Regulus improved, though this was a gradual process. After three days, the tubes in his nose were taken out. The next day, the one in his arm was removed; and he was allowed to get out of bed with something the Muggles called a wheelchair. In his spare time, Regulus often wheeled himself down hallways for the pure fun of it; before taking awkward, experimental steps using the mobilicorpus spell- Making sure he was alone every time, of course, so as not to break the Statue.
It was now the morning of Wednesday, September 26th. Regulus had taken advantage of the major lull in the hospital’s hallway activity to continue his fairly mundane, established daily routine. It being morning; the young man was feeling much too lazy to take the few shaky steps out of bed required to reach his chair on the other side of the room, so he simply checked to make sure there were no Muggles around (which there were not) and Summoned the wheelchair so that it was beside the bed.
Regulus then lowered himself into the wheelchair, gasping with the slight exertion as he did. Embarrassed and greatly irritated with his current weakness; Regulus impatiently waited for the episode of mild dizziness (Unfortunately, that’s what ten days in bed would do to you; as he’d discovered.) to pass before he wheeled himself out of the room, taking a wincing glance at the adjoining closet as he left.
Regulus was already refusing to wear the pristine black Death Eater robes that he knew hung there; already wanting to distance himself from everything he’d abandoned. He was more than happy to wear those bland, gray pajamas- The one good thing about the too-baggy and uncomfortable Muggle clothing provided by the hospital was that they definitely helped make him more anonymous. And at the moment, there were few things Regulus wanted more.
As he emerged into the hallway, Regulus flinched; as he always did at how BAD the place smelled- The halls and corridors reeked of piss, disinfectant, bath products, (and for some reason) wet steel. Regulus was already beginning to recognize it as the scent of death. Luckily, though; given that it was barely past sunrise, the vast and seemingly endless hall was near-deserted. The only wandering Muggles Regulus encountered was the odd nonsense-mumbling geriatric patient stumbling through the hallways, the occasional nurse, and nervous-looking flock of white-coated medical students carrying clipboards.
But at the moment, it was empty. Completely. Empty.
Regulus thought as he made his way down; the only sound at all a distant, low, moaning coming from a closed door he passed.
Eventually, Regulus reached the stairs leading up to the next floor. Leaning against the paint-chipped railing, the wizard staggered out of his chair and staggered up to the landing, with its massive window looking out over smoggy Muggle London beyond. Once he’d caught his breath, Regulus walked back down the stairs to the railing and continued the mind-numbingly boring cycle: Walk up the stairs, walk down the stairs; rest. Repeat.
After some fifteen minutes of doing this, Regulus was exhausted, so he opted to end his amateur rehabilitation session there. Now, the wizard was presented with two choices: He could either return to his room and pretend to be asleep by the time someone checked up on him; or he could continue to explore Charing Cross for a while longer before he returned to room #673 before someone realized he’d gone off somewhere without a doctor’s permission.
Ultimately, he chose the latter.
Closing his eyes, Regulus concentrated and visualized the second floor in his mind’s eye, picturing himself there. A brief onslaught of black; as though a blotter of ink had been splashed onto Regulus’s eyes; or else a heavy black curtain. When the darkness cleared, though, Regulus saw that he was now on the second floor; and continued onward. A small victory.
As he continued down another, narrower hall, Regulus’s mind inevitably began to drift. He suddenly felt exhausted. Not a physical feeling, per se, but as though every emotion had abruptly been drained from him. His mind was fixed on Sirius, and the times they’d had together as children. When they’d actually been brothers; before school, friends, house rivalry and prejudices had changed all that forever.
His mind flashed back to warm, sunlit Saturdays in May or April where he and Sirius had played hide and go seek in the vast, opulent sitting room the house on #12 Grimmauld Place had had to offer.
“Come on, Siri! Start counting already! I bet you’ll never find me…..”
And Sirius had laughed, brashly as he always did and said:
“Oh yeah? Wanna bet on it?”
And with that, Sirius had closed his eyes and began counting. With a slight giggle, five-year-old Regulus had scurried off to find an appropriate hiding place.
Their whole childhood had been that way: Races through carpeted, dust-filled rooms; breathless slides down polished bannisters that seemed unending, and silly boasts on how many outrageous pranks they could pull on visiting company without Kreacher noticing and scolding them both for it.
When Sirius had been eleven and gone to Hogwarts, everything had changed. Mum had packed Sirius onto the train a brilliant September afternoon in 1971. Regulus, then ten and burning up with jealousy, had resigned himself to standing on the platform like a sullen ghost and waving halfheartedly as the Hogwarts Express pulled away.
Then, by June, the surprise came when Sirius came prancing off the train in Gryffindor red and yellow, acting like his house placement was something he should be PROUD of. Mum had cried the entire way home, and Regulus had barely said a word. He had been too shocked, too utterly blown away to speak.
It had been accepted practically from his birth that Sirius would be in Slytherin, like virtually every member of the Black family to ever step foot on Hogwarts’ grounds. But no. He had set a terrible example for the family and broken their unwritten but sacred tradition.
Now it rested on Regulus to re-claim the family honor the next year; in 1972. Upon hearing that their younger son had been sorted into Slytherin, Orion and Walburga Black hosted a lavish dinner party at their home in 1973. Half the family and any Pureblood scion with sense attended- The Notts, the Rosiers, the Malfoys, the Lestranges with their boys; Rabastan and Rodolphus, the list went on.
Fragile, skittish Aunt Druella pinched Regulus’s pallid cheeks and fussed over him; telling him what a brilliant young man he was turning out to be, while her own daughters Bellatrix and Narcissa sulked in a corner, Lucius and Roldophus trying to court both of them and each with little success. Aunt Druella’s middle daughter Andromeda, however, was nowhere to be seen.
Tugging repeatedly at his aunt’s sleeve in a persistent effort to get her attention, Regulus immeadietly asked Druella:
“Aunt Druella, where’s Andromeda?”
The smooth, easy smile that had graced the older woman’s lips slowly faded into a broken, pathetic half-grimace.
“Andromeda….. We don’t talk about Andromeda anymore, do we, girls?”
Sitting in their self-imposed little corner with poor Roldophus and Lucius wrapped around their little fingers, Bellatrix and Narcissa only nodded and exchanged smirking looks. Regulus swallowed hard, feeling a sudden lump rising in his throat.
“Excuse me, I’ll be back in a moment.”
He muttered, pushing in his chair and staggering away from the packed dinner table.
Sirius, it turned out; was sitting on the carpet by the front door, slumped against the wall and scowling.
Sirius glanced up at his younger brother as he saw him coming, and his expression became more neutral, much to Regulus’ relief.
“What is it?”
“What happened to Andromeda?”
Sirius let out a long, whistling sigh.
“You really want to know about her, don’t you?”
Regulus nodded vigorously, grey eyes wide.
Sirius indicated that his brother come closer, which he did. Confident that no one would eavesdrop on them, Sirius whispered into Regulus’s ear:
“About three months ago Andromeda ran off with a Mudbloo- I mean, a Muggleborn boy she’d met in school, Ted Tonks. Uncle Cygnus had her blasted off the family tree for that.”
Regulus’s lower lip quavered, but he did not cry.
He told himself
Do not cry.
Although he would never tell anyone this openly, Andromeda had always been his favorite cousin. Even though she was nine years older than him, Andromeda had been kind and patient; always treating Regulus like the little brother she’d never had. And it was no secret that being disowned and burned from the family tree was the ultimate punishment that any Black could receive, the most cruel, scathing blow they could dream of receiving: To be disowned and forever severed from the sacred line, name never again used for future children in a feeble hope of preventing more taint.
Regulus was not quite sure what to do, or say then. Everything he was being told was so shocking and so absurd even now it was still sinking in. His mind was still frozen in shock.
Trembling and breathing hard, Regulus collapsed on the floor alongside his brother.
“Shh, Reggie…. It’s all right, it’s all right…. It was brave of Andromeda to do what she did. She’s better off.”
“But you’re talking about her like she’s dead!”
“Regulus, Regulus, she isn’t. I say anyone’s better off far away from this insipid family.”
Regulus said nothing more. He took in his brother’s words in earnest and picked them apart; his eleven-year-old mind deciphering them and frantically trying to decide if Sirius was right or wrong. In the end, though, Regulus went slack beside his brother, shaking and breathing so quickly he was nearly hyperventilating.
But through it all, he did not cry. Because Slytherins, Regulus was convinced, never cried.
Regulus’s second year at Hogwarts, things began to change. He began to fraternize and spend time with the other boys in Slytherin, the older ones especially. He took on their ideals (no matter how twisted or tainted) and tried to exercise them himself. Slowly but surely, they replaced Andromeda and Sirius as the guiding figures in Regulus’s life. Eventually, he began to stop caring that he was being indoctrinated. After all, Regulus was only a child and did not see it that way. Their behavior was acceptable, his was not, and he began to want to emulate them and be like them because it was the only way he’d gain any friends at this school.
These boys were his friends, his adopted older brothers, his guides in life….. Things changed.
The week after his sixteenth birthday in 1977, Regulus became a Death Eater. It was now something he recognized as a grave, stupid, and life-altering mistake. But the old adage went: One could not change the past, only create a better future. In present-day 1979, in the quiet, early morning halls of Charing Cross hospital, Regulus blinked slowly, not quite able to process what had just happened.
He’d revisited old memories, simple enough. And yet….. It almost seemed as though he’d been reliving them all over again, like he was there and it was all happening a second time. The whole concept was uncanny.
Sitting there, alone; bitter and chronically confused as to what the hell he wanted to do with his life, Regulus took a deep breath in, and then out. Once again that age-old saying popped into his mind: You can’t change the past, but you can make a better future. Appropriately apt for his current situation. With determination, yet also with a heavy heart, Regulus continued down the hall and resolved to do exactly that.
Eventually, he stopped in a large, open room that appeared to be a patient lounge of some sort. People of various age, race and sex sat hunkered in cheap-looking chairs around the room, playing cards and other games, humming, doing small crafts, etcetera. But Regulus had no interest in any of that.
Instead, he wheeled himself straight over to the nearest window on the other side of the room and lingered there, placing a hand down on the windowsill. Pinkish dawn sunlight splashed onto the sill, and it was surprisingly warm to the touch.
Regulus sat there for what seemed an age (But was actually only several minutes), reflecting on his present, but also on his future and where it was headed.
Regulus Black may be dead,
But Reginald Ballard is very much alive. And this time, I’ll set things right.
Eventually it was 8:05; the time Regulus had come to anticipate as the time a nurse or doctor (sometimes accompanied by gawking students) would poke at him and ask him all sorts of questions he’s answered repeatedly, with nearly always the same answers. Without a word, he left the bustling lounge and emerged into the hallway, which was thankfully still empty.
Upon making sure (just in case) there were no Muggles around, Regulus Apparated back to room #673 and put his wheelchair in the same place it had been when he’d woken up. Shifting around for a few moments in a bid to make himself more comfortable, Regulus ultimately went to sleep feeling at peace with himself and his new, current choices in life. For now. In the future, yes, things could and would change- Regulus knew he still had a long way ahead before he’d completely adapted to Muggle life, or come to terms with his past mistakes and poor decisions. But for now, he’d done something good; and he’d done something right.
And nothing else mattered.