Disclaimer: All rights go to JK Rowling. Anything you don't recognize is mine.
I'm convinced I came up with this concept in a fever dream or something, but here we are. Comments, feedback, and constructive criticism are always welcome!
Chapter One: The Beginning
Diana Fairchild's world was crumbling into ash before her very eyes.
Perhaps that was too dramatic, but it did feel as if her life had screeched to an abrupt halt as she attempted to focus on what Professor Sprout was saying to her above the roaring in her ears.
"Now, I have spoken to Professor Slughorn already, and he agreed that you would be a suitable tutor for Mr. Black, as you are a fine potioneer – or so he told me," her Head of House babbled on, completely oblivious to the internal crisis her student was now facing. "Of course, your aptitude for Potions is commendable, but sometimes I do wish you had the same touch with my plants…"
Professor Sprout trailed off, no doubt lamenting all the plants Diana had managed to kill or cause to become gravely ill during her five-year tenure at Hogwarts. It had been apparent from the start that Diana was a threat unto Herbology itself, which had quickly solidified her ranking as an indoors person rather than an outdoors one. It was probably why she excelled in all of her courses that had nothing to do with living things.
However, she realized too late that that would come back to haunt her in the form of Regulus Black needing a tutor – in Potions, of all things – when he was possibly the last person she would ever want to sit in an enclosed space with. Then again, there were a lot of Slytherins who were at the top of her list who were far worse than him, but that still didn't mean she had to like it.
"Professor Slughorn has already done the courtesy of writing up your schedule so you know when to meet with Mr. Black," Professor Sprout said, handing her a piece of parchment that she took with numb fingers, "along with which chapters to cover from your Potions book and times when the Potions classroom is available to use at your disposal."
How had her life come to this? Just a week ago she had returned to Hogwarts, fresh-faced and optimistic about her sixth year, and now here she was, being handed a death sentence to tutor Regulus Black. Couldn't it at least have been his brother? Though Sirius was a year above her and a Gryffindor, he was still attractive and charming, if not a little arrogant. But Regulus…
He was a Slytherin through and through, from what she knew about him (and that was very little – something she would like to keep that way). Cruel, cunning, haughty – everything an aristocratic pure-blood should be. She vaguely wondered what he would think once he found out he was to be tutored by a Muggleborn, and quickly abandoned that thought before she could imagine any horrible scenarios.
Professor Sprout sighed, her wispy, straw-colored hair ruffling around her portly face. "I understand that this is not an ideal match, Miss Fairchild, but you were one of the top scorers on your Potions O.W.L. last year, and the only candidate available who had no competing obligations to work around. You'll do just fine." She smiled kindly at her. "Besides, tutoring looks very good on job applications!"
Diana forced her own smile in return, feeling like her face would split from the effort. "And how long do I need to tutor him for?"
"Well…" Professor Sprout faltered, shifting around some papers on her desk with dirt-caked fingernails. "That remains to be seen. Professor Slughorn will keep track of his progress as the term goes on, but once he is deemed ready enough for his N.E.W.T. exam, then you may be relieved of your duties."
Great, she thought to herself in resign. Maybe by then I'll have already drowned myself in the lake. Perhaps I can live with the giant squid in solitude and avoid this mess altogether.
But instead of voicing her thoughts aloud, Diana merely plastered a pleasant smile on her face. She could see no way of getting out of this without appealing to the headmaster, and she was sure that Professor Dumbledore would deny her refusal to teach Regulus Black, citing the same barmy rubbish he announced at the start of every new term: "Inter-House relationships, willingness to help others, blah, blah, blah." Yeah, right. As if the Houses would ever stop hating each other long enough to work together.
"I understand, Professor. I'd be more than willing to help Black." Lie. "I'm sure this will be an enriching and rewarding experience." Lie. "For the both of us, of course." Lie.
"Good." Professor Sprout beamed, looking immensely relieved. "I shall inform Professor Slughorn. You may go."
Diana nodded, grabbing her things and trying not to bolt for the door. As soon as she had departed the office the smile dropped from her face, burrowing into the earth to remain there for the rest of the year, most likely. She couldn't see how she could ever smile again when she had to work with the ever-dour and sneering Regulus Black. She may as well kiss the sunshine goodbye.
She plucked her wand from her hair, sighing as her messy bun fell into tangled waves around her face, stopping just short of her jawline as she headed for the Hufflepuff common room to wait before dinner. Hopefully she'd be able to find her friends there – she would need their support now more than ever if she had to be dealing with Regulus Black for the rest of the term.
Descending into the basement level, she approached the barrels on the right-hand side of the small kitchen corridor and tapped on the appropriate lids to give her access to the common room, her wand making a sharp staccato with every tap. The pattern was as ingrained into her head as breathing at this point, and when she was finished, the middle barrel's lid swung open, permitting her entrance.
She ducked through the short passageway and emerged into the cozy common room, the golden lamps twinkling above offering the earthy room the illusion of sunlight, the light fading to a dimmer glow along with the sun outside as it set towards the horizon. Weaving through her lounging Housemates, she headed for her usual place where she sat with her friends, throwing herself into one of the overstuffed yellow-and-black armchairs with a dramatic huff.
"Ah, she returns!" Gemma Sutton, one of her dormmates and closest friends, announced grandly, nearly sweeping the game of wizard's chess in front of her off the table as she spread her arms. "What hast thou done this time?"
Diana rolled her eyes. "I dunno why you're convinced I was getting detention. We've barely been back a week! What could I have done so soon?"
"Burn down Sprout's greenhouses again?" Jackie MacMillan, her third dormmate, suggested, taking this opportunity to crown one of her queens while Gemma wasn't looking.
"That was those Gryffindor boys, not me," she pointed out, grimacing as she recalled that disastrous day from her third year. "I just got the blame."
Gemma snickered. "That was a great day. I had no idea Potter would be so scared of spiders."
"Yes, and thanks to you for putting one down his shirt, now we know," Jackie said sarcastically, and Gemma batted her eyes innocently before turning back to Diana.
"But seriously, what did Sprout want?" she asked, and Diana scowled, tugging on a lock of hair in frustration.
"She wants me to tutor someone," she mumbled.
"Well, that can't be all that bad, can it?" Jackie asked uncertainly. "Who do you have to tutor?"
Diana's scowl deepened, and she slapped her hand on the arm of the chair. "Regulus Black."
Gemma choked, and Jackie gaped, their mirrored expressions displaying shock and disbelief.
"Is Sprout out of her mind?" Gemma said. "How could she let you tutor a nutcase like Black?"
"You need to drop out of doing it," Jackie said seriously. "He runs around with a bad crowd, that Regulus Black: Snape, Mulciber, Avery, Nott, and all the other future Death Eaters."
Diana sighed, all the fight suddenly draining out of her. "They can't all be future Death Eaters. You don't know that."
Gemma and Jackie exchanged a look that she knew all too well, and she tried not to be annoyed about it as Gemma said, "Look, D, we get it; you wanna see the good in people. But there is no good, not in them, and definitely not in Regulus Black."
"I'll be fine," Diana assured. "We're in Hogwarts! It's not like he would be stupid enough to try anything."
"There are other ways than curses and jinxes to terrorize somebody," Jackie said sagely, and Diana thumped the back of her head on the armchair, too tired to counter up an argument.
"I'll be fine," she repeated. "But I promise that if Black does something, I'll go to Dumbledore."
Jackie and Gemma nodded, satisfied with her acquiescence, and they went back to their game while Diana scraped her short hair back into a bun, jabbing her wand through it as her customary style. She was far too lazy to ever put any effort into her appearance, and secretly, she thought it was a pretty safe place to keep her wand, as she had a knack for misplacing it.
"Where's Etta?" she asked, glancing around the circular common room but not finding any sign of their last dormmate and other best friend, Henrietta Brown.
"Prefects' meeting," Gemma replied absentmindedly, watching Jackie as she calculated her next move. "Apparently Potter messed up the schedules for rounds, so they had to go get their new ones."
Diana snorted. "Typical Potter. It's a wonder why Dumbledore even chose him as Head Boy."
James Potter was a seventh-year Gryffindor and the aforementioned victim of Gemma's spider prank in Herbology their third year when the fourth-year Gryffindors had taken residence in the greenhouse after their Care of Magical Creatures lesson had been canceled due to inclement weather. He was the leader of a group of three other Gryffindor seventh-year boys who had coined the name 'Marauders,' and was perhaps one of the most popular students in Hogwarts, next to his best mate, Sirius Black, Regulus's polar opposite brother. On top of being Quidditch Captain for the Gryffindor team, he had now been appointed Head Boy that year, which had probably increased his already-sweltering ego tenfold.
"It's obvious, isn't it?" Jackie said, playing her next move and causing Gemma to swear colorfully. When Diana gave her a blank look, she winked. "Dumbledore is trying to set him up with Lily Evans."
"Dumbledore playing matchmaker?" Diana said, snorting. "Yeah, no." She paused, suddenly thoughtful. "Nah, never mind, I can see it. The old man's mental enough to do something like that."
The basement passageway suddenly opened behind them, and Diana turned to see a troupe of traumatized first-years clamber in with Etta right behind them, a dark look marring her otherwise pristine features.
"There you are," Diana said as their friend stomped over to them. "What's wrong? And why do you smell like vinegar?"
She leaned away as the overpowering stench wafted from Etta's robes, and the other witch huffed as she sat down, throwing her bag on the floor.
"Those firsties messed up the rhythm on the barrels," she grouched. "They got doused as soon as I came up behind them, naturally. It got me too."
"Yeah, we can tell," Gemma said, holding her nose. "How'd the meeting go?"
"It was more of an argument between Potter and Evans, but at least she fixed the schedules," she said, shaking her head. "I swear, either those two are going to kill each other or snog by graduation, and I honestly can't tell which one I'd prefer at this point."
"On the topic of killing one another, guess what D has to do?" Jackie said, before grinning and saying, "Checkmate," to Gemma.
Diana looked round to her wildly. "What does killing have to do with anything?"
"What do you have to do?" Etta asked, and Diana sighed.
"Tutor Regulus Black."
Etta burst into uncontrollable laughter. "Sweet Helga Hufflepuff, that is too good. Whose genius idea was that?"
"Slughorn's, apparently," Diana said, glad that Etta hadn't immediately jumped to conclusions like Gemma and Jackie had. "Sprout didn't seem too keen on it, either, but she thought it would look good on job applications."
Etta nodded thoughtfully. "What subject?"
Diana grimaced. "Potions."
"At least it's your best subject," she pointed out, "and especially if you wanna be a Healer."
"True," she conceded, before making a face. "I just wish I didn't have to teach him."
She shrugged. "Like my mum always says: you just have to try and make the best of it."
Yeah, because I'm sure that will work out perfectly.
Diana only nodded, smiling slightly before getting to her feet and stretching. "Dinner, anyone?"
The girls grumbled in agreement, and Diana watched Gemma and Jackie finish their game while Etta went to change out of her vinegar-soaked robes. Five minutes later, they ventured to the ground floor and into the Great Hall, taking their customary seats about a third of the way down the Hufflepuff table.
It was when Diana had slid onto the bench that she felt the odd sensation of being watched spider-walk down her spine, and on instinct, she turned, looking behind her and locking eyes with a stormy gaze that was pinned to her own from across the Hall.
Regulus Black was glaring at her from his seat at the Slytherin table, his eyes dark and unreadable from where she sat, but the disgust and balefulness written across his sneering features were clear as day. He obviously knew that she would be tutoring him, and it was apparent from his expression that he loathed it – and her.
Dropping her gaze hastily, she turned and began piling food on her plate, her ears burning and the hairs on the back of her neck prickling, sure that he was still watching her and planning on ways to make her life a living hell for the next several months.
Of course, that was only the beginning of Diana Fairchild's and Regulus Black's story. What would start as a seemingly innocuous occurrence would soon entwine them more than they would ever want, a strangling vine wrapping them together and offering them the chance to either grow toward the light, or be choked in the darkness and lost to an unforgiving earth when their time ran out.
And that night, the wheel of time began to turn.
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