Chapter X: Ruin
Regulus Black was in trouble.
He could feel it. There was no other explanation why, at the dead of night, he had been summoned.
Through the slits in his mask, he could see the grand double doors he knew so well. How many times had he visited his cousin here, not as a masked Death Eater, but as a normal wizard?
He closed his eyes, intent on preventing the tendril of longing deep within him from consuming him entirely. Too late. Oh, how he wished he had listened to his brother! Sirius – Sirius knew, and had tried to warn him but he had stupidly ignored his older brother. And James! He had offered him a way out! He wished he had the nerve to defect, to become a blood traitor. He wished he had Sirius's courage, or Andromeda's intellect.
Why? Why me? I'm eighteen, for Merlin's sake!
He cursed Bella and her stories of wonder and false glory. He cursed his mother for allowing him to join the cause. He cursed the Dark Lord for making him do the most unspeakable things...
The image of his own niece's face as Bella forced him to torture her mother burned his mind's eye for the hundredth time. His eyes were stinging. He stared down at his hands. His coarse, traitorous, murderous hands.
Oh Merlin. Sweet Merlin.
He wished more than anything that he would be put out of his misery. That the Dark Lord would do what he, Regulus Arcturus Black, could not and finish him. He did not deserve to live.
And what would happen to Nymphadora, his own flesh and blood? Would James have found her under the Disillusionment? Had she survived the fire? Would she ever forgive the man who had destroyed her life? No. She would one day find him and kill him. And it was no more than he deserved.
He ran his trembling hand through his hair and squeezed the back of his head as though it would remove the memory of Andromeda screaming.
Oh, Andromeda! The only family member to have ever understood him, and he had slaughtered her!
He...he had to stay strong for Adèle. She was all he had to live for. He had to subdue his monstrous self-loathing...for her.
Composing himself as best he could, he knocked on the door to the drawing room.
The door opened and Regulus followed the magnificent carpet into the dimly lit room. Even in the low light, it reeked of grandeur and wealth; perhaps it was the ornately carved table that dominated chamber, or perhaps the sumptuous chandelier covered in real diamonds. Either way, it did nothing to put Regulus at ease, but that was more thanks to the four men in the room, all of whom were wearing gold masks.
One sat facing the door, his legs crossed. He was sitting so straight Regulus guessed he was Romulus Lestrange, a man almost as rich and influential in pure-blood circles as Regulus's own family. Leaning against the wall nearest the door was a tall, powerful, broad-chested wizard. Regulus had worked out last week that he was Lysander Yaxley. He did not know much about Yaxley, only that he had graduated top of his class at Hogwarts ten years ago and had won an Order of Merlin for 'services to the Minister'. The shortest man of the four, who was sitting on the windowsill on the far wall, Regulus did not know. His mask was barely visible behind the cloud of smoke that coiled from his cigar and shrouded his face. This was the second time Regulus had encountered this man, and he still terrified him the most of the four, the Knights.
And finally, stood with his chin high in the air, was his own cousin's husband. The fantastically rich and cunning Lucius Malfoy. To Regulus's understanding, Malfoy was the highest ranking member of the organisation. He practically ran it. He was the cause of Regulus's melancholy. He had sanctioned the attack. He had orchestrated Mr Zonko's downfall. He had initiated Regulus into the God-forsaken family.
Regulus wished he could prove that the man behind the mask was Lucius Malfoy. Oh, how he would love to go to the Ministry, or even Dumbledore and tell the world who the men in the room were. But there was no proof, not even a shred of evidence...
"Ah," said Lucius, barely above a whisper, "the prince has finally graced us with his presence." He waved his hand royally and gave a bow. "To what do we owe this pleasure, Regulus Black?"
"I – I was recovering..."
"Oh, you were recovering! Forgive me; I shall endeavour to arrange meetings around your timetable next time."
"I rather doubt you can," barked Yaxley. "After all, I am sure young Regulus is rather busy entertaining the enchanting Adèle Zonko."
Regulus blanched; how did they know about Adèle? His heart pounded faster, so much so that he was sure it would give him away.
"Ah, yes," said Lucius, "it would not do to separate the future Witch Weekly's 'Power Couple of the Year', now would it?"
"I –I apo-"
Regulus was cut off by a chair sliding across the room of its own accord and hitting the back of his knees in such a way that he collapsed into it. Sharp pain ran up his leg, but he knew he could not whimper. It was what they wanted. And the pain was nothing compared to the feeling of dread that had weaved a web around him and rendered him paralysed. He looked up into Malfoy's cold, grey eyes and found all traces of humour had evaporated.
But it was old Romulus Lestrange who spoke first.
"Were you taught about the Ancient Egyptian wizards in that school of yours, boy?" he wheezed.
"I thought not. Then you will be unaware of heka, the ancient Egyptian form of magic. In the nineteenth Dynasty, the Harim Conspiracy was uncovered. This involved several functionaries using heka as black magic. They used written magical spells, wax figurines and potions to attempt to kill Ramesses III. But their treachery did not go unnoticed and they received the ultimate punishment given to enemies of the state; all traces of their existence were removed. Their being was annihilated."
Regulus got the message loud and clear. He wished his shaking hands would stop betraying his terror.
"I ponder your position in the organisation, Regulus," said Lucius, "and I ask myself where your loyalties lie; to the Dark Lord, or your filthy half-blood girlfriend?"
A new wave of fear shot through him. "P-Please, sir, she is nothing to me. These rumours..."
"She is nothing to you? Why do you lie, Regulus? What do you mean by it?"
"I-I'm not lying! My allegiance is with the Dark Lord!"
"Oh?" said Lucius softly. He gave a lazy flick of his wand to reveal a body hanging upside down from the ceiling, no rope in sight.
Regulus' blood froze. No... Not Adèle... But there was no mistaking the black curls, and stunning blue eyes frozen in fear.
Terror gripped him. Not Adèle... not his Adèle...
"I suppose," whispered Lucius, "that I can kill her, then? After all, she is nothing to you."
"But why not, Prince Regulus?"
"Please...I'll do anything..."
"Do you love her, Regulus?"
"I – I love her! Let her go, please!"
"Young love," said Lucius, savouring every word, "how beautiful."
"I beg of you, release her! Take – take me instead! She d-doesn't deserve..."
Lucius grabbed Regulus's arm and roughly forced him up. He sunk his hand into Regulus' shoulder and slowly steered him towards Adèle's unconscious form.
"Regulus, Regulus, Regulus. You are labouring under the assumption that I will listen to you if you plead like a woman. If I so wish, I will awaken her and make you torture her to insanity as you did your dear cousin. But I have far more important work for you to perform; work that may well aid both you and your, ah, lover."
"That's the spirit!" said Lucius with mock enthusiasm. "Now, while your late cousin had been running around like a headless chicken, killing as she pleases, I have been formulating a new plan to retrieve a very important item for our Lord. Do you know what this item is?"
"A child, Regulus, a small child by the name of Neville Longbottom. If he is only a child, you may ask, why have I not found him? Simple: he is under the protection of that Muggle-loving fool, Albus Dumbledore. We suspect the child has been placed under the Fidelius, with the headmaster himself acting as the secret keeper. You know how the Fidelius works, do you not?" Regulus nodded numbly. "Had Bellatrix not made such a mess of the Tonks mission, I would have the child by now. But that is the problem with you Blacks; you never listen.
"Unfortunately for you, ignoring orders is not an option if you truly love your girlfriend. Now, am I to understand that your Occlumency has fully developed?"
"Good. You will go to Dumbledore and beg him for asylum. You will tell him that the Dark Lord has captured Miss Zonko and you can no longer serve him. You will use Dumbledore's forgiving nature and belief that love conquers all against him. You will say that Bellatrix had you under the Imperius Curse earlier. You will earn the old man's trust by giving him names that I shall supply you with. You will worm your way into his Order of the Phoenix and, ultimately, receive the Longbottoms' secret. You will kidnap the child and bring him to us alive. You will do this, Regulus, or watch your girlfriend die. Is that clear?"
Regulus opened his mouth, but no sound left his mouth.
"I said, is that clear?"
Lucius dragged him to the door with one hand, opened it with the other and pushed him out into the entrance hall with such force that Regulus fell and skidded across the polished marble floor.
"You have two weeks."
The door slammed shut.
His life was ruined.
End of Part One
Firstly, the Heka information came from The Practices of Ancient Egyptian Ritual & Magic by David Rankine.
Secondly, I hope you enjoyed it. Yes, it's very short, but I wanted it short. In some ways, it is a set-up for its sequel, which I am currently working on. I'm not going to say when it will be up, but I suspect I shall complete it before posting it. And this time, I'll post it all at once – this posting every few days thing grew rather tiresome. So that means you'll have quite a wait, but I hope it'll be worth it.
Thank you for reading Ruin.