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    Chapter Two

    It did not take long for Vivien to have another chance to see Regulus Black again. She had managed to garner herself an empty compartment, turning her face to the window so that her housemates would not immediately recognise her. For once on this trip to Hogwarts, she wanted to be alone. Perhaps she had guessed something would happen that would best not be witnessed by those who somewhat knew her.

    With her mother gone now, it was far easier for her to leave home without regret. However much she had been neglected, her mother had always bid her farewell on her way to school. Grimm’s house would now lie empty during the school year, except for the house elf, and it felt strange to Vivien that it should be so. An empty house. It didn’t seem right, yet she very well knew that it had been that way for all the years before she and her mother had arrived there. But that was a time she knew very little about.

    The motion of the train was lulling her to sleep when she heard the compartment door slide open. Only one set of footsteps entered the compartment, pausing to take a seat across from where she sat at the window.

    “Hello again, Horne. Feeling better?”

    She could not miss the slight biting tone in Regulus’ voice.

    “When your mother dies, then you’ll know, Black.” Vivien did not bother to hide her bitterness.

    He shifted in his seat. Either she’d made him nervous or he was still trying to get comfortable.

    “That’s a bit harsh. I was trying to be polite.”

    She opened her eyes. “More like failed.”

    After a moment, he said, “You’re not an easy one to talk with, Horne.”

    “Go away, Black.”

    He licked his bottom lip, his tongue wrapping neatly into the corner of his mouth. The next words he spoke were in a deeper voice, not yet at the level of his elder brother's. He was sadly still at the age when his voice had not entirely broken.

    “Why are you so desperate to get rid of me?”

    Vivien sat up straighter so as to better read his expression, her eyes squinting. At this rate, she’d be needing spectacles soon.

    “Honestly? I wouldn’t trust anyone with a name like yours.”

    He put on a mask of shock, widening his eyes. “How cruel! So if my name was Tom Nobody, you might like me?”

    She kept her lips in a firm line. “I'd think about it.”

    A small crowd passed along the corridor. Prefects, by the looks of them. They at least knew better than to peer into the windows of compartments.

    Regulus crossed one leg over the other and folded his arms, eyes searching her face.

    “You know what, Horne? You don’t make sense.”

    Was that supposed to be a compliment? Vivien’s decision was borderline; one could not trust a Black to speak the truth, even when they were being sincere. She’d watched Sirius get around the rules, even with McGonagall, too many times. He could sidle his way out of death, if he pleased.

    She decided to remain silent. If she did for a long enough time, it was possible that he might go away. The possibility was a small one, but it was a better than attempting to come up with a counter to his endless stream of questions. He was close to becoming the next plague. Why had he come to her, of all people? She was an utter no-one, and preferred to keep herself that way.

    “I won’t leave just because you’re too stubborn to reply.” His eyes assessed her once again, then he smiled. “And you are stubborn. It’s not pretty in a girl, but you pull it off well.”

    The hair on her arms prickled. He must have been doing this on purpose, baiting her to see how far she could be pushed before exploding into temper. But here was a far different situation than in the graveyard. There were too many people around to whip out one’s wand and start screaming hexes into the air. No, while at the school, one must remain entirely unobtrusive.

    “Don't flirt with me, Black.” She paused, hurriedly thinking of what to say next. It had to be just the right thing.

    Her hesitation was too long. He started to laugh, the high-pitched giggle catching the attention of a group of Ravenclaws passing by. Only too late did Vivien realise that the group included her dorm-mates. Luck was just that cruel. She wished that they’d walk in and chase Black away, but they continued on down the carriage, whispering in each others’ ears. Vivien cursed them silently.

    “Your friends?” His voice had lowered. He was watching her again.

    She raised her upper lip in a half-snarl. “Mostly.”

    There was a strange expression in his eyes. Strange because it was unfamiliar to his face, as it did not suit his over-defined cheek bones and dark colouring. Some would have called it a softening of the features, others would say it was some degree of understanding.

    “We’re both lonely people, aren't we.”

    The words were flatly spoken, but Vivien could hear the truth within them.

    Now it was her turn to watch him.

    “You have a family, Black,” she said, her voice more quiet than ever, eyes narrowed to slits. “What would you call what I have?”

    He leaned forward in his seat, balancing his elbows on his knees, hands clasped.

    “So you take the word ‘family’ to merely mean that I have a mother, a father, and a disgraced brother who is no longer supposed to be mentioned? That would not be at all what I meant by it.” The bitterness in his voice was heavy, filling the air with its sour stench. Everyone knew that Blacks were not born, they were constructed. Regulus was no different; his heart would be as dark as his name, even against those who shared his blood.

    The news of Sirius Black’s escape from 12 Grimmauld Place had come to Professor McGonagall by express owl post, although Vivien was unsure just who had sent that letter. Would Sirius himself had notified the Gryffindor Head of such news, or would it instead have been a worried Mrs. Potter, seeking advise on the new arrival to the Potter household? What piqued Vivien’s curiosity most, however, was Regulus’ opinion on the matter. It was unlikely that Regulus would miss his brother; she had never seen the two of them exchange more than a few words in the last four years – but the Black family had to be in some sort of uproar. These things didn’t happen all that often, did they?

    Her eyes met his for a moment, and she knew the truth. This had happened before, many times, and each time, the Black family never forgave, but always made sure to forget. The memory of Sirius would have been vanquished from the house as soon as he had stepped out of the door. Regulus simply did not care whether or not he may have once had a brother.

    Just how different was that from the death of her mother? She had not felt much about her mother in the first place, and although she had sat at the woman’s bedside for hours upon end, Vivien could not make herself believe that she would one day miss her mother. Even now she felt no deficiency because she was short one biological parent. That same coldness, that want of desire, was evident in the face of Regulus Black.

    For the first time, Vivien felt some sort of understanding arise between herself and the strange, but curious boy sitting across from her. She missed the glint in his eyes as he noticed her reaction, her growing pity. She only saw someone who understood abandonment.

    “Losing someone is always hard,” she said, choosing her words with care. “No matter what you thought of them.”

    He did not respond right away. She thought that he wanted to gauge her words, make sure that they were real and held truth within their syllables. Just as she could not trust him, he would not trust her. It would take far more than a simple understanding to reach such a pinnacle of existence. One did not approach a Black too quickly, for fear of being scalded.

    “It is time that I was more honest with you, Horne.” No understanding could even force him to stop using her surname. Its use maintained the distance between them, the abyss between those who are and those who dream of being.

    Vivien slouched back in the seat, savuoring the softness of the cushions. “Go ahead.” It was pointless for her to speak – he would tell her even if she told him not to.

    His hands unclasped and clasped again. His first sign of a minor anxiety. “The day of your mother’s funeral was the same that my— that Sirius left. I needed to get out. Mother didn't ask me to go.” He was now avoiding her eyes.

    Vivien watched him, watch for any sign of foul play. Why this sudden modesty, this impossible admittance into his confidence? She did not need to know these things. What did they matter, anyways? He had lied, yes, but why tell her that now? The first time they had exchanged words had been at that funeral.

    What to say in reply? Oh, that’s nice. No, that was too callous; his behaviour warranted something more than that. He was not here because she was just a Slytherin crony he could joke around with. There was something else in this. If only she knew what.

    “Now this is interesting,” he said, a semblance of awe appearing on his face. “Even when I am candid, you still don't believe me. Merlin, what things did old Grimm teach you about us?” He paused, eyes narrowing. “You do remember that you are a pureblood, don’t you?”

    Vivien crossed her arms and looked out the window. Why should she bother herself to respond to such a stupid, idiotic statement as that? Her silence burned like the scathing reply lying in wait on the tip of her tongue.

    “You’ll never trust me, Horne. It’s better that way.” Regulus stood over her, his voice lacking the amusement that she had expected. He was not mocking her.

    She watched him leave the compartment, taking in his appearance as she had not done before. Some said that he was better-looking than his brother, but Vivien had seen just as much as Regulus as his brother in the years previous to this. Haughty and handsome was not her type, particularly when the former adjective extended well past the latter. Yet she could also see how other girls had formed such a high opinion of the brothers Black: the dark curls, the depth of their gaze, the strong facial features.... Vivien’s head tilted as Regulus turned down the corridor. Even his posterior afforded a not unpleasant view.

    It was too bad that such a view must be marred by the deficiencies of inbreeding.

    Once he had gone, she closed her eyes, trying to relax her nerves. The bastard that he was, he refused to let her mind rest, and so she sat there, staring out the window, trying to keep her thoughts away from those of the blackest sort.

    ~ * * * ~

    The sound of the Great Hall on the first night of school was always deafening. The sudden change from the silence of the London house to the din of a school dinner startled Vivien more than usual. There were goosepimples on her arms as she squeezed into a seat among her housemates, but she rubbed them away with her hands, making it appear as though she’d just caught a slight chill.

    “Spending any time with one of those Black’s would cause that.” The shrewd eye of Iris Pennyworth missed very little.

    Exchanged? Parried would be a more accurate word.

    “He’d make the rainforest freeze with just a look.” Vivien hoped the others couldn’t hear her above the noise.

    Iris and some of the other girls laughed, always glad to find a reason to insult a Slytherin. That Regulus was a Black only provided an extra bonus. Even the supporters of purebloodism found reason to dislike at least one member of the Black family. It wasn’t for nothing that the one Black to make Headmaster of Hogwarts was the least popular headmaster listed in Hogwarts: A History. While the Black brothers were admired as fine specimens of masculinity, only Sirius was also known for any scrap of kindness. He was, after all, close friends with the mousiest, ugliest boy in fifth year.

    “What was he talking with you about for so long?” asked another girl. Tully had never been successful at hiding her curiosity. It may have killed the cat, but it only fed a ‘Claw.

    Vivien looked down at the table. She couldn’t even put a word to the things that Regulus had said – most of it was meaningless talk, a sort of polite conversation with motives Vivien didn’t yet know or understand.

    After a moment, she said, “He wanted to talk about his brother.”

    The others nodded, and one of the elder Ravenclaws leaned into the conversation.

    “It wouldn’t do him any good to be found talking about his brother to any of his sort. Everyone knows what happened, but who can he talk about it to?” Emmeline continued on to her own seat further down the table, leaving the fourth years in an awkward silence.

    Dumbledore was just starting his speech when Iris whispered across to Vivien: “Stop worrying about it, Viv. It was just a wrong place at the wrong time thing.”

    Although Vivien nodded and turned to listen to what Dumbledore had to say (much of the same as the last three years, she was sure), she felt a certain lack of conviction in her agreement with Iris. Coincidence didn’t work like that. The first time, maybe Regulus had just stumbled upon her mother’s funeral, but the second time in the train he had meant to speak to her and only her. It wouldn’t surprise her if, furthermore, he had meant to meet her in the train.

    Regulus Black wanted something from her. With all his banal talk, he’d been trying to weed something out of her, maybe some feminine pity or something like that. But it was his last words to her that had planted the seed of worry in her mind. You’ll never trust me... it’s better that way. Those words just didn’t make sense. He’d tried to gain her understanding, and had almost succeeded. Yet, at the very last moment, he says that.

    He was right in one thing, however: trust was the last thing she’d ever give him.

    Halfway through Dumbledore’s speech – he was just reaching the part about the Forbidden Forest that made most of the Gryffindors grin like madmen – Vivien caught the intense gaze of Grimm, who must have seen the anxiety on her face. What he would make of it, she had no idea, but she hoped that he wouldn’t guess the real reason for it. It wasn’t like there was actually anything to worry about in fourth year – it was perhaps the most boring year of all.

    Tully poked her in the back. “Viv! Maybe now that Sirius is out the family, Regulus is being pressured to find himself a girl.” Her voice was a mixture of teasing and awe. “And you’re a pureblood!”

    Why was everyone trying to remind her of that fact? There was still a good number of pureblooded girls at Hogwarts, many of which wouldn’t actually mind being tied body and soul to one of the Black men. The family may have been getting short on members, but it was certainly not short of money.

    Turning her head in Tully’s direction, she hissed back a reply. “As far as I’m concerned, he can find someone more desperate!”

    A few people turned her way, wondering at the statement. Vivien gave them a glare and looked again towards the Head Table, trying to appear as though she was paying attention to the finale of Dumbledore’s speech. The headmaster was, at least, an interesting person to watch, if not to listen to. The note of seriousness in Tully’s words had alarmed her more than had the ignorance of Regulus’ motives. If he had been preparing her for courtship, he’d done more to warn her off than attract her. Then again, she wasn’t the type to be wooed by money or charm.

    An idea came to her without warning.

    Once again turning towards Tully, she whispered, “But has he ever been interested in anyone before?”

    Tully blinked, staring at Vivien with widening eyes. “I don’t... I mean....”

    From across the table, Iris supplied a further explanation. “He’s a Black. They just don’t care.”

    Vivien settled back into her position of polite inattention, thoughtful. She should have known those things before – it wasn’t like either of the Black brothers had actually stepped out with anyone before. They looked and, even more, were looked at, but they had a particular “look but don’t touch” philosophy surrounding them. That very fact made Regulus’ interest even more strange, even disturbing.

    Her eyes moved, almost unbidden, in the direction of the Slytherin table. There sat the usual suspects: Snape with his still-greasy hair and knife-sharp nose, Rosier looking like he’d been lifting weights all summer, the younger Lestrange with his familiar leer. It was the usual menagerie until she caught the gaze of Regulus Black. He was different from the others – they didn’t sit the same way, they didn’t – couldn’t – have that same aura of true confidence and power. Vivien twisted around to view the Gryffindor table. Yes, Sirius had it too, but not in quite the same way.

    Regulus was still staring back at her. There was no emotion on his face – no victorious smile or sneer of hatred – he was just looking. It was worse than looking into a mirror; at least then you saw whatever emotions with written on one’s own face. But here... here Regulus was only managing to give her the shivers, like he was some undead creature ready to devour her soul. It would not have been a great surprise to her if there had been some vampires in the Black family tree.

    The food appeared on the table, causing the students to erupt in a literal volcano of noise that must have echoed to the Dover cliffs and back again. Vivien took her turn at grabbing various articles to consume, relieved that, finally, there was a reason to concentrate on something other than the dreaded colour of night.

    ~ * * * ~

    “Snape.” Regulus’ hiss echoed down the dungeon corridor. “A word.”

    The taller of the two, but hollow chested, Snape stopped and crossed his arms. “What now, Black? Another favour?” A sneer pulled at his lips.

    Regulus tiled his head to one side. “Not yet, but that time will come soon.”

    Snape tapped his foot, his sneer deepening. Regulus watched the action with interest.

    “Late for something, Snape?” He paused, a half-grin forming on his face. “Another pummelling by my late brother, perhaps?”

    That grin, the mocking double of that... that creature known as Sirius Black. Snape wanted to physically wipe it off the younger Black’s face, preferably with some acidic substance. Gratification filled his mind as the image of Regulus Black’s melting skin became vivid enough to be real.

    “I’ll imagine that you didn’t say such a thing, Black.” He tried to retain the clipped syllables of the highest purebloods, but it always faded too quickly from his voice. It was too easy to take on the slurred notes of his dirty muggle father.

    Regulus must have seen the acknowledgement of failure in Snape’s eyes. The grin took over his face, transforming his dark looks into a hideously deformed image of his elder brother’s mirthful expression. Was this what Dorian Gray had seen in the portrait – his own face, almost unrecognizable? Snape wondered for a moment of what would occur if Sirius and Regulus met face-to-face unexpectedly. It was near-miraculous how the two brothers avoided one another; four years, and never a single meeting, not even by accident. Very suspicious.

    Snape often found suspicion in every corner, each whisper. The very world was not beyond his mistrust – it had betrayed him so many times that he saw little point in expecting anything else from everything.

    Only one person, one single individual of the entire human race, held his regard. On that point, he always remained silent. Always.

    “My cousin suspects you of a certain weakness, Snape.” The words barged into Snape’s consciousness. “She doesn’t trust you, which doesn’t make sense to me at all.” Regulus paused, narrowing his eyes as he leaned towards Snape, pushing himself up on his toes to look into Snape’s eyes.

    Swallow, blink. Snape’s mouth went dry. “Why is that?” His voice failed to keep even.

    Regulus did not smile as Snape had expected. The younger Slytherin instead appeared rather disappointed; he had not seen in Snape’s eyes what he had wanted to see. With an impatient sigh, Regulus backed away, his face hidden in the shadows.

    “You want power, Snape, that’s all too obvious.” He stared down at his fingernails. “And you’ll do anything to get it, which is why we end up seeing a lot of each other.” The smile left the barest impression on his face. “And perhaps I have a task for you, after all.”

    There was always a “task”, always something for Snape to do in order to prove himself – a good word from Regulus would be enough to get him into the ranks. That was the power of a Black, and as much as Snape despised the slimy child, he needed him. And he knew very well that Regulus, too, needed him just as much, if not more.

    “As your highness requires.” It was just as unpleasant idea to think that Regulus Black needed him.

    Regulus’ laughter reached his ears. Snape could not see his face clearly, and he knew then that the shadows were another necessity. Whatever request was to come, it was one that caused a personal bother to Regulus. The younger boy was possibly going to place himself in Snape’s hands, but for what cause?

    “From one Prince to another, alright, Snape?” The laughter was nervous, Snape could feel the anxiety in the air. “My problem is like yours, I think, though with less of a backlash if something should, as they say, go amiss.”

    The sound of Regulus’ shuffling boots coupled with his harsher breathing allowed Snape to guess at what request was going to issue from Black’s lips. Trouble and strife.

    “I need you to soften a certain young witch for me.”

    The words, when they finally came, were flat and tasteless. It was as though Regulus had rehearsed them over and over, yet had, at the last moment, decided on something else. He would not forget, only choose something new. And that new thing didn’t leave much of an impression on Snape, except one of greater disgust. A girl. It was always about girls, wasn’t it?

    But he had no choice, now, did he? To fulfill his life-long desire for recognition, for respect, for raw, limitless power, he would have to utterly humiliate himself.

    “In what way?” He spit out the words like bad pumpkin juice.

    Regulus shrugged, in the same way his brother would. “You got Evans well enough, surely you know the secret?”

    Snape distracted himself by thinking of all the spells he wanted to use to rearrange Regulus’ facial features. “These things don’t happen so easily, Black. Your brother would be the better one to ask about seduction tactics.”

    There was a bristling, the air filling with electricity. “Don’t push me, Snape. Use whatever you can to get Horne to stop being such a hard-arsed bitch and maybe I’ll let my cousin know that her fears are unfounded. You are the Dark Lord’s man, are you not?”

    He wanted to give a definite acknowledgement of the question, but the sounds of others approaching made him hesitate. Or was it something else? Flashes of red and green crossing his vision, reminding him of all the other things he had to look forward to, things beyond all his pathetic desires. Only one desire remained.

    Distant voices down a distant corridor.

    “– ran short of asphodel, of all things. Do not look so surprised, Miss Evans. Old men such as myself constantly forget to properly check our stores.”

    “But won’t Professor Slughorn notice you took some, sir?” That voice caught at Snape’s ear.

    “I don’t believe he has accurately counted his inventory since I graduated from here myself.”

    It was then that she laughed. That sound sent shivers down Snape’s spine.

    “You really should set a better example for us, Professor,” she managed to say, attempting a level of seriousness that could not be reached when one was laughing.

    “I seem to be told that all the time,” Professor Grimm said, probably with a roll of his eyes. How such a person could ever have been made a Hogwarts professor was far beyond Snape’s comprehension.

    Lily was still laughing when she and the professor entered the corridor containing the still-frozen form of Severus Snape. He hadn’t even the time to place a scowl on his face before they had noticed him. How could they not, when the stood in the centre of the corridor, staring towards them with longing eyes? Regulus had been forgotten, and a good riddance that was....

    “Use Grimm, you fool.” Regulus’ whisper reached his ears even though the other boy’s physical form was already off down the corridor, keeping to the shadows. He entered the Slytherin Common Room just as Lily’s voice now echoed down towards Snape.

    “Sev! You’re early!” She hurried up to him, clutching her potions textbook against her chest. “Is something wrong? You look... like you’ve seen a ghost, as silly as it sounds.”

    He paused for too long before replying, his brain stalling over the words he wanted to speak.

    “What is it that you do down here?” Grimm asked, filling the silence with something, anything.

    There was a quiet dripping of water nearby.

    Lily glanced towards the professor. “Extra studying for potions in preparation for our OWLS.”

    Grimm kept his gaze on Snape, their curiosity all too apparent. “From what I’ve heard, Miss Evans, neither of you have anything to worry about.”

    Keeping his eyes averted from the professor’s, Snape thought about the things he’d read about closing your mind to others. Yet Regulus Black’s final words, those whispered syllables, played over and over in his head. Use Grimm. The connection there was not a difficult one to see, even for fools. Horne was Grimm’s ward, as much as the two of them never admitted that fact while they were at Hogwarts. There was no evident reason as to why Regulus would find her of all girls interesting. If placed next to Lily, she would appear as dull and colourless as a raven.

    But he was trapped. He would have to do this if he wanted to prevent insane Bellatrix from ruining everything he had been working for. One day he’d be at the right hand of the Dark Lord with all those disgusting purebloods paying court to him. Then, and only then, would he have proven himself.

    “Professor,” he said slowly, tasting each word before he spoke it aloud. “Perhaps you would be able to provide us with some assistance today, as you are already here?”

    Lily’s jaw had dropped, but Snape was now looking at Grimm, meeting the curious grey eyes with the determination which had, until a moment before, lain dormant.

    “Unless you know of another who would be interested in our little... meetings.”

    It was the first sacrifice.

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