lundi 11 février 2008

chapter 8

Harry said. "I need to see the belongings that Dung had with him when
he was arrested. I think he has something of mine. If you arrange a
visit for me, we can bring Malfoy under the Invisibility Cloak."

"Invisibility Cloaks won’t work against Dementors," Ginny said,
scowling. "There are still some there, and you’re not going alone,

"He can remove the Cloak once we’re inside," Harry said, ignoring the
second half of her statement. "Since this was the last promise
Dumbledore made, we have to honor it."
"I know we agreed to help you, Harry, but I don’t like this," Remus
said. "I don’t think you’re prepared for how difficult Azkaban will be,
for you especially."

Harry nodded. "Maybe you can help with that, then, but I need to do
this, Remus. I wouldn’t ask if it weren’t important."

"Let me talk to Mad-Eye," Tonks said, watching Remus closely. "He has a
knack for getting the others to agree to things they normally

"Good enough," Harry said.

"For now, let’s go back," Remus said, nodding to each as they


A fortnight later, Harry sat on a couch inside Regulus Black’s former
bedroom flipping through an ancient book on the Dark Arts. Hermione had
discovered the room while seeking a quiet place to read and had
stumbled across a book partially sealed into the wall.

Leave it to Hermione to sniff out a hidden book.

It described many hexes and curses so vile that they made Harry’s
stomach churn just reading about them. But, hidden within the text of
an entirely different matter was a small paragraph about Horcruxes and
how they were made. The book was Romanian in origin — Ginny had
recognized some of the writing as similar to things Charlie had sent

Hermione thought they should plan to leave for Romania posthaste to
investigate any ties that Voldemort might have made there.

While Harry agreed it was a good lead in order to seek the remaining
Horcrux, he was far more interested in finding a translation to the
paragraph. He knew he could ask Charlie but didn’t want to involve him,
if possible.

He glanced at his watch impatiently. Tomorrow was Halloween. It would
mark the sixteenth anniversary of his parents’ death. It was also the
day he was scheduled to go to Azkaban. He thought it strangely ironic.

Remus had given Malfoy and him the news several days ago at an
Occlumency lesson. Malfoy appeared surprised but pleased and requested
they keep the information from his mother. Harry wondered if anyone had
told him about Pansy Parkinson but hadn’t brought it up with the
blonde. He certainly had no fondness for the Slytherin girl — he
remembered her as a bully, much the same as Malfoy — but no one
deserved to be hunted like that.

Remus said Harry, Malfoy and Ron would accompany Tonks on her next trip
to the prison. Kingsley had arranged the visit through Rufus
Scrimgeour. Scrimgeour had been extremely eager to learn the details of
Harry’s trip, and Harry suspected some Ministry interference before theday was through. Remus had told him that no more than one of his
friends could accompany him, and Mrs. Weasley had absolutely forbidden
Ginny from going to Azkaban. She’d tried to stop Ron too, but Mr.
Weasley had gently reminded her that Ron was of age.

Harry had chosen Ron, which meant Hermione hadn’t spoken to either of
them in days. Ron had made the mistake of telling Hermione not to be
stupid, that of course he’d be the one to go with Harry. Harry would
swear he saw icicles form on Ron’s eyebrows from the glare Hermione
gave him. And Ginny wasn’t too pleased, either.

Aside from the fact he didn’t want to push Mrs. Weasley any further
than she’d been pushed already, the masculine side of his brain did
want to protect Ginny from Azkaban. He remembered that she’d had
difficulty with Dementors herself and wanted to spare her if he could.
Hermione had just been through a serious and harrowing injury, and
Harry thought it was a good idea for her to avoid the Dementors, too,
if possible.

Of course, the girls saw things differently, but his decision had been
made. Ron was just as intent to protect Hermione as he was Ginny, and
Harry wasn’t going alone, so their arguments didn’t hold merit. When it
came right down to it, this was something he thought Ron could handle
better than Hermione, anyway. She had a tendency to panic if things
went wrong.

Harry closed his book and was about to head off to bed when the door
opened, and Ginny slipped inside.

"Hi," she said, shuffling her feet and not looking at him.

"Hi," Harry replied, aware of the hope flaring in his heart. She’d had
very little to say to him in the past few days, and he wasn’t very keen
to go to Azkaban while she was cross with him.

"Tonks said you’re leaving early tomorrow," Ginny said.

"Yeah. We’re going on her regular shift."

Ginny took a deep breath and flung her arms around him, squeezing him
tight. "You’re not forgiven for ditching me, but I wanted to wish you
luck. I hope you find what we’re looking for, and I hope it’s not too
bad for you there."

"It’ll be fine, Ginny. I’m sort of used to the Dementors now," Harry
said, running his hands along her back. It felt so good to have her in
his arms again. He didn’t know how he could miss something so much that
he really hadn’t had all that long to begin with.

"Quit being noble, Harry. No one ever gets used to Dementors. Just stay
with Ron and no heroics," Ginny said, holding his face between her

Harry pulled a face. "I’ll be okay, Ginny. If we find it, I’ll bring it
back so we can figure out how to destroy it safely."
"You won’t be able to bring your wand inside, so a Patronus isn’t
possible," Ginny said, worry evident in her eyes.

"I know. But Tonks will have her wand, and we’ll stay with her the
whole time. Don’t worry, Ginny," he said, gently brushing a strand of
hair from her face. It cheered his heart to see the concern shining in
her warm brown eyes — concern for him. It was still such a novel
concept to realize how much she cared about him. He enjoyed the way it
made him feel inside and hoped he made her feel a bit like that, too.

Ginny leaned in and kissed him soundly on the lips, making Harry forget
all about Dementors and prisons and everything else. In fact, he wasn’t
thinking of anything but the slip of a girl in his arms and how soft
her skin felt beneath his hands.

Although they’d promised each other not to get carried away, they were
still teenagers and prone to all the raging hormones that went along
with their ages. Their hands would roam curiously, and several articles
of clothing had inexplicably gone missing on several occasions. Still,
despite their minor slips, they’d managed to keep themselves in a
reasonable semblance of control. The idea had crossed his mind however,
that he didn’t know if those checks would remain in place the next time
they were out on their own and away from the prying eyes of Ginny’s

"Good luck," Ginny whispered when she finally pulled away. Her hair was
disheveled, and she wore a slightly dazed expression.

Harry just wanted to get back to the kissing. He nodded fervently and
pulled her back into his arms, feeling as if there was no way even a
Dementor could dampen his spirits.


Halloween morning dawned stormy and gray. There was a distinct chill in
the air that Harry knew would only worsen on the open ocean. It was
exactly the kind if dismal day that seemed appropriate for a trip to
Azkaban. He’d dressed warmly but still felt goose bumps rise on his
skin as he boarded the boat that would take him to Azkaban.

He, Ron, and Malfoy had met Tonks and Mad-Eye in the entrance hall.
Harry reckoned Moody was only going along to keep an eye on Malfoy; he
still suspected that Malfoy was up to something. Of course, Moody
generally suspected that everyone was up to something.

They’d Apparated to the Ministry and taken a controlled Portkey to a
small island not far from Azkaban where the Ministry ran a checkpoint.
No one was allowed in or out of the prison without going through the
island’s security. The wards at the prison prevented both Apparation
and Portkeys, much like the wards at Hogwarts.

Malfoy had remained concealed beneath Harry’s Invisibility Cloak until
they’d arrived at the checkpoint. There he’d had to register his wand
and state his intent to visit his father. Harry was incredibly
apprehensive about leaving his wand at the checkpoint. Tonks assured
him it would be safe; there were precautions in place so that only hecould remove it. Besides, only the Aurors were permitted to bring wands
inside the prison. If he wanted to go, he’d have to leave it.

Once they’d completed the registration, they were ushered outside to a
small boat ramp. The icy wind blew off the North Sea in fierce gusts,
causing Harry to pull his jacket more tightly around his body. His hair
ruffled in the breeze as the clean, salty air filled his lungs.

Grim-faced Aurors stared suspiciously at them as they boarded. There
were surprisingly few passengers, and Harry assumed the prisoners
incarcerated within Azkaban didn’t receive many visitors. Along with
Tonks, there were five other Aurors taking the journey to relieve those
who had worked the night shift.

The boat was small and mostly open to the wind. Stiff wooden benches
were aligned in rows behind an enclosure where the captain piloted the
boat. Harry and Ron sat on one bench while Tonks and Mad-Eye took the
bench behind them. Tonks left room for Malfoy to join them, but he
purposefully took the bench opposite them and sat alone.

"Where do they put the prisoners?" Harry asked, wondering how it would
feel to be making this journey knowing there was only pain and
imprisonment at the end. This trip already appeared foreboding, and he
was certain he’d be returning in only a few short hours.

"Prisoners don’t ride with passengers," Tonks said, shaking her head.
"There is a heavily secured ship that makes the trip once a day.
Prisoners are Stunned while they go in and out on that one."

"They’re Stunned even when they’re leaving?" Ron asked, his voice
squeaking slightly.

Tonks smiled grimly. "There isn’t anything about this place that’s

"How long is this journey going to take?" Malfoy asked. He stood up and
scowled at the crude seating. "These accommodations are barbaric."

The boat jerked slightly as it left the dock, causing Malfoy to stumble
and hit his knee against the bench. He winced painfully and grabbed
onto his wounded knee. Ron sniggered loudly, causing Malfoy to glare at
him as he retook his seat.

"What are you laughing at, Weasley? Just because a wooden bench is
considered a step up from what your family is accustomed doesn’t mean-"

"Not one word about my family, Malfoy," Ron said, standing up and
towering over the blonde. In the cramped quarters of the launch, Ron
had to hunch over so that his head wouldn’t hit the roof. "There’s no
one on this boat who’d make a fuss if you suddenly found yourself
overboard, so I’d keep quiet if I were you."

"All right, that’s enough, lad," Moody said, chuckling and motioning
Ron back to his seat.

Harry turned away from their bickering to watch the waves crash against
the side of the boat. He could feel the cold spray of the water andpulled deeper into himself in an attempt to keep warm. The island from
where they’d departed had rapidly become a distant speck upon the
horizon. Nothing but the cold, gray sea surrounded them as far as the
eye could see in any direction. He wasn’t certain how far they’d
traveled, but it seemed as if they were exposed to the wind and icy
surf for hours. A fog had rolled in, making visibility nearly non-
existent. Harry strained his eyes, trying to see anything in the

Suddenly, the captain called out above the wind, "Land, ho!"

Harry tried unsuccessfully to suppress a shudder as a massive stone
structure emerged from the fog as if a curtain had been lifted. Jagged,
seaweed-covered rocks poked out of the water surrounding the small
island. The sharp, rough edges would be enough to make any stray boats
hesitant to try and dock.

The walls of the prison arose steep and menacing from the icy cold sea,
forcing Harry to crane his neck to see the top. He could see the water
line that the tide had marked on the stone, making it appear smoother
and darker than the remainder of the structure.

The captain maneuvered the boat into a small inlet that Harry hadn’t
noticed at first. As he watched the boat make the treacherous journey
up the channel, he saw several of the jagged stones move out of their
way. Obviously the channel was controlled by magic.

When they reached the end, they docked on a simple wooden platform to
debark. The moment Harry stepped off the boat, he felt a chill deeper
than anything weather-related sink into his skin. He broke into a
clammy sweat despite the cold, and his head felt suddenly woozy. He had
no doubt there were Dementors nearby.

As the small party approached the stone wall, a doorway magically
appeared several meters above their heads. A metal stairway was
lowered, and they ascended into the prison. Tonks pressed her wand
against the door, which emitted a series of soft pops before gliding

The blast of air coming from inside the prison was colder than the sea
air in which they were standing. Harry followed Ron inside, his heart
pounding and his head swimming. A bout of nausea churned his stomach,
nearly causing him to gag.

A tall, thin, cloaked figure stood on the far side of the room,
observing them as they entered. Harry vision blurred as a distant
screaming began to echo in his head. Instinctively, he reached for his
wand only to find it missing. He took deep breaths, trying to control
his rising panic.

This is going to be harder than I thought.

He stumbled as Tonks quickly ushered them across the room and would
have fallen if Ron hadn’t caught him.
"You all right, mate?" Ron whispered as they entered the long stone
corridor outside the first room. Ron was very pale, making the freckles
on his face stand out darkly.

Harry nodded, his world steadying again after they’d left the room
where the Dementor still stood. His stomach roiled, and he was very
glad he hadn’t eaten much for breakfast.

"That’s right, Potter," Malfoy drawled, staring at Ron and him with
amusement glinting in his steel gray eyes. "I’d forgotten you had
problems with Dementors. They make you faint, don’t they?" Despite his
taunts, Malfoy’s pallor had faded, as well.

"Back off, Malfoy," Ron growled, staring at Harry with concern.

Harry didn’t even bother with a comment; it was taking all his effort
to remain standing. He’d tried to put a hand on the cold stone of the
wall in an effort to collect himself, but that had been a bad idea.
There was something alive in the walls. Harry didn’t know how else to
describe it. The stone was cold and slightly slimy from the damp chill,
but there was also a deep agony that emanated from it. It was almost as
if the stone had absorbed all the misery and torment from the people
that had been imprisoned here through the years.

Harry watched as water dripped from the ceiling and ran in rivulets in
certain spots along the massive corridor. It looked as if the walls
were crying.

"Are you going to be able to do this, Harry?" Tonks asked. She’d moved
to his side and lowered her voice. Her hair had been her traditional
bubblegum pink when they’d left that morning, but since entering the
prison the color had faded and become dull.

"I’m fine," Harry replied, feeling anything but fine. "Let’s just get
it over with."

"What do you want to do first?" Tonks asked, her eyes showing concern.

It made Harry uncomfortable, and he grit his teeth as he tried to
ignore it. It was hard enough dealing with the effects of the
Dementors, never mind dealing with sympathy because of it.

"Let’s take Malfoy to see his father before we look through Dung’s
things," he replied. If the amulet was with Dung’s belongings, he
didn’t want to bring it anywhere near Lucius Malfoy.

"The cells where the prisoners are located begin on level three. That’s
where Dung’s cell is. Lucius is in the high-security wing on level
five. The stairs are this way. I just want to warn you — there are
Dementors on that level, so be prepared," Tonks said grimly.

They climbed the stairs in silence. The presence of the Dementors had
affected them all, and not even Malfoy had the energy to be difficult.
Once they’d reached level five, Moody informed Malfoy that he wouldn’t
be able to see his father alone. Moody said he was going with him.
"No way, Moody" Malfoy replied, some of his former bravado returning.
"You’re not going to use anything my father says against him at a later
date, not a chance."

Moody shrugged as if it made no difference to him one way or the other.
"Then you’re not going in, either, lad. You’re not entering his cell
without an escort."

"Tonks can go then," Malfoy replied, sneering. "She’s sort of family.
I’ll trust her over you."

"Sorry, Draco," Tonks said cheerfully. "I’m on duty. I have to go
relieve my partner, so I really can’t sit with you. You can pick Moody,
Ron or Harry, but one of them is going inside with you."

Malfoy scowled. "Potter then," he said, sneering

"Good enough," Moody growled. "Potter, keep your ears open that these
two aren’t plotting anything against the Order. Keep the Invisibility
Cloak on so you won’t be seen."

"I thought Invisibility Cloaks didn’t work against Dementors," Harry
asked, pulling the Cloak out of his pocket.

"The Cloak isn’t meant to fool the Dementors," Tonks replied. "They
don’t see the way we do. They’ll sense two people entering and two
people leaving. The Cloak will only deceive Lucius."

"As long as you keep your mouth shut," Moody said, his magical eye
staring menacingly at Draco.

"I don’t want my father to know Potter is there any more than Potter
wants to be seen. I don’t even want him there at all," Malfoy replied,
turning his back on both Harry and Moody.

"What you want has never been one of my considerations, boy," Moody
replied, harshly. "Go on down the corridor. He’s in cell 5-J; it’ll be
on your left. Ron and I will be waiting here."

Ron looked extremely hesitant to let them go, but there was nothing to
be done for it. Tonks pressed her wand to the heavy steel door and it
slid open, stopping with a loud clang. Harry threw the Invisibility
Cloak over his head and followed Malfoy down the long, dimly lit

The air was even heavier than it had been downstairs, and Harry knew
the Dementors were close by the volume of the screaming in his head. He
felt positively ill and hoped he wouldn’t alert Lucius Malfoy to his
presence by vomiting all over the man’s feet.

Draco glanced at the numbers of the cells as they walked. Harry peered
into each cell and felt a great wave of sympathy for the prisoners
huddled inside each small hole. There was barely enough room to move
inside, and most of the prisoners didn’t even have the energy to stir
as they passed.

Sirius spent twelve years locked up here, probably on this level.
Harry shook his head. This wasn’t the time to dwell on that. Malfoy
stopped walking and placed his hand on a silver disk located outside
the cell. The disk flashed green, indicating it was safe to enter.
There were no doors or bars to hold the prisoners but instead a ward
ensured they were kept inside. Tonks had said the ward would allow them
inside the cell, but they would be unable to leave until they again
passed their hands over the disk. If Lucius attempted an escape, they
would all be trapped within the wards.

Harry hadn’t bothered to ask exactly what that meant. He didn’t think
he really wanted to know.

He followed Draco inside the cell, and it was a moment before he
noticed Lucius sitting on the edge of his bed. He’d obviously been
sleeping as his eyes were crusted, and he squinted at his son as if
trying to process the fact he was there. Lucius was thinner than Harry
remembered. His long blonde hair was matted and dirty, and he’d lost
that haughty aristocratic demeanor that he’d always shown. He looked
haunted. Harry couldn’t imagine trying to live for years under these
conditions. It was a wonder anyone left Azkaban with his mind still

"Father?" Malfoy asked tentatively. His voice shook slightly as his
eyes roamed over his father’s broken form.

"Draco? What are you doing here?" Lucius asked. His voice was raspy
from lack of use. "Everyone has been looking for you. Is your mother
with you?"

"She’s safe, Father. She doesn’t even know I’m here," Draco replied,
swallowing heavily. "How are you?"

Lucius Malfoy shook his head as if to clear it. That ugly sneer that
Harry remembered so well returned to his features. "What have you done,
Draco? Have you made a bargain with the blood traitors? Where is your
pride? I’m so disappointed in you."

"Father, listen to me. I can help you. When you’re released from here,
you can come into hiding with us," Draco said, a pleading quality to
his voice that Harry found painful. He knew from years of experience
that Draco’s pleas would fall on deaf ears.

"A real Malfoy would never crawl on his belly with the slime and dregs
of society," Lucius spat, seething now. "I thought I’d raised you to
know that. This is your mother’s influence, isn’t it?"

"Father, the Dark Lord will kill you when you’re released if you don’t
do something to ensure your own survival," Draco cried.

"Then I will die with honor, as you should have done," Lucius replied.


"No, Draco. You can still salvage this," Lucius said, moving closer to
his son. His eyes began to shine with a demented light. "Go back to the
Dark Lord. Kneel before him and beg his forgiveness. Prove your loyaltyto him by killing those who have given you aid. It might convince him
to grant you some leniency."

Draco threw his head back and snorted derisively "There is nothing
lenient about him; you know that. He’ll have me beg and then kill me

"Then you should die," Lucius replied.

Draco blinked, clearly stunned. "Father, I’m your only son."

"No son of mine would dishonor the Malfoy name in this way," Lucius
said, sneering. "I knew after we had you that you were a weakness to
your mother’s loyalty. She’d do anything for you, to save you. She’s
thrown away her own future to protect yours. It’s why we never had
another child. I knew she was weak, but you… You, I thought had learned
your proper place."

"My proper place?" Draco asked. "What, to kneel in front of a Half-
blood? I thought you said Malfoys were better than that."

Lucius raised his hand and slapped Draco’s face before Harry could do
anything to stop it. This was painful to witness, and Harry wished he
were anywhere else. He suddenly wondered if this was how Draco had felt
while watching scenes of Harry’s childhood with the Dursleys during

"That’s Potter talking," Lucius spat. Harry’s head jerked upward at the
sound of his own name.

"Is that who’s offering you protection?" Lucius asked incredulously.
"Have you aligned yourself with Potter? Oh, Draco, how could you have
sunk so low? Potter doesn’t stand a chance."

"Of course he doesn’t. But there is a better chance of survival through
his cohorts. I know at least that they won’t kill us," Draco said,
making one last attempt to sway his father.

"Until you stand up and take account for your actions, you are no son
of mine. Think about what I’ve said, Draco. You need to turn back to
the Dark Lord. You are near his enemies and can aid him greatly. It
could earn you great honor and respect. You are nothing without it,"
Lucius said, his voice silky smooth as he tried to entice his son.

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.

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