AYNIL: Chapter Fifteen: The Perspicacious Portrait

Having to say goodbye to Ginny for the fourth time that summer was much harder than Harry had thought it would be. It had really taken a lot out of him. He was feeling exhausted and his head was aching. Returning to Grimmauld Place, Harry was once again in a very bad mood. Like Ginny, he had a horrible feeling about this separation. The only positive thing about this whole situation was that she would be happier at the Burrow than at headquarters. Harry understood this. To a certain degree he was feeling the same way himself. Though their task was not going to be fun, it would be nice to get out of Grimmauld Place for a while.

The portrait of Mrs. Black wasn’t wailing when Harry came in the door. It was quite a nice change. In fact, everything was eerily silent. It was like the house was empty. He considered going to bed and trying to get some sleep, but knew it would be pointless. In any case, now Ginny was back home, Harry was feeling antsy about getting things done. Therefore, he decided to find Ron and Hermione, hoping very much that they weren’t doing something in private.

They weren’t. They were still down in the kitchen, and Hermione was indeed telling Ron off for the way he had reacted in the morning. Harry could hear their conversation as he was descending the stairs.

“Ginny was leaving and you practically ignored her,” Hermione snapped.

“I said goodbye,” Ron retorted.

“No you didn’t. You just grunted at her. That’s not a proper goodbye, especially when you don’t know when you are going to see her again.”

“Yeah . . . well I don’t know why you’re even on about this. It’s not like she was alone. Harry was with her,” there was a hint of bitterness in Ron’s tone.

“What is with you today?” Hermione asked, an aggravated note in her voice.

“Nothing,” Ron snapped.

“Fine.” Harry was willing to bet that Hermione had just rolled her eyes. From the exasperation in her tone, he was sure that it was not the first time that she had asked Ron that question and got the same answer.

“Oh, you’re back,” Hermione stated when Harry entered the kitchen.

“Obviously,” Harry stated sarcastically.

“How were things at the Burrow?” she questioned.

“The same.” Harry slumped down in a chair and rubbed his tired eyes. He really didn’t want to talk about Ginny; he wanted to get straight to work. They needed to decide what they were going to do now. Like he had thought last night, they had wasted enough time sitting around and doing nothing. It was time for action.

“Oh . . . well that’s good I guess,” Hermione said. She had fixed a weak smile on her face. “No news is good news, right?”

Ron was still looking disgruntled. He looked like he was on the verge of saying or doing something. Harry watched him for a minute to see if he was going to, but he didn’t, so Harry answered Hermione’s question.

“Yeah. Listen, I know that I’ve been a little preoccupied with Ginny here, but now —“

Ron interrupted him by snorting.

“What?” Harry asked.

“Nothing,” it was Ron’s turn to make a sarcastic comment. This threw Harry off for a minute, and he lost his train of thought. Finding it again he continued.

“So, I think that we need to —“

“What is up with you today?” Hermione interrupted Harry, directing her furious question to Ron.

“Nothing,” Ron said again.

“Stop lying,” Hermione yelled at him. “If nothing’s wrong, then stop acting like such a prat.”

“I’m acting like a prat?” Ron shouted at her. “I’m not the one who took advantage of my girlfriend the night before I left.” He was looking right at Harry as he said this.

“Ron, I’m sure that wasn’t —“ Hermione started, but Ron cut her off.

“Don’t try to justify it Hermione. It’s a disgusting thing to do.”

Hermione opened her mouth to retort, but Harry had enough of this.

“SHUT THE HELL UP YOU TWO!” he roared at them. His head was still aching, making him even more predisposed to be short-tempered. Ron’s comment was not helping matters. How could he think that’s what happened? They did know then, the looks on both Ron and Hermione’s faces this morning were explained. But how did they know?

They complied with his order, looking stunned. Harry took off his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes and aching temples. Now they were silent Harry didn’t know what he wanted to say first. He didn’t think that what he and Ginny did was any of Ron’s business, brother or not. His statement though, needed to be addressed. There was no way that Harry wanted Ron to think that he had just taken advantage of Ginny. Even the thought of it vexed him.

Harry was quite certain this would be another one of those repetitious or circular conversations that could go on forever. It was already nearing noon, and he had no idea how long it was going to take them to come up with a plan of action. They had to get back on course.

“We’ve got other things to do, so I am only going to say this once,” Harry stated firmly, making sure that the other two acknowledged his statement before he continued. “I neither know nor care now you know about last night. What Ginny and I do when we are alone is no one’s business but ours. However —“ he said loudly when Ron started to interrupt him, “ — no one was taken advantage of. We didn’t plan on that happening, but it did. We can’t and wouldn’t change it. That’s all I am going to say on this matter.”

“You’d better hope Ginny feels that way,” Ron muttered angrily.

“She does,” Harry assured him. He decided not to tell Ron that it had been Ginny that had initiated things. “Now that’s been said though, we have other important things to discuss.”

“What Harry?” Hermione inquired.

“Where to start,” he said. “I want to get moving on this as soon as possible. We’ve wasted way too much time here doing useless research. If Kreacher hadn’t had the locket we wouldn’t have even found any of the Horcruxes yet.”

They made lunch and continued to brainstorm. Hermione, for once, seemed as devoid of good ideas as Harry and Ron. She had been through a good portion of the books at the library in Grimmauld Place and had found nothing useful. Her failsafe having failed her, she didn’t have any suggestions. Ron, after Harry’s statement, seemed more like his old self. He was making hilarious comments about Hermione’s predicament.

Several hours later they had adjourned to the only other room they ever went to, other than the library. Ron and Hermione sat on the moth-eaten sofa, while Harry was slumped in the chair across from them. Ron, now completely over his sour mood from the morning, was joking that they should just go outside and try ‘accio’ing the Horcruxes. It was so ludicrous an idea, that Harry and Hermione could do nothing but laugh.

Out of ideas for the present, Hermione decided to go back to the library. She accepted that it was unlikely she was going to find anything useful, but said she hadn’t completely given up hope. She also made a point of saying that it was better than doing nothing. Ron left with her, to go and feed the owls. Hedwig and Pigwidgeon were staying in Buckbeak’s old room.

“So . . . Ginny’s gone again?” Dudley’s voice preceded him into the drawing room.

“Yeah,” Harry answered, resting is head on the high back of the winged chair he had been lolling in.

“That sucks,” Dudley commented. “But I daresay you had quite the goodbye, eh?” There was a sly smile on his face. Did everybody know about last night? Had they all had their ear pressed to the door or something?

When Harry didn’t answer, Dudley’s smile increased. In the weeks that he had been staying here at Grimmauld Place he had fallen back into his old annoying self.

“You’ve done well for yourself. I don’t think Ron’s having as much luck.” That slimy grin Dudley wore widened even further. “Hermione’s quite the prude it seems, at least you landed the hot one that puts out —“

Harry was on his feet in an instant. When Dudley had made his first comment about last night Harry’s hands had clenched into fists. His cousin’s obsession with Ginny always irked him. The comments about Ron and Hermione had irritated him a little more. His annoyance with his cousin growing for weeks, it was this last comment that finally drove Harry over the edge. He didn’t even think of reaching for his wand, instead he projected his already clenched fist at Dudley’s face. When his hand made contact he felt and heard a crunching noise. Blood was pouring down Dudley’s face, Harry had broken his nose.

This event had done two things. It had shut Dudley up. Well, it had got him to stop spouting his suggestive remarks in any case. It had also calmed Harry down. Despite all of the times that Dudley had deserved it, Harry had never hit him. Given the types of things that he was saying, Harry was a little surprised Dudley’s nose was all he had broken. He felt a little guilty though, whether his cousin deserved it or not.

Pulling out his wand, Harry took a few steps closer to his cousin, who recoiled. Hands over his nose to stem the flow of blood, Dudley was looking at him, with a fearful and shocked expression. It was like he had never seen Harry before.

“Stop moving,” Harry said, raising his wand. “I’m going to fix your nose. Move your hands.”

Dudley did nothing of the sort. He just hurried back a few more steps.

“Stop moving,” Harry demanded again, advancing faster than his cousin and grabbing his arm. He yanked Dudley’s hands away from his face. Pointing his wand at the broken nose, Harry muttered, “episkey.”

Dudley’s nose now resembling its normal swinish form, Harry wanted Dudley to get out of his sight.

“Go find Hermione, she can clean up that blood for you,” he told his cousin, not looking at him. Harry slumped back in the chair he had vacated just a minute before. Dudley, probably because he was scared of being attacked again, left the room.

Harry had arrived back at Grimmauld Place many hours ago now, yet the headache was still with him. This tiny altercation with Dudley had done nothing to alleviate it. This really should not have surprised Harry; the Dursleys never did make life simple, even now.

Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had leased a flat a few streets away from Grimmauld Place and would be moving in a few days. Harry had tried several times to change their minds. Uncle Vernon, having regained much of his formidable personality, yelled at Harry that they were not going to remain prisoners in this house, and that he wanted to get as far away from Harry as was possible. During one of his characteristic tirades he brought up the death of his sister, the first time he had done so to Harry’s face. He was still holding onto the belief that Harry had caused the death of Aunt Marge. In the end, against his better judgment, Harry agreed to let his aunt, uncle and cousin leave.

Their timing was good as Harry, Ron and Hermione were going to be leaving soon themselves. If he thought this would be the end to the stupid lessons with Dudley, Harry was sorely mistaken. Aunt Petunia had made a point of telling Harry that they were not moving too far away so it would be easy for Dudley to continue with them. Harry had groaned at this.

Dudley had finally mastered levitation, after what felt like a million hours of work. They were now working on teaching him the disarming spell. This lesson was riddled with new problems. Dudley wasn’t trying to modify the incantation; In this case, whether on purpose or because he was just that stupid, Dudley could not seem to remember “Expelliarmus.” At the end of each lesson it would seem like he was making progress, but they would be back at square one the next time they started to work.

Now that the owls were staying in Buckbeak’s old room, it was no longer safe to be practicing magic there. Hermione had fixed up one of the other unused rooms for them to work in. She had made it so safe that Dudley would be able to practice even when they weren’t there. About a month earlier, Hermione had a great idea and ordered a Kwikspell course for Dudley, so he could learn the basics in addition to what they were teaching him. Harry had been annoyed, but not entirely surprised, several lessons later, when he discovered that Dudley had not even touched those lessons.

Harry expected Hermione to come bursting in to reprimand him about his attack on Dudley, but she didn’t. In fact the first person that came into the room was one that Harry hadn’t seen for two months.

“Sit up straight Potter!” said a stern voice. Harry jumped and quickly corrected his posture. Then he turned to see the smiling face of Professor McGonagall.

“Sorry Professor,” he said automatically. It was a minute before he realized that he wasn’t at school and didn’t have to do so, and another little bit to clue into the fact that she was joking.

“No apologies needed. How has your summer been going?” Professor McGonagall sat on the couch across from Harry.

“Er . . . “ It had been mostly lousy with a few bright spots, but Harry wasn’t sure he wanted to discuss this with his former teacher. Most of the reason it had been so bad was because of the Horcruxes, which he couldn’t discuss. Even the other events though were not ones Harry felt comfortable revealing to the new headmistress. If it had been Lupin, or even Dumbledore Harry might have already been spilling the details. Professor McGonagall however, wasn’t a woman to whom one could easily divulge emotional struggles.

“I would imagine it hasn’t been very pleasant,” McGonagall answered her own question. “What with having to stay here for getting on two months now, and the issues with Miss. Weasley. If you ever need to talk Harry . . . “

She was wearing that same compassionate look as she had the day of Dumbledore’s funeral. For one of the few times in his life, Harry actually felt that he could perhaps confide a little more in McGonagall.

“I hear from Miss. Granger that you, Mr. Weasley and she are not coming back to school in the fall,” McGonagall commented, breaking the silence. “Are you sure that’s the wisest decision?”

“It’s what has to be done,” Harry told her, tensing as he said this. Was she now going to start questioning him on where he and Dumbledore had gone that night two months before?

“Your education is important Potter,” Professor McGonagall stated in her stern voice.

“I know it is, but there are other things that are important too. Things that Professor Dumbledore . . . Professor?”

A thought had just occurred to Harry. He and his friends didn’t know where to start in this hunt. Dumbledore wasn’t really there for advice, but his portrait was. Harry didn’t know how much information he would be able to get from Dumbledore’s portrait, but it was worth a try. “Would I be able to come and have a word with Professor Dumbledore’s portrait?”

“I can’t see why not,” McGonagall said slowly. “What would you like to speak to Dumbledore about Harry?”

Harry knew he would have to give a little here. McGonagall was not likely to let him come down with no apparent purpose.

“It has to do with my part in this war, and where we went that night,” he admitted, “but Professor please don’t ask me for more than that. Like I told you before, Professor Dumbledore asked me not to share the details with anyone else.”

McGonagall considered Harry for a minute before she responded in the affirmative.

“Come by the school around ten tomorrow morning Potter. I’ll see that you have some time alone.”

“Thank you Professor.” Harry stood up and shook her hand. Other members of the Order had started arriving. Another meeting was about to take place. Harry excused himself and went to tell Ron and Hermione what the current plan was.

* * * * * * * * *

It was just before ten the next morning when Harry appeared in front of the winged boars. He couldn’t get through the gates because of the extra security that was in place. He was to wait for someone to come down and let him in. Feeling a little nervous at being out on his own, so near the school, Harry was even more thankful that he had decided to don the invisibility cloak as he left Grimmauld Place.

As he waited, Harry stared up at the castle. He was feeling ambivalent about this visit. Hogwarts had been the place that Harry had felt most at home. On the one hand he hoped that coming back here would be profitable in terms of answers Dumbledore could offer. On the other hand, the spot where Harry was standing was very near the one where Snape and Draco had disappeared.

Harry’s eyes started to turn towards the tower that Dumbledore had fallen from, but they were redirected when he saw Hagrid making his way down to the gate. He pulled off the invisibility cloak as the gamekeeper came nearer.

“Harry, how’re yeh?” Hagrid asked as he opened the gates.

“Hi Hagrid.”

“How was Godric’s Hollow? Didn’t have a chance to talk to yeh after that.”

“It was . . . OK. Pretty place,” Harry admitted. A full account of everything that had happened in the village would take too long, and he didn’t really feel like talking about it anyway.

They walked up to the castle, Hagrid doing most of the talking, about Fang, Buckbeak, and his other charges. It didn’t escape Harry’s notice that Hagrid avoided mentioning Dumbledore, or anything to do with the former headmaster or current headmistress.

Never having been to the school during the summer, Harry noticed how odd it was to walk through halls completely devoid of students. He might have been projecting, but to Harry the castle seemed sad and lonely without the usual hustle and bustle that was common during the school year.

Harry’s trek up to the headmistress’s office was not completely solitary though. He had the unfortunate luck to come across Filch, Mrs. Norris, and Peeves. The cat followed him all the way up to McGonagall’s office, no doubt on Filch’s orders. Peeves didn’t follow though. He, Filch, Harry and the cat met at the same spot. The poltergeist seemed to derive more enjoyment out of following the caretaker than Harry.

Walking down the seventh floor corridor to Dumbledore’s — no McGonagall’s office, Harry corrected himself, he was feeling a little odd. That familiar sense of guilt was coming back. Dumbledore had done a lot for Harry over the years, and he had spent a good portion of the last few years feeling a little annoyed at the great wizard. Harry had never really stopped and thought that he might not like what Dumbledore was doing, but these actions had always had been in his best interest.

As he rode up the spiral staircase hidden behind the stone gargoyle, Harry was given a reprieve from his miserable musings by thinking about the password he had just given the statue. This time it was Ginger Newts. Did the gargoyle outside have a sweet tooth? The only passwords that Harry had ever known to get into this office had to do with food, and more particularly candies.

“Come in,” McGonagall called in response to Harry’s knock. For the briefest second when Harry had rapped on the heavy oak door he was sure it would be Dumbledore’s voice that would call out, “enter.”

“Potter, right on time.” She was halfway to the door when he pushed it open. Harry looked around the magnificent office as he made his way over to McGonagall. He didn’t know what he had expected, but was surprised to see that nothing had changed.

McGonagall, seeing his reaction, looked around herself, and then explained, “I know that it’s my office now, but I couldn’t bear to make any changes.”

“Right,” Harry said. He was pretty sure he understood how she felt. McGonagall was an able witch, but there wasn’t really anyone that could compare to Dumbledore. She had very large shoes to fill.

“I have some things that I must attend to. I should be able to give you about an hour. Will that be sufficient?” McGonagall asked, returning Harry’s attention to the task at hand.

“I don’t — I think so,” he responded. He had no idea how long of a conversation he was going to have with Dumbledore. Would the headmaster be able to give him loads of information, or would he tell Harry that it was up to him now. If an hour wasn’t enough time, Harry guessed he could always come back later.

“All right, I shall see you in an hour.” McGonagall left the office.

Harry made his way over to the newest picture of former headmasters. Dumbledore was in the same position as Harry had last seen him, slumbering in his golden frame.

Not quite ready to awaken the portrait, Harry looked around the circular office again. It really didn’t seem like Dumbledore had left. Everything here was still his after all. The silver instruments, some of which Harry recognized, some he still didn’t, were whirring and puffing away in their various cabinets, or spindle-legged tables. The claw-footed desk that Dumbledore used to sit behind was in the same place as it always had been. There were only two differences. The first was that Dumbledore’s portrait was now on the wall, among the former headmasters and headmistresses. The other change was the empty perch where Fawkes usually stood.

Harry stared at Dumbledore’s portrait from the other side of the desk. Now he was here he was wondering if this was the right thing. During another visit to this very office one of the other portraits had said that they were bound to serve the current head of the school. Did this mean that McGonagall would be able to get information from Dumbledore about what he and Harry discussed. If that were the case it might not be a good idea to talk to the portrait. Dumbledore had made a point of telling Harry that he didn’t want anyone else to know except Ron and Hermione. He debated for a few minutes about what to do, and then Harry decided to throw caution to the wind. He hadn’t come all this way to turn around and go home, none the wiser.

“Er . . . hello Professor Dumbledore,” Harry said quietly, walking over to stand in front of the portrait. Dumledore was still slumbering in the golden frame, his glasses perched on the edge of his crooked nose. When Harry spoke Dumbledore’s eyes flickered, and then opened. They were the same blue as before, but the twinkle that usually shone in them wasn’t there.

“Harry, to what do I owe this great pleasure?” Dumbledore smiled.

“I wanted to talk to you sir . . . about Voldemort.”

“Yes?”

“Well, last year when we were having our lessons, did you . . . I mean, is there anything else that I would need to know?”

Dumbledore seemed to think about this question for a minute before he answered. “No Harry. We covered everything. There’s nothing further that I can tell you about Voldemort.”

Harry had been afraid of this. He still felt woefully inept when it came to this task. He had hoped that the headmaster would have been able to instill one or two nuggets of useful advice in his mind.

“How is your task coming along?” Dumbledore asked when Harry remained silent.

“Not well,” Harry admitted. “We found the locket. It was at Grimmauld Place.” Dumbledore looked bewildered. Remembering Dumbledore didn’t know the locket in the cave was a fake; Harry explained everything, along with how he had eventually destroyed it.

“I thought as much,” Dumbledore said to himself. “Harry, you were able to destroy that locket with a spell that would not have worked for anyone else.”

“Why?”

“Love,” Dumbledore said simply.

“What?” Harry was confused.

“We have discussed this before Harry. You have a power that Voldemort always underestimates. It is your ability to love. The spell used to make a Horcrux is one that requires pure evil, and very strong Dark Magic. The only counter for that is it’s exact opposite. As you well know there is no shield against an Unforgivable Curse, yet you survived. The sacrifice Lily made out of love was the only thing that could have saved you.”

“Yes, but . . . “ Harry had understood his mother’s sacrifice for a long time now. What was Dumbledore talking about though, how did his ability to love tie in with the fact that he was able to use a Reductor Curse to destroy the locket?

“Let me explain a little better. It is a little known fact that every spell we perform requires some force of mind. That is why the same spell can sometimes have such minimal or devastating effects. In your case Harry it didn’t matter as much about what spell you used as what you were thinking about. If you were thinking about those you cared about that carries through with your spell. The bit of soul that Voldemort hid inside the object could not stand the impact of a spell infused with love, much as Voldemort could not stand to possess you that night at the Ministry.

“This task will be much easier for you than for many others because of your ability to love. I will not lie to you and tell you that it will all be easy. As you saw in the cave, the spells and enchantments guarding the Horcrux are likely to be difficult and dangerous. Never forget that this is Voldemort you are dealing with. The jinxes that he puts in place can be very nasty. He cares little for the lives of others.”

“Right. Sir, can I ask you something?” Harry was wondering once again why his scar had hurt when he had destroyed the locket but not when he had destroyed the diary.

“Certainly Harry.”

“Well, like I said, when I first tried to destroy the locket my scar hurt, and I felt sick. That was when I was getting angry. Why didn’t that happen when I destroyed the diary?”

“Interesting question Harry,” Dumbledore seemed to think for a minute. “I have a guess, merely that. In relation to the diary, I am sure you were not as angry then. Be that as it may, you didn’t destroy the diary with a spell, but with basilisk venom. Your scar hurt this time because that’s the part of you most strongly connected with Voldemort. We’ve discussed this before also. He transferred some powers to you the night he failed to murder you. I am much mistaken if he didn’t transfer some of himself as well. I daresay that part shows itself most strongly when you get angry. That unalloyed evil was trying to dominate over your own nature, a fight enough to make anyone sick. And of course your scar, as the source of that evil, would feel the brunt of the struggle.

A horrible thought was occurring to Harry. This wasn’t the first time that Dumbledore had said Voldemort had left a part of himself inside Harry.

“Sir, when you say Voldemort left a part of himself inside me. You don’t mean . . . I’m not . . . “

“No Harry, I do not believe you are a Horcrux, nor is any part of you a Horcrux. Before Voldemort’s downfall he only had one meeting with you. I am glad to say it takes much more than a failed spell to create a Horcrux.”

Harry breathed a sigh of relief. It seemed that destroying a Horcrux entailed having to blast apart it’s container. The thought of having to do that to himself was a little troubling, to say the least.

“How are Ron and Hermione handling living at Grimmauld Place? And Miss. Weasley, how is she doing?” Dumbledore asked. He had a knowing smile on his face as well. There was no possible way that he could have known what had happened between Harry and Ginny night before last. Harry felt himself go red at the thought. But bringing up Ginny, Ron, Hermione and Grimmauld Place brought back to Harry’s mind everything that had transpired around them. He advised Dumbledore of this as well.

“Yes, I had an inkling about Dudley,’ Dumbledore admitted. Harry wasn’t really shocked by this. The great wizard’s insight was unsurpassed. “I am glad to hear that you were able to come to your senses about Ginevra Weasley,” he was smiling again. “As a couple you two remind me a lot of your parents Harry.”

This was the second person that had said that. Harry wasn’t sure if he should feel gratitude or not. He supposed if he was to believe everything his aunt said about how much his parents loved each other, being compared to them could only be a good thing. He just hoped that Ginny didn’t go the same way as his own mother though.

“So, have you any ideas about where to look for the next Horcrux?” Dumbledore inquired.

“No. We’ve been trying to find anything that might help us, but the stupid library at Grimmauld Place is useless,” Harry stated, feeling some of the frustration come back. This visit, although pleasant, seemed to be leading him nowhere fast.

“Well, might I suggest that when in doubt, starting at the beginning is a good idea.”

“What?” Harry asked in confusion.

“I would also recommend some review. Harry I would like you to take the pensieve. You shall find that all of the memories we viewed throughout the year are still present in the basin,” Dumbledore didn’t answer Harry’s question.

“OK,” Harry responded slowly. “Thank you Professor.”

“I have a few other suggestions for you as well Harry. Keep those you love close. Love is your strength, use it. The other I am sure you will not be pleased with, if you should stumble please turn to Severus. He is posing as a Death Eater and —“

“I will not,” Harry said furiously, through clenched teeth.

“Harry, I know that you and he rather detest each other. But for the sake of the greater good —“

“He murdered you. You’re dead because of Snape. Right after he did that he ran off to tell Voldemort. He’s right in the Dark Lord’s inner circle and you want me to trust him. He’d probably run right to Voldemort and tell him everything,” Harry ranted at Dumbledore. Trusting was one thing, but this was insane.

Dumbledore sighed, “Things are not always what they seem Harry. Good day, and good Luck.” With these final words, Dumbledore went back to snoozing in his frame.

Trust Snape? Not in a million years! The murdering coward of a traitor had been getting away with things for too damn long. He had been into the dark arts since his school days, he had tried in vain to get the Marauder’s thrown out. He had eavesdropped on a private conversation, overhearing half a prophecy, which he then reported to Voldemort, causing the snake to murder Harry’s parents. He had sold some story to Dumbledore about changing his ways to avoid jail time. He had treated Harry and countless other students like rubbish, and to top all that, had murdered Dumbledore. No, there was no way Harry was ever going to turn to Snape for anything, except maybe to kill him.

* * * * * * * * * *

“Trust Snape! Not in this lifetime,” Ron said hotly. Harry had just finished giving him and Hermione a full account of everything that Dumbledore had said. They, like Harry, were not likely to forgive the overgrown bat, or give him another chance.

“So how did Dumbledore find the ring?” Hermione asked.

“He just said he found it in the ruins of the Gaunt house. Why he wanted to go there in the first place . . . “ Harry trailed off. Knowing Voldemort’s history had been important to Dumbledore, and was supposed to help Harry survive. It had been the link in proving that he had made Horcruxes, and allowed them to narrow down the objects that they were looking for.

Harry slapped his forehead so hard he let out a yelp of pain. He had just cottoned onto the obvious thing that Dumbledore had said. Start at the beginning was the suggestion.

“What?” Ron and Hermione asked at the same time.

“Always ignore the obvious,” Harry said, more to himself than the others. “He showed me all that stuff so that we’d know where to start. We’re going to have to go back to all of those places, and recheck them for clues.”

Ron and Hermione did nothing but stare at him.

“But Harry, surely Dumbledore checked them thoroughly,” Hermione stated.

“Maybe, but he wants us to start there again anyway,” Harry told her patiently. “And I agree. It’s as good a place to start as any. We’ve wasted enough time here, I want to start this tomorrow.”

Ron and Hermione were looking unsure.

“O — OK,” Ron spoke up, a little nervously. “Where are we starting?” he asked, putting an arm around Hermione’s trembling shoulders.

“At the beginning, where Voldemort’s parents met. We’re going to Little Hangleton.”

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