Elogium Sine Nomine

"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."

He taps his quill to the scrap of parchment once, twice, three times, before he remembers to stop himself. Sharply pulling the quill away an instant too late, he watches as a bead of ink leaks out onto the message, smudging it beyond repair.

With a slightly manic laugh, he crumples it. Tossing it aside to join a small collection of likewise marred messages, he wonders if everything he does will come just an instant too late.

He reaches for another piece of parchment, and quickly but carefully rewrites his message. His epitaph. He has recopied these words so many times now that it takes almost no effort at all to scribe them correctly. Absently he wonders if he will soon be able to replicate them without even thinking, and whether that will make them less real, or more so.

This time he remembers not to spill ink over the message.

He does not sign the note. Instead, he sets the quill aside and glances up at the crest painted above his bed. Despite his situation, the image fills him with a fierce pride, and he takes no small pleasure in realizing that even now some things have not changed. Almost feverishly his eyes drink in the words inscribed there, toujours pur, as he ponders what his family would think, were they to know what he planned.

Traitor, they would name him. He is not entirely sure they would be wrong.

For the first time in his life, however, Regulus is also not entirely sure they are right.

One Black would approve of what he is about to attempt, perhaps even regard him with pride. This is hardly reassuring, and does little to strengthen his resolve. For too long, Regulus has viewed Sirius with only scorn, content to follow the rest of his family's example in condemning him. He is relieved that he has never had to test his denunciation of his brother in battle, but has never sought peace between them.

Nor has he ever sought his brother's support. The knowledge that he might have earned it anyway makes him question his intentions more than anything else could. Nothing could be a greater betrayal to the House of Black. Even now, the prospect of bringing shame upon his family horrifies him.

Nevertheless, Regulus finds himself thinking of his brother more and more often now; it is a habit he deems more than slightly disconcerting. He has no particularly admiration for Sirius or his disdain for pureblood society. On the contrary, he has always considered his brother's wilful independence as rather unnatural, and ultimately self-destructive.

Apparently his own obstinate attachment to the familiar has proven even more so. Glancing down once more at his message, Regulus is finally forced to admit this.

It is a funny thing, he decides, to go to your death.

Regulus is no stranger to death. On the contrary, he is rather well acquainted with it. He has been a Death Eater long enough to know quite intimately what it means to die. He has witnessed the deaths of countless victims: some have bled their lives away in front of him and his comrades, others have died with neither a struggle nor a mark. The lack of apparent violence does not make them seem less dead; he can tell the difference.

Death is no stranger. But although it may now be as familiar to him as the reality he is about to leave, there is a world of difference between risking death and willingly embracing it. He has no illusions that he can return from the Dark Lord's cave alive; even had he had any, he knows he would not live long once he deserts. Regulus has no intentions of continuing to serve a master who discards his most loyal servants without a second though.

A master who, having already destroyed himself, can now only destroy everything else around him.

Regulus again tears his eyes away from the parchment, unwilling to look upon it any longer. Grasping abruptly for his wand, he conjures a glass and, with a muttered spell, fills it with wine. He quaffs most the contents in a single gulp, trying to decide whether he can afford to get drunk tonight. He has never been a heavy drinker, but knows how much easier it would be to face death intoxicated and half out of his mind.

It is unfortunate that he will need his wits tonight. Staring at the goblet and the remainder of wine within it, Regulus suddenly wonders how the potion in the Dark Lord's cave will taste. Before he can regain control over himself, he has flung the glass against a wall.

In disquiet, he watches as the red liquid seeps out between the shards of broken glass, discolouring his wall and floor. Shaking slightly, Regulus drops his wand and stares at the ugly stain, feeling strangely numb. A moment later, he slumps forward, hiding his head in his hands, convinced that he is about to start weeping.

He is not brave. He has not spent his life courting destruction simply to show that he is not afraid. Regulus knows that he can never face death unflinching. He suspects that he will not be able to manage more than a quiet despair, or at best a detachment born of sudden disillusionment with the society he has known all his life.

He is not bold. He has never sought glory through danger or ridiculous escapades. He is not his brother, who is only content when pushing things to their limits. Regulus refuses to let himself even wonder what Sirius would do in this situation. With any luck, his brother will never learn of it at all.

He is not heroic. He has never seen any glory in high notions of self-sacrifice. He knows that were his life not soon to be forfeit anyway, he would never have been able to contemplate sacrificing it. Even now, Regulus cannot silence the voice that whispers that his plan will fail, that the locket that he has spent the last few months researching will remain intact, that his death will ultimately accomplish nothing.

But he is a Slytherin, and cunning enough to know that cunning alone can get him no further. He is shrewd enough to see what must be done, and resolute enough to do it.

Shuddering, he lifts his head and again glances towards the stain on the wall. Once more picking up his wand, he quickly cleans up the spill and repairs the glass. His eyes turn to the pile of imperfect messages still resting on his desk. It is ironic, he decides, how determined he is that his final letter, to a man he now detests, be perfect. He supposes that it is the last thing over which he will ever fully have control.

With another muttered spell, he obliterates the mass of parchment, erasing all evidence of this: his greatest triumph? His most terrible shame?

He gazes again at the crest on his wall: silently apologizing for his betrayal, bitterly regretting his loyalty. For the first time, Regulus briefly wishes that, like his brother, he was capable of repudiating his family. As necessary as this act is, he knows that the Blacks would never see it as anything but treason; they are incapable of viewing the world in shades of grey.

The thought pains him, and he glances one last time at his message, still unsigned. He is still loyal enough to his name to not sully it by signing it to such treachery. He knows that his mother will be happier never knowing how heinously a Black could betray the Dark Lord. He knows that in ignorance, she will be safer as well.

And yet considering everything he knows and suspects about the Dark Lord, Regulus has relatively few regrets about his final act. Picking up his quill again, he stares intently at the message.

He finally initials it, too proud to die unspoken, too shamed to speak his name.

A/N: The title is Latin for "Epitaph without a Name." The Deathly Hallows has made me really love Regulus (right. 700+ pages and that's the part I cling to), and when I was trying to decide how exactly to write a tribute to him, the continuing mystery of R.A.B. is what grabbed me. Anyway, I hope you enjoyed it, and feedback is, of course, appreciated.