Disclaimer: I do not own anything from Harry Potter.
General Warnings: AU, language, violence, not dead!Regulus, Harry-gets-a-secret-second-godfather... sort-of
Summary: Kreacher goes back to save his master, and Regulus survives but his near-death-by-Inferi puts him into a coma for the next sixteen years. When he wakes, well, the world is not so different. Voldemort is still at large, and the Ministry is still inept. His brother's got a godson now though, so it's only natural for Regulus to keep an eye on young Harry as well.
Author's Notes: This is the last new fic I'll start at least until after the New Year, I promiseXD But I also probably won't be able to update again for at least a few weeks so enjoy this in the meantime.
Cold hands wrap around his limbs and torso and throat. Skeletal fingers tangle in his hair, rotting teeth tear at his flesh, and the animated corpses around him drag him down, down, down into the icy depths of the lake. Water fills his lungs, darkness numbs his mind, he can no longer breathe, and death, death is a blessing, and he begs it to come for him now...
"-lus! Master Regulus! Please wake up! It is just another night terror! Master Regulus!"
Regulus jolted awake, sucking in greedy gulps of air as he shot up and stared around wildly, already shivering even with the tangle of blankets twisted around his legs and the sweat matting his hair to his forehead. He half-expected himself to still be in that cave, terribly thirsty and frightened out of his mind as the Inferi got a hold of him.
Slowly however, his mind began to clear, his breathing evened out, and his gaze fell to the anxious-looking house-elf standing by his bed, hands twisting his ears agitatedly as he hovered worriedly at Regulus' side.
Despite the horrible memories still plaguing him every time he so much as blinked, Regulus managed a half-smile that he hoped was at least a little reassuring. Kreacher didn't look all that reassured.
"I'm fine, Kreacher," Regulus said out loud, voice still hoarse and rusty from the sixteen-year-long coma he had been in. "Thank you for waking me."
Kreacher brightened a little, snapping his fingers to instantly exchange Regulus' bedding with new sheets. Regulus noticed that there were a few extra blankets, and he was inwardly grateful at his house-elf's foresight. He was still shivering from an invisible chill.
"Master Regulus is most welcome," Kreacher croaked. "Since Master is awake, would he like some breakfast now?"
Regulus hesitated, and then nodded reluctantly when Kreacher's worried frown became even more pronounced. The house-elf lit up again and promptly disappeared with a crack, off to make a meal fit for a king.
Truth be told, Regulus barely had any appetite these days but after the first month of having Kreacher bring him nutrition potions and other necessities to at least get Regulus back on his feet, the house-elf had insisted on at least two meals a day if not three.
Truly, Kreacher could fuss worse than Madam Pomfrey.
With a shaky sigh, Regulus lay back down and curled up again, wrapping himself in the blankets as tightly as possible. He felt like a child despite already being thirty-four years old. And with sixteen years in a Merlin-damned coma...
He'd only been eighteen when he had very nearly died.
He would've died if Kreacher hadn't circumvented his orders and come back for him. Regulus had only told Kreacher to leave with the locket and destroy it but he hadn't told the house-elf not to come back to grab Regulus as well.
It was actually pretty stupid of him not to simply order Kreacher to Apparate both of them out of there but he'd blame that Drink of Despair for his brain not working at full capacity at the time.
It had cost him sixteen years of his life too, sixteen years of being stuck in nothing but darkness and fear and cold, cold hands holding him under, unable to wake up, though he supposed that was marginally better than twelve years in Azkaban.
When Regulus had woken up three months ago (and had finally been lucid enough to stay awake for more than a few seconds, much to Kreacher's teary-eyed delight), he had gotten the house-elf to tell him everything there was to know about what had happened after he had fallen into a coma.
Voldemort's temporary demise had come as a bit of a surprise; Voldemort's return a mere few weeks ago – not so much.
And of course, Sirius being a reckless idiot and charging headlong after Pettigrew for revenge only to get himself framed and thrown in jail for the next twelve years – Regulus could definitely say that that came as no surprise whatsoever. His brother had always been the action-first-thinking-later-if-ever sort of man, especially when his temper was running high.
A stab of guilt hammered in his chest. Perhaps... Perhaps things would've been different if he had gone to Sirius when Regulus had first started seeing Pettigrew show up at Death Eater meetings. Or an anonymous note at the very least; Sirius had – and most likely still – hated him after all, and accusing one of his brother's fellow Marauders of being a Death Eater to his face probably wouldn't have gone over well, especially since Regulus had been a Death Eater by then too.
He shook his head. The past was the past; there was no use thinking about what-ifs anymore.
The present didn't make for much better food for thought though. Regulus had woken up in the middle of April to a mutinous Kreacher (who had cried in happiness when he had seen Regulus open his eyes at last). A few days later, when Regulus had been strong enough to listen even though he had still been laid out on his back, the house-elf had reported that the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black had been overrun by mudbloods and blood traitors alike, namely the Order of the Phoenix. Luckily, Kreacher had been secretly taking care of Regulus for years without letting anyone know, smart enough to figure out that Regulus had betrayed the Dark Lord by stealing the locket, and hadn't wanted Regulus' parents – or anyone else for that matter – to find out.
Even more fortunate was the fact that Kreacher had barricaded the rooms in which Regulus now lived in to the point where no one but a direct order from a Black would be able to make Kreacher open up the doors for them. Sirius had almost always despised their childhood home, and had never had any interest in exploring it, claiming that the artifacts hidden inside were too Dark for his tastes. Regulus wasn't worried that his brother might stumble upon one of the numerous hidden rooms in the house. The only people who might know more about Grimmauld Place than him were all dead.
That aside, Regulus had also heard the mention of a prophecy regarding the Boy-Who-Lived who, of course, just had to be Potter and Evans' son.
Meaning, of course, that they had made Sirius Black godfather.
On one hand, it was nothing less than what Regulus had expected the moment Kreacher had revealed to him all the things that the house-elf had overheard in the meetings (which was another oversight on the Order of the Fried Chicken's part; honestly, orders like 'stay in the house' and 'if you have to talk at all, talk of nothing you hear with anyone outside Grimmauld Place' were both careless and plain stupid, especially when Regulus was also a Black from the main line and could countermand Sirius' orders perfectly fine). After all, James Potter's most trusted had always been Regulus' brother so it would stand to reason that Sirius would've been chosen as godfather.
But on the other hand, well, Sirius had never been what you would call the epitome of rational thinking. Revenge on Pettigrew had evidently been too much to resist, and Sirius had chosen that over taking care of his godson.
A godson who was staying with Muggles now, according to Kreacher, and the worst sort of Muggles at that, if the various Order members' complaints about the Dursleys could be believed. And apparently, the kid had only been back at these Dursleys' place for a week. If it was so obvious that those Muggles were unsuitable guardians, why couldn't they just move the boy someplace else? Sirius at least should know better. Blood wards or no, Regulus could already think of half a dozen ways off the top of his head to match the strength of those wards with something found in the Black library. Not to mention there was the Fidelius Charm; just because it had failed once because they had trusted a rat didn't mean it would fail again. Heck, Grimmauld Place was under the Fidelius right now, and Regulus hadn't heard of any Death Eaters breaking down the front door.
Sirius himself could be the real Secret Keeper this time around, whisk the boy off somewhere for the summer – perhaps Potter Manor – where he would actually enjoy himself, and the Dark Lord would never be able to get Harry Potter's location; if nothing else, Sirius was fanatically loyal to the people he cared about.
But while Regulus had become disillusioned with the Dark Lord's side, he also maintained the fact that the Light had never had much of a foothold in the intelligence department. Clearly, they were about as slow as Regulus remembered them to be.
That, or they were even bigger Dumbledore groupies than they had been during the last war. Truthfully, Regulus figured it was a bit of both.
"Your lunch, Master Regulus."
Regulus levered himself upright, offering a slight smile for Kreacher as the elf handed him a tray filled to the brim with hot stew, a side of soft bread, and treacle tarts which had always been Regulus' favourite. At the moment, he still couldn't eat anything heavier than this.
"Thank you, Kreacher," He rasped out, picking up the spoon.
Kreacher beamed, drooping ears perking a bit. "Master Regulus be needing anything else?"
"Not right now, Kreacher," Regulus paused. "Actually, could you get together some clothes for me? A... Muggle attire, if you please. I need to blend in with the Muggle world."
He mentally wrinkled his nose. He was indifferent to Muggleborns and half-bloods – the bloody Dark Lord was a half-blood, as Regulus had managed to discover, along with the slew of Horcruxes that the man had made – but Muggles were... well, he was still a little iffy about them but he could hold his distaste at bay.
"Master Regulus plans to go out?" Kreacher enquired with some concern.
Regulus nodded. "Don't worry; I'm not planning on doing anything strenuous. My idiot brother is on house arrest though, and in his own house at that; does he have no pride? Anyway, since he's locked up here, I thought I'd drop by to see that godson of his that he's been rambling on about."
Kreacher took on a grouchy look. "The Potter boy is a half-blood, Master."
"In the end, blood status doesn't truly mean anything, Kreacher," Regulus sighed. "We all bleed and hurt and die the same way. Besides, the boy is Sirius' godson, which means I have an obligation to keep an eye on him too. I owe Sirius that much."
Kreacher huffed but let the issue go easily enough. "Kreacher will go retrieve disgusting Muggle clothing. And Kreacher will have hot bath ready for Master Regulus to wash any Muggle filth away when he returns."
Regulus smiled somewhat dryly this time as the house-elf popped away. He returned to his soup, wrapping one hand around the side of the bowl to try and steal some of the warmth into his own body.
He wondered if the chill in his bones would ever go away.
He rather doubted it.
As he trudged down a street in Little Whinging, Regulus burrowed deeper into the warm coat that Kreacher had managed to find for him. It was fortunate that Regulus had always been frugal with the generous allowance that his parents had given him each month ("A Black should never be seen as anything less than perfect, Regulus."), never using more than absolutely necessary. Unbeknownst to his family, before he had semi-died, Regulus had also secretly opened a second vault on the side, and had moved most of his money into it just in case the Dark Lord had ever ordered any Death Eaters to give up even more gold to the madman's cause. Regulus was a lot of things, and Slytherin was at the very top. He had had contingency plans for contingency plans, with one scenario being disownment from his family like Sirius had been. Unlike his brother, Regulus had had no friends who would've taken him in for free should he ever do anything to truly displease Walburga Black, nor had he had any relatives who had liked him enough to leave him money, and if Regulus had ever ended up on the streets, he had had no desire to be a pauper or a beggar.
The private vault he had opened contained enough money for him to live out the rest of his life in comfort if not luxury, and that was good enough for him.
Kreacher had also managed to save his wand, bless the elf's crooked heart, and while Regulus would never be as brilliant – or flashy – a duelist as Sirius was, his strengths laid in spellwork and research. He was a decent fighter but he preferred using his head to get out of dangerous situations, and there were enchantments and wards that he had both discovered and created that he was certain even Voldemort wouldn't know of.
Right now though, he had simply cast a powerful glamour on himself, and he had become a nondescript brown-haired, grey-eyed man in his thirties. His natural black hair, reaching past his shoulders and tied back in a ponytail, now looked shortly cropped to everyone else.
He paused when he reached a park, eyebrow arching. Oh, it looked like he didn't even have to go all the way to Privet Drive to visit Sirius' godson (would that make the kid Regulus' 'godnephew'?).
Casually turning into open space, his eyes scanned the grass, easily picking up the two indents that gave away the invisible person standing there.
Well, at least he had double insurance that it wasn't Moody under that cloak because the ex-Auror would never be this sloppy. Of course, Kreacher had already given him the full schedule of the Order's rotation duty when on Potter-watch so he knew it was his little cousin Nymphadora Tonks under that cloak.
Not so little anymore though, and he had only ever seen her once from afar a long time ago when she had been a toddler. Andy would've freaked if he had ever approached her daughter in any way.
Without letting his gaze stray to the Order member (no doubt studying him closely now from under her invisibility cloak), Regulus chose a bench at the edge of the park to sit on, a dozen feet away from the swing where Harry Potter was brooding morosely from.
Regulus unfolded the Muggle newspaper that he had brought along, raising it to cover his face just so he could grimace openly at the boy's lack of awareness. Regulus could've killed the kid three times over by now before Nymphadora could've done anything, and that was not accounting the fact that he also could've thrown a successful Stunner at her already what with her giving herself away in broad daylight.
He crossed his legs and leaned back so he could survey Harry over the top of his paper without making it noticeable. Still brooding. Well, the kid had gone through quite a few hardships, plus he was a teenager.
The clothes he was wearing were atrocious though. Even Regulus drew the line at wearing anything less than top-of-the-line Muggle clothing despite his jeans, shirt, and sweater being more casual apparel than formal.
The boy's clothes were at least three sizes too big on him though, not to mention those glasses didn't match his face at all. In Regulus' opinion, the kid should just correct his eyesight with a potion; why James Potter had never done it was beyond him. The Gryffindor had certainly been rich enough.
The Potter hair was a lost cause but growing it out a little might help it change from a birds' nest to – as Sirius would put it – I-had-great-sex-last-night-and-you-missed-out. The boy was almost fifteen, wasn't he? Sirius had been 'experimenting' since he had hit third year back at school, much to their mother's displeasure.
"Hey, there's your freak of a cousin, Big D!"
Regulus flicked his gaze to the group of boys – sneering faces, superior smirks; they reminded him a little of the Marauders before Evans had finally managed to make them grow up a bit – approaching his brother's godson. Harry straightened and got to his feet, defiant as a Gryffindor as he watched the group of teens saunter over.
Out of the four, Regulus noticed that only the biggest kid looked slightly nervous.
"What do you want, Duddykins?"
Regulus discreetly rolled his eyes at the goading, scornful tone. Did the boy have no self-preservation? No wonder he was a Gryffindor.
"Ooh, Potty sounds like he's grown a spine since last year," One of the newcomers jeered, stepping forward and puffing himself up in an attempt to look intimidating.
Regulus mentally snorted.
"Big D's been telling us about your little nightmares," The boy continued, and Harry stiffened. "And calling for your mummy and daddy too! 'Help me, Mummy, help me!' But oh wait; you're an orphan!"
"Shut up," Harry snarled, right hand twitching, and Regulus knew the boy yearned to go for his wand. The biggest boy – 'Big D' probably – shifted uneasily. Ah, that must be the cousin.
"Or what?" Another boy stepped in, rat-faced and scrawny. "You'll scream for mummy to save you?"
Raucous laughter filled the air, Harry turned even whiter, and Regulus had had enough.
Harry Potter was the Noble and Most Ancient House of Potter's last scion and heir. It was degrading enough to know that his own brother, head of the Black House, was being ordered about in his own ancestral home, and by that banshee woman to boot; it was even worse to see someone related to the Blacks – Dorea Potter née Black had been Regulus' great-aunt – letting a couple of vulgar Muggles put him down without at least verbally flaying them in return.
He had crossed over to the swing set in five long strides, ignoring the rustle of an invisibility cloak as Nymphadora took a few steps forward. Regulus understood the need for secrecy but that didn't make him any less annoyed that the people supposedly guarding the boy wasn't protecting him from emotional abuse.
"Excuse me, is there a problem here?" Regulus interrupted smoothly despite the scratchy quality in his voice. He came to a stop behind the group of bullies.
The teens all whirled around, looking shifty-eyed when they saw that it was an adult, but they relaxed when they realized that Regulus was alone.
Behind them, Harry looked surprised, anger and not-quite-hidden hurt dimming gradually as a slightly worried frown replaced it.
"There's no problem," This time, it was 'Big D' who spoke with an ugly sneer. "Leave if you know what's good for you."
The boy even had the gall to crack his knuckles in what Regulus assumed was supposed to be a threatening manner.
Regulus arched an eyebrow, staring coolly at the bulky teen until the kid began to squirm a little, bravado faltering.
"I think it's time for you boys to go home," Regulus phrased it politely but there was no mistaking the undertone of steel in his voice. Never let it be said he hadn't learned anything under his mother's harsh tutelage on the regal bearing of a Black.
"You think you can order us around-" The boy who had first ridiculed Harry started to move towards him.
Regulus only pinned the kid with a cold flat look and cut him off. "Yes, I do, now move along, boy."
Regulus knew their kind, knew that they were all talk and only picked on the weak. Regulus, while not in top form, hadn't been a Death Eater for nothing. He had killed before, and perhaps some of that showed in his expression because the uneasiness amongst the teens spread.
However, they weren't quite ready to give up just yet; the mouthy brat from before reached out and attempted to shove Regulus back.
Needless to say, Regulus didn't let him, and just before the Muggle boy's fingers touched his coat, he clamped a hand around the thick wrist and twisted deftly until the brat's face crumpled in pain.
Not yet broken but close enough.
"I said," Regulus repeated, still very quiet but in a voice that could freeze lava. "Move along."
He held on for a second longer before letting go, and the teens fled.
Regulus inwardly scoffed derisively. Muggles. They were even worse than the Marauders; at least the Marauders had had the ability to stand their ground when confronted.
He turned back to the remaining boy who drew back a little but offered an awkward smile.
"Uh, thanks," Harry hunched up, head bobbing. "You didn't have to do that."
Regulus scrutinized him for a moment before shrugging. "They were being rude so it was only right to cut in. ...Straighten your posture, kid. You even look like a bully victim standing like that."
A splash of red rose in Harry's face but the kid hastily squared his shoulders. Regulus nodded curtly before turning on his heel and returning to his bench, picking up his newspaper again.
He watched as Harry hesitated, looking like he wasn't certain what to do next, but when Regulus made a great show of becoming immersed in his paper again, the boy gave him one last curious look before hurrying out of the park.
Regulus waited until Nymphadora had also vacated the vicinity before getting up himself.
Time to head back. He hadn't gotten a very good read on Harry's personality in their minutes-long interaction so maybe he'd come back another day to see if the kid would be in this park again. It wouldn't do to appear in too many places around this neighbourhood, especially within throwing distance of Harry Potter.
In the meantime, he had to focus on recovering some more before his magic would be up to conjuring fiendfyre on the locket that Kreacher had been unable to destroy but had faithfully kept it hidden for him for sixteen years.
"Another word for describing someone or something as daft; nine letters."
"Imbecilic. Much like the world we live in."
Harry snickered and scribbled down the last word. "You're pretty good at this."
Sitting beside him, the man waved a dismissive hand. "More like this crossword is too easy."
"Too easy?" Harry huffed incredulously. "You got 'apogeny' and 'adiaphoron' earlier. I didn't even know those were real words."
"You're still young," The man countered in a tone that would've been condescending if it hadn't been for the faint smile crinkling the corners of his eyes.
Harry just scowled good-naturedly as he folded up the paper once more.
After that first day when the man beside him had defended him from Dudley and his cronies, Harry's feet had led him back to the park the next day, and somehow or other, he'd managed to strike up a conversation with the stranger, partly out of curiosity and partly because the man had just felt... familiar for some reason.
Three days later, after a few near-unnoticeable stumbles on the stranger's part whenever something really Muggle was brought up, Harry had taken a chance and had asked if his acquaintance was a wizard.
Or at least he had tried to ask, but before he could get half the words out, the man had thrust a crossword under his nose with the simple message 'you are being watched' written under it.
Of course, Harry's first instinct had been to jump up and pull his wand out but the man had delayed that reaction by engaging him in the crossword while also eyeing him with an exasperated gaze that told him not to give himself away.
And then the man had proceeded to write out three entire paragraphs about the Order of the Phoenix and Harry's guards and the lack of activity from Voldemort's end and the utter incompetence of the Ministry currently doing their level best to run a smear campaign against Harry himself. All under the pretense of working on the crossword of course.
To say that the man had risen several hundred degrees in Harry's eyes for not keeping him in the dark would be an understatement of massive proportions.
Obviously though, Harry had had to ask – on paper – whether or not the man was part of this Order, and the man had denied it. He'd merely told Harry that Harry's safety was important to him by proxy, and he'd decided to do a bit guard duty himself.
Harry rather suspected that there was something more than that, but the man hadn't tried to harm him yet, and judging by how easily he had been able to teach Harry to pick out where his Order guards were standing without letting them know, Harry figured that the man had had plenty of time to capture or kill him, and a measly protection detail wouldn't have been able to stop him.
From then on, afternoons were spent talking about magic or homework or doing crossword puzzles even after the man had begun erecting undetectable wards around them before Harry joined him so that the Order guard-of-the-day wouldn't be able to see them doing anything except pouring over a Muggle newspaper or chatting about inane subjects.
"You still haven't given me your name, you know?" Harry remarked.
"No I haven't," The man agreed easily. "And you really shouldn't trust a complete stranger but here we are."
"You're not a complete stranger," Harry argued back. "Besides, I told you, there's something about you or maybe how you look-"
"I'm under a glamour," The man reminded him.
"Well then, it's something about you then that's kind of familiar," Harry insisted stubbornly. "Why can't you just give me a name? I have to call you something."
"...Because I'm technically dead, kid," The man revealed sardonically as Harry's mouth dropped open. "They had a funeral for me and everything but I survived. It's better if I stay 'dead' though, and that'll only happen if no one starts flinging my name around again after all these years. I wasn't a very good person back then." He flashed a mirthless smirk that Harry could swear he had seen somewhere before. "Still not a particularly good person now."
Harry remembered to close his mouth, and then shook his head. The man was always like that, throwing out a few tidbits and no more about himself every day, and Harry always hoarded them all away for later perusal.
"Now enough of that," The man leaned back and crossed his arms in an imperious motion that suddenly reminded Harry of Lucius Malfoy. "How are you getting on with Occlumency?"
That was another thing. After Harry had found out that the man was a wizard, it had taken all of half an afternoon talking about Hogwarts for the man to calmly tell Harry that he was frankly surprised that his brain had not yet turned to mush with how little Harry was stimulating it.
Harry had been more than a little irritated at first at being called stupid (without actually being called stupid; the older wizard had to have been a Slytherin for sure), but then the man had proceeded to launch into a lecture on the finer points of Vanishment and Conjuration, as well as an assortment of charms and how to increase and decrease their strength levels, and Harry had been hooked.
Because the man was a veritable genius.
At school, Harry usually had little interest in schoolwork. He did well enough but some of the classes, especially when McGonagall or Flitwick spent a solid week droning on about theory, well, it was more than a little boring.
But the older wizard made it interesting, and more than that, there were details that he stuck in that weren't in any of Harry's textbooks.
When asked about it, the man had admitted with smug pride, "I've done my own research in my time. My grades at school were nothing to scoff at."
And so the impromptu lessons had begun, though the man had insisted on Occlumency first.
"I'll tell you now, Harry," The man had said with a bitter twist of his lips. "Dumbledore can read your mind. So can Snape for that matter, and while I don't know about the latter, I do know that your esteemed Headmaster loves poking around in other people's heads. All for the Greater Good of course."
Seeing as Dumbledore had always seemed to know more than anyone else at any given time, Harry hadn't had much difficulty believing that, especially with how frustrated he was with the Headmaster this summer.
"I think I got the first layer of shields down," He replied now, shifting to face the man. "Could you check...?"
"That is what I'm here for," The man said wryly, and then grey eyes met Harry's, and a gentle pressure slipped into his mind, probing at the shaky shields that Harry had managed to erect.
Minutes later, the man pulled back out, and Harry blinked the weird feeling away. It was never painful but it was a bit strange to have someone else actively working in his head.
"They're a good start," The man announced. "Keep up the meditation and begin reinforcing those shields. Your scar's better these days?"
Harry nodded. That was another reason for the Occlumency. When he had meandered into the park once after a sleepless night because his scar had felt like a brand on his forehead, it hadn't taken much for the older wizard to guess that it was a connection to Voldemort, which just made the Occlumency even more important.
"Why are you doing this anyway?" Harry asked as he always did, crossing his legs on the bench. "Helping me, I mean. You have to admit, it's kind of odd."
"What's odd is your willingness to trust that I'm only helping you," The man returned, also not for the first time.
"You're familiar," Harry reiterated, peering at the man. "Are you sure I don't know you?"
The older wizard sighed in a long-suffering manner. "Quite sure, Harry. ...I suppose I could tell you that we have a mutual acquaintance, though he doesn't know I'm alive either, thank Merlin."
"Why?" Harry jumped on this piece of information as his brain went over all the people he knew. "Do you not like each other? It's not Snape, is it?"
The man snorted, and then paused. "Well actually, he could be since I went to school with him, but that's true for quite a few adults in your life. So no, he's not who I mean."
Harry frowned in thought. "...You were a Slytherin then? You act like a Slytherin. A Pureblood too."
The man inclined his head. "Yes to both. Snape was a friend actually, even though he was almost two years older than me. Or at least as much of a friend as anyone in Slytherin can ever be."
Harry was horrified. "You were friends with Snape?"
Some of the good humour faded from the man's face, and Harry instantly regretted his words.
"Not that there's anything wrong with that," He added hastily. "It's just... Snape hates me."
"Not surprising," The man acknowledged. "He hated your father, though if there was one person he hated more than James Potter, it would be Sirius Black, and you're related to both."
Harry weighed his next words for a moment before choosing carefully, "They say that Sirius Black is a Death Eater."
The man hummed noncommittally.
Harry looked at him for a long moment. "...Are you a Death Eater?"
The man looked amused now. "What a Gryffindor you are. And if I say yes? Will you run for the hills?"
"I don't think I'd be able to get out of the park before you took me down, much less the hills," Harry deadpanned, and the man released an uncharacteristic bark of laughter.
Harry blinked. That was familiar too.
"I was," The man said, and Harry forgot all about it as concentrated on the topic at hand. The older wizard's grey eyes were distant now as they stared sightlessly ahead. "A Death Eater. Inner Circle too. Worst decision of my life, and trust me when I say I've made quite a few bad ones."
For a brief moment, Harry really did wonder if maybe this teacher-student-almost-friend relationship was a bad idea. The older wizard had been a Death Eater, for Merlin's sake, and all the Death Eaters Harry knew were never good news for him.
But the man had been good to him, and hell, Harry had already let him into his mind. There had been dozens of chances to capture or kill Harry over the past three weeks, and the man had never taken advantage of any of them.
(And if Harry was honest, a large part of him was just happy that someone had found him worth paying attention to. Even the letters from his friends and godfather had held nothing useful, and the daily conversations with the older wizard served to take his mind off Cedric and the graveyard too. Occlumency didn't hurt either.)
Besides, this made things easier.
"Then you know that Sirius wasn't a Death Eater, right?" Harry blurted out.
The wizard didn't so much as bat an eye. "Of course. Pettigrew was the one who showed up now and then. I never liked him even back in school. Then again, I didn't much like Potter or Lupin either, or Black."
"Why not?" Harry asked curiously. "Was it just because you were a Slytherin and they were Gryffindors?"
The man's mouth pinched together as he glanced over at Harry. "Do you want the truth or a pretty lie? Because I guarantee that you won't like the truth."
"...The truth," Harry said firmly.
Something like approval flashed briefly in the older wizard's eyes. "Before Evans – your mother – straightened them out, the Marauders were both pranksters and bullies. Most of the time, their pranks were relatively harmless, but when it came to Slytherins, well, sometimes, they could be cruel, especially Potter and Black. They'd pick students out and mortify them in public, laugh about it, and make other people laugh, and it just made House rivalry even worse. They even made a few younger Slytherins cry once or twice, though obviously, they hid it until they were back in the privacy of their dorms. Lupin certainly didn't have enough of a spine to stop his friends, and Pettigrew isn't even worth mentioning."
Harry's first instinct was to deny it. They were his father and godfather after all, not to mention Lupin had been a good friend of theirs, and what little he'd heard about them had always been good.
But he bit his tongue and thought about it. The man had never lied to him to date, and he had said that the Marauders' pranks were harmless most of the time, which sounded like an unbiased assessment, even if it was hard to hear that they had been bullies too.
Harry hated bullies. To think that his own father had been one...
"You're a lot like your mother," The man commented when Harry only scowled down at his hands.
Harry's head snapped back up. "Huh? Wait, what?"
"'I beg your pardon', not 'huh' or 'what'," The man corrected somewhat automatically. "Don't be so uncouth." He paused before muttering, "Wonderful, now I sound like Mother."
He sighed but forged on. "I said – you're a lot like your mum. Evans always tried to listen to both sides before judging, fair even to the Slytherins, especially after she became a prefect."
"My- My mother was a prefect?" Harry asked, a little dazed.
The man frowned. "No one ever told you? Your mother was a prefect and Head Girl; your father was Head Boy. Lupin was also a prefect, and Si- Black was neither."
Harry was silent for a long moment, lost in thought, before asking almost tentatively, "Can you... tell me more about them? I know you weren't friends but you seem to know a bit about them..."
The man eyed him with a momentarily soft gaze before nodding once. "Let's see then... Quidditch; you like Quidditch, don't you? Your father was a Chaser, Black was a Beater, and Lupin often did the commentary. Always snuck in his own anecdotes every match and made McGonagall lose her temper at least three times a year with some of the remarks he made."
"Lupin?" Harry asked in disbelief, trying to imagine his third-year DADA professor acting like Lee Jordan.
The older wizard cocked his head. "I take it he's not like that anymore? Well, everyone changes, but he was a Marauder for a reason.
"The Marauders as a whole racked up a tremendous number of detentions over the years but they were excellent students as well. I wasn't in any classes with them obviously but I heard that Potter was outstanding in Transfiguration and Defence while your mother excelled in Charms and Potions. Not that they didn't do quite well in other subjects but they shone in those particular areas. Lupin was the academic sort as well but he had a knack for Arithmancy, and he had disturbingly good marks in History despite having Binns as a teacher. Black was also quite good at a number of subjects, though he preferred Defence and Charms, and he took Muggle Studies just to infuriate his family.
"Then there was the fact that your mother hated your father for a solid five and a half years before Potter finally pulled his head out of his arse and grew up enough to..."
And that was how they spent the rest of the afternoon, and Harry found it sad that he had to rely on a man who he didn't even know the name of to find out more about his parents, yet at the same time, he was glad that there was someone who was willing to tell him about them at all.
"Try again; just remember to focus on where you're going."
Harry nodded determinedly, took a deep breath, and turned on his heel again, disappearing with a faint pop and feeling a squeeze around his middle before reappearing again three feet away.
He grinned and spun to face his teacher. "I did it!"
The older wizard inclined his head with a small smile on his face. "Nicely done. Remember to hold on to that feeling. In addition to splinching, you don't want to be Apparating or Disapparating like other wizards do with that ridiculously loud crack."
Harry nodded resolutely, and then snuck a peek over at where his Order guard was standing in the shade of a tree. "Who is it today?"
"Vance, I believe," The man said briskly. "Don't worry; she can only see and hear what the wards show her."
"Can you teach me those wards sometime?" Harry asked hopefully. They seemed rather useful.
The man smiled fleetingly. "You take Care and Divination. To learn warding, you need Arithmancy and Runes, and since you're already going into your fifth year come September, it's a bit too late to switch. You take your OWLs this year after all."
Harry grimaced. Maybe he shouldn't have taken the same electives as Ron after all. He'd stick with Care of Magical Creatures because of Hagrid but it wasn't as if Divination had ever done him any good. Now he was regretting it.
"I could give you some books if you wish," The man interjected. "You can start studying on the side if you truly have such an ambition to learn."
Harry nodded immediately. After hearing how both his parents – especially his mother – had been top students in school, he had found that he no longer wanted to stay at the average that he had been pulling, not to mention his teacher would undoubtedly be disappointed with him.
Eyeing a patch of grass five feet away, Harry exhaled and then Apparated once more, grinning with satisfaction at the near lack of sound and overall success.
Four weeks with an ex-Death Eater and he was already breaking the law and not caring. Apparition was illegal until he got his licence at seventeen at the earliest but apparently, Apparating was like driving a car; if you weren't caught by the police, then nothing was really stopping you if you knew how to do it.
"So do I get a prize for learning Apparition?" Harry joked as he flopped down on the bench.
His teacher sat down much more elegantly, a glint of amusement in his eyes. "I suppose so, if it's a reasonable request."
Harry did a double-take. "Really? I don't even have to think about it. I want to know your name."
The older wizard blinked before sighing in resignation, and Harry inwardly crowed in triumph. "...Reg. Or Reggie."
Harry cocked his head. "...Reg. That... doesn't fit."
The man – Reg? Seriously? – chuckled. "Both are nicknames, though only a handful of people have ever called me either. You may as well."
Harry wasn't sure whether or not to be flattered about this. "So you won't tell me your real name then? Is it because our mutual acquaintancewould know it?"
Reg just shrugged. "It is not a common name so quite a number of people would know it."
Harry glanced at him. "But why don't you want people to know? I mean I'm pretty sure Snape was a Death Eater-"
"He was," Reg said rather bluntly.
"I knew it," Harry muttered darkly but didn't dwell on it. It wasn't as if it was news that Snape could be as hate-inducing as a Death Eater; the man fit the bill perfectly. "Anyway, he got off scot-free, and he's allowed in a school full of children."
"He's got Dumbledore's backing though," Reg countered in a hard voice. "Which means Dumbledore's holding something over his head. I'd rather die than become that twinkle-eyed puppet-master's lapdog."
Harry blinked. This wasn't the first time that Reg had touched on his dislike for the Headmaster but he'd never said why. Would Dumbledore really stoop to blackmail of all things?
"It would be like trading one master for another," Reg cut in cynically. "And I've had enough of serving other people for one lifetime."
Harry watched as Reg's hand unconsciously drifted to his left forearm.
"Can I see it?" The words were out before Harry could stop them, and he earned himself another quicksilver flash of amusement from Reg.
"You inherited Evans' nosiness," Reg announced, but after a second's contemplation, he scooted over a little and tugged up the left sleeves of his coat, sweater, and shirt. Taking out his wand, he tapped it once against his forearm, and the glamour in that area dissipated.
(When Harry was back at Hogwarts and could use magic again, he was going to learn the Glamour Charm if it killed him. Altering his appearance and hiding his scar was dead useful in public.)
"Most people say I'm like my dad," Harry confessed as he peered down cautiously at the snake-and-skull tattoo. It was the first time he had ever seen it up close but the most startling thing to him was how thin and pale Reg's arm was. Harry could actually see the wrist bones jutting out as if the man had been sick recently and had lost a lot of weight.
He mentally shook his head and promised himself that he'd sneak a late lunch out from under his aunt's nose starting tomorrow to give to Reg.
The Mark itself stood out starkly against the pallid skin. It was black but the colour was faint as if whatever connection it had with Voldemort was hanging by a thread.
"Most people would be wrong," Regulus scoffed patronizingly, astonishingly patient as Harry continued studying the man's forearm. "I suppose you do look remarkably like James Potter, except for the eyes, and you've told me you're an excellent flyer, but from what I've seen over the past few weeks, your personality leans more towards that of your mother's. You certainly have her work ethic. When you choose to apply yourself to your studies anyway."
Harry flushed a little, embarrassed and proud in equal measure. He'd never say it out loud but now that he knew more about his parents, that was probably the best compliment anyone had ever paid him.
"Why isn't it darker?" Harry enquired, focusing on the Mark once more. "Now that Voldemort's back and all."
Reg withdrew, recasting the glamour and rolling down his sleeves again. Harry couldn't help noticing the minute shiver that wracked the man's frame even though the sun was high in the sky and Reg was wearing at least three layers.
"People thought I died for a reason," Reg explained. "I did come quite close to death, so my best guess would be that that was enough to weaken the Mark's hold on my magical core."
Harry frowned in alarm. "That thing is connected to your magical core?"
Reg inclined his head. "Yes, it's Dark magic, and it binds us to the Dark Lord until the day we die so that he can summon us whenever he wishes, as well as feed on our magic if he ever has the need to."
Harry reeled back in horror. "Well- Can't you remove it?! What if Voldemort finds out you're alive? He'll kill you, won't he? Since you've left his side."
Reg looked startled for a moment at Harry's vehement concern (Harry didn't know why; it was a valid concern) before offering a rare, almost fond smile that made Harry's ears burn.
"For a Potter, you turned out alright," Reg conceded. "You need not worry; I'm already working on a solution. It's too weak to do much of anything right now anyway so I will be fine until I can remove it."
"Oh, okay," Harry released a breath of relief. "You'll tell me once it's off, won't you? Or if you need help with anything? Not that I'd be much help but still."
Reg acquiesced with a nod. "I will, but nothing should go wrong."
They lapsed into a companionable silence after that, Reg staring with mild contempt at the invisible Vance while Harry mulled over how much his life had changed in the span of four weeks. Having someone to talk to and take him seriously made all the difference. At the beginning of summer, all he had been able to think about was Cedric (dead) and Voldemort (who had risen again) and nightmares of cemeteries and death. The lack of anything concrete from his friends only served to upset him and make him even angrier, and the pain in his scar hadn't helped matters.
And then Reg had come along out of the blue, and yeah, Harry knew that he really should've been more wary of the man instead of simply trusting his gut instinct and letting the wizard close, especially with Reg being a former but still confirmed Death Eater, yet the wizard certainly didn't remind Harry of Snape or Crouch or even Mr. Malfoy with the exception of that subtle Pureblood countenance, and even then, Reg didn't act all high and mighty like all the Malfoys did.
And ever since Harry had met him, Reg had always been an odd combination of adult and peer. Most of the time, the older wizard would be Harry's teacher, guiding him through Occlumency and Apparition, assisting him with his homework, and even giving him a few books on jinxes and hexes to read that all had Reg's handwriting in the margins, depicting tips on wand movements and elaborating on new spells derived from variations of the ones already in the texts.
But then, strangely enough, there would be the occasional handful of times when Reg would act closer to Harry's age, perhaps a few years older, and that part of the wizard helped Harry see past the grownup.
So with someone who was an adult but also seemed like he wasn't too old to relate to a teenager, Harry figured that he really couldn't be blamed for confiding a few of his worst nightmares to Reg.
The first time Harry had mumbled something about the cemetery and Cedric, Reg had looked somewhere between highly unnerved and downright terrified like he wasn't at all used to dealing with teenage angst but the man had listened anyway, and at the end, Reg hadn't pushed him to talk about it anymore than what Harry had been willing to say.
Harry had been pathetically grateful for that because he already had Hermione urging him to write to her about his feelings on the matter, and that by doing so, it would help him with his mental trauma.
Needless to say, Harry hadn't done any such thing, especially when she – and Ron – hadn't stopped ignoring all his questions in favour of 'let's talk about what you went through in June' and 'keep your head down' messages. After meeting Reg, Harry had already written that he didn't need to talk about his ordeal in June with them (without actually telling them about Reg of course), and as for keeping his head down, well what did they think he was going to do? Skip out of Little Whinging and go on a hunt for Voldemort?
Harry snorted to himself, shaking his head and glancing at Reg who was watching a Muggle couple – a boy with a cigarette hanging between his fingers and a giggling vapid-looking girl hanging off his free arm – with muted revulsion.
"You don't like Muggles, huh?" Harry asked, not really surprised.
Reg met his gaze evenly. "No, I don't. They have no magic, and if they ever find out about us, they will lash out and try to kill us all, simply because they are jealous or afraid or both. They outnumber us so they would eradicate us, one way or another."
Harry grimaced at the outcome Reg painted. He could actually see it as well; he had grown up with the Dursleys after all. Still, he felt like he should say something in their overall populace's defence. "Not all Muggles are bad though."
"I am aware," Reg acknowledged a little stiffly. "It is not because they are Muggles that they will lash out; it is because it is human nature to fear what they cannot understand. In this, wizards are no different than Muggles, but between us and them, I'd choose us."
Harry nodded slowly. "What about Muggleborns?"
Reg's face blanked. "My parents raised me with the belief that Muggleborns and half-bloods are beneath us, but personally, I am indifferent to them. Magic is magic in the end. I would not be talking to you otherwise."
Harry smiled somewhat sheepishly. That was a good point. Still, it was nice to have confirmation that Reg didn't have any prejudices against them. The older wizard probably had once upon a time but he'd obviously changed his way of thinking, and that was good enough for Harry.
"Voldemort is a half-blood too," Harry disclosed, but to his surprise, Reg only nodded.
"I know," The wizard sounded wry. "That was one of the reasons that helped changed my mind about blood purity. The Dark Lord's strength is formidable, and clearly more powerful than any pureblood I can think of off the top of my head."
Harry nodded again, and then ventured, "What happened to you? Why did you leave the Death Eaters? I don't think most people do."
Reg was silent for a long minute, features closed off, but he did eventually answer. "Most people choose not to defect from Voldemort's cause because they either truly believe in it or they are too afraid to do so once they are in. You cannot resign from the Death Eaters, or retire. The only way you leave them is through death. You serve until you are dead, and more often than not, your progeny will take your place after that. The only reason I managed it is because I was prepared to die. It was only... the loyalty of a friend that prevented it."
"They must be a good friend then," Harry remarked, thinking of Hermione – who had always been loyal even though she tended to nag a lot – and then of Ron – who had betrayed him once already but had still come back.
"He is," A smile graced Reg's face. "He was the only friend I had who stuck with me to the very end, and still does to this day." He stopped for a moment, and then blanched as if he had tasted something horrible. "Merlin help me, that just made me sound like a bloody Gryffindor."
Harry couldn't bite back a snicker. "Or a Hufflepuff," He pointed out, smirking when Reg's eyebrows twitched with irritation.
"Quiet, brat, or you'll leave me mentally scarred," The older wizard retorted but there was no heat behind his words. "Then again, I always knew spending time with Gryffindors would deplete my IQ through proximity alone so I have no one to blame but myself."
Harry just grinned. Even now, a part of him couldn't believe that he could even smile much less joke around but despite the fact that Reg wasn't one for talking a lot (teaching aside), the man had a quick wit and a dry humour, and had patience in spades when describing concepts to Harry without making Harry feel like a little kid who couldn't understand anything.
"The sun's setting," Reg observed, stretching before getting to his feet. "I must be going, and you should too."
"Right," Harry tried hard not to show his disappointment that another day was over. Honestly, his afternoons were the highlights of his summer nowadays, though at least he had all the extra books to read back at the Dursleys. "I'll see you tomorrow?"
Reg's hand extended towards Harry's head as if he was about to ruffle his hair, but the older wizard aborted the gesture a second later and offered a simple nod instead. "Yes, until tomorrow, Harry."
As they stepped away from the bench, the wards around them melted away without Vance any the wiser. She would only have seen Harry and Reg finishing their conversation and getting up to leave, and Harry resolved himself to learn all he could from the books that Reg would be giving him. Perhaps McGonagall would be willing to let him drop Divination and take up Runes in sixth year if he could somehow catch up. And he could self-study for Arithmancy; that subject was basically like math and Harry had always been good at that subject.
He waved goodbye to Reg one more time as they exited the park before parting ways. For once in his life since he could remember, he actually wasn't looking forward to leaving Privet Drive.
Would wonders never cease.
Staring down at the now melted lump of charcoal that Salazar Slytherin's locket had been reduced to, Regulus smiled, dark and satisfied. One down, at least three to go.
The Dark Lord, as Regulus had found out all those years ago, had a rather unwise penchant for monologuing to himself and his inner circle, and while Voldemort hadn't told any of them about the Horcruxes, he had dropped enough hints about immortality and 'safeguards' for Regulus to take a good guess. And back then, after months of careful eavesdropping on a few conversations between Bellatrix and Lucius, as well as piecing together everything he had managed to glean from Kreacher's account of his trip with the Dark Lord with everything else he had already learned, he knew that both Bella and Lucius had one Horcrux in each of their possession, Bella's most likely in her vault since she would never leave it lying around in her husband's house, and Lucius' probably in his mansion.
He also knew that Voldemort had made another Horcrux with an object that had belonged to Rowena Ravenclaw, and had then left it at Hogwarts. He had come by that piece of information through pure chance; the Dark Lord had said something along the lines of 'I have left my mark even at Hogwarts' right after he had bragged (yet again) about having safeguards, and while the other Death Eaters in the room at the time – Bella who was insane and could trump Regulus in a duel any day of the year but wasn't exactly the smartest of witches and would never question her lord anyway, Mulciber Senior who was dead now, and Avery Senior who was also dead – had been too busy marvelling at the Dark Lord's claims of immortality, Regulus – who had only been there because he had been called in to wait at the door and later ordered to retrieve the Lestranges for Voldemort; it was nice to be overlooked as someone who could never pose a threat – had understood the meaning behind those words.
So, the locket which he had just destroyed, something under Lucius' protection which was going to take a hell of a lot of planning and luck to get to, another under Bella's protection which was going to take a monumental amount of planning, outrageous luck, and a death wish or ten for good measure, and one more somewhere in Hogwarts.
And that was assuming that Voldemort had only made four.
Which Regulus seriously doubted because the Dark Lord was just that crazy. The snake-man had probably made more.
Regulus heaved a sigh and dropped into the armchair beside the fire crackling in the hearth, leaving the locket sitting on the burnt patch of carpet on the ground.
He wasn't cut out for this sort of thing, being Gryffindor and courageous and heroic. He wasn't brave like Sirius, who was bold enough to refuse Slytherin House despite tradition and expectations, and fearless enough to go against their parents despite their threats, and daring enough to fight for his own ideals despite the danger.
Before Sirius had left for Hogwarts, Regulus had always had his big brother to protect him from thunderstorms and screaming mothers and Crucios, but once Sirius had turned eleven, Regulus had been left to fend for himself, and he had found himself floundering, caving under Walburga Black's demands and heavy wand hand.
And then Potter had happened, and Regulus hadn't been lying to Harry when he had told the boy that he had disliked James Potter, and not just because he had turned Sirius against Regulus in their pranks, stringing him up by his ankles to the ceiling until a professor came along to free him, humiliating him in the Great Hall by vanishing his clothes so that he had been left standing in nothing but his boxers, and Sirius had laughed. Regulus hadn't even gotten an apology. He had still been young enough to want to be comforted though, and Cissa had been the one to hug him and hex Sirius and even Potter for him afterwards.
But what really stung when it came to James Potter was how he had taken Sirius away from Regulus. His brother had written a few letters to him that first year he had been away, and Regulus had cherished every last one of them, especially after he had accidentally done something to displease his mother – again – and had been cursed for it ("Consider this training, Regulus, for when you join the Dark Lord's glorious cause, and you must be able to stand a little pain. Now get up and stop whimpering."), but those had slowly dwindled, and then, come summer, Sirius had returned, and everything had been different. It was always Hogwarts and James and pranks and James and the Marauders and my best friend, practically my brother, James, and Regulus had hated the Potter scion before he had even met him.
He took a deep breath. Now wasn't the time to dredge up old grudges, especially against a dead man. He had even done his best so far to give Harry an unbiased opinion of James Potter in his accounts, not wanting to turn the kid against his father. After all, Potter hadn't been a bad man per se; he had been good to the people he had cared about. Besides, Regulus was thirty-four, far too old to be holding on to so much resentment, for all that he sometimes still felt like he was only eighteen years old.
It was that reason that made Regulus feel both pleased and uncomfortable whenever Harry looked at him with undisguised appreciation, all because he had shown the kid some genuine attention. On one hand, he had never had anyone look up to him before, and it was a heady feeling, but at the same time, Regulus had never meant to get close to the kid either. At the beginning, even if they talked, he had expected that they'd simply share a few words now and then, but before he had consciously realized it, Regulus was already teaching Harry some of the things he knew and listening to the teen even when the conversation material had been purely inconsequential to anything directly related to Regulus.
He hadn't thought the boy would be so easy to get along with. After all, Harry was Potter's son, yet it hadn't taken long for Evans to shine through as well.
Lily Evans had been Muggleborn and Gryffindor, two things that every Slytherin who didn't want to be shunned by his own House automatically hated, yet when it came to Evans, even most of the more zealous purebloods would grudgingly admit – though never publicly – that she was someone worth respecting. Smart without being solely book-oriented, clever enough to be cunning when it came to verbal blows between her and the Marauders, open-minded and fair even towards the worst of Slytherins no matter how badly they sneered at her or how much she personally detested them, but still strict and unforgiving when it came to punishing the guilty parties no matter which House they were in.
People like her were born once in a blue moon yet Regulus could see some of her in her son. Some of Harry's Slytherin prejudice slipped through when he talked about Cissa's boy but it sounded as if young Draco had practically started every altercation, and Regulus was certain that Harry would dislike that kid just as much even if Draco had been Sorted into Gryffindor. If Regulus could curb that growing aversion now, then maybe it wouldn't spread to the rest of the Slytherins without just cause.
A crack stirred him from his thoughts, and Regulus glanced to the side as Kreacher appeared, fuming as he always seemed to be after dealing with the people currently running amok in Grimmauld Place.
"Mudbloods and blood traitors are desecrating Master Regulus' home!" The old elf wailed, wringing his hands. "The mudblood girl was just trying to break in to Master Regulus' book collection in the library!"
Regulus' eyes narrowed. He had nothing against Muggleborns, and the girl obviously couldn't have known, but that didn't mean he wasn't irritated that someone was trying to touch his personal belongings, especially his books. It was under lock and key and wards for a reason, and the only reason that particular set of books had still been stored on the first floor of the library was because the material in them weren't predominantly Dark, not to mention the books themselves – while enjoyable – weren't among his top favourites.
"Did you manage to move them?" He asked, frowning.
Kreacher nodded vigorously. "Of course; Master Regulus' books are safe. Kreacher moved the collection to the second floor when the mudblood went to find Master Regulus' brother to open the case for her."
Regulus smiled. "Good job, Kreacher, thank you."
Kreacher smiled back, and then scowled and popped away once more, presumably called by Sirius to enquire about the missing case of books.
Regulus wasn't worried. He was still a Black despite theorizing that his heart had temporarily stopped when the Inferi had gotten hold of him, which was why his death date had appeared on the family tapestry. But since he was still alive, there were technically two lords of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black now, and unless Sirius demanded directly with absolutely no room for voluntary misinterpretation (and Sirius had never been very good at covering loopholes whereas Kreacher was a virtuoso at finding them), then Regulus' orders would take precedence for Kreacher.
Aside from that, Sirius had also ran away from Grimmauld Place a year before he had come of age, so he hadn't been shown all the secret passages and rooms in their ancestral home, which included the guest wing that Regulus was currently living in, the two extra floors of the library, and countless passageways snaking throughout the house. There was even a set of potions labs in the basement hidden away by their father since there were rare ingredients stored inside and he hadn't wanted his children to accidentally – or purposefully – get their hands into them until they had at least become legal adults.
Sirius may be the official Lord Black now but Regulus was the one who knew the family's secrets, their charters with allied families, and the sum capital and contents of the Black vaults as well as their yearly income and investments despite no longer being able to get into them without drawing attention to himself.
He glanced down at the Horcrux once more before flicking his wand at it.
The locket vanished, reappearing on the top bookshelf at the other end of the room. It was just a lump of melted metal now.
With a sigh, Regulus got to his feet again, lips thinning when he felt himself waver before steadying properly. He was still weak, especially after that controlled fiendfyre he had produced.
Moving across the room, he paused beside an empty portrait frame, and then tapped it with his wand. The inside of the frame shimmered before clearing, and Regulus winced as a loud overbearing voice abruptly filled his ears.
"Sirius, make yourself useful and go upstairs and get that second drawing room cleaned, won't you? This place is such a mess."
Regulus' lip curled as he watched his brother glower at the Weasley woman's expectant dismissal but obediently slouched out of the kitchen in the end, grumbling under his breath.
Pitiful. Had Azkaban truly reduced Sirius Black into this? Being ordered about in his own house by someone who was really just a guest and should – at the very least – have the common courtesy to act accordingly? But no, Molly Weasley bustled through Grimmauld Place as if she was the Lady of the House, and Regulus was even more disgusted by the fact that her husband – Lord of the House of Weasley even though that family had left almost all the olde customs behind – allowed her to do as she pleased.
Regulus didn't care if Arthur Weasley wished to treat his wife as his equal; hell, he approved of having a spouse that wasn't just decoration at the patriarch's side. He had thanked Merlin when Cissa had assured him that Lucius respected and listened to her opinions, and was a softer man to his family behind closed doors.
But Arthur Weasley didn't treat his wife as an equal; rather, from what Regulus had seen, the man had no spine when it came to reprimanding her when she was out of line, as she had been ever since she had stepped foot in the Blacks' ancestral home.
Mouth twisting, Regulus tapped the one-way mirror once more, and the image blanked out again. He always made it a point to not watch the goings-on in the rest of the house for too long for fear of being too tempted to storm out there and give his brother a good wakeup shake. Sirius had never been this passive even in the face of their mother, especially their mother, and Walburga Black was about a thousand times more terrifying than Molly Weasley.
Turning his attention to his arm next, he prodded his Dark Mark cautiously. This wretched tattoo was next on his project list. He had a vague idea on the complicated chain of spells needed to get rid of it but he needed a more thorough understanding of the procedure before he tried it; he didn't want to inadvertently damage his arm or blast it off completely.
So, to the library.
"Memorize these basic runes," Regulus instructed. "They're like the English alphabet. Once you know them, you'll be able to put them together to form bigger and stronger runes to power your wards. I'll check over your Arithmancy equations while you're doing that."
Harry nodded, exchanging the newest assignment that Regulus had given him two days ago with the chart that Regulus had drawn up last night.
The kid was brilliant at Arithmancy. Regulus had no idea why Harry hadn't chosen that as an elective back in third year when he clearly had such a natural talent for it.
An elbow nudging at his arm made him look up, and he sighed when he caught the meaningful rise of Harry's eyebrows and not-very-subtle glance between Regulus and the chicken sandwich wrapped in ser-ran currently sitting uneaten in his lap. For some reason, the boy had started bringing food with him to these visits five days ago. Did Regulus seem hungry or something?
With a long-suffering sigh, Regulus unwrapped the sandwich and took a bite, ignoring the triumphant grin on Harry's face as the boy went back to his bowl of chilli. He still wasn't very hungry these days but the kid had gone to the trouble of bringing him food, and Regulus knew that Harry's home life wasn't great, so he always tried to eat some of it but only if Harry ate some of the food Regulus had taken to bringing as well. Teenagers usually ate more food at this age, and Harry always looked a little thinner than was strictly healthy. Kreacher was grudgingly happy to prepare a variety of foods for Regulus to take with him every day, still not liking the fact that Harry was a half-blood but willing to make an exception for the kid because Kreacher had gotten into his head the idea that he had gained an ally in his 'Get Master Regulus to Eat' campaign.
(Between shooting both of them exasperated looks and musing to himself over which one of them was more troublesome, Regulus had found out that Harry's favourite dessert was treacle tart as well.)
Regulus' wand was out and he was on his feet before Harry's head had even jerked up from the Runes chart.
"What was that?!" The kid yelped, scrambling to his feet as well and tugging out his own wand. "It sounded like a car backfiring!"
"Someone just Apparated," Regulus informed him calmly, still scanning the area.
"That's what normal Apparition sounds like?" Harry looked bewildered. "People from two streets over can hear that! What if you want to get away undetected?"
"Yes, that is why I invented my own version," Regulus replied sardonically. "Now hush. Hmm... never mind what I said before, someone just Disapparated. Fletcher's gone."
"Did something happen to him?" Harry asked anxiously, still looking around. "I thought it was his turn to tail me today."
Regulus scoffed disdainfully, lowering his wand but not putting it away. "Mundungus Fletcher idling an entire afternoon away in a Muggle suburb when he could be off selling his illegal wares? There's a reason he takes the least shifts when it comes to guarding you; even the Order of the Roasted Duck knows better than to assign him more than a few hours as your protection detail. My guess is that some sort of bargain was struck today right at this time and it was too good for him to pass up."
Harry had spluttered out a laugh at the name Regulus had tagged the Order with but he sobered again quickly enough. "So what should we do? He'll come back sooner or later, right? Do we just go back to what we were doing?"
Regulus didn't respond right away, still dissecting the park for impending threats. For some reason, the alarm bells in his head hadn't stopped ringing, and there was something a lot like dread in his stomach, a sickening uneasy feeling that brought up memories of killing sprees and Inferi and the Dark Lord's malicious laughter, all the things that scared Regulus most.
"I don't want to risk it," He finally decided, still keeping an eye out as he motioned for Harry to pack up. "Something feels wrong. The sun's going down anyway so grab your things; I want you behind your mother's blood wards as soon as possible."
Harry nodded at once, hastily gathering up his homework and stuffing it all into the worn-looking bag he had been using to carry his homework to the park. Regulus hurried things up by jabbing his wand at the half-eaten food, sealing the chilli in its container and floating it over to Harry before sending his own sandwich and the sheaf of Arithmancy assignments back to his rooms in Grimmauld Place.
"Ready?" He asked, letting the wards around them fall even as Harry slung his bag over one shoulder and nodded. "Okay, come on. Quickly."
They made it out of the park and halfway down Magnolia Road before it happened.
The orange-red sunset sky darkened all at once, dimming until there was absolutely no light left. The streetlamps that had started flickering on for the evening had also disappeared, and the distant rumble of cars and whisper of trees had gone. Even worse for Regulus, the evening had suddenly become piercingly, bitingly cold, and in his mind's eye, he could see the cave again, the water closing over his head as the Inferi dragged him down.
They were surrounded by total, impenetrable, silent darkness, as though some giant hand had dropped a thick, icy mantle over the entire street, blinding them.
Just like the cave and the lake and the clammy grasping hands-
"Reg?" Came Harry's nervous whisper, and it served as an anchor for Regulus, yanking him back out of the memories he had been succumbing to. "Reg, do you know what's happening?"
Regulus drew in a shuddering breath, and when he felt his brother's godson's hand brush against the sleeve of his coat, just missing the crook of his elbow, he swallowed hard and reached out blindly to clasp Harry's wrist in his hand. He didn't want the boy to go running off in a random direction or something equally stupid.
"Dementors," Regulus croaked, clearing his throat as he pulled Harry to his side. The teen didn't seem to mind, crowding even closer without hesitation. "Dementors in Little Whinging."
"What?!" Harry gasped from somewhere next to Regulus' shoulder. "That's impossible!"
"Yes, it should be," Regulus said grimly as he strained to see through the pitch black world around them. He flicked his wand and the tip lit up, shedding some light to their surroundings. "If I didn't know better, I'd say Fletcher planned this but your godfather at least would bury him if he had, not to mention he doesn't have the means to pull this off. This is just very bad timing."
"So what do we do?" Harry muttered, wand pointed in front of him. "I hate Dementors but if it comes down to it, I can produce a Patronus."
Regulus did a double-take. "You can? Corporeal?"
"Yeah, learned it in third year," There was a faint smile in Harry's voice. "Professor Lupin taught me."
Regulus grunted, silently impressed, and he didn't impress easily. Even he hadn't been able to produce a Patronus until fifth year for his OWL, and now...
Well, he'd be surprised if he still could.
"Harry, listen to me," Regulus said instead, shuddering as the air got even colder. "Do not cast any magic unless you absolutely have to. The Ministry hates you right now; if you do magic, they will use this excuse to tear you apart."
"But it would be for self-defence!" Harry protested weakly.
Ah, to be that naive again. Regulus tightened his grip on the kid's wrist. "The Ministry doesn't care. They'll take any pretext they can to discredit you, make you seem crazy even, all to convince the wizarding world that the Dark Lord isn't back. That's how stupidly scared they are. Besides, it's unbelievable enough for Dementors to appear in-"
Regulus stopped as the pieces clicked into place in his head. "Damn."
"Reg?" Harry even looked alarmed now. Regulus rarely swore.
"They sent them," Regulus comprehended softly. "Someone from the Ministry sent-"
He cut himself off, inhaling a lungful of ice as the chilling sound of long, hoarse, rattling breaths reached their ears from somewhere behind them. They whirled around, and there they were, two towering, hooded figures gliding towards them, hovering over the ground, no feet or face visible beneath their robes, sucking on the night as they came.
Regulus felt like he was drowning all over again.
No. He clenched his teeth. He had his brother's godson to take care of. He raised his wand, thinking of Sirius, but all he could see was his brother's angry face, sixteen and shouting and leaving Regulus behind. "Ex- Expecto Patronum."
Not even mist. Bloody fuck.
He thought again even as the taste of despair invaded his tongue, and this time, he recalled Cissa's hugs and Andy's affectionate smiles, but no, Cissa had graduated and had been too occupied with Lucius to spare anymore attention for Regulus who had been growing up and should've been able to stand on his own two feet, and Andy had regarded him with nothing but disappointment for him after he had joined the Death Eaters. "Ex- Expecto- Expecto Pat- Patronum."
Nothing. Goddamn. The Dementors continued advancing.
Well, time for Plan B.
"Come on," Regulus wheeled around, still holding onto Harry who had a pained frown on his face and his own wand raised. "What did I say about using magic? We're running!"
They flew down the darkened street, neither of them looking back as the Dementors' rattling breaths dogged their footsteps.
"We can't run forever!" Harry panted out as they rounded a corner, desperation etched on his face. "...Reg, I can hear my mum screaming, and- and Voldemort's voice back in the cemetery- I should conjure a Patronus; it'd be best-"
"No!" Regulus snarled, knowing how disastrous that could be. He cursed his own uselessness. He was the adult here, not Harry! He should be the one to think of something! He was the one with the genius mind so-
Lunging forward, he released Harry's wrist and shoved the boy behind him, skidding both of them to a stop even as he twisted around and slashed his wand down and then to the side, firing off two spells consecutively. "Incendio! Carcerem Circum Aliquid Horribilem Convelo!"
The Dementors hit the barrier and plastered themselves against the shimmering purple prison that Regulus had erected even as a horrible screeching noise filled the air as the hooded figures writhed in the fiery hell that Regulus had created. But there was nowhere to run, no matter how many times the Dementors bashed themselves against the magical walls.
"Are they screaming?" Harry sounded shaken, though Regulus would take it as a good sign that there was no sympathy in the boy's expression. Not for these creatures.
"Yes," Regulus' throat felt as dry as the desert, and his wand hand was shaking from exertion. But already, the evening was returning to normal now that the Dementors had been contained. "Fire can hurt them; it's just that they can usually escape. Unlike this time. Wait, I should..."
He pointed his wand. "Abscondo. Silencio."
The entire prison, Dementors and fire and all, disappeared, and the noise abruptly cut out. "There, they'll burn to death, and the prison will disappear once it's empty. For now..."
Regulus raised his wand once more and began muttering under his breath, concentrating on forging the proper runes with his magic, carving them into the air and grounding them around the prison.
"What did that do?" Harry enquired when Regulus finally lowered his wand and exhaled a long breath three minutes later.
"This area's saturated with magic," Regulus explained wearily, wiping his brow and wanting nothing more than to lie down and rest. "The wards I just put up will hide that until it dissipates. It wouldn't do for anyone to try to pin something on you even though you didn't use your wand. And I added another ward so people will avoid this area for the next twelve hours. That should be enough time for all this to disappear without a trace. Just to be on the safe side though, I want you to stay in your relatives' house for at least the next twenty-four hours, clear?"
Harry nodded, brow creasing with worry when Regulus stumbled a little as he took a step forward. "Reg, are you alright?"
"Fine, that just took a lot out of me, and I wasn't at my full strength either," Regulus assured tiredly. "Come on, let's get you back home. That's enough excitement for one day."
Regulus wrapped an arm around Harry's waist and Apparated both of them to the corner of Privet Drive without so much as a whisper of sound.
"Should've done that sooner," He commented self-deprecatingly.
"You were really badly affected by those Dementors," Harry objected, keeping a supporting hand under Regulus' elbow as they headed down the street. "If anything, I should've thought of Apparating. I just stood there while you protected me."
Regulus side-eyed him. Wonderful. He had suspected that the kid might have a bit of a hero complex.
"I'm the one who told you not to use magic, or I'm sure your Patronus would've driven them off," Regulus admonished, voice exhausted but adamant. "Besides, it's not your job to protect people; it's your job to be a teenager, to be a kid. It's the job of the adults around you to protect you but also to teach you how to fend for yourself one day. Right now though, well, if you continue rushing headlong into every dangerous situation like a thoughtless Gryffindor, you won't even live to see your majority. Didn't you tell me that the Sorting Hat said you could've been great in Slytherin? Use some of that Slytherin side of you to keep yourself alive. Don't be so hasty to stand and fight all the time. You'll die young if that's the only method you know how to use when you're flirting with danger."
Harry looked a bit wide-eyed behind his glasses, and for good reason too. Regulus didn't normally talk so much at any one time.
"...Adults don't usually help me," Harry confessed quietly. "I mean, you said the Ministry sent Dementors after me. That's just insane. So me and my friends, we usually have to help ourselves."
Regulus sighed inaudibly, giving in to the odd urge to tousle Harry's hair. He remembered his own childhood. "Yeah, I know the feeling, kid. Still, I hope I've proven to be at least a little dependable, hm?"
Harry smiled at him then, earnest and a touch shy, respect glowing in his eyes, and Regulus couldn't help the bolt of fierce pride that surged in his chest at having that expression aimed at him. No one had ever looked at him like that before, like Regulus Black was someone worth admiring, someone worth something, like he wasn't just a coward repressed by his mother or scum grovelling at the feet of the Dark Lord.
"Definitely," Harry was agreeing. Thanks, Reg."
Regulus inclined his head, hiding a smile as they reached Number 4. "Get inside, and remember, the farthest you go tomorrow is the yard. I'll see you the day after if nothing else happens."
"Alright," Harry promised, eyeing Reg critically. "You'll be okay?"
Reg was hard-pressed not to roll his eyes. "I'll be fine; I'm going straight home to sleep after this so the sooner you get inside, the sooner I can get some rest. Go on. Time for all little children to go to bed and all that."
Harry did roll his eyes at that but he acquiesced and headed up the front path, waving goodbye before slipping indoors.
Regulus swept back up the street, ducking into the shadows of the side of a house and waiting until he heard the telltale crack of Apparition, signalling Fletcher's return. The man had no doubt returned to the park, realized that Harry wasn't there anymore, and jumped straight back to Number 4 Privet Drive in the hopes that Harry had just gone back to his relatives' house instead of something worse.
Regulus sneered. He could almost feel Fletcher's relief from three houses down when Harry's window curtain peeled back and the teen peered outside, evidently looking for the source of the noise.
Regulus was tempted to curse Fletcher but held back if only because...
He Apparated away then, silent as a summer breeze, appearing again near Grimmauld Place and slipping inside through a back passageway without anyone noticing. He limped his way back to his rooms, staggered through the door of what could now be deemed 'his bedroom' after spending sixteen years in it, and then finally surrendered to the crushing fatigue that had weighed on him ever since he had dealt with the Dementors.
He dropped like a stone, collapsing on the ground as darkness swam into his vision, and a moment later, he heard a crack and Kreacher's fretful shriek of, "Master Regulus!"
"'m fine," Regulus slurred as Kreacher floated him onto his bed. "Over'xerted m'self, tha's'all. Jus' need some res'."
He felt Kreacher vanish his coat and shoes, and then tuck him into bed, and with a last "than's Kreacher", Regulus was out.
Harry paced the ground in front of the park bench restlessly, having already looked through all the runes he had memorized yesterday another four times before finally throwing the towel in.
Where was Reg? Had something happened? The man hadn't looked well after that Dementor attack; Harry knew he should've stuck around with Reg, even if it was just sitting on the curb until some of the colour had returned to the man's face. He hadn't said anything that day but the older wizard's glamours had faltered a little at the end, and Harry had managed to catch a glimpse of a thin, borderline gaunt, but inexplicably familiar face, along with a suggestion of black seeping into Reg's brown hair.
Harry had been eager to meet up with the man again today, but so far, Reg hadn't arrived yet. Of course, the man could just be busy, but the older wizard had never missed a day since they had started this arrangement five weeks ago.
More than that, a very important letter had arrived for Harry yesterday from Dumbledore, one that told – not asked of course; since when had his opinion ever mattered when people interfered in his life – him that 'some people' would be coming to escort him to a safer location on the sixth of August where his friends would be waiting for him.
It was lucky that Harry already knew all about the Order and the fact that everyone was holed up in Grimmauld Place or he probably would've blown a gasket when he got there about being kept in the dark for half the summer only to be toted off on someone else's say-so at the drop of a hat.
Of course, he didn't know where exactly Grimmauld Place was due to Reg not being the Secret Keeper (and he also had no idea why Reg wanted to keep his existence a secret but at the same time was also included in the secret of where Order Headquarters was despite the supposed fact that only Order members and a few others should know; how could someone be included in a secret yet still stay 'dead' to almost everyone in the world?).
Still, that wasn't the issue at hand at the moment. Harry very much wished he could write back and tell them 'thanks but no thanks' but he doubted that he'd have much say in the matter. So at the very least, he wanted to notify Reg about it and ask whether or not Harry could at least write to him from now on.
Because Harry didn't want to give up their summer afternoons. He was learning loads, and the only thing that could make it better would be if Harry could use his wand when Reg was teaching him. He also liked the company, and the banter, and honestly, why couldn't Dumbledore find someone like Reg to teach DADA instead of dark lords and frauds and Death Eaters every year?
Harry huffed in irritation, scowling at the ground and making sure not to let his gaze fall onto his Order guard for too long. Judging by the racket that had come from someone tripping over a hedge earlier on his way to the park, Harry guessed that it was Nymphadora Tonks tailing him again today. Ah well, better her than her mentor, who – as Reg had told him – would've probably noticed something off by now, so it was a good thing that Moody always took the graveyard shift when he was on rotation.
"I see you're as patient as ever," Someone remarked, and Harry whirled around, irritation evaporating like mist at high noon.
"Reg! Finally!" Harry breathed a sigh of relief upon seeing that Reg didn't look as bad as he had two days ago, still a bit on the tired side but definitely better.
Or at least he was hiding it better but Harry hoped that wasn't the case.
He wanted to ask about Reg's health or whip out the letter right away but he wasn't that stupid so he produced his own newspaper with a bit of an elegant flourish (on hindsight, he might be picking up a few of Reg's habits) and held it out in front of him.
"Crossword?" Harry proposed, and he was certain he heard a groan coming from Tonks' direction. If Reg's crooked smile was anything to go by, he had heard it too.
"Of course," Reg accepted graciously, and they took a seat at the bench.
Harry knew that Reg wouldn't be able to set up the wards today without Tonks noticing something since the older wizard typically arrived at the park first so Harry started by writing, 'How are you? You still look tired.' while voicing out loud, "One down is 'vilify' I think. Three across: the state or period of being a beginner in anything. Nine letters."
'I'm fine,' Reg scribbled in the margins. 'I just need rest. What about you? You seem agitated today. Did something happen?'
"'Novitiate'," Reg announced out loud as he wrote down the word. "Five down: proudly. Six letters, third letter is an 'e'."
Harry scratched his head and then bent down, pretending to list out words even as he wrote back, 'I got a letter from Dumbledore. He said some people will be coming to take me to a safer location two days from now on the sixth.'
"I have no idea," Harry admitted, frowning at the six-lettered space.
"'Skeigh'," Reg answered, and not for the first time, Harry wondered if the man had read dictionaries for fun when he'd been a kid. "Four across: a water spirit, usually having the form of a horse. Six letters, first one's a 'k'."
'Ah, I did hear something about that,' Reg added on paper. 'You sound disappointed though. I thought you'd be happy to see your friends at least? And your godfather?'
"'Kelpie'!" Harry said gleefully, feeling a little less dumb. Huh, Muggles did know some real creature lore after all. 'I do, of course I do; the last time I saw Sirius was through a fireplace, and before that, Hermione and I were saving him from getting his soul sucked out. I miss Ron and Hermione too. But I like spending time with you as well.'
Harry paused and reddened when he reviewed the last sentence. 'Learning from you I mean, and the conversation's nice,' He tacked on, and Reg snorted. In retaliation, Harry picked a clue he didn't know. "Eight down: to elevate in degree, excellence, or respect; dignify; exalt. Seven letters."
Reg glanced at him with more than a little humour. 'I'm a pureblood, Harry. You should know better.'
"'Ennoble'," Reg replied without missing a beat, and Harry grumbled wordlessly under his breath as the man wrote it down. 'I find our afternoons enjoyable as well, and you are easy to teach, especially since I have no teaching experience.'
"Nine across: that cannot be doubted; patently evident or certain; unquestionable," Reg recited aloud. "Eleven letters."
Harry started mentally counting fingers even as he wrote, 'Can I owl you then? Keep in touch? I don't want to not be able to see you until next summer, and all my friends will think I've gone mental if I ask to go home over the winter hols.'
"'Indubitable'," Harry proclaimed triumphantly, and Reg chuckled at his enthusiasm. "Nine down: voraciousness; appetite. Seven letters, second letter is a 'd'."
'There is no need for owls, and I would not want you to send any in case they are intercepted.'
Reg's paranoia was something Harry sometimes forgot, though he supposed the man did have a point. They were in a war now after all, whether or not Great Britain wanted it to be true. His eyes widened at the next words.
'I have a gift for you,' Reg continued. 'Consider it a belated birthday present since I only brought you extra food on your actual birthday.'
"'Edacity'," Reg answered promptly. "Twelve across: to explore caves, especially as... a... hobby..." Harry almost laughed at the consternation on the older wizard's face, clearly wondering why anyone would want to explore caves as a hobby. "Seven letters."
'You didn't have to,' Harry hurriedly scrawled, but he had difficulty suppressing a delighted smile. "It's 'spelunk'."
Reg blinked owlishly at him. "That's a word?"
"Your encyclopedic brain has finally dried up?" Harry teased in return, snickering when Reg cuffed him gently over the head. "Twelve down: sharp or caustic in style, tone, etc. Ten letters, last letter's an 's'."
'I want to,' Reg replied. 'Besides, it is a useful gift, you'll see. I'm afraid I'll have to slip you the package, and you'll have to open it later in your room though. Nymphadora might get suspicious otherwise. Old men like me honestly shouldn't spend so much time with children.'
"'Mordacious'," Reg answered while Harry stared in bafflement at the last sentence before rolling his eyes hard enough to nearly strain himself. "Seven down: out of the depths (of sorrow, despair, etc.). Two words, two letters and then nine letters."
Harry elbowed him aside. 'That's just stupid. I know you're not like that. Anyone with eyes would know. Besides, you're not that old, and I'm already fifteen.'
'The height of maturity,' Harry could almost hear Reg's sarcastic drawl.
Harry knocked his shoulder against the man's arm, smothering a reluctant grin. "I don't know that one."
"'De profundis'," Reg told him. "It's a Latin translation, from the opening of Psalm 130. The beginning goes something like 'de profundis clamavi ad te, Domine', which translates to 'out of the depths, I have cried out to you, O Lord', although these days, it's used as a phrase to convey sorrow."
Harry stared. Reg shrugged. "It was a phase I had back when I was about fourteen. And you'd be surprised – some religions are quite closely related to certain studies."
Oh. So religion was related to magic. No surprise there, considering the witch hunts.
"So, next," Reg carried on, tapping his pencil against the paper. "Eight across: shade; shadow. Five letters, first letter's a 'u'."
'There is something else,' Reg added silently. 'It is very likely that once you reach Grimmauld Place, you will find out who I am.' Harry almost gaped. 'The person who will tell you about me will not have very nice things to say, and I do not blame him for it. He has no idea I survived, and no idea that I had left the Dark Lord's service even before I had 'died'.
'If you still wish to maintain contact afterwards,' Reg continued. 'Then of course, I will be pleased. However, should you not wish to, then I can only ask that you keep silent when it comes to my existence.'
Harry shot him a dirty look and jotted down grumpily, 'You're an idiot. I don't care who tells me what; you're my friend and I'm not going to get spooked away or whatever you're worried about just because someone says something bad about you. I already know you were a Death Eater, that you probably had to do some pretty horrible things, and if I can accept that, then I can accept anything. Short of you turning out to be the love child of Dumbledore and Snape or something of course.'
Reg choked and turned green around the edges, Harry cracked up, and they both dissolved into helpless laughter, Reg significantly more dignified than him though as Harry tumbled off the bench, wheezing as his brain summoned up some very nasty illustrations.
"You are a very sick-minded child," Reg concluded, taking a deep breath before reaching down to haul Harry back onto the bench. "Brat. Focus on the crossword."
"'Umber'," Harry gasped, taking his glasses off to brush the unbidden tears from his eyes as he finally settled down again. "The word's 'umber'."
"At least your higher mental faculties still seem to be working in spite of all evidence indicating otherwise," Reg groused.
Harry tipped his head back, glancing up at the blue sky with a smile before leaning in again.
They spent the rest of the afternoon doing crosswords, foregoing homework for the day.
And Harry wished – wistfully, futilely – that all the years of his life could've been and could be as carefree as this summer had been.
It was a pocket watch, and it was beautifully crafted. The cover was silver laced with blood red garnet (Harry had the feeling that Reg just couldn't bring himself to go with Gryffindor bright red and gold so had chosen something close instead; Harry was glad because carrying around something coloured a gaudy gold was not a nice thought) and had the initials 'H.J.P.' engraved into it as part of the intricate forest design. To finish it off, miniature figures of a stag, a doe, a dog, and a wolf took up positions around his initials, all poised as if standing sentinel for him.
The inside was even better. At first glance, it told the time and direction, and it did, the black roman numerals etched into the face as the clock hands ticked away, as well as a compass at its center. But the letter that Reg had attached explained the additional functions.
As you have probably already seen, I have given you a pocket watch. I hope the design is to your liking; there is none other like it since it is handmade by a master metalsmith who finished it only a week ago. The watch is nigh unbreakable, waterproof, fireproof, spell-proof, and almost entirely buffoon-proof (I say almost because the stupidity of the human race still manages to surprise me to this day so someone out there might just be able to come up with a way to accidentally break it).
The gift is perhaps somewhat old-fashioned, especially for a fifteen-year-old teenager, but it does not only tell the time and guide you home should you ever find yourself lost. While the metalsmith forged the watch, I was the one who did the spellwork. I am sure you will have felt a tingle when you opened it, which is a good thing because the watch has absorbed a spark of your magic and now recognizes you as its sole owner, and it will let no other person open it.
Secondly, excluding the clock and compass, there are three other settings in this timepiece. Simply click the crown of the watch to change it.
If you have done so once, then you will have noticed the mirror that has taken the place of the clock and compass. This is a two-way mirror, and this is how you can contact me at any time. I have a matching watch in my possession, and I have already worked in the runes needed to connect the two. This setting is based on a set of mirrors I have come across before in the possession of my family, though I no longer have any idea where they are anymore. However, those required the person to say the recipient's name out loud, not particularly smart if you're trying to contact someone for help while hiding from an enemy, and you are without your wand to even silence your surroundings. For this mirror, simply look into it and think of me, and if I answer, then it should project my face into the air above the watch so that you will have no need to squint into the mirror.
In addition, should you ever wish to communicate with someone else, I will need to carve the correct runes into whatever device they pick out, so if you ever feel the wish to include your friends, I will be happy to send you a few extra watches with the accurate runes inscribed into them, though you will forgive me if I do not make them as fancy as the one you have.
Switch to the next setting now. This is perhaps the setting I am most proud of. You will have noticed that the mirror is gone, leaving a panel with four keyholes. Worry not; they do not need keys. Press your finger against them and they will open for you. Again, they will only open for you and no one else.
As it is, these four keyholes lead to four compartments, each enhanced with a permanent Invisible Extension Charm. The first is for all intents and purposes a library that will store up to five hundred books, though only one shelf will appear above the watch at a time, and you will be able to organize your books in any way you want. If you wish to recall a book, simply think of the title and it will appear in the shelf (do remember to either be holding on to the watch or touching the shelf when you do so). For this particular compartment, I have already added a collection of my own books that you may keep. I guarantee you will find them useful.
Moving on, behind the second keyhole is a potions cabinet large enough to store up to one hundred standard vials, and already filled with a variety of potions you may need to one day save your life (or – knowing you – someone else's life). For now, there are twenty potions stored inside, everything from Polyjuice to Blood-Replenishing Potions to Essence of Dittany. I understand that some of these potions are beyond you at the moment but do keep in mind that you should keep your stores stocked as much as possible at all times.
The third keyhole contains a wardrobe. I hope I do not overstep my bounds by saying this but your current clothes do not befit your station. I have given you an overview about the Noble and Most Ancient House of Potter, and it just won't do if you have nothing to wear but those Muggle hand-me-downs and your school robes. Thus, I have taken the liberty of adding to your wardrobe several sets of clothing, both Muggle (since you insist) and pureblood apparels. Rest assured, they are not too flamboyant, and will not openly flaunt your wealth when you wear them. Again, the closet will come out to float above the timepiece when you press the keyhole.
The last keyhole is empty, but it has enough storage space to put everything short of a hippogriff into it. It is self-organizing as well so your belongings will not end up tumbling over each other once you place them inside. To withdraw something, again, press the keyhole, think of the item, and it will appear.
Lastly, the remaining setting, now depicting a lion, is an emergency password-activated portkey. Obviously, it is an unauthorized portkey, but making one is the least of my crimes. You have heard of Anti-Apparition and Anti-Portkey Wards, etc? This portkey will bypass them all, essentially ripping a hole through them in the process, and will take you to the closest safe location that the portkey can pinpoint by dropping you off somewhere where no ill-intent is nearby. It is one-use only, and even I had to spend two weeks making it, so use it wisely, and only in the direst of situations to make your escape. To set the password, place your hand on the lion, and say the word or phrase you wish to use. The lion should flash gold once you remove your hand, and the password will be set. To trigger it, move the watch to this setting and the entire timepiece will become a portkey. Once you recite the password, it will activate.
Perhaps now you wish to know why I have personally created something like this for you when we have really only known each other for five weeks. Truthfully, I myself do not fully comprehend the reason, though – as I have said at the beginning of our acquaintance – part of why I am choosing to protect you is because of our mutual acquaintance, a relation that you will understand once you reach Order Headquarters.
You are entering a war, Harry, and while I am firmly of the opinion that children should not have to fight, should not even have to see bloodshed, you do not have that luxury. You are the Boy-Who-Lived, and there are people who will want to kill you, people who will want you to save them, people who expect you to fight.
I give this pocket watch to you in the hopes that it will help, the clock to better your time management when it comes to your schoolwork, the additions to assist you in times of tribulation, and the compass to remind you always that you should walk your own path, pursue your own ideals, and follow what you believe to be right even if the entire world stands against you.
P.S. The Gryffindor tendencies for melodramatic speeches that you undoubtedly possess seem to be contagious as I appear to have contracted them. Show this letter to anyone and the Dark Lord will be the least of your worries.
Harry snorted with laughter at the ending that effectively ruined the mood, which was probably Reg's goal. The older wizard's Slytherin side always seemed miffed to be sharing body space with a Gryffindor side because Harry didn't care what anybody said; Reg definitely had some Gryffindor in him. Only a Gryffindor would've stood up to those Dementors just to protect Harry from both those creatures and trouble with the Ministry.
He carefully folded up the letter and slipped it into the cover of a Defence text before putting it back into the priceless watch. He still couldn't believe Reg had actually gone to the effort of creating something so complex. Harry would be damned if he allowed anything to happen to it. He'd keep it with him at all times, and Reg was right; with the war going on, one never knew when he might need a quick escape.
He flopped back onto his bed, fingers running down the delicate-looking but definitely resilient silver chain attached to the watch.
Definitely more useful than the candy Ron had sent or the books on improving one's study habits from Hermione, though he was grateful that they had remembered his birthday and had been able to send something at all what with all of them being shut up in Grimmauld Place.
Sitting up again, Harry flicked to the library setting and grabbed the first book on runes. Might as well continue his studies; when he called Reg on the mirror the next time, he wanted to at least have a list of questions on things he hadn't understood ready to discuss with the wizard.
And his thanks for the watch of course. There were no words for the amount of time and energy that Reg must've put into it but Harry would attempt it anyway.
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Carcerem Circum Aliquid Horribilem Convelo – I wrap a prison around something horrible
Abscondo – hide, conceal, cover, shroud