The Sugar Quill
Author: Phoenix's Melody  Story: Nine Stars in the Sky  Chapter: Default
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Nine Stars in the Sky

Nine Stars in the Sky

By Phoenix’s Melody

 

 

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One.

 

He leaned against the wall of his hideout.  His preparations were complete.  He would not be taken.  Alive or dead.  His choices.  His consequences.  His death.  But he was facing it on his own terms.  Be a man!  His mother had screamed it at him so many times.  Beaten him into submission.  But it was his brother’s challenge that propelled him on this gray path, this last chance of redemption, this final, desperate, hopeless flail for the Light.  His family had set in stone the dark end that came to him now.  But he was the one who chose to walk it.  So the blame fell on him.  Now he had to be a man and face the avenging angels of Justice with courage.  He would not run.  He would not flinch.  He would carry his plan out to the end.  True Gryffindor courage…  Who would have thought?  He would have… that’s who…  Was he the only one who ever believed in me?

 

Two.

 

He knew he did not have much time left.  No one did.  Not when they had incurred the wrath of the Dark Lord and fled his ranks.  A wry smile touched his lips at that thought as he looked down at the locket he clasped in his hand.  But he had his revenge.  The smile faded.  My penitence…

 

Three.

 

What he had done, his brother was right.  It was unforgivable.  Murder was unforgivable.  Perhaps, the Muggles were right about the next world, that there would be a judge and that his soul would be tried for all the wrongdoing he had done.  He felt — no, he knew that every punishment he would suffer would be well deserved.  You sow what you reap.  A woman had looked him in the eye just before he killed her.  It was his initiation that night.  She had warned him and he had not listened.  If he had…  He pushed that thought away.  He did not have time for what-ifs.  Time was too precious.

He looked down at the ornate charm he held and then at the bubbling cauldron, its liquid hissing as it burned the coals below it.  Evil must be destroyed at all costs…  Where had he heard that?  It didn’t matter.  He weighed it in his hand.  History… tainted with blood, the blood of children…it does not matter, it must be destroyed.

Perhaps, this small act would help his soul at judgment.  A small act weighed against countless acts of cruelty and evil.  A Slytherin to the core…always looking out only for their own skin…pathetic…  He heard his brother’s derisive voice, mocking him.  It was the day his older brother had fled the house.  When they went their separate ways.  When he failed to stand up to their mother and refuse her.  He had always thought that his brother hated him for being their mother’s favorite, but now, facing the impending hour, he realized, no.  There had been anger and contempt in his brother’s face that day.  But there had been sorrow and fear, too, fear for the younger brother who could not see the dark path and the early grave that awaited at the end of it, who could not escape the curse of tradition.  This will end.  He vowed.  This will end with me.  No more of our bloodline shall be cursed.  No more.  My brother is already free and this taint, this curse will end with me.  It ends tonight.

 

Four.

 

The last letter.  He looked out the window at the darkening sky.  Will he burn it or read it?  He hoped his older brother read it.  Understood what his younger brother had done.  This small victory, won at a cost.  But when are there ever victories without its payment in blood?  He hoped there would be no grief.  He knew there wouldn’t be.  His older brother wouldn’t cry for him; what was the point?  He was dead to his brother the day he received the Mark.  This grave was foretold.  The cursed mark.  No.  He just hoped there would be no pity from his brother, only relief.  Relief that he, the lost one, the stray one, had finally found his way.  That he had seen what his brother had seen.  That he was free.

 

Five.

 

He eyed the ever-thinning liquid.  It was slowly turning golden.  It was almost ready.  Ready for his sacrifice.  His lips twitched.  Two Gryffindor thoughts in less than a quarter of an hour.  Bravo…  He had always been a master Potion maker, second only to one.  He had found the recipe to this mixture in an ancient book, stored, oddly enough, in a Muggle library.  He didn’t question how it got there.  He knew what it was the moment he saw it and knew what had to be done.  The ingredients were easy enough to obtain — there were plenty of places he frequented where the rarer ingredients were sold without a second glance.  He had brewed it as soon as he could.

The concoction destroyed whatever was dipped into it, even if it was supposedly indestructible.  The drawback?  It worked only with an offering of blood, freely given — human blood, preferably fresh.  And while human blood was easily obtained, the catch was that whoever donated the blood would die.  A gentle death — if the old reports were true and could be trusted, the stories about selfless potionmakers who sacrificed themselves to destroy an evil — but it would be death just the same.  Hardly a comfort.  He laughed aloud, the sound alien in the small space.  I am hardly selfless… or am I?  Me: Three; Dark Lord: Zero.  He stopped, shocked at how much he sounded like his older brother.

 

Six.

 

While he waited for the final step, he glanced around the dingy room.  The spells were ready and set.  They would burst into the room, wands out, ready to kill him and desecrate his body.  But he was already one step ahead of them.  He could see them now.  His body on the bed, in restful pose (did he dare hope his death be peaceful when he had not given such a mercy to others?), shielded from sight by a simple Concealing Charm.  His friends (Such an irony isn’t it, your trusted friends coming to kill you?) would be looking for him.  Perhaps they’d even send Bella, just for family’s sake.  They’d start wrecking the room…  A predatory smile flitted across his face.  And then the fun would begin.

The pictures on the wall would fly from their perches, attacking them.  And when they blasted them into splinters of wood and canvas, those too would attack.  It was amazing what a handbook on Quidditch spells and history could do for a person with the right ideas.  The silver bowl that rested on the table would throw the highly acidic mixture it held into the unfortunate face of whoever was nearest before zooming through the air, striking anyone and everyone.  And all the while, the fire would burn and burn until the flames engulfed the room, cleansing it of blood and evil.  And I will rest as a child of the wind, my ashes blown to wherever the breeze chooses to take me…

 

Seven.

 

The Dark Lord had vowed to uphold tradition.  That was the promise he made to them.  Anger coursed through his veins at the thought.  How dare he violate such a sacred rule!  He quickly mastered himself.  It would be corrected in a minute’s time.  Once this is done… He knew it would kill him.  But he did not mind.  A wrong would be righted.  To split a soul, to shed blood…  It was inconceivable, but it had happened.  The day he had discovered his master’s secret, he had set to finding the truth.  It horrified him when he did.  It had been difficult to penetrate the Dark Lord’s hiding place, but he was young and hale.  Clever, too, like his prankster brother.  There had been a tricky moment of challenge, but he had succeeded without severely harming himself.  He had been repulsed by what he found and he knew then that his choice was right.

He wasn’t the type to gloat, but he could not help himself when he wrote the note.  The words, taunting and mocking, had just bubbled out from within him.  My Gryffindor tendencies, I guess…  The Sorting Hat had suggested Ravenclaw, but he had argued against it, knowing the uproar that would surely result at home.  He had won.  What if I hadn’t?  What if I had lost?  Would I be here now, with this choice?  He pushed that thought away.  No what-ifs.  It was too late for them.

 

Eight.

 

It was golden.  It was ready.  He carefully poured the steaming potion into the silver bowl where it smoked slightly.  A piece of discarded paper sizzled when a drop fell onto it, eating through the material in a second.  A few minutes… he swallowed as he lifted the necklace into the air, its chain dangling, the charm swinging seductively, whispering that there were other choices.  But there were no other choices, no turning back and he dropped the heirloom into the potion like the poison it was, where it floated serenely on the surface of the brew.  He forced himself to breathe.  In.  Out.  In.  Out.  He raised the knife and cut.  A small river of blood flowed across his pale skin.  One drop.  Two drops.  Three drops.  His fate was sealed.  He stopped the blood flow and tapped the tip of his wand against the cut.  It healed instantly.  The potion began to swirl as ancient magics did their work, the red mixing in with the gold, deepening in color.  But still, the necklace remained, unchanged, unharmed.  He watched it intently, half-willing it to sink and half-willing it to stay afloat.

 

Nine.

 

The blessed number.  His blessed number.  Nine, not seven, was what he chose to believe in.  Against his family’s beliefs.  Against tradition.  His own weak rebellion.

It was the Egyptians’ lucky number, their sacred number.  For him, it stood for luck and chance.  He received his first kiss on the ninth day of the ninth month.  He earned nine O.W.L.s.  His older brother had given him a golden charm of the number nine on his ninth birthday, before everything had spilt them apart.  He looked at it now, lying next to the silver bowl.  The metal glowed warmly in the firelight, eerily reflecting the flames, predicting the firestorm that would consume.  He looked back at the bowl.  It was his ninth day of freedom.  It was also his last.

It took nine minutes before the piece of heirloom jewelry sank beneath the surface of the golden liquid.  A few bubbles rose to the surface before the potion turned a soft blue.  Blue meant that it was over.  Everything was over.  And he could not help but feel relief.  No more pain, no more running, no more hiding, no more lying, no more killing, no more split-second choices of life and death.

He released the breath he did not even realize he had been holding.  His knees weakened suddenly.  He braced himself against the edge of the table, his fingers trapping the charm in his palm.  It was done.  The locket and its secret were destroyed.  The price was paid, but the deed was done and that was all that mattered.

“Ave Maria,” he murmured.  One woman had repeated it over and over, sobbing quietly, kneeling over the bodies of her family, knowing she was next.  “Ave Maria, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc et in hora mortis, et in hora mortis nostrae, ave, ave dominus, dominus tecum, Ave Maria…” It hadn’t saved her from Bella’s deathblow, but she had died at peace.

Days later, haunted by her voice, he had secretly looked up the words in a Muggle library and learnt them by heart.  Now, using the table as a cane, he knelt clumsy on the wooden floor, as he had seen her do.  He folded his shaking hands, his brother’s gift nestled safely inside.  The Latin words tumbled from his trembling lips, his tongue tripping over the oft-silently murmured prayer.  He did not have much time left.  “Pray for us sinners, Pray for us, now and at the hour of our death.” 

He stood on unsteady legs, the potion extracting its price, his lifeblood.  But he had set his soul to rest like that unfortunate woman.  He could now only pray for those who would die before the fight was over, the innocent ones, caught in the struggle between an unfathomable evil and a light that would triumph, must triumph.  His part for them was done.  Unlike them, he did not do what he did for glory or for the greater good, though the latter had motivated him slightly.  No.  He had done it for his brother.

He collapsed into the soft bed, its downy comforter offering him a final physical comfort.  He would, in a twist of the age-old wish, die in his bed, in peace, but without his family.  Well, that didn’t really matter since none of his family was truly his family… except one.  And he would not be here in time.  He didn’t want his sole family member to be here in time, to be here with him as he died.  It would be too dangerous.

There was a gentle click as everything came into place.  The hours of delicate spell-casting in between bouts of frantically brewing a complex potion had paid off.  When they came, as he knew they would, he would be gone, long gone, hopefully to somewhere better, where life was fairer and lighter, where he could be who he should have been in this world.  Oh, he knew he would face his victims and accept his atonements without flinching, but perhaps he would be forgiven one day of his crimes and enter the Elysian Field of old Greek fable.  Perhaps.  And perhaps he would greet his brother there, many, many long years down the road and they could be there as they should have been here, brothers and friends, by life and by blood.

A woman’s voice sang softly at the edge of his consciousness, “Surely sorrows shall find their end and all of our troubles will be gone.  And we’ll know what we’ve lost and all that we’ve won, when the road finally takes us home…”  His mind only remembered her face, a student in his brother’s year, older than him with a shy smile, a foreign girl with a lovely, clear voice who sang often of hope and love.  He did not know if she still sang of such things, did not know if she even still lived.  He hoped she did.  It would be people like her, foolish and naïve, but brave just the same, who would keep the hope alive until the day the Dark Lord fell.  And he would have had a hand in that victory…   An unknown hand, true, but then again, I’ve never been one for glory…

He smiled as he closed his eyes, the world dimming, its edges softening around him.  His weakening grip tightened against the charm he held in his hand.  As a gray mist swaddled him in soothing warmth and his breath left him, Regulus Apollo Black whispered on the wind, “Think better of me, my brother…  For once, I will make you proud.”

In the stillness of the room, a discarded piece of parchment fluttered to the floor, covered with writing, its words crossed-out and rewritten many times.  To the Dark Lord, I know I will be dead long before you read this…

 

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Author’s Notes: This piece wrote itself on July 16, almost immediately after I finished reading the sixth book.  I have no doubt that there will be much speculation on who R.A.B. is in the months to come, but I hope this story will offer another candidate for consideration.  That being said, J.K. Rowling owns the Harry Potter universe.  Whoever R.A.B. is, he (or she) belongs to Ms. Rowling.  The version of ‘Ave Maria’ that I used is slightly rearranged for my purposes.  The Latin lyrics are from the Opera Babes’ debut CD.   The song sung by the unknown woman is called ‘Going Home’ from the soundtrack of Gods and Generals.  Finally, the last sentence is taken from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, pg 609 (American Ed.)

 

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