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.
Harry slowly drifted awake, gradually becoming aware of a brightness piercing his closed eyelids. He lazily rolled to one side, hoping to doze again and nearly fell to the floor. He managed to catch himself just in the knick of time, but was startled fully awake. He blinked several times in confusion.
Dazedly, he glanced around the room and realized that he was sprawled on the couch in the drawing room at Grimmauld Place with Ginny snuggled close and sleeping peacefully at his side.
She shifted in her sleep, seeking the warmth from his body that had pulled away from her during his near fall. Soft tendrils of her hair tickled his nose and stuck to his lips as he pulled his head back, trying not to wake her.
He had vague recollections of holding her in this very room the previous evening, but he found it hard to believe that Mrs. Weasley had allowed her to stay here with him all night. He wasn’t even certain how he’d got back to Grimmauld Place in the first place, never mind how he and Ginny apparently had spent the night together.
It was just his luck that the first time he’d ever found himself in this predicament, he had absolutely no memory of how it happened. That scenario seemed horribly appropriate for how his life worked, he thought bitterly. He shifted slightly, and Ginny’s eyes fluttered open.
"Morning," she said groggily.
"Morning," he replied, smiling softly at her sleepy expression. He pushed the hair out of her eyes and kissed her forehead.
"Are you all right?" she asked, suddenly sitting up straighter. The memories of the previous evening were obviously coming back to her.
"Yeah," he said sheepishly, not quite meeting her eyes. "Thanks, Ginny."
She’d been there for him when he’d needed her the most, but he couldn’t put that into words. He didn’t yet want to confront what he’d learned yesterday. He needed to work it out in his own mind before telling his friends. It was even more difficult with Ginny since she had no knowledge of the prophecy or the Horcruxes. This was too big to keep from her, however. He just had to figure out exactly how much to tell her, never mind how to say it.
"We were all really concerned about you last night," Ginny said tentatively, and he was grateful to her for not demanding answers right away. "Mum didn’t want to disturb you after you’d fallen asleep, but she used a charm to alert her as soon as you woke. Expect her any minute. She’d never allow enough time for any funny business."
Harry blushed deeply enough to do any Weasley proud and tried to extricate himself from Ginny’s embrace.
"Don’t worry. It’s not you she doesn’t trust; it’s me," Ginny said, grinning. She arched her eyebrow and looked him up and down speculatively. "She’s probably right about that."
Her words intrigued him as his brain started thinking of all the possibilities in that statement. He knew that any one of her brothers would likely hex him for the thoughts in his head, but at that moment, he didn’t really care.
He leaned over to kiss her just as Mrs. Weasley rushed through the open door, wearing her dressing gown and looking slightly flushed. There was no doubt in Harry’s mind that she’d sprinted from her bed and raced to the drawing room the moment her charm had alerted her that Harry was awake. He was happy Ginny had known about the charm so they hadn’t been caught in a full-out snog.
Ginny lowered her head and rested it against his chest, giggling. "Morning, Mum," she said, her voice muffled.
"Good morning, Ginny, Harry. How are you, dear?" Mrs. Weasley asked, moving towards the sofa and sitting down between Harry and Ginny. Ginny stood up and made faces at Harry behind her mum’s back as she spoke.
"I’m fine, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said, grinning at Ginny over her mother’s head.
"Honestly, Harry," Mrs. Weasley said, sounding more stern. "I don’t know what I’m going to do with you. Running off like that alone. What were you thinking? You could have been killed. Now, I know you’ve become used to handling things on your own, but there is really much too great a risk for you to be running off without protection. I love you as if you were one of my own, dear, and I couldn’t bear to see you hurt."
"Mrs. Weasley," Harry said, touched by her devotion. She really had been the closest thing to a mother he’d ever known, but she had to understand right now that she couldn’t stop him from doing what he had to do. "Don’t think I don’t appreciate that you’re trying to protect me, because I do. No one has ever done that, and it means the world to me…but you can’t protect me from this. I’m more than involved in this fight…I am this fight. It centers around me more than you realize-"
"I know you’ve suffered more than most in this whole wretched war, Harry, but you’re still very young – too young to be fighting. You’re still in school," Mrs. Weasley said, desperately. Tears filled her eyes, and Harry felt like a heel for hurting her after all she’d done for him, but he’d come this far. He couldn’t turn back now.
"It doesn’t matter, Mrs. Weasley. Professor Dumbledore gave me a job to do. We were working on it the night he died, and I intend to finish it," Harry said firmly, glancing at Ginny to gauge her reaction.
She’d silently watched the exchange, an unreadable expression on her face as she stood behind her mother. She’d stayed in the room to offer her unconditional support, but Harry knew she’d insist upon some answers soon.
"What do you mean Professor Dumbledore gave you a job to do? Certainly Albus didn’t mean for you to put yourself in harm’s way," Mrs. Weasley asked shrilly. He watched as she swelled with indignation, ready to unleash her outrage on a man who was no longer there to take it.
"We’re all in harm’s way, Mrs. Weasley, and I’m going to do everything I can to stop it. I can’t tell you anything more right now, but I’m asking you to please trust me on this," Harry said, staring intently into Mrs. Weasley’s watery eyes.
"I’m not going to tell you I’m happy about this, Harry, because I’m not, but I know I can’t stop you," Mrs. Weasley said, sniffling. "Ginny, go upstairs and change your clothes. I’ll start breakfast."
Harry hung his head wearily as Mrs. Weasley bustled from the room. That hadn’t gone as well as he hoped, and he wondered if he’d get a similar reaction from the rest of the Order. He dreaded her reaction when she learned that not only wasn’t Harry returning to school, but he was taking Ron and Hermione with him.
Ginny squeezed his shoulder reassuringly as she left the room. Harry got up and stretched. He had to talk with Ron and Hermione and begin making some plans for finding the other Horcruxes, but now all he wanted was a hot shower. He felt dirty and abused somehow, and desperately wanted to clean the filth away.
As he’d suspected, the shower helped immensely. He had a clear head and felt ready to confront Ron and Hermione with his startling news. He’d sunk as low as he’d ever felt in his life the previous evening, and he felt there was no place to go from here but up. He didn’t want to die, but if that was the only way…
Ron and Hermione wouldn’t like it, but they were as committed to ending Voldemort’s reign as he was; they’d do whatever it took. Perhaps they could even help him figure out what would be the easiest way to….to…to eliminate the seventh Horcrux.
Harry was doing better than he’d been when he’d first heard Wormtail’s news, but it was still easier to separate the thing from himself, even in his own mind. It made it easier to think about what he had to do, anyway. He’d need to do it at virtually the same time as he killed Voldemort. Perhaps Hermione could help him figure out a way to take care of both things simultaneously.
After his shock had worn off, a new determination had settled over Harry. If it had to be someone, it was better that it be him. He couldn’t stand to have anyone else die for him, and his entire family might be waiting for him on the other side. He knew his friends would miss him, but it wasn’t as if he’d be leaving any family behind. Better that it was him rather than one of them. That was his driving force at the moment, anyway.
He was so lost in thought as he emerged from the bathroom that he walked right into someone who’d been waiting for the shower.
"Pardon," he said, the rest of the words dying in his throat. He blinked in surprise.
Standing right there in front of him, wearing an expensive-looking dressing gown with a golden "M" emblazoned on the left pocket and an infuriating self-satisfied smirk, was Draco Malfoy. His usually sleek blonde hair was mussed as if he’d just awoken, but his eyes narrowed when he saw Harry.
"Do watch where you’re going, Potter," Malfoy said, wiping imagined dirt from his dressing gown. "I can’t believe I’m being forced to share a bathroom, never mind having to share it with you."
Harry’s shock melted into rage. "Malfoy," he spat. "I may have said you could stay here, but it doesn’t mean I’m happy about it, so stay out of my way."
"You said I could stay here?" Malfoy said incredulously. "I’m staying here because your precious Order needs me. I’m the only one who can give them the kind of information they need. This house is rightfully mine, anyway. It belongs in my family. I’m certain there is a will lying around somewhere that will declare it as true; my mother will see to it that it goes to me. Best be nice to me, Potter, or when that happens I’ll have your own Order chuck you out on your arse."
"Here’s a bit of a news flash, Draco," Harry said, clenching his teeth. "The will has already been found and confirmed. This house and everything in it belongs to me. Imagine that. Me, owning all this stuff that belongs in your family lineage."
Harry ignored Malfoy’s expression of stunned outrage, picked up an ancient-looking vase that was resting on a display table in the hallway and cavalierly tossed it in the air.
"Be careful with that," Malfoy hissed. "That’s been in my mother’s family for generations. It dates back to the Blacks that were present during the time of the Founders."
Harry looked at the vase intently, then raised his eyes to stare into Malfoy’s gray ones. Tipping his hand over, he allowed the vase to fall and shatter on the floor.
"Oops," he said tonelessly.
"You idiot!" Malfoy screeched, kneeling on the ground and trying to scoop up the pieces. "My mother will kill you for that, Potter. How can this house possibly be yours if you’d so easily destroy its treasures?"
"Sirius left it to me. I think it was his final prank on you sorry lot," Harry said, raising his chin defiantly. It felt as if he were giving Sirius the final shot against the family who had turned against him.
"Sirius," Malfoy said, disgust dripping from his words. "He never should have been the heir. He had no pride, no family honor. Regulus was the rightful heir to this house; he knew his proper place."
"Tell it to the Goblins," Harry said, turning his back on Malfoy. "I’m certain they’d love to hear it."
He left Malfoy fuming in the hallway and walked back to his own room to get dressed. Baiting Malfoy might have been childish, but it had felt really good, and Harry’s heart was lighter as he ran down the stairs to the kitchen. He found Ron, Hermione and Ginny all seated at the large table waiting for him.
"Harry!" Hermione exclaimed, jumping out of her seat and rushing towards him before Ron could stop her. "Are you all right? What happened yesterday? What were you thinking running off and leaving us behind? We’d talked about this, Harry. Ron and I were supposed to go with you. We were all going to do this together. You can’t go around changing our plans and singularly making these kinds of decisions. Why did you do that? Why?"
"Hermione!" Ron said, grasping her shoulders and leading her back to the table. "Give him a chance to speak. I’d like to hear this as well,"
Harry could see the telltale red on Ron’s ears and knew that Ron was equally upset with him for leaving them behind.
Harry took a deep breath, trying to control his irritation. "I’m sorry I didn’t tell you I was going. I just decided that I needed to see my parents’ graves alone." He looked over at Ginny. "That’s where I went, to my family’s home in Godric’s Hollow."
"Yeah. We’d worked that bit out ourselves," Ron said.
"But why?" Hermione cried plaintively. "It’s too dangerous to do these things on your own, Harry. We’d already planned it,"
"Plans changed," Harry said, running a hand through his hair in exasperation. "Look, I don’t know if I can make you understand this, but it was just something I had to do alone. I won’t do it again; we’re in this together, but I had to do that part alone."
"What happened while you were there?" Hermione demanded crossly. Harry wasn’t certain which she was angrier about, the fact he’d gone alone or that he’d altered her carefully laid out plans.
"Hermione," Ginny said warningly, speaking for the first time since he’d entered the room. Keeping her eyes fixed on Harry’s face, she said, "I think that might have been rather personal for Harry."
Harry felt bolstered by her defense, and he smiled weakly. "Thanks, Ginny. It was difficult, and I do need to talk to you all about some of it. Maybe we could go up to the drawing room where it’s a bit more private." He’d been watching the door warily, hoping they wouldn’t be interrupted. The kitchen always seemed to be the center of activity at headquarters.
As they followed him up the stairs, Harry’s heart raced. He’d really mucked up this time. He needed to talk to Ron and Hermione alone in order to get his thoughts together before approaching Ginny. But how was he supposed to ask her to leave without hurting her feelings, or worse, getting hexed? Ron took the problem out of his hands.
"Beat it, Ginny," he said, turning in the doorway to block her entrance.
"What?" Ginny asked indignantly, surprise and irritation clearly showing on her face. She placed her hands on her hips and glared at her brother.
Ron crossed his arms across his chest. "We’ve got things to discuss that you don’t need to hear. You can snog him later."
"You’re not getting rid of me that easily, Ron. I want to know what happened at Godric’s Hollow, too. You don’t mind, do you, Harry?" she asked, looking up at him, color rising on her cheeks.
Harry could see the trace of uncertainty in her eyes, and he cursed Ron for his tactlessness. "Back off, Ron. Give me a minute," he said, pushing Ron into the room and turning to face Ginny. Her eyes were glistening slightly, and his stomach clenched.
"Ginny, I do want to tell you about Godric’s Hollow. There are things I want to talk to you about that I can’t discuss with Ron and Hermione, but there is also something that I need to discuss with them that I just can’t share with you. I promised. Please understand," Harry said, his heart dropping when he saw the determined glint in Ginny’s eyes.
"Oh, get over yourselves," she snapped, pushing Harry backwards into the room and irritably casting the Muffliato spell as she stepped through the door.
Ron and Harry stared at her, stunned, although Hermione was grinning slightly.
"Ginny, you used magic," Harry said stupidly.
"Yeah, what of it? You and I are the only underage people in a house full of qualified wizards; they’ll never trace it back to me. Besides, this house is Unplottable anyway," Ginny said, brushing her hair out of her eyes with exasperation.
"What do you think you’re doing?" Ron bellowed. "I’m telling Mum."
"Yeah, why don’t you run along and do that, Ron? Meanwhile Harry can tell us what happened in Godric’s Hollow, and what he plans to do about the Horcruxes," Ginny replied calmly, sitting on the couch and crossing her legs. She looked up at Harry expectantly.
Both Ron and Harry stared at her, mouths agape. Hermione, Harry noticed, shrank deeper into the corner of the couch where she was sitting.
"What did you just say?" Ron asked, his voice coming out in a strained squeak
Ginny ignored him and turned to Harry. "Well?" she asked, arching an eyebrow. It was only down to how well he’d come to know her that he saw the nervous tremble in her hand as she twisted her hair. Ginny always twisted her hair when she was anxious.
He glanced between Ginny and Hermione. Hermione wouldn’t meet his eyes.
"You told her," he snarled, glaring at Hermione. "Dumbledore asked us to keep this to ourselves. I gave my word."
Ginny leaped from the couch and stood in front of Hermione, glaring right back at Harry. "Don’t be stupid – of course you wouldn’t tell me – you were the one that promised, not Hermione. You couldn’t say anything because it would go against that blasted nobility of yours. No matter how infuriating it can be, we don’t want to mess with the kind of person you are. It’s important for you to keep that integrity, I think.
"Of the three of you, Hermione is the logical one who would seek help. She wants facts and data and will use any means necessary to get to the answers she needs. Of course she told me, she knows I can help. She’s also a good friend and knew I was going mad. I knew enough to be terrified for you, but not what was real and I think my imagination was making everything worse."
"Hermione?" Ron asked, shocked. Harry would have found the expression on his face comical if he hadn’t been so angry.
"I’m sorry!" Hermione shrieked. "I wasn’t getting anywhere with our research, and I needed someone who could sneak me some books from the library here at Grimmauld Place. Ginny would come to the meetings with your parents and wait for them in the library so she could sneak some books out to me. I know you promised, Harry, but I honestly think Professor Dumbledore would have allowed you to include Ginny if he knew the stakes. You need her."
Harry swore violently and turned his head away. He wasn’t even certain why he felt so angry. This was the solution he’d been seeking, a way to share things with Ginny without having to betray his word, but damn it, he’d wanted to keep Ginny out of this, and she’d been at the heart of it all along. It was galling.
"How could you do that, Hermione?" Ron shouted, his temper finally exploding. "She’s not getting involved. It’s too dangerous."
"Honestly, Ron. I realize you’re very protective of your sister, but-"
"My baby sister, Hermione. She’s too young to get involved in this," Ron said.
"Would you have followed Harry if all this had happened last year?" Hermione asked. "Of course you would. She’s the same age as you were then. The difference in her age and Harry’s is nearly the same as Harry’s and mine. Do you think he’s too young to be involved?"
"What? Of course not; it’s not the same thing," Ron shouted, flailing his arms in the air. "It’s his fight. Ginny’s not getting involved because it’s too dangerous for her."
Ginny whipped her head around so fast that Ron took a step backwards from her fury. "Don’t you dare say you want to keep me out of this or it has nothing to do with me, Ron Weasley. It has much more to do with me than it does with you. These Horcruxes are bits of sodding Voldemort’s own soul. I had one of those bits in me, and I’m going to make damn sure that never happens to anyone else! And as for being too young; I’m older than you were when we went to the Ministry. As I recall, I came out of that fight a damn sight better than you did."
She turned to Harry, determination gleaming in her eyes. "This, this is my fight, and you’re not going to keep me from it. I have as big a stake in this part of it as you do."
Harry thought she’d never looked more beautiful with her hair flowing down her back in waves, looking almost as if it were standing on end like an angry cat. Her gaze was passionate and fierce, and it occurred to Harry that he’d never thought of it this way, from her point of view. Of course she had a personal stake in this. She’d been possessed by one of these very Horcruxes. If anyone would know how it felt to have a bit of Voldemort’s soul stuck inside him, it was Ginny.
What was done was done. They couldn’t go back, and she was right. For her, like him, this was personal.
"All right, quiet," he bellowed over the arguments of the other three who were all bickering and snapping at one another. The tense atmosphere in the room had dissolved into complete chaos. "This is getting us nowhere. Ginny knows what we’re up against, but from this point forward, we keep this information amongst ourselves. Are we clear?" he asked, staring hard at Hermione.
They all nodded and looked at him expectantly. He noticed that Ron still looked disgruntled, while Ginny appeared triumphant, and Hermione merely looked satisfied, as if her plan had come together in the end. Harry had to bite back a smile. They really were the best friends he could have ever wanted.
Taking a deep breath, he said, "So, we need to go after the Horcruxes before I can face Voldemort. The problem is, I really have no idea where to begin. Professor Dumbledore showed me all those memories from Riddle’s past, and he thought the clues were hidden in them."
"Why do you have to be the one to face Voldemort?" Ginny asked, her eyes wide. It was as if now that she’d finally been accepted into their confidence, the reality was frightening her.
Harry glanced sharply at Hermione
"I told her about the Horcruxes because I needed some help with the research materials, and I thought you could use some moral support. I didn’t tell her about the prophecy. I thought you should do that," Hermione said, giving Harry a weak smile.
"The Chosen One," Ginny whispered, a distinct catch in her voice. "It’s true then?"
Harry nodded and watched as her lower lip trembled slightly. His gut twisting, he waited while she steeled her resolve. "Are you okay?
Ginny gave him a watery smile. "Shouldn’t I be asking that of you?"
He took her hand in his and rubbed it reassuringly. "I’ve had awhile to take it all in. Believe me, I didn’t handle it well at all when I first heard."
"I’m scared for you, but I know you can do this. You’re a powerful wizard, Harry. You can beat him, and you will survive," Ginny said solemnly.
Harry swallowed painfully. This is it. "That’s what we need to talk about. I wasn’t alone in Godric’s Hollow yesterday. Someone followed me."
Ron’s head whipped up, and Hermione gasped, "Who?"
"Wormtail," Harry replied grimly, the name leaving a sour taste in his mouth.
"Wormtail? What did the little rat want?" Ron snarled. "I’m surprised you let him live."
"Ron," Hermione hissed reproachfully.
Harry ignored her. "He’s jealous of Snape. He thinks Snape has stolen his thunder or something. He wanted me to eliminate Snape for him."
"You’ve got to be kidding me!" Ron said, his eyes nearly popping out of their sockets.
"I’m dead serious," Harry said, barely moving. His jaw was beginning to ache from clenching it so hard. "He said he knows a lot more about what’s going on in Voldemort’s inner circle than even Voldemort is aware."
"I find that hard to believe," Hermione said, frowning. "Doesn’t Voldemort use Legilimency on his Death Eaters?"
"Yeah, but no one ever considers Scabbers to be a real threat, do they?" Ron asked.
Harry took a deep breath. "He knows about the Horcruxes," he said quietly.
"Bloody hell," Ron swore.
"What?" Hermione shrieked simultaneously. "Did he say that? Did he actually say Horcrux?"
Ginny crossed her arms across her chest and pursed her lips. "The circle of people who know this secret is getting bigger and bigger. Perhaps that will be what leads to his downfall."
Harry’s hands began to shake, and he clenched them to hide it from the others. "He…he told me about the Seventh Horcrux. The one he doesn’t think I’ll be able to destroy."
"The Seventh Horcrux. Well, that’s him, isn’t it?" Ron asked, perplexed.
"Technically, the bit that’s still in him is the last that has to be destroyed, but it’s the bit that all the others were created from, so it’s actually the first. The seventh is the last one he created," Harry replied, his voice sounding strained even to his own ears.
"So, that’s Nagini, right?" Hermione asked, studying him carefully.
"No," Harry said, his throat dry. "Dumbledore was wrong….or merely misleading. Nagini was never a Horcrux. All his Horcruxes were created before he lost his powers."
"How is that possible though?" Hermione demanded. "I thought you said he was planning on making the Seventh Horcrux with your murder."
"He was," Harry said, nodding stoically.
"Well then how…Oh!" Hermione exclaimed, clamping a hand over her mouth.
"What?" Ron asked, lost.
"Oh no, Harry. This can’t be true," Hermione cried, tears springing to eyes.
"What are you on about?" Ron demanded, frustrated.
"How did this happen? He must be mistaken. He’s just trying to scare you," Hermione said shrilly, clutching Harry’s arm and growing more hysterical by the minute.
Ginny put her arm around Hermione’s shoulder and said fearfully, "I think you’d better explain, Harry."
And so he did. He told them all about his confrontation the previous day and how Wormtail had explained to him how Voldemort’s own over-confidence and excitement had created the Horcrux from Lily’s death, and how the soul fragment had ended up inside Harry.
The others listened in horror, their faces mirroring his dismay. Harry cleared his throat. "So, the way I see it, we have to figure out a way to destroy both Voldemort and the Seventh Horcrux at the same time."
"No!" they all shouted at once, their shock giving way to fierce determination.
"Don’t be stupid," Harry snarled without mercy. "Don’t you think I haven’t been thinking about this? There is no other way. Voldemort has to be destroyed, and if I have to sacrifice myself to do it, well…that’s just what I’m going to do."
Hermione wiped the tears from her eyes, biting her lip in thought. "No, Harry. There has to be another way. It can’t end like this. Professor Dumbledore never would have given you hope that you could survive if it weren’t possible," she said fiercely. "Riddle’s diary was still a diary after you sank the fang into it. And the ring! Dumbledore was still wearing it as a ring after he removed the bit of Voldemort’s soul."
"Yeah, but with a big crack down the middle. I don’t want to live the rest of my life like the Longbottoms, Hermione. I’d rather die," Harry said vehemently.
Ginny whimpered slightly from where she was seated on the couch. Harry reached out and took her hand. He could feel her trembling even though she tried to hide it.
"But, the diary wasn’t damaged," Hermione insisted. "Professor Dumbledore hurt his hand horribly destroying that ring, but you didn’t hurt yourself destroying the diary, and the diary remained intact. Only the soul fragment was gone. There has to be a way."
Ron stared at Hermione hopefully, nodding his head. His Adam’s apple bobbed convulsively.
"Maybe," Harry replied, refusing to allow the seed of hope to blossom too fully. "But we can’t trust that. We’ll have to explore both options – a way to destroy both remaining bits of soul, and a possible way to survive." He still couldn’t bring himself to say out loud that he was the Horcrux.
"I won’t lose you now," Ginny said quietly but firmly.
Harry knelt down in front of her and took her face in his hands, lowering his voice so only she could hear him. "I can’t make any promises to you, Ginny. Merlin knows I wish I could, but if there was ever something worth fighting for, it’s what you’ve shown me my life can be. I do want that, Ginny. I want you," Harry said, leaning over and kissing her softly. He could taste the salt from her tears and hated himself for making her cry.
"We’ll do this together," she whispered. "We’ll find a way."
Harry wrapped his arms around her and hugged her fiercely. He decided then and there that he would live and be happy with Ginny while he could. It was exactly what his parents had done. His one greatest regret about losing Sirius was that they’d never had enough time simply to be together. He’d give Ginny the gift of time; it was all he has to give.
As he embraced Ginny, his eyes fell on the tapestry hanging on the wall and it sparked a memory.
"Oh, I ran into Malfoy this morning," he said, sitting next to Ginny and putting his arm around her shoulders. Both Ron and Hermione’s heads shot up from their discussion in the corner.
"You did?" Hermione asked blankly.
"What did the wanker have to say?" Ron asked darkly.
"He was sputtering about owning this house. You should have seen his face when I told him that I actually did. He said Regulus should have inherited it, not Sirius," Harry replied, reliving the memory of Malfoy’s shocked expression.
"Regulus?" Hermione asked, frowning.
"Sirius’s brother," Harry replied, forgetting that none of the others had heard that story when Sirius told him.
"Regulus Black?" Hermione asked, her brow knitting.
"Yeah, his name is still on that tapestry over there," Harry said pointing. Hermione jumped up and nearly sprinted to the tapestry. "Sirius showed it to me the summer we stayed here. His mum burnt his name off it, but she kept Regulus’s because he upheld the family’s honor by becoming a Death Eater."
"Sounds like Mrs. Black," Ron replied. "Mad as a Hatter, that one."
"Regulus Alphard Black," Hermione squealed, waving her hands in the air. "Harry! R.A.B. – his initials are R.A.B."
Harry stared at her, blinking stupidly. There was no way it could be that simple. Things in his life didn’t just work out that way.
"You can’t be serious," Ron said, voicing Harry’s thoughts.
They all moved toward the tapestry where Hermione was repeatedly jabbing Regulus’s name with her finger.
Harry’s mind raced, trying to recall any bit of information about Regulus Black that he might have gained. "He did become a Death Eater then panicked when he realized exactly what he’d got into, and he tried to run. Remus said he only lasted a couple days before they caught him."
"Maybe he panicked because he learned Voldemort was making Horcruxes. Dumbledore did stress how much of a taboo they are. Maybe he actually tried to do the right thing by destroying one," Hermione said thoughtfully.
"So, where’s the locket, then?" Ron asked.
Ginny knitted her brows together thoughtfully. "Do you think it could be right here in Grimmauld Place? What happened to all that stuff we cleared out of here during my fourth year?"
"Didn’t it all get thrown away?" Hermione asked, horrified.
"Actually, I think some of it is stored up in the attic," Ginny replied, her eyes widening as if she’d finally remembered a piece of the puzzle she’d been seeking.
Harry turned and bolted from the room, Ron and the girls following right at his heels. Mrs. Weasley’s sharp voice stopped them in the hallway.
"What are you lot up to? What has you all in such a hurry?" she demanded suspiciously.
"Harry made a derogatory remark about the Cannons, and Ron took offense," Ginny lied smoothly.
"Honestly, Ron, you and that ridiculous orange team. Leave Harry alone and stop running in the house," Mrs. Weasley scolded as she headed back towards the kitchen.
Harry arched his eyebrow at Ginny, impressed. She shrugged and quickly moved towards the attic. The others followed, walking quickly but taking care not to run.
The attic was cluttered with boxes piled from floor to ceiling in rows and rows from the door all the way to the far back corner of the room.
Harry groaned when he saw it.
"Bloody hell," Ron moaned, looking around hopelessly. "Hermione, this looks like something you would have organized."
Hermione sighed. "It’s daunting, I know, but the fact it’s organized might prove helpful. Things have most likely been stored according to which room they were found. Once we find the right room, it should narrow our search considerably."
Harry thought Hermione sounded almost gleeful at the prospect. He caught Ron’s eye, and they both grimaced.
"How are we supposed to know which room we want though?" Ron asked.
Pulling the fake Horcrux from his pocket, Harry showed it to the others. "We’re looking for an amulet very similar to this one."
"I think I remember something like this when we cleaned one of the rooms," Ginny said, taking the locket from Harry. "I remember that it wouldn’t open, but I don’t recall which room we found it in."
"Well, that does help," Hermione said eagerly. "We cleared a bunch of rooms on the second floor landing together, so we’ll begin our search there."
They spent the next several hours going through box after box but not finding what they wanted. Harry was growing frustrated and weary when Ginny’s shout distracted him.
"Did you find it?" Ron asked eagerly.
"Well no, not the amulet," Ginny said, "but look at this."
Hermione grabbed an old painting out of her hand. The frame was scratched and scuffed, and it looked incredibly old.
"Sweet Merlin," Hermione said, breathing heavily.
"What is it?" Harry asked curiously.
"Is it what I think it is?" Ginny asked.
Harry glanced over Ginny’s shoulder to see the painting Hermione was holding. It depicted two couples standing in what Harry thought was the great hall at Hogwarts. They were clad in exquisite dress robes, one of the men standing slightly apart from the other three.
"It’s the founders of Hogwarts," Hermione said, awestruck. "Look, Harry, Godric Gryffindor is wearing the sword you used against the Basilisk."
Harry looked closely and realized she was right. He looked carefully at the other founders, recognizing Helga Hufflepuff from a painting he’d seen at Hogwarts. The other woman, a stern looking witch wearing a glittering tiara, reminded him of Professor McGonagall. He assumed this was Rowena Ravenclaw. The fourth person – the one standing slightly apart and scowling – was Salazar Slytherin.
"How did this end up packed away up here?" Hermione asked, breathing heavily. "This is a priceless piece of history. Harry, you have to show this to Professor McGonagall."
"I bet it’s worth a fortune, mate," Ron said.
"I’ll give it to her when she arrives for the Order meeting this evening. They want to talk to me about yesterday, and what I was doing with Professor Dumbledore. I’m going to have to put them off, and they’re not going to like it. Maybe this can be a kind of peace offering," Harry said, smiling weakly.
"Harry! Call Kreacher. Maybe he can help us," Hermione said suddenly.
Harry’s eyes widened. "Kreacher!" he bellowed.
There was an immediate crack and the dirty, disheveled house elf appeared, scowling at all of them. He was wearing a filthy tea towel with the Hogwarts logo emblazoned upon it.
"The halfblood whelp summons him, and poor old Kreacher must answer. Oh, if his mistress only knew what Kreacher has been reduced to," the elf muttered under his breath, woefully shaking his head from side to side.
Hermione knelt down in front of him. "We’re terribly sorry to have disturbed you, Kreacher. We’re in need of your help," she said kindly.
"The mudblood dares to speak to Kreacher directly. Kreacher won’t answer her," the house elf said.
"That’s enough, Kreacher," Harry said angrily. "I won’t have you using that foul word. Do you understand me?"
"It’s all right, Harry. He doesn’t know what he’s saying," Hermione said.
"Don’t be fooled by him, Hermione," Ron said, staring at Kreacher menacingly. "He knows exactly what he’s saying. We want to know about Regulus Black."
"Master Regulus was a great and honorable wizard. He never once broke his poor mother’s heart. He died in service to the Dark Lord," Kreacher said reverently.
"He died because his friends murdered him," Harry said flatly. "Look, we’re not here to listen to you spout off about how great it is to serve the Dark Lord. I want to know if Regulus ever had something that looks like this," he said, holding out the fake Horcrux for Kreacher to see. "I want you to tell me what happened to it."
Kreacher twisted his lips together and grunted, obviously trying not to answer. Finally he could resist no more. "It was here, on a shelf in the drawing room. That horrid halfblood thief who has stolen many of my mistress’s fine things took it."
"Mundungus!" Ron exclaimed.
"Of course. Remember, Harry? We saw him in Hogsmeade with a trunk full of your things from this house," Hermione said.
"Where does Mundungus live, though?" Ron asked.
"I bet Fred and George will know," Ginny said.
"That’s our next step then. We have to find out where Dung lived before he was arrested and then search his place," Harry said. "I’m assuming the Ministry is still holding him?"
"Yeah, Dad mentioned something about it recently. Let me talk to Fred and George; I bet they’ll know where he lived. I think they’ll tell me," Ginny said.
"Why would they tell you and not me?" Ron asked, frowning.
"They like me better," Ginny said simply.
Harry smirked at Ron’s disgruntled expression. He felt better now that they were finally making some progress. A clear objective always calmed and focused him. Two Horcruxes had been destroyed, and they had a good lead on another. He knew what the final two pieces were, so only two left to find. He was doing better than yesterday.
Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were determined to find a way for him to survive. He didn’t think they’d succeed, but the fact they were so focused on it warmed his heart. He could do this. He could eliminate Voldemort so his friends and the people he loved, at least, had the chance for a better life.
A/N: Wow, the idea of Harry as a Horcrux certainly created a lot of responses, lol. Thanks so much for all your comments and replies. I love hearing everyone’s ideas.
Thanks so much to Sherylyn, who agreed to take on beta-ing this massive project of me and my comma problems, while my regular beta is getting knocked around by real life. Thanks so much, Sherylyn! Also, thanks to my pre-betas, KEDme, Dianne, and GhostWriter, who have been a tremendous amount of support and inspiration.