Chapter 1 : No Turning Back
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The air was cold as Regulus Black pushed the covers back and climbed out of bed. The dark wooden floor was like ice against his bare feet as he padded lightly across the room to pull on socks and a thick-soled pair of shoes.
It was so dark that it was impossible to see out of the glimmering black windows of Regulus’s room. It was late – after midnight. The time of night when strange and dangerous creatures came out to play. When gnarled and twisted shadows roamed and remaining light cast strange shadows across the walls. Outside a wild owl hooted softly. For some reason it sent a shiver up Regulus’s spine.
He was nervous. Beyond nervous. His stomach was twisting itself into difficult knots and he felt light-headed and queasy as though he hadn’t eaten in days. Breathing slowly and deliberately he crossed his room, the floorboards creaking eerily as he did so, and opened the frosted window just a fraction. Air. Fresh air. That was what he needed.
A strong gust of wind blew into his bedroom causing the emerald green curtains – the exact colour of Slytherin house – to wave softly in the breeze, reminding Regulus of those ridiculous muggle horror movies his brother liked to watch. Regulus closed his eyes. Thinking about Sirius – about what he had become – was painful. He inhaled the cold air deeply, ignoring the fact that his long, dark hair was blowing into his eyes, before changing into an expensive set of dark robes, kept for special occasions and grabbing his wand from the bedside table. It sat between a glass of water and a single, ornate picture frame. Inside was a photo of Regulus and Sirius, their arms around each other. Sirius was ruffling Regulus’s hair and Regulus was glaring up at him in a playful sort of way.
Regulus turned away sharply and held out his wand. “Lumos,” he murmured and a tiny, silvery light appeared to guide his path. Without looking back, Regulus left his room and crept quietly through the house.
The house was eerily quiet, apart from the very faint snores of the portraits in their frames – the portraits of all the other Blacks who had ever lived in Grimmauld Place. The Blacks who had not disgraced the family name, that is. The corridors seemed even narrower and longer than usual as Regulus walked through them, twisting and turning without a sound. Faded tapestries lined the walls. It had been his great-great-great grandfather who had put them there. Bloodbaths and scenes of slaughter; trolls with their heads chopped off, giant snakes hissing; their great dirty fangs outstretched. And the Black crest was everywhere: Toujours Pur. It meant ‘Always Pure’. That was what the Black’s had believed in, for many centuries now. And that was what Regulus believed, too.
And now he was going to his honour his family. He was going to become one of them. Tonight. With all of them watching.
As he descended the stairs, his heart pounding unbelievably fast in his chest, he stopped dead. There was something down there.
Regulus held up his wand. “Who’s there?” he demanded, trying to keep his voice steady. A Black must remain strong at all times. That was what his father had told him. He must never show his fear, because fear was a sign of weakness. “Show yourself!”
There was a shuffling noise. Kreacher the house elf appeared at the foot of the stairs. “Yes, master?” he croaked.
Regulus realised he had been holding his breath. Feeling a little embarrassed he let out a shaky breath and dropped his wand. “Kreacher,” he breathed.
“Master Regulus is going somewhere,” Kreacher said, his round and protuberant eyes glowing. “Would Master Regulus like Kreacher to fetch his cloak.”
“No Kreacher,’ said Regulus firmly. “But thank you.”
Kreacher nodded and bowed as Regulus swept past him, out of the house and into the cold.
The street outside was deserted, and all the lights of the surrounding houses were off. Good. Regulus wanted the cover of darkness to keep him concealed. No stars were visible tonight. A thick layer of cloud concealed them and only a tiny sliver of the moon was visible. The tall, spindly trees in the park across the road cast distorted shadows on the freshly mown grass; the faint sounds of car horns could be heard in the distance. And the cold, biting wind was incessant. It whistled through the sparse leaves of the trees and froze Regulus’s bare skin. Wand still in one of his hands, he shoved them into the pockets of his robes and marched forward, his whole body tingling with both nerves and excitement.
It was going to happen tonight. He was going to become one of them, after all this time. His Master trusted him. His mouth twitched, threatening to turn into a smile, but Regulus managed to keep his face cold, impassive. Never show your emotions, was another one of those lessons his father had taught him. Don’t let anyone know what you’re really feeling.
Regulus turned a corner and hurried down a very thin side street. A cat suddenly hissed and darted out in front of him. It was visible only for a few moments before it disappeared behind a large, overflowing rubbish bin. The thatched roofs on the houses either side of him were so close together they were touching, letting absolutely no light in. As he walked, now breathing heavily, Regulus found himself wondering yet again about his brother.
What was he doing tonight, with that God-awful friend of his, James Potter and his bloody perfect family? Was he inside in the warm, wrapped up all nice and snugly in a cuddly blanket? Regulus snorted out loud. Stupud, thick-headed, arrogant Sirius. Thinking he was better than all the Blacks. Well, he wasn’t. Regulus was about to prove that.
What would Sirius say if he knew what Regulus was going to do tonight? Did he have any idea of where his brother’s loyalties were?
Regulus knew he must be getting close now, so he broadened his stride. Every nerve in his body was tingling. Very soon, he would be in his master’s presence. And then his master would mark him and he’d be one of them, at last. He’d be able to deal with filthy blood-traitors like the Potter’s and mudbloods and muggles alike.
Regulus thought of all the tests, all the training he’d had to undergo to reach this stage, and his mouth set into a grim line. It had been brutal, but it had been necessary. His master had to make sure that his servants could tolerate pain. He had to see that they were trustworthy, that they’d never do anything to betray him.
Regulus would never, ever betray his master. He knew that now. The price was too high.
But when he closed his eyes he could still see the whip, coming down against his bare back. He could still feel the white-hot pain, the burning, the torment. He could still see himself – his pale white face, ghostly and sickly looking. The scream that never came out of his mouth because he’d clamped his mouth shut so tight that he’d bitten his tongue. Blood had filled his mouth; he could still taste it’s bitter, salty sweetness and still he hadn’t screamed.
Even when he wanted to forget he could still remember. He could see his cousin, Bellatrix. He could see her mad black eyes, glittering dangerously, and her wild hair. He could hear her high-pitched, girlish laugh as the whip came down all over again…
Don’t think about all that now, Regulus told himself firmly, turning another corner. He was travelling quickly – he was already a long way from home. But his heart was still pounding from the memories, his hands were shaking. Although perhaps that was just from nerves.
There had been other tests, too. Avery’s eyes narrowing as he pointed his wand at Regulus’s face; the pain he felt as Avery shifted through his memories, not bothering to be careful, trying to root out any secrets Regulus might be keeping from his master. But Regulus kept no secrets. He was his master’s most faithful servant, even more faithful that Bellatrix.
And then there had been all those muggles. Sometimes at night Regulus could still see them, floating eerily in mid-air, like puppets on a string. But no puppets had ever looked so terrifying.
There had been five of them. Regulus could remember their faces, as vividly as the palm of his hand. One male. Four females. One of them had been younger than himself with waist-length black hair that had drifted creepily around her as she had hung there: mouth wide open in a silent scream, lifeless eyes terrified, blood dripping from her neck.
Her father had tried to protect her. Regulus had killed him too. When his master gave an order, he obeyed. He never wanted to feel the pain of that white-hot whip on his back again. Already, he had the scars to remind him. To remind him never to betray his master.
There it was. He could see it. A single goblet, nothing spectacular. Made of wood but with a single snake wrapped around the handle. Two tiny emeralds glinted in place of its eyes. This was it.
The moment Regulus touched the goblet, he felt the world disappear beneath him, spin out of control. There was no turning back now.
The world twisted and spun around him. Everything was spinning, whirling. Feeling light-headed again, Regulus closed his eyes and tried to prepare himself for what was coming. He imagined the ice coldness of the room around him, he imagined himself kneeling at his master’s robes, he imagined his master’s cruel, hard eyes glinting in approval. And he imagined the burn of pleasure that he knew would infiltrate his body as he was marked. As he became one of them.
The spinning stopped. Regulus felt himself falling…falling…before being dropped unceremoniously to the ground.
He scrambled to his feet, brushing himself off and making sure that there was absolutely no trace of dirt on him. He must look impeccable if he wanted this night to go as planned.
He was standing in the middle of a very long gravel driveway. The entrance to Malfoy Manor; the house of Narcissa and her new husband, Lucius. Regulus frowned slightly as he walked ahead, holding his head high, jutting out his pointed chin. He could not show fear. He could not show emotion. His parents had been most happy with Narcissa’s marriage to Lucius. He was from a good, pure blood family and was one of His most trusted. A faithful servant.
Regulus didn’t like Lucius. He thought him a slippery sort of character. But he had to learn to get past that dislike. His master didn’t have time for such trivial things as that.
The dark, high hedge curved with the driveway as Regulus continued to walk. Blood was pulsing in his ears. He could taste the fear in his mouth. He only hoped the others wouldn’t feel it, too.
And then at last, at long last, he reached the large wrought-iron gates that led to Malfoy Manor. But there was already someone there, on the other side. Bellatrix.
As Regulus approached she pressed her cruel, hungry face against the bars. Her heavy-lidded eyes were sparkling, her face feverish with hunger and excitement.
“Cousin,” she said, as Regulus stopped right in front of her and nodded curtly. “Are you ready?”
Regulus merely nodded. He knew that if he spoke he’d do something embarrassing, like throw up.
Bellatrix smiled. It was an evil, mad smile that made Regulus want to look away. That made him want to run back home and ask Kreacher to fetch him a mug of hot chocolate. That made him want to be an ordinary sixteen year old again.
But he was so much more than that.
“Good,” said Bellatrix. “Come in. The time has come, little cousin. He is waiting for you."