Draco would be the first to admit he was panicking.
Harry had been missing for hours already, and they were steadily losing time. James and Eric's police resources had proved incredibly helpful, and they had gotten lucky in finding the blue Comet 260 quickly. And along with the vehicle; the body of Clarissa Reed. However, there had been no signs of Harry or Pettigrew, and their trail was running cold.
They had no clue where to search next.
Draco had faith his love was still alive. He had to be. There was simply no other option, and besides, Draco would have felt it had Harry ceased to exist from this world. He was certain Harry was still alive.
He stared at the dead body of his former employee dispassionately, noting the girl had been stupid enough to get her brains blown out. He tried telling himself that she had gotten what was coming for her. That karma had dealt its punishment in the name of justice. But a part of him, a big part, had hoped he would have found her alive. That part of him, so inherently dark and twisted, like his father's, had wanted to dole out his own justice. A more fitting punishment.
A simple shot to the back of her head would never be enough to appease the crimes of Marissa Reed.
"Shit," Draco growled low in his throat and kicked at the abandoned vehicle. "Where did they go? Where did he take him?"
James gave a frustrated sigh, running a hand through his hair in his frustration. They were taking too long. They would lose Harry at this rate. "Come on, guys, think. There must be something we are missing." He looked at the men around him, silently imploring them to somehow give him the answers he desperately needed to save his little boy.
"Let's go over what we know," Remus suggested, ever the voice of reason, though Draco could clearly see the taut worry lines around his eyes and the clenching of his jaw. The man was no less distressed than the others.
"Pettigrew is behind this," Sirius immediately spoke up. "And the girl has obviously served her purpose, so he disposed of her." He looked at the body of the woman, grimacing slightly at the large missing chunk of the back of her head. "As well as the car. So he must have had a second get away car at the ready."
Severus nodded his reluctant agreement to Sirius theory. "He could have had Reed kill Harry at the Manor, but chose to extract him from the premises instead. Obviously, Harry is worth more to him alive than dead. At least for now."
"But why?" Draco questioned, mulling over Severus' words. What had Pettigrew to gain from keeping Harry alive beyond his abduction?
"What if..." Sirius started, and to Draco's surprise he looked positively hesitant. In all the months he had known the other man, Draco had come to know Sirius Black as a very much all or nothing kind of guy. There was no in between. To seem him pause here, now, it was oddly unsettling.
"What?" James prodded his best friend, looking at him expectantly.
"What if when Harry was kidnapped that first time, what if it wasn't just a random agreement made in the black market? What if Pettigrew knew Riddle, was his aid? Sort of like his go-between from Riddle to his victims." Sirius looked at James pointedly, and James nodded along, seriously considering what it would mean if Sirius was right. Sirius had always been a bit paranoid, and quick to jump to conclusions. Not really all that odd, considering his family background.
"I remember there was some talk of that after you mentioned the possibility of that being the case the first time around. But no evidence of Riddle having an associate or accessory were ever found. You think they were in on it together from the start? That Pettigrew gathered the victims for Riddle?" James mused aloud, seeing where Sirius was going with this.
Sirius smiled grimly. "It would explain a lot now that I think back on Pettigrew's behaviour back then. And just think about it; if they were collaborating, we could assume that Pettigrew is still acting in Riddle's service, right? So where would Peter bring Harry?"
Draco sucked in a deep breath, cluing in to what the older man was implying. "Riddle's last resting place. His grave!" he breathed, excited at the prospect of locating Harry. "What are we waiting for then? Where is it? Where was Riddle buried?"
Eric shook his head. "Calm down, Malfoy. We don't even know for sure that this theory is right. Pettigrew could have taken Harry anywhere." He was loathe to do it; Eric wanted to find his baby brother as much as the others, but someone needed to play the Devil's advocate.
Draco growled. "Anywhere is just a tad difficult to locate," he said sarcastically. "But a known location is worth checking out!"
"I agree," James announced, sending his son a reproving look. "Anyone know where Riddle was buried? The location was never revealed to me. I heard his mother appealed to a judge and had the records sealed."
They looked at each other, growing steadily uneasy as they realised what the stifling silence meant. Draco paled. "No one knows where he's buried?"
"Son of a bitch!" Sirius exclaimed, his frustration obvious. "We need to find out which judge sealed those records and get the ruling overturned.
Eric frowned, noticing Severus' scepticism at Sirius' suggestion as well. "That's easier said than done, Sirius. Those records have been sealed for twenty years, and we would need a warrant to get access. And even then..." Eric trailed off, fidgeting slightly.
"And then...what?" Remus inquired.
Eric looked apologetically at his father and the man he knew would very soon become his brother in law, just as soon as they found Harry. "I got this weird report a couple of weeks ago. Someone had broken into the police archives and stolen some files. The circumstances were incredibly odd, and the investigation showed that only one file was taken."
"You think Pettigrew got to the records. Destroyed them before anyone would think to look for them." Draco closed his eyes, pained. That had been the only lead they had. Was Harry lost to him now? Would he ever see his beloved again?
James clamped a hand down on Draco'd broad shoulder. "We'll check the archives anyway. Screw the warrant."
Eric shook his head helplessly. "You need a customised key getting into that part of the archives. Only the Commissioner has got a key."
"If you don't think Commissioner Moody won't hand over that key, then you are sorely mistaken." James scowled at his son. "Sometimes loyalty means more then rules and regulations. You'd do well to remember that, son."
Eric flushed angrily at this. "Are you calling me a traitor?" he breathed out, staring furiously at his father. He made to take a step towards him when a warm hand clamped down on the scruff of his neck. "Let's just everybody calm down, hm. Deep breaths. We'll get nowhere fighting amongst each other," Remus said firmly, frowning at them all disappointedly. "James, why don't you call Moody. Take Sirius with you and head to the station. Keep us updated."
James nodded sharply. Too angry to speak as he spared his son a quick look before turning on his heels, grabbing hold of Sirius left arm as he stalked towards his car.
"We're waisting time!" Draco growled, looking at the men accusingly, before zeroing in on Eric. "Why don't you exhaust your own resources and do something productive instead of shooting down everyone else's idea!"
Draco narrowed his eyes at the older man, watching as Eric opened his mouth to respond, but never found out what he was going to say as Draco's mobile went off right at that moment.
He spared the device a quick glance, recognised the number, and answered the phone.
"Tell me you've got good news for me!"
Dean grimaced as he tore through the streets, his legs pumping powerfully to keep up his breakneck speed. Deep breaths, he reminded himself. Keeping his breath deep and even would let him run that much longer, and judging by the small figure in front of him, he would need to. Colin Creevey wasn't much to look at, but damn it all if the fucker couldn't run.
"Dean! Keep up, man. For fuck's sake!"
Dean scowled at Seamus, growling softly to himself as his friend advanced past him, Neville not far behind.
"Fuck you!" he spat out. Seamus knew Dean had spent weeks away from the job, focusing on his upcoming gallery show instead. A few days sans the excruciating training he usually put his body through was enough for his excellent stamina to deteriorate. Shit, but this was the last time he'd ever take so many days off to complete his paintings.
"Dean, he's headed into the alley...take a sharp left!" Neville called to him suddenly, and Dean veered left, twisting his body impossibly to avoid running straight into the wall appearing in front of him. He grinned as he realised Neville's plan. They were boxing Creevey in, coming at him from three different angles, and with a dead end straight ahead, Creevey had nowhere to run.
At least that had been their plan until the little fucker literally scaled the raised wall separating one alley from the next.
Dean grimaced again. Seamus was the only one coming from behind Creevey, and would be the only one of the three of them with proper speed and angle to make it over the wall as well. Neville and Dean on the other hand... They were coming in from Creevey's left and right respectively, and with the speed they were going...
...Crashed straight into each other, conveniently acting as a makeshift leverage for Seamus to jump across the wall and continue pursuit of their perpetrator.
"Son of a...!"
"Get off of me!"
"Watch where you're stepping!"
"Ow, damn it, what the hell, Neville?"
Extracting wayward limbs and finally getting to their feet, Dean and Neville took off again, exiting the alley and heading back into the streets.
It took longer than either of them would have guessed, but inevitably, Creevey's stamina ran out, and Seamus, the one of the three closest to him, caught up to him. When his partners eventually showed up, Seamus grinned that shit eating grin of his. The one hated by James Potter. And Dean, for once, could commiserate with his friend's father.
"Took you long enough," Seamus mocked. "Getting slow in your old age?"
"Shut up, Seamus," Neville snapped at him, walking up to the perp to make sure he was properly detained. "You're older than both of us."
Seamus pouted. "Only by a couple of days," he grumbled, letting Neville manhandle Creevey from his hold. The small man looked terrified, and with good reason if the look on Dean's face was anything to go by. The black man was nursing his right ankle, probably having damaged it in his crash with Neville, and he was uncharacteristically out of breath. He looked beyond pissed off.
"Are we doing this or not?" Dean cut in impatiently, looking pointedly at the growing crowd around them. "We're getting too much attention here. It's bad business."
Moving with grace and ease stemming from gruelling practices and years of experience, the Death Eaters disappeared into the crowd with their prey, already headed towards a secure location from which they would extract any and all information Colin Creevey had on Harry Potter and Peter Pettigrew.
Once they had their perpetrator away from prying eyes and chained stuck to a simple wooden chair, it didn't take long before the creep folded underneath the force of Dean's fury and violence. Usually Seamus was the one who tended to get physical during interrogations, but Dean was in a mood, and both Neville and Seamus decided to let their friend ride it out. And if Creevey got a little more roughed up than what they usually did to the criminals they caught, then, well, the man had violated Harry's privacy. Obviously, he deserved it.
"Tell me," kick, "What you," punch,"Know!" punch.
"Please! No more. I'll tell you everything! Just don't hurt me anymore."
Neville scoffed at the pathetic sight Creevey made. At least the stalker made for easy interrogation. "Dean, that's enough," he barked out when Dean looked ready to continue beating the bound man. Getting down on his hunches, Neville deliberately made himself smaller than Creevey, looking up at him calmly. It worked as Creevey visibly relaxed his tense body at the sight of a harmless looking Neville.
"Tell me, Colin. When did you first notice Pettigrew?"
The man blinked, wincing as it tugged at the swollen muscles surrounding his right eye. "Pettigrew? I don't know any Pettigrew."
"Do not lie to us!" Dean roared as Creevey's face snapped to the side from the force of Dean's backhanded slap.
"Dean!" Neville growled, while Seamus quickly closed a hand around his enraged friend's bicep, tugging him away from Creevey's form.
"Collin," Neville spoke to the sobbing figure. "Do you see what happens when you lie to us?" he asked gently. "You get hurt."
"I'm not lying!" He sniffled. "I don't know any Pettigrew."
Neville sighed. "The man in the picture that you sent to Draco Malfoy. His name is Peter Pettigrew, and the woman is Marissa Reed. Now tell me, what do you know about him."
Creevey stiffened at the mention of Draco, and the Death Eaters could clearly see the anger evoked at the name of Harry's lover. Stubbornly, Creevey looked off to the side, his mouth a thin line as he refused to answers.
"You little bastard!" Dean shouted, struggling in Seamus' hold while Neville tsk-ed. "Now, now, Collin. You don't want anything to happen to Harry do you? If you refuse to play nice and cooperate, my colleagues and I are going to have to get creative. And trust me, Collin, when I say you don't want that."
Their captive fidgeted slightly in his seat. He was starting to cave, but still refused to speak.
Neville went for the kill.
Climbing to his full height, Neville bent down at the waist and placed his mouth next to Creevey's ear. "Just imagine, Collin. You could be Harry's hero. Imagine what he'll do when he finds out we saved him because of you. He'll be so grateful to you. So thankful. Imagine what that would be like, Collin, Harry admiring you like that. Worshipping you, even."
Collin groaned at the whispered words, and much to Neville's disgust, grew aroused at the images his words had brought forth. "He'll love me?" Collin asked eagerly, turning to look at them again. "He'll really worship me?"
"Of course," Seamus said easily, nails digging into Dean's skin to keep him from saying something in his disgust and anger that would ruin their progress and make Creevey clam up. "It's just like he said." Seamus nodded his head in Neville's direction. "Harry is a loyal and loving person. And you'll be his hero. How can he not worship you?"
Despite both eyes being nearly swollen shut, the excited gleam appearing in his eyes was clearly visible to the others. "That man in the photo, that is Pettigrew, right? He started showing up months ago. Always where Harry was. And always looking at him. Harry is not his to look at!" Collin said indignantly, and Neville had to restrain himself from pointing out that Harry was definitely not Creevey's to look at either.
"He was weird, though. Gave off this dark vibe." Collin shook his head, frowning as he thought about a specific memory. "I didn't like him, so I followed him a few times. Just to make sure he wasn't up to anything..."
Neville held his breath, sharing a discreet look with Dean and Seamus. This was it. He could feel it. Creevey would give them something worthwhile and they would find Harry.
Collin shrugged. "He ended up at the same place every time. Godrick's Hollow Cemetery. Visiting some guy who died twenty years ago."
Seamus gulped suddenly, paling as a thought occurred to him. No one knew the dangers of Harry's past better than Seamus. He'd lost count of all the times James Potter had taken him aside, describing Harry's kidnapping as a baby in order to try and temper Seamus' adventures with his youngest son. Seamus felt nauseas to remember how he had reacted back then, scoffing at the older man's concern. And then to learn that his concern had been perfectly valid. That Harry had been in real danger all along...
"Did you ever get to see the name of the tombstone? Think, Creevey! This is important."
Creevey was silent for a moment as he thought it over. Finally he said, "Yeah, I think so. It was Riddle. T. M. Riddle."
"Neville, call Draco. He needs to know where Tom Riddle is buried. It could be important."
Inside one of the many servant quarters of Draco Malfoy's Manor, a man was pacing the length of his room, nervously chewing on the skin around the nail of his right thumb.
"What have I done? What have I done?"
The man kept repeating the words to himself, looking worriedly at the door every time he heard a noise from the outside hall.
This was bad. He should never have helped that criminal. But his former master had instilled in him a great sense of honour, and Kreacher, the nervous man pacing the floor, was honour bound to act when Pettigrew had called in a debt owed to his own master from Kreacher's lord, Regulus Black.
Kreacher knew not the circumstances himself, but Regulus had told him very seriously before his death that if the debt he owed one Tom Riddle was ever called upon, Kreacher was to act as proxy in Regulus' absence. And Kreacher was a good servant. Loved his Master Regulus now as he had when he was still with him. Of course Kreacher would fulfil his lord's wishes. Kreacher hoped that with the disappearance of his unpaid debt, Regulus could rest easy in his afterlife. The gods alone knew what turbulence had plagued his life. He deserved some peace, if only in death.
Kreacher had practically been born into a life of servitude. Both his parents had served the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black all of their lives, as their parents had before them. There had never been a question of what Kreacher would do with his own life. He was expected to serve his family's family until there were no more Black's to serve, or he himself passed. After Regulus' death, the last of the Black's, Kreacher had seriously considered finding Sirius Black and serve him in Regulus' stead. But his master's older brother was disowned and had been stripped from the family fortune. Despite his name, Sirius Black was no longer actually a Black.
Kreacher had done the next best thing. He had applied for a position with Draco Malfoy.
Regulus had often before his death mentioned the young tycoon, praising him for his success and independence. Kreacher knew that deep down, even if he would never in his life admit to it, Regulus deeply admired the youngest Malfoy for breaking away from his oppressive father. He thought Regulus might hate Master Draco just a little bit, for the same reason. It was the exact opposite to how he felt for his older brother. Regulus only admired Sirius a tiny bit for escaping their family's rules and expectations, and he hated him plenty for abandoning him and leaving Regulus as their main focus. Hated Sirius for not rescuing him from their parents' harsh words and actions, though Sirius had never known Regulus wanted to be saved and Regulus too proud to ever tell him he needed saving.
It had fallen to Kreacher to protect his precious Regulus. But Kreacher had failed. Most of the time because Regulus himself refused whatever protection Kreacher could give him. In a desperate bid to please his parents, Regulus had become progressively more aggressive and dark, even going as far as to get mixed up with that dreaded Tom Riddle. Kreacher had done everything he could to assist his master whenever the stubborn young man allowed him, but still Kreacher's help was not enough and Regulus had gotten deeper involved with Tom Riddle and organised crime.
Then suddenly, one day, Regulus had come home in a hurry, flustered and panicked. He refused to tell Kreacher what was bothering him, but quickly packed a bag with only the essentials and headed for the door. He had stopped then, hesitating slightly before turning back to look at a distressed Kreacher.
"Kreacher. I...I want to thank you. For putting up with me, I mean. I really...I...I appreciate it."
Regulus had sighed regretfully as he looked at his faithful servant. "I won't be back Kreacher. I wish you could come with me...but...you'll be safer here." Kreacher could have sworn he had seen tears in his usually apathetic master, but they were gone as sudden as they had come, and he could do nothing more than let his own tears fall as he watched his master walk out of the house and out of his life.
When only two days later Kreacher heard the news of Regulus Black's death on the telly, he was saddened, but not surprised. And Kreacher, much like Peter Pettigrew, would remain as loyal to his master in death as he had been in life.
So then, when Peter Pettigrew had sought him out and called upon the debt owed to his master, Kreacher had reluctantly parted with the information Pettigrew had demanded of him: The location of all the Manor's cameras; the servants' time schedule; and his new master Draco's habits.
Kreacher hadn't known what the information would be used for. Had even refused to think about it. But this was not the case any longer. Now he knew. And no matter what he did, he couldn't take what he had done back. Wasn't sure he truly wanted to if it meant Master Regulus' debt was still owed.
But still, how horrid Kreacher had been! Oh, how wicked his deeds. The master's lover, Harry Potter had been taken from his bed and whisked away from the Manor. And all because of Kreacher. Bad, bad, bad Kreacher.
His thumb was bleeding into his mouth now, his teeth breaking skin in his worry. Kreacher hardly noticed. He had been ever so wicked, and when Master Draco found out...
They would kill him, surely. Draco was a Malfoy after all. He was well familiar with his kind of family's treatment of their servants. Kreacher would be shown no mercy. Of that he was certain. He hadn't in the Black Manor, and he wouldn't be shown any here. Only Master Regulus had ever cared for his well being. The little boy that Kreacher had spent all of his life caring for until his untimely death.
What should he do?
The debt had been payed and Kreacher owed Pettigrew no allegiance. He didn't have to protect him, and Kreacher's guilt was too great to keep his own involvement silent. He should reveal his wicked deeds to the proper authorities. They could keep him safe from Master Draco.
The littlest Potter's father and brother were police as well. Surely they would be equally furious if not as vindictive.
There was only one thing to be done.
Kreacher had to hand himself over to his master. It was the proper thing to do. Kreacher would just have to deal with the repercussions of his actions. He would not flee from them.
He could only hope that his master's lover was still alive. He didn't dare think what would happen to him if Harry Potter was dead.
Harry coughed painfully.
It was getting harder to breath by the minute, and every breath was pained.
He was so tired now. How long had he been here? Where was here again?
Oh. That's right. The casket.
He was trapped in a casket with no way out.
"No," he moaned weakly. There had to be a way out. Harry refused to die alone, trapped in a bloody casket. Besides, he needed to get to his son. His baby needed him! And Draco! And the rest of his family and friends. Harry Potter was not done. He had so much more he needed to do before he left this world, and by God, he would do it. He would!
"I will!" he croaked, swallowing painfully. "I need to get out. There has to be a way."
He had lost count of how many times he had pounded on the casket, hands and feet desperately searching for something, anything, to give away from the sealed wood. To reveal an escape route.
There had been nothing this far. But Harry couldn't give up. Not now, not ever. He searched one more time, fingers tentatively prodding at the wood to his left. He thought he'd felt it wobble somewhat before. With enough force he could probably knock it down. Slowly, ever so slowly, mindful of his weary body, Harry turned in the casket. Twisting his body so he was completely facing the left side of his wooden prison. Taking a few deep breaths, Harry carefully pressed both hands against the wood, and with his right leg, kicked against the casket with all his might.
It remained in place.
But Harry was not to be deterred. He had been positive that he'd felt the casket give away before, if only slightly. He steadfastly repeated the process. Again. And again. And again, and once more and there, finally! With one last push from his hands and a hard kick, the wooden side gave away and fell, creating an opening big enough for Harry to get through.
He had absolutely no idea where it would take him. Didn't know if it would serve as an escape route at all. But he had to try. He couldn't just lay there and wait to be saved. By then it could be too late, and while Harry had no doubt that Draco would find him eventually, he couldn't risk it being too late. He needed to get back to his loved ones.
Rolling over completely, so he stretched out on his stomach, Harry very carefully inched sideways, the darkness ensuring his blindness. When his right hand encountered a foreign object, he stopped. Harry gently put his hand on the unknown object and felt it out with his hand. It was hard and smooth, and though he could feel it was small and think, he couldn't tell what it was just by touch alone. Deciding to leave it be for now, Harry continued inching sideways, gradually moving away from his casket and into this new space.
A loud crunching noise had him frozen in place.
Blinking furiously, Harry desperately willed his eyes to see through the darkness, but it remained impossible to make sense of the blackness surrounding him. Again, he tried to use his hand to investigate. He quickly realised that there was more than just that first object beside him. There was something much larger, and fearing the worst, Harry let his hands feel out his suspicions.
When his hand glided through what had to be human hair to slide down and rest on what could only be teeth, he screamed.
It was a skeleton.
The body of a dead person was lying next to him, and had been dead long enough to have become a skeleton.
"Oh, God!" Harry breathed out fearfully, voice hoarse from abused vocal cords. "No, no, no, no, no." Unsettled by the revelation of the skeleton next to him, Harry grew frantic, and in his desperation to just get away, carelessly moved across the skeleton as far right as he could go. It wasn't very far. As soon as his stomach landed on top of the dead body, the bones digging painfully into his skin, Harry realised the skeleton was already placed as far right into the tiny space as it would go.
There was no escape this way, just an enlargement of his wooden cage.
Despondent and exhausted, Harry rolled away from the skeleton and onto his back, staring up at what he knew to be the ceiling of the caskets even if he couldn't see it through the darkness.
"Please! Whoever you are, just get me out of here! Why are you doing this?" he cried out helplessly, knowing that no one could hear him. He was trapped alone with a skeleton.
He blinked back tears as he realised the severity of his situation. He could feel his body growing progressively weaker. It had already suffered after the trauma of his pregnancy, and add to that his illness...
Even if they found him in that very moment, the presence of the skeleton next to him lead Harry to believe that he had been buried deep down into the earth. They wouldn't have time to dig him up before breathing became an even bigger problem than it already was.
"Please," he whimpered into the blackness. "I just want to go home."
There was no response to his desperate pleas.
And so he laid there in the darkness. Alone. Struggling to breathe.
The realisation that he was going to die had an oddly calming effect on him. He had lived a good life, and although he was by no means ready to depart from this world, he regretted nothing. He had been happy. He had been loved. Life, for Harry Potter, had been beautiful.
Harry closed his eyes.