Regulus Black and Henry Potter shared one thing in common: the knowledge of how it felt to be least-loved, a pale second to an obnoxious, spoiled, brainless brat of a relative.
That one thing had been more than enough.
Oh, the late-arriver had tried to deny Sirius’s nature, but a few weeks at Hogwarts had rudely sobered him. Henry had come in defending James and Sirius, insisting that he was sure they were good blokes, and Regulus only believed otherwise because of the Slytherin slant. His disillusionment would have been funnier if he hadn’t seemed so crushed by the revelation. The only time Regulus had seen someone moping more was when Severus had his falling-out with his favored Mudblood. In both cases, the fall was inevitable – Severus and the Mudblood had been growing apart for years, if only Severus had realized it, and Henry should have realized his cousin’s (or however he and Potter were related) nature long, long before this – but it still pained Regulus to watch.
In both cases, however, their loss became his gain. Severus turned fully to the Dark without his sentimentality chaining him down, and his power was as beautiful as his face was lacking in beauty – and Henry turned fully to Regulus, as the only person in Slytherin who had told him how things were from the start rather than bullying the outsider or laughing at his delusions.
And in return, Henry told him something very disturbing about the Dark Lord. Claimed to have learned it from a diary he’d gotten his hands on when he shouldn’t have. Regulus had scoffed at him, and even wondered if perhaps he was as insane as he sometimes appeared – but Henry had showed him the trophies, taken him to a Muggle community called Little Hangleton, and spelled out the anagram in letters of flame:
I AM LORD VOLDEMORT…
…TOM MARVOLO RIDDLE
Tom Marvolo Riddle, a brilliant half-blood. A son of a Muggle.
The great champion of Purebloods – was a fake. A fake, a cheat, and a liar. A liar who held no more prestige in his bloodline than Severus.
Even his vaunted Parseltongue was not as rare as Regulus had been led to believe. Henry had it. A half-blood Potter. And who knew who else?
It had shaken Regulus to his core. And, once Henry realized how much it shook Regulus, he had quietly begun to spread rumors. An anonymous note here, a dropped clue there… Slytherin House filled with unvoiced doubts. And, with it, Volde- Riddle’s pool of recruits. That was right. Riddle. Not the Dark Lord Voldemort. Mere Tom Riddle, a brilliant half-blood – but nothing more.
Nothing more than Severus, nothing more than Henry.
Possibly even less. He knew very little about Henry. He had shown up at the start of Regulus’s fifth year, claiming to be a Potter (and of course he was, it was obvious from his face) and requesting admission. Into Slytherin he had gone, and in the fifth-year dorms he slept. Whatever schooling he had received was adequate – more than adequate, actually, considering the miserable schooling any Hogwarts student received in Defense. He’d received the joking nickname of “Professor Potter” by the end of the first month, having found himself teaching half his yearmates, and stripped the jocular aspect from it by the end of the third. What was more, he had as great an affinity for the Dark Arts as their counters, and was coming very close to being second only to Severus after five years of apparent ignorance of the subject in its entirety. And Severus was spectacular indeed.
Yes, Henry might well surpass Riddle in time. He had several decades to catch up, after all.
And Regulus rather liked Henry. His mother still had an aversion to a half-blood, but she had taken enough of a liking to Henry to grudgingly concede that he was at least a half-blood of good family, and one more inclined to the proper order than the current playboy heir. (The playboy heir who had lured Sirius to the Light, in her eyes – much as Regulus privately opined his brother had been ruined from the start – no less.) In certain circumstances, she conceded through gritted teeth, the Dark might intervene to provide a substitute for an unworthy heir, even in strange and ordinarily-unacceptable ways…
And his father was a weakling ground beneath his mother’s heel. So. Nothing stood in the way of his friendship with Henry, once his mother finished warming to him. (And his saving the family from bending the knee to a half-blood pretender to the Slytherin line had gone a long way towards that.) And, with an acceptable delay for propriety’s sake, he could openly change that friendship to a courtship. Not that they hadn’t already done so. But the niceties had to be observed.
He’d had no reason to delay. Little as he knew Henry’s past (and Henry seemed as eager to abandon it as he seemed reluctant to discuss it), he couldn’t imagine a better partner when the factors of inheritance and blood-purity were eliminated. Henry understood his resentment of Sirius, his permanent feelings of inferiority, and his alienation from his peers. Even more than that, he understood and sympathized, rather than seeing it as a weakness – Regulus loved his House, but was not such a fool as to be blind to its least savory sides. Any other Slytherin who truly grasped how deep the damage went would seize upon it and thrash him with it. Not so Henry.
That alone might have weakened his resolve and blinded his natural ambition. Henry’s loyalty, spirit, and wit could charm a stone, and his Slytherin traits came out in splendid bloom once he lost his absurd aversion to using them. Even if Henry had been weak and unskilled – Regulus might have bargained with himself, admitting that sometimes relationships were unequal and a sufficiently determined Slytherin could make up for a partner’s inadequacies, trying as that might be.
But Henry was talented, and Henry had as-yet unknown power simmering beneath his innocuous surface. For some unfathomable reason – perhaps his miserable upbringing – he’d felt the need to hide his true talents – to never provoke too much attention – to only tap anything close to his real potential in the most dire of circumstances. But Slytherin encouraged precisely the opposite. And Henry was blossoming.
More than even that, once Henry came out of his shell and stopped making bizarre references to things that weren’t and events that only might occur, he began to gather followers with ease. It was just a study group, he claimed. Maybe Henry, strangely modest as he could be at times, actually believed that. But the members of his ‘study group’ had no such delusions. They looked to him for guidance, and he gave it to them without pretension or hesitation. For now, it remained a mainly Slytherin group, but more students from the other Houses were trickling in. The Ravenclaws didn’t like to remain idiots when an actual worthy Defense teacher presented himself, and the Hufflepuffs came in on the advice of their friends. The Gryffindors were more adverse to joining a Slytherin-run group, but then, the Gryffindors could burn…
And to whom would the young Slytherins flock, when the evidence grew too great and the truth of “Lord Voldemort” burst wide open?
Yes, Henry was a dream come to life. Even the factors of his lack of inheritance (he claimed to come from an obscure and penniless branch of the Potters – believable enough), half-blood status, and initial eccentric behavior were blessings, in their own way – they had kept other Slytherins away from Henry and left him open to a minor, low-ranking Slytherin such as Regulus. And there wasn’t a day Regulus didn’t thank the Dark for it.
The real wonder was that Henry regarded Regulus as a blessing. “Why?” Regulus had asked one night, lying beside Henry in bed. “Why do you want to be with me?”
Henry had rolled over and, from the subtle shifting of the mattress, propped himself up on one elbow. “What d’you mean?” he’d asked. “Why wouldn’t I want to be with you?”
“I…” Awkwardly, Regulus had shrugged. “I’m not anyone special.” He did well as a Seeker, he supposed. Yet he couldn’t shake the feeling that Henry could have easily taken his place, had he chose to engage in the Seeker trials rather than going for the role of Chaser. “Not particularly talented. And not so handsome.”
Henry snorted. “I’m not Adonis, either.”
No, but the Potters were far from ugly. “You know what I mean.” Inevitably his face provoked comparisons to Sirius’s – and invariably the comparison did not come out in his favor. Not anywhere close. “Why me, and not someone more worthy?”
“Well, if you want to know, that’s one of the reasons why.”
“What?” Regulus blinked.
“You’re not completely full of yourself.” Henry sighed in a way that meant he was probably rolling his eyes. “Merlin knows that’s a rarity in this house.”
Regulus had to concede that. Slytherins believed in preaching their own excellence. The weak-minded bought into it so readily. “And…?”
“And – we’ve got a lot of common,” Henry said. “We both love Quidditch. We’ve both – experienced relatives we rather wouldn’t have had.” His voice darkened. “We both know what it’s like to be outcasts. Bloody hell, Regulus. If only you knew how much that counted with me.” He remained silent for a while, obviously brooding. “And you’re not jealous of my accomplishments. You even – you even like me for them.”
“Who wouldn’t?” Regulus said incredulously.
“You’ve no idea.” Henry let out an embittered snort. “And you at least gave me a chance, while the other Slytherins were all wrapped up in their own alliances and senses of self-importance.”
“I’ve always sympathized with outsiders–”
“That’s my point. That… that counts for a lot. That someone was willing to give me a chance without knowing oh, I’m Harry Potter, the special one.”
Henry said his old nickname had been Harry. He’d abandoned that along with his past – and Slytherin inclined more to full names than nicknames, anyway. Sometimes he slipped, however.
And whatever associations he had with the name “Harry Potter” were not good ones.
“Henry,” Regulus said, emphasizing the name to bring him back to the present. “I have no idea what sort of friends you had before. But they were evidently quite poor ones. I was only a decent one.”
“You have no idea how rare those are, Regulus.” Henry lapsed into silence again. “I love you,” he said at last. “And I don’t care if you’re not special or whatever rot people go on about. You’re Regulus. And that’s what matters to me.”
In the dark, Regulus’s cheeks warmed. “Thank you, Henry. I –” Stuttering was not conducive to Pureblood dignity.
Thankfully, Henry didn’t care about Pureblood dignity.
“I – I love you, too,” he mumbled, ducking his head.
Henry chuckled, and reached over to ruffle his hair. “I know, Regulus. And I love you too.” He let his hand rest on Regulus’s head. It felt like a blessing. “Sweet dreams.”
Regulus closed his eyes and accepted that, perhaps, the world was full of wonders. Of which Henry Potter was one.
“You too, Henry. Goodnight.”