A/N: This was inspired in part by my sister, who loves the Black brothers almost as much as I do, and also in part by a wonderful drawing on artdungeon. net, picturing Sirius and Regulus looking as though they're having a heated conversation - the image really stuck with me, and I planted it in the story somewhere, see if you can find it. The picture really is great, go and find it if you can, I think it's also on Regulus' page on hp-lexicon. Anyway, please enjoy, and tell me what you thought.


The Better Son

"Regulus, wait," called out a familiar voice behind him.

"Regulus," called out a familiar voice behind him. "Regulus, wait."

Regulus turned around to face his brother. "I really don't have time," he began, but Sirius dismissed his excuse with a wave of his hand.

"You can make time for this. I need to talk to you."

"I'm on my way to meet someone," said Regulus curtly, making his way up the staircase again. He hadn't spoken to his brother in weeks and, really, had no great wish to do so.

"Regulus," Sirius repeated, firmly. "It happens to be important."

"It can't wait?" Regulus paused on the staircase, turned toward his brother with obvious irritation in his expression.

"No." His tone was final.

Surrendering reluctantly, Regulus looked his brother up and down as he waited for him to speak. He had always been shorter than Sirius, but slighter as well, a fact emphasized by Sirius' broad shoulders and well-toned forearms that he showed off by rolling up his shirt sleeves. Regulus flexed his own weaker muscles beneath his robes, his hand reaching instinctively for his wand, in case this was a discussion that Sirius didn't wish to settle with words.

"I dearly hope you're not thinking of hexing me, baby brother," Sirius said dryly, noting the movement. "Without any of your Death Eater friends to back you up, it's not a wise decision."

"What do you want?" Regulus asked shortly, not moving his hand from his wand.

Sirius moved toward him, then hesitated, unsure of his words. "Regulus, I – look, I know you've always been a bit of an idiot, but – "

Regulus snorted. "I don't want another one of your lectures, Sirius. You've chosen your way, I've chosen mine. Not that you have anything relevant to say, anyway." He saw Sirius' eyes narrow, but Regulus plowed on relentlessly, taking advantage of the fact that his brother had not yet reached for his own wand. "Anyway, I thought we'd agreed to pretend we aren't related."

"Yeah, well, that was before you became even more of an idiot and thought you'd make yourself look cool by hanging around those Dark Arts creeps who're just waiting to join up with Voldemort," Sirius snapped. Damn, his younger brother was dim. But still, Regulus had to have some idea of what he was getting into…

"So you're worried about me," Regulus said slowly, realizing what the crease in Sirius' forehead meant. "That's touching. Brotherly love shows itself at last, hmm?" He could tell he was starting to irritate Sirius, but now he really intended to. If Sirius thought he could really change Regulus' mind about the Dark Lord, about his loyalty, then he was sadly mistaken.

Sirius shook his head, frustrated by his brother's blind ignorance. "Regulus, you don't know, you don't understand the meaning of all this. You're just following along, too weak to say no, just like you were too weak to resist our parents brainwashing you. Being Voldemort's follower doesn't make you safe. I know you're just looking for security, I know you feel like you've found someone who shares your ideas, but you have no idea what you're getting into. Voldemort…" He drew a deep breath. "Voldemort's evil. He can't be trusted. Not even by his followers. He's not the sort of leader anyone should follow, and I'm not just saying that because I think he's a prejudiced, raving mad lunatic."

"So you think I don't know what I'm getting into," Regulus repeated, amazed at his brother's obstinacy.

"I want to help you!" said Sirius desperately. "Look, it's nothing against you, but you are a bit of a weakling! You don't have to go along with this, just because you're in Slytherin, or just because you agree with his ideas about Pureblood superiority. It's not a good idea. I'm just making sure you know." Regulus continued to glower, unmoved. "Please, Regulus. Stop this. Stop before it's too late, and you're in over your head."

"I'm not going to listen to you anymore," said Regulus harshly. "You can't tell me what to do, like when we were little. I'm not a child anymore, I'm not your admirer. I'm not your brother any more."

Regulus turned away and made as if to go, but Sirius stepped forward, took hold of Regulus' arm. "Regulus, you've got to see reason! How can you support someone's ideas, who goes around killing innocent people? You can't really believe that that will help anything. It's a sick, perverse, bloody way of gaining power. Don't do this. Don't betray yourself."

"You have no idea," Regulus said angrily. "You don't know how much of your burden I've had to bear. I had to be the good boy, after you defied our parents in every way you could. I had to be twice the Black that you are, just to make up for it, just to make sure our family name doesn't end up in the garbage dump - which you seem to be determined that it does," he added scornfully. "You have no idea what it means to be a Black, and you never have. To you it's just a name, that belongs to a lunatic family you'd like to disown. Well, go ahead. It doesn't matter whose side you join, now – I've already become your replacement."

Sirius flinched, but his eyes hardened, determined not to give up easily. "Look, I know it must've been hard on you when I left," he said, his voice heavy with regret. "But listen to me now. You don't have to be a part of this, no one will make you. I can help you – if you need help." His grip on Regulus' arm never loosened.

"What does it matter to you?" said Regulus, unable to withhold his bitterness. "Uncomfortable at the thought of having to duel me, if we run into each other in a year or two?"

"Because I care," Sirius said quietly. "I'm only doing this because I still care, whatever you think. I care about what happens to you, I'm not entirely heartless. Fine, you've made your own choice, you did it freely. But I just don't think you understand—"

"No!" cried Regulus, shaking off his brother's hand angrily. "It's you that doesn't understand! I've thought about this, I'm not just a stupid, soft idiot who's just going along with everything. You always jump to that conclusion. I know what I'm doing. And it isn't because I want to be safe. The Dark Lord is going to make the world as it should be. The wizarding world will overcome the Muggles, and the Purebloods will be in control. That's how it's intended to be, Sirius, don't you realize?" Sirius only shook his head, wondering how his brother could have come to this. Regulus continued, his face already flushed from his fervor. "Everyone knows what's going to happen, in the end. It's too bad you never learned which side to be on."

Sirius' head shot up, his eyes glinting with fury. "It's fools like you, Regulus, that only take sides with whoever they think is going to win," he spat.

Regulus laughed mirthlessly. Now Sirius thought he could win the argument by insulting Regulus' character. But since when has he ever been subtle? Regulus reminded himself. There was, however, one last matter to deal with before he ended the discussion.

"Sirius," Regulus said quietly, "I just want you to keep something in mind. The Dark Lord isn't trying to wipe out Purebloods – only the Muggles and Muggle-borns out there who don't deserve to have the power." Sirius opened his mouth to interrupt but Regulus didn't allow it, and kept talking. "He knows our family supports him, he wants to protect the Pureblood wizards. And he's heard about you, that you're talented, brave—"

"Yes, I'm sure you've told him all about my charming personality," Sirius snarled.

Regulus ignored his brother's childish outburst. "This is a war, Sirius! This isn't a matter of belonging to a different House, or pissing off Mother and Father in every way you can, just because you can. Even people like you are in danger, but unlike the others, you have a choice, you can have protection—"

"I'm not going to hide under my mother's skirt, like you are," said Sirius angrily.

"The Dark Lord can use you, Sirius!" Regulus cried. "And if you work for him, he'll protect you, he'll make sure nothing happens! And it's not so bad, what he's doing – you just don't understand, you've never understood! All he wants is for the right people to be in power – people of Pure blood, people who are superior! You've got to grow up and stop being so foolishly brave, thinking that your side could possibly defeat the Dark Lord – he's too strong, too powerful. You've got to grow out of your stupid teenager rebellion against our family and our ideas. You've got to realize that what the Dark Lord is doing is right, not evil—"

"Shut UP, you crazy lunatic, SHUT UP!" Sirius roared. "I'M NOT A SPINELESS IDIOT, LIKE YOU, I'M NOT GOING TO JOIN YOUR SIDE, I'M NOT GOING TO HELP YOU KILL INNOCENT PEOPLE, AND IF I HAVE TO HURT YOU TO KEEP YOU FROM DOING IT, THEN I'M READY TO!"

The two brothers stood there, facing one another on the staircase, every muscle tensed, their grey eyes identical in fury, their two faces so alike, so similar, fixed with expressions of equal rage. Everything was still, and quiet, but just for a moment – and then Sirius drew his wand. Regulus was prepared and whipped out his first, but Sirius was faster—

"Sectum—"

"EXPELLIARMUS!" Sirius cried.

Regulus' wand zoomed out of his hand and clattered down several flights of stairs. He couldn't possibly get to it now, and he turned his eyes fearfully to Sirius, trying to prepare himself for whatever hex he was about to receive, but Sirius had thrown his own wand aside and was storming toward Regulus, fury consuming his features. The idiot, Regulus reflected, why has he thrown his wand down, is he refusing to fight with it now that I don't have mine?—

His hand held up to shield his face, Regulus waited tensely for what was coming, but Sirius only leaned into his face, his breathing rough."I'm not a brute," Sirius said in a low, warning voice, his fists clenched, every muscle in his forearms tense. "I'm not going to attack you unarmed." He turned his back and started to walk away.

Regulus knew it was a stupid thing to say, but it was on the tip of his tongue and he couldn't help it – couldn't let Sirius have the last word, like always – couldn't stand feeling so humiliated, outperformed again by his older brother, who had always been bigger, stronger, more popular, more talented, and yet was so arrogant, only thinking of himself, scornful, the traitor, didn't anyone realize—?

"Coward."

Sirius stopped short. His back stiffened, and for a fleeting moment Regulus thought he was going to ignore the insult and simply walk away. But Sirius turned slowly, his eyes burning with such deep fury that Regulus felt his stomach twist nervously. Even still, embarrassed by his defeat, he refused to back down.

"Hit me, you sodding coward."

He had a brief second to prepare himself before Sirius fell upon him, his fist connecting solidly with Regulus' temple with a sickening crack. His vision shaken, Regulus swung back wildly and missed; Sirius grabbed both his brother's wrists and twisted them violently, trying to hold Regulus still, and he was definitely not expecting Regulus to blindly thrust his elbow into Sirius' eye, an accident, but nevertheless knocking him over and bringing them both tumbling down several stairs to land hard at the bottom of the staircase.

Struggling against the throbbing pain in his head, Regulus tried to raise himself to attack again, but Sirius threw himself down on him, pinning him to the ground. His eyes were flashing with dangerous rage as he gripped Regulus' face tightly in his hands, forcing their eyes to meet. "Never – call me – coward – you – "

Regulus swung with all his might before Sirius could finish his insult, and his blow landed soundly, smashing into Sirius' nose. Surprised, Sirius stumbled backward, his hands trying to awkwardly wipe the blood streaming from his nose. Regulus wanted to get to his feet and resume the fight while Sirius was still vulnerable, but every limb in his body was protesting, and a small voice inside of him convinced him it wasn't worth it. He's your brother. Haven't you done enough already? He'll never touch you again, never again treat you like a child, a harmless weakling.

He looked warily at Sirius, and was surprised to find his brother's gaze full of anger, still, but also pity. Oh, Sirius, Regulus thought. You underestimate me. You have no idea.

Still clutching a hand to his nose, Sirius bent down to pick up his wand, and pocketed it, never breaking gaze with Regulus. He's just a kid. He doesn't know. - He was going to attack you with his wand! He provoked you, knowing you would fight back. - He's a kid. He's stupid. He's soft.

Yes, but you can't protect him anymore.

"Fine," said Sirius abruptly. "Go your own way. Join up with Voldemort if you want." He hesitated, taking a long look at his brother: the refined, elegant features they both shared, the cool grey eyes identical to his, slightly obscured by long dark hair, Regulus' face now bruised and bloody. He looked so stubborn, and yet so defenseless, sprawled there looking up at Sirius apprehensively. Sirius' heart twisted; in another time and place, another wizard might not feel as merciful as he did towards Regulus.

"Just don't let them take who you are. And remember, if it's not what you thought it would be: there will always be another way." He walked away, not looking back once, but Regulus thought Sirius' eyes had looked wet before he turned away.

The next week, Regulus received a great honor – he was finally given a Dark Mark. He dropped out of Hogwarts and never spoke another word to Sirius.

--

Two years later

Regulus sat huddled in the boat, his knees drawn up to his chest, his long hair a curtain that swung forward to hide his face. Kreacher was silently rowing them toward the island in the center of the lake, never stopping to ask questions, shooting Regulus a pleading glance every so often. He's scared, Regulus realized. He thinks I'm going to make him do everything.

The boat bumped gently against the ground, and Regulus and Kreacher climbed out. Slowly they approached the basin of poison, each quiet footstep resounding in the pit of Regulus' stomach like a bell tolling. He placed both hands on either side of the basin, peered at the emerald-green liquid inside. It was just as Kreacher had said. He could see his foggy reflection in the liquid: his hair had grown long, longer than it has ever been, longer even than his brother's had been, and it hung all straggly in his face. I really look like a man about to die, and the thought made him laugh mirthlessly, then feelsick to his stomach.

He asked Kreacher for the goblet they had brought; Kreacher handed it to him, eyes wide and questioning.

"I'm going to drink," said Regulus, keeping his eyes down and his voice low, "and you can't let me stop, Kreacher. Make me finish it."

Kreacher's huge eyes filled with tears and he rasped, "Master can't, it burns, Master shouldn't drink, let Kreacher—"

"No," said Regulus quietly. He reached into his pocket, drew out an elaborate gold locket. "Here. When I've drunk it all, when the basin's empty, switch the lockets."

Kreacher was sobbing now so hard that he couldn't speak, until Regulus gently bid him to stop. "Kreacher. Listen to me. You've got to leave without me, go home, right after you've switched the lockets. Are you listening?"

His eyes still spilling over with tears, Kreacher gave a pitiful nod. Regulus' voice was strangely calm and even as he continued, "Go home with the locket – that's your most important task. No matter what. Understood?"

"Master Regulus!" Kreacher cried helplessly. "Master Regulus must not do this! There are creatures – dead things – in the lake! Kreacher cannot leave the Master! Kreacher won't! What will the Mistress say – when Kreacher returns without the Master – what will she say, her last son left – "

"Quiet," Regulus ordered in low, tired voice. "This – you don't understand. I've got to do this." He looked piteously at Kreacher's tearstained face. "It's as much for me as for the rest of the world." For Sirius, he thought, remembering his brother's last words to him, words that, at the time, he never would have dreamt would change his life this much.

"If it's not what you thought it would be: there will always be another way."

Regulus had ignored these words for much longer than he should have; then, finally, it was too late to back out, it was too late to find someone else to do this horrible business for him. His dreams forgotten, his great hopes and ambition shattered, Regulus was slumped across his bed, disenchanted and despairing, when he had remembered Sirius' words, the fire in his brother's eyes; Sirius had turned out to be right, again, after all. It wasn't what he thought it would be. It was so much worse. It was hell; it was nightmares and bloodshed and innocent people crying out, the echoes of their pleading voices repeating over and over even in Regulus' sleep. And it was his own stupid fault for getting in over his head. There was no way out, now, not without endangering the lives of the only people who still truly cared about him. And if it had to happen, he thought, it should happen like this: he would die, but he would have proved something, to himself, to the Dark Lord, to whatever poor, brave soul that would someday defeat the Dark Lord. But he will be defeated, Regulus said to himself fiercely, and I will have helped… despite all that I've done…

"There will always be another way." You knew it, Sirius, you knew it even then. But it was no good. You knew there was no way you could have saved me, then.

Maybe I can save you, now.

"Destroy the locket, Kreacher," he whispered, his voice barely shaking now. "Destroy it – I don't know how – it has to be destroyed." Kreacher nodded, eyes wide and full of anguish as he watched Regulus dip the goblet, with trembling hands, into the basin.

Regulus drank. He wept, he sobbed. He screamed and cried out until his voice was hoarse. But still he drank.

It felt like an eternity of pain, of fire and thirst, a nightmarish world of agony.

He saw things, such awful things. He would beg Kreacher to make him stop and Kreacher, bound to obey, snatched the goblet away; then Regulus, realizing his mistake, would order Kreacher to make him drink, and it would all begin again.

Finally, the basin was empty, and Regulus saw that Kreacher switched the lockets. "Go," he gasped, watching with feverish eyes as the house-elf disappeared, still wailing at having to leave his master, unable to disobey.

Regulus was alone now. He was too weak to be truly frightened, though his heart was still pounding wildly from drinking the awful potion. He was thirsty… so thirsty…

He crawled slowly to the edge of the lake, scooped water up in his palm to drink. Before he could fully satisfy his thirst, Regulus felt a powerful, ice-cold grip on his arm. He knew what would happen, now. It was either the Inferi or Lord Voldemort that would kill him, and he didn't want to give Voldemort that satisfaction. He knew what had to happen.

He felt a stab of regret. Sirius might never know what Regulus had done. It doesn't matter, he told himself, but he wished he could have told Sirius. You were right… there is always another way. And I found it.