Chapter 3 : solstice
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I lost more than just a friend when I lost Summer. I lost a part of myself, a part she had awoken in me: the part that could laugh, and hope, and cry… the side of me that could be human. And now I had once again become the stoic wreck I was before, inhuman, unfeeling. I returned listlessly and without purpose to the Death Eaters, because they were all I had now.
Summer was the only person I'd let in through the wall around me, and there was no one I could turn to anymore, no one to talk to. Nothing to say. I had lost Sirius long ago, due to my own pride, and bitterness that he'd run away and not thought of me until later. I had burned that bridge long ago, and I didn't know if he'd take me back. After all, the last time I'd seen Sirius, we were battling in a dark graveyard – me as one of the Death Eaters, the victors, and him with his fellow underground resistance fighters, weary and worn. Our eyes met for a brief second and I saw it written on his face as he looked at me: disgust and disappointment.
Sometimes I'd talk to our old house-elf Kreacher, but it wasn't the same. Although Kreacher liked me, I felt that pouring out the sadness in my soul to him would only be a mistake, and too much for him to handle. Besides, he was too close to my mother and too enamoured with the honour of the family he served. I had to put on a brave face and act like nothing had happened – and it was far too easy for me to do, to crush my feelings into nonexistence as I focused my attention on the work of the Death Eaters. Summer would have hated it. My behaviour would disgust her. But she still wouldn’t have hated me, and that made me feel guiltier than ever.
Summer’s parents and I still wrote to each other occasionally, but my every move was watched by the Death Eaters now that I wasn’t in school, now that I was working for them. Going off by myself to meet unspecified people in a Muggle area was generally frowned upon. So I could never visit, but we corresponded. Anne told me that she visited Summer’s grave every day. I wrote a letter to Summer and asked Anne to place it on Summer’s grave next time she visited. I made up excuses as to why I couldn’t be there in person, to protect Anne from the vile truth, although it was with all honesty that I told her I wished with all my heart that I could be there in person.
Time moved on sluggishly, as if it were attempting to run through thick, viscous mud. In October, the Dark Lord made a peculiar request at one of our meetings: he required the use of a house-elf for a very important task. I volunteered Kreacher, whose heart would swell with joy if I could tell him that the Dark Lord needed his services. The Dark Lord gave me a brisk nod, and thanked me.
So when I went home after our meeting that day, I ventured down to the kitchen to see Kreacher. He bowed low, his long, pointed nose almost touching the floor, and said “Master Regulus. Kreacher is honoured by Master’s presence.”
I smiled. “I came down here with a task for you, from the Dark Lord himself,” I told Kreacher proudly.
He stared up at me, his eyes wide and watery. “The Dark Lord needs Kreacher’s help?” croaked Kreacher.
“Yes,” I said. “It is a great honour – although I do not in fact know what the task is. You will go see the Dark Lord, and you must be sure to do whatever he asks of you.” I paused, overtaken by a moment of distrust, wondering what the Dark Lord would possibly need with my family’s house elf. So I added as a precaution, “And then come home after.”
Once again, Kreacher bowed deeply, and then Disapparated; I returned upstairs.
After nearly two hours of tidying my room and removing the rubbish and owl pellets, Kreacher was still not back, and I grew anxious. What could he be doing for all that time? I wandered down to the kitchen, and then to Kreacher’s lair in the cupboard, then resumed my cleaning, nonplussed. My ears became increasingly sensitive to any sound that could potentially be Kreacher returning.
Fifteen minutes later, I finally heard the telltale crack of Apparating downstairs, and descended the stairs again to find Kreacher kneeling in the middle of the tile floor, his tiny chest heaving and his face distorted in what was surely agony. I rushed over to him and eased him into a more comfortable position. “What happened, Kreacher?” I demanded. “What did he do to you?”
Kreacher mutely rocked back and forth, and I couldn’t bring myself to ask again, seeing the poor old elf in this horrid state. When he coughed, I brought him a glass of water, and this prompted him to speak. “Master Regulus should not stoop so low as to fetch things for Kreacher,” he said hoarsely, but drank the water all the same. And then he told me.
“The Dark Lord brought Kreacher… to a cave. There was a big lake…” Kreacher was shaking, but he continued speaking. “Kreacher had to drink a potion from a basin—so the Dark Lord could hide a locket—the Dark Lord left—and dead hands tried to drown Kreacher…” And then he howled miserably.
“You don’t need to say anything more, Kreacher,” I said, watching him intently, feeling a tug at my heartstrings for our poor house-elf having to go through an ordeal so ghastly he couldn’t even speak of it without shivering. “Stay hidden for a while,” I advised. “And definitely don’t leave the house,” I added, though it was unnecessary – Kreacher probably would not have wanted to do anything of the sort even if I hadn’t ordered him not to.
For the next few days I was on tenterhooks, checking on Kreacher rather often, trying to conceal my distress from Mum, and most of all, puzzling over what had just happened and trying to decide what I could do about it. I was far out of my depth, until the answer to everything came to me at the next gathering of the Death Eaters about two weeks later.
As I walked through a hallway in the old mansion in which we were meeting, far before I reached the room they occupied, I could hear the excited buzz of voices, the occasional shrieks from my cousin Bellatrix. It was the typical din of when they had Muggles to play with. And indeed, that was what I saw when I entered the room.
A man lay on the floor, dead. Bound to a chair nearby was a blonde woman in a long, flowery dress, and she turned to look at me as she heard my footsteps creak in the doorway. When I saw her face, a chill ran up my spine, and I froze suddenly in place. It was Anne Phillips, Summer’s mother. The dead man on the floor was Summer’s father.
My two worlds had intersected in the worst possible way. I felt like a fly trapped in a spider’s web, shaking and unable to free myself, helplessly waiting for the inevitable spider to swallow me up. This was not what I’d envisioned when Wilkes and I had eagerly joined the Death Eaters a year and a half ago. I didn’t belong here. I had to get out.
Mrs Phillips watched me vaguely, and I was thankful that in her dazed state she couldn't place where she'd seen me before, didn't associate this horrible Death Eater with the nice young man who had visited Summer in the hospital for Christmas, the person who wrote her all those letters.
“Just in time,” Rodolphus Lestrange said to me. “Want to finish her off?” I watched Bellatrix dance around the chair wildly, hitting Mrs Phillips with a Cruciatus Curse, filling the air with Anne’s strained screams.
“No,” I said crisply.
In the silence between Bella’s curses, Mrs Phillips’ gaze flickered back to me; a brief spark of recognition flashed in her eyes, as she whispered, “Re–”
But her voice was drowned out by Bellatrix's excited screech. “AVADA KEDAVRA!”
While Bellatrix let out a manic, high-pitched laugh, Mrs Phillips crumpled to the floor, and I could only stare, numbly registering that my hands were shaking.
“Someone needs to move it out of the way,” said Bellatrix as she nudged Mrs Phillips' curled fingers with her foot.
It. Not even a person in the eyes of the Death Eaters. But she was, she was, and her name was Anne – a human being who had just lost her daughter and then her husband and then all her hope as she recognised me and I did nothing. And now she was dead.
Before I could stop myself, I wept, for Summer, and Anne, and Kreacher, and the rest of them who didn't have a voice in this tired cosmic tragedy.
“Are you crying about the Muggle?” Bella hissed, her dark eyes wild and disbelieving.
“Of course not,” I said vehemently, because even now I still had to save face. “There’s some fucking dirt in my eye.”
“That tends to happen with Muggles about,” said Wilkes, slapping me on the back in a brotherly manner. So my transgression passed by without prolonged comment.
But the Dark Lord was not fooled. His red eyes bored into me. “You are weak,” he said simply, a sneer distorting his thin lips. “Weak and emotional, like a little girl. Perhaps a position in the Death Eaters is no place for a child. What shall we do with you, then?”
“I’m not a child,” I said. But I was, really; I was still just a teenager, and this was no place for me. I kept my posture straight and my head up – this way I did not have to look at the bodies on the floor – and moved along, coming to stand alongside the other Death Eaters as the Dark Lord addressed us.
He said that most of us were disappointing. Bellatrix was leaning forward towards him, her face tilted up, eyes fixed on him, as if begging the silent question as to whether or not he meant she was a disappointment. The Dark Lord continued, informing us that he had killed one of Dumbledore’s resistance fighters himself earlier this week on useful information from Bellatrix. Bella relaxed, a smug smile upon her face as our master’s gratitude assuaged her, but I merely wondered if the dead person was someone else I knew, like Sirius. And then, the Dark Lord drew my close attention when he continued talking about death.
“I have taken more steps than any other on the path to immortality,” he boasted. “I cannot be killed, because I am more than just this body.”
I frowned at him in consternation. It sounded almost as if he meant he’d made a Horcrux, for one could not be killed after making a Horcrux, with part of the soul ensconced in another vessel. How bold of the Dark Lord to brag about it in this manner, as if he thought no one would figure him out. But I had read those books, back when I was trying to find cures for Summer, and I knew. The Dark Lord had a Horcrux. If I could find and destroy it, the Dark Lord could someday be killed, and no one else would find themselves in the miserable situation I lived every day.
It was only when I got back home that I discovered what the Horcrux might be. Kreacher came into my room to let me know that there was soup in the kitchen, and as I stared at that old house-elf and recalled the way he had been used by the Dark Lord, just to hide an old locket, the truth hit me. That was no ordinary locket. Kreacher had unknowingly helped the Dark Lord stash his Horcrux.
The Dark Lord might have seen me as his weakest link, but I knew I was more than that. Strength ran in the blood of the Black family: Mum, firm in her convictions, never let anyone get away with telling her what to do, and Sirius endured all manner of injury and loss as he voluntarily fought on the losing side of the war just because he believed in it. I was going to be strong too, and do what I needed to do. I would prove the Dark Lord wrong, and he would know it. The only question was how.
The solution I finally came up with was simple in its theory. One indigo twilight a few days later, I stopped by Diagon Alley and walked into a shabby old shop full of trinkets, where I bought a tawdry golden locket that more or less fit the description Kreacher had provided. I went back home to sit at the fine wooden rolltop desk in my room, with a small fragment of parchment in front of me, upon which I would inscribe my last message to the Dark Lord.
I spun the quill around in my fingers a few times, labouring over each sentence in my mind before writing anything. In the end, though, it wouldn’t really matter; based on Kreacher’s tale, my intended trip to the dim, watery cave would likely be one-way. Finally, I dipped my quill in a well of fresh black ink, and penned:
I know I will be dead long before you read this,
but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret.
I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can.
I face death in the hope that when you meet your match,
you will be mortal once more.
I folded the scrap of parchment once, twice, three times, the sweat from my palms leaving a streak on it, before tucking the note inside the locket, which I then slipped into my pocket. The world suddenly looked too bright, every colour more vibrant as I walked downstairs, and it made me want to shield my eyes. And finally I opened the door of Kreacher’s little cupboard; he got up out of a pile of blankets and bowed low to me.
“Kreacher, I need your help,” I said, and even my voice had an odd, foreboding brightness to it, a suppressed energy; Kreacher must have noticed, and watched me warily. I continued, “If it’s not too much to ask, can you take me to the cave where the Dark Lord brought you? You will be fine, nothing will happen to you with me. But I have unfinished business.”
He nodded. In silence he Apparated us both to a cave; I could smell the salt of the ocean nearby, hear the angry waves breaking against the rocks in the dark. As I searched around the small area for the lake and basin of potion Kreacher had mentioned, Kreacher cut himself with a sharp stone and wiped the blood on the wall directly opposite us, which disappeared, leaving nothing but an archway leading to a large, dim cavern.
I followed Kreacher along the side of the cavern, between the wall and the expressionless, dead lake, my eyes trained on the faint green light in the centre. My wand light did little to illuminate the path for Kreacher and me, but he seemed to know the way even without the aid of my light. Reaching out his thin arm, Kreacher grabbed something invisible, struggling with the weight of it; I assumed there must be a Disillusionment Charm, and reversed it. A rusty chain appeared, which I helped Kreacher tug, until it brought a small boat into view, right up to the rocky shore. We sailed across the lake together to the little island with the stone basin on a pedestal. It was full of green potion, as Kreacher had described. There was only one thing to do now.
I reached into my pocket and withdrew the replacement locket, which I handed to Kreacher. Kreacher could get out of here again; the locket was safest with him. “I am going to drink the potion,” I told him. “If something happens to me in the process, this is what you must do. Take this locket, and switch it with the other one when the potion basin is empty. Then leave here without me, and go home. Destroy the first locket. And you must never tell anyone what has happened here.”
“Master Regulus…” whispered Kreacher, his nose and his wide eyes leaking, his thin shoulders slumped in defeat. “Master will see things, Master will hurt and be sick. Kreacher is begging Master not to do this…”
“I have to,” I said softly. “It’s the only way.”
“Kreacher can drink—” Kreacher began, but I cut him off.
Then I conjured a small goblet and dipped it into the green potion, the deep colour so toxically bright in the dark cavern such that I could not look away. I wondered what would happen if I simply poured it out; I considered it, until I saw the leg of a dead person in the water. Probably an Inferius, who would leap up at me if I poured the potion into the water. So I drained the goblet. It was like poison, searing my esophagus and lungs. I was overcome with a desire to drink pure, clean water, but that was out of the question. I filled the goblet in the basin again.
My thirst was overpowering, yet I kept drinking, as if one more gulp of the potion would quench it. After three drinks of the potion I sat down, only wanting to give up. I needed water. But part of me rebelled. If I could not see this through, then I was as weak as the Dark Lord had said. I needed to be strong. Confident in the face of Death, like Summer had been.
Someone screamed as I reached out for another gobletful of potion – it might have been me. I was vaguely aware of voices and hands, possibly Kreacher’s. But more real to me than Kreacher was Summer, sitting in a hospital bed right before my eyes, her hair falling out and needles dripping liquid into her arms.
“It hurts,” she said. Or maybe I said it.
“You can do it,” I told her… or she told me? “You’re strong – keep fighting.”
I watched as Bellatrix murdered Anne again, and then the green potion swam in my vision in perfect clarity. I drank more of it. Someone was crying nearby. Summer, possibly. Or Kreacher?
More potion. I couldn’t breathe, and my throat cried out for water. There was water on my face, but it tasted salty. Staggering from the pedestal with a fresh helping of potion, I threw the goblet as far from me as I could manage. Anne screamed. Through a bleary daze I saw the water surrounding the island that kept me captive; I stumbled towards the inky blackness lapping at my feet, collapsed to my knees, and reached my hand into the life-sustaining liquid. As if from hundreds of miles away, Kreacher’s cracking voice came to me in waves, but I couldn’t discern what he was saying.
There were cold hands on me, on my arms, and suddenly I was weightless, whether floating in water or in air I wasn’t sure. Coughs and gasps racked my lungs, and then they stopped. With my eyes closed, I could feel the agonising pain slipping away slowly. Inside my eyelids was a white light; I let it take me towards eternal summer.
A/N: Regulus’ note to Voldemort is a direct quote from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling, chapter 28, “Flight of the Prince”.
Thanks to everyone who read this little story! It may be the most depressing thing I’ve ever written, but I’d love to hear what you thought of it in a review. Your reviews mean a lot to me. ♥
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