A cave. That much, Regulus had understood from Kreacher. The magical object, the one that the Dark Lord needed to protect under all circumstances, was hidden in a cave somewhere. A dark and damp cave.
Even though Regulus had taken the strongest torch he could find in the house of the Blacks, the light was barely strong enough to allow him to see the ground in front of him. There was no draught, no wind. A magical flame wouldn’t be affected by those anyway. No, it flickered from something else.
The air was so stiff with magic that Regulus wouldn’t have been surprised if the Dark Lord himself would have shown up.
“Master Regulus must not touch the water,” Kreacher whispered. His voice echoed from the walls, like a choir of hundreds of house elves come to hunt Regulus for what he had done. Sent out his elf, his best friend to his master. Sent him to death.
It had seemed so easy at the time, following the Dark Lord. He was the powerful one and Regulus would not make the same mistake as his brother.
If only he had listened to Sirius back then.
“There is a boat hidden under the water. Master Regulus must pull it up.” Again the choir of house elves that hunted him. Angry, waiting for revenge. For the sentence that he deserved for having fallen into the trap.
In the faint light of his torch, Regulus saw the surface of the lake cripple as he pulled up the boat, saw it burst open when the wood appeared. He also caught a first glimpse of them. The inferi.
Hidden down there in the darkness, they waited for him. Regulus would succeed or they would take him down. Voldemort had put up a whole army to protect his trinket.
Of course, only Regulus knew that it was more than a mere charm. In this point, he could even understand the Dark Lord. He, too, would have done everything to protect a part of his soul.
The Inferi were waiting for him. White shadows in the dark water that swam along gently around the boat. Their eyes were closed, as if they were sleeping and simply being pulled along by the current. But Regulus knew better. Those lost souls were waiting for him. Their eyes would fly open the moment he touched the water.
“Master Regulus must not look at them. It is bad luck to stare at them,” Kreacher said. “Master Regulus should not have come. This cave is evil. Kreacher was left here to die, Kreacher saw it all.”
The house elf’s voice was hoarse, even more than usual. Regulus shivered. Was it just him or did he just feel a cold draught of air stroking his arm?
There again, this time on his cheek. It was time to get out of here. Get the Horcrux and then disappear, before anything bad happened. This cave was not built to be left alive.
They reached the island and the Inferi still waited, now just below the stone. Regulus carefully put a foot on land. The ground was slippery, but with a quick spell he made sure that he wouldn’t fall. One slip and that would be it.
“Come, Kreacher. Do you have the copy?”
His own voice was even hoarser than Kreacher’s. Rusty, like he hadn’t talked for years.
It was impossible to miss where the necklace was hidden. In the middle of the island stood a basin in which Regulus spotted it, completely immersed in a liquid.
It looked like clear water but of course it wasn’t. He’d known all along that there’d be trouble. You didn’t betray the Dark Lord without paying for it.
“You have to drink it,” Kreacher whispered. “But not Master Regulus. Kreacher will drink it. Master Regulus must not touch the water.”
“What happens-“ Regulus asked but broke off. He didn’t want to know what would happen next. Some things were better left unspoken.
Of course, Kreacher wouldn’t drink anything. That was the whole point of it, wasn’t it? Regulus had come here because the Dark Lord had almost killed his house elf. He wouldn’t finish what his former master had started. No, this water was for Regulus to drink.
“Kreacher, listen, this is an order. You will do exactly as I tell you, understood?”
He felt that he could barely speak and his voice broke several times while he told the house elf what to do, how to exchange the Horcrux and apparate out of the cave. Destroy it.
This was going to be it, then. The last moment, Regulus’ ultimate revenge on a master who didn’t even know yet that he had been betrayed. Would he feel it when Kreacher destroyed the necklace? Would he know that he was mortal again? That he could be finished off by Regulus’ older brother?
“To Sirius.” To the one he had not gotten along with, the black sheep who had run away and done the only sensible thing. The brother that Regulus wished he’d had.
He drowned the water in one gulp. It burned like fire in his throat.
“Kreacher,” he croaked. “You have to make me drink it. Every last drop.”
It hurt like hell. Pain was nothing against what he was feeling now. And already Regulus could feel the potion doing its effects on him. He wanted to stop, to never drink a sip of it. Where was the antidote? The Dark Lord who could save him?
His brother, Sirius, who wouldn’t come to help him?
Regulus almost thought he could see him. Over there, the grey eyes, he’d recognise them everywhere. Only grey eyes, his surroundings were blurry as though he was drunk. The cave swam in front of his eyes, morphed into something else. A corridor.
The goblet. Another gulp of potion. A sip, pain everywhere.
“Disgrace… Not worthy.” Over it all stood one word, spoken over and over again. “Blood traitor!” Regulus cowered under his blanket in his room. He was too old, shouldn’t be afraid of it anymore, yet, when the shouting started, he couldn’t help but hide, his palms pressed to his ears to block it all out.
It never worked.
More shouting, this time a boy’s voice that broke in the middle of the sentence, jumped from high to low as if it couldn’t decide if this was a boy or a man.
Another sip. Regulus crouched down, hid his head, wanted to disappear from it all.
“I’m leaving,” the voice shouted and this time it was a man’s voice.
“You can’t,” the woman replied. “I’m still your mother.”
A door slammed shut, so strongly that Regulus could feel the whole house shaking. All of a sudden, he was here, in his room. Grey eyes that pierced into Regulus.
“You’re hiding again.”
Silence, for one moment there was only the silence Regulus had wished for earlier. This time, though, it was loaded with tension and he almost wanted the shouting back.
“I’m sorry,” Sirius said and sat down on the bed next to Regulus. “I’m so sorry. One day, I’m going to get us both out of here.”
The pain. So much pain as Regulus pushed his brother away.
“Don’t! You filthy blood traitor.”
So much pain, in Sirius’ eyes, in Regulus’ heart. The wish to please his parents, to be with his brother and the pain of growing apart, of losing him, of having to push him away before he made everything worse.
The emotions suffocated him until the room became misty. Foggy. Darkness crept up and all of a sudden, Regulus was not at home anymore. This was not real, it never had been.
As he took the last sip, Regulus suddenly understood in a moment of clarity.
He was still in the cave, wanting to get the Horcrux. This was going to be his grave.
His brother would be proud of him.
In the water, Regulus could see the Inferi. They stared at him, waiting with open arms for him to join them.