Chapter 1 : Siren
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Regulus watched them through the banister rails, his pale face riveted. There was Father, his arms placed securely on either side of Mother’s waist, and a smile curling under his thin black mustache. Mother was smiling, too…this was incredible! Regulus gripped the railing, perspiration creeping up on his neck from the ever-present fear that he would be caught and punished. He was intruding on a moment he was not supposed to witness – and yet, the small boy was utterly spellbound. Nothing in the world could have made him move.
His mother’s hands were resting on Father’s shoulders, and he could see from her profile that her cheek was lifting. She was still smiling. Mother only ever smiled at him; she never bestowed them on Father and it was perhaps once in a blue moon that she cracked one for Sirius. Sirius was the naughty son, after all. Regulus had always been her treasure – the diamond in the center of her collection.
Regulus recalled his Auntie Lucretia’s wedding. Some of the people there were doing this, too. He didn’t know what it was called, all of this hugging and rotating in circles. At Auntie Lucretia’s wedding, there had been a whole troupe of people with fancy instruments playing for them. But here, it was just the merry tinkling of his mother’s porcelain wind-up figurine. And there they were – Orion and Walburga Black, doing that strange revolving in place thing under the chandelier in the entrance corridor. It was the single most magical moment in all of Regulus’s seven years on Earth, even if he didn’t quite understand it.
A door on the top floor creaked open – Regulus could not hear the sound, but he felt the vibrations. Sirius’s bedroom door was slightly too big for its frame, and always grated on the wood panels when he pushed it open and closed.
Regulus tensed, his fingers wrapping even tighter around the banister until his knuckles were white and numb. He hoped his brother would not come down to the second landing, where he was crouched. Sirius would tell on him for spying, and completely ruin this confusing and inexplicable show of affection between their parents. Regulus felt his face pull down into a scowl, so abruptly toxic that he couldn’t think clearly, couldn’t see straight. He always ruins everything.
The steps groaned as someone descended them, and Regulus felt wisps of cool air gust from between the cracks in the stairs, the slats of wood moving against each other like broken machinery. Within seconds, he was joined by another black-haired boy.
“Go away,” Regulus whispered harshly, his attention still raptly fixated on the rare grin on his mother’s face, her expression almost shy. The creases on her forehead weren’t severe, and her face wasn’t contorted in annoyance. She looked almost…what was it? Content? It was an alien concept. He couldn’t make sense of the bizarre way they were acting, but his own curiosity and puzzlement did not matter. The only thing in the world that mattered was the fact that his mother and father were touching each other, when he had never even seen them so much as hug in his life.
“Gross,” Sirius whispered back, wrinkling his nose. And although he pivoted his body so that he had to glance sideways to view the scene, Sirius did not leave, either.
Regulus elbowed him, feeling his face grow hot. It was almost like Sirius had intruded on his private moment, as though he himself was somehow a part of what was going on downstairs. Sirius had no right putting his nose into other people’s business. “Go away,” he hissed again.
“Go away,” Sirius mimicked in a girlish voice.
“Shhh,” Regulus hissed. “You’re going to get us into trouble!”
“What else is new?” Sirius replied tonelessly. His eyes were just as hawk-like as his brother’s, though, and he was still looking down upon the entrance corridor with mystified interest.
“I don’t want to sit in the attic all night.” Regulus’s voice was almost inaudible.
Sirius halfheartedly slapped him on the back, frowning grimly. “Don’t worry, Reg. I’m the only one who gets shut up in the attic. Dear Walburga would only give you a scolding.”
Regulus glared at him, feeling his defenses rising. “You can’t call her that,” he rebuked, his eyes wide and manic. “You have to call her ‘mum’!”
The elder boy grinned. It wasn’t a nice grin – this one was jeering. “What’re you sitting here watching them for, anyway? What’s next, peeking through the keyhole? You’re weird, Reg.”
Regulus glowered, biting down hard on his lower lip. “I hate you,” he muttered under his breath. He hadn’t meant for Sirius to hear it – or maybe he had?
His brother’s features darkened, mirroring Regulus’s own violent upsurge of anger. Both of them had always possessed volatile tempers; but whereas Sirius threw books or smashed dishes, Regulus just sat there seething, breathing raggedly in and out of his nostrils while his face glowed red like hot coals. After Regulus’s muttered retort, Sirius stood up and kicked him in the ribs. Luckily he held tight to the railing and didn’t topple down the stairs like a rag doll, but he let out a yelp all the same. “Whatever,” Sirius told him hatefully. “This is stupid.”
“You’re stupid!” Regulus replied with spitting indignation, massaging the area where Sirius had kicked him.
“Piss off,” his brother responded, and began trudging moodily back up the stairs. It was a wonder he didn’t stomp just to be spiteful.
Regulus stared after him, momentarily distracted from pure shock at Sirius’s speech. “I’m going to tell Mum you said that!” he whispered as loudly as he dared. Sirius merely shrugged, not bothering to turn around.
Regulus swallowed and turned greedily to watch his parents again. Mum was humming softly; he felt a twinge of jealousy. Mother only ever hummed to him. His face was still clouded with baffled irritation when Father lifted his gaze. Their eyes met, and Regulus felt his heartbeat stutter. I’m really in for it now. He considered darting up the stairs, but found himself immobile, frozen with his eyes locked on his father’s.
And then his father winked.
The boy continued to hover behind the railings, mesmerized, until the couple eventually broke apart and Walburga’s smile vanished. Her mouth was once again restored to its normal thin line, her movements stiff and her back ram-rod straight. Father disappeared into the drawing room, his personal haven that no one else was allowed to enter. The secret exchange between them was all so surreal to wrap his head around that it might not have happened at all – the strange swaying with their arms around each other, the humming – and Regulus could not put it out of his mind. He knew that someday, he wanted to be like that with his own wife. The image of his parents embracing stuck firmly in his memory forever, cropping up whenever he imagined his future bride. It wouldn’t do to act like that all the time – it was important to be respectable – but now that he knew it existed, the desire grew in his mind like a weed.
Regulus watched her cross from the Ravenclaw table to chat with a couple of stray Gryffindors hanging around the entrance. Her skin was lily-white and her neck swan-like, and she moved like water. It was one of his favorite things about her – how fluid her movements were.
He admired her from his covert location on the outskirts of a batch of Slytherins; they were all talking loudly amongst themselves and did not notice his distraction. It wouldn’t do well for them to follow his line of vision, but even if they did they probably would not suspect anything. After all, what would Regulus Black want with a disgusting Mudblood?
His grey eyes narrowed on the girl, gritting his teeth together as he realized who she was talking to. It was Sirius, who always loitered in the alcove next to the giant double-doors right after lunch, flicking dungbombs out the window and laughing like it was a riot or something. He thought he was so cool, the egotistical prat. And the egotistical prat, apparently, had no qualms about conversing with a Mudblood. She was giggling, tossing her brown hair over one shoulder. Her smile was wider than the average person’s – she was certainly not the most beautiful girl in Hogwarts – and she had too many teeth. All the same, he had seen her first. He’d been silently following her with his eyes since first year. And he had never spoken a word to her.
Envy and rage reared inside him like a scorned beast.
She wasn’t worthy of Regulus Black. He tried to remind himself that she wasn’t worthy of him, that she was dirt at his feet. She was a Mudblood, after all. He understood that she was less than him, and she didn’t deserve to marry into his family and infect their gene pool with her parasitic blood. The thought of her standing there, laughing with his brother like there was nowhere else she’d rather be – and knowing that he could never have her – tormented him. The girl was a demon, sent here for the sole purpose of tempting him. Her neck and smile and hair existed to persuade him to forget about everything he stood for.
She was evil.
Sirius had no regards for blood status or putting up a front of common decency. Regulus caught him frequently sneaking off into broom cupboards last year, when he was dating that half-blood girl from Hufflepuff. He didn’t care who he associated with or how low he would sink to purposefully taint his family’s reputation. The boy was nothing but a blemish on the Black’s good name. Sometimes Regulus secretly wished he could shed his propriety and snog girls in broom cupboards as well, but he staunchly kept those wicked thoughts in check. He smugly reminded himself that he was better than Sirius, and he was not going to be blown off the family tapestry.
He instantly severed his attention, blinking rapidly as his eyes had lost their focus several seconds earlier. Anger often did that to him – he would be so blind with it that he couldn’t see. “What?”
His best mate, Derrick Nott, was waving his hand in front of Regulus’s face. There was something shiny and long between his fingers. “Did you see this?”
Regulus studied the object. It was a glass phial – bottle-green – and a tag was attached to the corkscrew twisted deeply into its stopper. “Veritaserum,” he read aloud. And then his eyes widened. “Where did you get that?”
Derrick grinned. “Esther found it in Slughorn’s office when she was serving detention last night. What do you reckon we should do with it?”
Regulus frowned at them and they collectively began to look worried, their glances shifting to each other nervously. “Oh, come on, Reg,” Esther beseeched. “Not again! Just because you’re a prefect doesn’t mean you’ve got to spoil all our fun. Imagine the people we could question!”
“We’re not questioning anyone,” Regulus replied, roughly seizing the bottle. “I’m handing it in.”
“I knew it,” Esther spat bitterly, stabbing at a hunk of roast beef with her wand. “I told them not to show you because you’d ruin everything. You always ruin everything.” She cast a scathing glance at him, sucking in her cheeks. “You’re such a goody-goody, letting any little bit of power go to your head and now you’re so deep in Slughorn’s pocket that you can probably taste the lint…”
“He’s our Head of House!” Regulus cried. “If he finds out that my mates stole his stuff and were messing around with it, I would get into trouble. They would take away my badge.”
Esther rolled her eyes, sweeping to her feet. “Merlin forbid you lose your badge.”
Regulus looked to Derrick for back-up, but Derrick was retreating from the table as well. Regulus’s mouth hung open, staring imploringly from person to person for a sign of understanding; but all he found were cold, empty expressions avoiding his eyes. And then they were gone.
The girl, the lovely Mudblood, was walking past him with her friend. He’d never learned the friend’s name – she was inconsequential.
“Let’s go talk to Sluggy about it,” the friend was saying. And his girl – he bit his cheek, forcing himself to think her name. Felicity. It was the most beautiful, most vile, horrible name he’d ever heard. “He’s bound to let him off the hook, if you’re the one asking. Just remind him about your uncle on the Wizengamot.” The friend grinned and Regulus had no idea what they were talking about – but he did perk up at the mention of ‘Sluggy’. They were on their way to visit Slughorn? Regulus peered down at the phial in his hands. The glass was as cold as ever, because Veritaserum does not absorb heat. Suddenly the bottle of truth-telling potion seemed like a twist of fate.
On impulse, he slipped away from the table and followed the girls up the center aisle. He cast a Silencing Charm on his footsteps, wishing he could do Disillusionment Charms as well. He wasn’t very adept at Charms – History of Magic had always been his best subject and honestly was the only class he actually enjoyed, whether he admitted it to his friends or not. He was forever at odds with his wand, trying to get it to do things it simply would not do for him. As though proving his thoughts correct, Regulus’s shoes scuffled against the floor very softly. The spell wasn’t all the way right; his movements sounded more like echoes in the distance. Still, it was better than nothing.
“Do you think he likes me?” Felicity asked her friend, blushing. At least, Regulus assumed she was blushing, but he couldn’t tell for sure because he was only able to see the back of her. Felicity’s cheeks were always turning pink about something, so it was a pretty safe bet.
“Of course he does!” the other girl gushed, turning a little to study Felicity better. Regulus wished Felicity would turn, too, so that he could see her profile. Felicity, however, was walking forward with brisk determination. Her brown hair swung a little from side to side, shiny and straight… “He’s always making excuses to talk to you.”
“Yeah, but did you notice him just now?” Felicity hedged. She sounded positively gleeful. “He brought up Hogsmeade next weekend and said he wasn’t going with anyone! Do you reckon he was trying to get me to ask him?”
Regulus squeezed the phial of Veritaserum just a little tighter in his fist, sidling up against the wall to be less obvious. He stared darkly at Felicity’s form, drinking in every word of the conversation.
“I thought for sure that you were going to,” the friend admitted dramatically. Her voice was too high-pitched, grating on the ears. “You should have. It was a golden opportunity.”
“Yeah, but you know how tongue-tied I get around him,” Felicity lamented. “I’m just…” she drifted off, humming to herself. That humming was so familiar…
“Yeah?” the friend pried.
Felicity twirled on the spot. Her hair fanned through the air around her, and Regulus watched her face light up with a dazzling smile. “In love.”
The friend squealed, and then Felicity suddenly caught sight of Regulus sauntering along behind them. Her eyes widened at first, but he couldn’t witness her reaction any further because he quickly glanced down at his shoes. His face was flushing, he could feel the prickling warmth…
“What’s wrong?” the friend inquired, her voice quieter. Both girls were walking again, heading toward the mouth of the dungeon staircase. Regulus slowed his pace so that he would not surpass them.
“There’s someone behind us,” Felicity murmured. It was meant to only be heard by her friend, but they were spiraling down the grey stone steps now and voices carried upward like dust in the wind.
“Who?” the friend answered.
“It’s a Slytherin…Sirius’s little brother.”
“Oh.” There was a short pause, and then, “Oh. Is that so?” Her tone was meaningful, doused with implications. Regulus could barely see where he was going; his field of vision was swiftly filling with hazy red spots. His feet continued clomping down the staircase with a mind of their own, just going with the motions. Regulus could have faded sideways through the wall and not take any notice. He forgot all about the phial in his hands, and Slughorn, and the fact that his friends were annoyed with him.
Felicity was in love with his brother. His brother, who was the shame of the family; the Gryffindor, the trouble-rouser and careless prat who landed detentions every other night for his pranks with that kid with the glasses and messy hair.
She doesn’t deserve you, he thought forcibly. Let her have him. He’s worthless, anyway. He’s already proved that generations of careful pure-blood breeding and mingling with approved society meant nothing to him. Felicity was, after all, a stain. A mishap. An ugly blot in the magical world. She shouldn’t even be allowed at Hogwarts, much less talk to one of them – a pureblood. Much less have a romantic relationship with one of them. But if Sirius wanted to further ostracize himself, then who was Regulus to judge? Who was he to care?
Regulus halted on the stairs, breathing very hard. One of his hands gripped the cool stone walls, focusing on something physical for a sense of balance. How dare this filthy monster spend years tempting him, taunting him with her presence? She was the epitome of evil; she existed to test him and try to get him to detach from his beliefs. He would not throw away his entire future for a stupid, revolting little Mudblood.
The red splotches in his vision began converging with each other, painting a scarlet haze before his eyes. Somehow, his feet gained a mind of their own again and continued moving purposefully down the stairs after the now-faraway voices. Regulus’s heart was engaged in savage warfare with his brain, bewildering him with a battle he’d attempted to smother over the years. He couldn’t pin down any particular thought; good ones and bad ones and ones he didn’t know how to categorize were flying all around him, flapping freely like winged things.
He couldn’t… He couldn’t think. Everything was wrong. Wait – he didn’t know if it was wrong at all. What was going on? Who… He breathed heavily through his nose, creasing up his forehead with stress and wringing his hands. The phial was slippery with sweat in his palm. Right, Slughorn. He was supposed to be going to Slughorn.
“Well, everything,” Felicity was saying. He caught a few snippets, closing his mind around them for sustenance as the air grew cooler. He must be in the dungeons now. “He’s handsome, for one.”
The air flew out of him. Regulus tried to inhale – his lungs were steel, unmoving – and felt himself brush against someone passing by. The touch triggered some control over his body again, and his eyes cleared up somewhat. Everything was bright, though, and his heart was pounding away in his ears. He was picturing Felicity dancing with him in the entrance corridor at his house. It was the most romantic daydream he had ever been able to come up with. He ran it through his head every night, staying awake for hours obsessing over it.
She disgusted him. Regulus hated himself for thinking she was beautiful. He hated her for being beautiful. Everything was her fault. She sent him spinning into his own private darkness; her voice was hell, her face was hell. The pleasant laugh that erupted from her throat like fireworks was hell. Regulus saw his mother’s stern and disapproving features in his mind’s eye. Demon. Felicity was a demon.
“And his eyes are very pretty,” Felicity rambled on. Regulus closed his own eyes. He knew things about her that she didn’t deserve for him to know. He felt dirty, soiled, contaminated. She shouldn’t be invading his peace of mind like this, carving her way into his brain with the flick of her hair. Everywhere he looked, he saw her. Sipping from a goblet of pumpkin juice. Scratching out her errors in a Potions essay and starting over again. Absentmindedly playing with the silver bracelet on her left wrist. No matter who he saw, he always saw her.
“Maybe that’s why they call him Moony,” the friend said. “Because his eyes are like the moon.” Both girls giggled. Felicity said something about a Remus. Regulus didn’t know who Remus was. Maybe it was another nickname for his traitorous, disgrace of a brother.
Blood pulsed through Regulus’s veins in thick, hot torrents. His fists clenched, the bottle of Veritaserum shattering under pressure in his grasp. Broken glass dug into his skin, the dark liquid streaming through his fingers into a trailing puddle on the flagstone floor.
Sirius was dancing with Felicity in the entrance corridor of Grimmauld Place, his hands on her slim waist. Regulus watched from above, unable to move. Their eyes met and Sirius winked. Regulus’s heartbeat throbbed in his Adam’s apple, his sight distorting again.
“Yes, go on in and wait for me,” Slughorn was saying. “If you don’t mind, I’d just like a word with Miss Gordon here first. I was just about to go search her out, as a matter of fact.”
The world around him was blurry and indistinct, the emotions within him boiling over. He felt them roll off of his skin in waves; there were tremors in his muscles and in his brain. Emotion exploded from him, confusing and terrifying and desiring and vengeful. He admired her. He wanted her. He abhorred her. She was evil. He saw her first. He had to kill her. He loved her. Felicity flitted through his mind, smiling and dancing and repulsive.
“Late three times to my class this week, Miss Gordon. You know what that means.” Slughorn’s words sounded slurred and garbled in Regulus’s head. He slipped past without them noticing. The doors were before him, under his fingertips. He felt its weight groaning as he pulled them open. The frosty temperature of the Potions classroom filled him and he could see her, could see her standing next to a cauldron by Slughorn’s desk and peering curiously inside it. The air was permeated with the scent of her; close proximity filled him with desperate longing…
Regulus strolled forward with power and bitter yearning. These feelings thrashed violently against each other, clouding his hearing until there was only a thin, high-strung buzz beating away against his eardrums. Nothing else existed except for the pleasantly serene face and the curtain of hair halfway covering it. Everything about her screamed to him like a siren’s song, calling Regulus’s name and willing for him to slip into the sea with her; to tumble through the black waves until he could not fight it anymore. She was going to drown him...he would dissolve into a million little pieces…
You love her. She’s wicked. She’s lovely. She’s not real – she’s just a demon here to entice you. To tempt you and drag you into the pits of hell where no one will ever love you again. Where Mother will blow you off the tapestry and you’ll be shunned and spat on by your entire family. Where you will have no money, and be a shame to your heritage. You love her. You detest her. She’s not real. The only way to feel relief is to destroy her. You want nothing more than to kiss her. Just one little indulgency…and then you’ll be good forever. She’s not real.
She’s not real…
She’s not real? This epiphany of truth startled him. What is real anymore? Nothing. Nothing is real. His nervous system gave a jolt, the neuron connections unraveling into space. He could feel every tie to his life, every memory he’d ever prized or mourned ripping away from him. They split off into the air that separated him from Felicity, and Regulus was unknowing and unfeeling. He wasn’t even real himself.
Felicity was turning, was becoming rapidly aware of an approaching presence. It was the precise moment in time before she would know enough to be frightened, before Regulus would know what he was going to do. Because Regulus never knew what he was going to do until after he’d already done it.
His vision was swallowed in electric red as he closed the distance between them.