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With a sharp pop, Regulus and Kreacher materialized in the tiny, three-star muggle motel room that the wizard had purchased just a day before – refusing to run the risk of his parents finding out what he had planned, elf desperately trying to support human as he stumbled over to the bed. Regulus flopped down onto the double bed, shaking and drenched. He was only dimly aware of Kreacher’s presence, too lost in his potion-conjured nightmares. Over and over, his mind’s eye summoned images of his branding, Sirius’ escape and the resulting aftermath, his first kill – a muggle child no older than ten, his parents screaming – abuse at each other and curses at his brother.

No matter how hard he tried, Regulus couldn’t get warm. Yet at the same time, he was burning alive inside. The potion that guarded the Dark Lord’s horcrux was wreaking havoc on his mind, while the icy, Inferi-infested waters wrought havoc on his body, creating a dizzying medley of agony and rendering him virtually incapacitated. He felt almost detached from reality, only observing as Kreacher poured a healing potion – the only one they could be sure wasn’t going to react to the other one in his system – down his throat. It wasn’t going to be enough and both Regulus and Kreacher knew it. But he couldn’t surrender to oblivion, to peace, just yet…

With one last burst of determination, Regulus forced himself to focus. “Kreacher,” he rasped.

The house elf was by his side immediately. “Master Regulus, I is here. You is going to–”

“The locket,” Regulus slurred. “Where…”

Voldemort’s horcrux lay innocently on the far side of the bed, gleaming and forgotten by both elf and human. With a snap of his fingers, Kreacher summoned it to him and presented the locket to his master.

It took Regulus a frustratingly long time to get his eyes to focus on the horcrux and even longer for his brain to cooperate. At last, he said, “Good. Take...take it to my brother. Tell him it’s the key to defeating the Dark Lord. Tell him to get it to the Order of the Phoenix.”

The elf looked hesitant to leave him.

“Go,” Regulus ordered.

“Yes, Master,” Kreacher cast a worried look at the wizard before grabbing the locket and Disapparating.

And then Regulus was left to face the nightmares on his own. The motel room was quiet, save for the sounds of traffic outside, but the sound of his eldest cousin’s insane cackles rang throughout his mind, leaving a ringing in his ears.

No, no, no. Not real, not real, Regulus shook his head, fisting his hands into the bedsheets until his knuckles turned white.

But the laughter wouldn’t leave his head and neither would the image of the psychotic gleam in Bellatrix’s eyes. As Regulus thought of his cousin, his already erratic heartbeat quickened and his breath came in short gasps. The Dark Lord would send her, he knew, to bring him back. Bella would do it, of course. Familial loyalty was nowhere near as strong as her devotion to their master. She’d deliver him to the Dark Lord’s feet and then–well, Regulus wasn’t even about to attempt to guess how Voldemort would punish him, but he knew it would end with death. Perhaps he’d join the legion of Inferi in that icy, fathomless lake–

Abruptly, the eighteen-year-old stood from the bed in an effort to stop those thoughts and immediately regretted it as the floor started swaying under his feet. Panic shot through him, sending him scrabbling to grab the bedpost before he faceplanted onto the carpet.

Regulus stayed where he was for a moment, trying to regain his sense of balance. Then, he set one foot in the direction of the bathroom. To his surprise, his shaky legs supported him all the way to the sink.

The rim on the basin of the sink was cold, white porcelain and Regulus gripped it tightly to hold himself upright. Then, he looked up and caught sight of it.

It was a face, deathly pale and gaunt beyond belief. Sunken, dead eyes stared at him, surrounded by large, purple eye bags. Hollowed cheekbones jutted out beneath sallow skin, decorated with angry red scrapes and dark bruises. The pained features were all framed by matted dark locks, streaked with blood and other, unidentifiable things.

And then, Regulus realized that the face was his own, looking out at him from the reflection of the mirror.

“How did it come to this?” he said aloud, smiling in disbelief.

Not even five years ago, things had been so different. Regulus had been thirteen then, just entering his teenage years. Despite being the second born son, the young wizard had been respected by his house for his family name and by most of the other houses for his Quidditch prowess. He had been one of the better-liked Slytherins at Hogwarts, both within the house and the general student body. More importantly, at that point, he still had a brother. Regulus smiled softly at the flood of memories that came with thoughts of his brother, although the mirror showed him that it looked to be more of a pained grimace.

Nevertheless, thinking of Sirius provided a feeling of warmth that he seldom felt nowadays. But this time, that warmth soon gave way to a surge of despair that weighed down the eighteen-year-old’s very bones. He would never see his brother again, never get the chance to make things right, never be able to tell Sirius just how wrong he had been about everything or about how sorry he was.

Maybe this – Regulus’ second act of defiance, would be enough. Sirius would know that he defied the Dark Lord in the end, but would he believe it? He had to, Regulus reasoned. The locket spoke for itself; the dark aura that emanated from it was impossible to ignore.

He had to know.

Regulus eyed himself in the mirror. The determination to believe that had set in his features and granted him a burst of invigoration. He turned on the hot tap and cupped his hands under it. The water was only slightly warm, yet still a stark contrast from the murky lake water he had faced before, and it was a welcome sensation as he splashed it over his face.  

At last, the grime from the lake had been cleaned from the young wizard’s face, but the last of his energy had gone down the drain along with it and he could ignore the pain no longer. Regulus took a few unsteady steps over to the bathtub, plopping himself down on its edge.

What was he to do now? His wand had been lost in the chaotic aftermath of the Inferis’ awakening and the healing elixirs he had stashed here in the motel were useless, unsure as he was about how they’d react to the Dark Lord’s potion in his system. He could only hope that Kreacher would be able to deliver the horcrux.

Regulus leaned his head against the wall. Only then did he notice that the bathroom seemed...fuzzy. Spots were appearing in front of him, spots that he couldn’t blink away. And then Regulus realized that he was out of breath. He inhaled deeply, trying to suck as much oxygen into his lungs as possible, but it wasn’t working. Why wasn’t it working?

The Slytherin’s hands scrabbled to find something to hold onto, as if grabbing something solid would force air into his lungs, but in his panic, he only managed to slip off the side of the tub and crash onto the cool, checkered tiles below.

The startling coldness jolted his mind and suddenly, he was back in the cave. There was a loud crash and then hands were grabbing him. Clammy, rotting hands and dead eyes were all Regulus could see and he screamed, thrashing and kicking as hard as he could. They wouldn’t take him again-

“No!” Regulus screamed, a primal, pained sound that set him free for a brief, blessed instant.

And then the Inferi seized him again, pulling him close and holding him tight, rendering him unable to escape. Regulus flailed desperately, trying his hardest to escape the warm hold.

It took a moment for the sensation to register in his brain and another moment for him to realize that the Inferi weren’t warm. Then, simultaneously, he heard, “Damnit, Reg! I’m trying to help you! Stop struggling, you idiot!”

The voice was familiar and, whether it was due to that or his own exhaustion – he didn’t know, Regulus went limp. Suddenly, the cave was gone and somehow, he was looking into his own eyes.

And then, he couldn’t hold on any longer.

The next thing Regulus was aware of was the absence of the agonizing fire inside him. The second thing he noticed was the sensation of crisp, soft linen sheets – with a high thread count, his upbringing told him – against his uncomfortably warm, feverish skin, along with the sound of muted voices chattering away indistinctly. What was going on?

He tried to open his eyes, but they were impossibly heavy and Regulus gave up after a moment. Think, he commanded himself. He wasn’t dead; the dull ache that ran throughout his body proved otherwise. Had the Dark Lord found him? He couldn’t have. Regulus wouldn’t have been so comfortable if that had been the case. Unless this was an illusion, designed to lull him into a false sense of security for Voldemort to shatter. That was the kind of thing his master would do…

Nervous dread began to bubble in the pit of Regulus’ stomach and he must’ve made some kind of sound, for the voices stopped and a set of footsteps drew near.

Open your eyes, Regulus’ mind screamed at him, but he didn’t get a chance to try again. A comforting hand cupped his cheek for a moment, before it moved to stroke back his hair. Another hand covered one of his own and rubbed soothing circles on the back of it as a voice said, “Hey, Reggie. Relax, it’s alright. You’re safe. You’re gonna be fine-”

The only person who called him Reggie was Sirius.

“C’mon, Reg, go back to sleep. I know you’re dying to talk to me,” continued the voice in a cocky tone – that was his brother, alright, “but it can wait. I’ll be here when you wake up properly.”

And he was. Against his will, Regulus drifted off again, but the next time he woke, he could open his eyes and Sirius was there.

His big brother sat a few feet away in an armchair, twirling an eagle feather quill in nimble fingers as he pored over a stack of papers in his lap. He hadn’t noticed Regulus’ awakening and the younger Black brother used the time to view his surroundings.

He was in a bedroom. It must’ve been a guest room, for it was small and minimally decorated, yet the furniture matched and looked to be made of high quality, ebony wood. The walls were light grey and plain, save for where a few rays of sunlight streaked across them from the window, and the carpet was a cheerful tan.

And whether it was due to the room’s calming atmosphere or his brother’s presence, he felt safe, Regulus realized in surprise. Not since he had been branded with the Dark Mark had Regulus felt so at ease anywhere.

He looked back at his brother, who remained oblivious, and said, “Sirius.”

His voice came out hoarser and quieter than he anticipated, but Sirius heard him all the same. In a flash, the Gryffindor abandoned his paper and quills, moving to stand by the bed.

“Look who’s awake,” Sirius grinned. “How are you feeling?”

“I think I’ll live, surprisingly,” said Regulus. He bit his lip and after a pause, looked his brother in the eye. “What…what happened? The locket…”

Sirius sobered at the mention of the horcrux. “Relax, Dumbledore has it now. What the hell was that, Reg? ‘The key to defeating Voldemort?’”

Regulus’ entire body seemed to sag in relief and he shifted in the bed. “It’s...well, it’s a piece of the Dark Lord’s soul. Until it’s destroyed, he’s basically immortal.”

“Well, it seems damn near impossible to destroy,” Sirius sighed. When Regulus raised an eyebrow, he clarified, “Dumbledore’s been trying for days.”

“Days?” the younger repeated with an uncomprehending frown.

“You’ve been knocked out for three, Reg. It was Monday when you ordered that little bugger Kreacher to give me the locket and today’s Thursday. You’re at my flat, by the way. You’re gonna have to hide out here for a bit, ‘til the Order manages to feed false info about your location back to the Death Eaters.”

Regulus sat up in alarm, wincing at the sudden movement. “What? No!”

“Look, I know it doesn’t have the man-eating carpets and severed head decor that Grimmauld Place does, but-” Sirius began.

“That’s not what I meant, you git! It’s not safe. He’s going to come after me and you’ll-” said Regulus furiously.

Sirius just smirked. “Aww, you do care!”

“Is everything a joke to you, Sirius? Don’t you realize what this means? He will find me and then…your blood’s going to be on my hands,” Regulus finished quietly.

Mirth fell away from the older wizard’s face and he moved to perch on the bed next to Regulus.

“It won’t be,” Sirius said forcefully, his eyes willing him to understand. “Every inch of this place has been warded by members of the Order, including Dumbledore. Voldemort–” Sirius didn’t fail to notice the way his brother flinched at the name, “–isn’t gonna find you here.”

Regulus still didn’t look convinced. Sirius let out a long-suffering sigh and continued, “If I didn’t want you here, you wouldn’t be here, okay? Hell, if I didn’t want you here, I wouldn’t have made that blasted house elf take me to you in the first place. Listen, Dumbledore even offered to have you moved to a safehouse. But I turned him down, so if something happens to me, which it won’t, it’s not your fault.”

Regulus huffed irritably. “Damn foolhardy Gryffindor,” he muttered, but his features had softened and a tiny smile was growing.

“Pot, meet kettle. I’m not the one who went charging into some bloody cave all half-cocked,” Sirius retorted.

“I spent a week planning!”

“Well, a fat lot of good it did you. You barely made it out, Reg,” Sirius glared.

“Yeah, well, maybe I didn’t intend to,” Regulus said in an undertone.


Regulus shrugged. “What’s the point in surviving just to be on the run for the rest of my life? It’s not like anyone would really give a damn if I died.”

He said this so matter-of-factly and Sirius gaped at him. As the atmosphere in the room turned from comforting to stifling, Regulus turned his head away from his brother to look out the window and tried to appear nonchalant.

The rustle of the blankets and the creak of bedsprings broke the silence as Sirius stood up to pace the room angrily. At last he spun around, eyes flashing.

“Do I not count as anyone, then?” Sirius demanded.  

Regulus turned to look at him. He arched an eyebrow coolly. “We haven’t seen each other in two years, not since you told me to go ‘piss off to my little Death Eater friends so you could find your real brother.’ Forgive me for taking that to mean you weren’t interested in speaking again.”

A shadow crossed over Sirius’ face and regret darkened his eyes as he remembered that day. The room remained quiet.  

Finally, Regulus spoke again. “It was my penance. As much as I hate to admit it…you were right, Sirius. About all of this. I didn’t realize it until I had gotten in too deep. Look, I’ve done things to people that I can never make up for.”

He paused for a moment and then smiled softly, but there was no humor in it. “The ground looks no different whether it’s muggle blood or pure blood that stains it.”  

“I should’ve taken you with me when I left,” Sirius said abruptly, guilt coloring his voice. He ran a hand through his hair in frustration, keeping his eyes fixed on the floor.

Regulus shook his head. “I wouldn’t have gone with you.”

“Could’ve dragged you.”

“I’d like to see you try,” Regulus scoffed.

All at once, the atmosphere lightened and their eyes – precisely the same shade of grey – met. And for the first time in years, understanding passed between them.

Regulus shook his head and grinned wryly. “We got a lot of issues to work out, don’t we?”

Sirius laughed, and his expression was carefree again. “That’s an understatement. We gotta kill time somehow, though.”


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