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SIYE Time:14:44 on 17th August 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: 200884; Chapter Total: 7735
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 Fifteen


Yet Still Miles to Go



A tense, grim mood settled over Grimmauld Place as everyone awaited word from Azkaban. They had tried to go about their daily business but found their attention wandering and their minds elsewhere. Everyone had quickly given up hope of getting anything done and instead gathered in the large sitting room to pass the time together.


Ginny sighed heavily as she struggled to sit still. She’d tried to wake up bright and early to see Harry before he left, but the alarm she’d set had never rung. She suspected her mum might have had something to do with that, but knew she was wound too tight to bring it up now. She’d only end up flying off the handle, anyway, and she couldn’t afford any more rows right now.


She and Harry had tentatively called a truce the night before, but she still felt annoyed by his constant desire to protect her. Hadn’t she proven herself capable of handling just as much as Ron or Hermione? Somewhere deep inside, she knew Harry couldn’t help it. His need to protect her was simply part of who he was, and she both loved and resented him for it.


Hermione, too, was angry with both Harry and Ron for leaving her behind. The logical side of Ginny’s brain understood that they all couldn’t go to Azkaban, but it was infuriating that Harry had chosen Ron without even thinking about it. Okay, so maybe Ron could handle Dementors better than either she or Hermione, but still... She shuddered, remembering the powerful memories of Tom that the Dementors had induced on the train in her second year.


No. It wasn’t as if she wanted to go near the Dementors, but Harry didn’t handle them so well, either, and he’d never considered just letting someone else go. Ginny bit her lip and had to blink to keep her eyes from filling. She had a terrible feeling about this. Somehow, she knew in her heart that something wasn’t right, and she felt utterly helpless sitting on the couch reading a magazine. She needed to do something.


She let her eyes wander around the room, focusing on the rest of her family as they tried for her sake to appear unconcerned. Her heart filled to bursting for the lot of them. No matter that they drove her ‘round the bend on occasion, they were a wonderfully supportive bunch.


Her mum sat in a huge armchair in the corner, her eyes puffy and red-rimmed, furiously clicking her knitting needles. On her lap sat the Weasley family clock that she’d rescued from the Burrow. All the hands remained on Mortal Peril, so what she expected to see happen, no one knew. The expression on her face clearly said not to bother her, and the rest of the lot knew her well enough to respect that look.


Bill and Fleur shared a chair and cooed at each other incessantly while they teamed up in a game of chess against Remus. Remus removed a pocket watch from his faded robe every few minutes to check the time. A shadow would cross his features each time, and Ginny noticed Bill and Fleur pretending not to see moves that could have finished the game sooner.


Her dad and the twins had all abandoned work at different times during the morning and returned to headquarters to await news with everyone else. They now sat around a coffee table while the twins tried to explain the concept of Muggle poker to her dad. Mr. Weasley wasn’t nearly as interested in the card game as he was with the poker chips and kept trying to see if they would float in his drink, or how many he could suspend at a time with his wand. Ginny simply couldn’t understand her dad’s fascination with Muggles, although she knew it amused Harry and Hermione.


She and Hermione sat together on the couch. Ginny had tried to work on the schoolwork that her mother insisted she do, but she’d given it up as hopeless today. Instead, she flipped through the pages of a teen glamour magazine while Hermione held a seventh-year Transfiguration book in her lap. Ginny couldn’t understand how Hermione could use Transfiguration to keep her nerves calm when it had the complete opposite effect on Ginny.


Ginny kept nudging her friend in the ribs and dragging her attention to various articles in the magazine about rating your love life. It amused her to see Hermione’s identical red head next to her own while they flipped through the ridiculous questions. Ginny had always wanted a sister and thought Hermione could now pass for one. Despite the obvious worry in the air, every once in a while she and Hermione couldn’t help breaking into squeals of girlish laughter. Both would turn red when the attention of the others turned towards them, but it broke the tension, and Ginny thought it was good for Hermione to just let loose for a change.


Narcissa Malfoy hadn’t made an appearance all morning, not even to take some breakfast back to her room. As far as Ginny was concerned, no one had really missed her. She couldn’t help but wonder what Narcissa thought about her son traveling out to Azkaban to visit her husband, however.


The sound of the front doorway opening sent everyone running into the hallway. Ginny yet again cursed her height while she strained to see around her much taller brothers. Everyone gasped in surprise as Professor McGonagall, Hagrid and Kingsley Shacklebolt entered with three smaller figures hidden beneath black robes. Hermione nudged Ginny in the ribs, and nodded towards one of the strangers. Ginny squinted, attempting to see what Hermione was trying to tell her. Her eyes flew open wide as she realized the person was wearing Hogwarts’ robes with a Slytherin crest on the left pocket.


Remus shouldered his way through her brothers. "Hagrid! Kingsley! You found them," he said, ushering the guests towards the sitting room from where they’d all emerged. Remus obviously knew who the hidden strangers were, and Ginny peered at them curiously. She was surprised that her mother hadn’t yet tried to usher her from the landing. Maybe she really was coming around.


"Yes, the information proved reliable. We thought it best to bring them here to keep them all together and supervised," Kingsley said, his deep voice echoing in the stillness.


The lead figure jerked and removed her cloak, revealing a middle-aged woman whose dark hair was streaked with gray. It was pulling loose from the bun she wore at the nape of her neck, and although she was dirty and rumpled, she had the aura of someone used to being waited upon.


The other two figures removed their cloaks as well, showing the faces of two teen-aged girls, both with upturned noses; while on the younger it was unattractive and gave her a hard face, it gave the older girl an aristocratic appearance. Both were disheveled and looked as if they hadn’t had a good meal in days. Ginny was well acquainted with the younger of the two, and from the expression on Hermione’s face, knew she had recognized the newcomer, as well.


"What do you mean by ‘supervised,’ Mr. Shacklebolt? I thought you had offered us sanctuary," the elder witch asked formally, her brow knit in disapproval.


Kingsley bowed stiffly. "Of course we did, Mrs. Parkinson. However, you must understand the need for precautions in these dark times. Certainly you would expect the same of anyone else we allowed to take shelter here," he said.


Mrs. Parkinson pursed her lips but remained silent.


"Molly, is there anything we can offer them to eat before they retire? We’ll put them on the same floor with the Malfoys for the time being," Professor McGonagall said.


"Of course," her mother replied, almost as if she was happy to finally have something productive to do. "Sit down and make yourselves comfortable. I’ll fix up a tray and bring it right up."


"Granger!"


Hermione quickly turned her head, startled by the sound of her name. Pansy Parkinson stood behind them, staring contemptuously.


"What are you doing here?" the dark-haired girl asked. "And what the hell have you done to your hair?"


"I was about to ask you the same question," Hermione replied coolly, her gaze raking Pansy’s tangled mop.


"Oh! I don’t believe this. Has Draco actually aligned himself with a Mudblood and a bunch of blood traitors? Next you’ll tell me Potter is here, too?" Pansy shrieked.


"That will be enough of that, young lady," Mr. Weasley said firmly, anger flashing in his blue eyes. Her father’s anger – so rarely seen – silenced the room. Even the Parkinson women were stilled. "This house will offer sanctuary to any who needs it; however, we will not tolerate that language nor the hatred behind it. You’ll do well to remember that, Miss Parkinson."


"Forgive my daughter’s lack of good taste," Mrs. Parkinson said, glaring at Pansy. "We’ve had a difficult time these past few days, and I fear the strain is showing on all of us."


"Of course it is, Anastasia," Professor McGonagall said briskly. "We all sympathize with your loss. Perhaps you’d like to see Narcissa. Follow me. I’ll take you to her room."


Professor McGonagall led Mrs. Parkinson from the room, casting a stern glare at the rest of the occupants, as if warning them to behave. While the adults moved to one side of the room and began a hushed discussion, the young people stared mistrustfully at one another.


Finally, George moved away from the table where he’d been sitting and walked over to the Parkinson girls. "Iris, it’s been a long time," he said a bit stiffly, addressing the elder girl. "It’s nice to see you again."


"Yeah, not since you flew out the front door our seventh year," Iris said, smiling. She had the same features as her sister, but her face had a more oval shape that gave her a softer appearance. When she smiled, Ginny conceded that unlike Pansy, she was truly pretty.


"Yeah, yeah. Enough with the false pleasantries. Where’s Draco?" Pansy asked, scowling at both George and her sister.


Ginny had the distinct impression that a fierce rivalry existed between the two sisters, and that Pansy resented any attention given to Iris. Ginny tried to cover her grin – that knowledge just might prove useful.


"He and Harry took a trip to Azkaban," she said smoothly, carefully watching the Slytherin’s reaction.


"He what?" Pansy shrieked, spinning around with wide eyes.


"He wanted to speak with his father. We’re waiting for them to return," Hermione replied. Ginny was interested to note the coolness in Hermione’s voice. Usually Hermione advocated giving everyone a chance or the benefit of the doubt, but something told Ginny there was no love lost between these two.


"Is he crazy?" Pansy asked no one in particular. "Doesn’t he know there’s a standing order to bring his body back to the Dark Lord? He at least wants Potter alive, but Draco is in real danger."


"Yeah, Harry’s so lucky," Ginny replied, rolling her eyes.


"Still sniffing around after the Boy-Who-Lived, I see. Where’s your self-respect?" Pansy asked, sneering.


"Recognize the traits, do you, Pansy?" Ginny asked, gazing nonchalantly at her own nails.


Pansy scowled. "I can’t believe you cut your hair and gave it to Granger. I mean, I understand her wanting it. The idiotic males at Hogwarts all seem to have a thing for your hair, but I don’t think they’ll like you as much without it," Pansy said, smirking triumphantly.


"You seem really focused on who pays attention to my hair, Pansy," Ginny replied, amused. "You know, there are charms you can use to turn yours red, you’ll just have to stay on top of the roots."


Pansy’s face flushed. "Don’t flatter yourself. I notice everything that goes on at that school."


Fred and George’s heads were swinging back and forth between the girls as if they were watching a tennis match.


"Pansy, play nice," Iris said, clearly amused. "We have to stay here until Mother comes to her senses, after all."


"What is Draco thinking?" Pansy whined. "How long have they been gone, and when are they due back?"


"I already told you, we’re all waiting for them to return, Pansy. We’re worried about Harry and Ron, too," Hermione said stiffly. Pansy’s question reminded them all how long the group had been gone, and Ginny felt that uneasiness return.


"Potter will probably pass out before they even enter the prison. Doesn’t he have problems with Dementors?" Pansy asked coldly.


"Any trouble they have is more likely to be caused by Malfoy panicking and giving them all away," Ginny snapped, reaching for her wand.


"Don’t you dare blame Draco for any of this. I’m certain Potter somehow tricked him into going," Pansy said, pulling her own wand from her pocket.


"Yeah, because he’s such an idiot anyone can trick him into anything," Ginny said, her eyes blazing.


Fred deftly caught Ginny around the waist and pulled her away from the Slytherin girl. "Easy, Ginny. Don’t give Mum a reason to send you upstairs," he whispered.


"You do have to admit, Pansy…" Iris said, sounding bored as she sat on an armchair and studied her broken nails. "…Draco was a bit of an idiot to get himself mixed up with a bunch of Gryffindors. Now, we’re stuck with them, too."


"As I remember, there was once a time you didn’t mind being seen with a Gryffindor. Weren’t you one of the birds who used to follow Oliver around Hogwarts with your tongue lolling?" Fred asked, grinning.


Iris’s eyes flashed defiantly, but color flooded her cheeks. "I most certainly did no such thing."


Pansy snorted and looked at her sister with disgust. "You did. Don’t you dare call Draco an idiot," she said, narrowing her eyes.


"I’ll call him whatever I please," Iris snapped. "It’s his fault Daddy’s dead."


Pansy recoiled. Her eyes darkened before she drew back her hand and slapped her sister across the face.


George jumped over the back of the couch, crossed his feet on the coffee table, and conjured a bucket of popcorn. "Ooh, catfight," he said, beaming. Fred immediately joined him, leaving Ginny snickering.


Mr. Weasley glanced over at the commotion, but when the argument ceased, he returned to his conversation.


Hermione stepped between the two sisters, holding up her arms. "Stop. Look, we heard about your father, and I’m sorry. This isn’t helping any of them, however. We’re all worried-"


"Oh, put a sock in it, Granger," Pansy snarled. "Who asked you to stick your impossibly large nose into it, anyway? What makes you always think that anyone else is interested in what you have to say? You’re just upset because you know it’s most likely that stupid redheaded stooge of Potter’s who’ll mess up. Doesn’t he always? Go back to your books, you insignificant little Know-It-All."


Hermione’s eyes flashed brightly. "Fine, Pansy. I’ll just let your sister hex you into a jelly. It’s not as if anyone here will miss your mouth, anyway."


"What makes you think my sister has any chance against me?" Pansy asked, affronted.


Hermione rolled her eyes. "I’ve seen you duel, Pansy. Anyone could hex you into a jelly."


"Is that so?" Pansy asked, reaching again for her wand.


Hermione was quicker. She had her wand pointed between the other girl’s eyes before Pansy had barely moved. "Put your hand any closer to that wand, Parkinson, and I’ll show you exactly what I’ve learned in those books."


Pansy paled considerably while the Weasleys who were watching the spat howled in mirth.


"Sit down over there," Hermione said, jerking her head to a chair set slightly apart from the others, "and shut your mouth, or I’ll be forced to shut it for you. We’re all going to sit down like civilized people while we await news. I don’t want to hear another word out of your mouth."


"You tell her, Hermione," Fred said, tossing some popcorn.


Hermione turned her wand on Fred, her eyes glinting dangerously. "That goes for you, too. Not one word."


Fred swallowed heavily, but he sat back on the couch.


Ginny sniggered; she loved seeing anyone get the best of one of the twins. Hermione could be downright scary when she was riled.



**--**--



Harr y’s world spun. His vision kept fading in and out to black, and he couldn’t make sense of what was happening. He could hear screaming, but it was odd – distorted – as if it was coming from both inside his head and also somewhere nearby. He could feel cold stone beneath his hands. It felt dirty, but there was also something very strange and unnatural about it. It felt sinister somehow, and Harry didn’t like it. He suspected he was on the floor but couldn’t remember how he got there. He wished that screaming would stop – it was confusing, and he couldn’t think.


He moved his arm, searching for his wand but couldn’t find it. He needed a Patronus but couldn’t cast one without a wand. He tried anyway, to no avail.


He felt ill. He curled into a ball and continued to try and fight the darkness that wanted to claim him. Something warned him that giving in to it now would be very bad indeed. The screaming continued to grow louder, and other voices joined the chaos in his mind. He thought he could hear Malfoy, but that didn’t make any sense. Malfoy was never in Godric’s Hollow.


"Lily, take Harry and go! It’s him!"


There were footsteps; he could hear someone running and someone else was shouting, but he couldn’t make out the words. He could see colors flashing despite his closed eyelids and knew spells were being fired. Sirius fell through the Veil. A bright flash of green light connected with Professor Dumbledore and caused him to topple off the Astronomy tower.


Something cold and putrid came very near his face. His body convulsed with shivers as he tried to pull away. He knew he should be panicked, but he was so tired, and he just couldn’t get his mind to work…


"Not Harry! Not Harry! Please – I’ll do anything – "


"Stand aside. Stand aside, girl!"


"Not Harry!"


"Harry! Harry!"


Someone was shaking him, slapping his face. He twisted and tried to pull away, but his body was simply too weak, and his head only lolled to the side. Someone shouted something – a woman’s voice that he couldn’t place but knew he recognized. Other voices responded, as if she were issuing orders.


Harry tried to cling to what he thought was real, but his thoughts kept slipping away as if they were water through his fingers. Someone bodily lifted him to his feet and wrapped an arm around his waist. His legs wouldn’t support his weight, however, and he nearly fell down again.


"Come on, Harry. I’m getting you out of here," Ron said in his ear.


Ron’s got me – I should have known.


Ron barked something to someone else, but Harry couldn’t understand what he’d said. All the screaming had stopped, but his teeth were still chattering uncontrollably. He heard a drawling response before another person took his other arm and began to drag him, his legs uselessly trailing on the ground.


When they finally stopped moving, they placed Harry down somewhere not soft, but definitely more comfortable than the floor had been. Someone held his head and tried to shove something in his mouth. Harry clamped his jaws shut instinctively and tried to turn his head away.


"Relax, Harry; it’s chocolate," Tonks said gently, swiping some of his hair off of his sweaty forehead. "It’ll make you feel better. Here, Draco. You eat some, too."


Harry blearily opened his eyes and took a bite of the chocolate that Tonks was holding out to him. As his vision slowly focused, he realized he was back in the holding room where Moody and Ron had been waiting. The chocolate was doing its work, and Harry felt a little better. He took the chunk from Tonks and managed to sit up.


The chill was subsiding, although he still felt as if he were recovering from a nasty bout of flu. The palms of his hands were scraped and bleeding, and he thought his knees might be, as well. He had to adjust the chocolate to his fingertips so as not to smear it with his blood.


He could see Malfoy sitting next to him, looking waxy and pale, but still scowling. He, too, was eating a large hunk of chocolate. Tonks sat across from the two boys, her eyes moving rapidly between them. She had dirt smeared along the side of her face, and her hair now looked more gray than pink.


"What happened?" Harry tried to ask, although he couldn’t quite form the words. Ron lifted the chocolate in Harry’s limp hand and pushed it up towards his mouth, encouraging him to take another bite.


"I don’t know what would’ve made them behave that way. They’ve never attacked visitors in the past," Tonks said, shakily. "I was on my way back down to check on you lot when I heard Draco screaming. The supervisor on duty is going to inform the Ministry that the Dementors left behind here are unstable."


"We’d just left my father’s cell when those things came at us. Don’t think the Ministry won’t hear about this from me, either. The security in this facility is deplorable," Draco spat. "I could have been killed in the time it took you to get those things off of me."


"Relax, boy. It wasn’t you they wanted," Moody said, his magical eye focused on Harry. "They stepped right over you to get to Potter."


Harry’s eyes widened; everything was still a blur to him. He watched as Malfoy leaned back and petulantly crossed his arms over his chest.


"Potter was useless," Malfoy said, sneering. "Some hero you turned out to be; you passed out again as soon as they came at us. Obviously they’re unpleasant, but why do they affect you so much? What do you see?"


"I hear my parents screaming while Voldemort murders them," Harry snapped, his head throbbing.


Even Malfoy had the good grace to look abashed.


Harry felt embarrassed and extremely irritated with both himself and Malfoy. He didn’t know what had made him say that; he wasn’t thinking clearly. He had to get his focus back if he was going to search for the Horcrux. He looked away from the sympathetic gazes of the others with a scowl and stuffed some more chocolate in his mouth.


"Why do the Dementors always go directly for Harry?" Ron asked, sounding anxious. Harry was grateful to him for diverting the attention.


"Most likely because he’s a walking feast to them with all the crap he’s been through," Moody said shortly. "I don’t want to sit around here all day; we’re sitting ducks in this room. Let’s go to the holding facility and get what you want so we can get out of here."


"I agree," Harry said, using Ron’s arm to help him stand. "I want to get out of here, too."


"Did you have any luck with your father, Draco?" Tonks asked, cocking her head to the side.


Malfoy averted his eyes, scowling. "No."


Tonks stared at him for a moment, but decided to let it go. She patted Malfoy gently on the shoulder as she passed him. "All right then. Holding is located on Level two. Follow me."


"Wait a minute," Harry said, staring beyond the stairwell where Tonks stood. He felt very weak and tired, but he was still aware enough to know Tonks was trying to hurry him off the floor. "What’s that room down there?"


There was one other cell set apart from the others and located further down the hallway.


"It’s just a cell that’s no longer used," Tonks replied, shifting her eyes.


"Why isn’t it used?" Ron asked.


"What difference does it make?" Draco asked, his eyes drifting nervously back towards the other cells. "Let’s just get out of here."


"You said this is the high security wing, right? This is where they hold the most dangerous prisoners," Harry said.


Tonks nodded. "Yes, which is why we should keep moving," she replied, taking Harry’s arm and trying to steer him towards the stairwell.


Harry pulled his arm away and began walking down the hallway, using the wall for support. "And that’s the cell where one prisoner escaped. That’s why they don’t use it anymore," he whispered.


"Harry, don’t do this to yourself," Tonks said.


Ron’s eyes opened wide, finally realizing whose cell it had once been. "Harry, we’ve got other things to do," he said quietly.


"I know," Harry replied, still moving toward the cell, "but I just need to see it. He spent twelve years here, and if I don’t at least see it, no one will ever know."


He’d reached the cell but stopped just before the door. His legs no longer appeared willing to carry him further. He swallowed heavily, staring at that opening and slowly shuffling his feet forward. The cell was dismally small and very dark – barren. There was a single camp bed against the wall, and Harry could just make out the rough sketching of a dog, a wolf and a stag etched into the stone.


A painful lump grew in Harry’s throat as he imagined how abandoned and utterly alone Sirius must have felt. He’d been kept prisoner in this small space – not much bigger than a broom cupboard, actually. The similarity didn’t amuse him at all. Twelve years. Twelve wasted years…


Ron’s hand on his shoulder brought Harry back to the present. He blinked his eyes to clear them and steeled his resolve. They followed Tonks back to the brightly lit stairwell, and Harry leaned heavily on Ron while they walked. He wanted nothing more than to get back on that cold little boat so he could shut his eyes and sleep for a while. He hoped Dung’s things would be easy to find.


"Potter, if you can’t move any faster at least get out of my way," Malfoy said as he pushed past Harry and Ron. "I want to get out of this foul building."


"Don’t worry about him. He’d nearly wet himself by the time Moody and I got there," Ron said, scoffing. "Although, it is lucky he screams like a little girl or else we might’ve never known you were in trouble," he added loudly enough for Malfoy to hear.


The blond ignored him and hurried down the stairs after Tonks.


"Leave him alone," Harry muttered weakly. "He’s just lashing out because his father was a right git."


Ron blinked. "Are you defending Malfoy?" he asked incredulously.


"No," Harry said quickly. "I still think he’s a whiny little coward. He’s just had a rough morning."


"Yeah, unlike you who finds this place a barrel of laughs, right?" Ron said, scowling.


"Don’t be a prat," Harry mumbled. He wanted to smack that smug grin right off his mate’s face, but feared he wouldn’t make it to the holding unit without him.


When Tonks finally stopped walking, she stood in front of a thick steel door. She used her wand to unlock it, but then had to bodily push it open as it got stuck halfway open. Harry stared, agape. There was row after row of haphazard items – mostly clothing – all stuffed into boxes. There didn’t appear to be any order to the room at all.


"Mostly when people leave here, they don’t want to stop for anything and just go," Tonks said, shrugging apologetically. "The boxes are labeled according to the cell number. "Dung’s is 3-R."


"Are you mad? It’ll take us forever to search through here," Ron said, aghast.


Tonks twisted her lips to the side. "It gets worse. I can only take one of you in here at a time."


Harry’s heart sank. It didn’t look as if he’d be getting out of Azkaban any time soon.



**--**--



The dinner hour was rapidly approaching and there still had been no word from Azkaban. Ginny could feel the tension radiating off the adults, and it did nothing to ease her nerves. Hermione had gathered her books and planted herself on the landing above the entrance hall, refusing to speak to anyone.


Remus paced like a caged animal. Ginny had overheard him tell Bill that Tonks should have sent word by now, and he was worried. Tonks’ regular shift was almost at an end, and if they all didn’t turn up shortly thereafter, Remus was planning on going to look for them. Ginny hadn’t said as much, but if that happened, she planned on going with him. Neither her mother nor anyone else would stop her. She could see the same kind of determination glinting in Fred and George’s eyes.


After they had got Mrs. Parkinson settled in her room, her mother and Professor McGonagall had disappeared into the kitchen. One or the other would occasionally bring tea into the sitting room, but otherwise they’d remained out of sight. Ginny had the distinct impression that they were complaining about Mrs. Malfoy and Mrs. Parkinson, and the other two women were most likely upstairs doing the same.


Iris had left the sitting room shortly after Hermione’s outburst, but Pansy remained in her chair. She’d dozed off and on, but otherwise appeared determined to stay until Draco returned. Her small black eyes shot daggers at everyone whenever she was awake.


Ginny’s nerves were wound tightly as a clock spring. Her brothers seemed to understand and gave her a wide berth. She kept envisioning all sorts of horrible scenarios, and she was both concerned and furious that none of the missing group had bothered with a simple owl to let them know what was happening. When Harry returned, she wanted both to kiss him and strangle him. Stupid, noble prat…


When the heavy front door finally opened, Ginny had been so lost in her own thoughts she hadn’t immediately heard it. Hermione had, however, and was halfway down the stairs before Ginny took off after her. Being the more athletic of the two, Ginny quickly caught up and overtook her friend, arriving in the entrance hall just as Moody shut and sealed the door.


Tonks led the weary and drained-looking group inside. Harry, especially looked positively ghastly. His eyes immediately sought her out, and some color reappeared in his cheeks when he found her. Ginny’s heart softened as she moved towards him. She wrapped her arm around him and helped him to a chair, alarmed by how heavily he leaned upon her. The mere fact that he accepted her assistance so meekly showed her how tired he truly was.


"Ron!" Hermione shouted, throwing her arms around him and causing him to stumble. "Where have you been? What happened? Are you all right?"


"Easy, Hermione," Ron said, wrapping his long arms around her and hugging her close. He tried to smile, but it looked more like a grimace. "We’re fine. Just happy to be out of there."


Hermione refused to let go and guided Ron to the chair next to Harry.


"Draco!" Pansy shrieked from the top of the stairs. She sprinted towards them taking the stairs two at a time.


"Pansy?" Malfoy said blankly, confusion clearly written on his face. He was pale and his shoulders drooped, although Ginny could read genuine pleasure in his expression. Maybe he really did care for the rude Slytherin girl. Who’d have thought?


"Are you all right?" Pansy cooed, leading Draco away from the others.


"What are you doing here?" Draco asked, his voice scratchy and hoarse.


"It’s a long story. Mother and Iris are here, too. Come upstairs and join us, and I’ll explain everything," Pansy said as they climbed the stairs. She turned and cast a victorious look over her shoulder, as if expecting that everyone else wished they’d been the ones to lead Draco away.


The rest of the Order emerged, and everyone gathered in the entrance hall. Remus hurriedly approached Tonks, wrapping her in a fierce embrace.


"What happened?" he asked, leading her towards a chair.


"Oh, Ron! Harry!" her mother cried, rushing towards the two boys. She stopped mid-stride, casting anxious glances at each of them. She looked lost and out of place realizing that Ginny and Hermione were already hovering over each of the boys, taking care of them as she usually did. Ginny’s heart momentarily constricted in sympathy for her mum, seeing the pain of letting go clearly written on her face.


"Scrimgeour happened," Tonks said sourly.


"And Percy," Ron replied, grimacing.


"Percy?" Mrs. Weasley asked, her eyes opening wide. "What does this have to do with Percy? Sweet, Merlin. They haven’t stationed him at Azkaban, have they?"


"He was there on Scrimgeour’s orders," Moody said gruffly, lifting his wooden leg onto the footstool her dad had brought to him. "Scrimgeour sent along a stack of necessary paperwork that had to be filled out before we could leave. He’s just trying to learn what Potter was doing there."


"Wouldn’t we all like to know," Tonks said, shooting a glare in Harry’s direction. "We’ve got problems with the remaining Dementors; they’re unstable. They attacked Harry and Draco."


"What do you mean ‘attacked’ them?" Remus asked, his eyes widening. He glanced at Harry, who still hadn’t spoken.


He’d rested his head on Ginny’s shoulder. His eyes were closed, but she could feel the tension in his body and knew he was still listening to every word they said.


"Two of them that were supposed to be on patrol cornered Harry and Draco after they’d left Lucius’s cell. It was only Draco’s shouts that alerted us that something was wrong. Neither Draco nor Harry had wands, so I hate to think what would have happened if I hadn’t got there when I did," Tonks said, shuddering. She leaned into Remus’s chest and blissfully shut her eyes when he began to stroke her pink hair.


"We can use the kitchen fire to Floo Kingsley. He’s at the Ministry this evening," Professor McGonagall said briskly.


"Dinner’s waiting, you must be famished," her mum said as the adults moved towards the kitchen.


Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny didn’t follow them, but instead retired to the room that Harry and Ron shared. Ginny led Harry gently to his bed where he collapsed without even removing his jacket.


"Was it horrible?" Hermione asked, biting her lip. She helped Ron to sit on his own bed and sat down beside him, gently brushing the hair from his face.


"It was bad," Ron replied, cracking his neck and causing Hermione to wince. "After the Dementors attacked Harry and Malfoy, we had to search through the entire holding area. That place was stuffed to the ceiling with rubbish. It took forever, and we were only allowed in one at a time."


"Did you find it?" Hermione asked, squeezing Ron’s hand.


Harry dug his hand into his pocket and removed the heavy gold locket that hung on a chain. "Got it," he said without opening his eyes. He pulled himself into a seated position next to Ginny and laid his head back against the headboard.


They all stared silently at the Horcrux for a moment while listening to the sound of each other’s breathing.


"After we found it, we had to put up with Percy," Ron said, finally continuing the story. "He brought all these extra forms and questionnaires for us to fill out. He made us each fill out one even though Harry was the only one who took anything. Tonks was right hacked off about that."


"Tonks? What’s wrong with her? She did seem rather put out downstairs," Ginny said.


"Once she saw the locket – Percy insisted we had to declare what we took – she got really upset. She thought Harry nearly got himself killed only to get a present for you," Ron said, sniggering at Ginny although the smile didn’t quite reach his eyes.


"So, now we have to figure out how to destroy it," Ginny said, ignoring Ron’s jibes.


"Yeah. I suppose that’s the next step," Ron said, shrugging.


"I found a Translation Charm while I was researching. I tried it on the Romanian book, but it wouldn’t work on the section on Horcruxes. It’s as if that part of the book didn’t even exist," Hermione said, her frustration obvious. "It’s ridiculous. The only word I’ve been able to decipher is object, and that doesn’t help. It’s repeated several times, so I assume it’s referring to the object used to make a Horcrux."


"I wish we could ask Professor Dumbledore," Ron said glumly. "It would make this so much easier."


"Perhaps we can," Harry said, his eyes only half open. "His portrait is in McGonagall’s office at Hogwarts. I saw it there."


Hermione shook her head. "It will depend on when the portrait was commissioned. If it was before Professor Dumbledore suspected Voldemort had made Horcruxes, the portrait will know nothing about them."


"Didn’t you say Professor Dumbledore didn’t know about them until you got that memory from Slughorn, Harry?" Ginny asked in alarm. "That would mean the portrait would have had to have been done within the last few months of school."


"No," Harry said wearily. "Dumbledore suspected the Horcruxes existed since I brought him the diary – maybe even before that. He just didn’t know how many."


"He would have had to have known there were more, right? I mean, Voldemort came back after the diary was found, and he went after the ring himself before you got that memory," said Hermione.


Ginny felt Harry stiffen and she looked over at him, finding his eyes wide. "Dumbledore did go after that Horcrux long before we got that memory from Slughorn," Harry said. "I’d forgotten that. So, he knew there was more than one, maybe he even knew I was one."


"He suspected there was more than one, Harry. You said so yourself. Slughorn’s memory only confirmed the number," Hermione said.


"He must have known," Harry said, looking dazed. "He just didn’t tell me."


"Harry, if it was something he only suspected, why would he have told you?" Hermione asked reasonably. "He must have known it would only upset you, and he obviously cared about you very much. If he knew at all, he probably wanted to be certain before he mentioned it. You believe that he hadn’t known Snape was going to betray him that night."


Harry’s nostrils flared at the mention of Snape’s name, but he sank back against the headboard once again.


"I suppose it’s something we’ll never know," he said, causing Ginny’s heart to ache. She placed her hand on top of his and squeezed it reassuringly.


"Blimey, I’m starving," Ron groaned, breaking the tension. "We missed lunch while we were stuck out there,"


Hermione smiled. "I’ll run downstairs and bring up some of the sandwiches," she said, causing Ron to smile in a self-satisfied way.


"Thanks, love," Ron said softly. Hermione beamed and quickly left the room.


Ginny settled back with her head against the wall and listened as Harry’s breathing became deep and even. She watched the gentle rise and fall of his chest and knew he was already sleeping. His dark lashes showed starkly against the paleness of his face. Ginny always enjoyed watching him sleep because he looked so young and carefree. All the tension and worry that had lined his face so frequently over the past few months would disappear, and he was just Harry again.


She remembered overhearing her mother talking to a friend when Ginny was a child. Her dad had made a trip out to Azkaban for the Ministry, and he’d been really shaken when he’d returned. Her mother had told her friend that Azkaban was a horrible place, and her dad was a sensitive bloke. She said the atmosphere always affected softhearted people worse.


Softhearted certainly fit Harry. He had more compassion than anyone she’d ever known. No wonder he’d had a difficult time of it.


By the time Hermione returned with some food, Harry was snoring lightly against Ginny’s shoulder. She found his weight oddly comforting. Ron, too, had nearly dozed, but started again when Hermione arrived with the food. Even that didn’t bring the color back to his face, and he poked and moved it around more than ate it. Ginny and Hermione kept casting worried glances at one another. It must have been really bad for Ron to be put off food. After they’d finished their dinner, Ron eventually dozed off again. She and Hermione tucked the boys in before returning to their own room for the night.



**--**--



It took several days for Harry and Ron to feel like themselves again, and they spent most of that recovery time sleeping. By week’s end, however, Harry once more felt that restless drive to move forward. He had another Horcrux in his hands – he was certain this locket was the correct one – and now all he needed to do was destroy it.


Exactly how to destroy it was another matter. He’d taken the locket into the basement of Grimmauld Place to see if he could open it. Unlike the fake Horcrux that easily opened, the golden trinket with Slytherin’s elaborate insignia remained tightly sealed. Ron reckoned that perhaps Regulus had been able to destroy the Horcrux trapped inside, but Harry wasn’t convinced. He could feel the power and evil emanating from it, and knew the piece of Voldemort’s soul still remained.


He wondered if he’d felt something from the real locket when they’d found it at Grimmauld Place the first time. Of course, he wouldn’t have known what the feeling meant then, and he supposed he’d been dealing with such a mess of raging feelings at the time, anyway, one more might not have made much of an impact.


Knowing this was it didn’t tell him what he needed to do to destroy it, however. He’d done the diary and the cup on sheer instinct; he’d been panicked each time. This time, however, sitting in a warm room with the cool object clasped in his hand and not a danger in sight, his task wasn’t as clear.


Malfoy had made his presence much more apparent in the house since Pansy’s arrival. The two could often be found in the kitchen sharing a snack, in the drawing room curled up by the fire, or sneaking out of any number of empty rooms. Harry didn’t even want to imagine what they were doing. The fact that it was his house made him shudder. It also irritated him that Malfoy was able to shove the war and all his problems away while Harry found it exceedingly difficult to do that.


It’s my house…it should be Ginny and me exploring all those rooms, he thought irritably.


Since her arrival, Pansy’s greatest pleasure appeared to be finding the right words to set either Hermione or Ginny off, which wasn’t difficult. Ginny, particularly, had a very short fuse when it came to the Slytherin. In fact, Pansy and Iris had apparently mended their rift and united under the common goal of needling the Gryffindor girls.


On more than one occasion, Harry had found himself sitting open-mouthed – Ron and Malfoy by his sides wearing identical gobsmacked expressions – as the girls sniped at each other. Harry was both fascinated and amazed by the low blows girls could zing at each other. Blokes usually came to blows much more quickly, but Harry also thought they got over things quicker, as well.


One afternoon about a week after he’d visited Azkaban, he was sitting in the library again trying to find some kind of a translation for his Romanian book when Remus joined him. Tonks had stopped glaring at him each time she saw him, but she hadn’t gone back to her usual joking manner, either.


"All right, Harry?" Remus asked, entering the library and taking the chair next to Harry.


"Yeah," Harry said, stretching. "Just doing a little reading."


"Your color is better," Remus said, studying Harry’s face. He nodded towards Harry’s book. "What’s that you’re reading?"


"I found it up in that large bedroom beneath the attic. I can’t read it though, it’s not in English," Harry said, not meeting Remus’s eyes.


"Ahh," Remus said, his eyes clouding over. "That was Regulus’s room. The language is Romanian."


Harry looked up sharply. "Yeah, Sirius told me he became a Death Eater. Do you read Romanian?"


"No," Remus replied, shaking his head. "Sirius’s Uncle Alphard lived in Romania. Both he and Regulus were very fond of him. That book looks like it contains a lot of Dark Magic; no wonder Regulus had it. You’re not considering using anything in there, are you, Harry?" Remus asked, his brow furrowing.


"No, not using it," Harry replied, averting his eyes.


"Exactly what does that mean?" Remus asked, slipping into that stern, teacher’s voice that Harry remembered from third year.


Harry’s mind raced. His relationship with Remus had been strained since he’d started his Occlumency sessions, and he didn’t like it. Remus was his last link to his parents, and he didn’t want to lose that. He knew he could trust Remus, and he did need some help. He was growing weary of walking this fine line of wondering whom to trust.


"Sirius said there was a rumor that Voldemort killed Regulus himself, but Sirius didn’t believe it," Harry said, watching Remus closely.


Remus shrugged, still appearing perplexed. "It seems unlikely."


"I’m not so sure," Harry whispered, deciding to follow his instincts.


"Pardon?" Remus asked.


Harry shifted his position so he was facing Remus. He took a deep breath, steeling himself. "Regulus did something…something huge…and I think Voldemort might have found out about it, or at least found out that he was planning it. I don’t think he knows even now how far Regulus got with his plan. It would be just like Voldemort to underestimate him. I think Sirius said he was really young when he died."


"Yes, he was only eighteen. I’m afraid you’ve lost me, Harry," Remus said, shaking his head.


Harry licked his lips, which had gone very dry. "Remus. Can I ask you something and also ask you to swear not to repeat what we say to anyone?"


Remus shifted in his seat, and Harry knew he was struggling with his answer, but he nodded. "Go ahead."


"What can you tell me about Horcruxes?" Harry whispered.


Remus inhaled sharply as he visibly paled. "Where did you learn about those?" he asked, his voice strained. "Harry, you can’t possibly be considering anything so vile-"


"I’m not," Harry interrupted before Remus’s imagination could get carried away. "Professor Dumbledore and I had a discussion about them…but he’s not here to ask anymore."


"Dumbledore told you..." Remus broke off suddenly, his eyes flying open wide. "Of course," he breathed, his eyes darting to Harry’s scar. "That’s how he survived, isn’t it? That’s why he didn’t die."


Harry nodded solemnly


"The necklace you took from Azkaban – Tonks was so angry that you risked your neck for it – is that it? Is that the Horcrux?" Remus asked, lowering his voice on the word ‘Horcrux’. "Do you think Regulus stole it? Is that why you’re asking about him?"


"I know he did," Harry replied calmly "I know he stole that one, anyway."


Remus gulped audibly. "That one?"


Again, Harry nodded solemnly, never breaking eye contact.


"This is what you were working on with Professor Dumbledore, wasn’t it? Remus asked.


"Yeah. Don’t ask me to tell you how many there are, or how many I’ve found. I shouldn’t even have said this much, but I need to know what this book says about destroying them, or anything you might know," Harry said.


Remus’ shoulders slumped as he rested his head in his hands. "I should have trusted you," he whispered, his voice muffled.


"Why didn’t you?" Harry asked, unable to keep the bitterness from seeping into his voice completely.


Remus laughed humorlessly. "All my life, I’ve been a follower. When I was younger, I knew some of the things Sirius and your dad got up to were wrong, but I’d never voice it. Last Christmas, when you voiced your mistrust of Snape, I wouldn’t hear a word of it because Dumbledore insisted he was on our side. I wish I had a bit more of your backbone, Harry. I wish just once I could stand up for what I believe and just do the right thing.


"After you returned from your battle with the dragon, we were all so concerned. Minerva and Kingsley were insistent that we needed to learn what you were doing in order to protect and help you. I ignored my own misgivings and went along with them. You were right, Harry. The Occlumency hasn’t worked, and I wouldn’t blame you if you turned your nose at the lot of us."


"I wouldn’t do that," Harry said, scuffing his toe on the ground. It was hard to remain angry with Remus when the older man looked so miserable. "You can make it up to me if you help me figure out how to destroy the locket."


Remus shrugged, smiling sadly and opening his arms wide in a helpless gesture. "I don’t know a lot; the subject is considered taboo. I do know that in order to create one you need to commit an act of murder – a fully planned and intentional killing without mercy – and that you need to hold the object in your hand along with your wand when you do it."


"You have to be holding it with your wand," Harry repeated. That information was new.


"I don’t know the spell, but I think I can find out," Remus said tentatively.


"How? I’ve looked everywhere and there’s virtually nothing written," Harry replied.


"I have access to some of the more unsavory quarters than you do, Harry," Remus replied, lowering his eyes. "Do you want my help?"


Harry felt torn, worrying that he was signing Remus’ death certificate by getting him involved. He had no choice, however. He needed some help.


"Please."


"Consider it done," Remus said, nodding.


"Do you know anything about destroying them?" Harry asked.


Remus shook his head. "I’m sorry. I don’t. I told you everything I know. I’ll see what I can find out, though."


"That’s all right. I have one more idea to try," Harry said, a plan already formulating in his mind. He didn’t know where the idea had come from, but he was suddenly convinced it was the right thing to do.


"What’s that?" Remus asked.


"I need to go back to that beach where we found Crabbe," Harry said firmly.


"Why? What’s there?" Remus asked, perplexed.


"That’s where Professor Dumbledore and I went the night he died," Harry said, swallowing heavily. "That’s where Voldemort originally placed the locket. I just have a feeling that it might need to be destroyed there."


Remus’s eyes had flown open upon hearing Harry’s revelation. "Do you want me to come with you?"


Harry shook his head. "No, I need you to look into your sources. Ron, Hermione and Ginny will come with me."


"Be careful, Harry," Remus said, squeezing Harry’s shoulder.


"You, too," Harry said, smiling tightly.


With a plan in his head, he shut the book firmly and went to look for his friends.



**--**--



Ha rry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny again Apparated to the spot Remus had brought them the last time. Their announcement that they were going out had startled Mrs. Weasley, and she’d wanted them to take an escort, but she’d relented under Mr. Weasley’s reassurances. The teens hadn’t been specific about their destination, and if Mrs. Weasley had any hunches, she didn’t share them.


When they arrived on the shore, a cold, gusty wind was blowing off the sea. It reminded Harry of the trip to Azkaban, and he shivered, steeling his shoulders against it. He could hear the distant clang of a lighthouse buoy ringing in the wind. The four teens could see firelight burning in the distance, and they crouched down low as they approached it.


Crabbe was still there and still using the fire to keep warm. Harry couldn’t blame him – the wind off the water was bitterly cold.


"The entrance to the cave is below, and it’s a steep climb down," Harry whispered. "I’m going to Disillusion us all. Just keep your hand on the shoulder of the person in front of you, and I’ll lead you to the spot where we have to go down. We’re going to have to walk fairly close in order to get there, but once we’re at the bottom, we shouldn’t have to worry about Crabbe seeing us."


"Why don’t we just Stun him, then we can revive him when we leave?" Ron asked.


"Then he’ll report to Voldemort that someone Stunned him, and he’ll know we were here," Hermione replied.


"Right," Harry said, nodding. "As of now, I think we got the cup undetected, so he doesn’t know we’re onto him. I’d like to keep it that way, if possible."


Harry cast the spell on each of his friends and finally himself. He walked slowly and carefully along the beach and towards the cliff. His heart pounded in his chest, and he could taste the tangy, metallic taste in his mouth from an adrenaline rush. He was close enough to Crabbe to hear the man’s breathing. Crabbe sat on the rocks reading a tattered copy of the Daily Prophet. He really wasn’t much of a guard, but it had to get boring staying here day after day.


Harry reached the cliff and began the treacherous climb downward. Although he couldn’t see his friends, he could hear their breathing behind him. Ron cursed under his breath several times as the girls loosened rocks above him. Harry was below Ron, so he got hit with the additional rocks Ron was jarring loose in trying to avoid the other stones.


"Ron! Be still," Harry hissed in exasperation after a particularly sharp rock bounced off his temple.


"Oh. Sorry, Harry," Ron said, finally realizing he’d been raining debris down upon Harry’s head.


Harry finally reached the slippery rocks below. The tide was low, and the smell of decaying sea life was nearly overpowering. But thanks to the lower water line, more of the jetty was exposed than on his previous visit, and the rocks were much less slippery.


Hermione spoke, causing him to startle. "Where do we go next?"


Harry removed the Disillusionment charms and pointed toward the fissure in the rocks where he’d traveled once with Professor Dumbledore. "We have to swim over there," he said.


"Swim?" Ron asked, staring at the water reluctantly. "It’ll be bloody freezing."


Hermione, who appeared just as displeased, patted his arm bracingly. "Don’t worry, Ron. We’ll dry ourselves off and cast warming charms straightaway."


They both stared at the water, taking deep breaths and preparing to jump. Ginny rolled her eyes and pushed them out of the way. "Oh, for heaven’s sake. The sooner we do it, the sooner it will be over," she said, jumping straight into the chilly waves. Her head bobbed up quickly, and she brushed her newly shortened hair out of her eyes.


"It’s an eye opener," she said, her teeth chattering as she began a graceful crawl stroke toward the fissure.


Harry jumped in after her and heard the splashes indicating that Ron and Hermione had followed. He was grateful for the splashing of the waves against the rocks, for he was certain it would muffle any additional splashes they made from Crabbe.


Harry quickly overtook Ginny as he led them to the tunnel in the rock and felt his fingers scrape against the seaweed-covered rock. His limbs felt numb by the time he’d reached the larger cave and heaved his body out of the water. His heavy winter clothing was drenched and made moving difficult.


He helped a shivering Ginny from the water, then turned to assist Hermione, and finally Ron.


"Bloody hell," Ron said, shaking violently.


Businesslike as always, Hermione demanded that he stand still as she cast charms to dry his clothing.


The hair on the back of Harry’s neck prickled in warning, and he glanced around uneasily. Still shaking from the chill, his hand shot out, grasping Hermione’s wand before she could cast the drying spell on her own sodden clothes.


"Harry, what-"


"Shh," Harry said, glancing around warily. "No more magic until we’re inside."


"What’s the matter?" Ginny asked, rubbing her hands along her arms, trying to warm them.


"I don’t know," Harry said, still looking around. "I’m worried Voldemort might have done something to warn him if magic is performed here – something like the Ministry uses. I don’t think it’ll work inside because there are so many spells in place already, but out here… Just hang on a few more minutes, okay?"


Hermione nodded, her eyes wide and fearful as she peered around each rock.


They waited several minutes, wands at the ready, to see if anyone would come. Eventually, Harry felt reassured that it had been his imagination. With the tension easing, the discomfort of being cold and wet returned with a vengeance.


He moved as quickly as he could towards the stone wall, trying to feel that now-familiar hum. He was again shivering so violently that he couldn’t be sure of what he felt. Removing a knife from his belt, he quickly cut a thin slice along his arm.


"What are you doing?" Ginny shrieked, pulling the knife away from his bleeding arm.


"It needs a sacrifice," Harry said, hissing in pain as Ginny pulled the knife too quickly.


He let a few droplets of blood fall from his cut and smeared them along the wall of the cave. The bright white light of the archway flickered and formed the entrance. When the bloodstained wall disappeared, Harry quickly stepped through, beckoning the others to follow behind him. Ginny, Ron, and Hermione had all been stunned speechless, and they followed him with wide, wary eyes into the pitch-black darkness.


Once inside, Harry quickly healed the cut on his arm and dried his clothing while Hermione did the same for herself and Ginny.


"This is where you came that night," Ron said, his voice unnaturally loud in the stillness.


"Yeah," Harry said, grimacing as he looked at the motionless black lake. He was interested to see that its center still glowed eerily green. "Whatever you do, don’t touch the water, or we’ll have to deal with the Inferi sooner than expected."


"I don’t want to deal with them at all," Ron said, shuddering as he looked at the lake. He had his arm wrapped around Hermione’s shoulders, and he pulled her closer.


"Me, either," Harry said. Despite all the other horrors he’d seen thus far, there was just something about the Inferi that made his skin crawl. "I need to get out to that little island in the middle of the lake to try and destroy the locket. You’ll need to keep watch in case Crabbe comes in here. I don’t know if he regularly checks within the cave or not, but if he does, he’s certain to notice the arch has been opened. You’ll have to detain him."


Hermione adamantly shook her head. "You’re not going alone, Harry. We’re all going to do this together this time."


"We can’t," Harry said flatly, his eyes already seeking out the spot where Dumbledore had summoned the boat. "The boat won’t hold us all; it’s too small."


"You went with Dumbledore," Ginny said. "It must be big enough to hold two, anyway."


Harry shook his head. "Only because my magic didn’t register since I was underage and unqualified. Dumbledore said it’s not the weight that matters, but the magical power."


"Technically, you’re still unqualified; we all are," Hermione said.


"Do you want to take that chance by all of us getting into that boat and perhaps stirring up those Inferi if it doesn’t work?" Harry asked, frowning.


"It doesn’t matter," Ginny replied, shrugging. "I can go with you. I’m underage, remember?"


It irritated him that his own reasoning for not wanting to take Ginny along in the first place kept coming back to bite him. Still, leaving her on the shore with Ron and Hermione didn’t mean she was any safer than if she came with him if those Inferi decided to attack.


"Okay," he said. "Ginny and I will go out to the middle, Ron and Hermione, you’ll keep guard."


"Why can’t you just destroy it here?" Ron asked, obviously uneasy with the decision.


Harry pulled the locket from his pocket and stared at it for a moment. Finally, he shrugged and said, "Something tells me it has to be destroyed out there. I just feel it. The Basilisk’s fang helped to destroy the diary. The dragon’s fire helped to destroy the cup. Something tells me that potion is needed to destroy the locket. It has to be done out there."


"I don’t like this, Harry," Hermione said, wringing her hands.


"I don’t either, but the quicker we get on with it, the quicker we can get out of here," he replied, taking Ginny’s hand and leading her away


"Be careful," Ron said, watching them walk.


Harry stopped, turned back and solemnly nodded. This place had started Dumbledore’s downfall, and he’d been the most powerful wizard of all. There was no guarantee here for any of them.


"You be careful, too. Watch out for each other. The archway should reseal on its own, although I don’t know how long it’ll take. Just stay alert. Once we destroy this thing, I have no idea what the Inferi will do."


Hermione let go of Ron’s hand and sprinted towards them. She hugged Harry and then Ginny. "We can cover you here. Just be careful out there, and come back quickly."


Harry nodded and tugged Ginny’s hand. They gingerly walked along the water’s edge until they’d reached the spot where he remembered Dumbledore had found the boat the last time.


Taking a deep breath, he shut his eyes and let his other senses heighten. He could hear Ginny’s rapid breathing and knew she was frightened even though she hadn’t shown it. He could smell the ocean and thought he could nearly taste the salt on his lips. Reaching out his hand, he waved in the air, seeking the cord to release the boat. It took several moments, but Ginny remained still and finally, Harry could hear that distant hum and felt warmth spread up his arm.


He tugged on the invisible cord, and the small boat was lowered in front of them. Ginny gasped as the chains set it in the water.


"I can’t believe you and Dumbledore both fit in this," Ginny said, her voice trembling.


"It was a tight fit," Harry said thickly. A painful lump had formed in the back of his throat, making speech difficult. He took Ginny’s hand and caressed it with his thumb as he led her towards the boat.


He climbed in first, steadying it before he spread his legs wide and allowed her room to settle between them, leaning her back against his chest. He could feel her slight body trembling and suspected it had nothing to do with the chill.


"Just keep your hands inside and never touch the water," he whispered. "Everything will be all right."


The boat began its trek across the eerily still black water. Harry kept his wand lit, but tried not to look too closely in the water, knowing what he would find.


"Don’t worry about me, Harry. It’s rather frightening, but I’m okay. I always feel okay when I’m with you," Ginny said, resting her head back on his shoulder.


Her words were eerily familiar and reminded him of something Dumbledore had said that night. He shuddered and pulled her to him as the boat glided ever closer to the glowing green light. By the time they reached the small circle of rock that held the chalice, Ron and Hermione weren’t even visible. Only the two small pinpricks of light from their wands let Harry know where they were.


He and Ginny got out of the boat and moved swiftly towards the chalice. Harry was surprised to see it had been refilled. He supposed it made sense. Regulus must have once emptied it to retrieve the locket, and it had been refilled for Harry’s and Dumbledore’s arrival.


He removed the Horcrux from his pocket and stared at it, wondering what he should do next. Some of his recent decisions had been made as if he’d taken an incorrectly brewed Felix Felicis potion. He would know exactly what he had to do, but once he made the first step, the rest of the plan deserted him. Still, things could be worse. After all, he did have the Horcrux; he just needed to destroy it.


I can do this.


As Harry approached the chalice, he could feel Ginny’s eyes on the back of his neck. He appreciated her silence while he worked out this puzzle.


Suddenly, sound and light erupted from across the lake. Harry could recognize spells volleying back and forth, and he knew Ron and Hermione were in trouble. They’d been discovered.


"Ron and Hermione," Ginny said, her face growing even paler than it already was. "That looks like more than just Crabbe they’re battling, Harry. He must have called for reinforcements."


Harry felt panic rise in his chest. He didn’t know how many Death Eaters Ron and Hermione were up against, but it was obviously more than one. Could they hold them off until he and Ginny could get there, and what would happen to the Horcrux if they were captured? He had to destroy it first, but how could he not help Ron and Hermione?


His decision was made for him when the lake around their rock island began to churn. Skeletal white hands, arms and skulls began rising from the lake. Ginny screamed as one brushed its hand against her leg. She moved closer to him, bracing her back against his so they could cover each other.


In the battle across the lake, someone had obviously touched the water.


The Inferi rose from the lake, their blank sightless eyes staring straight ahead as they jerkily reached for their prey.


Harry gulped as he watched them surround Ginny and him. There were so many of them. Things had just got a whole lot worse.




A/N: Huge thanks to my beta, Sherylyn, who has a list of characters who I’m not allowed to kill, lol. I’m worried about what’s going to happen later in this story L


Also thanks to KEDme, Dianne, and GhostWriter for their prebeta support. They were great help with this chapter.


I suppose you’ve all seen JKR’s latest comments about book 7, right? I think she really enjoys stirring the pot and seeing us all jump, don’t you? Heh. Who can blame her?




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