The delectable scent of the opening feast struck Regulus squarely in the nose as he stepped through the doors of the castle, the steady tide of students pushing him gently along on his journey toward the Great Hall. As he passed the tables for students from the other three houses, he noted the presence of steak and kidney pie, roast beef, lamb chops, shepherd’s pie, several steaming plates of chips, and a pile of jam doughnuts that looked so appetizing they almost gave him physical pause. Regulus forced himself along the last few feet to his place at the Slytherin table.
He had scarcely felt the wood of the table under his palms when he was joined by his closest friend, another fifth year named Cassian Wilkes. The boy sitting across from him had hair the color of pale straw, and it had grown a bit over the summer, leaving him with a haircut that appeared neat to most of his peers but was likely a bit too ragged for his mother’s liking. He lazily pushed aside a few unruly strands in the front and reached for a bit of chicken wordlessly.
Regulus watched him but did not move, his upbringing having reinforced the importance of not beginning a meal until it was properly served. He sat patiently through Headmaster Dumbledore’s opening speech, chuckling along with a few other students when the traditional warning about the Forbidden Forest brought out interesting looks on the first years’ faces. However, he was as glad as anyone when the speech concluded and dinner was served. When he turned to grab some chicken, he saw that Wilkes was already polishing off his second leg, his thin frame causing Regulus to wonder to himself where all the food went following digestion.
Regulus decided that it was up to him to initiate conversation. “How was your holiday?”
Cassian stuffed the last bit in his mouth, the long ride from Kings’ Cross apparently having stirred up quite an appetite in his stomach. When he was temporarily satisfied, he turned his attention to Regulus. “It was all right, until a couple of weeks ago,” he replied finally.
“What do you mean?”
“Well, Mum and I went into Diagon Alley to pick up my books and a replacement cauldron,” he began, and Regulus suppressed a snicker. He could recall the fate of Cassian’s last cauldron, the well-worn hunk of pewter that Wilkes had melted into shapelessness after adding a bit too much armadillo bile to his Wit-Sharpening Potion in last year’s Potions class. Professor Slughorn had taken to stepping more widely around Wilkes in the corridor, lest the next spill ruin his robes.
Unhindered by the change in expression, Cassian went on. “When we got back home, the place was a total mess, and Dad was sitting in the drawing room drinking Firewhiskey like nothing had happened. But Mum found a warrant from the Ministry on the dining room table. They were looking for stuff made from Dark magic or something. It took the house elves a week to put it right.” He shook his head, taking a sip of pumpkin juice to wash down his entrée.
Regulus was curious to know if the Ministry officials had actually found anything, but he didn’t dare ask, lest he risk besmirching the fine Black manners he’d inherited. “I’m sorry, mate.”
“It’s all right. Just paranoia about You-Know-Who, you know,” Wilkes replied. “So, how was your summer, then? Still getting on with your brother?”
Regulus glanced across the heads of several newly sorted first year Slytherins, his gaze falling upon the boy in question and his friends over at the Gryffindor table. James Potter had apparently just said something very funny, because Sirius looked like he might fall over from laughter, and the rose-tinted blush slowly creeping up Peter Pettigrew’s neck suggested that the joke may have been one of a risqué nature. Regulus turned back around, shrugging in response.
The meal proceeded fairly quickly, goaded on by the many hungry students eager to fill their bellies and get into their warm four-poster beds. When dessert was served, Regulus was the first to pop up and choose two perfect jam doughnuts from a platter in the center of the table. Wilkes chose to forgo dessert and join the students who had already stood and turned to go to bed, using the unnecessary excuse of having consumed too much already in order to leave Regulus alone. A few moments later, his belly full of savory and sweet foods, Regulus decided it was time to relax.
As he got up, picking up his cloak to carry it with him to the common room, Regulus heard a familiar voice calling his name. He looked up to see Professor Horace Slughorn approaching, the edges of his dark brown robes flying away from his engorged belly with each confident stride. Regulus watched with mild amusement as the man’s heavy footsteps advanced upon him.
“Hello, Professor,” Regulus said, accepting Slughorn’s handshake. “How was your summer?”
“It went reasonably well, Regulus, and I appreciate your inquiry concerning it,” the professor replied. “I trust you enjoyed a relaxing holiday as well?”
Regulus nodded. “Yes, sir.” It suddenly occurred to him that this might be Slughorn’s heavily veiled way of asking if he had been practicing for the upcoming Quidditch season. “However, I’m looking forward to getting back to business, with O.W.L.s coming up, and Quidditch…” He said, trailing off as he noticed that Slughorn had begun to gently steer him into the corridor.
They walked down into the dungeons along with the other Slytherins, but when the remainder of the house turned left toward the hidden wall that led to the common room, Slughorn and his temporary captive diverted to the right, heading past the Potions classroom and toward his miniscule office.
“It’s excellent that you’re in an academic mood, Regulus, because I’ve been meaning to talk to you about something ever since you brewed that impeccable Deflating Draught last year,” Slughorn said, quickly lighting the candles that dotted his small office and saving the last bit of the match to set fire to the two slender pieces of wood that resided in his fireplace. Regulus immediately felt a pleasant surge of warmth flood his body as the heat began to fill the space, and he felt temporarily grateful that Slughorn’s office was more compact than his own room.
“I don’t know if you’re aware of this, as I try not to advertise it too heavily, but I am in command of a little gathering of students that have been meeting in this very office for several decades now. The club consists of individuals I have hand-picked for membership, based on their varied and unique talents,” Slughorn explained, jostling around his desk chair awkwardly until he could create a space large enough to accommodate his girth between the large mahogany desk and the stone wall behind it. “I’ve come to call it the Slug Club, with some affection,” he added, smiling pleasantly and gesturing for Regulus to take the empty seat across from him.
Somewhat regretfully, Regulus moved away from the fire and sat down in front of the desk. “Sir, I’m afraid I don’t understand… are you asking me to join?”
“Of course, dear boy, why else would I reveal my secret to you?” Slughorn chuckled slightly.
“I’m honored, Professor, but…” Regulus adjusted his position in the chair. “Why choose me?”
“Well, your aforementioned talent in my subject is certainly something to be rewarded,” Slughorn mused. “Aside from that, you also show promise as a Seeker…”
Regulus suppressed a smile, watching Slughorn wrestle with his modesty. He knew the next words out of the man’s mouth, if he allowed himself to speak them, would concern his family. He decided to save his Head of House the trouble. “My family line is entirely magical, as you know, so I suppose I should be thanking my ancestors for the talents of which you speak.”
“Indeed, yes!” Slughorn’s relief was nearly comical. “Now that you mention it, I would love to take a moment to discuss membership with your older brother as well. Professor Flitwick has remarked on his abilities in Charms a time or two, and I understand he’s quite adept at Transfiguration as well, judging by his performance on last year’s O.W.L. exam.” He looked at Regulus, seemingly aware that he’d somehow gotten lost in Sirius’s vast accomplishments. “Well, dear boy, you can take some time to think on it if you like, but you should know that you’re quite exceptional. I don’t typically speak to students about this until the sixth year.”
“Oh, I’d love to join, Professor, no thought needed,” Regulus said with a smile, watching a pleasant expression spread across Slughorn’s face. He couldn’t stand to remove that look with the news that Sirius wanted to stay as far away from Slytherin as possible, including Slughorn, and that if he joined, he would likely use the club as a mere platform to vilify his own surname. “I, um… I’ll speak to Sirius about the club, though I suspect N.E.W.T. courses will occupy him.”
“Excellent,” Slughorn said, and the expansion of his smile suggested that Regulus’s lie had been well placed. He turned to the preparation of his lectures, half of which were neatly stacked on one corner of his desk, and Regulus took this as a signal that he was free to retire for the evening.
The gentle jade-tinted light of the common room, an effect created by the reflection of the many candles that dotted the dark room upon the crystalline panels in the stone walls, bathed him gently, welcoming him home as he stepped into the familiar bowels where he slept nine months out of the year. Many of the other Slytherins had already retired to their rest, content to hold conversations punctuated by yawns quietly with their roommates, but Regulus didn’t feel the pull of sleep acting upon him just yet. He strode past a pair of fourth-year girls testing out a new nail-painting spell they’d surely picked up from a summer issue of Witch Weekly and came to a halt before the fire, his gaze turning upon the three young men occupying the couches before it.
Though two were sixth-years and one a seventh, all three were as familiar to him as Wilkes, owing largely to the fact that they and their illustrious families had attended dinner parties in his father’s house a time or two over the years. To the left sat Atroxas Mulciber and Ignavus Avery, who were both engrossed in what appeared to be the latest issue of the Daily Prophet. To their right sat the oldest of the three, Evan Rosier, who suddenly looked up as if he knew he was being watched. “Oh, Regulus,” he said, nodding slightly to the boy. “Good summer?”
“Yeah,” Regulus replied. “What are you looking at?”
None of them responded, but Mulciber shifted position just slightly, allowing Regulus a better view of the front page. He recognized St. Mungo’s, the wizarding hospital, and the animated skull and snake that marked the scene of yet another Death Eater attack. TWENTY-SIX PATIENTS DEAD, TWO INTERNS, ONE DOCTOR, the headline read boldly across the top.
“What’s the story say?” he inquired, unable to take his eyes off the brilliant Mark in the sky.
“A bunch of bollocks,” Evan said, and the tone of his voice startled Regulus slightly. “They forgot to mention the two nurses we got. They must’ve made it, I suppose,” he added.
“You were there?” Regulus asked, turning his attention to Rosier.
“Yeah, went with Malfoy and Lestrange. ‘Training’, they called it,” Rosier replied. Regulus watched as his hand moved to his left arm, as if on cue, and scratched gently through the sleeve. “No sense in wasting good medical care or education on Mudbloods, you know? Good exercise.”
Avery sniggered at his final comment, but Regulus frowned, his gaze returning to the paper. The doctors and nurses, even the interns, I’ll give them that, but patients? People sick in hospital? It seemed too simple for work that would be associated with the Dark Lord, too many easy kills. None of it resonated with what he’d read about the Dark Lord’s strength and careful planning.
He turned from them, disliking the uncomfortable sensation in his gut, and headed upstairs to his bedroom. He found his four-poster bed neatly made, the house elves having tucked his green comforter and white sheets into perfect hospital corners, and his empty bookshelf and small wardrobe waiting to be filled with his things, which stood in the corner next to the mirror. He ignored them for now, retrieving his broomstick from where it leaned precariously against the wall. The Cleansweep Six was two years old, a gift from his father when he attained a position on the house team as a gangly third year, and it, like him, had been cooped up all summer in the Blacks’ urban dwelling. He imagined the broom was itching to get out just as badly as he was, and thus he could think of no better way to unwind before bed than a trip out to the Pitch.
Regulus headed back upstairs, slipping out without anyone in the common room noticing his departure, and strode confidently down a mostly-empty corridor past the deserted Great Hall. He was just rounding the corner to exit the castle when he passed by the open entrance to the library. Inside, he saw something that caused him to pause for a momentary change of plans.
The boy was sitting by himself, his hand-me-down copy of Advanced Potion Making laying open on the table before him. The tightly-packed scrawl that dotted the margins of the text matched the half-page of writing on the piece of parchment next to the book; the one responsible for the partial essay had put his quill down already, his attention captured by another sight across the room. Through the few dark, oily strands that obscured part of his face, a pair of opaque eyes stared over the rise of a large, hooked nose. A foot tapped noiselessly but steadily on the floor.
The object of his interest sat at a table across the room, laughing quietly with a pair of female sixth-years and stealing careful glances at the ever-watchful librarian to keep out of trouble. Her neatly-trimmed curtain of red hair moved softly over her shoulders as she worked to compose a document of her own, penning each work carefully with what Regulus suspected was a neat hand. This confused him, as it was too early yet for homework; just then, he noticed one of the girls, a pretty brunette, retrieve a piece of parchment that had been sitting next to the one the redhead was working on, only to have it immediately replaced by a piece from the other girl, a tall, slender blonde whom he recognized as a Hufflepuff from previous Quidditch matches. The redhead kept looking from one piece to the other, as if she were comparing their contents.
He could hear Snape muttering under his breath. “Study group… I could help with Potions…”
Regulus moved gingerly forward, pausing next to the table. “S-Severus?” he managed softly.
However, his efforts to keep from startling the other boy amounted to naught, and Snape jumped a good two feet in the air. Fortunately, the girls were too consumed with their conversation to notice. A quick flash of red, which rivaled the hair of the object of his affection, swept into Snape’s cheeks, stayed long enough to raise an uncomfortably hot sensation in his gut, and departed. “What do you want, Black?” he snapped quietly.
“Nothing, just… hello,” Regulus said. “What are you working on?”
“Apprentice essay draft,” Snape said in the same perturbed tone, and he looked back at the redhead, as if he hoped that Regulus would simply vanish and return to where he’d come from.
Now that silence had fallen once more, Regulus took another look at the redhead. After a moment of watching her, he recognized her as Lily Evans, the Muggle-born girl that he’d so often seen shouting at Sirius out on the grounds between classes. She was memorable because her yells contained no hint of teasing or flirtation. She seemed to genuinely hate his brother.
“Lily Evans?” he said quietly. “You fancy Lily Evans?”
“Shut it,” Snape said, shooting him a venomous glare. “It’s none of your business.” Lily looked over in their direction by accident, and Snape automatically returned his gaze to his textbook. “I can’t believe you don’t know already, what with the way the others tease me about it…”
“No, it…” Regulus smirked. “I understand. I mean, she’s quite pretty.”
Snape said nothing.
“You know she’s a Mudblood, right?” Regulus added bluntly.
“Don’t say that!” Snape hissed, and a somewhat terrifying expression came over his face, one that caused Regulus to take a step back without fully realizing it. A pause occurred before Snape found his voice again, and when he spoke, his words sounded hollow. “Can’t help how I feel.”
“Yeah, it’s a shame,” Regulus said quietly, frowning. He hadn’t meant to hurt the boy’s feelings. He just believed in labeling things as they were, that was all. It was only a word, the right word. Snape had returned to his essay, though he continued to steal glances at Lily every few minutes. “Well, I’ll see you around the common room, then,” Regulus said, sensing he was not wanted.
It was a relief to step outside into the warm night air, to feel the gentle breeze relieve him of the tension he’d experienced during his brief stay at the library. He absently dragged the well-worn twigs on the end of his broomstick along the dirt as he took in several deep, calming breaths of appreciation, enjoying his slow walk out past the groundskeeper’s hut to the Quidditch pitch. Once his shoes were shed, his soft heels and clean toes kicked off from the ground in unison, and before he knew it he was gliding above the tops of the stands, embracing his freedom. The empty night sky, dark as his name and the hair on his head, swallowed him in a welcoming embrace.
It was good to be back at Hogwarts.
As usual, J. K. Rowling owns anything and everything you recognize. I selected the first names of Avery, Mulciber and Wilkes based on their Latin meanings. Cassian, a variation of Cassius, means “empty” or “hollow”. Atroxas is taken from the Latin word atrox, which means “terrible, cruel, horror”. Finally, Ignavus means “lazy” and also “cowardly”.
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