This is the first chapter image I have managed to make myself.
The air felt stale both inside the bedroom, unoccupied for years, and outside, as Draco discovered when he opened the window in his quest for a breeze. The sky was dark and clammy, dimly illuminated by the odd street light. The white facades of the Georgian terrace houses that delimited the square felt slightly smarter, from the outside and at night than his first impression had made him believe. Despite this, as far as number 12 was concerned, he couldn't really find many redeeming features. He observed his surroundings absent-mindedly. A Muggle appeared to be reading by an electric lamp in the nearby window of a neighbouring property. Most probably someone - he thought - who, like himself, was finding his pillow hard to get on with.
Malfoy hadn't been able to sleep peacefully since his mother had died and things had got seriously worse from the moment he took a reluctant look into the book that Snape had thrown at him in answer to his questions. Late at night, alone in the guest room at the Tonks' cottage, he had stared, time and time again, at its ancient leather cover, with intrigue and revulsion, torn between opening it and living in oblivion.
After three nights, however, he had made his decision. He had wanted to know, to find out the truth, whatever that was. But now that he did know, he so strongly wished he had remained in the dark, or in the light, to be more precise. It had been his family's involvement with the dark arts that had forged the path towards the place where he now found himself, not the physical place, but the place in its mind where all that could prevail was doubt, regret, despair and fear.
Ever since, his nights had been tainted with the horror of the ritual his mother had performed, filled with the snake and the candle and the bloody damn book, tormented with the blood that he knew flooded onto the floor, draining from her body.
Sometimes, when his body gave in and finally fell asleep, he sensed something strange, almost as if someone was trying to reach out to him but without much success. Had his mother properly passed away? Snape had been suspicious. However, if the Priest had been right, the funeral ceremony should have done the trick. But since when had he believed in Muggle mumbo-jumbo? But, given the fact that the Slytherin Master had decided to research matters further, perhaps somehow, he thought, there was some truth in it.
Needless to say, he was not in any hurry to immerse himself in dreams. That night, his first at Grimmauld Place, was no different. In fact, it was more intense.
Dawn came and found Harry at a loss for what to do. RAB, Kreacher, Umbridge, his ancestors, how to destroy a Horcrux, Snape, Malfoy... What to do about them all? Firstly, he admitted to himself that he was inclined to agree with Hermione that Kreacher was likely to have a connection with the real locket, well, only in the event that RAB was really who they thought. Still, if that was true, under no circumstances could he permit the elf to talk to Malfoy about it. Separating them wasn't enough of a safeguard. The house-elf was currently at Hogwarts but he had learnt, through bitter experience, that the likes of Bellatrix Lestrange could get information out of him anyway, No, he had to summon the elf and forbid him from talking to his guest but the wording, of course, was extremely important; any loophole left open could ruin it all for good.
The house was under the Fidelius charm so there was no way that Malfoy could repeat its location and, of course, they weren't going to let him partake in the Order's meetings but still there must be a lot that he could learn by merely being there.
Hermione was the first one to come into the kitchen. She found Harry clutching a mug of coffee completely in his own world.
"Are you all right, Harry?" she asked trying to bring him back to reality.
"Yeah, sure... Just thinking," replied her friend. "Thinking about Kreacher actually. I mean, if he really knows about the Horcrux - he mentioned this word in a whisper - we cannot let him be anywhere near Malfoy."
"I agree, Harry, but he is at Hogwarts, is he not? How is Malfoy going to get to the school?" asked Hermione in her usual too-clever-for-her-own-good way.
"But what happens if Hogwarts doesn't re-open and he has to come back here? Even if it does open, which I doubt, what is to prevent him from telling another Death Eater's kid?" objected Harry.
"Well, in all probability, if he was that way inclined he would have done this by now, don't you reckon?"
"I see what you mean. I just don't want to take any risks, Hermione. All kinds of weird thoughts are coming to my head. I think I'm getting paranoid but, I mean, do we even know for a fact that Narcissa is dead? Could this just be a story, a trap?"
"Harry, she is dead," said Hermione gathering strength to try to be patient with him. "The Tonks apparently buried her in a Muggle cemetery."
"Bloody hell! Did they? I bet that really pleased Malfoy!"
"Well, the fact that he accepted that shows just how much danger he is in. I know he is an idiot and a pure-blood obsessive but I do feel a little sorry for him, don't you?"
"Well, I lost my parents too. You lost your mother. He is not the only one; it's just that he makes more of a fuss about it!"
"Come on, Harry, you have made a fuss too all these years, be honest! I'm not saying that is wrong or anything but..."
Harry frowned at her, a little annoyed actually. Had he really made an issue of it? He supposed he had, he conceded to himself.
"Ok, we are getting a bit off topic here. Back to Kreacher, what exact words can I use to forbid him to talk to Malfoy, Hermione, come on, you're bright!"
"You mean, from talking to him altogether?" she obviously thought that was a touch too extreme.
"Well, I don't object to Kreacher serving him a meal or something, you know exactly where I'm heading..." replied Harry still thinking.
"You could just forbid him to talk about Vold..., members of the Black family and the locket specifically, I don't know. Also, of course, about the conversations that he has heard from any of us. That's it, tell him not to divulge any conversations he has ever heard and not to talk about his time with Regulus as his master," said Hermione.
"Yeah, something on those lines," replied Harry.
"But don't be evil to Kreacher, it's not his fault that he was left on his own for so long, that he's got a bit loopy," said Hermione hoping to be persuasive.
"Sorry, Hermione, there is a flaw in this idea. First of all, we need to ask him about Regulus and the locket, don't we? So if we forbid him from revealing conversations..."
"Well, just tell him that talking to us is fine. In fact, tell him to talk to us." Hermione couldn't actually see where the actual problem was.
"Ok, get Ron up, I'm going to summon Kreacher here before Malfoy gets up and Moody goes on again about the questioning."
Kreacher Apparated reluctantly to the kitchen at Grimmauld Place. Harry thought they needed a more private place and asked him to accompany them to the library. Hermione put in place the Muffliato charm. By that stage, Ron had also joined in.
"Mudbloods, blood traitors..." the elf muttered under his breath.
"Kreacher, I forbid you from saying either of those words," Harry said irritated.
The elf attempted to cover his large ears as if to prevent having to obey the command and started making gulping and chuckling noises as it would appear that he was still trying to throw more insults but was physically prevented from doing so.
"Um, Kreacher, I want you to listen to me, ok?" Harry said seriously, bending down to the elf's level. "I forbid you from saying anything about what's going on in Grimmauld Place to anyone, especially to Malfoy, ok?, I forbid you from repeating any conversation you hear!" He stared down at the creature, knowing that he would now have no choice in the matter. "I mean it. I also forbid you from talking to anyone but myself, Ron, Hermione and Ginny about any locket, or cave, Regulus Black or Voldemort, understood?"
"Yes, master," Kreacher muttered, though fixing him with a look of steely loathing.
"Now, Kreacher, there are things I need to ask you," continued Harry "I forbid you from repeating the contents of this conversation to anyone at all, is that clear?"
Kreacher nodded unwillingly and again, muttered something unintelligible, his enlarged eyes throwing daggers in Harry's direction.
“I command you to tell me all you know,” and Harry emphasised the word all, “and to tell the truth, about a locket that you stole from us when we were cleaning the house two years ago. How did it come to be here in the first place?”
“It belonged to my master Regulus,” Kreacher said very proudly.
“Ok, how did your master Regulus come by it, do you know?”
The elf was now struggling; his face looked pitiful. Hermione realised that he must have been commanded by Regulus all those years back not to tell anyone about this either. But now, Regulus was dead and he had passed into Harry’s ownership, he was forced to tell Harry and in doing so, to betray the master he had loved the most. The inner conflict must have been horrific.
"Regulus took it from a cave by the sea," the elf said and proceeded to beat himself up against an old wooden table.
"I command you to get up and stop beating yourself," said Harry "Now, did he tell you this?"
"No, brave master Regulus took Kreacher with him, to the cave."
Harry was now getting both curious and excited. "How did he get the locket though, did he know how to do this?"
"Yes, I think so," was Kreacher's reply. "We crossed the lake on a boat, there were dead bodies there, it was so horrible!" the elf started to cry. "We got to the island and there was a basin with a green potion there."
Hermione glanced towards both Ron and Harry with a smug expression that could be read as I told you so.
"Carry on, Kreacher, please..." Harry was now trying to be nice, not because he had much regard for the elf but because he thought that it may prove more fruitful.
"Master Regulus ordered Kreacher to make him drink the potion."
"So, it wasn't you who drank it?" The three teenagers looked at one another in awe, their respect for Regulus growing by the minute.
"No, he said I had to make him drink it."
"And what happened then?" Harry was now getting anxious.
"My master was like in a dream, he said terrible things, could hear horrible things," the elf was crying now very loudly. "He said he knew the Dark Lord knew that he, master Regulus, had the locket, that I was to Apparate out and take the locket with me and never, ever, tell anyone and now he is dead and I have to tell the mug...." As he had been ordered, Kreacher couldn't completely utter the word and not hurt himself, his face was red and purple, his eyes bulged as if going to escape from its face.
"So, that's what Ginny's dream meant!" exclaimed Harry astonished. "Drinking the potion informs Voldemort about who has drunk it. I see." He paused. "Hermione, I think you were right all along! And the worse thing is that he knows he is minus several, well, you know what I mean," he concluded without saying the actual word.
Hermione and Ron sighed. How many more Horcruxes could he have made? What was worse - thought Harry - was that since Dumbledore hadn't predicted this, they had absolutely no clues as to what the receptacles of Voldemort's further pieces of soul could be.
"What happened to your master?" Harry enquired.
"He told me to get out, so I had to obey. Never saw him again, nor did anyone else." Kreacher said really sadly.
"Now, Kreacher, what happened to the locket that you took from the cave?" asked Hermione.
"Kreacher brought it back, Kreacher obeyed his master," the elf sobbed uncontrollably.
"Ok, Kreacher," said Harry. "I command you to tell me the truth. Have you still got the locket?" Harry was now smiling as he thought that he may actually know where the locket in question had ended up.
"No, no, it's gone, missing! Missing! Kreacher doesn't know where it is!" Kreacher was now looking as if about to beat himself up again, despite Harry's order to the contrary.
"Ron, go and fetch the sock," said Harry. "We shall soon find out."
As instructed, a few minutes after Ron appeared holding in his hand the bright knitted sock that Dobby had given Harry for his birthday.
"Kreacher, please take out the contents of that sock," commanded Harry.
Kreacher had no choice but to do as he was told. His eyes really bulged again. Harry made him verify whether or not that had been the locket he brought back from the cave. The elf confirmed that it was the same item.
"Now," Harry continued, "I want you to think carefully and tell me whether the locket you took had any engraving on it?"
The house elf shook his head several times and finally confirmed that, no, the locket he had seen and kept for many years didn't have any engravings. The sound of his crying was now hard to bear.
"Give the locket back, Kreacher," ordered Harry. Kreacher resisted with all his might but gave up in the end; again he could do nothing but obey.
"Ok, Kreacher, ok," said Harry now having taken some pity on the elf. "That's all for now, but please, remember what I have ordered you, and," Harry added with a stroke of inspiration, "I expressly forbid you from trying to steal this locket, or hide it, or take it for safe-keeping."
Kreacher nodded and on he went to sulk in his cupboard.
Molly served a full English breakfast to the people who had stayed there the night. Neither Draco nor Harry had shown up just yet. Harry had gone to wake Ginny up and to put her in the picture. They came downstairs together and Harry couldn't but notice that Mrs Weasley was throwing at them a rather suspicious look. Harry decided to pretend he hadn't noticed.
"Someone goes to fetch the Malfoy boy," said Mrs Weasley to no-one in particular.
Harry and Ron both raised at once.
"I think I should go," said Ron "after all, it was me he tried to kill!" added Ron sounding as if he was now ready for a fight.
"I'll come with you!" insisted Harry who wasn't in the mood for the open confrontation he knew was likely to take place.
"Malfoy, come on, get up!" commanded Harry knocking on his door. "You're not at Malfoy Manor any more!"
After only a few minutes the door opened and there was Malfoy, looking paler than ever.
"Blimey! What's happened to you?" asked Ron a bit taken aback by their guest drained appearance. "Have you seen a ghost?"
Draco Malfoy pointed his icy eyes maliciously towards both the boys and said "Maybe I have, actually."
Harry was now alarmed. He thought that, for a second, their minds had connected and yes, maybe he had in truth seen a ghost. He prodded Ron with his elbow asking him to stop having a go.
The three of them descended to the kitchen and, as expected, Mad-Eye Moody was the first to speak.
"Harry," he started, "you promised me that today, we could ask him some questions."
"Yes, Alastor, just let us have some breakfast, please!" was Harry's tired request.
Malfoy really looked ill, Harry thought. His defences were now so down that Harry, almost unwittingly, seemed to have been able to penetrate his mind and this, taking into account how terrible he had been at Legilimency during his classes with Snape, spoke volumes.
It had been Narcissa he had seen! She was not like the ghosts in the castle; she was truly a tortured soul as far as he could tell. Harry took a deep breath. He knew that some of the stuff he had briefly caught was really very private. He remembered how bad he'd felt when Snape had seen the vision he had had of his own mother's death. If he had to be honest, even if he didn't think much of the guy, Harry felt a bit ashamed for having intruded like that. Everybody had the right to their own private grief. He took another deep breath and closed his eyes for a second.
Also, he had an idea that he had seen something connected with a Muggle church, oddly enough. Yeah, maybe Malfoy held the key to the Slughorn's conundrum
Once breakfast was over, Moody, like a dog with a bone, started up again.
"Ok, Malfoy, since we are fair people here in the Order, I will give you a choice. Either Veritaserum or the Unbreakable Vow," offered Mad-Eye flippantly.
Draco locked his gaze into Moody's defiantly, without blinking.
"The Vow to do or not to do what?" Draco replied with a smirk.
"Not to betray the Order under any circumstances and not to pry into our business," Harry interrupted. "That way, Malfoy, we won't pry into yours too much. Well, not into private aspects, you see, although of course we still want to know a lot of stuff. But, I can offer you privacy with regard to your mother's death, for instance..."
Harry looked at Malfoy straight in the eye but without malice. Malfoy realised that Potter already knew, even if he wasn't sure how much. He couldn't bear that and he realised he must protect his mind a lot better. Potter was the last person on this earth he wanted to share this with! And he wasn't too keen in sharing it with the rest of the Order either. He had no choice. He had to make the Vow; Veritaserum would leave him even more open.
"Ok," Harry proceeded, "since this is your scheme, Moody, will you act as Bonder?"
"My pleasure," he replied.
"Ok, the wording is to be that you must not betray any of our secrets to anyone at all and that you are prepared to fight to the death against the Dark Arts," Harry pronounced solemnly. "Now, remember, a breach will mean your death."
Malfoy looked at Potter a little horrified but determined to go through with this, with all its implications.
Harry was now wearing a big smile.
"Relax, Malfoy," he said still grinning. "Sorry, Moody, this for me is enough! Think about it, what would happen, say, if he gets captured and put under the imperious curse? He would die! Would any of you want this on your conscience?"
The whole party looked at Harry almost in shock. He had taken such command in all this, even at his young age. Moody protested openly, Lupin frowned with suspicion, Ron wasn't too pleased either but they all listened to him.
"This is very noble of you, Harry..." started Mr Weasley "but, you're been a bit trusting, Dumbledore's man through and through as they said, but without the Vow..."
"Sorry, Arthur, I have seen it in his eyes, he was prepared to do it and he doesn't strike me as the type who is prepared to be willingly slaughtered. I trust he is not that evil either. After all, he couldn't even kill for his own side, for his parents' safety. But don't worry, Malfoy, we'll keep an eye on you. If you do betray us, the consequences will be very severe, so don't just go forgetting. I will question you personally. I'll respect your mother's death and that but I will ask you everything else, but I'll do it in private and I won't go blabbing more than is necessary, you have my word on that," said Harry.
Draco blinked with relief. He thought Potter had acted with honour. Back at Hogwarts, Malfoy would have regarded this as a weakness in his opponent. Now, he saw that as his strength, Saint Potter had managed to get him in a position where he was indebted to him.
The matter was closed for the time being.
The night after that morning Harry had a dream as from a fairy-tale. He was embracing Ginny, holding onto her waist atop a pleasant and placid unicorn. The beast was white and silvery, as if made of pure light. She was riding in front, her beautiful red hair cascading on her back, both their robes billowing behind them at the mercy of the wind, in a fantastic forest... galloping into another world... He felt free and pure like never before. Then, just before he woke up, at the end of the dream, Malfoy appeared and said thank you to him. Bizarre! Harry thought but then, maybe that had been his reward for his act of chivalry towards his guest that day.
Now, that was perhaps what Ginny would like for her birthday, riding a unicorn! Fantastic! Harry thought. He was aware thought that, according to legend, only maidens could approach these mythical animals. That thought made him blush for he wasn't sure for how many more birthdays they could keep off each other for her to remain so.
- he made a mental note - I will talk to Hagrid about it, to see if it can be arranged.