“Thank you, Kreacher,” I whispered. My mind was racing, trying to understand everything my parents’ house elf just told me. I could hardly believe it, but Kreacher wouldn’t lie to me. I reached for another goblet of water. My hands were still shaking. I felt like I had just been in that cave myself. With those Inferi.
What was so important that the Dark Lord went to such lengths to protect a measly locket? The Dark Lord hadn’t asked for an elf for some noble, proud purpose to benefit us purebloods. He wanted a sacrifice. And like a fool, I volunteered Kreacher.
I thought it would bring honor to the Black name. Erase the shame of Sirius running away. He should have been the Death Eater in the family. He was the eldest son. I shouldn’t have to make up for my brother’s mistakes.
“Kreacher,” I whispered, not wanting to awaken my sleeping parents upstairs, “what did the locket look like? Did the Dark Lord say there was anything special about it?”
Kreacher shook his head. His eyes started to water. “The Dark Lord told Kreacher nothing. The locket was gold. The locket had an S on the front.”
“What was inside the locket?”
“Kreacher does not know! The Dark Lord only puts the locket in the basin after Kreacher drinks all that awful potion! Kreacher knows nothing else!” In an instant, Kreacher jumped to his feet. He dashed for the door to his cupboard. His left hand was already reaching forward to place his fingers in the small gap.
“Kreacher!” I took hold of the elf, pulling his fingers away before they could be broken. I couldn’t be sure which of us was trembling more. “I just wanted to know more. You did a fine job, Kreacher. A fine job.” I continued to hold him close. It was my fault that I almost didn’t get him back.
Kreacher hiccupped once as his trembling subsided. “Kreacher is sorry,” he croaked out.
Finally, I set Kreacher down on his bed. He didn’t make another motion towards the door. “There’s no need to punish yourself over this,” I said, raising my voice only loud enough to sound like an order. I then passed him the forgotten goblet. Half the water had spilled out when I had to grab Kreacher.
I watched my elf drink. His bat-like ears drooped as he relaxed. A tiny bit of color returned to his skin. When he finished the last drop, he looked up at me expectantly. His eyes, though, looked ready to burst into fresh tears.
“Master Regulus,” he finally wheezed, “Kreacher should be the one thanking you, Sir. Kreacher-”
“Kreacher needs his sleep,” I cut him off gently. I refilled the goblet with more water. “Kreacher, listen to me now. You can do whatever it is that my parents tell you, but I forbid you from leaving the house. And if guests arrive, I do not want them to see you. Do you understand me?”
Kreacher nodded once, slowly.
“And if my parents need anything to be done outside the house, you are to let me handle it, understood? I don’t want you exerting yourself in this condition.”
I feared what the Dark Lord might do if he ever realized that Kreacher was not only alive, but told me everything that had happened.
Tears leaked out of Kreacher’s large eyes. “Master Regulus is most kind, most kind to Kreacher.”
“Rest,” I said gently. “I’ll check in on you soon.”
I backed out of the cupboard and surveyed the dark kitchen. It was still late. But I couldn’t sleep. Images of what Kreacher had told me flooded my brain. I couldn’t get myself away from thinking of the locket. There was a potion that could not be siphoned away by magic. It could not be penetrated by hand. And potion not consumed would reappear in the basin from which it came. So much protection. What was worth so much protection?
I silently crept up to my room. Shadows filled my room as my wand light pierced the darkness. I placed my wand over my desk, then allowed myself to sink into the chair. My N.E.W.T. results rested on the side of my desk. My parents were so proud of my marks when they came last week. But I knew that they probably weren’t as good as Sirius’s.
He was the smart one. He could understand the most difficult of problems as if they were a first year charm. Had he been right about the Dark Lord too? Did he see past the propaganda in an instant while I was busy trying to make our family proud?
Sirius would know what to do. We hadn’t spoken in the three years since he ran away, but I knew he had his own place on the other side of London. It wouldn’t take me long to travel there and-
No, Sirius would think I was attacking him. He knew I was a Death Eater. I was a Death Eater. Just the thought made my left forearm burn.
A letter. Yes, a letter would work. I pulled out a sheet of parchment, dipped my quill in some ink, and began to write.
Dear Sirius Black,
We may not see eye-to-eye, but there is something that I need your help with. I would not be writing to you if this were not urgent. I humbly ask that you reply as soon as you can. Time is something I cannot afford to waste.
Regulus Arcturus Black
I reviewed the letter for a few minutes. It felt too short. Like I should add more to it, make the urgency of what just happened more obvious. Tell Sirius what happened to Kreacher-
No, that would only make Sirius shun me completely. He might even have asked me why I didn’t send Kreacher back to the cave.
Sealing the letting in an envelope and inscribing my brother’s name across the front, I crept upstairs to the attic where my parents kept our family owl, Pur. I ordered him to deliver the letter as quickly as possible, then return straight away. I couldn’t afford my parents to ask who I was sending letters to.
I spent the rest of the night sitting in my dark room. My wand showed me the collection of articles about the Dark Lord. I had gathered them from every paper my parents read. I didn’t want to be accused of not being a true supporter. I already had my youth acting against me in the eyes of the more senior Death Eaters.
I must have reread all the articles three times when I heard my parents stir downstairs. The normal sounds of Mother telling Father about her plans for the day and Father humming in absent agreement felt surreal. I heard them go through this yesterday morning. But yesterday seemed like an eternity ago.
“Nox,” I whispered. I then left my room to have breakfast with my parents. Just as I was expected to do every morning.
Kreacher seemed to have recovered some during the night. He brought out breakfast for my parents and answered to my mother’s requests for a ‘perfect’ breakfast. When he stumbled to lift the pitcher of pumpkin juice to the table, I had to fight myself to resist helping him.
“So, Regulus, what’s on your agenda?” Father asked once Mother was finished explaining her plans for the second time.
I shrugged a shoulder. “Not exactly sure. I might stay inside all day. There are some, er, things I wish to look up in the drawing room.”
“Oh, that’s my Regulus,” Mother said. “Always a good boy. I suppose it’s for the good of all purebloods, correct?”
“Walburga,” Father sighed. “Even if it was, we must respect the Dark Lord’s wishes to keep private matters private.”
Mother’s eyes narrowed for a brief moment, but then her eyes relaxed. “Oh, you’re right, of course. Now, I must be getting ready for today’s work. The new portrait of me is coming along nicely, but the artist is making many, many mistakes when it comes to capturing my likeness. If I hadn’t checked in on his credentials, I may have suspected that I was working with a Mudblood. Filthy creatures.” She stood and left the kitchen.
Father sighed once she was gone. “I’ll get myself to the Ministry once your mother is gone,” he said softly to me. “You don’t want to get in her way.”
“Indeed not,” I said.
Father stood a few minutes later once we heard Mother Apparate away. He patted me on the shoulder. “That’s a good lad. Keeping your mother happy makes all of our lives better. You have the proper family spirit, son. Unlike . . .” His voice trailed off. He shook his head and left the room.
“Proper family spirit,” I grumbled as I sat alone in the library. “Unlike Sirius you mean? Well, I’m sure he’s happier than I am. And it’s not like you know what I’ve been asked to do over the past year. At least my brother’s soul isn’t as soiled as mine, doing the Dark Lord’s . . . bidding . . .” I repeated what I just said to myself. Not about my brother, but about a soul. And the Dark Lord.
The Dark Lord’s soul . . .
Like a good son, I had taken the time to read nearly every book in my family’s collection, which was quite vast since it had been passed down through the generations of the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black. I learned early to be careful with these books. I had also read a lot about dark magic and how terrifying it was. But I always thought the darkest of dark magic to be too barbaric for modern wizards to practice.
Now I knew I was wrong.
It was in the fourth volume I picked up. The name of the book was obscured by centuries of age. The printing within the pages were faded with time but still somewhat legible. But I found a branch of magic that seemed to be pure evil; it conveniently relied on an object and was worthy of the extensive and powerful magical protection that Kreacher had described to me.
“Horcrux,” I whispered, trying out the word on my tongue. Even the name sounded revolting. And what was worse was that the details that entailed making a Horcrux were not beyond the magic, skill, and greed of the Dark Lord. I had already witnessed how the Dark Lord treated not only his enemies, but his followers who had failed him.
And hadn’t the Dark Lord made references to how he would live forever, to oversee that the world regain the proper balance and order of things? Even though wizards live a long time, everyone was still expected to die.
So it wasn’t the locket itself wasn’t under that heavy of protection. It was what was within the locket.
Half of the Dark Lord’s soul.
I spent the rest of my morning and half of the afternoon looking for another reason why the Dark Lord needed Kreacher to protect that locket. But nothing else made sense. And I couldn’t think of anything else I’ve read in the past that might have made more sense than a Horcrux.
I jumped from my chair. For a moment, I thought it might have been the Dark Lord himself.
But it was only my father. He had his traveling cloak hanging over his right arm.
“Sorry,” I apologized, getting to my feet. Since when we my legs this wobbly? “I didn’t hear you come home.”
“You seemed deep in thought,” Father said. “Anything bothering you?”
“No!” My voice cracked at just the one word.
But Father just smiled. “I’m not your mother. I won’t pry into your business. Kreacher!”
Kreacher took about a second longer than usual to answer my father’s call. “You called, sir?”
“Prepare some tea for my son and me.”
“Yes, sir.” Kreacher backed out of the room.
“Er, I’ll join you in a few minutes,” I said slowly. “There are some things I need to take care of first.”
Father looked ready to ask what it was about, but then he seemed to remember something. He nodded. “I’ll wait until you’re ready.”
I didn’t see any reply from Sirius when I arrived to find Pur again. Maybe he didn’t read it yet, or didn’t have a chance to answer me. That didn’t matter. I had a new message to send him.
If you have not read the first letter I sent to you this morning, I must reiterate the importance of your help to me. Please, I beg of you, reply to this message as soon as you get it. I just discovered something truly terrible and have absolutely no one else I could possibly turn to. I don’t know how long I can keep all this to myself.
Regulus Arcturus Black
I gave Pur the same directions I had given him last night. Deliver the letter and return home straight away. He should arrive back before Mother. I could trust Father to keep everything quiet.
I couldn’t focus while having tea with Father. Whenever he called for Kreacher to get something, I remembered the story about what happened to him in the cave. My mind focused on picturing the descriptions of what Kreacher went through last night while Father recounted who he had talked to at the Ministry and what new laws were being formulated. He seemed proud in the fact that he had so much pull in the Ministry without being on their payroll.
When Father talked about meeting with the Minister this morning, I thought about how Kreacher was with the Dark Lord last night.
Father moved on to talk about which lawmakers actually sought him out. My thoughts turned to how Kreacher described the Dark Lord seeking out the hidden boat that led to the island.
And when Father complained that the dismal lunch the half-bloods and traitors were foolish enough to eat at the Ministry, I remembered the terrible potion that Kreacher was forced to drink while the Dark Lord probably laughed . . .
“Regulus,” Father said. He sat his cup onto his saucer. “Are you alright, son?”
“Why, yes,” I said. But my throat was dry. The tea was already empty from my cup, but I felt like I hadn’t tasted a single drop. As I put down my own cup, the china clattered as my shaking hand refused to calm itself.
“You might have overexerted yourself today,” Father said. “I still have errands to do at the Ministry, so I won’t return home until late. I suggest you get some rest. Kreacher will-”
“I’ll be fine,” I said, cutting him off before Kreacher could hear my father order him to do something. I tried to smile. “I’ll certainly get some rest.”
But I couldn’t rest. My body might have been comfortable, lounging on the couch in the drawing room, but my mind was racing. I had this information, but I didn’t know what to do. I was trapped.
Why hadn’t Sirius answered my letters by now? He would know what to do. He had all the ideas. What would Sirius do?
I sat up so quickly, I smacked my head into the arm of the couch. And while I rubbed the top of my head, a plan was slowly falling into place. So simple of a plan, and yet so terrifying at the same time. I started trembling at the very thought of it.
I knew Sirius wouldn’t sit back and do nothing. That’s why he was a member of the Order of the Phoenix. He would act. I was his brother. I had the capacity to act too.
I dashed from the drawing room and up to my room. I searched through my desk, tearing into my drawers, cabinets, and even my school trunk that I had yet to unpack. I couldn’t find it anywhere until I finally looked under my bed.
And there it was. A golden locket. I couldn’t be sure how closely it resembled the real Horcrux, but it would have to do. I had part of my plan already.
I started pacing my room, looking at the locket. This locket was a normal, ordinary locket, given to me by Grandma Black. Er, my paternal grandmother. This was not a Horcrux. But maybe, from a distance, it might look like one.
But how could I switch them?
A gnawing feeling in my gut told me the answer before I finished formulating that question.
So I tried to think of another way. But like my research that lead to me discovering what a Horcrux was to begin with, I couldn’t think of any other explanation or plan.
But Sirius would have more ideas. His ideas would make sure everything turned out alright. Or he might even dismiss the Horcrux idea to begin with. He would tell me what the Dark Lord really did and come up with a different plan to beat him in about five minutes. Yes, Sirius would be able to help me.
I sat myself down at my desk for the third time and started writing.
Help! I beg of you, I don’t know what else to do, and I fear if you don’t reply soon, I might-
I stopped writing when there was a sound at my window. It was an owl. In its beak was a thick letter. It continued to flap just outside my window, waiting for me to let it in.
“Finally!” I jumped up and ran for the window. I took the envelope, eager to see my brother’s response.
But it turned out to be two letters. The first one actually had Sirius’s name on the front of the envelope in my handwriting. The name had been crossed out and my name was written under it.
The second envelope had the same thing done as the first. Sirius’s name was also crossed out. But instead of seeing my name for a second time, there was a short sentence.
Don’t waste my time.
I let the letters drop to the ground. They remained unopened. Sirius hadn’t bothered to open my letters. He must have recognized my handwriting. I certainly recognized his. But if he wouldn’t even take the time to read two letters, the third letter wouldn’t make a difference.
“So, that’s it then,” I whispered to no one. The owl that delivered these was already gone. I was all alone. By myself. No one could help me.
I was a known Death Eater as far as the Order was concerned. They would never trust me. And if I made even the slightest of mistakes around my fellow Death Eaters, they would have no problems in killing me. I knew I could never face any of them again.
I rubbed at my left arm, the Dark Mark hidden by the long sleeves of my cloak. What if it burned right now? What if the Dark Lord himself knew I now wanted to destroy his chances of living forever? If I ever show my face to anyone ever again, they might very well be the last people I see.
As the sun set for the evening, I worked out the plan in my head. It was too simple. Something so simple had to have a major flaw. But I couldn’t see it. Sirius would see it. Sirius would be able to help me. If he didn’t hate me so much.
Finally, after listening to Mother and Father have dinner downstairs and then retreat to their room later in the night, I knew this was the time I needed to act. I picked up the two letters and put them in an inside pocket of my robes. I added the third letter to them. I couldn’t leave any evidence of what I had been doing today.
Kreacher, bless him, offered to make me a late dinner since I had neglected to eat anything after tea with my father. But I knew that if I sat down to eat anything, I might lose any nerve I had of completing this important task. Or worse- I might throw up while doing the most important, and possibly final, thing of my life.
“Kreacher,” I whispered, getting down on my knees to look into his large eyes. He himself still looked weak from what happened to him last night. “Kreacher, I need you to do something very important for me. And my parents or cousins or anyone else in our family must never know of what we are about to do.”
Kreacher’s eyes widened even more than usual. “Master Regulus-”
“I’m ordering you, Kreacher. You cannot disobey a direct order.”
Kreacher’s eyes filled with tears. “What is we about to be doing, Master Regulus?”
I thought back to the three letters in my pocket. Would Sirius have another way to do this? Could he have found a better plan?
Yes, he would have. He could have thought of a better plan. And if he even peeked into one of my letters, he could have saved me from what I was about to do.
I took Kreacher’s hand in mine. “I need you to take me back to that cave.”