“How could it be?” Harry asked, ignoring the aching in his head as he sat up quickly to get a clear look at that wand.
“It’s a fascinating story,” Hermione stated.
“Yeah, bloody fascinating,” Ron replied quietly. That same irritation was still carrying through in his voice. Harry was torn between wanting to know how they had discovered this was the last Horcrux, and why Ron was so annoyed about it.
“Ignore him. He’s been in a bad mood for days,” Hermione said, turning her back on Ron in a huff. “Anyway, it really is interesting and quite a twist of fate that we ended up with this in the first place. We wouldn’t have done if Ronald had his way,” she glowered at him again as she took a seat.
“You were the one that felt the need to run of with Vicky,” Ron stated angrily. His voice was a little louder, causing Harry to cover his own ears. The sensitivity was wearing off as the pain in his scar started to slowly ebb away, but voices were still very loud.
“I didn’t run off with him,” Hermione replied sharply. “I only wrote to him because Durmstrang has a reputation for being a school that teaches the Dark Arts. I just thought that they would have a lot more information than Hogwarts about Horcruxes. Seeing as he went there —“
“You figured that would be a good cover story,” Ron interrupted.
“No. I don’t know why you can’t just get over your jealousy of him,” Hermione retorted.
“There they go again,” Harry muttered to Ginny. She rolled her eyes before piping up.
“Listen you two, sort out your relationship issues later. Tell us about how you got this wand. How do you know it was Ravenclaw’s? How did you get it when it was in Mr. Ollivander’s shop? And what makes you think that it’s the unknown Horcrux?”
“I was trying to,” Hermione snapped, looking at Ron again. “But some people can’t get over their jealousy long enough to —“
“I’m not jealous,” Ron fired at her, causing Harry to wince again at the volume of his response. “You’re the one that keeps throwing that joke of a relationship in my face.”
“I haven’t been.”
“Hey,” Ginny yelled at the two of them to get their attention. “We’re in no mood for your bickering today. Out with it, or I’ll have to start hexing you.” She pulled out her wand to show she was serious.
“I agree,” Harry responded, pulling his out as well. “Hermione, just tell us how this all came about.” He looked at Ron. “And please don’t interrupt her. You two can continue your argument later.”
Hermione looked at Ron smugly, probably gloating that she had been asked to talk. Then she sat back in the chair opposite Harry and Ginny, Ron grudgingly sitting down beside her.
“Well like I said, we weren’t having much luck at the Hogwarts library. I remembered that Slughorn had said that Horcruxes were a banned topic at the school. So we decided that our time would be better spent looking for lost artifacts of the Hogwarts founders. As you can guess there’s a lot to look through, but we couldn’t find anything at all. We even asked Madam Pince. She was no help whatsoever. She gave us a list of books that related to the founders, but nothing that mentioned lost artifacts.
“After about a week of that we realized that this was the wrong way to go. We were actually contemplating coming home that very day when Pigwidgeon turned up with a letter for me. It was from Viktor.” She stopped talking and glanced nervously at Ron. He was looking in the other direction.
“You’re still writing to him?” Ginny asked, incredulously.
“Off and on,” Hermione replied waving her hand vaguely. “Well, then I got the idea that maybe he would be able to get us information from Durmstrang. Like I said before, I knew that they had that reputation for teaching the Dark Arts so were bound to have loads of books on the subject. I was hoping he would be able to look in the library there for me. Instead, he wrote back and asked us both to come.
“I was right, they have loads of information on Horcruxes there. Nothing on how to create one, thank goodness,” she added when Harry looked alarmed. This was just what they needed, a load of other wizards creating the foul objects. “But they do have information on how to destroy them. Most require immensely complex spells. I would venture to say that it would normally take someone like Dumbledore to destroy them. It specifically said that the simple spells like you used wouldn’t work if the Horcrux was guarded properly,” Hermione explained, looking at Harry. “I think that Dumbledore was absolutely right. You were able to destroy that Horcrux because you can love.”
“That didn’t work on the cup though did it?” Harry stated.
“Well, no,” Hermione conceded. “But I have a feeling that was a later creation than the locket, so he probably put a stronger spell on it.”
“How does that relate to how you got this Horcrux though?” Harry asked, looking at the wand, now lying on the table next to Hufflepuff’s cup, which looked charred.
“it doesn’t really. Except for the fact that had we not gone there, we wouldn’t have met with Mr. Ollivander,” Ron spoke up. “He’s been hiding in the North with that Bulgarian wandmaker, Gregorovitch. He told us he didn’t want to be contracted by the Death Eaters to make wands for them.”
“Well that explains his disappearance,” Ginny said. “I guess that’s good news for our side,”
“Yeah,” Harry agreed.
“Anyways, he somehow found out that we were there and got in contact with Viktor,” Hermione continued. “We were ever so shocked when he did.”
“To say the least,” Ron agreed.
“Well, we were staying at an inn. There was a sudden knock on the door and Viktor came in with Mr. Ollivander. He’s not looking so well. I don’t think he’s long for the world, living as he has been.
“He told us he’s been on the run from the Death Eaters for over a year, moving from place to place. He only met up with Gregorovitch recently. He thinks that in addition to wanting him to be their personal wandmaker, the Death Eaters might be after him because of this wand.
“He told us he’s suspected there was something odd about it for years. This was probably the reason for that creepy feeling people get when walking into his shop. At least that is what he thought, and I have to agree.”
“I don’t know if I buy that though,” Harry said. “I mean wouldn’t someone, like Dumbledore have been able to figure that out? Or wouldn’t anyone have been able to determine that it was a Horcrux?”
“That does seem a little odd,” Hermione admitted. “And Mr. Ollivander was evasive about why he didn’t tell anyone of his suspicions. In any case, what would his reason be to lie to us? No one knows that we’re searching for the Horcruxes. He didn’t even mention the word. He just told us he thought it had something to do with Voldemort.”
“Maybe he’s working for Voldemort and is doing it to mess with your minds,” Ginny supplied. It was a throwaway suggestion that she didn’t even seem convinced of.
“It’s possible, but not likely,” Harry told her. If Voldemort had done something like this it would be a sure sign that he knew they knew about his Horcruxes. If that were the case he probably would have done something more overt. Quite apart from that reasoning Harry said what he did because he wanted this to be that last Horcrux. They would then be that much closer to getting rid of Voldemort. He just didn’t want to think about what they would have to do to destroy it.
“We’re hoping that this one won’t be as hard to destroy as the cup and locket because from the sound of it he did this one very early on. Probably when he was working at Borgin and Burkes,” Hermione spoke again. “It wasn’t even cursed from what Mr. Ollivander told us.”
Harry sat up quickly and stared at the wand. There was something very dodgy about this. Why would this wand be unguarded? It was on display for years, and never even had a protective spell around it? That definitely didn’t sound like Voldemort. Was it perhaps done to lure the unwary into a false sense of security? Would something horrendous happen when they attempted to get rid of it?
“So why did he give this to you guys anyway?” Ginny asked. “Why now?”
“He said he wanted to get it to Dumbledore, but hadn’t been able to get to him before he died. Then remembering Harry, and that connection his wand shared with Voldemort, he figured he would be the next best choice.”
“He only came to us because of that article in the Daily Prophet. You know the one that you were misquoted in, regarding Voldemort’s real identity. He saw us in the picture and our names at the end of the article. I guess he put two and two together and remembered all of that stuff from a few years back. You know, all of that Rita Skeeter rubbish about that love triangle between you, me and Krum,” Hermione said. She seemed a little angry at this recollection, not unlike Harry’s own reaction to Snape.
“That seems too simple,” Harry said distractedly.
“Yeah, but simple might be a good thing. I mean after everything we’ve already been through,” Ron said.
“It would be, but this is Voldemort we’re talking about. He doesn’t tend to make life simple. I don’t want to play Russian roulette with this thing too. Who knows what will happen when we make an attempt to destroy it.” Harry wasn’t looking forward to the potential terrible effects that he might have to go through again, or what might happen to those around him when he tried to destroy this wand.
“Any idea how to demolish this one?” Ginny asked.
“Uh . . . no,” Hermione admitted. “I think we were close before this whole Ollivander thing, but then we came back here straight away.”
“So that’s another item we’ll be staring at for days if not weeks,” Harry said grumpily. He supposed on the whole he should have been pleased at how quickly they had found the Horcruxes. He was amazed, but knew that meant he was that much closer to that inevitable battle with Voldemort. But then something occurred to him. The wand wasn’t cursed right? Perhaps it wouldn’t be that bad after all.
“Three more weeks wasted,” Ginny complained.
“Maybe not,” Harry said, getting shakily to his feet. If the wand really wasn’t cursed than it might be quite easy to destroy it indeed. He was remembering the journey to Hogwarts in his second year. When they had crashed into the Whomping Willow in Mr. Weasley’s car, Ron’s wand had broken. This was the best demonstration to show that wands weren’t indestructible.
He seized the wand in both hands, brought it down, and his leg up. His reward for this attempt was a new pain in his thigh, which mixed unpleasantly with the still present pain in his head.
Dropping the wand into its box on the table, Harry sank back onto the couch.
“I think that you were given wrong information Hermione. I think it’s cursed after all,” he told her, massaging his leg.
“Just because that didn’t work, doesn’t mean it’s cursed,” Hermione said, coming to sit down beside Harry, a look of concern on her face. “It could just have a protective spell on it.”
Harry didn’t answer her. He was starting to feel more drained than he had just a few moments before. Yet it was rather odd. Ever other attempt he had made at destroying the cup and the locket had usually resulted in some sort of pain or twinging in his scar, even if he was thinking about Ginny. This time though, he felt only the same dull aching in his scar that had already been there.
Harry had a sudden thought.
“I don’t think this is a Horcrux,” he stated suddenly, causing Ron and Hermione to look at him.
“How do you know that?” Ron asked in a shocked voice.
“Harry, I know you’re frustrated that your attempt to destroy this object didn’t work. That doesn’t mean we should discount it though.”
“I’m not. But before when I would destroy one I would feel this pain in my scar. This time I didn’t feel anything. I think that Mr. Ollivander was wrong about this being a Horcrux,” Harry stated, gesturing to the wand.
“But . . . “ Hermione was looking rather crestfallen. So was Ron. Harry completely understood. They had thought they were doing something to help get rid of Voldemort. To turn around and have this excellent discovery flouted would be an upset, there was no mistake about that.
“Maybe it’s a different spell that’s guarding it, which is why you didn’t feel anything,” Ron said, in defense of Hermione. She looked stunned at his suggestion, but rather pleased all the same. Had their little row been completely avoided?
“It’s possible. But I have a feeling that this isn’t the Horcrux.” Harry was remembering something else that Dumbledore had mentioned that night they seen the memory of Slughorn’s conversation with Tom Riddle. The headmaster had thought that Voldemort might have only had five Horcruxes the night that he had come to Godric’s Hollow. Could it be that Dumbledore was wrong? Maybe Voldemort only had four Horcruxes, and Nagini was five. He voiced this theory to Ron, Hermione and Ginny.
“Could he really have been that wrong?” Ron asked.
Harry shrugged. Dumbledore’s guesses usually turned out to be right. In this case he was quite certain that the headmaster wouldn’t have brought up these points if he weren’t confident in his assertions.
“We’re going back to Durmstrang tomorrow. There are still a few things that I want to take a look at. Ways of detecting that the object is a Horcrux. We want to make sure that it isn’t before we completely disregard it,” Hermione said in a determined voice. Then she stood up. She motioned for Ron to come with her, which he did without question.
“We’ll talk to you in the morning,” Hermione called as they left the room.
“I guess we should go too. It’s almost sunrise,” Ginny said. She helped Harry to his feet. He was still feeling a little unbalanced after the destruction of the cup. They slowly made their way to the hall, but were fated not to leave that room together. Mrs. Weasley met them at the door.
“Oh good you’re both here,” she said. She tried to smile, but like her daughter, it didn’t quite permeate the worry that was eating at her.
“What’s wrong mum?” Ginny asked, now looking worried too. They were well practiced at this routine. Whenever someone from the Order entered the house and came to find them, there was always a sense of mounting tension. Were they going to tell them that someone else had been murdered?
“Nothing . . . nothing dear,” Mrs. Weasley tried to smile again. It was just then that Harry noticed how drawn she looked. He had been so absorbed in the dreadful task that he had to do, that he hadn’t really spared much thought for others. The Weasleys were affected by this whole situation almost as much as Harry was. The difference being that he had set of on this terrible journey more or less of his own free will. They had been dragged into it because of Ginny and, to a lesser degree, Ron.
“Are you sure?” Ginny asked.
“Yes,” Molly told her daughter. “Thank goodness we’re going to be going home soon. That will make everything a little better.”
“What?” Harry asked completely alert for the first time since Ron and Hermione’s incredible pronouncement.
“That’s what I came to find Ginny for. We’ve finished the work that we were doing for the Order so we are not going to need to stay here any longer. It will be nice to return home — not that we don’t appreciate you letting us stay here Harry,” she added quickly.
Harry didn’t register the last part of her statement. The only thing that had sunk in was the fact that Ginny was going to be leaving. He felt very uneasy about this.
Harry understood why Mrs. Weasley wanted to get out of this house. It was nearly the same reason that Ginny had wanted to five weeks earlier. It was a dismal place to live. If it weren’t for the fact that they were relatively safe here he wouldn’t have been staying himself. Even so, he didn’t like the idea that they were going back to a place that was, despite attempts to convince him otherwise, very open to Death Eaters and Voldemort.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, at least not right now,” Harry told Mrs. Weasley. “Things are getting very dangerous out there. You couldn’t have picked a worse time to return home.”
Mrs. Weasley looked from her daughter to Harry. That scared and apprehensive look she had been wearing disappeared and she looked a little stern.
“No Harry, we’ve trespassed upon your hospitality long enough. Arthur, Ginny and I need to get back home. Arthur needs to return to work, Ginny needs to get back to her studies, and I am going to have a lot of work to do at the Burrow. I’m afraid this business of staying here has thrown us all into a tailspin,” she explained. When Harry opened his mouth to comment about the danger they would be in, she put up her hand and spoke again. “Not to worry though Harry, if we hear even one peep about Death Eaters or You-Know-Who planning anything we’ll come straight back.”
Harry wasn’t convinced. From the look that Mrs. Weasley had on her face when she glanced from him to Ginny, he was quite certain that she was more worried about how close their relationship had come than getting things in order at the Burrow. He could understand to a small degree. It was probably quite troubling to think of her youngest child involved in that kind of relationship; but really, to put her own daughter in danger because of it? It was something that he had never thought Mrs. Weasley even capable of.
“Harry has a point mum,” Ginny said. “I know this place is abhorrent but it really is better than the Burrow right now. In fact, I wish that everyone was staying here.”
“Don’t be silly. We can’t trespass on Harry’s hospitality any further.”
“I don’t mind,” Harry said at once. Mrs. Weasley remained unconvinced.
“I’m not going,” Ginny stated, crossing her arms, and looking stubbornly at her mother. Mrs. Weasley glared at her daughter.
“You most certainly are,” she replied.
“No. Harry needs me here,”
Mrs. Weasley glanced from Harry to Ginny yet again. “I’m sure he will be fine without you for a little while. It might be good for you two to spend some time apart. It helps strengthen your relationship.” She was wearing an expression that confirmed Harry’s thoughts that she was concerned about the physical aspects of their relationship.
“Not because of that,” Ginny fumed, correctly interpreting her mother’s look. “We’ve been working on something in regards to the war. So have Ron and Hermione. They’re leaving tomorrow though.”
“And what would that be exactly?’ Mrs. Weasley looked suspicious. Her radar seemed to be telling her that Ginny wasn’t being truthful. Too bad it was a bit faulty this time.
“We’re working on a way of defeating Voldemort,” Harry said. This wasn’t the answer Molly had been expecting. Her mouth fell open in shock. If she had been holding anything she surely would have dropped it.
“Why are you doing that?” she asked in voice that was shaking with fear, and worry now.
“Because I have to,” Harry said simply. He had been the one that had told Ron and Hermione they were going to leave out details of their mission when they left the Burrow the day after Bill and Fleur’s wedding. Mrs. Weasley was a worrier. Learning that Harry was the one that had to destroy the feared wizard would probably send her into convulsions of terror. Right now though, he was willing to risk that if she would change her mind about returning to the Burrow.
“Oh Harry, no,” she moaned quietly, tears starting to form in the corners of her eyes. “You should leave that to someone else. Someone that’s more —“
“I can’t do that Mrs. Weasley. I have to be the one to finish him,” Harry explained. He was not going to tell her about the prophecy, and definitely not about the Horcruxes though.
“It’s true mum,” Ginny said going over to her mother and embracing her, as tears started to fall freely down the older woman’s face. “I don’t like it either.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t want to worry you, but I can’t just let him alone out there ruining everyone’s lives,” Harry told her. These words had no positive effect. Once they had left his mouth Mrs. Weasley started to sob harder than ever.
“Hermione and R- R — Ron are involved in this too?” Molly finally asked, looking from Ginny to Harry. He nodded reluctantly. He was feeling very guilty now. He didn’t want Mrs. Weasley to worry, but she was undoubtedly going to do just that now. Maybe he really should have let her think that he wanted Ginny there for carnal reasons.
“We’re nearly there though,” Harry told her. He didn’t know whether this would console her or not. Somehow he doubted it though, especially given the fact that he had just finished telling her that he was the one that had to be the one to finish the Dark Lord.
Mrs. Weasley clutched her heart. “Oh dear — oh dear — oh dear,” she cried through gales of tears. Harry didn’t know what to do. He had just, once again, made things worse. He looked at Ginny, hoping that she would have a suggestion. She waved him away.
Harry stood up, his legs still a little unsteady, and made his way upstairs.
It was over an hour before Ginny joined him. During that time he thought about the Horcruxes. Was Dumbledore right or not? Had Voldemort made five or six Horcruxes? If it was five then they only had the snake left. If it was six there was still the matter of that unknown Horcrux. It didn’t seem to be the wand, what could it be then?
He thought about where they had been so far. He had been to the cave with Dumbledore, the orphanage, Glastonbury Tor, the Gaunt House, and Little Hangleton. The only other memories that he had seen had been in Hepzibah Smith’s house and at Hogwarts. He doubted there was a Horcrux at the school. If there had been Dumbledore surely would have found it. Then again, he hadn’t found the Chamber of Secrets . . .
Ginny’s entrance into the room distracted Harry from his thoughts.
“We’re leaving tomorrow,” she said, lying down beside Harry and putting her arm around him. “I couldn’t persuade her to stay here. She thinks that we’re too close. She’s more worried about that now, after what you just told her.”
“D’you think she’d reconsider if I talked to her again?’ Harry asked.
Ginny shook her head. “She was quite adamant.”
“Ah well . . . “ Harry sighed. He pulled Ginny close to him. They might as well make the most of their time together. He decided not to tell her just now that he had made up his mind to go back to Hogwarts. They could talk about that later.
* * * * * * * * * * *
As was usually the case when there was a whole group of people leaving, it was chaos. Mrs. Black’s portrait had started to shout again, but the noise was at such a volume that her pure blood diatribe was barely discernible.
Just that morning Harry had told Ron, Hermione, and Ginny that he suspected the final Horcrux was at Hogwarts. They were all stunned and wanted to know why he thought that, and how he had come to that conclusion. Harry told them very simply that it was just a hunch. They were not crazy about him going off to the school alone. Ron and Hermione offered to come with him and forget about Durmstrang.
“No, it’s important that you get as much information about the Horcruxes as possible,” Harry told them. “Just in case, you know . . . “
Ginny was equally unhappy about this separation. She, like Harry, didn’t enjoy the idea of him being outside of her sight, and of the safe house. She was extremely unsure about what he might find at Hogwarts. The Chamber of Secrets was there, along with who knew what other dangerous artifacts, or rooms. They had all been going to the school for years, however it was a tremendous castle. When you had lessons and other restrictions to worry about you didn’t necessarily get a lot of time to go ferreting around.
“Watch your step,” Ginny told Harry as she and her parents made ready to leave.
“Don’t worry about me,” he said out of habit, knowing that she was going to do just that. He certainly was going to worry about her, being exposed to Voldemort again. “Be very careful. Remember Moody’s refrain of ‘constant vigilance?’ Make sure you practice it!”
With one last kiss she and her parents disappeared. Harry had come outside with them. Once they were gone he concentrated his mind on Hogsmeade, and appeared there a few seconds later.
He was standing on the main road. It was usually bustling with people. Even during his last year at the school, when things had started to get really bad, there had always been a few people milling about. Today, however, there was no one. No activity could be seen in any of the shops. Many of said shops had been boarded up. The small village was eerily still and silent. It reminded Harry of a ghost town that he had seen on a movie once.
He had brought Hedwig with him with the intention of sending a letter up to the school once he reached the village. He hadn’t counted on such desolation here though. The Three Broomsticks, where he had planned to go, was boarded up tight, as was Honeydukes.
Feeling it was not a good idea to linger overly long on a deserted street, Harry set off for the only other pub in the village hoping against all hope that the place was still open.
It was. He stepped inside and found it crowded with all sorts of people. This was a shock, given the lack of them outside this establishment. No one gave him a second look, which was all the better. He sidled up to the bar, figuring he would order a Butterbeer. This would allow him the time he needed to write his letter, send it and get a response, if all went well.
It wasn’t the usual bartender that produced the dusty bottle this time. He paid his two sickles, then sat at the bar, pulled out a quill and some parchment, and started to write. He hadn’t got more than a few words down when someone grabbed him by the shoulder and yanked him off his stool.
Harry, taken unaware, and silently cursing himself for already forgetting the mantra of constant vigilance, fought against the very tight grip that the unwelcome interloper had on him. It was useless though. What a situation to get himself into!
Harry was dragged into a back room that was filled with boxes, which must have been supplies. He was overwhelmed with a smell that had permeated the entire pub, that of goats. Casting that oddity aside, Harry turned to face his attacker, hastily extracting his wand from inside his jacket.
It was very dark in the room, the only light coming from the small, grimy windows that barely let in the weak September sun.
The sight he saw nearly made him drop his wand. The person standing mere feet from him looked very familiar, even in the dim light. How could that be?