Blinded, crippled, broken by the sun, he closes his eyes in some attempt to stop the light from reaching him, as though that one simple movement can block everything out, send it all away and stop the continual, determined attack on his eyes. He supposes it is very beautiful, light - a mesh of yellows and golds and pale oranges, interspersed with the odd flash of pure white and gentler, softer waves. Underneath his eyelids, though, it’s different: harsh red lines sear themselves across his eyes, yellow light charging straight through the thin layers of skin as though there’s nothing there at all. Different and slightly better.
With the light of day, everything seems sharper, seems clearer, as though the edges have been retraced with a fine black quill, inking in the lines, the definitions, giving objects solidity, shape and form, carving them out of the air, describing their every contour. Under his eyelids, he can’t see any of them - none of the objects, none of the people - and can pretend that he’s safe, that he’s alone, and wait, patiently, as the light increases and decreases, coming and going, fading and brightening with no warning at all. Some days it stays strong until dusk, until the sun sets; others, the light barely makes an appearance, ducking only once or twice out of her protective blanket to poke her fingers through the windows.
Despite the light settling about the room, landing on the head of the man three beds away on his left, it’s a cold day. The wind outside is howling, whisking up pieces of paper and torn-off labels and the occasional lost train ticket as it screams down the street, buffeting pedestrians and pets alike on it’s way down.
Looking out of the window, he feels a slight twinge of sympathy as he watches a little boy, his hands encased in woollen gloves, hug his arms around himself and shiver. The boy’s hair is a soft, light brown, looking odd against the bright red of his coat, and his mother is marching ahead of him, holding onto the hand of an even smaller girl as she skips along the path, turning her head every now and then to see where her son is.
He doesn’t know what it is, what propels him to do so, but he keeps watching the boy, regarding him as he makes his way up the street, slipping easily through the hustle and bustle of muggle London, passing by the large marble-fronted building without giving it a second glance, unaware he’s being watched, unaware of what that building is.
In the safety of the warm, comfortable room the Ministry has sent him to, his fingers run idly over each other. He can feel the coarse wool under his fingers, feel the boy’s gloves - so familiar a texture - on his hands, covering them from the cold and the wind, fitting snugly because they’re slightly too small for him, and he makes a mental note to mention something about new gloves to his mother the next time she talks about Christmas and shopping and presents.
Across the room, the man sitting on the bed three away looks up, the gesture so quick, so reflexively, he jumps, starting. For a moment, the two men stare at each other, blue eyes meeting brown, and then he looks away. Something about the other man unnerves him, makes him feel anxious and itchy and somehow like he shouldn’t be there. It’s an odd feeling, feeling like he’s intruding on something, and one he doesn’t like. This… wherever it is, this white room is his home and has been his home for a long time.
He’s not really sure what ‘home’ means or how long he’s been here, but the idea feels right, and that comforts him.
The light beating down on his eyelids grows stronger, harder, brighter, and he frowns, scrunching his eyes up tight, trying to stop the light from seeping under. It’s like some kind of poison, some kind of liquid, filtering in through a small crack somewhere and flooding everything underneath while you’re busy flittering around trying desperately to find the gap. When he can no longer manage to stop the flood on his own, when the downpour becomes too much, he turns his face and buries his head in his pillow, releasing a slight sigh as the golden glare slowly retreats, leaving him with a soft colour, swirls of cotton grey and butter yellow melting into each other seamlessly, sliding under his eyelids to slip gently over his eyes, soothing and calm.
The voice behind him jerks him sharply out of his reverie, and his head shoots upwards, his hands slipping off the windowsill even as he takes a slight step away, turning with a well-practised flourish to face the speaker.
“Minister,” he bows gracefully, flashing a brief, charming smile at her, “I hope you’re well. I was very impressed with the way you handled that werewolf problem - very nasty indeed, very nasty. Couldn’t have done better myself, to tell you the truth.”
He is somewhat annoyed, although not surprised, to see that Millicent Bagnold does not smile at him, does not blush and simper like so many other women; instead, she simply gives a regal nod of her head, her black hair cut short and practical, gesturing for him to take a seat.
The chair is strange, feels strange. Beneath him he can feel the soft down of the cushion, the velvet covering almost furry to the touch as he lays his arms on the armrests, leaning back. Beneath that, though, beneath the layer of soft, feather-filled cushion, he thinks he can feel the metal of the bed underneath, poking up through the mattress. Odd. Curious. Not quite uncomfortable, but not comfortable enough and he has to force himself not to wriggle like a naughty child.
As he sits there, he is reminded of the little boy outside, scurrying his way up the street after his mother and sister, his red duffel coat two sizes too big for him, hanging down to his knees and his hands wrapped neatly in woollen mittens. The boy was so energetic, so frantic, so excited and alert and interested as he scampered after them that the cold seemed barely to effect him.
He imagines a pair of gloves, like the boy’s but not quite the same, in a deep navy blue, the fingertips of them worn away over the years by constant use. Living by the seashore meant a buffeting from the icy blasts of Atlantic wind in the winter and therefore that his gloves didn’t tend to last much longer than one or two winters, worn down long before their time, the wind picking the stitches apart. He imagines them sitting on his hands, wrapped around his fingers and palms, hugging them tightly, a size too small.
The wool is coarse, thick and scratchy but he doesn’t complain. They’re his only pair of gloves and even though he gazes wistfully at the thick, fur-lined gloves in the window of Twilfit and Tatting’s, he knows that he could never afford them and wishes, so desperately, that he could. Mentally, he makes a promise to himself that, one day, he will be able to buy gloves that fit and gloves that work in every hue of the spectrum.
“Now, Mr Lockhart,” Millicent Bagnold looks at him with a firm gaze, not moving her eyes from his. He sits there, calmly, patiently, on the uncomfortable chair, waiting for her to say what it is she has to say. “I have to say that news of your… deeds has reached the Ministry. Although one can’t always entirely trust the Prophet, if even half the things they say you’ve done are true, I believe congratulations are in order.”
He smiles, more to himself than anything else, frozen fingertips resting on the glass pane of the shop window. Dress robes in cranberry red and hazel brown with gold trimming twirl on their own underneath the sparkling lights, the tinsel stretched across the top and down the sides, framing the scene within nicely. In front of the robes, three cushions display pairs of warm, winter gloves, bathed in orange light and he could almost swear he sees flames flickering as he stares at them.
A door swings open and then shuts again, admitting only a young woman in lime green robes, her long hair tied back by a ribbon. She glances around the room once, taking in all of the others present, the sleeping forms wrapped in blankets, empty bottles of Sleeping Draught on their bedside tables, and slips through the white door, barely visible off to one side. It shuts behind her with a soft click, the frame and the door itself merging once again into the walls, the white paint washing away the seams between frame and door and walls.
His attention turns back to the conversation as the man leaves, the bronze handle of the door reverting to horizontal.
“My apologies, Mr Lockhart,” the Minister shakes her head lightly, setting aside the small bundle of parchment handed to her only seconds ago, and gives him a slight smile. “As I was saying, congratulations on your successful adventures. To do any one of them would be impressive on it’s own, but all four of them - in less than three years, no less!”
“Thank you very much, Minister,” he smiles in reply, making sure it’s a modest, almost blushing sort of smile - the kind which suggests both confidence and modesty and hints at slight embarrassment at being given such compliments. “I didn’t have any intention to end up in such situations when I left England, but I simply happened to stumble upon the first one and from there… well, it was just like magic, I suppose.”
In front of him, he can see his own breath leaving his mouth in swirls of white-grey mist, hanging in the air for one second, two, three, then floating away, disappearing into the atmosphere as the air claims it. As he leans closer to squint at the price tag attached to one of the pairs of gloves, a foolish hope that he might be able to afford them stirring inside his stomach, his breath presses itself against the glass, copying his hands, covering the translucent material in a faint layer of condensation as warm meets cold.
Behind him, he can hear the chattering of other students as they make good use of the Hogsmeade trip, picking up supplies and heading down the street for a Butterbeer or two with their friends. Voices swoop and soar around his ears, a kaleidoscopic melody of high and low and clear and husky and loud and soft. They call out to others, address their friends quietly, laughing, teeth chattering. Off to one side, he stands alone, his fingers burning into the glass as though if he pushed hard enough and willed hard enough the gloves would be his, regardless of price.
Millicent Bagnold watches him closely and he shifts slightly in his chair, the look she is giving him reminiscent of the few times he’d sat in front of Professor McGonagall in her office as she told him that his work just simply wasn’t good enough and as excuses poured out of his mouth one after another for why he hadn’t done well, why he’d never handed that essay in, why he hadn’t been paying attention in class. The look reminds him of more than that, though - of the reasons why he hadn’t paid attention, why he’d never got round to writing that essay - and he pushes those thoughts away. He doesn’t want to think about that now, doesn’t want to think about him now. It’s been almost three years since he last saw him, a little over two and a half since he’d overhead a witch in a bar: ‘didn’t you hear? The Blacks’ boy - not the one who ran away, the other one - he’s dead. Vanished completely - murdered, no doubt’.
To the world, Regulus Black is now just a name, just someone who was once, part of a set of statistics the Ministry and Prophet like to roll out when they want to remind people how terrible He Who Must Not Be Named had been. To the world, he was just a cowardly Slytherin who tried to run from the very ideals he’d once upheld.
To him, Regulus is a person, no longer made of flesh and blood but created from a collection of memories. Memories of smiles, of laughs, of hissed insults and poisonous words, of soft murmurs and light touches, of secrets and lies and hopes and a childish fascination that turned, slowly and quickly at the same time, into something far more real and far more terrifying.
No one knows, though, about Regulus. About him, about the us they used to be. He likes it that way - this way, he can forge a new life on his own. Turn ‘Gilderoy Lockhart’ into a name the wizarding world recognises and respects and recalls fondly, with admiration lacing their voices. He can turn himself into the person he wishes he was, leaving behind the confusion and the guilt and the pain of a long-lost Death Eater love.
No one would ever suspect him, Gilderoy Lockhart, of loving a Death Eater.
There’s a whoop from behind him, laughter, and then a shout (‘Padfoot! Come on!’) and the sound of feet, the sound of heavy, slow running.
Silence falls, a soft golden shimmer descending from the sky to settle on the street, encasing him in it. It’s like a kind of barrier, a curtain separating this single street from the rest of Hogsmeade, pulling him and the shop and the road away from normality and into somewhere else, somewhere peaceful.
He’s still staring at the gloves, only he’s not really seeing them any more. He’s seeing the face of his mother when he steps off the train at the beginning of the holidays, watching as she asks him how he’s doing in his classes, enquires as to how the Quidditch try-outs went and how the matches have been. He’s seeing himself, lying underneath the Christmas tree, inhaling the sticky, earthy scent of pine sap and the dust which covers the tree ornaments taken down out of the loft just for three weeks. He’s seeing the neat, elegant scrawl on the package that arrives just after two o’clock in the morning, the black eagle owl having already flown away.
Something wet lands on his nose and he reaches up a hand to brush it off, his fingers coming away red with cold, a tiny sprinkling of white dust hiding the ridges and whirls on his fingertips from view. It’s snowing - not unexpected, but he had hoped that it wouldn’t snow, that for once the weather might actually agree with him that snow is cold and wet and unpleasant. With a sigh, he rubs the disintegrated snowflake between his fingers, the friction inciting some kind of warmth back into his flesh, and decides that he can’t wait to go home for Christmas. It doesn’t snow at home.
“You have snow in your hair,” a voice nearby tells him casually, softly, and he turns his head to see Regulus, a dark grey coat buttoned all the way up to his neck, standing there, watching him. He hadn’t heard him approach.
“Great,” he huffs, knowing he’ll have to wash his hair again this evening, and he thinks he can already feel the snow dripping down the back of his neck, onto his shoulders and shirt, creeping under his coat and cloak.
An amused smile flits briefly across Regulus’ face and he tilts his head to the right, indicating up the road. Gilderoy’s not sure what Regulus means for a moment, but when the older boy starts walking up the road, he catches on and follows, hurrying a little to reach him, his legs stiff from standing still for so long.
“Where are we going?” he asks, glancing at his companion.
Regulus’ eyes don’t move from the road ahead as they walk up towards the end of Hogsmeade, up past an old building that’s sat unused for as long as he remembers, and he doesn’t answer either. Despite the silence, he knows Regulus isn’t angry, knows Regulus isn’t refusing to speak - there’s just, in his mind, no need for it. He’ll see where they’re going soon enough, after all.
The snow is falling lightly all around them, the sky clouded over with a layer of white cloud, making it look almost as though there is no sky and no sun, just a white tablecloth laid from horizon to horizon, covering everything. He shivers and his hand brushes Regulus’ lightly, gently, quickly. Even though they’re both wearing gloves, he feels it as if they weren’t and his heart beats a little faster. He checks over his shoulder, biting his lip.
There are no footsteps on the ground, even in the light brush of snow which has fallen. Nothing to indicate anyone was ever out here when it started falling, no trail to follow. In his mind’s eye, the stone pavement looks almost soft, velvety underneath the snow, like carpet, and then he blinks and it seems smoother, sleeker and polished.
When he looks back at the road in front, Regulus is watching him, his gaze intent, sharp, a frown creasing his skin, lines rippling, troughs and ridges created out of nowhere. Swallowing, he smiles gently and reaches out to brush his hand again, trying to comfort him but having no idea how or what the comfort is for.
Around the two of them, the only souls brave enough or stupid enough or scared enough to be out in such cold, fighting such a wind, dove-white turns to diamond as light cascades off the falling snowflakes. They are surrounded, outnumbered, captured in a glistening, sparkling web of miniature stars, each one descending slowly, spinning as they fall, the light dying, fading as they hit the ground.
It’s only eleven seconds later, as Regulus directs them both off the road, behind a small line of deciduous trees, that he realises that they’re holding hands, fingers intertwined, blue gloves with Slytherin green.
A crash. It shocks him, jolts him. His body falls forwards, upright, and he looks about wildly for the source of the noise, expecting to see… something. The sound is one he recognises, the sound of one thing hitting another thing, but he can’t remember what they are or where he knows it from. He doesn’t know what he expects to see.
The man three beds over is looking down at a broken vase on the floor, red liquid winding round his fingers, down from his knuckles and the back of his hand, dripping slowly - one, two, three - onto the white blankets on his bed. On the bed beside his, the shards of china stretching across the floor, a woman huddles, her knees clutched close to her chest, her large eyes wide and fearful as she stares at the fragments.
Perhaps it should be something else, but it’s the crimson ribbon which catches his attention. Like a river after a heavy rain, it begins to expand, flooding its banks and swallowing up pale, unblemished skin, drowning it under thick, mercury-laden red. He feels something… something strange, as though he should be worried, should be appalled and horrified and doing something other than sitting here silently, watching, but the red ribbon is too fascinating and he lets the thought go, lets it fly away to join all the other things he can’t remember and just can’t place.
“I’m sorry,” he apologises hastily, staring at the fallen lamp on the floor, whipping his wand out of his pocket before the Minister can do or say anything about it. “I was lost in thought… vampires, you know, they often have that effect on people… like Veela, in a way…”
He stops speaking before he can ramble any further and directs a hasty levitation charm at the lamp to set it back up on the table again. The lamp wobbles slightly as he raises it higher, although the charm does its work and the lamp lands back down on the polished mahogany, five inches further to the right than it had been before he knocked it over. It’s safer that way, he supposes, immediately laying his hand in his lap rather than on the armrest, vowing not to give a repeat performance.
If Millicent Bagnold thought there was anything odd about his behaviour, anything wrong with the excuses tumbling out of his mouth, she says nothing about it, choosing to just give a nod in response.
Desperately, he casts his mind around for a topic to discuss - this meeting has only been five minutes, maybe a couple more at a stretch, and the well of conversation has already run dry. Settling on the latest exploits of the Department for the Control and Regulation of Magical Creatures, he opens his mouth to say something but is cut swiftly off by another mouth pressing hungrily to his.
Slipping an arm around Regulus’ neck, he moves closer to the warmth the other emanates, fingers searching blindly for his thick, fur-lined cloak. His fingertips brush through the shorter hairs at the top of Regulus’ spine and Gilderoy feels him shiver. That single shiver, that single, unspoken admission of humanity, of weakness and emotion and feeling, sends a thrill running through him he had never anticipated. Electric, it rushes through his veins, making him smile and lending him a sense of achievement, and then his fingers find Regulus’ cloak, closing around it tightly.
He can feel snow landing on his shoulders, fluttering onto his cheek and his forehead and his nose, turning his hair from golden-blonde to white-blonde. He doesn’t care. It doesn’t seem to matter now that he doesn’t like snow, that it’s wet and dirty and cold, and even if it did the arm around his waist and the lips locked on his wouldn’t let him go.
“Well, Mr Lockhart,” Millicent Bagnold smiles at him - a genuine smile this time, although it’s more kind than warm and professional rather than friendly - and stands to shake his hand, eliciting the same movement from him. “It was very nice to meet you in person. I hope to hear more about you soon, more tales of adventures and heroics.”
“As soon as I hear something, I’ll go straight to it,” he assures her with a brief smile, taking her hand and pressing a kiss to the back of it in the old-fashioned pureblood way that is still so popular. “Thank you very much for the audience, Minister.”
She leaves the room with only a few long strides, the papers she’d been given part way through not forgotten, gathered up in her arms. The door swings shut behind her and he allows himself to sit back down in the chair, releasing a sigh. It had been too easy, too easy to convince her - to convince the world - that he’d done those things and now they expected more? More heroics, more deeds, more glorious tales?
He had, he supposed, carved this life out for himself, this glittering, beautiful future of penthouse flats and luxurious hotel rooms, expensive restaurants and fine robes. From nothing, he had carved riches, he had carved luxury and achievement and success.
If his life were a statue, it would be a glorious crystal and marble affair, sapphires in place of his eyes and crushed rubies to create his powder-pink robes. There would be a hole through it, though, right through the middle, an empty slot where his heart should be.
Enviously, he turns his head away from the man and the woman, now sitting together on the same bed, side-by-side. They don’t touch, don’t say anything to one another, barely even look at each other (and when they do, they aren’t the kind of darting, fleeting, lustful glances he himself knows well from his younger years) but there’s a bond there, all the same. A sort of companionship, beyond everything, underneath the surface.
He hates it. He hates that they have it and he doesn’t. Jealous, he lays back down, sending his gaze out of the windows and off into the sky, piercing through the clouds as they pass, up off into the atmosphere, into the unknown and the unexplored, flying freely away.
Reality returns in a whipping wind that stings his cheeks and lips as Regulus pulls away, breath uneven, eyes open and locked with his. On his mouth, he can feel the warm, Butterbeer-tinted breath of the other as he exhales, can feel it ghosting over his lips, soothing the harsh tingle left by the wind.
He can’t help a slight, quiet laugh pushing itself out of his throat as he looks at Regulus, taking in the snow which now decorates his hair and parts of his skin, forming tiny mountains on his shoulders, clumps clinging stubbornly to his sleeves.
“What?” Regulus asks him, raising an eyebrow, grey eyes looking almost blue against the stark white of the snow. “What’s so funny?”
“You’re covered in snow,” he tells him, reaching up to brush some of it out of the soft black strands even though his fingertips already feel frozen.
“So are you,” Regulus points out, his voice oddly two-toned, hinting at twinned amusement and slight disdain for pointing out something so obvious.
He feels his face fall, his smile falter and, to hide the lurch inside his chest, the flicker of emotion, leans up to kiss him softly. This time, on his tongue he tastes the cold water of melted snow overlying Butterbeer and Honeyduke’s finest milk chocolate. Sharp and bitterly clear, he can’t help but think that it offsets the smooth, addictive quality of melded Butterbeer and chocolate, adding something more, another new dimension to explore.
He moves closer to Regulus, muttering something about being cold - a lie. His coat stops the chill of the wind from getting to him and the worst of the cold from settling into his bones but it’s nothing compared to the warmth radiating out from Regulus, reaching out to him, calling out to him, beckoning to him, and it’s just an excuse. He thinks Regulus knows this, but accepts it anyway.
As he adjusts his cloak over his shoulders, he wonders when he started lying so often. Lying to everyone - and not just the little, harmless white lie he so often told as a child - and about everything. He’s created a whole new life, created a whole new himself, free from the stains and ugly red crosses from his youth and childhood, free from association with anyone, free from his past and that other him, left back in the shadows and faded memories.
Lying is a sin, he knows this, but he can’t stop, can’t stop now. He’s in too deep, far too deep and the waters closed over his head long ago. There’s no way out now, not the way he came, at any rate; the only solution is to swim down, dive deeper and further into the murky waters, his eyes desperately seeking out the path to follow. The light has gone, blocked out by the weeds and the mud and the sheer depth he’s reached.
There are times when he considers how far down he is, when he thinks about how much water must be above him, how many fathoms down he must be, how many miles and leagues and kilometres away from even a glimpse of sunlight, a single ray stretched out towards him like an offered hand. There are times when he panics, thinks he doesn’t know what he’s doing, thinks he can’t keep it up, thinks he can’t do it any longer… did Regulus panic, he thinks? Before the end, did he panic? Does he ever panic? He doesn’t seem to, always so composed, always so in control of everything.
Around them, the snow glistens, covering the floor and the blankets on his bed, the light blasted into a million little pieces as it hits the white carpet. It is, he muses idly, a beautiful scene.
Glancing up through his eyelashes, he looks at Regulus, drinking him in like a sponge soaks up water, taking in the way snow has landed on his lashes, sticking there, the way he looks mystical, almost ethereal but yet so very human and real with a coating of snow dusting his clothes and hair, his cheeks flushed pink with the cold and the wind, fuchsia when compared against the smooth milk of his skin.
Lightly, tenderly, he runs his fingertips up the side of Regulus’ neck, tracing a line up from the base of his throat to just underneath his earlobe, and then along his jaw-line, finishing with a teasing brush over his bottom lip, pink and delicate.
Somewhere, sometime, somehow, fascination flutters and takes a graceful curtsey, moving aside for the main event.