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April, 1977


The artistry is most exquisite.

The subtleties of shade and colour contrasting with the bold brush strokes of the lettering is striking, yet not at all jarring to the eye.

He steps closer to the tapestry, marvelling at the level of detail present in the knotted roots of the tree.

It is amazing that even after so many hundreds of years, the charmed pigments have held onto so much of their original vibrancy.

Equally impressive is how subsequent artists have so closely matched the original lettering, beautifully mimicking the work of those long dead.

Only after a lifetime of familiarity with the tapestry is he able to discern the minute differences in the lettering of the newer names, such as the extra flourishes present in the final strokes of "m" and "n" or the tiny curlicue in the "o" that varies ever so slightly.

He doubts that the casual observer would note these inconsistencies, not that anyone other than his own family and a select chosen few have had occasion to ever see it.

The notion strikes him then as it always does: How sad it is that so many talented artists have toiled away for so long on a piece doomed to be viewed by so few.

It's like a masterpiece undiscovered, or one snatched up and hidden away by a selfish collector.

And though the tapestry is immensely old, the preserving charm slows the fading of the oils, the inevitable disintegration of the finely woven fibres.

In spite of this, he notes a handful of new stains here and there, as well as a loose thread at the rightmost bottom corner. As his inspection continues, he is surprised to find a hole in the fabric.

Reaching out with a forefinger, he touches the imperfection ever so gently. Bits of thread fall away from the perimeter of the ragged hole, and he watches them flitter downward, as leaves in an autumn breeze.

Not so surprising after all, he muses, stepping away to lean against the arm of an increasingly mouldy chaise.

A scrabbling from the far corner of the parlour breaks his concentration.

He turns his head just in time to see a rippling of the dusty, velvet curtains shrouding the large front window of the room. A feeble squeal confirms the responsible party. A moment later, another squeak, this one far shriller, sounds in response.

He smiles and stares at the tapestry once more.

Doxies in the parlour.

Another sign of the continuous slide, the inexorable descent into disrepair and decrepitude.

Every day, one more stain on the wallpaper, another tiny nick to the woodwork, just a speck more dirt clinging to the mop boards.

Expensive finery dulling with the passage of time, cloaked in ever increasing layers of tarnish and dust.

Meticulous plasterwork, riddled with cracks and stains, adorned with cobwebs.

The systematic decay of Grimmauld Place isn't a revelation.

He's been aware of it for as long as he can recall.

A little more grime here, a bit dingier there. It's not at all accidental that the wall sconces and oil lamps burn lower and dimmer year after year, so that now, their paltry light barely penetrates the deepest reaches of the silent halls and rooms.

He looks up, unable to discern exactly where the walls meet the high ceiling. It's as if the heavy, flocked wallpaper fades away into blackness, leaving nothing but a dark, looming abyss overhead.

No reason to call attention to the blight, to the putrefaction. Best to shroud it in shadow.

It all makes sense, really.

It all fits.

The tapestry of the family tree is but the last item to finally succumb to the pall that hangs over The Noble and Most Ancient House of Black.

All the bluster, every machination, every manipulation has been for naught. Every arranged marriage, every selected spouse, each excision of those heretics and traitors who failed to tow the line has brought them to this pointless future, a dead end.

Manic obsession over one's pureblood status has been their undoing.

The tapestry should have served as a warning rather than a mere expression of bloated family pride: far too many Blacks wedding Blacks, too many joinings with other tainted pureblood families.

Toujours Pur.

Tragic that his ancestors adhered to the family motto in such a literal fashion.

Admittedly, the notion that a person is superior simply by virtue of one's bloodline is rather irresistable. That philosophy has been drilled into him from the very beginning, and he'd embraced it wholeheartedly as a universal truth.

The idea of innate superiority is most seductive. Not only that, but it felt good, lending him a sense of worth that seemed to be sorely lacking in others who weren't "pure".

His arrival at Hogwarts had been responsible for opening his eyes to the reality of the world, a virtual lifting of the blinders his parents had saddled him with.

He's observed firsthand how so many of the pureblood students flaunt their perceived supremacy over the so-called mudbloods. They bully and connive, constantly scheming and relying on their vaunted bloodlines to rescue them from any difficulty. Not all of the purebloods wallow in their heritage; there are exceptions to every rule, of course, the nauseating Weasleys being a prime example.

For the most part, though, he finds the majority of purebloods to be no more intelligent or in possession of desirable physical prowess than anyone else. Rather, many are shockingly deficient academically, some bordering on full-on mental impairment. Emotional problems are rampant amongst the pure, as is a reliance on regular doses of mood altering potions.

He's seen parents swoop into Hogwarts to save their defective offspring more times than he can count. While the school most likely benefits from the Galleons passing over the Headmaster's desk, it does little to address the underlying problem. Worse, it perpetuates it.

Not exactly the most desirable of circumstances, to be sure.

His epiphany reached completion during a third year Care of Magical Creatures class, of all things.

A lesson on dragons happened to spend a great deal of time focusing on the various breeds and the problems inherent in maintaining the integrity and quality of the various species. Controlled propagation is clearly a tricky business, as expert dragon breeders regularly cull portions or entire clutches of hatchlings in order to eliminate undesirable qualities, which range from minor issues of size and coloration to congenital defects or deformities. Behavioural aberrations that manifest weeks to months after hatching are also swiftly and similarly dealt with.

Most unfortunate that his ancestors hadn't adopted a similar methodology to deal with the deleterious effects involved with in-breeding in wizards...

Initially, he's considered his singular insight to be some sort of blessing, a gift that he's been given in order to turn the tide, to perhaps arrest his family's tumble into madness.

Now he realises his naiveté, how simplistic he's been in believing that he was somehow special, somehow able to change centuries of delusional behaviour.

Clearly, his is a curse rather than a gift, a profoundly perverse joke played upon him by an uncaring universe.

As far as he can tell, it may well be too late.

Time and fate have made their decisions, and he is powerless in the face of such relentless, primal forces.

His parents and their generation are too far gone, too damaged to ever be reached by logic or reason.

Or compassion.

Their hearts have hardened and their minds so thoroughly twisted and warped that they are capable of nothing but malevolence and darkness, contempt and hatred.

Even those of his own generation seem lost, content to dance as the fires of destruction lick at their toes.

Worse, he fears that he's been irrevocably affected by the rancour, by the vitriol that seems to permeate every inch of the crumbling house.

Shaking his head, he runs two fingers over the blackened circles marring the tapestry's fabric.

Names blasted away in rage, as if the doing of it might eradicate the associated person as well.

Aunt Andromeda, Uncle Alphard and a handful of others who dared go against the grain.

He lingers over the most recent blastpoint, pressing his fingertips to the blackened circle and willing it away.

It's utter futility, he knows, but he does it anyway, an oddly satisfying ritual.

Closing his eyes, he struggles to push aside the darkness within, to force it to a distant part of himself and lock it away. But it defies his efforts, the darkness seemingly growing stronger by the day.

He knows it will overwhelm him soon, the sheer press of centuries of foulness and perversion sending him spiralling into the black void of insanity.

It's as if he's one of those deficient dragon hatchlings, outwardly fit but stricken with a heretofore invisible defect lying in wait, ready to erupt and consume him.

Perhaps if he removes himself from his toxic surroundings, he can save himself. It's the only course of action that seems sensible. It may not work, but he must try.

It all depends on a single person, the only individual in the entire world that he trusts. The only one that knows him, the one person capable of providing the faintest glimmer of hope.

Opening his eyes, he stares at his own name painted on the tapestry, certain that it won't be long before it, too, is removed, consigned to oblivion.


~~~~~ * ~~~~~


Regulus flops into the hideous chaise, raising clouds of dust in the process. The entire house is falling into disrepair, and he's the only one that sees it.

Yet another issue that isn't discussed.

Whatever it is that Kreacher does all day, it certainly isn't related to cleaning. His family's house elf has grown increasingly moody and erratic over the last few years, so much so that Regulus finds that he's uncomfortable in the creature's presence. Consequently, he's hanging about in the parlour whilst Kreacher "cleans" his room. The odd mumblings and violent outbursts are simply too unsettling to deal with.

He leans back, hands behind his head.

It is only the second day of the Easter hols, and he's already bored and anxious beyond belief. He wouldn't even be at Grimmauld if one of his fellow Slytherins hadn't infested the Dungeons with a particularly virulent species of Niffler, rendering them uninhabitable until the annoying things could be eradicated. Normally he'd remain at school during breaks, preferring the solitude of the virtually deserted rooms and hallways of the castle to the oppressive dreariness of Grimmauld.

He'd begged Slughorn to allow him to remain, promising to keep to himself in his dormitory, but it was for naught.

Nine more days until he could return to Hogwarts. Nine days trapped in the dusty, dark and mouldy mausoleum that passed as his home.

He'd love nothing more than to take up his battered Cleansweep and practise the latest manoeuvres, but Quidditch is somehow taboo. Most parents would display pride at the fact that their son had been made a Seeker on the Slytherin House team, but the Blacks? Oh, no. It was something to be tolerated, not celebrated. An unwanted by-product to be ignored.

His parents had never seen him fly in a match...

Regulus hates everything about the house, so heavily fortified and warded that the entire outside world is blocked out. Nary a sound nor ray of sunlight ever penetrates the curtained windows.

A clink of glass on glass wafts from the adjoining study, followed by a muffled curse. A moment later, the obvious sound of a glass shattering and more curses.

Not even half ten on a Saturday and his father is well into his cups.

Most unsurprising, really.

His hopes to spend the hols studying for his upcoming O.W.L.S. have been dashed completely, as he's finding it virtually impossible to concentrate on his texts. While the Dungeons are, well, actual dungeons, they're open and relatively bright, filled with an underlying air of life and excitement, nothing at all like Grimmauld.

When Slughorn had refused his request to remain at Hogwarts, Regulus briefly considered asking one of his fifth-year dormitory mates if he could spend the hols with them. He'd quickly dispensed with that option, as the prospect of spending ten days with Evan Rosier, Amycus Carrow or Rudolphus Lestrange had been far too dismal to contemplate. Wilkes and Carrow were marginally better prospects, but they'd left before Regulus had been able to ask them.

Wilkes would have certainly been amenable to the idea, but weathering the hols with the only person at Hogwarts whom he could call “friend” was rife with its own problems. Regulus likes Wilkes, as much as anyone, as far as that goes. It is readily apparent that Wilkes likes him, perhaps a bit too much for Regulus's tastes. Their shared times alone in the showers and Astronomy Tower have been pleasurable and somewhat adventurous, but nothing more. Trysts really, and that's precisely how Regulus categorizes their amorous encounters. By the moony expressions he's noted in his housemate's eyes of late, it's far too evident that Wilkes is imprinting far more importance on things than he is.

The very last thing he needs right now is to have word of his homosexual tendencies find their way back to Grimmauld.

He shifts in the chaise as doxies rustle about in the velvet curtains behind him, their squeaks rising in frequency and intensity.

"Breeding, no doubt," he mutters to the empty room.

No matter. With any luck, he may only have to return to this depressing place two or three more times before graduation.

If only Slughorn hadn't sent out that mass owling about the Dungeons, he might've had the stones to actually slip into West Diagon and spend the hols there.

He considers that possibility once more, the appeal of it incredibly intoxicating.

How enjoyable that would've been, yes?

Free to come and go as he pleases, able to enjoy the sights and sounds of the city, or not. To immerse himself in his texts or take long walks at his leisure, with no one hovering overhead, smothering him.

That sort of holiday would be fantastic. Heavenly, even.

But the intricacies of pulling off such a plan assert themselves, restraining his wings with lead weights.

Still thirteen months shy of his seventeenth birthday, he cannot Apparate without being tracked and apprehended by the Ministry, thus forced to resort to a public floo. And since none of Grimmauld's fireplaces have been connected to the network for decades...

Add to that the fact that Grimmauld Place is solidly in Muggle London and hell and gone from Diagon Alley, the chances for a successful escape diminish to nearly zero.


“Regulus Arcturus Black!”

He jumps in the chaise, jolted from his reverie as if struck full on with a bludger. “Mother,” he yelps awkwardly, hoisting himself up.

“What is the meaning of this?” Walburga Black holds out a small, yellow and black object, her knuckles white as she clenches it tightly. “How dare you bring this abomination into our home!” Her voice rises and cracks on the last word as she raises her head up, her eyes wide and wild.

Regulus stands and shoves both hands into the back pockets of his trousers. Hanging his head to avoid having to look at the creature that was once his mother, he notes Kreacher peering from behind her voluminous dress. He knows without looking what it is in her hands. “You had no right to sift through my things.”

“Nonsense. We have every right to protect you from the dangers that lurk at every turn. Thank Merlin we can depend on Kreacher to help us help you.”

Regulus notes Kreacher's immensely satisfied expression. “It's not evil.”

“What is it?” she repeats, waving her fist at him.

“It's called a Walkman, Mother. It plays music, just like the Wireless. It's a harmless device—”

“It's Muggle!” she shrieks, advancing on him and waving the electronical thing over her head. “Haven't we taught you how evil such things are? How perverse? Where did you get such a monstrous thing?”

“Mother, it's a trifle. Nothing—”

“You will tell me, this instant!”

Regulus draws himself up, taking a deep breath. He forces himself to look his mother in the eye, swallowing hard as he does so. It is most difficult to maintain his gaze, as so much has changed. Her hair is unkempt, run through with ever increasing streaks of grey. Loose strands stick out from her bun in all directions. Her eyes are yellow and sickly, ringed with red. Drops of spittle and possibly gravy stain the bodice of her dress, and the handkerchief tucked into the crooked belt at her waist is filthy.

If madness has a likeness, he's sure he's staring at it.

“Declan Wilkes lent it to me.” He instantly regrets his words.

His mother nods, grinning with satisfaction. “I should have known. A Wilkes! Mud in the blood, that's for certain!”

“I'm sorry, Mother, but I don't see the harm. It just plays music.”

Walburga laughs, a scratchy cackle that sends a shiver down Regulus's spine. “Didn't seen the harm, did ya? That's how the unpure work, isn't it? Eh? They weasel their way in, pretending to be one of us, and then you're lost!”

“I don't see how—”

“That's enough! I'm tired of your insolence!”

Regulus's stomach churns. He steps toward her, holding out his left hand. “I apologise, Mother. You're correct, of course. I shouldn't have been so weak. I should have seen through Declan's ruse to subvert me. It won't happen again. Give me the thing, and I'll return it to him once I'm back at Hogwarts.”

Please, please, give it to me...

Walburga chuckles again. “I'm not so sure that you truly see the error of your ways.” She nods, her sneer a crooked slash of red lip colour. “Of course, return this travesty to that blood traitor.” She makes to hand it to him before flinging it toward the wall with all her might. The Muggle device shatters into dozens of brightly coloured pieces that scatter to the faded oriental rug.

Regulus chokes back a reply, anything he might say a futile gesture.

“There. Clean that up and remove it from my sight,” his mother says, clearly pleased with herself, smoothing her wrinkled dress with shaking hands. “Most fortunate that Kreacher found that disgusting piece of trash and brought its presence to my attention.” She bends and strokes the sparse, wispy hairs on the top of the wizened house elf's head. “What would we ever do without you, dear Kreacher?”

“I serve the Mistress,” Kreacher replies, leaning into Walburga's dress. He wraps his spindly arms around her leg, grinning widely.

Regulus tears his gaze away from the pair, throwing himself to the floor to collect the remains of the Walkman. He has some galleons hidden away, so he'll easily be able to make good with Declan and replace the device.

Floorboards creak as his mother walks to where he's crouched on the floor.

“Oh yes, most fortuitous, indeed, that we've discovered this latest transgression. At least we can remove the blight that threatens to destroy all we've worked for.”

He looks up to find his mother towering over him, hands clasped at her waist, her expression one of smug satisfaction. Regulus stands, clutching shards of the broken Walkman in both hands. “What do you mean?” he asks, his heart climbing into his throat.

She tosses her head blithely. “Clearly the standards of Slytherin House have fallen precipitously. Your Father and I should have protested the traitor Wilkes's sorting, as well as his overall admission to Hogwarts.” She lays a hand on his shoulder. “Mummy and Da will take care of this, my son. You are all we have left, our best and brightest hope for the future. So you understand that me must ensure that the plague of this disgusting mudblood and his entire family pay the price for attempting to sway you from the course most right and true.”

Regulus shrugs out of his mother's grasp. “Declan isn't the problem. He's a friend who's done nothing but be kind to me.” He advances on her, pieces of the ruined Walkman dropping to the carpet.

Walburga snorts, acutely aware of her son's increasing anger. “Now, now, my dear Regulus, this is for your own good. We cannot possibly allow you to succumb to the evils that many others before you! What sort of parents would we be if we allowed that to happen?” Her eyes bulge in their sockets as Regulus walks her into the wall next to the doorway.

“Leave Declan alone!” Regulus roars, shoving his mother into a corner. “Don't you dare mention this to Slughorn. If you do, you'll regret the day you slid from your mother's womb! You will not harm him in any way, do you understand?!” He thumps the wall with his fist for emphasis, vaguely content that the first signs of fear creep into her eyes.

A low sniggering distracts him momentarily and Regulus turns his head in time to see Kreacher scoot from the parlour.

Walburga takes advantage of Regulus's bewilderment to flail at her son with both hands. While slightly shorter than he, she uses her larger bulk to send Regulus sprawling to the floor.

“Orion! By the Gods, Orion! Help me!”

Regulus scrambles to his feet, his brain racing.

How had he let this happen again? Hasn't he learned a single fucking thing? Once again, he's allowed his emotions to take control, to overshadow reason.

He never should have come back to this hellhole.

Sirius has been right all along.

Walburga shrieks and falls to the floor, holding her soiled handkerchief to her forehead. “Orion!”

Nearby sounds of broken glass followed by thumping bootfalls reach Regulus's ears.

He sprints for the door to the hallway, only to have it blocked by a swaying form towering over him. “Father,” he manages to utter before seeing sparks. Searing pain shoots through his head as the parlour turns upside down.

“It's like the other one all over again,” Walburga cries out, pointing at him.

Regulus sits up, his ears ringing from the effects of his father's punch.

Kreacher stands in front of Walburga, his protective stance obscenely absurd. “Ungrateful whelp,” the elf growls.

“We done somethin' wrong, we did, Wally.” Orion advances upon him, swaying unsteadily, shoulder-length hair a tangled mess, his vest askew and waistcoat rumpled nine ways from Tuesday.

“He attacked me,” Walburga warbles, hoisting herself to her feet. “For no reason. For no reason!”

“Aye, that's what I thought. Hoped I wouldn' have to resort to this again,” Orion mumbles, whipping his wand from his trouser pocket.

Regulus crawls away from the spectre bearing down on him, taking refuge behind the chaise. “I didn't attack anyone. I simply lost my temper. I assure you, it won't happen again.”

“Oh, I know it won't ever hap'n again,” Orion replies. With a deft flick of his wand, the chaise flies across the parlour, destroying itself against the far wall.

Regulus closes his eyes, steeling himself for the inevitable.

The last thing he hears is his father's bellowing “Crucio!


~~~~~ * ~~~~~


Velvety softness.

Comfortable numbness.

A slight rush of sound, like gentle surf breaking on the shore.

He rises up and new sensations intrude upon his cocoon of safety.


Muffled voices.

Something sharp pressing into his back.


His head throbs ever so wonderfully as the darkness lifts, his stomach twisting itself into knots.

The voice becomes recognisable.

“...get up this instant. Regulus, do not try my patience any longer!”

He opens his eyes to his mother's countenance suspended over him, her expression one of disgust.

“Why must you be so difficult?” she huffs, absently patting at the stray hairs that have escaped from her tight bun. “You know I have a meeting with the Sisters of Purity today, and it is just like you to create a spectacle at the most inconvenient moment. I do not need this, Regulus, really I don't!” She tilts her head to one side, wagging a pudgy finger at him. “And now your Father will be out of sorts for the rest of the day. I do hope you're pleased with yourself!”

Regulus sits up, the queasiness in his gut slowly fading away. It isn't the first time he's felt the effects of his father's wrath, and he knows that the headache will linger for several more hours. He reaches behind him and finds the piece of the ruined chaise that he'd fallen on—the splintered end of one of the arms—and flings it across the room toward the rest of the chaise debris.

“And do clean yourself up. You're quite the sorry sight,” his mother quips, turning on her heel and leaving the parlour, her dress swishing in accompaniment with her squeaky boots.

“Is Master Regulus all right?”

“Fine,” he groans, rising to his feet. “Thanks so much for showing her the Walkman.”

Kreacher smiles. “I serve the Mistress first. Did not intend for her to see, oh, no.” The elf's expression turns disturbingly apologetic. “Merely curious about device. Interested in dirty Muggle thing. Mistress discovered me examining it.”

“And I'm supposed to believe that?”

“Master free to believe what he wishes, of course.” Kreacher turns to face the jumbled remains of the chaise. With a flick of a finger, the mass of ruined wood, fabric and springs begins to jiggle, slowly lifting from the mouldy carpet. Another minute twirl of the elf's finger, and the debris commences to spin in mid-air, quickly putting itself back together amidst a series of cracks, clangs and pops. “Much better.”

Regulus watches as the reconstituted chaise floats back to its previous position. “You could have at least cleaned it while you were at it,” he says, indicating the stains on the seat cushion.

Kreacher shrugs, one ear laying flat on his head. “Oh no, young Master. Cleaned chaise would not fit. Would not match rest of house. Kreacher would have to clean everything if he cleans one thing. So much work that way. House would not be house, yes?”

While the elf's skewed logic baffles his addled brain, it does make sense, in a warped way. He drops into the chaise, raising a cloud of dust. “You had to put that back, too?”

“Is as it was.” Kreacher cackles and flicks his finger once more. The scattered parts of the Walkman fly toward each other and likewise reassemble themselves. The repaired device sails across the room to hover before Regulus. “There you are, Master. Filthy Muggle thing good as new.”

“Thanks, I guess.” Regulus snatches the Walkman and turns it over in his hands. “So you really believe that Muggles are a substandard species? When is the last time you've ever been outside, in Muggle London?”

Both ears fall as Kreacher frowns. “Never been to disgusting Muggle areas. Only leave house when Mistress asks. Only been to Diagon Alley!”

“Then how do you know anything about them? Or mudbloods? Without seeing them for yourself, how can you be sure that they're so bad, so completely evil?”

Kreacher cackles again. “Do not need to see. I know because Mistress tells me. I know because Kreacher's mother tells him same thing.”

Regulus studies the Walkman. “But I am your Master as well, correct?”

“Yes, is true, indeed.”

“So if I tell you that Muggles are simply people without magic, that they're like wizards and witches in every other way, what then?”

“But that is not true, oh no,” Kreacher replies, confusion working its way into his features.

“I'm saying it is true. I'm telling you that everything you've learned about Muggles and their ways is incorrect. And since you've never seen them or how they live firsthand, you must believe me.”

Kreacher's mouth opens and then closes. He strokes his chin with thumb and forefinger, a gesture so unintentionally comical that Regulus can barely restrain his sniggers.

He loves toying with the house elf, challenging the creature's beliefs and strongly held opinions. The most amazing thing to Regulus is how completely closed and circular Kreacher's logic is. No matter how many facts Regulus throws his way, no matter how deftly he destroys each and every one of Kreacher's theories, the elf never alters his original premise. Ultimately a pointless game, but one that Regulus enjoys playing. After the morning he's had, he certainly deserves some amusement.

“Ahh!” Kreacher exclaims, snapping his gnarled fingers. “Muggles are evil. So Kreacher has never seen them or how they live. Do not need or want to see evil things, oh no. Since Kreacher never see, then Muggles must be evil. So very simple, Master.”

Regulus slouches into the chaise, laying the Walkman in his lap. “Yes, right. Some things are very simple, indeed.” He rubs his temple, his head still throbbing.

“Good thing Master Orion enjoys his morning firewhiskey, oh yes. Firewhiskey and wands do not go together at all.”

It's a valid point. If his father hadn't been so pissed, he'd most likely be waking up at St. Mungo's rather than the parlour. The chances are better, however, that he'd see a flying skrewt before seeing his father completely sober.

“I think that's all, Kreacher. I'd like to be alone now, if you don't mind.” He waves dismissively, closing his eyes.

“Very good, Master. But Kreacher has something of interest.”

Regulus opens his eyes to find Kreacher standing next to the chaise.

“Find this whilst cleaning Master Orion's study.” Kreacher extends a hand, palm up. With a soft pop, a tiny wooden case, much the same size as a pack of Muggle cigarettes, appears in the elf's palm. “You will know what to do with it. For you know who,” he finishes cryptically.

Regulus takes it and turns the case over and over. The finish is deep and rich, and it is rather heavy for its size. “What—”

“Mistress out all day for meeting and Master Orion soon be asleep in study. Good time for trip to West Diagon, yes?”

Regulus looks up to find the house elf in the doorway, a mischievous grin showing a wide array of yellowed teeth. The creature's motivations boggle his mind, but then again, that isn't anything new. His expression clearly betrays his distrust and confusion as Kreacher snorts and tosses his head.

“Anyone ask, I will tell them you are sequestered in room, studying for O.W.L.S. exams. No one expect to see Master Regulus until breakfast tomorrow.”

“Why should I trust you after what happened this morning? How do I know you won't tell Mother everything the moment I'm beyond the wards?”

Kreacher shrugs. “You do not know. Part of adventure, yes? No pleasure in knowing everything that will happen, is there Master?” The elf turns on a heel and disappears down the dim hallway.

“Unbelievable,” Regulus mutters, sliding the tiny, brass catch and opening the lid of the box. “Bloody effin' Hell!”

He snaps the lid closed as Kreacher's wild laughter echoes from the depths of Grimmauld Place.