lundi 11 février 2008

chapter 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

"My fault?" Harry asked, nonplussed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Suddenly, Malfoy’s voice broke through the fog that had clouded Harry’s
brain. "What do you want? Let us pass. We’ve got permission to be
here," he whined, sounding distinctly afraid. "What’s wrong with you,
Potter? Get up. There are Dementors here."
Harry could see them now, two Dementors gliding towards them in that
insidious way they had of moving. One came from in front, one from
behind. There was nowhere to run or hide. They seemed to move more
slowly than Harry remembered. He knew that Tonks had said that only the
old Dementors had stayed behind, which might be why they moved more
slowly. It didn’t seem to make a difference to Harry, the effects were
the same, only they lasted longer.

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

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

Chapter Fifteen

Yet Still Miles to Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mrs. Parkinson pursed her lips but remained silent.

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

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


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

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

"I was about to ask you the same question," Hermione replied coolly,
her gaze raking Pansy’s tangled mop.
"Oh! I don’t believe this. Has Draco actually aligned himself with a
Mudblood and a bunch of blood traitors? Next you’ll tell me Potter is
here, too?" Pansy shrieked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"You do have to admit, Pansy…" Iris said, sounding bored as she sat on
an armchair and studied her broken nails. "…Draco was a bit of an idiot
to get himself mixed up with a bunch of Gryffindors. Now, we’re stuck
with them, too."
"As I remember, there was once a time you didn’t mind being seen with a
Gryffindor. Weren’t you one of the birds who used to follow Oliver
around Hogwarts with your tongue lolling?" Fred asked, grinning.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

"Lily, take Harry and go! It’s him!"

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

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

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

"Stand aside. Stand aside, girl!"

"Not Harry!"

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

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

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

Ron’s got me — I should have known.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Even Malfoy had the good grace to look abashed.

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

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

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

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

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

Malfoy averted his eyes, scowling. "No."

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

"Wait a minute," Harry said, staring beyond the stairwell where Tonks
stood. He felt very weak and tired, but he was still aware enough to
know Tonks was trying to hurry him off the floor. "What’s that room
down there?"
There was one other cell set apart from the others and located further
down the hallway.

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

"Why isn’t it used?" Ron asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It’s a long story. Mother and Iris are here, too. Come upstairs and
join us, and I’ll explain everything," Pansy said as they climbed the
stairs. She turned and cast a victorious look over her shoulder, as if
expecting that everyone else wished they’d been the ones to lead Draco
The rest of the Order emerged, and everyone gathered in the entrance
hall. Remus hurriedly approached Tonks, wrapping her in a fierce

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

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

"Scrimgeour happened," Tonks said sourly.

"And Percy," Ron replied, grimacing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny didn’t follow them, but instead retired
to the room that Harry and Ron shared. Ginny led Harry gently to his
bed where he collapsed without even removing his jacket.
"Was it horrible?" Hermione asked, biting her lip. She helped Ron to
sit on his own bed and sat down beside him, gently brushing the hair
from his face.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hermione shook her head. "It will depend on when the portrait was
commissioned. If it was before Professor Dumbledore suspected Voldemort
had made Horcruxes, the portrait will know nothing about them."
"Didn’t you say Professor Dumbledore didn’t know about them until you
got that memory from Slughorn, Harry?" Ginny asked in alarm. "That
would mean the portrait would have had to have been done within the
last few months of school."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Remus shrugged, still appearing perplexed. "It seems unlikely."
"I’m not so sure," Harry whispered, deciding to follow his instincts.

"Pardon?" Remus asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harry nodded solemnly

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

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

Remus gulped audibly. "That one?"

Again, Harry nodded solemnly, never breaking eye contact.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


"Consider it done," Remus said, nodding.

"Do you know anything about destroying them?" Harry asked.
Remus shook his head. "I’m sorry. I don’t. I told you everything I
know. I’ll see what I can find out, though."

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

"What’s that?" Remus asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They both stared at the water, taking deep breaths and preparing to
jump. Ginny rolled her eyes and pushed them out of the way. "Oh, for
heaven’s sake. The sooner we do it, the sooner it will be over," she
said, jumping straight into the chilly waves. Her head bobbed up
quickly, and she brushed her newly shortened hair out of her eyes.
"It’s an eye opener," she said, her teeth chattering as she began a
graceful crawl stroke toward the fissure.

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

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

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

"Bloody hell," Ron said, shaking violently.

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

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

"Harry, what-"

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What are you doing?" Ginny shrieked, pulling the knife away from his
bleeding arm.
"It needs a sacrifice," Harry said, hissing in pain as Ginny pulled the
knife too quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"It doesn’t matter," Ginny replied, shrugging. "I can go with you. I’m
underage, remember?"
It irritated him that his own reasoning for not wanting to take Ginny
along in the first place kept coming back to bite him. Still, leaving
her on the shore with Ron and Hermione didn’t mean she was any safer
than if she came with him if those Inferi decided to attack.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I can’t believe you and Dumbledore both fit in this," Ginny said, her
voice trembling.
"It was a tight fit," Harry said thickly. A painful lump had formed in
the back of his throat, making speech difficult. He took Ginny’s hand
and caressed it with his thumb as he led her towards the boat.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I can do this.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Harry and Ginny stood back to back, brandishing their wands at the
Inferi that were closing in on all sides. The water in the lake around
them bubbled and churned as countless white heads broke the surface.
Dead, vacant eyes stared out of sunken sockets, as more and more of the
Inferi dragged themselves from the water. Harry could feel Ginny’s legs
trembling against his and wished he could offer her some kind of

Ginny screamed as an Inferius clamped its claw-like hand around her
wrist and began dragging her towards the water.

"Incendio," Harry shouted, causing a burst of flame to erupt from his
wand. The Inferius immediately let go of Ginny and shrank from the
flame. Ginny pulled her arm close to her body, backing up several steps
as she did.

Harry waved his wand and created a ring of fire around Ginny and
himself. The Inferi cowered and shuffled back towards the water,
shielding their faces as they fled from the bright, hot flames.

"They’re afraid of the light," Harry shouted over the roar of the fire.

She nodded, warily watching the Inferi. "We can’t stay inside here
forever though, Harry. How are we going to get rid of them?" she asked.

She was right. Harry’s ring of flame had already begun to flicker and
burn out. Several of the bolder Inferi pivoted and moved back towards
them. Harry began to inch closer to Ginny but slipped as an icy hand
grabbed his ankle and began tugging him toward the edge of the rock. He
landed hard on his side, dropping the Horcrux in the process. It
skidded away from him, landing near the bottom of the chalice. He
jerked his foot away and scrambled back from the edge.

"Harry!" Ginny called, grabbing his shoulder. "Incendio," she cried as
another Inferius tried to grab him.
He could hear shouts and cries coming from the shore and knew the
Inferi must have emerged from the water on that side of the lake, too.
Judging from the sound of the screaming, the Inferi were indiscriminate
in choosing their victims.

Harry stretched his arm and grabbed the locket just as a bony white
hand reached out and grasped it, too. He felt a burst of icy cold
energy emanate from the locket, traveling up his arm and momentarily
freezing it. He dropped the locket in surprise, watching as the
Inferius did the same. The Inferius’ arm hung uselessly by his side,
dangling as if it was no longer part of his body. Without another
glance towards Harry, he turned and crawled back into the water like a
wounded animal.

"Harry, get up," Ginny screeched, her eyes wild. He turned to see her
brandishing her wand like some sort of Muggle machine gun. Bursts of
flame shot out of it, as she aimed at anything near her that so much as
moved. If the situation hadn’t been so dire, he would have laughed at
her Rambo imitation, knowing she’d have no clue who Rambo was.

"Ginny, start moving back toward the boat," Harry shouted, creating a
wall of flame on the other side of the chalice. It at least cut the
number of Inferi that could reach them in half.

"What about the locket?" Ginny asked.

"Trust me. We’ve got to get in the boat," Harry said, urging her back
as he kicked away another hand.

"But the boat’s made of wood. We won’t be able to use fire to keep them
away from us," Ginny said, glancing at him as if he’d gone mad.

Harry, who was desperately struggling to keep his limbs out of reach of
the grasping Inferi, gritted his teeth. "Can we argue about this later,
Ginny? Just get in the boat."

"Fine," Ginny snapped, sounding extremely put out. "Reducto," she said,
sending a particularly bold Inferius flying through the air and back
into the water with a splash.

Once she’d reached the boat, Harry snuffed the flame wall and bolted
back towards her. He leaped over several of the Inferi and scrambled
inside next to her.

"What now?" Ginny asked, crouching low as a long white arm reached for
her. "Petrificus Totalis."

Once inside the boat, not only couldn’t they conjure fire, but they
also couldn’t use any slicing or bludgeoning spells for fear of
destroying the craft. The boat began to shift and rock as the Inferi
returned to the water.

Harry could hear hands scraping along the bottom of the boat, and it
began to tilt as several of the creatures tried to hoist themselves up
on the side.
"Harry!" Ginny shouted, panicked. She grasped the side to try and
steady it.

Harry removed the locket from his pocket, grasping the chain and
holding it open like a noose. He’d only have one chance, and if he
missed the locket would drop to the bottom of the lake. He didn’t think
he’d ever be able to find it before being drowned by all the Inferi.

An Inferius gave the boat a nasty jolt, sending Ginny sprawling into
Harry and nearly knocking him over the side. Harry tried to regain his
balance and pull out from under Ginny but it was no use. There were too
many of them, and the boat couldn’t support the weight. It leaned to
the side and began to turn.

Both he and Ginny tried to push their bodies to the other side to rock
it back, but it was hopeless. The Inferi kept pulling until the boat
flipped over, sending both Harry and Ginny splashing into the black

Harry kicked hard, bringing his body back to the surface. He gripped
the locket so tightly in his hand it made an imprint on his skin. The
water felt slimy and alive. Harry didn’t even want to think about what
else could be swimming in its depths. He gasped as he reached for the
overturned boat.

A hand clutched his ankle beneath the cold water, pulling him down. He
kicked, attempting to get away. He could see Ginny struggling not far
from him.

"Ginny!" he gasped as her head went under. He reached out and grabbed
her arm, tugging with all his strength. When she surfaced, he pulled
her away from her captor and pushed her towards the boat.

"Hang on," he said, giving her a boost so she could cling to the
capsized underbelly. The Inferi kept trying to pull him under, but he
continued to fight. Finally, when an Inferius was close enough for
Harry to reach, he slammed the chain of the locket around the
creature’s neck.

The Inferius threw his head back, writhing in a silent scream, twisting
his body as if in agony. The amulet glowed a sinister red reminiscent
of Voldemort’s eyes. As the Inferius sank back beneath the water, Harry
aimed his wand at the locket.

"Apertum," he cried. The locket sprang open. Suddenly, an unearthly
scream filled the air as the inside of the locket exploded in a
cacophony of color and light. Harry felt the wave of heat rushing
towards him, and he flung his body over Ginny, feeling the blistering
heat scorch his back.

For a moment, neither of them moved. They clung to the bottom of the
upturned rowboat, breathing heavily and waiting for the next blow to

"Are you all right?" Ginny asked, her voice muffled by Harry’s weight.
His back felt as if he’s spent too long in the sun, but otherwise was
all right. He shifted his weight off Ginny and carefully raised his
head. A sobering sight met his eyes: bodies lay everywhere. They were
sprawled over the rock island, and floating aimlessly in the water.
They were just that, however — bodies — no sign of animation remained.

"What happened?" Ginny whispered, horrorstruck. She shifted closer to
Harry and buried her face in his shoulder so she was only half looking
at the grotesque sight.

"I don’t know," Harry whispered, stunned. "I think the sliver of
Voldemort’s soul reacted negatively with the cold death of the Inferi.
I noticed it when one of them touched the locket. Voldemort does have
an unnatural fear of death."

"What do we do now? We have to get back to the shore, but I’m not
certain we can flip this boat back over — and I really don’t want to
get back in that water," Ginny said, her voice cracking slightly.

Harry shuddered, his drenched clothing now suddenly feeling very heavy
and cold.

The boat jerked and suddenly began traveling across the water, back in
the direction they’d come. Harry and Ginny clung to the bottom, their
fingers aching as they tried to wriggle out of the water as much as
possible. As they moved, they hit many floating corpses, causing the
boat to rock and tilt. Ginny buried her face in Harry’s chest and
clung, as he held her close, keeping his gaze fixed firmly above the
water. The darkness and silence of the shore where they’d left Ron and
Hermione caused Harry’s chest to constrict tightly. He prayed his
friends had managed to subdue any Death Eaters and still managed to
escape the Inferi.

The boat moved at a good clip, but it felt torturously slow to Harry,
whose only thought was to get to the edge and aid his friends. He
strained his eyes to see what was happening, but it was useless. The
darkness was impenetrable.


When they reached the edge of the lake, Harry slid off the boat into
the knee-deep water and lifted Ginny onto the shore. They grasped hands
and sprinted towards the archway.

As they moved closer, they slowed and crouched low so as not to be
seen. Several corpses were sprawled on the beach, and Harry thought he
recognized the unmoving form of Crabbe lying half in the water.

A mewling sound caught his attention, and he quickly moved towards the
now-sealed archway. Ron stood towering above a crouching Wormtail, who
huddled against the stone, his hands outstretched and pleading. The
sleeve of Ron’s jacket was bloody and torn, and the expression on his
face held such rage that Harry was surprised Wormtail was still alive.

Hermione knelt beside Wormtail, ensuring the ropes binding his hands
were secure. She, too, appeared battered and bloodied but wore a
hardened expression upon her face.
"Ron! Hermione!" Harry shouted, relief washing over him.

"Oh! You’re all right," Hermione cried, leaping up and flinging her
arms around Harry’s neck. She let go and did the same to Ginny. "We
were so worried. We couldn’t see what happened to you."

"The Inferi happened," Harry said grimly.

"Yeah. After you left, Crabbe and a few more of his goons burst through
the archway," Ron replied, keeping his eyes fixed on the cowering
Wormtail. "Fortunately, it sealed again after only a handful of them
entered. Wormtail here tried to back away from the fighting and stepped
right into the lake, unleashing the Inferi. He ran away, but his mates
weren’t so lucky."

"It was awful," Hermione said, her lip quivering. "Those things just
dragged the other two men right under the water. Ron and I managed to
conceal ourselves behind the rocks, but they stood right on the shore."

"We reckoned we were done for when all of a sudden we saw that big
explosion over the water, then they all just collapsed. What happened?"
Ron asked.

"I destroyed the Horcrux, and it somehow destroyed the Inferi. They
were connected to it somehow, like the dragon was to the cup. It makes
me wonder if the Basilisk in the Chamber would have died if I’d just
stabbed the diary first," Harry said, shrugging.

"We caught Wormtail trying to get the archway to reopen, so Hermione
conjured the rope. I say we take him back to headquarters on the full
moon and let Remus have a go," Ron said, nodding towards Wormtail.

"We’ve still got a problem though," Hermione said. "There are other
Death Eaters outside, and I’m certain they’ll be waiting for us."

"Can we Apparate from right here?" Ginny asked.

Harry shook his head. "Don’t even try. I’m certain Voldemort would have
thought of that and not wanted any victim to be able to get away from
the Inferi. It either wouldn’t work, or you’d end up horribly

"Great, I suppose we could just use him as a hostage," Ron said,
nodding towards Wormtail.

"They won’t care," Harry replied, shaking his head. "We’re going to
have to fight our way out. We just have to reach the opening of the
cave and get back on the rocks. We can Apparate right from there.
That’s what I did with Professor Dumbledore."

"It’s getting there that’ll be the hard part," Ginny said, taking a
deep breath as if steeling herself for what was to come.

"How many of them are there?" Harry asked. "Did you get a good look?"
Hermione shook her head. "I didn’t get a chance to count, but I’d say
maybe half a dozen." She bit her lip while looking directly at Harry.
"Harry, there’s one more thing."

"What’s that?" Harry asked, knowing he wouldn’t like the answer.

"Snape was leading them," Ron spat.

Harry set his mouth in a grim line. A cold fury clenched at his heart
whenever he heard the name of his former Potions Professor mentioned.
The idea that he was here now — just outside the archway — filled Harry
with a burning desire for revenge.

"Harry," Hermione said, holding up her arms. "Don’t do anything stupid.
You’ve destroyed the Horcrux, but there is still one more to find. We
need to get out of here as quickly as possible. It’s the other Horcrux
that matters now, not Professor Snape."

Harry remembered the night he’d chased Snape across the Hogwarts’
grounds, feeling such rage and fury. He’d wanted nothing more than to
take Snape’s life in return for the life Snape had just taken from
Harry. He hadn’t cared about anything else, not the prophecy, not
Voldemort, not anything; he’d only wanted revenge.

Now that some time had passed, he still felt that boiling anger toward
his former Potions master, but he was calm enough to realize that he
did have a job to do. Still, he wasn’t about to let Snape get away
again if he could help it.

"I’m not going to do anything stupid, Hermione," Harry said, his voice
deadly calm. "But if I can get him, I’m going to do it."

"Never mind Snape," Ginny snapped, grabbing his arm and spinning him
towards her. "There’s no guarantee that Voldemort isn’t out there by

Harry’s eyes widened. Ginny was right. The reason Voldemort had
assigned Wormtail, Crabbe, and the others to this task was because they
weren’t bright enough to ask questions. Why, then, was Snape here at
all? Voldemort would want to deal with anyone near his precious
Horcruxes, personally.

Even if it weren’t for the fact one Horcrux remained unaccounted for,
Harry didn’t feel ready to face Voldemort. He’d thought there would be
more time — time to plan and strategize and to get his things in order
— time to say goodbye.

"Ginny’s right," Hermione said, her eyes widening. "Harry, what if
Voldemort is out there?"

"Did you see him before the archway closed?" Harry asked, his eyes
scanning the solid wall covering the arch.

"I don’t know," Ron said, beginning to sound panicked. "I was focused
on Snape. I didn’t pay attention to any of the others."
Harry shook his head. "If Voldemort was there, you’d know. He’s
unmistakable," he said grimly.

"It doesn’t mean he couldn’t have arrived since the arch closed,"
Hermione said.

"This is what we’re going to do. When I open that arch, I want everyone
to stand clear just in case they cast spells first. If they do, we at
least have better cover here. If not, we need to stick together and get
out as fast as possible. Once you’re outside the perimeter of the cave,
Apparate to headquarters. I’ll take Wormtail with me," Harry replied.

Wormtail looked up at him fearfully. "Harry, what do you need with me?
You know how this has to end. You’re both going to die," he said, his
voice dripping with false sorrow.

"Not until I’m ready," Harry replied, "and you’re going to be my shield
when I walk out that door."

"What?" Wormtail asked, his face blanching.

"What’s the matter, Wormtail? You don’t trust your new friends not to
sacrifice you? You should have stuck with your old ones, then. They
never would have betrayed you," Harry said, roughly dragging Wormtail
to his feet.

He quickly cast a Silencing Charm so that Wormtail wouldn’t get the
opportunity to give them away. He was about to slice his arm in order
to open the archway when Ron stopped him.

"Harry, don’t! Crabbe got me with a Slicing Curse when they first
entered, and my arm’s still bleeding. I’ll do it."

Harry nodded. Pulling Wormtail to one side, he watched as Ron smeared
his blood onto the stone. The white light around the archway shimmered
for a moment before illuminating fully. The solid stone once again
disappeared, leaving the arch open.

They weren’t immediately ambushed, although Harry could hear voices
arguing ahead. He was startled when water began rushing through the now
open archway. The tide was rising, and the floor of the outer cave was

Shoving Wormtail ahead of him and holding his wand firmly, Harry moved
through the arch. The moonlight outside illuminated the front of the
cave where Snape stood with at least four other Death Eaters. The back
of the cave was darker and allowed Harry and the others to remain
hidden in the shadows.

Unmasked, Snape was arguing contemptuously with another Death Eater.
Although the smaller figure remained hidden beneath her mask, the voice
of Bellatrix Lestrange was unmistakable.

Harry felt a boiling anger rise in his heart. This was his chance to
finally battle two of the people who’d each taken someone precious to
him. He clenched his wand so tightly that his knuckles turned white. He
took a deep breath and tried to remain calm. Although the rage wasstill there, he knew he had to be careful this time. He needed to plan
this and not simply react to it, or all hope would be lost.

Harry moved into the interior of the cave, pushing Wormtail ahead of
him with his wand. The floor was damp and slippery as rivulets of water
rushed over his feet, pushed by the incoming tide. He could feel the
water quickly soak through his trainers and hoped the squelching sound
wouldn’t give them all away. He didn’t want to chance voicing a drying

There was no way to get past Snape and the others unnoticed, but Harry
hoped the element of surprise would be on their side.

Wormtail ruined that chance by stomping his foot, causing a loud splash
that echoed throughout the chamber. The Death Eaters turned, surprised,
before they began firing an assortment of spells.

Harry yanked Wormtail in front of him and slammed him into the wall. He
aimed his wand at the nearest Death Eater, who was striding towards him
with a malevolent expression on his haggard face, and fired a Stinging
Hex straight at the man’s eyes. The Death Eater yelped, slapping his
hand over his eye as he began to hop around madly. Harry quickly cast a
Stunning spell, dropping him to the ground.

He scanned the cave, taking note of their escape route. He could now
count a total of five Death Eaters, including the one he’d just
Stunned. Ginny and Hermione were each engaged with other Death Eaters
and from what Harry could see, they were doing a fair job of it. His
eyes stopped moving when they locked on Snape’s cold black ones.

Snape scowled as he strode into the cave, his cape billowing behind
him. "Potter," he said, sneering. "I might have known it would be you.
You’ve always tended to stick your nose where it didn’t belong."

"And I might have known it’d be you that Voldemort sent to do his dirty
work. How does it feel to still be the lackey, Snivellus?" Harry asked
through gritted teeth.

Snape’s face screwed up with hate and rage. Raising his wand, he fired
several curses in rapid succession. Thanks to his quick Quidditch
reflexes, Harry managed to dodge most of them, and he raised a shield
in time to block the last one. Wormtail tried to move away from him
during this distraction, but Harry’s arm shot out and forced the
cowering little man against the cave wall.

"Petrificus Totalis," Harry snarled, freezing Wormtail where he stood.

"It appears that you’ve yet to learn your lesson about snooping into
other people’s private affairs, Potter," Snape said, his eyes
glittering maliciously. "You’re no better than your poor excuse for a
father. He never managed to learn his place, either. Of course, we all
know where that left him."

Snarling, Harry allowed his hatred to build as he cast the strongest
Bludgeoning Hex he could master. Snape ducked and rolled to the side,
but the spell hit another Death Eater who had just entered the cavebehind them. The man screamed in agony as his body was hurled through
the air and plunged into the sea below.

Ignoring the interruption, Harry again tried to curse Snape. He first
fired a Stunner and then a Cutting Spell as his anger grew. Snape
continued to evade Harry’s curses, easily anticipating Harry’s every

"Sectumsempra," Harry bellowed, but still Snape cast his shield in

"You’ll never be a true match for me until you learn to close off your
mind, Potter. Obviously you’re not disciplined enough to do this,"
Snape said, sneering. "Diffindo."

Harry rolled to the side. His frustration mounted as his curses
continued to be deflected. He heard a yelp and turned to see Ginny
casting her Bat Bogey Hex at the Death Eater who’d cornered her. In
that brief moment of distraction, Snape cast a spell that left a deep
gash on Harry’s shoulder. It felt like an invisible whip coiling around
his arm, pulling his wand hand forward.

Harry quickly grabbed his wand in his other hand and moved behind a
rock, taking cover. Panting with exertion, he could hear the sound of
spells being cast around him and knew the others were still on their

He rounded the rock in time to see Snape attempting to move towards

"Relashio," he shouted, sending an array of sparks towards Snape and
forcing him to retreat. Harry fired a volley of spells as he slowly
began to move forward. Snape managed to deflect the curses, but he was
forced to take cover himself.

In the meantime, Hermione had managed to subdue her assailant. She ran
towards Harry and crouched beside him, quickly casting a Healing Charm
on his shoulder.

"Hermione, take Wormtail. There’s enough of an opening that you can get
past if I keep Snape busy," Harry said in a hushed whisper.


"Just do it, Hermione," he snapped, determined that they were taking
Wormtail with them. "Sirius is going to finally be cleared for what
Wormtail did, so help me."

"Okay, Harry," she said, nodding resolutely.

Hermione removed the spell from Wormtail and, using her wand, made him
walk in front of her as a shield. Snape had no problem firing at
Wormtail, however, and he Stunned him before aiming at Hermione.

"Stupefy," Harry shouted, diverting Snape’s attention.
"Always playing the hero, aren’t you, Potter? You’re just as arrogant
as your father, and you’re bound to meet the same end," Snape said
silkily. The contempt shone from his black eyes as he advanced on

"You’re not half the man my father was, and never will be. That’s where
all this bitterness really comes from, isn’t it, Snape? You know you’ll
never be as good. You’ve got a bit of an inferiority complex, I think,"
Harry said, pleased with the flash of anger that showed on Snape’s

"Sectumsempra," Snape hissed. The intensity of curses Snape fired at
Harry intensified, and Harry knew he’d struck a nerve.

"Your inability to shield your mind will be your downfall, Potter. Your
frustration is making you sloppy, and the Dark Lord will have an easy
time of it with you," Snape said, sneering. Harry could tell that Snape
was enjoying the anticipation of that final confrontation.

"I don’t know," Harry replied, panting. "He’s certainly made the
effort, but hasn’t had much luck, yet."

"Don’t mistake your good fortune for any measure of skill or talent,"
Snape spat.

"Dumbledore gave you everything. He gave you a chance and believed in
you when no one else ever thought you were worth the effort, and you
betrayed him," Harry said, sending a Blasting Hex Snape’s way.

Snape blocked it. "I gave him the best years of my life," he said,
snarling. "He wasted my talents by leaving me to child mind a bunch of
sniveling idiots. I should have been so much more. I was the hero of

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