Chapter 1 : Letters to Regulus
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The stairs creaked under her weight as she made her way laboriously up the stairs, trying to keep a firm grip on the basket’s handles so as not to spill all the clothes down the staircase she had just climbed. Molly was having difficulty peering around the small heap of pyjamas that Harry, Ron, Fred, and George had amassed between them. Grimmauld Place was liable to confuse her, anyway, and she couldn’t remember which landing this was – or, indeed, how many floors the house had. They all looked the same, and the stairs were interspersed with mid-landings that were liable to confuse her further.
From her right, one of the paintings snickered, apparently at her burden. “You hush,” she whispered crossly, craning her neck down the corridor across from it. This had to have been the third floor – it felt as though she hadn’t climbed this far, but there was the odd smell on this landing that signaled the lingering Dungbomb that Ginny had snuck into the twins’ room for Apparating onto her head.
Molly set the basket down between the two staircases and leaned against the railing of the staircase she’d just climbed, lifting the hem of her apron to mop the thin sheen of sweat on her forehead. She didn’t know why she was apparently the only one in the place who could do laundry, but then again, a mother of six boys had done more than her fair share of laundry in her day.
There was a sudden noise directly across from her, behind a moth-eaten tapestry that showed a wizard fighting a small horde of angry-looking goblins – some ancient relative of Sirius, Molly was sure. Abandoning the laundry basket between the up and down staircases, she moved toward the noise cautiously. She had a fairly good idea of what was causing it, but after the boggart in the cabinet in the writing desk, one could not be too careful.
Timorously, with the tips of her fingers, Molly drew the tapestry aside. A wizened old house elf was concealed in a small niche behind it, before a tall, narrow cabinet, badly painted with flecked black paint. A small pile of paint chips was curled at the house elf’s feet. He was twisting the hem of the filthy rag he wore as a loincloth between his crooked fingers, muttering to himself. Now that the tapestry had been drawn aside, Molly could hear very distinctly what he was saying.
“Oh, Kreacher hates to think of his poor mistress, down there all alone in the hall, forced to watch a parade of blood traitors and Mudbloods, filth and scum…” Kreacher sniveled loudly as he paused between sentences, and Molly wrinkled her nose. “Kreacher thinks they should leave, yes, master has betrayed the Noble and Most Ancient –“
“Hello, Kreacher,” Molly said loudly. Kreacher gave a very large and very fake start of surprise, though it was painfully obvious that he knew she was standing there; there was no way he could have missed her.
“Kreacher is sorry to have ignored madam for so long,” he said, folding in half and doubling the number of skin flaps on his belly, hanging over his loincloth. “How can Kreacher be of service?” Under the impression she couldn’t hear him, he added in a low mumble, “The mother of the blood traitors, yes, and all of them with ugly red hair… Kreacher is wondering how she can call herself a witch…”
“Thank you for making your presence known, Kreacher.” Molly looked down at him in disgust, folding her arms across her chest. She could feel that her cheeks had grown warm at his insults, a reaction she tried hard to repress, and always failed at; she could not stand to hear anyone, not even a house elf, insult her family. “We’d not yet discovered this cupboard. I’ll have to set someone to cleaning it right away.”
Kreacher stared up at her with undisguised loathing, eyes narrowed, and then he bowed again, so that his ears flapped down over his cheeks. “Whatever madam wishes,” he said, in a tone that let her know just how insincere he was.
He slipped past her legs, grumbling under his breath again, and slunk off down the hall, still twisting his fingers over and over in his loincloth. Molly watched him go warily, tapping her fingers on her elbows, and then shook her head, turning to cross back to the wicker basket to deposit Fred and George’s laundry into their room.
Another noise met her ears, this time from the landing above, just as she had picked up the laundry for the second time. She blew out an impatient breath, slamming the basket down onto the floor. She knew this wasn’t technically her own home, and she didn’t need to investigate every strange creak and crack from the corners of Grimmauld Place – but the chance that it was Fred and George skulking about with their joke products was much too great for her to let odd sounds pass by unheeded.
She drew in a breath and looked up at the ceiling, but the noise did not come again. There was nothing for it but to investigate herself.
The stairs creaked beneath her weight, one of her hands resting lightly on the banister, and Molly gritted her teeth. Fred and George might have been academically lazy, but they were certainly smart enough to listen for their mother approaching. The second a stray noise met one of their ears, they would be sent scurrying, pretending for the umpteenth time like they were actually doing their summer homework. She was determined to catch them in the act this time.
Her eyes were now level with the floorboards on the fourth floor, at the top of the house, and she peeped over the edge curiously, fingers curled tightly around the rails. A needle of dim yellow light stretched across the small landing between the only two doors; none of the lamps were lit, and it was hard to see what was going on. A small lump of grim determination settled into the pit of Molly’s stomach. Darkness was not a good sign.
There was the creak of a footstep, and Molly ducked instinctively, nearly scraping her forehead along the side of the floor. But even as she hunkered down, joints groaning in protest, she felt herself frowning. Something about that step – and it was only one – sounded very different to her. It was not a Weasley step; she had memorized the footsteps of her children from the time they first took them. And so with considerably more trepidation, she peeked her head once more above the level of the floor.
It took Molly several moments to make out the shadowy shape that now stood in the strip of light issuing from the left-hand door, causing it to crawl up the backs of his legs like pale yellow paint. The figure took a small step to its left, and suddenly the light was falling across Sirius’s face, glancing off his cheekbone and throwing part of his face into even deeper relief. She sucked in a breath, clamping her lips together to hold it in place. There was absolutely no reasonable explanation for her sneaking about like a guilty eleven-year-old, and how she was going to explain it if Sirius turned and caught her, she hadn’t the foggiest.
There was something in Sirius’s hand, and he bent to study it now, standing nearly completely immobile. His shadow fell across it, hiding it from her prying eyes, and then he hunkered down close to the floor, curving his spine and curling his body over it protectively. Molly felt a pang of anguish go through her heart, and felt an instant and inexplicable need to mother him at that moment, despite the fact that she only had a few years on him in age.
Sirius straightened, staring straight ahead at the door, and then sighed. He turned and entered the first room again, and this time the door shut fully behind him, with only a razor-thin beam of lamplight striking out from the crack beneath it. Molly waited, poised, nails biting her palms where her hands were still curved round the stair rails.
Investigating was a bad idea. She knew she should leave it alone, return to her laundry, forget all about what she’d just seen.
So, naturally, as soon as Molly was sure Sirius wasn’t reemerging from the left door anytime soon, she noiselessly ascended the rest of the stairs.
She laid her ear flat against the door, at the same time taking great pains to make sure that none of the floorboards beneath her feet creaked, but there was no sound from within. Molly’s eyes drifted to the piece of parchment tacked to the door, a slightly ominous message scrawled on it in spidery handwriting. She murmured the words aloud: Do Not Enter Without the Express Permission of Regulus Arcturus Black.
Molly’s insides turned to ice. Sirius rarely mentioned his brother – she often forget he had one. And yet he had lived mere feet from him for years, and she had never known. She looked again over her shoulder, checking for any sign that Sirius was aware she was standing in front of his brother’s room, but nothing but light issued from the crack beneath the door.
You’ve done your part, Molly’s conscience whispered to her. Let it be. And yet her fingers groped for the knob, closed around the smooth, cool black iron, and turned. To her surprise, the door creaked open, swinging inward and allowing a waft of musty air out again. This door hadn’t been opened in ages, perhaps years.
There was a soft shuffling sound, like leaves on cement, and she looked down at the floor of Regulus Black’s bedroom. Her breath hitched in her throat. A small mound of thrice-folded parchment, at least fifteen sheets, had evidently been piled up against the door and been dislodged when she’d opened it. Some of them had tumbled open, and she saw that they were nearly black with cramped, close-spaced lines of crawling ink.
“Oh,” she breathed out, and then immediately clapped a hand over her mouth, terrified that she’d forgotten herself enough to speak aloud. Molly sank to her knees with effort, her fingers trembling slightly as they reached for the parchment nearest to her. Bright, hot tears had sprung to her eyes, an aching, leaden feeling in her abdomen letting her head know what her heart already did: She could not fathom Sirius sometimes, could not understand how he could write letters to his dead brother when he outwardly scorned him and told anyone who asked that Regulus had got what was coming to him.
The paper crinkled beneath her fingers, and she drew her wand from the pocket of her robes, casting another guilty, hurried glance over her shoulder to make sure that no shadowed footsteps showed beneath the door. Molly lit the tip of it wordlessly, hovering the bright light over the page and leaning in close to read what Sirius had written.
Dear Regulus, the letter began:
I don’t like this house, but I especially don’t like it all by myself. Kreacher does nothing but walk the floors at all hours and mutter to himself, and I swear I’m going to strangle him any day now. I think he misses you, too – or at least, he knows that you’re supposed to be the one who inherited Grimmauld Place. I didn’t envy you that. I wish you had inherited it.
I won’t be by myself for long, I guess. This isn’t even my house anymore as much as it is the Order’s, and a load of them are staying here for the summer. I think Harry’s going to be here too, if Dumbledore feels up to letting him out of his idiot uncle’s house. Irony, isn’t it, this place being Order headquarters? I can hear Mum turning in her grave.
It seems a bit stupid, doesn’t it, my writing letters to you? You’re dead. And it’s your own damn fault. These letters are just going to sit in your room and gather dust, and then they’ll become dust, and nobody’s ever going to know I wrote these letters but me.
Maybe wherever you are, you can see me writing them. I don’t think I like that idea. You’d probably sneer and say something nasty and I’d have to hex you, and then you’d punch me and Mum would scream at me for getting blood all over the carpet.
Today, I don’t think I’d mind.
Molly felt her breath in her chest like a physical mass, and realized that one hand was clutching at the neck of her robes, yanking at the fabric as though she was scrabbling for air. She flipped the paper over, but there was no date. This had to have been written only shortly before the Weasleys and Hermione arrived at Number Twelve to stay for the summer.
Her hand moved for another piece of paper, but at that moment there was a noise behind her, the one she’d been listening for all the while, except apparently when it mattered. She spun round on her knees hard, rough wood digging into the fleshy skin of her legs, and stumbled to her feet.
Sirius merely stared at her, one hand propped on either side of his door. The light from his room lit him from behind in such a way that he was nearly all silhouette. He said nothing, but just stared at her as Molly hastily tried to kick the letters she’d dislodged back into Regulus’s room.
“Sirius –“ she gasped, more air than sound, but there was nothing else for her to say. Remorse filled her breast, drowning her from within. “I didn’t – I’m sorry –“ Her feet shuffled backwards, hands flailing, groping for the railing.
Wordlessly, Sirius bent down and shoved the rest of the letters into the room. He pulled the door shut with a quiet click, took his wand from his pocket, and tapped it once on the iron knob. And then, without another look at Molly, he retreated into his own room.
She stood there as though frozen for five, ten, fifteen seconds, feeling very much as though she might cry. Her chest was rising and falling rapidly, her hands trembling against the wood of the banister. Sorrow and grief and guilt and pity flitted in droves across her face, drawing their own private shadows.
Mopping under her eyes with the hem of her sleeve, Molly turned and returned down the stairs, shoving her emotions beneath the surface, and returned to her laundry.
That night at dinner, she expected Sirius to say something to her – draw her aside, into a corner, and reprimand her for intruding on his private life. Molly expected it, and would have welcomed it. It would have made her feel at least slightly less guilty.
But he was his normal self at dinner. He joked with Ron and Harry, and talked seriously with Hermione, and he and the twins had their normal ongoing dinnertime competition over who had pulled the hands-down best prank at school (Fred and George always insisted their best was yet to come, which more than worried Molly).
Just once did he look over at her across the table, goblet of wine clutched perhaps slightly more tightly in his fist than normal. Molly dropped her eyes to her plate, becoming suddenly vastly interested in her roast potatoes.
She should not have pried into his life, but she would not let him see her grieve for him.
A/N: This one-shot took me longer to write than most of mine do, but I am actually very pleased with the end result! The idea popped suddenly and immediately into my head, without warning, while walking to class as I was listening to the song “20 Years” by the Civil Wars. It’s a beautiful song, and I’d recommend giving it a listen, if you haven’t. Both lyrics and melody worked very much to inspire this story. Despite the fact that it took me five days to write, I enjoyed writing it, and I hope that you enjoyed it, too.
Thank you for reading! Reviews, as always, are super appreciated.
(The words on Regulus's door were first used in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I do not own them.)