AYNIL: Chapter Eighteen: Findings & Failings

It wasn’t easy trying to get Ron back into headquarters. He didn’t have his wand anymore, so thankfully couldn’t perform another deadly curse, but was still fighting Harry. He was behaving very odd. One second it was like Ron was trying to strangle his best friend, the next he would go limp, and Harry would have to catch him from falling. It seemed as though Ron was trying to fight the Imperius Curse.

“C’mon Ron, you can do it,” Harry panted, as they took the last struggled steps into Order headquarters.

“Oh, thank god,” Hermione cried when she saw both of them come through the door alive, and seemingly unhurt. She ran over to hug Ron but Harry pushed her away, just as Ron made another attempt at getting his hands around Harry’s neck. “What the —“

“He’s been Imperiused,” Harry explained as he struggled against Ron’s renewed attempts to strangle him. Hermione let out a little scream, which drew the attention of a bunch of other people in the house, because it set off the portrait again.

“What’s going on?” Lupin shouted as he, Mr. Weasley, Tonks and Moody came hurrying out of the drawing room. “Why did you scream Hermione?”

“Its Ron, Harry just said he . . . “

At that moment Ron wriggled free of Harry’s restraining grasp and lunged at him. Harry, not paying as much attention as he should have been, was caught off guard enough for Ron to be able to force him back against the door. He had his hands on Harry’s neck now, but wasn’t applying any pressure. He was still fighting that curse Harry could see it.

“Fight him,” Harry told his friend, removing the hands that were loosely draped around his neck. “You can do it.”

Ron stepped back a few paces. His head was starting to twitch from side to side, as though he was trying to shake it, but not quite able to. Several people moved forward, as though to restrain him, but Harry motioned for them not too. He wanted Ron to beat this on his own. Harry knew that he could do it.

The scene stood suspended, mid-action for several minutes while they all watched Ron fight that internal battle with Voldemort. Finally, much as Harry had done several years before; he won, bursting out furiously, “NEVER!”

Breathing hard and shaking madly, Ron collapsed against the wall, not looking at any of them.

“What happened?” Lupin asked finally.

“Voldemort,” Harry said simply. Mr. Weasley and Tonks shuddered, Lupin and Moody looked shocked, and there was the sound of feet pounding up the stairs. Mrs. Weasley and Ginny came racing into the entrance. Their faces were white. They had heard the name, and that was enough to make them hurry their steps.

“Remus, what happened?” Mrs. Weasley asked in her frantic voice. Her gaze traveled around the crowd of people standing in the entrance. Her eyes fell on Ron, who had either fallen asleep, or passed out. “Oh my god, not Ron,” she cried rushing over to him. “He’s not —“

“He’s fine,” Harry stated. “Just a little exhausted is all.”

“Let’s go in here —“ Lupin gestured to the recently vacated drawing room. “You can tell us what happened. Molly, Ginny, can you two see to Ron?”

No one argued with Lupin, and they broke into two groups. Once in the drawing room Harry explained about the meeting with Voldemort, leaving out their exact location and purpose for being there. He told them about the Dementors, about how he had sensed Voldemort there before the Dark Lord had ever appeared. How Voldemort had appeared and how he had cursed Ron.

All eyes turned to Hermione when Harry got to the part about her Disapparating.

“I thought we were all leaving at the same time,” she said in barely more than a whisper. There were tears on her cheeks. “I wouldn’t have left otherwise.” She seemed a little defensive through her tears, and Harry wondered if Ron questioning her bravery earlier that day intensified her guilt.

“I thought he was dead,” Harry stated bitterly, the talk returning to their recent experience. He told them about how he had almost been completely reckless and gone after Voldemort, then about the two Unforgivable Curses that Ron had shot at him. At these last words Mr. Weasley put his head in his hands.

“My son,” he said softly. “My own son did something that terrible. His best friend . . . “

“He was under the Imperius curse Arthur. He didn’t know what he was doing,” Moody said, an unusual compassionate note in his voice.

“He fought from the first though,” Harry said, a proud note in his voice. Neither Ron nor Hermione had ever seen Voldemort before today. They had certainly heard about his appearance, and all of the terrible things that he did for a long time, but to see him in all his serpentine glory; just after being faced with Dementors . . . They had done very well. And more importantly, they were both alive, safe, and generally none the worse for wear.

“I’ve got to go see him.” Mr. Weasley stated suddenly. He left the room quickly, and thundered up the stairs.

“Me too.” Hermione joined him. Harry was going to accompany her, but Lupin held him back.

“Harry, a word please?” Harry grudgingly agreed. They too left the room, and walked up to the deserted library.

“Exactly where were you three today?” Lupin questioned once he had closed the door.

“In a village,” Harry admitted. “We’re working on a way of getting rid of Voldemort. That’s really all I’m at liberty to say.”

“Can you at least tell us what area of the country you were in?” Lupin asked. Harry wondered if this was a roundabout way of getting the answer. He gave Remus a questioning look. “Just general vicinity, so we can get some people there. If he’s in that area there’s bound to be more Dark activity.”

“It is in the North of England,” Harry decided to tell him. “But if you don’t mind, I want to go check on Ron too.” He wasn’t going to take part in an interrogation that he couldn’t answer questions to. Harry’s annoyance and impatience must have carried through in his voice because Lupin spoke again.

“Harry, we’re trying to work with you, stay out of your way for the most part. It’s a request Dumbledore made of us before he died. We want to make your job easier, not harder.”

“Thanks,” Harry said. He was halfway to the door already. He heard Lupin sigh as the library door swung shut.

Mr and Mrs Weasley were just leaving the room that Ron and Harry usually shared. When he descended the last few steps, Mrs. Weasley pulled him into one of her usual bear hugs.

“Thank you, Harry dear. For making sure he got back safe.” There were tears in her eyes. Letting go of Harry she returned to her husband, who put his arm around her shoulders.

“You can’t really think that I would leave him there with Voldemort? I don’t want that evil git to get away with any of this. A little thing like trying to kill me isn’t going to change that.” He was joking, but realized a little too late that it was perhaps too soon for such a remark.

“Oh,” Mrs. Weasley sobbed, fresh tears falling down her face. She escaped Harry and Mr Weasley’s company and went down the stairs.

“That was tactless of me,” Harry berated himself.

“Don’t worry about it son,” Mr Weasley put a comforting hand on Harry’s shoulder. “We’re just glad he was able to fight off that Curse.” He glanced back at the closed door for a minute, shook his head slowly and in an exhausted sort of way, and then joined his wife.

Ron was lying on his bed, and Ginny was sitting on the edge of it when Harry entered and closed the door. They had been having a whispered conversation.

“How’re you feeling?” he asked Ron.

“Fine,” Ron would not look at him. “Just peachy. You know, nearly murdered you, but —“

“You didn’t. It was Voldemort,” Harry stated firmly. The last thing he wanted Ron to do was to blame himself for something he had no control over.

“It was my wand pointing at you. I was the one that shouted those Unforgivables,” Ron retorted. “I can’t believe this.” He covered his face with his hands. “I just can’t believe this.”

Harry wasn’t sure what to say to this. He knew exactly where Ron was coming from. It was the same way that he felt about Sirius. Truth be told, he wanted to tell Ron that it would be OK, that nothing bad had happened, and that he should get over it. But Harry knew it would be a waste of breath. He still hadn’t got over Sirius’s death after all.

“Here’s your potion Ron,” Hermione said, entering the room. On Mrs Weasley’s instructions no doubt, he had been brought a dreamless sleep draught.

“Thanks,” he responded. “Listen —“ he put the glass down on the bedside cabinet. “ — I need to have a word with Harry. Can you two leave us alone for a minute?”

Hermione and Ginny didn’t question his request they just left.

“I . . . I’m sorry,” Ron said simply.

“Like I said before, it wasn’t your fault,” Harry told him.

“We shouldn’t have questioned you like that. When you said we had to go, we should have just gone. When I think about what might have happened . . .” Ron stopped talking for a minute, thinking about the what ifs. “I mean, not just my actions, but the greater consequences,” Ron shivered. “The prophecy . . . “

“Yeah, but someone once told me that you can’t dwell on the what ifs or possibilities,” Harry replied, remembering Lupin’s words to him about Sirius. And then less recently Dumbledore’s words, ‘It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live’. “Everything worked out for the best, and tomorrow we’re going back out there.”

Ron shuddered. “So soon?”

“Not to Little Hangleton, but somewhere else. We’ve got to,” Harry told him.

“Yeah. We’re just going to have to be extra careful this time. And I promise we’ll both listen to you. I have to or Ginny’ll Bat Bogey me,” he smiled weakly. Harry returned the smile. Then Ron became serious again. “Listen about Ginny . . . I’ve been a complete idiot about that; the whole taking advantage thing. I know it’s not like that. I just was a little disgusted at seeing that, and . . . well you know Hermione wasn’t . . . I was a little -”

“No harm done,” Harry said, putting up his hand. That explained how Ron knew about that night. The comment about Hermione was more than Harry wanted to know though. “Get some rest. You’re going to need it.”

Harry waited while Ron swallowed the potion. When he had settled back, and his snores were starting to sound, Harry left the room. Hermione and Ginny were standing right outside the door. The former entered it, shutting the door quietly behind her.

“He’s going to be fine,” Harry told Ginny, hugging her close to him to try and soothe that worried look on her face.

“Was he really that mad at you for what we did?” she asked, trying to joke, but not getting the feeling across, because her voice was heavy with unshed tears.

“Maybe,” Harry said hollowly, as he stroked Ginny’s hair. He hadn’t really digested the meaning of her question.

The Weasleys, who were at number twelve, Grimmauld Place for an order meeting, decided to stay the night to keep an eye on Ron. Ginny had come with them because it wasn’t safe for her to be alone at The Burrow.

Everyone was so shocked at what had transpired between Harry, Ron and Voldemort that they all seemed to be walking around in a daze. Neither Mr nor Mrs Weasley said a word when they went to check on Ron, and found Hermione asleep in the bed next to him. Nor did they say anything when Ginny went up to bed, dragging Harry with her. It seemed another of those desperate sorts of nights, when the evil going on in the world is threatening to suffocate the individual, and the only reprieve is to stay as close as possible to those you love.

Consumed in making sure that Ron was OK, Harry hadn’t had a chance to process how he felt about this whole scenario. It wasn’t until late that night, when Ginny was drifting off to sleep beside him that he got chills. He almost hadn’t survived to be here beside her. He had narrowly escaped death yet again. His best friend would have murdered him!

Harry suddenly felt quite sick.

“What’s wrong?” Ginny asked, sleepily.

“Just thinking about today,” Harry confessed. “I never thought that would happen. I almost had to hex him to keep him from murdering me.” It was at this moment that the realization of how narrowly he had escaped death again came to Harry.

“I thought, when we heard Voldemort’s name, that it was something to do with you . . . “ Ginny trailed off. “I was so scared I could barely walk. I was so relieved when we came in and saw that you and Ron were both fine. It’s like when the Dementors leave and you remember all the good things . . . “ she moved a little closer to Harry.

“We’re leaving again tomorrow,” he told her suddenly.

“I know. But it’s not morning yet.”

* * * * * * * * * *

Molly fretted over the breakfast she had got up at the crack of dawn to prepare. She had been dismayed the previous evening to learn that Harry, Ron and Hermione were going to be setting off so soon. They should delay their leaving, she thought. Ron being placed under the Imperius Curse was reason enough. She had even agreed to stay a few extra days, if the trio changed their plans. When she voiced these suggestions over breakfast it wasn’t Harry, Ron or Hermione that said anything, but Ginny.

Sitting right beside Molly, Ginny put her hand over top of her mother’s, and made sure she was looking before she spoke. “Mum, they can’t. They’ve got things to do, to try and end this war,” she said this with a determined air. Molly saw a flicker of that same haunted look in her daughter’s eyes as the day she had found Ginny crying in the yard.

Harry was like a son to her. Molly hated to think about all of the horrible things that he had gone through in his life. She was glad that Ginny was able to bring him some happiness. Harry and Ginny reminded Molly of herself and Arthur. They too had started dating during a war, and would need to be with each other to shut out all of the horrible things that were happening. Of course, Molly and Arthur were not direct targets of You-Know-Who, which made it a little easier for them than it was for Harry and Ginny. It was perhaps this level of understanding that allowed Molly to not intervene in their relationship. She had to admit (even though she didn’t want to think about it at all) that what they were doing was normal. She just hoped they were being careful.

Ron seemed almost back to himself in the morning. There were a few slight changes. He was a little more subdued, ate less than normal, and didn’t scowl once when he found out that Harry and Ginny had stayed together the night before. The most perceptible change in him was that he now had a very similar attitude as Harry did about getting this task done.

Harry, Ron and Hermione had a brief discussion after breakfast. There was no argument this time. Both Harry and Ron were of a like mind in needing to get this task over with. Hermione deferred to their judgment. So they, in very short order, agreed that their next stop was going to be the Orphanage.

“We should be prepared this time though, if they ask us why we’re there,” Hermione stated. “I was thinking that we could say we’re looking for a suitable home for a baby,” she glanced nervously at Ron here. Was this going to be a replay of yesterday’s marriage argument?

“Whose though?” he asked. From the look on his face, Harry knew that Ron was probably coming to the same conclusion as he was.

“Would it be believable if we said it was someone else’s?” Hermione asked with raised eyebrows, she meant hers it was obvious. “I don’t like it any more than you do, but it’s the most logical explanation.”

They once again found themselves in the rubbish filled square. It was particularly foul smelling in the August heat. Hermione had made the well-thought out point that since they were not leaving the city it would be hard to find a place to Apparate without being seen. So they were going to take the underground.

Hermione was their guide for the day. She kept her nose turned up to the stop schedule and told them where to get off. Reaching street level, they found they were in the same location the younger Dumbledore had walked down. It was no longer old-fashioned. There were no horses and carriages here, but many cars lining the street. Many of the buildings appeared to have been abandoned, and were looking much shabbier for it.

The square building that held the orphanage had seen its fair share of hard times as well. The high railings were rusted, weeds were growing through the stairs, which were cracked and chipped in places, and the door they approached to knock, was in desperate need of paint.

“Can I help you?’ A middle-aged woman asked them curiously as she swung the door open.

“Um . . . yes. This is an orphanage right?” Hermione asked nervously.

“Yes.”

“Well we . . . I . . . “ Hermione had turned a bright shade of red. Apparently this little plan of hers wasn’t going to be as easy as she thought it would.

“Are you going to have a child?” the woman asked, looking Hermione up and down. Grateful the woman had said it, Hermione nodded her head vigorously, a triumphant smile on her face. The woman probably thought she was smiling because the reason for her visit was out. Ron and Harry, on the other hand, knew she was smiling because the woman bought her story.

“I just . . . I can’t keep it, and was hoping to . . . er . . . find somewhere nice to take him or her. You know, somewhere that will look after them properly, until they can get a proper mother and father.” Despite her initial stumble, the rest of Hermione’s explanation was very well done, Harry thought.

“Right, dear, come in.” The woman opened the door a little wider so Hermione could enter. Harry and Ron were quick to follow, but the somewhat compassionate manner of the woman faltered when she saw them. “Who are they?” she asked, eyeing each suspiciously. “Is it one of them that got you into trouble?’ her voice was suddenly stern.

“Er . . . um . . . no,” Hermione said finally, blushing again. Harry was never good at feelings, but it was quite obvious what this woman was thinking, and what had caused Hermione to blush. If she admitted that one of them was the father of her fictitious baby they were likely to get a telling off. If she said that the two guys she had with her weren’t the so-called father, the woman might begin to wonder if Hermione wasn’t a bit too ‘giving’. “They’re just friends of mine, here for moral support . . .you know.”

“Hmmmm . . . “ The woman, whose name was Sandra according to her nametag, let them into an office. It was the same office that had once belonged to Mrs Cole. There was a picture hanging on the wall opposite of that very woman, with a date of death some five years previous. She certainly had lived to a ripe old age.

“So . . . how far along are you exactly?” Sandra asked as she took her seat.

Hermione came up with a wealth of details as only she could. Soon the woman was quite interested in her, and seemed keen to take on the nonexistent child. As the two talked, Harry and Ron exchanged incredulous looks. They were growing impatient with chat and wanted to start looking around.

“I suppose a tour’s in order,” Sandra said finally, standing up. Harry was so impressed with the way Hermione was handling this woman that he could have kissed her. It was pure genius this plan of hers. If they didn’t find anything today and needed to come back it wouldn’t seem odd at all. Who would question an expectant mother wanting to have second looks and where their child was going to live.

The woman led them through the whole of the first floor, which seemed to be in about the same condition the second floor had been in when they had visited it in the pensieve. The few children too young for school were playing with beat up toys in a sad looking common room.

They ascended to the second floor. Things up here were much darker.

“We try not to keep too many kids up here these days. The building’s getting on in years, and we have had to close a few of these rooms for repairs,” Sandra explained.

They had stopped walking at the top of the stairs. Over to the left was the very door the young Tom Riddle had lived in when he had been at this orphanage. They needed to get into that room, preferably without too much hassle from this woman. Harry caught Hermione’s eye, prompting her to get the woman to go away.

“Everything seems . . . er . . . really nice here. Would you mind if we just had a small look around ourselves?”

Sandra didn’t seem to think much of this at all. Her lips pursed, and she crossed her arms, looking at the three of them suspiciously. “Why would you want to do that?” she asked.

“You know, get a better feel for the place,” Hermione stated. “Maybe have a talk with some of the kids here. See how they’re getting on.”

Sandra was still looking very doubtful. “You’re not trying to find something wrong with this place are you? We do the best we can with the modest stipend we are given to operate. You won’t find —“ she was speaking rapidly and would have gone on in his matter for awhile, had Hermione not put up her hand.

“We’re not from the government. We’d just like to have a look around. Is there something here that you wouldn’t like us to see?” Hermione raised an eyebrow at the woman, looking skeptical herself now.

“No, no, of course not. But it’s not standard for us to let visitors walk around unaccompanied. Could be dangerous, you know . . . like I said, things up here are badly in need of repair.”

“OK, I see your point,” Hermione relented. Harry had just conveyed to her for them to go along. Once Ron Hermione, and Sandra had all passed in front of him, he made like he was going downstairs, then threw the invisibility cloak over himself, and quietly snuck back up to the door. He could just hear Sandra saying, “there used to be a room there, but it’s been closed and covered over for years now. Since before I got here in fact.”

She was pointing to the very door Harry was standing outside. How could that be possible? The door was right there and quite visible. Then Harry realized Voldemort had probably put an Anti-Muggle charm on the door so they couldn’t see it. This would be the same sort of thing that kept the Leaky Cauldron out of the eyes of Muggles.

He tried the door; it wouldn’t open. Carefully pulling out his wand he pointed it at the lock and muttered, “Alohomora.” The tiny area around the keyhole was lit for a second by Harry’s spell, but the door remained firmly shut. Harry should have known that it wouldn’t be that simple. He leaned back against the door to think about what he was going to try next.

Ron and Hermione had managed to give the matron the slip and were back up at the door.

“Harry?” Ron called softly. Removing the cloak, Harry once again became visible to his friends. “Have you just been waiting for us to come back up here?” Ron asked, half-joking.

“No, I was trying to figure out how to get through this door. Alohomora doesn’t work.”

“That doesn’t really surprise me,” Hermione admitted. “Do you really think that he would have used so simple a spell to lock this room if there’s something in there?”

“I agree, but to be honest he’s so full of himself about his superiority that he might have done something simple. He thinks that no one else knows about the Horcruxes after all.

Still leaning against the door, Harry started taping his foot on it, while Hermione wracked her brain for something they could try. All of a sudden, Harry felt the door give an almighty lurch and he fell backwards into the room.

“Harry?” There was a pounding noise on the door, and Hermione’s frantic voice could be heard calling. “Are you in there?”

“Yeah,” Harry called, getting back to his feet and rubbing his head, where a huge lump was starting to appear. He tried the door from this end, and it opened easily.

“How’d you do that?” Ron asked, when his friend appeared on the other side of the door. “Get through like that?”

“I have no idea. It’s like the door just gave out or something.”

“I suppose only one part of the door was enchanted,” Hermione said knowingly.

Harry backed away from the door so that Ron and Hermione could enter. Then he turned to stare at the small room than had once belonged to the boy that became Lord Voldemort.

It was completely empty. The sparse furnishings that were in the room the day Dumbledore had come, were here no more. The bare wood floor was caked with dirt and grime, as were the walls. Just being here was making the hairs on the back of Harry’s neck stand on end.

But was it just being here? Maybe this was the sensation that Dumbledore had been talking about when he said magic leaves detectable traces.

“I think there’s something here,” Harry told the others. “I dunno if it’s a Horcrux or not. But if my feelings are right, some kind of magic was done here.”

“OK, let’s get started,” Ron replied. “What are we looking for exactly?”

“I don’t know,” Harry admitted. “It’s just a feeling I have. Dumbledore was able to detect the magic in the cave.” Harry explained to the others again how the headmaster had found that boat. When he finished he looked at Hermione. She was his best hope in this case. If any of the three of them were going to find a hidden object in this room, it was going to be her. He hoped that she would make one of those ‘how do you not know this’ type of remarks like “oh that’s just a simple revealer spell”, whip out her wand, and reveal the hidden object. But she didn’t.

“Hmmmm . . . I’ve read about ways of detecting magic. Some spells are really complex, I don’t know if I’d be able to do it.”

“Give it a go,” Ron encouraged her.

Looking nervous and doubtful, she raised her wand. She didn’t say anything, but looked like she was concentrating very hard. Hermione was obviously using a nonverbal spell. After a minute she started spinning around, making swishing motions with her wand. She stopped spinning and stood there. Nothing happened.

“I guess we have to think of something else,” Harry said. “How about we —“

But at that second there was a loud CRACK and then a gold cup fell to the floor at their feet.

“That’s not it, is it?” Hermione asked, looking at the other two in shock. “It wasn’t seriously that simple?”

It wasn’t. As she was speaking Harry had bent down to examine the cup. It was not Hufflepuff’s cup. The small object was giving off a faint blue light. Could R.A.B. have found this one too?

“Don’t tell me someone took this one too?” Ron groaned.

“No, it’s a portkey,” Hermione stated. These words had caused Harry to remove his hand, which had been an inch away from the cup.

Harry stood up again. He had a very bad feeling about that cup. It would surely lead them to a Horcrux, if not, why would it be here? But the problem was the unknown that waited on the other end.

“What are we waiting for?” Ron asked, bending down to pick up the cup himself. Harry knocked his hand out of the way. “What?” he asked in an annoyed voice.

“Ron, it’s a portkey,” Hermione said with that same air of explaining something very obvious to someone extremely thick.

“Yeah, I thought we’d decided that already.”

“Remember what happened the last time Harry used a portkey connected with Voldemort?”

“N — Oh,” Ron looked horrified at his forgetfulness. This feeling was perhaps exacerbated by his experiences the day before. “But you don’t really think You-Know-Who would have created this to transport us right to him?”

Harry sighed, he really hoped not. “I guess we’ll never know unless we do it.” He looked from Ron to Hermione. “Whenever you two are ready.” He had his finger suspended an inch above the cup.

Ron and Hermione, both looking apprehensive, imitated Harry.

“One . . . Two . . . Three.” They touched the cup and felt a tugging behind their navels, confirming that they were indeed using a portkey. All three kept their wands clutched tightly in their hands as they flew.

Harry was once again surprised at the change in scenery. They were staring at a large, and rather steep hill, on top of which stood a very old looking tower. It was going to take a while to climb to that, if indeed that was what they needed to do. He looked at Ron and Hermione. The former was looking as stunned as Harry felt. Hermione was gazing at the large mass in front of them. She seemed as surprised as Harry and Ron, but quite unexpectedly burst out laughing.

“This is a joke,” she choked through her laughter.

“What’s with you?” Ron asked, looking at her in alarm. He seemed to think she had done her nut.

“Do you not know where we are?” she questioned, setting off for the huge hill, still shaking her head in hilarious disbelief. “Glastonbury Tor,” she added. Harry and Ron still didn’t see what was so funny here. “Oh honestly,” she huffed. “The legend of King Arthur, ring any bells?”

“Vaguely,” Harry admitted, while Ron nodded his head.

“Well, then you should know that this is thought to be the legendary Avalon, the place where Arthur and Guinevere are buried. The Holy Grail, which many think is a cup with healing powers, is rumored to be here. Do you think Voldemort would —“

“Be arrogant enough to store the cup here? Absolutely,” Harry answered her question. It would be just the type of thing he would do. If Voldemort knew (and Harry didn’t doubt that he did) that the rumored Holy Grail was supposed to have magical powers like Hufflepuff’s cup, he would have been more likely to bring it here.

Their breathing became labored as they climbed, cutting of Hermione’s narrative about how Glastonbury Tor was related to the King Arthur legend. When she stopped talking to preserve her breath, Ron let out a sigh of relief.

Finally reaching the top of the hill, they discovered they were not alone. There were probably two-dozen people milling around the ruins. Harry, Ron and Hermione returned their smiles and started to look around. Where could Voldemort have hidden a Horcrux here?

“I’d wager if its here, its probably in the tower itself,” Hermione said. It was as good a place to start as any. They had barely entered the shade of that building when Harry felt the same prickling feeling as he had felt before.

“There’s something here,” Harry told them. “If I’m right, there is some kind of spell in place.”

“How are we going to figure out what it is?” Hermione questioned in a voice quiet enough so the Muggles in the tower wouldn’t hear.

“Try whatever it was you had done before,” Ron suggested. “That spell you had done to reveal that portkey.”

Hermione discretely pulled out her wand. She waited for the few other people in the area to leave, and then swished her wand in the same manner as she had done in the orphanage. Something flickered in front of their eyes for a second and then disappeared. She tried again, with the same effect.

“I think maybe we should all try it,” she whispered as a few more people entered the tower.

“Love to, if we knew what you did,” Ron hissed at her.

“It’s simple really. All I did was point my want around like this —“ she demonstrated her wand movement again, “ — and use the Aparecium Spell, nonverbally.”

Ron and Harry looked at Hermione quizzically. That seemed bizarre, but it had worked before.

“That’s really all I did before,” she said.

Figuring they had nothing to lose but time, Harry and Ron complied with Hermione’s instructions. They swished and thought “aparecium.” There was another flicker . . . a flicker . . . a flicker. After a few more seconds delay the cup appeared right in front of them just as a dozen people entered the archway under the ancient tower.

The Muggles stood transfixed as the cup clattered to the ground.

“What was that?” a frightened middle-aged woman asked in a trembling voice. “Where did that come from, and how was it floating there like that?

The people that had just entered the tower stared at Harry, Ron and Hermione as though they were some kind of horrible apparition. Then the woman that had spoken screamed and ran for the sunlit hill. An invisible force stopped her. Her inability to exit caused the others to react in terrified and frantic ways. Some advanced on the three teens, demanding to know what they had done. The others tried in vain to exit the tower the way they came in, or on the other side.

No one noticed the black vapor that had started to seep up the sides of the archway until the first person fell over.

“Oh My God,” Hermione said. “It’s a poison.”

Harry stood there for a minute, unsure of how to react. He was in shock, but knew he shouldn’t be. Then he sprang into action.

“Right, Bubble-Head Charms now,” he shouted to Ron and Hermione. “Statute of Secrecy be damned.”

They each cast the charm on themselves and then ran around, placing it on the eleven other people in the archway. There was one person they were not able to get to in time, and she fell over, much as the first person had done.

Once all of the standing people had been charmed Harry bent down and looked at the two people that had fallen over. They were dead. His stomach plummeted.

“What’s going on here?” someone asked, looking like their eyes were going to pop out of their heads. “What are you, and what are you doing to us?”

Hermione, taking Harry’s cue about not keeping things secret, explained that they were two wizards and a witch and were here looking for something, but apparently this gas had been triggered by what they were looking for.

If she thought this would make the people feel better, she was wrong. At this last statement people started to run to either end of the archway, trying to get out. But it was no use. That same invisible barrier (one of Voldemort’s favorites it seemed) was preventing anyone from getting in or out.

“Calm down. Everything’s fine for now. We’re working on a way of getting everyone out of here,” Harry bellowed through the dome surrounding his head. It was the first time he had spoken to the people. He didn’t say anything different than Ron or Hermione had been saying for the past five minutes, but when he spoke everyone shut up. “Thank you.”

“So how do we get out of here?” Harry asked, turning to Hermione.

“I don’t know, but I think we’ve got to rule out all of the standard spells. The barrier isn’t exactly solid so I don’t know if a spell like Reducto would work. But we’ve got to try something. And we have got to find a way to get rid of this stuff,” she added, waving her hand through the black vapor. It was perfectly innocuous to the skin, but was dangerous if ingested.

Hermione conjured a bottle out of thin air and tried to collect the vapor. It didn’t work. She told them she hadn’t thought that it would, but it was worth a try. She also tried to siphon the vapor out of the air, with no effect whatsoever. Blowing the vapor out of the sealed archway did nothing either. After several attempts at vanishing the black smoky substance that was still hanging around, the trio decided that they would get back to that later, and turned their attention back to getting out of this archway.

Nothing they tried worked. Reducto, reducio, evanesco, each attempt was as useless as all the others.

In the furor over trying to protect all of the Muggles (who were watching with nervous interest at this point) and getting out of this barricaded tower, Hufflepuff’s cup lay forgotten. Feeling a little frustrated, and out to try anything, even the most ludicrous, Ron reached for the cup, still lying where it had been abandoned.

“Here, let’s try chucking this thing through that barrier, maybe it’ll work.” Ron’s hand closed around the handle of the cup and a second later he had let go again, yelping in pain. Harry and Hermione rushed forward, and found that Ron’s hand had blistered. He had been burned.

“What happened?” Hermione asked, inspecting Ron’s hand. “What did you do?”

“I dunno,” Ron confessed. “You try.” Hermione did, with the same result. She jumped back, nursing her own burned hand.

“Great, how are we supposed to grab the damned thing then?” Ron asked, frustrated. Neither Harry nor Hermione had an answer for this question. It was yet something else they were going to have to think about. It seemed less and less likely that they were going to be getting out of this situation soon, and it would start getting dark in a very short amount of time. Harry, for one, didn’t want to be trapped here overnight.

Hermione was usually the one that could get them out of these types of situations. It wasn’t her that came up with the suggestion this time, it was Ron.

“Hey, I’ve had a thought,” he piped up suddenly. “If You-Know-Who has this whole King Arthur thing going on, d’you think that maybe he enchanted that cup so that only the worthy person would be able to take it? You know that whole Excalibur thing?” he looked very doubtful of his own suggestion.

“I don’t know . . . that seems a little over the top,” Hermione commented. “But I guess we can’t really rule anything out,” she stopped for a minute and then both she and Ron turned to look at Harry. “I guess if it’s going to be any of us, it would be you. We’re obviously not it,” she held up her burned hand as proof.

Hoping that Ron and Hermione were right, Harry bent down to pick up that cup. It was warm, but not scalding hot. Remembering Ron’s suggestion of trying to use it to get through that force, Harry tried it, but to no avail.

“Damn,” Ron muttered. They were out of ideas again. This was getting old, very quickly, and the other people trapped with them were starting to get even more restless.

“Wait . . . the portkey,” Hermione said. “We could give it a try. It would at least get us out of here.”

It was a good idea, but they had left it at the bottom of the hill, or so Harry thought. He was wrong. Hermione had put it in her bag. She pulled open the flap and there was the cup, glowing blue again.

“We can take this back to the orphanage, then Apparate back here. Maybe one of us can find McGonagall, or one of the other Order members. They could help us out with this.”

Would the portkey even work from in here? It seemed unlikely, given what Voldemort was like. But they had no better ideas at this point so it was worth a try. They each touched a section of the cup and felt the tugging again, telling them they were being transported back. For a fleeting second before he touched the cup, Harry had a feeling that one of them should have stayed behind; but this was eclipsed by his own relief at getting out of that tower.

Not wanting to leave those poor innocent Muggles alone around anything Voldemort had created, Harry, Ron and Hermione took just a second to get their bearings, and then they Apparated back to the top of Glastonbury Tor, at least this time they didn’t have to walk up that huge hill.

As soon as they reappeared, Harry knew that something was very wrong. They ran to the archway expecting to be stopped by that invisible barrier, but ran right into it. The black vapor was gone too, but the tower was far from empty. All of the Muggles were still there.

“Oh My God,” Hermione cried as she ran into the tower, Harry and Ron on her heels. They ran around and checked each person, but Harry knew from the moment they got back that it was too late. They were all dead.

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