Chapter 1 : equinox
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Mum and Dad taught me from an early age that purebloods, like our family, were essentially the nobility of wizarding families, and Muggles were scum not fit to clean our shoes. My brother Sirius claimed this was a load of dragon dung. He was a rebel: he spent all his time with blood traitors and Mudbloods, playing pranks, and generally behaving in an unseemly manner that would not befit a proper pureblood. Mum and Dad were generally embarrassed about the way he turned out, and turned up their noses at him, but despite his disgrace, he seemed happy. Certainly happier than I was.
I didn't know whether to follow in Sirius' footsteps – and therefore end up disappointing my parents – or follow what my parents wanted, thus disappointing Sirius. I wanted them all to be proud of me. But either way, someone would think I had failed them.
My friends at school were all in support of the Dark Lord as well, and I began to feel that this was my side in the building war. Only Sirius' carefree rebellion balanced out the influences in my life. But then he left, ran away from home to a family that actually appreciated him, and all I heard afterward was praise of the Dark Lord with nothing to counter it anymore. The scales tipped without Sirius; caught up in a fever of ambition, my friend Darian Wilkes and I joined the Death Eaters just before Christmas of our sixth year at Hogwarts. It wasn't much of a commitment then, since we were still in school, but it was enough to make us feel purposeful, powerful, and eager to serve the Dark Lord. And so I would have continued, if I hadn't gained balance again in the form of Summer Phillips, the last person on Earth I would have expected to befriend.
Summer was a plain girl. She was average height, about up to my shoulder; her blonde hair was long and straight, her eyes a bit too large for her face, and her teeth crooked. And her parents were common Muggles. But to me, Summer was far from ordinary.
For six years, she had just been one of many Hufflepuffs who smiled too much. I never gave her a passing thought until the day I was late to Charms class at the beginning of my seventh year at Hogwarts and found my usual seat taken by a Ravenclaw. My friends Wilkes and Jasper eyed their new company warily, and I grimaced across the room at them as I took the last available seat, next to the Mudblooded Hufflepuff, Phillips.
She didn't seem to notice my reaction – or if she did, she didn't comment on it. She merely gave me a friendly smile – we weren't friends, for Merlin's sake, I didn't even know her – and then she got out her textbook.
My heart sank. In my hurry to get to class on time, I had forgotten to put my own book in my bag. But I didn't feel like talking to Phillips, so I dutifully took notes on Professor Flitwick's lecture until he told us to practice using instructions in the book, and it became evident I could no longer get away with not having a book.
“Where’s your book?” Phillips chirped.
“I forgot it,” I told her in a sharp voice that I hoped invited no further conversation.
But she only beamed at me. “It's okay! We can share mine!” she suggested, sliding her book across the desk with one pink-fingernailed hand so that it rested between us. I grunted a lame expression of thanks, irritated at being indebted to a too-cheerful Mudblood for the lesson.
We didn't talk much, although she tried to; she asked lots of questions to which I gave monosyllabic responses. But my frustrated silence did nothing to deter her gratingly sunny disposition.
When I was finally released from her clutches, about forty-five minutes later, I departed class with my friends while she waved happily at me and left with the other Hufflepuffs.
“Had fun working with Sunshine, did you?” Wilkes teased.
“She likes you, Regulus,” said Elliott Jasper with a smirk. “Are you going to break that poor Mudblood’s heart?”
“She doesn't like me,” I said. “She just seems like one of those people who are always happy about everything. Merlin, am I glad to be out of class now. I’ve got to wash my hands, they’ve been sullied by a Mudblood.”
“Oh, holding hands under the desk, were you?” asked Jasper, clearly enjoying the situation. I scowled at him.
“That sucks,” said Wilkes as we turned a corner towards the Great Hall. “Sorry you had to deal with someone like that. I hate it when people are too happy.”
“Me too,” I said.
I went back to my regular seat in class after that, taking care to not be late. But for the next few weeks, Summer Phillips continued to wave at me whenever we passed in the corridors - which began to feel like it was quite often. My cold shoulder never put her off. But I watched her one day as she walked down the corridor after she passed by me smiling; she waved at about a dozen people, and greeted three more with hugs. Who did that on their way to class? How could one person have that many friends? I was one of hundreds to her. I would have bet she didn't even know all of their names.
At first, her unwanted attention was incredibly irritating; after one brief conversation in Charms, we were hardly friends. But one day she didn't smile at me as she walked by, and I was surprised to discover that I missed it. As obnoxiously chipper as she was, I had come to enjoy being smiled at in the corridor, thinking that someone was genuinely happy to see me – even if it was just from a Mudblood. My own friends didn't smile much; as good pureblood wizards we'd been raised to not show unnecessary emotion.
The next day I was a bit late to Charms again, and I glanced to see if there was an empty seat beside Phillips; maybe it had just been too long and my smiling quota was up, and I needed to renew it by working with her in class once more. Regardless, there was no empty seat near her, and besides, Jasper and Wilkes had saved me a seat this time. I gladly joined them. It was a silly thought I’d entertained for those brief few seconds – of course I had no business voluntarily sitting by a Mudblood.
I thought that would be the extent of all the interaction I’d ever have with her. How wrong I was.
An average day in the beginning of October became much shittier when I saw an article in the Daily Prophet about Death Eater activity: some of them, my colleagues, had just murdered a family of Muggles in Ipswich. The article didn’t name anyone specific, but I knew it was Rosier and Mulciber who had done it.
Evan Rosier, who’d left Hogwarts last year, was a cool bloke with an odd sense of humour; I rather liked him. And I didn’t know or care about that Muggle family in Ipswich. But I kept getting flashes in my mind of Rosier freely using the agonising Cruciatus Curse on faceless Muggles curled up in terror, and flashes of green light as they died.
My discomfort wasn’t really about the Muggles. It was just that I couldn’t see myself in Rosier’s place – and it would be my place in a year once I was out of Hogwarts. The reality of it, seeing it printed on the page and knowing the inside story, my future story, was a bit scary. So I walked off by myself up to the Astronomy Tower; there’d be no one up there this late in the afternoon.
But when I pushed open the thick wooden door, I saw a silhouette framed against the orange sky: a girl leaning against the parapet, just looking out across the grounds. Phillips. She turned around when the door banged closed behind me; her blonde hair whipped around her face in the breeze, appearing golden in the late sunlight.
“Regulus, hi,” said Phillips, before turning back to look out over the tower again.
“Hello,” I said haltingly, remaining by the door. I hadn’t come up here to chat with cheerful Mudbloods, or to see anyone’s friendly smiles. I’d come up here to be alone. “What are you doing here?” I asked.
“I love being up here at sunset,” she enthused. “It’s just so beautiful, and I feel so free up at the top of the tower where I can see everything and feel the wind in my hair.”
I said nothing. I had no words to respond to such a statement.
She turned to face me again. “Is everything okay?”
I was slightly taken aback – why should she care? My personal life had nothing to do with her, and I didn’t appreciate the attempt to pry into my business. I was briefly struck by panic that she could do Legilimency and had read my turbulent thoughts about my fellow Death Eaters – but obviously she hadn’t. “Of course,” I said with trained coolness. “Why?”
“Every time I see you, you’ve got this dark, broody expression,” she explained, trailing her fingers lazily across the rough stone wall. “Don’t you ever smile?”
“Of course I smile,” I said, frowning. “When it’s appropriate.” I didn't realise I was frowning, though, until she looked at my face and laughed. This only made me scowl more, and I replaced my hand on the door handle, ready to leave. Maybe I was just so desperate to feel as happy as she was, but I didn’t open the door; I simply stood there indecisively.
“Let’s see a smile, then,” she said, as if I were a child. “Come on, a real one. They say smiling makes you live longer!”
How the hell would smiling make anyone live longer? But I did anyway, so maybe she’d leave. At best, I managed a grimace, but then a sharp laugh slipped out at the absurdity of the situation. It only made her smile more brightly. “Come here,” she said.
There was really no reason not to. My friends weren’t anywhere around, and they need never know I’d spoken to Phillips. Maybe someone laughing and smiling with me was what I needed in order to get this weight off my shoulders. Even if she was a Mudblood. I wouldn’t need to speak to her again after this anyway. I suppose it was selfish of me, but I didn’t care – I never said I was a saint.
I joined her by the parapet. She didn’t say anything more, and we just watched some birds fly out of a tree in the faraway Forbidden Forest, behind which the gilded sky began to redden. I wondered if I should say something, but I had nothing to ask her, because I didn’t care. So I remained silent, and let the wind dance through my hair.
“Feel better?” she finally asked.
She continued speaking when I didn’t. “It’s peaceful up here, isn’t it? It does something to you, just takes you away from everything you don’t want to worry about.”
She was right, as much as I hated to admit it: simply standing up here away from all the rules and taboos of my pureblood life had been very relaxing. Up here on the Astronomy Tower at sunset, I was no longer Regulus Black, elite pureblood wizard upholding aristocratic behaviour. Here I was just anyone, or possibly no-one. It didn’t matter.
The next time when there was a good sunset was three days later, so I went back to the Tower then. Phillips wasn’t there, so I had the whole place to myself, and enjoyed the freedom of being alone. But when I heard the creaky hinges of the door to the stairwell, I turned around, and sure enough, Summer Phillips was back. She grinned.
“I was just leaving,” I said brusquely, straightening up from my position of slouching on the wall.
“You don’t have to,” said Summer. “I like the company. Unless you want me to leave?”
Any of my friends, in my place, would have requested that Summer leave. But then again they wouldn’t have been up here watching the sunset in the first place. And I would feel like a tool telling Summer to leave what was really her spot. So I said nothing.
“Man, you’re a tough shell to crack, aren’t you,” she said, walking up to the wall. “You don’t say much.”
Of course, I didn’t say anything in reply, and merely watched Phillips twirl her wand absently as she rested her elbows on the wall; a swirl of orange and yellow oak leaves drifted out from her wand and sailed off the tower. My eyes followed the path of the leaves as they made their way to the ground like little parachutes on the wind.
“Autumn is such a beautiful season,” she said.
I finally spoke. “I would have thought summer was your favourite,” I said obnoxiously, and then inwardly cringed. I was making puns on her name, something Sirius did with his own name, which had always pissed me off. Now I was no better.
“Well, I like summer too, obviously,” she said. “Every season has its own individual beauty, I think. What’s your favourite season?”
“Winter, maybe,” I said.
“You like the snow, then?” she asked.
“Yeah. And… sitting by the fire with hot butterbeer,” I admitted. What did it matter that I told her about myself? She was only a Mudblood; her opinion didn’t really matter. I didn’t care what she thought of me, and it was nice to be able to talk about such light and trivial things for once. “And snowball fights, and Christmas.”
“And hot cocoa with marshmallows,” she added with a grin. We lapsed into silence again, and eventually Phillips leaned her head on my shoulder. Her hand rested on the wall only a few inches from my arm.
“What are you doing?” I objected, nudging her away with my elbow, and she stood up straight again. “Don’t touch me, Mudblood.”
“Sorry,” she said with an unconcerned shrug. “You seemed friendly for about three minutes, so I thought I’d take the risk. I don’t know if you’re aware, but blood status isn’t contagious. Wear gloves next time if you can’t handle it.”
“Next time?” I asked.
“Well, you are going to come back up here again, aren’t you?”
I stared at her. She still wanted to spend time with me, even though I’d just insulted her? I felt a twinge of regret at lashing out at her. “I don’t know,” I said.
“All right, well, if you ever want to talk again, I’ll be here, Reg – can I call you Reg?”
That caught me off guard; the only person who ever called me Reg was Sirius. “Er, sure, if you want.”
The sun was behind the trees now, so I told Summer I’d see her later. I left her on the tower. But for the next few weeks, I did keep coming back, and each time we’d talk just a little more. I began to think of her as a friend – but only in the space of the Astronomy Tower.
It was the end of October, and I’d just returned to the Slytherin common room after a cloudy, rather unimpressive sunset on the Tower.
“Where have you been?” Wilkes asked slyly. “You look… flushed.”
“Huh?” I asked, putting my cold hands against my face, which felt warm, but I couldn’t tell if it was just my cold hands or not.
“Don’t think we haven’t noticed,” Jasper prodded. “You disappear in the evenings all the time, for about half an hour. It’s obvious what you’re up to.”
“Who is she?” Wilkes asked. “Selma Yaxley?”
Jasper scoffed at him. “No, you twit, it’s not a Slytherin, otherwise he wouldn’t be keeping it a secret.” Then he turned to me. “Esther Davies? She’s a pureblood, and not bad to look at.”
“No,” I said shortly. “I’m not meeting a girl, I just like to have a little walk around, that’s all.”
“Then why do you look so happy?” Jasper persisted. “What about the other hot Ravenclaw, the tall one?”
“She’s a half-blood, idiot,” Wilkes told him. “That’d be almost as bad as if he was hooking up with that stupid Mudblood who always waves at him.”
Jasper laughed heartily, and I joined in convincingly. At least it was easy to lie to my friends; they had no idea I actually was meeting up with Summer. The mere idea that I would go out of my way to speak to her was so outlandish that it never crossed their minds that it might be real.
I told Summer about this amusing exchange the following day, when the sunset was a nice yellow, although very cold. “My friends have noticed,” I said. “They think I’m shagging a girl in Ravenclaw.”
She giggled. “My friends know about you. I think at first they were under the impression we were meeting up for some secret love affair… or maybe they just hoped that was the case—”
“You told them?” I shouted, picturing crowds of giggly Hufflepuff girls gossiping about me all throughout the corridors of Hogwarts until it reached the ears of the Slytherins.
“Well, yeah,” said Summer. “They’re my friends. You know, I think they would like you, too.”
“Phillips, you can’t just tell people that we’re friends,” I insisted. “There’s way too much at stake for me. My friends aren’t like yours; if they hear that I’m associating with people they don’t approve of, then it reflects badly on me. I have a reputation to uphold, and my family will hear about this and disown me like they disowned Sirius, and then—”
“Reg,” Summer interrupted, firmly putting a mittened hand on my wrist, ignoring the involuntary twitch of my arm beneath hers. “I know. I understand that it’s different for you, and that your friends hate people like me. I told only three people. I mentioned that they shouldn’t go on about it to anyone, and they’ll keep it secret because it’s important to me.”
I hung my head. “I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m sorry my friends are… like that.” I hadn’t realised how much I’d changed, just in these few weeks. Sure, I’d still laugh about Mudbloods with my friends, but I’d started to care, to see the hurt my friends caused others. I had been so selfish all this time.
“But you’re not,” said Summer softly.
“Yes, I am,” I said. “I’m just like them.”
She watched me for a moment. “Maybe,” she said. “But you’re a good person, Regulus. I can see it. Maybe you’re not always nice, but you’re good.”
Down on the ground, far below the tower, I could see a boy and a girl on the hillside, running, free. In another life, that could have been me and Summer. I imagined a life where Summer and I didn’t have to hide our friendship; maybe we could have even been in love. But I didn’t need a girlfriend – I just wanted a friend. And although I’d known her for less than two months, Summer was already more of a friend than any of my Slytherin classmates. She listened, she genuinely cared, and she didn’t judge – and that was more than I could say for Darian Wilkes.
“We need to find somewhere else to meet,” I said eventually. “It’s starting to get too cold up here.”
“I know of somewhere,” said Summer. “My friend Artemis told me about it yesterday, actually. There’s a room on the seventh floor where you can hide anything. Artemis used it to hide something illegal, I’m fairly sure. And there’s loads of old textbooks. But we can use it to hide… ourselves. I’ll show you now, if you want! Come down in five minutes and go to the seventh floor by the tapestry of trolls. I’ll meet you there when the corridor is empty.”
So she left, and four minutes later I followed. When I got to the troll tapestry, a door appeared out of nowhere on the wall opposite it, and Summer’s head poked out. She reached out a hand and beckoned me inside.
With the door closed behind us, I took a moment to look around. Beneath a high, vaulted ceiling, there were rows of bookshelves, cabinets, and stacks of old rubbish that had probably been there for at least a hundred years. “We have it all to ourselves,” she said. “We’ll never be able to see the sunset out the window due to all this crap in the way – but we can meet here to… just talk, I guess. If you want to.”
“Of course,” I said, still looking around the room, slack-jawed. And then I smiled back at Summer – a real smile. There was no chance of anyone finding us, not here in our room. “Look, there are even games here.” I pointed to an old Gobstones set, atop a crate next to a bust of an old warlock. “This is great, because I’m actually pretty good at Gobstones.”
“Oh, I’m brilliant at Gobstones,” she said, snatching the set off the crate with a wicked grin. “I challenge you! Whoever loses has to do something embarrassing.”
Fortunately, she lost, and then I got to put weird charms on her hair that made it stand on end for an hour. We spent far longer than our usual half hour in each other’s company, laughing amidst the piles of ancient rubbish in this room that seemed to hold secrets even Time had forgotten.
We continued to meet up in our secret room. Once, two of Summer’s friends came along, and it took me fifteen minutes to realise that I didn’t know their blood status – and even more, that I didn’t really care. I finally understood why Sirius had turned out the way he had, as I was just now beginning to get a taste of this freedom, and I loved it. But for me, freedom was limited to this room, or on the Astronomy Tower; a freedom only in secret. Outside, it was ever the same as before.
I began to wonder which side I was really on. Certainly I was still proud of my elite position as one of the Death Eaters, and for the work I’d be doing in the service of the Dark Lord. But they could be so uptight, and I didn’t enjoy their presence; they made me nervous and stressed. With Summer and her friends, I felt buoyant. Deep down, my heart told me to leave the Death Eaters, but I was afraid. The cost would be too high, and it wasn’t worth it. So I continued to stretch across the ever-widening gap between two worlds.
Eventually, Summer and I became a bit lazy about all our secrecy. We’d walk together in the corridors sometimes – but of course, when anyone I knew was around, we would act as if we didn’t know each other, and one of us would slow down a bit so it didn't look like we were together. And every time this happened, I’d be annoyed at my friends for showing up. It began to grate on me more and more, until one day I couldn’t take it all anymore. I roughly grabbed Summer's arm and pushed her ahead of me for a few steps, wrenched open the door of a broom closet, and shoved her inside, following her quickly and slamming the door behind us.
“Ooh, Regulus, a broom closet,” she said somewhere in the darkness, the surprise evident in her laughing voice. “Desperate, are we?”
“Summer, I—” I began, but then realised what she must think this was. “Can we talk?”
She snorted in a very unladylike manner. “People talk in broom closets? All right, if you didn't bring me here just to snog me, we may as well not stand in the dark. Lumos.”
A glow of light emanated from her hands and illuminated her grinning face. But when she looked at me, her smile vanished. I clearly wasn't doing as well as I'd been taught to keep my emotions off my face; my distress must have been obvious to her.
And before I could stop myself, I was divulging all my feelings I’d ever kept inside: my frustration at the self-righteousness of Slytherin, my worries about whether I was mixed up in things I shouldn’t be, whether I had real friends, regrets about not listening to my brother, anger at my brother for leaving me behind when he ran away. I didn't say I was a Death Eater, and she didn't ask what exactly I was involved in, for which I was grateful. It would have hurt us both for me to tell her. She just listened until I had talked myself hoarse.
I felt hot prickling tears at the corners of my eyes, and tried to blink them away; I looked away guiltily when Summer looked into my eyes. She reached her arms out to me, and for one mad second I thought she was about to kiss me, but she drew me towards her and let my head rest on her shoulder, stroking my back gently. I flinched at first when she touched me – I couldn’t recall the last time someone had actually given me a hug, and I wasn’t used to the sensation.
She held me tight, and at last, with my arms around her, I let those traitorous tears escape my eyes – the first time I could remember crying in front of another person. Mum would have been appalled at me; it was shameful for a man and a pureblood to cry. But Summer didn't think any less of me, and I needed that comforting embrace so much.
“Summer, I just can’t do it anymore,” I said into her shoulder. “I’m so tired of pretending. But if I stop pretending, it’ll only be worse.”
She was quiet for a while – perhaps trying to work out how to respond to my outburst – and finally said, “Maybe things will look better once we’ve left Hogwarts. It’s a fresh start.”
In the beginning of December, Summer was gone for about a week. I didn’t see her in classes, or in the library, or in the Great Hall. No one smiled at me in the corridors, those tall, arched halls which felt airless and empty without her. I wondered if something had happened to her. But I couldn’t mention this to anyone, because my friends wouldn’t care about a Mudblood like her.
So I tried to phrase it nonchalantly when I asked Wilkes one day. “Wonder what happened to that Mudblood who used to wave at me all the time,” I said. “She finally stopped. I don’t even see her in class.”
Wilkes yawned as he stretched his arms along the top of the sofa. His left sleeve was slightly wrinkled, such that I could see the black edge of Voldemort’s Dark Mark on his skin. “Maybe she died.”
“Maybe,” I said, shrugging. I looked down at my own arm, and tugged the sleeve past my wrist so that it looked overlong, hiding the Dark Mark behind several inches of fabric.
It was with great relief when I saw Summer again in Potions, and briefly grinned across the room at her. But when I turned back to my seat, it was to see Jasper watching me with narrowed eyes. I got the uneasy feeling that he could read my mind, even though he couldn't have been doing Legilimency without eye contact, and guiltily dropped my eyes to my textbook. I’d been feeling this a lot lately – the paranoia that everyone knew what I was thinking, that I’d begun to wear my heart on my sleeve.
Fortunately, Jasper didn’t say anything in class. But he cornered me that afternoon near an empty classroom when no one else was around. “You were concerned about that Mudblood earlier today,” he said.
I played it cool. “Which Mudblood? Phillips? Of course not.”
“Be careful,” said Jasper. “I’ve noticed. There is no way you’re just taking walks around Hogwarts for two hours at a time. I’ve seen you two walking in the corridors together.” He stared at me intently. “Why would you seek the company of a Mudblood?”
“Oh, we both like Potions, so we talk every now and then. But I know, it’s beneath me.”
Jasper shook his head. “There are far better people who like Potions, you know that. I haven’t told anyone about your pitiful and socially disastrous alliances, because they’re going to stop once we’re out in the real world. You won’t be friends with her after Hogwarts.”
He swept off down the hall; he had taken only about ten steps away when Summer darted out from an adjoining corridor and fell into step beside me, her green eyes downcast. We walked in silence for a bit, and then she said, “Regulus, there’s something I need to tell you.”
Hello, and thanks for reading! This short story will be three chapters in total. What you think so far?
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