Written for: alley_skywalker
Length: 1021 words
Character(s): Regulus Black, Narcissa Malfoy, Barty Crouch Jr, Bellatrix Lestrange, Lord Voldemort
Warnings: Spoilers for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows
Author's Notes: Even though it took me a while to think of what to write for this, I really enjoyed the challenge. I was so, so glad that Regulus was one of the requested characters: he’s my favourite background character and getting the chance to explore his character a bit more was fantastic.
The italic quotes come from As You Like It by William Shakespeare.
All the world’s a stage
The only mask in the room is his own. For this one, glorious night they are as much themselves as they can bear to reveal. Porcelain skulls and heavy black robes have been discarded in favour of swirls of brilliant, silken colours. They stand together and glitter under the chandeliers of Malfoy Manor.
At first glance they are radiant. They are flushed with impending victory – the Ministry is scrambling to defend itself and too riddled with spies and corruption to have a chance; Dumbledore’s Order is less than useless. They are the pure and the powerful and the righteous and they dance and feast together and toast to the Dark Lord’s good health.
(They are, all of them, corrupted.)
Regulus’ mask is the only one that holds in place. It is one of laughter as he listens to Barty mock the Muggle poetry that they both know he secretly likes. Barty keeps flickering nervously between fanaticism and guilt, and the words he weaves are laced with bitterness amongst the humour, and it’s at times like this that Regulus wonders if Barty too is drowning in the enormity of their choice. He will never voice that suspicion, and so he listens and laughs and plays the fool.
Over Barty’s shoulder, he spots Lucius and Narcissa – their gracious, golden hosts – doing a circuit of the room. Narcissa, elegant in a white gown and diamonds, glows in the candlelight and the goblet she holds in her free hand is the only one in the room not filled with mulled Elf-wine. There’s no other clue that she’s pregnant, but Regulus knows; if the alcohol wasn’t clue enough, Bella’s glares would be.
(His other cousin will bear no children for as long as Rodolphus is more interested in Rosier than in her. Regulus, “ickle Reggie”, can’t help but feel a little glad of it for the child’s sake. Bella has always been cruel and capricious.)
Bella is lovely in her own right tonight, save for the twisted looks she sends to her sister. She is the perfect Dark witch – all hooded eyes and smiles as red as the wine she sips (like blood; thick and dark and warm; cloying) – and she fawns over their Lord while her husband whispers intimacies into Rosier’s ear in full view of everyone. There will be hexes later, curses and accusations, but for now they are a part of a greater, glittering (rotting) whole and the smile that curves her blood-red mouth is (practised) adoring.
Regulus turns his gaze away from where Bella and the Dark Lord sit, and focuses again on Barty speaking about Shakespeare. He thinks he sees Snape watching him from by the Christmas tree, his sallow skin painted in hues of pink and gold by the fairies that cower Imperiused in the branches. Regulus doesn’t look to double-check; doesn’t meet the man’s gaze. Snape hates him because of Sirius (traitor; coward; correct) and Regulus has always done his best to avoid him in turn.
And all the men and women merely players
Narcissa lifts her hand from her husband’s forearm as she reaches him, and he bows obediently over her knuckles. He doesn’t kiss her – no pureblood with any manners would – and she remains untouchable in her loveliness.
They do not speak of the child she carries for fear of cursing it. (Pureblood births are rare enough these days.) They all know it’s there: Lucius is even more puffed up than usual, and there’s a curiosity in Barty’s eyes as they dwell upon the glow of Narcissa’s skin. Regulus fancies himself the only one to see the fear in Narcissa’s every move and the rigidity in her posture. She knows her husband will not protect her if the Dark Lord sets his sights on the child, and she is already willing to die for it.
(He’s only ever seen her like this in childhood, one time when Bella held Andromeda under the water at the beach until her struggling had almost stopped. Aunt Druella had laughed it off as ‘girls being girls’, but neither Andromeda nor Narcissa had dared be alone with their sister after that.)
He compliments her and Lucius on the soiree and the decorations, and raises his glass in a toast to their health, and he wonders if his dearest cousin is the only other one to see it. The death and the rot spreading out from the Dark Lord like gangrene in a poisoned wound. She may play the trophy wife, and Regulus the naive child, but they both survived the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black – they grew up in madness and decay and they have learned to see it where others do not.
He likes to think, in the darkest corner of his heart, that she knows that this is goodbye. She seems to linger with him and Barty more than she did with the others, though it could well be wishful thinking. He knows that if he slips – if he lets his mask fall even a little – then he will die, yet at the same time he wants to scream at them all. He wants to curse and sob the ugly truth to the room and tarnish the festive sheen that they all work so hard to project; to tell them of the depravity to which their sainted Lord has fallen.
He wants someone to know that he will die before the New Year can be rung in; that in a few short days, when his affairs have been put in order, he will go to his grave and take with him a fragment of the Dark Lord’s very soul. That he will die so that the cancer that has infected them may be cut out and their people saved. So that their cause may once again be pure.
He wants to say it, but only silence will grant him his last few days. He wants to say goodbye, but he can’t.
He wants to be able to say that he’s scared. “Good Yule to you, cousin,” he says instead.
They have their exits…