Regulus was not sure which was worse – hiding out in Liam’s room to avoid being monitored by the rest of the family or pushing himself to make small talk about nothing in the evening after Liam arrived home. The former he understood as a precautionary measure; the Merrics knew that he was a Death Eater, though they did not know the incriminating details. He was not the type of person to reach out to near-strangers anyway, but the distance was still a constant reminder of his choices. His interactions with Liam only made this more painful and he wished that he could find a way to break through their conversational wall. Not only did Liam have information about Donnelly, but Regulus was also slowly losing hope of restoring their relationship.
Aislinn, to her credit, was doing the best she could to break the tension. It was refreshing to be around someone who treated him like a human being. Aislinn came to the house nightly for dinner, always bringing stories about the children she taught at school. Her presence broke the monotony of his day and allowed him to relax, even in the presence of more wary family members.
He chose to keep to the house for several reasons. Primarily, he was unfamiliar with the area and did not want to chance getting lost or running into the wrong person. Aislinn and Liam had told him enough about the undercurrents of magic in County Clare for him to realize that it might be a good idea to lay low. It was also entirely possible that Voldemort had dispatched other Death Eaters to keep an eye on him. The more Regulus connected the dots in his mind, the more he realized just how dangerous a force the Dark Lord was.
Christmas was drawing closer and he had spent the afternoon writing a letter to his mother, explaining that he would spend the holidays with Liam’s family. She would be angry, but she would live. He already had his inheritance so she did not have much recourse; he could make his own decisions with the family fortune, and she could not make him come home.
His stretched as he checked the time: two o’clock. Today was Aislinn’s last day of school before the holiday and she had agreed to take him shopping so that he could pick up suitable gifts for her parents, but was not due to the house until three.
I can’t hide out up here forever, he thought to himself. It was time to venture out of his self-imposed cloister.
The kitchen had become a vault of treats over the past four days. Regulus swiped a chocolate biscuit and sat at the table to watch the steady stream of snowfall in the backyard.
“I saw that,” Kate called from the hallway.
Regulus dropped the biscuit. “I’m sorry, I thought they were free for the taking.”
She laughed. “Well, they’re best when they’re hot, and you’re the only one who’ll get to enjoy them that way, so eat up. I was wondering if you’d venture downstairs when I took them out.”
“Thanks.” He took another bite.
Kate sat down at the table. “I’ll be frank with you. Liam and Aislinn have told us a great deal about their past with you. We want to try to help, but we want to make sure that it isn’t going to cost us either.”
He started pulverizing what was left of the biscuit. “I would never, I mean, I promise, I’m not planning to do anything that would hurt any of you, I’m just trying to be honest …”
“I understand, I think,” Kate replied. “Really, it will just take time. What are you working on upstairs anyway?”
“So far, just taking care of business back home and making sure no one misses me,” he explained. “I have to give myself sufficient time to process what I want to do, now that I’ve realized how deep I’m in, and I’ve got to come back with something to give You-Know-Who, er, at least, I think you know, the evil wizard who is behind everything. He’s already so cunning that I need to be careful that what I give him won’t make him more powerful than he already is.”
Kate took a deep breath and seemed to be examining him carefully before she continued.
“I’m going to ask you the same question I asked Liam a few months back,” she began. “Are you here because it is going to help or are you here because you are running away?”
He narrowed his eyebrows and sat up a little straighter before he answered, “Er, I haven’t really thought about it that way. I mean, I’m here because he sent me here, but that has turned into something different since I don’t really want to serve him anymore. I can’t fulfil my original mission, but I can’t come back empty-handed either. It doesn’t do anyone any good if I just out myself to him. I figure, I might as well try to make a difference and then get killed rather than just get killed.”
“Is there an option where you don’t get killed?”
He shook his head. “Not that I can figure. But, I have to do something. I don’t think I’m running anymore.”
“So you’re here because you want to fight.”
He nodded. “Yeah, I suppose I am.”
“Why don’t you, then?” Kate pressed.
“I don’t even know where to start, it’s so big.” He folded his arms and leaned toward her against the table. “There’s so much I need to know, so much I need to do, so much I wish I could do that I can’t. If I only have so much time left, I need to figure out the best way to spend it.”
“I’m going to give you a suggestion, and you may not like it, but instead of hiding out in the house, I’d say to start with Liam,” offered Kate. “I think that if you reconcile with him first, the rest will fall into place.”
Regulus did not respond right away. Of course, he had considered this, but had initially decided that spending time apart might help Liam process everything more effectively. Liam’s knowledge was the key to the entire operation, and they needed to be on good terms before Liam would willingly confide in him again. Showing up at the shipyard seemed like an awful intrusion into Liam’s privacy; still, perhaps some time working physically together would do them some good.
He replied hesitantly, “I’m supposed to go shopping with Aislinn …”
Kate countered. “Aislinn can wait. There’s an old car in the garage that you can take. Do you know how to get to Ballyvaughan?”
Regulus shook his head. “No, but, I think I’d have more luck figuring out how to get there than driving your car. I don’t know how to drive. I can just Apparate, if you can tell me how to get to where Liam is from the pub near the harbour.”
Kate’s directions were good and Regulus arrived at the docks to see Liam and Michael hauling equipment from one of the ships. He stared at the vessel; he had never been on a ship before. The masts were devoid of sails, but it still looked menacing, dripping from the snow shower. He wasn’t sure if he could manage to stand upright on it if he tried.
Liam looked at him suddenly and Regulus waved.
“Ahoy there, you look like you’re earning your keep,” Regulus called.
“Hi, I thought you were supposed to be shopping with Aislinn,” Liam called back. He set his load down and trotted down the ramp to the dock.
“Change of plans, your mother is quite convincing,” replied Regulus. “Do you lot need any help?”
“I’m not much good sitting up in your room, am I? I have two hands, two legs, and a somewhat strong back.”
Liam shrugged. “I mean, if that’s what you want to do, I’m sure we can find you something. You can start by helping us with the equipment. We’re getting this ship ready for dry dock, a last minute addition for the winter. Hey Pa!”
Michael called back, “What?”
“What should I get Regulus doing?”
Michael squinted at them and shrugged. “Er, whatever you’re working on, I guess.”
“Helpful,” Liam muttered. “All right, just follow my lead.”
It was a lot of hauling and a lot of walking. Regulus grew tired quickly, not having done real physical activity for months, but found that working with his hands was somewhat satisfying. He lifted, hauled, and placed … lifted, hauled, and placed … every once in a while taking an extra step to keep balance. Liam moved on the ship as a natural. Regulus stumbled forward and backward every time it moved.
“You have to move with the waves,” offered Liam.
Liam put his load down and pointed outward. “The ship is going to move every time the waves move. Just feel the natural rhythm and match it.”
“I have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about.”
Liam shook his head. “Put the load down, just stand and feel it.”
Regulus did so, and tried to stand without grabbing something. The ship did go up and down, but he started to feel somewhat of a pattern. It still bothered his stomach, but he felt like he might be able to walk.
“That’s it, see? Now you can anticipate what it’s going to do. It’ll make walking a lot easier,” Liam explained, shouldering his load again.
“Right,” Regulus replied. He had hoped that doing some work together might liven things up a bit. They were wasting time; he wanted to start going somewhere. How long would it take?
“Oh, I left a bucket on the ramp, can you grab it for me?” called Liam from across the deck.
“Yeah, no problem,” Regulus agreed. He whipped around faster than he anticipated, lost his footing, and stumbled toward the ramp, praying he would catch himself on the side of the boat, but losing his positioning entirely. He plunged a few feet into the water.
Cold! That was all his mind could process. Knives! Little knives pricking all over!
He treaded up to the surface of the water and fumbled about for something to grasp, finally grabbing hold of a thick line coming out the side of the