A nice hot shower the next morning helped to settle Regulus’s nerves a bit, but he was still jittery enough that he barely picked at his food at breakfast. That was not typical behavior, normally Regulus was a hearty eater, especially in the morning. So of course Walburga noticed and asked what the matter was.
Regulus felt his stomach knot up even more at the concern in his mother’s voice and Orion too was giving him a speculative look. He hated disappointing his parents, he didn’t delight in being a rebel and confrontational, like his older brother did. Just imagining the horror on their faces if they ever knew what he had done last night made his stomach churn. He swallowed sharply and prayed he wouldn’t sick up right there.
“Reg, dear, are you feeling all right? You’re so quiet. And you’re not eating,” his mother said, cocking her head at him.
“Late night last night, son?” asked Orion knowingly. “Ate too much at Lucius’s meeting, did you?”
Regulus nodded, feeling his face heat. He knew they were just being typical parents, but why in Merlin’s name did they have to fuss over him in front of his best friend? It was just so bloody embarrassing!
Walburga’s eyes narrowed. “Or drank too much?”
“No. I only had one butterbeer, Mum,” Reg told her, and lifted his head to look her in the eye, so she would see he wasn’t lying.
“Hmm . . .well you know what too much rich food tends to do to your digestive system, Regulus. I’ve warned you before—”
“Mum, please!” Regulus cried, and wished suddenly he could just vanish, he was so mortified.
Walburga waved her wand and a vial of Stomach Soother popped up near her plate. “Here, Regulus. Drink that, it’ll settle your stomach. Perhaps you’d like some toast and tea instead of a cheese omelet? Are you feverish?”
Walburga rose and came around the table to feel her son’s forehead.
Merlin save me, but I wish somebody would just hex me now! Regulus groaned inwardly, reluctantly submitting to his mother’s fussing. When he darted a look at Severus, he noted the other boy was keeping his eyes fixed on his plate, eating his breakfast intently. Thanks, Sev, for trying to spare my feelings, he thought gratefully. He hoped that Severus could pen the letter to Dumbledore after breakfast and that the Headmaster would respond promptly, for Regulus was going insane, terrified he had been tainted by dark magic because of that ritual last night.
Severus chewed and swallowed, trying to keep a smile off his face as Mrs. Black fussed over her youngest. Eileen was that way on occasion with him as well, especially after Tobias had been at him, and while he pretended to be annoyed, he secretly enjoyed the attention and concern his mother showed him. He suspected Reg was the same.
The fourteen-year-old huffed petulantly and rolled his eyes. “You see, Mother? I’m not sick!”
“Then why will you not eat breakfast?” she countered.
“Maybe ‘cause I’m just not hungry,” her son growled in a tone just shy of disrespect. “Quit fussing, damn it!”
“Mind that mouth, young man!” she scolded, and pinched his ear hard.
Reg yelped and apologized, giving in and drinking the potion she had summoned.
Severus continued eating, thinking knowingly, Sometimes it’s better to just given in and let them fuss over you, they will anyhow, and it’s less embarrassing if you don’t fight them. Lily had explained once after a particularly embarrassing episode that mothers loved to feel useful and taking care of their children made them feel wonderful, especially if the child is an independent one, like Sev was. “Mums need to be needed, it makes them stressed and unhappy if you don’t let them take care of you, then they think they’re not good mothers.”
Finally Walburga had satisfied herself that her son was not in dire need of emergency medical care and let him be. As soon as Severus had finished eating, Reg hustled him upstairs and gave him quill and parchment to write Dumbledore.
Severus penned a hasty letter, telling Dumbledore they needed his advice on an important matter and would he please meet them at the Leaky Cauldron as quickly as possible?
He sent it off with Brighteyes and then all they could do was wait for a reply. Severus suggested they go flying, since he could see that Reg was too nerve-wracked to read a book or make a potion, and he didn’t mind flying with his best friend for fun.
“Okay. Anything to get my mind off of the screwed up mess I’m in,” Regulus agreed, and summoned his Comet 700. He mounted with a careless ease that made him the envy of his friend.
Severus had a Starblaze 500, a slightly less aerodynamic broom than Regulus’s, but that didn’t bother him any, since he would rather spend money on potions ingredients rather than a broom any day of the week. He wasn’t obsessed with them like so many boys his age were. To him, a broom was good for transportation, but otherwise he’d happily purchase the newest potions manual or a handmade golden cauldron.
They flew around Hyde Park under Notice Me Not charms for an hour and a half before a strange owl located them and handed Severus a sealed envelope in the Headmaster’s classic script.
“Well? What did he say?” Reg demanded, nearly falling off his broom trying to see the letter in Severus’s hand.
“Will you stop?” his friend snapped. “Before you fall headfirst into the pavement and then I’ll be stuck explaining to your mother why I watched you crash and lose what brains you had.” He circled and landed next to a small wrought iron bench.
Regulus followed him down, nearly crashing headlong into a tree in his eagerness to see what Dumbledore had replied. Please, oh please, have a way I can get out of Lucius’s group of Death Eater wannabes. I will worship you for the rest of my life if that were the case, Headmaster. You’re the most powerful wizard of our age, surely you must know what I can do to get away from them with my skin intact.
He stared at the letter in Severus’s hands as if it contained the secrets to eternal life, and asked, half-pleadingly, “You gonna tell me what he said and put me out of my misery, Snape? Or do you enjoy watching me suffer?”
“Quit being so dramatic, Reg!” his friend snorted. “Okay, listen up.” He read the following missive aloud.
It would be my pleasure to meet you and Regulus at the Leaky Cauldron and help you resolve any difficulties you may have been having. I assume they are ones you do not feel comfortable discussing with your parents, else you’d have already done so.
Bring your appetites, lunch is on me. We can discuss whatever you wish afterwards. Meet me at the Leaky Cauldron at 2PM today.
Headmaster Albus Dumbledore”
Regulus heaved a sigh of relief. “Thank Merlin! Now I just have to manage to get through the rest of the morning without going insane.”
“Want my advice, Reg?”
“Go and take a nap.”
Regulus grinned. “Sev, you’re a true friend. You won’t mind?”
Severus shook his head. “No. I can occupy myself, Black. I just hope Dumbledore can really help you.”
“You don’t think he can?” Regulus’s jaw dropped.
“Let’s just say that I’m not quite one of his fan club, Reg. He never really helped me when I was getting bullied by the Marauders, but maybe it’ll be different with you. I hope so.”
“So do I, Sev.” Regulus said fervently.
Then they flew back to Grimmauld Place, hoping the old wizard’s reputation was not overrated and he would consent to help a student in need, even if they happened to be from Slytherin House.
* * * * * *
After a very good lunch of fish and chips, in Severus’s case, and roast beef sandwiches dripping with gravy in Albus and Regulus’, Dumbledore beckoned the two boys to follow him to a private back room where he sometimes conducted business with questionable “acquaintances”. The room was warded with spells against eavesdropping and listening spells, as well as Seeing Charms. It contained a low table and some chairs with worn cushions on them and the three quickly seated themselves on them.
Dumbledore was wearing a more conservative set of robes, they were a pale blue and had only a few embellishments upon them as compared to his usual moon and stars and vibrant purple ensemble. He folded his hands in his lap and smiled encouragingly at the two boys. “All right then, lads. Suppose you tell me what’s bothering you?”
Regulus gulped and looked at his hands, plainly ashamed and guilty-feeling.
When it became apparent that he wasn’t going to say anything, Severus cleared his throat. “Sir, we called you here to tell you about something that happened last night. It’s something that was probably illegal, but I’m not entirely sure about it, so I figured you could tell us. Reg got invited to a secret society meeting by Lucius Malfoy . . .”
Dumbledore listened without interruption as Severus related most of what Regulus had told him.
But when it came to the part about the ritual, the Headmaster held up a hand and asked Regulus to please describe exactly as he remembered it the ritual Lucius had performed.
Regulus did so, haltingly, but he managed to relate the horror of that night. “I never . . .no one has ever . . .hurt me like that. It was like . . .like I was a puppet, I couldn’t do anything except what he said. Sir, it was evil, no one should ever control someone like that. It’s wrong!”
“Yes, it is, Regulus. That is why the Imperius Curse is one of the Unforgivables. What Lucius did was not quite an Imperius Curse, but it comes very close. It certainly is borderline dark magic at the very least. That ritual is very old, and I was not aware the Malfoys still practiced the old ways to such an extent.”
“What do you mean, sir?” asked Severus.
“The ritual Mr. Malfoy used to bind Regulus and the others to him is an old spell once used by noble wizarding families to bind house elves and serfs who worked their land to them. The spell made them totally obedient to the master’s will, and unable to rebel against him. But it is not an easy spell to cast, it requires a great deal of power and will and is very draining. But it does work, as I’m sure your friend and the others can attest.”
“Is there a way to reverse it?” Regulus demanded, his hazel eyes desperate. “Please, sir, there has to be a way to remove it! I would have never gone to the stupid meeting if I’d known that was what Lucius planned. I thought it was just some stupid sodding little pureblood club where we’d get together and complain about our parents and eat some food and maybe have a drink or two or whatever. I didn’t know he was using it as . . .a recruitment center for young Death Eaters! Sir, if there is any way to remove the spell, I’m begging you . . .help me! I’m not one of them, even if I am a Slytherin, and I won’t prove my brother right!”
Dumbledore held up a hand to halt Regulus’s impassioned plea. “Regulus, you have no need to convince me of your sincerity, my boy. I knew from the first that you were not a candidate for believing the lies Voldemort spun. Yes—Voldemort—to name a thing reduces its power over you, and he is not a fiend, merely a man who has gone terribly wrong. And so have those who follow him. As for the spell, yes, it can be reversed—”
Regulus gasped in relief, he was so happy he was nearly in tears. His parents would never need to know, and only Severus and Dumbledore would know his secret shame.
“However, I have another proposition for you, young Regulus,” began the wily old wizard. His eyes were sparkling madly, and Severus was instantly suspicious.
What is the old coot planning, I wonder? Whatever it is, I don’t think I’m going to like it. He frowned suspiciously at Dumbledore.
The old man took no notice, all of his focus was on Regulus.
“For many years now, I have been attempting to gather information on my former student’s movements, to try and learn what his plans are, where he will go and what he will do next. Tom is a very clever, if insane, wizard, and he does nothing without a purpose, even if that purpose is merely to satisfy his own twisted pleasures. But thus far, I have been unsuccessful. Every wizard I sent to infiltrate his circle has been discovered and . . .done away with.” The old wizard sighed heavily, for those deaths weighed upon his conscience. And now he was about to ask something no adult should ever have to ask of a minor underage wizardling.
“What’s that got to do with Regulus?” Severus asked, all of his senses tingling in warning.
“All of my previous agents failed because they were unable to blend in with the Death Eaters, they couldn’t gain Voldemort’s trust and he does not trust very easily at all. He prefers to work alone, but somewhere along the line he realized he would need others to help him on his way to greatness. A ruler of the world, even one that is feared and hated, needs followers and lackeys. So he began to gather them, purebloods with like-minded views who hated change and Muggles and Muggleborns and taught them his dark spells and encouraged them in their hatred until they lost their way and willingly traveled the dark path. Young Lucius is one of his most dedicated followers, based upon what I have heard from you and others. Voldemort seems to trust him to recruit more young blood into his ranks.”
“Malfoy’s scum, I’ve always known that,” Regulus snapped. “What of it?”
Dumbledore shook his head. “Lucius comes from a powerful and influential family, much like your own, Regulus. That is why he wanted you to become a member of his Iron Masks. Because Voldemort needs the support of the old families, and their money, since he was left penniless for much of his life.”
“Ha! What does he think I am, a vault of endless Galleons?” sneered the youngest Black.
“No. Lucius thinks that you are a prime candidate for a loyal follower. He is mistaken of course, but you must realize something, Regulus. No one has ever gotten this close to one of Voldemort’s trusted allies before. But you have, even though you don’t want it.”
Regulus’s eyes narrowed, not liking the direction the conversation was going. “What do you mean, sir? All I want is for you to remove this blasted spell.”
“I know, my boy. And I would do so in a heartbeat except . . .this is the perfect opportunity for me to learn about the enemy. Don’t you see, Regulus? You could be my eyes and ears, and report to me what goes on inside the meetings. They would not suspect you, they invited you in and all you have to do is pretend to be one of them.” Dumbledore said in his most persuasive tone.
Before Regulus could reply, Severus did. “You’re off your rocker, old man!” he exploded. “We come to you for help and this is what you offer? A chance for Reg to put his head into the viper’s mouth and chance getting bitten? You’re asking him to risk his life! He’s a kid, fourteen, how can you ask that of him? Can’t find an adult to do your dirty work?”
“Merlin, Sev! I’m not a bloody baby!” Regulus cried, flushing. “I can take care of myself!”
“If there were another way, I would take it, Severus. I do not like asking Regulus to do this, and would not if I had another choice. But we must all make sacrifices and this is an important job . . .”
“Yeah, too important to make a kid into a spy!” Severus growled.
“Will it help bring him down, Headmaster?” Regulus asked suddenly.
“Yes. With the right information, we can be able to save innocent lives and prevent more deaths. If we are lucky, we may even be able to discover his weaknesses and bring him down for good and all. He is not immortal, however much he wishes to believe he is.” Dumbledore stated firmly. “Information is the key to destroying him and his followers. And you, Regulus Black, are in the perfect position to collect it.”
“Do I have a chance?”
“A very good one, by my lights.”
Regulus considered, noting Severus’s thunderous glare and wincing. He really hated Lucius and his company, but if he could help to defeat Voldemort . . . “I don’t know, sir. I’m not trained in this kind of thing.”
“I will train you,” Dumbledore reassured him.
“Reg, don’t!” Severus cried. “He’s using you, can’t you see that?” He spun on the Headmaster. “You can’t do this, sir! You’re sending him to his death!”
“Death is always a possibility, I’ll not deny it,” said the Headmaster gravely. “But so is life, my boy. I believe Regulus is resourceful enough to protect himself.”
“Oh that’s rich! You’re sending a kid to do a job a grown man couldn’t!”
“I have no other choice. I would never consider it if there were another alternative, Mr. Snape. But there is not and we need this information badly. It could mean the difference between victory and defeat.”
Regulus gazed at the Headmaster intently. “If I do this for you . . .if I pretend to be one of them and something goes wrong . . .will you help me?”
“If I can, I shall.”
Severus snorted. Ha! You must think we’re idiots. I’ve heard that one before! “That’s not good enough, Headmaster. He needs someone to back him up, someone he can trust. And I can pose as a pureblood if I have to. I’m going with him . . .to watch his back.”
“Sev, you can’t!” sputtered Regulus.
“Can and will,” said the other stubbornly. “You want Reg as a spy, sir? Fine, but I’m part of the deal. Where he goes, I go. I’m his friend, he can trust me to look after him.”
“Look after me? Jumping Juno, Severus! You treat me like I’m some stupid five year old. I can make up my own mind!” Regulus glared at the older boy.
“Then be smart and tell him no, Reg!” hissed Severus in his ear. “It’s not a game, you could die. I have a bad feeling about this.”
“I don’t like it much myself,” Regulus admitted. “But what if he’s right and Voldemort can be defeated? How can I not help? He’s the enemy of my family, Severus. Mine and yours and everyone’s.”
Severus shook his head. “I know that, you silly ass. But enemy or not, you shouldn’t have to risk your life because the adults are too cowardly to stand up to them. Just tell him to remove the spell and we can go home.”
Regulus hesitated a long moment, mulling it over. He knew Severus was right. To be a spy was to put one’s life on the line and also one’s honor and integrity. He would have to become the kind of person he hated in order to be a successful spy. He wasn’t sure he could do it, but he was willing to try. For Dumbledore was right too. They needed reliable information badly. He read the papers, he knew that the Death eaters were growing in power and numbers and preying more and more upon anyone they thought deserved to be tortured and killed. Hysteria was beginning to sweep the wizarding world and Regulus knew that if something weren’t done, it would consume them all. What if the information he could gather turned the tide for the Light?
And yet, a part of him cringed and wished he could just follow Severus’s advice and leave. He didn’t want to die a hero or a failed agent. But neither did he want to live as a coward.
“Regulus! You aren’t seriously considering this!” Severus muttered.
“I am. He’s right, you know. Information’s priceless.”
“So’s your life. If you go and do this, Reg . . .”
“No, Sev. I have no right to risk your life. Besides, you’re a half-blood. They’d never accept you.”
“How many Slytherins know I’m a half-blood, Black? Only you. I fooled them all for years, I know how to pretend better than you, little brother. We’re best friends, it won’t seem odd when you ask Lucius to let me join too.”
“No, I can’t ask you to do that!”
“Who’s asking? I’m telling you,” said his friend firmly.
Regulus frowned. “Fine1 But you’d better not die, Snape, or else I’ll follow you through the Veil and kick your stubborn arse into heaven, y hear me?”
“I hear you, you crazy idiot!” Severus smirked. “And the same goes for you, kid.”
Both Slytherins turned and looked up at the Headmaster, who had been serenely contemplating his mismatched socks while they were arguing amongst themselves. “We’ll do it, sir.” Regulus said firmly. “Both of us will be your spies.”
“Both?” Dumbledore looked startled. “Severus, there is no need to risk your life—”
“Yes there is. I won’t let you send him in there alone. Either both of us go or neither of us go. Take it or leave it . . .sir.”
Dumbledore shook his head. “It would seem we are at an impasse. Very well, gentlemen. You will both be my agents. Welcome to the Order of the Phoenix.”
“The Order of the Phoenix? What’s that?” asked Regulus.
“The resistance movement I have organized to fight against Voldemort. You are now its youngest members.”
“Oh, joy,” muttered Severus.
“I will introduce you to some of the other members later. Your training begins now. And the first task you must accomplish is to . . .tell no one what you are about. Not your parents, not your girlfriend, no one.”
“But why?” asked Reg ingenuously.
“Because they might give you away by mistake. Mum’s the word, boys. Act like everything is normal at school and at home.”
“What about the spell? Shouldn’t you remove it?”
“I will remove most of it, but some of it must remain, to convince Lucius you are under his control. I know it’s unpleasant, but you will simply have to endure it. The spell marks you as one who belongs.” Dumbledore murmured, and chanted a spell to make most of the curse vanish.
Regulus felt lighter and less stressed once that was done, and he thanked Dumbledore for removing it so cleverly.
“It was nothing, my boy. Now you may begin your duties with a clear heart.”
“Half a minute, sir. What are we getting paid?”
He ignored Regulus’ squawk, really Regulus had no idea about accounts and the fact that you never performed a service for anyone without getting your own back. Regulus had never grown up wondering where your next meal was coming from.
Dumbledore named a figure, and Severus argued a bit with him. But finally he settled on a price and it was more than he had expected. At least he wouldn’t starve after he finished school and went to live on his own and it was only fair Dumbledore pay them for risking their necks.
“Good, it’s all settled then. Return here at six o’clock tomorrow and I shall begin teaching you how to operate as an undercover agent. And do not forget . . .tell no one! For one thing I do know, and that is Voldemort had sent spies here and the only way to rid ourselves of them is to gather better information than they do. Good luck, my boys and I will see you tomorrow.”
And with that, he stood and then Apparated away, leaving two new recruits looking at each other in a sort of stunned resignation.
Bloody hell, what have we done? We really are insane. Severus thought, shaking his head. But at least he wasn’t alone.
A/N: So how did you like it?
This chapter is dedicated to my cousin Daisy who has recently passed away. May God bless you and keep you always.
Next: Lily has a disturbing dream of her own.
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