Title: As Fast As He Can
Characters: Regulus Black, Severus Snape
Rating: PG-13 for implied violence
Summary: Ten scenes from Regulus Black's life over the span of ten years. When Sirius abandons him, Regulus seeks approval from another source, but he finds that the Death Eaters cannot give him what he wants.
Notes: Characters belong to JKR. Thanks to klynie1 for the beta work! You made this one a ton better.
Warning: It's Regulus, and not AU, so you know how it ends.
From the moment the Sorting Hat proclaimed him a Slytherin, Regulus Black carried around a knot of worry in his chest. He hadn't thought about it—he'd just expected everything to work out all right, which was how his life had mostly gone up to that point. But when the Hat came off, and he met Sirius' eyes across the Great Hall, he'd realized a part of his life was over.
Before he was sorted, Regulus had been Sirius' conspirator, sneaking around Number 12 and complaining to each other about their mother's ridiculous rules and their father's spinelessness. Only a year apart in age, they'd been the closest of brothers, united against injustices and for treacle tart.
Now, Regulus took his place at the Slytherin table, not meeting anyone's eyes. Surely Sirius was just momentarily surprised? It wouldn't really change anything between them, would it? Could Sirius really have hoped Regulus would be sorted into Gryffindor with him?
He kept that worry until the next day, when he saw Sirius walking with another Gryffindor—one Regulus didn't know. Acting on impulse, Regulus called out to him.
"Sirius! Wait a minute!"
He jogged up the corridor, only to be stopped by the look on Sirius' face.
"Don't talk to me," his brother said coldly.
Regulus was stunned. The knot of worry was consumed by a bright flare of panic.
Sirius, the brother who just days ago had held him after Mrs. Black had called Regulus out on the carpet—his brother—pointed a finger at him and said, crystal clear and loud enough for everyone in the hallway to hear, "You're one of them. Leave. Me. Alone."
The other Gryffindor snickered, nudged him. Regulus hated him instantly and wanted to knock the stupid glasses off his face. "Come on," the boy said to Sirius. The two boys turned and set off, leaving Regulus standing in the corridor amidst whispers and pointing.
Eventually, the panic hardened to a bitter core.
This was the first chance Regulus had to see another class get sorted, and he passed the time amusing himself by guessing which way the Hat would go based on appearances.
An extremely small boy was climbing onto the stool. Hufflepuff for sure, Regulus thought, and he snickered, earning a sharp look from a third year sitting next to him. Regulus thought his name was Snape, but he had enough trouble remembering the names of his own year. He knew your House was supposed to be your family at Hogwarts, but he didn't want a new family—subconsciously, he just wanted his brother back. Also, they tended to leave him alone, thanks to Sirius' reputation.
"Hufflepuff!" the Hat called.
"Score one for me," Regulus murmured.
"Shh," the third-year—Snape—hissed.
Regulus rolled his eyes privately and looked at the next girl going to be sorted. Totally forgettable face, awkward stance, probably a Ravenclaw.
"Shut it, Black."
Regulus would have stood a lot of things, but it was well-ingrained in him to hold his family name inviolate. "Here now," he protested in a whisper. "Where do you get off disparaging the Blacks?"
"I know you," Snape hissed, venom in his voice. "You're just like your brother. You think you're better than the rest of us, but you're nothing but an empty shell, a puppet who does whatever Sirius tells you."
Regulus thought this was rather ironic, given that his brother, once his best friend, would no longer give him the time of day, but he wasn't about to tell that to a perfect stranger.
Besides, he was better than everyone else.
So he focused instead on turning the discussion to his advantage, like a good Slytherin.
"You're one to talk," he whispered fiercely back at Snape. "The way you hang around Lucius Malfoy like a lovesick puppy—"
Snape's eyes grew furious, but a fourth-year from farther up the table gave them both a look. Regulus decided that he'd won this round, but he knew it wasn't over.
Regulus' second summer home from Hogwarts had been even more unbearable than his first. Sirius took every opportunity to completely ignore him, or make sure Regulus was the center of their parents' attention. He hated it. He hadn't forgotten Snape's taunt about him copying Sirius, but he didn't know what he was supposed to do.
It had been impossible to make friends in Slytherin, thanks to his status as Sirius' brother, and it was impossible to make friends anywhere else, thanks to his status as a Slytherin. Even Snape had more friends than he did.
Regulus was watching Snape, though, here at the start of the new year. It didn't escape his notice that the older boy was on the edge of his groups in the same way that Regulus was. And he knew Sirius had taken an especial disliking to the boy—maybe if Regulus could convince Snape he wasn't like his brother, maybe he could have an ally.
Against his own flesh and blood?
Sirius, he told himself darkly, is no blood of mine.
Rodolphus Lestrange was a powerful force.
Regulus had known that since he'd met the man at his cousin's wedding, but now that Sirius had run off and Walburga had officially disinherited him, Regulus had moved up in the family's eyes, and so it fell to him to act properly among his peers, which now included the suave and rather intimidating Rodolphus Lestrange.
So Regulus had to accept when Rodolphus wanted to visit, wanted him to meet a few people over Hogsmeade Weekend.
Rodolphus met him at the door of the Hog's Head, smiled handsomely—so good to see you, dear cousin—and ushered him to a private dining room.
There were several major players there, Regulus was quick to notice, including Lucius Malfoy, his new bride Narcissa, Bellatrix, Rodolphus' brother—plus—Avery, Evan Rosier—this was an invaluable networking opportunity. He shook hands with the men, kissed his two cousins, then began to mingle, pleased at how well everyone was treating him and laughing at his jokes. And yes, all right Rodolphus, a glass of wine if you insist—and then he saw Snape, black eyes hard and unflinching, in the corner. Watching everything.
Rodolphus held up his glass, and the room quieted. He addressed Regulus. "Big things are being planned, cousin—and we want you to be a part of them."
"Hear, hear," came the chorus, though Regulus noted that Snape did not join in.
The meetings in Hogsmeade were nothing compared to the party Rodolphus had held over the summer. His parents were thrilled at Regulus' new social circle, and Sirius...
Well, Sirius was always going to hate him. It was his own fault, Regulus reminded himself.
It was the autumn of Regulus' fifth year when Rodolphus pulled him aside and confirmed it—this group wasn't just any well-bred and well-connected group of old-line pureblood wizards—it was Voldemort's group. Or, as Rodolphus referred to him, the Dark Lord.
He knew even as Rodolphus told him that he was being watched, his every reaction evaluated. But this was nothing new—his whole life had been one failure to measure up after another. The only difference was that this time, Regulus had a chance to succeed—to belong.
"And Snape?" he managed to say. "I can't believe that git is one of—"
Rodolphus' grip tightened on Regulus' upper arm. "Severus has his uses."
Later that night, back in the Slytherin common room, Regulus sat close enough to the fire to burn his fingers and toes, and to numb the roaring in his brain.
A figure moved in his peripheral vision, and Regulus turned to see Snape there, watching him.
"Rodolphus may think you are fit to join us," the boy said without preamble, "but I do not." Go back to your toys, his expression said.
Regulus sighed. Why did he always have to justify himself? "You know who else would try to convince me not to join?"
Snape didn't answer.
"I'll tell you. Sirius." Regulus got to his feet, the better to see the look on Snape's face. "How does it feel to agree with your enemy about something, Snape?"
"Considering our motivations are entirely different, it doesn't matter in the slightest." Snape's expression was closed, guarded. "He would tell you that based out of concern for you, no doubt; where as I..." Their eyes met. "I simply don't trust you."
Snape turned and walked off, and Regulus let him go. He didn't bother to correct Snape—Sirius wouldn't have cared about him after all. Not any more.
After the attempt on Snape's life, the animosity between the Black brothers was mutual.
Regulus was outraged that his brother could do such a thing. He didn't know all of the details, but he could put together the terse answers from Snape and the official letter of reprimand his mother had received, and figured out what must have happened. A stupid trick by his stupid brother. Regulus couldn't believe that his own flesh and blood could turn out to be a cold-hearted killer! And for him to try it on someone like Snape... someone who had a real skill he could offer the world...
Regulus was concerned for a while that Snape might lump him in with Sirius, paint them with the same brush, but to his relief Snape seemed to treat him with the same cool suspicion that he always had.
At the start of Regulus' sixth year, with Snape the only one left of their circle now that Avery and Wilkes had finished school, Regulus wanted more than anything to ask if Snape had done it—had he taken the Mark of the Dark Lord? But he couldn't figure out how to penetrate Snape's barriers, which just left him feeling more alone than ever.
One thing was sure, Regulus thought as he watched the Hat sort another doe-eyed child into Hufflepuff. If Snape was in it, then he would be, too. He glanced at Snape, farther along the table with the other seventh-years, but if he'd been hoping to catch the other boy's eye, he was out of luck.
At the last sorting Regulus would ever attend, he paid almost no attention to the actual sorting, and almost none to his fellow Slytherins. The others in his year had never stopped treating him as an outsider—Sirius Black's brother. But none of them mattered any more, and neither did test scores or homework or Quidditch. No, the only thing that mattered to Regulus was his acceptance as one of the Dark Lord's marked inner circle—where he would join Snape, Rodolphus, Bellatrix and the others. He would be the youngest of those who really counted, but he would be one of them.
He let his gaze drift over the rest of his House. None of them had stood out, had distinguished themselves the way he had, to be so quickly brought into the confidence of the Death Eaters. And he was set to join them—to follow in Snape's footsteps.
There had been a time, in the spring just before Snape left Hogwarts, that Regulus had felt closer than ever to the strange boy. They'd grown almost like friends, Regulus had thought, until one night when Snape had tested him.
It was quiet that night in the common room, thanks due to both the lateness of the hour and a spell of Snape's. They'd been talking of spells, which led to foreign languages, which led to travel—Regulus having been to many other countries—and Snape had said he'd like to visit Abyssinia, where shrinking solutions were developed, maybe in the summer while the shrivelfigs were in bloom.
Regulus had stared. "But, Severus," he'd started, heart hammering in his chest, "you'll be working for the—for him then, won't you?"
Instantly Snape's face had reverted to its old familiar scowl. "Of course, you idiot. Soon enough I will turn my entire life over to his purpose, just like the others have done."
Regulus breathed again. "So... you were testing me? I'm glad I passed. That was really convincing—you could fool anyone." And something came across Snape's face for an instant, some kind of pain that Regulus took as disappointment in him. But that didn't make any sense: hadn't he passed the test?
Regulus had thought a lot about that night. The last thing he wanted at this point was to let Snape down, which was why he planned to take the Dark Mark at the earliest opportunity.
Which was why none of the rest of this mattered.
Of course, nothing was ever as easy as it seemed. A year later, Regulus was on his way to a Death Eater meeting. Oh, taking the mark after finishing Hogwarts had been very easy indeed. It was still tender enough three months later that his finest black robe was almost unbearably chafing. And it itched, but Regulus had learned the hard way that trying to scratch it would bring more pain than relief.
He'd been learning a lot of things the hard way, recently.
"And there's another lesson, in the flesh," he muttered as he caught sight of a head of black hair in the crowd ahead. At this point, he could recognize Snape from any distance, but joining the Death Eaters officially hadn't made it any easier to get to know him. And Regulus could never read the expression in Snape's eyes.
Regulus hurried his pace, brushing past anxious-looking passers-by, until he could reach out and touch Snape's shoulder.
The boy turned, glaring. Did he relent, just a bit, when he saw who it was? "What do you want?"
"Let's walk together," Regulus said.
Snape nodded, and they continued to the meeting in silence. They slipped into an old abandoned warehouse and made their way to the back of the group, both of them avoiding the glances of others. Regulus fought not to scratch at the tingle in his Mark when the Dark Lord entered the room.
Regulus had never had any illusions about the sort of people who joined the Death Eaters, and the tasks that each of them were at least accomplices to, and yet somehow he'd still thought of himself as above all of that. So it came as a surprise when he, Regulus Black, was the one assigned to "make an example" of some blood traitors. It was clear that failure was not an option, and refusal of the assignment was not even worth mentioning.
As all the eyes in the room turned to him with various degrees of appraisal, Regulus found himself noticing Snape's the most. He couldn't help but think there was some message hidden in Snape's face that he couldn't see, something critical he was missing. But at the moment there was nothing to do but accept.
He was shaking as he pounded on the door in the rotting Muggle neighborhood Snape called home. He didn't know if the shaking was caused more by the physical cold and exhaustion, or by the knowledge of what he was here to say.
"Snape!" he called over the sound of the rain. "Open this door!"
The door opened only a fraction, and Regulus waited while his identity was verified. Then Snape held the door and waved his wand to keep Regulus from dripping onto the floor. Regulus didn't stop to look around—he went straight through to the kitchen and poured a glass of brandy.
Snape watched from the doorway, inscrutable as ever. Regulus put the glass down and rubbed a hand over his face, willing himself to stop trembling. If he was wrong in coming here, he was already dead. But if he was right…
He looked at Snape. "How much do you know about the Dark Lord's plans?"
Snape raised one eyebrow—not in surprise, but a calculated move. "More than most, I'd say. Why?"
"He's split his soul," Regulus said bluntly. He reached into the inner pocket of his robe and pulled out the scraps of parchments, thrusting them at Snape. One more deep breath—this would tell him whether he'd interpreted those eyes correctly. "He's gone too far, Snape."
Snape's hand froze halfway toward taking the notes from Regulus. "What did you say?"
"You heard me. He's made a Horcrux. It's too much. And I'm—I'm not going to let him do it."
Snape's face betrayed nothing. For a heartbeat, Regulus held his breath. Then—slowly—Snape reached out and took the parchment from Regulus' cold fingers. Regulus sagged with relief and turned to pour himself another brandy. He knew what Snape would see: the confirmation that the Horcrux already existed, and the plans to hide it away in a seaside cavern.
"Lucius," he heard Snape mutter, and turned back.
"Malfoy knowing about it is the least of my worries," Regulus said. "I've got to figure out how to retrieve it from that cave—and do it without letting the Dark Lord know it's missing."
Snape looked at him sharply. "Why are you telling me this?"
Regulus shrugged, helplessly. "I need help. There's a potion…"
"But why me?"
"Snape… I've known you for a long time, though maybe I haven't really known you. But I think you haven't really known me, either."
Snape didn't answer, but his expression changed, and Regulus thought he finally recognized the message—something Regulus hadn't seen in a long, long time.
Crouching behind a Muggle barn, hiding from farm dogs and Death Eater spells alike, was a new experience for Regulus, heir to the House of Black. He was tired and injured and he didn't have his wand, and he found he didn't mind it at all—not when it meant he was still free, and the Horcrux back at Grimmauld Place just waiting for its own destruction.
Months of preparation, during which Regulus had been terrified of discovery, had culminated in one hair-raising night. But though the potion had almost killed him, Snape had kept him alive. Now all he needed to do was keep on staying alive—just stay far enough ahead of the Death Eaters chasing him to get away, so he could find a way to destroy the Horcrux once and for all. Then the Dark Lord would be vulnerable, and he wouldn't even know it...
And it was all Regulus' doing. Well, Snape had helped.
His Mark burned. With a hiss, Regulus lurched to his feet and began to run again. He thought of Sirius, strangely, for the first time in years. What would his brother say if he knew what Regulus had done? Regulus could almost see his face, through the haze of pain, smiling in welcome and approval, his eyes now gray, now black as night. "I'm coming," Regulus whispered to the vision. "I'm coming as fast as I can."
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