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.
The steady hum of the train lolled its few scattered passengers to sleep as they traveled from England into Wales on a cool summer night. After his unannounced departure from Grimmauld Place, Harry had headed directly for the train station. While staying at the Burrow, he’d arranged to have some of his gold converted to pounds, thus enabling him to purchase a train ticket.
He was still underage and unable to Apparate legally, and he’d also been concerned that the Order would have been able to trace him if he used any magic. He was certain Ron and Hermione would deduce where he was going, but he hoped that they wouldn’t reveal his destination out of anger over being left behind.
He’d never shown them the slip of paper Aunt Petunia had given him that last morning at Privet Drive, but he reckoned that Lupin would know the address if they mentioned Godric’s Hollow. There was nothing to be done for it now; he could only hope they’d hold their tongues.
He didn’t plan on being gone very long and fervently prayed they’d understand by the time he returned. He still wasn’t certain what was drawing him to the place where it had all began for him. He was unsure what his own reaction would be on seeing the spot where his parents were killed, and his life had been irrevocably altered. It all felt sort of surreal to him as he stared unseeingly out the train’s window.
Ever since Dumbledore’s funeral, the idea of seeing his parents’ final resting spot had obsessed Harry. He’d agreed to allowing Ron and Hermione come with him, but the more he’d thought about it, the more he wanted to make this journey alone. He knew his friends cared about him and only had his best interests at heart, but he didn’t feel up to answering Hermione’s unending questions or dealing with Ron’s awkwardness over any show of emotion. He needed to do this alone.
Luck had been on his side when he’d reached the train station. He’d managed to catch the evening’s last train to Swansea with only ten minutes to spare. Even if they’d noticed him missing immediately, no one could have figured out where he’d gone and caught him in time. He’d have to switch trains when he arrived, but only for a short distance. Then he hoped to catch a taxi that would take him to Hillside Lane.
His stomach roiled at the thought. He had no idea what to expect once he arrived. Try as he might, he could recall nothing of his life in Godric’s Hollow. His earliest memory was of massive amounts of green light. Hagrid had told him the house had been ruined, but he’d never heard if it had been rebuilt, or sold, or what had become of the land. He didn’t even know if it was a Muggle or wizarding area. He bounced his leg on the ball of his foot anxiously as the train drew ever closer to Wales.
He kept his wand at the ready, and his eyes scanned the train car warily, but no one had bothered him since he’d climbed aboard and taken his seat. It was as if he’d finally achieved the anonymity he’d always desired while traveling amongst the Muggles. He wasn’t about to let his guard down, however. The prickling sensation on the back of his neck made him feel as if he were being watched.
There was no moon to brighten the landscape, so Harry could only stare into the darkness and imagine it racing past. From the map he’d glanced at back in the train station, he knew Godre’r-graig was near the sea. He allowed his mind to wander over pleasant images of his parents walking along the beach.
He pressed his nose against the window as thoughts of Ginny once again filled his mind. She’d looked lovely in her wedding finery, and he savored the memories of their shared kisses. He smiled as the thoughts of their day together washed over him. She was a bright spot in the cold, dismal murk that was his life at the moment. How had he ever hoped to do this without her?
As dawn’s light crept slowly across the horizon, Harry tiredly rubbed his itchy eyes. He collected his bag as the train pulled into the station and stepped off and into Wales. It took him awhile to find the connection he was seeking, but he managed without a lot of fuss and by the time the morning sun was blazing and life was returning to the sleepy holiday village, Harry was standing on Hillside Lane.
He’d asked the cabdriver to let him out at the end of the quiet street, preferring to walk up to the house and give himself some time to adjust. The nervous fluttering in his stomach continued and seemed to increase the closer he got to his destination. It was a bright, clear morning, and Harry was pleased to note that the street with its secluded cottages appeared unique and so unlike Privet Drive. That alone bolstered his spirits somewhat.
Godre’r-graig was a quiet Muggle village with quaint Birch-lined streets of old stone cottages. It wasn’t located directly on the sea, as Harry thought, but was set further back and was more woodsy than he’d anticipated. Still, he could smell salt in the air and knew he wasn’t far from the coast. As he trudged up the street, his heart hammering in his chest, he clenched and unclenched his fist around the fake Horcrux in his pocket. He found his hands were suddenly sweating profusely, despite the coolness of the morning.
As Harry turned around the bend in the road, his breath caught in his throat. The lots on either side of number sixteen were vacant, making it appear that it was set on its own in the forest. Nature had reclaimed most of the land and it was overgrown with weeds and vines. In the midst of it all, Harry could see the remains of a stone structure. Only one wall still stood amidst the rubble and stone in a depressed crater.
Harry found something lodged in his throat, and swallowed painfully. He had to drag his unwilling feet closer as his mind warred with the conflicting desires to both see the destruction and to run away from it. He had the oddest sense of familiarity, even though he knew that was impossible. He’d been just over a year old when he’d left here; there was no way he could remember this place. Still, the feeling persisted as he trudged closer.
He again felt that prickling on the back of his neck and turned around apprehensively. The wind ruffled the trees slightly, but other than the droning buzz of insects and a few birdcalls, nothing disturbed the peace of his surroundings. Harry kept his wand in his hand as he moved closer.
It’s just nerves.
Thick clumps of lilies grew along the edge of the house foundation, and Harry wondered if his dad had planted them for his mum. He swallowed again, realizing for the hundredth time how little he actually knew about his parents and their life together.
As he inched closer and closer towards the ruins, he wondered – if things had happened differently – whether his dad would have put a tire swing on a low-lying branch of one of the garden’s many trees. There was a swing at the Burrow that appeared to have seen a lot of use, and it had come to symbolize a happy family home to Harry. He would have liked to see a swing in his own yard.
He wondered if he might have had younger brothers or sisters who would have swung with him or maybe demanded that he push them. He thought he would have liked being a big brother.
The persistent lump in his throat grew in size as he imagined both his parents taking him to King’s Cross on his first day of Hogwarts and actually accompanying him onto the platform. Everything could have been so different…
Rage and loss filled Harry’s heart as he stared at the destruction around him with deadened eyes. Voldemort did this. He stole whatever chance of happiness and a normal childhood Harry had ever had. It wasn’t fair!
It doesn’t do to dwell on dreams…
Dumbledore’s voice echoed in Harry’s head as he stepped over the threshold and inside what would have once been his family’s home. Harry shuddered; there had been entirely too much death already. He could feel a tingling sensation under his skin that made him uneasy, and he glanced warily at the street once again.
Nothing disturbed the peacefulness of the morning, and Harry scolded himself for losing his nerve. Being here was making him jumpy. In his mind’s eye, he could vaguely imagine how it would look if all the walls had remained intact, and thanks to the memories the Dementors had evoked in him, he could hear the echo of his parents’ voices.
He inched forward, pushing random pieces of rubble out of the way with his foot, until he came upon a piece of blackened, scorched earth. It appeared as if there had been a fire on this one small bit of ground. Harry knelt down and ran his hand in the dirt. It felt decayed, lifeless, as if nothing would ever grow in that spot again.
A chill ran down Harry’s spine. This was where his father stood when he’d been murdered. Harry knew it with the same certainty that he knew his own name. He shut his eyes tightly and took a deep, shuddering breath. He continued walking through what once was his home, staring without really seeing. He kept hoping for some stray memory to surface, but there was nothing.
An overwhelming sense of despair and hopelessness washed over him as he sank to his knees and sat amidst the ruins, uncertain where to go or what to do next.
What am I doing here?
Suddenly remembering his conversation with Moody the previous morning, Harry removed the Spell Detector from his rucksack and placed it on the end of his nose. He inhaled sharply as pale images of blue, pink, and green light emanated from every direction on the lot at number sixteen. Harry frowned in confusion.
He walked back to the spot of scorched earth and stared through the Spell Detector. The light he saw was vivid red and appeared to be pulsating. Harry yanked the Spell Detector off his nose and backed away as if he’d seen something indecent. This place – his familial home – was virtually alive with magic.
It suddenly occurred to Harry that the entire area must be under a concealment charm, otherwise the Muggles might have rebuilt it, or worse, the wizarding population would have turned the spot into a tourist attraction. He’d found the location very easily, but he’d known where to go, or perhaps it wasn’t hidden from him since it was his family. All of these uncertainties made his head pound.
He put the Spell Detector back on and continued to poke around. It took several minutes before he saw more traces of red. They were coming from a spot near the back of the dwelling, where much of the rubble was piled. He wondered if perhaps there had been another floor since there was so much debris. He moved some stones and dirt again until he saw the same, deadened black marking. This was where his mother had died, where he’d received the mark on his forehead. Harry absently ran his fingers along the scorched earth, his mother’s screams echoing in his head.
Putting away the Spell Detector, he reached out with his thoughts to try and identify the magic on his own. He felt the same shiver he remembered from the cave on that fateful night with Dumbledore. Still, he didn’t know if that was simply coming from the maelstrom of emotions this place was evoking in him.
Harry sighed heavily and stood upright. There was nothing here but memories now, and he’d have to test his ability to feel the magic in a less traumatic place. It was useless to attempt it here. As he turned on his heel and took a single step, he saw a quick flash of a long, wiry tail flicking behind some rocks. Harry drew his wand, aiming at the pile of rocks.
"Reducto," he hissed, blowing the rocks apart.
The rat squealed and scurried toward another pile of rubble, revealing its telltale silver paw as it sprinted.
"Reducto," Harry growled again, sending more dust and particles into the air. "Hiding in cracks and holes again, Wormtail? I suppose a rat can never change its spots, either, eh? Come out and face me man to man."
As the dust from his second blast settled, Harry looked around warily. There was no sign of the rat anywhere.
"Come out, Wormtail. I don’t have time for your sodding little games. You’ve been following me for quite some time now; you must have something to say. Spit it out before I do what I should have done a long time ago," Harry said, his hand shaking. All the rage, fear and pent-up emotion over seeing the destruction of his parents’ home finally had an outlet, and Harry was nearly radiating fury. Here in front of him was the stinking little rat who’d betrayed his parents and was directly responsible for everything that had happened here. The thought that Wormtail could still find his way here because he was supposed to have been this home’s protector made his blood boil.
Harry was going to see to it that he finally paid.
"Where are you?" he snarled, enraged. A slight noise caused him to spin and blast a spot on the ground, but still Wormtail didn’t reappear.
"You coward. You’ve always been a coward. You never deserved their friendship," he said, panting.
He was met with silence. He stalked around the area, chest heaving and clenching his teeth as he tried to control his anger.
After several moments, a raspy voice from somewhere on the other side of the one remaining wall startled him. "Will you put down your wand and listen to me for a moment? If you won’t listen, then I can just disappear once again."
"What do you have to say that I would possibly want to hear?" Harry asked, slowly inching along the wall and preparing to strike when he reached the end.
"I want to discuss a common enemy," Wormtail replied, his voice wavering.
"’A common enemy,’ is it now?" Harry asked. He was almost there, just a few steps more. "Have you earned Voldemort’s disfavor, Wormtail? He’s your enemy now, is he?"
"No! I didn’t mean the Dark Lord," Wormtail squeaked, sounding panicked. "I’m talking about Snape."
"Snape?" Harry asked, stopping dead in his tracks. "What about him?" He momentarily forgot his rage and hatred of Wormtail as he heard the name of the man he loathed above any other, save Voldemort. Snape had killed Dumbledore in cold blood, and he’d helped to kill Sirius. There was no doubt in Harry’s mind, and he was going to see to it that he paid.
"Yes, I thought that might interest you," Wormtail said as he slowly scurried around from behind the wall and came face-to-face with Harry. Both held their wands on one another, although neither made a move to cast a spell. Wormtail’s eyes darted rapidly, and he appeared ready to bolt at the first sign of trouble.
Harry was momentarily tempted to simply curse him anyway, but his curiosity about Snape was overpowering that impulse. Still, Ron’s words from long ago arose in his mind.
Throw your wand away and punch him in the nose.
Harry drew back his fist and did just that. Wormtail’s head snapped back, and he fell to the ground, clutching his bleeding nose as he scrambled away from Harry.
"Be glad that’s all I did," Harry spat, shaking out his split knuckles.
"I thought you’d want to discuss Snape," Wormtail said, sniffling.
"What about him?" Harry repeated.
"He’s gained great favor with the Dark Lord for killing Albus Dumbledore. There isn’t a plan underway that he isn’t involved in or at least aware. Where the Dark Lord once trusted many, he now trusts only one," Wormtail spat, bitterness unmistakable in his voice as he dabbed at his still-bleeding nose and rose to his feet.
Harry watched him warily, seeing red when he so casually mentioned Professor Dumbledore’s demise. "Voldemort doesn’t trust anyone. You’re the fool if you believed that, and Snape is a fool now to think he won’t turn on him in an instant when his usefulness has expired. You’re not his friends but his servants, nothing more."
"You underestimate the benefits of the Dark Lord’s favor," Wormtail replied reverently.
"I underestimate nothing. I know exactly what he’s all about," Harry said coldly.
"I once stood in that spot of great favor," Wormtail said, puffing out his chest and raising his chin defiantly.
"Yeah, I remember; you lost your hand over it. So what? Now you’ve been bumped down a spot, Wormtail? Being replaced not sitting well, is it? What do you want me to do about it?" Harry asked incredulously.
"I know you despise Snape as much as I do. I know you’d like him brought to justice. I might be able to help you with that," Wormtail said, lowering his voice conspiratorially.
"And get him out of your way in the process?" Harry asked, finally cottoning onto Wormtail’s agenda.
Wormtail shrugged. "Indeed. Snape’s capture could be mutually beneficial."
"And after Voldemort’s fall, the fact that you turned Snape in couldn’t hurt your own sentencing. Isn’t that true?" Harry asked.
"I honestly don’t see that happening, Harry, but it never hurts to have all your options covered," Wormtail said.
"How very Slytherin of you," Harry said drolly.
"Some would take that as a compliment."
"So, this is why you wanted to talk to me? You’ve followed me all the way here from the train station for this? Hold on. Why were you at the train station, anyway? How did you know I was coming here?" Harry asked, raising his wand.
"Actually, I expected you yesterday," Wormtail squeaked, his beady eyes darting back and forth. "At the Burrow you said that you’d be here the day after the wedding. I suppose the unexpected guests delayed your arrival. My master was livid that you’d managed to get away. Snape told him exactly how the wards at the Burrow were constructed. He hadn’t expected them to be able to reinforce them against the Dementors."
Harry’s mind reeled. Wormtail had heard him at the Burrow? How? But of course! As Scabbers, Wormtail would know all the ways in and out of the Burrow, and as a rat he could probably breech the wards, much as Sirius had done at Hogwarts in Harry’s third year. Wormtail knew everything there was to know about the Burrow, right down to the gnomes in the garden.
Damn! Ginny had never been safe there, and he’d almost left her alone and undefended.
"You’ve been at the Burrow all this time?" Harry asked, his throat dry.
"I was assigned there. The Dark Lord knows everything and doesn’t hesitate to use anything to his advantage. You’d do well to remember that, young Harry. He’s aware of my connection to the Weasley family, and he knows of their importance to you," he said, a hint of pride showing on his pasty face. "Your interest in the Weasley girl has not gone unnoticed by the Dark Lord. Severus specifically mentioned how taken you are with the girl. He’s right that you do wear your emotions on your sleeve."
"So, you’ve been spying all this time," Harry said, his voice deadened.
"You’d be surprised at the knowledge I can accumulate in my Animagus form. Even those that know that I have the ability to transform forget and speak openly without realizing I am there. I know more about the Dark Lord and his plans than any of the rest of them. I know more than even he’s aware I know," Wormtail said, beads of sweat glistening on his brow as he spoke.
"What do you know? I can’t imagine he’d trust you with anything important," Harry said, thinking quickly. He was purposefully goading him, but he could see a resemblance to Dudley in Wormtail. Dudley had always said too much if Harry merely showed the slightest skepticism in his imagined greatness. Harry hoped the same ploy would work on Wormtail.
"I know plenty. I was there. I was the one who nursed the miserable wreck of a creature he was. It was me who helped him prepare the potion. It was me who helped him return. I was his most loyal servant," Wormtail shrieked plaintively.
"And he discarded you when he was done," Harry said, feigning boredom
"I know about the Horcruxes," Wormtail whispered triumphantly.
Harry’s blood ran cold. "What?" he asked numbly.
"I know about the Horcruxes. There are seven of them, two of which have already been destroyed," Wormtail said. "You destroyed the first one."
"I don’t know what you’re talking about," Harry said unconvincingly.
"I think you do. I think the part you don’t know is the part only the Dark Lord, Severus, and I know. I suspect Dumbledore had also at least pondered it before he died," Wormtail said mysteriously, obviously relishing having something to hold over Harry.
"What are you on about?" Harry asked.
"I’m talking about the reason the Dark Lord will win in the end – his Seventh Horcrux – the one you will be unable to destroy," Wormtail replied smugly.
Harry was perplexed. He didn’t want to reveal any of the Horcruxes if Wormtail was only bluffing, but even as the thought occurred to him, he discarded it. Wormtail was more certain of himself than Harry had ever seen the man. He knew something, and Harry had to find out what it was, despite every internal nerve and instinct that was screaming at him that he didn’t want to know.
"After the Horcruxes are destroyed, he’ll be mortal. He can die like any other man," Harry said firmly.
"I’m not speaking about the bit that’s still in him. I’m speaking of the Horcrux even he wasn’t aware of until two years ago. The Horcrux he never intended to make," Wormtail said, eyeing Harry speculatively.
"What are you on about?" Harry asked in frustration.
"Don’t you know, Harry? Haven’t you at least suspected?"
The pit in Harry’s stomach was growing heavier by the moment. "What are you saying?"
"Didn’t you wonder why He left you alone all of last year? Why after the Department of Mysteries fiasco he never made another attempt on your life? Even during the battle at Hogwarts, all the Death Eaters had strict orders not to harm you. You were to be left for him, he told them. I know the real reason. I’ve heard him talking to Severus," Wormtail said, sneering.
Harry was momentarily stunned. He was right; Voldemort had been unusually quiet all of last year. He should have come after Harry with a vengeance for all the trouble he’d caused at the Ministry.
Why hadn’t he?
Trembling visibly, Harry forced himself to ask the question, "Why?"
"He possessed you at the Ministry. I heard him talking to Severus about it. That’s when he realized the truth, and it shook him. It’s you, Harry. You are his Seventh Horcrux," Wormtail said, smiling with a mad gleam in his eyes.
Harry’s throat was dry, and he suddenly felt very cold. "That can’t be true," he whispered hoarsely.
No. No, no, no, no, no.
"But it is true, and I can see by the look on your face that you know it is. He intended to make a Horcrux that night he came here for you," Wormtail said raising his arm expansively. "It was his plan. He told Severus that the spell to make a Horcrux is wordless, it takes the act of murder and an intense amount of concentration, but there is no incantation; the force of will powers the spell."
Wormtail’s casual discussion of murder made Harry’s stomach churn.
"He believes that he got over-excited the night he came to kill you. He thought he was going to eliminate the only obstacle in his path. He was thinking of his final goal, already planning to kill you, when your mother got in the way," Wormtail said, and here his voice did waver slightly.
Harry’s heart pounded in his chest so loudly that he could barely hear what Wormtail was saying. This can’t be happening.
"It was her death that caused the creation of the Horcrux, and when he cast the Killing Curse at you, it rebounded on him but sent that piece of his soul into you. You are the Seventh Horcrux, Harry," Wormtail continued unmercifully.
Harry stepped back as if struck. Of course! It made perfect sense, why hadn’t he seen it before? Harry felt sick. Why hadn’t Dumbledore prepared him? Had he been trying to protect him from the truth yet again? For in his heart, Harry knew this was true. It was as if the last piece of a puzzle finally clicked into place.
"That’s why he’ll win in the end, Harry, because the only way for you to defeat him is to destroy yourself," Wormtail said, shaking his head with mock sadness.
"And what makes you think I won’t do that?" Harry asked, surprised by how strong his voice sounded.
Wormtail frowned. "Don’t be ridiculous. I’m speaking of dying. Why would you sacrifice yourself? That wouldn’t make any sense."
"Of course it wouldn’t make sense to you. You were the one who betrayed your best friends to save your own neck. You couldn’t possibly understand dying so that they might live. Look at that," Harry screamed, pointing at the spot of blackened earth. "That’s where my father died because of you. He died right there, and nothing will ever grow there again. You did that to him."
Wormtail cringed and pulled away, refusing to look at the spot.
Harry’s head began to spin. No, no, no.
"He wants to get to you now, Harry. He wants to capture you and lock you away where he can keep you safe. He won’t kill you, but he won’t make your life pleasant, either. Snape will see to that. Snape hates you and longs to see you suffer," Wormtail said, sniffling. He was sweating profusely and appeared suddenly agitated, his beady eyes shifting in every direction.
"If you can’t destroy the Dark Lord, you can at least ruin Severus," Wormtail said, taking a step closer towards Harry.
Harry was shivering violently now, so much that he could barely hold onto his wand. He couldn’t understand how it had got so cold. His vision was blurring slightly, and he blinked to try and stay focused.
Wormtail inched closer again, but in his confusion Harry couldn’t seem to care.
"Get away from him, Peter," Remus’s sharp voice rang out across the garden.
Harry blinked dazedly, uncertain how Remus came to be there just then. Wormtail reacted much more quickly. He squealed and ducked behind Harry, using him as a shield between Remus and himself.
Harry was too stunned to move and only stared at the two men uncomprehendingly.
Remus glanced at Harry with a worried expression. "What have you done, Peter? What did you say to him? Harry, move away."
Harry turned to look at Wormtail and blinked. In that instant, Wormtail morphed back into his Animagus form and sprinted into a pile of debris, squealing in fright.
Remus immediately gave chase, running towards the spot where the rat had disappeared and blasting it with his wand.
Unable to wrap his mind around what was happening, Harry stood numbly as the two raced around the ruins. He felt oddly disjointed, as if he weren’t really there and only witnessing something happening on the Dursleys’ telly rather than real events. It was Remus’s piercing cry of pain that snapped him out of his fog.
He hurried over to his former professor, who was crouched on the ground, cradling his hand. Harry could see a thin trail of blood running between Remus’s fingers.
"Damn it, he’s gone. He got me with that damn silver hand," Remus said, shaking his hand. "It’s only superficial, nothing Poppy can’t fix. What happened here, Harry? Are you all right?"
Harry swallowed, unable to form any words. His mouth opened and closed futilely.
I’m going to die, anyway.
Remus grasped him by the shoulders and shook him slightly. "Stay with me, Harry. Tell me what happened."
Neither can live…
Harry tried to swallow, but his throat was too dry. "How did you find me?" he asked in a raspy voice.
Remus stared at him thoughtfully for a few moments, but Harry couldn’t decipher what he was thinking. Finally, he wrapped his arm around Harry’s shoulder and led him over to a pile of broken stones that was big enough to rest upon. He pushed Harry down and sat beside him.
"Hermione first noticed you’d gone missing and found your note this morning. She was rather hysterical. You’re going to have quite a bit of explaining to do upon your return, Harry," Remus said with a hint of amusement. "Everyone flew into panic mode trying to figure out where you could be. To his credit, Ron remained stoically silent, even under his mother’s tirade."
Harry blinked. He heard Remus’s words, but felt as if he was speaking about something distant and not really connected to him. He couldn’t shake the fog that had enveloped his brain.
I’m going to die.
"Hermione finally caved under the onslaught from Molly. She told everyone about your plans to visit Godric’s Hollow. She wanted to follow you immediately, but Ron said it was most likely something you wanted to do alone," Remus said.
Harry looked away. He knew Ron would understand, if only because of his own desire to avoid awkward displays of emotion. He found himself wishing they had come with him, if only to help him wrap his mind around this Horcrux business. Hermione would know what had to be done.
"Ginny had been quite livid with you, as well, until that point. She evidently felt you’d promised not to exclude her and then went back on it. She only softened when Ron explained your desire to see this place alone. It occurred to me that she’s a remarkable blend of both your friends, your Ginny," Remus said mildly.
Harry smiled weakly. He’d never thought of it that way, but he supposed it was true. Ginny did display a lot of the qualities that attracted him to both Ron and Hermione. He shivered again. Merlin, he’d give anything to see Ginny and be away from here right now. Why was it so unseasonably cold?
He realized Remus was waiting for him to speak.
"Ron’s right," he said, his throat very scratchy. "I needed to do it on my own. I’d wanted to see their graves, but I haven’t found any trace of them…just this," he said, gesturing to the ruined structure.
"I see. I understand your desire to see it, Harry, but I wish you’d at least taken someone with you. It isn’t something you should have done alone," Remus said quietly.
Harry shrugged. "Nothing to be done for it now."
"Would you still like to see where they’re buried?" Remus asked, his voice strained. A brief flash of sorrow crossed his face as he asked the question.
Harry nodded solemnly.
Remus stood up, and Harry followed him, finding a detached amusement in the fact that Remus still went through the now non-existent door. They walked up a hill to the area behind the cottage ruins, almost to the line of trees. Harry reckoned he could vaguely see the hint of blue that indicated how close they were to the ocean. It was a calm, peaceful resting-place. It was what Harry would have chosen for them.
Remus placed his hands on Harry’s shoulders and gave a slight squeeze. "I’ll give you a few minutes alone, but I’ll be right over there if you need me," he said, walking back down the hill.
Harry looked down at the small stone marker baring the names of each of his parents. It seemed somehow fitting to him that they should share the same marker. He swallowed against the painful lump in this throat and sank to his knees beside the stone.
"Mum? Dad?" he whispered. "I’m here. I came back."
Harry swallowed again; he really didn’t know what to say. "I wish…I’m sorry. I’m so sorry."
He listened disjointedly to the sounds of birds in the trees, wondering how they could sound so cheerful when his own world was falling apart. He’d succeeded in finding one of the Horcruxes, but did he have the strength to destroy himself? How could he tell Ron, Hermione and especially Ginny? He stared hopelessly at his parents’ gravestone.
"I don’t know what to do," he whispered brokenly. "I could really use some help here."
He waited for a moment, unmoving except for the increasing trembling of his body. He didn’t know what he’d expected, but nothing had changed. The sky hadn’t opened up with answers, and no great voice of wisdom directed him on where to begin. There was nothing here. His parents’ bodies had been buried here long ago, but the only piece of them that was left behind was Harry. He’d had them with him all along.
Tentatively, he reached his hand towards the grave marker and ran his hand along the engraving of his parents’ names. The pressure of his fingers tracing the letters was met with nothing but cold, unyielding stone. Harry shut his eyes tightly and willed the tears away.
Suddenly, it had all become too much. Harry wrapped his arms around himself and hung his head, as reality seemed to slip away.
Remus appeared next to him, but Harry didn’t know how he’d got there. He wasn’t real, anyway. Nothing was real.
Remus, who appeared very concerned, was speaking to him, but he wasn’t really there. Words didn’t mean anything anyway, because it was all just an illusion. Why wouldn’t Remus stop calling his name?
He wasn’t going to answer someone that wasn’t really there.
He was walking now. Remus was leading him away – he couldn’t form the words to tell him that he hadn’t found what he’d been looking for in the first place. His legs felt heavy, and he could barely move them. The sudden, crushing sensation of being squeezed hit Harry like a blow, but he didn’t cry out because it wasn’t really happening.
Harry blinked and realized he was somewhere else. Headquarters, it looked like, but he wasn’t really here. It was so very cold and there was nothing he could do to get the warmth back in his body. He stumbled but Remus caught him before he fell.
"Harry!" Remus’s voice was harsh and slightly panicked. Harry remained silent.
Remus led him inside and into the main parlor. A great crowd of people was there, faces he knew but couldn’t place. He didn’t know why he was even trying, anyway. The room began to spin, making him feel nauseous. Voices rang out, calling to him, but he couldn’t understand the words, so he ignored them.
He saw Hermione move toward him, tears streaming down her face as she spoke. He shrank away from her, and Ron held her back, whispering something in her ear. She frowned at him, but stopped shouting and instead stared at Harry worriedly. Harry turned away, not wanting to answer her questions. His gaze roamed over the many faces, searching…
When he saw her, she was sitting alone in a chair in the corner of the room, but to him she appeared to be the center of all the activity. Her brown eyes were filled with concern as she slowly rose and simply held out her arms to him. He was drawn to her as if she were a beacon on a rough, stormy sea. He moved into her embrace, and although she was a good head shorter than he was, he bent low and rested his head upon her shoulder. She closed her arms around him and held him tightly as he clung to her, not even caring that anyone else was there.
He could hear shuffling sounds behind him and thought Remus might be clearing the others out of the room, but he paid no attention. Every ounce of energy he had was focused on keeping his composure and not falling to pieces. Ginny helped him to do that.
Images of his day, of Wormtail’s words and what they meant flashed in his head, and he began to shake. Ginny tightened her hold around him and began whispering soft, gentle words meant to comfort, and he felt like a heel knowing he was going to break her heart.
He squeezed his eyes shut, wishing the world away. "Ginny," he croaked. "I’m going to die."
"Don’t talk like that, Harry. Of course you aren’t going to die. We’re in this together, and I won’t let anything happen to you," she replied fiercely.
Harry was unable to form the words. He’d have to tell her everything but not just now. He just wanted to hold and be held by her right now, feeling safe for the first time that day.
Standing there wrapped in the warmth of her embrace and smelling the sweet flowery aroma of her hair, for one brief moment, he could almost believe that was true.
A/N: Okay, deep breath, everyone. I know this is a tough one, but there is a lot more discussion about the idea of Harry being a Horcrux in the next chapter. I’ve realized since I started this story that this is a huge debate topic on the forums, so I’m just going to ask that you go for the ride. I’ll tell you when the story is finished if I think it’ll happen in canon or not. ;)
I have to express a HUGE thank you to Sherylyn, who so kindly offered to beta read this chapter for me at the last minute. Thank you so much, Sherylyn, it was a pleasure working with you.