Why Don't You –
[Footsteps to the end of the world. Regulus Black feels like he's made a mistake]
"You'll knock on my door, and up we'll go, in white light - I don't think so.
But, what do I know? What do I know – I know."
Bedshaped – Keane
Most of the time, Regulus Black is terrified.
He's terrified of returning to Hogwarts for his seventh and final year. He's terrified of not going back. He's terrified of his brother Sirius, who ran away, and who he hasn't spoken to in years. He's terrified of his cousin Bellatrix, who smiles at him indulgently from across the dinner table and purrs that he is a good, upstanding son of the Black family. He's terrified of the thick, suffocating black robes and the bone-white mask that are hidden in a trunk, under his bed at number twelve, Grimmauld Place, like a dirty secret.
On a humid night in August, Regulus has a nightmare. When he jumps awake, he sits bolt upright, sweating and shaking. There is a moment of poignant silence, and then, instinctively, Regulus rolls out of the bed and begins to scrabble underneath it, reaching for the robe, reaching for the promise of power that can be found in the heavy cloth and fine embroidering. The trunk makes a low, hollow noise as Regulus drags it out from under the bed.
When Regulus opens the trunk, it only contains an ill-fitting robe in mock-velvet material. It is a few inches too long for him. One of the cuffs is already beginning to fray already. To his horror, there is no promise of power in the material – only a slightly musty smell.
Regulus climbs slowly back into bed, and draws the covers up to his chin, like when he was a child. He cannot shake the feeling in the pit of his stomach that he has made a terrible mistake.
Over the next month, Regulus often feels like he's made a mistake. He doesn't tell anyone this though – it sounds too much like treachery, even to his own ears.
On the morning of September the first, Regulus binds his left forearm up in bandages, suddenly ashamed of the black ink that mars the pale skin there.
He goes downstairs, and his mother is waiting for him in the hallway. He realises, with a jolt, how small she is, a good half a head shorter than him now. When he was younger, she'd seemed so domineering - now she just seems pitiable. There are creases around her eyes that were not there a few years ago; in a few years, he thinks there will be more. He cannot imagine her with lines left by laughter, and he has no desire to imagine the ones left by cruelty and bitterness – she is still his mother after all.
"I'm ready to leave now, Mother," Regulus announces quietly.
She turns to look at him, and snaps, "Straighten your tie, Regulus."
His hands immediately jump to correct the problem – the result of years of training – "Sorry, Mother."
She gives him a long, hard stare again, looking him up and down, but this time Regulus thinks he can see fondness in her eyes. "You've grown again," she says, and it sounds like an accusation. Regulus smiles weakly, and leans down to pick up his trunk. One of the clasps holding it closed is loose – he kneels down to tighten it up.
"You're still not as tall as your brother, though."
Regulus' gaze snaps up to his mother again, but he stays, warily, on his knees. He tries not to gape. No-one ever mentions Sirius anymore. She is staring intently, but not at him. Her eyes are fixed intensely on an invisible spot on the wall.
"Your grades aren't as good as his, either."
Regulus feels like he is choking. The room suddenly feels very cold.
"Do... do you wish that our places had been changed?" Regulus asks softly. He cannot bring himself to look at his mother. "That I had gone and that he had stayed?"
There is a pregnant pause, and she snaps, "Of course not. Don't be ridiculous, boy. You, at least, are loyal to the Black family name."
Regulus looks up, and finds his mother standing directly above him, staring down. He swallows, hard. This is the mother he remembers from his childhood.
"Regulus," she says softly, "Never forget this: loyalty is worth more that talent." She gives him a small smirk, and then turns her back on him, "Bellatrix will be escorting you to the train station. I expect I shall see you at Christmas. Farewell."
Regulus Black is left alone, crouching in his hallway. He feels like he has been stabbed in the back.
Bellatrix takes him in the back of a chauffeured car to King's Cross Station, which is disconcerting in itself, because before, Regulus had always used side-along Apparition. Bellatrix is staring at him expectantly, like a cat that has cornered a mouse; it is making Regulus extremely nervous. He thinks he is beginning to sweat, and hopes to God that he doesn't begin to smell. He moistens his lips a little, and glances nervously at the doors of the car.
Bellatrix's sneer becomes more pronounced.
"Go ahead and go to the platform, little Reggie," she simpers at him, when they reach King's Cross, but her mocking voice cannot hide the harshness that lies underneath, "I'll have the driver bring your trunk over. I'm sure you're desperate to see your friends again, after the summer." Her eyes glitter maliciously.
Regulus makes his way through the station, nervously trying not to bump into any muggles. His fingers keep finding his left forearm of their own accord, touching the bandages there, to check they haven't come loose.
At the barrier to Platform 9¾, Regulus sees Sirius for the first time since Sirius left Hogwarts two years ago.
Sirius is stood slouched against the wall, a perfect charade of nonchalance – his hands are in his pockets, and his hair is falling over his face with an easy grace, and Regulus can see a box of cigarettes tucked inside the top pocket of Sirius' dressed-down shirt - but Regulus can see that Sirius' eyes are alert, and searching.
When his eyes met Regulus', it feels like a train crash inside Regulus' brain, only about ten times worse.
All at once, Regulus wants to laugh and cry. He wants to pull his wand out and curse Sirius to smithereens, and he wants to run over and hug him. He wants to call him a traitor, and he wants to call him his brother.
Regulus decides that he will ignore Sirius – this is probably not the best plan Regulus has ever had, because Sirius has a nasty habit of making a scene – but Regulus is not wonderful or talented or brave like Sirius is, and over the years, Regulus has discovered the easiest way to make a problem go away is to pretend that it's not happening. It is a skill that Regulus has become very good at.
"Reg!" Sirius cries out as Regulus tries to walk past him, his eyes fixed directly ahead of him, "Reg – Regulus! Wait!"
"What do you want?" Regulus snaps irritably, and shocks himself by now much he sounds like his mother.
"Regulus, I need to talk to you," Sirius implores, grabbing him by the forearm; Regulus can feel Sirius' fingers gripping onto his wrist desperately, pressing down where the pulse is. Regulus tries desperately not to look Sirius in the eye, but it is hard when his brother's eyes are more round and earnest than he's ever seen them.
"Please, Reg," Sirius begs, "You don't have to do this. I know what you did over the summer – what you've done. But, it's not too late - we can help you, hide you. You don't have to do this, I swear - you're making a mistake."
Regulus meets grey eyes too similar to his own, and has a sinking feeling in his gut, as Sirius confirms what Regulus has been too afraid to admit to himself for the last two months.
You're making a mistake.
Regulus wants to shake off his brother's touch, although it is not entirely unwelcome. He feels like they've been stood their together, frozen, for too long, but he is unwilling to break the connection between them again.
"Sirius..." he whispers, uncertainly.
"Get off of him, blood traitor," comes a venomous hiss from behind Regulus, and Bellatrix is pointing her wand at Sirius' neck. Sirius retreats a step, and holds his hand in the air. Regulus' wrist feels extremely light now that the heavy pressure of Sirius' hand has been removed, and he almost feels disappointed.
"I'm just here to deliver a message, Bella," Sirius says quietly, "There's not need to get angry."
"Regulus doesn't need you anymore," Bellatrix snarls, and she grabs Regulus by the shoulder, pushes him through the barrier and follows him herself; the last thing Regulus sees of the outside world is his brother's face, looking slightly crestfallen.
Once they arrive on the platform, Bellatrix has him pinned up against the wall, and her wand is now pointing at his throat.
"Be very careful, little Reggie," she murmurs, and he can feel her voice close to his ear, "be very, very careful." She tucks her wand away again, shoots him one, last, lingering smirk, and presses her red, red lips against his forehead. "Have a good final year at Hogwarts, cousin," she breathes.
As Regulus gets on the Hogwarts express, he is shaking more than ever. He feels like he has judged everyone according to the wrong values, and that thought is more terrifying than any other – that his whole life has been one, big mistake.
A girl bumps into him in the corridor, a fourth-year Hufflepuff, and Regulus staggers away. He recognises her vaguely.
"Get the fuck away from me, Mudblood!" he spits at her, and she hurries into the closest carriage, terrified.
Regulus finds the toilets, and crams himself into the tiny cubical. He can feel the train rocking and the noise of the engine seems unusually loud in his eyes. He gets down onto his knees - where you belong, a voice in his head hisses – and is sick into the toilet again and again. His eyes are watering and his throat is raw, and Regulus Black can only think, despite his brother's claims, that for him, it is already too late.