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Unsung heroes: Regulus Black

Regulus Arcturus Black seemed as unlikely a hero as can be – at first.

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We know Sirius’s little brother didn’t have the best run when we first heard about him. He followed Lord Voldemort, he served as a Death Eater and a substantial portion of his family supported the ‘purification’ of the wizarding race and getting rid of Muggle-borns. Yet in his final hours, Regulus carried out a brave and selfless deed with nobody knowing. Well, almost nobody…

Life couldn’t have been easy for young Regulus. We’ve heard of the clashes between his parents and his ‘Gryffindor-and-proud’ brother. Picture Regulus at home while his brother Sirius constantly argued with their mother Walburga – who, of course, eventually became immortalised as an angry, screaming portrait. Growing up in Grimmauld Place must have been bedlam.

‘He was younger than me,’ said Sirius, ‘and a much better son, as I was constantly reminded.’
‘But he died,’ said Harry.
‘Yeah,’ said Sirius. ‘Stupid idiot … he joined the Death Eaters.’
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Grimmauld Place at night
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Eventually things came to a head and Sirius walked out on the Black family, leaving Regulus alone with his parents and their ‘pure-blood mania’. Seeing his brother’s name burned off the family tapestry would have sent a powerful message – that anyone who disagreed would be disowned. Between his hostile home environment and the added pressure to bring honour to house Black, it’s no wonder that Regulus turned to Dark magic.

Beneath this was a collection of yellow newspaper cuttings, all stuck together to make a ragged collage. Hermione crossed the room to examine them.
‘They’re all about Voldemort,’ she said. ‘Regulus seems to have been a fan for a few years before he joined the Death Eaters ...’
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

The youngest Black brother was hardly ever mentioned by other wizards, however there was someone devoted to Regulus who knew his deepest secrets – Kreacher the house-elf.

In the chapter ‘Kreacher’s Tale’, the Black family’s former servant revealed the truth behind the mysterious ‘R.A.B.’. Master Regulus volunteered Kreacher to assist Voldemort who then took Kreacher to a cave, forced him to drink a basin of burning potion and left him for dead. The elf had been used to test the defences for a locket bearing the symbol of Slytherin. Unbeknown to Voldemort, Kreacher escaped and returned to Regulus.

‘Master Regulus told Kreacher to come back,’ he said.
‘I know – but how did you escape the Inferi?’
Kreacher did not seem to understand.
‘Master Regulus told Kreacher to come back,’ he repeated.
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Though he had trodden too far down a dark path, Regulus was still a smart guy. After all, he was the one who deduced that the locket had become a Horcrux, knew it meant Voldemort was no longer ‘mortal’ and that it had to be destroyed. How he found this out, we may never know, only that one night he came to Kreacher ‘not as he usually was’ and ‘disturbed in his mind’.

An Illusration of Kreacher
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Then, of course, there was his letter: the evidence that he had turned on his former master.

To the Dark Lord
I know I will be dead long before you read this but I want you to know that it was I who discovered your secret. I have stolen the real Horcrux and intend to destroy it as soon as I can. I face death in the hope that when you meet your match, you will be mortal once more.
R.A.B.
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

So Regulus drank the burning potion himself (rather than letting Kreacher suffer again) and was dragged to his death by the Inferi. A distraught Kreacher was ordered to return home, destroy Slytherin’s locket and never reveal the truth to the Black family. Hermione believed that Regulus kept his actions secret to protect his family should Voldemort discover his betrayal.

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Again, it’s a mystery what made Regulus change suddenly on that night he returned to Kreacher. Maybe finding out about something as inhumane as the Horcruxes was enough to turn him against the Dark Lord. Maybe he had seen horrors he wasn’t prepared for – like Draco did years later. Or maybe he changed his mind once he saw the cruelty Voldemort could inflict on an innocent elf. Regulus, we’re told, always liked Kreacher and treated him with kindness.

There was no fame or glory in his death, yet Regulus had his legacy. The Horcruxes were eventually destroyed, Voldemort was defeated and Regulus became an inspirational figure for Kreacher at the Battle of Hogwarts:

The house-elves of Hogwarts swarmed into the Entrance Hall, screaming and waving carving knives and cleavers, and at their head, the locket of Regulus Black bouncing on his chest, was Kreacher, his bullfrog’s voice audible even above this din: ‘Fight! Fight! Fight for my master, defender of house-elves! Fight the Dark Lord, in the name of brave Regulus! Fight!’
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Regulus Black died an unexpected hero, a revelation Harry was one of the first to know. Had Sirius only known, we imagine he would have been so proud of his brave brother. In taking a tremendous risk for no personal reward, his is one of the most unlikely, yet noblest sacrifices in the entire series.

Illustration of Salazar Slytherin's broken locket
© JKR/Pottermore Ltd.™ Warner Bros.

Each month Pottermore will shine a spotlight on a character from the Harry Potter stories who we feel deserves more credit. Come back next month when we celebrate Moaning Myrtle.