Kreacher – loyal, devoted Kreacher-servant-helper – vanishes with an easy pop! Taking the bad-wrong-wicked locket with him. Good, he… it… needs to be away-gone-not-here.
The disappearance – the Disapparition, the escape, the swirling space that cannot touch him here – echoes through the cave. Through the lake. Through this temple to the Dark Lord’s monstrosity.
… pop! … pop! … pop!
Then the pops disappear too and Regulus is left with nothing but all the regrets of his life.
His life wasn’t very long - wasn’t very full either, not of life-living-fulfilling-things, at least – but he has so very many regrets, mistakes, and painful memories anyway. They shriek at him. They hammer at his head and make his thoughts overflow.
He could live with the noise-torture-pain, he thinks – it’s nothing that he hasn’t really had to live with before, for all his short, empty life – but it’s the whispers that are driving him mad. The murmurs, the staring, the knowingness trickle out of every dark spot in his mind. Just as they have throughout his hated service – his proud, great, terrifying service; his sickening submission; his eager, devoted, exhilarated sacrifice – but now they are finally undammed as he damns himself.
Now they are collecting deep enough to drown him.
His fingers scrape over the dry rock, dusty pebbles, and hard ground. He gains cuts and slices and raw skin, but the hurt as he crawls is nothing against the regrets-hate-remorse swimming in his dizzy vision. He crawls forward like a wretch – pitiful, hateful, shameful – and jarred bruises from his collapse to the floor earlier echo-groan-scream as he stretches and drags.
But these are nothing too.
The only physical pain that can compete with the memories-mistakes-shame threatening to crush him is the agonizing dryness of his throat-mouth-lips-face. Trapped in his throat is a desert-sand-salt-thirst that claws at him, that catches every regret as he tries to swallow them and chokes him. His lungs threaten to burst as the images flash by.
He recalls… he remembers… he relives every dark-curse-bloodshed-evil that he hadn’t truly wanted to cast, but had been coerced into. Along with every dark-curse-revenge-release that he wanted… needed… most desperately desired to cast far too much. He’d known it was wrong-unreasonable-wicked, sometimes, but everyone around him said, ‘good-perfect-well-done’, and sometimes it felt so right-easy-good, and he was such a fool.
In his head-mind-overflowing-breaking-place is every horror he committed and regretted, and every horror he enjoyed or couldn’t dredge anything past the apathy-defence-emptiness for. In his throat is every cry-for-mercy that left his lips too early or too late or not at all, because he was too afraid, too lost, too uncertain.
Stand up for the mother – ‘she’s right, you’re too wild’ – and lose the brother.
Stand for the brother – ‘stop it, he doesn’t deserve this’ – and lose the mother.
Stand up against the father – ‘do something, please, just stop scowling and intervene for once, please’ – and lose the name-family-honour-heritage.
(Not at all.)
Lose everything, what little there was left to lose.
They’re both right, both wrong, both raging and blind, and in the end, he’s lost them all-both-everyone. He can’t please Father – dead, disappeared, vanished now, suddenly too soon gone. He can’t please Mother – angry, sick, leaving slowly now, finally too soon fading. He can’t please Brother – gone, abandoned them, gone now-long-ago-ages-back.
He can’t please the family-overbearing-watchers either. He’s just not enough – never enough – he’s the spare, the extra, the back-up who just can’t live up to the rebellious-ungrateful-wild heir.
He’s not as clever. (“You can’t even match your brother’s mark when we need you to best him, useless child.”) Not as charismatic. (“For Merlin’s sake, speak above a mumble if you’re going to blather on for once.”) Not as fierce-decisive-steadfast. (“You’re a Black, appearances are everything; act superior and don’t you dare let them see the softness of you.”) Not as capable. (“Would have liked the full set, eh, my boy?”) He’s not even as bearable to look at. He's not the one anyone wants.
They’re so proud of him… sometimes. Bragging to everyone, anyone, especially the brother, but he’s not enough, not really, and he couldn’t even be the heir-perfect-doll-thing they wanted either. They just couldn’t let the wild-child-abandoning-heir know that he’s left them with a spare-extra-back-up who wasn’t nearly as good. Average, barely acceptable, but not as everything-something-anything as they wanted-needed-demanded him to be. The House cracks… but its pride endures.
But the Death Eaters know the truth, the black-cloaks-snake-arms see the cracks and the blood-lovers-haters don’t bother to pretend he’s what they wanted or expected. He’s not-much-at-all like his cousins – not a berserker, can’t even be a breeder – and they’d take the runaway brother in an instant over him, if the lost heir wasn’t a bloodtraitor-lion-rebel. He’s too soft, too quiet, with too weak a stomach. He’s not Dark enough to be a true Black – not hateful enough, not mad enough.
He can’t please the Dark Lord either. He’s not as fierce-talented-admirable as his brother. (“How terribly disappointing.”) Nor as ferocious-devoted-bloodthirsty as his cousin. (“Dear, destructive Bella”) He can’t please the Dark Lord and… and… he doesn’t want to.
Because under the handsome-face-charismatic-lies, past the newspaper-clippings-pureblood-gossip, beyond the bait of brotherhood-ideals-glory, there is a great and terrible monster. He has served-allowed-admired a man who will ruin them all.
There are so much-many blood-bodies-life on the ground that the mud-Muggles’ can’t be told from the pure – the magical and supposedly worthy. How will they remake-return-to-glory the world when everyone is dead-sick-gone? When was their world ever glorious? The monster is tricking them into losing their traditions and their culture and their people. Soon the pure-toujours-pur will be nothing more than monsters-murderers-evil and their world will collapse-be-revealed under the war. It will not end.
And to think that he had once been so proud, so happy, so delighted to serve… to be used… to be different and be better. To think he had believed any of it at all.
Death-that-flies has made himself immortal. He can’t be killed; he can’t be stopped. The man-monster-god is a dead-eater, a murderer, a soul-breaker, and he must be stopped before he ruins them-all-family-everything.
It can’t be him, the crawling wretch, who does it, but someone-anyone-someone has to. He couldn’t do it. He couldn’t even destroy the whispering locket, and had to give it to helper-creature-servant in the hope that the devoted thing could find a way. It can’t be him, too consumed with dragging himself to the water for water-death-relief. He couldn’t have fought the monster-immortal-man – he’s too Dark, too Black, while too not good enough in too-many-so-many ways. There’s no way out for him; it has to be someone good-better-good.
Brother, maybe? But why would he help? He’s gone-hates-him-not-here.
It can’t be him. He couldn’t stop Brother from leaving-abandoning-escaping. He couldn’t stop the cousins from breaking apart. He couldn’t stop Father from fading. He couldn’t stop Mother from getting sick-twisted-embittered, burning stray leaves from the wall without mercy. Couldn’t, should’ve but couldn’t. He can’t do anything; he couldn’t do it; it can’t be him.
He can think of no one suitable-worthy-able. But there must be someone out there to match the Dark Lord. He’s useless, not enough, pathetic, and he deserves nothing more than this crawling-dying-disappearing that he knew he most likely wouldn’t beat, that he knew he was due to finally meet. It’s incredible that he even tried-bothered-attempted to survive.
There’s no point in leaving-escaping-continuing, even if he could. He’s committed so many mistakes, regrets, horrors. He can’t stop-fight-destroy the monster-lord-master, and can only do this little that he can in the useless-pathetic-helpless hope that when the flying-death-ruin meets a match, a hero, a good person… He can only hope that the immortal-cannibal-god will be mortal… killable… touchable once more through this sacrifice, when some brave, competent, heroic someone-else takes up the fight.
The Dark Lord must be matched.
He reaches for the black water – his end, his relief, his due – which seems so far away. He should stand, pull away, try to resist the temptation, but he’s so thirsty-tired-pained-aching and he desires nothing more than a stop to this agony-despair-everything. He can’t fight anymore, he can barely crawl, and he can’t quite reach the water yet.
All Regulus can do is face his death, his end, his last breath, and hope.
A hand appears from the darkness and reaches out – reaches down – to take his reaching fingers in a warm-careful-gentle-firm grasp. He can’t help but gasp and look up desperately at his saviour-friend-foe, breathless and agonized and helpless.
All he wants-needs is some water-relief-ending and he’s already begging for it when he sees their face. When he’s seen them, he still can’t place them in the memories-regrets-mistakes swirling before his eyes and scratching at his throat. Let him go. Let him go, go, go. Let him drink before he drowns.
A part of him thinks that he’d recall-remember-know eyes that green-bright-lovely. But the rest of him – so much more of him; all there is of him is regret and thirst now – is lost in agony, desperation, and adamant despair. It can’t be him. Let him give what he can and go.
“Please… please,” he says to the stranger.
They either don’t reply or he can’t hear their response. With warm-firm hands and gentle-strong arms they pull him up and away from the water-death-relief he needs-craves-wants, ignoring his feeble struggles and desperate begging. They settle him down near the bowl again, so cruel-kind, away from the black water that he keeps straining towards.
He thinks he begs them some more, tells them he hates them, pleads and bargains like some wretched-pathetic-pitiful addict that his mother-father-family always scorned. His enemy-saviour-stranger ignores him though, easily holding him down and casting a spell that blissfully warms him up from head to toe.
This… sweet-blissful warmth distracts him long enough for the stranger to rummage away with something for a moment. There are a series of unfamiliar-odd-alien crinkles and crackles, and suddenly sweet-blessed-merciful water is lapping against his dry-parched-pained lips.
He forgets things like dignity, pride, and shame almost immediately, and they were of little mind to him before. It’s only the gentle-forceful-firm hands of the stranger that keep him from spilling all the wonderful water in his desperation for it. Even held down and with the stranger holding the container, half the water still seems to spill-splash-dribble over half his face and his clothes instead of stopping the burning agony in his throat.
It’s something, but it doesn’t quench-relieve-stop the pain. It almost feels worse, now that he’s had a taste of what he’s been needing-wanting-craving. He whimpers at the stranger, almost crying out in tortured longing as they yank the empty container away and make it crinkle out of sight.
But then the container is back and it’s full of relieving-curing-saving water again. He drains it just as desperately and quickly as the last one, drenching himself and definitely losing whatever dignity he still had. Not that he cared about anything besides stopping the thirst-agony-pain right now.
He and the stranger repeat the process two more times before his thoughts align themselves into a semblance of real consciousness and coherence. He becomes less dizzy and less desperate; he stops spilling water everywhere and becomes capable of sitting up and drinking on his own. After the fourth container of water, his throat feels well-enough (not entirely like death warmed over) to refuse the fifth, at least for a moment.
It takes longer than it feels, he thinks, but time isn't with him here. His reactions are slow. His thoughts are crawling.
Eventually, the stranger sits back without protest, removing their warm hands and arms. He almost protests, but... he shouldn't, he thinks. It takes him... time... sitting here in the dark... to pull himself into order. He's cold. Why shouldn't he protest?
He’s embarrassingly soaked and must make for an utterly pathetic picture right now. How long has he been sitting like this?
He was reliant and helpless and wretched, and that’s unacceptable for a Black.
That’s even more unacceptable for a Black.
Distantly, he watched the stranger reach for a strange white cap, which they screwed back onto the clear bottle of water so they could set it down next to four capless, empty ones and one other capped, full one sitting in a torn package that looks as distinctly Muggle as the bottles themselves.
Now, it makes him wonder (worry, panic) if he’s just been poisoned somehow, on top of the Dark Lord’s Drink of Despair.
But the stranger, who has been helping him drink (which could not have gone as quickly as the haze suggests) and then watching him carefully for... a not inconsiderable amount of time, now picks up a familiar stick and offers it to him freely. As though the stranger was waiting for him to ask for it back.
He wants to snatch it back immediately, but instead accepts his wand back carefully and silently very gratefully. Something settles in him to hold it again.
(“Fourteen inches, holly and unicorn hair. This is a most loyal wand. Go on and give it a wave.”)
“Who are you?” Regulus demands hoarsely of his…
Saviour? Friend? Foe?
The dark island in the cavern is illuminated by the stranger’s wand shining on the ground – a long, pale, and elegant thing that looks vaguely familiar somehow – and he’s able-minded enough to study the stranger now. His thoughts still churn, disordered, but he can rise above them now.
At first glance, Regulus’ stranger-saviour is an almost exact reflection of his brother’s best friend. But upon further inspection, they’re very obviously not.
It’s a young man, clearly a Potter, but younger than the one that Regulus knows – about his own age if not younger, he thinks, despite the exhaustion that makes him look older. This strange youth sitting on his heels wouldn’t at all be out of place in the halls of Hogwarts, which Regulus himself left not even six months ago. At least, the stranger wouldn’t be out of place if not for his baggy, Muggle clothing – a long-sleeved shirt, trousers, and beaten shoes that fit ill at best.
This Potter is slightly shorter and much thinner than his relative, than Regulus himself, but he also has a hard, wiry muscle to him that Regulus’ softer leanness doesn’t. Lean, but not weak. It’s a different kind of build, more Seeker-like than the other Potter’s solid, more Chaser-like frame. And though Regulus is not an expert on his brother’s friend, this Potter seems much softer in face, though his glasses are round and hideous and do him no favours. Also, despite him having that inky black and wildly uncooperative hair, green eyes are not a Potter trait.
Regulus is sure he’d remember eyes as green as the ones watching him – judging him – right now. (Has he seen them before? He thinks he might have, actually.)
“I’m Harry,” the stranger says finally, much more softly than the loud tones Regulus remembers.
Regulus considers him for a moment, warily, debating on what to push and how. Though his thoughts are… somewhat… coherent again, his head is splitting with pain and his stomach sloshing with all the water he managed to actually drink. His clothes are wet, his hands are bleeding, and there isn’t a bone in his body that doesn’t ache fiercely. His heart is still pounding in his chest, his lungs stuttering alongside it.
He has so many questions – at least, he thinks he does – and asking questions can be so very dangerous.
But… the stranger (Harry) has returned his wand… and probably (definitely, oh so definitely) saved his life (stopped his sacrifice)… and hasn’t made any effort to reach for the elegant-pale-strangely-familiar wand glowing softly on the ground next to them. Regulus doesn’t know where to go from here; he has to take what little he knows and apply it as best he can.
It wasn’t supposed to go like this.
“…Potter?” Regulus asks, hoarsely, gripping his wand tightly with numb fingers.
Harry only snorts and rocks off his heels, sitting properly down on the rocky floor. “What gave it away?” he asks dryly, carelessly waving a hand over his face. “Was it something specific or just the general everything?”
Regulus’ lips twitch before he can help it. He ignores all the regrets threatening to surface again. That’s something he knows well. It’s a mix of family pride and annoyance whenever anyone takes one look at him and immediately pronounces him a Black. It always happened at family events and Slug Club parties, and sometimes he thought his initials might as well have been stamped on his forehead.
And speaking of foreheads… Regulus now notices a strange scar on Harry’s. It’s a faint, red line almost hidden by his hair, and it’s shaped like a lightning bolt. It’s a magical scar if he’s ever seen one. It might be from a rune, one of several, or… well… it could be something impossible.
“Why are you here? How did you find this place?” Regulus asks, on the subject of impossible things. This stranger’s sudden appearance makes no sense, none that he can see, and he needs answers. “And why… did you…” Stop me. “…save me?”
Now Harry finally looks vaguely nervous, scratching the back of his neck. “It’s a really long story,” he says finally, almost apologetically, “and it’s really hard to explain.”
That’s… not an acceptable answer.
Regulus would have never found this place without Kreacher, who was brought here by the Dark Lord himself. How did this stranger find this place? And what are the odds that they’d be here at the exact time to rescue Regulus from the fate that, unlike his house elf, he wouldn’t have been able to escape from? How did this stranger know what Regulus planned to risk? To do? To give?
“Try me,” Regulus says, more than a little daringly.
Harry just gives him this look, somewhere between amused and slightly disbelieving, apparently not at all offended. Regulus stares back, surprised, then tries to project as much sureness and certainty as possible. As though holding his wet, scraped chin high will stop his hands from shaking, his heart from pounding at his head, and the whispers still in the back of his head finally shut up.
Maybe if he focuses on something else… on anything else… his chest and bones and everything else will stop aching like open wounds while he sits here. While he sits here, barely, terribly, and unexpectedly alive. When he really, really shouldn’t be.
“Okay then,” Harry says easily, “I was born on July 31st in 1980. My parents are Lily and James Potter. Three days ago, I died in 1998 and woke up here.” He looks off into space, lips pursed unhappily. “I’m still not sure how or why… exactly.”
Regulus stares, stops thinking entirely, and the only reason he doesn’t gape is because he’s a Black. (“Blacks don’t gape like rabble, Regulus.”) He just freezes, forcibly learned habits taking over to keep his face as blank as he can manage. He’s not sure he succeeds.
Harry just watches him patiently, crossing his legs and putting his chin in one hand. “Yeah that was basically my reaction when I realized this was really happening. At least you get to have this moment with your pants on. I arrived without anything.”
Regulus may be many things, but that’s… very strange.
“Anything?” he manages, trying desperately not to imagine the… oddness of that.
If he’s not all that successful, he attributes his moment of weakness to the fact that he just almost died and then didn’t and he’s still a little bit in shock from that. As well as the general everything of Harry and his very frank statements of strange pictures. Frankly, Regulus’ head hurts too much for this. It’s all absurd.
Harry tugs at the collar of his ugly, oversized, long-sleeved Muggle t-shirt and releases it. “Anything,” he confirms with a grimace, his face looking only slightly flushed.
Or maybe that’s just Regulus projecting because his face feels like it’s burning. All the water sloshed on his face and the front of his clothes is just going to boil off at this rate. As a distraction from the fact that his saviour’s just claimed to have come back from the dead and travelled through time, this is one that works remarkably and disturbingly well.
Regulus wants to immediately dismiss the idea of Harry being from the future as ridiculous. This entire situation wasn’t even remotely in his plans for today. Whoever heard of travelling more than a decade through time? Whoever heard of coming back from the dead?
But… time travel isn’t unheard of… and is largely unknown at the same time. The possibilities in such an inherently impossible field of magic are endless.
Also, Harry looks very, very much like James Potter. Scarily so. Regulus remembers the Head Girl from last year too – she was in the Slug Club with him, Lily Evans, even if they never spoke – and he now remembers her vivid green eyes. He can see the family resemblance. He can’t not see it, really.
There’s also the fact that Harry saved him (stopped him), hasn’t to his knowledge cast anything but a Warming Charm on him, doesn’t seem to have poisoned him or fed him any potions, and has yet to reach for the lit wand on the ground while Regulus remains armed. Regulus can curse him in any way he pleases at the moment, but Harry Potter seems perfectly confident and apparently relaxed, though his eyes are very sharp underneath both those things.
He has stayed throughout the worst of Regulus' pain and suffering. He has tended him through the worst of the madness. Regulus has no idea how long they've been here in this place in which no one should linger.
Regulus owes Harry his life.
After a lifetime as a Black, seven years in Slytherin, and his service as a Death Eater, Regulus would really like to think that he’s good at recognizing lies and threats by now. By all appearances, Harry is either a very, very good liar or… he’s telling the truth.