A/N: Hello dearies, sorry for the terribly long time for an update. My soul is currently being consumed by NaNoWriMo (wish me luck!) so things have been crazy on this end. But for now, here's a chapter. Enjoy!
Disclaimer: As always, I don't own the HP universe.
He woke with a start, his dark eyes roving and absorbing his surroundings, memories of his dreams fading quickly. He quickly took in the familiar space, the dim light filtering through the window, the layer of dust coating every surface. No doubt this was another of his brother's pranks; he had always hated a dirty room. Wary of more to come he reached for his wand, but did not find it in its customary space on his side table.
"Bloody hell," he muttered as sat up on the edge of the bed, his feet reaching unconsciously for the slippers that he kept on the floor there and finding nothing but more dust. His nose wrinkled in distaste and he stood, walking to the door before pausing and listening carefully for any sign of his family moving about below.
When no sound came, his frown deepened. There was always noise in the Black household, even if it were only house-elves shuffling about. Something wasn't right. Disregarding the fact that he was barefoot and still in his nightclothes, a fact that would surely appall his mother, he hurried down the stairs, stopping to look in several rooms but still seeing no sign of life.
It wasn't until he reached the ground floor that he found any hint that the house was occupied, when he heard laughter echoing up from beneath his feet. His brow furrowed. The only floor left was the basement, occupied entirely by the kitchen and its massive dining table. Only house elves would be there this time of the day, and he had never once heard them laugh.
Wishing desperately that his asshole of a brother hadn't taken his wand along with ruining his room, the man grabbed the heaviest thing he could find, which happened to be a lamp, and made for the stairs. The light reached him before he was even halfway down the staircase, and the voices and laughter continued to grow louder.
He finally reached the bottom of the steps, only to be greeted by a completely unexpected sight. There wasn't a house-elf to be seen, instead, only two people, a man with dark, messy hair and a beautiful redhead woman, who sat at a table in the middle of the room, eating dinner. He scowled. He didn't know who these intruders were, but they were by no means going to sit there enjoying his food, after doing something with his family, in his home!
He tightened his grip on the lamp he held and gently nudged the door open the rest of the way, thanking the gods when it didn't squeak. Carefully placing one bare foot in front of another, he was nearly halfway across the kitchen when disaster stuck, in the form of a loose tile against which he rather violently stubbed his toe.
As was only natural when one's bare toe met a sharp edge, he let out a rather loud, rather vile curse. The next instant, both strangers were on their feet, wands pointed in his direction. The last word he heard was an echoing "Stupefy!".
When he finally came to, it was to meet a matched pair of angry gazes, one brilliant green and the other doe-eyed brown. He tried to jump to his feet, only to discover his hands were bound behind him. He snarled, demanding, "Let me go!"
The man standing in front of him raised one brow and shook his head, replying, "No, I don't believe I will. I don't know how you got in here, or were even able to find this house, but I assure you that I am just as capable of destroying a dark wizard now as I was in school."
"More, actually, since now he's formally trained through the Auror program as well," the redhead added helpfully.
"And I do not take threats in my own home well!" the dark haired man continued with a growl.
"It's this thing he has about family."
"Ginny, please go upstairs and call MacGregor, tell him to send a team," the man instructed, never looking away from where he sat in the chair.
The girl glanced worriedly at the man he assumed was her husband, and then hurried away up the stairs, leaving just the two men alone in the room.
"I really wish you Death Eater has-beens would leave us the fuck alone," the man spat. "Who are you working with?"
"Working with?" he sputtered, struggling again against his bonds, "Now see, here—!"
"Don't even try to lie! You couldn't have gotten in without help. There's quite a bit more than a shielding spell around this house, as I'm sure you know."
At that moment, something in the man's expression triggered something in his mind, a vague memory of one of his brother's friends from school. But what would James Potter be doing in his kitchen, without his brother no less? And that woman—James had dated a redhead in school, Lilac, or another ridiculously flowery name, he thought, —but he was nearly certain the woman now upstairs had been called Ginny.
Realizing the man towering over him was still talking, he focused again just in time to hear, "Who the hellare you?"
He sneered, derision in his tone as he replied, "I, sir, am Regulus Arcturus Black. Who exactly do you think you are?" Instead of replying, the man stood silent, a stunned expression covering his face as he stared.
And then he heard the woman murmur quietly from behind his chair, "Harry, I think you need to call Hermione."
Hermione flew into the Potter household, ignoring social niceties such as knocking in favor of reaching her friends. Harry's note had been alarmingly brief, reading only,
Emergency at Grimmauld. Come now. –H
Her mind had begun to race, immediately conjuring up images of all sorts of terrible things that may have happened, and by the time she reached the door of number twelve Grimmauld Place, she was quite convinced she was going to find at least one of her friends dead.
So when she ran down the steps and into the kitchen, it was with a great measure of surprise and a scowl that she greeted the sight of Harry and Ginny standing in the middle of the room, both watching a strange man sitting in a chair pulled away from the table.
"Harry," she gasped, slightly out of breath from her mad dash, "what's wrong? I was expecting…I don't know…blood!"
Harry slowly shook his head, his eyes never leaving the other man. "Hermione Granger," he said, his voice low and tight, "I'd like to introduce you to Mr. Regulus Arcturus Black."
Hermione inhaled sharply, her daze darting from Harry to the man in the chair, noting for the first time his hands were bound, and then back to Harry. "But he's dead!" she blurted. "You're dead!" she nearly shrieked at the other man.
An affronted look crossed his face. "I most certainly am not!" he protested. "I am the—" he stopped midsentence, his mouth snapping shut and a stunned look shuttered his dark eyes. "No, that was just a dream," he whispered in disbelief, more to himself than to anyone else in the room.
The only one near enough to hear his words was Hermione, who cast him a questioning glance before suggesting to Harry, "You should probably untie him, you know."
"No," her friend insisted stubbornly, "he has to be lying. Regulus is dead, we all know that. It has to be some sort of sick disguise."
Hermione turned her gaze pensively on the man, who seemed to no longer be paying attention to the goings on of the room, instead his eyes darted back and forth as if he were watching a film. "You know," she finally said slowly, "there is one way to determine if he's really who he says he is."
Harry nodded and raised his wand determinedly, only to receive a nasty scowl from Hermione as she batted his hand down. "Don't be dense, Harry," she muttered before walking to the bottom of the stairs and yelling, "Kreacher!"
The man in the chair's head snapped up at the name, but the others were too busy watching the stairs to notice. When the elf didn't appear, and showed no signs of doing so, Hermione rolled her eyes with a frustrated sigh and turned to Harry, raising one expectant brow.
"What?" he asked, clearly confused.
His wife scoffed, giving Hermione a commiserating glance before yelling, "Kreacher! Now!"
"Please!" Hermione added. With a pop, the elf appeared in the room, grumbling something under his breath as he faced his mistress, who simply pointed behind him. The elf turned with his customary scowl and then Hermione saw something she wasn't at all expecting.
The house-elf's face crumpled and great, fat tear rolled down his face as he stumbled closer to the man in the chair. "Master Regulus?" he blubbered, just as the man cried, "Kreacher!" The trio still standing shared a series of stunned, disbelieving looks.
This was clearly a moment too long to keep their attention from the odd pair in the middle of the room, because the next thing anybody knew, Kreacher was flying at Harry, his small fists pounding as he shrieked, "What have you done to Master Regulus? You're a bad man! You let master go!"
"Kreacher!" Harry bellowed, slinging the elf away from his body and grabbing a tight hold of his arm so he couldn't continue his abuse.
"Let him go," Regulus snarled, speaking up for the first time since Hermione had declared him dead.
The room fell silent, the only noise Kreacher's harsh, panting breath, everyone staring at Regulus, though no two expressions were the same. It was Harry who broke the silence a few seconds later, his grip on an angry-looking Kreacher still tight. "The little bugger attacked me!" he protested.
He looked as if he were going to continue his defense, but Hermione interrupted, her voice quiet and her eyes trained intently on the man tied to the chair instead of the elf. "Let him go, Harry."
"Harry, please." He scowled and released the elf, who shuffled quickly backwards with a glowering expression until he again stood near Regulus. Hermione moved too, drawing nearer to where Regulus sat and beginning to inspect his bonds.
"What in Merlin's name are you doing?" Ginny snapped, breaking her observant quiet.
"Letting him go too," Hermione flashed as she pulled her wand from the pockets of her robe. "I'm assuming at least one of you took his wand?"
"Didn't have one," Harry supplied.
"Well then what is he going to do to three very well equipped people with wands?" When neither of her friends had an answer, she murmured the countercharm and the ropes vanished.
Regulus let out an inner sigh of relief as he felt the tight ropes around his wrists slacken. He stood quickly, before the witch could change her mind and turned to face her, sketching a small bow as he did so. "Thank you…Miss...Hermione?"
"Miss Granger," she corrected quickly, taking a few short steps back and turning back to her friends. "You might as well sit back down; I think we're going to be here quite awhile, I'm sure you have questions."
An owl landed on her windowsill, pecking insistently at the glass until the woman sitting at her desk stood with an impatient sigh and let him in. This was no fewer than the fifth owl she had received from the Potters since she had left their home twenty-four hours earlier, the stack of notes was starting to accumulate on her desk amidst the piles of her research.
She had spent hours at Grimmauld Place the day before, answering Regulus' myriad of questions as patiently as she could while at the same time trying to keep Harry from hexing him every time Sirius' name was raised and Ginny from calling the Ministry.
She was beginning to think that leaving Regulus in the one place he was guaranteed to recognize hadn't been the wisest of ideas, since she was finding it rather impossible to discover why exactly the man was back from the dead when she kept receiving complaints of one sort or another. And since there was very little doubt in her mind that all this was the result of her Samhain machinations, she was rather anxious to complete her research.
With a frown she split the seal on the note, one brow rising in surprise at the unexpected smooth curve of the script, nothing at all like Harry's spiky, cramped handwriting.
The note read,
I'm terribly sorry to bother you, I understand you must be terribly busy sorting this business, but I'm afraid I must ask a favor. To be frank, Mr. Potter and I…cannot seem to get along. I realize he is your friend, but if it's possible, I would like to ask that somewhere else be found for my accommodations for the duration of your research, since I am apparently a man returned from the dead. Mr. Potter suggested Azkaban, but that seems less than ideal, and, as you've struck me as an intelligent woman, I thought I would ask your opinion of the matter.
Regulus A. Black
Hermione rolled her eyes. The only surprise this note contained was that it was from Regulus and not Harry demanding the other man be thrown out. Well, they were just having to get over it and act like men for a few days, and hopefully they would both be alive at the end.
She had just added the latest note to her pile and again picked up her book when a loud knock echoed from her front door. She slammed the book shut with a growl and then flipping it back open to make sure she hadn't damaged the delicate pages before standing and going to answer the insistent knock.
She unbarred the door and swung it open, fully prepared to shoo away a salesman who was no doubt selling exotic soaps and was instead confronted by two tall, dark-haired men wearing identical glowering expressions.
"Harry!" she exclaimed, stepping back to allow the men into the flat.
They came in, but went no further than the entryway before Harry stopped to explain his presence. "I want him out of the house 'Mione. He's rude, disrespectful, and I don't want a death eater anywhere near my wife!"
Hermione remained quiet through his explanation and then asked, "Well then why bring him here? There are a number of decent inns nearby, I'm sure the Leaky has a few rooms open."
Harry shook his head stubbornly. "He needs to be with someone who can watch him, wouldn't want him running off to meet up with his old pals. And Ron doesn't want him around Lavender, what with the baby," a flash of guilt covered his face as he realized who he was talking to but he continued, " so it's going to have to be you until we figure out what to do with him."
"He's not a misbehaving pet," Hermione muttered under her breath before, louder, "Fine. Mr. Black, you can put your things in the living room."
"I hardly think this is—" Regulus started, but Hermione interrupted.
"He'll try to put you in Azkaban next. The living room is that way."
Once Regulus was out of earshot, Harry expressed his thanks, warned her to be careful, and took his leave. He was just about to shut the door behind him when Hermione called after him, "Oh, and Harry? I'll be sure to let Ginny know that you think I'm more capable on my own than she."
A nervous look flashed across his face and she smirked as the door snicked shut. A dull bump sounded from the room next door, suddenly bringing her attention back to her unexpected house guest.
She walked into her living room to find Regulus standing in the middle of the room, his one, rather small case at his side and a somewhat helpless look on his face. Hermione couldn't help but feel a vague pang of compassion for the man. She could only imagine what was going through his mind, having woken to discover his entire family dead and the world changed nearly beyond recognition.
She cleared her throat uncomfortably; it had been quite some time since anyone other than her closest friends had been in her home. "Umm… please, sit. Can I get you anything? Tea? Pumpkin juice?" Regulus shook his head silently and sat gingerly on the edge of her sofa.
"I'm sorry about—"
"Miss Granger, I didn't mean for—"
They each started speaking at the same moment and Regulus flushed lightly, insisting, "Please, continue."
"No, no, go ahead."
He hesitated for a moment and then finished his earlier comment, "Miss Granger, I didn't mean for you to have to host me when I sent that note. I can leave, as soon as I can find somewhere to stay. My cousin Narcissa, she married a very powerful man, surely I could stay with them?"
"No!" Hermione snapped, and then more calmly, "No, I'm afraid the Malfoys have become… somewhat indisposed since the War. That won't be possible. So you'll be staying with me. I'm sorry; I know it's not ideal."
He shifted uncomfortably, but nodded, and the pair again fell into an awkward silence. Hermione's eyes wandered over his profile as he observed the room, taking in his dark, thick hair, pale skin, and his sharp, handsome features. His was not a face of an eighteen year old boy, if Hermione had to guess she would have put his age close to thirty.
In fact, the man likely could have been mistaken for Sirius if not for the almost haunting difference in their eyes. Where Sirius's had been a light gray, always full of life and a gleam of happy devilry, Regulus' were dark, nearly black, shuttered against the world as if he trusted no one, although Hermione couldn't blame him if that were true.
Her eyes continued to wander, a small frown overcoming her face as she took in his too-tight shirt and his ankles peeking from beneath the hem of his pants. "Are those Harry's old clothes?" Hermione asked incredulously.
Regulus' eyes snapped back to meet hers and his pale skin turned ruddy. "My room was empty," he mumbled. "He said they were all he had."
A look of outrage flashed across Hermione's face. "He's an ass," she snapped in reply. "Get up; we're going to get you new clothes, exactly what should have been done yesterday!"
Regulus watched with surprised regard as the petite woman leapt from the couch, muttering viciously under her breath and storming to where her cloak and bag hung by the door. She looked back and when she realized he had yet to move exclaimed, "You have to come with me! Let's go."
He stood slowly and walked toward her, wondering when the seemingly intelligent witch would recognize the flaw in her plan.
He was only midway across the room before she cried, "Wait! Oh I'm so stupid. You're dead; you can't be seen out looking like that. Well, looking like you, I mean, you look fine."
She flushed slightly, a trait he found oddly charming, and then continued with a decisive nod after studying him for a short moment. "A glamour spell will have to do then, come here."
He neared and she produced her wand, murmuring a series of quick charms with impressive ability. He felt his hair shorten, and his nose lengthen, and before he could think better of it, quipped, "Merlin, I probably look like Nymphadora."
Hermione let out a quick bark of laughter, the first he had heard from her, and she looked nearly as surprised as he felt. "We should go," Hermione hurried, turning away and opening the door, stepping out into the cool, brisk air.
A/N: Hope you all enjoyed, don't forget to review!