The ancient house was dark, except for the slender fingers of morning sunlight that peered in through the gaps in the wooden shutters that covered each and every window. Inside, only a few isolated sounds punctuated the stillness, none of them loud enough to alert the neighboring Muggles to the presence of a small family of wizards living in a concealed house next to them. A pair of portraits hanging in the family room conversed quietly about the upcoming Ministry election, and the family cat, Persephone, hunted a group of Puffskeins as they worked to build a nest underneath a massive grandfather clock in the foyer.
In the kitchen, a small team of house elves was preparing an elaborate breakfast to send off the family’s two sons back to Hogwarts. One of them was sitting on the countertop, lazily stirring a pot of porridge to help the thickening process along. A pair of them was working together, one carefully toasting a slice of bread before passing it along so that the other could apply a coat of fresh blackberry jam. One tiny female elf was working alone in the corner, the look of anguish on her face making it plain that she was a recent hire. She looked up from the large piece of pork she was holding, from which she’d been cutting strips of bacon, and noticed that her current batch of bacon was beginning to turn a bit too brown. Through the smoke, she saw someone watching her, a near-permanent frown set into his pudgy face.
Kreacher shook his head, pointing stiffly at the burning bacon and muttering a chastisement to the younger elf. When she quietly disposed of it and began working on a new batch, he moved along, putting one foot deliberately in front of the other as he began to climb the large staircase that loomed in the center of the house. With every step, the dainty silver tea tray clutched in his hands shook slightly, threatening to overturn the ornate gold goblet that rested upon it.
As he neared the first landing, he noticed an odd piece of art adorning the wall. He had passed the display of house elf heads hundreds of times on this journey, but he’d never stopped to really examine it. Unaware that he had paused to stare, Kreacher felt an interesting sensation in his gut. He couldn’t quite identify it, but it bothered him enough to deepen his frown a bit further. After a few moments of pondering, he looked back down at the tray and remembered his mission, though he couldn’t remember what had caused him to pause in the midst of fulfilling it. He trundled up onto the landing, continuing along the staircase without a second thought.
He passed the second floor and continued up to the third, nearly losing his balance when his bare foot caught the corner of an old, unruly loose step. Kreacher swore quietly, muttering something about the blood-traitors in the family who might have better spent their time helping with the upkeep of the home rather than cavorting with Muggles and producing useless children. The elf tugged at the crude waistband of the dingy swath of cloth draped around his midsection, neatly wiping the back of his hand on the fabric as he spilled a good deal of pumpkin juice onto his sticky fingers. With a sigh, he made the final push up the last four wooden steps and turned left down the corridor, heading slowly but directly toward the small bedroom at the end of the hall.
A boy stood in the room, rooting the pads of his fingers securely on his slender hips as he surveyed the small expanse around him. In truth, his room was miniscule compared to the larger space down the hall, which his older brother occupied. However, he had managed to keep the area neat and orderly, a notion that seemed foreign to his parents’ other son. Unlike the other room, where the peeling silvery gray wallpaper was only partially concealed by pin-ups of half-naked women and pages torn from Muggle motorcycle magazines, the green wallpaper in this room was immaculate, and it coordinated perfectly with the recently polished family crest that hung above the small bed in the center of the room. Across from the bed was a small bulletin board, upon which resided a small mass of newspaper clippings gathered from several years’ worth of Daily Prophets
. One boasted a moving photograph of an eerie green snake and skull glimmering in the night sky above a ruined cottage, its glow illuminating the form of a corpse lying amongst the crumbled cobblestones nearby. Others contained headlines that alluded to similar events. In the center, a group of people clad in black robes stood in line in a courtroom.
The boy turned, moving a stray piece of dark hair out of his eyes as he faced the squat elf. Kreacher extended the silver tray to him, motioning to the half-empty goblet of pumpkin juice. “Breakfast is nearly ready. The Mistress asked that this be sent this ahead for you.”
Regulus couldn’t help but smile a little bit. “If the others were as efficient as you, Kreacher, it would have been finished long ago,” he remarked, taking the goblet with a hand that bore a ring crafted to display a miniature version of the crest that adorned his wall. “Thank you.”
“Of course, Master,” Kreacher replied, wringing his hands nervously. He did not receive compliments often, and he never seemed to know how to respond properly when he did. His unusual reactions were half the reason that Regulus extended praise to him, though he meant what he said, at least most of the time. “Would you like help with packing your trunk?”
“No, just tell Mother that I appreciate the drink.” Regulus turned back to his trunk, closing the lid and carefully turning the aged brass locks into place. He had packed all of his robes the previous night after dinner, and his books and supplies had found a home in the case as soon as they’d been purchased in Diagon Alley and brought back to the house. He was also dressed and ready.
This, naturally, was another distinction to be made between Regulus and his elder brother.
“Wand…” He bit his lip for a moment, falling into one of the few boyish habits his mother had worked to train out of him before he’d departed for his first year. Regulus picked up the suitcase, checking underneath. No, not there, and not tangled in his bed sheets, for they were neatly folded. He stooped briefly to look under the bed, but the floor there was as clean as the rest.
Down the hall, he heard a brief crash. With a sigh, he recalled the last use of his wand.
Regulus brushed past Kreacher, who still hadn’t gone to pass the message of gratitude on to Mrs. Black, and walked quietly down the corridor to the other end of the house. He noticed that a few Muggle magazines had spilled out of the messy closet and into the hallway. Mum would have a fit.
He pushed them gently back into the room with one foot as he quietly knocked on the door. “Sirius?”
A mattress creaked softly with the weight of its owner, who was muttering obscenities at no one.
“Sirius?” Regulus tried again, pushing the door open hopefully with his shoulder.
Regulus stepped on the magazines again as he entered, the elf trundling along behind him. He looked down despite knowing what blocked his path, frowning at a few torn pages featuring nude Muggle girls that had fallen off the walls and fluttered to a stop on the hardwood below. He pushed these out of his way as well, coming to a halt before the large, scarlet Gryffindor banner which decorated the expanse of open wall that faced the messy-haired boy seated in front of him.
“What?” Sirius groaned, looking up at him.
“Still didn’t fix them?” Regulus queried, gesturing to the object in Sirius’s hand. His brother had worn the boots down to the point where the soles had been stripped and hung pitifully off them. It was silly, Sirius insisting that he try to fix the shoes when their mother could easily send an elf out to purchase a new pair for him, one more fashionable than these worn-down Muggle boots. But he knew his brother wasn’t speaking to his parents, having barely uttered a full sentence to them since he had been sorted into Gryffindor five years ago. He also knew that it would take Sirius much longer to find his own wand in the chaos of his room than to get over the annoyance of having to ask his baby brother for the temporary use of his wand instead. He hadn’t minded.
“No,” Sirius muttered, chucking the shoe in his hand across the room at a bare spot on the wall. Regulus followed the trajectory of the shot, noting the broken lamp on the floor near the shoe’s mate. Well, I shouldn’t have bothered with the magazines. Mum’ll send a Howler now for sure.
“Sorry,” Regulus offered half-heartedly.
“S’alright,” the older boy said quietly, glancing up and realizing for the first time that Regulus was also holding something in his hand. “Did I miss breakfast, then?”
“No, Kreacher brought it to me.”
Sirius glanced at the elf, annoyed. “Where’s mine?”
A satisfied smirk nearly found its way onto Kreacher’s face, but the elf suppressed his own feelings about Sirius, knowing that Mrs. Black’s opinion would be an appropriate substitute. “Mistress only sent one, Master Sirius,” he replied, imitating her smug expression perfectly.
“Of course she did.” Sirius frowned, muttering one last curse word under his breath and looking back up at his brother. “Well, what do you want? Did you really just come to gloat at me?”
“No,” Regulus replied. “You asked to use my wand, remember? I want it back.”
“I don’t know where it is,” Sirius admitted, not seeming too embarrassed by this revelation. “You’re free to look around if you like. I smell bacon.” He shoved past Kreacher and moved toward the stairs, apparently forgetting that he was still in his pajamas at half past ten o’clock.
Regulus heard his mother call for breakfast. He checked in Sirius’s sheets, but only his brother’s wand, having turned up with perfect timing, could be found there. He moved toward the closet but decided any searches in that mess could be saved until after he had finished his morning meal. On a whim, he picked up a battered photo album from the dresser, finding his wand underneath it. Regulus thanked the stars that it was still in one piece and headed downstairs.
The head of the household, Orion Black, was already seated at the table, his nose buried in the latest issue of the Daily Prophet
. As he turned the page, Regulus noticed the small place on one of his fingers where the family ring his son now bore had rested for many years. He idly touched the ring with his other hand, proud that he had merited the inheritance despite his status as the second-born son. Sirius had barely even noticed when his father had handed the ring to Regulus during their final family dinner together the previous evening. It was a miracle he was present.
“Regulus,” the older man said in greeting. “Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, just fine,” Regulus replied, taking his seat across from Sirius, who had brazenly tucked into a small plate of bacon and eggs before their mother had even entered the room. A moment later, Walburga Black’s heels clicked across the kitchen floor, and Sirius stuffed the last bit of bacon into his mouth and put his fork down where it belonged. However, it was too late, and Walburga’s graying black hair swept across her face as she stopped short in front of the table.
“Sirius Black, you don’t have a bone of propriety in your body, I’m certain of it.”
Sirius looked down at his plate, unsure of what to say. He couldn’t argue with her point.
“Regulus,” she said, smiling at her favored son as she took her seat at the table and shoved her goblet of pumpkin juice into the hands of a passing house elf. “Freshen this up,” she commanded shortly, folding her hands and glancing back at Regulus, the smile still gracing her thin lips. Walburga’s pinched face and sharp features gave the impression that every smile had a touch of cruelty hidden just beneath its thin veneer of politeness. Regulus knew she couldn’t help it.
“Did you see? The Harriers beat the Quafflepunchers 210-90 last night,” Orion said, folding the newspaper and passing it to Regulus. The front of the sports page displayed a large photograph of the German team’s Seeker, who was holding up the Snitch next to a Frenchman with a black eye. “I was worried that they would be too distracted by those ludicrous pink uniforms, too…”
“I don’t know how you can support them.”
Regulus looked down the table, afraid that the mutter hadn’t merely been a voice in his head but wanting to be sure just in case Sirius had found his missing sense of restraint. Just as he’d suspected, his older brother had paused with a bit of egg still clinging to his fork, his eyes boring into the moving photograph on the front page of the newspaper even as the words left his lips.
“Why is that, Sirius?” Orion asked innocently, neatly folding the paper and turning his attention to his son. The expression of malice that graced his lips suggested that he expected to be entertained by Sirius’s response. Walburga, sensing an impending conflict, received her fresh glass of pumpkin juice just in time to take it up the stairs with her. She murmured something about needing to change clothes in order to look presentable to go out, but no one heard her.
Sirius paused, looking slightly uncomfortable under the heavy gaze of his father. He stuffed the last piece of egg into his mouth, chewing as he collected his thoughts. Then, he swallowed. “Their captain was arrested last week on suspicion of killing some Muggles,” he said at last.
“Really?” Orion said in a tone that suggested that he was not only well aware of the arrest, but that he would have personally stood in the man’s defense if given the chance. “Well, they’re a very good team. They must be doing something right.” He smirked, looking back at the paper.
Sirius suddenly found his remaining strip of bacon very interesting.
“Let’s go, boys. Finish up before we miss the train.” Walburga’s voice preceded her down the spiral staircase, the two small elves that had finished de-linting her elegant travel cloak rushing down at her heels to move to their next job, cleaning up the dishes and glasses from the table. Sirius stood up, deliberately screeching the legs of his chair against the aged wooden floor, and headed upstairs to grab his suitcase, moving more quickly than he had on his way down earlier. Regulus finished his last bit of pumpkin juice and stood up to join his brother, but a hand on his shoulder stopped him. Walburga dropped her sense of haste, offering Regulus a chilling smile.
“Son,” Orion said quietly but affirmatively, deliberately excluding Sirius from the conversation. “This is a very important year for you, you know that. We want you to do well on your O.W.L.s, of course, but you should try to spend time getting to know some of the older students as well.” By ‘students’, of course, he meant Slytherins, but that didn’t need to be said. “You’ll be sixteen in the spring, and that’s old enough to join and serve the cause, assuming that you think you’re ready…”
Regulus responded without considering it. “Of course I’ll be ready, Father.”
Walburga’s smile deepened, but it faded when she checked the grandfather clock. “Orion…”
“Yes, I know, the train,” Orion responded, clapping Regulus’s shoulders lightly. “Have a good term, son.”
“Yes, sweetheart.” Walburga’s bony form was now embracing him tightly. “Don’t forget to write and let us know if you need anything before Christmastime.” Her head turned sharply to the right, toward the staircase. “SIRIUS!” She screeched. “Hurry up, you should have been packed!”
Sirius came down the stairs, gritting his teeth as he dragged his suitcase along beside him. The house elves from the dining room approached him gingerly, but he waved them away, looking at his parents. “I am packed. I have been.” He glanced at his brother. “I don’t see his suitcase.”
“Here it is,” a gruff voice sounded quietly as Kreacher hefted Regulus’s bag down the stairs, setting it down next to his feet. “I packed your wand, though Master Sirius tried to steal it…”
“I did not!” Sirius frowned, barely resisting the urge to kick the old elf. “I borrowed it!”
,” Walburga interrupted, opening the front door. Sirius almost knocked her over in his haste to get out into the street, and Regulus and his mother followed quickly behind. With barely five minutes to spare, they stole into a nearby alleyway and Apparated to Kings’ Cross.
Author’s Note: J.K. Rowling owns any characters, events or details that you recognize.