Chapter 12 : An Alteration of Fate
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I found myself in a vast cavern, completely dark except for a pale green mist emanating from what appeared to be the center of a colossal lake. Treading carefully around the water, I searched painstakingly for some sign of how to reach the center, where I knew the horcrux to be located. Try as I might, however, I discovered nothing which could possibly function as a transportational apparatus.
Distracted by my brain’s fervent speculation, I tripped upon a large rock, clutching vainly at thin air as I sank to my knees. To my immense surprise, my fist closed on something solid, yanking it downward with the rest of my body. Upon closer examination, it appeared to be a copper chain. I tugged it again, feeling the unmistakable resistance of an object on its other end. Continuing to pull the chain towards myself, I noticed a slight ripple on the lake’s surface.
Curious to what the Dark Lord might have concealed in its depths, I inched toward the shore. Squinting, I espied a boat, gliding smoothly towards me out of the mist. Soon enough, it had come to rest by my feet. Without hesitation, I clambered over the boat’s side. Ever so slowly, it began to move, carrying me to the center of the lake. The green mist became so dense that I barely noticed when we anchored against a basin, filled with an odious-smelling potion. This, of course, was the potion in which the horcrux resided. And, according to the Dark Lord, it had to be drunk.
Drawing upon my innermost resources of bravery, I conjured a goblet and plunged it into the potion’s surface, bringing it shakily to my lips. With my first gulp of the potion, gold stars began to form in front of my eyes, obscuring my vision. As I swallowed the second gobletful, long-neglected childhood memories swam to the surface of my thoughts. They were not the usual recollections of my indignation at Sirius’ pranks, but rather, my nauseating smugness at the misfortunes inflicted upon him by our parents. I glimpsed his wistful smile, expressing hope that I would follow in his footsteps as a Gryffindor, and his brokenheartedness when I failed to do so.
I knew in that instant that my brother had indeed cared for me, far more than Mother, Father, or even the Prince. His childish pranks were committed not out of malice, but as a desperate attempt to infuse even the smallest amount of joy and laughter inside the depressingly somber walls of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. What I had formerly viewed as insensitivity in his treatment of females was nothing more than a terrifying fear of love, for when in his childhood had he ever given love and not had it thrown back in his face like dirt? And who had ever rejected his love more callously than I?
Burning in guilt, I drank a third gobletful. This time, however, I did not immediately recognize the images which flashed before me, all of them grotesque displays of torture and murder. In each scene, the masked attackers emerged out of emerald-colored flames. With a jolt, I realized that the provider of these flames was none other than myself. As I downed the fourth gobletful, the previous night’s events replayed over and over again in my mind, emphasizing my failure to rescue the old woman, and prevent the creation of the Dark Lord’s horcrux.
The fifth gobletful was too much. My brain reeled, threatening explosion, as my body slumped against the cauldron. Never before had I experienced such extreme unhealth, and my mind was certainly in no state to discover a remedy. Drawing upon childhood habits, my mouth cried out, “Kreacher?”
With a miniscule popping noise, the house-elf appeared at my side, viewing my situation with shock and horror. “Master Regulus does not look very well,” he ventured timidly. “What must Kreacher do?”
My brain tore itself away from its agonizing realizations of guilt long enough to register the elf’s presence, while my mouth struggled to form words. “Must… drink… potion…” was all I managed to croak out, before the gold stars filled my vision completely, and I collapsed against the cauldron in yet another faint.
After what must have been an hour, I awoke in a state of desperate panic. Sitting up groggily, I noted a small figure slumped across the boat next to me. “Kreacher?” I whispered, shaking the elf worriedly.
Kreacher slowly righted himself, his already large eyes gaping up at me as if in a trance. “M-Master Regulus,” he began shakily, “Please. Please. Kreacher… bad house-elf. Please… Kreacher… head… go with Mother’s. Mother’s head… sit on board… next… next to… staircase. Kreacher’s head… there… too. Please… Kreacher… bad…”
My own head still reeling, I gasped in horror at the pitiful sight before me. What had done this to him? My breath caught in my throat as my eyes turned upon the now-empty cauldron. I had not meant for him to drink the potion. What horrific images had crossed through his brain, I did not know, yet my own guilt at causing a creature, no matter how inferior, to suffer such an experience was unbearable. Now, because of my carelessness, he would spend the rest of his days wishing for nothing more than to have his head mounted on the wall alongside his mother’s.
Staggering to my feet, I retrieved the heavy golden locket, my brain struggling to formulate an acceptable course of action. While I hated to ask anything more of Kreacher, it had become painfully clear that this elf was now my only hope.
“Kreacher,” I addressed him, “Please… take this locket. Put it in the drawing room, in place of the old locket which once belonged to my ancestor Phineas Nigellus. Bring that locket to me, along with a quill and parchment. Inform no one, not even a member of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black, of your mission.”
Bowing weakly, the elf disapparated. As I slouched against the side of the boat, awaiting his return, I speculated on how to best inform the Dark Lord of the loss of his horcrux. I certainly could not tell him to his face, for then he would simply use my death to create another. Thus, the destruction of the horcrux must be kept secret as long as possible, for the safety of all the world. Yet, when the Dark Lord did discover his loss, as he inevitably would, I wished to take credit for the disappearance, and be remembered for my efforts. To leave a note seemed the most suitable course of action.
Soon enough, Kreacher returned, quill, parchment, and locket in hand. After relieving him of his burden, I began, trembling, to write the words which had been forming in my mind:
“To the Dark Lord: I know I will be dead long before you read this, but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret. I have stolen the real horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can. I face death in the hope that when you meet your match, you will be mortal once more.”
I scanned the note briefly, before adding my initials: “R.A.B.” Folding the parchment, I stuffed it into the locket which had once belonged to Phineas Nigellus, and dropped it into the cauldron.
“Kreacher, do you remember the potion which you drank?” I asked. The elf nodded.
“Good,” I continued, “You shall brew that potion, return here, and place it in this cauldron. This way, the Dark Lord shall suspect nothing.”
Kreacher’s eyes widened at the mention of my former master. Silently, I cursed myself for revealing too much information.
“Now, please help me apparate.” I requested.
“A-Apparate where, Master Regulus,” he inquired.
“Somewhere… remote…” I faltered. The potion had taken its toll on my mind, and my ability to speak and think coherently was rapidly waning. Before I knew what was happening, Kreacher had grabbed my arm, and with a small pop we materialized in the middle of another, much smaller cave.
I sighed, slumping against the wall. Turning towards Kreacher, I gave him my last instructions: “Kreacher, you are to tell no one of anything which has happened tonight, not even if a member of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black commands you to do so. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Master Regulus,” he replied, before disapparating, leaving me alone in the middle of the cave, with the knowledge of my accomplishment; I, alone, had altered the Dark Lord’s fate.
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