Harry skidded into the kitchen of number twelve, and was instantly repulsed by the stench of rotting meat.
“UGH!” groaned Ron behind him. “What is that smell?”a
Ginny covered her mouth with a Gryffindor handkerchief she produced from her pocket and Hermione cast a spell that lit up the dim kitchen with a purple light. There was a sharp crack and the smell instantly vanished.
“Thanks, Hermione,” said Ron, who looked a little green around the gills.
“It’ll come back unless we find what’s causing it,” she replied, and looked like she wanted to poke through the pantry.
“We need to get the locket,” Harry said, trying to keep everyone on task. “We’ll check Regulus’ room first.”
“Got it,” Hermione declared, and with a swish of her wand, a plate of an unidentifiable substance was Scourgified and banished to the sink. She smiled at Harry’s impatient gaze and said, “Now we can look for the locket.”
Holding his wand in front of him, Harry carefully opened the kitchen door and stepped up to the landing. Mrs. Black was still in her portrait, but the mangy old curtains shrouding the life-sized tapestry were closed, and swayed with the rhythm of her breathing. He held up a finger to his lips as a reminder that they needed to be quiet and led them upstairs.
The room they had cleaned almost two years ago was on the second landing, across from the room that Ginny and Hermione had slept in. It was dusty and the long drapes covering the front windows were buzzing again, but it was still much cleaner than when they’d seen it before. They fanned out and immediately started looking for the locket. Every drawer and door was opened. Snake-adorned jewellery, flasks of vile-looking potions, and boxes of papers were quickly searched and set aside.
It had only been about a half-hour by Harry’s reckoning when they heard an odd commotion from downstairs.
“What’s that?” Ron asked, as he closed the last drawer on a chest that kept magically shifting its contents from one drawer to another.
“Dunno,” Ginny replied and cocked an ear towards the open door.
Harry crept quickly into the doorway and was able to hear voices.
“… so glad someone fit to take ownership of our glorious estate has finally arrived. It’s been filled with blood-traitors and Mudbloods for far too long.” It was the voice of Mrs. Black, but Harry had never heard her do anything but scream, so it took a second to recognize it. But who was she talking to?
“Never mind with Aunt Ophiuchus, we’re here for more important matters.”
Harry had only heard the voice a few times in his life, but the pretentious tone of Lucius Malfoy was unmistakable.
“What are they doing here?” whispered Ron, who was also listening from the doorway.
“I’d like to know how they got here,” answered Harry in a low voice. “I thought the Fidelius Charm would keep everyone out.”
“And I thought Lucius Malfoy was still in Azkaban,” Ginny added as she stepped to Harry’s side.
There was the sound of many feet on the wooden stairs and Harry pushed everyone back into the room. “Quick! Put it all back!”
They struggled to put papers into drawers, clothes in wardrobes, and everything else into the closest nook or cranny, all the while listening to the Malfoys ascending the stairs.
“This place is a dump, Mother,” complained Draco as the footsteps momentarily halted. “I don’t see why we’re even bothering with it.”
“It’s much better than having the Ministry come calling unexpectedly at the manor,” she explained. “We’ll have the house-elves cleaning it by the day’s end.”
The footsteps resumed with a loud creak on a step Harry had trod many times. They were about halfway up. Draco murmured something, but Harry couldn’t make out what he’d said.
Finally, the last of the drawers were back in place and they scampered out of the room and onto the landing.
“Now what?” Hermione asked, her eyes riveted to the stairway.
“Up the stairs,” hissed Harry, and they shot as quietly as possible to the third landing. As soon as he got to the top, he turned and checked where they’d just come from. Draco’s white head appeared in his view and Harry shrunk back into the shadows.
“To the attic,” he whispered. “We’ll wait for them to do whatever they’re doing and then we can keep looking for the locket.”
“Maybe it’s in Sirius’ room?” Hermione offered.
Harry motioned for her to get moving and she led them to the last door on the top landing, where Sirius had kept Buckbeak. Ron looked a little unnerved, but determined, as he took the rear position, his wand at his side. Ginny followed Hermione into the room.
Listening to the now muffled conversation downstairs, they closed the door and waited.
How had the Malfoys simply walked into the house like that? The Fidelius Charm had kept his parents safe from Voldemort and only failed when Peter betrayed them directly. So why had Hermione’s spell only lasted for a few days this time? Harry was sure Hermione wouldn’t have told Draco or any of the Malfoys. She didn’t even have the opportunity, if she’d wanted to, as she’d been at Privet Drive and then the Burrow the entire time since.
“Harry?” Hermione asked suddenly, her whisper sounding harsh in the quiet dark of Mrs. Black’s old room. “You don’t suppose the Malfoys are looking for the same thing we are?”
Harry felt the blood drain from his face. “How would they know about it?” he asked desperately.
“You-Know-Who knows about it,” Ron answered. “The little git was high on being in his service all last year. Maybe he really was.”
“Voldemort wouldn’t trust this with anyone,” Harry reasoned, giving Ginny a nervous glance as he thought about the last time someone other than Voldemort was entrusted with a Horcrux. The loss of the diary must have exacted a heavy toll on Malfoy Sr. “If he was going to find one of his Horcruxes, he’d come looking himself. It’s a bit of his soul in that locket, not just a family heirloom.”
Three heads bobbed in the darkness and Harry was glad they agreed. But it still left unanswered the question of why they were here and how they got in.
Then Harry slapped his head as his first experience retrieving the locket with Dumbledore popped into his mind. “Accio locket!”
There was a pause as four pairs of eyes stared at each other. Harry’s wand was outstretched as he waited for something to happen.
“I’ll check up here, Mother,” came Draco’s voice. He was close – on the landing for sure – and the four teens started looking for cover. The distant mumble of Mrs. Malfoy’s reply was heard as they scrambled to find a place to hide.
Ron dove behind the bed, while Hermione crouched by the large chest of drawers. Harry was about to join Ron when he heard Ginny hiss from behind them.
“Get in here,” she whispered, her arms waving frantically from a half-open wardrobe door.
Harry moved to the door and motioned for Ron to follow. Hermione and Ron had barely squeezed inside when they heard the doorknob turn. Harry wrenched himself inside the cramped space and closed the door just as Draco entered the room.
“That was close,” Hermione said as she tried to untangle her feet from something on the floor. It was so dark in the wardrobe, that they couldn’t see each other’s faces.
“Move back a little, will you?” Ron said to Ginny.
“I am, you great lump,” she shot back in a barely stifled whisper.
“SHH,” Harry said to all of them.
Harry unconsciously took a step back from the wardrobe door, intending to make contact with Hermione. When he didn’t feel anything, he took another step back. Then another and another. He was about to turn around and ask what was going on when he heard the wardrobe door rattling.
“Colloportus,” Harry intoned instinctively. When the door squelched shut with a noise much louder than he remembered, he cringed, knowing that any wizard, even Malfoy, would know that someone had locked the door with a spell. Armed with that knowledge, he’d be able to open it with a simple Alohomora. Harry made a mental note to learn more advanced locking spells.
He took another step back and tripped over something rough and hard, landing in a pile of something that could only be described as... sandy. A faint light came from Harry’s right, illuminating the dark wardrobe. He didn’t have time to look around, however, as the door to the wardrobe was forcefully opened and a series of red spells flew over their heads. Had they not all be sprawled out on the floor, they would have all been stunned.
Aiming his wand where the Stunners had come from, he shouted, “Expelliarmus!” at the same time that Ron shouted, “Stupefy!” To their combined shock, nothing happened. Their wands hadn’t even let out a spark. “Expelliarmus!” Harry shouted again, but his wand simply pointed impotently into the dark.
More red spells came flying from the door opening, along with a few purple and yellow ones. It seemed like their shouts had only confirmed their presence and made Malfoy more determined to hex them.
“Move!” Harry grunted, as he pointed towards the light and began to crawl away. More spells slammed into the wall behind them, sending bits of rock onto the sand around them. Harry barely had the time to wonder why the wardrobe was lined with rock. As soon as they were out of the path of the spells, they stood and ran.
Bright yellow light blazed at them from a mid-afternoon sun and Harry blinked in confusion. “What’s going on?” he said as he kept one squinting eye on where they’d run from. It looked like some sort of cave, framed by two large palm trees – like the ones he’d seen on the telly a few times when the Dursleys’ didn’t know he was watching. Only, this was all too real.
“I think that wardrobe must have been a bit more than a wardrobe,” observed Ginny, who was also watching the cave closely.
Hermione opened her mouth to say something when Draco sauntered out of the cave. Harry’s hand tightened around his wand, but he knew it’d be useless to yell a hex that wouldn’t cast. Ron seemed to be thinking the same thing as they watched their nemesis of six years smile cockily at them, his own wand pointed at the sand.
“I thought I smelled a Mudblood,” Malfoy finally said, snarling at Hermione.
“Watch your mouth, Malfoy,” said a very angry Ron. “I can still shove this wand up your arse.”
Ginny giggled but Harry could tell by there was something behind it other than humour. “Don’t be silly, Ron. You’d never get it clean again.” Ron smirked a little and took a step towards Malfoy. “Besides,” Ginny continued, “it’s not like any one of us couldn’t handle him without a wand. He’s nothing but a spoilt little brat.”
Everyone chuckled, even Malfoy in his own twisted, mocking way. He didn’t look a bit amused. “I bet you’d like that, wouldn’t you Weaselette? Be a step up from ‘handling’ Potter.”
Harry narrowed his eyes and shoved his wand in his back pocket. The leer on Malfoy’s face was just too much to take. He took two striding steps and connected his fist with the Slytherin’s face before the blonde teen could even react. Malfoy went sprawling into the sand and crawled away from Harry on his back. Harry’s wrist hurt abominably, but it was worth it to see the trickle of blood trail down Malfoy’s face.
Malfoy wiped his nose with his sleeve and gingerly felt his jaw. “Always have to act like a boor and do things the Muggle way, don’t you, Potter?”
Ron approached from Malfoy’s other side, looking like he wanted to mimic Harry and clean Malfoy’s clock.
“Well,” said Harry slowly, “seeing as how our wands don’t work here and how you didn’t have a problem with acting like a boor on the Express last year...” Harry had been waiting to get Malfoy back for that unpleasant experience for quite some time and was satisfied to see him scowl in reply.
“Honestly,” said Hermione, who looked aghast at Harry. “Don’t you think we’d better get back to Grimmauld Place?”
Thinking she was right, but not wanting to risk being seen by Malfoy Sr. or his wife, Harry decided they had to take Draco out of the picture. “First, we need to tie him to a tree. There’s no sense in letting him get us in the back once we’re inside.”
They deliberated for a small moment and Ron went to find something to tie him up with.
Some strands of stringy bark were twisted together to form a makeshift rope and Malfoy was tied much too tightly to the large palm tree outside the cave. They left his arms at his sides at Ginny’s suggestion, as they could tie the ropes tighter when his back was against the tree. Harry was doubly glad that the hemp was very rough.
“That’s nice,” Malfoy said with a glare as they made sure the ropes were secure. “Just going to leave me here to die? That’s not very noble of you.”
Harry considered this for a moment. “You’re right. It isn’t very noble of me, but it’s the best I’ve got right now, so you’ll just have to find a way to live with it.”
Ginny was the only one reluctant to leave him immobilized in a strange place, and they had to convince her there was no other way. In the end, she agreed and they all trudged into the cave.
It took a couple of minutes for their eyes to adjust to the near-complete darkness in the cave but as soon as they could see, they began to retrace their steps. They each put their hands on the cave wall, Harry and Ginny on the left, Ron and Hermione on the right, and walked from the entrance, all the way back until they met in the darkest part of the cave.
“There’s no opening,” Hermione said with a bit of panic in her voice. “We’ve missed it. Let’s go back, this time going over the wall you didn’t feel the last time.”
So they felt along the wall again, Ron and Hermione on one side, Harry and Ginny on the other. When they reached the cave entrance, Hermione was very quiet, staring hard at the sandy ground.
“Maybe the doorway seals itself?” Harry offered.
“Maybe the git did something to it,” said Ron, who hadn’t said it as a question.
“I’m going to keep looking,” said Hermione, who had already begun feeling her way back into the cave, her face set resolutely and her shoulders back.
“Go with Hermione, Ron,” said Harry. “Ginny and I will go ask Malfoy if there’s something he wants to tell us.”
Ron nodded and followed Hermione into the darkness.
“Know anything about how we got here?” Harry asked with feigned cordiality as they approached Malfoy.
He looked very unhappy. “If I did, I wouldn’t tell you.”
Harry restrained the urge to kick him in the face. “Maybe we’ll come back for you if you tell us.”
“Maybe I won’t cry when the Dark Lord kills you.”
Ginny took Harry’s hand, apparently sensing his violent tendencies. “Forget it, he doesn’t know anything.”
Harry wasn’t so sure, but he was certain that Draco wasn’t going to tell them one way or the other.
Hermione and Ron emerged from the cave one last time, looking defeated. “Wherever the doorway went, it’s not coming back anytime soon,” reported Ron as he looked disdainfully at Draco. “He tell you anything useful?”
“Nah,” Harry said with a grimace. “He’s being a sore loser.”
Draco made a rude gesture with his hands that made Harry regret tying him up so that they were visible.
“Come on,” Hermione said. “There’s bound to be something else on this island. Maybe there’s another way back.”
With one final look at a still sulky Malfoy, they trudged around the clump of trees that marked the entrance to the cave and towards a brilliant blue ocean.
“What if the wardrobe seals itself?” Ron asked as they walked across a stretch of sand that connected the cave to the ocean, eliciting a quizzical glance from Ginny. “I mean, what if it’s only open for a certain amount of time, or it’s on some kind of schedule?”
“I suppose,” Hermione said, furrowing her brow and staring blankly at the horizon. “If that’s true, we’ll have to go back and keep an eye on it.”
From Harry’s side, Ginny folded her arms and squinted over her shoulder. “I’m not keen on going near Draco any time soon. Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy are bound to find him missing and go looking for him. If the cave opens again...”
“Then it’ll be four against three,” interjected Harry. “Without magic, we’ll still have the advantage.”
Hermione looked sceptical and Ginny frowned at Harry’s comment. “What if they bring back a load of Death Eaters? Or worse? I don’t think it’s safe to go back to that cave unless we absolutely have to.”
Harry gave a begrudging nod of his head. The image of Fenrir Greyback came into his mind. There was no way the four of them could handle such a vicious and blood-thirsty opponent without magic.
“Well, there’s one thing I know,” Ron said and motioned towards the sun. “We’re going to need to find a spot of shade, no matter who does or doesn’t come through the cave.”
“Yeah,” said Harry as he turned their path around a large boulder and moved parallel to the beach. They’d need more than shelter if they couldn’t get back to Grimmauld Place soon, food and water being at the top of that list. Glancing back at the black dot that represented the cave, Harry wondered just how bad off they were. What was worse, they didn’t have magic to conjure water, food, shelter, or for protection. He shook his head and smiled ruefully at the sand as they walked. His first day being fully-qualified and he couldn’t even do magic.
A/N:For those of you with excellent questions about how my stories fit in with canon, why certain characters do what they do and for the purpose of aiding the discussion of my stories, I have setup a Yahoo Group. (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mrintelfanfiction). It's new, so drop on by and be the first to join!
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