It was time.
He was calm, cool, collected. Around him, the station was filled with laughter and crying and squeals of excitement. Nervousness and fear were also present in the mood of the other children. They were feelings that he had grown out of. Feelings that he was not allowed to have.
"Do not show fear, boy," his father had told him. "You will have nothing to fear today."
"Speak to no one until you're Sorted," his mother had said. "You will find no true friends in the other Houses. There are very few whose House you can predict before they're Sorted, and it is imperative that you make the right choices for friends." She had not liked any of Sirius' choices.
And so he stood, struggling with his inner child not to let his fascination with the size of the train show. The Hogwarts Express was gleaming, an unseemly bright red, long and smooth. Smoke billowed from the top of the large pipe, and the open doors invited him in.
"Kreacher has put Master's luggage on the train," a voice said behind him. Regulus turned to see the spry house elf, his only companion on this first day, since Sirius had vanished as soon as they had arrived on the platform. He felt a wave of loneliness at the thought of sitting on the train by himself, but he pushed the thought down.
"Go home, Kreacher," he said, and turned back to the train, knowing that the house elf would do as told. He took a deep breath, smoothed back his hair with one hand, and boarded the train.
He had successfully secured a compartment for himself. The train ride was dull, and the only times he spoke to anyone had been the commands to "sod off" at any child wanting to sit with him and the fat lady who had brought the food cart around. He wondered at the cleverness of the decision to let someone who could potentially eat the entire cart be in charge of the sweets and cakes.
When the train stopped, a nervous excitement tried to make its way past his defences, but his memory of what his parents had told him seemed to hold the absurd emotions down. Sirius had disappointed their mother and father the year before; Regulus would not do the same.
He looked at the large castle in the distance as he stepped off the train, ignoring the idiots who kept bumping into him as they tried to push their way past. There lay his destiny, he knew. He would become great there. He was favoured at Twelve Grimmauld Place, but Sirius had always shown greater potential in regards to magic ability. He would show all of them that he could be greater than his brother.
Sirius was sitting at the table to the left, twisted around in his seat to watch the Sorting. He elbowed the boy next to him. Regulus studied the way the boy had his short, black hair in an untidy mess, his glasses sitting crookedly on his slightly large nose. He was grinning foolishly. Something was clenched in his hand, and he kept looking behind him to two other boys, one pale and thin with light brown hair and large eyes, and the other pudgy and blond with thick lips. Sirius also kept turning around to smile at the other two.
Ah. So these were Sirius' friends. What were their names? Regulus remembered suddenly. One was James, a clever sort who loved playing pranks as much as Sirius himself did. One was Peter, who doted on James and annoyed Sirius, but was a nice enough bloke. One was Remus, who was sickly and solemn a lot. In other words, Regulus thought, a miscreant, a poof, and an obvious Mudblood. Real wizards didn't stay sick. Regulus wondered which was which, but then decided in the next instant that he shouldn't care.
The Sorting of the first few went quickly. A dark boy nudged him at one point, sneering at the boy who had just been Sorted into Hufflepuff. "That House is for wankers," the boy whispered ferociously, and Regulus had to bite his lip to keep from laughing out loud.
When his name was called, Regulus stepped forward, his head held high. His mind was set with everything his parents had taught him. To be Sorted into anything but Slytherin was a failure on his part. He would not fail. Not like Sirius had.
And then he tripped, his toe caught on something blunt, and he fell face first onto the hard floor. He instinctively held out his hands, but one of his wrists was bent back sharply and he lay there, struggling to blink back the oncoming tears as he heard the laughter around him. A girl helped him up, a girl with brilliant green eyes and soft red hair; one look at the patch on her robes told Regulus that she was a Gryffindor. A Gryffindor helping a future Slytherin. He yanked himself out of her grasp, strode quickly up to where the Sorting Hat was being held out for him, and pulled it down over his head as he sat, looking defiantly out at everyone who was watching him.
There was still some laughter at his fall, and one look at where the strongest laughter was coming from told Regulus exactly what he needed to know. He could now concentrate the rest of his thoughts onto being Sorted into Slytherin. He would get his brother and those friends of his back for that stunt.
'You're trying to hide your emotions,' the Hat told him, 'but I can still sense them. You're scared. You're afraid of disappointing your parents, and you're afraid of the inevitable future of losing your brother.'
'I'm not,' Regulus thought angrily. This bloody Hat didn't know ANYTHING about him. 'I hate Sirius!'
'You don't hate him,' the Hat said. 'And you ARE afraid. That in itself proves that you are not a true Gryffindor. You care about proving your worth. You want to strive for greatness. You have an affection for power, and you loathe people who do not live up to your standards. That leaves me no choice but to make you a SLYTHERIN!' The last part was out loud.
Regulus slid off the stool and headed for the cheering group in the far corner, nodding at his cousin Bellatrix who sat farther down the table, watching him with a nasty grin. He sat and looked around at the staff table to occupy his time, thinking about what the Sorting Hat had said.
'You don't hate him,' it had told him. 'You're afraid of the inevitable future of losing your brother.'
He felt a surge of anger at the memory. He didn't care about losing Sirius! He hated the prat. Acting like he was better than Regulus, or even better than their parents...
"Rabastan Lestrange!" This was the dark boy that had made the comment about the Hufflepuff, and Regulus was pleased to see the boy heading for the seat next to his own after he had been made a Slytherin.
The rest of the Sorting went by fairly quickly, and Regulus ate with a feeling of trepidation. He was happy that he was in Slytherin, and he knew that it would please his parents, but he couldn't help but stare at the back of the untidy head of the boy next to Sirius, which he could just glimpse through the shifting heads of other students. This boy, Sirius, and those other two were going to give him hell.
A part of him wanted to be angry about it, but instead he was numb. He was used to Sirius' recurrent pranks on him. He had got used to not existing according to his brother, once Sirius had first left for Hogwarts. Sirius had not sent him one letter, one present, and he had not even come home for Christmas, leaving Regulus in the company of their parents and the house elves. Not that it was a big deal.
But it was.
Before he knew it, everyone was standing up in droves, as if there was a big emergency. There wasn't; the Feast had just ended, and people were heading towards their dormitories. Regulus filed in next to Rabastan and looked to where a distant cousin of his, Lucius Malfoy, was raising one hand for the first years to follow him, for he was a Prefect.
As he passed through the main doors of the Great Hall, Regulus heard a familiar voice nearby.
"-didn't have to do it to HIM. I don't want to go through the rest of school with him hating me, James."
"Oh, come on, Sirius. He deserved it. You saw how he scowled at Evans after she helped him up. He's a prat."
"But he's my brother. And even though he's in Slytherin, I didn't want to push him away. Now he probably thinks that I planned that prank on him."
Regulus felt something unfamiliar, something warm, but he couldn't place it. A third voice spoke up.
"Personally, I don't think it's too late. He's young. He probably doesn't hate you as much as you think he does. Talk to him."
It was the pale, thin boy that said this. Regulus could see them just ahead, the four boys walking together. The Slytherins, further ahead, were turning into a different corridor than the way Sirius and his friends were going, but Regulus heard Sirius say one more thing.
"I don't know. He's my little brother. As much as he's a stupid git sometimes who has my mum and dad in the palm of his hand, I've got to look out for him. I don't want him to become like..."
Regulus didn't hear the rest, but he didn't have to. Sirius cared about him, that much was certain. And he hadn't planned on tripping him during the Sorting.
But Regulus still wasn't sure what to think. Should he try to get along with Sirius? When they were both much younger, they were friends. They played together, talked to each other, and covered for each other whenever their parents found something broken in the house. Couldn't they be friends again, even though they were in different Houses?
"We'll get him back," a voice whispered in his ear, and Regulus turned his head to see his older cousin Bellatrix, her dark hair pulled back, a smile tugging at her lips.
"Who?" He knew, but he played innocent anyway.
"Your brother, of course," she said. "No one messes with a Slytherin. And no one messes with my favourite cousin." She put an arm around him as they walked. "Sirius has always been different, Regulus. He's always been the sort to end up on the wrong side of things, if you know what I mean." He knew. "We can't let him get away with anything. You'll see. He has plans to ruin you here, you know. I've heard him talk about them with his friends." He watched her face as it screwed up in hate. "That friend of his...Potter..." she spat the name as if it were the name of a vile disease, "he's a pureblood, too, but his family has tainted their name with marrying Mudbloods and half-bloods. He'll have to pay, too."
"But," he said softly, not wanting to anger her, "I overheard them talking. Sirius didn't plan to trip me. It was his friend that did it. Sirius didn't know about it."
She shook her head. "Did it ever occur to you, little cousin, that Sirius staged the conversation so that you would overhear? He's very clever, your brother, and he has clever friends. He'll want to lure you in and make you trust him. Don't be an idiot and fall for it, or you'll be worse than he is." She smiled slightly down at him. "You're a Slytherin now. Don't let him trick you into thinking that he cares about you."
Regulus thought. "Right." He felt a mixture of emotions. Bellatrix had always looked out for him in the past. She had always been there when he had been particularly upset about something that Sirius had done. And above all, she had always been clever about knowing the inner workings of people. She had told him that her older sister Andromeda would be the sort to marry a Muggle, and she had been right. She probably knew some things about Sirius that he didn't know. It made him angry to think that Sirius had been trying to trick him. "Right," he repeated angrily. "I won't let him deceive me." He felt rage bubbling inside of him, coursing through his veins at the thought of Sirius planning for him to listen in on a false conversation. "He'll pay for what he's done."
"Yes," she hissed. She motioned a boy closer, one that was walking nearby. He had stringy, greasy hair and a pallid complexion. He walked as if he were stalking, his head down a little, his shoulders hunched forward slightly, his arms at his sides. He edged closer. Bellatrix placed a hand on the boy's shoulder. "This is Severus. He's had experiences with your brother and Potter already. He would be delighted to help you get back at your brother, I'm sure."
Regulus studied the boy. He could only imagine what adjectives his brother would have used to describe this Severus. He nodded and held out his hand.
When Severus took it, nodding slightly back, his dark, cold eyes shifted to Bellatrix, who smiled at them both.
And Regulus had found his friends. His family at Hogwarts would consist of Bellatrix, Severus, and possibly Rabastan.
He no longer had a brother. He couldn't afford to care for one.