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SIYE Time:21:57 on 21st October 2018


The Seventh Horcrux
By melindaleo

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Category: Post-HBP, Buried Gems
Characters:All
Genres: Action/Adventure, Angst, Drama, Fluff
Warnings: Death, Violence
Story is Complete
Rating: PG-13
Reviews: 860
Summary: The hunt for the Horcruxes begins. Harry has to decide who to trust as he moves closer to fulfilling his destiny. Will he be able to find and destroy all the Horcruxes? And at what price? Will he be able to find the strength within himself "the Power the Dark Lord Knows Not" in order to succeed in vanquishing Voldemort? And, can he do it and still get the girl? Join Harry and his faithful friends on their quest to finally defeat a Dark Lord.
Hitcount: Story Total: 202939; Chapter Total: 7628
Awards: View Trophy Room






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Disclaimer: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I’m just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.



Chapter Fourteen


Azkaban




September melted into October without Harry even being aware of the passage of time. He felt as if he’d flipped through the pages of every book in the library and still come up with nothing on Horcruxes. He’d begun to understand Hermione’s dismay that the library had let her down. How could there be nothing written about something that obviously existed?


He’d continued his Occlumency lessons with the Malfoys, but hadn’t made any progress since that first lesson. While Harry’s head ached during practice and even for a short time afterwards, he hadn’t experienced any of the visions or flashes of Voldemort’s moods as he had during his fifth year. The sessions always left him feeling tired and drained, however.


A dismal, tense mood had settled over headquarters during the past week. The number of Dark creature attacks against Muggles had increased dramatically. In fact, Mr. Weasley said he couldn’t remember a time when there had been more vampire sightings within Britain. Several high-ranking Ministry officials had gone missing within a short span of time, leaving those left behind overworked and anxious. Some of the wealthier families had gone abroad, as far away from Britain as they could get.


Members of the Order were spread thin trying to clean up one mess after another, leaving headquarters virtually empty most of the time. While this allowed Harry to do his research unhindered, it also meant that no one had had the time to look for Crabbe and Goyle’s fathers.


The attacks on Muggles and Muggleborns had Hermione understandably worried for her own family. Mr. Weasley had promised that her family was being watched, but she still worried. She’d got a bee in her bonnet about returning to Albania, that they’d somehow missed something there.


Again, something in Harry’s gut told him what they were looking for wasn’t in Albania. Ginny had suggested that perhaps Voldemort hadn’t spent all his time there, after all. Greece bordered a large part of Albania and maybe that was what inspired his use of the Parthenon. Harry allowed that it was possible, but regardless, he didn’t think either place held any answers for him.


Of course, Hermione wouldn’t let it go and refused to accept his reasoning without a more sound explanation for his unwillingness to go back. The problem was Harry didn’t have a sound reason; he just knew it. A dark, underlying part of him wondered if it had something to do with the bit of Voldemort’s soul that he now knew resided within him.


He and Hermione had argued about it over breakfast, and now Harry was sitting in front of a fire in the drawing room with a large book on the Dark Arts in his lap. He wasn’t really seeing the words, however. His eyes had glazed as his mind dwelled upon the fact that he was a Horcrux.


Locating and destroying the cup had been a huge victory, but it also brought him one step closer to doing what he feared he’d have to do. He couldn’t talk about it with any of the others because it seemed to distress them even more than it distressed him. So, Harry was left alone to contemplate his feelings, and the toll was wearing him down.


This was how Ginny found him when she entered the drawing room and sat down next to him. He took a moment to even acknowledge her presence, and when he did, it was with a start.


"What are you thinking about that’s making you frown that way?" she asked, smoothing the tense lines around his mouth with her fingers.


"I was just thinking about what we had to do next," he replied.


"You’re worried," she said.


The corner of Harry’s mouth quirked upwards – he could never fool her. "A bit," he said. "Hermione wants to go back to Albania."


Ginny nodded without response. Harry had the impression she’d already heard the other side of the argument and wondered if she’d sought him out to continue Hermione’s pleas.


When Ginny remained silent, he prodded her. "What d’you think?"


"Well," she replied slowly, "I can see why Hermione feels the way she does, but I also think your instincts have been spot on so far. If you don’t think it’s what we should do, I’m willing to trust your judgment."


Her words didn’t reassure him the way they should have. "Why?" he demanded. "Why do you trust me? How can you be so certain I’m making the right decisions?"


"Harry, I think it’s only human to second guess our decisions. The only time we can ever be certain if we’re doing right is after the fact. You have to make these decisions without hindsight and, so far, it’s working. You were right about the last Horcrux – not only where it was, but how to destroy it. I don’t know how you know, but you do. I trust you, Harry."


Ginny’s eyes bored into him, and he turned away from the intense scrutiny, feeling exposed and utterly vulnerable. "You shouldn’t. I have a nasty habit of getting the people I care about killed," he choked.


"That’s a Malfoy talking," Ginny snapped. "Don’t listen to them, Harry. They’re trying to get under your skin. I hate this stupid Occlumency idea. Malfoy hates you because of his own inferiority complex. He’ll never be better than you, and inside he knows it, and it eats him alive."


Despite his melancholy, he couldn’t help but smile at her fierce loyalty. "I love it when you’re fiery," he said, grinning.


"Oh, you do, do you?" she asked, swaying her shoulders seductively. "I can show you fiery."


Leaning over, she kissed him soundly. He ran his fingers through the shorter strands of her hair as every nerve ending in his body suddenly stood on end. After several minutes of pleasant but tame kissing, she pulled back, frowning.


"What’s bothering you, Harry?" she asked.


Harry averted his eyes again, wanting desperately to talk with her, but also worried about her reaction. Before he could second-guess it, the words burst from his throat. "I’m scared, Ginny. What if the reason I’m feeling this connection to these Horcruxes is because they’re part of me, too?"


Ginny nodded solemnly, as if she understood his fear. "It most likely is. That would make sense."


It wasn’t what he wanted to hear. He wanted her to deny it and give him logical reasons why it couldn’t be so.


"But, Ginny! How can you say that and still trust me? I’ve got a bit of Voldemort in me," he said, nearly choking on the words.


"Yes," Ginny replied, nodding. "You have a bit inside you, but it’s not you. You’re in control, and you’re the one I trust."


"How can you be certain?" he whispered, fighting the hope that flared in his heart.


"Is that what’s bothering you?" she asked, tracing the line of his face with her fingertips. "Are you worried that Tom has more control over you than you know? Don’t let him do that, Harry. He’s making you doubt yourself, that’s how he works. Don’t let him succeed. You’re going to beat him. You’ll find these other two Horcruxes, and then you’ll manage to defeat him while keeping yourself whole. I know you will."


"Ginny-"


"Don’t doubt it, Harry."


"I have to! Are you listening to yourself? Ginny, I have to destroy a part of myself to win," Harry said, feeling utterly hopeless.


"No," she replied firmly. "You don’t have to destroy part of yourself. He’s separate from you, and after all this time, he’s never been able to gain control."


Harry looked up suddenly, her words jarring loose a memory.


"What?" she asked, perplexed.


"That instrument that I got from Professor Dumbledore," Harry said, his mind racing. "When I saw him checking it after your father was hurt, remember how I told you the smoke formed a snake? Well, Professor Dumbledore said something about being divided and the one snake split into two. Do you suppose it was me that he was checking on – checking to see if he’d managed to take control?"


"It’s certainly plausible," Ginny said slowly, "but didn’t you say Dumbledore wasn’t certain about the Horcruxes until he got the memory from Professor Slughorn?"


"Yeah…but he always had his secrets," Harry replied, his brow furrowed.


Ginny shrugged. "Even if he suspected, that story proves it. You’ve been winning all along."


Harry looked at her doubtfully.


Ginny sighed, exasperated. "Harry, do you think you can believe in something that you’ve never seen before?"


It was Harry’s turn to roll his eyes. "Ginny, I lived as Muggle for ten years before I was exposed to magic. I’d have to believe anything is possible after that, wouldn’t I? But Voldemort is still much stronger than me."


"But you do have something just as wondrous that he doesn’t – it’s your ability to love, and the people who love you," Ginny said, taking his shirt in her fists and shaking him slightly. "Don’t discount that. Dumbledore believed in you, I believe in you. You’re stronger than any bit of Tom ever could be.


"You’ve already beaten him if he’s been inside you all this time, and there is no trace. There was a trace with me, Harry. I have huge gaps in my memory that year, but I can remember walking outside, wondering why but doing it anyway. That was right before the roosters were killed. I went outside and then my memory just stops. You’re stronger than that. You’ve always been true to yourself, and he couldn’t bear to be inside you at the Department of Mysteries because you are so different from him. The piece of him that’s inside you hasn’t overtaken you, despite your tough childhood. Don’t underestimate the value of that strength."


"Ginny, you were strong; you were only eleven," Harry said adamantly.


Ginny waved her hand in the air. "I’m not saying I didn’t try to fight it eventually, but more than anyone else I know what you’re up against, and I can see from experience how different it is. Believe me, Harry."


"I’m trying," he whispered.


Ginny held him in silence for a few moments before saying, "When you tried to break up with me at the end of term, you said being with me was like something out of someone else’s life."


"It is," Harry said softly, not meeting her eyes.


Ginny grabbed his chin and forced him to look at her. "That was the saddest thing I’d ever heard. What we had…what we have…is wonderful and special and it makes my heart dance, but I know it’s the way things are supposed to be. It breaks my heart that you don’t think you deserve that. You’re going to win, Harry, and I’m going to spend the rest of our lives showing you how good things are supposed to be."


Harry looked up, startled. "You love me?" he asked, blinking.


Ginny’s face colored brightly, and her gaze looked everywhere but at him. "I’ve always loved you, Harry."


Harry’s spirit suddenly soared. "You have? Say it," he demanded.


Ginny giggled, embarrassed. When he continued to stare at her intently, he felt her tremble slightly before she whispered, "I love you, Harry."


He wrapped his arms around her and buried his face in her shoulder. "That feels good," he said, his voice muffled.


"What?" she asked, returning the embrace.


"Hearing those words."


Ginny sniffled against his chest.


He took a deep breath, inhaling that sweet flowery scent that always made him feel as if he was home. She’d shown her Gryffindor courage and done as he asked. It wouldn’t be fair of him not to offer her the same reassurance.


"I love you, too," he whispered into her shoulder, his body tense. He was surprised at how easily the words flowed once he’d decided to say them.


Ginny pulled back, blinking and biting her lip. Her eyes filled with moisture as they wandered over his face, as if trying to be certain she’d heard it.


"I love you, too," he repeated, more confidently now. It wasn’t hard to say at all.


Ginny’s grin spread across her face, making her eyes shine. She pulled him tighter to her and whispered, "Now, this house is pretty much empty. Even Mum went out with some of the Order to clean up an attack in Cornwall. I think there are other things we could be discussing besides Voldemort while they’re away, don’t you?


Harry grinned and pulled her onto his lap. Indeed, there were much pleasanter ways to spend the unsupervised afternoon.



**--**--



Several days later, Harry was scheduled to have another go at Occlumency with the Malfoys. Remus had gone on an assignment for the Order and was unable to attend. Alastor Moody had agreed to take his place. He arrived first and instantly pulled Harry aside.


"Afternoon, Potter. Before we start here today, I thought I’d pass on a friendly warning," Moody said gruffly.


"A warning?" Harry asked, perplexed.


"Be careful what information you allow to be seen in these sessions. Constant vigilance, Potter. Not only against the Malfoys – never a lot to be trusted as far as I’m concerned – but also against any information you don’t want leaked to other sources," Moody replied.


"Other sources? Are you telling me the Malfoys are passing along information to the Order?" Harry asked, his anger rising. Even though he’d suspected it, he couldn’t help the wave of disappointment that swept over him.


"Kingsley always does what he believes to be the right thing. He tends to forget that he might not be the only one seeing the big picture – or might not be the one with all the facts. Narcissa will always do what suits her best. You’d do well to remember that," Moody said, his magical eye swirling towards the door.


A moment later, Draco Malfoy strolled down the hallway. He smirked when he saw Moody and Harry watching his approach.


"Good, you’re both here. My mother asked me to inform you that she won’t be able to attend today’s lesson," he drawled, sounding bored.


"What do you mean she’s unable to attend?" Moody snapped. "What’s she doing? Watching her hair grow?"


The color in Malfoy’s cheeks heightened slightly, but otherwise he showed no response. "She said she won’t be expected to make it a priority if others simply brush it off without a satisfactory explanation. If you people can’t give it the respect it is due, she certainly won’t either."


"Stupid, stuck-up woman," Moody muttered under his breath.


"Lupin couldn’t be here because of a situation with the war," Harry said through gritted teeth. "She does remember there’s a war going on, doesn’t she?"


"How could she forget?" Malfoy asked, sneering. "It’s left us stuck here with you and your merry lot of bunglers."


"Stay here both of you," Moody barked. "I’ll go fetch her."


He left both boys on the landing as he stormed up the stairs towards the wing where Narcissa stayed.


"Oh, Mother will love that," Malfoy said, his lip twitching.


Despite his annoyance, Harry felt the corner of his mouth quirk as he envisioned the scene. When he and Malfoy realized how close they were to sharing a laugh, both quickly wiped the smiles from their faces and shoved their hands into their pockets, scowling.


"So, Potter, what’s so important about learning Occlumency, anyway? You’re obviously not very good at it," Malfoy asked.


Harry shrugged, averting his eyes. "Professor Dumbledore thought it was important. Do you think Moody will get your mother to come down?" Harry asked impatiently. If they weren’t going to have an Occlumency lesson, he had other things he’d rather do than stand around chatting with Malfoy.


"Not likely. Mother’s in a foul mood," Malfoy replied.


"What’s she upset about now?" Harry asked, rolling his eyes.


Malfoy appeared thunderstruck. "What reason could she possibly have to be upset? I don’t know, Potter. Maybe those filthy Muggles you call relatives conditioned you to find being locked up acceptable, but I assure you, my mother and I do not," he sneered.


Harry inhaled sharply; it was the first time Malfoy had made any reference to what he’d seen of the Dursleys.


"Why do they hate you so much? I thought you were everyone’s golden child," Malfoy asked, his gray eyes puzzled.


"We’re not talking about the Dursleys," Harry snapped, feeling slightly unstrung. "We’re talking about your mother’s diva antics."


"My mother has been confined with your precious Order for months without even being allowed the simplest contact with my father. Her patience is wearing thin," Malfoy shot back.


"I wonder why? It couldn’t possibly have anything to do with the fact your father is a Death Eater and most likely would sell you out to his precious Dark Lord, does it?" Harry asked, scoffing. He was pleased to see Malfoy’s color fade slightly.


"My father would never betray my mother," Malfoy said in a low, dangerous voice.


"No? How about you? Would he turn you over to Voldemort, Malfoy? His own son," Harry asked. Malfoy cringed, a myriad of expressions crossing his face.


"You think you’re so tough tossing that name around, don’t you? He’s going to make you pay for it, you know," Malfoy said, recovering his poise.


"Oh. We’re back on this again, are we?" Harry asked in a bored voice.


"Yes. We are. In fact, we’ve never got off it. The Dark Lord is going to kill you, and where does that leave us? The Order will be effectively wiped out once they’ve lost their only hope, and my mother and I will be left like sitting ducks," Malfoy spat.


"You don’t know the Order at all if you think they’ll just roll over and let him do as he pleases, even without me," Harry replied softly.


"But it won’t matter, will it? You’re their precious Chosen One, right? Without you, they’re all lost…and you certainly don’t present much of a threat," Malfoy said.


"Time will tell," said Harry, fighting not to show any emotion. Despite the fact he agreed with the git’s assessment, he wasn’t about to let Malfoy know it.


"Oh, there’s an understatement. Bravo," Malfoy said, applauding.


Harry had grown weary of Malfoy’s taunts, and it didn’t appear that Moody was having any luck with Narcissa, either. "What is it you want, Malfoy? What does your mother expect from us?" Harry asked.


Malfoy’s eyes narrowed as he stared intently at Harry. "I want to speak with my father."


"So write him a letter. I’m certain you could get Tonks to deliver it for you," Harry said, carelessly waving his hand.


"I can’t put anything into writing, you idiot. My father more than likely has orders to pass on anything he receives from us, and he can’t go against a direct order," Malfoy said.


"Can’t or won’t?" Harry asked belligerently.


"Can’t," Malfoy replied through clenched teeth. "I need to speak to him in person."


"Good luck," Harry replied, rolling his eyes.


"He doesn’t know he has an option – that my mother and I are alive. I’m certain he believes you’ve killed us," Malfoy said quietly.


Harry’s eyes widened. "We’re not the ones that go around killing people for sport," he said incredulously.


"Oh, get over yourself, Potter. We’re your enemies; he’d expect nothing less. Dumbledore knew that. He offered us an escape, and he included my father in that offer," Malfoy replied.


Harry’s mind raced. Malfoy’s request could prove the perfect cover that Harry needed to get into Azkaban. If Professor Dumbledore had made him the promise, the Order would feel obliged to keep it. It would suit Harry’s plans to check on Dung’s belongings if he could wrangle a way to go along.


"If I can convince the Order to allow you out to travel to Azkaban, I’m going with you."


"What? There’s no way you’re listening to a private conversation between my father and me," Malfoy said indignantly.


"Then you’re not going," Harry replied, shrugging.


Malfoy scowled, but after considering his options, he eventually nodded. "I suppose I don’t have a choice. Very well, you can accompany me."


"Gee, thanks, Malfoy. Will you wear your best dress robes for the occasion?" Harry asked, raising his eyebrow.


Malfoy flushed, turned on his heel and stormed from the room. Harry grinned. This might work out exactly the way he needed.



**--**--



Har ry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny had carefully reviewed their plans about requesting the trip to Azkaban. Hermione thought it was a risky idea for both Harry and Malfoy and didn’t think the Order would allow it. Harry thought he could persuade some members easily than others. The obstacle was narrowing down his choices.


The opportunity presented itself approximately a week later when Tonks and Remus burst into the sitting room where the teens were gathered.


"We did it, Harry," Tonks said, grasping Remus’s robes after she tripped in the doorway. They hadn’t seen much of Tonks at all during the month of September. She was either stationed at Azkaban or recuperating from her visits there.


Remus deftly caught her, and they continued into the room as if nothing had happened. Harry and the others covered their grins.


"Did what?" Ron asked.


"You asked us if the Ministry had a way of locating someone and wanted us to track Octavius Crabbe and Busby Goyle. I haven’t spent a lot of time at the Ministry recently, but I was there tonight, and I finally located one of them," Tonks said, bouncing on the balls of her feet.


"Only one?" Hermione asked, frowning. "I thought magical imprints could be traced. The Ministry must have ways of watching a certain person?"


"It’s not as simple as that. I’m looking for specific people, but any magic done in the vicinity where that person is will show up on the record. If they’re in a place like Diagon Alley…well, the numbers can be staggering. The only reason I found Octavius Crabbe so quickly is that he performed a spell in a Muggle area – a flame charm," Tonks replied.


"Where?" asked Harry, feeling an adrenaline rush beginning. He’d been cooped up too long and was eager to accomplish something.


"On a beach in Scotland. It’s very deserted this time of year, so I’m not certain what he’s doing there. Want to go take a look?" she asked.


Harry’s mind raced. He was certain it would be the same beach where he and Dumbledore had found the fake Horcrux, or at least above the rocky ledge where Tom Riddle had once lured two frightened children. Since autumn had begun, the weather was growing chillier. Harry imagined the beach was cold after nightfall, and Crabbe might forget Voldemort’s instructions about not using magic in favor of comfort.


"Yeah," he said. "Let’s go take a look and see what he’s doing."


Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny left with Remus and Tonks despite Mrs. Weasley’s worried face. Ginny kissed her on the cheek before Mr. Weasley wrapped his arm around his wife’s shoulder, and the two stood stoically as they watched their children depart.


The group Apparated to a spot on the roadside a fair distance from the rocky cliff. A crisp breeze blew, causing them to clench their jackets closer to their bodies. The smell of salty air greeted them as they glanced around, letting their eyes adjust to the darkness. Harry could hear the crashing of waves against the sharp rocks at the base of the cliff. The familiarity of the place, and the haunting memories of what had happened on his previous visit, sent a sharp pain through his heart.


He’d been here with Professor Dumbledore on the last night of his former headmaster’s life. He’d watched in awe as Dumbledore detected the hidden entrance below, and the magic surrounding it. He’d forced his mentor to drink poison because of a promise he’d hastily made when he’d been desperate to be allowed along on an adventure. Harry inhaled a deep breath of salty air. This time, he wouldn’t allow himself to be tricked.


Ginny must have sensed his inner turmoil, for she slipped her small hand into his and gave it a reassuring squeeze. He attempted to smile, but knew he’d failed miserably. Remus motioned for them to be quiet and to follow him as they moved down the road.


They hadn’t gone very far when Harry spotted Crabbe standing on the rocks beside a small campfire that was hovering in the air – and he wasn’t alone. Another man stood across from him, gesturing wildly at the fire.


Harry and the others cast Disillusionment Charms upon themselves and quietly crept closer towards the duo in order to hear what was being said. Harry couldn’t suppress a shudder as he glanced at the steep incline where he and Dumbledore had followed Riddle’s trail. It felt almost as if that had been another lifetime. Dumbledore had trusted him to bring him back to safety.


I am not worried, Harry…I am with you.


Harry shook his head. Now was not the time to dwell on memories; he had a job to do.


"Did you have some information to pass along to me, or is your only purpose here to complain that I decided to keep warm, Ferguson?" Crabbe asked his cohort, sounding disgruntled.


He appeared as thickset and solid as Harry remembered, although he thought he might have grown pudgier around the middle since that fateful night in the graveyard.


Death Eaters must be eating well these days, Harry thought sourly.


The other man, Ferguson, was leaner than Crabbe, although still rather stout. He had a thin mustache that curled slightly at the end, perhaps thinking it made him appear aristocratic. Harry thought it made him look like a ponce.


"I was asked to tell you to keep your eyes open for any of the Parkinson birds. If they come to you seeking aid, you’re to detain them and call the Dark Lord immediately," Ferguson said, sounding as if he were repeating something he’d memorized.


"Parkinson? What’s Philip done to have the Dark Lord looking for his family?" Crabbe asked in a stunned whisper.


Ferguson shrugged, but lowered his voice and said, "Philip’s dead. His wife and kids have disappeared the same way the Malfoy bint and her brat did. Master believes one of them knows where the Malfoys are hiding."


Crabbe whistled through his teeth. "My Lord must be very unhappy with the recent run of traitors. Why do you suppose that is? D’you think the Potter kid-"


"I wouldn’t finish that thought if I were you," Ferguson said, glancing around nervously. "The Dark Lord always knows, and you wouldn’t want him to suspect that you’re questioning the loyalty of his servants."


"No! No. I mean, that’s not what I meant. The Dark Lord will discipline his servants, and soon all will call him Master," Crabbe said fervently.


"I still have to go and pass this information to Simmons. Mind your post and keep a lookout for any of the Parkinsons," Ferguson said. He turned on his heel and began walking toward the road without waiting for a response.


Remus motioned for the others to follow him, and he led them in the opposite direction from where Ferguson had departed. When they were far enough away from Crabbe to ensure that he couldn’t overhear them, Remus reversed the Disillusionment Charms.


"Parkinson? As in Pansy Parkinson?" Ginny asked immediately.


"Yes," Remus said, nodding. "Philip Parkinson is…was a Death Eater. Pansy and her older sister must be on the run. I vaguely remember both girls from when I taught at Hogwarts."


"We’d better get back to Headquarters and inform the rest of the Order," Tonks said, grimly compressing her lips.


"Yes," Remus replied. "Does any of this mean anything to you, Harry? Do you know why Octavius Crabbe is stationed here?"


Harry nodded. "I have an idea," he answered, avoiding the older man’s eyes. "Thanks for letting me know you’d found him, but he’s not the one I need. It’s Goyle that I have to find. Can you keep trying, Tonks?" Harry asked.


Tonks nodded, glancing hesitantly at Remus. "Of course. I wish I knew why, though."


Harry shifted his feet, hating lying to them. "I think he’s guarding something I need to find."


"Need to find in order to find You-Know-Who?" she asked.


"Something like that," Harry said, nodding. "Can you help me?"


"Of course. I’ll keep checking each time I go to the Ministry. I think Mad-Eye is trying to come up with some kind of tracking system, as well. It’s keeping him busy anyway," Tonks said, smiling. "Of course, the Ministry has tried to track You-Know-Who for years and never had any luck with it."


"I have one more request," Harry said.


"What’s that?" Remus asked, his eyes narrowing.


"Harry-" Hermione said, and he knew she would try and warn him off.


"Malfoy wants to make a trip to Azkaban to speak with his father," Harry said quickly. "It was something Dumbledore promised him that night on the Astronomy tower, and I’m going with him."


"And me," Ron said.


"And me," both Hermione and Ginny said, glaring at both Ron and Harry.


Harry rolled his eyes in exasperation. "We can’t all go."


"None of you are going," Remus said, raising his voice over the complaints of the other three. "Have you all gone mad? I don’t think any of you has any idea what Azkaban is really like. Whatever you’re imagining, the reality is ten times worse."


"Why does Draco want to see his father?" Tonks asked.


"Dumbledore promised Draco that he would protect Lucius when he got out of Azkaban if Draco switched sides. He wants to make certain his father knows he has a choice, and that Draco and his mother are okay. He says his father has orders to turn over anything in writing to Voldemort," Harry said. "I need to see the belongings that Dung had with him when he was arrested. I think he has something of mine. If you arrange a visit for me, we can bring Malfoy under the Invisibility Cloak."


"Invisibility Cloaks won’t work against Dementors," Ginny said, scowling. "There are still some there, and you’re not going alone, anyway."


"He can remove the Cloak once we’re inside," Harry said, ignoring the second half of her statement. "Since this was the last promise Dumbledore made, we have to honor it."


"I know we agreed to help you, Harry, but I don’t like this," Remus said. "I don’t think you’re prepared for how difficult Azkaban will be, for you especially."


Harry nodded. "Maybe you can help with that, then, but I need to do this, Remus. I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t important."


"Let me talk to Mad-Eye," Tonks said, watching Remus closely. "He has a knack for getting the others to agree to things they normally wouldn’t."


"Good enough," Harry said.


"For now, let’s go back," Remus said, nodding to each as they Disapparated.



**--**--



A fortnight later, Harry sat on a couch inside Regulus Black’s former bedroom flipping through an ancient book on the Dark Arts. Hermione had discovered the room while seeking a quiet place to read and had stumbled across a book partially sealed into the wall.


Leave it to Hermione to sniff out a hidden book.


It described many hexes and curses so vile that they made Harry’s stomach churn just reading about them. But, hidden within the text of an entirely different matter was a small paragraph about Horcruxes and how they were made. The book was Romanian in origin – Ginny had recognized some of the writing as similar to things Charlie had sent her.


Hermione thought they should plan to leave for Romania posthaste to investigate any ties that Voldemort might have made there.


While Harry agreed it was a good lead in order to seek the remaining Horcrux, he was far more interested in finding a translation to the paragraph. He knew he could ask Charlie but didn’t want to involve him, if possible.


He glanced at his watch impatiently. Tomorrow was Halloween. It would mark the sixteenth anniversary of his parents’ death. It was also the day he was scheduled to go to Azkaban. He thought it strangely ironic.


Remus had given Malfoy and him the news several days ago at an Occlumency lesson. Malfoy appeared surprised but pleased and requested they keep the information from his mother. Harry wondered if anyone had told him about Pansy Parkinson but hadn’t brought it up with the blonde. He certainly had no fondness for the Slytherin girl – he remembered her as a bully, much the same as Malfoy – but no one deserved to be hunted like that.


Remus said Harry, Malfoy and Ron would accompany Tonks on her next trip to the prison. Kingsley had arranged the visit through Rufus Scrimgeour. Scrimgeour had been extremely eager to learn the details of Harry’s trip, and Harry suspected some Ministry interference before the day was through. Remus had told him that no more than one of his friends could accompany him, and Mrs. Weasley had absolutely forbidden Ginny from going to Azkaban. She’d tried to stop Ron too, but Mr. Weasley had gently reminded her that Ron was of age.


Harry had chosen Ron, which meant Hermione hadn’t spoken to either of them in days. Ron had made the mistake of telling Hermione not to be stupid, that of course he’d be the one to go with Harry. Harry would swear he saw icicles form on Ron’s eyebrows from the glare Hermione gave him. And Ginny wasn’t too pleased, either.


Aside from the fact he didn’t want to push Mrs. Weasley any further than she’d been pushed already, the masculine side of his brain did want to protect Ginny from Azkaban. He remembered that she’d had difficulty with Dementors herself and wanted to spare her if he could. Hermione had just been through a serious and harrowing injury, and Harry thought it was a good idea for her to avoid the Dementors, too, if possible.


Of course, the girls saw things differently, but his decision had been made. Ron was just as intent to protect Hermione as he was Ginny, and Harry wasn’t going alone, so their arguments didn’t hold merit. When it came right down to it, this was something he thought Ron could handle better than Hermione, anyway. She had a tendency to panic if things went wrong.


Harry closed his book and was about to head off to bed when the door opened, and Ginny slipped inside.


"Hi," she said, shuffling her feet and not looking at him.


"Hi," Harry replied, aware of the hope flaring in his heart. She’d had very little to say to him in the past few days, and he wasn’t very keen to go to Azkaban while she was cross with him.


"Tonks said you’re leaving early tomorrow," Ginny said.


"Yeah. We’re going on her regular shift."


Ginny took a deep breath and flung her arms around him, squeezing him tight. "You’re not forgiven for ditching me, but I wanted to wish you luck. I hope you find what we’re looking for, and I hope it’s not too bad for you there."


"It’ll be fine, Ginny. I’m sort of used to the Dementors now," Harry said, running his hands along her back. It felt so good to have her in his arms again. He didn’t know how he could miss something so much that he really hadn’t had all that long to begin with.


"Quit being noble, Harry. No one ever gets used to Dementors. Just stay with Ron and no heroics," Ginny said, holding his face between her hands.


Harry pulled a face. "I’ll be okay, Ginny. If we find it, I’ll bring it back so we can figure out how to destroy it safely."


"You won’t be able to bring your wand inside, so a Patronus isn’t possible," Ginny said, worry evident in her eyes.


"I know. But Tonks will have her wand, and we’ll stay with her the whole time. Don’t worry, Ginny," he said, gently brushing a strand of hair from her face. It cheered his heart to see the concern shining in her warm brown eyes – concern for him. It was still such a novel concept to realize how much she cared about him. He enjoyed the way it made him feel inside and hoped he made her feel a bit like that, too.


Ginny leaned in and kissed him soundly on the lips, making Harry forget all about Dementors and prisons and everything else. In fact, he wasn’t thinking of anything but the slip of a girl in his arms and how soft her skin felt beneath his hands.


Although they’d promised each other not to get carried away, they were still teenagers and prone to all the raging hormones that went along with their ages. Their hands would roam curiously, and several articles of clothing had inexplicably gone missing on several occasions. Still, despite their minor slips, they’d managed to keep themselves in a reasonable semblance of control. The idea had crossed his mind however, that he didn’t know if those checks would remain in place the next time they were out on their own and away from the prying eyes of Ginny’s family.


"Good luck," Ginny whispered when she finally pulled away. Her hair was disheveled, and she wore a slightly dazed expression.


Harry just wanted to get back to the kissing. He nodded fervently and pulled her back into his arms, feeling as if there was no way even a Dementor could dampen his spirits.



**--**--



Ha lloween morning dawned stormy and gray. There was a distinct chill in the air that Harry knew would only worsen on the open ocean. It was exactly the kind if dismal day that seemed appropriate for a trip to Azkaban. He’d dressed warmly but still felt goose bumps rise on his skin as he boarded the boat that would take him to Azkaban.


He, Ron, and Malfoy had met Tonks and Mad-Eye in the entrance hall. Harry reckoned Moody was only going along to keep an eye on Malfoy; he still suspected that Malfoy was up to something. Of course, Moody generally suspected that everyone was up to something.


They’d Apparated to the Ministry and taken a controlled Portkey to a small island not far from Azkaban where the Ministry ran a checkpoint. No one was allowed in or out of the prison without going through the island’s security. The wards at the prison prevented both Apparation and Portkeys, much like the wards at Hogwarts.


Malfoy had remained concealed beneath Harry’s Invisibility Cloak until they’d arrived at the checkpoint. There he’d had to register his wand and state his intent to visit his father. Harry was incredibly apprehensive about leaving his wand at the checkpoint. Tonks assured him it would be safe; there were precautions in place so that only he could remove it. Besides, only the Aurors were permitted to bring wands inside the prison. If he wanted to go, he’d have to leave it.


Once they’d completed the registration, they were ushered outside to a small boat ramp. The icy wind blew off the North Sea in fierce gusts, causing Harry to pull his jacket more tightly around his body. His hair ruffled in the breeze as the clean, salty air filled his lungs.


Grim-faced Aurors stared suspiciously at them as they boarded. There were surprisingly few passengers, and Harry assumed the prisoners incarcerated within Azkaban didn’t receive many visitors. Along with Tonks, there were five other Aurors taking the journey to relieve those who had worked the night shift.


The boat was small and mostly open to the wind. Stiff wooden benches were aligned in rows behind an enclosure where the captain piloted the boat. Harry and Ron sat on one bench while Tonks and Mad-Eye took the bench behind them. Tonks left room for Malfoy to join them, but he purposefully took the bench opposite them and sat alone.


"Where do they put the prisoners?" Harry asked, wondering how it would feel to be making this journey knowing there was only pain and imprisonment at the end. This trip already appeared foreboding, and he was certain he’d be returning in only a few short hours.


"Prisoners don’t ride with passengers," Tonks said, shaking her head. "There is a heavily secured ship that makes the trip once a day. Prisoners are Stunned while they go in and out on that one."


"They’re Stunned even when they’re leaving?" Ron asked, his voice squeaking slightly.


Tonks smiled grimly. "There isn’t anything about this place that’s pleasant."


"How long is this journey going to take?" Malfoy asked. He stood up and scowled at the crude seating. "These accommodations are barbaric."


The boat jerked slightly as it left the dock, causing Malfoy to stumble and hit his knee against the bench. He winced painfully and grabbed onto his wounded knee. Ron sniggered loudly, causing Malfoy to glare at him as he retook his seat.


"What are you laughing at, Weasley? Just because a wooden bench is considered a step up from what your family is accustomed doesn’t mean-"


"Not one word about my family, Malfoy," Ron said, standing up and towering over the blonde. In the cramped quarters of the launch, Ron had to hunch over so that his head wouldn’t hit the roof. "There’s no one on this boat who’d make a fuss if you suddenly found yourself overboard, so I’d keep quiet if I were you."


"All right, that’s enough, lad," Moody said, chuckling and motioning Ron back to his seat.


Harry turned away from their bickering to watch the waves crash against the side of the boat. He could feel the cold spray of the water and pulled deeper into himself in an attempt to keep warm. The island from where they’d departed had rapidly become a distant speck upon the horizon. Nothing but the cold, gray sea surrounded them as far as the eye could see in any direction. He wasn’t certain how far they’d traveled, but it seemed as if they were exposed to the wind and icy surf for hours. A fog had rolled in, making visibility nearly non-existent. Harry strained his eyes, trying to see anything in the distance.


Suddenly, the captain called out above the wind, "Land, ho!"


Harry tried unsuccessfully to suppress a shudder as a massive stone structure emerged from the fog as if a curtain had been lifted. Jagged, seaweed-covered rocks poked out of the water surrounding the small island. The sharp, rough edges would be enough to make any stray boats hesitant to try and dock.


The walls of the prison arose steep and menacing from the icy cold sea, forcing Harry to crane his neck to see the top. He could see the water line that the tide had marked on the stone, making it appear smoother and darker than the remainder of the structure.


The captain maneuvered the boat into a small inlet that Harry hadn’t noticed at first. As he watched the boat make the treacherous journey up the channel, he saw several of the jagged stones move out of their way. Obviously the channel was controlled by magic.


When they reached the end, they docked on a simple wooden platform to debark. The moment Harry stepped off the boat, he felt a chill deeper than anything weather-related sink into his skin. He broke into a clammy sweat despite the cold, and his head felt suddenly woozy. He had no doubt there were Dementors nearby.


As the small party approached the stone wall, a doorway magically appeared several meters above their heads. A metal stairway was lowered, and they ascended into the prison. Tonks pressed her wand against the door, which emitted a series of soft pops before gliding open.


The blast of air coming from inside the prison was colder than the sea air in which they were standing. Harry followed Ron inside, his heart pounding and his head swimming. A bout of nausea churned his stomach, nearly causing him to gag.


A tall, thin, cloaked figure stood on the far side of the room, observing them as they entered. Harry vision blurred as a distant screaming began to echo in his head. Instinctively, he reached for his wand only to find it missing. He took deep breaths, trying to control his rising panic.


This is going to be harder than I thought.


He stumbled as Tonks quickly ushered them across the room and would have fallen if Ron hadn’t caught him.


"You all right, mate?" Ron whispered as they entered the long stone corridor outside the first room. Ron was very pale, making the freckles on his face stand out darkly.


Harry nodded, his world steadying again after they’d left the room where the Dementor still stood. His stomach roiled, and he was very glad he hadn’t eaten much for breakfast.


"That’s right, Potter," Malfoy drawled, staring at Ron and him with amusement glinting in his steel gray eyes. "I’d forgotten you had problems with Dementors. They make you faint, don’t they?" Despite his taunts, Malfoy’s pallor had faded, as well.


"Back off, Malfoy," Ron growled, staring at Harry with concern.


Harry didn’t even bother with a comment; it was taking all his effort to remain standing. He’d tried to put a hand on the cold stone of the wall in an effort to collect himself, but that had been a bad idea. There was something alive in the walls. Harry didn’t know how else to describe it. The stone was cold and slightly slimy from the damp chill, but there was also a deep agony that emanated from it. It was almost as if the stone had absorbed all the misery and torment from the people that had been imprisoned here through the years.


Harry watched as water dripped from the ceiling and ran in rivulets in certain spots along the massive corridor. It looked as if the walls were crying.


"Are you going to be able to do this, Harry?" Tonks asked. She’d moved to his side and lowered her voice. Her hair had been her traditional bubblegum pink when they’d left that morning, but since entering the prison the color had faded and become dull.


"I’m fine," Harry replied, feeling anything but fine. "Let’s just get it over with."


"What do you want to do first?" Tonks asked, her eyes showing concern.


It made Harry uncomfortable, and he grit his teeth as he tried to ignore it. It was hard enough dealing with the effects of the Dementors, never mind dealing with sympathy because of it.


"Let’s take Malfoy to see his father before we look through Dung’s things," he replied. If the amulet was with Dung’s belongings, he didn’t want to bring it anywhere near Lucius Malfoy.


"The cells where the prisoners are located begin on level three. That’s where Dung’s cell is. Lucius is in the high-security wing on level five. The stairs are this way. I just want to warn you – there are Dementors on that level, so be prepared," Tonks said grimly.


They climbed the stairs in silence. The presence of the Dementors had affected them all, and not even Malfoy had the energy to be difficult. Once they’d reached level five, Moody informed Malfoy that he wouldn’t be able to see his father alone. Moody said he was going with him.


"No way, Moody" Malfoy replied, some of his former bravado returning. "You’re not going to use anything my father says against him at a later date, not a chance."


Moody shrugged as if it made no difference to him one way or the other. "Then you’re not going in, either, lad. You’re not entering his cell without an escort."


"Tonks can go then," Malfoy replied, sneering. "She’s sort of family. I’ll trust her over you."


"Sorry, Draco," Tonks said cheerfully. "I’m on duty. I have to go relieve my partner, so I really can’t sit with you. You can pick Moody, Ron or Harry, but one of them is going inside with you."


Malfoy scowled. "Potter then," he said, sneering


"Good enough," Moody growled. "Potter, keep your ears open that these two aren’t plotting anything against the Order. Keep the Invisibility Cloak on so you won’t be seen."


"I thought Invisibility Cloaks didn’t work against Dementors," Harry asked, pulling the Cloak out of his pocket.


"The Cloak isn’t meant to fool the Dementors," Tonks replied. "They don’t see the way we do. They’ll sense two people entering and two people leaving. The Cloak will only deceive Lucius."


"As long as you keep your mouth shut," Moody said, his magical eye staring menacingly at Draco.


"I don’t want my father to know Potter is there any more than Potter wants to be seen. I don’t even want him there at all," Malfoy replied, turning his back on both Harry and Moody.


"What you want has never been one of my considerations, boy," Moody replied, harshly. "Go on down the corridor. He’s in cell 5-J; it’ll be on your left. Ron and I will be waiting here."


Ron looked extremely hesitant to let them go, but there was nothing to be done for it. Tonks pressed her wand to the heavy steel door and it slid open, stopping with a loud clang. Harry threw the Invisibility Cloak over his head and followed Malfoy down the long, dimly lit corridor.


The air was even heavier than it had been downstairs, and Harry knew the Dementors were close by the volume of the screaming in his head. He felt positively ill and hoped he wouldn’t alert Lucius Malfoy to his presence by vomiting all over the man’s feet.


Draco glanced at the numbers of the cells as they walked. Harry peered into each cell and felt a great wave of sympathy for the prisoners huddled inside each small hole. There was barely enough room to move inside, and most of the prisoners didn’t even have the energy to stir as they passed.


Sirius spent twelve years locked up here, probably on this level.


Harry shook his head. This wasn’t the time to dwell on that. Malfoy stopped walking and placed his hand on a silver disk located outside the cell. The disk flashed green, indicating it was safe to enter. There were no doors or bars to hold the prisoners but instead a ward ensured they were kept inside. Tonks had said the ward would allow them inside the cell, but they would be unable to leave until they again passed their hands over the disk. If Lucius attempted an escape, they would all be trapped within the wards.


Harry hadn’t bothered to ask exactly what that meant. He didn’t think he really wanted to know.


He followed Draco inside the cell, and it was a moment before he noticed Lucius sitting on the edge of his bed. He’d obviously been sleeping as his eyes were crusted, and he squinted at his son as if trying to process the fact he was there. Lucius was thinner than Harry remembered. His long blonde hair was matted and dirty, and he’d lost that haughty aristocratic demeanor that he’d always shown. He looked haunted. Harry couldn’t imagine trying to live for years under these conditions. It was a wonder anyone left Azkaban with his mind still intact.


"Father?" Malfoy asked tentatively. His voice shook slightly as his eyes roamed over his father’s broken form.


"Draco? What are you doing here?" Lucius asked. His voice was raspy from lack of use. "Everyone has been looking for you. Is your mother with you?"


"She’s safe, Father. She doesn’t even know I’m here," Draco replied, swallowing heavily. "How are you?"


Lucius Malfoy shook his head as if to clear it. That ugly sneer that Harry remembered so well returned to his features. "What have you done, Draco? Have you made a bargain with the blood traitors? Where is your pride? I’m so disappointed in you."


"Father, listen to me. I can help you. When you’re released from here, you can come into hiding with us," Draco said, a pleading quality to his voice that Harry found painful. He knew from years of experience that Draco’s pleas would fall on deaf ears.


"A real Malfoy would never crawl on his belly with the slime and dregs of society," Lucius spat, seething now. "I thought I’d raised you to know that. This is your mother’s influence, isn’t it?"


"Father, the Dark Lord will kill you when you’re released if you don’t do something to ensure your own survival," Draco cried.


"Then I will die with honor, as you should have done," Lucius replied.


"Father-"


"No, Draco. You can still salvage this," Lucius said, moving closer to his son. His eyes began to shine with a demented light. "Go back to the Dark Lord. Kneel before him and beg his forgiveness. Prove your loyalty to him by killing those who have given you aid. It might convince him to grant you some leniency."


Draco threw his head back and snorted derisively "There is nothing lenient about him; you know that. He’ll have me beg and then kill me anyway."


"Then you should die," Lucius replied.


Draco blinked, clearly stunned. "Father, I’m your only son."


"No son of mine would dishonor the Malfoy name in this way," Lucius said, sneering. "I knew after we had you that you were a weakness to your mother’s loyalty. She’d do anything for you, to save you. She’s thrown away her own future to protect yours. It’s why we never had another child. I knew she was weak, but you… You, I thought had learned your proper place."


"My proper place?" Draco asked. "What, to kneel in front of a Half-blood? I thought you said Malfoys were better than that."


Lucius raised his hand and slapped Draco’s face before Harry could do anything to stop it. This was painful to witness, and Harry wished he were anywhere else. He suddenly wondered if this was how Draco had felt while watching scenes of Harry’s childhood with the Dursleys during Occlumency.


"That’s Potter talking," Lucius spat. Harry’s head jerked upward at the sound of his own name.


"Is that who’s offering you protection?" Lucius asked incredulously. "Have you aligned yourself with Potter? Oh, Draco, how could you have sunk so low? Potter doesn’t stand a chance."


"Of course he doesn’t. But there is a better chance of survival through his cohorts. I know at least that they won’t kill us," Draco said, making one last attempt to sway his father.


"Until you stand up and take account for your actions, you are no son of mine. Think about what I’ve said, Draco. You need to turn back to the Dark Lord. You are near his enemies and can aid him greatly. It could earn you great honor and respect. You are nothing without it," Lucius said, his voice silky smooth as he tried to entice his son.


Draco sighed heavily, but pulled away from his father’s caressing hand. "Then we really have nothing else to say. You were the one who taught me that a Malfoy is worth much more than any other wizard because of our heritage, and we should protect that lineage at all costs."


"You are a coward," Lucius spat, turning his back.


Draco’s shoulders slumped. "I’ll give Mother your best," he said softly, placing his hand on the silver disk and stepping outside the moment the ward went down. Harry quickly followed.


As they strode up the corridor towards the room where the others had remained, Harry removed the Invisibility Cloak, feeling awkward. He wondered what Malfoy was feeling. His own father had just told him that he should turn himself over to be killed. How could a father do that to his son? A new and powerful respect for what his own parents had done for him arose in his heart. It seemed not every parent would do such a thing after all. Harry was startled to realize how sorry he felt for Draco Malfoy.


"I’m sorry," Harry said, and he meant it.


"You should be, "Malfoy snapped, not breaking his stride. "This is entirely your fault."


"My fault?" Harry asked, nonplussed.


"My father wouldn’t even be here if it weren’t for you and your blasted heroics," Malfoy said, seething. "The Dark Lord would never have wanted to punish him by using me and none of this would have happened. It’s all your fault."


Harry’s sympathy for Malfoy’s plight disappeared in a puff of smoke. "It’s not my fault your father chose to put a mask over his head and run around with a lunatic who thinks he’s better than everyone else. Your father did this to himself, Malfoy," Harry snapped.


"It’s your fault you haven’t done what you’ve been supposedly chosen to do and got us all out of this mess. What are you waiting on, anyway? Trying to lap up as much of the glory and spotlight while you can, are you? Afraid the idiotic public who fawn at your feet will turn on you once they realize what a fraud you are?" Draco asked, his face turning pink.


"No, that’s more your style, Malfoy," Harry said. Taking a deep breath, he tried to regain control. "Look, I know you’re angry about the way your father treated you. I would be too-"


"What do you know about it?" Malfoy asked bitterly. "You don’t even remember having a father. You think the way those miserable Muggles treated you gives you any right to say you understand how a family works? As far as I’m concerned, the Muggles had the right idea. They’re the only ones who saw you for what you really are."


Harry was about to lash out when the room suddenly swam before him. He grabbed the wall for support but instantly pulled his hand back when the cold stone sent spasms up his arm. His mother’s voice began screaming in his head. He’d been so caught up in his spat with Malfoy that he hadn’t noticed the change. Now, he was aware of the drop in temperature and how clammy his skin had become.


Malfoy ignored him and continued his rant as he strode forward. Harry swayed on his feet. He shook his head to try and clear it, but only ended up dropping to his knees as his vision continued to blur.


Suddenly, Malfoy’s voice broke through the fog that had clouded Harry’s brain. "What do you want? Let us pass. We’ve got permission to be here," he whined, sounding distinctly afraid. "What’s wrong with you, Potter? Get up. There are Dementors here."


Harry could see them now, two Dementors gliding towards them in that insidious way they had of moving. One came from in front, one from behind. There was nowhere to run or hide. They seemed to move more slowly than Harry remembered. He knew that Tonks had said that only the old Dementors had stayed behind, which might be why they moved more slowly. It didn’t seem to make a difference to Harry, the effects were the same, only they lasted longer.


His last thought before his world went completely black was that Ginny was right. No one ever got used to the effects of Dementors.



A/N: Huge thanks to my beta, Sherylyn, for getting this done despite some pressing real life commitments. I really appreciate it.



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