DECEMBER 29th 1977
Regulus switched off the tap, watching as the last few drops of water trickled into the porcelain, claw-legged bathtub. The house was silent around him, only the occasional creak in the old wooden floorboards, or the snores of a portrait.
The flesh on his left forearm still burned with the phantom pain of the Dark Mark being branded into his fair skin. The Mark was raw and red around the edges, still swollen from its freshness.
With a shuddering breath, Regulus held his wand over his heart, the cold tip of the rosewood vine digging slightly into his bruised chest. “Regeneratio,” Regulus mumbled softly, his voice hoarse from screaming. He set his wand aside and stood up on shaky legs; ignoring the sharp wave of discomfort that shot up his spine as he stepped into the cold water, Regulus slowly lowered himself into the bath.
The combination of the spell and the ice cold water was enough for his heart to slow until he could no longer feel it beating in his chest. With a final deep, shuddering breath, Regulus let his upper body sink into the water, only faintly hearing the displaced water slosh onto the tiled floor of his ensuite bathroom.
The pain in his arm faded as his breathing got slower, slowly dwindling until his eyelids felt heavy. Regulus blinked slowly, the distorted world around him becoming increasingly hazy through the water. He opened his mouth to let out a sigh of relief, but water invaded his lungs, burning them until he was screaming to let it out. Not long after, the world faded to black, everything going dark.
The spell worked exactly as he needed it to; he woke up with a start, three minutes after he’d gone under. Regulus gasped as he scrambled out of the bathtub, sitting half naked on the cold tiled floor. With each gasping breath, he felt his chest expand, filling his lungs with life again. Blood rushed in his ears, the rhythm of his heart beating against his eardrums. Regulus inhaled sharply, clutching his throat where it still felt raw and abused from the water he’d swallowed down.
“Fuck,” he cursed under his breath. He needed to finish his plan, but he still felt like air was escaping him. “Fuck,” he repeated to himself. “Get a fucking grip.” He stood, holding onto the side of the tub for support. The water was still about halfway filling the large tub, the silver chain of the drain stopper glistening under the clear liquid. Regulus pulled on the chain, unblocking the drain and watching as the water spiralled down the circular hole, disappearing out of sight. He felt relieved and anxious all at once.
He slowly padded into his bedroom, walking on the points of his toes, trying not to draw his parents’ attention. The guests were gone, he was sure, but his mother tended to stay awake long after dark for reasons unknown to Regulus.
His trunk was still packed from the beginning of the holidays, sitting unmoving from its position under his bed. Regulus opened it, swirling his wand over the dark leather in a silent extension charm. He redressed carefully in simple black, wool trousers and a comfortable sweater, throwing his winter cloak over his shoulders. He didn’t bother drying his hair as he pulled the hood over his head, covering his bruised face.
Precariously, he threw books, stray clothes, trinkets and hygiene products into his extended trunk. Tearing his favourite Quidditch posters down from his dark grey walls, he rolled them into scrolls and tossed those in too.
He dug his old broom out from the back of his closet and set it down across his bed. He closed his trunk, unbothered by his belongings thrown in haphazardly, and shrunk it down until it fit in his pocket. The seventeenth floor panel on the right of his nightstand was loose enough to pull out of the ground, revealing a navy blue pouch of gold coins. The pouch was spilling over; galleons, knuts and sickles overflowing from it. It was worth his entire life’s savings; money from birthdays, Yules, special achievements – any and every time someone had ever gifted him money. He had stashed them all in that pouch, saving them for this very moment.
With his belongings secured, Regulus pulled on thick socks and his winter boots. He climbed out of his bedroom window and onto the roof of the house, swinging his legs on either side of his broom, muttered a quick ‘Notice-Me-Not’ and took off. He knew the direction of the Ministry well enough from the time spent shadowing his grandfather as a child.
Alastor Moody’s office was on the fourth floor of the Ministry building, with his name carved into the gold plaque attached to the stained glass window on the door. Regulus knocked twice, tapping the end of his broom impatiently against the ground as he waited for the man to respond. His parents likely would not notice his disappearance until the morning, when Kreacher would have to inform them that Regulus was not in his room, or any other room in the house. Regulus faltered at the thought of his mother taking her anger out on the house elf, cursing him with the curses she would rather throw at her son. He knocked on Moody’s door more insistently.
It was late, yes, but he knew how men like Alastor Moody worked. The Head Auror wouldn’t be leaving his office until after midnight, when his eyes couldn’t hold themselves open any longer.
“– hat… What!” The man in question swung open his door and glared down at Regulus menacingly. He took a step back when he realized that it was not one of his colleagues, but rather an underaged, teenage boy.
“May I come in?” Regulus didn’t wait for an answer before he ducked under Moody’s arm and entered his office. It was dark, mostly lit by candlelight, with parchment scrolls and books strewn over the desk. He sat on one of the chairs by the desk, leaving his broom leaning against the wall. “Is that real?” Regulus pointed to a Hippogriff’s head that had been mounted on the wall above the fireplace.
“Of course it’s real,” was Moody’s gruff reply. He hobbled over to his desk and eyed Regulus warily. “What’s the meaning of this? Isn’t it past your bedtime, little boy?” His tone was unkind and exasperated.
“I want to emancipate myself from my family,” Regulus stated without preamble. Carefully, he lifted the sleeve of his left arm, exposing his Mark. It was no longer black, but grey and still swollen at the edges. Moody’s wand was pointed at him in an instant, his thin mouth set in a stern scowl. Regulus carried on, unperturbed, “My parents made me take the Mark, as you can see by me being here, I did not want it. I have performed special magic to sever my tie with the Dark Lord, leaving me entirely unattainable to him.”
Moody eyed his arm cautiously for a moment before lifting his wand and bringing it down in one quick movement. “Incarcerous.” Thick ropes wrapped themselves around Regulus’ bony wrists and ankles, binding his limbs together. The boy huffed indignantly, albeit unsurprised by the man’s actions. Moody was nothing if not careful. “Tell me everything, from the moment you got that branded into your skin until the moment you walked up to my door. Go.”
By the time Regulus was done retelling every detail of the night’s events, the first signs of the morning sun were beginning to leak in through the window. Moody had been brutal, wanting the names of everyone that was at the house, needing to know every word that was said and every person he interacted with. On multiple occasions, Regulus felt the push of legilimency nudge at his Occlumency walls, but he was too practiced to allow the Auror to see into his mind.
Moody had stepped out, giving Regulus a much needed break. With a wandless Tempus, he was informed that it was nearing five o’clock in the morning. He’d been at the Ministry for vaguely six or seven hours. His wrists were sore from being held together with rope and his legs had gone numb from sitting for so long, and he wondered if he could try to reach for his wand where it lay abandoned on the Auror’s desk.
Before he could decide to make his move, Moody came back into the office, holding a stack of parchment and a glass of water. He set the glass down in front of Regulus and instructed him to drink.
“My hands are a little tied up,” Regulus commented with as much snark as he could muster in his state of exhaustion. He’d have taken a nap beforehand, if he knew that Moody was such a talkative person.
The Auror flashed him a mean smile and reached into the second drawer in his desk, pulling out a straw. Regulus barely suppressed an eye roll as he leaned forward in his chair and parted his lips just slightly to welcome the tip of the straw into his mouth. The water was simultaneously soothing and frightening going down his throat, easing the hoarseness from hours of speaking while reminding him of his earlier meeting with death.
“Are those the documents I have to sign?” He asked, nodding at the stack of mysterious parchment. Moody let the scrolls fall onto his desk with a loud clatter, his beady brown eyes boring into Regulus’ grey.
“I’ve sent a Patronus to Dumbledore,” Alastor announced, holding a hand up to silence Regulus’ oncoming protests. “None of that blubbering, he would have had to know anyway.”
Resigned, Regulus sat back in his chair and glared at the older man. In the soft glow of the morning light, his scarred face looked even more ragged. Regulus knew that the scars were likely from dangerous missions against Dark wizards and witches, but it didn’t make it any less unsettling.
Dumbledore arrived less than an hour later. His magenta robes stood out in the otherwise dreary office. Regulus thought he looked ridiculous, but then he remembered his uncle Alphard’s similar eccentric fashion and scolded himself for thinking such thoughts. It was his parents talking, his mother’s words too deeply ingrained in his mind.
“How are you feeling, Mr. Black?” Dumbledore asked him, sitting opposite to Regulus in Moody’s chair. The Auror stood against the wall closest to them, watching in interest as the two interacted.
“Definitely been better,” Regulus muttered wearily. His arms had gone as numb as his legs and it was becoming increasingly harder for him to keep his eyes open. Dumbledore hummed in sympathy and offered him a kind smile.
“Alastor tells me that you’re trying to emancipate yourself?” The Head Professor said conversationally. His fingers tapped rhythmically against the wooden desk and it did not help Regulus’ steadily drooping eyes. “Would you like to tell me why?”
Regulus, despite his weariness, was filled with fury. He’d spent the last six hours explaining exactly why he wanted – needed – to emancipate himself to Moody, only for Dumbledore to show up and demand he repeat it all again. Gesticulating as much as he could with his bound hands, Regulus looked down pointedly at the faded Dark Mark on his forearm. “I think you can take a guess, Professor.”
Moody did not like that, sending Regulus a menacing scowl. Regulus took some pride in the fact that the Auror was no longer waving his wand in his face.
Dumbledore stared at him for a long moment, and Regulus felt another nudge at his Occlumency walls. It was startling that the Head Professor would stoop so low as to invade an underaged wizard’s mind, but Regulus wasn’t all that surprised.
“Alastor has been doing that all night, Professor. Don’t waste your time,” Regulus scoffed, feeling the urge to cross his arms petulantly. He shot the Auror a sly look, when he heard the man grumbling under his breath.
“Your Occlumency skills are very good, Mr. Black, may I ask why you are an Occlumens at such a young age?” Dumbledore watched him with poorly filtered curiosity, blue eyes twinkling inexplicably behind his half-moon glasses. His expression was akin to Regulus’ uncle Cygnus when the man was planning something in his head – it made the young Slytherin uneasy.
“Well, with a mother like mine, you need all the privacy you can get,” he replied bluntly. Dumbledore seemed to want to say something in response to that, but a knock at the door quickly cut him off.
Moody opened the door, revealing a witch with bronze skin and black hair streaked with grey, a wizard with messy grey hair, kind eyes and circular glasses as well as two younger wizards at their sides. Regulus groaned outwardly at the sight of his estranged brother.
“What did he do?” Sirius demanded, barging into the room with a furious scowl on his face. All of Regulus’ previous weariness was replaced by white hot rage, electrifying the blood in his veins, making his fingers itch to wrap around his wand, ready for a fight. It was just like Sirius to antagonize Regulus, even when he had no clue what the situation was.
“Calm, Mr. Black,” Dumbledore held up his hand, placatingly. “Your brother has done nothing wrong, he came here on his own. Perhaps, I should have been more clear in my letter,” he mused, beard twitching in inappropriate amusement.
“Have you got the boy bound, Albus?” The woman exclaimed in outrage. She was clearly Potter’s mother, if her soft hazel eyes were anything to go by. Her thick Irish accent took him by surprise, though she looked like her son, she sounded nothing like him. “Drop the spell this instant! I thought you said he did nothing wrong!”
Alastor grumbled his disagreement, but one nod from Dumbledore had him dropping the spell, quietly. Regulus rubbed his wrists absently, grateful to feel his blood flowing into his limbs as it should. He gave Moody a look, an overly sweet smile mixed with underlying bitterness. He’d been bound for seven, nearly eight, hours.
“What’s all this fuss about, then, Albus?” And if Potter looked like his mother, he was a carbon copy of his father. Mr. Potter was the exact replica of his son, only with a few more smile lines and lighter hair. “Are you alright, my boy?”
It took Regulus an embarrassing amount of time to realize that Mr. Potter was addressing him. He blinked in surprise and nodded slowly, shooting Moody another grim look. “Fine, just tired.” Moody tipped his chin up defiantly and Regulus wrinkled his nose at him, resisting the urge to stick his tongue out and say Look, someone is worried about me. This was your job, arsehole.
“Regulus is looking to emancipate himself from his family,” Dumbledore suddenly announced without prompting. “I invited you here because I thought you might be able to help.” Regulus looked from the Head Professor and back to the two adults that had recently shown up. They looked rightfully stunned, mouths open and eyes wide. Even Sirius and Potter looked shocked.
“Are you Ministry officials, then? Do you work in Magical Childcare and welfare?” Regulus asked Mrs. Potter, sitting up in his chair. He was eager to get this over with, just wanting to sleep.
“No, we’re James’ parents,” the witch replied, and Regulus stared at her blankly, because duh. Obviously, he knew that.
“Then how could you possibly help me?” Regulus asked, looking around the room, feeling like he was missing something. He caught Moody’s eye and raised an inquiring brow. He trusted the Auror not to beat around any bushes.
“Albus thinks that you might want to live with–“
“Absolutely not,” Regulus interrupted firmly. “I came here for the emancipation, not to meet strangers.” He was seething, fists clenched in his lap. His wand was still on the desk, if he could just get it…
“Mr. Black, we only mean to do what’s best for you,” Dumbledore said, falsely soothing and entirely infuriating. “Your situation is very delicate, you need all the support you can get.” Regulus wanted to wrap his hands around the old man’s neck and squeeze. How could he suggest such a thing?
“I didn’t ask for support, Professor, I asked for my bloody documents to sign,” Regulus said, heated. “I’m sure that inviting strangers to a private meeting isn’t part of the emancipation process.”
“Oh, stop your squabbling, Regulus, we’re here to help you. You ungrateful arse,” Sirius snapped, arms crossed over his chest, face stern. Regulus turned to him slowly, unwilling to let his fury boil over in a room full of people he did not know or trust.
“Help me? I didn’t ask for your help, Sirius,” he said very, very calmly.
“How did you get here?” said Sirius, ignoring him completely. Bitter and unwilling to speak another word of his night’s events, Regulus looked pointedly at his broom that was propped against the wall. Sirius followed his eyes and shook his head in disbelief. “Only you would fly all the way from home,” he muttered under his breath.
“What happened for you to want this legal separation, Regulus?” Mrs. Potter asked. She seemed to be the only other person in the room that Regulus could tolerate at the moment. “Have your parents done something to you?” Her eyes quickly darted over to Sirius, pain flashing in them at a silent memory.
Regulus remained stubbornly quiet, so Moody retold the night’s events, in excruciating detail. He made Regulus roll up his sleeve, showing off his greying Mark. Regulus chimed in sporadically, correcting parts of the story, but otherwise allowed Moody to speak for him. He was tired and did not want to utter another word of his night.
“So… you killed yourself, but you came back to life?” Sirius drawled slowly, uncertain. Regulus sighed, how many more times was he going to have to retell this story?
“I stopped my heart so that I may sever the magic that linked me to the Dark Lord. I was technically dead, but the spell stopped me from crossing over into the afterlife and ensured that my heart would start up again,” he explained dully.
“And where did you find this spell?” Sirius asked, looking green in the face.
Regulus sighed, “I read books.” A simple answer, a true one. He’d learned the spell from one of the old books in his family’s library.
“And that was your first thought, to just – kill yourself? What if the spell didn’t work? What if you stayed dead? Why didn’t you think to go to someone? You could have come to –"
“You shut up,” Regulus cut in sharply. “If you are about to suggest that I should have come to you of all people,” he shook his head, unable to fathom something like that. “Why the hell would I come to you?”
“No,” Regulus interrupted yet again. “Do not finish that sentence, whatever you’re about to say is going to make me angry and I’m too tired to handle this situation appropriately.” He took a deep, shaky breath and turned back to Alastor, addressing him, “I just want to sign the papers and get this over with. I have enough money to get myself a flat and any other stuff that I’ll need. I don’t want to live with anyone.”
Moody seemed uncertain, but he nodded slowly. “Sixteen is a bit young to live on your own,” he commented lightly, moving to his desk to grab the documents that he’d fetched. Regulus leaned forward eagerly, his hands seeking out a quill. Behind him, Sirius huffed and made a vague noise of discontent.
“My friend Barty turned seventeen over the hols,” said Regulus, offhandedly. “I’m sure he’ll be happy to live with me. He’s basically an adult.”
“Barty Crouch Jr?” Both Moody and Sirius inquired at the same time. Regulus’ eyes flicked up to the older men, eyebrows soaring up his forehead. “His father works for the Ministry,” Moody said, his eyes narrowing.
Regulus nodded, waving a dismissive hand. “Yeah, Barty doesn’t get on well with his dad. He’s going to be stoked when I tell him the news.”
“I think, it would be best if we put you somewhere we can keep an eye on you, to make sure you’re safe, of course,” Dumbledore spoke up when Regulus handed back the documents. Regulus huffed indignantly, but allowed the professor to go on. “I’ll speak to Aberforth about setting you up in the flat above the Hog’s Head. You’ll only have to walk a short distance to the carriages that bring the students up to the castle and you will have an adult nearby at all times.”
It was a good idea, Regulus could begrudgingly admit. It would save him time to look for a flat himself and he wouldn’t have to find a way to get to the train station at the end of the holidays. “Thank you, Professor,” Regulus mumbled softly, trying his best for a grateful smile.
“It’s not a problem, Mr. Black. Now, let’s get you to Hogsmeade, you look like you need a well earned nap.”
Regulus could not agree more.
The Hog’s Head Inn smelled distinctly of goats and soot. Regulus had half a mind to cast a bubble-head charm on himself, but he didn’t want to seem rude to his host, so he settled on breathing through his mouth and trying not to inhale too much.
The flat was small, much like the rest of the pub. It had a bathroom, a shoebox bedroom and a main room that consisted of a couch and a tiny little bookshelf. There was a portrait of a witch, and Dumbledore had seemed uncomfortable upon seeing it, excusing himself quickly before dashing off.
Regulus was quick to cast cleaning charms around the stuffy flat, clearing it of decades of dust and grime. The walls were a dirty brown, discoloured with a build up of water spots and cobwebs. Taking his trunk out of his pocket, Regulus tapped his wand against it to turn it back to its regular size. He put up his Quidditch posters, covering the worst parts of the walls with the flying players, making the place look a little more lively.
The bookshelf in the corner was quickly filled with his favourite novels and textbooks, the pile spilling out on top of the worn wood and on the floor next to the shelf.
He had to transfigure himself a drawer desk, pushing it into the corner of the tiny bedroom, and filling it with his clothes and calligraphy materials. A few more spells made the air smell less like goat and more like fresh spring air. His sheets were turned from a dull beige to a rich emerald green. He lined his products up on the bathroom shelf, ignoring the way the toilet made a weird nose whenever he flushed it, and how the water from the sink was brown when he first turned it on.
Finally, he fell into bed with a satisfied hum, falling asleep as soon as his head hit the pillow.
DECEMBER 31st 1977
Aberforth Dumbledore was a very peculiar man. He was a quiet sort, which suited Regulus just fine, but there was something odd about the way his piercing blue eyes would follow Regulus’ every move whenever the boy went downstairs to collect his meals. It was easy to tell that Albus and Aberforth were brothers, albeit not by looks, but by the expressiveness of their eyes.
Regulus now understood what people meant when they told him that he had his father’s eyes; Aberforth certainly had his brother’s.
There was also the fact that Aberforth owned a herd of goats that he kept in the room behind the bar. The smell of the goats, mixed with the smell of rotting wood was sure to be permanently burned into Regulus’ nostrils. He could not even begin to understand how people willingly came to the Hog’s Head to grab a pint, but maybe it was an acquired taste.
Although he certainly had his quirks, Aberforth was a surprisingly good cook. Regulus could overlook the fact that the pots and cutlery were severely rusted, despite the evidence being right in his face, because the food was better than anything he’d had at school.
On New Year’s Eve, Aberforth served pork roast with fresh vegetables that he grew himself. Regulus was surprised when the man allowed him into the small area behind the pub, revealing the tiniest garden he’d ever seen. It looked like a miniature Herbology greenhouse, though it was lacking the potions ingredients and deadly plants.
Spending the New Year with a stranger was not the way Regulus wanted to spend his night, but without an owl to reach out to his friends, he was stuck with only the odd bartender as company. Against his will, his mind wondered what his night would have been like if he took up Dumbledore’s offer to go live with the Potters. He would bet half his galleons that they were the type to sit around the fire and play board games together until midnight came around. Annoyed with himself for having such thoughts, Regulus cut his roast with more force than necessary.
Aberforth disappeared sometime after dinner, and Regulus could no longer hear the banging of pots and pans in the back room, so he figured that the man went home, wherever that was. He retreated back to his room, curling up with a novel and a bottle of Butterbeer that he’d taken from the bar.
As he read, Regulus was struck with the sudden realization that the flat was entirely quiet, save for the bleating of the goats downstairs. There was none of his mother’s shrill screaming or any of Bellatrix’s manic cackles, everything was calm.
Regulus didn’t stop the small grin that took over his face.