A/N: Once again, thanks so much for all the comments and follows, you are all keeping me so motivated to maintain my weekly updating schedule.
Also, SableUnstable, brilliant beta work on this! And bonus points to any rugby fans out there who get my little joke (though I don't know that HP fanfiction and rugby go together very well!)
Mrs J xx
Chapter Fifteen: Potter Again
Draco's resolve to avoid contact with the rest of the residents in Grimmauld Place was wavering by the time the next evening rolled around. He'd finished reading Regulus's journal in the wee hours of the night, and the content had been so upsetting that he was craving a distraction from it.
The way Regulus had felt, his terror and the fatalistic thoughts he described after he'd been forced into taking the Mark, were all too familiar for Draco. He, himself, had been excited at the moment he'd declared his loyalty to the Dark Lord. But the regret and fear Regulus had expressed had infused every second of every day for Draco during his sixth year, when nothing had seemed to work; when he realised that failing was much more likely than success when it came to that blasted vanishing cabinet.
It really didn't help that every time Draco tried to direct his thoughts away from his own miserable past, forcing himself not to think about the tragedy of Vera Selwyn's short life, he became aware of a niggling worry boring away in the back of his mind: his anxious need to know how Emmeline had fared the night before. The desire annoyed him greatly. He knew it was stupid to start caring about these people, but he didn't seem to be able to prevent it.
He was sitting on his bed staring into space, his carefully focused thoughts on the only light spot he could find; the intriguing revelation that his mother had been friends with someone called Timworth, a coincidence that was quite hard to ignore. He'd just decided that he would ask his mother the moment she arrived who this Timworth she had known was, and if he had a fondness for board games, when an interruption in the form of Kreacher appeared. He had come to collect Draco from his bedroom to join the rest of the household for the evening meal.
"You are still reading Master Regulus's journal?" the elf asked as he watched Draco tuck it safely away under his pillow. The horror of Vera's suicide and the things that the Dark Lord had done to her had haunted Draco for most of the night. What had Regulus done to gain his revenge? Those last entries had been confusing. He wondered if he dared ask Kreacher about it? Surely the elf could enlighten him, or at least tell him what task the Dark Lord had needed help with.
"Yes," Draco said, because even though he had finished, he was not quite ready to give it up just yet. "He had quite-" he paused, not sure how to finish the sentence, "-um, an eventful year."
"It was his last." Kreacher nodded sadly. Then, as if catching himself, he wrung his long-fingered hands together, his ears giving a nervous twitch as he said, "please, Mr Malfoy, you must keep it secret from Master Sirius."
"I have no intention of sharing that book with anyone," Draco assured him. "No one talks to me, anyway."
"Yes, thank you, sir." The little elf did not seem reassured however, still twisting his fingers and looking jumpy. "And Kreacher can have it back soon?"
"As soon as I am finished with it, I will bring it to you. I promise," Draco said sincerely. He didn't really know why he wasn't ready to give it up, but there just seemed to be more to the story than what he'd been able to figure out so far.
Kreacher nodded his thanks, and led Draco from the room.
The smell of Mrs Weasley's cooking filled the old house, and whatever Draco thought of her, he could find no fault in her culinary skills. He thought it was quite amazing that none of the Weasley children were obese; Draco found himself eating seconds and sometimes even thirds at nearly every meal. Two more weeks of that and it wouldn't matter that his trunk had been returned to him, because his middle would be bursting out of everything he owned.
Thankfully not yet, though. He was very pleased to be dressed in something other than his uniform or Sirius's hand-me-down training gear. He'd been delighted to discover his favorite Montrose Magpies shirt folded neatly in his trunk, a shirt his father had bought him at a match they attended together in the season preceding Draco's fifth year. It had been one of the many items he'd lost when he and his parents had fled Hogwarts after the Dark Lord had been killed.
Both Granger and Potter did a doubletake as he entered the kitchen, obviously surprised to see him dressed differently than they were used to. "Dressing down this evening, Malfoy?" Potter teased from where he sat at the end of the table, half-hidden by a towering stack of dinner plates he was wiping with a teatowel. "Here I was thinking you just really loved your uniform."
"When in Rome," Draco returned in kind, and Potter rolled his eyes and disappeared behind the plates once more, yet again nowhere near as snide or nasty as Draco was used to.
"You'd never catch me in Magpies gear," he said as he moved the pile of dishes to one side. He looked quite offended. "They're a privileged bunch of twats."
"Good looking, though," said a voice that made Draco whip his head in its direction: Emmeline stood just inside the entrance to the kitchen, her hands being filled with condiment bottles and jars by Molly Weasley. A surge of relief he had not been expecting swelled through his chest, making him want to grin – and scowl – at the same time.
"Evening, Draco," she said, a little smile lifting her lips. It was then that he noticed a nasty graze on her cheek. Had the Death Eaters found her despite her promise to be careful?
"Who's good looking?" Black asked, appearing as well, carrying a large bottle of pumpkin juice and a stack of glasses.
"The Montrose Quidditch team," Lupin put in from where he sat at the table. He and Granger had a book open between them; she was probably suffering from teacher withdrawals, Draco thought.
Sirius scrunched his nose in apparent distaste. "Bit pretty, aren't they?"
"I don't know whether to be offended by that or not," Lupin muttered, barely looking up from the book.
Harry and Emmeline both laughed, but Granger's shrewd eyes flicked between Black and Lupin. Draco could tell she was very close to figuring out their little secret.
After depositing her armload of sauces and dressings, Emmeline took a seat and caught Draco's eye, giving the chair next to hers a significant look. Draco slid into it, half expecting to be called up for food ferrying duty, but no one said anything.
"Thank you," Emmeline said quietly to him while the others continued to debate the aesthetic appeal of various Quidditch teams. "I would have been done for if you hadn't warned me last night."
"No problem," Draco said. Whatever concerns he might have about becoming attached to people in the house, the fact remained that he had actually saved this woman's life. He supposed that was something to feel proud of. His eyes caught the grazes on her face again; they looked worse close up. "What happened to your cheek?"
She raised her fingers to the cuts. "Something one of them hit me with. It was definitely a close call. I'm really grateful, I know you don't want to be involved in all this."
"Bit late now," Draco mumbled. "Don't seem to be able to help myself lately."
"Well, you might be sad about that, but I'm not," Emmeline said brightly. "We need all the help we can get."
Sirius's loud voice suddenly called down the table, saving Draco from having to reply. "Vance has the deciding vote! Tornadoes' Keeper, Carter, or Wanderers' Beater, McCaw?"
The others were obviously still talking about good looking Quidditch teams, although they seemed to have progressed to individual players now. Emmeline considered seriously for a second. "McCaw, hands down," she said. Black seemed pleased with Emmeline's response. He all but poked his tongue out as he snipped, "I told you so," at Remus, Harry, and Hermione.
"If anyone wants to eat before midnight, I'll need some help in here." Mrs Weasley was standing in the doorway to the kitchen work area with her hands on her hips. "And I'm sorry, Emmeline dear, but Carter has it by a mile, I'm afraid." Remus and Hermione both looked smug. "Now, kids, veggies need to go to the table, and Remus, there's a rather heavy platter with the pies on it, if you wouldn't mind."
Assuming he was a part of the 'kids,' Draco stood from the table and followed Granger and Potter into the kitchen, earning him a surprised side-eye from Potter and an annoyingly knowing smirk from Granger. He was definitely coming to regret their conversation in the library, but she couldn't fault him; following Mrs Weasley's orders definitely made his life easier, whether surrounded by people that hated him or not.
It was quite a lot later when there was a little tapping knock on his bedroom door. Draco was wide awake, however, still re-reading those last entries in Regulus's diary. Disturbing as they were, he was determined to make sense of them. "I've found a locket in Mother's jewelry box that should do the trick." But what trick was he talking about? "I've found a locket in Mother's jewelry box that should do the trick." But what trick was he talking about?
"Yes," Draco replied cautiously.
The door opened a crack and Granger stood there, still in her day clothes, looking rather self-conscious. That got Draco's attention because he didn't think he'd ever seen Granger look less than completely sure of herself. What could she possibly want from him?
"Harry has gone back to his Aunt and Uncle's now that term is over," she said, as though Potter's movements were something Draco liked to keep tabs on. Draco was sort of disappointed. That was it? Potter had gone to the muggles? Dull. He'd already known Potter was leaving, they'd been talking about it at dinner. But then Draco had not been involved in the conversation; he'd been occupied filling his belly with chicken and ham pie. He still didn't see why Granger felt the need to make a special point of informing him about it now, however.
"How pleasant for him," Draco replied, looking back down at the diary, hoping Granger would leave again.
"Not really," she contradicted him, "but Dumbledore insisted, and I just wanted to let you know that Ron and Ginny will be arriving tomorrow afternoon." Granger continued, resolutely staying put. "They're already at the Burrow."
"How unpleasant for me," Draco sighed, his gaze returning to his visitor. She seemed a bit on edge, her eyes flicking about the room, like she was checking for hidden booby traps.
"Probably," she nodded in agreement, now scrutinizing the wardrobe. "They don't know you're here. I thought I should-" she broke off, glancing at Draco properly and appearing more suspicious than ever.
"Put me on my guard?" Draco supplied.
"Something like that," Granger agreed.
"Consider me guarded," Draco assured her. "I will be on alert for marauding gingers."
Granger gave a delicate little snort of amusement and fiddled with a button on her cardigan before she looked around the room again, making no attempt to leave. Draco merely stared at her, waiting for her to realise that she'd come to talk to her enemy. She'd done the noble thing and warned him about the Weasleys, and was now free to go. But she didn't. Instead, she brushed down her cardigan, straightened up and asked, "what do you do in here all day? You only come out for food and Vance's ridiculous training."
Remembering the last time he'd had to get Granger and Potter to leave him alone, Draco opted for sarcasm. "I'm writing secret letters to all my Death Eater buddies and practicing dark magic."
"I'm sure," Granger said, with half a smile, like she was waiting for the real answer. Draco really didn't know what to do, so he told her the truth.
"I read mostly."
"Oh, really?" she asked, tone interested. "What are you reading?"
Draco was beginning to wonder if Granger was just trying to annoy him. He scowled and said huffily, "why do you care?"
"I like books," Granger shrugged, her eyebrows going up at Draco's abrupt belligerence. "I just thought you might be bored, that's all."
Was Granger bored? Is that was she was inflicting her company on him completely out of the blue? "No," he said shortly, "I'm quite entertained."
Unfortunately, even his obvious hostility wasn't enough to get Granger to go away, "So what's it about?" she asked, nodding to Regulus's journal that was still sitting open in Draco's lap. "I don't recognize it. Is it from the library here?"
"None of your business," Draco replied sharply, closing the book with a snap.
Suddenly Granger's wand was out, the movement so quick, Draco thought she must have had it hidden up her sleeve. Oddly this actually made Draco feel a bit less annoyed – at least Granger still felt the need to arm herself in his presence.
"Accio book," she said in the same moment that her wand appeared. It was so fast that Draco could not prevent it as Regulus's diary slipped out of his hands and zoomed to Granger's waiting ones.
"Granger!" Draco said angrily, shocked that she would resort to such a trick. "I must insist!" He leapt from the bed, his promise to Kreacher at the front of his mind. Granger seeing it was almost as bad as Black – she would tell Potter, and he would tell Black.
In the short moment it had taken for Draco to cross the room, Granger had flipped open the cover, and desperate to stop her reading the name written there, Draco snatched the book roughly from her hands – he didn't want to use magic, he could just imagine her dobing him in for that, even if she had just done the same.
"Excuse me!" Granger said indignantly, advancing a step towards him. "That was completely unnecessary!"
Draco gave a scornful laugh. "Was it? You're no better, summoning charm outside of school? I should report you," he threatened. "It's my book, and I'm not willing to share."
"You mean Regulus's book," Granger said slyly as she crossed her arms and fixed him with that expression of hers he was becoming so familiar with. Like she was sizing him up, perhaps deciding whether or not to just stun him and take the book back for herself. "Why have you got Sirius's little brother's diary?" she asked, focused unrelentingly on Draco's guilty face. "Where did you get it?" She frowned. "That's what you've been reading nonstop for the past three days?"
"Yes," Draco admitted, his annoyance with Granger ratcheting up another notch. "And I found it, I didn't steal it or anything." He gritted his teeth, hating that he sounded like he was justifying his actions when he really had done nothing wrong. Taking a deep breath, he spoke as reasonably as he was able. "Look, Granger, you mustn't tell Black I have it. I promised the elf I would keep it safe. Black will destroy it, like everything else in this house."
"Um," Granger said, apparently stumped by this, her scowl softening. "Okay, firstly, did you just say you don't want to break a promise to Kreacher?" She looked bewildered. "You made a promise to a house-elf?"
"And? A promise is a promise Granger," Draco said grudgingly. Abruptly, an idea struck. Granger would know that Potter was on a path to destroy the Dark Lord now. Surely Potter would have told her what he was muttering about after his conversation with Dumbledore yesterday. Perhaps the tantalizing promise of whatever it was Regulus had learnt would be enough to get Granger to keep quiet. "There is some stuff in here that you might not want destroyed," he began, trying to sound tempting. "Regulus discovered something about the Dark Lord's weakness, surely you'd like to know what it was?"
"Voldemort has a weakness?" Granger repeated skeptically, her whole expression changing. Draco was surprised, he hadn't really expected her to believe him that easily. She must be quite worried for Potter. She still looked cautiously hopeful as she asked, "something better than the indecipherable guff Dumbledore keeps telling Harry, about souls and love? It all sounds like nonsense to me."
Souls… the word struck a ringing chord in Draco's memory. It was like he was under the influence of some sort of unconscious self-inflicted legimency as bits and pieces of related information swam to the surface of his mind, without any conscious effort: his conversation with Dumbledore about the diadem Potter had been searching for, and that word. Horcrux. Then, one startling piece of crystal clear memory – Potter standing in the Great Hall during the final battle, Voldemort leering as Potter spoke of Voldemort's impending destruction... "there are no more horcruxes, it's over."
Horcruxes. More than one.
Draco only knew about the process of soul splitting because the library at Malfoy Manor had contained books Lucius proudly said were illegal. Of course, to a sixteen-year-old, illegal books were highly tempting. The library had become something of a sanctuary when the Dark Lord had been occupying their house; Draco had read every single one of the books his father had collected on the subject of dark magic. Part of him had hoped that he would find something in there to banish the Dark Lord from his home. But this, his knowledge of the pursuit of immortality via horcruxes, might be even more useful in his current position.
"Um," Draco began, his voice a little croaky with the weight of his realisations. "It might be about souls." He spoke carefully, hesitatingly, in case he was wrong. "But certainly not love."
"Show me," Granger said at once, coming closer.
"You can't tell Black," Draco stipulated, retreating slightly, the diary held tightly in his right hand, hidden behind his back.
"I won't," Granger promised. She was quite close now, and the moment was rather too intense for Draco as her large pleading eyes met his. "Please."
Unnerved by the openness in Granger's face, Draco stumbled back a step. "You should read it all," he said brusquely, to cover his reaction. "You might see more in it than I do, if Dumbledore is already telling Potter things about souls." The thought was enough to distract him from feeling awkward, and immediately he began to wonder how much Dumbledore already knew. Was this how Potter had started to look for the horcruxes last time? How did he find them? How could he even know how many he was looking for?
"Okay," Granger agreed easily, her eyes now glued to the diary in her hands. She seemed oblivious to Draco's floundering. "I'll bring it back in the morning."
"No," Draco stopped her, "you'll have to read it here. I can't risk it being seen."
That unexpected condition got Granger's full attention. "I have to stay here?" she sputtered, "in your room?"
"So?" Draco shot back defensively, not liking the implications in her question. "The Weasleys will be here tomorrow, won't you be sharing a room with the girl?"
"Her name is Ginny," Granger said, but she was clearly considering the problem. Draco had a strong urge to look away from her as she gazed in his general direction. He was worried more eye contact would bring back that uneasy feeling he'd had the night before, when she'd spoken to him outside the bathroom – the feeling that was like dread and hopefulness all rolled into one.
Eventually, Granger sighed. "Fine, in here it is." She sat herself on the end of Draco's bed and opened the diary again without another word.
Draco was lost in thought as Granger sat reading quietly. The flick of a page or a snort of amusement at some of Regulus's more humorous observations were the only sounds that came from the end of the bed. Draco ignored the noises, struggling with the monumental idea that Voldemort could be defeated; that the knowledge of horcruxes could actually end the war before the Dark Lord gained control of the Ministry.
If only he knew where they were – or what they were. That must be where Potter had disappeared to while Draco was in seventh year; he'd been searching for them.
Had the Dark Lord known Potter was after them? Draco cast his mind back, wading though his recollections from that horribly dark year, dwelling on all the times he'd been in the Dark Lord's company. Were there any clues? Any moments the Dark Lord had seemed distressed?
There was one that stuck out beyond all the others. It had been right after Granger and the others had escaped from Gringotts. The rumors flying around Hogwarts had been wild; the Carrows had banned any mention of the bank, dragons, and Potter's continuing survival. The Death Eaters had been ordered to assemble within hours of the commotion in Diagon Alley, and Draco had gone, most reluctantly with the Carrows, to his sycophant-infested home.
The Dark Lord's fury had been terrible. A little goblin had been summoned from Gringotts, the creature trembling at the Dark Lord's feet as he'd screeched, "what else did they take?!"
The goblin's voice was thin with pain when he'd replied. "A small golden cup, my lord."
The Dark Lord had seemed to snap, erupting in uncontrollable anger before Draco's eyes. The next minutes were a flurry of heart-squeezing panic as his father seized Draco by the collar and dragged him from the room. Away from the Dark Lord's mania; away from the green lights that were shooting through the air with no discretion about who they hit.
Was that one, then? That small golden cup?
Had part of the Dark Lord's soul been hidden at Gringotts?