Regulus held the door open for Aislinn again as they exited the pub, a mere forty-five minutes after they had entered it.
“Thanks,” she muttered, looking at the ground.
“You’re quite welcome,” he replied, anticipating that those would be the last words they spoke until they reached the hotel.
She surprised him. “I’m sorry.”
“Er, for what?!” He looked over and down slightly and saw that she was still staring at the ground, hugging her body as she walked.
She shook her head. “My idiot younger brother! Anyone can see that you’re being sincere! In truth, you look half dead. I don’t know how you managed to last this long, dealing with whatever you’ve been dealing with.”
“He had every right to do what he did,” Regulus insisted, feeling his cheeks flush with embarrassment. “I’ve done more than enough to merit a prison sentence, and not in one of your prisons, either. Ours are a lot more … inventive in the way that they punish their prisoners.”
Aislinn stopped walking abruptly and whipped to face him. “You were deceived, that much is clear. You never meant to hurt either of us, or anyone else. There has to be provision for that.”
“There has to be justice, too. I have a lot that I need to atone for. Honestly, I wouldn’t be angry if Liam decided not to help. He’d only be endangering himself and the rest of you if he threw in his lot with me. Even if he decides to forgive me, it would be in his best interest to stay away. That’s perfectly reasonable.”
“Reason hasn’t got anything to do with it,” Aislinn countered. “You can’t go up against that man alone, and Liam can’t just leave you to die.”
“I can only do so much,” Regulus insisted. “I can come to him, I can apologise, but he has to be the one to accept that apology and move on, in the end. He’s a Slytherin. It would be appropriate for him to cut me off. He’s already done it once.”
“He may be, but I’m not. You need help; you’re only eighteen!”
Regulus laughed. “I may be eighteen, but I feel like I’ve experienced enough to be eighty. Look, I appreciate the offer, but there’s only so much you can do. You can’t use magic. I don’t know how you expect to fight the Dark Lord without it. Furthermore, if Liam isn’t on board with the idea, I don’t think that I want you to come back with me. You’ll need to stay here with your family. Coming back to London is a death sentence, and I’m really not keen on putting you in any more danger. I feel like I might get more than a left hook if that were to happen.”
“There’s really nothing else that I can do to help?”
“Beyond helping me find somewhere warm to sleep? Not tonight.”
She seemed ready to argue again, but he kept his eyes locked on hers until she conceded and continued walking. If there was one thing he would not allow, it was putting Aislinn in any more danger. She may be twenty-five and perfectly capable of caring for herself, but bringing her back to London, regardless of Liam’s decision, was very low on his list of priorities. Liam understood the implications of the decision he had to make. Aislinn did not. No matter how passionate she was about protecting her family, and his own self for some reason, Regulus could not allow her to re-enter the fray in a position that would surely lead to her own death. Voldemort was a lunatic and Regulus was becoming quite certain that the Muggle, Mudblood, and Half-Blood disappearances reported in both the Daily Prophet and the Muggle news were the result of his whims.
He shook his head clear of the dismal thoughts. Aislinn was one of his few acquaintances that could get his mind away from magic. This was a good opportunity to take advantage of that.
“How has Liam been, truthfully?” he asked tentatively.
Aislinn glanced up at him and shrugged. “It depends on the day. He’s been better in the past couple of weeks, but I think that that has more to do with having a plan. He seemed lost after he came home from London. He really did not have much direction.”
“I know what that feels like,” Regulus muttered.
“I’d imagine that you do.”
They were silent for a few more steps, but then Regulus inquired, “Do I really appear half dead?”
She gave him an incredulous look. “Have you seen yourself lately? You look like you haven’t slept well in weeks, mostly because of the smudges under your eyes. You’re obviously well dressed and a little kept up today, but I feel like this might have been some special occasion.”
“My father died last week. His funeral was this morning.”
“Oh,” Aislinn replied softly. “I’m so sorry. How is your mother?”
Regulus shrugged. “As well as can be expected, I suppose. She and my father were not close by the end of their marriage, not that they had ever been very close. Their parents arranged their marriage.”
“That still happens?” Aislinn inquired.
“Among Pureblood wizarding families, certainly,” Regulus affirmed. “I can guarantee you that my mother is divining some sort of list of women for me to court once I return home. She might wait a few months, but I’m sure that the subject will come up again soon.”
Aislinn did not seem to have a response to this and so they continued to walk in silence. She had not said how far the walk was from the pub to the hotel, but Regulus figured that they could not have much farther to go. Ballyvaughan was not that big.
“I have a question, but you may not be willing to give me an answer,” he said tentatively, glancing to his right to look at her. “When you said that Liam had been better in the past few weeks because he had a plan, what did you mean?”
She did not say anything for a few steps, nor did she look at him, but he did see her open and close her mouth a few times as if trying to decide how to respond.
“It’s not that I don’t trust you,” Aislinn began. “I really do want to explain the situation to you, but I got the distinct impression during our prior conversation that Liam wants to keep our discoveries just between the two of us until at least tomorrow.” She turned down a side street and gestured toward a small inn on the corner. Regulus grabbed her elbow to prevent her from going inside just yet.
“Can I ask what your discoveries are about? You both seemed to become more interested in my story when I mentioned Donnelly.”
She blushed. “Oh, you noticed that, did you?”
“It wasn’t very difficult,” he admitted. “Both of you stiffened and Liam kept jabbing you in your side.”
Aislinn laughed. “Yes, I suppose that wasn’t much of a cover-up. I honestly can’t give you any more information than we already have, but I do have faith that Liam will see reason. He just has a great deal to think through. This is the place I was talking about. Do you want me to come in with you or do you think you can handle it?”
“I can manage,” Regulus replied. “Thank you for your help. I’ll see you and Liam tomorrow evening.”
“Of course. I’ll be looking forward to it,” Aislinn assured him, and then reached up to give him a hug. Startled, Regulus wrapped one arm around her tentatively and squeezed her shoulder into his side. “Sleep well and try not to worry.”
“I … er, yes, thank you. The same to you,” Regulus stammered. Aislinn leaned back and gave him a small wave before turning around and walking back toward the pub where her brother was waiting.
Regulus watched her go, leaning against a street lamp. He could smell a hint of salt in the breeze coming from the nearby ocean. It was an odd smell, not one that he had encountered much in his life, but it was strangely refreshing and calming. The breeze also reminded him of the cold and he decided that hiring his room and getting something warm in his stomach would probably be the best course of action.
The lobby was well lit and quaint, just large enough for the front desk, a few lamps, and two armchairs with a small table between them. A middle-aged man with reading glasses was standing behind the desk, working on a crossword puzzle from the morning paper. He looked up when a small bell rang as Regulus walked through the door, placing the glasses gingerly on the desk surface as Regulus approached.
“Good evening, how may I help you?”
“I need to hire a room, possibly just for a night but maybe longer,” Regulus answered. “I apologise that I am unable to give you a more definitive timeframe.”
The man folded his arms and shrugged. “Well, there is a two night minimum stay, but I might be able to waive that fee since we do have several rooms that are open. May I have your name?”
The man raised his eyebrows. Regulus sighed and spelled out his name.
“Right, very good, Mr. Black. How would you like to pay?”
Regulus had changed some of his wizarding money for pounds before leaving London, but he had forgotten that most Muggles did not carry large amounts of money on their person. The man’s eyes were wide when Regulus produced a wad of notes and some coins, several of which clattered to the floor.
“Sorry,” he mumbled as he leaned over to collect the stray money pieces.
The man’s entire demeanour changed. “Not a problem, certainly, not at all, Mr. Black. What kind of room did you say you were looking for?”
“Er, just a small room, nothing fancy,” Regulus replied carefully. “And if you have any kind of food service, that would be lovely as well.”
“Brilliant, yes, I’ll fetch a menu for you to look over while your room is made ready. If you’ll just have a seat, it will only take a few moments,” the man assured him, gesturing toward the armchairs. Regulus nodded and took a seat, glancing briefly over the menu to see if there was anything resembling the kind of food he usually ate while at home. Nothing seemed particularly suited to his tastes, but he did not have much time to examine the menu in detail before the man returned.
“Right this way, you’re in Room 15. Everything you need should be there. Haven’t you any luggage?”
It might have been good to walk in with that, Regulus realised with trepidation. “Er, yes, I left it outside. I’ll be right back.” He exited the inn quickly and turned into an alley to enlarge his bags. The man appeared quite confused when Regulus returned, but did not press the issue.
“Right, do let me know if you need anything else. I’ll bring up some food. Is there anyone who might be calling to inquire after you?”
“Yes, actually,” Regulus affirmed. “My friend and his sister may be calling. They directed me toward your inn and I am meeting up with them tomorrow for dinner. If you could forward their messages to me, I’d be grateful.”
The man nodded. “Of course, I will keep the messages here for you. It’s been a pleasure, Mr. Black. I have you down for one night and just let whomever is here in the morning know your plans when they have been finalized.”
Regulus thanked him and trudged up to his room. He heard a knock and found a bowl of soup and a hunk of bread outside of his door fifteen minutes later, after he had spent some time freshening up in the washroom. Aislinn was right; he looked terrible. The weight of the last day, the last week, and the last month seemed to be catching up to him as he devoured the soup.
He had resolved several things in his mind. First, that he could no longer serve Lord Voldemort, regardless of the results. His purpose in becoming a Death Eater was to attain a better position for himself and make contacts for the future. Most of his friends from school had joined and Voldemort’s philosophy had seemed to be one that he could agree with. Yes, the Ministry of Magic had to be reformed, but Regulus no longer believed that Voldemort’s solution was the best one. He wanted a better future, but how could a better future be built by excluding half of wizarding society?
Second, he had to fulfil his mission for Voldemort. His life was forfeit if he left and forfeit if he stayed. If he had to go down, it was better to go down doing something and he could only know Voldemort’s plans by feigning complete loyalty. This potion that Donnelly was working on had to be a central part of those plans and Regulus meant to do enough research to figure out why. It seemed that Liam and Aislinn knew something about Donnelly, or at least about other wizards in County Clare. He could only hope that Liam would agree to help him.
Third, no matter what happened, Regulus had to find a way to reconcile with Liam. It would not matter if he failed at his mission because the Dark Lord would find a way to kill him regardless of his performance, once he determined Regulus’ true loyalties, but Liam’s help could mean success, which could lead to a way to sabotage Voldemort’s plans. However, the most important thing for Regulus to do now was to show Liam that he sincerely cared for him.
Forgiveness is a funny thing, he thought to himself. On the one hand, it seemed that Liam was aware of Regulus’ remorse for his actions. On the other, that meant nothing if Liam was not willing to respond in turn. Forgiveness was something that had to be given. Regulus realised that while forgiveness was related to penitence, it was by no means dependent upon it. Liam may have forgiven him months ago without ever telling him. On the other hand, regardless of what Regulus said or did, forgiveness had to be Liam’s choice. It could not be based on coercion or false concessions. Further, Liam did not have to agree to help him even if he forgave him.
There was little that he could do but hope for the best and prepare for the worst; the worst being Liam turning him over to the Ministry of Magic without giving him a chance to clear his name. The possibilities could drive him mad. Regulus decided that the best course of action was to sleep.
“You stubborn idiot!” Aislinn spewed as she slid back into the bench seat of the booth. “How can you treat him like that?”
“Like what?” Liam retorted. He was not in the mood for a lecture.
She narrowed her eyes and crossed her arms on the table. “With derision, scorn, and hatred! Have you learned nothing? Why did you leave London in the first place?”
“Because he sold us both out to Voldemort!”
She shook her head. “That’s not what I remember.”
“Oh? What is it that you remember, then?”
“I remember a scared, confused, and hurt man who didn’t know what to do so he ran away from it all,” she began. “I remember disbelief mixed with cockiness. I remember your attempts to balance what you believed to be the truth with what Regulus was saying, and I remember your desire for answers. All you wanted was for Regulus to understand where you were coming from.”
“Things change,” Liam stated. “Perhaps my memory is not quite clear, but it’s been four months. We have no idea what he’s been doing. How do we know that he hasn’t been instructed to kill us?”
“Personally, I think he would have done it already if that were the case,” Aislinn pointed out.
Liam shrugged. “You’re probably right. But what does Voldemort want with Desmond Donnelly? You have to admit that Regulus’ object in being in County Clare is a bit off.”
“That’s true,” she agreed. “But I still think that we should give him the benefit of the doubt. It took a lot for him to come here and admit that he was wrong.”
“He can’t be trusted, Linn. You have no idea what he’s capable of,” Liam insisted.
She shook her head. “So the best course of action is to just ignore him and let him go down alone? He might not have to die if you help him. The first thing he asked me about when we were walking to the inn was how you were doing, so he clearly cares about you.”
“I owe him nothing,” Liam spat, leaning back and crossing his arms.
“Really, nothing? Nothing at all?”
The questioning was making him uncomfortable. Why should he be the one to extend a hand of friendship to the man who had turned against him?
“Yes, nothing at all,” he insisted.
Aislinn’s voice rose an octave as she pressed, “He welcomed you at school when no one else would. He stood up for you in the face of other Slytherins and defended you to his parents. He taught you about the magical world and helped you to understand this other part of you that none of us could explain. You could no sooner cut him out of your life than you could cut me. These last few months are proof of that. You need to forgive him.”
Liam could not think of a good response to that. He looked around the pub, hoping that something would come to him. Nothing came but more excuses. “Why? Even if all that is true, he turned his back on me. Why should I forgive him?”
“Because if you choose not to and you leave him to die alone, then you’re no better than the Death Eaters,” Aislinn replied simply.
“Regardless of what he did?”
Aislinn seemed bolstered by this small agreement on his part. “You don’t even know what he did, but even if you knew you’d have to take into account that he has come to you to repent. He’s sorry for what he did and he wants to turn his back on it. He wants to change, Liam. Shouldn’t you do everything in your power to help him?”
Liam shook his head. “Look, even if I choose to forgive him, and I really don’t have to, it’s in my best interest to keep him as far away from here as possible. The presence of a dark wizard could endanger our family more than you can possibly imagine.”
“Everyone dies. It’s morbid, but it’s true. Isn’t it better to live a life of compassion, regardless of the consequences? Regulus knows nothing about true friendship or true family. The only real friendship he has ever had has been with you. Do you really want to leave him for dead knowing that he’s never experienced what real living is like? We’ve been blessed beyond measure with friends and family who love us and care for us. It only makes sense to extend that love to others.”
Liam was silent for a long moment, playing with his empty mug and avoiding his sister’s eyes. Welcoming Regulus back into his life was the last thing that he wanted to do because it would shatter the haven that he had created for himself in County Clare. The haven was not perfect, but it was safe. He had all of the things that Aislinn had just described and more: friends, family, income, recreation, excitement, and rest. They were close to discovering something about their elusive grandfather and his family history. Who was Regulus to destroy that life?
Yet the price of the haven was to ignore an entire part of his being. His family had warned him all along that he could not pretend that the last seven years had never happened. Aislinn was right that he could not cut Regulus out of his life. That friendship was too much a part of who he had become and that was why the betrayal had hurt so much, and still did. Regulus had been his anchor in the wizarding world. It meant a lot to have someone to call a true friend in a house that prided itself in individual success and cunning behaviour.
Liam closed his eyes and rested his head in his hands. His throat constricted and burned as he finally embraced the grief from which he had been running. He felt his body begin to shake and tried his best to calm himself down so that no one would notice. He felt a hand gently break his hold on his forehead and lifted his head slightly to see Aislinn reaching across the table. He intertwined his fingers with hers and wiped away a few salty tears that were seeping from his now-open eyes.
“It hurts so much.”
“I know, but that’s how you know you’re alive,” she replied softly.
He whispered back, “I don’t know if I can do it. I don’t know if I can forgive him completely and allow him back into my life. What if I really am no better than the Death Eaters? So many of them were my classmates. Even though we weren’t friends, we lived together. We ate together. I was chosen as a member of their house. There is something in me that is just like them.
“What if I try and fail? How will I live with myself if I can’t manage to trust him ever again? Won’t I just be betraying him in return?”
Aislinn squeezed his hand. “It has to be a choice that you make. You can forgive him but still choose to keep him at a distance until you’re ready. It sounds to me like you’re already starting to do that.”
“I … I suppose that I am,” he admitted, surprised by the realisation that he still cared for Regulus. “I’m worried, though. What if I begin to forgive him now but then realise that he’s done something beyond awful. He said that he was responsible for deaths. What if he killed someone?”
“We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” she reassured him. “For now, it’s enough that you begin to understand and accept Regulus as a friend again; and, you don’t have to do this alone. I’ll be here the whole way.”
Liam withdrew his hand and crossed his arms. “How are you able to do this? You’re the one who was hurt physically by his lack of foresight and absurd behaviour. When did you forgive him?”
“I guess I never really blamed him for what happened,” Aislinn suggested. “I’ve always tried to think the best of Regulus, even after you told me that he was a Death Eater. I always believed that there was something more to the situation and I still believe that. Furthermore, he’s full of remorse. I don’t believe that he ever really understood what he was doing. Yes, there has to be justice, but there also has to be some provision for his reformed state of mind. It sounds like Regulus is willing to face the consequences for his actions and he believes that he’ll die no matter what.”
“He actually has some idea of the full extent of Voldemort’s power,” Liam noted. “His assessment of what will happen to him is probably not far off.”
“No, probably not.”
They were silent again, both staring at a candle in the centre of the table. The hurt had not gone away; indeed, it had only increased, but Liam felt that he might be able to face it now. There were so many questions that had to be answered. If he chose to ignore Regulus, he would probably regret it for the rest of his life.
There was only one decision to make.
“Well, I suppose that if we’re going to welcome Regulus back into our lives, then we should probably talk to our parents about it,” Liam suggested.
“I think that would be wise,” Aislinn agreed. “Are you hungry? We never ordered any food.”
He shook his head. “Not really. Ma will have something at home if we’re hungry later. Should we go over there now?”
Aislinn nodded and they rose, leaving some money on the table to cover their drinks. They had driven separately, having expected to go home to separate houses after they had finished their holiday shopping. Liam walked Aislinn to her car and then walked down the dark streets toward the harbour where he had left his own. He knew that he had many decisions to make and he still felt unsure of himself, but he realised that several things were certain as he drove the familiar route home.
First, regardless of what he had done, Regulus seemed genuine in his plea for forgiveness. He was acknowledging that he had done something wrong and that was a major change from the summer. The details of their final argument had grown fuzzy in Liam’s mind, but he did remember that Regulus had been stubborn, resolute, and unwilling to listen, let alone admit that there was any possibility that he might be wrong. This was no longer the case, unless Regulus had somehow become the world’s best actor in the past four months.
Second, Regulus had knowledge about Desmond Donnelly that could fill in the missing gaps in their own research. Regulus’ knowledge did not include anything about Donnelly’s family. He only knew something about the dark wizard’s work before arriving in County Clare. It seemed that neither of them could figure out the answers to their quests alone, but they might be able to solve all of the mysteries by combining what they already knew.
Third, Liam and his family were in danger no matter what he decided because of Voldemort’s interest in Donnelly. Regulus’ recent experience with Voldemort had solidified Liam’s presumptions in his mind. The dark wizard was dangerous and he was apparently becoming more open about his sentiments. Those sentiments combined with his interest almost definitely meant danger to anyone in Clare acquainted with magic.
The question, then, was whether or not it was better to be with Regulus or to go it alone. If Aislinn was right and Regulus was sincere, they would both win. If Regulus had actually turned and become more aligned with Voldemort’s objectives then there was nothing Liam could do at this point. They would both lose. It seemed that the best policy was to take things a single step at a time and trust Regulus with a little more information until he proved himself untrustworthy. He would have to evaluate the situation at every moment, but keeping Regulus close to him meant that Liam would be able to calculate what Regulus was thinking.
Aislinn had beat him home and Liam walked into the kitchen to find his parents and sister sipping coffee at the kitchen table.
“Liam, what exactly is going on?” Michael questioned as Liam hung his overcoat on a hook near the door.
Liam looked at Aislinn and she explained, “I’ve told them that we have something we need to ask. They were a little curious as to why I’m here so late.”
“Ah, right, well it’s quite simple, really,” he said. “A mate of mine needs a place to stay for a while.”
“Well, that shouldn’t be a problem. Any mate of yours is welcome to stay here,” Kate replied.
“It’s … well, Ma, you may not be so quick to offer if you knew his identity …”
“It’s Regulus Black,” said Aislinn. “He’s here, in County Clare.”
“I thought that he had joined a club led by some lunatic who wants to eradicate anyone who can’t do magic. Why in the world would he come here?” questioned Michael.
Liam placed his hands on an empty chair. “Well, we’re not completely sure, and I only suspected Voldemort’s goals and motives before. I didn’t have any proof. It sounds like Regulus may be able to offer that to me. It also sounds like Regulus was confused about the whole situation. He thought he was signing up for one thing and got something totally different.”
“He really isn’t a terrible person,” Aislinn insisted. “He’s just in over his head. He told Liam that he wanted to apologise and hoped that they could reconcile their differences.”
“And you think that he’s telling the truth?”
Liam shrugged. “He’s never been a solid liar. Granted, he did a relatively good job of hiding his allegiance over the summer and, obviously, he’s not been found out by the Ministry of Magic since, but there is certainly a possibility that the entire thing is an act.”
Aislinn folded her arms. “I disagree, I think …”
“I know what you think, and I understand why, but you have a tendency to overlook negative things and sometimes that puts a damper on your analysis,” explained Liam carefully.
Her face flushed. “I do not let my analysis become clouded by my feelings, I …”
Kate, whose eyes had been flitting from Liam, to Aislinn, to Michael as they each weighed in on the conversation, interrupted.
“Let’s not accuse one another, that’s not what we’re trying to decide. What we need to figure out is whether we want to take the risk of inviting someone into our house who might want to hurt our family.”
Liam nodded, and Kate continued, her eyes never leaving his. “Is it likely that this Voldemort would send someone to find out where Regulus is? Do you think that Voldemort asked him to come here for any particular reason?”
“Why in the world would Voldemort send someone here?” Michael questioned, voice level indicating that he was becoming frustrated with the conversation. “There is no conceivable reason that he would be interested in County Clare, or in our family. We have nothing to do with his world.”
Liam took a breath and glanced at Aislinn quickly, willing her to be silent. This was the part that he knew would be most difficult. Liam suspected that Kate had kept Callum’s magic a secret from everyone. She had not even told Liam, the one person who would benefit from it the most, until it seemed absolutely relevant. He could not say for sure whether Michael knew this crucial piece of information. Liam knew that his parents shared everything. They did not keep secrets from one another, but no one is perfect. There could have been a thousand reasons why Kate would have felt compelled to keep Callum’s past a secret from her husband, not the least of which being that Callum had kept it a secret from his family as well and may have asked Kate to keep it quiet.
The worst thing that Liam could do was to come between his parents with that information. He looked at his mother and waited, hoping that she would know what to do.
Kate bit her lip. “Michael, I’m not sure if this is entirely relevant, but your last statement isn’t completely true.”
His focus shifted and Liam saw his muscles tense. “What do you mean?”
“Well, obviously, we are intricately connected with Voldemort’s world because of Liam, but there’s actually more to this than I’ve ever told you,” she began, taking his hand. Michael leaned closer to her as she continued. “Do you remember when Liam fell, the first time he used magic?”
Michael shook his head. “Yes, I remember, but I can’t see how that’s relevant.”
“He was there. He brought the boys back and explained to me what had happened,” she continued. “He told me that he was a wizard.”
Michael hissed, “Kate! I thought we agreed we weren’t going to talk about this in front of … I mean, they really don’t need to know, and I don’t need to know more than you’ve already said, and …”
“Oh, we already know,” offered Liam. “Well, Ma told me at least, and I told Aislinn.”
Michael let go of Kate’s hand and started pacing around the kitchen. “For heaven’s sake, why am I the last person to learn about all of this!?”
“Well, perhaps if you’d be willing to process more than just the basic level of information, you’d feel more comfortable!” retorted Kate.
“Right, er, Ma? I’m really quite confused,” admitted Aislinn. “Liam indicated that there wasn’t much else to know other than that our grandfather was a wizard, too, and come to think of it he never even mentioned Pa in the equation.”
“That makes two of us,” added Liam, avoiding Aislinn’s last comment. He was not sure what to think. Apparently his father did know about Callum, so he had not exposed some looming secret, but Michael and Kate were not of like mind concerning what their children knew. There had to be more to the situation than Kate had let on.
“You weren’t supposed to find out like this,” said Kate.
“You weren’t supposed to find out at all,” muttered Michael. Kate glared at him. “They weren’t! We agreed that we weren’t going to tell them!”
Kate shook her head. “No, we agreed that we weren’t going to tell them until they were ready. You knew that this was coming, you just didn’t want it to happen.”
Michael grunted and shoved his hands in his trouser pockets, leaning against the wall.
“Honestly, you need to give us a bit more to go on,” pleaded Aislinn. “We might be able to help you if you would just explain what you’re talking about.”
Liam nodded in what he hoped was a helpful manner.
Kate cleared her throat and leaned forward onto folded arms. “What I told you was true, Liam. My Dad never did tell me any more than was necessary to explain what you had done and what would happen in the future. I can only surmise that he did, in fact, go to Hogwarts because he was the one who told me all about it in advance. Everything he said was absolutely accurate. What we never told you was the circumstances of his death.”
“Not because we wanted to keep you in the dark,” Michael clarified. “We didn’t want you to get hurt and we wanted to separate ourselves from whatever happened as much as possible.”
Liam relaxed: these were the parents he knew. They were corroborating one another’s story and they had been honest with one another. Kate may have betrayed Michael’s confidence in telling her son some of the information that they had wanted to keep secret, but she had not kept him completely in the dark.
“So what really happened?” asked Aislinn. “I was fifteen when he died. It’s not like I was a child. I can understand you not wanting scare Liam, especially since you knew he’d be going to Hogwarts soon enough, but I don’t understand why you never mentioned this to Silas or myself.”
Michael walked back to the table and sat down again, leaning toward his daughter. “We didn’t know much about magic yet. At that point in time we had had two encounters with it: Liam saving himself from falling off of the cliff and your grandpa’s death. What would you have done?”
Aislinn furrowed her brow and admitted, “I guess I wouldn’t have told us either.”
Liam broke in. “I’m still missing the part where you tell us how he died.”
“He had an accident of some sort,” explained Kate. “He was some sort of scientist with magic; it didn’t earn him many friends, apparently. He didn’t do any of his experiments in his house in Fanore. He went somewhere else, but we never knew where it was. A wizard from your Ministry of Magic came to visit us after the accident happened. He explained to us that your grandfather had been badly hurt by something he did and he tried to get help from some wizards in County Clare, but it was too late. He needed help that he could have only received in London and he couldn’t get back there in time.”
“Callum never told anyone where this other place was,” added Michael. “They tried to find it but didn’t have any luck.”
“How is that possible?” wondered Aislinn.
“There are a lot of possibilities,” offered Liam, trying to keep pace with his racing mind. “It could have been destroyed in the accident, or he could have erected so many magical barriers and charms to render it absolutely unable to be found. Think about it. Almost everything in the wizarding world is based around keeping our existence hidden from Muggles. Hiding one building would be almost too simple for a wizard who was determined not to be found.”
Michael nodded. “That’s exactly what this wizard told us. Think about our position. Our only encounters with magic at that point had almost resulted in the death of our boy, and had certainly resulted in the death of your Ma’s father. What would you have had us do? We were absolutely terrified.”
“And we always meant to tell you, we just hadn’t got around to it yet,” said Kate. “I know it’s a poor excuse and that you could’ve done with knowing sooner, but I hope that you’ll see why we made that decision.”
She turned to her husband. “And I hope that you understand why I told Liam about Dad. I wanted to encourage him to really think about why he had come home. I don’t want Liam to become a recluse wizard performing experiments with who-knows-what who gets himself blown up for no reason.”
Michael nodded and smiled at her. “Yes, I understand. I wish that we could have done it together, but I do understand. This is a lot to process, and you’re right that we should have told them sooner, but I just don’t know if it would be wise to bring someone into our lives who is directly involved with dark magic.”
Liam decided to take the lead again. “I think that you might benefit from interacting with Regulus, someone who has been around magic all of his life. It’s second nature to him. Granted, it was probably second nature to Grandfather Callum, too, but he didn’t choose to use it. Regulus does. He’s obviously made some poor life choices, but it looks like he’s trying to reform himself.”
“You think that he’s honestly telling the truth, then?” asked Kate.
“I suspect so,” affirmed Liam. “But I really just want to keep him close. I think he might be dancing on the fence and it would be better to help him navigate that decision than to leave him to go it alone.”
“You know what I think, but there’s something else you should know about all of this,” added Aislinn. “Liam and I haven’t been fully honest with you either.”
Liam flushed and looked down at his hands. “Er, yeah, we’ve been trying to find out about Grandfather Callum in secret.”
Michael paled. “In what way, exactly?”
“Well, a couple months ago I ran into this man in the dead of night while I was using my wand as a light source. It was foggy. To my surprise, the man knew what it was. I was scared and so I erased his memories, but later I regretted it. This was around the same time that Ma told me about Grandfather Callum being a wizard,” explained Liam. “I couldn’t get the mysterious man out of my mind. I figured that if anyone could tell me about magic in County Clare, he could. The problem was that I had erased his memories and I had no idea who he was.”
Aislinn broke in, “At the same time, I had seen some strange things at the school. It seemed like some of my children might be from magical parents. I brought the theory up with Liam and he told me what had happened. We reasoned that it would be beneficial to at least try to resolve the mystery.”
“Did you ever find the man?” asked Kate.
Liam nodded. “We did, actually, you both know him. It’s Christopher Devon.”
Michael squinted. “The man we go to for ship repairs?”
“The very same,” affirmed Liam. “Aislinn and I cornered him into telling us what he knew about magic and the results were surprising. Apparently his wife is the daughter of a Desmond Donnelly, a wizard who was involved in dark magic and disappeared because of it. Donnelly had a young relative who was working on experiments with him until he became disillusioned and gave up on magic altogether. We reasoned that the young relative might have been Callum, so, we did some digging around at his house and Aislinn managed to find a scrap of paper linking the two men.
“And then we found out that Regulus is on a mission from Voldemort to find out about Desmond Donnelly. That’s why he got sent to County Clare. He was planning on coming here anyway before his eyes were opened to the horrors of Voldemort’s plan just recently. We haven’t told him yet that we’ve been researching the same thing, but I plan to tell him within the next week or so.”
The family sat in silence for several minutes until Kate said, “Essentially, if we invite Regulus into our home, then we invite this mystery as well.”
“Right, and all of the consequences it would bring,” replied Liam. “I’ll understand if you don’t want to take the risk, and Regulus will, too. However, I think that it would be worthwhile. We’re doing more than just helping Regulus order his life; we’re finding out about our own past. Isn’t that just the slightest bit appealing to you?”
Kate nodded. “I would love to learn more about my Dad before he was married to my Mum.”
Michael still appeared conflicted. Liam knew that it would be easy to convince Kate to help Regulus, but he had not anticipated feeling so nervous about his father’s reaction. Michael really had little reference point for measuring the effects and abilities of magic, and he had just revealed that his earliest experiences with magic had not exactly been pleasant. Michael’s decision on the matter would determine the extent to which he could interact with and help Regulus. He could only hope that Michael would choose to put aside his fears and embrace the opportunity in front of him.
Michael cleared his throat. “As much as I’d rather just stay safe and say no, I think that in this case we may be in more danger if we just ignore it. The best decision is to learn more about this, whatever this is. We can’t fight something if we know nothing about it.”
“So you’ll give your consent to inviting Regulus to stay?”
“Yes, but I want to know what you lot are planning on doing before you put yourselves in any more danger. Is that clear?”
Liam agreed, “Naturally. I apologise for keeping you in the dark, but we honestly thought that it was the best thing to do until we verified our facts.”
“Well, at least we all care about one another,” offered Aislinn. “Even if we sometimes interpret ‘caring’ as concealing information.”
Everyone laughed shortly at her glib remark. Liam felt a pang of pity as he realised that Regulus had probably never experienced a family discussion such as this. His parents concealed much from their children, but not out of love. The Black family concealed information out of self-interest and spite. Perhaps the best by-product of Regulus’ visit would be his interaction with the entire Merric family. It would certainly be an experience.
“When should we tell Silas and Alana?” asked Aislinn.
“I’ll talk to them about it tomorrow,” said Michael. “I have a feeling that Silas will want to keep Clare away from the house until we prove Regulus absolutely trustworthy.”
“Despite my hopes to the contrary, I think that that is probably a good idea,” agreed Liam. “Aislinn and I are meeting him for dinner in Ballyvaughan tomorrow night so we’ll bring him home after that.”
There was not much to say after their conversation, and Liam did not fancy more deep conversation or new revelations. He had too much information to process in his mind. He was glad that all the pieces fit together and this new information about Callum seemed to corroborate what he had known before. But where was this secret laboratory of sorts? How had Callum hidden it and would they even be able to find it if a Ministry employee had been unable to complete the task? Perhaps Regulus’ knowledge would fill in the gaps, but he would have to wait to find out.
Regulus spent the next day wandering around the small town of Ballyvaughan, certain that he could draw a map of its boundaries and environs by the time he was to meet Aislinn and Liam at the pub. He had checked out of the inn in the morning, hoping that Liam had decided that he could be trusted. If not, there was no point in him staying in Ballyvaughan anyway. He could just as easily launch his investigation from the larger city of Galway. It was not as though he had any specific geographic leads anyway, other than the general area. It could potentially take a few weeks to learn anything definitive about Donnelly. This did not matter. Regulus was not in much of a hurry to return to London.
He approached the pub at half-past seven exactly and found Liam and Aislinn inside, laughing over a private joke. He walked up to their table and smiled nervously.
“Regulus, do sit down,” said Liam, pulling out a chair next to him. Regulus sat.
Liam continued, “We did a lot of thinking, Aislinn and me, and we talked to our parents. You should know that this offer is conditional. We’re still not fully sure that we can trust you, but we want to. We want to believe that you’re going to do the right thing and we want to give you another chance.”
For the first time in months, Regulus truly felt that the weight on his shoulders was lighter.
“You mean, you’ll give me somewhere to stay? You’ll help me figure out what I need to know?”
“Yes, and yes,” affirmed Liam. “For as long as you need it. As it turns out, we may be able to help you, too. Do keep in mind that this is a conditional agreement, however.”
“I’ve noted it,” Regulus replied.
“Try not to botch it up.”
Regulus laughed. “I’ll do my best.”
“Now that that is settled, we’re just curious about one thing,” said Aislinn. “Tell us more about Desmond Donnelly.”
A/N: Thanks so much to all of my faithful readers for waiting as long as you do. These chapters take quite a long time to write, but they’re worth every minute. I’m glad that you enjoy reading them as much as I enjoy writing them, and I’d love to hear more about what you think. What are your theories? Let me know!
No chapter could be complete without input from my betas: Arnel, Cygnus, and Utterly Absurd. You are fantastic and I cannot ever thank you enough.
Finally, thanks to my family for being a wonderful model of forgiveness, redemption, and support, the essentials of life.