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22 March 2010 @ 10:32 pm
Nineteen Seventy-nine, part II  
Part one

Lily Evans appeared at the Ministry library at the beginning of July. Her hair was loose and tangled, and her cheeks were flushed and her eyes wild. I dropped the book I was holding.

'Sirius is unhurt,' she said quickly. 'Someone, I think it was Lucius Malfoy, tried to hex him, but your brother was too fast, he's fine. But I think James may have killed Severus.'

My mouth opened, but no sound left it.

'It was all so fast,' she went on helplessly. 'He only hit Sev with a Stunner, but it was such a long fall. I tried to see if he was all right, but other Death Eaters drove me back, and then they were howling with rage and we had to fight so seriously, and then they were gone …' she paused to draw in a long breath that was almost a sob.

'Regulus, I just need to know …'

'I'll find out,' I promised.

She hugged me quickly. 'I'll be at the tea room in York. I'll visit Arthur and Gideon now, make it look as though I have come here to talk to them. I'm sure no one saw me come in here, and I'll make sure no one sees me leave.'

'I'll … yes, all right,' I said to empty air.

It was easier promised than done. I had no knowledge of any action today, nor last night, and so could hardly Apparate to Spinner's End demanding to know if Severus was wounded or worse.

For a full quarter hour, I was at a loss, then the obvious solution occurred to me. I had found two of the books on the list the Dark Lord had given me, but had put them to one side in hopes of finding more before making my delivery. There was no need to wait, though, they could as easily be given to Lucius now as later. I filled out de-accession forms for both of them, left a note explaining there was a family emergency for the librarian, should she wake before the end of the day, and went upstairs to Malfoy's office.

Fate was with me. He had only just returned ahead of me and was still taking off his cloak as I knocked on his door. He hurried me in and shut the door behind me. 'Thank Merlin you're here!' he said.

'I have books …' I explained.

'Books, yes, good work. But not perhaps the most important thing right now. How is your healing work? How good are you at Potions?'

'Good, and I scored an O in my NEWTs.'

Relief crossed his face. 'Good. Right. In that case,' he handed me a satchel and small silver urn, 'I want you to take these potions and this Portkey and go straight to the manor. There's been a little accident this morning and Severus has been a bit banged up.'

'Is he all right? Why doesn't he go to St Mungo's?'

'His injuries would be hard to explain. But not as difficult as all that to treat, it looked like mostly broken bones, he was lucid and complaining when I left him.'

'I'll go, then.'

Lucius smiled gratefully at me. 'I'll make my excuses here and follow shortly. The Portkey will take you directly to Severus. My parents are at the manor, but have been instructed to stay clear of my rooms. Narcissa is with him, she is keeping him calm and will help you if you need it. The house-elves will keep everyone else away, but the Portkey will allow you through, they will know it comes from me.'

I put the strap of the satchel across my body and picked up the urn. 'When will it activate?'

Before he could answer, I was gone.

I stumbled to a halt in one of the newer parts of Malfoy Manor. A door opened at the sound of my feet, and my cousin Narcissa appeared. She looked as blonde and pretty as she had at her recent wedding, but her forehead was creased and her eyes darted quickly to find me.

'Lucius sent me,' I announced, holding up the urn.

'Oh thank goodness. Come Regulus, he's in the most awful pain.'

I followed her into the bedroom. Severus was propped up on the large bed, his face grey and drawn, his leg bent at an unnatural angle. Blood had seeped through his robes onto the white comforter below, and he held his left arm cradled against his chest.

'I've given him dittany, but I had no idea what else I could do without possibly making things worse,' Narcissa said quietly. 'I have made his leg immobile, and cast a cooling charm on it, because I remember Professor Slughorn used to always give us icepacks when we fell, but everything else is beyond me.'

'You did the right things,' I assured her. 'Can you find me a house-elf, a bottle of good Firewhisky, and plenty of water?'

'Yes, of course.' She bustled from the room, though she could have accomplished all of the above with a single call. I could tell she wanted to leave, though, and so could Severus.

'Narcissa has tried to be kind,' he muttered. 'But I think she is mostly afraid that I would die before anyone else arrived.'

'You're not going to die,' I said, swinging the satchel from my shoulder as I strode over to him. 'You might wish you had before I'm done, though. Honestly, Severus, you're a fool. Go to St Mungo's.'

'And tell them what? That I fell from my broom while wearing a hooded robe?'

'They're Healers, not Aurors, they don't care. And yes, tell them you fell off the roof if it comes to that. They are fully equipped to do things I can only try.'

'I'd rather you.'

'Then you're a fool.'

But I took out my wand and began to cast the spells that would reveal his injuries to me. He was remarkably lucky. Although four ribs had cracked, none had broken, and his internal injuries were not significant. His leg, however, was in bad shape, as was his arm, and his pelvis was broken, though not displaced.

A gash across his midriff was responsible for most of the blood, I incanted 'Vulnera Sanentur' three times, then moved to the ribs, which were repaired with a simple Episkey. The pelvis was not difficult to fix, but I would need assistance with the leg and arm.

'You're helping,' Severus said, attempting a smile.

It was not a gesture he excelled at on his best days.

I ferreted through the satchel Lucius had given me. It was well stocked, and the vials I was looking for were all there. 'Asphodel,' I said, picking one out. 'There will be enormous pain when I straighten the bones, I am going to put you to sleep first.'

'There is no need.'

'Stop being an idiot, Severus. Aside from everything else, you're bigger than I am. Do you really think Narcissa and I can hold you down if you fight us in your pain? Her immobilising spell will have to be lifted for us to set your leg. You will do as you are told.'

I pulled a mixing vial from the satchel and decanted several drops of Asphodel into it. To this I added ten grains of tincture of Murtlap, and stirred it with the glass rod Lucius had provided. Silver would have been better, but I was not even wearing jewellery that could have been pressed into service. Too late, I remembered Narcissa, but a splash of valerian syrup added the calming influence the silver would have granted. I shook the vial, then sat gently on the side of the bed.

'When Narcissa comes back, we're going to prop you up and have you drink this. It'll hurt like buggery, but only for a few moments. Then by the time you know what's what, you'll be mostly well again.'

'Thank you, Regulus.'

'Thank Lucius, he's the one with the good Potions kit.'

'It was Potter, you know,' he said without preamble.

'What?'

'He tried to kill me. In front of Lily. But she screamed my name, Regulus! I believe she still cares for me!' His eyes and voice were triumphant.

'Of course she does,' I said without thinking. He looked at me sharply then, and I covered my words hastily. 'I had friends in Ravenclaw, remember. They would ask after you on her behalf. You may have stopped being friends, she may have married Potter, but I think there is still a place for you in her heart.'

He smiled. 'Perhaps she has seen the truth of what is in his heart today.'

'Perhaps.' My voice lacked the conviction of his.

Narcissa appeared then, with Lucius following close.

'How is he?'

'Better than he looks,' I reported. 'I'll need your help with getting him up and straightening his leg, but he will be fine.'

'Good work, Regulus!' Lucius sat on the opposite side of the bed, with equal care to my own. 'You worried me, my friend,' he told Severus.

'I am fine,' Severus lied.

'No you're not, but Regulus will fix you,' Lucius corrected him. 'Now?' he asked me.

'Now.'

The two of us lifted Severus into a half-sitting position. He gasped, and sweat broke out in beads across his face, but he did not cry out. Knowing what I did of his injuries, I could appreciate his courage. I lifted the vial to his lips quickly. 'Drink!' I ordered, and he did.

Narcissa took our place supporting him, and lifted the spell she had cast to still his leg. Lucius held Severus's thigh, while I grasped his ankle and pulled gently until the bones were straight and flush against each other again. I held them there with my left arm, and completed the spellwork to knit them in place with my right, before moving on to repeat the process with his arm. All the work of two minutes, yet at the end of it I was shaking with fatigue.

'Let him lie down,' I instructed. 'Give him a few hours to sleep, then wake him and give him ten grains of Blood-Replenishing Potion in a splash of Firewhisky.'

'Of course,' Narcissa promised. 'But, what should I do with the water and the house-elf?'

'His wounds need cleaning. And if he could have clean robes to sleep in?'

'He shall have my own,' Lucius promised, as Narcissa set about warming the water to a good temperature and gathering the softest towels and cloths she could find.

'Thank you, Regulus, your work will not go unreported.'

I shrugged. 'He's my friend, too.'

'Come, let us feed you at least.'

Food – Lily was in a tearoom. 'No, I have to go, I have an appointment. I'll replenish your kit, Lucius, drop it back to you tomorrow.'

'No, keep it, it's a gift!' he insisted.

I gave my thanks and made my goodbyes as quickly as could be done without giving offence. Even then, Lily had three empty teapots in front of her when I finally made it to York.

She leapt to her feet as I stumbled in – my legs felt strange in the trousers I wore for her sake. 'He's all right,' I reassured her as I tried to untangle my feet, and then she nearly knocked me over again as she came running into my arms and held me so tightly that I could feel the buttons of her blouse pressing into my chest.

It was not unpleasant.

The tearoom proprietress coughed meaningly beside the two of us.

'A friend of ours was badly hurt, we've just found out he's going to be all right,' I explained.

'Very pleased to hear it, I'm sure,' she muttered. 'Tea? Cake?'

I could have gone to cake, but Lily shook her head. 'Oh let's go outside, I need to walk!'

She paid the sour-faced owner, whose expression improved somewhat when Lily left the change, then grabbed my arm and dragged me out onto the street. She steered me towards Coppergate, stopping outside the first clean-looking public house we saw.

'Hold these!' she said, loading me down with her bag and jacket before running inside.

I sat at one of the outside tables and waited. Muggles walked by, chatting. Two sat down at the table beside mine while their friend went inside.

'You just watch, the milk snatcher will run this country into the ground!' said one.

'Rubbish!' said his friend. 'She's the only hope for the future we have. If Britain is going to survive, it will be because of her having the strength of her convictions!'

'You're full of shit. Wait and see, bankers and wankers will come out of it well, the rest of us are fucked. What you looking at?'

I realised that the last was aimed at me. 'Nothing, I'm just waiting.'

'Yeah? Well you can wait somewhere else, can't you?'

'No, my friend's inside …'

The other man shook his head. 'Leave it, Tom, the lad's not doing any harm.'

Lily reappeared then, chatting to me as she walked out: 'Thank goodness! Far too much tea!'

She noticed the tension, and turned to the other table, smiling broadly, before coming to me and looping her arm around mine. 'Come on dear, we're running late.'

'Is that your friend?' the placating man asked.

I nodded.

'Good work, lad. See, Tom, a few manners work wonders with pretty young ladies. Have a good walk, you two.'

We were well on our way towards the river by then, but I nodded back at him.

'Making friends with Muggles?' Lily asked me with a smile.

'Actually, I think I would have had to hex one of them if you hadn't come back then.'

'Sorry about that, there's only so much tea a witch can hold. So, tell me about Severus. Is he in one piece?'

I gave a quick run-down of his injuries, and assured her he was being treated and cared for well. 'He knows you were there,' I added. 'He heard your voice.'

'Yet he kept on attacking our side,' she said, grimly.

I dropped her arm. 'Yes, well. Your husband did try to kill him.'

'As if we can tell any of you apart with those ridiculous masks.'

'That's hardly the point, is it?'

'Regulus.' She had stopped walking a few feet before. I turned around to face her. 'Did he tell you why we were fighting him?'

'No,' I admitted.

'Right. Well, you ask him. And more to the point, you think for a moment about what it would take to have me go in with my wand drawn against a group that I knew might contain him, or you.'

I looked down at the ground, unable to reply because I knew exactly what it would take.

'Right, well, I'll take my bag and jacket then.' She was cross.

'Tell me about Sirius,' I said, wanting to keep her with me until her anger passed.

She pursed her lips, and took her bag, but left me her jacket. We began to walk again.

'He's fast,' she said. 'They try to hex him, but he's never where they aim. Of all of us, I think he and Remus have the best chance of surviving this, they're actually good at war. Remus would never admit it, but he's as good at escaping and committing violence as your brother is.'

I shook my head. 'Sirius isn't good at violence. He's good at anger, but that's not the same thing.'

'When pushed, it turns out we can all be good at things we didn't expect to be.'

'Lily …'

'I don't understand? It's not what I think?' Sarcasm did not suit her voice.

I had many lines memorised for use in arguments like this, but they had all come from other mouths. And they failed against the evidence of my eyes at Banbury. So I spoke my own words. 'I think that we have problems with some of the people who fight for our cause, yes. And I think that we are spending too much time focussing on the fight itself and not enough on the actual cause, nor other ways of promoting it. But … we are shouted down in the Wizengamot and mocked in the papers when we try to put our case. What other avenues are left?'

'Patience?'

Not another word was exchanged until we reached the river.

'Do you go out with them?' she asked suddenly.

'Not for anything serious. A few times to fly around and look menacing.'

She gripped my arm tightly. 'Do you wear one of those stupid masks? How will I know it's you? What if I hurt you, Regulus? What if Sirius did?'

'It would be my own fault for being there.'

'Then don't be there!' She glared at me for a long minute, then looked down at her hand on my arm, and saw the bruises forming beneath it. 'Oh God …'

'It's all right.' I caught her hand as she went to snatch it back. 'It's all right, it doesn't hurt. You're upset.'

'Of course I am – Severus could have died! And one day they'll decide that you should go out to serious things, and then I might be aiming hexes at you and I'll never know. So I'll always be that little bit slower, worrying about the two of you, and that means that one day someone will kill me instead.'

'No!'

'Why not? I'm a Mudblood, Regulus. That alone is reason enough for some of your lot to want me dead.'

'It shouldn't be like that.'

'No, but it is.'

Her eyes were fixed on mine, and blazing in her white face. I grasped about for something else to discuss.

'Severus heard you calling out for him. It made him happy, he cares about you very deeply.'

That made her blink. Too many times. I saw tears start to form. There was a bench nearby, looking out over the water, and I steered her there.

'I'm sorry,' I said.

She pushed her hair back behind her shoulders, fussing to cover up as she brushed her eyes with her cuffs. 'It shouldn't matter to me,' she said. 'But it does. It always will. He was the first friend I ever had in our world, and every day I feel as though I failed him.'

'You didn't fail him.'

'You can't know that.'

'I can. I remember what you were like at school, and what he was like, too. Everybody heard about what he called you that day, and even after that, you still looked for him over meals, you still kept Sirius and Potter away from him as much as you could. You never failed him, Lily. He failed you.'

She sniffed, unconvinced. Then she looked up at me. 'How do you know I looked for him at meals?'

Damn.

'You were very noticeable at school,' I confessed. 'You've got red hair, and you kept punching Potter and giving Sirius detentions. I wasn't the only one watching you!'

That made her laugh, and for the first time that day, we relaxed.

'So what are you doing in the library?' she asked.

'Tidying up, reshelving, stopping people from borrowing anything.'

'The traditional.' She smiled, and looked down, noticing for the first time that I was still holding her hand. She squeezed it firmly. 'Couldn't you just stay in your library for the duration? Stay safe?'

'Lily …'

'All right, I'll stop. I should get back soon, anyway. James will be wondering where I've got to.'

'What will you tell him?'

'Shopping, girl stuff. He doesn't worry until it passes four hours without me checking in. He knows I don't trust anyone enough to be caught easily.'

'Except me,' I realised.

'Except you,' she agreed.

'I've not told anyone,' I assured her. 'Not even Severus. I never will.'

'I know. You're so much like your brother. Your parents raised you to be pigheaded and a little bit bastardish, but loyal to the very end.' She let go of my hand and stood up. 'I really should go, though.'

'Take care, Lily. Thank you for letting me know today.'

'Thank you for helping him.'

I remembered something. 'You know how you always try to make it sound as though Remus is just Sirius's flatmate?'

She looked evasive.

'Sirius used to bring Remus over for visits in the holidays. I knew about them before you did.'

'Right.' And now her look was the one my parents had worn when they realised I would go and look up all the words they used euphemistically at table. 'Well, things are going well for them, then.'

'Good to know.'

'Stay safe.' She kissed my cheek lightly, glanced about to check we were unobserved, then Apparated away.


+++++++++++++++++++++++++


The second half of summer was relentlessly hot. I told myself that this was the reason I avoided the close and confined wizarding areas of London: so I could take to the countryside and riverbanks and find what breezes there were. At night I went flying, safe and alone. A few times I even charmed my robes and went where the Muggles did.

I saw Lily in Muggle London twice, in the distance, with her husband and Sirius and Remus. Once Remus saw me. He waved surreptitiously, and I waved back. He grinned at that, and I couldn't help smiling. One thing I knew that the Dark Lord and even my parents were wrong on was the subject of half-breeds. Most, like Remus, were no different to the rest of us the vast majority of the time

July closed with Severus recovered, and no further incidents of note. My birthday was the first Friday of August, and among the other gifts was a small box of fairy cakes with a note saying 'From L'. I ate them slowly, and kept the box and note.

Very, very briefly, I allowed myself to pretend that things were settling down. Since Severus had been wounded, both Lucius and Rosier had managed small but significant successes at the Ministry. Perhaps things were shifting, to be more the way they ought to have been from the start.

Perhaps I was just hiding.

Either way, I was sitting in St James's Park on a hot afternoon, watching geese perform feats of formation paddling. I was growing used to the cacophony of Muggle traffic and the music boxes that many of them carried about. It was quiet for a Saturday, the park was not terribly busy, so I was able to enjoy my patch of grass unmolested by anything more than opportunistic squirrels.

A tall black woman in a short canary yellow dress, with the most astonishing legs I had ever seen, came and sat down beside me, smiling.

I blinked, nodded politely, then went back to staring at the geese.

'See, Regulus,' she said. 'This is how you can be that pretty and still not have a girlfriend. Or boyfriend, if it runs in the family.'

'Lily?!' Although the voice belonged to the same woman as the body, the intonation was entirely Evans. She grinned cheerfully at me.

'Things are a bit tense round our way, but I haven't heard from you since your birthday, so my friend Liza suggested I slug down a spot of Polyjuice and set out to find you.'

'How did you know where to look?'

'We do have spies, Regulus. Junior Death Eaters swanning about in Royal Parks attract some degree of attention.'

I looked about anxiously. She patted my arm. 'We decided you were just hanging out after the fifth or sixth time you eschewed evil in favour of feeding squirrels.'

I bit down on a laugh. 'It's not "in favour", they gang up on you if you're not careful and it's either share your lunch or see what they plan to do when snuffly cuteness fails to work. I'm reasonably sure they have evil intentions.'

Lily laughed at that, and even though it was a half-octave deeper than usual, it was good to hear.

I remembered my manners. 'Thanks for my present, it was delicious.'

'I thought you'd send a note to let me know you got it.'

'I should have, but the whole "Dear Mrs Potter, sincerely, your Death Eater friend" conundrum defeated me.'

'Fair enough. So. Sitting in parks?'

'Yup.'

'That's good. You're reasonably safe, sitting in a park. Aside from the squirrels, of course.' She winked at me then, I blushed and looked away. 'Regulus?' she asked with a laugh.

'Sorry, it's just that you look …'

'Ah. Sorry. I keep forgetting just how gorgeous Liza is. She made me wear one of her frocks, too.'

'It's quite a frock!'

'She's French. I'll behave. So, you're well?'

'Reasonably.'

'Thought any more about what you're doing with yourself?'

'Things are quiet, they're working through the Ministry can we just leave it at that?'

Lily shook her head. 'I know that's how you want it to be, but they're not quiet, Regulus. They might be for you, but we've been fending off targeted attacks all through summer. I think they've just found a few people who are willing to focus on violence, and are keeping the rest of you in reserve.'

'Attacks? Have you …'

'We're fine. They've been on families associated with the Wizengamot, for the most part.'

My eyes widened. 'Families of members likely to vote against reforms?'

She nodded. My shoulders slumped. So much for my hopes of political engagement.

Lily took pity on me and changed the subject. 'How's the library?'

'Good. Predictable and dull. Madam Jones was talking about promoting me, though that's probably more to do with the fact I conjure up a good cup of tea than anything else.'

'Good. I like knowing you're there. If things go horribly wrong, there are very thick doors.'

'Lily …'

'I'm allowed to worry about my friends. Even the stupid ones.'

And I couldn't argue with that.

'Listen,' she said, more quietly. 'Something's coming up. There's been increased traffic from Albania and Bulgaria, and we know Voldemort has people in both countries. And those attacks? They're getting weirder. People used to just disappear, now we're finding houses crushed, or torn apart.'

I nodded, but did not speak.

She went on. 'Just keep your head down, yeah? Find excuses. None of us can afford to check who we're aiming at before we throw a hex anymore. It's past that, now.'

'I will, if I can,' I promised.

'Good.' She took my hand and squeezed it. 'That's good.'

A voice sang out near us. 'After a bit of brown sugar, son? Make sure she finishes the job before you pay her.'

Three Muggle men with very short hair, tight shirts, blue trousers and long, laced boots were standing a little way off, sneering at us.

'Piss off,' said Lily, more direct than eloquent.

'Go back to where you came from!' said one of the others.

'You know that Africans came over with the Romans, right?' Lily asked, as though talking to an idiot child. They ignored her.

'When you've finished sucking his cock, you can suck on mine,' their leader offered.

'Sadly, I've left my glasses at home,' Lily riposted.

'Fuck you, bitch.' He stepped towards us, his friends following.

I was on my feet in an instant, reaching for my wand. Nearby, other park dwellers were looking on, concerned, and behind the men I could see two Horse Guards making their way to us.

All of us were slower than Lily.

'Ow!' cried the cock-offering man. A goose had waddled over and bitten him on the back of the thigh. 'Ow! What the fuck do you think you're playing at?' He waved his arms at the bird, and stopped as the bird opened out its wings and stabbed forward with its beak.

The man jumped back out of range, but there was another goose closing in on him from that direction. His mates had begun to laugh at the first peck, but quickly realised that they, too were under attack. The entire formation of geese that I had earlier seen on the water were now closing rapidly in.

The Horse Guards arrived then, uniforms gleaming, and the young men fled. Lily got to her feet as decorously as was possible in that dress, and smiled at me.

'You two all right?' one of the Guards asked.

'We're fine, thank you,' Lily replied. 'It was very good of you to come over.'

The Guards both gave their best Dealing With the Public smiles. 'Didn't like the look of those skinheads,' confided the one who had spoken earlier. 'As it turned out, you had ample assistance from the local fauna. They must like you to come out like that.'

Lily laughed. 'It's true, I am the Barbara Woodhouse of geese.'

'They're protective, geese,' said the other Guard. 'We have them at my parents' farm. They won't let anything hurt anyone they consider theirs, so you two should take that as a compliment. Keep up sharing your crusts.'

'Will do. Thanks again.'

'You're right, love.'

They resumed their walk towards the Palace, and Lily turned back to me. She took my hand again, and patted the back of it. 'You're shaking,' she said.

'How dare they? How dare they even speak to you? And like that!'

'It's all right,' she said. 'Well, it's not, but they're just twats. And look how many people were keen to help.'

She was right, even the middle-aged couple down towards the water had been getting up from their picnic blanket to do something before the geese arrived. But … 'They're vile, piglike creatures, Lily. Why do you defend them?'

'Because we're humans, Regulus. We defend when called upon, and hope that others will defend us when we need them.'

'I'd rather rely on magic.'

She smiled placatingly. 'I'll admit, it does make things easier.'

'In a properly regulated world, this wouldn't happen.'

'That's true, but then, who decides what's proper? You just end up with a whole new set of problems.'

But I had stopped listening by then. I nodded and smiled while she finished talking, then hugged her good bye and kissed her cheek, but all the while I was thinking about my anger, and about how right it was. Which is why, three days later, when I sat in a poorly lit room at Avery's house and the Dark Lord said 'And for this I will need a house-elf, who here will provide me with one?' … I raised my hand.


+++++++++++++++++++++++++


Kreacher came back to me. Burning and groaning and near to death. Dripping water, and with livid marks of hands about his arms and throat, he appeared in my room and he tried to tell me that he had done my bidding and done it well.

And Merlin save me, he had.


+++++++++++++++++++++++++


I nursed Kreacher for the rest of the week. Madam Jones accepted my owl pleading a family emergency and told me to take all the time I needed, she would cover for me in my absence. Since this meant she would take longer naps, and perhaps read further in her current Great Witches and Wizards of the 12th Century research, I didn't worry.

Mother was suspicious, but believed my story that I had accidentally poisoned her best elf through careless Potioneering. Father threatened to make me wash the dishes in Kreacher's stead, but the other elves would not hear of such a thing and threatened to iron their ears if I stepped foot in the kitchen.

Kreacher himself was appalled that I should take care of him, but I convinced him he was helping me research poison cures, so he swallowed his draughts willingly, and even allowed me to nest him in a box in my room so that I could keep him under closer observation.

'Master Regulus is happy with Kreacher?' he asked me many times that week.

'Tremendously so, you couldn't have done better,' I reassured him.

'Master Regulus does not seem happy.'

Master Regulus found it hard to feign happiness when the full extent of his idiocy was opening out before him.

I returned to work the following Monday. Made Madam Jones a large pot of tea, added a good dash of Dreamless Sleep Potion to it, then set about my work.

Happily, I had been slow in handing books on to Lucius, and a large pile had accrued. I sat down with my quill and scroll and started to read my way through them, making notes as I went. It was slow work: half of the books were tedious records, the other half obscure tomes of Dark Magic. Not until after four did I find something that made me catch my breath. It was in a ledger of births and deaths for 1926. On the last page, one entry stood out, most of the way towards the bottom.

Tom Marvolo Riddle, born 11.43pm, December 31, 1926. Mother: Merope Riddle, nee Gaunt (deceased), Father: Tom Riddle (Muggle)

I remembered Lily's words. And now I knew what had happened to Tom Riddle, for I was always fast at anagrams, and when I rearranged those letters, a frightening truth appeared to me.

It could have been coincidence, but as I skipped forward in the records, proof after proof was added. The boy was enrolled in Hogwarts, he was a Slytherin Prefect, who brought great honour on himself in a time of trouble. He was Head Boy, and loved by his teachers. Of his family, there was no mention, merely that he was an orphan who had brought great distinction upon himself and seemed marked for greatness. In every case, the time was an exact fit.

No wonder the Dark Lord wished these books hidden.

I made Madam Jones a fresh pot of unadulterated tea, and added a few cakes out of guilt, then woke her.

'What will you think of me dozing like that today?' she asked, a little upset with herself.

'Not at all!' I said quickly. 'The library has been close and stuffy the whole day, I nearly dozed off several times myself. I think there is something wrong with the air in the building. And you have been doing all of my work as well as your own for all last week, no wonder you're tired.'

'It is terribly warm in here.'

'Do you think, too, that you might be coming down with something? You look a little pale. Would it hurt for you to spend a day or two at home? After all, I could cover for you. It would make me feel as though I was repaying you for your kindness last week.' I was not proud of my lies, but she was old, and it would keep her out of harm's way if I were discovered.

'Do you think? I so rarely take time away, there is so much to be done, after all, but if you think you could manage by yourself, I could do with a little rest. Just to feel on top of things again.'

'Of course! There's no need to even ask. In fact, I know it's awful cheek for me to suggest it, but would you prefer it if I pretended you were in so that you don't have to go through the dreadful rigmarole of applying for leave?'

'Oh young Mr Black, you are a terror!' she said, waving a finger cheekily at me. 'But do you know, it might be the difference between me and that awful Mr Olfsen in Records receiving the service bonus for this year. Would you mind awfully?'

I smiled broadly. 'Not at all! After all the help you've given me, it would be a genuine pleasure on my part.'

'Oh you're a good boy. Well, in that case, I might make it an early night. Now you'll need my keys, and if the Minister asks for anything impossible, just tell him you'll need a dozen research assistants to pull it together, that usually dissuades him. Is there anything else, dear? No? Well, here you go, then, the keys are all labelled, make sure you lock up of an evening.'

I helped her gather her belongings, and shrank a selection of books for her to take home and read while she rested, then saw her to the lift.

'Your mother must be very proud of you,' she said, as she walked into it.

'You just take care of yourself,' I urged.

But I have to say, my mother would probably be anything but proud of my work right then.

I stayed at work late that night, and the next. By the time Madam Jones came back, I had two long, cross-referenced scrolls. One was an elaborate family tree for Tom Marvolo Riddle. He had, at least, been telling the truth when he called himself an heir of Slytherin, but in little else.

The other was a monstrous list of the Dark Spells that the other books had contained. I had checked them one against the other, time and again, and patterns in the spellcraft had emerged: How to Make the Body to Fly; How to Make the Body Impermeable; How to Create New Flesh that Might Be Governed; How to Ensure that Death Be Not Death.

I hid most of the books again, deep within the library. I gave Lucius the customary small pile, and told him again how much work there was in searching for them.

He smiled broadly at me, and told me that it mattered not, my star was in firm ascendency regardless of how long it took to fulfil this mission.

'Lucius, are you positioning yourself to succeed the Dark Lord?' I asked directly.

He frowned, and went to check the door was shut behind us. 'Are you mad to ask such a thing here? Or anywhere, for that matter.'

'No one can hear us, you have a permanent Privacy Charm cast, you told me about it yourself. I am serious, Lucius, do you seek to be the one who follows him?'

The frown did not leave his face, but he answered me, nonetheless. 'Perhaps to rule with him. To look for more is … unseemly.'

I nodded my agreement. 'And yet he is older than us. Over fifty. Do you not think it strange that he never speaks of who will come next? He is a great wizard, but his life is not without dangers, surely he should have a plan?'

Lucius's frown eased at that. 'Fifty is not so old, Regulus! You make him sound as though he is ancient. He is a strong and vigorous wizard. There will be plenty of time for him to worry about succession once he comes to power.' He smiled at me indulgently, and I could see him rationalising my words to himself.

'Well, when the time comes, I think he should choose you,' I said. I felt a little ashamed of myself, but I must have sounded sincere, as he clapped me on the shoulder and laughed.

That night, I dined with my parents. Kreacher was fully recovered now, and had resumed his duties. My mother had told me I had spoiled him, but my father seemed to think I had shown admirable humility and had learnt from my mistakes. We talked about my work, and about my future, and he seemed satisfied with the answers I gave. I waited until pudding was served before I asked the question that had been haunting me for days.

'Why would a wizard whose father was a Muggle declare war on the Muggleborn?'

Father looked at me deeply, but Mother gave a harsh laugh. 'Who wouldn't seek to burn out the weakness within himself? Imagine the horror of realising it is in your blood!'

'But he never talks about it. No one knows.'

'He could be ashamed, Son' Father said. 'He could hope that by being more apparently Pure than the great families, it will burn out the taint of his birth. So many of us have allowed our standards to slip, these days, that he could see himself as preventing the birth of more abominations, and hope that this will atone for his own parent's weakness.'

'Does it really matter that much?' I asked, tiredly.

My mother was horrified, I think that the only thing that stopped her shrieking was the fact she had used all of her breath in a dramatic gasp. My father, though, gave a measured answer.

'Throughout our history, Muggles have tried to eradicate us, Son. It is not merely that our ways are not their ways, it is that they envy every aspect of our existence. By keeping ourselves separate, we have kept ourselves safe. And do not be mistaken, we have also refused to allow our blood to be diluted by theirs. It is no secret that the families who have not been so careful are prone to Squibs. Purity is strength, Regulus.'

I most carefully did not mention the name Marius.

'But if our safety is in our separateness, why then does the Dark Lord seek to put us in a position of power over the Muggles?'

Mother could restrain herself no longer. 'It is our rightful place! Surely we should not be expected to hide from such filth forever? Perhaps, when our numbers were small and they were united and strong. But now we are many, and they are fractured. Now is the time for us to rise up and take our birthright!'

I nodded respectfully at her, but addressed myself to my father. 'What about the Muggle-born? How is it that some witches and wizards appear with no family in our world, yet just, that is to say, nearly as powerful as us?'

His face was sober. 'You can be guaranteed that the Magic is buried in their bloodlines. Sometimes it comes from many generations back. And sometimes, shamefully, it comes from one of ours who has had his way with one of their women, then taken himself from her memory. I will not lie to you Son, such things have been known to happen. It is a great crime, and a filthy abuse of both the Muggle and the wizard's own body.'

My mother had looked as though she was about to launch into another diatribe, but at my father's words, she drew a quiet breath, and her look grew contemplative. 'Sometimes, too, their men force our women into their beds,' she said. 'And even into marriages they have no desire for. I think I know why you are asking these things, Regulus. Your friend Severus will always be welcome here, it was not his mother's fault that she was unable to resist his brute of a father. We must overlook the stain on his blood, just as he seeks to.'

I smiled at her, and she patted my hand, convinced she had been generous and kind. In her own way, she had. I stopped my questions, then, and turned to my pudding. As I chased the remnants of cherry sponge through custard, I stared at the red and though of how desperately I wanted to ask Lily Evans what she thought of all my discoveries. But I could not share this danger with anyone, and certainly not with her.


+++++++++++++++++++++++++


I was with Lucius when he was summoned next. I saw him grasp his forearm, and the look of triumph that came across his face.

'The Dark Lord has need of me! I must go to him!'

He bundled me out of his office, and made a garbled excuse of illness to the assistants outside. I walked with him as he made his way to the Ministry exit; he spoke quietly and quickly the whole way.

'It may be that he requires counsel from his intimates. But if he has action for us to manage, I will call on you. It is time for you, Regulus. You have shown yourself worthy, now the opportunity to serve your Lord should be given to you.'

'I'll be in the library,' I said, hoping that I would not be called on, but fearing I would.

I was right to fear. In less than a half hour he returned, ordered me to bring robes, broom and my Potions kit and meet them in Kesteven, outside Market Deeping just before midnight that evening.

'More glory for you tonight!' He smiled as he left, convinced he had done me a favour.

My first instinct was to warn someone. But how? I could not tell Lily: how would she explain from where she had received the information? I could hardly go to the Aurors and tell them to expect a Death Eater attack – aside from implicating myself, I was not convinced of their trustworthiness.

But … I could go to the Aurors … just not about us.

I left off re-shelving the Decisions of the Wizengamot: 1967–1969 and went to the Directory shelves instead. I was in luck, there were only two wizarding families in Market Deeping.

I left it until afternoon teatime before I stole one of the quills we kept for people filling out borrowing requests and went on a quick walk, allegedly to see if I could find some fresh milk. It was easy enough to swipe a sheet of parchment from Games. I took a moment to scrawl a note, then paid one of the interns a few Sickles to run off and Owl it for me.

If things went to plan, the Aurors would be in Kesteven tonight, too, acting on a tip-off about illegal Potions smuggling, and a shipment that was due to arrive just before midnight. I doubted their forces would be what they would deploy had I said 'Expect Voldemort!', but they could yet be enough to get people out without blood being shed.

After that, I waited. I went home late, ate dinner quickly and with little conversation, then excused myself for an early night. I even managed to nap. As promised, Kreacher woke me at eleven.

'Is Master Regulus going out?' he asked, nervously as I dressed myself in my darkest robes.

'I am, Kreacher, but you are not to tell anyone.'

'Will Master Regulus be requiring Kreacher?'

'No,' I answered quickly. 'You have done more than enough. It is up to me now, your work for the Dark Lord is thoroughly concluded.'

'Kreacher did not mind,' he lied.

'Yes, well, Master Regulus did. Now be a help and make sure you have something warm for me on the stove when I return.'

'When Master Regulus returns,' Kreacher echoed, nodding happily.

I gathered my hood, mask, broom and satchel, and Apparated to the point Lucius had given me.

'Mask!' a voice hissed as I appeared.

I slipped it into place quickly, and added my hood on top. Though it was ridiculous. This was an assembly point, with only Death Eaters here, and I could tell who each and every one of them was from build and voice, if not, in the case of Avery, who had hissed, by his truly appalling boots.

Lucius came to stand by me, with Severus in tow. 'Well timed, Regulus. Severus will be beside you through the evening. Stay to the rear, the Dark Lord is counting on you to provide aid to those of our forces that require it.'

I nodded, pleased to be given a job I could do without qualm. Lucius moved on, leaving Severus with me.

'Don't worry, I'll make sure you're kept safe,' Severus assured me.

'What are we doing?' I asked, not sure that I wanted to know.

'Teaching a lesson,' Severus replied. 'McCoy has decided that he is leaving us. One does not leave the Dark Lord's service, Regulus. It is a lifelong vocation.'

'And we're going to …'

'Explain his mistake.'

'Does he have a family?'

'Does it matter?'

And I wanted to say yes, but at that moment those of us with brooms were ordered onto them and into the air. Rosier was to lead the ground attack on our side, with Lucius his second, while Avery led the other. Those of us in the air were mostly to provide back-up, and to cover escapes.

We closed in on the target quickly. The lights were on in the little cottage, an island of luminescence in the dark countryside near the town. I could see the gentle Charms the family had used to keep Muggles from their door, but clearly McCoy had not believed his defection to be discovered, as there was no serious warding that could stand against us.

I only hoped the lights meant Aurors.

Below us, he door was blasted from its hinges by Rosier, but then Rosier was sent flying back in turn. I held my breath and hoped. Sure enough, the shouts within the house were multiple, and Avery's forces at the rear were also met with a barrage of hexes.

'I can't believe he was such a fool!' Severus shouted in the stiff night breeze beside me.

'What do you mean?'

'He's called in the Aurors! He's sent himself to Azkaban!'

Which may well have been the outcome, though I failed to see how this was worse than meeting a horrible death at the hands of his former colleagues. I supposed I knew little of Azkaban, I had always assumed that inmates were kept separate. Were this not so, and given that the Aurors had been known to arrest and sentence a few of us, I could see that it might be preferable to die quickly, and at home.

But surely not with his family …

'Come down with me, Regulus, they've brought in reinforcements!'

It was true. I could see figures Apparating into the front and back gardens and the distinctive sound of Stunners being thrown. Some of our people were falling back, but it looked like retreat, not injury.

More and more Aurors and – I could see by then – members of the Order were appearing. My brother and Remus Apparated into the front garden, thankfully Severus was steering us to the back.

There Avery had fallen to the ground, and one of the Lestrange brothers had taken his place. He hurled a hex from his hip: Rabastan. Severus guided me to the ground near Avery, and stood above us as I checked to see if he still breathed.

He did, and strongly. But whatever curse had been used on him was strongly paralytic. There was nothing for it but to levitate him into the woodshed while the battle raged around us.

Rabastan did not let up for one moment, despite the ever-increasing forces arrayed against us. I could not understand why we did not retreat and regroup, but then a chill deeper than that of the moist countryside swept through the evening and a booming shake stirred the miry ground.

The Dark Lord came, and he brought giants.

The Aurors and members of the Order looked worried, but kept up their defence and their barrage of offensive spells. Rabastan began to laugh, loudly and disturbingly. He was secure in his belief that victory was minutes away at the speed of those great legs and feet.

And then Severus was no longer beside me.

He had thrown his broom to the ground and was running towards the right rear of the house. I ran after him, as quickly as I could, in time to hear his snarl of 'Potter!' and to see him raise his wand arm in a violent arc above his head.

And I could see, as he could not, Lily Evans pushing her husband out of harm's way.

There was nothing for it. I heard Severus's 'Cru… as I grabbed his left arm. A long and spinning moment later he grunted '…cio' as he fell on top of me on a grassy slope.

He regained composure faster than I did. His hand gripped my throat and his wand hovered inches in front of my de-masked face.

'Evans!' I gasped. 'Your curse was going to hit Evans!'

He sat back, pushing his mask and hood off in the one movement. 'No,' he said, shaking his head. 'Potter, I was aiming at Potter.'

I took a few good breaths before I sat up, too. 'She was behind him, she pushed him, and he would have fallen in time for your curse to hit her. I remembered what you said, it seemed the best thing to do.'

'Yes, yes it was!' He gripped my hand and squeezed it. 'Thank you, I owe you …'

'Nothing,' I interrupted. 'I've seen you avoid Sirius, I was just upholding my end of our bargain. Should we head back?'

'Yes, and steer the battle away from her if we can.'

'Agreed.'

He helped me to my feet, then looked about us. 'Where are we?' he asked, noticing Clifford's Tower above us.

'York,' I confessed. And then I lied: 'My mother used to bring me here and tell me of Muggles being put to the death. It popped into my head when I couldn't think clearly.'

Severus nodded. 'Good decision. Safe and quiet. Come, pick up your mask. I'll take us back.'

We had been gone the shortest time, but it was enough for the battle to have changed. Lucius was running towards us when we appeared, shouting at us to look above. We did, and dived to the left: a giant was about to step where we had just been. We jammed our masks back into place and summoned our brooms, obeying Lucius's order to return to the safety of the sky.

I waited, fearful, as the enormous creatures who seemed nothing more than unbridled rage came close enough to trample the fences and those within them.

And then as they tilted backwards and fell like giant trees, one after the other.

It took me a moment to work out what was happening: it was my brother. He, Remus and Potter were flying arabesques between the legs of the giants – obviously with some strong line in tow. Once they were ensnared, it took only simple physics and speed to topple them.

I wanted to laugh.

Above me, a howl of outrage sounded above even the wails of the fallen giants. It was the Dark Lord. Flying without aid, his white face more like marble than ever, his rage thrumming through the air.

Down he plunged, wand like a sword, vengeance in every line …

And beneath us, Professor Albus Dumbledore stepped out into the cool night and with a look of gentle sorrow cast a hex that sent a pillar of fire straight upwards.

The Dark Lord's robes were engulfed, and he screamed: a sound of terrible fury and thwarted rage. Tumbled in the force of the blaze, he was sent spinning across the sky, like nothing so much as a phoenix on its last and first day.

Behind my mask, I smiled.

Severus reached out from his broom and shook me. 'Go! Go home! All is lost for tonight, but the Dark Lord will return!'

I clutched his arm. 'If they ask, I thought a giant was going to step on us, and I panicked.'

'They were close enough to, it is a good lie.'

'Avery!' I remembered.

Severus pointed downwards: Rabastan was Disapparating, with Avery's body in his arms.

'Go home to your bed!' Severus ordered. 'You never left it this night.'

I did as I was told, but lay there almost until dawn, afraid. Severus was right. The Dark Lord would return. He had not feared death at all as he faced Dumbledore's flame, and I, to my horror, knew why.


+++++++++++++++++++++++++


Lucius was waiting for me when I arrived at work early the following morning.

'Are you well?' he asked, innocuously.

'Quite,' I replied. 'Is there anything I can do for you?'

'Wizengamot records 1973-1975, short forms only. And would you be so kind as to deliver them to my office?' Even I could barely detect the meaning tone in his voice, yet in the absence of any observers, he kept up a firm guard.

'I should be there within the quarter hour.'

'Marvellous.' At that he performed one of those hair- and robe-sweeping turns that Narcissa had tipsily informed me he practised for hours at home and strode off towards the lift.

I had a moment to make a decision.

It was likely that he was disappointed in me for fleeing the battle last night, but I came back, so a few cross words would probably be all that were exchanged. It may be that he hadn't noticed, and simply wanted to debrief me on my first proper action. There was the slimmest of chances that Lucius was following the orders of the Dark Lord, and that our Lord had looked into my thoughts at his moment of defeat and seen my joy in it, and damned me for both the joy and the knowledge that had followed and subsumed it.

Two out of three chances meant I would return from Lucius's office.

I took the volumes from their shelves, and took in a deep breath to carry the weight – both without and within – then chose to face my cousin-in-law.

'You did very well!' he declared as his assistant let me in.

I believe that I kept the relief from my face.

'Severus tells me that you saved him again – at this rate he will owe you his first born.'

I put the proceedings of the Wizengamot down on his desk, and chose my words carefully. 'I panicked, really. I'd not expected giants, so I completely over-reacted.'

'Not at all. You neither screamed nor soiled yourself, which is more than can be said for some. And Avery has asked me to pass on his thanks for your attention and clever protection of him.'

'It was nothing. I hope he's recovered well today.'

'Entirely.'

'And the Dark Lord?' I was very proud to keep any hesitation from my voice.

'Last night's excursion cost him only a robe. And his hair – he has chosen not to repair it, declaring it a pointless vanity. A number of his closest confidants have pledged to remove their own.'

'You?'

Lucius gave very smallest of shudders. 'I do not believe it would accord with my personal style. And to my mind, it seems a foolish way to mark oneself in a world where secrecy is still vital. Though,' he conceded, 'were the Dark Lord to order such a thing, of course, I would have no hesitation.

'Of course.'

'Many thanks for these.' He tapped the pile of books with a proprietary flourish. 'I am confident they will help me with my next move here.'

'I hope they do. Feel free to call on me if you require anything more.'

He smiled at that. 'I will, Regulus. Relax for now, we have some time to breathe before we are needed next.'

'Back to the library, then.'

I was profoundly glad that no one else entered the lift while I took it back, as it would have been hard to explain my need to sit on its floor. Madam Jones was in by the time I made it back to the library, greeting me with a cup of tea, which I had never had more need for.

Happily the morning passed in prosaic predictability, until just after eleven, at which point I saw Lily Evans duck her head around the corner, check that Madam Jones was asleep, then sprint across the library floor and into my arms.

It was a deeply satisfying moment.

'You're alive!' she whispered. 'I saw you save James – thank you! But I was so worried it would get you into trouble!'

Which was, of course, not exactly right, but it seemed churlish to mention it at a time like that. I smuggled her down to the quietest part of the stacks so that we wouldn't wake Madam Jones, and we sat down between the shelves to talk.

'I saw Lucius shouting at you,' she said. 'I thought he had seen.'

'He was warning us to look out for the giants. He's all right, really.'

She rolled her eyes at that, but let it pass. 'I was really worried. It was awful having to wait, I nearly Floo-called Sirius so that he could run over to yours and check you were all right.'

I didn't quite hold in my snort of laughter. 'Mother would have hexed him on sight.'

'Oh, Regulus, don't exaggerate!'

'She burned his name off the family tapestry. And usually you have to be a Squib or marry a Muggle to manage that.'

Lily's eyes were wide. 'I thought he was making that up!'

'Oh no,' I assured her. 'He's lucky that Father rather likes him, he stopped her from doing anything really awful.'

'That's … horrible.'

I shrugged. 'It's what we do. Two hundred years ago, he'd probably have had to flee the country. Of course, two hundred years ago, he'd probably have called Mother out and the two of them would have duelled to the death. Though Sirius might still have fled in preference to really upsetting Father …'

'Regulus …' Lily was frowning.

'Yes?'

'Stop talking about your parents before I kidnap you and take you home and lock you in the spare room where they can't get at you.'

It was an appealing threat, but … 'They're not that bad. They love me. They love Sirius, in their way.'

She sniffed at that, but didn't say anything.

I tried to explain. 'You have to understand, my parents knew some of their great-great-grandparents. All of my grandparents are still alive. We Blacks live for a long time unless we get blown up young. Tradition makes sense in our family, and the ones we keep have been around for an awfully long time.'

Lily did not speak immediately, and I could see all the things she was deliberately not saying. After a little while, she reached across the aisle and patted my knee. 'Your parents taught you loyalty, and last night, that saved the life of my husband, so I am grateful.'

I smiled at that, and all was well.

Part three
 
 
 
Azure Jane Lunaticazurelunatic on March 22nd, 2010 06:02 pm (UTC)
Lovely helpful geese! Lily is much more subtle than the boys.
blamebramptonblamebrampton on March 23rd, 2010 03:20 pm (UTC)
I think, too, that she is a bit meaner: it's one thing to defeat your enemies, another to make them look like idiots ;-)