He swims in the ocean, treading water and examining the different fish that swarm around him. They are blue and red and green and yellow and every other color, and in so many different shades. Regulus tries to scoop them up in his hands, but they only swim away.
He keeps pursuing them, going out a little deeper, being carried subtly but surely by the tide, until he is out in what he thinks must be the middle of the ocean. The beach looks so far away; Sirius was supposed to be watching him but must have been distracted by something because no one seems to be there. Regulus screams. As he does so, water streams into his mouth. The salt pierces his mouth and he hurries to spit it out, but before he knows it more is in his mouth and he is sinking, sinking, sinking.
Desperately trying to swim, he makes it several meters before his arms give way, tired of fighting the tide. For the first time in his life, he faces his own mortality, and it makes him cold inside, as if he is already underneath the ocean in a sandy grave. He lets out a shiver, but it does not keep him afloat. Now, he is falling and there is no strength left to carry him up.
He seems to be sinking slowly, so slowly that it is almost comical. He opens his eyes for a split second and sees the fish surrounding him, and he is envious of their movement, their ability to breathe here in the water.
Then he sees a hand and then an arm, and it wraps around his body and pulls him up. He sees Sirius's dark hair and worried face, and he laughs with relief and with terror, but mostly with love.
The swim back is a blur; all he can think about is the fact that he is not dying, that he will live to build that magnificent sandcastle he had been planning on and eventually go to Hogwarts and get a job and get married and have children and continue the Black line. On the beach, Sirius throws a towel around him and shakes him, hard.
"What were you thinking?" he demands, terror still in his voice. "You can barely swim, and you're out that deep, way over your head? Reg, you can't do that, understand me?"
Regulus nods, though in truth he would agree with anything that Sirius says.
Sirius continues, paying no attention. "Look, think about what would happen to me if you drowned, yeah? Mother and Father would likely drown me, I reckon…"
For a moment, the bitter, dark side of Regulus wonders how Sirius could turn the attention of a near-fatal accident away from the potential victim and towards himself, before he remembers that Sirius is his brother and his savior and his hero.
Sirius must have seen that flash of darkness over his brother's face. A slightly guilty look crosses his features. "I was so, so, scared," he says roughly. It is hard for him to say something this honest and raw, but he does, and Regulus loves him for it. He cracks a small smile. "Did I forget to mention that?"
Regulus flings his arms around his brother and forgets entirely about death and the ocean.
He and his mother are wandering the streets of Knockturn Alley. She is in a storm of a mood, her expression dark, a warning sign to any shopkeeper who would dare to attempt to sell something to her. Perhaps because of this, they are not bothered, or perhaps Knockturn Alley does not recruit its customers the same way other places do.
Regulus has never been here before, and he is honored that at ten he has been deemed old enough to visit. It is strange; his parents pay him and Sirius little mind at home, but in the outside world they are overly protective, as if afraid of how they will be perceived as parents by the rest of the Wizarding community.
Walburga heads into a store, without looking back to see if Regulus is coming. He hurries in after her, rushing to catch the door before it will close, ducking in. He looks around him at the dark surroundings, his eyes adjusting to the lack of light.
"How can I help you, Mrs. Black?" A man asks, stepping into Regulus's range of visibility. There is something strange about him; his hair is slicked back and his robes are elegant and well-made, so in that sense he appears to be any normal businessman, but there is some attribute Regulus cannot place that describes him perfectly, and it is not by any means positive. Instinctively, Regulus takes a small step backwards, toward the door.
"I need something to help my son behave," she says. Her voice rings with rage, but she has toned it down, at least partially. "Something that will make him behave."
Regulus pauses. He inches back toward the door, wondering why his mother would want him to hear this. He knows, without a doubt, that is not about him, but rather Sirius. He can only assume that it is supposed to function as a warning.
The man steps slightly closer to Walburga. He gives them both a feral smile, his eyes catching Regulus for the first time. "The son you've brought with you?" he asks, interested.
Walburga shakes her head. "No. My elder son, Sirius. Surely you've heard the talk? Everyone has, you don't need to deny it." Her frankness takes Regulus aback; his mother is utterly an enigma to him. She can impress upon him and Sirius the importance of decorum, but then she turns around and completely violates all social rules.
The man nods. "Yes, I suppose I have. Unfortunately, Mrs. Black…I don't think there's any kind of potion that can breed blind loyalty, outside of Amortentia. And I highly doubt you want your son to fall madly in love with you…even given your family's affinity for incest."
She slaps him hard, across the face. "Fucking half-blood," she snarls, and in that she says all that she needs to say. He only smiles ruefully, rubbing the red area.
"Have you considered the Imperius Curse?" he asks.
She shakes her head. "No. Who could cast it while he's at Hogwarts, anyway? Besides, it needs to be covert."
A sinister grin crosses his face. "And yet you brought your son along."
To Regulus's surprise, she smiles. "Yes." She turns towards Regulus and cups his face in her hands. "Because I want to see if your true loyalty is to me, over your brother, who's slowly but surely becoming a traitor," she says, addressing him. "You won't tell Sirius, will you?"
"No," Regulus says, petrified by fear.
Walburga drops her hands and turns again to the proprietor of the store. "You see?"
"Fear can do incredible things," the man says softly. There is a trace of longing in his voice; Regulus is confused in spite of his own fear.
Before he can even blink, Walburga has crossed the room and cups his cheek in her hand. She caresses his skin, and Regulus instinctively turns away, alternatively revolted and feeling as if he is intruding. He chances a look back, and Walburga says to the man, softly, "I'm sorry, but I have to know. You've always understood that, haven't you?" Regulus wonders what in the world she means, before it happens.
Regulus can hardly distinguish one event from the other. In half of an instant, with a flick of her wand, Walburga has lit the entire store on fire. She vanishes the glass surrounding certain cases, and flammable objects immediately take some of the flames upon themselves. Regulus is afraid that his mother has gone mad, that the madness Sirius is always talking about that runs in the family has engulfed her. When she turns towards him, he is afraid for his life. Moreover, he is afraid of all the things that he still has yet to say, to his friends but especially to Sirius, to let him know that no matter what Mother says, he is not a blood traitor because he is first and foremost Regulus's brother and nothing will ever change that, not ever.
But then she smiles, just as sinister as the man in the store had before. She turns back to him. He must have been without his wand; the flames tear through his robes and his body. Walburga gives him what must pass for a pitying look, before she raises her and screeches, "Avada Kedavra!" Regulus thinks, chillingly, that it is almost an act of mercy.
On the way out, Regulus says nothing. His mother grips his arm tightly right before they Apparate back to the perimeters of the house. "Darling, you won't tell anyone now, will you?" she asks. There is an unmistakable shiver of a threat in those words. "That's what I needed to know, sweetheart, that you will be loyal to me, unlike your brat of a brother." Her voice hardens. "Well, Regulus? Are you my son or not?"
He knows that he should. He knows that, somewhere deep down, what his mother did is wrong. But because he is a coward, not like Sirius at all, he nods. "Of course I am," he says loyally. His mother smiles and puts her arm around him, and he keeps his silence on this issue for the rest of his life.
At first, for a few minutes after snorting it, he doesn't feel anything, and he wants to tell Rabastan to piss off, that this must have all been some elaborate prank. Rabastan has been talking about this for months, ever since his thirteenth birthday, but now that Regulus has tried it, he doesn't see why his best friend swears by it.
And then, it happens.
He feels more alive, more high than he ever has before. This is a different kind of high than the other drugs they have experimented with. He laughs, because it all seems worthwhile, somehow. It doesn't matter that Sirius doesn't really care about him and that his life seems to be falling apart at the edges, and no one seems to notice besides him. All that matters is that he feels real, tangible. All that matters is Rabastan's smiles that widen and encompass the whole world in their brilliance and the girl beside him, Tatiana Greengrass, whose hand he has somehow found with his own. He smiles tentatively at her, almost shyly brushing a lock of black hair out of his eyes, and she grins back.
"More?" he says, and Rabastan gleefully passes it over.
It is foolish, reckless, to do so much his first time. Even Rabastan, who is not known for his restraint, throws a concerned look at Regulus and says, "Hey man…save some for the rest of us," in a audibly worried tone. Regulus only laughs it off, evading the implicit suggestion. He reminds himself of his brother then, all living in the moment, with no thought for others but himself.
(Somewhere, he knows that it is unfair, that Sirius can be selfless and kind and good, but Regulus hasn't seen that side of his brother for some time.)
They do many things that night, keeping the high alive through continuing snorts once they feel it begin to fade. Tatiana suggests getting some alcohol, just to see what would happen, but no one ends up acting on that idea. Rabastan's room seems to be far too big, or too small, Regulus can't decide. Tatiana remembers that she has to send a letter back to her house, to assuage the fears of her overprotective parents, but then decides not to, with a crazy laugh. It is a good thing that Rabastan's parents aren't in the house, Regulus muses.
The rest is blurry. He thinks that Rabastan somehow called for strippers, because they showed up somehow. Tatiana looks both disgusted and amused, and it surprises Regulus that with shapely, naked women in front of him it's still Tatiana that he wants most.
Somehow, they work their way to Rodolphus's old room, alone. They lie on his bed, kissing and undressing and fucking. Absently, Regulus wonders if Bella and Rodolphus have ever fucked here.
It is the first time for both of them, but they feel perfectly natural. Regulus kisses her everywhere just because he can, and then they fuck again. Rabastan pounds on the door and then enters without waiting for a reply, when they are in bed holding each other, his arm around her shoulder. After telling his friend to piss off out of principle, Regulus sighs and they both get dressed to rejoin Rabastan.
Rabastan needles them good-naturedly for what seems like forever. "It's better on blow, isn't it? Oh wait, neither of you would know, would you?" "Damn, Reg, never knew you had it in you!" "Fucking finally, you two!" "So how was she, Reg? Tati, mind if I show you how it's really done?" Rabastan gives up once they refuse to give him a response. He sighs with exaggerated disappointment, then passes the bag of cocaine around again.
Regulus can't say when it happens. He isn't even looking at her when she keels over, suffering from seizures. He and Rabastan look at each other with utter horror, realizing their own helplessness in the situation. They frantically search for the Floo powder to take her to St. Mungo's, but apparently the Lestranges had moved it, or at least that is what Rabastan says. Regulus doesn't believe him, not nearly. Right now, there must be a reason.
When help finally arrives, she is long gone. Regulus's mother assures him that it will all be straightened out, and that there is no way that he or Rabastan will be tried, and he believes her, because he always does. He goes to his room and finds his wand. He remembers the curse his mother intoned on the man in Knockturn Alley, and, taking a deep breath, prepares to die.
He doesn't think about all the people he will be leaving behind, because if he does he might lose his nerve. He says, "Avada Kedavra," and in that moment, feels almost enlightened. He will die, on his own terms.
It doesn't work. He crashes to the other wall, but he is still very much alive. He remembers something Bella once told him about the Unforgivables, that they were the hardest spells to cast, and cursing loudly, Regulus gets to his feet.
The madness passes over him then, and he wants to live. He ventures out of his room, and meets Sirius. He expects some kind of sympathy, but instead Sirius just smiles and says hello. Regulus realizes, in a split-second, that Sirius hadn't known why their mother had gone to the Lestranges to pick up Regulus. He must not have cared. The realization splits through Regulus like lightning, as he watches Sirius walk happily to his room while Regulus stands still, burning with rage and guilt and sorrow.
It is another one of their arguments. It follows the usual pattern, up until a point: beginning over petty things, rapidly escalating, until insinuations of disloyalty are made from both sides. It progresses predictably until Sirius turns away in disgust, and Regulus, as always, wants to have the last word. Without meaning to, he releases the feelings that he has been holding for years.
"Fucking disgrace." The words emerge in a snarl, their only intent to wound and maim. Sirius turns around after a moment of hesitation. Regulus is surprised to see a look of disconcerting calm on his face. He would have expected anger, as was typical from Sirius whenever he erupted at their parents. Not this. It is eerie, and Regulus immediately wants to take the words back, but it is too late for that. They linger in the air, evanescent and foreboding.
"What did you say?" Sirius asks, his voice strange and almost inhuman. He advances towards Regulus, his lithe body making an imposing figure. For the first time in his life, Regulus feels genuinely afraid of his older brother. Before, even when Sirius was reckless, he always would have an eye out for the welfare of his younger brother. He never would intend to inflict any harm upon Regulus. But now, everything is different.
Regulus realizes that he had crossed a line. He might hint or insinuate, passive-aggressively, that Sirius was a blood traitor or a disgrace, but once he said the words, there could be no going back.
"Nothing," he says, trying to rectify this, trying to make it better, trying.
For a moment, Sirius's face is inches from his and Regulus, for a wild, crazy, moment, thinks that Sirius will kill him, that his temper will overtake him as it has so many times in the past, fueled by feelings of betrayal. Regulus thinks that dying by his brother's hand would be utterly and downright Shakespearean, and then wonders why that would ever come to his mind in such a moment.
Their eyes lock for a split-second. Regulus reads rage in his brother's eyes, along with a desperate plea as well. It is more than he can take, so he looks away.
Sirius heaves a sigh, or so Regulus thinks; it could have just been the summer wind rushing through the open window. When Regulus looks up, his brother is gone.
"Help me out here, Black!" Rabastan snarls at him as he slithers past, trying to escape the curses that are being hurled mercilessly at him by an Order member. Regulus quickly obliges, casting a Stunning spell. To his dismay, he still is unable to cast Avada Kedavra, although he has mastered the Imperius and Cruciatus Curses. It is a disability that causes many in the ranks of the Death Eaters to mock him when Bellatrix isn't around to defend his honor. When he was younger, Regulus might have appreciated the attention from his glamorous older cousin, but now he finds it merely condescending. It would be different if Bella actually gave a fuck about him, but she is much more concerned with protecting the Black family honor than the feelings of her cousin.
He gets hit by a stray spell, putting a gash in his arm. He is used to the pain, but it still always causes a wave of revulsion when he sees the bright crimson of blood. He hesitates for a moment, lost in the sea of battle, and gets hit by something else, something harder. It throws him to the ground, and for an instant, before he adjusts, all the feet streaming about him and the voices and the madness overtakes him.
He sees feet standing in front of him, and he prays, prays that it is someone from his own side, but as he looks up slowly, he sees that it is not. It is James, Sirius's friend. He fights without a mask, unashamed of his own identity. Regulus hastily scans the fighters for Sirius, as he always does. Whenever Sirius is there, Regulus is thankful for the mask on his face, that his brother will not see what he has become. Sirius is not here tonight, but for a moment, Regulus wishes he was, wishes that his brother would be here in his last moments.
Potter hesitates. Regulus can see that he is not a killer, not like Sirius, who Regulus knows for a fact has killed at least one Death Eater. It was a strange, surreal moment then, to see his brother become a killer. Regulus thinks about the blood on his own hands, of the Muggles and Mudbloods and blood traitors he has exterminated, and thinks, ironically, he and Sirius ended up having something in common after all.
James turns away for a moment. Peter Pettigrew is shouting something to him, and for an instant, Regulus feels deeply for Sirius, that one of his friends is betraying him just as Sirius betrayed Regulus years ago. He wrestles with telling James that Pettigrew is a traitor and a spy, but then realizes that Sirius doesn't deserve any of his empathy. Let him be hurt the way Regulus was, out of nowhere, sudden, devastating.
James redirects his attention to Regulus, and raises his wand, and Regulus realizes that he has severely underestimated him.
For a moment, he thinks he sees a flicker of gold hair, of a quick smile, and he almost says, "Tatiana?" but stops himself, because for his last word to be the name of a girl he fucked once and tried to forget about since would just be too tragic. Still, he thinks he sees her, and he is scared out of his fucking mind.
Then the mirage is gone, and he is alone. He opens his mouth to say something else, but just then, a curse knocks Potter down. Scurrying to his feet, Regulus turns to see Bellatrix rushing toward him. He recognizes the maniacal glint in her eyes underneath the mask. She claps him on the shoulder and says, "Take better care of yourself," in what could almost be mistaken as a maternal tone. "I can't save you forever."
"I didn't want to be saved," Regulus shoots back, originally intending just to be defiant, but realizing the truth of his words as he says them. Her eyes widen in confusion and surprise before she turns away to fend off another attacker.
"I didn't want to be saved," he repeats to himself. He falls back to the ground, not out of weakness but out of something deeper, clutching himself as if he is mortally wounded. And maybe he is, somewhere deep down, somewhere irreparable.
In the end, he knows, there is no chance for last words, whether they are cliché or not. He thinks of them, as ghostly hands drag him under the water. He thinks of Sirius, of Kreacher, of Tatiana, of Bella, of Rabastan. He thinks of poetic sentiments he could voice, like This is the end, or something equally mysterious and baffling, that would puzzle posterity forever. He realizes, sardonically, that he is still so young, to be thinking things like this. He thinks of his body, eternally young, resting at the bottom of the lake.
It is fitting, in a way, that this is when he first became aware of death, of the fragility of life, that in an instant he could just stop being and decay. He lets himself become dispersed over the lake, his thoughts and his mind and his soul spreading out. He thinks of Sirius, saving him all those years ago in the ocean. But today, there is no Sirius. He could blame someone, either his brother or himself or fate, but there is no sense blaming anyone now.
When he first decided to take the Horcrux, he had decided that afterward, he would explain everything to Sirius. Things would never be the way they once had been, but he would like to see a look of respect in Sirius's eyes again. Now, he knows that it will never happen, but it doesn't matter, he realizes. Destroying this Horcrux was bigger than himself, bigger than Sirius. He only hopes that Kreacher will do it, that he will not be intercepted by the Dark Lord.
For an instant, he struggles. He fights, trying to pull away from the hands that grip him too tightly, inhuman. He fights for breath, he fights for air, he fights for life. He knows that there is more that he can do. He wants to make sure that this Horcrux is destroyed, that he does not die in vain. He wants to be positive that his death is not as insignificant as his life.
He makes a silent promise with the hands, that if they release him, and he destroys the Horcrux, he will come back immediately to make his bed among them. They do not hear his thoughts, and he continues to be dragged downward. In the end, he does not have certainty, but he realizes that he has faith. He has to.
At the bottom, they pin him down. He uses his hand to attempt to draw something on the sandy floor, but then his hand is pinned down too. He can feel his lungs giving way, can feel darkness overtake him. For a moment, he sees a face in his mind, though he cannot place whose it is. It could be anybody's, for all he knows. It is the face of judgment, but mostly of forgiveness.
His whole body on the floor of the lake, he closes his eyes and lets himself go.