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Chapter 1: the littlest king
This is Regulus Black. He was named for the brightest star in his constellation. Leo. He is a serpent to his core, though, so perhaps the name was made in jest. Maybe it’s an empty gesture to the gods and ancestors. Delivering them rotting fruit. Because there is no point being the heart of a lion when you are a serpent through and through.
But no one thought about symbolism then. An irony, because the society he is born into only stands because of symbolism, but no one remembers Leo. They haven’t even seen the star; they wouldn’t know where to look. Names run together in the family tree infested with serpents like… well, mating serpents. One is just the same as the other. All they remember is the bright star, the swirling gas, the combustion, the expansion, the screaming of a corner of cosmos seventy-seven light years away, and they assign to it a name. Regulus. They plucked the name from a star and bestowed it on a boy.
It’s always been a cruel world, but maybe it’s never been quite so funny.
This is not the boy’s story.
It is a story of the boy.
Regulus Black isn’t sure he has ever been his own man. When he was young, he was a pawn between his mother and his brother, and he knew it. When he got to school, he hoped he could take back his name, untangle the ‘Sirius’ or the ‘Walburga Black’ from his, but that didn’t happen, either. It was a dangerous time to be one’s own man. So he joined himself anew to Slytherin House. The real Black, they fancied him, even though Sirius was the heir.
Sirius too is a star, the brightest in the sky, the Dog Star. There is nothing that constrains him the way Leo constrains Regulus. He can be whatever he wants: he is the brightest star in the sky, and he can make a home in the serpents’ nest or he can bite the tails that feed him and run, run for someone who will appreciate his rabid loyalty. If anyone thought about symbolism then, they knew it when they gave this name to their crown prince. He was the heir, the brightest star in the sky, and he was going to eclipse them all.
He is only eight light years away (nine if you round). The tree of serpents tried to burn his name away, but it didn’t matter. They only need to look to the sky to be reminded that there are greater things that have run, run like swirling gas from the combustion of a screaming corner of cosmos through their coils.
No matter what Walburga Black tells him, Regulus never forgets that there is a brother blinding him out there.
It’s all well and good to be the brightest star in a constellation, to be a lion in name and a serpent by blood, but how can he compete with the brightest star in the entire sky?
The answer is deceptively simple.
Eat the dog.
It wasn’t just his relationship with his brother that drove Regulus to kneel at the feet of the Dark Lord, he who didn’t have a star of his own but was still a snake. He didn’t do it under any illusion of being able to make his name his own for once. Becoming someone else’s man, heart and soul and now body, kind of precluded any chance of him becoming himself.
Partly he did it for security. A little bit for glory, adventure. Serpents never run away, do they? Lions can, though. Lions have legs, paws, strength. Sure, his brother the dog ran first and farther away, but lions can strike out for themselves, for their prides (both egos and families in this case), if that’s what they want to do. They don’t always, but they can.
So partly he did it because he could.
Mostly, he just needed something to do.
Everyone loves a story, though.
Regulus is sixteen. He usually eats cornflakes for breakfast, but there are whispers at the table, and he knows that they all suspect. Most of them don’t say anything, either from lack of things to say or from the good sense their mothers drilled into their skulls. Don’t talk about the dark. That advice isn’t going to defend the children from it; it’s a gossamer veil between truth and willful ignorance. But if that’s what they want, then let them have it.
A small group is still in awe of him, even though it’s been weeks, maybe months–Regulus doesn’t really remember the ceremony, and sure as hell doesn’t have a desk calendar he can flip through looking for a date circled in red to tell him the truth he doesn’t care about. A soldier for the light, they call him. The truth. The right. The light can only be made with the wielding of the dark.
That’s all, everyone here agrees. That’s as far as it’s ever going to go. The dark is a tool, a reverse torch, a whisper and then a flare. A little bit of shadow to show the gross difference between the truth and the lie.
Regulus has never been his own man.
Regulus is still sixteen. Sometimes it seems like he’s always going to be sixteen, frozen in time. When he’s old and wrinkled, a breathing sack of bones, he’ll still be sixteen. A star whose light only comes to the world after many years, years, years. Seventy-seven years to be precise.
And with a whole constellation in his palm, with an entire nightscape that could be his to maul and swallow, Hogwarts seems awfully small in comparison.
So small, but it’s his place, He says. “I thought my place was with you, my lord.” He sneered at that. “Your place is where I tell you it is. Your thoughts are the ones I give you. Your ideas belong to me. For the Cause.”
He always reminds them it’s for the Cause.
How can a small Scottish castle that seems half in ruins be so important? How can a little place hold secrets that could stop a world from coming into its own?
The answer is not simple, but Regulus needs only to look across the Great Hall to find it.
His mother likes to talk about pruning the diseased family tree. Rot besets us, she warns her only son whenever she gets the opportunity. It began with Sirius and spread to Alphard. Merlin knows who will be next.
Regulus always pats her hand absently, but it’s never a comfort for the poor dear. He’s never been one for comfort. Receiving it, yes–everyone needs to protect Regulus from fear and pain–but giving it is another beast entirely.
Strange times indeed, when serpents are more worried about their families than are lions or dogs. Reptiles versus mammals, cold blood versus warm.
Hogwarts is small, but it’s a microcosm of the world Regulus has seen through everyone’s lenses but his own. That’s why it’s so powerful, in symbol and in fact. It is a society unto itself. There is a little piece of sky that belongs to this castle too, as much as sky can belong to earth or stars can become boys.
Hogwarts is small but pivotal.
Regulus is only one of those things.
He doesn’t know if Sirius knows. It’s not like anyone would tell him, not anyone who knew for sure or even suspected. Sirius was never in that little circle. Regulus doesn’t doubt that his brother cares what he does: Sirius’ loyal puppy heart cannot detach itself from his pack of serpents and from his brother the little lion as much as he thinks it can. A part of Sirius expected his brother to follow him away, the little dog and the big cat scampering away from the seat of the serpents paw in paw, heart to heart, like when they were little.
He didn’t, so he trained his heart to harden.
What would Sirius care, anyway, if he did find out? What would he do if he ever suspected?
He sneaks out one day. He stays on the grounds, even though he’s known for years how to leave if he really wanted to, and makes for the lake. They say kids have drowned here, abducted by a forerunner of the current giant squid. Pushed in by enemies. He flinches at the thought and swivels on his heel, digging into the soft shore dirt.
Is that an enemy he sees? There, beyond the steps, a silhouette framed in starlight, growing fuzzier as it grows bigger.
It’s a ginger.
You’d think a school at war would put more into its selection of leaders when there are Death Eaters in the dormitories.
“Lumos,” comes the spell. Light travels faster than sound, but they come at the same time here, on this miniscule scale, and Regulus draws his wand in answer. To his back is the lake, and he wonders maybe if he should reorient himself so there isn’t a large body of perilous water behind him. It would be far too tempting for a Mudblood Head Girl facing a Death Eater.
But what’s a flower faced with a star?
“Bit late for a stroll, isn’t it, Black?”
He shrugs languidly, lazy, antsy power in his shoulders. He isn’t wearing school robes–he wears them as little as he can get away with–but she, obviously, is. “So Dumbledore extended your bedtime tonight. How generous.”
“Yours was an hour ago. Curfew still applies below ground.”
The lake isn’t below ground, he wants to point out as facetiously as he can, but then he realises she’s talking about the dungeons. Subterranean monsters. Moles, rats, snakes. And he, a lone, scrawny lion with a skull spitting serpent on his forearm. “Really? Thanks for clearing that up. I know a lot of us will be relieved to have that sorted. Since we weren’t sure.” He knows her eyes are some fey shade of green, but he can’t see them with just her wand and his stars.
“Fifty points from Slytherin.” She jerks her wand toward the castle. “Get walking.”
He could rebel, but those aren’t his orders. Not that sneaking away is an order, either. He’s supposed to watch and wait. Now he can wait for Lily Evans to force him up the hill, or he can watch her lead him.
Then she has him walk in front of her.
Regulus is a rebel in everything but name.
Who else has the courage to kneel? Who else can be trusted to remember his place? That’s a rebellion too, isn’t it? Against the status quo, against normality. It means taking a stand for one side or another. It is brave.
Sometimes it is harder to stand up than to crawl away.
The next time he leaves the dungeons, he goes to the Astronomy Tower. Very poetic. He would look for himself or his cousins or even his brother, but he doesn’t know where to find them, just as his parents before him didn’t. And he can’t decide which up there is the brightest or is not. How can he tell, anyway? They all look more or less the same. Distance, the great equalizer. There’s not enough of it down here.
They don’t catch him that time.
He goes again the next night.
This time he finds he isn’t the only one with stargazing in mind.
That’s James Potter, the Head Boy, king of his little microcosm world. Beside him is the queen he doesn’t see.
“Go? But I don’t want to. Do you?”
To Regulus’ surprise, it’s Potter who’s pleading to get away, and Evans who grabs his hand as he’s about to turn. He still can’t see her eyes, but maybe he doesn’t need to. He can’t guess what’s there. It doesn’t matter to him.
“If we’re caught here, I’m telling McGonagall you seduced me.”
She chuckles at that. “Are you crazy? I would never stoop so low.”
Regulus isn’t sure. She’s a Mudblood and Head Girl, a dangerous combination. What wouldn’t she do to claw her way to the top of the world?
He doesn’t stay to see them kiss. He is brave, but he isn’t stupid.
Sirius has girls, too. Plural. Sometimes. Regulus knows because he hears girls in his year whispering about him. He’s a traitor and all, but he’s still so gorgeous.
When they were little, acquaintances mistook them for twins. They’re only a year apart, and they look so very much alike. Still. Regulus heard murmurs about himself too, before, but now girls are warier around him. They might not know for certain, and they flatter him sometimes and kiss him when they feel like consorting with their dark sides, but they are careful with him.
Not scared of him. He’s dangerous, but he’s not scary, or scared.
Largely, though, the Black brothers keep to themselves. Oh, sure, they have friends, people tripping over themselves to hang out by the fire or sit together at meals, but it takes a special person to pierce their interpersonal armour. Sirius found his true friends. Regulus has too, now. Truly, he has found brothers to replace the one that’s gone, made by blood and ideals. Much more potent that way.
Girls don’t understand that.
Potter and Evans go public with their relationship a few weeks later.
The school is atwitter, even the dungeons. Isn’t it cute, they say. It’s about bloody time. Hoo-fucking-ray, let’s get on with Charms.
Yes, Regulus says. Let’s get on with Charms.
They say that’s Evans’ strongpoint. Of course it would be, the daisy fresh little Mudblood would adore Charms. Charms is the innocuous kind of magic, what Muggles dream of using. Dancing teacups, floating broomsticks, enchanted carriages.
A lot of Slytherin doesn’t care. Regulus counts himself among that category.
The thing about society, though, is that living in one means you get sucked into it all the same. The degree to which he finds himself caring is always up for debate, but it’s there. The seed for it is there.
One day it’s her and Lupin on patrol.
“It’s curfew in ten minutes,” she calls out, padding towards his retreating back, following him. What can she do, anyway? Stop him? He scoffs at the idea, but she and her partner can’t see.
“For you, ten.”
This stops him. People do not often make a special case for him. He turns around, slowly, to see that she’s mere yards from him now, Lupin farther away keeping his usual vigilant watch. “That’s not fair.”
“You couldn’t make it to the lake and back in fifteen minutes from here anyway,” she says after a moment.
Now he does see her eyes, pinpricks of light. Like a peculiar greenish star. He’s never seen green stars, though. For now they look just like leaves mashed together at the bottom of a pond. Distance here acts like the medium of water in the pond simile. Murky and wavy, fuzzy, indefinite. Unfair. “I’m not going to the lake.”
Fourteen minutes left.
Days later, she passes him in a hallway. Broad daylight, no threat of curfew. She’s with her Prince Transfiguring, they’re holding hands, and he doesn’t even realise he’s seen her until after the pair have rounded a corner.
She smirked at him.
They meet again a few weeks later. He’s early to breakfast. So is she, over at her House’s table. Potter isn’t there.
For a while in his youth, Regulus didn’t respond to that immediately, because he was never sure whether it was he or Sirius that was being hailed. He’s grown out of that now.
“Morning,” he says, a dash bemused but politely sullen.
She has cornflakes in a bowl in front of her, and a sheaf of notes to her right. “Where did you go that night? When you passed me and Remus before curfew?”
A magician never reveals his secrets. “Why?” Without having a reason.
She shrugs. “Just curious.”
“I had a question for Slughorn. His office is in the dungeons too.”
She doesn’t believe him, but then she shrugs and goes back to her breakfast studying.
Regulus doesn’t remember the last time he’s made notes. Or studied.
Maybe there’s a reason for that.
Sirius approaches him not too long after that. He does that sometimes, to prove to himself and his masters that he can do it. If Regulus had a choice, he probably wouldn’t indulge his brother the dog in his shows of self-control. Regulus is not really one for indulgence. But it’s not like he’s given advance notice, so he doesn’t really know what he’d do.
“Did you tell Cissa to send me an invitation?”
“Sounds more like Bellatrix.” Bella lives for that shit. Elaborate stunts. Rubbing salt in wounds unhealed. She’s the Amazon Star, a warrior, third brightest in Orion. It’s funny because she’s one of three sisters. Also, because war is a great big orchestrated elaborate stunt. She will probably die for that shit.
“Or Dromeda,” he reflects, feeling uncharacteristically charitable. “She still thinks we could win you back if we wanted to.” A constellation, that one, an entire constellation that’s inside of her, and one of those Greek princesses to boot.
Sirius purses his lips. “Nice to see I’m missed.”
“Don’t know why.”
Why he’s glad or why anyone would miss him? “Always a pleasure, Regulus, you poor bastard.”
“Can’t say the same.” Which is why he’s curious as to how Sirius could ever dare believe that he, Regulus, would stick up for him with the family. “I guess the Tower’s treating you well.”
“Yeah, it’s great. Being myself. I’d recommend it to you, but something tells me it’s not really your style.”
There’s no point reminding his brother that he is being himself. The self he’s chosen. That’s as true as any self there is.
But does he know?
Does he suspect?
He doesn’t exactly seek them out, but he sees them here and there, the merry little band, Potter and Lupin and Pettigrew and Sirius. A saint, a slaughtered orphan, an angel, and a star.
There are whispers surrounding Lupin, the only one with a name suited more for infamy than glory. Not exactly against him–there is not enough to him for there to be much to fault him for, outside of his indulgence of his friends’ nastier whims–but about him. Snape used to sustain himself off the whispers, probably started them in the first place. But ever since last year, they have been quiet. Maybe Regulus should dig around again, see what is supposed to be long buried.
Not because he doesn’t like Lupin. He and Pettigrew, they’re people barely worthy of his notice. But because he needs something to do while he watches and waits.
He doesn’t, though, not after a few days’ thought. Whatever Lupin’s done doesn’t matter. Snape’s undisguised hatred for the four of them doesn’t matter either. He doesn’t talk about them as much as he used to, he doesn’t sneer out of those thin lips and exhale down that hooked nose about their hypocrisy, their cruelty, their effective carte blanche to do whatever the hell they want. But anyone with that amount of hatred welled up in his veins like pockets of cholesterol does not lose that hatred easily.
Regulus knows that well enough. He’s heard his mother and his brother and his father and his cousins and his aunts and uncles and friends rant like that for his entire life.
It has been poison to his ears, but it's always felt like water.
So when he next catches an extended glimpse of Evans, he feels he’s due something. He deserves something for his self-restraint.
He goes to bed empty-handed.
And he can’t sleep.
There is green hiding behind his eyes. A sickly, grotesque sort of green. Carpets of moss over ruins of castles and fortresses and civilization.
He may not have been born into self-aware symbolism, but he can diagnose the sickness when he finds it.
Firstly, more importantly, it is the Mark.
Secondly, it’s Evans’ eyes.
He can’t remember all the words they’ve ever exchanged, but he knows there aren’t enough to warrant sleepless nights.
When he did fall asleep last night, there wasn’t green. There was blue, and a lot of it. He recognized it while brushing his teeth this morning.
He now recognizes the sound of Evans’ footfalls at breakfast. It is a little later than he likes to be here, but he takes his sweet time wolfing down his burned bacon. He isn’t going to give her the satisfaction.
“You lied to me.”
“You lied. I asked you where you’d gone that one day before curfew and you told me that you went to Slughorn’s office. You didn’t.”
He stands up from the bench and turns around. He’s still only wearing his trousers and shirt, not his robes, but she, of course, is wearing hers. No Head Girl badge, though. It doesn’t give her any little boost anymore. Everyone knows who she is with or without it.
“Why’d you lie to me, Black?”
“Why do you care? I was back to the common room before curfew started. I didn’t break any rules.” That you are aware of.
“I’m Head Girl, you’re not allowed to lie to me.”
“I don’t see any proof of that.”
She scowls, her eyebrows furrow, her eyes stay the same. “Don’t be smart with me, Black. I’m not asking where you went. That’s your business, whatever, I don’t care. I just don’t want you thinking you can get away with lying to me.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.”
“And I’m asking you why you did it.”
“Because once again, it’s none of your business.”
“When I ask, I mean it to become my business.”
“Pity we can’t all dance to your whims.”
“Oh, I know you can.”
How did she even find out that he was lying about Slughorn?
He supposes it wouldn’t be that difficult to find out. She’s a better than average Potions student too, the little Mudblood. It’s not strictly magic in nature, merely magical. Of magic.
It’s easier to utilize magic than to be it, or become it.
Magic: the shadow illuminating the point of divergence between true and false.
He wishes he understood. Something, anything. More than that, he wishes he were content. Happy, even. Sometimes when he’s feeling melodramatic he sighs and says, “I don’t remember the last time I was really happy,” but that’s not strictly true.
He isn’t at ease anymore, though. He remembers a time when he was, but that time isn’t now. It is very hard to stay at ease with a skull burning venom into your skin, whether it’s made of scales or fur. It pierces all the same, and travels all the deeper.
There is still a heart inside him, whether he is a lion or a serpent.
No one ever suspects Regulus of being heartless. Appropriately distant, because that’s his job as a Black and a Death Eater, but heartless isn’t an epithet often hurled at him. It’s not something he’s thought about.
There are stories about vampires stopping death by plunging vials of their venom into the hearts of their beloveds. On the threshold between life and death, a reprieve, a whisper, and then the threshold disappears, because the division is arbitrary.
Not alive, but here. A fair trade, they would say.
Regulus would never take that. He can’t. He likes the threshold, the division, the point of divergence. He needs it to be there. There are shades of grey in every story, in his especially, but there is still a spectrum. He is on one side, his brother is on the other. Make no bones about that.
The existence of a spectrum does not preclude one’s changing position up and down its length.
In shorter terms: eat the dog, kiss the sun.
Pluck the flower.
Unconsciously, he falls into their paths.
Not always in the same patterns–sometimes it’s just Lupin hanging around, other times it’s his brother and Pettigrew laughing to themselves, sometimes it’s the four of them doing whatever it is they do–but more than sometimes, it’s her.
They don’t talk, unless she’s warning him about curfew or unless he’s taunting her about the futility of her power over him. Regulus doesn’t think they need to. He doesn’t even have to look into her eyes or see the depth to which they go, the kind of grotesque green they are today.
He knows they are there, carved sinkholes in her face, black holes lined with green, and that’s all he even sort of cares to know.
Never mind that nothing, nothing can escape the pull of a black hole. Not light. And definitely not green.
“You know, Black, I’m starting to think you want something from me,” she grumbles one evening. Twenty minutes to curfew. She’s by herself.
He slows to indulge this flight of fancy. “Good evening to you too.”
“Are you going to tell me where you’re going?”
“It’s a mystery.”
“Isn’t it? Side note, Evans, I don’t want anything from you. You have nothing I would ever want.”
She doesn’t take up the thread. She shrugs and goes back to her little corner. “Glad to know you’re totally happy down there.”
On the contrary, it’s not down there in the dungeons where he’s happiest. (Not necessarily truly happy, but it’s the greatest happiness he can find nowadays.) It’s up there.
It takes her three weeks to stumble across him for the first time, for a change..
It takes her another two to find him.
When he first hears her open the door–immediately he can tell it’s her–he half fears that she’s come with Potter and they’ve planned to do more than mere stargazing here. But it’s not. She is alone.
But wait. She can’t be alone. She’s here, with him.
“Is this where you come all the time?” she murmurs.
There’s a telescope in his hand, but he hasn’t put it to his eye for almost an hour now. He trains it at her on her approach. There is no light at the tip of her wand. She navigates by the stars.
“Have you been stalking me, Evans?”
She doesn’t seem to shy at the enhanced scrutiny he uses on her now; he isn’t going to train a telescope on Lily Evans, Mudblood and Head Girl, and not really use it. There is her torso, the curve of her breasts under her robes, the flash of the badge that has never and will never impress him. And then her face, and the straight line of her lips, pursed at him, and her freckled nose, and her eyes.
“So I’m right.”
He puts down the telescope and lets it clatter to the floor. “How many points have I lost now? Another fifty?” He hops off the little stone outcropping students are forbidden from sitting on and waits.
“Yeah.” She’s crossed the classroom and has reached the observatory, the open sky. It’s cold tonight, but of course it is. She glances first at Regulus and then at the night, but she doesn’t know where to look. Is it all the same to her? Or is she overwhelmed by the enormity of the universe beyond Hogwarts?
He doesn’t watch her watch. He Summons back the telescope and flips it in his hands like her boyfriend would his wand. “Know anything about stars?”
Perhaps it’s a sign of her discomfit under the vastness, but she doesn’t even start at the question. The first of its kind they’ve probably ever entertained indulging. “I took Astronomy.”
“So that’s a no.”
“It wasn’t my favourite subject,” she admits.
Well, of course it wasn’t. Charms and Potions are her subjects of choice. Astronomy is practically the most Muggle of any class offered here. Even Muggle Studies isn’t the most Muggle, because only wizards would ever need to be taught how others live. Evans is a Mudblood. Her blood is tainted. She is not fully a witch, but she is clearly no Muggle either.
“Come up here to clear your head, do you?” she continues.
He smirks at her. “Not exactly.”
She’s waiting for him to elaborate.
“It’s where I come to fill it up,” he explains. Grudgingly, but not so reluctantly that he can’t see why he’s doing what he’s doing. They’ve never needed to talk, but now that the opportunity is here, and since she hasn’t dragged him off by his ears, he must take advantage of it. “With the truth instead of the mundane.”
Since he’s watching her now, and enjoying watching her, he sees her eyes roll. “Astronomy Tower philosophizing. Great.”
“If that’s what you want to call it.”
“That’s what it is.”
“How do you know what I’m thinking about up here?”
She’s biting the inside of her cheek. He can tell by the way her skin puckers inward, like there’s an air bubble in a plastic bottle that needs to be tapped to set it right again. Shadow falls in the indent of her skin, but her whole face and figure was dappled in faint starlight and in shadow at the same time anyway. Even her hair looks almost gray up here.
“I know your type,” is all she answers. It’s hurt her to say so.
Regulus perks up. He knows he is a type, is only one boy among thousands, a faceless mass of serpents half-deluded into believing themselves something more, something greater, but the idea of hearing Evans’ take on that type is almost too tempting to bear. “And what type is that?”
Her eyes dart around and the indent in her skin smoothes out when she settles on him. Surely it’s not comfort she finds by looking at him. “You talk big and think even bigger. But you have no idea what you want, and you’re approaching things no one should have to think about here or now.”
“Then where or when?” Hogwarts is a microcosm, but it is still a society. It still exists to be a stepping-stone for its students to the Great Unknown. “You’re a smart girl, Evans. You know if you’re going to chase greatness, you might as well start training early.”
She recoils. “I’m not chasing greatness.”
“Of course. I forgot myself, forgive me.” He bites his own lip, but only for a moment and not at an angle where she can see it. “You don’t have to chase greatness. It’ll be chasing you.”
She does not disappoint. “I know your type, Black. I know what you’re like.”
“You know nothing.”
Flowers are living beings, but they are not sentient.
When next he glances at the jeweled hourglasses in the Great Hall, Regulus finds no sign that Slytherin has lost fifty points.
When next he sees Lily Evans, he asks her about the emeralds.
“I took away twenty-five instead.”
“Why?” he asks.
“You think I’m not worthy of my position.”
“If you want me to respect you, you should have gone all the way. Let it slide. Let our moment of connection,” he titles it, staying utterly still while the serpent in his heart slithers to his stomach and circles inside it and knots itself as it tries to devour its own tail, “mean something more than just… well, connection. Let’s give it a value, Evans.”
He can’t tell if she’s amused or not, but he does know that she and the House emeralds don’t match. The latter are far too sparkly. They catch light and reflect it. Regulus has never seen anything in her eyes. “I did. Negative twenty-five points. And if you expect me to make exceptions for you in the future, forget it. Won’t happen.”
In two weeks, Slytherin loses one hundred and seventy points.
The seventy were divided between a Bulstrode girl and her Mulciber boyfriend. Inappropriate interaction in an empty classroom.
That leaves the one hundred.
It’s not an affair. They haven’t even touched. Evans makes sure of that. But the term sticks in Regulus’ head, because he knows that is what anyone will assume if they ever find out.
But they won’t.
He asked her the second time how she manages to sneak up there without anyone knowing. She turned the question back on him. Since then he hasn’t asked again.
(In truth: she comes when her patrol is over. She’s Head Girl, after all. Her leeway for after-hours wandering is much greater than anyone else’s. He gave her twelve hours before finding out. His deep-vested chivalry coming to the fore, one could say).
It’s not friendship. She has learned to use his first name as a buffer against the surname, but he still calls her Evans.
“James called me that a lot, before.”
“Was that what won your hand and heart?”
“Stop it, Regulus.”
“No, Evans, tell me. Was it the hypocritical misogyny that endeared him to you or was it that general dashing, nonthreatening yet rebellious air of his?”
“The second one, and now you have to stop it. Say what you want about me, but please don’t pretend you know him well enough to drag him into this.”
He resists the urge to ask her what this is. He’d like to hear what she has to say about that. “I don’t know him well enough, but you know exactly who I am?”
He brings this up every time, and she never fails to show her displeasure. “I know what you’re like.”
What will he do if Evans ever finds out?
What if she suspects?
But she can’t know.
Then she would know who he is.
She doesn’t know.
She clearly doesn’t know.
Considering the path she’s running down, she will figure it out, eventually. Probably. He’s seen Dumbledore making eyes at her. He sees her falling in with Potter ever deeper, ever darker, and Potter is cannon fodder if he’s ever seen it. Where Potter goes, she will.
Where they go, he does. Sirius.
The thought chills Regulus despite his better instincts. A chill at the idea of facing his brother the dog in battle. If he is ordered to fight his brother and his friends, what then?
Regulus cannot delude himself. He can do so skillfully most of the time, because he is a serpent in lion’s clothing, and even he sometimes loses himself in the game. But not now. He doesn’t know if he’s a killer, exactly; he’s never done it before, but not for lack of targets or lack of drive. He could, though. He could kill Potter, and probably Pettigrew and Lupin for that matter. They don’t matter.
Maybe he could kill Evans, too. That wouldn’t be so bad. If he killed her before anyone else got to her–before Bella–he could spare her misery, torture, dishonor. Regulus may not have it in him to be a killer, or he may have it, but he could be an executioner. He could spare Evans.
It’d be easier, then, wouldn’t it? Preserve the flower, or whatever is left of it by the time the lion reaches it.
That leaves his brother.
There isn’t much for a Death Eater at Hogwarts to do.
Sometimes he fears that he’s been forgotten. Like he’s a pawn again, between his family and the new powers that have long since outstripped them all. An offering made to new gods. Perhaps he’s still rotting fruit. What use is he, anyway? What does it matter if he’s a killer or an executioner? What is the difference?
They all die either way.
And judging by how this seems to be going, they will never die at his wand.
Regulus clenches his fist at the thought.
A shadow passes over his face, the one that echoes Sirius’ so much.
He looks like a Black. They both do. They live up to careless patrician elegance, they have dark hair and dark eyes and skin kissed with starlight and restlessness.
They are shadows, both of them. Standing at their respective spots on the spectrum of true and false and right and wrong, wherever those may be. Unilinear points. Pinpricks of dusk.
They are black.
One yearns for the light. That’s Sirius, obviously. Chasing after the lions he thinks wait for him just beyond his tail. He runs in circles and trails after them and he nuzzles against their legs and they pet him and let him give them his slobbery kisses and they can lock him up and he will still leap and pant and grin for them when they deliver him from the punishment they have inflicted.
Regulus doesn’t yearn for anything in particular.
That is a lie.
He yearns for… well, everything.
He is a Black. He wants everything. The dark, the light, the truth and lies, the right and wrong.
Maybe that’s why he likes reminding himself about his connection to the sky, tenuous as it is. It is an expanse he wants for himself. He has a place in it already, the serpent in the lion’s constellation, the lion in the serpent nest. Now he has to find a way to grasp the rest of it.
It is not so surprising that Leo’s brightest star would forget that the Earth is still a part of the universe he drools over.
Earthly creatures. Like... flowers, for example.
What’s a flower faced with a star?
A flower does not move. It does not shine. It does not live nearly as long, nor burn nearly as bright. But a flower is immediate and a star is distant, one fleeting and the other the closest we come to eternity. One lives and the other burns.
But the difference is crucial, the point of divergence between universal and personal: no matter how many times you care to try, you’re never going to touch a star.
You’re never going to hold one in your arms or stroke the rays of light that have traveled years across time and space to find you. A star is never going to be just yours. Regulus, for example, has never been just Regulus’. The star, the name, they’ve belonged to other people, to serpents both inside and in no way connected to the Black nest. A star will never comfort you, will never breathe for you. How could it? It does not live.
A flower, though. A flower can become your own. It can be yours. It breathes, and when it exhales, you inhale, and when you inhale, it exhales. It reproduces. It lives. Once plucked, it will die, and that is the tragedy of its life, and therefore the beauty. Plant it and it will live and die at your command, if that’s your thing, or it will live with you, die when it is done living or you’ve forgotten to water it for a few days, whichever comes first.
No matter what you do, you’re probably not going to kill a star, or watch it die until centuries, millennia after it already has.
Regulus has the eternity of glory thing covered already, but something temporal and fragile and beautiful and immediate should be exactly what he’s missing, but he can’t say that, not exactly.
But he’s thinking it.
Good thing he hasn’t developed a not-attraction for a Rose.
No thorns to worry about.
I love you, he’s screaming, but no one hears it.
On a certain level he knows it isn’t love he has or wants. Or ownership. But love is the easiest to apply to his emotions, to the existence of feelings at all when he’s already got a skull on his arm spitting venom at anyone who comes close enough.
If he’s going to have the audacity to feel anything, it might as fucking well be love.
His desperation to reach her is reaching legitimate desperation.
When next they meet, it takes all of his serpent venom and lion’s teeth to keep himself in check.
“Goddamn, Evans,” he chuckles darkly after she’s said her I know what you’re like thing. “I know I can’t blame you for being cryptic and all since we’re up here in secret, but… fuck, have a little faith in me and tell me what that means.”
“I’ve told you plenty of times.”
“Well then, do you know who I am yet? What my life boils down to? Have you figured that out yet?”
She snorts. “Have you?”
“Why should I bother? You have everyone figured out already. I can learn everything I’ll ever need to from you.”
Evans is disturbed by the allegations, and she recoils away the distance they have conquered over the nights. She was able to stand next to him, actually, close enough to touch. Now she’s out of reach and shivers in the air. “Don’t be ridiculous.”
“At least tell me what you think I’m like.”
“I have. Again, on multiple occasions.”
“Who I’m like, then.”
This disturbs her even more, almost to a point of distress. Regulus can’t see what her freckled skin is doing, but she tenses and glances at him out of the corner of her fey moss eyes with the fear of a lily’s roots being yanked out of the earth blossoming in them. “You are a special little snowflake, Regulus. You’re not like anyone.”
“It seems to me I am. Otherwise how else would you know what I’m like, with no point of comparison?” He edges closer, partly to see her react, partly because there is no reason. “Do you make it a habit to take dangerous Slytherin boys and see what you can do with them… with me… with us…”
“Who us?” she snaps. “Don’t you dare pretend you know me at all, don’t pretend you know anything–”
“And let you have all the fun? I think not.” So it was a Slytherin boy she had before. Someone who she no longer… oh. “Do you think he misses you still, Severus?” Regulus murmurs as ice descends on her eyes, the pond covering the leaves freezing over and leaving her eyes paler than he’s ever seen them. “Do you think he dreams of you and all the hidden meetings and quiet whispers you sh–”
“Don’t. Don’t talk about him to me.”
He’s not, in a small way.
He’s talking about himself.
Of all the boys in the world, in this castle at the very least, Snape.
Regulus can hardly believe it, but it’s not up to him to judge others when they develop inexplicable fixations on people on separate sides of any spectrum they care to imagine. Clearly Evans and Snape have long since had their lovers’ spat. He doesn’t need to worry about the sallow-skinned greasy-haired seventh-year yearning more desperately for life than Regulus has ever seen of anyone, his brother included.
Yes, Sirius yearns for the light. He will do anything to find it in himself and have it recognized by others. Snape is different.
Regulus chooses him for his new watch and wait campaign, after a few nights when Evans never shows up at the tower. Her Severus is lost, he decides after a little bit of observation. He’s lost, kicked out of the Eden of her good graces, maybe even her arms.
Evans sees strange things in Slytherin boys conventional wisdom says don’t deserve her. Phantasms of possibility? The potential for greatness is what she wants, is all she can want from someone like Snape. Someone like Regulus. The greatness she envisions is never of a breadth comparable to her own, but it’s destiny she wants to take in her hands. It’s fate she wants to embrace, pat on the back when it’s gone her way, stab with a dagger when it hasn’t.
Snape is lost. If Evans was his only true friend, then he can’t be anything else. And maybe that’s why he’s renewed himself to Slytherin House and the circle Regulus’ paws are caught in. He has nowhere else to turn to.
One day, he will make a fine Death Eater. When he’s ready.
“I thought you found it impossible to resist me.”
She hardly glances up from her newspaper. “You thought wrong.”
“Oh, Lily.” It’s the first time he’s ever said her name to her face, even if it is caged by something that’s black and white and red all over. “If it’s the truth you’re scared of, all you have to do is tell me. I could have found it in myself to indulge you if that’s what you wanted.”
“What truth?” She puts down her paper and stares at him. She is without mercy this morning. Good. He doesn’t want mercy. If he did, he would have found someone else to fixate on, to be intrigued by. “Yours? Severus’? Slytherin’s? You’re all the same, all of you. You think you know everything about everyone.”
“You think you know what I’m like. Severus and Slytherin, too. How is that any different?”
It’s hurting her to say this, because her breaths become shorter, staccato, tense. There is no mercy in her eyes, but there is water beading on the new stalks. Just coming into their own. She says it anyway. “Because… because I’m right and you’re wrong.”
All of a sudden, he finds he can’t take it anymore. He isn’t sure what it is that repulses him, whether it’s even her, or the shimmer of water at the heart of her eyes, or the talk about Snape and the whispers of fate ringing in his ears. All he knows is that he has no choice but to snarl at her instead of smirk, and he must cry for her to hear him, and then he’s whispering too, desperately, achingly, “Do you know who I am?”
The question does not faze her. “You’re Regulus Black.”
Regulus Black does not give her a last searching, forlorn, pitying glance. He turns his back and strides back to the house of snakes (not serpents–serpents are chiefly literary or archaic, snakes are utilitarian, ordinary) on his star’s constellation’s paws.
He bows his head when he arrives. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned.
I stopped to smell the roses and found a lily in the garden instead.
Phantasm of possibility indeed. What ghost can he leave behind now to entice illustrious young witches into trying to fix him? There’s no point chasing ghosts when you know who they are, why they’re here, what they want. There is no mystery to them anymore.
But maybe there was never a mystery to ghosts. Magic can be esoteric, used for ambiguous purposes, but ghosts are straightforward in their flouting of time and space, life and death.
Maybe Regulus Black is not a mystery either. Hardly a star, a lion, a serpent, what have you.
He is only a Death Eater.
His dalliance with life was destined to be as short as death is eternal.
Regulus means ‘little king.’ Little king, little kingdom, little castle, little love.
Maybe Death Eaters are princes, too. Maybe they’re little kings under the only one that matters, the only one in history who has never looked at the sky and wondered why it is not his.
Regulus is sixteen, and in his lion heart, there is a corner of cosmos screaming for him to heed his place in the universe. But he is a serpent through and through. The Mark on his arm proves it.
Sirius does not speak to him. He looks, though.
Regulus swore once that he would eat death and dogs, whichever presented itself to him first. If his brother had the heart, Regulus would feast on the latter. But he doesn’t. Sirius has not done anything, not said a word.
Dogs and cats are natural enemies. There’s no reason Black brothers cannot be the same, by nature and, prophetically now that you think about it, by name.
For once, Regulus minds his steps and watches and waits for the barren ground to bloom. To do something for him to see. To nourish him, as earth is supposed to, as Lily Evans wanted to.
There might be greater things awaiting him, or there might not be, but he doesn’t care either way. He is supposed to watch and wait. He can stare into the sky all he wants, but he is never going to kill a star, or watch one die until centuries, millennia after it already has. There’s no point looking into the past: he has to watch here, now, the present, while he’s still here.
While there are still roses that pretend that moss can hide their thorns.
One day he will remember that the past is the present, the present is the future, the future is the past.
On that day, he will be eighteen, and he will die.
Everyone loves a story. This is just another one.
Author's Note This... was not supposed to be eight thousand words, I swear. It started as me just wanting to write Regulus and Lily having a connection while he's sneaking out and she's on patrol. It ballooned into this. I haven't written something quite like this in... years, it feels like, and I'm glad I have. I hope you all enjoyed it (I assume you at least stuck around long enough to even get to this note) and I'd love to hear what you thought.
Thank you again.