Alternate Reality, with Regulus Black being Sorted into Gryffindor. What's honour in a world where there isn't even good and evil? Warning: mild slash.
A Toast to Gryffindor
Their mother is thin and gaunt, and the smile on her face doesn't exactly fit. It stretches the skin of her face and looks more a toothy grimace. Regulus smiles back nonetheless, indulges his already-homesick first year instincts and gives her a brief wave through a doorway of the Hogwarts Express. Upon turning, he is promptly pulled through the doorway into a compartment.
"Wh - " Regulus starts at the sight of his brother, and hovers above the seat waiting for the permission to sit.
Sirius rolls his eyes and gestures for him to sit. "I'm with my mates but I can stay with you a bit," he informs Regulus loftily. "Firstie and all, but no doubt you'll have a load of people in when they hear our name." He ends with a bit of a scoff.
Regulus gives his brother a blank look, genuinely not caring about a whit of that. "Where do you think I'll be Sorted?" he asks, clearing his throat and looking out the window. Mum is gone, or as he prefers to think of it, simply not visible at the moment. Mum will never be gone.
"Where do you think you'll be Sorted?" Sirius counters, bemused. Regulus begins to worry that Sirius already seems a bit bored with him, tries to formulate a response that will impress Sirius. Nothing comes, so he shrugs.
The impression Regulus got from Narcissa -- through her numerous letters last year, addressed to him, My darling Regulus -- was that Sorting was a foregone conclusion, something you knew the moment you saw who sat the tables. It seems today will be a day of consistent surprise. "You get a choice?" he asks. "Why would it be sorting, then? Wouldn't everyone go to the same House?"
Sirius leans forward, resting his elbow on his knee to wag a finger close in his little brother's direction. "Not everyone wants the same thing, Reg."
Regulus apparently must play along to get anything out of his brother. After all, words are the weapon of the thinking wizard, so says Dad. "Well, Sirius, what do you want?"
"I want you to tell me where you think you'll be Sorted," Sirius says; there is an equal hint of resentment in his voice. Why why why why, why do you have so many questions? Just shut up and listen, he'd shouted at Regulus once. Sirius is not as patient as Regulus, not as controlled, and with him, irritation tends to quickly swell to violence, verbal or physical.
So, Regulus forces himself to answer, as though reciting poetry by rote. "I am loyal; I could be Hufflepuff. I am smart; I could be Ravenclaw. I am ambitious; I could be Slytherin." He stops, because there is nothing else.
He expects to see cruel amusement in Sirius's eyes, that he can't find any Gryffindor traits within himself, but instead in his brother's eyes Regulus finds a very serious, nearly angry look. "And Gryffindor?" Sirius asks, his voice light in comparison to his heavy gaze.
Regulus has no clue what to say, closes his mouth and then entreats, "Sirius - "
"You mean to say you're closer to those arses than me?" Sirius's voice is not annoyed, but disapproving. Sirius doesn't look at him, stands, and paces to the window.
"...Who?" Regulus asks, though he knows. Sirius sent letters last year, too. Regulus has known Sirius for his entire life, and Sirius has never hated anyone as much as the Slytherins.
"Slytherin." He spits the word distastefully, as though he could aim the word and the poison it implies into the faces of its population. "It's not about ambition or pride or blood there, Reg. It's about stabbing your mate in the back. It's about thinking you're better than everyone else."
Regulus is frightened, not only for himself, but for his female cousins who left that unhappy House not too long ago. "We are better than everyone else," he points out, when he's certain Sirius is done.
"Are you so sure?" Sirius's fingers drum against the edge of the window, his gaze on the Scottish countryside. Regulus wants to see it, see it all for the first time, but he isn't brave enough to stand at a moment like this.
"Sirius, that's a stupid question. Of course I'm sure."
"Are you going to prove it?"
Regulus actually finds himself angry, standing, indignant. "Of course! You think I would let the honour of the House of - "
Sirius is turning, laughing, and it's not mocking, but happy. Regulus stares at his brother, feeling foolish, and flushes as his brother orders, "Sit down." He does so.
"That's the Gryffindor in you," Sirius says, the smile on his face and in his voice. He grins, a very different look than the proud smile that preceded it, and ruffles Regulus's hair. "I'm going to see my mates. I'll introduce you to the lot of 'em later."
"All right," Regulus says slowly, but Sirius is already out the door. Puzzled, he sits back, alone in his compartment, and wonders.
When it comes to it, Regulus jams the Hat on his head boldly and does not argue with it at its first suggestion. Smart but lazy… not exactly Hufflepuff, you would do well in Gryffindor. It suits him. "GRYFFINDOR!"
He plucks off the hat confidently as the applause starts, and goes to the Gryffindor table. Of all the welcoming smiles there, Sirius's is the best. Sirius glows.
The facts of life. Severus Snape is the enemy. Slytherin is the enemy. Narcissa's letters are no longer diligently sent nor answered. He's too busy following behind Sirius and James, lurking back with Remus and Peter. Regulus is just as subject to the charms of Potter and Black the Elder as anyone else; why wouldn't he be? They're fun.
Regulus tries to avoid the Mudbloods, at least, for Mum's sake. They're everywhere, Cresswell the nearest and worst in his dormitory. It's just unfortunate when his first and most fervent fancy focuses in on Lily Evans. He is horrified when Peter wonders as she receives what seems like the hundredth O in Potions, "Do you think the Muggles taught her how to do it?" He expects and wants his fancy to evaporate at that instant, but it doesn't.
Sirius and James's opinions are backward. The Slytherins are bad. Lily Evans is not filth. Severus Snape deserves the slow torture that the self-called Marauders have designed for him.
It takes three months for him to forget that things were any other way.
By third year, Regulus is nearly as popular as his brother and his friends. Regulus is the tagalong, yes, but he is the only one of their number who can hold his temper. His reserved sarcasm becomes the bane of the Slytherins who had so expected him to be among their ranks.
The girls like it. They like him, they think him clever, and he is rewarded for it. His first girlfriend, Ariadne Corner, is a halfblood, and he can't bring himself to care. Everyone seems to be half. To adhere strictly to the pureblood lifestyle as he once knew it, Regulus tells Peter dryly one night, he would have to sleep outside of Gryffindor just to avoid breathing halfbreed air.
In third year, Regulus finds himself to no longer be following Sirius, but Peter. By fourth year, Peter has taken him on as confidante. There isn't enough Sirius and James to go around, at least, not their attention; they're too focused on each other. Remus is still enchanted with the pair, and spends every spare moment without them with Lily Evans. He and Peter draw together, away from the others.
Halfway through Regulus's fourth year, he and Peter are alone in the biting cold by the lake. Darkness is falling, but after countless detentions, neither cares very much for rules.
"It's getting worse, Reg," Peter says. He scratches his head, lays back in a casual way that Regulus absently notes resembles Sirius's easy lounging. They all imitate Sirius and James on some level. "This Death Eater thing."
Regulus wants to roll his eyes, but doesn't. It's politics. Regulus has told him time and time again that politics just make everything more complicated, but Peter worries too much. About everything. "They're mad. It'll end soon. The Ministry can do it."
"The Ministry can't do anything." Regulus tenses at the sound of Peter's voice, the way it pitches up. This isn't the Peter he knows, the Peter who rarely strays from his comfort zone of conversation even with Regulus, his best friend.
"Peter," Regulus starts, "what do you know about the Ministry?" Politics. He settles back, luxuriously casual, not giving a damn. It's the only safe way, to not say a word one way or the other. "Don't worry about -- "
"Regulus." Peter is angry. Afraid. Regulus knows they are rather close emotions with Peter; he wouldn't admit it, but it's true of himself as well. When he turns to look at Peter, though, he is surprised to see hopeless rejection in his best mate's stare.
Peter looks away, speaks bitterly. "The Ministry can't even keep track of us, and we're Hogwarts students."
Regulus doesn't know what Peter means, but it sounds good. Hogwarts students can fool the Ministry? Probably their very own Sirius and James. "Shouldn't you be proud?" he jokes, flashing one of his good-natured smirks in hopes of breaking the ice.
Peter breathes out sharply, pushes himself up to a sitting position, and rests his hands in his lap. Regulus thinks he rather looks like a begging dog, considers it comedic, smiles. The smile fades as Peter finds words, speaks. "Reg, you don't get it."
Regulus sits up as well, hesitant. Both are silent for a moment, until Regulus draws his wand in a mock duel position. "Tell me, you git, or I'll hex it out of you." He trains his wand on Peter's face, but Peter remains unamused. "Peter, come on," he begs, lowering his wand.
Peter nods, with a grimace that genuinely concerns Regulus. He forces himself to speak. "Remus is a werewolf. Sirius and James -- maybe Lily -- are nearly Animagi. They've been doing this for years, Reg -- hiding this -- " Regulus stares, dazed, as Peter goes on, speaking faster. "Years, Regulus, and they just tell me 'in case' -- 'in case' what, in case Remus kills someone?"
Remus is a werewolf. Remus is a werewolf. Sirius hasn't said a word -- what else has Sirius lied about? Regulus just stares at Peter, his own confusion and indirect rejection a mirror of Peter's. "Why didn't they -- you -- " Why didn't they invite you?
Peter sighs, and pulls his knees to his chin as best he can. He's given into resignation, and Regulus hates them, loathes them for this. "Top marks, Reg. You read my mind."
Regulus looks at Peter, and recalls dinner that night; James, Sirius, Remus, and Lily in a cosy conversation, and Peter and Regulus on the outskirts in a world of their own. The emotional distance between the six "friends" is staggering. "My fault," he says.
"Shut up," Peter says faintly, staring ahead at the lake as a wave recedes. He picks up a rock and throws it, disturbing the water. "Who needs them and their werewolf, anyway?"
Sixth year. Christmas hols, Dorea Potter's funeral. Peter and Regulus sit a row behind James, Sirius, Remus, and Lily Evans. Everything seems simple and normal, for a funeral, until the end. Lily is hugging James by the cloakroom, no one is watching -- until she plucks the glasses from his face and kisses him.
Sirius whistles and nudges Remus, who laughs. Eventually, as Lily flits off and James goes to get his ego fluffed by Sirius and Remus, Regulus pulls Peter from the room. No point in trying to talk to the quartet, as they've already been closed out before they even tried. "Bit odd to do that with your mum dead in the room," Regulus says casually as they walk, "but if Lily Evans kissed me, I'd do the same."
Peter shakes his head, doesn't look at Regulus. "She's going to get us killed," he says. "She's going to be the end of us all."
"Peter," Regulus warns lightly, tugging at his cloak. This sounds like politics and blood-talk, or something even worse. He's been skillfully ducking this conversation for ages now, he isn't going to have it here.
Peter turns on him, the sheer force of his desperate anger surprising Regulus. "Reg, Regulus, you don't understand, it's all right being friendly but she's Muggleb -- "
Regulus puts his hands up, surrendering the conversation right off. " -- Peter, no, I'm not talking about this."
"You have to choose a side, Regulus, everyone's chosen theirs." Peter is trying to sound reasonable, but he still sounds manic. The unspoken topic has surfaced. He knows Sirius, James, Remus, Lily, none of them care about Peter and Regulus anymore. They have no room in their hearts left for a fifth or sixth person. Still Peter is trying to play scapegoat. Regulus has accepted the rejection. Why can't Peter?
Desperate to stop this, Regulus looks his best mate in the face. "My side is with you," he says. He can't lose Peter, too.
This seems to calm Peter, who fixes his skewed cloak and says shakily, "I just want all of us to get out of this alive -- "
"Peter, they're not going to change!" As Peter stares at him, Regulus realizes it's the first time he has referred to them as "they."
"How many times have we taken the fall for them? What will they do without us?"
Regulus feels sick because Peter's reminiscence is the way it should've been but never was. Peter's denial brings back all of the old bitterness. "We can't save them, Peter, they -- "
Peter lowers his voice, disbelief thick in his whisper. "Do you even care anymore? Have you given up?"
Regulus almost explains, but instead, he fusses with the pin of his cloak as they approach the door. He has given up, because it's so much easier than fighting.
Peter opens the door, and Regulus follows closely; snow is swirling outside. Once the door closes, Peter turns, ending up face-to-face with Regulus. "Toujours Pur, Reg," he says, his breath warm on Regulus's face. "Right?"
It's as good as a slap. Regulus blushes, reminded of too many years of blah blah fucking family name honour blah. "Fuck Toujours Pur, what does it do for me?"
"It'll save your life." It feels like an accusation. Angry, abashed, and incapable of avoiding the decision anymore, Regulus leaves Peter standing there. That night, he opens the box that holds all of the letters Mum has sent him since the start of Hogwarts. He reads three, then dumps the entire box into the fire. He does not leave until the last is destroyed.
Regulus stops dead at the sight of the Gryffindor table at the first dinner back. Peter is sitting, apparently of his own volition, with the people he deemed such a danger, the mass of ignorant happiness that is JamesSiriusRemusLily. Regulus eventually takes a seat across from Peter, in hopes of catching his eye.
As Lily and James jokingly kiss to draw a wolf whistle from Sirius, Regulus notes Peter's posture and expression, reminded of an instant of memory. Narcissa's pained, determined expression in the midst of preparation for a ridiculous lavish Black family party; curls pinned tightly, a charm tightly binding the back of her bodice. The jerk of her chest as the strings pulled tighter, her wince of pain for an instant before she continued telling him the message to pass to Cousin Bellatrix. The expression is ascetic - it hurts, but it must be done.
Nonetheless, when summer arrives, Peter moves into a flat, and Regulus follows. It's surprisingly cheap for someone with the salaries of a Magical Law Enforcement desk clerk (Peter) and a future Cursebreaker (Regulus), but neither of them wants to be alone.
One month out of school, Lily and James get married.
Two months out of school, they are brutally murdered by the Death Eaters.
Regulus knows that he hasn't spoken, truly spoken to Lily or James Potter in months, but the news still shakes him to the core. He seizes The Daily Prophet -- its headline screams YOUNG NEWLYWEDS MURDERED IN THEIR PRIME -- and goes into Peter's bedroom. Peter stares at the ceiling, his expression blank. Regulus hesitates, jumps to conclusions; he knows Peter too well by now. "You heard?"
"I know," Peter says. He props himself up on his elbows, then swings his legs over to the side of the bed. Regulus's gaze is caught by the rising of Peter's shirt, the skin beneath. Peter is losing weight, too much too quick. (How frivolous that he notices that.) "I told you, didn't I?"
Regulus absorbs those words, about to retort with some clever and useless remark, before he looks Peter in the face. There is a terrible truth in his eyes, his cold gaze, and Regulus feels his stomach twist. "Peter -- "
Peter's self-righteousness crumbles under the weight of the guilt that Regulus's horrified gaze sets upon him. He breaks. "I had to, you know I had to!" The confession bursts from Peter's throat, raw, as though it was lying in wait. "Better now than later, better to end it before -- "
" -- but James," Regulus chokes out. The world without a James Potter to hide behind is much worse than any ideological danger that Lily Evans Potter could pose. James Potter was a symbol to stand behind, a leader to follow, and now what, now that Peter's torn him off of his pedestal? "Peter… you're one of them?"
Peter stands, shaking, and yanks his left sleeve up to bare his forearm. There is no Dark Mark. He lets the sleeve drop, stares at him, and the guilt force Regulus's gaze down. "I did this for us, not for some Dark Lord!" Now he is truly manic, mad, and that may be the worst of all. "You said you're on my side, Reg!"
Regulus tries to breathe and comprehend all of this, wants to scream or cry or somehow react but he just can't understand. "But James was your friend -- "
"James didn't understand, James didn't know what was good for him," Peter bursts out, tearing his wand from his tightened belt. "Just like Sirius, just like you!" His wand quivers not a centimeter from Regulus's nose.
A shudder cuts through Regulus. Lily and James are dead. Peter had a hand in it. No more James, no more playing Chaser's Quidditch, no more. It's all over. The war is here, the war is in his face, oh God.
"Kill me, then." Regulus raises his head, to die like a Black, with honour. Honour, what's honour in a world where there isn't even good and evil? His voice is faint, his head light, his body heavy with the shock. "No one is good enough for you."
Peter gives a dry, painful laugh, and then Peter is kissing him gently and pushes him into the chest of drawers when Regulus's knees buckle; they are helpless to resist the inertia that has pushed them closer and closer since the Hat cried "Gryffindor" to this instant.
Before Regulus leaves school, Remus and Sirius are dead. Peter does not admit or deny involvement, because Regulus doesn't ask.
Two years later, Halloween. Peter lies sleeping beside him when the news arrives. The Dark Lord Voldemort is dead, defeated by the one year old son of two Gryffindors, Neville Longbottom.
Regulus finds it apropos. He kisses a sleeping Peter on the forehead and goes to find some wine, to toast to Gryffindor.