, perhaps Regulus would have felt it was okay to follow his brother's lead. But it was not the case with Sirius. If anything, Sirius had pushed Regulus away from himself, forcing him back into his mother's control.

He had always scorned Sirius in their Hogwarts years, sneered at the very thought of the brash Gryffindor. However, Regulus had really wanted Sirius' acceptance more than anything. He wanted assurance from the one person he was supposed to hate. He longed for it and sought it with his gaze. But Sirius had scorned him until he realized just how much power he had over his younger brother, and by then it was too late to save him.

But Regulus didn't blame his brother. Quite the opposite, actually, he was grateful that Sirius had finally reached out and pulled him up out of the waters of the madness he was drowning in. Sirius had helped him stand up from under the weight of his guilt and grief. Sirius had saved him, in the end. Saved him from his own broken and suffering spirit. Sirius had given him an irreplaceable treasure that no one could ever take away. Sirius had given him his life back, his humanity, and the Order his freedom. And for that, Regulus was willing to give up everything else. After all, is it not better to give his ephemeral life to gain instead something so much greater, so much more important—something that no one can ever take away?

"Avada Kedavra!"

Regulus thought so.