It started, as it always did, with a birth, or more accurately and rarely; a tiny mark on an arm.
Everyone - or mostly everyone - got their Soulmarks from the minute they were born. It was seen as a sign of prestige and honor; no-one could ever imagine living with out their Soulmate. No-one knew how that had happened; they only knew that 1 in 2 wixen had a Soulmark, and 1 in 10 Muggles had one.
(It had been shown that most of these Muggles with Soulmarks had at least one magical ancestor, or at least diluted magical blood in some way.) (That had been an ongoing argument within pure-blood circles for why wixen were superior, but that is a story for another time and another life.)
Regulus Black was born on the 25th of June, 1961, with the words, I always knew you were meant to be a Slytherin. How did you fool the Hat? on his arm.
With the fact that his parents' displeasure followed soon afterward, it wasn't an exaggeration to say that Regulus became disillusioned as to the idea of Soulmates from the minute he was born.
In another lifetime, Regulus was treated better because Orion and Walburga Black couldn't understand their eldest son, his quest for individuality among a herd of sheep. In this world - well.
Both of them were treated the same.
Regulus Black was five when he realized his parents didn't love him. It wasn't a sudden realization. It was as mundane as the sky was blue, the sun was red, and Regulus's parents didn't love him. Sure, they plied him with gifts, paid attention to him, to both of them - but. It was the same attention they would have given to a particularly rare piece of furniture that was slowly losing its value bit by bit.
Pureblood society was all about image.
With a rebellious son and another, that was quick to follow - Orion and Wulgubra Black did whatever they could to ignore it, or, in other words, to treat their sons as if nothing they said mattered.
That their parents' words were law since they knew better and weren't willing to listen, anyway.
Regulus realized that his parents didn't love him on a cold winter night, the crackling thunder making him flinch. Regulus, knowing nothing else to do, had gone to his father.
'Papa,' he said, tugging insistently at his father's coat as he worked on his study. 'It's raining.'
'Of course, it is, Regulus, what do you want me to do about it?' he said absently, not even looking down at the pathetic figure before him. It was always Regulus with them; Regulus had heard Andromeda being called Andy, Bartemus being called Barty but for Regulus and Sirius, it was always, always Regulus and Sirius.
He scurried out of his father's study, not even pausing outside to talk to Kreacher as he usually did, hoping to keep the tears at bay. Later, crawling into his brother's bed, unable to stand the crash of thunder, he couldn't help but choke out, pa - father and mother don't love me, Sirius, what can I do to make them love me? and Sirius held him close; for all his bluster, he was just a 6-year-old who didn't know how to reply.
That was the day he stopped calling them 'mama' and 'papa.'
Regulus's childhood had been punctuated with silence. It was always him and Sirius trying to avoid their parents as much as possible, their voices resorted to hushed whispers as they tried to not attract their parents' notice. The silence had particularly irked him when Sirius went to school; he only had Kreacher and the massive Black library for company. Though it did have a collection of Muggle fiction that was hidden in a well-concealed nook that he was sure his parents hadn't found.
Regulus liked the plays that he found there the most, the words of Shakespeare, though hard to understand, taking him into worlds where nothing ever mattered, where Regulus could pretend he was a bystander, for a moment. And if he imagined himself directing those plays, bringing them alive in a way that was the same as everyone else yet unique at the same time - that was no-one's business but his own. Anyway.
Sirius had gone to Hogwarts in a flurry of gratitude and smiles, glad to be rid of their parents' ironclad control and half-hearted affection at last. Regulus would have been annoyed at his apparent lack of forethought as to what he had to deal with alone with their parents, but Sirius, drawing him into a hug, had whispered, I'll tell you all about Hogwarts, I promise. And Regulus, remembering all the times they only had each other for company, couldn't begrudge his brother this happiness.
Sirius, although he’d promised to write often, wasn't a good correspondent; all Regulus got were vague glimpses of his best friends, Remus - Sirius's soulmate - James, Peter, and James's soulmate, Lily.
And of course, the letter that announced Sirius was a Gryffindor.
Regulus wasn't surprised; he knew Sirius had a rebellious streak that was a mile wide. His parents, however, had barely restrained themselves from flying to Hogwarts to demand a resorting for the heir of House Black while Cygnus Black had valiantly tried to calm them down.
Regulus's birthday was punctuated with more silence than usual, Sirius casting an apologetic look at him every so often as if it was his fault instead of their parents'. His parents, for their part, seemed unable to stop glancing at the Hogwarts letter in his hand and the Soulmark that was carefully concealed with a piece of cloth. They had both studiously ignored the mark on their child's arm as long as they could, and yet - even their plausible deniability couldn't hold out much longer in the face of the fact that they were going to have not one, but two children, in a house that wasn't Slytherin.
Regulus, much, much later after they've gone to Diagon Alley amidst frosty silence and gotten their supplies, couldn't help but go to Sirius's room and collapse silently beside him, suddenly his five-year-old self that wanted comfort from his brother after realizing his parents wanted too much from him, again.
Regulus Black was eleven years old when he first met James Potter. Regulus had only heard about James in Sirius's letters before, and Regulus had been curious to know who had been taken with his brother so much, enough for him to go to Gryffindor, just with one conversation.
But, he hadn't met James until after the Feast - Sirius, an annoying menace, had forced Regulus to socialize with people his own age without meeting Sirius's friends first. Which was how he had ended up sitting next to Barty on the Hogwarts Express, the only one he even vaguely knew through the endless ministry functions his parents had forced him and his brother to join. Along with a Chinese muggle-born witch by the name of Meishan - call me May - Qi Wang who looked as if she wanted to take in everything around her at once.
Regulus could see that Barty looked taken aback with the presence of the muggle-born, and couldn't help but watch in amusement as she drew him - ever the Ravenclaw before his head even hit the Sorting hat - into a conversation about the architecture of Hogwarts, effortlessly integrating herself into the conversation and making Barty's trepidation disappear with one blow.
Looking at her, Regulus couldn't help but think, she's a Slytherin, all right. And wasn't that a surprise.
Regulus was subverting pureblood conventions by the mark on his arm that dictated his life. And, seeing May get sorted into Slytherin hours later and cheering the loudest of them all for her from his position on the Ravenclaw table alongside Barty - he thought, and May is subverting pureblood conventions by merely existing.
Now, after the Feast was over, Regulus discreetly slipped past the perfects that were escorting all the first years to their rooms - though Barty, of course, noticed - to meet Sirius and his friends near the Entrance Hall. Sirius appeared in close conversation with one of his friends who was best described as lanky - he had mouse-brown hair and glasses, and Regulus guessed that was Sirius's soulmate in an instant. They were both leaning against a pillar while two boys beside them looked vaguely amused by their preoccupation with each other. Though the shorter one out of them looked more sulky than amused.
Sirius drew back from his conversation to look at Regulus's approaching figure, giving him a sideways smile as he did. 'Took you long enough, Reggie.'
'I didn't even see you!' Sirius's soulmate - Remus exclaimed.
A dark-skinned, dark-haired youth smiled slowly over at him, looking surprised to see Regulus so quickly. 'I always knew you were meant to be a Slytherin. How did you fool the Hat?'
He could feel Sirius tensing up beside him, the only one who didn't pretend that his soul mark didn't exist with those fateful words. This was the moment he could choose. He could say something distinctive, something that this boy couldn't mistake as anything else except his soulmate, and yet - Regulus stammered his way through a 'Hey,' that felt like a brick in his throat and hated himself for it.
'I'm James Potter,' the boy offered, and oh. Didn't he already have a soulmate? It didn't take him a moment to realize - with common greetings, like hey and good morning, you took what you could get.
When Regulus looked over at Sirius, his mouth, in contrast to James's easy-going smile, was pressed into a grim line that Regulus was afraid to meet. He just prayed that Sirius wouldn't say anything about their soul marks right now. Catching Regulus's pleading expression, he merely nodded before forcing a smile into his face and introducing his friends.
As Regulus had predicted, the boy that was attached to Sirius like glue and seemed unable to let go of him anytime soon was Remus, which only left Peter as the shortest and stockiest one out of all of them.
As soon as the introductions were over, Sirius practically dragged him back to the Ravenclaw common room, the perplexed glances of the other Marauders following in their wake.
'What are you doing?' Sirius hissed as soon they were out of earshot.
'At this moment, walking to the Ravenclaw common -' Regulus started.
'Reggie - what are you doing with James?'
Regulus stopped abruptly at the top of the stairs to give his brother a measured look. 'I don't believe in Soulmates, you know that.'
'I know that - but.' Sirius bit his lip. 'I thought it would be different when you've found your own Soulmate, that's all. It certainly was for me.'
'James isn't Remus, Sirius,' Regulus said gently.
'James is James. And he's a good friend, and I'm sure he'll be one for you, too -'
'Doesn't he have a soulmate already? Lily, was it?' Regulus said, abruptly feeling his anger rise as Sirius kept on talking. Sirius sighed through his nose, a sharp exhale that showed Regulus exactly how annoyed he was at his little brother. And the entire situation, in general.
'James only thinks Lily is his Soulmate because he's a hopeless romantic. Even Lily doesn't think they are compatible.'
Regulus rolled his eyes and resumed walking, knowing he had no idea where, exactly, the Ravenclaw common room was at before deciding that he didn't care. Sirius released a huge sigh, muttering something that sounded suspiciously like, Honestly, Reggie, before catching up with him. 'If you weren't my brother I would have - I don't know. Done some serious damage. Turn left.'
'Bold of you to assume the feeling is mutually exclusive.'
'If only it were,' Sirius laughed suddenly, softly. It was enough of a change from the fuming Sirius that was there a minute ago for Regulus to look at him in surprise. 'You're a dumbass, and I really hope you know what you're doing, Reggie. I'm not going to judge, but you have to tell James at some point in time. It's not fair to either of you, otherwise.'
'I know, Sirius. I'll tell him before we leave Hogwarts? That's all I can promise.' Sirius, knowing Regulus as well as he knew, would understand that 'leaving Hogwarts' could extend even up to the end of their seventh year.
Regulus Black could have been a Slytherin if he had really wanted to.
'What do we have here?' A gleeful voice asked, making Regulus jump.
'Not Slytherin, please,' Regulus pleaded, unknowingly echoing one Harry Potter's words many dimensions ago.
'Are you sure? You could be great, you know. The cunning, the knowledge, it's all there.'
Regulus took one moment to imagine it. Finally gaining respect from his parents. Proving, once and for all, that he didn't need a Soulmate to be successful in life.
That all rang hollow due to the fact that his parents had never acknowledged him in the first place as something worthwhile, when Sirius, with his smiles and laughter and sometimes anger, always had. He wasn't a romantic, but to think that there was someone out there for him, either platonic or romantic, who could put up with him, whose utterance of those fateful words depended on Regulus's Sorting - he just couldn't imagine Slytherin as a possibility anymore.
'So be it,' the Hat said, resigned.
Its brim opened, and for a moment, Regulus wondered if he had made a terrible mistake, when: RAVENCLAW! The Great Hall rang with applause and cheers, Sirius and his friends' the loudest of them all.
Regulus was sixteen when he realized that James was one of his best friends. He didn't know how it had happened, just that, somewhere between constant bitching about Remus and Sirius's displays of affection, and their friendly competition between each other due to them belonging to their respective Quidditch house teams, Regulus couldn't imagine a life with out James Potter, Soulmate or no. A fact that was getting harder and harder to ignore as he couldn't help but notice how well James had grown; that it wasn't merely a physical attraction, that he sometimes wanted to hold James's hand in his own and never let go. A fact that was getting harder to ignore as he realized that Lily and James had decided to start dating, finally growing tired of their dance with each other, both thinking they were the other's Soulmate.
May and Barty, when he had finally told them exactly why he was moping, had been less than sympathetic, though Barty's eyes told Regulus that he, for some part, could understand.
'You're a dumbass, Reggs,' May said, unknowingly echoing Sirius's words from more than four years ago. 'You know none of this would have happened if you just told him then, right?'
Regulus hated being called by his full name by his friends - It always felt impersonal and as if they didn't consider him to be anything valuable. It was a product of Orion and Walburga Black's parenting, he very well knew. Sirius, surprisingly, loathed being called anything other than his name, though he let his best friends call him 'Padfoot' for some reason Regulus pretended he didn't fathom.
Regulus had heard too much barking and whining from Sirius's room during the holidays to leave him with any doubt as to what his brother and his merry band of mischief-makers had been up to. His brother was no Slytherin. Besides, James, unable to restrain himself, had told Regulus all about his Animagus form. The picture, like those Muggle puzzles, had all fallen into place after that.
'Easy for you to say,' Regulus felt himself say. ' Neither of you have Soulmarks.'
' Oh, the privileged white kid got something that others don't have, what a trial for him,' May mocked, resting her head on Barty's shoulder. Barty looked startled, but complied, meeting the teasing glance of Regulus with a terrified one of his own.
'You know I don't mean it in that way,' Regulus said, resigning himself to the fact that he wasn't going to get any actual advice from his friends. The thing was - the only one Regulus really wanted to talk to about his "James Situation" as May had dubbed it, was James himself. And wasn't that truly a moment of irony.
Barty, no doubt seeing his despondent expression, piped up with: 'You fucked up by not telling James in your first year, mate. And I hate to say this, but James really only has eyes for Lily, right about now.'
'You think if he showed James his Soulmark…?'
' No, May. '
'Barty's right, as much as I hate to admit it,' Regulus smiled tightly at both of them. 'If you'll excuse me, I'm going to see if I can find James on the Quidditch Pitch.'
'But - ' Barty started.
Regulus waved him away. 'I'm not going to do anything,' he promised. 'James is one of my best friends and well - Soulmate or no, these feelings will pass.'
'If you think so -'
'Well I fucking do, okay?' Regulus snapped, standing abruptly from his chair and making it upturn with a loud crash. Everyone at the Ravenclaw common room turned around to glare in their direction, and Regulus hurriedly stumbled out of the door before a couple of dozen Ravenclaws decided they've had enough of him and took drastic measures. Especially so near the end of year exams.
James, as Regulus had predicted, was at the Quidditch Pitch, broom in hand, obviously fresh from a shower after Quidditch practice. Seeing Regulus, his face practically lit up, and Regulus felt his breath leave him as he glanced at the brown eyes of his friend that he would do anything and everything for.
'Regulus? Reggie? Is everything okay?' James's voice dragged him back to focus, Regulus jerking away and blushing at his obvious lack of focus and the feelings that were clearly written across his face.
Though James, smart in a lot of ways except whenever emotions were concerned, appeared to not notice.
'I'm fine,' Regulus brushed him off. 'I was just distracted, that's all.'
'By my beauty?' James teased. If only you knew how true that was, Regulus mused. 'I know you Ravenclaws, you're probably distracted by exams.'
'Yes, that's exactly it.' If Regulus's tone was a bit sarcastic, it went right over James's head. Regulus was horrified to discover the rush of warmth and fondness he felt at James's naivety that he would consider annoying in anyone else.
'Want to chase the snitch with me?'
'You just finished your Quidditch practice, James, aren't you tired?'
'Not when I can cheer up my best friend, I'm not,' James retorted, taking a snitch out of his pocket. Regulus couldn't help the surge of warmth that filled his chest at being referred to as James' best friend, along with a surge of want to be something more.
'Fine, then,' Regulus said, unable to not accept, unable to deny James anything. James quirked his lips up in a smile and released the snitch, and they both watched it flutter away. Regulus couldn't help but wish he could take a picture of this moment, of the snitch high up in the air, James's airy yet fond grin, the setting sun illuminating James' features into something otherworldly as they both looked up, up, up and up.
Oh, Regulus realized, as they both mounted their brooms. I'm in love with him.
Somehow, though Regulus still caught the snitch, that realization was the biggest loss of them all.
' You never show anyone your Soulmark, you know,' James had commented on Regulus' second year, James's third. They had both grown comfortable with each other, enough for Regulus to open up about his life, to tell secrets he had never told anyone - not even Barty and May - about his parents, Kreacher, Sirius, Shakespeare.
But never about his Soulmark.
Regulus drew himself back, hating how even a mention of the word 'Soulmate' could have him on edge even after all this time of growing used to it. He drew a hand protectively over the mark on his arm that was still hidden by a piece of cloth, a sign that a wizard still hasn't met their Soulmate, or, more rarely, that they didn't want to acknowledge it.
'That's none of your business now, is it?' Regulus snapped, meaning for the words to cut, to hurt, unable to help himself.
He felt James jerk back as if slapped, yet valiantly plowed on, his Gryffindor tendencies winning over everything else. 'It's nothing to be ashamed of, Reggie,' he whispered, drawing back the cloth over his arm. Regulus could see the tiny, lonely 'hey' that rested there, making him equal parts hopeful and terrified. 'See? There's nothing more embarrassing than having a Soulmark that says that. ' James chuckled, and Regulus couldn't even be mad at him.
I have your Soulmark, James! He wanted to scream, but something held him back, something clawing its way to the back of his throat and preventing him from saying anything, a constant repetition of what-if-he-rejects-me-what-if-he-rejects-me in his head.
'James...' Regulus croaked, unable to stand to look at the earnest eyes of one James Potter any longer. 'Please don't.'
James immediately looked contrite, placing a hand on Regulus's arm in apology. 'I'm sorry,' he said.
'Just… leave me alone,' Regulus stumbled out of their usual hiding place, tears clouding his vision, unable to restrain his self-loathing at pushing the best person he had ever met away.
They didn't speak to each other for a week.
Regulus Black lived with the knowledge that he was in love with James for a week until he finally broke down and told Sirius. Sirius was less surprised than Regulus had expected.
'You mean to tell me you didn't know?' Sirius asked, and if Sirius, who was considered the thickest one out of all the Marauders knew, then James probably knew too. The realization hit him like a punch to the gut.
Sirius, interpreting his expression correctly, merely laughed. 'Don't worry, he doesn't know. I just know you and saw this coming from a mile away.'
'But how?' Regulus complained. 'I was so careful... '
'This is James, Regulus. Remember when you tried to ignore him all through your First Year and he stalked you until you agreed to talk to him, at least? And after that, all the time you two spend together while ignoring us? When you two secretly came up with a way to put the Room of Requirement, a seemingly unplottable room, into the Marauder's Map? Because I do. '
'Guess it was kind of inevitable, wasn't it?' Regulus mused, realizing how true those words were as soon as he said them. Sirius smiled softly at him, and reached out and ruffled his hair.
' Sirius, ' Regulus complained, and the moment was broken by Sirius's sudden laugh.
Which was the exact moment that a despondent James Potter walked into the Gryffindor boys dormitory, looking like a brooding yet attractive eighteenth-century gothic hero. Regulus really needed to stop reading Muggle literature.
But as James said: 'Lily broke up with me,' this illusion was abruptly shattered, and it was suddenly James again; James, hurting from something that Regulus couldn't prevent.
You could have prevented it by telling him, Regulus's treacherous mind whispered, which he tried desperately to ignore.
James needed Regulus, his best friend, more than the Regulus who was pining away for said best friend, at the moment. And he needed his other best friends too.
'Tell Remus and Peter to come here, yeah?'
'What do you think I'm doing, dear brother?' Sirius snarked back, striding away from the dormitory, leaving Regulus to guide a shell-shocked James to his bed and deposit him there. Regulus leaned his head against James' shoulder and waited patiently for the slew of words that were about to follow, knowing that he wouldn't restrain himself, not in front of Regulus, at least. He felt James exhale beside him, the slow up and down of his body alerting Regulus that he was going to be fine.
'She's in love with someone else, you know,' James began, almost conversationally, a tight grip on Regulus's hand to prevent him from doing anything rash. 'And the funny thing is - I don't even feel bad about it. I know I should feel angry at her for leading me on like that, but… I really can't blame her, you know? Especially when I feel more relieved instead of sad at her breaking up with me.'
'Why do you think that is?' Regulus asked, heart, beating rapidly despite his own volition.
'Because,' James said. Looked down at Regulus. 'I think I'm in love with someone else, too. And he's sitting right next to me.'
'I do hope you're not talking about anyone else I can't see,' Regulus laughed, wiping away a traitorous tear that had fallen on his cheek. Why had he ever thought that James, his James, who's had his back no matter what would have ever rejected him? He leaned up at the same moment that James leaned down, their heads banging together, making them laugh hysterically for a moment. Then suddenly it wasn't awkward any longer, James's lips meeting Regulus's in the most natural way in the world: a soft realization of, oh, it's been you all along. James tasted like chapped lips and coffee, and Regulus couldn't imagine being anywhere else.
Tomorrow, Regulus would tell James about how they were each other's Soulmates and weather whatever came afterward. For now, Regulus was content to bask in the warmth of James's arms, almost afraid to open his eyes in case it was all a dream.
That was how Sirius, Remus, and Peter found them, wrapped in each other's arms and not looking as if they were letting go anytime soon. The remaining Marauders took one look at each other, smiled, and let them be.
Sirius smiled as he closed the door behind them. He, of all people, knew that they both deserved whatever bit of happiness they could get.