A Sad Fate
The final mouthful of thick, icy liquid went down Regulus’ throat, and Kreacher watched as his master’s body relaxed. His eyes no longer rolled in his head and he didn’t scream anymore. He had screamed a lot. First for mercy, and then for forgiveness, and finally for his brother. He had cried out Sirius’s name, begged him not to go and pleaded with him to not think him a coward. It had been heart-wrenching, for these were feelings that the boy had never expressed before, at least not in front of anyone else. And Sirius would never know.
The delirious teenager, heart and head heavy and thick, forced his eyes open. The ball of light hovering a few metres above his head, illuminating the cave, hurt his brain, and he squinted, looking instead down at the crystal beneath him.
“Master?” Kreacher’s croaky voice broke the silence. “The potion… It is gone.”
“Thank you. You did well.” Regulus’s voice was strained and full of pain as the last effects of the potion ravaged his mind, leaving him with a ringing headache and a bitter taste on his tongue. At least the visions had stopped.Where his house elf had seen only the boy writhing and crying out, pleading with people who weren’t there, Regulus had suffered visions of himself as a child, watching his brother be beaten, scolded and abused for standing up to his parents as they tried to force him to accept their way, the way of the Dark Lord, whilst Regulus hid in the shadows like the coward he was. Visions of him allowing circumstance to corral him into the dark, desperate destiny he’d always dreaded, being bent over by the weight of expectation and the fear of consequence, in the end becoming little more than a pawn to the one who had promised to make kings of them all. The agony of the cruciatus curse as it wracked his body each time he disappointed his ‘master’, each curse one more push towards this final destiny. He wholeheartedly believed he was doing the right thing. As much as his parents had tried to indoctrinate him into their way of life, Sirius’s bold rebellion had sown a seed of doubt in his younger brother’s mind, and Regulus’s experiences under the Dark Lord’s tyrannical regime only served to solidify his ideas. Voldemort was the enemy. He was cruel to his enemies, and equally so to his own followers. Time and time again, Regulus had watched a friend, a family member or a teacher of his fall to that wand. Even so, it had taken him too long to realise this. He had been a coward, and a pushover, and because of that Sirius had no family left. He was out there alone. The guilt still weighed on him, and he hoped this act could at least make up for some of it. He hoped that somewhere in the world, Sirius was alive and happy, free from the oppressive, soul-crushing life his younger brother had been subject to thanks to his lack of courage.
Maybe this last act would free him.
Fighting the pain in his head and throat, he reached into his pocket and drew out the fake locket. It was a perfect replica, if a little smaller and lighter. His note lay within it, neatly folded and articulate. Regulus had written it before he left for this place, knowing he would likely not get a chance to write it whilst he was still sound of mind once in the cave.
“Young master, come with Kreacher. You will die in here! Let Kreacher die for you!” His beloved house elf cried, knowing what Regulus planned on doing, now that the potion was gone. He was grateful to Kreacher for being the only one who cared for him, and he did so wish he could just drop it and leave. If only he could just run away, run far from the Dark Lord and his curses, maybe even find Sirius and live with him… Finally see his beloved brother’s smile once more, maybe even hear a word of praise, Well done Reg, I knew you weren’t really one of them…
But he shook his head, and ordered the elf away. He had to do this. Otherwise he’d never really be free. He’d be hunted down, and killed in the most excruciating manner his so-called master could think of. The locket must be destroyed, there was no other way. And Kreacher had to do it. He must find a way to destroy it, or else Voldemort’s reign of terror would go on forever.
“Leave me. Leave this place, and kill the horcrux. Kreacher, you must. For me.” The house elf’s features crinkled, and the youngest Black saw the fear and desperation in his eyes. But he pressed his lips together, shoved the drifting daydream of him and Sirius, happy and together and far from this darkness deep into the recesses of his mind, and sealed his fate. Relenting, yet not relinquishing his look of pure sorrow, Kreacher stepped back, taking Slytherin’s locket with him. And there he prepared to leave his most adored master to die.
As for Regulus…
The fake clinked as it fell to the bottom of the empty basin, slipping from between his weak fingers. The sound echoed through the vast, empty space, somehow sounding so final, like a death toll. Regulus met Kreacher’s eyes as he drew his wand, knowing what would come next. Kreacher looked at him, still silently pleading, but his master’s orders made him unable to help, as instead he fastened the locket about his neck. Sure enough, a splash sounded from somewhere in the darkness. The lone teenager took a deep breath, trying desperately to calm the rising bubble of panic in his chest. He closed his eyes, finding himself muttering a fervent prayer to anyone who was listening… And felt a wet, emancipated hand close around his ankle. He shrieked, kicking it off and firing an Incendio charm at it. It jerked back into the water, leaving him panting and trembling in its wake. For a moment, Regulus dared to believe he had scared it off. However, it was not long before another took its place. Suddenly overtaken by an overwhelming and instinctual desire to survive, his resignation to his fate abandoned in the face of it becoming reality, he tried to run for the boat. He knew that even if he were to make it out of here alive, the Dark Lord would surely come for him and kill him, yet in that moment all that mattered was the desire to live. Working as hard as his pounding head and weary limbs would allow, he pushed himself up from where he sat, but his legs were too weak and he fell back to the stone, the effects of the potion rendering him helpless. Move, move! He begged his body, fear beginning to tug at his mind in desperation. More hands reached up towards him, and he barely held them back with his pathetically weak fire charms. One lifted itself out of the water, and Regulus could see its glassy eyes, matted and dripping hair and gaunt, fleshless cheeks. Its mouth was open and its teeth were green with slime from the water. It caught a fireball to the face.
He had no choice but to retreat back up onto the rocks, the boat abandoned as it refused to move, and the creatures crawled into it, cutting off his one means of escape. He was vaguely aware of Kreacher watching him as he turned and fled on all fours, his fingers slipping on the smooth, damp surfaces and his limbs becoming covered in cuts and scrapes as he tries to haul himself to higher ground. The inferi were too many, and they squirmed towards him on arms and legs little more than bone. His spells were pitifully small, and they could not keep them back forever as he fired one, then another and another over his shoulder. He saw Kreacher moving too, the elf’s eyes still following him with sorrow and fear, even as he had to protect himself, and he felt tears in his eyes, then on his cheeks as terror began to overwhelm him.
When a second hand wrapped around his ankle, he screamed, a sound of pure terror. He clawed at the rock but found no leverage, and more cold, clammy fingers found him, pawing at him and dragging him down into the frigid water. They pulled at his robes first, and his hands slipped, losing him a few precious inches, and then, as they got closer, they grabbed at his legs and arms. He tried to shake them off but couldn’t, and when he saw more of the creatures head for Kreacher, he knew he had to force the elf to leave.
“Go!” He begged the house elf, “Please, you have to go now!” His words were choked with fear and tears, but he snapped the elf out of his reverie, and watched him disapparate with the horcrux, his last lifeline cut with a resounding crack.
The hands were all over him now, weighing down his arms and legs, grabbing fistfuls of his shirt and clawing at his chest. The light above him flickered, its magic waning as he was pulled further and further away from the crystal basin and closer to the edge of the vast lake. His robes were torn, and the creatures’ clammy, cold hands pawed at his skin, making him shudder in revulsion and panic. One of the creatures leapt onto his back, wrapping its arms around his throat. It was heavy, and pressed against him like it was trying to leech the warmth from his bones. He was suddenly very aware of his own life. Blood rushed in his ears, his heart pounded and he could almost taste precious oxygen on his tongue. Soon… Soon it would all be gone. He was going to die, right here and now, and there was nothing he could do about it. Biting cold seeped into his shoes, and he was shocked by how painful just the touch of the water was to his feverish skin. Adrenaline had flooded his system, making him hyper aware of every sensation, and it was torture. Oh god, he wanted to be anywhere but here. He wanted this whole horrible experience to be over. If only he could die quickly, just as though he was being knocked unconscious. But no, the whole thing was dragged out by his panic and fear. Every touch, every pang of pain, every heartbeat. He felt the water at his waist, his chest, his shoulders…
He took one last deep breath and closed his eyes as his head was pulled under. He struggled against the inferi holding him, but his limbs felt like lead and he could hardly move them an inch, let alone shake off his attackers. He found himself opening his eyes only to have the icy water flood them, making them sting and causing his vision to blur. He could just about make out the bubbles that left him as they floated upwards, and the greenish, wavering light far, far above, struggling to permeate the inky blackness surrounding him. His ears hurt, the pressure of the water increasing the deeper he was dragged. And he began to struggle for air, his lungs burning, so desperately wanting to drag in oxygen where there was none. It wasn’t long before he could hold it no more, his body almost curling in on itself as it was completely emptied of air, and as the last bubbles left his lips, he inhaled. Water flooded down his throat and into his lungs, making him want to cough, but he had no air to cough with, so instead his body just spasmed once, twice, three times, subsiding into twitches as he desperately tried to cling to the life that was failing him. His fingers went slack, his grip on his wand loosening. It slipped from his hand and sank into the depths. His vision went white, his head spinning and body weakening until he could move no longer. His body was so cold, inside and out, and as his brain finally gave in and his heart stopped beating, his final thoughts were of Sirius. White faded to black, and he knew no more.
And so Regulus Black, a boy of eighteen years, died in an act of courage and defiance that perhaps even his brother would be proud of. Yet no one but Kreacher would know what became of him until more than seventeen years later, and the brother he had secretly loved and admired would die thinking Voldemort had killed him for deciding he no longer wanted to do his bidding.
A sad fate, indeed.