(five things regulus black never did)
"Oh," he says, "Right. Yes, of course."
This reception sucks. Let's bail out and get drunk somewhere away from the family.
Regulus doesn't dance at Bellatrix's wedding. For one, there's no one to dance with, but more than that, he doesn't feel up to it. Instead, he sits in the back, watching. Sirius is eleven and newly ostracized, while Regulus is still the good kid. Sirius is just old enough to realize what it means to be an adult and just young enough to think it's as easy as being independent. But none of this occurs to Regulus at the time, though in retrospect, he can see the pieces falling together - there's Andromeda, looking uncomfortable with her date, some Malfoy, probably already involved with that Mudblood man - and there's Narcissa, casting her sister glowering looks under her lashes, trying to catch Lucius's eye - and then Bella, bored, and Sirius, angry, and Mother, unmoved.
And Regulus, inactive. The eternal spectator, the member of the crowd, one of the many killers of Brutus, neither wholly to blame nor wholly to absolve. I just listened to the wrong speaker, he'll say, I just didn't do anything. How can that be wrong?
If you don't join the war, he thinks, then you can't kill anyone. Right?
In retrospect, he thinks that Bella's wedding was the first nail in the coffin, the first indication that everything was slipping through their fingers, slow poison already seeping through the wound, even if it hadn't reached the heart. Even though the Black family was whole, it was fragile and already falling toward the ground.
In retrospect, he thinks he's a coward for not trying to stop it. But then, he was nine, and what can a nine-year-old boy do? So he sits in the back and watches and doesn't comprehend what's going on around him, doesn't comprehend the subtle rot of his own kin.
And when he sees that Mudblood boy slinking in the gate, he doesn't move or act. And hours later, Andy slips him a big, shining galleon and tells him that he didn't see Ted Tonks at Bella's wedding, and he nods.
This is his first - and, for the next ten years of his life, last - rebellion against the Black family.
Sirius never forgives his complacence. Regulus doesn't blame him.
You wanna go for a joyride, Regulus? You and me, you know, like old times? It's awesome, I swear, ten times better than a broomstick. What? Mum and Dad won't know. You won't get in trouble. If we get caught, I'll... Oh, I dunno, I'll tell them I forced you into it, you know, in case any Death Eaters try to kill me they'll hit you instead.
I'm kidding, Reg, just kidding. So what do you say?
Regulus always regrets Sirius. And not any particular thing Sirius did or any particular thing he did to Sirius, but his brother in general. He regrets being related to him and regrets wishing he weren't, and he regrets thinking that Sirius was bad and he regrets being associated with Sirius's bad-ness (even though he knows, he knows the truth: Regulus is the bad one, the killer, the monster and Sirius is the hero, the knight in shining armor, the glorious dissenter, the beautiful rebel that everyone admires and he thinks that unless things change soon, the hero and his evil brother are going to have to face each other.)
(He'd rather eat his own hand than face Sirius in a duel, partly because he knows Sirius will win.)
(And then partly because he isn't so sure Sirius will win.)
But yeah, it's true: he, like his father before him and his friends after, regrets being connected with Sirius Black, infamous trouble maker, infamous rebel, infamous.
More than the connection, he regrets the way he ignores it - and, and, and if he's honest, if he's really telling that God's Honest Truth, no lies, I swear -
If he's honest, he regrets not riding Sirius's stupid motorbike, because he got a hold of that thing two weeks before he left for good and Sirius knew what Regulus would say, had to know, and had to realize that the brothers would never ever be the same way they were when they were little snot-nosed kids with big dreams and bigger heads - but Regulus secretly believes that if he'd ridden the motorbike, he would have been able to salvage his family, his brother. He half-believes that he could have saved them, if he'd just taken a ride on a flying bike.
But he's not the hero, remember? He's the dark secret, the brooding past, the evil brother of the knight. He isn't supposed to save them.
So, Regulus Arcturus Black. You want to be a part of something far larger than yourself, is that right?
Regulus doesn't know what he's doing when he tells Bellatrix he'd like to join the Death Eaters. If he sees the glint of malice in her eyes, if he recognizes the hint of incredulity when she asks if he's sure, he doesn't acknowledge it. He hesitates, and thinks he hears Sirius's voice, disgusted in him. He ignores his brother's face, swimming in his eyes, and nods, looking surer than he feels, and Bellatrix stares for a moment longer before shrugging.
As you wish, little cousin. I'll take you there, but not now. Meet me outside your mother's house at seven o'clock next Tuesday night.
When seven o'clock arrives, he wants nothing more than to stay holed up in his room, safe and complacent and inactive, but Sirius never forgave his inactivity, and sitting on the sidelines is more difficult, he thinks, than joining the conflict. After all, if you never join the war, how can you become a war hero? How can you save the day?
Regulus walks out, overconfident and scared. Bellatrix, wearing simple black robes, glances at him and briskly begins walking, silent. Perhaps this is a test, to see if he trusts his cousin not to lead him to a briar patch. Perhaps this is a test, to see if he's ready for the coming ceremony. He half-wishes to fail, to take the easy escape and be not good enough, because he feels oddly hunted as he follows Bella mindlessly - as though there are a million eyes on the back of his neck, all accusing.
You didn't salvage your family. You didn't save your brother. You didn't fix the cracks you watched form. You didn't tell them about Andromeda and Ted Tonks. You didn't.
Regulus blinks hard and stumbles.
(Locked in his cave in the center of the labyrinth, trapped in his chains and nailed to the floor, the Minotaur smiles.)
Andromeda, what does Mudblood mean?
Regulus doesn't kill a Pure-Blood man. He does kill his Muggle-Born wife.
He stumbles out the door, ears filled with the agonized cries of the man, now silent (stunned), haunting him, and rips his mask off, tearing into his own cheek in his haste, and throws up all over the grass. He tastes blood and bile and, shaking, collapses. It would have been kinder to kill the man as well, but Regulus doesn't think he could stomach two murders. Regulus didn't think he could stomach one, and he was right, really. He's kneeling in his own vomit, tears stinging the scratch he's made on his face, and he thinks that somehow, somewhere along the line, he's made a huge mistake.
But where? And when? He never intended to get involved, really. He's just been dragged along by the current, just a pawn, just a follower. He never meant to hurt anyone, no.
This mantra he repeats, robes stained with tears and vomit and blood (whose?), hands shaking. He forgets to send up the Dark Mark. He can't bear to apparate, so he walks. Stumbles through the night from streetlamp to streetlamp, each step taking him farther from his disgrace and closer to his damnation. Which way, he wonders, takes him back home?
Which path gets me to salvation? Which way do I go to get out of this mess?
He left his rope at the beginning of the Labyrinth, foolishly thinking the Minotaur was the worst demon in the maze. And even more foolishly, he believed he could fight the monster and come out on top, believed that Clever Regulus could take on the beast and save the lovely virgins.
But they're already dead, eaten, and the monster advances. Regulus, in the middle of Muggle London, in the middle of the night, vomit-stained robes and blood-streaked face, screams.
(The beast laughs, and Regulus is dimly aware that it only exists within himself.)
Kreacher lives to serve Master Regulus. What would Master Regulus have Kreacher do?
Regulus doesn't fight the Inferi as they drag him under the waves. He closes his eyes and welcomes the shock of the cold water, the slime of the fingers on his ankles, the agony of the nails digging into his flesh (eight of which are his own in his palms, so hard and terrified against his will that his blood seeps into the water around his hands and attracts more of the dead.) He thinks they speak to him, tell him lies or secrets or half-truths, thinks he can hear all the answers in the moments when the water is clogging his ears and stopping the air in his lungs, the blood in his veins, believes he can hear the dying roar of the beast in the words of the Inferi.
And then he opens his eyes and looks into the face of the Muggle-Born woman he killed, the first person he committed murder toward, and screams. Water rushes down his throat, and all of a sudden he's horrified, clawing at the hands around him, the fingers at his throat, the dead woman's revenge for the folly of a stupid boy. He flails in the water, bloody palms attacking whatever they can reach, from dead arms to his own legs to rotting throats, anything, anything to get him out of the water, to dry ground, to safety.
Kreacher!he screams, but isn't heard, Sirius! Anyone!
He can feel it slipping, can feel his eyelids growing so heavy and it can't have been so long because he's not dead yet, he's still alive even if he's holding his breath, even if he's drowning, even if he can feel the dead Mudblood's hatred in the way her hands claw at him, the blood - the vivid red stain spreading around him, from his arms and his legs and his abdomen - the blood is coloring her tattered clothes. It can't have been long, he must stay alive and make it to the surface, even if he can't see it.
(Running in circles, he stumbles through the Labyrinth.)
Fingers reach out for his face, his mouth still open in a silent scream, a death knell, a banshee's cry.
(The Minotaur growls.)
Regulus gives one last heave, shoves against the monsters crowding him, reaches as far as he can, swims as hard as he can possibly swim, and his fingers touch the surface -
tips of this fingers break into the air, and he thinks he may survive
this, he may escape, but his legs are weak and there's nothing left
in his lungs but stagnant water laced with blood and death, and -
(A/N: That death scene disturbed even me.)
(By the way, the five things Regulus didn't do, in case they weren't clear, were: he didn't dance at Bellatrix's wedding, he didn't ride the motorbike, he didn't stay home when Bella agreed to take him to the Death Eaters, he didn't kill the husband, and he didn't fight the Inferi when he had the chance to.)