Summary: Regulus Black is done being someone he's not. How Regulus fell from grace, and why he died a hero, though no one knew.

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At first, he's so proud. For Merlin's sake, he's finally a part of something. And that feels so good, feels so right.

He feels like, for once, he's a part of something good. Their goal, after all, is to make the world safer for proper witches and wizards, right? They're just getting rid of the uncontrollable factor – the Muggle-borns. And if a few people get hurt in the process, well, that's progress. The point is that it's all for the greater good, to make things better for everybody. The Muggle-borns are better off with Muggles, where they won't feel so out of place and awkward, after all, and the proper witches and wizards won't have to worry about secrecy so much with all the Unreliables gone.

Right?

He feels like a crusader, vicariously showing people the new way the world works – the better way. And the people that don't agree, well, that's their own fault for not seeing how much better things will be. If a few of them get trampled, well, sometimes that's what it takes to make things better.

Right?

He feels drunk with power. Merlin, being one of the big guys for once feels… intoxicating. His head spins with the overwhelming feeling of control. But he doesn't abuse his power – oh, no. Not him. He only uses it when people need to be shown the proper way, when they just don't understand without a demonstration. And the shred of conscience he has left protests when he hurts someone, but it's for the greater good, and everyone has to make sacrifices.

Right?

But this, this is not what Regulus signed up for. This is like nothing he's ever seen before.

This isn't right.

This isn't for the greater good, and it isn't about safety. It's about pain. It's about hurting people for the fun of it.

Merlin, he is just a kid.

He's just a kid. He's a kid with grey eyes that look too familiar to Regulus, because he sees Sirius in those eyes. But while he's seen Sirius pretty beat up, it's nothing compared to this. There's not an inch of skin on this kid that's clear. Regulus has never seen so much blood before. He can't comprehend how a body so small could ever hold so much blood.

The way he screams, it makes Regulus's ears burn. It's a hoarse, brutal kind of scream, and it cuts Regulus straight to the core. He aches with the weight of doing nothing, but, at heart, Regulus knows that he is a coward. It doesn't matter how much he wants to do something, he won't, because his own life, no matter how pathetic it might be, matters more to him than somebody else's. He's not a masochist, and he is not a martyr.

But Merlin, those screams haunt him. Days, weeks, even months later, and he can't get the sound of the screaming out of his head. It's a chorus up there now, not just one little boy. An old woman, a young mother, a teen boy, and a middle aged man have joined him. All muggles, all screaming. Regulus remembers every single one of them – vividly. He remembers how they died, and their last moments, but what hurts the most is that he has no idea how they lived. These people are strangers to him, and it doesn't seem right that he should intrude on a moment so intimate as their deaths.

So far, he's gotten away with being nothing but a passive observer. He's not sure how long that will last. Regulus has always flown by under the radar. He's always had a knack for blending in and slipping by unnoticed. The innate talent that so frustrated him at school when all he wanted was to be noticed may be the very thing that's saving his skin now. He's not sure he could do it, hurt someone just for the sake of pain. He's killed before, but, as far as he's concerned, that's different. That's not murdering innocent people in cold blood. It's okay if it's for the sake of progress, right?

But he's not sure he believes that any more.

He didn't know guilt could be so heavy. He's never been strong, and he's not sure he can hold the weight of it for much longer. Every morning he gets up and it feels a little more heavy, a little more unbearable.

He bears the full weight on his own shoulders, too. There's no one with whom he can share this burden, because neither Father nor Mother would understand, and he hasn't talked to Sirius in years, and the closest he has to friends, well, they're all in this with him, and he wouldn't know who to trust.

He's falling apart, and no one notices.

And then he shows up on the radar. He shows up on someone's radar, and they ask him to participate. It's a man this time, maybe 40 or 50 years old; Regulus can never really tell with muggles – they age so quickly.

Regulus steps forward when prompted. He pulls his wand out of his pocket, but his wand arm is shaking so badly he can hardly hold it up.

There's something in the man's eyes, and it's killing Regulus – though that's probably a bad word to use, given the circumstances. The man's eyes are pleading with Regulus. He's begging silently, and Regulus is receiving the message loud and clear, but he can't kill this man, whether he begs for it or not. Maybe it's cruel. No, it's definitely cruel. It's far crueler to hurt him, curse him, but not kill. Because he will die by the end of the night, regardless. The only thing that's subjective is how much he suffers before that point. But Regulus is weak, and he can't bear the weight of this man's death. He's bearing too much weight already.

His hand is trembling as he casts a cutting curse. His cousin laughs.

"Is that the best you can do, cousin?" Bellatrix cackles.

Regulus has the Black pride, and the Black temper. He's infuriated by her taunt. His conscience, which is screaming itself silly at the top of its lungs, is ignored. It doesn't matter that he will regret this later; it doesn't matter that the guilt is going to crush him, that he won't be able to stand for the weight of it. It doesn't matter. None of this even crosses his mind. What crosses his mind is a red wave of rage, and I'll show her!

When the wave settles and he comes down, he's appalled. He turns and walks away. Consequences be damned, he walks away.

When he's called to a meeting with the Dark Lord himself, Regulus is convinced he's walking to his doom. Still, he figures there's not really any way things can get worse from here, and even dying seems like it might be an improvement.

He wonders when he stopped being proud of himself, of his life. He wonders when he started walking with his shoulders slumped and his chin down. He used to exude pride – even arrogance – when he walked, back straight, chin up, daring the world to challenge him. He doesn't feel like his life is something to be proud of anymore, though.

It doesn't seem to matter, regardless. After all, it doesn't matter how he walks to the room containing his death, only that he does. Still, having accepted that death can't be much worse than how he's living now, Regulus manages to knock with a steady hand.

"Enter." The voice is cold, it's commanding, and it doesn't intimidate Regulus a bit. Not anymore. He wonders vaguely where this cool confidence is coming from. He's a coward, that's established, and he's accepted it. And this, what he's feeling now, it's not bravery, but it's not quite cowardice either. It's more like… He's dead inside. It's not scary because it just doesn't seem to matter anymore. Nothing seems to matter anymore.

He wonders why he's transitioned so quickly. Isn't denial supposed to come first? Anger? Bargaining? Depression? How is it that he's come to terms so quickly with his own death? He wonders if maybe he hasn't, really. Maybe it just hasn't sunk in yet, or maybe he just doesn't believe that this is truly the end for him.

But something about the latter just doesn't feel right. It's not that he doesn't believe that the Dark Lord would kill him – he has no doubts about that – and it's not that he doesn't think that walking away was just stupid enough to evoke the Dark Lord's rage, but something about it doesn't sit right with him.

And then he realizes. The reason it doesn't feel right is because he's not important enough. Nothing about Regulus is important enough to garner even the slightest bit of notice from the Dark Lord, not to mention enough attention for Regulus to be killed by him personally. And on top of that, why go through all the charade? Regulus is insignificant – why the summons, why the fanfare? It seems so much more likely that he'd simply… disappear.

So then, what is this about? And, if he doesn't truly believe that it's about his death, why the sudden unshakeable confidence?

Maybe it has less to do with the potential consequences of walking away as it does to do with the act itself. Maybe the fact that he was even able to walk away at all means that he's done with all of this, done being someone he's not.

Maybe.

But ultimately, what does it matter why? In this moment, where the consequences will be what they will be, regardless of why, what does the why even matter?

It matters to Regulus. Because if he walked away because he was finally done, he can walk into that room with his head held high. And if he walked away as an act of rebellion, then he might as well go out fighting. But if he walked away because the weight of his own guilt was too much for him to handle, then he's just weak.

At this point, it's too difficult to tell. He steps through the door. He's halfway in between confidence and cowardice. He won't go out in a blaze of glory unless he's sure that's how this has to go – he has far too much self-preservation for that.

The Dark Lord sits in a dramatic, throne-like chair, flanked by torches and a pair of stoic guards. It should seem intimidating, but to Regulus, it just seems melodramatic and preposterous. The shadowy lighting, the carefully orchestrated positions, it all seems so… staged.

Still, Regulus isn't stupid, and he doesn't have a death wish. He walks to the foot of the throne, bows deeply, and murmurs, "My Lord." As is appropriate, he holds the deep bow until the Dark Lord replies.

"You may stand."

Regulus smoothly stands and retreats a few steps. He finds himself standing between his cousin Bellatrix and his cousin-in-law, Cissa's husband, Lucius. It seems an odd assembly of people, especially considering Bella harbors a barely-disguised hatred of Lucius. Though, maybe that's why Regulus is here? Maybe he's supposed to be the bridge between them? He certainly hopes not. He's no good at navigating interpersonal relationships – he can't even navigate his own (as evidenced by the giant rift between himself and his brother), not to mention attempt to mediate between two other people.

"You may be wondering why you're here." The Dark Lord's voice is slippery-smooth in a way that Regulus instinctively doesn't trust. Regulus keeps his eyes on the floor, deferential. "You are here," he continues, "because I trust you above all others."

Regulus notices that this doesn't mean he trusts them, simply that he trusts them more than he trusts others. And Regulus wonders why he's here, then. This is his first time properly meeting the Dark Lord up close and not just as part of a crowd. Who trusts a man they've never met? Why would a man who trusts no one, trust someone he's never talked to? It doesn't make sense.

"I have a request to make," the Dark Lord continues. "A request that, should you help me successfully, will bring you great reward. Should you fail, however," he pauses dramatically, to heighten the suspense. Regulus is again exasperated by the melodrama. "The consequences would be… dire." The threat is ambiguous, which should make it scarier, but to Regulus just makes the Dark Lord seem histrionic and ridiculous.

He wonders when he became so cynically critical.

"That being said, you may choose to walk away at this moment, but know this – should you choose to hear out my request, you will help me or face the consequences. You may not back out after hearing my demands."

No one moves.

Regulus wonders why he doesn't just walk away. He's done it before, after all. Why not now, when the stakes are so much higher if he stays? Maybe he just doesn't believe that he'd be allowed to walk away with impunity. Or maybe something in him senses where this will lead him – to his chance at redemption. Or maybe he's just being cowardly again.

Regardless, he doesn't move, and Lucius doesn't move, and Bellatrix doesn't move. The Dark Lord seems pleased.

"Good. I require assistance in… concealing… a few items that are rather important. You shall each be concealing a different item. Bellatrix, you first, I think."

Lucius and Regulus take that as their cue to leave.

They stand awkwardly outside the room. Regulus isn't sure what to say to his cousin's husband – he loves Cissa, but he's never really talked with Lucius.

He shifts from one foot to the other. Lucius reclines against the wall. Regulus awkwardly clears his throat.

"So," he says, because the silence is agonizing. Lucius looks at him in disdain.

"So?" he drawls inquiringly.

"How are you?" is the best Regulus can come up with. Lucius is clearly disgusted by the pitifulness of his response.

"I'm well. You?" he replies shortly.

Regulus nods. "Doing well."

They lapse back into awkward silence.

The silence grows until the room feels too full and Regulus just can't take it anymore.

"Cissa doing all right?" Regulus asks.

"Yes."

"That's good."

Lucius nods. "It is."

Regulus shifts back to the left foot. He coughs. Lucius looks bored. Regulus shifts to his right foot again.

"So," he repeats. Merlin, but he sounds unintelligent. Lucius raises an eyebrow as if to say, 'Really?' and doesn't deign to comment.

Finally, Bellatrix exits the room. She's glowing with some twisted sort of pride. Her eyes are frenzied, more so than usual. She seems so honored. Regulus wonders if he'll feel like that. He rather thinks not.

"Lucius, our Lord would like to see you next." Lucius nods demurely and walks through the door. Regulus exhales in relief.

Bella looks at him, and the look in her eyes is almost frightening. "Oh, Regulus, it's wonderful. To think, the Dark Lord, trusting us with something so immensely important. It's such an honor." There's a note of reverence in her voice that Regulus doesn't really understand. She seems to have bought the charade full force – she believes in it in a way that Regulus just doesn't.

Regulus smiles just a little bit, and it's rather fake, but she buys that, too, and Regulus wonders if maybe Bella just needs something – anything – to believe in.

She clicks off, her heels ringing on the stone floor. Sighing, Regulus reclines against the wall and settles himself to wait some more.

Eventually, Lucius comes out and nods at Regulus. Regulus enters and bows deeply again.

"You may stand."

The Dark Lord seems to be inspecting him.

"Regulus Black," he murmurs. "You, are my wild card. If anyone was going to back out, I would've guessed you."

Regulus wonders why, then, he's here at all, but he doesn't really dare ask.

"You're probably wonder why I chose you at all, then." Blinking sharply, Regulus wonders if the Dark Lord is a Legillimens. It seems likely.

"What I need from you, Regulus Black, is not exactly what I need from the others. I need the use of your house-elf."

Regulus doesn't understand.

"You don't need to know why, and you don''t need to know what he'll be doing for me. You don't need to know any any of it."

Regulus ducks his head. "Yes, m'Lord. It would be an honor, m'Lord. May I ask when you require Kreacher's assistance, so that I may inform him of when to aid you?" Regulus feels like he's watching every word with hawk-eyes, afraid to misstep.

"I think tomorrow will do."

"Yes, m'Lord."

"You're wondering why I want your house-elf, specifically."

It isn't a question, and that is exactly what had just gone through Regulus's mind. Now he's convinced the Dark Lord is a Legillimens.

"Yes, m'Lord," is all he says.

The Dark Lord looks somewhat ponderous. "I think, Regulus Black, that I simply wanted to know if you'd say yes."

"My Lord?" Regulus asks, puzzled.

"That will do, I think." The Dark Lord doesn't explain.

"Yes, m'Lord." Regulus bows once more and leaves the room, sighing in relief. Speaking with the Dark Lord feels like navigating a minefield.

~*RB*~

"Just… Come back, all right? Come back, Kreacher."

Kreacher seems puzzled. He doesn't quite understand what Regulus is asking.

"I'm sorry, Kreacher. I'm sorry that I'm weak, and I'm sorry that you're in this because of me."

Merlin, he sounds insane. He's apologizing to his house-elf. How did he deteriorate so quickly? He normally doesn't apologize to anyone. And, granted, he's unusually close to Kreacher – probably even closer than he is to anyone else – but still.

"I don't know what I'm doing anymore," he mutters.

"Master Regulus?" Kreacher asks tentatively.

"Go, Kreacher. But come back."

And now all Regulus has left to do is wallow. And pace. He does a lot of pacing. And a lot of thinking.

Regulus wonders when he started thinking like Sirius, when he started believing that the things he'd been taught since birth were wrong. He wonders when his perfect world started falling apart at the seams – not that it was ever really perfect, but at least it was close enough that he could delude himself into thinking that it was. Really, his ability to delude himself is quite astounding. He watched his brother come back from "talks" with Mother, covered in black and blue marks, and still Regulus managed to convince himself that nothing was wrong.

The first crack he can remember noticing is when Sirius left. The events surrounding the day he left are a bit fuzzy for Regulus, but he remembers it being his fault. He remembers blowing up a Sirius for something – but what, he has no idea. It's like his memory is missing a piece. He remembers threatening to tell Mother. He remembers Sirius whispering an apology. Then everything goes dark.

He thinks maybe Sirius wiped some of his memory, and while that should make him angry – did make him angry, for a time – now it just makes him sad.

Sirius was sixteen, Regulus fourteen, nearly fifteen. It was the last time he ever saw his brother. It was the moment Regulus's perfect world began to crack.

Still, he slapped some glue on it and kept going, getting deeper and deeper in, until that day when he snapped and turned a man into a living spell-dummy. That crack was too big for a little bit of glue.

It feels kind of like he's still looking at the world through cracked glass, but instead of distorting everything, the cracks mean he can see things more clearly. Without the cracks, he wasn't seeing straight. This seems backwards, but then, the Blacks have never exactly been classified as normal.

He paces some more.

~*RB*~

The minute Kreacher appears back at Number Twelve, Regulus knows something isn't right.

Kreacher lands staggering. Regulus has never seen Kreacher stagger after Apparating. Ever. He's blinking too often, and his eyes are rolling around independently.

"Kreacher?"

Kreacher blinks at him about twenty times right in a row, as though trying to focus his eyes.

"Kreacher. Needs. Water," he croaks.

"Of course," Regulus says, alarmed. He conjures a glass. "Aguamenti."

But when he raises the glass to Kreacher's lips, the water vanishes. Kreacher croaks in despair. Regulus dashes into the kitchen, grabs a glass, fills it from the sink, and runs back. This time, when he raises the glass to Kreacher's lips, the water stays put. Kreacher sighs in relief – he sounds like the water is a gift from Merlin himself. He drains the first glass, then another, then another. By the third, his eyes have stopped rolling around in their sockets and he seems to be seeing reality, rather than whatever he was seeing before.

"What happened, Kreacher?"

"Dark things, Master Regulus. Dark magic encases that cave. Dark things live in its depths. Darker than Kreacher has ever seen."

"But Kreacher, what happened?" Regulus asks urgently.

"Kreacher was led over a lake. Kreacher sensed dark things in that lake. Kreacher was led to an island by the Dark One, and told to drink. So Kreacher drank." Kreacher shudders. "Kreacher saw things. Awful things. The drink made Kreacher see awful things."

"What kind of things, Kreacher?"

Kreacher finally raises his gaze from the floor and looks Regulus in the eyes. His gaze is haunted. "Indescribable things," he rasps.

Regulus takes this in stride. "Then what happened?"

"The Dark One took out a locket, and Kreacher could tell that the locket was the darkest thing of all. It was a part of the Dark One, but separate from him. It was the Dark One, but also not."

"A Horcrux," Regulus murmurs. The word comes from deep in the recesses of his mind, as though something he heard a long, long time ago. He doesn't know why he knows the word, only that he does. He knows only that it is the darkest of magics, designed to make the creator immortal, but that it would be madness to attempt it. The Dark Lord, though, has madness in spades.

Kreacher nods solemnly. "The Dark One placed the locket in a basin, then filled the basin with what he made Kreacher drink. Kreacher felt him leave, but Kreacher couldn't see him any more – Kreacher saw only horrible, nightmarish things. Kreacher wanted water, but Kreacher knew that the dark things in the water would take him if he drank. Kreacher remembered Master Regulus telling him to return, so Kreacher returned."

The story finished, Regulus returns to pacing.

This is terrible news. The Dark Lord, immortal? The thought is mildly horrifying. He'd hinted at it, but no one truly believed that he had achieved it. Regulus imagines the horrors he sees now, going on forever, getting more and more widespread. It's an unbearable image. But Regulus is not a hero.

Still, the fact that the Dark Lord would dare hurt Kreacher, that makes Regulus burn with fury. Regulus counts Kreacher as a friend, strange as it seems to outsiders. Kreacher has been there as long as he can remember; he's a part of who Regulus is.

He collapses on the couch, his head in his hands. "What do I do?" he moans.

Regulus closes his eyes. He breathes deeply in and out through his nose. He feels like his searching his soul, trying to find out if he has the courage to do what is right.

The weight on his shoulders is made of lead, heavy and dense. He's so very tired. He's tired of doubting himself, he's tired of wondering what's right, he's tired of wondering about his limits, and he's oh-so-tired of being weak, of being helpless.

He's done being helpless.

He stalks up to his room. He grabs a quill and three scraps of parchment, and he jots down three notes. One is to his brother, but he doesn't finish it and he'll never send it. The second is to his mother. It says simply, "I love you, Mother. -Regulus." He can't explain this to her, and she couldn't understand, but he does love her, and he wants her to know that.

The third, he slips inside of a locket he's had for quite a long time – a gift, he believes, from his mother. He slides the locket over his head and travels down the stairs.

"Take me to the island, Kreacher."

Kreacher looks like he wants to protest. He looks like he wants, with all his might, to say no. But he can't. He can't obey a direct order from his Master, and Regulus knows this, and he hates it. He hates that Kreacher, who has been nothing but good to Regulus, is unable to say no to him. In this moment, too, he wants nothing more than someone to talk him out of this, someone to tell him it's a stupid, idiotic idea. He wants someone to tell him that he's not a hero, and he doesn't have to be. He wants someone else to say that they'll do this for him, like he's had his whole life.

But no one does. There's no one left to give anything for Regulus. There's no one left to be his hero. And it's in this moment, when there's no one to step in for him, no one to help him, that Regulus discovers what he's truly made of, and it's far more than he ever suspected. He's done hiding behind everyone else. He's done letting others do his work. He's done being someone he's not.

He takes Kreacher's hand, and they disappear.

Unused to house-elf Apparation, Regulus stumbles on the landing. When he regains his balance, he gapes. Kreacher said cave, but Regulus was expecting some tiny little hole-in-the-wall.

A tiny hole-in-the-wall, this cave is not. He can't see the roof – or the sides. They're standing on a tiny island in the middle of a massive, eerily glowing lake. Regulus glances at the lake, then stumbles backward.

"Kreacher, are there… Inferi… in that lake?"

Kreacher nods mutely. Regulus swallows. What a horrible way to die.

In an attempt to distract himself, Regulus glances around the small island. There's not much to see. A small basin sits in the middle of it. It's filled with a murky black liquid.

Regulus steps toward it, but there's just a little bit of trepidation in his eyes. He's sure of his course, but it still isn't easy. No matter how worthless he tells himself his life is, he still doesn't want to give it up. It's his life, and it doesn't seem fair that he should have to lose it when people like the Dark Lord get to keep theirs.

But life isn't fair. Regulus has faced that fact time and time again.

He takes another step, then another, and they're less hesitant now, more full of conviction, if a step can even be full of conviction.

Abruptly, Kreacher pipes up.

"Kreacher knows that he is overstepping his bounds, Master Regulus, and Kreacher will punish himself when Kreacher is getting back, but Kreacher is asking Master Regulus to please not do this." There's something in Kreacher's eyes that tells Regulus that Kreacher is fighting something to get the words out – something that's saying shutupshutupshutupshutup, because no matter what, Kreacher isn't supposed to disagree with Regulus.

But Regulus knows he has no other options. One of them has to drink that potion.

Whatever the cost, Regulus knows he can't make Kreacher go through that again. Kreacher stood by him, cared for him. Kreacher is the one constant in Regulus's life, and it burns that the Dark Lord would hurt him. Regulus wouldn't be able to bear forcing him to endure it again.

Regulus kneels on one knee and looks Kreacher straight in the eye. "Kreacher, listen to me. Whatever I say, whatever I ask you to do, you are not to listen to another command I issue after this one, okay? Listen to me. You are to make me drink that potion, all of it. Then you are to immediately take the locket, plant the fake, and destroy the real one. You are to tell no one of what happened here tonight. Do you understand?"

Kreacher is sobbing, and it breaks a part of Regulus deep inside, but he can't back out anymore.

"Yes, Master Regulus," Kreacher mumbles through his sobs.

Regulus nods sharply. He twirls his wand absentmindedly, conjuring a goblet. He downs the first goblet by himself, and the second. By the third, everything starts to go a bit fuzzy. He sinks down the side of the basin, sitting with his back to it. Kreacher hands him a fourth, and when he drinks it, everything fades to black. He blindly drinks for the fifth time.

He blinks. It's not dark anymore. The world has melted back into view, with an unexpected addition.

"Sirius?" Regulus staggers to his feet.

Sirius looks at him. His eyes are dark. "Get out of here, Regulus."

Regulus stumbles back as though hit. "What?"

"Get out." Sirius's voice shakes this time. Regulus doesn't understand how he missed it before, but Sirius is covered in cuts and bruises.

"Sirius, are you okay?"

Sirius looks kind of mad, now. "Do I look okay?" he demands. Regulus flinches at his tone.

Regulus blinks and suddenly their mother is there. He wonders absently how she got there, but it doesn't really seem to matter. Ignoring Regulus entirely, Mother stalks toward Sirius.

"You, boy!"

Regulus has never heard that tone come out of his mother's mouth. It's harsh and demanding and critical, and while he's never heard his mother's voice hit soft, exactly, he's never heard it as brutal as this.

Sirius, though, reacts like he's heard the tone a million times. He yelps and curls into a protective ball.

"Mother?" Regulus asks, confused. He doesn't understand the scene; his brain can't comprehend what's going on. His brave, fearless brother is cowering at the very sight of his mother.

His mother casts a curse. Sirius screams in agony.

"Stop! Stop, please! Mother, please, stop!" His protests are barely discernible over the sound of Sirius's screams.

Suddenly, everything goes silent. Sirius's breath is heavy, labored, hoarse. The wicked grin on his mother's face makes Regulus break and fill with rage at the same time. He hadn't noticed, but he's crying. This is his worst nightmare; his mother is a monster, his invincible brother a victim.

Sirius grins like a madman. "Horrified, Regulus? Get used to it. Welcome to my nightmare, only this isn't a dream. It's real. Face the truth, Regulus. The mother that you love is a terrible person. She hurts me, and you know it's true. You know it, somewhere deep in your mind. You know that when I come back from "talks" with mother wearing long sleeves that it's because there's something I don't want you to see. And it's your fault. This is your fault. If you'd have never been born, they'd have loved me. I'd be the prized heir, and no one would even notice that you were gone. I protected you, I shielded you, because I thought you were worth something, but you're not. You're worthless as a Death Eater, and you'd be worthless for the light."

Sirius screams again. Mother cackles, pointing her wand at him. Regulus stumbles backward. "No. No! Sirius, I'm sorry! I'm sorry! Stop!"

"Sorry isn't good enough, Regulus. Sorry doesn't fix this."

Regulus slides down the side of the basin, sobbing into his hands. "I'm sorry. I'm sorry. Please, Sirius. Please forgive me."

"It's all your fault," Sirius says as Regulus keeps up a mantra of 'Forgive me,' over and over again. Sirius speaks louder, to be heard over top of him.

"It's all your fault. And I will never forgive you."

"Sirius, please!" But Sirius can't hear him anymore. His eyes are closed, and he could be asleep, but somehow Regulus knows that he isn't. "Forgive me," Regulus murmurs one more time.

A blink, and the scene morphs.

Sirius is gone, now, and Kreacher is in his place. Mother's face still holds the same manic grin. This time, though, she speaks right to Regulus.

"You ought to have known better, Regulus. You ought to have known better than to get close to the help."

"Stop!" Regulus yells, because he can tell what's coming. His mother is tormenting Kreacher now, and Kreacher's yells hurt worse than Sirius's indecipherable screaming, because Kreacher's yells are words, comprehendible words – a cry for help.

"Master Regulus, please. Please, Master Regulus. Please!"

"Kreacher! No, stop, stop, please!" Regulus screams, but his mother isn't listening. She pauses, and Kreacher's words break what is left of Regulus's heart.

"It will stop soon, Master Regulus. Kreacher knows. Kreacher knows from experience, it will stop soon."

"No, no, I can't take another second!" he yells.

"There is no more, Master Regulus," Kreacher murmurs. Regulus blinks. The cave returns to his field of vision, fuzzy yet there, but right now, Regulus has only one concern.

"Water," he rasps. His throat is bone-dry.

"Kreacher knows, Master Regulus. Just wait a moment. Kreacher will get us out of here."

"Water," Regulus rasps again. He can think of nothing else. He staggers toward the lake.

"Master Regulus." Kreacher catches his hand. "Master Regulus, please, do not go near the lake. Kreacher will get us out."

But Regulus can't think properly. He tugs toward the lake. Kreacher's eyes are filled with pain, but he is forced to let go because of Regulus's order – because Regulus used the word immediately. Kreacher dashes toward the basin

Regulus murmurs, in an odd moment of half clarity, "Forgive me, Kreacher. Forgive me, Sirius." Then he drinks from the lake.

Kreacher turns around just in time to see several sets of dead hands drag his Master into the depths. Kreacher bolts toward the shore and peers through the depths. Bubbles of air drift up in a morbid trail – those tiny bubbles are Regulus's life slipping away.

And Kreacher can't swim.

All that's left of Regulus Black are a few words on a piece of paper. They are the words of a man who knows that he is dying for what he believes is right – because he finally realized what that was.

To the Dark Lord,

I know I will be dead long before you read this, but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret.

I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can.

I face death in the hope that when you meet your match, you will be mortal once more.

R.A.B.