A/N: Well, that took a long time! For some reason this chapter had me stumped, and of course I took a mild break to develop another story, Something Between Friends, which is so different from this one that it's almost shocking. I did it out of a need for a little comic/romantic release. This one is such a serious study of a lonely man. But, it's my baby, and I love it.
Chapter Seven: Betrothed
Loneliness: the clearest of crystal insight into your own soul. It’s the fear of one’s own self that haunts the lonely. ~ Keith Haynie
In the absolute stillness, Regulus’s breathing sounded harsh and unwelcome. He was consumed by a state of lethargy so complete that he did not feel he had it in him to even open his eyes. He struggled vainly to work up the energy, the desire, to move, to get out of his bed, but there was nothing. There was nothing except a cold emptiness permeating through his entire being. His insides felt nonexistent; he wondered if he was still living or if he had been murdered in his sleep. He reflected dimly, bitterly, that in his current lifestyle being murdered in his sleep would not be unexpected or particularly shocking. For the first time since he had joined the Dark Lord’s ranks as a Death Eater, he feared for his own safety.
But that’s ridiculous. I’m not like that man, that Muggle-loving fool. I’m a part of it all. I’m a part of it all.
This thought, though it made him feel less fearful for his life, did not settle his mind. He had tried to force himself into blocking out Timothy Rawle’s face; to forget the expression of emotional and physical torment that had marred those unremarkable features and rendered the man speechless. But he could not. No matter what he did, no matter how tightly he closed his eyes, he could not escape it; Timothy Rawle was painted like a mural on the insides of Regulus’s eyelids, and though his body and mind longed for sleep, his conscience was vengeful and would not allow it.
And those screams . . . Those awful, gut-wrenching, agonized screams . . . Regulus was unsure if he would ever stop hearing them. It felt as though he was still in the room, with Rawle twitching and writhing at his feet, the way those screams resounded in his ears. For how many hours had Regulus lain in bed, his hands pressed over his ears so tightly that he would not hear somebody Apparate directly next to him? Two, three, four hours, even? But the screams continued in the silence, like a constant humming undertone, and Regulus could not sleep. Sleep would bring forgetfulness, and peace from the wracking uncertainty and fear that had an icy hold on his soul. He was sure it would, if only he could sleep . . .
But when his exhausted mind finally relinquished its hold on consciousness, his dreams were fretful and confusing, a blur of rose-tinted color and the sweet scent of begonias that still clung to the edges of his memory, now forever tainted with the association of death and torture. Regulus found himself in that room again, with the screams echoing in his ears, and Bellatrix laughed behind him saying ‘Do it, do it now!’. Her laughs were shrill and grating, and his nerves seemed to be on end as he held his wand steady at the man he was torturing. The Dark Lord was counting on him, he couldn’t lower his wand, he had to keep himself in check, had to squelch the sickening fear and revulsion that was building up inside of him as the man in front of him screamed, his face pressed into the bedding. And then the tortured man turned his face, and Regulus saw, with a jolt of horror, that the screaming man was not Timothy Rawle at all, but a dark-haired young man that he knew – he was torturing his brother.
Regulus gasped into the stillness of his bedroom and his eyes flew open, his breathing ragged and coming in sharp gasps. He was trembling all over. Sweat stung his eyes; he wiped it away with the back of one shaking hand. There was a burgeoning feeling of shame and disgust inside of him, and he swore under his breath at his own helplessness. Morning sunshine filtered in through his window and illuminated his room with a pale light; dust floated lazily in the atmosphere, sparkling like diamonds. Everything felt still and muffled; it didn’t seem as though anything could be horrifying or violent in the purity of such a morning. In the darkness of the silent night, Regulus had let his fears and doubts overcome him and it had not seemed so out of place; but in the soft glow of a day newborn, his weakness from the night prior shamed and humiliated him. Bellatrix was right. He was as weak as she made him out to be.
And to dream of his brother, of Sirius . . . what a fool he was. He hadn’t spoken to his brother in years; he hadn’t even heard a word of his whereabouts or actions in months and months. For all he knew, his brother could be dead. Whatever he was, Regulus was certain of one thing: Sirius had absolutely nothing to do with Regulus’s actions of the previous night. It was enough to be haunted by facts, events that actually happened, but to dream of inflicting unimaginable pain on a despised and estranged sibling . . . To wake with his entire body drenched in a cold sweat and his limbs weak with terror . . .
What was wrong with him?
Wrenching away the sheet that was tangled in between his legs, Regulus stood. His hair was damp and stuck to his forehead, just as the shirt he was wearing stuck to his sweaty back. He felt unclean, though he wasn’t sure if this feeling was born from the slick layer of perspiration that covered his skin, or the acidic bubbling of self-loathing that seemed to poison his bloodstream as pesticides would contaminate a water supply. Feeling disgusted with himself he stripped naked, scratching absently at the Dark Mark which stung uncomfortably on his left forearm. He needed a shower, a scalding hot shower to burn the frailty out of him.
He left the sweaty pile of cloth on the floor. His house-elf made a once weekly trip to Regulus’s home to pick up laundry and tidy up, and today was his scheduled visit; he had no need to clean up after himself when Kreacher would be more than willing to do it for him. There was a superstitious desire inside of him to burn the clothes that had been on his back the night before, as if, through their ashes and smoke, he could be purged clean and made worthy. But he knew that was ridiculous; all he really needed was a steamy shower, something to clear his mind and his air passages. He would breathe easy once he was out.
Once inside, Regulus scrubbed at his bare skin viciously until, through a combination of his own scratching and the hot water that pelted him and steamed up around him, he was as raw and red looking as a newborn child. The air was thick with steam, and he found breathing increasingly difficult. He persisted in his washing, or as it was, purifying, until he felt that not only his skin was clean, but his lungs and brain were as well. When he stepped out of his loo with a towel wrapped around his waist and his skin beaded with tiny droplets of water his legs felt weak and rubbery, but he would not allow himself to sit.
The pile of offending clothing had been removed from the floor and there were shuffling sounds coming from outside of his bedroom which alerted Regulus to the fact that Kreacher had arrived and was preforming his duties. A pile of freshly laundered and carefully folded robes lay on the bedspread, which had been made and smoothed to perfection, the sheets crisp and new-looking. Regulus pushed back his slick hair and breathed in crisp, cool air: he felt pure, now; he felt levelheaded and mentally, if not physically, strong. But even that would change, once the jellying affects of his steamy shower wore off. He was an able-bodied young man, only eighteen years old. This was only the beginning of his life; this was only the start. Who knew how far he would travel, how much he would accomplish, before reaching that golden finish line? There were years, so many years that it seemed almost incredible to think of all that in-between time, before he would have to sit down and examine what he’d done. It was far too early for him to be worrying about it now; it was foolish to be preoccupied with his soul when he had no intention of letting it stray an inch from his body for at least another hundred years.
Regulus turned his back to the partially ajar door of his bedroom and reached out for the pile of robes. He had just lifted them to his nose to inhale the scent of magnolias which so reminded him of home and the halls he had not walked through since Christmas, when there was a soft creak of the floorboards and he whipped around, robes hastily tossed over his left forearm to hide his Mark as his other hand made a motion as if to unsheathe his wand from his robes, only to find that he was quite naked except for the towel around his waist.
"And what did I tell you, Cassia? Is he not a fine specimen of a man?" Bellatrix stood in his doorway with a young woman, and her smirk was very pronounced as she surveyed Regulus looking so unarmed and surprised. "Caught unaware, cousin? We didn’t teach you to be careless. What if I had had it in mind to kill you?"
"I’m not quite sure you don’t have it in mind, Bella," Regulus returned softly. The woman standing next to Bellatrix smiled as if listening to playful banter between brother and sister.
Cassia Rosier was dainty; her overall appearance was in stark contrast to the mighty warrior woman standing next to her. In looks she much more resembled Narcissa. Her hair was a rosy blonde and quite thick, falling across her shoulders in curls. Her face had a softness that the faces of Black women lacked, though it did not make her entirely less beautiful; rather, she looked more like a woman should look, soft and demurely helpless instead of coldly, clinically shrewd. Her nose was small and was devoid of any sort of wrinkling dislike or contempt around the edges, and her cheekbones were high and suggestive of good bone structure, but not angular; she lacked the gauntness, the slightly haunted look of his two cousins. She was wearing fitted robes of a deep sapphire color, and a pair of white velvet gloves trimmed with fur, and beneath them Regulus knew that her form was every bit as delicate as her face was. Cassia Rosier was, in every way, an exceptional looking young woman.
"Yes, he is quite fine. I like him very much. Quite, quite fine . . ." The Rosier girl nodded her head decidedly in approval, but her eyes kept roaming over Regulus’s form, and there was a slightly appraising look about them that made his skin grow hot.
"And this is Beauty, Bellatrix?" Regulus ventured to guess. "I suppose Wit fell under the forbidden category of ‘crazy shrew’?"
Bellatrix laughed and leaned closer to Cassia. "He thinks he’s funny. Do humor him, won’t you?"
The young girl tittered unsurely, and Regulus knew that she didn’t understand the exchange that had just passed between he and Bellatrix. There was a vacantness in the eyes and a flatness in the voice that told Regulus that this girl did not understand very much of the world. He guessed that she didn’t quite know the extent of the war seething around her, and to think that she might be somehow oblivious to the death and carnage that took place at the hands of her own family members, of her own betrothed, endeared her to Regulus. He could not place exactly why this was, but the thought that she was separate from it all, even if it was because of her own stupidity, excited him; his only single thought was that this woman was removed from the war, she was untouched. She did not have that bloodthirsty, hungry look in her eyes that so terrified him when he saw it glowing like a hot coal in the black pits of his cousin’s. Regulus was willing to bet that she knew very little of the Dark Lord, or of his followers. To him, that was perfect; he was not the sort of man, not the sort of Death Eater, who wanted to use his status to excite feelings of fear and respect in the feminine breast. In a perfect situation, in a perfect marriage, his wife would know as little about his doings while he wore his mask as humanly possible.
"I suggested stepping in on you while you were showering," Bellatrix mused casually, her lips tilted wickedly. "You know . . . to take a look at the product before buying it, so to speak. But Cassia here rejected the idea. She is too much of a . . . ah . . . lady, to consider such an impudence. Isn’t that right, cousin?"
Regulus was taken slightly aback when Cassia answered; he had forgotten completely that Cassia and Bellatrix were cousins just as he and Bellatrix were. This thought was slightly unsettling, though he supposed it could be far worse. After all, they were related through marriage, not through blood.
"I’d like to think so, Bella." Cassia smiled at Bellatrix lightly and then her eyes flickered over to Regulus once more. "Oh, Regulus . . ."
He decided that he liked the way his name sounded on her lips; he longed for her to say it again and he unwittingly leaned forward as if she were whispering to him rather than speaking in a clear voice that filled his small room. He noticed that her cheeks had rosy splotches of color painted across them, though he couldn’t understand why. It made her look incredibly fresh and beautiful, as if she were blooming in the springtime.
"Your towel is slipping."
Bellatrix laughed and Regulus shot her a scornful look as he tightened the towel. He was not embarrassed that Cassia might see more of him than he had bargained for; it was Bellatrix that made him emphatically uncomfortable. And that creeping sense of shame was rising up inside of him the longer his cousin stood in his presence. He focused his eyes on Cassia’s shining hair and was pleased to find that in doing so he was able to block out the harsh feminine panting that had, for a moment, echoed in his ears. Perhaps this girl, this girl who was so obviously separate from the darkness that seemed to tug at him ceaselessly, would banish the weaknesses from him. Could it only be that he desired a companion? Was he just lonely? It was a much better prospect than believing himself irreparably flawed in some way; to think of his character as inherently lacking strength and a strong will.
"You came here to introduce us, Bella?" Regulus asked, wanting Bellatrix to leave him alone with the Rosier girl.
"And to convey a couple of messages to you."
Regulus felt his stomach twist in fear. God, was he going to be asked to torture another man? Would he expected to kill him this time? Not so soon, he could not do it again so soon . . . he had only just purged himself of his last experience, and even that ritual was coming apart at the sight of his sinful counterpart, his partner in the crime. All of the scrubbing he had done to his skin could not keep it from crawling at the sight of Bellatrix, that remorseless hellcat who had become excited and even aroused during the act of torture and murder. Regulus felt dirty; he felt sinful.
"The first is from your parents, who expect you and your future wife to dine with them tonight. Aunt Walburga chastises you for not doing so immediately. The second is from a source much higher up, demanding your presence tomorrow afternoon at Malfoy Manor. The third is from Lucius Malfoy himself, who wishes you to accompany him in one weeks time to . . . play . . . with he and a couple of the boys, in celebration for a successfully arranged marriage to an admirable woman."
The smile that marred her features was even more pronouncedly twisted. Regulus even went so far as to deem it demonic, in his mind. He was unable to contain the thought that he was in store for a very tiring and most likely unpleasant week. The inflection that Bellatrix stressed on the word ‘play’ was formidable and seemed to foreshadow some wrongdoing, though Regulus couldn't imagine what. He supposed that playing with the boys meant philandering and a copious amount of drinking. It would be just the thing to celebrate an upcoming marriage. Just the very thing his fellow Death Eaters would find acceptable and even expected.
"Messages received. And is that all, then?"
Bellatrix smirked and shot a glance at Cassia, who looked politely uncertain of what was happening; she seemed to be hovering in between indecision to excuse herself or ask what they were talking about. Regulus felt another strong urge to be alone with her, to be away from the horrifying reminder of what he had done the night prior. It was almost painful to look at Bellatrix. In her eyes, in her smile, in every nuance of her voice he heard the insane shrieking of Timothy Rawle, a man who they had tortured and killed. Had his son found him yet? Had his wife? They must have, with the Dark Mark hanging over their home like Death itself; the Muggles would have seen, they would have called the police, and the Ministry would have investigated. There would have been Obliviators and others from the Muggle-Worthy Excuse Committee working overtime to clean up the mess he and Bellatrix had made; men and women who worked with Rawle, who knew him, who might have loved him. It was one last blow to a fallen adversary; it was one last warning to anybody else who was harboring sketchy ideas against the Dark Cause. And he had been a part of it all, he . . .
"I’ll just leave you two alone, shall I? Perhaps let you . . . get to know each other." Bellatrix smirked and shot one last look at Regulus, her eyebrows arched, before sweeping out of the room. She said nothing to Cassia.
Cassia watched Bellatrix leave with minimal interest, and then turned her wide-eyed attention back to Regulus, who had sat down on his bed; his legs had become very weak.
"You’re very young," Cassia announced. Regulus looked up at her, wondering why it was that he hadn’t gotten dressed yet. "I’m twenty-one, you know."
"Eighteen." He rubbed his nose and examined the girl in front of him. He didn’t remember her from Hogwarts, and if she was only three years older than him he was sure he would have noticed her in the common room. She was the type of girl he had gone for while at school. There hadn’t been many, but if there ever was, it was with somebody like her. "You weren’t in Slytherin . . ."
"No, no, Hufflepuff. My sister was in Ravenclaw, and my brother Evan was in Slytherin . . . They all went mad when I got accepted into Hufflepuff but I couldn’t help it, you know."
"Evan. Yes, I know Evan. Evan Rosier. He’s . . ." He’s a Death Eater, just like me. Regulus wondered briefly if the girl standing in front of him knew of the things her brother had done. The lives he was sure to have taken, the people he was sure to have tortured. God only knows what other atrocities he had committed; he had been in the ranks much longer than Regulus, and he was far deeper into it. Regulus bowed his head and ran a hand through his damp hair.
"You’re very attractive." Regulus looked up at her, pulled back from the darkness that had crept up on him unexpectedly and slipped its icy tendrils around his limbs and organs, dousing him in cold inside and out. It was somewhat amusing how straightforward she addressed his being physically appealing. "You know you’re very attractive?"
"I have heard it before," he said, and she seemed pleased that he had been complimented in the past. She took a couple of steps forward in an inviting sort of way, and Regulus examined the sway of her hips as she walked; he decided that it was like a swaying of a reed in the wind. Somewhat willowy, and subjective to even the tiniest shift in her surroundings. Like a breakable, delicate reed. "You’re quite beautiful, yourself. Effulgent, I would go so far to say."
"What?" she asked. Her rosy lips were slanted into a bemused smile. Her presence was quickly clouding up his mind; how long had it been since he had been close to a woman? A real woman, like the one in front of him, not some beastly she-wolf like his cousin who was all consuming bloodlust and driving ambition. She smelled soft, like . . . like honeysuckle. It was so tantalizing that he longed to pull her to him. They had only just met, but it had been so long since he had felt connected to somebody, and it would be wonderful to feel it again. It would drive away the darkness for an hour, maybe more. He would have at least one blissful hour of reprieve before his weaknesses crippled him with fear and uncertainty again. How funny it was that he hadn’t noticed how very lonely he had been until that moment, when the desperation to end such solitariness rendered him hoarse with longing.
"It means radiant." He licked his lips; his mouth was suddenly very dry.
Cassia Rosier smiled wide, her cheeks tinged with that lovely, glowing pink, and said, "I think I like you, Regulus Black."
Regulus said nothing; his desire was beyond words, beyond anything except physical expression.
"But you need to get dressed for dinner."
"What – dinner?" he croaked, and then cleared his throat. "It’s only morning."
"It’s nearly five-thirty. Dinner at six." Cassia said, with that same soft smile. "How long did you sleep?"
Regulus pushed his hair from his face again and tried to clear his head. Nearly five-thirty. He hadn’t slept all night, and his shower had been very long, but to sleep until three-thirty or four in the afternoon? Had those awful dreams held him in sleep like a captive to his own sick imagination, to his guilty conscience?
Cassia was backing out of his room, and Regulus plucked at the robes draped over his marked forearm half-heartedly. He did not want to get dressed; he had so had his hopes on staying undressed for at least a little longer. At least a little longer with her.
She paused near the door and looked back at him musingly, her eyes flickering once more over his half naked body before she smiled smugly and muttered, more to herself than to Regulus, "Cassia Black . . . I think I like that."
And, God help him, so did he.
A/N: So, we've met the betrothed! Cassia Rosier. Enjoy? I crafted her to be rather stupid, as you probably notice, and I have a reason for it. Hopefully it wasn't too far of a stretch to say that she was in Hufflepuff. After all, purebloods are put into it (think Ernie Macmillan). And honestly, there was no other house that would fit her. She hasn't got brains, brawn, or any sort of cunning. I also had originally wanted to write the dinner with the parents in this chapter, but it got a tad too long for that, so I hope you excuse the extreme lack of action. Anywho, leave me a review and tell me if you liked the chapter! I really, really appreciate it! And for those who have already reviewed . . .
A large thanks to Elsie, Liza, SiriuslylvnSirius25, boredonenight, Brittany, kix10, Nick McFarland, Mollie Jay, christina, teddylupin, SirenaLuna90, Eve, Torially, Melody_07, MidwinterMasque, x_Magnifique, and redflameeyes for reviewing and following the story!
P.S - It tickles me pink that I have 36 reviews with 6 chapters. Gunning for 49 reviews with seven chapters! 7 x 7 = 49! Wow, I'm lame.
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