Chapter 2 : Alone
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Chapter Two: Alone
December 24th, 1969
It had been an unnaturally warm year and there was no snow the day before Christmas. Instead the sky was a bright, cloudless blue and lukewarm sunlight pierced the clouds, shining down upon the people of Diagon Alley.
Regulus had always liked Diagon Alley, but rarely got the chance to go there. He’d once heard his mother telling a grumpy Sirius that tasks such as shopping were “below the ancient and most noble house of Black.” Sirius had replied by saying a rather rude word which had made Regulus laugh. Then he had to hide behind a large statue of one of his old ancestors – he wasn’t sure which – so that his mother wouldn’t see him spying.
Today, however, was his lucky day. His parents were hosting a dinner party and his uncle Alphard had decided to take Regulus and his brother into Diagon Alley so they could choose their Christmas gifts.
Uncle Alphard was Regulus’ favourite relative, apart from Sirius who was Regulus’s favourite person in the world. He was much nicer than Uncle Cygnus, whose nose was far too long, and definitely nicer than Cousin Bellatrix, who had just graduated Hogwarts and liked to play a lot of mean tricks on Regulus. He also had a lot of money and often brought presents for his two nephews.
“So where do you boys want to go first?” Uncle Alphard asked as they strolled down the sunny alley. It was crowded with witches and wizards doing last minute Christmas shopping and the bright and cheerful sounds of chatter, laughter and vendors calling out, “Anyone for the Daily Prophet?” could be easily heard.
“Ollivander’s,” Regulus said immediately.
More than anything in the world Regulus wanted to own a magic wand all of his own. Then he could make Bellatrix sorry that she’d ever turned his ears into cabbages. He’d once picked up father’s wand and had tried doing magic with it, but when father had found him, he’d been very angry indeed.
“Why do you want to go there, stupid?” Sirius asked contemptuously. “You’re too young to have a wand. I’m going to Hogwarts next year.”
“I just like looking at the wands,” Regulus said.
“That’s stupid,” Sirius repeated.
Uncle Alphard chuckled and rubbed the top of Regulus’ head fondly, rumpling his black curls. “I won’t have any fighting the day before Christmas, boys,” he said and the two brothers grinned at each other sheepishly. “What say we get something to fill our stomachs before we begin our gift-finding?”
Ten minutes later, the three Black’s came out of Florean Fortesque’s holding three gigantic ice creams. Uncle Alphard had chosen vanilla and strawberry. Sirius had decided on double chocolate chip, so that’s what Regulus had gotten too.
“You always copy me,” Sirius complained as they continued down the alley, licking at their ice creams. It was a strange feeling, eating ice cream in December.
“No I don’t,” Regulus said.
“Yes you do!” Sirius said, smirking. He turned to Uncle Alphard for support. “He does, doesn’t he Uncle?”
Uncle Alphard sighed. “I once heard someone say that being copied is the best compliment a man can ever hope to get. Come on, the Quidditch shop is just ahead. Hurry up and finish those ice creams.”
Regulus liked Quidditch, and not just because his older brother did, too. His parents always refused to take them to watch it, but Uncle Alphard had once taken him and Sirius to a match of the Quidditch World Cup. They’d been in the top box with the Minister of Magic herself. Regulus loved watching the speedy players, zooming around the pitch on their broomsticks. He wanted to play Quidditch himself when he was old enough to ride a proper broom.
Uncle Alphard let Regulus and Sirius pick out a few things each from the Quidditch shop. Sirius chose a couple of Quidditch magazines from the shelf with an air of carelessness. Meanwhile, Regulus examined a model of a golden Snitch with wide eyes.
“You’d be a good Seeker.”
Regulus turned around to see his older brother standing behind him, hands shoved into the pockets of his robes. He flushed with pride at the compliment.
“Yes. You’re small and scrawny enough for it.” Sirius grinned, ruffling Regulus’ hair and marching over to Uncle Alphard, who was talking with the man behind the desk. “Can we go now, Uncle?”
Hesitating for only a moment longer, Regulus picked up the model Snitch and brought it over to his uncle, imagining what it would be like to search for the tiny ball high up in the sky while a huge crowd cheered him on…
Regulus awoke with a start, Sirius’ grinning face disappearing from his mind almost instantly. He had no idea where the memory had come from, why it had suddenly surfaced. It wasn’t as though it had any meaning.
Breathing in deeply, Regulus opened his eyes and looked up at the canopy of his four-poster. The emerald-green curtains were a little dusty and there was a large cobweb extending from one corner of the bed to the other – he had, after all, been away at Hogwarts for the last four months, and Kreacher apparently hadn’t entered his room at all.
Regulus ran his thumb and forefinger over his eyes until they reached the bridge of his nose, where they came to rest. Usually dreams faded as soon as he woke but this one was still clear in his mind. But it wasn’t just a dream, was it? It was a memory.
Regulus couldn’t help but think about how easy things had been back then. Sirius hadn’t started school, hadn’t been sorted into Gryffindor yet. He hadn’t left home, Uncle Alphard hadn’t died.
Regulus hadn’t been a Death Eater.
The thought seemed to trigger some sort of reaction within Regulus. His heart began pounding rapidly in his chest and his palms were suddenly damp with perspiration. Pulling back his covers, Regulus swung his legs out of bed and pulled up the sleeve of his pyjamas, ignoring the twinge of pain the followed.
There it was. On the middle of his left forearm. The Dark Mark.
Regulus lightly ran his fingers over it, goose bumps rising on his skin as he did so. A triumphant grin tugged at his lips and he very nearly let out a shout of delight. He had finally done it. After all these years, he had done it.
The dark mark was a great skull with a slithering snake protruding from its mouth – Regulus had seen the very same tattoo on the arm of Bellatrix. The only difference was, while hers was a faint grey, his was an emerald green.
Regulus frowned to himself, wondering why this was. Perhaps Dark Marks were always green when they were brand new? Or perhaps it was because Regulus hadn’t proved himself yet as one of the Dark Lord’s followers. And speaking of the Dark Lord, why hadn’t he been present at Regulus’ initiation ceremony? Surely only he had the power to brand one with the Dark Mark? Regulus’ mind was whirring as he thought back on the events of last night. The pain had been so immense that he’s blacked out. Had the Dark Lord appeared while he was passed out?
A dull flush rose in Regulus’ cheeks and he looked anxiously around the room even though he knew he was the only one there. The fact that he had not been able to cope with the pain was humiliating. He could imagine Bellatrix’s reaction easily – she surely must have been cackling with mirth.
Suddenly, Regulus felt like he was about to throw up.
There was an abrupt knock on the door and Regulus felt every muscle in his body tense.
“Is Master Regulus awake?” a familiar voice croaked from the other side of the door and Regulus exhaled deeply. It was only Kreacher, his family’s loyal house-elf. He felt a little ridiculous for getting such a fright.
“I am,” he answered and the door swung open and the house elf appeared. He had a bulbous, snout-like nose, bloodshot eyes and a great deal of white hair growing out of his bat-like ears. Regulus was actually very fond of the elf and knew he could trust him with his life, but he found himself pulling down the sleeve of his pyjama top, concealing the brand new Dark Mark. No doubt Kreacher knew where he had been last night – he was a surprisingly instinctive creature – but Regulus still didn’t feel like flashing it about.
“Merry Christmas, Master Regulus,” Kreacher said, bowing deeply.
“It’s Christmas,” Regulus murmured to himself, a small crease appearing between his dark brows. He’d completely forgotten what the day was. He hadn’t really been in much of a festive spirit these holidays. The whole time he’d been anxiously awaiting his initiation into the Death Eaters.
“Kreacher has prepared a Christmas feast for Master Regulus, in the kitchen,” the house elf informed Regulus. “And Kreacher is cooking a ham and Christmas pudding for dinner.”
Regulus nodded, a little absently. He’d always adored Christmas pudding, especially when paired with warm custard, and Kreacher’s cooking was excellent. But today the prospect of pudding hardly seemed to matter. “Are my parents awake yet?” Regulus asked. It was a little embarrassing to admit for a wizard of sixteen, but he was looking forward to showing his parents his Dark Mark. It had been a long time since his parents had expressed their pride in him. But this latest addition would make them proud, he was sure of it. Walburga and Orion Black, though not Death Eaters themselves, believed that the work the Dark Lord was hoping to achieve was both noble and necessary.
“Master Orion and Mistress Walburga have told Kreacher to tell Master Regulus that they will not be home until this evening,” Kreacher said in his raspy voice and despite himself, his heart sank. It was Christmas day and he was to be all alone, with no-one but a house elf for company. Did his parents not even care about what he’d been doing last night? Unbidden, an image of Sirius appeared in Regulus’ mind. The two brothers were very different. When Sirius was sixteen, he ran away from home. Now that Regulus was sixteen, he’d been branded with Dark Mark. Regulus wondered what his older brother was doing today. Somehow he doubted he was spending Christmas alone.
“Did they tell you were they were going, Kreacher?” was all he said.
“A dinner with the most important witches and wizards from the Ministry of Magic,” Kreacher said. It was all Regulus could do not to roll his eyes. Of course that’s what his parents were doing. They’d give a big bag of gold to the Minister of Magic and, in return, they’d keep her twisted around their fingers, compliant to any of their wishes.
Regulus sighed. “I’ll meet you down in the kitchen, Kreacher,” he said, trying to inject as much enthusiasm in his voice as possible. He knew that Kreacher always worked very hard on Christmas day. “I just need to get dressed.”
“Of course, Master Regulus,” Kreacher said. He bowed very low again before exiting the room, closing the door behind him. Regulus quickly changed out of his pyjamas and into a long set of black robes. He didn’t really know why he was bothering to get dressed at all – he’d be perfectly happy to eat breakfast in his pyjamas. But if his mother ever saw him doing so, she’d be horrified. Before leaving the room Regulus spotted his prized cork board covered with newspaper clippings about the Death Eaters. He stared at them for a moment. He’d admired the Dark Lord’s work for a long time now, ever since he first started gathering a lot of power, and he knew his parents had, too. He knew they would be overjoyed if he joined their ranks. And now he was, to the best of his knowledge, the youngest Death Eater ever and his parents weren’t even here to celebrate.
“It doesn’t matter,” Regulus muttered to himself. “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.”
He turned away from the newspaper clippings and headed downstairs.
Number 12 Grimmauld Place had been in the Black family for centuries and so was filled with many dark and ancient objects, some of which were very dangerous. Even after sixteen years of living in this house, sometimes Regulus still found things that he’d never seen before and did not know the purpose of. He walked down the narrow, twisting staircases towards the kitchen, which was on the bottom floor. He passed several bedrooms on his way down, all of which had firmly closed doors, some coated in dust from years of disuse, and the drawing room which held the tapestry of the Black family tree. As he descended the stairs that led to the ground floor he glanced up at the heads of Kreacher’s ancestors, which were mounted on shining plaques. These heads had always made him uneasy, but it was tradition and Kreacher apparently looked forward to the day when his head would be mounted upon a spike.
House elves really were bizarre creatures.
Kreacher was waiting for Regulus in the kitchen, a scruffy rag tied around his waist, which was probably meant to be an apron. The long wooden table in the centre of the room was heaving under the weight of the food piled on top – scones with butter and jam, flaky croissants and pastries, poached eggs, sausages, toast, bacon and hotcakes dripping with syrup. All for one person.
“Thank you, Kreacher,” Regulus said, sitting down at the head of the table and helping himself to bacon. The cavernous room suddenly seemed very large and empty, and an idea occurred to Regulus. “Would you join me for breakfast, Kreacher?”
The house elf looked very taken aback. “Begging your pardon, Master Regulus, but Kreacher lives to serve the house of Black. If Kreacher’s Mistress saw him…”
“Its fine, Kreacher,” Regulus said. Even the house elf didn’t want to eat with him. “Would you mind finding the stereo? They always have carols playing on Christmas day.”
Kreacher bowed. “Of course, Master.”
As Kreacher left the room, Regulus shovelled bacon into his mouth. It was warm, crispy and fatty – cooked to absolute perfection. But Regulus just couldn’t enjoy it. The silence throughout the room surrounded him, engulfed him. Therefore, a sudden squawk made him jump about a mile. He turned to see that an owl he didn’t recognise was perched on the table, holding a small scroll in its beak.
“What have you got there?” Regulus murmured, stroking the owl’s head softly as he fished the letter out of its beak. He’d always liked owls and had wanted one for himself but his mother thought they were dirty, disgusting creatures and had refused. The owl nipped Regulus’ fingers fondly after he’d detached the letter before taking flight and flying away.
Regulus unrolled the scroll, pondering who on earth it could be from. He had no close friends from Hogwarts who would be writing to him, unless you counted Jugson and Selwyn, who were both morons. The only other person he could think of who would possibly contact him would be Bellatrix Lestrange. However, her letters could only mean one thing: very bad news.
As it turned out, there were only four words written on this piece of parchment:
Regulus stared at these words for a long time, in complete shock. Why on earth had his older brother written to him? They hadn’t spoken since Sirius had left home almost two years ago. It seemed coincidental that a letter, albeit a very short letter, had arrived from Sirius the day after Regulus had dreamed of him. And suddenly, Regulus wanted to reply to the letter. He wanted to speak with his only brother who had been his most favourite person in the world when he was eight years old. But because he had no idea where Sirius lived and because his owl had left, he couldn’t. And if his parents caught him talking to his older brother, they’d probably disinherit him.
No. This letter was simply a reminder of how alone Regulus was, nothing more.
There was a fire blazing in the large fireplace at the other end of the kitchen. Regulus stood up, walked over to it and threw Sirius’ letter into the flames. He watched as the parchment shrivelled up, engulfed by the fire, and turned to ash.
I am so incredibly sorry that this chapter took so long! I don't know where the time has gone! Anyway, I hope you enjoyed this chapter and it would be awesome if you could leave a review, even if it's just a couple of lines! Chapter image by Ande @ TDA
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by Gemma Doyle