Orion Black passed away two weeks later. Regulus received an owl with the news from his mother in the late afternoon the first week of December. Suddenly, his plans for a trip to Ireland seemed to be easier to arrange. Jacks was happy to approve an extended leave of absence to deal with funeral arrangements and the Christmas holidays, especially since the research for the spell defence team had been put on hold. The Ministry had become more paranoid since the early November attacks, and Aurors were working more hours than before. Besides this, Frank Longbottom, Jacks, and Thomas had been given access to more top-secret information, and Jacks explained to Regulus that they had to keep the information private to preserve the safety of those involved.
Lord Voldemort was frustrated with Regulus’ apparent lack of access. Regulus, too, was unsure of what this meant. Jacks had always been straightforward and willing to include Regulus on the ins and outs of the Department. He seemed increasingly unavailable, and Regulus did not know if this was because of increased responsibility or increased caution. This decrease in workload, combined with the loss of Alec, made for a dull regular work week. Alec had not returned to work on 1 December, presumably to go into hiding. Regulus still did not understand his fear; Alec was of no threat to the Dark Lord. Why should he fear for the safety of his family?
The funeral was scheduled for the morning of Wednesday, 12 December, and Regulus had arranged for the previous Friday to be his last day at work until the new year. He was spending his last day helping Lily decorate the office for Christmas as both of them had more time on their hands. She had sent him to a closet in the back of the office to find a meagre box of decorations from the previous year and see what they could salvage. Regulus found the box at the top of a shelf inside the magically enlarged closet; he considered exploring in the back to see if there were more options, but changed his mind when he encountered a set of boxes that seemed to have a hex upon them and were bouncing in a subdued fashion, hindered by bands that kept them chained to the wall. Who knew what else he might encounter?
“Looks like we aren’t going to have much luck,” he noted as he placed the box on the floor by Lily’s desk.
She nodded tersely. “That’s what I was afraid of. I started here last year just after Christmas and I remember helping someone from the research unit take decorations down. It didn’t take very long. We’ll just have to be creative.”
“What do you have in mind?”
“I’ve never really decorated using magic,” Lily admitted. “Last year, James and I were so busy that we didn’t take the time, especially because we were planning on spending the holidays with his parents, as mine are dead and my sister isn’t particularly fond of us. She’s a Muggle, you see, and the idea of magic is completely contrary to her husband’s tastes, though she was always curious when I was in school. I suspect that she may just be jealous.”
“Why shouldn’t she be?” Regulus questioned. “You can do things with a wave of your hand that she can only dream of.”
“Vernon believes magic is unnatural.”
Regulus recoiled. “Unnatural? He only says so because he can’t do it. I can’t think of anything more natural, or that I feel more right doing.”
“That may be so, but you won’t convince them of that. In any case, they don’t make good holiday company, and of course, James’ parents are gone now, so we’re spending the holidays with Sirius, Remus, and Peter, and I’m learning all sorts of new decorating ideas,” she explained. “I’d never have thought to charm stationary lights in the bushes so they would be uniformly interspersed. James is very particular about it. My parents never bothered to decorate the garden; we normally just had a tree.”
Regulus assured, “Believe me, we weren’t big Christmas decorators either.”
“Looks like we amateurs will just have to make do,” Lily said. “I say we start with garlands. There’s some in that box, right?”
Regulus looked into the box with some hesitation, then nudged it toward her with his foot.
“Honestly? I have no idea what a garland is.”
She laughed. “It’s a long rope or string for decoration, often with pine needles or cranberries or the like. Let me see, I’m sure there is something like that in here.”
Lily rummaged through the box and pulled out several lengths of greenery, but not enough to adequately adorn the whole space of the Department. Further searching revealed a small, lopsided and drooping Christmas tree and several boxes of chipping ornaments.
“It’s a start, I suppose,” she lamented. “I was hoping to have more to work with.”
Lily shrugged and turned the tree around for inspection. “A larger tree, for one, more ornaments, even a wreath or some tinsel. I guess Malinda’s meticulous personality doesn’t extend to holiday merriment.”
Regulus shook his head. “No, it doesn’t, but I think I can help with some of that.” He placed the dilapidated tree on the floor and pointed his wand at it. “Engorgio.”
The tree swelled twice its size. Regulus repeated the spell and concentrated on increasing the size toward the ceiling, then directed his efforts at the drooping branches, willing them to become full again.
Lily shook her head. “Brilliant. You directed the focus of your spell! We don’t need to have all the materials to do what we want, just the focus and the will. We have everything we need already.”
Regulus nodded. “I figure this is a good way to practise. Let’s see what we can do with these ornaments.”
Lily opened the box and they stared at the dull, chipped orbs.
“Do you think Reparo will work?” she wondered aloud
Regulus shrugged. “It should. Your focus is to revert them to their original state. The problem is that they are chipped and a bit dull. I don’t see any reason why that shouldn’t work, just keep your intention and focus constant and consistent. Will it to work.”
She nodded and seemed to shift her entire consciousness toward the task. Her eyes never left the ornaments and Regulus was impressed with her intense concentration.
“Reparo,” she declared. As expected, the chipped pieces reverted to their original state, and the pair was left with a box of glittering ornaments.
“Absolutely brilliant,” echoed Regulus. “This is a start. Let’s see what we can do with the rest of this.”
They set about enlarging and restoring the available decorations, adding flickering lights to the garlands and altering a few to create wreaths. Regulus remembered seeing professors shoot tinsel out of their wands at school and attempted to find a viable method to copy the magic for half an hour, managing only wispy strings of cotton and streamers at first before lengths of tinsel shot out the end of his wand and stuck themselves to the office walls.
“Easy, really,” he remarked. Lily rolled her eyes.
“Well done,” she conceded. “I’m nearly finished transfiguring more ornaments. We should be able to set the tree soon.”
“Right, over by that wall, do you think?” Regulus suggested, pointing in the direction of the lounge.
“I was thinking inside the lounge, but either way would be fine, I think,” Lily replied.
“Right, yeah, that would work,” he agreed. “It’s a bit of a change from research.”
“I know, I miss it,” Lily replied wistfully.
He agreed, “Me too, but I think we’ve managed to integrate the theory into our decorating work.”
“Naturally, we deserve gold stars,” Lily said.
Regulus laughed. “Clearly. How is your house search coming along?”
“Oh, er, fine. Yes, it’s coming along,” she stammered.
“Does that mean you’ve found somewhere to live or is that a clever way of trying to get me off of your scent because you’ve been procrastinating?” he teased, though he had a sense that she was actually trying to hide information.
Lily looked grateful. “You’ve caught us. We’ve been so busy that we haven’t had time to devote to our search, and James’ Auror training has picked up. I hardly get to see him at all.”
“Have you found more time since our work has been put on hiatus?” Regulus asked.
“Yes, that’s true, we’ve had more time recently,” Lily agreed. “But we’re still sifting through the available homes, really. We want to find a place in the country that will be a good investment for the future. You have to prepare for these things, you know.”
Regulus nodded and concentrated on getting the tinsel to lie correctly while Lily poked at the ornaments lying on the desk. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her look at him and then back at the desk a few times.
Here it comes, he thought. She’s going to ask about my father, and then tell me how Sirius is getting along, and then suggest that I include him in the funeral arrangements.
Regulus had been waiting for the questioning all week, and effectively avoiding Lily in anticipation of it. The situation was perfect for her line of reasoning.
He heard her take a deep breath behind him. “So, I heard about your father. I’m really very sorry.”
“Thank you,” he said without turning around.
“I’m sure it must be difficult dealing with the arrangements so quickly.”
He shrugged and continued arranging the tinsel. “Someone has to do it. My mother has been doing most of the work. I just have a lot of parchment to sign.”
“You know that Sirius would help if you just asked …”
Regulus turned around and interrupted, “No, he wouldn’t. You know he wouldn’t. He’d laugh and make some sort of joke about the House of Black.”
“He’s not like that,” Lily protested.
Regulus shook his head. “He is. He’s spontaneous, unpredictable, and ambitious.”
“And you aren’t?”
“Of course I am,” Regulus countered. “In all situations but this one. Sirius had his chance to be the model son and he botched it up. It’s not my responsibility to fix his mistakes. The House of Black, and its entire inheritance, is mine alone.”
“But that’s completely unfair,” Lily cried, voice raising an octave. “It was a misunderstanding between him and your parents, not concerning you. If there is any hope for reconciliation, I would think that now would be the best time to try. Perhaps there isn’t any for your mother and brother, but the two of you will probably be around for years to come. Wouldn’t it be better to spend those years on good terms? And what if you don’t end up having those years?”
Regulus raised an eyebrow. “I could say the same thing about you and your sister.”
She shook her head. “You don’t know anything about Petunia and me.”
“That’s exactly my point,” he pressed. “You weren’t friends with Sirius or me when this split happened, you weren’t even friends with James. There are bigger things going on here, Lily. I know that you want to see us do something about this, but there’s nothing to be done. It’s over.”
Lily looked down at the desk again. “Still, it doesn’t have to be.”
“It does,” he stated. “It really does.”
They were silent for a while until Lily broke the stillness.
“I think the tree is ready now. Do you want to place it in the lounge?” she asked.
Regulus turned around. “Right, I can do that. Against that wall there?”
Lily nodded her agreement. Regulus placed the tree and marvelled at the improvements they had made. The ornaments and flickering light, combined with some tinsel from his wand, gave the tree a magical shimmer and the room seemed brighter with only the single touch. Lily placed the garland wreaths on a few doors around the Department while Regulus followed with his tinsel spells.
“I suppose it’s fitting for the spell department to have creative decorations,” he noted as they set the last few decorations.
“Yes, most assuredly,” Lily agreed. “Happy Christmas, Regulus. I hope that you are able to have some peace in your heart, regardless of these circumstances.”
He nodded, feeling her words cut into him with their kindness. “Happy Christmas to you, too, Lily. I’ll see you after the holidays, I’m sure.”
“Perhaps,” she said. “Take as much time as you need.”
Regulus was confused by her cryptic answer and wanted to press the issue, but she turned and shuffled back to her desk, ending the conversation. He sighed and went back to his own desk to gather the few personal items he had at the Department before going on his leave. This did not take long and he walked over to say goodbye to Jacks, hearing hushed voices as he approached the office.
“I really think we need to investigate this, Tobias,” came the muffled voice of Richard Thomas. “We could make a breakthrough here. There is someone in the Department who is giving information to Voldemort, I know it.”
“I want proof before we do anything, you know that,” Jacks countered. “We shouldn’t be discussing this here.”
Regulus paused and leaned against an adjoining wall in the shadows, trying to exhale silently. Could they know that he was the spy? Would they accuse him if he entered the room? He considered leaving without saying goodbye to anyone, but that action might make him look more suspicious.
“We should take everyone in for questioning,” Thomas countered. “We need to figure this out. I don’t want to continue our research until we know that our secrets are safe.”
Jacks sighed loudly. “Who do you think is compromised? Prewett? Finch? Black? You haven’t any proof, and no leads on any of them. We’ve been over this every day for the past two weeks. Let it go. Let’s start research again after the holidays.”
Thomas mumbled a response that Regulus couldn’t hear. He leaned closer to the door and caught the last few words.
“ … really, it could be him.”
“I don’t agree with you, but I will continue to consider your perspective, as I have assured you for the past week,” Jacks replied. “Give me some time to think. This is not a happy task, and honestly, the whole thing may come to nothing if he doesn’t come back.”
Regulus felt his stomach clinch. They were talking about him, weren’t they? There couldn’t be anyone else they would consider in this manner. How could he have compromised himself? He had been so careful to socialise, to keep quiet about the Dark Lord and his mission, to make friends in the right places. Where had he gone wrong?
He practically jumped a metre. Richard Thomas towered over him, Jacks lingering by the door to his office.
“Er, hello. I was just coming to let you know that I’m on my way out,” Regulus stuttered. How long had their conversation been over? They had been discussing him not moments before.
Jacks cleared his throat. “That’s very kind, thank you for stopping by. Do send our regards to your mother.”
“I’ll do that,” Regulus replied. “Er, Happy Christmas.”
“Likewise,” Thomas said. He nodded to Jacks and walked away. Regulus released the breath caught in his throat.
Jacks nodded to him in turn. “Right. Have a good holiday. We haven’t set a return date, have we?”
Regulus shook his head.
“No worries, then. Let me know a few days before you plan to return,” Jacks said dismissively.
Regulus felt his heart sink. They had already written him off. Neither man cared enough to bother with him. What was he to tell the Dark Lord?
“Yes, I’ll be sure to do that,” Regulus replied. “Goodbye, then.”
“You’re serious? You think you’ve found him?” Aislinn stared at Liam, wide-eyed.
Liam shook his head. “I don’t just think I’ve found him, sis, I know I’ve found him. Christopher Devon is the man, I’m sure of it. I had such a strong reaction to seeing him.”
“But he could just be a look-alike, or someone could be deceiving you,” Aislinn protested. “How can you be so sure?”
“He matches the criteria in every way possible; same height, the hair, the eyes, the hands. His jacket sleeve had an oil stain, as if he generally carries an oil lamp like he had the night that I saw him,” Liam rattled. “He has a daughter that lives in Doolin, that’s who he must have been visiting last month. No one could be deceiving me because no one knows what I’m looking for, you’re the only one.”
Aislinn did not appear convinced. She was leaning forward with her left arm lying on the kitchen table, cupping her right elbow, and resting her head in her right hand. Her eyes squinted as she regarded Liam and processed the information he had presented.
“You were all about finding him a few weeks ago, what’s wrong now?” he pushed.
Aislinn shrugged and brought her right arm down to rest against the left on the wooden surface.
“I’ve just been thinking about the risks inherent in what we’re doing,” she explained. “What if our grandfather had nothing to do with this? What if he just had a falling out with his family? We could be getting ourselves, and our family, in over our heads. Silas would never forgive us if something happened to Alana or Clare.”
Liam had considered that possibility. “Yes, you’re right, but if that’s true, we’re already in danger anyway. What if we’re being watched without knowing it?”
“Do you really think that’s the case?”
“We’ll never know unless we try,” Liam replied. “I’m sick of waiting for something to happen. I’ve been sitting here for three months, and for a while I was content with working on the boats and the accounts, but I can’t ignore the life that I’ve lived for the past seven years. I’ve changed too much to leave it behind. This is the first connection to it that I’ve found here.”
Aislinn stared silently at the sleeve of her jumper and Liam stared intensely at her head of blonde curls. He knew that despite her excitement and curiosity, it would be hard for her to jump back into the magical world once presented with the opportunity. Regardless of how she had been pushing him to seek out the truth, he knew that the truth would be a trigger for the past. He was willing to pursue Christopher Devon on his own, but he had to hear Aislinn tell him that it was all right to leave her behind.
Or maybe she would decide to face her demons, too. Liam could not fathom how it must feel to be scarred by a weapon one could never hope to wield or fully understand. Would facing magic make it easier for Aislinn to get past the previous summer?
“I can go it alone, you know,” Liam offered. Aislinn’s head snapped up.
“I don’t think so,” she countered. “I’m not letting you face this by yourself.”
Liam crossed his arms and leaned over the kitchen table. “I think I handled myself quite well both times I dealt with Devon previously, thank you very much. I was one of the best students in my form and received some of the highest marks in all of my classes. I know how to defend myself and how to fight back.”
“I would never say that you didn’t,” Aislinn answered. “I just want to make sure that you’ve really thought about this, because once you’ve opened this can of worms, there’s no going back.”
“I have,” he affirmed.
“All right,” she said with a nod. “I’m in. How do we go about finding Devon and convincing him of your identity, since you so brilliantly erased his memories?”
“Not to worry. I can stop by his office to check the status of the boats and then ask him out for drinks,” Liam suggested. “Meet me in Ballyvaughan at that pub near the warehouse at half-past five.”
Aislinn agreed and left for the grammar school, leaving Liam to tidy up the kitchen quickly and drive to Ballyvaughan. He could hardly believe the decision he had chosen to make, but somehow, he knew it was the right one. He felt anxious, yet content; exhilarated, yet at peace, the way that he felt at just the moment before he leapt from a small rowboat to a ship. It was almost intoxicating. How had he not realised what his lack of action was doing to his subconscious? He had not felt this way since his attempt to convince Preston that abandoning his policy of inactivity was the right course of action.
Is that how I’ve been acting, all this time? He wondered to himself as he started the car. He knew that the answer had to be yes. It was one thing to protect oneself and one’s family; it was quite another to vanish and isolate oneself from the entire world. Liam knew, painfully, that the only way to make a difference was to launch himself back into the world that he feared. Like Aislinn, he had to face scars that ran deep. He only hoped that Christopher Devon might be able to provide him with answers, and even sound advice.
“All right, little brother?” Silas greeted Liam as he entered the office.
Liam nodded. “Just fine. Have you heard anything from Devon about the repairs?”
Silas shook his head. “Not since last week. I was planning on going over there myself to check the progress.”
“Would you like me to go for you? Liam asked. “I wouldn’t mind walking over there.”
Silas rubbed the stubble on his chin. “Yeah, I suppose that would be quite helpful, if you wouldn’t mind.”
Liam nodded. “Not in the least. I’ll prepare the paperwork and go later this afternoon.”
“Brilliant,” Silas replied. “That will be a big help, not that I should be surprised. You’ve been an enormous help this season. I don’t know if I could do it without you anymore.”
A wave of guilt passed through Liam, but he pushed it away. “You’re welcome. I know I haven’t provided that much help. I’ve probably done more harm than good with everything I’ve botched, but I try. How’re Clare and Alana?”
“Lovely, as always,” Silas gushed. “We took Clare up to the cliffs the other day. She had a hard time understanding that the miniature ships in the water were actually the big ships that she sees all the time.”
Liam grinned. “It’s great watching her grow up, isn’t it?”
“I love it,” Silas affirmed. “I love being her Papa, you should try it sometime.”
Liam laughed. “You better watch it. I may just decide to keep her to myself someday.”
“Well, I suppose I could let you borrow her once in a while, as long as you promise to find a respectable girl,” Silas mused. “I can’t have my daughter fraternizing with women of ill repute. I hear Sean took you out last month. Did you meet anyone? I met Alana when I was your age.”
“Oh, well, Sean set me up with a nice girl, but I haven’t really talked to her since,” Liam replied. “I’ve been busy.”
“I can give you some time off, if you’d like,” Silas offered. “You don’t have to be here every day.”
“We can work it out,” Liam said. “Don’t worry about me. I’m going to get to work.”
Silas nodded and left Liam to the paperwork. There was not much to prepare, but it was just as well. Liam wanted to spend the time considering how to reveal his identity to Devon. It was not an easy task, and not knowing which side of the line Devon was on made it more difficult. The man had told Liam that there were different kinds of wizards, and some were not as friendly as others. Naturally, this was not new to him, but it still left him dumbfounded as he recalled the conversation.
Devon had been surprised to see Liam’s wand, so he was at least familiar with them. Did that mean he had grown up as a wizard? Was he a squib, or had he been exposed to the wizarding world later in his life? Liam remembered the flash of momentary panic combined with surprise that had passed across Devon’s face. What did it mean?
I can’t know until I ask, Liam realised. There was no point in dwelling on the problem if he could not solve it, but he found his mind returning to the conundrum whenever he had a spare moment. He was restless by half past three, but knew that he could not leave until four. He had to catch Devon at just the right moment before the end of the workday in order to convince him to go to the pub for a drink.
He tapped his pencil on the desk in a rhythmic pattern, matching the ticking of the office clock, a tap for every beat of his heart as he tried to keep his anxiety at bay.
“Are you going to go over, then?” Silas asked at a quarter until four, a note of annoyance in his voice. “It’s a bit of a walk.”
“Right, I know, I’m finishing up my paperwork for the visit.”
“Not a problem, just wanted to make sure you remembered. I’m going to walk on home. Alana is meeting some friends tonight and I want to make sure to distract Clare well in advance.”
Liam nodded, distracted. “Bye.”
The clock finally chimed four. Liam threw on his overcoat and shuffled briskly out the door. The warehouse was located on the other side of the harbour. He crossed the street to walk by the water, a glassy green on this overcast day. The tide was starting to come back in and the ships rocked, their masts eerily reflected and distorted in the waves. There was just a bit of orange and yellow from the sun, now close to the line of the horizon.
Far from being full of activity, most of the boats had already come in for the day, their masters either packing up to go home or already gone. Liam could smell fresh fish being cleaned in some of the warehouses as he walked by and thought that he would have to pick some up for his mother the next day. As he meant to convince Devon to eat with him tonight, he knew that the fish would not keep, since he could not guess how long the fish would be off ice.
The ship repair company owned several stretches of space along the harbour, and Devon’s office was not located in the building closest to the water. It took Liam some extra time to compensate for this error, but not long. He caught Devon just as he was packing up to leave.
“Mr. Devon? I wonder if I might have a word.”
The man straightened and turned around.
“Ah, Liam Merric. Yes, do come in. Silas said he might be coming by sometime this week, but did not suggest that you would be as well.” He pointed to an empty chair opposite his desk. Liam nodded and sat down.
“Thank you. I offered to come in his place,” he explained. “How are the boats?”
Devon leaned against his desk and folded his arms. “They’re coming along quite nicely. I saw them yesterday, and I think that you’ll both be quite pleased with the improvements. I honestly can’t think of anything else to tell you.”
Liam was pleased with the news, but growing anxious as he considered the time. It was only just five o’clock. He had to kill another half hour before Aislinn would be at the pub to meet them.
“Lovely, I’m glad it’s gone so well. Is there anything you need me to fill out for you, a mid-work assessment perhaps?”
Devon shook his head. “No, we don’t have anything like that. We generally like to keep up with our clients in person and not on paper. I’ll give Silas a ring if there are any problems.”
“Right. That should work nicely,” Liam replied. Devon was trying to shoo him out the door, though Liam could hardly blame him. Devon had probably expected to be driving home by now. He stood to leave.
“Thank you for all of your help and I look forward to hearing from you.”
Devon nodded and turned back to his desk. Liam walked toward the door, disappointed, but feeling helpless.
What are you thinking? Liam asked himself. Just turn around and ask him if he wants to get a drink.
“Er, sir, I was wondering if you’d like to grab a drink with me,” Liam found himself saying as he turned around in the doorway. Devon looked up from the desk, but did not answer immediately. Liam felt his face flush and shifted his weight awkwardly.
“I just thought, I mean, you’ve done so much work for my family, and I’d like to get to know you better. Silas and my father already seem to know you well,” he stammered. “But I’ll understand if you’re busy or have somewhere to be. I remember you said that you visit your daughter in Doolin often and I can tell that you’re ready to leave here for the day.”
Devon laughed shortly. “Actually, a drink would be nice. I can only take so much time sitting down in the office. I’d much prefer being on the water.”
“I can relate to that.” Liam smiled. “How about that pub down the way, by our warehouse?”
“Perfect. That’s a delightful little place. Give me a few minutes to finish up here, and I’ll meet you on the street.”
Liam agreed and left, lingering just outside the front door. He was so close to getting answers! The timing would work out well, as long as Aislinn was punctual. They would have some time to make small talk and get to know one another, as Liam had suggested, before her arrival. Devon would not realise that he was being set up initially.
Liam straightened as Devon exited, placing a cap on his head.
“Lovely. Let’s be off then.”
They started walking and Liam raked his mind for the best way to start the conversation.
“So you said you had one daughter, in Doolin. Is she about Silas’ age?”
Devon shook his head. “No, I’d say about the age of your sister.”
“Which one?” Liam asked with a laugh. “Aislinn is twenty-five and Tara is twenty-two. She just had her birthday.”
“Aislinn, the elder. I forgot about Tara. She’s at university, right?”
“Yes, she’s a bright one,” Liam affirmed. “Do you have any other children?”
“Just the one. My wife and I are a bit older than your parents, and we had her later in life.”
Liam probed, “Any particular reason?”
“Oh, circumstances, fate, you know,” Devon evaded. “Sometimes life does not turn out exactly the way you would have hoped. But that does not mean that it turned out poorly. I think life has a way of giving us what we need rather than always what we want.”
“I can definitely relate to that,” Liam replied. “I never expected to be back here so soon.”
“You left school last June, right? Where did you attend?”
“Er, a small school in Scotland. You’ve likely not heard of it,” Liam said quickly.
Devon stopped walking. “Try me.”
“I’m not daft, Liam. There’s something about you that’s different, and not just from Michael and Silas. It’s almost as if …” he trailed off.
Liam took a deep breath. “As if what?”
Devon narrowed his eyes and shook his head. “Nothing. That’s impossible.”
“You might want a drink first,” Devon suggested.
“Well, we’re almost there. What’s on your mind?” Liam pressed. They were about twenty metres from the door of the pub, and he could see Aislinn loitering outside.
Devon appeared uncomfortable. “It’s a bit complicated to explain, and I won’t pretend to understand all of it, but some of my wife’s relatives have been, well, just a bit different, and you just remind me of them, that’s all. Forget I even mentioned it.”
“All right, I’ll spell it out for you,” Liam offered. “I think that we’re referring to the same thing. I’m a wizard.”
A flash of recognition and fear passed across Devon’s features as his eyes widened, but the look was gone as quickly as it had come.
“And you’ve met me before,” Liam admitted.
Devon looked puzzled. “Of course I have. You’re Michael’s son.”
Liam shook his head. “No, we met in mid-October. I was walking home from a pub in Doolin and it was foggy so I used my wand to light my path, and I ran into you. You were wearing that same coat and carrying a lantern. I startled you, and you were amazed by my wand. You said so and wanted me to come with you. You seemed afraid of something, and I was afraid of you, too, and I’m very sorry, but I erased your memories of me.”
The words were tumbling out of his mouth before he could stop to think, but there was no turning back. Regardless of whose side Devon was on, Liam was now fully committed to seeing his declaration through. He saw Aislinn approaching out of the corner of his eye, and he pressed on with his garbled explanation.
“I’d never have told you if I didn’t think it was important, but I can’t get the encounter out of my mind. There are things going on here that just do not make sense, and then there’s my own family past that is somewhat of a mystery to me.
“That night you, well, you said that there were good wizards and bad wizards. I was under the impression that I was the only wizard, at least in Clare and Galway. The school I was referring to is Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, in Scotland. It’s a school for neophyte wizards and witches, like me.”
Aislinn was almost by Liam’s side. Devon’s eyes were bugging out with shock. Liam ran a hand through his hair.
“Look, I don’t know if you can help me. I don’t know if you’re even willing, but I do know that you have more answers than I do right now, and I’ll erase your memories again if that’s what you want. But if you have the time I would really like to hear what you have to say.”
“I – I, er, that is to say,” Devon sputtered, pointing. “Who is that?”
Liam turned. “Aislinn, perfect timing. Christopher Devon, this is my sister, Aislinn Merric. We’re both rather curious about our family’s past, and she’s the only member of my family in on what is going on here. Silas and my father have no idea.”
Devon reached a hand out to shake Aislinn’s. “Pleasure. I think I’ll be needing that drink. Promptly.”
He started walking toward the pub. Liam shared a glance with Aislinn.
“What’s going on?”
“Don’t worry, I think I have it under control.”
Devon turned around. “Are you coming then?”
Liam nodded. “Naturally, I’ll be happy to pick up the drink for you.” He grabbed Aislinn’s arm and steered her toward the pub gently.
“Just go with it.”
Devon swung the door open and held it as Liam stepped back to let Aislinn through first. Liam’s heart was pounding as he tried to listen to the bartender explain what was on tap and finally settled with a dark ale. Aislinn and Devon made small talk as they settled in to a table at the back of the pub, but their chatter barely registered in his mind. His thoughts were anywhere but on the conversation.
“Liam?” Devon’s voice called him back to reality. “Would you like to continue the conversation we began outside?”
Liam glanced over at the older man and his sister staring at him quizzically.
“Right, right, sorry. I had just asked you your opinion on the whole matter, and then Aislinn walked up,” Liam reviewed.
Devon nodded. “Precisely. Now, I want you both to know that I really have no idea what kind of information you’re looking for. You seem harmless enough, and genuinely curious. I don’t feel like you mean me any harm, so I’m going to take a risk here.”
“You won’t regret it.”
“Let’s hope.” Devon gritted his teeth. “All right. Here it is, all that I know about magic. My wife’s father disappeared when she was five years old. Her mother knew that he was a wizard, he had been very up front about his special abilities, but she had no idea that he was engaged in so-called dark magic. He had been working on something in secret, something that no one was supposed to know about, and he had recruited other wizards in the area to help him.
“I don’t know much more about his work, all I know is that one of his partners was a younger cousin. He had moved to Ireland with his brother after they finished school at your magic academy and he showed a lot of promise, but he was not quite keen on the idea of whatever my father-in-law was researching. He backed out and disappeared from our radar, at least. Better for him. Whatever my father-in-law had been researching went horribly wrong a few years later. There was an explosion in his workshop and my mother-in-law ran out to look for him, but he was gone.”
He took a drink, grimacing at the bitter taste of whatever he had ordered.
“My wife never displayed any sort of magical ability, nor has our daughter, so I’m happy about that. We’ve generally tried to keep a low profile, so I’m rather surprised at your story of my actions when I was in Doolin, but it’s not impossible. I suppose that that is exactly how I would react if I were walking on the street at midnight in the fog and I saw a wand light up. We’ve lived in fear that my father-in-law would come looking for us for years.”
“So that’s what you mean about there being good wizards and bad wizards,” Liam broke in. “This controversy over research?”
Devon nodded. “I’m sure there was more to it than that, but that’s all that my wife knows, or at least, all that she’s seen fit to tell me.”
“What’s her maiden name?” Aislinn wondered aloud. “You see, there have been several disturbances in the grammar school where I work and I wonder if they are of any relation to you.”
Liam choked on his ale. “I’m sorry, what?”
Devon furrowed his eyebrows. “Donnelly. Does that name mean anything to you?”
“It’s our mother’s maiden name, and her father was a wizard,” Aislinn whispered. “A wizard who moved to Ireland with his brother and kept as low a profile as anyone I’ve ever met. A wizard who did not even tell his own daughter what he was until magic started manifesting in Liam when he was little.”
“You’re quite sure about all of that?” Devon questioned, incredulous. “That would mean that we’re of some distant relation, by marriage, if nothing else.”
Liam took a deep breath. “Oh yes, we’re quite sure.”
Orion Black’s funeral, and Regulus’ trip to Ireland, grew closer more quickly than Regulus had expected. He was not quite sure what had happened to his weekend. On Saturday, he had felt like he had so much time before he needed to board the plane on Wednesday afternoon, but he was reaching a state of panic by Monday. Regulus had no idea how he was supposed to find information about this mysterious Donnelly. He could tell that the Dark Lord was being very careful not to reveal too much information about what he was looking for, and that only made Regulus’ job more difficult. The Irishman had taught at Hogwarts briefly when the Dark Lord was a student, and Voldemort was sure that Donnelly had to be alive.
Regulus was not so sure. Desmond Donnelly had a clear trail up until the point that he moved to Ireland. He had been third in his class, and a member of Slytherin house, and he had been obsessed with the Dark Arts and developing deadly potions. This obsession was what led to his downfall as a Hogwarts instructor. Some of his research descriptions made Regulus sick to his stomach. Yet, he had no published research, no personal paper trail beyond mentions in the Daily Prophet and in Hogwarts and Ministry personnel files. Donnelly seemed to have been very good at disguising himself.
The whole situation was only exacerbated by the disappearance of Richard Thomas. He had not been seen since Friday night, and Regulus jumped every time someone mentioned his name. He felt that it was only a matter of time before Jacks came forward and accused Regulus of kidnapping, and what defence would he have? Surely Jacks would point to his eavesdropping and say that Regulus had been trying to cover his tracks.
It was essential that he leave the country, but not before checking in with Severus. It was the first time that the men had met for drinks since Baddock’s death, and they had decided to meet at the Leaky Cauldron to discourage rumours about Regulus’ allegiances, just to be safe.
Regulus arrived early and found a table in the back of the pub, sipping his lager slowly and watching the customers in the crowded room.
Two more days, he reminded himself. I can make it through Tuesday and Wednesday. They would not dare come after me at my father’s funeral, and they cannot have enough evidence against me yet. Just two more days.
A flash of red hair a few tables away caught his attention, and he groaned. Lily Potter and her entourage had opted for Diagon Alley over the other central London pubs that evening. He looked closer and his fears were confirmed: both Sirius and James were in attendance, as well as Remus and Peter. James was talking quickly, gesturing animatedly with one hand while he rubbed Lily’s back with the other. Without even realising it, Regulus began to feel jealous. It was not that he felt any sort of romantic attraction to Lily, but he always felt calmer after conversing with her. Her empathy and sincerity would have been a better antidote for his nerves than the lager he was nursing slowly.
Without warning, Sirius glanced away from James, still laughing, and toward Regulus in the corner. Regulus looked away, hoping that his brother did not realise that he had been staring at the quintet. He gripped his mug with two hands and tried to steady his breathing before glancing back again out of the corner of his eye.
Sirius was staring right back.
Regulus took a deep breath and raised one hand in a half-wave that he could easily use to tuck some of his long hair behind an ear if Sirius did not return the gesture. Sirius nodded in response, drawing Lily’s attention. She looked over and gasped.
Regulus saw James break his concentration mid-sentence and heard his muffled question, “Lils? Are you all right?”
“Fine,” she squeaked, drawing her gaze away from Regulus and toward Sirius.
“We seem to have found a friend,” Sirius said, loud enough for Regulus to hear. Grudgingly, he got up from the table.
“Hi, Sirius, Lily, everyone. I didn’t mean to disturb you. I’m waiting for a friend.”
“You have friends?”
“Sirius!” Lily gasped, wide-eyed. “He’s your brother!”
Regulus grunted. “It’s all right, Lily. He’s not my brother anymore, anyway.”
“Regulus!” She looked like she was about to break down.
“Gentlemen, there’s no need for that,” Remus broke in. “We’re all civilized people here. I’m very sorry to hear about your father, Regulus. Sirius has been sorry as well.”
Sirius scowled down at the table.
“Er, thanks, Remus,” Regulus stuttered. “It was rather sudden.”
“What do you want?” Sirius questioned. “You were the one staring at us. You must want something.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t realize that was a crime.”
“Maybe you should examine your actions more closely. I’m sure that there are other ways that your moral compass doesn’t point due north.”
Regulus could see that Lily was shocked. Her voice cracked as she rebuked them again. “You’re brothers, you’re family. Why are you doing this to each other?”
Regulus rounded on her, rage building in his chest. “Isn’t this what you wanted? For us to have a conversation?”
“You presume to have any idea what she wants?” growled James.
“Maybe I do.”
James and Sirius both leapt up. Regulus took a step back, and tripped over someone’s foot.
“Watch where you’re going!” Severus snapped. “What’s going on here?”
“Snivellus, how good to see you,” Sirius sneered. “How could I have not realised that Regulus meant you when he said he was waiting for a friend? You’re perfect for each other.”
“Sirius, please,” Lily pleaded, eyes glistening. James turned his attention away from the standoff and put his arms around her again.
“I’m sorry, don’t get upset,” he whispered. Regulus had to strain to hear him. “Do you want to go?”
“No, we’ll leave,” Severus stated, his voice pained. He grabbed Regulus’ arm. “Let’s go.”
Sirius shook his head. “That’s right, run away. Go tell your Dark Lord that Sirius Black and James Potter are making your lives a living hell.”
“You have no idea what you’re saying,” Regulus replied, fear replacing the rage. He opened his mouth to protest further, but Severus was pulling him away from the table with a strength that Regulus did not realise he had.
“Snape, I can walk on my own, really!”
Severus dragged him to a corner in Diagon Alley before letting go of his arm.
“Are you mad? What possessed you to start a row with them? You’re supposed to be keeping a low profile!”
The rage was back. “They were messing with me.”
“You were the one standing over their table,” Severus pointed out. “Try again. Do you realise what you’ve done? I doubt Lily will ever talk to you again. She might even quit her job. We’ll have to rely on Peter for everything, and I don’t trust him!”
“Why are you so concerned with Lily?” Regulus questioned. “Don’t you think Peter is a better way to get to the heart of the matter?”
“It doesn’t matter what I think,” Severus sneered. He was about to continue when Regulus felt his left forearm burn and both men gasped.
“Let’s go.” Severus was gone in an instant. Regulus Apparated to the site in his mind, the same wooded clearing where he had pledged his loyalty to the Dark Lord. He Disapparated close to where Severus was standing and opened his mouth to continue the conversation, but stopped when he saw why they had been summoned.
Richard Thomas stood in the centre of the circle of Death Eaters, bound and blindfolded, struggling against his bindings.
Regulus felt that the horror would never end.
Author’s Note: I have to leave you with a bit of suspense! It’s not going to get any calmer from here on out. As always, many thanks to my betas, Arnel and Cygnus, and to Utterly Absurd for her inspirations.