Dumbledore’s portrait was hanging in the headmistress’s office up at the school. That didn’t happen until the person had died. How could he be standing here?
As these thoughts crowded to the forefront of his mind, a wand tip ignited and Harry’s questions were answered. It wasn’t Albus Dumbledore.
“Who are you?” he asked, sure that this was Aberforth, Dumbledore’s brother. Who else could it be? As far as Harry knew his former headmaster didn’t have another living relative. And, now he was looking a little closer and his sense was catching up with reality, he knew he was right. A little older, yes, but Aberforth Dumbledore hadn’t changed much from the old picture of the Order of the Phoenix Harry had seen two years previous. That also explained the smell of goats that permeated The Hogs Head Inn. From what Professor Dumbledore had said, his brother had a great fondness for the farm animals.
“Aberforth. You know about me, I’m told?” he asked in a gruff voice. As he nodded, Harry was reminded more of Moody than Dumbledore.
“Good, saves us some time. We don’t have a lot of it. You really ought not to show up here unannounced boy. You’re asking for a whole heap of trouble. Death Eaters have been watching this village for weeks now. They’ll be showing up here any minute. You mark my words”
“Watching, why?” Harry asked, intrigued. This couldn’t be anything good. Nothing that involved Death Eaters was. But what was Voldemort’s motivation for having them watch Hogsmeade? Were they going to try and take the school? Was this an information-gathering mission? Hagrid had once said that Voldemort’s eventual plan was to get the school, but he hadn’t attempted it when Dumbledore was alive. With the great wizard gone was he now ready to make this move?
“Information,” Aberforth replied in an offhand way confirming, at least partly, Harry’s guess. “It’s not important now. Why are you here?”
“I wanted to go to the school. There are a few things that I need to . . . er . . . research,” Harry told him. Yet again he was being faced with having to hide things and invent cover stories. He would be very glad when this whole task was completed so he wouldn’t have to be evasive about everything.
Aberforth considered him for a minute. Then he pulled out a mirror. It looked exactly like the one Harry used to talk to Ginny. He watched in amazement as Aberforth called Professor McGonagall. He knew that the Order members were able to communicate through other means than fires, as Dumbledore had told him the night Sirius died. This wasn’t the way that Harry would have thought though. Had it perhaps been James and Sirius that had devised this medium for the members?
“Potter’s here,” Aberforth told McGonagall. “He wants to come up to the school. Says he has some research to do.”
Harry couldn’t hear what she said, but she must have agreed because next moment Aberforth said “right.” Stowing the mirror back in the pocket of his robes, he grabbed an empty bottle of Ogden’s Old Firewhiskey. Pointing his wand at it he said “portus.” The bottle glowed blue for a minute and then returned to normal.
“Take this, quick,” Aberforth motioned to the bottle, just as they heard several loud CRACKS. People were Apparating into Hogsmeade. Harry didn’t need more than one guess to figure out who it was. He touched the bottle and was instantly transported away from The Hog’s Head.
He landed in the empty entrance hall. It was mid-morning and all of the students were in class. Stumbling slightly, it took Harry a moment to get his bearings. Then he dashed out the doors to the castle. Hogsmeade was just visible below. He could see small flashes of light, probably spells, which were coming from the street. It had been Death Eaters that had appeared, and now there was a duel going on. This explained why the village looked completely deserted.
Hoping that there weren’t any serious ramifications from his appearance, Harry returned to the castle and made his way up to the headmistress’s office. McGonagall met him at the gargoyle.
“Hello Potter. Back again are you?” she smiled weakly. “How’s your task coming along?”
“Fine Professor. I just wanted to come back and do some more research,” Harry explained before realizing she already knew that.
“What happened to Mr. Weasley and Miss. Granger?”
“They’re working on something else right now.”
“I see. Well, I told them, and I’ll tell you too Potter that you three are always welcome at the school. If I can be of any assistance . . . “
“Thank you Professor,” Harry responded. Then thinking that there might actually be something McGonagall could help him with he asked, “might I have another word with Professor Dumbledore?”
“Yes, of course,” McGonagall said. Without question she supplied the password to the gargoyle (“Pumpkin Juice”), which sprang aside. Then she turned back to Harry. She wore a look of sadness on her face. She replaced it with another weak smile. “Take your time, I have a class to teach.” She started to walk away.
“Teach?” Harry asked, bewildered. Since when did the headmistress teach?
“Yes Potter, teach. We’ve been experiencing a shortage of applicants for teaching posts at this school. It is understandable given what happened here in June,” She conceded with a slight nod of her head.
“Oh,” was all Harry could say. “Well, thank you again Professor.” He made his way up to the officefor the third tiem since Dumbledore’s death.
Harry had been wondering about what Hermione had said the night before. Given his reaction, or lack thereof, when attempting to destroy it, he didn’t think that the wand was a Horcrux. The wand hadn’t even caused his scar to twinge. But, Harry thought as he stood on the spiral staircase, if there was some sort of protective spell placed by Ravenclaw on her wandmaybe that’s what had stopped his reaction too. Come to think of it, his scar had already been hurting because of the destruction of the cup. Was it possible he just hadn’t noticed the renewed pain when he tried to break the wand? He would have to ask the portrait.
“Hello Professor Dumbledore,” Harry said upon entering the office.
Dumbledore had been expecting him. He smiled and said, “to what do I owe the pleasure Harry?”
“I wanted to run something by you,” Harry started immediately. He rapidly recounted what had happened when he destroyed the locket again and how he had felt nearly the same thing with the cup. He told Dumbledore how Ron and Hermione had found the wand, and his suspicions that the wand wasn’t really a Horcrux.
“Ingenious,” Dumbledore said quietly when Harry finished. “Simply ingenious,”
“What’s that sir?” Harry asked.
“Hiding it in plain sight,” Dumbledore responded, a small smile on his face. “If anyone were to realize it wasn’t just a wand, which they could easily do in such a public setting . . . I admit it is a risk I did not think Voldemort would take. Of course it makes it much easier for you. You have only the snake and the piece within now, correct?”
“We’ve found the locket and the cup, so all that would be left, if the wand is a Horcrux, is the snake,” Harry confirmed.
“Well done. That was much quicker than I would have thought,” Dumbledore said. “And excellent work with the Chizpurfles I must say.”
Harry had thus far not mentioned what happened with the Muggles at Glastonbury Tor. It came spilling out though when Dumbledore had said he was doing a good job. How could he really have been when he had single-handedly caused the death of a dozen innocent people?
“That is grave indeed.” The portrait Dumbledore looked at Harry sadly. “You could not have known that would happen. Even the most astute person cannot always see all ends.”
“But I . . . it’s my fault,” Harry replied.
“No Harry, Voldemort is to blame here,” Dumbledore echoed Ginny’s words. Harry said nothing.
“That’s what Ginny said,” he spoke finally. “I told her about everything that night,” he paused for a minute, waiting for the reaction from the portrait. How would this news go over, given that Dumbledore asked Harry not to tell anyone else?
“A wise decision on the whole. I’m very glad to hear you’ve not shut everyone out as you are so apt to do,” was the response. “Remember it is wisest to keep those you love close Harry.”
Harry contemplated this for a minute. He knew this worked in destroying Horcruxes. The locket was a perfect example. It wasn’t until he thought of Ginny, Ron and Hermione that he had been able to break the protective spell. Harry decided now was the time to breach the topic he had been most anxious to discuss with Dumbledore.
“How come my scar didn’t hurt when I tried to destroy the wand? It always did the other times.” Harry still wasn’t wholly convinced that they had the last Horcrux.
“I’m sure it did Harry, you said yourself that it was already aching from the destruction of the cup. You likely didn’t notice it.”
“OK, so any ideas how to destroy the wand then?” Harry asked. It made sense and he had thought that himself. They would just have to find out if it really was a Horcrux through attempts at destroying it. He hoped the wand was the last Horcrux, because if it wasn’t they were back at square one again. And, he thought, they were running out of options as to where, or what, the object could be.
“I feel confident in guessing that Lord Voldemort would have cursed each object differently. So far you have destroyed the locket with a spell, and the cup with a beast. You have not yet tried potions. I would start there if I were you,” Dumbledore replied succinctly.
“Ginny suggested that for the cup,” Harry said. He smiled as he added, “she wanted to use Amortentia.”
Dumbledore chuckled. “Amusing to think of, even though it wouldn’t work. That potion does not create love, I trust you know that.”
“Of course,” Harry replied. “That’s why we didn’t try it.” He wasn’t grinning anymore. He had rather hoped he wouldn’t have to resort to potion making. He had never been very good at it, which was hardly surprising given the lamentable potions master he had for the first five years. “Is there anything else that might work?’
“Many advanced, but those take a great amount of time to learn, and you are trying to finish this task as soon as possible, yes?”
“Well then, I might suggest that you turn to Professor Snape Harry. As you well know he —“
“No,” Harry said flatly. “I’ll figure it out on my own. Thank you Professor.” He turned and left the office.
There was nothing further that the portrait of Dumbledore could tell him, he was sure of that now. And the last thing he wanted to do was listen to Dumbledore’s foolish advice to turn to Snape.
Harry supposed, now he was here, he could ask Professor Slughorn to help him brew up a potion. But he wasn’t sure if he would be able to brewing a poisonous potion without revealing the fact that he knew about the Horcruxes. If he did reveal this bit of information, how would Slughorn react? He had certainly done his part to keep that memory from Dumbledore and Harry. It was too much of an unknown to take the chance.
Harry felt like things were going in a gigantic circle. He was now almost positive the wand was a Horcrux, but that didn’t do him a lot of good right now. Ron and Hermione had taken it with them when they went back to Durmstrang. He could write them and ask them to bring it, or send it to him; however that didn’t seem the smartest thing to put down on paper. He didn’t know where Durmstrang was, so he couldn’t Apparate there. No, he was back to the odious of research. At least he had a clearer aim this time. He was looking for potions that would aid in destroying the Horcrux.
* * * * * * * * * *
Harry, with McGonagall’s permission, was going to be staying at the school. They had spent so much time in the library at Grimmauld Place that he had no doubt that there was nothing there that would help him. Given the vast size of the Hogwarts library, Harry was going to be there for at least a few days.
Madam Pince sneered at Harry when he first entered the library.
“What are you doing here boy? You didn’t return to school from what I hear.”
“I have a few things that I need to look for. Professor McGonagall said it was OK,” Harry told the librarian. She sneered a little more, but didn’t prevent Harry entering, or taking down her precious books and scanning them for useful potions.
It took less than three hours for word to spread that Harry Potter was back at Hogwarts. Student after student entered the library to come and have a look at him. Some just milled about, whispering, to the annoyance of both Harry and Madam Pince. She would shoo these unwelcome intruders out. It was the only time that Harry could recall feeling grateful to her.
It wasn’t completely bad for people to know he was back though. Neville and Luna, along with several other Gryffindors came to greet Harry.
“Moste Potente Potions?” Luna asked in her dreamy voice, looking at the cover of the book Harry had just closed. “I wouldn’t read that if I were you. The last person that did caught a nasty case of spattergroit.”
“I’ll bear that in mind, thanks Luna,” Harry responded, wearing a huge smile. This was some crude, medieval medical condition, which caused you to look like you had freckles. At least that’s what Harry remembered from the healer who had chased Ron through St. Mungo’s two years before claiming he was inflicted with the disease.
“You know if you’re looking up potions you should really start with our Advanced Potions text. It’s got a lot of interesting and useful spells,” said Ernie MacMillan, who had joined Neville and Luna. “How are you Harry?”
“Fine,” Harry replied, trying to sound casual, though he was getting very annoyed. The only copy of Advanced Potions he had was the Half-Blood Prince’s copy, which was, presumably, still up in the room of requirement. He was not going to use that book if there was even the smallest chance of destroying the wand another way. He was not going to turn to Snape for help, even in written form.
“Why are you here anyway?” Neville asked, sitting down opposite Harry.
“Just doing some research you know . . . for the war,” Harry answered vaguely. He seemed to be on a roll with revealing things to people. What cover story would he have to invent to get out of this one if Neville asked to know more? Thankfully the bell to signal the start of afternoon lessons rang just then rescuing Harry from having to dig himself out of a potential hole.
“Well, see you Harry.” Neville and Luna departed leaving Harry alone again. He was thoroughly over researched from the summer and was finding it hard to concentrate. What was happening down in the village? Were they able to fend off those intruders? Were the Death eaters perhaps wending their way up to the castle right now?
Harry knew he probably wouldn’t be sitting peacefully in the library if the school were about to be attacked yet this thought brought Harry back to reality. They were so close to destroying that last Horcrux. He just needed to find a potion that would do it. Right now he wasn’t thinking about the snake or the battle with Voldemort. All that was on his mind was seeing finality to this long, drawn out conflict.
* * * * * * * * *
Ron and Hermione were having about as much luck as Harry in finding a way to destroy Ravenclaw’s wand. Hermione was now positive it hadn’t been cursed, but was flummoxed as to its destruction.
“I just don’t get it. We’ve tried a million things on it and nothing even causes a splinter to come off it. I think there’s one hell of a protective spell on it.”
“You haven’t tried potions yet have you?” Harry asked. He, Ron and Hermione had chanced a quick Floo connection to talk to each other. They hadn’t spoken in nearly three weeks and this lack of communication was worrying the three friends.
Harry had finally taken a chance and sent Hedwig off with a note telling them, not in those words, to floo him in the Gryffindor common room.
He hoped Ron or Hermione would pick up the hint. He also wondered, as he watched Hedwig fly away, whether he had given her enough time to reach Ron and Hermione. He had requested the meeting for three days later.
Fate was favoring them again for Hermione’s face appeared in the fire promptly at one a.m. as Harry had indicated in his note.
“Any luck?” she asked as a way of greeting.
“No.” Hermione proceeded to explain their frustration over finding nothing either. It was then that Harry had interjected asking if she had looked for potions.
“That’s brilliant,” Hermione cried then she started choking. She had swallowed a lot of ashes. “Is that what you’ve been researching then?”
“Yeah, I haven’t found anything that would work so far though,” Harry answered.
Hermione was thinking really hard. Harry waited. Maybe she had some fantastic insight that would get them moving forward.
“I know you aren’t going to like this Harry, but I think you should get your old potions book back. There were a lot of useful spells in there, official and unofficial.”
Harry appreciated that it must have taken a lot for Hermione to suggest this given his hatred and revulsion for that book and it’s editor. Nonetheless, it meant turning to Snape, the foul, loathsome, murdering traitor, something that he had been avoiding at all costs.
“At least consider it. I’m starting to think it might be our best chance,” Hermione stated. Harry nodded. Loathe though he was to turn to that awful book, he would rather swallow his anger and use it than give up and give Voldemort free reign.
He snuck out of the common room right after talking with Hermione and crept towards the room of requirement. Once there he walked quickly three times past the tutu wearing trolls thinking “I need to retrieve my potions book.”
The door appeared suddenly and Harry raced in. Everything looked as it had when he had deposited the book here in May. Remembering where he hid the book, Harry hurried to that aisle. He found the cabinet and pulled open the door, wondering if the book would still be there. Maybe Snape had come and retrieved it. But it was still sitting there.
Feeling ill at having his hands on something that had once belonged to scum like Snape, Harry returned to the common room. It took a while for him to open the book. When he did the first page that he landed on was the one he had folded down, the one with the Sectumsempra spell on it.
Harry recalled Malfoy’s bloody form lying on that bathroom floor. Despite Draco’s part in Dumbledore’s death, and the countless other horrible things he had done, Harry still regretted using that spell on him. He hated Snape for even inventing it in the first place. Once this thing with Voldemort was over, Snape was next. If he happened to come across the coward before then, so be it.
He absent-mindedly flipped through the book, stopping every now and again on a spell that looked promising. Harry laughed out loud when he saw the Amortentia potion. Ginny’s joke about using it to destroy the Horcrux seemed particularly funny right now.
There was the cheerfulness potion Harry had made in the hopes of getting that memory out of Slughorn. The Felix Felicis, maybe he should have started brewing some of that four months ago. They were going to need luck before the end that was left in little doubt. The draught of living death? No that wouldn’t work here. Polyjuice potion, maybe useful, not to rid an object of a piece of soul though. Veritaserum, unless the wand could be forced into telling the truth it would be a waste of potion ingredients.
Harry carelessly flipped through the pages of the book. He was exhausted. All he wanted to do was sleep. His mind was so unfocused that he didn’t notice he hat reached the very last page in the book. He gazed down at it for several minutes without digesting a single word.
There was a handwritten potion. The writing was neat and tiny. It reminded Harry very much of Hermione’s. It didn’t look like the other writing in the book. How had he not noticed this before? The potion was titled ‘Extracting Elixir.’ Harry read the little blurb that was below, “liquid Dementors, without the nasty side effect of draining everyone’s powers.”
This was the best hope they had right now. The only problem was it took two weeks to make and there were a few obscure ingredients that he didn’t have with him. And of course it looked complex. Hermione was definitely going to have to brew it.
It was back to Grimmauld Place now. Once Hedwig was back Harry would send her to Ron and Hermione and have them return.
Harry made a quick stop at Slughorn’s office to ask if the potions master had some of the more obscure ingredients he would need.
“Harry m’boy, how are you?” Slughorn greeted him jovially.
“Great Professor,” Harry replied, “listen I don’t have a lot of time. I was hoping I could ask you if you have —“ he consulted the potion and named off the few ingredients he didn’t have.
“Odd combination Harry, very odd. Are you experimenting with a new potion?” Slughorn asked, one eyebrow raised, a look of curiosity on his face. Then he went to retrieve the items.
“Something like that,” Harry said, watching the Professor’s massive backside disappear into his own private stores.
“There you go Harry. Always said you took after your mother when it came to potions.” Slughorn gave Harry a huge smile and then walked him to the door. “If you need anything else Harry, just let me know.”
“I will, thank you Professor,” Harry replied. He hurried away clutching the ingredients. He had to get home and start this. Time was of the essence he knew that now. It was more crucial to get this Horcrux destroyed than ever. Why it was suddenly so urgent again Harry didn’t know.
* * * * * * * * * * *
“Keep your fingers crossed,” Harry told Ron and Hermione. They were standing over a simmering cauldron that was issuing copious amounts of grey steam. They stood well away from the potion and Harry levitated Ravenclaw’s wand so it was hovering over the potion, then he let it fall and it gave a great splash, sloshing liquid over the sides.
It was slight, but that unpleasant sensation in his scar was back. Harry concentrated very hard on Ginny, hoping it would stop things from getting worse. Rather than the pain in his scar getting less or more intense, he started to get a very bad feeling. He tried to push it aside but it was getting worse. Those two horrible dreams came back to Harry’s mind, the one with the locket and the one where Ginny was imprisoned in that dungeon. He was hearing Ginny crying, pleading with him not to let Voldemort take her.
It was all in his mind, Harry told himself. She was safe at home now. There were members of the Order there. If anything happened they would alert Harry, Ron and Hermione. These bad feelings were just a side effect of the potion. Whoever had invented it had called it liquid Dementor after all. When the Chizpurfle had eaten away at the magic he had felt like his head was being drilled into. Therefore, it was completely natural that he would be feeling the effects of this potion too.
After several minutes the now familiar results of the release of soul were evident. There was no shriek this time, but the room did shake, and it filled with that thick green smoke. The last inanimate Horcrux was destroyed. Harry didn’t feel any better though. In fact, his unease was increasing.
“That’s it?” Hermione asked in an amazed voice. “That’s the last Horcrux?”
“No, there’s still the snake,” Harry replied distracted. He had just felt his mirror heat up.
As Ron and Hermione congratulated each other on their task, Harry walked away, into a corner of the room.
“Hi Ginny,” he said, starting to feel a little better before even seeing her face. At least she was still OK. “We’ve got great news. The last one’s —“ Harry caught sight of her face for the first time. “What’s wrong?” he asked quickly, feeling that sense of unease more strongly than ever.
Ginny was looking absolutely horror-stricken.
“He’s here,” she said in a shaky voice. She didn’t need to elaborate. The look in her eyes said it all. Voldemort was at the Burrow.
“Oh no,” Harry said quietly, but loud enough for Ron and Hermione to hear.
“What’s happened?” they both asked, rushing over to him. Harry didn’t hear what they said. All he could think of right now was the fact that he needed to get to the Burrow. He knew that it was a trap set up to lure him there. But he didn’t care. This was exactly the sort of thing that he had feared would happen if he stayed involved with Ginny. He had to get her out of it somehow, before horrible things happened.
“I’ll be right there,” Harry told Ginny, as he was already walking quickly out of the room. Ron and Hermione were peering over his shoulder.
“Don’t do it Harry. Just stay there. It’s a tr —“ The mirror was yanked out of Ginny’s hands and the red of her hair was replaced by the red of Voldemort’s eyes. He was grinning. It was a horrifying sight. Then the connection was broken.
Harry looked from Ron to Hermione. The former looked like he had been placed under the full body bind curse. Hermione had screamed at some point, now she was just looking horrified. They didn’t look like they were going to move anytime soon, and there was no time to waste.
Harry ran full pelt out of the house. The door had barely slammed when he summoned enough concentration to focus on the Burrow and he Disapparated.
One would never have guessed it was dark from the way the Burrow’s garden was lit. The yard was filled with all sorts of people. Order members and Death Eaters were scattered everywhere, spells were flying in every direction, lighting up the sky. The air was filled with shouts of more spells, and screams of pain as several people were hit with what was unmistakably the Cruciatus Curse. But Harry cared for none of this, there was only one thing that he was concerned about, and that was getting to Ginny.
He ran through the groups of dueling wizards, knocking more than a few over and ducking spells. He didn’t care what they were doing, and most didn’t seem to notice him which was all the better. He didn’t have the time to stop and duel with someone else.
Harry’s scar had been aching ever since Voldemort had appeared in the mirror. Now it burst into agonizing life. Harry clamped one hand over it as he ran for the house. He was a dozen feet away when the door opened and Voldemort stepped casually out, Ginny in front of him, much like a gunman holding a hostage. She was struggling, trying to free herself.
“My, my, Harry, I’d rather had thought that you would have been here a lot sooner,” Voldemort smiled that same nasty grin. His scarlet eyes flashed, he was extremely pleased with this whole situation. Harry didn’t need to see him to know that.
“Let her go,” he said furiously although he knew that the Dark Lord was not going to do any such thing without a fight. “I’m here now. Leave her alone.” He was looking at Ginny who, though she wasn’t speaking, was pleading with him. He knew exactly what she was trying to tell him. He had heard those words months ago. She was begging him not to let Voldemort take her.
Voldemort laughed. It was a laugh to chill even the warmest night.
“I don’t think so Harry. I’ve been waiting too long for this.” He looked at Ginny again, and ran one of his long spider-like fingers down her cheek. She shuddered, and increased her vain attempts to free herself from his grip. “I think this will be even more enjoyable than I thought.”
“No,” Harry shouted, feeling an explosive rage fill him. He ran at the pair of them. He didn’t care what he had to do, but there was no way that he was going to let Voldemort win this time. As long as he was still breathing he would do everything he could to get Ginny out of this situation.
Harry was close enough to touch the pair of them now, and all Voldemort did was continue to grin that evil grin. What Harry wanted to do was to break his neck. He reached out, to do just that, or to grab Ginny, but met an invisible barrier. This was all too familiar.
Harry scrambled frantically to get to Ginny. It was something that he had done many, many times before, in that dream. Harry and Ginny were standing the same distance apart now. He felt as if he had stepped right into that nightmare. She wasn’t shouting in words, but if at all possible, with just a look. Harry tried to convey to her that he wasn’t going to let Voldemort take her. As he struggled against that barrier though he wasn’t sure how he could prevent it.
Voldemort let out another of his mirthless laughs, and spoke the words that had been haunting Harry since the beginning of July. “You won’t win Harry.” He smiled once more, tightened his grip on Ginny and Disapparated.