Author's notes: This was a pinch-hit written for chantefable for deatheaterfest on livejournal. Many, many thanks to jadzialove, who was a bloody champion with the beta-ing, and treacle_tartlet who injected sense and support, to vaysh11 for her help with the shagging and to thilia for spotting last-minute errors and pointing out my lack of grip on time, and allowing me some leeway with that. All remaining errors are my own.
I had gone there for Sirius. Not to speak with him, just to catch a glimpse, reassure myself he was well. She found me, crouching under a spirea bush that was only just coming back into leaf. It was not my finest hour.
I didn't hear a single thing, only felt the wand-tip press against my jaw.
'Hands open, and where I can see them.'
It was a woman's voice, but I didn't expect mercy. I spread my fingers and put a hand to either side of my head. My pockets were patted down and my wand taken from its place in my robe.
'Turn around, slowly,' she instructed.
I did, and recognised the face of my captor. 'Evans,' I said, evenly.
She shook her head. 'Potter, now. You're Regulus, aren't you? What are you doing here?'
'Looking for my brother,' I answered, honestly.
She misunderstood me, and her face hardened.
'Not like that,' I added quickly. 'There were reports, they said he's been caught by a curse. I just wanted to check he was all right!'
Her frown modified a little. 'Have you been crying?' she asked.
I told her no, but my voice cracked as I said it, which rather gave lie to the word.
She shook her head, but sympathetically. 'He's fine. They missed. Come on, I'll take you to see him.'
I sat back so quickly that I fell onto my arse – she was kind enough not to laugh. 'Are you insane? He'd hex me on sight.'
When I think back, that was the moment at which I started to like Lily Evans. She didn't argue – because I was right – and she didn't try to lecture me – because it wasn't the best time. 'Buy you a cup of tea?' was all she said.
'Yes, please,' I replied, too surprised to say anything else.
'Wait here, I'll let them know I'm skipping lunch. Be back in a few minutes.'
She went into the house and when she came back out, she made sure that Sirius accompanied her and James onto the steps. For a moment, I feared she was about to reveal me, but then I realised, she was giving me proof. She ushered them back inside, shouting that her husband was to eat vegetables. When she came back, I was still there. I can't tell you why I stayed, save that she is not the sort of person you argue with.
After that, she gave me my wand back, transformed my robe into something she called a safari suit and I went and drank tea in the company of Muggles, so sitting down with a member of Dumbledore's Order became the least strange part of that afternoon.
'You still worry about your brother,' she said, pushing a slice of cake towards me.
'I'm not a monster,' I reminded her, taking the cake. 'We might not see eye to eye on many things, but he's still my brother.'
'Of course he is,' she said, patting my hand.
I shrugged her off. 'I'm also not five.'
'What do you want, Evans? A cup of weak tea and a slice of surprisingly edible cake isn't going to be enough to have me confess our evil plans to you.'
She ducked her head, hiding a smile beneath her hair for a second. 'Least you admit they're evil.'
'I was speaking rhetorically.'
She looked straight up at me. 'How's Severus?'
'What do you care?'
'We were friends for far longer than we've been enemies. I care, even if he doesn't.'
'You married Potter.'
Evans rolled her eyes. 'Yes. And I doubt Sev will ever come round for tea with us.' She picked up her tea and drank the remains. 'Don't tell me then, that's fine. I'll pay, you finish up when you want to.'
I caught her arm as she stood and she let me pull her back down to her chair. 'He's all right. He worries about you. He told me to look out for you if ever I meet up with the Order, be careful not to hurt you.'
She seemed surprised. 'He told you that?'
'We're friends. I made him promise not to hurt Sirius.'
Her eyes widened, though they narrowed again soon after. 'I suppose James is fair game,' she said, bitterly.
'Well, yes,' I stated the obvious. 'I'm told he's usually aiming hexes at our side. This isn't a Quidditch match, you know.'
'No, it's not.' She helped herself to a little of my cake, and picked it apart into her saucer. 'Why does he do it, Regulus? Why do you?'
'It's what we believe in.'
'You're so young. How do you know what you believe?'
'How do you?'
She looked up again, and I could see why she had such power over Severus. It wasn't just that her eyes were large and lovely; when she looked at you, it was as though you were the only thing worth her paying attention to at that moment. 'Do you really believe I'm contaminated?' she asked. 'That I'm worse than you because of who my parents are? That I'm broken in some way?'
'It's not, that's not …' I stammered. I took a breath. 'No, you're smart and pretty and you were always nice at school. I'm not sure about some of it. But I know that if this lot,' and here I waved vaguely at the Muggles sitting in the other parts of the tea room, 'knew what we could do, the way things stand now they would be terrified and we would not be safe.'
'They would be enchanted,' she argued.
'You can't know that.'
'I can. I was one of them, once.'
'And how many of them did you tell when you found out? How delighted were they?'
She hesitated before she answered. 'My mother and father were thrilled,' she said, raising her chin.
Her chin tensed. 'What's Severus said?'
I shook my head. 'Nothing, but you just spoke volumes. We're not safe, Evans. That's all we're fighting for, a safer, better world. With us in charge, we will be protected, and we can do away with many of their ills too.'
'That might be what you're fighting for, Regulus, but it's not what Voldemort is after.'
I bridled a little at that. 'I think I know the Dark Lord's mind better than you, Evans.'
'Oh Regulus. You don't even know his name. Ask him what happened to Tom Riddle, if you ever get the chance.'
'Whatever it was, I'm sure it was well deserved. Anyway, I'd best get back. Thank you. About Sirius, I mean. And for the tea.'
'You're very welcome.'
We stood together, and shook hands, for all the world as though we actually were old school friends parting.
As we walked to the door, she paused for a moment. 'Regulus, if you ever need news about him, you can ask me, you know. And if you need anything – advice, an unbiased ear – just call.'
'Thank you, I'll let you know if anything happens with Severus.'
'I'd like that.' We were at the door by then. She pointed a little way down the road. 'You can usually Apparate from that alley. Your robe will change back in a few minutes.'
'Good bye, Mrs Potter,' I said, formally.
'Good bye, Mr Black,' she replied, with a smile.
And for some reason that was never clear to me, I kissed her cheek, as though she was one of the cousins. She smelled of strawberries and lady's mantle. I turned and walked quickly away, before she could be anything but startled. I believe that, as I was walking, I was thinking that I should probably spend more time with girls when I got back to school. At least enough to have some idea how to behave around them.
I received few calls on my time over the next months. It was my last term at Hogwarts, and I believe I was expected to focus on my studies rather than my political career at that point. Severus wrote to me regularly, his letters were full of suggestions for study and without him my Potions mark would have been far lower.
Lucius Malfoy wrote twice: once to inform me that he and Narcissa had formalised their engagement, and once to lecture me on the need for vigilance when it came to purity of bloodlines. I'm not certain what prompted the second epistle – my lack of experience with girls was something of a phenomenon among my classmates. Even Professor McGonagall took it upon herself to tell me she was pleased to see that one young Black was capable of self control.
Given that Lucius wrote to Alecto and Barty as well, we surmised he was trying to resurrect his position as Head Boy in our minds. Severus had always deferred to him, and Amycus would defer to anyone who would let him sink the boot in later. It made sense to me: by marrying my cousin he was cementing his ties with the Lestranges, and by being seen to have some sway over we students, he was making himself into the person one would go to if one wanted to influence the youngest set.
It was a risky move, one never liked to stick one's head too far above the parapets when it came to the Dark Lord's hierarchy, but he was gambling on being seen more as a caretaker to the young and tiresome than constructing any sort of power base. By the time anyone noticed we were useful, it would be too late.
I kept my counsel, of course. He was, after all, marrying into the family.
My father was not for it. He called the Dark Lord one of the finest minds of his generation, but he did not like him. I think, when it came down to it, the fact he was not One of Us made the Dark Lord's eager cries of blood purity suspect to my father's mind.
'Does anyone know who the man's father is?' he would ask when he was pressed on the matter. 'How am I meant to judge him if I don't know where he comes from?'
I never mentioned that this made Father sound like Sirius, though it did. Merely made excuses that the Dark Lord had risen from obscurity in an orphanage, but that it was well known his parents came from great families, and that they had been attacked soon after his birth, by Malevolent Forces, keen to stop his rise to greatness.
'It is practically a miracle,' Walden Macnair had explained to me. 'He was in a room no larger than a closet, wearing old clothes, with no idea of the richness of the world he truly belonged to when he was found and brought to Hogwarts.'
I had always longed to hear the details of the finding, but they were never told, only: 'And once he arrived, he realised what his power meant, and set about studying to become the greatest wizard who had ever lived.'
Which Father never disputed, but asked: 'And what will he do with this power once he has it?'
Mother told him he was an old fool, and Father agreed she may be right, but he advised me to seek employment in the Ministry nonetheless, and to make my fortune there. 'You can keep your friends, they may even help you, but you need a career, son. Look at Lucius. He's only a few years older than Sirius, yet I'll not be surprised if he's Minister before I die.'
'The Ministry's corrupt, Father,' I would argue, the same lines, every holiday and every time they visited me in Hogsmeade. 'When the Dark Lord brings it down, then I will help to rebuild it.'
He would tell me that I sounded dangerously European, and to remember I was British, and that we changed things from within.
All quite right. I should have told him that I listened to him in the end.
Barty woke me the day after my last NEWT. The sun was freshly up, and the rest of Slytherin was still asleep. He was clutching a letter and grinning.
'It's the call, Reg,' he said. 'They have a proper job for us!'
'No one has a job for me today, I'm sleeping in,' I told him.
But he sat on me and forced me to read the scroll, still warm where it had pressed against the owl that delivered it. It was from Mulciber, and it directed us to a house near Banbury. There had been an incident there the night before, and we were to clean up the mess.
'Sorry,' I told Barty, turning over, 'I'm a Black, I don't clean.'
He punched my arm and pulled my blankets back. 'Idiot. It's a test. We pass this, and the next call will matter. Come on.'
I should have protested that it was not done to sneak out of school, but it was Saturday, and standards were lax, and there was a small part of me that was as proud to be called on as Barty was. So we dressed, and slipped outside, and once past the gates I Apparated us down to Cherwell.
What they meant by clean up was immediately apparent. The house was outside the town, set a little back from the main street. There was no Disillusionment or other charm to hide it, rather, the people who had lived here seemed as though they had been happy for Muggles to have known about them.
I used the past tense confidently, judging by the blood.
It was grotesque: fountained up walls and pooled on the flagstones in the entry hall. I turned to Barty, prepared to offer comfort, but his eyes were shining and a smile was ferreting up his face.
'They were enemies of our Lord,' he pronounced. 'And they have paid the price!'
I knew that he must be right, and yet this did not seem like a price that civilised wizards should exact.
We set about our task with no further discussion. It was simple enough: remove all traces of what had happened. The entry hall was the major job, the blast marks of hexes were scattered across the floor, the wall facing us, the back of the doorjamb: they had fought back, had tried to live. Casting cleaning and Reparo charms was the work of some ten minutes, and all signs of their struggle were gone.
We moved inside. A chair was overturned, I picked it up. Teacups were perched on the edge of the side table, their contents cold, milk separating. The back door was open, Barty closed it. On the back hung three macs, two adult, one small and child-sized. I must have made a sound at that, because Barty patted my arm reassuringly.
'They'll have taken the child, of course,' he said. 'Found it somewhere safe, where it can grow up protected and properly.'
'Of course,' I murmured. And I have looked, but I have never found any families who took in these children, for this was not the only one.
Another sweep through the house for fine details and we were done. We left the front door ajar: Muggles or other wizards would see it at some point through the day and come in to check. They would find nothing. They would never know. Whatever these people had considered worth fighting for, dying for, it had been erased with their passing.
I Apparated us back in three stages, rather than two. I was tired inside and out, despite having been up for less than an hour. Even then, I had Barty back at school in time for breakfast. My appetite was gone, so I legged it to the owlery and sent a note to Severus.
His reply came swiftly: it sought to reassure me. Sometimes great causes necessitated actions we would not normally countenance, and while we might mourn the deeds themselves, they were for the greater good, and they could be seen as morally justifiable in their lasting effect if not in themselves. Although he was probably not aware of it, his argument was that of an Italian philosopher in the great age of the city-states: power has its own rules.
I could see his logic, and yet it brought me no comfort. I sent another Owlowl.
Lily was good to her word, she wrote back within the hour and suggested we meet in York for lunch, and that we could choose a wizarding or Muggle establishment depending on how nervous I was about being seen with her. No thought for her own reputation, though given she thought of me as a child that was not surprising.
We met outside York Minster, I had transfigured my robes into a reasonable facsimile of the Muggle clothes she seemed to favour. She was wearing an embroidered dress that looked like something a small girl would choose, but on her it was womanly and appealing. She greeted me with a kiss to my cheek.
'Regulus,' she said. 'I was surprised, but I'm glad you wrote.'
I held the embrace that she had intended to be fleeting. She made to step back, then must have realised I was trembling, because her arms moved around my back and she held me for a long minute.
'Come on,' she said when I finally stepped away. 'I'll buy you all the cake you need.'
We headed down The Shambles and found a quiet tearoom with a case of very decent-looking treats. 'Do you want to talk about it?' she asked as we took our seats.
I shook my head. I did not want to see the change in expression that would come over Lily Evans's face if I told her how I had spent my morning. She would try to be kind, but she would be right to judge me.
'How's Sirius?' I asked instead.
'Well,' she replied. 'You know he bought that motorbike he's been threatening …'
She told me nonsense then, of adventures blazing through London and the south, with one friend or the other riding pillion, of he and Remus, who she made sound like an innocent flatmate. She left out encounters with Death Eaters, though I knew from veiled references in Severus's letters these had occurred. But she was trying to make me smile, and she did.
I ate my cake, and half of hers.
'Do you want to walk?' she asked me when we could fit in no more tea.
She took my arm, and I have to admit that I enjoyed having her hold it. People might have looked on us as a couple, and I liked the idea of someone so neat and pretty being thought of in a unit with me. We wandered down the medieval street, and then through the city and up the hill to where the castle had once guarded it.
'See the old keep?' she asked. 'In the twelfth century, one hundred and fifty Jews died there, some by their own hands, some by the mob. Because they were different. Because they threatened those who sought to keep their old ways pure.'
'Lily … ' I sighed. 'It's not the same.'
'Really?' She looked up at me keenly. 'How is it different? Your leader would kill me because my blood is wrong, Regulus. It's exactly the same.'
'Lucius says it's about making sure that the old traditions are upheld, the old families are respected. It's about restoring us to a position of power, rather than hiding, about keeping us safe.'
'And the families who are disappearing? Where are they being kept safe?' She stopped suddenly, and peered keenly at me. 'Regulus? Are you all right?'
'No,' I answered.
'Sit down.' She pulled me down onto the grass beside her, and put an arm around my shoulders. 'It will be all right, you can come home with me. We'll talk to James and Sirius, work something out. You can't have many exams left, and then you can stay with us until you sort yourself out.'
I was tempted, if only because it would doubtless involve more being hugged by Lily Evans. But … 'It's not that simple, Lily. Yes, things have gone wrong, but that's because people have the wrong ideas. I don't think it's what the Dark Lord is really intending, he just wants us to be strong. Lucius explains it well: it's all about history. The Dark Lord wants to put wizarding Britain back where it once was, at the front of the globe, leading, as we ought. Not following and bumbling in an amiably inclusive fashion that every day puts us at risk.'
I spoke more surely, the well-learned phrases falling easily from my lips. 'You don't appreciate the danger Muggles pose. You only see the good side of your family, and I am quite happy to believe they might be very kind and lovely. But they're not all like that. I have ancestors who were racked because they knew to protect themselves from plague and tried to spread the news. Their wands were snatched away by people who they had thought friends, and they were only rescued because there was no Statute in those days and we were free to use our power openly.
'This is what the Dark Lord seeks to protect us from, Lily. All of us, really, though I know that he has made it sound as though he thinks only of Purebloods. But that's the exaggeration of polemic, isn't it? And yes, some people misinterpret that, but if I leave, all that does is make their camp stronger. There are good people who believe in the cause, if our numbers become dominant, so do our methods. Do you see?'
'No,' she said, not letting go of my shoulders. 'But I can wait. All of us will be here for you when you need us.'
'Don't tell Sirius I called …'
'I won't. But promise me you will one day.'
I shook my head. 'I can't promise that. But I would like him to be my brother again, that will have to do.'
'It'll do,' she said, hugging me lightly. 'Just remember, when you find that you are not able to fix things, you have options, and we care for you.'
'I'll remember,' I assured her. 'It will all be fine.'
We stayed on the green hill for a little longer, before she admitted she had places she needed to be that afternoon, and I needed to be seen in Hogsmeade if I wanted to avoid a detention. I felt a little foolish for having called her out, but better for having seen her. And even better that she came when I asked.
'When you leave school, I think it would be safest for you if you lived with your parents, don't you think?' she asked as we walked away from busy areas looking for an Apparition point.
'At first, then I thought I would get my own place. Sirius did, and Father has said he can give me the money.'
She nodded thoughtfully. 'I think perhaps there might be safety in numbers for now. And I know that your parents are powerful enough to protect you if it was ever called for, and you would be there to protect them.'
I stopped walking. 'What are you saying? Why would your lot want to attack my family?'
'We wouldn't,' she said. 'I'm not talking about us.'
We left it at that, and walked the rest of the way in silence. When we parted it was with a gentle hug and friendly kiss to the cheek, but even in that light touch of lips to my face there was something to fear. I had called on Lily Evans because I knew her to be good, and kind, and smart. And what if she was?
Lucius came to visit two days after school finished. We dined with my parents, then had Kreacher bring us petit fours in the library while we chatted like the adults we both legally were.
'I heard about Banbury,' he said. 'Messy business.'
'Did Barty tell you?'
Lucius sniffed. 'Bartemius Crouch is a nasty little boy who embraces violence for its own sake. That's why I wanted to talk to you, Regulus. I know that scenes like that must be enormously distasteful to you – to anyone of a refined sensibility. I don't seek to excuse Mulciber, he leads with a curse and it would never occur to him that there are other ways of solving the Dark Lord's problems, but I wanted to reassure you that this was an isolated incident.'
I nodded, and chose a small almond cake to chew on while I thought.
Lucius continued, 'It's one of the difficulties of building a new regime. No matter how hard one tries to make it about advancement and improving our world, there will always be some who see it as a chance for acts of depravity, which they seek to excuse as necessary but which are in fact nothing more than laziness.
'Don't misunderstand me, Regulus, there will come a time when those who stand against the Dark Lord must be put to the choice and it may well be that some will choose their own destruction rather than embracing the natural future of our world. But that will be their own decision, they will have damned themselves by standing against the world that wants to be created. Do you see?'
'We'll give them every chance first,' I ventured.
'Exactly! That's it exactly!' He clapped me on the shoulder, smiling broadly. 'And of course, for those who simply lack the imagination to cope with change, we will offer education and assistance. It will only be those who actively seek to destroy us who may bring on their own destruction.'
'Which will only occur in our self defence.'
'Yes! I knew you would understand.'
'But Lucius … Why does the Dark Lord tolerate it? He knows what Mulciber is like. Even my Cousin Bella … can be disturbing …'
Lucius nodded seriously. 'Fanatics, Regulus. That's the word you are looking for. They have taken our Lord's message and perverted it. They lack the wit and courage to see the creation that is at the heart of his message, revelling only in the destruction of the old order.
'But you are not like them, my young friend. You have broader vision. You can see what we are trying to build and help in that mission.'
'Yes,' I agreed. 'A better world for all. Like the work you have been managing at the Ministry.'
'Precisely. That's why I wanted to talk to you alone. I have a position that it is in my power to grant if you choose to take it up. It's not very senior, and the pay is not stellar, but it is a post of responsibility, and it would be an easy way for a young man to make a good success early in his career.'
'Thank you for thinking of me. What would I be doing?'
'Managing a library.'
'I'll take it,' I said immediately, grinning.
'I thought you would. Now, will I see you at my wedding next month?'
'Yes, of course, the family has already accepted the invitation.'
'And at the wizard's party the weekend before?'
My grin broadened.
'After all, you'll be my cousin soon enough, it is time for you and I to come to know each other properly.'
'Can I ask you a question?'
'Cousin Bella is just a bit odd, she's always been like that, but she'll behave when she needs to. Mulciber and Dolohov, though, they're vicious. Why does the Dark Lord keep them so close?'
'So he knows exactly where they are,' he answered ruefully. 'More seriously, because our work will not all be pleasant, Regulus. There will be some jobs that men like Mulciber can do without pause, while to you or I they might represent something that would be a deep scar upon us.'
'But surely all that means is that such jobs should not be considered, that they are as beneath our cause as they are beneath us as individuals?'
Lucius nodded at my words. 'I knew you were smart. Ideally, yes. But we do not live in an ideal world. Surely you can see that there are cases in which war is just, and where the liberation of the many is worth the sacrifice of the few?'
'Yes,' I said, 'but surely in those cases we would be talking lives lost in open conflict, which one could wage without compromising one's integrity.'
'And if we could achieve the same goal by small acts of violence? By removing our enemies in the domestic field rather than by escalating our conflict to involve the innocent, and risk the lives of witches and wizards who might otherwise be grateful for the world that we are creating? Don't forget that even the poor dumb Muggles would be put at risk in such a scenario. Do you think that great wars between great forces can be confined to the small sphere we have left to traverse in this nation?'
A veil parted in my mind. 'No, of course, you're right. I can see that, now. War is one of those noble lies, really, isn't it?'
'You understand. Yes, my friend, sometimes the least noble-seeming actions are the most restrained in the long term.'
'Thank you, Lucius.' I passed him the last of the petit fours. 'I feel significantly better for having talked with you.'
'I had hoped that you would. Remember, although things can seem forbidding and beyond your control, you have friends you can turn to, and we have your best interests at heart.'
He pulled a notebook from his robes. 'Now, will I put you down for the hunting and try to keep you – and me – away from anyone who insists we need strippers?'
The Malfoys may not have been quite as old a family as the Blacks, but they most certainly knew how to do things properly.
Lucius was good to his word, and I started work at the Ministry library two weeks later. It was a huge space, with one ancient witch who was the official librarian, but who had long since decided that the best method of management was to discourage any lending and to spend her days reading and napping.
My tasks were to check the sorting on the shelves, to respond to any requests for research that came in – ideally by denying them – and to make her at least three cups of tea a day.
The week after I began work was Lucius's party to bid farewell to his single life, so I knocked off early on Friday, went home to grab my broom and bag and made it to Wiltshire just in time to wash and dress for dinner.
There were more people there than I had expected. I knew Lucius was close to Evan Rosier and Augustus Rookwood, and I was pleased he had invited Severus – he was often left out of the more serious social occasions – clearly Lucius prized friendship above rank. Obviously the Lestranges would be there, and Avery, who Lucius worked with. But among the others were Dolohov and Mulciber, which made no sense to me.
Dinner was a magnificent affair, I sat with Severus and Benjamin Greengrass and we discussed the next day's hunt and the revelry that was planned to follow. Sunday had nothing scheduled until well into the afternoon, but as Greengrass noted, the three of us did not really drink, and so we would probably be able to get a good fly in, or even a scratch Quidditch game if we could rope in a few more players.
Mr Malfoy gave a speech about Lucius, and how proud he was of him. Lucius responded with one praising his parents and thanking them for the upbringing they had given him, making sure he would be seen as worthy of his beautiful bride. He said some highly complimentary things about my family, which I guessed I was supposed to repeat to my Aunt and Uncle at an advantageous moment, and had us all raise our glasses to 'A better future'.
Of those at the table, fully two thirds had a very clear idea of what that future should entail, the remainder would have pleaded ignorance of our affiliations. Yet I knew that the world we were creating would be one that they would favour in the end, they just did not want to know what would go into creating it. I could understand that: given what I knew now, I was no longer certain I would have chosen to as I did when I was asked. But I had been so proud back then …
After the meal we broke into groups: the oldest joined Lucius and Mr Malfoy for port and cigars in the library, some, including Greengrass, stayed at the table discussing politics, while Severus beckoned me to follow him and Avery outside. Rosier and the Lestranges were there, talking quietly among themselves.
'Did you bring your mask and robes?' Rosier asked me as we joined the group.
'Of course.' We had been instructed to keep them always with us when they were given us: to be ever ready for service in the name of our Lord.
'Bring them and your broom, assemble at the conservatory door in a quarter hour. We have a little job to do.'
I slipped back inside and gathered the necessary items as swiftly as possible. This was work I did not mind: making a show of force, reminding our people of what they had lost, and giving them foreknowledge of what was to come. I was the first at the rendezvous point, hood and mask in hand.
'Well met, Black,' Rosier greeted me as he came out from the manor. The others followed shortly. 'We fly in close formation,' Rosier explained. 'There is a fête nearby at which our friends and enemies will both be found. We seek only to give heart to the former and confound the latter. Keep your wands sheathed, gentlemen, unless we come under attack. Then aim your hexes well and do not hesitate. Are we of one mind?'
'And of one will!' we gave the rote answer.
Rosier took the point in flight, the Lestranges behind him and Severus, Avery and I at the rear, with me between them, since I was the youngest and newest. It was not considered a point of weakness to be protected, rather that we valued our young. Soon Barty would be old enough to join us on missions like this one, and I would take an outer flank.
The flight was not far, and, as Rosier had promised, the fête below was filled by as many of those who loved us as who feared us. As we roared above their heads, golden masks shining and charmed contrails spinning out of the night's mist behind us, many faces saw the beauty of our might, and I knew they longed for a day when each of us could so openly show our strength and talent.
Of course, others took to their heels in fright, and I could not help but laugh at the sight of witches and wizards who had not run since their Hogwarts days attempting to sprint across the uneven fields. Baskets were dropped and stalls deserted as they dashed, some then remembering that they could Apparate and doing so, others continuing their wild flight, in one case accompanied by wailing and arm waving. I looked across at Severus, and although his face was hidden by his mask, I could see his shoulders shaking with laughter.
Two sweeps were enough for us, we turned and made our way back to the manor before Aurors or the Order could be called upon. A good and easy night's work.
On our return I had only time to change back into formal robes and put away my kit before Lucius came to knock at my door.
He nodded at the flush in my cheeks and tangles still in my hair. 'I see Rosier included you in this evening's diversion.'
I nodded. 'I hope you don't mind. He promised it would not take long, and you all seemed settled in for a good while. I was just coming down to rejoin the party now.'
Lucius smiled and took his wand from his belt. 'Here,' he said with a small flick. 'It would never do to greet the Dark Lord with your hair like that.'
It was as well he neatened my appearance, as I was too startled to do so. 'The Dark Lord? Here?'
'Indeed, Regulus, and asking to meet with you. It is a great honour, it would not do to keep him waiting.'
'Should I …'
Lucius put an arm about my shoulders and steered me out through the door. 'Come with me as you are and worry not? Indeed, my young friend, you should.'
He guided me down a quiet wing of the manor, along stone-floored corridors. This was one of the oldest parts of the building, a private place that I had never been invited to before. The door that Lucius opened was thick and ancient, and the study beyond it was timber-panelled and dark, but I noticed it for no more than an instant, because there, in a leather chair like a throne, was the Dark Lord himself.
I had never been so close to him. Truly, he looked like a work of great art, finely carved from the whitest marvel. Black eyes shone from his smooth pale face beneath a wave of dark hair, and a line of pale rose curved as his lips moved into a smile.
'Regulus Black. Rosier here tells me you have done sterling work in my name.'
I looked about. Rosier stood there in the shadows, nodding agreement.
'Come,' said our Lord. 'Sit with me. You, too, Malfoy and Rosier.'
We did as we were bade, and he poured us small glasses of liquor from a bottle that bore a faded Malfoy crest. Oddly, I had a moment of fear as his hand went to the bottle, but that crest reassured me.
'Our time comes, gentlemen,' said the Dark Lord. 'I wanted a moment with all of you here to give you my thanks. You are young men, and could choose any path in life. That you have chosen to walk mine is a great honour.'
Much later, it occurred to me that he did not say for whom.
He went on. 'I know that there are many days on which it must seem that we are an organisation of ancients to you: even Rosier here is a fifteen years your senior, Malfoy, and older still than you, Black. Yet he was just your age when he joined me, full of passion and purpose as you are now. Swiftly he rose in my trust, as you have Malfoy, and as I hope you will, Black.'
'Of course,' I whispered.
'He knew, then, as I hope you know, now, that I work for our future. That you might all take your places beside me in the decades to come, and that your children might do likewise. At the head of this world, not hiding in its shadows. Do you see, Black?'
'I see,' I murmured.
'And for this to come about, from time to time I will call on you, that you may further our great works and that you may bring about the time of transformation sooner. And though you may not always understand my requests, I can assure you, they will be for glory and honour, young Regulus. Such glory and honour that your name will be lauded until the last days.'
I had fallen into his eyes as he spoke, and his will wrapped about me like incense, sweet and inescapable. 'Anything,' I promised, meaning the word wholeheartedly. 'My life …'
He smiled then, and seemed as a normal man for a moment. 'Nothing so drastic, my young friend! But perhaps a small favour.'
'In your library, there are many books, some of which contain words that are not for the unready. For our protection, it would be best if such things were hidden from lesser minds, do you not agree?'
'Yes, of course.'
'Then I will have a list made, and when you find such titles, you could send them away for protection. Perhaps to Lucius, his library is a safe place, and with such chaotic arrangement that one could search there for weeks and not find a tome unless one knew where to look.'
'Intentionally so, my Lord,' Lucius interjected hurriedly.
'Indeed. Then it is settled. Now, I have detained you from your celebrations far too long, Lucius. Take young Master Black with you. I have a few words for Rosier before I take my leave.'
We left the room quickly, and stepping outside was like waking from a hex. Things seemed suddenly more solid and I felt less sure.
Lucius grabbed my arm. 'You have outdone yourself, Regulus!'
'Your parents will be thrilled.'
'Yes, of course.' I supposed that he was at least half right there.
Lucius was greeted with an open bottle of wine as he entered the library. I stayed at the side of the party, wanting time to think. Severus sought me out some little time later. 'Can we speak?' he asked, in low and urgent tones.
I followed him outside, and we found a quiet corner of the manor, distant from any voices.
'Did you see him?'
I didn't follow him. 'See who?'
'The Dark Lord!'
'In your face, I saw the awe he inspires.'
Severus's eyes shone, and he rolled up his sleeve. 'He has done me great honour, Regulus!' There on his left wrist was a black skull, with a snake protruding between its fleshless jaws.
I looked up at Severus sharply. His face was full of pride.
'It is a reward, Regulus. He has seen that I have no hesitation in following, and marked me as his own!'
'Well done,' I managed. 'You deserve his trust. We should get back, before they wonder where we are.'
And although he looked as though he would rather go on, I turned and walked back towards the library. Because I did not want to hear what he had to say, nor if it had anything to do with a small house in Banbury.
Lily Evans appeared at the Ministry library at the beginning of July. Her hair was loose and tangled, and her cheeks were flushed and her eyes wild. I dropped the book I was holding.
'Sirius is unhurt,' she said quickly. 'Someone, I think it was Lucius Malfoy, tried to hex him, but your brother was too fast, he's fine. But I think James may have killed Severus.'
My mouth opened, but no sound left it.
'It was all so fast,' she went on helplessly. 'He only hit Sev with a Stunner, but it was such a long fall. I tried to see if he was all right, but other Death Eaters drove me back, and then they were howling with rage and we had to fight so seriously, and then they were gone …' she paused to draw in a long breath that was almost a sob.
'Regulus, I just need to know …'
'I'll find out,' I promised.
She hugged me quickly. 'I'll be at the tea room in York. I'll visit Arthur and Gideon now, make it look as though I have come here to talk to them. I'm sure no one saw me come in here, and I'll make sure no one sees me leave.'
'I'll … yes, all right,' I said to empty air.
It was easier promised than done. I had no knowledge of any action today, nor last night, and so could hardly Apparate to Spinner's End demanding to know if Severus was wounded or worse.
For a full quarter hour, I was at a loss, then the obvious solution occurred to me. I had found two of the books on the list the Dark Lord had given me, but had put them to one side in hopes of finding more before making my delivery. There was no need to wait, though, they could as easily be given to Lucius now as later. I filled out de-accession forms for both of them, left a note explaining there was a family emergency for the librarian, should she wake before the end of the day, and went upstairs to Malfoy's office.
Fate was with me. He had only just returned ahead of me and was still taking off his cloak as I knocked on his door. He hurried me in and shut the door behind me. 'Thank Merlin you're here!' he said.
'I have books …' I explained.
'Books, yes, good work. But not perhaps the most important thing right now. How is your healing work? How good are you at Potions?'
'Good, and I scored an O in my NEWTs.'
Relief crossed his face. 'Good. Right. In that case,' he handed me a satchel and small silver urn, 'I want you to take these potions and this Portkey and go straight to the manor. There's been a little accident this morning and Severus has been a bit banged up.'
'Is he all right? Why doesn't he go to St Mungo's?'
'His injuries would be hard to explain. But not as difficult as all that to treat, it looked like mostly broken bones, he was lucid and complaining when I left him.'
'I'll go, then.'
Lucius smiled gratefully at me. 'I'll make my excuses here and follow shortly. The Portkey will take you directly to Severus. My parents are at the manor, but have been instructed to stay clear of my rooms. Narcissa is with him, she is keeping him calm and will help you if you need it. The house-elves will keep everyone else away, but the Portkey will allow you through, they will know it comes from me.'
I put the strap of the satchel across my body and picked up the urn. 'When will it activate?'
Before he could answer, I was gone.
I stumbled to a halt in one of the newer parts of Malfoy Manor. A door opened at the sound of my feet, and my cousin Narcissa appeared. She looked as blonde and pretty as she had at her recent wedding, but her forehead was creased and her eyes darted quickly to find me.
'Lucius sent me,' I announced, holding up the urn.
'Oh thank goodness. Come Regulus, he's in the most awful pain.'
I followed her into the bedroom. Severus was propped up on the large bed, his face grey and drawn, his leg bent at an unnatural angle. Blood had seeped through his robes onto the white comforter below, and he held his left arm cradled against his chest.
'I've given him dittany, but I had no idea what else I could do without possibly making things worse,' Narcissa said quietly. 'I have made his leg immobile, and cast a cooling charm on it, because I remember Professor Slughorn used to always give us icepacks when we fell, but everything else is beyond me.'
'You did the right things,' I assured her. 'Can you find me a house-elf, a bottle of good Firewhisky, and plenty of water?'
'Yes, of course.' She bustled from the room, though she could have accomplished all of the above with a single call. I could tell she wanted to leave, though, and so could Severus.
'Narcissa has tried to be kind,' he muttered. 'But I think she is mostly afraid that I would die before anyone else arrived.'
'You're not going to die,' I said, swinging the satchel from my shoulder as I strode over to him. 'You might wish you had before I'm done, though. Honestly, Severus, you're a fool. Go to St Mungo's.'
'And tell them what? That I fell from my broom while wearing a hooded robe?'
'They're Healers, not Aurors, they don't care. And yes, tell them you fell off the roof if it comes to that. They are fully equipped to do things I can only try.'
'I'd rather you.'
'Then you're a fool.'
But I took out my wand and began to cast the spells that would reveal his injuries to me. He was remarkably lucky. Although four ribs had cracked, none had broken, and his internal injuries were not significant. His leg, however, was in bad shape, as was his arm, and his pelvis was broken, though not displaced.
A gash across his midriff was responsible for most of the blood, I incanted 'Vulnera Sanentur' three times, then moved to the ribs, which were repaired with a simple Episkey. The pelvis was not difficult to fix, but I would need assistance with the leg and arm.
'You're helping,' Severus said, attempting a smile.
It was not a gesture he excelled at on his best days.
I ferreted through the satchel Lucius had given me. It was well stocked, and the vials I was looking for were all there. 'Asphodel,' I said, picking one out. 'There will be enormous pain when I straighten the bones, I am going to put you to sleep first.'
'There is no need.'
'Stop being an idiot, Severus. Aside from everything else, you're bigger than I am. Do you really think Narcissa and I can hold you down if you fight us in your pain? Her immobilising spell will have to be lifted for us to set your leg. You will do as you are told.'
I pulled a mixing vial from the satchel and decanted several drops of Asphodel into it. To this I added ten grains of tincture of Murtlap, and stirred it with the glass rod Lucius had provided. Silver would have been better, but I was not even wearing jewellery that could have been pressed into service. Too late, I remembered Narcissa, but a splash of valerian syrup added the calming influence the silver would have granted. I shook the vial, then sat gently on the side of the bed.
'When Narcissa comes back, we're going to prop you up and have you drink this. It'll hurt like buggery, but only for a few moments. Then by the time you know what's what, you'll be mostly well again.'
'Thank you, Regulus.'
'Thank Lucius, he's the one with the good Potions kit.'
'It was Potter, you know,' he said without preamble.
'He tried to kill me. In front of Lily. But she screamed my name, Regulus! I believe she still cares for me!' His eyes and voice were triumphant.
'Of course she does,' I said without thinking. He looked at me sharply then, and I covered my words hastily. 'I had friends in Ravenclaw, remember. They would ask after you on her behalf. You may have stopped being friends, she may have married Potter, but I think there is still a place for you in her heart.'
He smiled. 'Perhaps she has seen the truth of what is in his heart today.'
'Perhaps.' My voice lacked the conviction of his.
Narcissa appeared then, with Lucius following close.
'How is he?'
'Better than he looks,' I reported. 'I'll need your help with getting him up and straightening his leg, but he will be fine.'
'Good work, Regulus!' Lucius sat on the opposite side of the bed, with equal care to my own. 'You worried me, my friend,' he told Severus.
'I am fine,' Severus lied.
'No you're not, but Regulus will fix you,' Lucius corrected him. 'Now?' he asked me.
The two of us lifted Severus into a half-sitting position. He gasped, and sweat broke out in beads across his face, but he did not cry out. Knowing what I did of his injuries, I could appreciate his courage. I lifted the vial to his lips quickly. 'Drink!' I ordered, and he did.
Narcissa took our place supporting him, and lifted the spell she had cast to still his leg. Lucius held Severus's thigh, while I grasped his ankle and pulled gently until the bones were straight and flush against each other again. I held them there with my left arm, and completed the spellwork to knit them in place with my right, before moving on to repeat the process with his arm. All the work of two minutes, yet at the end of it I was shaking with fatigue.
'Let him lie down,' I instructed. 'Give him a few hours to sleep, then wake him and give him ten grains of Blood-Replenishing Potion in a splash of Firewhisky.'
'Of course,' Narcissa promised. 'But, what should I do with the water and the house-elf?'
'His wounds need cleaning. And if he could have clean robes to sleep in?'
'He shall have my own,' Lucius promised, as Narcissa set about warming the water to a good temperature and gathering the softest towels and cloths she could find.
'Thank you, Regulus, your work will not go unreported.'
I shrugged. 'He's my friend, too.'
'Come, let us feed you at least.'
Food – Lily was in a tearoom. 'No, I have to go, I have an appointment. I'll replenish your kit, Lucius, drop it back to you tomorrow.'
'No, keep it, it's a gift!' he insisted.
I gave my thanks and made my goodbyes as quickly as could be done without giving offence. Even then, Lily had three empty teapots in front of her when I finally made it to York.
She leapt to her feet as I stumbled in – my legs felt strange in the trousers I wore for her sake. 'He's all right,' I reassured her as I tried to untangle my feet, and then she nearly knocked me over again as she came running into my arms and held me so tightly that I could feel the buttons of her blouse pressing into my chest.
It was not unpleasant.
The tearoom proprietress coughed meaningly beside the two of us.
'A friend of ours was badly hurt, we've just found out he's going to be all right,' I explained.
'Very pleased to hear it, I'm sure,' she muttered. 'Tea? Cake?'
I could have gone to cake, but Lily shook her head. 'Oh let's go outside, I need to walk!'
She paid the sour-faced owner, whose expression improved somewhat when Lily left the change, then grabbed my arm and dragged me out onto the street. She steered me towards Coppergate, stopping outside the first clean-looking public house we saw.
'Hold these!' she said, loading me down with her bag and jacket before running inside.
I sat at one of the outside tables and waited. Muggles walked by, chatting. Two sat down at the table beside mine while their friend went inside.
'You just watch, the milk snatcher will run this country into the ground!' said one.
'Rubbish!' said his friend. 'She's the only hope for the future we have. If Britain is going to survive, it will be because of her having the strength of her convictions!'
'You're full of shit. Wait and see, bankers and wankers will come out of it well, the rest of us are fucked. What you looking at?'
I realised that the last was aimed at me. 'Nothing, I'm just waiting.'
'Yeah? Well you can wait somewhere else, can't you?'
'No, my friend's inside …'
The other man shook his head. 'Leave it, Tom, the lad's not doing any harm.'
Lily reappeared then, chatting to me as she walked out: 'Thank goodness! Far too much tea!'
She noticed the tension, and turned to the other table, smiling broadly, before coming to me and looping her arm around mine. 'Come on dear, we're running late.'
'Is that your friend?' the placating man asked.
'Good work, lad. See, Tom, a few manners work wonders with pretty young ladies. Have a good walk, you two.'
We were well on our way towards the river by then, but I nodded back at him.
'Making friends with Muggles?' Lily asked me with a smile.
'Actually, I think I would have had to hex one of them if you hadn't come back then.'
'Sorry about that, there's only so much tea a witch can hold. So, tell me about Severus. Is he in one piece?'
I gave a quick run-down of his injuries, and assured her he was being treated and cared for well. 'He knows you were there,' I added. 'He heard your voice.'
'Yet he kept on attacking our side,' she said, grimly.
I dropped her arm. 'Yes, well. Your husband did try to kill him.'
'As if we can tell any of you apart with those ridiculous masks.'
'That's hardly the point, is it?'
'Regulus.' She had stopped walking a few feet before. I turned around to face her. 'Did he tell you why we were fighting him?'
'No,' I admitted.
'Right. Well, you ask him. And more to the point, you think for a moment about what it would take to have me go in with my wand drawn against a group that I knew might contain him, or you.'
I looked down at the ground, unable to reply because I knew exactly what it would take.
'Right, well, I'll take my bag and jacket then.' She was cross.
'Tell me about Sirius,' I said, wanting to keep her with me until her anger passed.
She pursed her lips, and took her bag, but left me her jacket. We began to walk again.
'He's fast,' she said. 'They try to hex him, but he's never where they aim. Of all of us, I think he and Remus have the best chance of surviving this, they're actually good at war. Remus would never admit it, but he's as good at escaping and committing violence as your brother is.'
I shook my head. 'Sirius isn't good at violence. He's good at anger, but that's not the same thing.'
'When pushed, it turns out we can all be good at things we didn't expect to be.'
'I don't understand? It's not what I think?' Sarcasm did not suit her voice.
I had many lines memorised for use in arguments like this, but they had all come from other mouths. And they failed against the evidence of my eyes at Banbury. So I spoke my own words. 'I think that we have problems with some of the people who fight for our cause, yes. And I think that we are spending too much time focussing on the fight itself and not enough on the actual cause, nor other ways of promoting it. But … we are shouted down in the Wizengamot and mocked in the papers when we try to put our case. What other avenues are left?'
Not another word was exchanged until we reached the river.
'Do you go out with them?' she asked suddenly.
'Not for anything serious. A few times to fly around and look menacing.'
She gripped my arm tightly. 'Do you wear one of those stupid masks? How will I know it's you? What if I hurt you, Regulus? What if Sirius did?'
'It would be my own fault for being there.'
'Then don't be there!' She glared at me for a long minute, then looked down at her hand on my arm, and saw the bruises forming beneath it. 'Oh God …'
'It's all right.' I caught her hand as she went to snatch it back. 'It's all right, it doesn't hurt. You're upset.'
'Of course I am – Severus could have died! And one day they'll decide that you should go out to serious things, and then I might be aiming hexes at you and I'll never know. So I'll always be that little bit slower, worrying about the two of you, and that means that one day someone will kill me instead.'
'Why not? I'm a Mudblood, Regulus. That alone is reason enough for some of your lot to want me dead.'
'It shouldn't be like that.'
'No, but it is.'
Her eyes were fixed on mine, and blazing in her white face. I grasped about for something else to discuss.
'Severus heard you calling out for him. It made him happy, he cares about you very deeply.'
That made her blink. Too many times. I saw tears start to form. There was a bench nearby, looking out over the water, and I steered her there.
'I'm sorry,' I said.
She pushed her hair back behind her shoulders, fussing to cover up as she brushed her eyes with her cuffs. 'It shouldn't matter to me,' she said. 'But it does. It always will. He was the first friend I ever had in our world, and every day I feel as though I failed him.'
'You didn't fail him.'
'You can't know that.'
'I can. I remember what you were like at school, and what he was like, too. Everybody heard about what he called you that day, and even after that, you still looked for him over meals, you still kept Sirius and Potter away from him as much as you could. You never failed him, Lily. He failed you.'
She sniffed, unconvinced. Then she looked up at me. 'How do you know I looked for him at meals?'
'You were very noticeable at school,' I confessed. 'You've got red hair, and you kept punching Potter and giving Sirius detentions. I wasn't the only one watching you!'
That made her laugh, and for the first time that day, we relaxed.
'So what are you doing in the library?' she asked.
'Tidying up, reshelving, stopping people from borrowing anything.'
'The traditional.' She smiled, and looked down, noticing for the first time that I was still holding her hand. She squeezed it firmly. 'Couldn't you just stay in your library for the duration? Stay safe?'
'All right, I'll stop. I should get back soon, anyway. James will be wondering where I've got to.'
'What will you tell him?'
'Shopping, girl stuff. He doesn't worry until it passes four hours without me checking in. He knows I don't trust anyone enough to be caught easily.'
'Except me,' I realised.
'Except you,' she agreed.
'I've not told anyone,' I assured her. 'Not even Severus. I never will.'
'I know. You're so much like your brother. Your parents raised you to be pigheaded and a little bit bastardish, but loyal to the very end.' She let go of my hand and stood up. 'I really should go, though.'
'Take care, Lily. Thank you for letting me know today.'
'Thank you for helping him.'
I remembered something. 'You know how you always try to make it sound as though Remus is just Sirius's flatmate?'
She looked evasive.
'Sirius used to bring Remus over for visits in the holidays. I knew about them before you did.'
'Right.' And now her look was the one my parents had worn when they realised I would go and look up all the words they used euphemistically at table. 'Well, things are going well for them, then.'
'Good to know.'
'Stay safe.' She kissed my cheek lightly, glanced about to check we were unobserved, then Apparated away.