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SIYE Time:21:58 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: 202940; Chapter Total: 7262
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 Twenty-Three


Haven’t I Been Here Before?



Ginny sat on the ledge in the Astronomy tower, sullenly kicking the stone wall and scowling down at the road to Hogsmeade. The road that Harry, Ron, Hermione and some of the Order had traveled only a few hours ago before Apparating into London for the Ministry’s press conference. The chilly winter air nipped at her exposed skin; the breeze whipped her hair around her face, but she didn’t care. She hated being left behind.


It didn’t matter that her parents and the twins had also remained in the castle. She was still in a foul mood. Her mother hadn’t been the same since Percy’s death. Her anxiety for her children had reached alarming new heights, and Ginny, in particular, was feeling the strain. She was the only one her mother felt she still had any control over, and her obsessive need to know where Ginny was at every waking moment was smothering.


Sighing, Ginny again kicked the parapet, knowing her mum would probably faint dead away if she saw her sitting up here, but Ginny felt the need to do something rebellious. Sitting on the ledge of the Astronomy tower was the best she could do at the moment. Pathetic.


She knew her mum was devastated by Percy’s loss, and Ginny felt bad for being so irritated with her, but she couldn’t help it. She was aware that all her brothers had also had their fill of the way her mum kept counting everyone’s heads to know where all her children were, but, somehow, they didn’t allow her to make them feel as guilty as Ginny always did. Maybe it was a bloke thing.


Fred and George had been up here a bit ago – no doubt sent to check on her by their mum – and they’d tried to cheer her up. Although she appreciated their efforts, she’d just wanted to be left alone. She’d considered going to the spot by the lake that Harry had shown her, but since she was angry with him, as well, she’d rejected it.


The twins weren’t pleased they’d been left behind, either, but Moody had thought they would stand out too much. Ginny snorted, imagining them trying to remain low-key. Her dad had planned to use Polyjuice like Bill and Moody in order to attend, but he’d conceded to her mum’s pleading at the last minute and remained behind.


She glanced up at the setting sun, admiring the serene beauty as the glowing orb sank behind the Scottish hills. She wished she knew what was happening. She didn’t trust Umbridge for a moment, and she’d felt the unease of all the Order members as they’d quietly left the castle.


It was perfectly logical that not everyone needed to attend the press conference, but it was disappointing to Ginny that she’d been the one left behind…again. Although, she supposed it was a good thing that Ron and Hermione had gone along with Harry. Hopefully, they’d be able to calm him if his anger over Peter Pettigrew’s release reached a boiling point. Harry had come a long way in learning to control his temper, but he could only be pushed so far.


Still, she wished one of them would have argued more forcefully on her behalf. She’d have done for them. Scowling again, she squinted into the dimming light, hoping to see a sign of someone returning before the darkness blocked her view entirely. It was probably time to return to the common room, anyway. She supposed she looked like the princess in the tower stuck up here, and that’s exactly how she felt.


She tugged at necklace Harry had given her for Christmas. She never took it off, and the stone seemed to radiate pleasant warmth against her skin. Earlier this evening, however, the stone had done something very strange. It…flared, or burst, or…something. Ginny was certain she must have imagined it, but for a moment, it felt as if it had been burning her skin.


Finally deciding that she’d had enough, she swung her legs back over the ledge and jumped into the Astronomy tower. Glancing down one last time, she thought she saw a flicker of movement near the gates. She squinted, peering intently down the road. A moment later, she could recognize the telltale hint of red on the head of the tallest of the travelers. Certain it was Ron, she could then distinguish Hermione, Harry and Charlie, all trudging with him, along with several other people that Ginny didn’t recognize. Two of them were rather large men, who struggled to keep up with the rest of the group.


Relief washed over her – they were safe. When she realized Bill and Fleur weren’t with them, however, a tickle of fear ran down her spine. There was something about the way they were walking – almost rigidly – that told her something wasn’t right. As they got closer to the castle, she could clearly see both Ron and Hermione leading Harry by his arms. He walked woodenly, staring straight ahead, his face impassive. It was how he usually held himself when he was trying to bury his emotions.


Something was very wrong.


Ginny wanted to turn and sprint to the common room. She could still beat them there if she left now, but she couldn’t seem to tear her gaze away from Harry’s stiff gait. Certainly, if Bill or Fleur had been hurt, Ron and Charlie would be more upset…right? So what could have happened? With a start, Ginny finally recognized the other three travelers as Harry’s horrid Muggle relatives. What on earth were they doing here? If they had anything to do with whatever was wrong with Harry, Ginny would see to it they paid for it.


Her anger finally overriding her concern, she turned and bolted for the Gryffindor common room, running as fast as her short legs would carry her. Panting, she skidded around the corner and barely stopped in front of the Fat Lady.


"Just because classes are no longer in session, doesn’t mean there should be running in the corridors, young lady," the portrait scolded.


"Sanctuary," Ginny hissed, ignoring the reprimand.


The Fat Lady huffed indignantly, but the portrait hole swung open.


Several heads turned her way as she entered, her eyes sweeping the room for any sign of the returning party.


Iris and Mrs. Parkinson sat by the window, reading their books, although Iris kept glancing toward the corner where Fred and George were involved in a heated game of chess. Shannon peered over the board watching them. All of them looked up when Ginny entered the room.


"Ginny! There you are," her mother said fretfully, jumping up from her chair by the fire where she’d been knitting. "Are you all right? You’ll probably catch a chill being outside in that cold air all this time."


Ignoring her mother’s fussing, Ginny said, "They’re back. I saw a group of them on the road from Hogsmeade."


"They’re back already?" her dad asked, furrowing his brow. "That seems terribly soon."


Ginny nodded, unwilling to add to her father’s obvious anxiety by voicing her concern. "I’m certain that I saw Ron, Harry and Hermione in the group."


"What about the others?" her mum asked, wringing her hands. "Bill and Charlie?"


Before Ginny could respond, the portrait hole swung open, and a grim-faced Professor McGonagall led the weary group inside.


Harry’s face was a rigid mask, revealing nothing. Hermione took his arm, attempting to lead him to a chair, but he roughly jerked it away. Both Ron and Charlie’s faces were taut, and Hermione looked as if she’d been crying. The Dursleys all looked like scared rabbits. They huddled together, barely stepping inside the room, their eyes warily taking in their surrounding.


Worried, Ginny moved closer to Harry, but he shied away, obviously not wanting to be touched.


Something was very wrong.


"Thank Merlin, you’re back," her mum cried, throwing her arms around Charlie. "I’ve been so worried. Where are Bill and Fleur?"


Ron quickly moved away before she could smother him, wrapping his arm around Hermione’s shoulders and leading her to a chair. She sank down into it, sniffling and leaning heavily on him. Neither of them took their eyes off Harry.


"Why don’t you tell us what happened?" her dad asked, his eyes narrowed as he gazed at the Dursleys. "I’d also like to know how Harry’s relatives came to join us." Although his voice sounded outwardly pleasant, Ginny could detect the hard edge. Muggles or not, her dad didn’t like the Dursleys any better than the rest of them did.


Mrs. Dursley clutched her son’s arm and pulled him against her, as if prepared to bodily keep any stray bits of magic from seeping into him.


"I’d like an answer to that question myself," Vernon Dursley said, regaining some of his bluster. "I don’t know how we ended up at this ruddy school. I don’t even know how all this can exist inside that pile of ruins we saw outside."


"Magic, dad," Dudley said, rolling his eyes. "It didn’t look like ruins to me."


Mr. Dursley spluttered a moment, apparently unaccustomed to any kind of lip from Dudley.


Ginny continued to watch Harry. His face and forearms were covered with nicks and cuts, and he rigidly stood away from the others, wrapping his arms around himself as if chilled. The stony mask never slipped from his face, and his eyes were flat and lifeless. Ginny grew increasingly frightened, desperately wanting to comfort him but uncertain how. She tried to catch Ron and Hermione’s eyes, but they purposefully avoided her gaze. They, too, were covered by small abrasions.


Ginny’s stomach knotted.


"Sit down over there and be quiet until I fill them in," Charlie barked, directing the Dursleys to the table at the back of the common room. The harsh tone of his voice caused all three Dursleys to jump and quickly take the offered seats. Ginny suspected it was the same commanding voice he used with stubborn dragons.


Mr. Dursley’s skin turned a rather alarming shade of purple, but he managed to hold his tongue.


"Charlie, where’s your brother?" her mum asked, clenching her hands.


"I don’t know," Charlie replied, flinching.


"What do you mean, you don’t know? He was there with you, wasn’t he? Why didn’t he and Fleur leave with the rest of you? What happened?" she asked, her voice rising shrilly with each question.


"Molly, why don’t you sit down and have a spot of tea," Professor McGonagall said, briskly handing her mum a cup and saucer. "I think we all want to hear what Charlie has to say. I’m certain Bill and the others will be returning from the Ministry, posthaste."


"The Ministry is under You-Know-Who’s control," Charlie said softly, suddenly appearing very drained.


Startled gasps arose around the room as everyone turned their heads, looking back and forth at each other. Only Ron, Harry, and Hermione remained still, starting stoically ahead.


"I think you’d better start from the beginning, Charlie," her dad said, rubbing her mum’s back.


"Umbridge started the evening by basically telling everyone that Harry isn’t the Chosen One, Dudley Dursley is," Charlie said, gratefully taking the drink Fred offered him.


"She said what?" Professor McGonagall asked blankly, her entire posture perfectly still. Her eyes briefly flickered to the quivering lump that was Dudley.


"That Dudley’s the Chosen One," Charlie said, taking another shot of Firewhisky.


From the corner of her eye, Ginny caught Dudley sitting straighter in his chair and sticking his chest out while Mrs. Dursley clutched his arm, appearing ready to snatch him and run away.


"She claimed that the prophecy never mentioned Harry specifically, only his bloodline, and that Dumbledore hid Dudley from the Ministry all this time," Charlie spat.


"How is it you came in contact with Dolores Umbridge, Mr. Dursley?" Professor McGonagall asked, her eyes boring in on Dudley.


"Erm," Dudley replied, his voice cracking. "She just showed up at the house one day. She said one of her detection machines told her I’d been performing magic."


"Machines, you say?" her dad asked, his demeanor brightening despite the tense atmosphere.


"Not now, Arthur," her mum snapped, rounding on Mrs. Dursley. "Did you invite her to your home? Did you contact her for any reason?"


Mrs. Dursley blinked owlishly. "Contact her? How would I go about contacting her?" she asked, aghast.


"How would I know why you do anything you do? You abused your own sister’s only child – I can’t ever imagine understanding how you think, and I hope I never will," her mum said, snarling. "How did Dolores Umbridge find you?"


"I don’t know," Mrs. Dursley snapped. "After the summer holiday, Dudley was in a wonderful mood. All the nonsense stopped, and we were ready to send him back to school after the Christmas holiday. Then, all of a sudden, something snapped again, and he reverted to making odd things happen whenever he got upset."


"Harry sent me a spellbook for Christmas," Dudley said, glancing at Harry, who didn’t respond. "I tried some of the spells, but I didn’t have one of those stick things, and I couldn’t make anything work. I got really frustrated, and then I don’t know what happened. The Playstation I was trying to float exploded, and a few minutes later, that Umbridge bird knocked on the door."


"She told us how special our Dudders is – something we always knew – and how great he was going to be. She saw things in him that Smeltings just didn’t see. I don’t know how they missed it. I never wanted my Dudley in this world, but she, at least, recognized how extraordinary he is," Mrs. Dursley cried plaintively.


"I gave it a chance, Petunia," Mr. Dursley said, the vein in his temple looking ready to explode. "I thought maybe if they could see all the potential in Dudders here, that they couldn’t be all bad, but enough is enough. We’re all going home and away from this craziness."


"Umbridge claimed that her realization over how wrong everyone had been about Harry and the wrongs done to Dudley made her think we might be wrong about You-Know-Who, as well," Charlie said, clenching his glass.


"The level of preposterousness from that woman is truly mind boggling," Professor McGonagall said, sniffing.


"She claimed to have signed a treaty to end the violence and bring cooperation with the Death Eaters," Charlie said.


Harry, his arms folded across his chest, clutched at his biceps, digging his nails into his skin. Unthinkingly, Ginny grabbed his hand, wanting to keep him from hurting himself further. Harry again flinched away, but this time, she caught a fleeting shadow cross his eyes. He looked so lost and vulnerable that she wanted to cry, to scoop him into her arms and soothe away whatever hurt was tormenting him.


Obviously, he was determined to handle whatever it was alone, but his eyes told a different story. His beautiful, sad eyes were crying out for help. Wrapping her arm around his waist, she gently squeezed. He stiffened, but she was encouraged that he didn’t pull away.


"How did the people react to that idea?" her dad asked.


Charlie ran a hand through his hair. "I really can’t say. It was obvious they wanted to believe it, but I still saw a lot of mistrust in that room. They were willing to ignore any difficulty in believing Dudley was the Chosen One, but when it came to the treaty – the hope in the room was palpable. I could see it in the eyes of everyone around me. Just as Moody predicted, they were willing to ignore reason because she was telling them what they wanted to hear."


"They’re frightened," her dad said, squeezing the bridge of his nose. "It happens all the time."


"They should’ve been more frightened," Charlie said grimly. "She began to list some restrictions placed on Muggleborns, including educating them separately from Hogwarts students and barring them from holding positions of authority."


"That’s probably the best idea I’ve heard in a long time," Draco Malfoy said, slinking into the room from the stairs to the boys’ dormitories. "The position of Minister, in particular, should be held by someone brought up according to the traditions of the Wizarding world."


Narcissa nodded approvingly at her son.


"Yeah, that sounds just about what she said before she opened the door and allowed the Death Eaters to march inside," Ron said, snarling.


"She what?" her mum shrieked, sitting bolt upright.


"The Death Eaters stormed the place, and Umbridge ordered all the Aurors to stand down," Charlie said, shaking his head. "Snape led them inside the building."


"Severus?" Professor McGonagall asked, clutching her throat.


"He basically cleared a path so Voldemort could sweep in and declare himself the new Minister," Ron said, patting Hermione on the back as she sniffled. "Voldemort sealed all the exits, blocking everyone inside. He returned Pettigrew’s head to Umbridge on a platter before he turned her over to Greyback and the other werewolves. They weren’t too happy with her."


As the others discussed the events at the Ministry, Ginny let the words drone emptily around. Her focus was solely on Harry. What had happened to put that hollow emptiness in his eyes yet again? She’d seen it there before, on several occasions in the past. The first time was after the Third Task and the events in that graveyard that had started it all. She’d been pretending not to pay attention to him then. She’d been with Michael, and had, in fact, been quite happy at the time. But it still didn’t stop her from noticing Harry, nor her heart aching over the sad, lost, rather dazed expression in his eyes.


The next time she’d seen that look on his face had been after Sirius’s death. After the tragic events that night, any fool could see the raw, desperate pain radiating in Harry’s eyes. He’d placed an invisible shield around himself, and no one had dared approach in those first few days.


The last time his face had taken on that look was after Professor Dumbledore’s death. Harry had again been forced to witness it. He’d handled it better this time – perhaps it was his newfound maturity, perhaps simply because he’d been through it already. Ginny liked to think it was because he hadn’t been so alone.


Now….what could have happened at the Ministry to put that haunted look back in his beautiful green eyes? She thought his eyes were his best feature – so expressive and full of life, always revealing far more about what he was feeling than he realized.


"It was awful," Hermione cried, dragging Ginny back to the present. "There were people being struck in the back as they tried to escape, and others who were trampled after they fell. There were bodies everywhere," Hermione said, shuddering.


Ginny felt Harry’s body tremble, as he finally began to lose his rigid stance and relax against her, leaning on her for support.


"We tried to find a way out, but the place was sealed tighter than a drum. I’ve never seen anything like it," Charlie said, impressed despite the situation. "Nothing worked."


"That’s when Voldemort realized Harry was there," Hermione said, glancing at Harry. "They exchanged words, and then Voldemort used the Cruciatus on him."


"Merlin’s Beard!" her mum gasped, her eyes darting towards Harry, who shrank away.


Ginny felt his trembling increase, and she was grateful to her dad for holding her mum back. She didn’t think Harry could handle her right now.


"Harry and Voldemort dueled, and it looked like Harry might be in trouble," Ron said, swallowing heavily and glancing tentatively at Harry.


Ginny noticed that both Ron and Hermione were speaking very slowly, as if dragging out the story. Whatever happened next, they obviously didn’t want to say it, and Ginny felt a wave of dread wash over her.


Heavy shadows fell across Harry’s eyes, making the green appear almost black. Ginny kept her hand firmly around his waist, and he suddenly reached for it, clasping it almost desperately.


"Remus and Tonks arrived, and they sacrificed themselves so we could escape," Charlie said, speaking very fast, as if to just get it out. "They were amazing."


The entire room erupted into shouts of dismay. Even Malfoy’s eyebrows rose to his hairline.


"The werewolf is dead?" he asked blankly, his eyes darting to Harry.


Harry stared firmly ahead, not meeting anyone’s gaze. Ginny’s vision blurred as her own eyes filled with tears.


How can this be happening?


Remus – sweet, gentle Remus. He’d been so kind to her during her second year. She’d had so much work to catch up on after her disastrous first year, and he’d been so patient and understanding. And Tonks! Clumsy, fun-loving Tonks. She’d been more like a friend than another adult. Her mother would be horrified if she realized half the things Tonks had taught Ginny. Ginny remembered a giggling Tonks saying something about her mum maybe not being the world’s best expert on contraceptive charms…


She and Remus had finally declared their love for each other. They were supposed to get married and live happily ever after. It wasn’t supposed to happen this way.


Tears streaked Ginny’s cheeks, and she quietly brushed them away. She felt empty inside, as if it couldn’t be real. She couldn’t even summon the energy to have a proper cry.


"Shut it, Malfoy," Ron snarled, his own eyes suspiciously bright. "If it wasn’t for Remus, we wouldn’t have got out of there."


Ginny saw Harry’s lower lip quiver for an instant before he slipped the emotionless mask back over his face. He was squeezing her hand so tightly, Ginny was certain she’d lost circulation.


"How did you get away?" her dad asked, his voice cracking. Ginny watched dispassionately as her mother wept against his chest. "What happened to the charm blocking the doors?"


Ron’s eyes shifted to Harry again. "I don’t really know," he said softly.


"Harry did it," Hermione said, sniffling. "It was shocking, actually. Obviously he was upset, but he did something to the glass doors where we were standing, and the whole room shook. All the doors unlocked just as suddenly, and there was a mad rush to escape."


Every eye in the room turned toward Harry, and Ginny felt his body tense. She was certain he would’ve bolted if it weren’t for her arms wrapped securely around him. Before he had time to speak, the portrait hole again swung open, and a battle-weary Bill, Fleur and Moody stumbled inside. All three had used Polyjuice Potion to attend the meeting, but their normal appearance had since returned. Bill’s face was bleeding, and Fleur limped alongside him.


"Bill!" her mum said, again jumping from her chair and flinging her arms around him. She then turned and treated Fleur to the same bone-crushing embrace. "Oh, Fleur. Thank Merlin, you’re all right."


Bill and Charlie shook hands before pulling each other into a rough embrace. "Glad to see you, mate," Charlie said, his voice thick.


"Yeah. We saw you lot get out after the doors burst. We stayed to help get people to St. Mungo’s, but when the Death Eaters really started to regroup, we had to flee," Bill replied.


"What ‘appened to ze doors?" Fleur asked. "I have never zeen anyzing like it."


"That was Harry," Charlie replied, casting a tentative glance in Harry’s direction.


"Damn fine bit of magic," Moody said gruffly, easing himself into a chair. "We would’ve had even more casualties than we already do without it. Most of the Aurors have been decimated, but I’ve brought those that survived back here with us."


"They’re here?" Professor McGonagall asked, raising her eyebrows.


Moody nodded. "They’re in the Great Hall. The Ministry’s gone – completely under Voldemort’s control."


Ginny looked up sharply; it was the first time she’d ever heard the old Auror use the name. She could see a steely glint of determination in his eye – he wouldn’t be pushed any further.


"They want to join the Order," Moody said. "We’re the last line of defense now. We’re going to get Kingsley out of Azkaban. He doesn’t belong there, and he can help lead them. They trust him."


Professor McGonagall nodded, appearing very pale.


"I want to train with them," Harry said, speaking for the first time. His voice was hard – unforgiving.


"Harry-" her mum said, but he didn’t give her time to finish.


"If I’m the one who has to stop him, I need someone to show me how to do it. I need to learn how to kill him," Harry said, his eyes blazing. "Can you teach me?"


Moody nodded solemnly.


"Potter…" Professor McGonagall said, apparently at a loss for words.


"What?" Harry shouted, rounding on her. "Am I supposed to continue to sit back and let him take you all one by one? Nothing changes in the end – it’s still up to me. I choose to do it while there are still some of you I care about left."


Turning on his heel, Harry stormed from the room, roughly bumping his shoulder on the side of the portrait hole as he did. Both Hermione and Ginny moved to follow, but her father’s soft voice stopped them.


"Let him go. He needs to burn off some steam."


They all stared at the empty hole for a moment, even Draco – looking pale and strained – was oddly silent,. Professor McGonagall broke the stillness.


"Alastor, we’ll put the Aurors in the Ravenclaw dormitories. You can get Filius to help you with that. Molly, can you please put the Dursleys in one of the empty dormitories here? Dobby can prepare the room. Dudley can join Mr. Malfoy, I believe he’s currently alone on his floor."


"I’m not going to share a room with a Mud…er…a Muggleborn," Malfoy said, catching himself under Professor McGonagall’s stern gaze. He shook his head as if to clear it.


"You’ll stay wherever we have room, Mr. Malfoy," Professor McGonagall replied briskly.


"Malfoy?" Dudley asked, staring at the blonde for the first time. "I’ve heard Potter talk about you."


Draco rolled his eyes. "Charming."



**--**--



After all the sleeping arrangements were settled, and Madam Pomfrey called to tend the injuries, Ginny quietly slipped out of Gryffindor tower in search of Harry. She knew his heart was breaking, but she wasn’t certain what she could do about it, other than to grieve with him. At least she could ensure that he didn’t have to go through it alone.


She knew instinctively where to find him. Pushing open the heavy front doors, she hurried outside into the cold night air. None of them was supposed to be outside the castle after nightfall, but if Harry were hurting, he would have gone to the Quidditch pitch.


As she approached it, the lights were blazing, and she could see a lone figure swooping around the rings. Rather than searching for the Snitch, he held a Beater’s bat in his hand. She watched as he swung it at an approaching Bludger, admiring the way his taut muscles rippled when he moved. She could understand how he felt – the idea of beating the crap out of something was immensely appealing right now.


Turning suddenly, as if he knew he was being watched, Harry’s body relaxed when he saw her. He flew down and landed on the grass near where she stood. A fine sheen of sweat covered his skin, despite the chill in the air. His eyes still held that same, haunted, deadened expression.


"Hey," he said, scuffing his toe on the ground.


"I was worried," she whispered, slipping her hand inside his gloved one.


"I’m all right – been here before," he said, shrugging.


"I know," she replied, wiping the damp hair from his forehead. "I’m sorry, Harry."


He nodded without speaking, and she watched his Adam’s apple bob as he swallowed heavily. Pulling her into his arms and resting his chin atop her head, he whispered. "Why him? Why does this keep happening to me? Just when I think it can’t possibly hurt anymore, he- Why did he do it?"


Harry broke off with a strangled catch in his voice, and Ginny’s throat ached. It was all she could do not to break down and sob, but she fought it. It was her turn to be strong for him. Despite her resolve, she couldn’t stop the tears that trickled down her face. She had to offer him some kind of comfort, but she also knew that he’d bolt at the slightest hint of pity in her voice.


"Because he loved you," she said. "And he loved your parents, and that’s what people who love each other do."


"Tonks knew his power alone wouldn’t do it. She sacrificed herself to give him that extra power so we could all escape," he said, his voice scratchy.


"Because she loved him," Ginny replied, her voice growing stronger as his weakened.


"Love is scary if it makes people do things like that," Harry said quietly.


"It’s powerful, and it’s what you are so full of inside," Ginny said, resting her hands on his chest above his heart. How could she explain love to someone who couldn’t remember ever having it? She suddenly felt guilty for always having such an abundance of the one thing he’d always been lacking. She had to try and make him understand. "Something both more wonderful and more terrible than death because of the lengths people will go for it."


Harry pulled back, staring at her. "Dumbledore said something like that to me once. He was talking about the locked room at the Department of Mysteries."


"Come inside, Harry," Ginny said gently, taking his hand. "You’re freezing out here. The fire’s warm, and you look frightfully tired."


"I am," Harry whispered, leaning heavily against her as if she’d just released the wind from his sails.


"I’ll get Dobby to bring us some hot chocolate, and we’ll curl up by the fire," Ginny said.


"I want to talk to Dumbledore’s portrait. Maybe he can help give me some ideas on where to look for the missing Horcrux," Harry said as they began walking back toward the castle.


Ginny knew that Harry had been avoiding talking to the portrait, making any excuse not to go up into McGonagall’s office. She knew because Hermione had been up there several times trying to work out a way to get the Horcrux out of Harry. Perhaps talking to Dumbledore’s portrait could help him deal with Remus’s loss. She hoped so, anyway.


When they reached the common room, they found it surprisingly empty. She supposed it had been a long night for all of them. Whatever the reason, she was glad to find it deserted. She gave Harry a gentle shove, and he tiredly sunk onto the couch by the fire.


"Why don’t I run down to the kitchen and get us some hot chocolate and some biscuits?" Ginny said. Harry’s eyes were drooping so heavily, she was certain he’d be asleep by the time she got back.


He shook his head. "I’m not hungry, thanks. Just come sit for awhile."


"You look knackered, Harry. Why don’t you just go on up to bed?" Ginny said gently.


Harry shook his head again. "Can’t sleep up there. Your brothers snore too loud," he said, attempting to smile.


Ginny could understand that. All of her brothers snored quite loudly on their own, but when they were all together at the Burrow, it was deafening. Her mum had created a special soundproofing charm that she’d applied to all the walls. She couldn’t imagine poor Harry being stuck in the room with four of the Weasley boys. Ron, alone, was bad enough.


"You could always use a Silencing Charm," she said, the corner of her mouth twitching.


"I have," Harry said, sighing, "but I’m afraid of missing something important."


Ginny nodded gravely. "Okay. We’ll have to see if we can so something about that, then."


She sat on the couch beside him, and he immediately turned to press his back against her chest, leaning back between her legs and using her like a pillow. He wanted comfort.


That, at least, was something she could do. Wrapping her arms around him, she reclined against the arm of the couch, snuggling down and enjoying the heat from the fire on her face.


"He taught me how to cast a Patronus, did you know that?" he asked softly.


She did know, but she suspected he wasn’t really looking to have a conversation – he just needed to talk.


"He came to a couple of the Quidditch matches in my third year. He was there when we won the Cup," he whispered.


She kissed his head, pulling him tighter to her. He made several soft, barely audible sniffling sounds, and she suspected he was crying. She supposed it was easier for him to keep his face turned away from her. She didn’t speak, but gently caressed his arm and back, offering what comfort she could. Harry so rarely allowed himself to release his emotions; she thought a good cry was exactly what he needed.


She felt his breath hitch before the dam finally broke, and he began to sob in earnest. She held him tightly, whispering soothing, nonsensical words in his ear and keeping her face pressed close to his head. Several splashes of warm liquid hit her hand as he finally released his grief, clinging to her. He seemed to want the physical comfort.


She’d been surprised to learn how affectionate Harry could be. It was something she’d never suspected of him before they started dating. While they’d been in Albania, she’d particularly noticed how much he enjoyed holding hands, touching her face, or any simple caress she’d give him. She supposed it was all new to him. She didn’t imagine that his horrible family had ever bothered showing him much affection.


That thought, combined with Harry’s obvious delight from her touch, had made Ginny want to touch him all the more. Of course, the supreme satisfaction of knowing she was the one having that effect on him didn’t hurt, either. She’d purposely brush her fingers to his when she handed him something, or swipe her hand along his shoulders when she left or entered a room, and he always responded to it.


Thinking of that now, Ginny gently ran her fingers through his untidy hair, wrapping the ends around her fingers. Harry leaned his head into her touch, his breathing finally becoming deep and regular. He’d fallen asleep quicker than she’d thought he would. Wondering if she should leave him on the couch or attempt to levitate him up to his bed, she heard the portrait hole open.


Peering over the back of the couch, she saw Draco and Pansy tiptoeing inside.


"It’s clear," Draco hissed through his teeth. "They must have all gone to bed already."


"Thank Merlin for small favors," Pansy whispered.


Ginny ducked so they couldn’t see her, dragging her hand across her eyes and cocking her head to listen.


"So," Pansy purred, "what would you like to do since we have this big room all to ourselves?"


It was all Ginny could do to suppress a gag.


"Knock it off, Pansy," Draco said, his voice surprisingly harsh. "That’s not going to work this time. I want to know where you were."


"I told you," Pansy said, sighing dramatically. "I needed some air. Being around all these Gryffindors all the time is stifling."


"You were gone a long time, and I couldn’t find you anywhere," Draco said, sounding petulant.


"Honestly, Draco. Do you really think I’m out shagging Potter or a Weasley behind your back? How about Filch? He always seems available," Pansy shrieked.


"Keep your voice down," Draco hissed. "I didn’t accuse you of anything, Pansy. I just want to know what you were doing all this time. Potter and Weasley were here, anyway. They brought back the news about the Dark Lord seizing the Ministry."


"Heh, I would’ve loved to see the expression on their faces when they got that news," Pansy said, causing Ginny to scowl.


"While I might enjoy it, too, if the circumstances were different, this isn’t good news, Pansy. The more power the Dark Lord seizes, the less likely it is that I’m going to survive this mess," Draco said, suddenly sounding very young and frightened.


"Don’t say that, Draco," Pansy said, drawing a sharp breath.


"It’s true. I don’t want to help Potter, but I like the idea of dying even less. He’s going to kill me if Potter doesn’t stop him soon. He’s getting closer," Draco said.


"You’re scaring me, Draco," Pansy replied, sniffling.


"I’m scared, Pansy. I don’t want to die," Draco said, his voice cracking.


Ginny shifted uncomfortably.


"You won’t. I won’t let you," Pansy said vehemently.


Ginny tired to ignore the sudden passionate sounds coming from behind the couch as she snuggled deeper into the cushions, pulling a sleeping Harry closer to her. She might not like Draco or Pansy, but she was suddenly struck by the similarity of their situation to hers and Harry’s. This newfound feeling of solidarity with the Slytherins was unnerving, and Ginny wasn’t certain what to make of it. Her rational side kept screaming not to trust them; they were Slytherins, after all. Her heart, however, ached from their words.


She knew how Pansy felt. She’d do anything to ensure Harry’s survival, as well. She also knew that even if – Merlin forbid, she lost Harry – she’d never move on again. She’d live her life, because that’s what he’d want her to do, but she’d never fall in love again. He was the only man for her. If there was such a thing as soul mates, she knew she’d found hers. She wondered if Pansy felt the same way about Draco.


Fortunately for Ginny, Draco and Pansy broke apart and bid each other goodnight before she had to listen to anything she really didn’t want to hear. They hurried up the stairs without ever glancing back in Ginny’s direction. She lay on the couch for quite some time, contemplating their conversation.


Finally, she decided she needed some sleep. On the morrow, they’d all have to get serious. There was no time left for youthful pursuits. For tonight though, both she and Harry could pretend. Kissing the top of his head, Ginny rested her head back on the arm of the couch and drifted off to sleep.



**--**--



Seve ral days after the attack on the Ministry, life inside Hogwarts had settled into something of a routine. Moody had taken the surviving Aurors under his command, and they did their best to maintain order and deal with the panicked public. Harry suspected Voldemort knew exactly where they were hiding, but he appeared to be too focused on dismantling the Ministry and creating a kingdom under him to be bothered with them at the moment.


Harry didn’t think it would last for long, and he also knew Voldemort didn’t really see him as much of a threat. Harry intended to change that – but he had to find that remaining Horcrux first. The research was getting him nowhere, and he had the nagging feeling he was missing something in those Pensieve memories.


The strangest thing that had happened during the time they’d all been together was the odd – camaraderie – that had developed between Draco and Dudley. They certainly weren’t friends, but Dudley had become the new "Crabbe" or "Goyle" for Draco. They had their dislike of Harry in common and appeared to be bonding over it.


Dudley had a huge row with his parents a few nights after they’d arrived. Draco had obviously been telling him how much better the magical world was, for Harry was certain he recognized a sneering quality to Dudley’s words that hadn’t been there before his cousin had met the Slytherin. Dudley was angry with his parents for keeping him away from all this for so long.


Harry was disturbed by Dudley’s fascination with Voldemort and everything that happened at the Ministry – his curiosity over how the Death Eaters had done what they did. Still, Dudley had always gravitated toward a gang of bullies; he wasn’t certain why he expected it would be any different in the Wizarding world.


His aunt and uncle were torn. Their intense hatred for anything magical was warring with their lifelong habit of giving Dudley anything he desired. They wanted Dudley to have the fame and greatness that the Wizarding world had promised him – they just wanted him to have it without the magic part, and they didn’t know which way to turn.


Aunt Petunia constantly burst into tears, nearly begging Dudley to simply look at her. His staunch refusal was tearing her apart. Naturally, both Dursleys blamed Harry for their situation. They appeared completely out of their element now that they were forced to depend on him for their well-being.


Harry found the whole situation rather ironic.


He knew Mrs. Weasley was taking great pleasure in making Aunt Petunia uncomfortable. Aunt Petunia was terrified of the house-elves, and he’d noticed Mrs. Weasley directing them to enter his aunt’s room for any number of reasons. His heart had surged with affection for Mrs. Weasley each time.


He’d also heard the twins were running a betting pool on which one of the Weasley brothers could actually cause that vein in Uncle Vernon’s temple to finally burst. Harry appreciated that, too and placed his money on Fred being the one to do it.


He’d woken up the morning after Remus’s death on the couch in the common room. Ginny had slipped back up to her own room during the night, and he’d been able to catch a decent night’s sleep. In fact, he’d since spent several more nights on that couch when the snoring in his dormitory became too much to bear.


Oddly enough, he’d heard Draco complaining rather vocally about Dudley’s snoring on several occasions, but he wasn’t about to offer to switch rooms with Dudley. Harry shuddered at the thought of sharing a room with Draco Malfoy. He’d rather suffer exhaustion than that.


This afternoon, Harry quickly ran down the steps towards the Great Hall. He’d planned to meet Moody there after lunch, and he hoped to do it without his friends noticing. He needed to ask Moody a question, and he didn’t want to see the expressions on the other’s faces when he asked it.


Moody promptly joined him, his wooden leg clunking on the floor as he walked. Harry had to admit, he liked having the Aurors at Hogwarts. The school has seemed empty and dead before their arrival, as if the whole place was still in mourning over Dumbledore’s loss.


"Good afternoon," Moody said, sinking into the seat across from Harry. "What can I do for you?"


"I want to know all the curses that can kill," Harry said bluntly.


"You know the main one," Moody replied without batting an eye. "The Killing Curse is your best bet against the Dark Lord, and I think you have the power to use it."


Harry shuddered. That curse had taken so much from him already. He really didn’t think he had it in him to use it. "What if I can’t use that curse? I don’t even know how to do it. Isn’t there anything else?"


Moody shrugged, his eyes grave. "Other curses can kill. Diffindo can slice open an artery, Inflammare can burn someone alive. There are more chances of survival with those curses, however. Avada Kedavra is used when the sole purpose is to kill. Completely."


"I can’t do the Cruciatus," Harry said warily, licking his lips. He eyed the old Auror carefully, uncertain how he’d take this. "I’ve tried – it’s never worked."


Again, Moody didn’t flinch. "While the Killing Curse is similar, it’s not exact. With the Cruciatus, you have to enjoy causing pain. You have to want to cause suffering. When using the Killing Curse, you simply have to want to kill, for whatever reason. The reason it’s an Unforgivable is that it can’t be undone, or blocked, and there isn’t a shield that can withstand it. It’s your best hope," Moody said quietly.


Harry leaned back, feeling sick. He’d suspected it already, but hearing the words was difficult. He’d have to use the same curse that took his parents – took Dumbledore – took Remus – from him. If it was an Unforgivable, how would he ever be forgiven?


Not that it mattered, anyway. There was no way for him to survive the end. He’d resigned himself to it. He’d somehow have to go to the Department of Mysteries, and draw Voldemort’s attention to the fact he was there. Perhaps he could send images of that bloody locked door back through their connection the other way. That would be poetic justice.


At first, Harry had been stuck on the idea that he’d have to destroy the Horcrux inside himself at Godric’s Hollow since that was where it had been created. He didn’t really want to return there, and certainly not to kill. He didn’t think he’d be able to concentrate. It was something Hermione had said that changed his mind. He was different from the other Horcruxes because he was a living thing. A living thing with a mind of his own and free will to move about. The Horcrux couldn’t have remained stationary, and besides, Voldemort had never had the time to create any kind of enchantments to guard the Horcrux within Harry. Voldemort hadn’t even known it was there.


After Harry got him to the Department of Mysteries, he’d try to drag him through the Veil. It might be easier to go through if he had to concentrate on getting a struggling Voldemort through with him. If not, he’d try the Killing Curse, and simply jump through himself immediately afterward. Either way, it should solve everyone’s problems.


But he’d have to find that last Horcrux, first.


That meant having a talk with his former headmaster.


Nodding to Moody, Harry sighed, pushed away from the table and slowly climbed the stairs back to Gryffindor tower. Stepping through the portrait hole, he found most of the inhabitants involved in a heated discussion.


"What’s happened?" he asked, his heart rate quickening.


He could see Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon sitting in a corner, their eyes wide. It was rare to find them out of their rooms, never mind with the company of anyone magical. Harry had no idea what they did all day. Uncle Vernon, in particular, seemed lost without a telly, and Aunt Petunia was on hands and knees scrubbing and muttering that she’d see to it there was no need for those foul creatures to enter her room.


If his heart hadn’t been so heavy, he might have even been amused by it.


"Voldemort’s shut down St. Mungo’s," Ron said grimly. "Anyone needing medical attention has to be approved by the Ministry – namely him."


"That’s barbaric," Harry replied, knowing he should no longer be surprised by anything.


"He won’t allow them to heal Muggleborns," Hermione said, her mouth set in a grim line.


"What are you going to do, Harry?" Bill asked.


Harry raised his eyes slowly, realizing all the inhabitants of the room were staring at him. Harry could almost feel a gauntlet being passed, as if they’d finally accepted that he was the only one who could end the madness.


Aunt Petunia’s eyes widened, as if she was only just realizing it was Harry whom they were turning.


"I’m going to stop him," Harry said. It felt good to say it out loud, and doing so bolstered his confidence. "I’ve already asked Moody for some assistance, but I have one other thing I have to do first before I can confront him."


"Why? What is it you’re doing that is so important? It seems to me stopping him should be the most important thing," Bill said, wincing.


"Bill!" Mrs. Weasley said, tears filling her eyes.


"It’s not what I want to happen. I wish it didn’t have to be Harry, but we all realize it does, even if we don’t want to have to admit it. Harry has said it has to be him, so I’d like to know what else is so much more important," Bill said.


"It’s okay," Harry said quietly. "It’s a reasonable question. I still can’t give you the answer, but I promise you that what I’m doing is helping to ensure I can kill him when the battle begins."


Harry absently watched the expressions on his aunt’s face, uncertain what was going on behind her eyes.


"How do you even know where to find him?" Professor McGonagall asked.


"Are you kidding?" Fred asked incredulously. "Harry doesn’t have to find him – all he has to do is go outside and stand still for a bit. V-V-Voldemort always seems to find him."


"Fred!" Mrs. Weasley shouted. She was working herself into quite a state.


Mr. Weasley patted her back. "It’s all right, Molly."


"It’s not all right. Nothing is all right, and I can’t bear the thought of letting Harry walk right into this," she cried, taking a sharp breath.


Harry knelt in front of her, taking her hands in his own. "Mrs. Weasley," he said, uncertain what he could possibly say that might make her feel better.


"Don’t, Harry," she said, squeezing his fingers as tears leaked from her eyes. "I know what you’re going to say, but understanding it and accepting it are two different things. You’re like one of my own children, and I can’t bear the thought of having to watch you do this. I should be the one protecting you."


"I don’t want you to protect me, Mrs. Weasley," Harry replied, his throat tight. "The people who’ve already tried haven’t done so well."


"Oh, Harry," Mrs. Weasley said, throwing herself in his arms


Harry felt panicked, and he raised his eyes towards Ginny, seeking help. He was dismayed to see tears glistening in her eyes, as well.


Mr. Weasley was the one who came to his rescue, pulling his wife back and letting her cry on his shoulder.


"Fred has a point," George said, kicking his foot against the table. "I mean…Voldemort does tend to come after Harry. Look at the lengths he went to get him into that graveyard."


Aunt Petunia flinched, cocking her head to the side. Harry could see she was curious, despite the fact that Harry was the subject. He again wondered how much she really knew about the Wizarding world.


"Yeah, and that place wasn’t far from where he’d been hiding at the time," Ron said. "Most people don’t know that."


Harry suddenly sat up straighter, the conversation droning in his ears, and Aunt Petunia forgotten. Ron was right. Why hadn’t he thought of it before? Voldemort had been hiding in the Riddle House. That vision Harry had of him murdering an old man took place in the Riddle House. The home of Voldemort’s father and grandparents who he had killed right inside.


Harry knew Tom had hidden Marvolo’s ring in the Gaunt house after killing them, but there was no reason he couldn’t have made two Horcruxes at the time. He’d committed three murders that day. Why couldn’t he have left something behind in the Riddle House, as well?


He shakily got to his feet. "Ron, Ginny, Hermione," he said. "We need to go talk to Professor Dumbledore’s portrait."


"Now?" Ron asked, blinking rapidly.


"Now," Harry replied. "I think I might have an idea where we have to go next."




A/N: This one was a bit angsty, but it had to be. Thanks so much for all the feedback on last chapter. I’d been stressing over how it would be received. Your response was very gratifying – aside from the scattered "I hate yous" and threats to cut off my limbs, lol.


Thanks to Sherylyn for her fantastic beta work and keeping me right on track. If it weren’t for her, I would have had Dudley in the wrong school without even realizing I’d transferred him, lol. Also, huge thanks to KEDme, GhostWriter and Dianne for all the feedback and prebeta help


Finally, thanks very much for the nods over at SIYE. I made the Angst category this time. I’d wondered if that would happen after my killing spree (smirk). Those nods really do mean a lot and have done a great deal to encourage me to pursue something original. Thanks, much.



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