James was staring into the fire, his arm around Lily, who was slumbering quite peacefully on the couch. Sirius and Remus were there too, sitting on the carpet and leaning against each other. No one talked – there was nothing to say. They were tired and worried, as the war took its toll on them. Though they were young, it didn’t mean they were unscathed. They startled when a Patronus walked into the room – one they had never seen. It was a silver fox, graceful and fast, but it was walking wearily, as if it feared it might be chased from the house. It stopped in front of Sirius, who sat up to stare at it.
“Brother”, a voice rang, and they all immediately tensed, “I know you may not believe me but I seek to leave the Death Eaters and You-Know-Who. Some very important, and very worrying information as come to my knowledge. Meet me in an hour at the Muggle bakery that you know. Please, Sirius. The future of this war is between our hands.”
The Patronus vanished, and they slowly turned their eyes to Sirius, who was holding his breath. They had all recognized the voice, intonation and choice of words of Regulus. Sirius’ eyes shot up.
“What?” he snapped. “No way I’m going; I’m not falling in this obvious trap.”
James could feel how much saying those words hurt him – and just as much how he believed them.
“But if he’s saying the truth…”
“I’m not going”, Sirius said again, shaking his head. “I don’t trust him.”
And oh did he have reasons not to trust his very own brother, and James’ heart ached. Lily, who had woken up at Regulus’ voice, lightly squeezed his arm in comfort, gazing at him softly. She knew James always had a soft spot for Regulus, and she knew he would get no rest until he knew if Regulus was lying or not. He shut his eyes a moment, thinking, then rose from the couch.
“Then, I’m going.”
“No”, Sirius retorted, scrambling to his feet and grabbing his shoulders, “no you’re not going. We’re not losing you tonight, James Potter.”
“Sirius, if Regulus did turn his back on You-Know-Who, then he is in mortal danger.”
“He chose the Death Eaters!” Sirius seethed – the pain was still very much present, the wound still open and still bleeding. “I’m not losing you over him.”
“Padfoot”, James said, and his voice was growing stern. “Regulus asked for help, and he said he has information. I’m not turning my back on anything that can help us win this war.”
“I…” Sirius shifted, paced around and shook his head again. “No. I don’t trust him.”
“Then I’m going”, James said, grabbing for his coat.
“You don’t even know where the meeting point is!” Sirius barked, his fear making him angry.
James stared at him, with an expression that said “you are wrong”, and Sirius’ face fell.
“Don’t go, James”, he pleaded. “Moony, Lily, please, make him understand!”
But Lily only squeezed James’ hand while Remus remained still. They were scared for James, of course. But they knew he needed to this – whether to gain information, or to definitely close the gaping hole Regulus had opened in his heart so long ago. As things were now, there was nothing they could do to help. James put on his coat, grabbed his wand and lightly kissed Lily’s lips.
“Stay put until I’m back, okay?” he whispered to his wife. “I love you.”
“Be careful”, Lily breathed.
And in a matter of seconds, he was out of the wards and moving to the Muggle bakery Regulus had mentioned. It took him close to an hour to get there, checking his surroundings and making sure no one followed him. Death was prowling these days, everywhere, anywhere, and it was so, so easy to fall in its clutches. He pulled up his hood, waiting near the bakery.
“Potter?” a voice called suddenly, and he turned around.
Regulus was standing there, looking worn out and worried, but sill James clutched his wand tightly.
Regulus was wearing Muggle clothes, and looked a lot like his brother in this instant – a dark leather jacket, too big for his frame, hanging from his shoulders, his black hair wild around his face, piercing grey eyes darting around, frightened.
“Sirius doesn’t trust you”, James said, “and neither do I, but I’m ready to listen to you.”
Slowly, Regulus nodded, gulping.
“Okay, okay, that’s… that’s all I’m asking for”, Regulus said, “but we should get moving. This is not the place to talk.”
“I agree on that point”, James said with a hint of a smile. “Come on”, he said, grabbing for Regulus’ shoulder.
He Apparated them in a dark place that Regulus couldn’t recognize, and quickly casted wards to keep them safe – or as safe as could be. Then, he lit the room. It was small and empty, safe for a small wood table and three chairs.
“Sit down”, he said to Regulus.
Regulus did, and James sat in front of him.
“The Dark Lord needed a House-Elf to test wards”, Regulus said, “so I proposed Kreacher. That’s…”
“Your House-Elf, I know that”, James urged him on. There were dark circles under Regulus’ eyes, and his face was wan – more than it should have been. Regulus nodded.
“Yes. And I went with him and…” he gulped, “he’s made an Horcrux.”
James frowned. The noun seemed vaguely familiar, like a long forgotten memory.
“It’s Dark Magic”, Regulus said, “very Dark Magic, that very few know about. The Dark Lord thought me too stupid to recognize it, but…”
“Tell me what is an Horcrux.”
“It’s an object holding a piece of soul”, Regulus said. “You have to fracture your soul, and link the piece to the object. As long as the piece is there, you are-”
“Immortal”, James completed him, going pale. “Holy Hell.”
“I know how to get it”, Regulus said, gulping, “but I want to make sure it will be destroyed. I can’t… I can’t destroy it myself, and I need a safety in case Kreacher can’t either.”
“And you wanted Sirius to destroy it”, James said.
“Sirius, or you, or any member of the Order- no, you or Sirius”, he corrected himself, pulling back into his chair. “There is a traitor in your ranks, but I don’t know who it is. Except my brother. You can’t trust anyone with the locket, you have to destroy it.”
James paled even more.
“A Death Eater infiltrated in your ranks, yes”, Regulus nodded.
“How do we get to the locket?”
“Kreacher will bring it to you if he can’t destroy it”, Regulus said.
Regulus licked his lips.
“You don’t hand you resignation to He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and expect to survive”, he said in a low voice. “I’ll be dead soon, so I’m making the most of it. I’m getting the locket.”
“I’m coming with you”, James said, leaning forward across the table. He grabbed Regulus’ hand – cold fingers between his own. “We can help you. Hide you.”
Regulus shook his head.
“Too dangerous. You need to stay safe, Potter.”
“James”, he corrected him. “Call me James. And I’m coming.”
“You’re not”, Regulus said, pulling his hand away. “You have a wife and friends waiting for you.”
“And there is enough room for you too”, James pleaded.
Regulus shook his head.
“There is no second chance for me”, he said, “no matter how big your heart is. I don’t think Sirius… or god forbid, Remus, can ever forgive me for all I’ve done. So let me do something right for once, James.”
But Regulus was already standing up.
“I have to go now”, he said, and James stood up too.
James suddenly pulled him into a hug, feeling the young Death Eater tense, and then slowly relax, though he didn’t reciprocate.
“There will always be room for you, Reg, okay?”
“Thank you James”, Regulus said, pulling away and carefully wrapping away the memory. He would need it. He would need all the comfort and bravery he could find in his memories – and there was not much of them.
“You are brave”, he added with a smile. “You would have done well in Gryffindor.”
“I’m not an airhead like you or my brother”, he answered before walking away, Apparating as soon as he was out of the wards.
James remained behind, thinking about what he’d just witnessed, before taking down the wards and going back to his hiding, where Lily would still be waiting for him. Everyone obviously relaxed when he entered the room.
“Not a trap”, he managed to say with a poor attempt to a smile.
His throat tightened when he realized Regulus was going to die. And he was going to die brave. Brave and alone. He didn’t want to cry – not yet, but his eyes were wetting and he sat against Lily, before laying on the couch, his head in her lap. They obviously wanted to ask questions, but Remus was holding back Sirius to let him gather his thoughts.
“He left You-Know-Who”, James finally said. “And I- He thinks he won’t make it out alive.”
Sirius had gotten up and he slammed his fist against the mantelpiece.
“He’s Slytherin, why must he be so stupid?” he growled.
“Because there is much more to the human mind than Houses”, Remus answered, and Lily nodded. “He’s being brave, like Gryffindor”, he added.
“And clever, like Ravenclaw”, James said, sitting up and wiping his eyes, “and self-less, like Hufflepuff, and cunning, like Slytherin.”
Sirius stared at him, clenched his jaw and stormed out of the room. He couldn’t handle this – not like they were handling it any better, but Regulus was his little brother.
A week went by, and James explained to Sirius – and only him, following Regulus advice – what he’d learnt from their encounter. The four of them were once more sitting in front of the fire when a loud crack announced an Apparition. In a matter of seconds, they were all up, wands in hand, ready to fight off the attackers, only to find a dirty House-Elf standing there. Sirius’ eyes widened.
“Kreacher”, he called out instinctively.
“Kreacher is following Master Regulus last orders”, the House-Elf said, and James felt his heart freeze in his chest. “Kreacher didn’t managed to destroy the locket, so Kreacher brought it to Mister Potter”, he added, holding out the locket to James. “Dark, very dark magic. Kreacher’s magic didn’t do a scratch.”
“Don’t touch that with your bare hands”, Lily advised. “I have no idea what it is, but my instinct tells me this thing is vicious.”
“I know”, James said.
Looking at the House-Elf, he realized the poor creature was still trembling and at tears in its eyes.
“Kreacher, when did Regulus go to get this locket?”
“Two hours ago”, the House-Elf answered willingly. “Kreacher went away when Master Regulus said to, and Kreacher immediately tried everything he knew to destroy the locket.”
James didn’t dare to breathe. Two hours. Maybe there was still time…
“Take me there”, James said. “Take me where the locket was.”
“Master Regulus said-”
“FUCK MASTER REGULUS, TAKE ME THERE”, James roared, and the House-Elf cowered, but he entrusted the locket to Sirius – the other person who knew what it was, and who was frozen in place – and grabbed James’ hand.
They Apparated in a cave, and without waiting a second, Kreacher grabbed James’ hand, cut the palm and applied the blood to the rock, before dragging the wizard through the opening. It was dark, and there was an unmoving lake surrounding a small island.
“Do not touch the water, Mister Potter”, Kreacher said. “There are Dark Creatures in there, things that should not exist.”
“Lumos Maxima”, James called, and suddenly everything around him was illuminated, and he shuddered. Corpses were floating in the lake. Inferi, a voice in his head said – it was only logical, given Kreacher’s comment. Then he remembered why he was there. “Regulus!” he called out, but there was no movement. “Regulus”, he called again, his voice breaking.
But it was obvious that Regulus wasn’t there anymore. More probably, that Regulus wasn’t anymore. Taking a breath, he decided to try something dangerous for the living – but Regulus was more probably not among them anymore.
“Accio Regulus”, he said.
At first there was nothing, but then the water started to bubble and suddenly, something rose out of the water, Inferi-ridden, and James fired curses at them to make them fall. He extended his arms, and Regulus’ wet and lifeless body landed there. He was pale and cold, his heart no longer beating, and James felt his eyes prickle with tears.
“Inferi, Mister Potter”, Kreacher said – and yes, the creatures were crawling out of the water. “Kreacher can’t Apparate from here.”
“Let’s get out of this cave”, James said, pushing back his emotions.
They ran out of the cave and Kreacher grabbed him, Apparating them on barren land, windswept but desert. James fell to his knees, clutching Regulus’ body tightly. He quickly casted a few spells, but there was nothing to do. Regulus was dead and gone.
“Fool”, he whispered, still holding back his tears, “you stupid, stupid fool”, he muttered, head hanging low over Regulus’ chest.
Kreacher was crying silently, as James heaved in loud sobs, crying and cursing Voldemort, who took good and brave wizards from the world. Young, too young wizards. It took him a moment, but he managed to calm down and rose his head. Pushing back Regulus’ hair from his face, he wavered at the sight of the youthful young man.
“Kreacher, I will need your help”, he said.
Together, they cast spells to dry Regulus, and he almost looked like he was only sleeping – if he hadn’t been too pale to be sleeping.
“Take us back to the house”, he then said, and Kreacher Apparated them in the living-room, just like he had done earlier.
Sirius was up in no time.
“Reg!” he called out. “No, no, James, he can’t be…”
“I was too late”, James said, shaking his head. “I’m sorry, Sirius.”
Two days later, they were burying Regulus in St Jerome’s Graveyard, in Godric’s Hollow – just the four of them. The locket wasn’t destroyed yet, but it was only a matter of time. For now, the too close dates of birth and death were clawing at Sirius and James’ hearts.
“You were a fool, little brother”, Sirius whispered to the tombstone. “But I still loved you.”
There was no epitaph yet – until James pulled out his wand, and carved one.
Sometimes Goodbye is a Second Chance.