harry potter 7(2)

hould vote on it,” said Ron. “Those in favor of going to see Love good –”
His hand flew into the air before Hermione’s. Her lips quivered suspiciously as she raised her own.
“Outvoted, Harry, sorry,” said Ron, clapping him on the back.
“Fine,” said Harry, half amused, half irritated. “Only, once we’ve seen Lovegood, let’s try and look for some more Horcruxes, shall we? Where do the Lovegood’s live, anyway? Do either of you know?
“Yeah, they’re not far from my place,” said Ron. “I dunno exactly where, but Mum and Dad always point toward the hills whenever they mention them. Shouldn’t be hard to find.”
When Hermione had returned to her bunk, Harry lowered his voice.
“You only agreed to try and get back in her good books.”
“All’s fair in love and war,” said Ron brightly, “and this is a bit of both. Cheer up, it’s the Christmas holidays, Luna’ll be home!”
They had an excellent view of the village of Ottery St. Catchopole from the breezy hillside to which they Disapparated next morning. From their high vantage point the village looked like a collection of toy houses in the great slanting shafts of sunlight stretching to earth in the breaks between clouds. They stood for a minute or two looking toward the Burrow, their hands shadowing their eyes, but all they could make out were
the high hedges and trees of the orchard, which afforded the crooked little house protection from Muggle eyes.
“It’s weird, being this near, but not going to visit,” said Ron.
“Well, it’s not like you haven’t just seen them. You were there for Christmas,” said Hermione coldly.
“I wasn’t at the Burrow!” said Ron with an incredulous laugh. “Do you think I was going to go back there and tell them all I’d walked out on you? Yeah, Fred and George would’ve been great about it. And Ginny, she’d have been really understanding.”
“But where have you been, then?” asked Hermione, surprised.
“Bill and Fleur’s new place. Shell cottage. Bill’s always been decent to me. He – he wasn’t impressed when he heard what I’d done, but he didn’t go on about it. He knew I was really sorry. None of the rest of the family know I was there. Bill told Mum he and Fleur weren’t going home for Christmas because they wanted to spend it alone. You know, first holiday after they were married. I don’t think Fleur minded. You know how much she hates Celestina Warbeck.”
Ron turned his back on the Burrow.
“Let’s try up here,” he said, leading the way over the top of the hill.
They walked for a few hours, Harry, at Hermione’s insistence, hidden beneath the Invisibility Cloak. The cluster of low hills appeared to be uninhabited apart from one small cottage, which seemed deserted.
“Do you think it’s theirs, and they’ve gone away for Christmas?” said Hermione, peering through the window at a neat little kitchen with geraniums on the windowsill. Ron snorted.
“Listen, I’ve got a feeling you’d be able to tell who lived there if you looked through the Lovegoods’ window. Let’s try the next lot of hills.”
So they Disapparated a few miles farther north.
“Aha!” shouted Ron, as the wind whipped their hair and clothes. Ron was pointing upward, toward the top of the hill on which they had appeared, where a most strange-looking house rose vertically against the sky, a great black cylinder with a ghostly moon hanging behind it in the afternoon sky. “That’s got to be Luna’s house, who else would live in a place like that? It looks like a giant rook!”
“It’s nothing like a bird,” said Hermione, frowning at the tower.
“I was talking about a chess rook,” said Ron. “A castle to you.”
Ron’s legs were the longest and he reached the top of the hill first. When Harry and Hermione caught up with him, panting and clutching stitches in their sides, they found him grinning broadly.
“It’s theirs,” said Ron. “Look.”
Three hand-painted signs had been tacked to a broke-down gate. The first read,
the second,
the third,
The gate creaked as they opened it. The zigzagging path leading to the front door was overgrown with a variety of odd plants, including a bush covered in orange radishlike fruit Luna sometimes wore as earrings. Harry thought he recognized a Snargaluff and gave the wizened stump a wide berth. Two aged crab apple trees, bent with the wind, stripped of leaves but still heavy with berry-sized red fruits and bushy crowns of white beaded mistletoe, stood sentinel on either side of the front door. A little owl with a slightly flattened hawklike head peered down at them from one of the branches.
“You’d better take off the Invisibility Cloak, Harry,” said Hermione. “It’s you Mr. Lovegood wants to help, not us.”
He did as she suggested, handing her the Cloak to stow in the beaded bag. She then rapped three times on the thick black door, which was studded with iron nails and bore a knocker shaped like an eagle.
Barely ten seconds passed, then the door was flung open and there stood Xenophilius Lovegood, barefoot and wearing what appeared to be a stained nightshirt. His long white candyfloss hair was dirty and unkempt. Xenophilius had been positively dapper at Bill and Fleur's wedding by comparison. "What? What is it? Who are you? What do you want?" he cried in a high-pitched, querulous voice, looking first at Hermione, then at Ron, and finally at Harry, upon which his mouth fell open in a perfect, comical O. "Hello, Mr. Lovegood," said Harry, holding out his hand, "I'm Harry, Harry Potter." Xenophilius did not take Harry's hand, although the eye that was not pointing inward at his nose slid straight to the scar on Harry's forehead. "Would it be okay if we came in?" asked Harry. "There's something we'd like to ask you." "I . . . I'm not sure that's advisable," whispered Xenophilius, He swallowed and cast a quick look around the garden. "Rather a shock . . . My word . . . I . . . I'm afraid I don't really think I ought to ---" "It wont take long" said Harry, slightly disappointed by this less-than-warm welcome. "I --- oh, all right then. Come in, quickly, Quickly!" They were barely over the threshold when Xenophilius slammed the door shut behind them, They were standing in the most peculiar kitchen Harry had ever seen. The room was perfectly circular, so that he felt like being inside a giant pepper pot. Everything was curved to fit the walls - the stove, the sink, and the cupboards - and all of it had been painted with flowers, insects, and birds in bright primary colors. Harry thought he recognized Luna's styles. The effect in such and enclosed space, was slightly overwhelming. In the middle of the floor, a wrought-iron spiral staircase ld to the upper levels. There was a great deal of clattering and banging coming from overhead: Harry wondered what Luna could be doing. "You'd better come up." said Xenophilius, still looking extremely uncomfortable, and he led the way. The room above seemed to be a combination of living room and workplace,
and as such, was even more cluttered than the kitchen. Though much smaller and entirely round, the room somewhat resembled the Room of Requirement on the unforgettable occasion that it had transformed itself into a gigantic labyrinth comprised of centuries of hidden objects. There were piles upon piles of books and papers on every surface. Delicately made models of creatures Harry did not recognize, all flapping wings or snapping jaws, hung from the ceiling. Luna was not there: The thing that was making such a racket was a wooden object covered in magically turning cogs and wheels, It looked like the bizarre offspring of a workbench and a set of shelves, but after a moment Harry deduced that it was an old-fashioned printing press, due to the fact that it was churning out Quibblers. "Excuse me," said Xenophilius, and he strode over to the machine, seized grubbily tablecloth from beneath an immense number of books and papers, which all tumbled onto the floor, and threw it over the press, somewhat muffling the loud bangs and clatters. He then faced Harry. "Why have you come here?" Before Harry could speak, however, Hermione let out a small cry of shock. "Mr. Lovegood - what's that?" See was pointing at an enormous, gray spiral horn, not unlike that of a unicorn, which had been mounted on the wall, protruding several feet into the room. "It is the horn of a Crumple-Horned Snorkack," said Xenophilius. "No it isn't!" said Hermione. "Hermione," muttered Harry, embarrassed, "now's not the moment -" "But Harry, it's an Erumpent horn! It's a Class B Tradeable Material and it's an extraordinary dangerous thing to have in a house!" "How'd you know it's an Erumpent horn?" asked Ron, edging away from the horn as fast as he could, given the extreme clutter of the room. "There's a description in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them! Mr. Lovegood, you need to get rid of it straightaway, don't you know it can explode at the slightest touch?" "The Crumple Horned Snorkack" said Xenophilius very clearly, a mulish look upon his face, “is a shy and highly magical creature, and it's horn -" "Mr. Lovegood. I recognize the grooved markings around the base, that's an Erumpent horn and it's incredibly dangerous - I don't know where you got it-" "I bought it," said Xenophilius dogmatically. "Two weeks ago, from a delightful young wizard who knew my interest in the exquisite Snorkack. A Christmas surprise for my Luna. Now," he said, turning to Harry, "why exactly have you come here, Mr. Potter?" "We need some help," said Harry, before Hermione could start again. "Ah," said Xenophilius, "Help, Hmm." His good eye moved again to Harry's scar. He seemed simultaneously terrified and mesmerized. "Yes. The thing is ... helping Harry Potter ... rather dangerous..."
"Aren't you the one who keeps telling everyone it's their first duty to help Harry?" said Ron. "In that magazine of yours?" Xenophilius glanced behind him at the concealed printing press, still banging and clattering beneath the tablecloth. "Er - yes, I have expressed that view. however -" "That's for everyone else to do, not you personally?" said Ron. Xenophilius did not answer. He kept swallowing, his eyes darting between the three of them. Harry had the impression that he was undergoing some painful internal struggle. "Where's Luna?" asked Hermione. "Let's see what she thinks." Xenophilius gulped. He seemed to be steeling himself. Finally he said in a shaky voice difficult to hear over the noise of the printing press, "Luna is down at the stream, fishing for Freshwater Plimpies. She...she will like to see you. I'll go and call her and then - yes, very well. I shall try to help you." He disappeared down the spiral staircase and they heard the front open and close. They looked at each other. "Cowardly old wart," said Ron. "Luna's got ten times his guts." "He's probably worried about what'll happen to them if the Death Eaters find out I was here" said Harry. "Well, I agree with Ron, " said Hermione, "Awful old hypocrite, telling everyone else to help you and trying to worm our of it himself. And for heaven's sake keep away from that horn." Harry crossed to the window on the far side of the room. He could see a stream, a thin, glittering ribbon lying far below them at the base of the hill. They were very high up; a bird fluttered past the window as he stared in the direction of the Burrow, now invisible beyond another line of hills. Ginny was over there somewhere. They were closer to each other today than they had been since Bill and Fleur's wedding, but she could have no idea he was gazing toward her now, thinking of her. He suppose he ought to be glad of it; anyone he came into contact with was in danger, Xenophilius's attitude proved that. he turned away from the windows and his gaze fell upon another peculiar object standing upon the cluttered, curved slide board; a stone but of a beautiful but austere-looking witch wearing a most bizarre-looking headdress. Two objects that resembled golden ear trumpets curved out from the sides. A tiny pair of glittering blue wing was stuck to a leather strap that ran over the top of her head, while one of the orange radishes had been stuck to a second strap around her forehead. "Look at this," said Harry. "Fetching," said Ron. "Surprised he didn't hear that to the wedding." They heard the front door close, and a moment later Xenophilius climbed back up the spiral staircase into the room, his thin legs now encase in Wellington boots, bearing a tray of ill-assorted teacups and a steaming teapot. "Ah, you have spotted my pet invention," he said, shoving the tray into
Hermione's arms and joining Harry at the statue's side. "Modeled, fittingly enough, upon the head of the beautiful Rowens Ravenclaw, 'Wit beyond measure is a man's greatest treasure!'" He indicated the objects like ear trumpets. "These are the Wrackpurt siphons - to remove all sources of distraction from the thinker's immediate area. Here, "he pointed out the tiny wings, "a billywig propeller, to induce an elevated frame of mind. Finally, "he pointed to the orange radish, "the dirigible Plum, so as to enhance the ability to accept the extraordinary." Xenophilius strode back to the tea tray, which Hermione had managed to balance precariously on one of the cluttered side tables. "May I offer you all an infusion of Gurdyroots?" said Xenophilius. "We make it ourselves." As he started to pour out the drink, which was as deeply purple as beetroot juice, he added, "Luna is down beyond Bottom Bridge, she is most excited that you are here She ought not to be too long, she has caught nearly enough Plumpies to make soup for all of us. Do sit down and help yourselves to sugar. "Now," he remove a tottering pile of papers from an armchair and sat down, his Wellingtoned legs crossed, "how may I help you, Mr. Potter?" "Well," said Harry, glancing at Hermione, who nodded encouragingly, "it's about that symbol you were wearing around your neck at Bill and Fleur's wedding, Mr. Lovegood. We wondered what it meant." Xenophilius raised his eyebrows. "Are you referring to the sign of the Deathly Hallows?"
Chapter Twenty-One
The Tale of the Three Brothers
Harry turned to look at Ron and Hermione. Neither of them seemed to have understood what Xenophilius had said either.
"The Deathly Hallows?"
"That's right," said Xenophilius. "You haven't heard of them? I'm not surprised. Very, very few wizards believe. Witness that knuckle-headed young man at your brother's wedding," he nodded at Ron, "who attacked me for sporting the symbol of a well-known Dark wizard! Such ignorance. There is nothing Dark about the Hallows – at least not in that crude sense. One simply uses the symbol to reveal oneself to other believers, in the hope that they might help one with the Quest."
He stirred several lumps of sugar into his Gurdyroot infusion and drank some.
"I'm sorry," said Harry, "I still don't really understand."
To be polite, he took a sip from his cup too, and almost gagged: The stuff was quite disgusting, as though someone had liquidized bogey-flavored Every Flavor Beans.
"Well, you see, believers seek the Deathly Hallows," said Xenophilius, smacking his lips in apparent appreciation of the Gurdyroot infusion.
"But what are the Deathly Hallows?" asked Hermione.
Xenophilius set aside his empty teacup.
"I assume that you are familiar with 'The Tale of the Three Brothers'?"
Harry said, "No," but Ron and Hermione both said, "Yes." Xenophilius nodded gravely.
"Well, well, Mr. Potter, the whole thing starts with 'The Tale of the Three Brothers' . . . I have a copy somewhere . . ."
He glanced vaguely around the room, at the piles of parchment and books, but Hermione said, "I've got a copy, Mr. Lovegood, I've got it right here."
And she pulled out The Tales of Beedle the Bard from the small, beaded bag.
"The original?" inquired Xenophilius sharply, and when she nodded, he said, "Well then, why don't you read it out aloud? Much the best way to make sure we all understand."
"Er. . . all right," said Hermione nervously. She opened the book, and Harry saw that the symbol they were investigating headed the top of the page as she gave a little cough, and began to read.
"'There were once three brothers who were traveling along a lonely, winding road at twilight –'"
"Midnight, our mum always told us," said Ron, who had stretched out, arms behind his head, to listen. Hermione shot him a look of annoyance.
"Sorry, I just think it's a bit spookier if it's midnight!" said Ron.
"Yeah, because we really need a bit more fear in our lives," said Harry before he could stop himself. Xenophilius did not seem to be paying much attention, but was staring out of the window at the sky. "Go on, Hermione."
"In time, the brothers reached a river too deep to wade through and too dangerous to swim across. However, these brothers were learned in the magical arts, and so they simply waved their wands and made a bridge appear across the treacherous water. They were halfway across it when they found their path blocked by a hooded figure.
"'And Death spoke to them –'"
"Sorry," interjected Harry, "but Death spoke to them?"
"It's a fairy tale, Harry!"
"Right, sorry. Go on."
"'And Death spoke to them. He was angry that he had been cheated out of the three new victims, for travelers usually drowned in the river. But Death was cunning. He pretended to congratulate the three brothers upon their magic, and said that each had earned a prize for having been clever enough to evade him.
"'So the oldest brother, who was a combative man, asked for a wand more powerful than any in existence: a wand that must always win duels for its owner, a wand worthy of a wizard who had conquered Death! So Death crossed to an elder tree on the banks of the river, fashioned a wand from a branch that hung there, and gave it to the oldest brother.
"'Then the second brother, who was an arrogant man, decided that he wanted to humiliate Death still further, and asked for the power to recall others from Death. So
Death picked up a stone from the riverbank and gave it to the second brother, and told him that the stone would have the power to bring back the dead.
"'And then Death asked the third and youngest brother what he would like. The youngest brother was the humblest and also the wisest of the brothers, and he did not trust Death. So he asked for something that would enable him to go forth from that place without being followed by Death. And Death, most unwillingly, handed over his own Cloak of Invisibility.'"
"Death's got an Invisibility Cloak?" Harry interrupted again.
"So he can sneak up on people," said Ron. "Sometimes he gets bored of running at them, flapping his arms and shrieking . . . sorry, Hermione."
"'Then Death stood aside and allowed the three brothers to continue on their way, and they did so talking with wonder of the adventure they had had and admiring Death's gifts.
"'In due course the brothers separated, each for his own destination.
"'The first brother traveled on for a week more, and reaching a distant village, sought out a fellow wizard with whom he had a quarrel. Naturally, with the Elder Wand as his weapon, he could not fail to win the duel that followed. Leaving his enemy dead upon the floor the oldest brother proceeded to an inn, where he boasted loudly of the powerful wand he had snatched from Death himself, and of how it made him invincible.
"'That very night, another wizard crept upon the oldest brother as he lay, wine-sodden upon his bed. The thief took the wand and for good measure, slit the oldest brother's throat.
"'And so Death took the first brother for his own.
"'Meanwhile, the second brother journeyed to his own home, where he lived alone. Here he took out the stone that had the power to recall the dead, and turned it thrice in his hand. To his amazement and his delight, the figure of the girl he had once hoped to marry, before her untimely death, appeared at once before him.
"'Yet she was sad and cold, separated from him as by a veil. Though she had returned to the mortal world, she did not truly belong there and suffered. Finally the second brother, driven mad with hopeless longing, killed himself so as to truly join her.
"'And so Death took the second brother from his own.
"'But though Death searched for the third brother for many years, he was never able to find him. It was only when he had attained a great age that the youngest brother finally took off the Cloak of Invisibility and gave it to his son. And the he greeted Death as an old friend, and went with him gladly, and, equals, they departed this life.'"
Hermione closed the book. It was a moment or two before Xenophilius seemed to realize that she had stopped reading; then he withdrew his gaze from the window and said: "Well, there you are."
"Sorry?" said Hermione, sounding confused.
"Those are the Deathly Hallows," said Xenophilius.
He picked up a quill from a packed table at his elbow, and pulled a torn piece of parchment from between more books.
"The Elder Wand," he said, and drew a straight vertical line upon the parchment. "The Resurrection Stone," he said, and added a circle on top of the line. "The Cloak of Invisibility," he finished, enclosing both line and circle in a triangle, to make the symbols that so intrigued Hermione. "Together," he said, "the Deathly Hallows."
"But there's no mention of the words 'Deathly Hallows' in the story," said Hermione.
"Well, of course not," said Xenophilius, maddeningly smug. "That is a children's tale, told to amuse rather than to instruct. Those of us who understand these matters, however, recognize that the ancient story refers to three objects, or Hallows, which, if united, will make the possessor master of Death."
There was a short silence in which Xenophilius glanced out of the window. Already the sun was low in the sky.
"Luna ought to have enough Plimpies soon," he said quietly.
"When you say 'master of Death' –"said Ron.
"Master," said Xenophilius, waving an airy hand. "Conqueror. Vanquisher. Whichever term you prefer."
"But then . . . do you mean . . ." said Hermione slowly, and Harry could tell that she was trying to keep any trace of skepticism out of her voice, "that you believe these objects – these Hallows – really exist?"
Xenophilius raised his eyebrows again.
"Well, of course."
"But," said Hermione, and Harry could hear her restraint starting to crack, "Mr. Lovegood, how can you possibly believe – ?"
"Luna has told me all about you, young lady," said Xenophilius. "You are, I gather, not unintelligent, but painfully limited. Narrow. Close-minded."
"Perhaps you ought to try on the hat, Hermione," said Ron, nodding toward the ludicrous headdress. His voice shook with the strain of not laughing.
"Mr. Lovegood," Hermione began again, "We all know that there are such things as Invisibility Cloaks. They are rare, but they exist. But –"
"Ah, but the Third Hallow is a true Cloak of Invisibility, Miss Granger! I mean to say, it is not a traveling cloak imbued with a Disillusionment Charm, or carrying a Bedazzling Hex, or else woven from Demiguise hair, which will hide one initially but fade with the years until it turns opaque. We are talking about a cloak that really and truly renders the wearer completely invisible, and endures eternally, giving constant and impenetrable concealment, no matter what spells are cast at it. How many cloaks have you ever seen like that, Miss Granger?"
Hermione opened her mouth to answer, then closed it again, looking more confused than ever. She, Harry and Ron glanced at one another, and Harry knew that they were all thinking the same thing. It so happened that a cloak exactly like the one Xenophilius had just described was in the room with them at that very moment.
"Exactly," said Xenophilius, as if he had defeated them all in reasoned argument. "None of you have ever seen such a thing. The possessor would be immeasurably rich, would he not?"
He glanced out of the window again. The sky was now tinged with the faintest trace of pink.
"All right," said Hermione, disconcerted. "Say the Cloak existed. . . what about that stone, Mr. Lovegood? The thing you call the Resurrection Stone?"
"What of it?"
"Well, how can that be real?"
"Prove that is not," said Xenophilius.
Hermione looked outraged.
"But that's – I'm sorry, but that's completely ridiculous! How can I possibly prove it doesn't exist? Do you expect me to get hold of – of all the pebbles in the world and test them? I mean, you could claim that anything's real if the only basis for believing in it is that nobody's proved it doesn't exist!"
"Yes, you could," said Xenophilius. "I am glad to see that you are opening your mind a little."
"So the Elder Wand," said Harry quickly, before Hermione could retort, "you think that exists too?"
"Oh, well, in that case there is endless evidence," said Xenophilius. "The Elder Wand is the Hallow that is most easily traced, because of the way in which it passes from hand to hand."
"Which is what?" asked Harry.
"Which is that the possessor of the wand must capture it from its previous owner, if he is to be truly master of it," said Xenophilius. "Surely you have heard of the way the wand came to Egbert the Egregious, after his slaughter of Emeric the Evil? Of how Godelot died in his own cellar after his son, Hereward, took the wand from him? Of the dreadful Loxias, who took the wand from Baraabas Deverill, whom he had killed? The bloody trail of the Elder Wand is splattered across the pages of Wizarding history."
Harry glanced at Hermione. She was frowning at Xenophilius, but she did not contradict him.
"So where do you think the Elder Wand is now?" asked Ron.
"Alas, who knows?" said Xenophilius, as he gazed out of the window. "Who knows where the Elder Wand lies hidden? The trail goes cold with Arcus and Livius. Who can say which of them really defeated Loxias, and which took the wand? And who can say who may have defeated them? History, alas, does not tell us."
There was a pause. Finally Hermione asked stiffly, "Mr. Lovegood, does the Peverell family have anything to do with the Deathly Hallows?"
Xenophilius looked taken aback as something shifted in Harry's memory, but he could not locate it. Peverell. . . he had heard that name before. . .
"But you have been misleading me, young woman!" said Xenophilius, now sitting up much straighter in his chair and goggling at Hermione. "I thought you were new to the Hallows Quest! Many of us Questers believe that the Peverells have everything – everything! – to do with the Hallows!"
"Who are the Peverells?" asked Ron.
"That was the name on the grave with the mark on it, in Godric's Hollow," said Hermione, still watching Xenophilius. "Ignotus Peverell."
"Exactly!" said Xenophilius, his forefinger raised pedantically. "The sign of the Death Hallows on Ignotus's grave is conclusive proof!"
"Of what?" asked Ron.
"Why, that the three brothers in the story were actually the three Peverell brothers, Antioch, Cadmus and Ignotus! That they were the original owners of the Hallows!"
With another glance at the window he got to his feet, picked up the tray, and headed for the spiral staircase.
"You will stay for dinner?" he called, as he vanished downstairs again. "Everybody always requests our recipe for Freshwater Plimply soup."
"Probably to show the Poisoning Department at St. Mungo's," said Ron under his breath.
Harry waited until they could hear Xenophilius moving about in the kitchen downstairs before speaking.
"What do you think?" he asked Hermione.
"Oh, Harry," she said wearily, "it's a pile of utter rubbish. This can't be what the sign really means. This must just be his weird take on it. What a waste of time."
"I s'pose this is the man who brought us Crumple-Horned Snorkacks," said Ron.
"You didn't believe it either?" Harry asked him.
"Nah, that story's just one of those things you tell kids to teach them lessons, isn't it? 'Don't go looking for trouble, don't go pick fights, don't go messing around with stuff that's best left alone! Just keep your head down, mind your own business, and you'll be okay. Come to think of it," Ron added, "maybe that story's why elder wands are supposed to be unlucky."
"What are you talking about?"
"One of those superstitions, isn't it? 'May-born witches will marry Muggles.' 'Jinx by twilight, undone by midnight.' 'Wand of cider, never prosper.' You must have heard them. My mum's full of them."
"Harry and I were raised by Muggles," Hermione reminded him. "We were taught different superstitions." She sighed deeply as a rather pungent smell drifted up from the kitchen. The one good thing about her exasperation with Xenophilius was that it seemed to have made her forget that she was annoyed at Ron. "I think you're right," she told him. "It's just a morality tale, it's obvious which gift is best, which one you'd choose –"
The three of them spoke at the same time: Hermione said, "the Cloak," Ron said, "the wand," and Harry said, "the stone."
They looked at each other, half surprised, half amused.
"You're supposed to say the Cloak," Ron told Hermione, "but you wouldn't need to be invisible if you had the wand. An unbeatable wand, Hermione, come on!"
"We've already got an Invisibility Cloak," said Harry, "And it's helped us rather a lot, in case you hadn't noticed!" said Hermione. "Whereas the wand would be bound to attract trouble--" "Only if you shouted about it," argued Ron. "Only if you were prat enough to go dancing around waving it over your head, and singing, 'I've got an unbeatable want, come and have a go if you think you're hard enough.' As long as you kept your trap shut --" -Yes, but could you keep your trap shut?" said Hermione, looking skeptical. "You know the only true thing he said to us was that there have been stories about extra-powerful wands for hundreds of years." "There have?" asked Harry. Hermione looked exasperated: The expression was so endearingly familiar that Harry and Ron grinned at each other. "The Deathstick, the Wand of Destiny, they crop up under different names through the centuries, usually in the possession of some Dark wizard who’s boasting about them. Professor Binns mentioned some of them, but -- oh it's all nonsense. Wands are only as powerful as the wizards who use them. Some wizards just like to boast that theirs are bigger and better than other people's"
"But how do you know," said Harry, "that those wants -- the Deathstick, and the Wand of Destiny -- aren't the same want, surfacing over the centuries under different names?" "What if they're all really the Elder Wand, made by Death?" said Ron. Harry laughed: The strange idea that had occurred to him was after all, ridiculous. His wand, he reminded himself, had been of holly, not elder, and it had been made by Ollivander, whatever it had done that night Voldemort had pursued him across the skies and if it had been unbeatable, how could it have been broken? "So why would you take the stone?" Ron asked him. "Well, if you could bring people back, we could have Sirius...Mad-Eye...Dumbledore...my parents..." Neither Ron nor Hermione smiled. "But according to Beedle the Bard, they wouldn't want to come back, would they?" said Harry, thinking about the tail they had just heard. "I don't suppose there have been loads of other stories about a stone that can raise the dead, have there?: he asked Hermione. "No," she replied sadly. "I don't think anyone except Mr. Lovegood could kid themselves that's possible. Beedle probably took the idea from the Sorcerer's Stone; you know, instead of a stone to make you immortal, a stone to reverse death." The smell from the kitchen was getting stronger. It was something like burning underpants. Harry wondered whether it would be possible to eat enough of whatever Xenophilius was cooking to spare his feelings. "What about the Cloak, though?" said Ron slowly. "Don't you realize, he's right? I've got so used to Harry's Cloak and how good it is, I never stopped to think. I've never heard of one like Harry's. It's infallible. We've never been spotted under it --" "Of course not -- we're invisible when we're under it, Ron!" "But all the stuff he said about other cloaks, and they're not exactly ten a Knut, you know, is true! It's never occurred to me before but I've heard stuff about charms wearing off cloaks when they get old, or them being ripped apart by spells so they've got holes, Harry's was owned by his dad, so it's not exactly new, is it, but it's just ... perfect!" "Yes, all right, but Ron, the stone..." As they argued in whispers, Harry moved around the room, only half listening. Reaching the spiral stair, he raised his eyes absently to the next level and was distracted at once. His own face was looking back at him from the ceiling of the room above. After a moment's bewilderment, he realized that it was not a mirror, but a painting. Curious, he began to clime the stairs. "Harry, what are you doing? I don't think you should look around when he's not here!" But Harry had already reached the next level. Luna had decorated her bedroom ceiling with five beautifully painted faces: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Neville. They were not moving as the portraits at Hogwarts moved, but there was a certain magic about them all the same. Harry thought they breathed. What appeared to be a fine golden chains wove around the pictures linking them together, but after examining them for a minute or so, Harry realized that the chains were actually one work repeated a thousand times in golden ink: friends... friends... friends... Harry felt a great rush of affection for Luna. He looked around the room. There was a large photograph beside the bed, of a young Luna and a woman who looked very like her. They were hugging. Luna looked rather better-groomed in this picture than Harry had ever seen her in life. The picture was dusty. This struck Harry as slightly odd. He stared
around. Something was wrong. The pale blue carpet was also thick with dust. There were no clothes in the wardrobe, whose doors stood ajar. The bed had a cold, unfriendly look, as though it had not been slept in for weeks. A single cobweb stretched over the nearest window across the blood red sky. "What's wrong?" Hermione asked as Harry descended the staircase, but before he could respond, Xenophilius reached the top of the stairs from the kitchen, now holding a tray laden with bowls. "Mr. Lovegood," said Harry. "Where's Luna?" "Excuse me?" "Where's Luna?" Xenophilius halted on the top step. "I -- I've already told you. She is down at the Botions Bridge fishing for Plimpies." "So why have you only laid that tray for four?" Xenophilius tried to speak, but no sound came out. The only noise was the continued chugging of the printing press, and a slight rattle from the tray as Xenophilius's hands shook. "I don't think Luna's been here for weeks." said Harry. "Her clothes are gone, her bed hasn't been slept in. Where is she? and why do you keep looking out of the window?" Xenophilius dropped the tray. The bowls bounced and smashed Harry, Ron, and Hermione drew their wands. Xenophilius froze his hand about to enter his pocket. At that moment the printing press have a huge bank and numerous Quibblers came streaming across the floor from underneath the tablecloth, the press fell silent at last. Hermione stooped down and picked up one of the magazines, her wand still pointing at Mr. Lovegood. "Harry, look at this" He strode over to her as quickly as he could through all the clutter. The front of the Quibbler carried his own picture, emblazoned with the words "Undesirable Number One" and captioned with the reward money. "The Quibbler's going for a new angle, then?: Harry asked coldly, his mind working very fast. "Is that what you were doing when you went into the garden, Mr. Lovegood? Sending an owl to the Ministry? Xenophilius licked his lips "They took my Luna," he whispered, "Because of what I've been writing. They took my Luna and I don't know where she is, what they've done to her. But they might give her back to me if I -- If I--" "Hand over Harry?" Hermione finished for him. "No deal." said Ron flatly. "Get out of the way, we're leaving." Xenophilius looked ghastly, a century old, his lips drawn back into a dreadful leer. "They will be here any moment. I must save Luna. I cannot lose Luna. You must not leave." He spread his arms in front of the staircase, and Harry had a sudden vision of his mother doing the same thing in front of his crib. "Don't make us hurt you," Harry said. "Get out of the way, Mr. Lovegood." "HARRY!" Hermione screamed. Figures on broomsticks were flying past the windows. As the three of them looked away from him. Xenophilius drew his wand. Harry realized their mistake just in time. He launched himself sideways, shoving Ron and Hermione out of harm's way as
Xenophilius's Stunning Spell soared across the room and hit the Erumpent horn. There was a colossal explosion. The sound of it seemed to blow the room apart. Fragments of wood and paper and rubble flew in all directions, along with an impenetrable cloud of thick white dust. Harry flew through the air, then crashed to the floor, unable to see as debris rained upon him, his arms over his head. He heard Hermione's scream, Ron's yell, and a series of sickening metallic thuds which told him that Xenophilius had been blasted off his feet and fallen backward down the spiral stairs. Half buried in rubble, Harry tried to raise himself. He could barely breathe or see for dust. Half of the ceiling had fall in and the end of Luna's bead was hanging through the hole. The bust of Rowena Ravenclaw lay beside him with half its face missing fragments of torn parchment were floating through the air, and most of the printing press lay on its side, blocking the top of the staircase to the kitchen. Then another white shape moved close by, and Hermione, coated in dust like a second statue, pressed his finger to her lips. The door downstairs crashed open. "Didn't I tell you there was no need to hurry, Travers?" said a rough voice. "Didn't I tell you this nutter was just raving as usual?" There was a bang and a scream of pain from Xenophilius. "No...no...upstairs...Potter!" "I told you last week Lovegood, we weren't coming back for anything less than some solid information! Remember last week? When you wanted to swap your daughter for that stupid bleeding headdress? And the week before" -- Another bang, another squeal -- "When you thought we'd give her back if you offered us proof there are Cumple" -- Bang -- "Headed"--bang--"Snorkacks?" "No -- no -- I beg of you!" sobbed Xenophilius. "It really is Potter, Really!" "And now it turns out you only called us here to try and blow us up!" roared the Death Eater, and there was a volley of bangs interspersed with squeals of agony from Xenophilius. "The place looks like it's about to fall in, Selwyn," said a cool second voice, echoing up the mangled staircase. "The stairs are completely blocked. Could try clearing it? Might bring the place down." "You lying piece of filth." shouted the wizard named Selwyn. "You have never seen Potter in your life, have you? Thought you'd lure us here to kill us, did you? And you think you'll get your girl back like this?" "I swear...I swear...Potter's upstairs!" "Homenum revelio." said the voice at the foot of the stairs. Harry heard Hermione gasp, and he had the odd sensation something was swooping low over him, immersing his body in its shadow. "There's someone up there all right, Selwyn," said the second man sharply. "It's Potter, I tell you, it's Potter!" sobbed Xenophilius. "Please...please...give me Luna, just let me have Luna..." "You can have your little girl, Lovegood," said Selwyn, "if you get up those stairs and bring me down Harry Potter. But if this is a plot, if it's a trick, if you've got an accomplice waiting up there to ambush us, we'll see if we can spare a bit of your daughter for you to bury." Xenophilius gave a wail of fear and despair. There were scurryings and scrapings. Xenophilius was trying to get through the debris on the stairs.
"Come on," Harry whispered, "we've got to get out of here." He started to dig himself out under cover of all the noise Xenophilius was making on the staircase. Ron was buried the deepest. Harry and Hermione climbed, as quietly as they could, over all the wreckage to where he lay, trying to prise a heavy chest of drawers off his legs. While Xenophilius banging and scraping drew nearer and nearer, Hermione managed to free Ron with the use of a Hover Charm. "All right." breathed Hermione, as the broken printing press blocking the top of the stairs begin to tremble. Xenophilius was feet away from them. She was still white with dust. "Do you trust me Harry?" Harry nodded. "Okay then." Hermione whispered. "give me the invisibility Cloak. Ron, you're going to put it on." "Me? But Harry --" "Please, Ron! Harry, hold on tight to my hand, Ron grab my shoulder." Harry held out his left hand. Ron vanished beneath the Cloak. The printing press blocking the stairs was vibrating. Xenophilius was trying to shift it using a Hover Charm. Harry did not know what Hermione was waiting for. "Hold tight" she whispered. "Hold tight...any second..." Xenophilius's paper-white face appeared over the top of the sideboard. "Obliviate!" cried Hermione, pointing her want first into his face then at the floor beneath them. "Deprimo!" She had blasted a hole in the sitting room floor. They fell like boulders. Harry still holding onto her hand for dear life, there was a scream from below, and he glimpsed two men trying to get out of the way as vast quantities of rubble and broken furniture rained all around them from the shattered ceiling. Hermione twisted in midair and thundering of the collapsing house rang in Harry's ears as she dragged him once more into darkness.
Chapter Twenty-Two
The Deathly Hallows
Harry fell, panting, onto grass and scrambled up at once. They seemed to have landed in the corner of a field at dusk; Hermione was already running in a circle around them, waving her wand.
“Protego Totalum…Salvio Hexia…”
“That treacherous old bleeder.” Ron panted, emerging from beneath the Invisibility Cloak and throwing it to Harry. “Hermione you’re a genius, a total genius. I can’t believe we got out of that.”
“Cave Inimicum…Didn’t I say it was an Frumpent horn, didn’t I tell him? And now his house has been blown apart!”
“Serves him right,” said Ron, examining his torn jeans and the cuts to his legs, “What’d you reckon they’ll do to him?”
“Oh I hope they don’t kill him!” groaned Hermione, “That’s why I wanted the Death Eaters to get a glimpse of Harry before we left, so they knew Xenophilius hadn’t been lying!”
“Why hide me though?” asked Ron.
“You’re supposed to be in bed with spattergrolt, Ron! They’ve kidnapped Luna because her father supported Harry! What would happen to your family if they knew you’re with him?”
“But what about your mum and dad?”
“They’re in Australia,” said Hermione, “They should be all right. They don’t know anything.”
“You’re a genius,” Ron repeated, looking awed.
Yeah, you are, Hermione,” agreed Harry fervently. “I don’t know what we’d do without you.”
She beamed, but became solemn at once.
“What about Luna?”
“Well, if they’re telling the truth and she’s still Alive ---“ began Ron.
“Don’t say that, don’t say it!” squealed Hermione. “She must be alive, she must!”
“Then she’ll be in Azkaban, I expect,” said Ron. “Whether she survives the place, though…Loads don’t…”
“She will,” said Harry. He could not bear to contemplate the alternative. “She’s tough, Luna, much tougher than you’d think. She’s probably teaching all the inmates about Wrackspurts and Nargles.”
“I hope you’re right,” said Hermione. She passed a hand over her eyes. “I’d feel so sorry for Xenophilius if ---“
“---if he hadn’t just tried to sell us to the Death Eaters, yeah,” said Ron.
They put up the tent and retreated inside it, where Ron made them tea. After their narrow escape, the chilly, musty old place felt like home: safe, familiar, and friendly.
“Oh, why did we go there?” groaned Hermione after a few minutes’ silence. “Harry, you were right, it was Godric’s Hollow all over again, a complete waste of time! The Deathly Hallows…such rubbish…although actually,” a sudden thought seemed to have struck her, “he might have made it all up, mightn’t he? He probably doesn’t believe in the Deathly Hallows at all, he just wanted to keep us talking until the Death Eaters arrived!”
“I don’t think so,” said Ron. “It’s a damn sight harder making stuff up when you’re under stress than you’d think. I found that out when the Snatchers caught me. It was much easier pretending to be Stan, because I knew a bit about him, than inventing a whole new person. Old Lovegood was under loads of pressure, trying to make sure we stayed put. I reckon he told us the truth, or what he thinks is the truth, just to keep us talking.”
“Well, I don’t suppose it matters,” sighed Hermione. “Even if he was being honest, I never heard such a lot of nonsense in all my life.”
“Hang on, though,” said Ron. “The Chamber of Secrets was supposed to be a myth, wasn’t it?”
“But the Deathly Hallows can’t exist, Ron!”
“You keep saying that, but one of them can,” said Ron. “Harry’s Invisibility Cloak ---“
“The Tale of the Three Brothers’ is a story,” said Hermione firmly. “A story about how humans are frightened of death. If surviving was as simple as hiding under the Invisibility Cloak, we’d have everything we need already!”
“I don’t know. We could do with an unbeatable wand,” said Harry, turning the blackthorn wand he so disliked over in his fingers.
“There’s no such thing, Harry!”
“You said there have been loads of wands --- the Deathstick and whatever they were called ---“
“All right, even if you want to kid yourself the Elder Wand’s real, what about the Resurrection Stone?” Her fingers sketched quotation marks around the name, and her tone dripped sarcasm. “No magic can raise the dead, and that’s that!”
“When my wand connected with You-Know-Who’s, it made my mum and dad appear…and Cedric…”
“But they weren’t really back from the dead, were they?” said Hermione. “Those kind of ---of pale imitations aren’t the same as truly bringing someone back to life.”
“But she, the girl in the tale, didn’t really come back, did she? The story says that once people are dead, they belong with the dead. But the second brother still got to see her and talk to her, didn’t he? He even lived with her for a while…”
He saw concern and something less easily definable in Hermione’s expression. Then, as she glanced at Ron, Harry realized that it was fear: He had scared her with his talk of living with dead people.
“So that Peverell bloke who’s buried in Godric’s Hollow,” he said hastily, trying to sound robustly sane, “you don’t know anything about him, then?”
“No,” she replied, looking relieved at the change of subject. “I looked him up after I saw the mark on his grave; if he’d been anyone famous or done anything important, I’m sure he’d be in one of our books. The only place I’ve managed to find the name ‘Peverell’ Is Nature’s Nobility: A Wizarding Genealogy. I borrowed it from Kreacher,” she explained as Ron raised his eyebrows. “It lists the pure-blood families that are now extinct in the male line. Apparently the Peverells were one of the earliest families to vanish.”
“Extinct in the male line?” repeated Ron.
“It means the name died out,” said Hermione, “centuries ago, in the case of the Peverells. They could still have descendents, though, they’d just be called something different.”
And then it came to Harry in one shining piece, the memory that had stirred at the sound of the name “Peverell”: a filthy old man brandishing an ugly ring in the face of a Ministry official, and he cried aloud, “Marvolo Gaunt!”
“Sorry said Ron and Hermione together.
“Marvolo Gaunt! You-Know-Who’s grandfather! In the Pensieve! With Dumbledore! Marvolo Gaunt said he was descended from the Peverells!”
Ron and Hermione looked bewildered.
“The ring, the ring that became the Horcrux, Marvolo Gaunt said it had the Peverell coat of arms on it! I saw him waving it in the bloke from the Ministry’s face, he nearly shoved it up his nose!”
“The Peverell coat of arms?” said Hermione sharply. “Could you see what it looked like?”
“Not really,” said Harry, trying to remember. “There was nothing fancy on there, as far as I could see; maybe a few scratches. I only ever saw it really close up after it had been cracked open.”
Harry saw Hermione’s comprehension in the sudden widening of her eyes. Ron was looking from one to the other, astonished.
“Blimey…You reckon it was this sign again? The sign of the Hallows?
“Why not said Harry excitedly, “Marvolo Gaunt was an ignorant old git who lived like a pig, all he cared about was his ancestry. If that ring had been passed down through the centuries, he might not have known what it really was. There were no books in that house, and trust me, he wasn’t the type to read fairy tales to his kids. He’d have loved to think the scratches on the stone were a coat of arms, because as far as he was concerned, having pure blood made you practically royal.”
“Yes…and that’s all very interesting,” said Hermione cautiously, “but Harry, if you’re thinking what I think you’re think ---“
“Well, why not? Why not? said Harry, abandoning caution. “It was a stone, wasn’t it?” He looked at Ron for support. “What if it was the Resurrection Stone?”
Ron’s mouth fell open.
“Blimey --- but would it still work if Dumbledore broke --- ?”
“Work? Work? Ron, it never worked! There’s no such thing as a Resurrection Stone!”
Hermione leapt to her feet, looking exasperated and angry. Harry you’re trying to fit everything into the Hallows story ---“
“Fit everything in?” he repeated. “Hermione, it fits of its own accord! I know the sign of the Deathly Hallows was on that stone! Gaunt said he was descended from the Peverells!”
“A minute ago you told us you never saw the mark on the stone properly!”
“Where’d you reckon the ring is now?” Ron asked Harry. “What did Dumbledore do with it after he broke it open?”
“But Harry’s imagination was racing ahead, far beyond Ron and Hermione’s…
Three objects, or Hallows, which, if united, will make the possessor master of Death…Master…Conqueror…Vanquisher…The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death…
And he saw himself, possessor of the Hallows, facing Voldemort, whose Horcruxes were no match…Neither can live while the other survives…Was this the answer? Hallows versus Horcruxes? Was there a way after all, to ensure that he was the one who triumphed? If he were the master of the Deathly Hallows, would he be safe?
But he scarcely heard Hermione: He had pulled out his Invisibility Cloak and was running it through his fingers, the cloth supple as water, light as air. He had never seen anything to equal it in his nearly seven years in the Wizarding world. The Cloak was exactly what Xenophilius had described: A cloak that really and truly renders the wearer completely invisible, and endures eternally, giving constant and impenetrable concealment, no matter what spells are cast at it…
And then, with a gasp, he remembered—
“Dumbledore had my Cloak the night my parents died!”
His voice shook and he could feel the color in his face, but he did not care.
“My mum told Sirius that Dumbledore borrowed the Cloak! This is why! He wanted to examine it, because he thought it was the third Hallow! Ignotus Peverell is buried in Godric’s Hollow…” Harry was walking blindly around the tent, feeling as
though great new vistas of truth were opening all around him. “He’s my ancestor. I’m descended from the third brother! It all makes sense!”
“He felt armed in certainty, in his belief in the Hallows, as if the mere idea of possessing them was giving him protection, and he felt joyous as he turned back to the other two.
“Harry,” said Hermione again, but he was busy undoing the pouch around his neck, his fingers shaking hard.
“Read it,” he told her, pushing his mother’s letter into her hand. “Read it! Dumbledore had the Cloak, Hermione! Why else would he want it? He didn’t need a Cloak, he could perform a Disillusionment Charm so powerful that he made himself completely invisible without one!”
Something fell to the floor and rolled, glittering, under a chair: He had dislodged the Snitch when he pulled out the letter. He stooped to pick it up, and then the newly tapped spring of fabulous discoveries threw him another gift, and shock and wonder erupted inside him so that he shouted out.
“IT’S IN HERE! He left me the ring – it’s in the Snitch!”
“You --- you reckon?”
He could not understand why Ron looked taken aback. It was so obvious, so clear to Harry. Everything fit, everything…His Cloak was the third Hallow, and when he discovered how to open the Snitch he would have the second, and then all he needed to do was find the first Hallow, the Elder Wand, and then ---
But it was as though a curtain fell on a lit stage: All his excitement, all his hope and happiness were extinguished at a stroke, and he stood alone in the darkness, and the glorious spell was broken.
“That’s what he’s after.”
The change in his voice made Ron and Hermione look even more scared.
“You-Know-Who’s after the Elder Wand.”
He turned his back on their strained, incredulous faces. He knew it was the truth. It all made sense, Voldemort was not seeking a new wand; he was seeking an old wand, a very old wand indeed. Harry walked to the entrance of the tent, forgetting about Ron and Hermione as he looked out into the night, thinking…
Voldemort had been raised in a Muggle orphanage. Nobody could have told him The Tales of Beedle the Bard when he was a child, any more than Harry had heard them. Hardly any wizards believed in the Deathly Hallows. Was it likely that Voldemort knew about them?
Harry gazed into the darkness…If Voldemort had known about the Deathly Hallows, surely he would have sought them, done anything to possess them: three objects that made the possessor master of Death? If he had known about the Deathly Hallows, he might not have needed Horcruxes in the first place. Didn’t the simple fact that he had taken a Hallow, and turned it into a Horcrux, demonstrate that he did not know this last great Wizarding secret?
Which meant that Voldemort sought the Elder Wand without realizing its full power, without understanding that it was one of three…for the wand was the Hallow that could not be hidden, whose existence was best known…The bloody trail of the Elder Wand is splattered across the pages of Wizarding history…
Harry watched the cloudy sky, curves of smoke-gray and silver sliding over the face of the white moon. He felt lightheaded with amazement at his discoveries.
He turned back into the tent. It was a shock to see Ron and Hermione standing exactly where he had left them, Hermione still holding Lily’s letter, Ron at her side looking slightly anxious. Didn’t they realize how far they had traveled in the last few minutes?
“This is it?” Harry said, trying to bring them inside the glow of his own astonished certainty, “This explains everything. The Deathly Hallows are real and I’ve got one --- maybe two ---“
He held up the Snitch.
“--- and You-Know-Who’s chasing the third, but he doesn’t realize…he just thinks it’s a powerful wand ---“
“Harry,” said Hermione, moving across to him and handing him back Lily’s letter, “I’m sorry, but I think you’ve got this wrong, all wrong.”
“But don’t you see? It all fits ---“
“Not, it doesn’t,” she said. “It doesn’t. Harry, you’re just getting carried away. Please,” she said as she started to speak, “please just answer me this: If the Deathly Hallows really existed, and Dumbledore knew about them, knew that the person who possessed all of them would be master of Death --- Harry, why wouldn’t he have told you? Why?”
He had his answer ready.
“But you said it, Hermione! You’ve got to find out about them for yourself! It’s a Quest!”
“But I only said that to try and persuade you to come to the Lovegoods’!” cried Hermione in exasperation. “I didn’t really believe it!”
Harry took no notice.
“Dumbledore usually let me find out stuff for myself. He let me try my strength, take risks. This feels like the kind of thing he’d do.”
“Harry, this isn’t a game, this isn’t practice! This is the real thing, and Dumbledore left you very clear instructions: Find and destroy the Horcruxes! That symbol doesn’t mean anything, forget the Deathly Hallows, we can’t afford to get sidetracked ---“
Harry was barely listening to her. He was turning the Snitch over and over in his hands, half expecting it to break open, to reveal the Resurrection Stone, to prove to Hermione that he was right, that the Deathly Hallows were real.
She appealed to Ron.
“You don’t believe in this, do you?”
Harry looked up, Ron hesitated.
“I dunno…I mean…bits of it sort of fit together,” said Ron awkwardly, “But when you look at the whole thing…” He took a deep breath. “I think we’re supposed to get rid of Horcruxes, Harry. That’s what Dumbledore told us to do. Maybe…maybe we should forget about this Hallows business.”
“Thank you, Ron,” said Hermione. “I’ll take first watch.”
And she strode past Harry and sat down in the tent entrance bringing the action to a fierce full stop.
But Harry hardly slept that night. The idea of the Deathly Hallows had taken possession of him, and he could not rest while agitating thoughts whirled through his mind: the wand, the stone, and the Cloak, if he could just possess them all…
I open at the close…But what was the close? Why couldn’t he have the stone now? If only he had the stone, he could ask Dumbledore these questions in person…and Harry murmured words to the Snitch in the darkness, trying everything, even Parseltongue, but the golden ball would not open…
And the wand, the Elder Wand, where was that hidden? Where was Voldemort searching now? Harry wished his scar would burn and show him Voldemort’s thoughts, because for the first time ever, he and Voldemort were united in wanting the very same thing…Hermione would not like that idea, of course…But then, she did not believe….Xenophilius had been right, in a way…Limited, Narrow, Close-minded. The truth was that she was scared of the idea of the Deathly Hallows, especially of the Resurrection Stone…and Harry pressed his mouth again to the Snitch, kissing it, nearly swallowing it, but the cold medal did not yield…
It was nearly dawn when he remembered Luna, alone in a cell in Azkaban, surrounded by dementors, and he suddenly felt ashamed of himself. He had forgotten all about her in his feverish contemplation of the Hallows. If only they could rescue her, but dementors in those numbers would be virtually unassailable. Now he came to think about it, he had not tried casting a Patronus with the blackthorn wand…He must try that in the morning…
If only there was a way of getting a better wand…
And desire for the Elder Wand, the Deathstick, unbeatable, invincible, swallowed him once more…
They packed up the tent next morning and moved on through a dreary shower of rain. The downpour pursued them to the coast, where they pitched the tent that night, and persisted through the whole week, through sodden landscapes that Harry found bleak and depressing. He could think only of the Deathly Hallows. It was as though a flame had been lit inside him that nothing, not Hermione’s flat disbelief nor Ron’s persistent doubts, could extinguish. And yet the fiercer the longing for the Hallows burned inside him, the less joyful it made him. He blamed Ron and Hermione: Their determined indifference was as bad as the relentless rain for dampening his spirits, but neither could erode his certainty, which remained absolute. Harry’s belief in and longing for the Hallows consumed him so much that he felt isolated from the other two and their obsession with the Horcruxes.
“Obsession?” said Hermione in a low fierce voice, when Harry was careless enough to use the word one evening, after Hermione had told him off for his lack of interest in locating more Horcruxes. “We’re not the one with an obsession, Harry! We’re the ones trying to do what Dumbledore wanted us to do!”
But he was impervious to the veiled criticism. Dumbledore had left the sign of the Hallows for Hermione to decipher, and he had also, Harry remained convinced of it, left the Resurrection Stone hidden in the golden Snitch. Neither can live while the other survives…master of Death…Why didn’t Ron and Hermione understand?
“’The last enemy shall be destroyed is death,’” Harry quoted calmly.
“I thought it was You-Know-Who we were supposed to be fighting?” Hermione retorted, and Harry gave up on her.
Even the mystery of the silver doe, which the other two insisted on discussing, seemed less important to Harry now, a vaguely interesting sideshow. The only other thing that mattered to him was that his scar had begun to prickle again, although he did all he could to hide this fact from the other two. He sought solitude whenever it happened, but was disappointed by what he saw. The visions he and Voldemort were sharing had changed in quality; they had become blurred, shifting as though they were moving in and out of focus. Harry was just able to make out the indistinct features of an object that looked like a skull, and something like a mountain that was more shadow than substance. Used to images sharp as reality, Harry was disconcerted by the change. He was worried that the connection between himself and Voldemort had been damaged, a connection that he both feared and, whatever he had told Hermione, prized. Somehow Harry connected these unsatisfying, vague images with the destruction of his wand, as if it was the blackthorn wand’s fault that he could no longer see into Voldemort’s mind as well as before.
As the weeks crept on, Harry could not help but notice, even through his new self-absorption, that Ron seemed to be taking charge. Perhaps because he was determined to make up for having walked out on them, perhaps because Harry’s descent into listlessness galvanized his dormant leadership qualities, Ron was the one now encouraging and exhorting the other two into action.
“Three Horcruxes left,” he kept saying. “We need a plan of action, come on! Where haven’t we looked? Let’s go through it again. The orphanage…”
Diagon Alley, Hogwarts, the Riddle House, Borgin and Burkes, Albania, every place that they knew Tom Riddle had ever lived or worked, visited or murdered, Ron and Hermione raked over them again, Harry joining in only to stop Hermione pestering him. He would have been happy to sit alone in silence, trying to read Voldemort’s thoughts, to find out more about the Elder Wand, but Ron insisted on journeying to ever more unlikely places simply, Harry was aware, to keep them moving.
“You never know,” was Ron’s constant refrain. “Upper Flagley is a Wizarding village, he might’ve wanted to live there. Let’s go and have a poke around.”
These frequent forays into Wizarding territory brought them within occasional sight of Snatchers.
“Some of them are supposed to be as bad as Death Eaters,” said Ron. “The lot that got me were a bit pathetic, but Bill recons some of them are really dangerous. They said on Potterwatch ---“
“On what?” said Harry.
“Potterwatch, didn’t I tell you that’s what it was called? The program I keep trying to get on the radio, the only one that tells the truth about what’s going on! Nearly all of the programs are following You-Know-Who’s line, all except Potterwatch, I really want you to hear it, but it’s tricky tuning in…”
Ron spent evening after evening using his wand to beat out various rhythms on top of the wireless while the dials whirled. Occasionally they would catch snatches of advice on how to treat dragonpox, and once a few bars of “A Cauldron Full of Hot, Strong Love.” While he taped, Ron continued to try to hit on the correct password, muttering strings of random words under his breath.
“They’re normally something to do with the Order,” he told them. “Bill had a real knack for guessing them. I’m bound to get one in the end…”
“But not until March did luck favor Ron at last. Harry was sitting in the tent entrance, on guard duty, staring idly at a clump of grape hyacinths that had forced their way through the chilly ground, when Ron shouted excitedly from inside the tent.
“I’ve got it, I’ve got it! Password was ‘Albus’! Get in here, Harry.”
Roused for the first time in days from his contemplation of the Deathly Hallows, Harry hurried back inside the tent to find Ron and Hermione kneeling on the floor beside the little radio. Hermione, who had been polishing the sword of Gryffindor just for something to do, was sitting open-mouthed, staring at the tiny speaker, from which a most familiar voice was issuing.
“…apologize for our temporary absence from the airwaves, which was due to a number of house calls in our area by those charming Death Eaters.”
“But that’s Lee Jordan!” said Hermione.
“I know!” beamed Ron. “Cool, eh?”
“…now found ourselves another secure location,” Lee was saying, and I’m pleased to tell you that two of our regular contributors have joined me here this evening. Evening, boys!”
“Evening, River.”
“’River’” that’s Lee,” Ron explained. “They’ve all got code names, but you can usually tell ---“
“Shh!” said Hermione.
“But before we hear from Royal and Romulus,” Lee went on, “let’s take a moment to report those deaths that the Wizarding Wireless Network News and Daily Prophet don’t think important enough to mention. It is with great regret that we inform our listeners of the murders of Ted Tonks and Dirk Cresswell.”
Harry felt a sick, swooping in his belly. He, Ron, and Hermione gazed at one another in horror.
“A goblin by the name of Gornuk was also killed. It is believed that Muggle-born Dean Thomas and a second goblin, both believed to have been traveling with Tonks, Cresswell, and Gornuk, may have escaped. If Dean is listening, or if anyone has any knowledge of his whereabouts, his parents and sisters are desperate for news.
“Meanwhile, in Gaddley, a Muggle family of five has been found dead in their home. Muggle authorities are attributing their deaths to a gas leak, but members of the Order of the Phoenix inform me that it was the Killing Curse --- more evidence, as if it were needed, of the fact that Muggle slaughter is becoming little more than a recreational sport under the new regime.
“Finally, we regret to inform our listeners that the remains of Bathilda Bagshot have been discovered in Godric’s Hollow. The evidence is that she died several months ago. The Order of the Phoenix informs us that her body showed unmistakable signs of injuries inflicted by Dark Magic.
“Listeners, I’d like to invite you now to join us in a minute’s silence in memory of Ted Tonks, Dirk Cresswell, Bathilda Bagshot, Gornuk, and the unnamed, but no less regretted, Muggles murdered by the Death Eaters.”
Silence fell, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione did not speak. Half of Harry yearned to hear more, half of him was afraid of what might come next. It was the first time he had felt fully connected to the outside world for a long time.
“Thank you,” said Lee’s voice. “And now we can return to regular contributor Royal, for an update on how the new Wizarding order is affecting the Muggle world.”
“Thanks, River,” said an unmistakable voice, deep, measured, reassuring.
“Kingsley!” burst out Ron.
“We know!” said Hermione, hushing him.
“Muggles remain ignorant of the source of their suffering as they continue to sustain heavy casualties,” said Kingsley. “However, we continue to hear truly inspirational stories of wizards and witches risking their own safety to protect Muggle friends and neighbors, often without the Muggles’ knowledge. I’d like to appeal to all our listeners to emulate their example, perhaps by casting a protective charm over any Muggle dwellings in your street. Many lives could be saved if such simple measures are taken.”
“And what would you say, Royal, to those listeners who reply that in these dangerous times, it should be ‘Wizards first’? asked Lee.
“I’d say that it’s one short step from ‘Wizards first’ to ‘Purebloods first,’ and then to ‘Death Eaters,’” replied Kingsley. “We’re all human, aren’t we? Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving.”
“Excellently put, Royal, and you’ve got my vote for Minister of Magic if we ever get out of this mess,” said Lee. “And now, over to Romulus for our popular feature ‘Pals of Potter.’”
“Thanks, River,” said another very familiar voice. Ron started to speak, but Hermione forestalled him in a whisper.
“We know it’s Lupin!”
“Romulus, do you maintain, as you have every time you’ve appeared on our program, that Harry Potter is still alive?”
“I do,” said Lupin firmly. “There is no doubt at all in my mind that his death would be proclaimed as widely as possible by the Death Eaters if it had happened, because it would strike a deadly blow at the morale of those resisting the new regime. ‘The Boy Who Lived’ remains a symbol of everything for which we are fighting: the triumph of good, the power of innocence, the need to keep resisting.”
A mixture of gratitude and shame welled up in Harry. Had Lupin forgiven him, then, for the terrible things he had said when they had last met?
“And what would you say to Harry if you knew he was listening, Romulus?”
“I’d tell him we’re all with him in spirit,” said Lupin, then hesitated slightly, “And I’d tell him to follow his instincts, which are good and nearly always right.”
Harry looked at Hermione, whose eyes were full of tears.
“Nearly always right,” she repeated.
“Oh, didn’t I tell you?” said Ron in surprise. “Bill told me Lupin’s living with Tonks again! And apparently she’s getting pretty big too…”
“…and our usual update on those friends of Harry Potter’s who are suffering for their allegiance?” Lee was saying.
“Well, as regular listeners will know, several of the more outspoken supporters of Harry Potter have now been imprisoned, including Xenophilius Lovegood, erstwhile editor of The Quibbler,” said Lupin.
“At least he’s still alive!” muttered Ron.
“We have also heard within the last few hours that Rubeus Hagrid” – all three of them gasped, and so nearly missed the rest of the sentence -- “well-known gamekeeper at Hogwarts School, has narrowly escaped arrest within the grounds of Hogwarts, where he is rumored to have hosted a ‘Support Harry Potter’ party in his house. However, Hagrid was not taken into custody, and is, we believe, on the run.”
“I suppose it helps, when escaping from Death Eaters, if you’ve got a sixteen-foot-high half brother?” asked Lee.
“It would tend to give you an edge,” agreed Lupin gravely. “May I just add that while we here at Potterwatch applaud Hagrid’s spirit, we would urge even the most devoted of Harry’s supporters against following Hagrid’s lead. ‘Support Harry Potter’ parties are unwise in the present climate.”
“Indeed they are, Romulus,” said Lee, “so we suggest that you continue to show your devotion to the man with the lightning scar by listening to Potterwatch! And now let’s move to news concerning the wizard who is proving just as elusive as Harry Potter. We like to refer to him as the Chief Death Eater, and here to give his views on some of the more insane rumors circulating about him, I’d like to introduce a new correspondent. Rodent?”
“’Rodent’?” said yet another familiar voice, and Harry, Ron, and Hermione cried out together:
“No – is it George?”
“It’s Fred, I think,” said Ron, leaning in closer, as whichever twin it was said,
“I’m not being ‘Rodent,’ no way, I told you I wanted to be ‘Rapier’!”
“Oh, all right then, ‘Rapier,’ could you please give us your take on the various stories we’ve been hearing about the Chief Death Eater?”
“Yes, River, I can,” said Fred. “As our listeners will know, unless they’ve taken refuge at the bottom of a garden pond or somewhere similar, You-Know-Who’s strategy of remaining in the shadows is creating a nice little climate of panic. Mind you, if all the alleged sightings of him are genuine, we must have a good nineteen You-Know-Whos running around the place.”
“Which suits him, of course,” said Kingsley. “The air of mystery is creating more terror than actually showing himself.”
“Agreed,” said Fred. “So, people, let’s try and calm down a bit. Things are bad enough without inventing stuff as well. For instance, this new idea that You-Know-Who can kill people with a single glance from his eyes. That’s a basilisk, listeners. One simple test: Check whether the thing that’s glaring at you has got legs. If it has, it’s safe to look into its eyes, although if it really is You-Know-Who, that’s still likely to be the last thing you ever do.”
For the first time in weeks and weeks, Harry was laughing: He could feel the weight of tension leaving him.
“And the rumors that he keeps being sighted abroad?” asked Lee.
“Well, who wouldn’t want a nice little holiday after all the hard work he’s been putting in?” asked Fred. “Point is, people, don’t get lulled into a false sense of security, thinking he’s out of the country. Maybe he is, maybe he isn’t, but the fact remains he can move faster than Severus Snape confronted with shampoo when he wants to, so don’t
count on him being a long way away if you’re planning to take any risks. I never thought I’d hear myself say it, but safety first!”
“Thank you very much for those wise words, Rapier,” said Lee. ”Listeners, that brings us to the end of another Potterwatch. We don’t know when it will be possible to broadcast again, but you can be sure we shall be back. Keep twiddling those dials: The next password will be ‘Mad-Eye.’ Keep each other safe: Keep faith. Good night.”
The radio’s dial twirled and the lights behind the tuning panel went out. Harry, Ron, and Hermione were still beaming. Hearing familiar, friendly voices was an extraordinary tonic; Harry had become so used to their isolation he had nearly forgotten that other people were resisting Voldemort. It was like waking from a long sleep.
“Good, eh?” said Ron happily.
“Brilliant,” said Harry.
“It’s so brave of them,” sighed Hermione admiringly. “If they were found …”
“Well, they keep on the move, don’t they?” said Ron. “Like us.”
“But did you hear what Fred said?” asked Harry excitedly; now the broadcast was over, his thoughts turned around toward his all consuming obsession. “He’s abroad! He’s still looking for the Wand, I knew it!”
“Come on, Hermione, why are you so determined not to admit it? Vol –“
“—demort’s after the Elder Wand!”
“The name’s Taboo!” Ron bellowed, leaping to his feet as a loud crack sounded outside the tent. “I told you, Harry, I told you, we can’t say it anymore – we’ve got to put the protection back around us – quickly – it’s how they find –“
But Ron stopped talking, and Harry knew why. The Sneakoscope on the table had lit up and begun to spin; they could hear voices coming nearer and nearer: rough, excited voices. Ron pulled the Deluminator out of his pocket and clicked it: Their lamps went out.
“Come out of there with your hands up!” came a rasping voice through the darkness. “We know you’re in there! You’ve got half a dozen wands pointing at you and we don’t care who we curse!”
Chapter Twenty-Three
Malfoy Manor
Harry looked around at the other two, now mere outlines in the darkness. He saw Hermione point her wand, set toward the outside, but into his face; there was a bang, a burst of white light, and he buckled in agony, unable to see. He could feel his face swelling rapidly under his hands as heavy footfalls surrounded him.
"Get up, vermin."
Unknown hands dragged Harry roughly off the ground, before he could stop them, someone had rummaged through his pockets and removed the blackthorn wand. Harry clutched at his excruciatingly painful face, which felt unrecognizable beneath his fingers, tight, swollen, and puffy as though he had suffered some violent allergic reaction. His
eyes had been reduced to slits through which he could barely see; his glasses fell off as he was bundled out of the tent: all he could make out were the blurred shapes of four or five people wrestling Ron and Hermione outside too.
"Get -- off - her!" Ron shouted. There was the unmistakable sound of knuckles hitting flesh: Ron grunted in pain and Hermione screamed, "No! Leave him alone, leave him alone!"
"Your boyfriend's going to have worse than that done to him if he's on my list," said the horribly familiar, rasping voice. "Delicious girl... what a treat . . . I do enjoy the softness of the skin. . . ."
Harry's stomach turned over. He knew who this was, Fenrit Greyback, the werewolf who was permitted to wear Death Eater robes in return for his hired savagery.
"Search the tent!" said another voice.
Harry was thrown face down onto the ground. A thud told him that Ron had been cast down beside him. They could hear footsteps and crashes; the men were pushing over chairs inside the tent as they searched.
"Now, let's see who we've got," said Greyback's gloating voice from overhead, and Harry was rolled over onto his back. A beam of wand light fell onto his face and Greyback laughed.
"I'll be needing butterbeer to wash this one down. What happened to you, ugly?"
Harry did not answer immediately.
"I said," repeated Greyback, and Harry received a blow to the diaphragm that made him double over in pain. "what happened to you?"
"Stung." Harry muttered. "Been Stung."
"Yeah, looks like it." said a second voice.
"What’s your name?" snarled Greyback.
"Dudley." said Harry.
"And your first name?"
"I -- Vernon. Vernon Dudley."
"Check the list, Scabior." said Greyback, and Harry head him move sideways to look down at Ron, instead. "And what about you, ginger?"
"Stan Shunpike." said Ron.
"Like 'ell you are." said the man called Scabior. "We know Stan Shunpike, 'e's put a bit of work our way."
There was another thud.
"I'b Bardy," said Ron, and Harry could tell that his mouth was full of blood. "Bardy Weasley."
"A Weasley?" rasped Greyback. "So you're related to blood traitors even if you're not a Mudblood. And lastly, your pretty little friend . . ." The relish in his voice made Harry's flesh crawl.
"Easy, Greyback." said Scabior over the jeering of the others.
"Oh, I'm not going to bite just yet. We'll see if she’s a bit quicker at remembering her name than Barny. Who are you, girly?
"Penelope Clearwater." said Hermione. She sounded terrified, but convincing.
"What's your blood status?"
"Half-Blood." said Hermione.
"Easy enough to check," said Scabior. "But the 'ole lot of 'em look like they could still be 'ogwarts age -"
"We'b lebt," said Ron.
"Left, 'ave you, ginger?" said Scabior. "And you decided to go camping? And you thought, just for a laugh, you'd use the Dark Lords name?"
"Nod a laugh," said Ron. "Aggiden."
"Accident?" There was more jeering laughter.
"You know who used to like using the Dark Lord's name, Weasley?" growled Greyback, "The Order of the Phoenix. Mean anything to you?"
"Well, they don't show the Dark Lord proper respect, so the name's been Tabooed. A few Order members have been tracked that way. We'll see. Bind them up with the other two prisoners!"
Someone yanked Harry up by the hair, dragged him a short way, pushed him down into a sitting position, then started binding him back-to-back with other people. Harry was still half blind, barely able to see anything through his puffed-up eyes. When at last the man tying then had walked away, Harry whispered to the other prisoners.
"Anyone still got a wand?"
"No." Said Ron and Hermione from either side of him.
"This is all my fault. I said the name. I'm sorry -"
It was a new, but familiar voice. and it came from directly behind Harry, from the person tied to Hermione's left.
"It is you! If they find out who they've got -! They're Snatchers, they're only looking for truants to sell for gold -"
"Not a bad little haul for one night." Greyback was saying, as a pair of hobnailed boots marched close by Harry and they heard more crashes from inside the tent. "A Mudblood, a runaway goblin, and these truants. You checked their names on the list yet, Scabior?" he roared.
"Yeah. There's no Vernon Dudley un 'ere, Greyback."
"Interesting," said Greyback. "That's interesting."
He crouched down beside Harry, who saw, through the infinitesimal gap left between his swollen eyelids, a face covered in matted gray hair and whiskers, with pointed brown teeth and sores in the corners of his mouth. Greyback smelled as he had done at the top of the tower where Dumbledore had died: of dirt, sweat, and blood.
"So you aren't wanted, then, Vernon? Or are you on that list under a different name? What house were you in at Hogwarts?"
"Slytherin," said Harry automatically.
"Funny 'ow they all thinks we wants to 'ear that." leered Scabior out of the shadows. "But none of 'em can tell us where the common room is."
"It's in the dungeons." said Harry clearly. "You enter through the wall. It's full of skulls and stuff and its under the lake, so the light's all green,"
There was a short pause.
"Well, well, looks like we really 'ave caught a little Slytherin." said Scabior. "Good for you, Vernon, 'cause there ain't a lot of Mudblood Slytherins. Who's your father?"
"He works at the Ministry," Harry lied. He knew that his whole story would collapse with the smallest investigation, but on the other hand, he only had until his face regained its usual appearance before the game was up in any case. "Department of Magical Accidents and Catastrophes."
"You know what, Greyback," said Scabior. "I think there is a Dudley in there."
Harry could barely breathe: Could luck, sheer luck, get them safely out of this?
"Well, well." said Greyback, and Harry could hear the tiniest note of trepidation in that callous voice, and knew that Greyback was wondering whether he had just indeed just attacked and bound the son of a Ministry Official. Harry's heart was pounding against the ropes around his ribs; he would not have been surprised to know that Greyback could see it. "If you're telling the truth, ugly, you've got nothing to fear from a trip to the Ministry. I expect your father'll reward us just for picking you up."
"But," said Harry, his mouth bone dry, "if you just let us -"
"Hey!" came a shout from inside the tent. "Look at this. Greyback!"
A dark figure came bustling toward them, and Harry saw a glint of silver to the light of their wands. They had found Gryffindor's sword.
"Ve-e-ery nice," said Greyback appreciatively, taking it from his companion. "Oh, very nice indeed. Looks goblin-made, that. Where did you get something like this?"
"It's my father's," Harry lied, hoping against hope that it was too dark for Greyback to see the name etched just below the hilt. "We borrowed it to cut firewood -"
"'ang on a minute, Greyback! Look at this, in the Prophet!"
As Scabior said it, Harry's scar, which was stretched tight across his distended forehead, burned savagely. More clearly than he could make out anything around him, he saw a towering building, a grim fortress, jet-black and forbidding: Voldemort's thoughts had suddenly become Razor-Sharp again; he was gliding toward the gigantic building with a sense of calmly euphoric purpose . . .
So close . . . So close . . .
With a huge effort of will Harry closed his mind to Voldemort's thoughts, pulling himself back to where he sat, tied to Ron, Hermione, Dean, and Griphook in the darkness, listening to Greyback and Scabior.
"'Hermione Granger," Scabior was saying, "the Mudblood who is known to be traveling with 'arry Potter."
Harry's scar burned in the silence, but he made a supreme effort to keep himself present, nor to slip into Voldemort's mind. He heard the creak of Greyback's boots as he crouched down, in front of Hermione.
"you know what, little girly? This picture looks a hell of a lot like you."
"It isn't! It isn't me!"
Hermione's terrified squeak was as good as a confession.
"... known to be traveling with Harry Potter," repeated Greyback quietly.
A stillness had settled over the scene. Harry's scar was Exquisitely painful, but he struggled with all his strength against the pull of Voldemort's thoughts. It had never been so important to remain in his own right mind.
"Well, this changed things, doesn't it?" whispered Greyback. Nobody spoke: Harry sensed the gang of Snatchers watching, frozen, and felt Hermione's arm trembling against his. Greyback got up and took a couple of steps to where Harry sat, crouching down again to stare closely at his misshapen features.
"What's that on your forehead, Vernon?" he asked softly, his breath foul in Harry's nostrils as he pressed a filthy finger to the taught scar.
"Don't touch it! Harry yelled; he could not stop himself, he thought he might be sick from the pain of it.
"I thought you wore glasses, Potter?" breathed Greyback.
"I found glasses!" yelped one of the Snatchers skulking in the background. "There was glasses in the tent, Greyback, wait -"
And seconds later Harry's glasses had been rammed back onto his face. The Snatchers were closing in now, peering at him.
"It Is!" rasped Greyback. "We've caught Potter!"
They all took several steps backward, stunned by what they had done. Harry, still fighting to remain present in his own splitting head, could think of nothing to say. Fragmented visions were breaking across the surface of his mind -
--He was hiding around the high walls of the black fortress--
No, he was Harry, tied up and wandless, in grave danger--
--looking up, up to the topmost window, the highest tower--
He was Harry, and they were discussing his fate in low voices--
--Time to fly . . .
". . . To the Ministry?"
"To hell with the Ministry." growled Greyback. "They'll take the credit, and we won't get a look in. I say we take him straight to You-Know-Who."
"Will you summon 'im? 'ere?" said Scabior, sounding awed, terrified.
"No," snarled Greyback, "I haven't got -- they say he's using the Malfoy's place as a base. We'll take the boy there."
Harry thought he knew why Greyback was not calling Voldemort. The werewolf might be allowed to wear Death Eater robes when they wanted to use him, but only Voldemort's inner circle were branded with the Dark Mark: Greyback had not been granted this highest honor.
Harry’s scar seared again –
– and he rose into the night, flying straight up to the windows at the very top of the tower –
“. . . completely sure it’s him? ‘Cause if it ain’t, Greyback, we’re dead.”
“Who’s in charge here?” roared Greyback, covering his moment of inadequacy. “I say that’s Potter, and him plus his wand, that’s two hundred thousand Galleons right there! But if you’re too gutless to come along, any of you, it’s all for me, and with any luck, I’ll get the girl thrown in!”
– The window was the merest slit in the black rock, not big enough for a man to enter. . . . A skeletal figure was just visible through it, curled beneath a blanket. . . . Dead, or sleeping . . . ?
“All right!” said Scabior. “All right, we’re in! And what about the rest of ‘em, Greyback, what’ll we do with ‘em?”
“Might as well take the lot. We’ve got two Mudbloods, that’s another ten Galleons. Give me the sword as well. If they’re rubies, that’s another small fortune right there.”
The prisoners were dragged to their feet. Harry could hear Hermione’s breathing, fast and terrified.
“Grab hold and make it tight. I’ll do Potter!” said Greyback, seizing a fistful of Harry’s hair; Harry could feel his long yellow nails scratching his scalp. “On three! One – two – three –“
They Disapparated, pulling the prisoners with them. Harry struggled, trying to throw off Greyback’s hand, but it was hopeless: Ron and Hermione were squeezed tightly against him on either side; he could not separate from the group, and as the breath was squeezed out of him his scar seared more painfully still –
– as he forced himself through the slit of a window like a snake and landed, lightly as vapor inside the cell-like room –
The prisoners lurched into one another as they landed in a country lane. Harry’s eyes, still puffy, took a moment to acclimatize, then he saw a pair of wrought-iron gates at the foot of what looked like a long drive. He experienced the tiniest trickle of relief. The worst had not happened yet: Voldemort was not here. He was, Harry knew, for he was fighting to resist the vision, in some strange, fortresslike place, at the top of a tower. How long it would take Voldemort to get to this place, once he knew that Harry was here, was another matter. . . .
One of the Snatchers strode to the gates and shook them.
“How do we get in? They’re locked, Greyback, I can’t – blimey!”
He whipped his hands away in fright. The iron was contorting, twisting itself out of the abstract furls and coils into a frightening face, which spoke in a clanging, echoing voice. “State your purpose!”
“We’ve got Potter!” Greyback roared triumphantly. “We’ve captured Harry Potter!”
The gates swung open.
“Come on!” said Greyback to his men, and the prisoners were shunted through the gates and up the drive, between high hedges that muffled their footsteps. Harry saw a ghostly white shape above him, and realized it was an albino peacock. He stumbled and was dragged onto his feet by Greyback; now he was staggering along sideways, tied back-to-back to the four other prisoner. Closing his puffy eyes, he allowed the pain in his scar to overcome him for a moment, wanting to know what Voldemort was doing, whether he knew yet that Harry was caught. . . .
The emaciated figure stirred beneath its thin blanket and rolled over toward him, eyes opening in a skull of a face. . . . The frail man sat up, great sunken eyes fixed upon him, upon Voldemort, and then he smiled. Most of his teeth were gone. . . .
“So, you have come. I thought you would . . . one day. But your journey was pointless. I never had it.”
“You lie!”
As Voldemort’s anger throbbed inside him, Harry’s scar threatened to burst with pain, and he wrenched his mind back to his own body, fighting to remain present as the prisoners were pushed over gravel.
Light spilled out over all of them.
“What is this?” said a woman’s cold voice.
“We’re here to see He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named!” rasped Greyback.
“Who are you?”
“You know me!” There was resentment in the werewolf’s voice. “Fenrit Greyback! We’ve caught Harry Potter!”
Greyback seized Harry and dragged him around to face the light, forcing the other prisoners to shuffle around too.
“I know ‘es swollen, ma’am, but it’s ‘im!” piped up Scabior. “If you look a bit closer, you’ll see ‘is scar. And this ‘ere, see the girl? The Mudblood who’s been traveling around with ‘im, ma’am. There’s no doubt it’s ‘im, and we’ve got ‘is wand as well! ‘Ere, ma’am –“
Through his puffy eyelids Harry saw Narcissa Malfoy scrutinizing his swollen face. Scabior thrust the blackthorn wand at her. She raised her eyebrows.
“Bring them in,” she said.
Harry and the others were shoved and kicked up broad stone steps into a hallway lined with portraits.
“Follow me,” said Narcissa, leading the way across the hall. “My son, Draco, is home for his Easter holidays. If that is Harry Potter, he will know.”
The drawing room dazzled after the darkness outside; even with his eyes almost closed Harry could make out the wide proportions of the room. A crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, more portraits against the dark purple walls. Two figures rose from chairs in front of an ornate marble fireplace as the prisoners were forced into the room by the Snatchers.
“What is this?”
The dreadfully familiar, drawling voice of Lucius Malfoy fell on Harry’s ears. He was panicking now. He could see no way out, and it was easier, as his fear mounted, to block out Voldemort’s thoughts, though his scar was still burning.
“They say they’ve got Potter,” said Narcissa’s cold voice. “Draco, come here.” Harry did not dare look directly at Draco, but saw him obliquely; a figure slightly taller than he was, rising from an armchair, his face a pale and pointed blur beneath white-blond hair.
Greyback forced the prisoners to turn again so as to place Harry directly beneath the chandelier.
“Well, boy?” rasped the werewolf.
Harry was facing a mirror over the fireplace, a great gilded thing in an intricately scrolled frame. Through the slits of his eyes he saw his own reflection for the first time since leaving Grimmauld Place.
His face was huge, shiny, and pink, every feature distorted by Hermione’s jinx. His black hair reached his shoulders and there was a dark shadow around his jaw. Had he not known that it was he who stood there, he would have wondered who was wearing his glasses. He resolved not to speak, for his voice was sure to give him away; yet he still avoided eye contact with Draco as the latter approached.
“Well, Draco?” said Lucius Malfoy. He sounded avid. “Is it? Is it Harry Potter?” “I can’t – I can’t be sure,” said Draco. He was keeping his distance from Greyback, and seemed as scared of looking at Harry as Harry was of looking at him.
“But look at him carefully, look! Come closer!”
Harry had never heard Lucius Malfoy so excited.
“Draco, if we are the ones who hand Potter over to the Dark Lord, everything will be forgiv –“
“Now, we won’t be forgetting who actually caught him, I hope Mr. Malfoy?” said Greyback menacingly.
“Of course not, of course not!” said Lucius impatiently. He approached Harry himself, came so close that Harry could see the usually languid, pale face in sharp detail even through his swollen eyes. With his face a puffy mask, Harry felt as though he was peering out from between the bars of a cage.
“What did you do to him?” Lucius asked Greyback. “How did he get into this state?”
“That wasn’t us.” “Looks more like a Stinging Jinx to me,” said Lucius.
His gray eyes raked Harry’s forehead.
“There’s something there,” he whispered. “it could be the scar, stretched tight. . . .” Draco, come here, look properly! What do you think?”
Harry saw Draco’s face up close now, right beside his father’s. They were extraordinarily alike, except that while his father looked beside himself with excitement, Draco’s expression was full of reluctance, even fear.
“I don’t know,” he said, and he walked away toward the fireplace where his mother stood watching.
“We had better be certain, Lucius,” Narcissa called to her husband in her cold, clear voice. “Completely sure that it is Potter, before we summon the Dark Lord . . . They say this is his” – she was looking closely at the blackthorn wand – “but it does not resemble Ollivander’s description. . . . If we are mistaken, if we call the Dark Lord here for nothing . . . Remember what he did to Rowle and Dolohov?”
“What about the Mudblood, then?” growled Greyback. Harry was nearly thrown off his feet as the Snatchers forced the prisoners to swivel around again, so that the light fell on Hermione instead.
“Wait,” said Narcissa sharply. “Yes – yes, she was in Madam Malkin’s with Potter! I saw her picture in the Prophet! Look, Draco, isn’t it the Granger girl?”
“I . . . maybe . . . yeah.”
“But then, that’s the Weasley boy!” shouted Lucius, striding around the bound prisoners to face Ron. “It’s them, Potter’s friends – Draco, look at him, isn’t it Arthur Weasley’s son, what’s his name – ?”
“Yeah,” said Draco again, his back to the prisoners. “It could be.”
The drawing room door opened behind Harry. A woman spoke, and the sound of the voice wound Harry’s fear to an even higher pitch.
“What is this? What’s happened, Cissy?”
Bellatrix Lestrange walked slowly around the prisoners, and stopped on Harry’s right, staring at Hermione through her heavily lidded eyes,
“But surely,” she said quietly, “this is the Mudblood girl? This is Grander?”
“Yes, yes, it’s Granger!” cried Lucius, “And beside her, we think, Potter! Potter and his friends, caught at last!” “Potter?” shrieked Bellatrix, and she backed away, the better to take in Harry.
“Are you sure? Well then, the Dark Lord must be informed at once!” She dragged back her left sleeve: Harry saw the Dark Mark burned into the flesh of her arm, and knew that she was about to touch it, to summon her beloved master–
“I was about to call him!” said Lucius, and his hand actually closed upon Bellatrix’s wrist, preventing her from touching the Mark. “I shall summon him, Bella. Potter has been brought to my house, and it is therefore upon my authority –“
“Your authority!” she sneered, attempting to wrench her hand from his grasp. “You lost your authority when you lost your wand, Lucius! How dare you! Take your hands off me!”
“This is nothing to do with you, you did not capture the boy –“
“Begging your pardon, Mr. Malfoy,” interjected Greyback, “but it’s us that caught Potter, and it’s us that’ll be claiming the gold –“
“Gold!” laughed Bellatrix, still attempting to throw off her brother-in-law, her free hand groping in her pocket for her wand. “Take your gold, filthy scavenger, what do I want with gold? I seek only the honor of his – of –“
She stopped struggling, her dark eyes fixed upon something Harry could not see. Jubilant at her capitulation, Lucius threw her hand from him and ripped up his own sleeve –
“STOP!” shrieked Bellatrix, “Do not touch it, we shall all perish if the Dark Lord comes now!”
Lucius froze, his index finger hovering over his own Mark. Bellatrix strode out of Harry’s limited line of vision.
“What is that?” he heard her say.
“Sword,” grunted an out-of-sight Snatcher.
“Give it to me.”
“It’s not yours, missus, it’s mine, I reckon I found it.”
There was a bang and a flash of red light; Harry knew that the Snatcher had been Stunned. There was a roar of anger from his fellows: Scabior drew his wand.
“What d’you think you’re playing at, woman?”
“Stupefy!” she screamed, ”Stupefy!”
They were no match for her, even thought there were four of them against one of her: She was a witch, as Harry knew, with prodigious skill and no conscience. They fell where they stood, all except Greyback, who had been forced into a kneeling position, his arms outstretched. Out of the corners of his eyes Harry saw Bellatrix bearing down upon the werewolf, the sword of Gryffindor gripped tightly in her hand, her face waxen.
“Where did you get this sword?” she whispered to Greyback as she pulled his wand out of his unresisting grip.
“How dare you?” he snarled, his mouth the only thing that could move as he was forced to gaze up at her. He bared his pointed teeth. “Release me, woman!” “Where did you find this sword?” she repeated, brandishing it in his face, “Snape sent it to my vault in Gringotts!”
“It was in their tent,” rasped Greyback. “Release me, I say!”
She waved her wand, and the werewolf sprang to his feet, but appeared too wary to approach her. He prowled behind an armchair, his filthy curved nails clutching its back.
“Draco, move this scum outside,” said Bellatrix, indicating the unconscious men. “If you haven’t got the guts to finish them, then leave them in the courtyard for me.”
“Don’t you dare speak to Draco like –“ said Narcissa furiously, but Bellatrix screamed.
“Be quiet! The situation is graver than you can possibly imagine, Cissy! We have a very serious problem!”
She stood, panting slightly, looking down at the sword, examining its hilt. Then she turned to look at the silent prisoners.
“If it is indeed Potter, he must not be harmed,” she muttered, more to herself than to the others. “The Dark Lord wishes to dispose of Potter himself. . . . But if he finds out . . . I must . . . I must know. . . .”
She turned back to her sister again.
“The prisoners must be placed in the cellar, while I think what to do!” “This is my house, Bella, you don’t give orders in my –“
“Do it! You have no idea of the danger we’re in!” shrieked Bellatrix. She looked frightening, mad; a thin stream of fire issued from her wand and burned a hole in the carpet.
Narcissa hesitated for a moment, then addressed the werewolf.
“Take these prisoners down to the cellar, Greyback.”
“Wait,” said Bellatrix sharply. “All except. . . . except for the Mudblood.” Greyback gave a grunt of pleasure.
“No!” shouted Ron. “You can have me, keep me!” Bellatrix hit him across the face: the blow echoed around the room.
“If she dies under questioning, I’ll take you next,” she said. “Blood traitor is next to Mudblood in my book. Take them downstairs, Greyback, and make sure they are secure, but do nothing more to them – yet.”
She threw Greyback’s wand back to him, then took a short silver knife from under her robes. She cut Hermione free from the other prisoners, then dragged her by the hair into the middle of the room, while Greyback forced the rest of them to shuffle across to another door, into a dark passageway, his wand held out in front of him, projecting an invisible and irresistible force.
“Reckon she’ll let me have a bit of the girl when she’s finished with her?” Greyback crooned as he forced them along the corridor. “I’d say I’ll get a bite or two, wouldn’t you, ginger?”
Harry could feel Ron shaking. They were forced down a steep flight of stairs, still tied back-to-back and in danger of slipping and breaking their necks at any moment. At the bottom was a heavy door. Greyback unlocked it with a tap of his wand, then forced them into a dank and musty room and left them in total darkness. The echoing bang of the slammed cellar door had not died away before there was a terrible, drawn out scream from directly above them.
“HERMIONE!” Ron bellowed, and he started to writhe and struggle against the ropes tying them together, so that Harry staggered. “HERMIONE!”
“Be quiet!” Harry said. “Shut up. Ron, we need to work out a way –“
“We need a plan, stop yelling – we need to get these ropes off –“
“Harry?” came a whisper through the darkness. “Ron? Is that you?”
Ron stopped shouting. There was a sound of movement close by them, then Harry saw a shadow moving closer.
“Harry? Ron?”
“Yes, it’s me! Oh no, I didn’t want you to be caught!”
“Luna, can you help us get these ropes off?” said Harry.
“Oh yes, I expect so. . . . There’s an old nail we use if we need to break anything. . . . Just a moment . . .”
Hermione screamed again from overhead, and they could hear Bellatrix screaming too, but her words were inaudible, for Ron shouted again, “HERMIONE! HERMIONE!”
“Mr. Ollivander?” Harry could hear Luna saying. “Mr. Ollivander, have you got the nail? If you just move over a little bit . . . I think it was beside the water jug.”
She was back within seconds.
“You’ll need to stay still,” she said.
Harry could feel her digging at the rope’s tough fibers to work the knots free. From upstairs they heard Bellatrix’s voice.
“I’m going to ask you again! Where did you get this sword? Where?”
“We found it – we found it – PLEASE!” Hermione screamed again; Ron struggled harder than ever, and the rusty nail slipped onto Harry’s wrist.
“Ron, please stay still!” Luna whispered. “I can’t see what I’m doing –“
“My pocket!” said Ron, “In my pocket, there’s a Deluminator, and it’s full of light!”
A few seconds later, there was a click, and the luminescent spheres the Deluminator had sucked from the lamps in the tent flew into the cellar: Unable to rejoin their sources, they simply hung there, like tiny suns, flooding the underground room with light. Harry saw Luna, all eyes in her white face, and the motionless figure of Ollivander the wandmaker, curled up on the floor in the corner. Craning around, he caught sight of their fellow prisoners: Dean and Griphook the goblin, who seemed barely conscious, kept standing by the ropes that bound him to the humans.
“Oh, that’s much easier, thanks, Ron,” said Luna, and she began hacking at their bindings again. “Hello, Dean!”
From above came Bellatrix’s voice.
“You’re lying, filthy Mudblood, and I know it! You have been inside my vault at Gringotts! Tell the truth, tell the truth!”
Another terrible scream–
“What else did you take? What else have you got? Tel me the truth or, I swear, I shall run you through with this knife!”
Harry felt the ropes fall away and turned, rubbing his wrists, to see Ron running around the cellar, looking up at the low ceiling, searching for a trapdoor. Dean, his face bruised and bloody, said “Thanks” to Luna and stood there, shivering, but Griphook sank onto the cellar floor, looking groggy and disoriented, many welts across his swarthy face.
Ron was now trying to Disapparate without a wand.
“There’s no way out, Ron,” said Luna, watching his fruitless efforts. “The cellar is completely escape-proof. I tried, at first. Mr. Ollivander has been here for a long time, he’s tried everything.”
Hermione was screaming again: The sound went through Harry like physical pain. Barely conscious of the fierce prickling of his scar, he too started to run around the cellar, feeling the walls for he hardly knew what, knowing in his heart that it was useless.
“What else did you take, what else? ANSWER ME! CRUCIO!”
Hermione’s screams echoed off the walls upstairs, Ron was half sobbing as he pounded the walls with his fists, and Harry in utter desperation seized Hagrid’s pouch from around his neck and groped inside it: He pulled out Dumbledore’s Snitch and shook it, hoping for he did not know what – nothing happened – he waved the broken halves of the phoenix wand, but they were lifeless – the mirror fragment fell sparkling to the floor, and he saw a gleam of brightest blue –
Dumbledore’s eye was gazing at him out of the mirror.
“Help us!” he yelled at it in mad desperation. “We’re in the cellar of Malfoy Manor, help us!”
The eye blinked and was gone.
Harry was not even sure that it had really been there. He tilted the shard of mirror this way and that, and saw nothing reflected there but the walls and ceiling of their prison, and upstairs Hermione was screaming worse than ever, and next to him Ron was bellowing, “HERMIONE! HERMIONE!”
“How did you get into my vault?” they heard Bellatrix scream. “Did that dirty little goblin in the cellar help you?”
“We only met him tonight!” Hermione sobbed. “We’ve never been inside your vault. . . . It isn’t the real sword! It’s a copy, just a copy!”
“A copy?” screeched Bellatrix. “Oh, a likely story!”
“But we can find out easily!” came Lucius’s voice. “Draco, fetch the goblin, he can tell us whether the sword is real or not!”
Harry dashed across the cellar to where Griphook was huddled on the floor.
“Griphook,” he whispered into the goblin’s pointed ear, “you must tell them that sword’s a fake, they mustn’t know it’s the real one, Griphook, please –“
He could hear someone scuttling own the cellar steps; next moment, Draco’s shaking voice spoke from behind the door.
“Stand back. Line up against the back wall. Don’t try anything, or I’ll kill you!”
They did as they were bidden; as the lock turned, Ron clicked the Deluminator and the lights whisked back into his pocket, restoring the cellar’s darkness. The door flew open; Malfoy marched inside, wand held out in front of him, pale and determined. He seized the little goblin by the arm and backed out again, dragging Griphook with him. The door slammed shut and at the same moment a loud crack echoed inside the cellar.
Ron clicked the Deluminator. Three balls of light flew back into the air from his pocket, revealing Dobby the house-elf, who had just Apparated into their midst.
“DOB – !”
Harry hit Ron on the arm to stop him shouting, and Ron looked terrified at his mistake. Footsteps crossed the ceiling overhead: Draco marching Griphook to Bellatrix.
Dobby’s enormous, tennis-ball shaped eyes were wide; he was trembling from his feet to the tips of his ears. He was back in the home of his old masters, and it was clear that he was petrified.
“Harry Potter,” he squeaked in the tiniest quiver of a voice, “Dobby has come to rescue you.”
“But how did you – ?”
An awful scream drowned Harry’s words: Hermione was being tortured again. He cut to the essentials.
“You can Disapparate out of this cellar?” he asked Dobby, who nodded, his ears flapping.
“And you can take humans with you?”
Dobby nodded again.
“Right. Dobby, I want you to grab Luna, Dean, and Mr. Ollivander, and take them – take them to –“
“Bill and Fleur’s,” said Ron. “Shell Cottage on the outskirts of Tinworth!”
The elf nodded for a third time.
“And then come back,” said Harry. “Can you do that, Dobby?”
“Of course, Harry Potter,” whispered the little elf. He hurried over to Mr. Ollivander, who appeared to be barely conscious. He took one of the wandmaker’s hands in his own, then held out the other to Luna and Dean, neither of whom moved.
“Harry, we want to help you!” Luna whispered.
“We can’t leave you here,” said Dean.
“Go, both of you! We’ll see you at Bill and Fleur’s.”
As Harry spoke, his scar burned worse than ever, and for a few seconds he looked down, not upon the wandmaker, but on another man who was just as old, just as thin, but laughing scornfully.
“Kill me, then. Voldemort, I welcome death! But my death will not bring you what you seek. . . . There is so much you do not understand. . .”
He felt Voldemort’s fury, but as Hermione screamed again he shut it out, returning to the cellar and the horror of his own present.
“Go!” Harry beseeched to Luna and Dean. “Go! We’ll follow, just go!”
They caught hold of the elf’s outstretched fingers. There was another loud crack, and Dobby, Luna, Dean, and Ollivander vanished.
“What was that?” shouted Lucius Malfoy from over their heads. “Did you hear that? What was that noise in the cellar?”
Harry and Ron stared at each other.
“Draco – no, call Wormtail! Make him go and check!”
Footsteps crossed the room overhead, then there was silence. Harry knew that the people in the drawing room were listening for more noises from the cellar.
“We’re going to have to try and tackle him,” he whispered to Ron. They had no choice: The moment anyone entered the room and saw the absence of three prisoners, they were lost. “Leave the lights on,” Harry added, and as they heard someone descending the steps outside the door, they backed against the wall on either side of it.
“Stand back,” came Wormtail’s voice. “Stand away from the door. I’m coming in.” The door flew open. For a split second Wormtail gazed into the apparently empty cellar, ablaze with light from the three miniature suns floating in midair. Then Harry and Ron launched themselves upon him. Ron seized Wormtail’s wand arm and forced it upwards. Harry slapped a hand to his mouth, muffling his voice. Silently they struggled: Wormtail’s wand emitted sparks; his silver hand closed around Harry’s throat.
“What is it, Wormtail?” called Lucius Malfoy from above.
“Nothing!” Ron called back, in a passable imitation of Wormtail’s wheezy voice. “All fine!”
Harry could barely breathe.
“You’re going to kill me?” Harry choked, attempting to prise off the metal fingers. “After I saved your life? You owe me, Wormtail!”
The silver fingers slackened. Harry had not expected it: He wrenched himself free, astonished, keeping his hand over Wormtail’s mouth. He saw the ratlike man’s small watery eyes widen with fear and surprise: He seemed just as shocked as Harry at what his hand had done, at the tiny, merciful impulse it had betrayed, and he continued to struggle more powerfully, as though to undo that moment of weakness.
“And we’ll have that,” whispered Ron, tugging Wormtail’s wand from his other hand.
Wandless, helpless, Pettigrew’s pupils dilated in terror. His eyes had slid from Harry’s face to something else. His own silver fingers were moving inexorably toward his own throat.
“No –“
Without pausing to think, Harry tried to drag back the hand, but there was no stopping it. The silver tool that Voldemort had given his most cowardly servant had turned upon its disarmed and useless owner; Pettigrew was reaping his reward for his hesitation, his moment of pity; he was being strangled before their eyes.
Ron had released Wormtail too, and together he and Harry tried to pull the crushing metal fingers from around Wormtail’s throat, but it was no use. Pettigrew was turning blue.
“Relashio!” said Ron, pointing the wand at the silver hand, but nothing happened; Pettigrew dropped to his knees, and at the same moment, Hermione gave a dreadful scream from overhead. Wormtail’s eyes rolled upward in his purple face; he gave a last twitch, and was still.
Harry and Ron looked at each other, then leaving Wormtail’s body on the floor behind them, ran up the stairs and back into the shadowy passageway leading to the drawing room. Cautiously they crept along it until they reached the drawing room door, which was ajar. Now they had a clear view of Bellatrix looking down at Griphook, who was holding Gryffindor’s sword in his long-fingered hands. Hermione was lying at Bellatrix’s feet. She was barely stirring.
“Well?” Bellatrix said to Griphook. “Is it the true sword?”
Harry waited, holding his breath, fighting against the prickling of his scar.
“No,” said Griphook. “It is a fake.”
“Are you sure?” panted Bellatrix. “Quite sure?”
“Yes,” said the goblin.
Relief broke across her face, all tension drained from it.
“Good,” she said, and with a casual flick of her wand she slashed another deep cut into the goblin’s face, and he dropped with a yell at her feet. She kicked him aside. “And now,” she said in a voice that burst with triumph, “we call the Dark Lord!”
And she pushed back her sleeve and touched her forefinger to the Dark Mark.
At once, Harry’s scar felt as though it had split open again. His true surroundings vanished: He was Voldemort, and the skeletal wizard before him was laughing
toothlessly at him; he was enraged at the summons he felt – he had warned them, he had told them to summon him for nothing less than Potter. If they were mistaken . . .
“Kill me, then!” demanded the old man. “You will not win, you cannot win! That wand will never, ever be yours –“
And Voldemort’s fury broke: A burst of green light filled the prison room and the frail old body was lifted from its hard bed and then fell back, lifeless, and Voldemort returned to the window, his wrath barely controllable. . . . They would suffer his retribution if they had no good reason for calling him back. . . .
“And I think,” said Bellatrix’s voice, “we can dispose of the Mudblood. Greyback, take her if you want her.”
Ron had burst into the drawing room; Bellatrix looked around, shocked; she turned her wand to face Ron instead –
“Expelliarmus!” he roared, pointing Wormtail’s wand at Bellatrix, and hers flew into the air and was caught by Harry, who had sprinted after Ron. Lucius, Narcissa, Draco and Greyback wheeled about; Harry yelled, “Stupefy!” and Lucius Malfoy collapsed onto the hearth. Jets of light flew from Draco’s, Narcissa’s, and Greyback’s wands; Harry threw himself to the floor, rolling behind a sofa to avoid them.
Panting, Harry peered around the edge of the sofa. Bellatrix was supporting Hermione, who seemed to be unconscious, and was holding her short silver knife to Hermione’s throat.
“Drop your wands,” she whispered. “Drop them, or we’ll see exactly how filthy her blood is!”
Ron stood rigid, clutching Wormtail’s wand. Harry straightened up, still holding Bellatrix’s.
“I said, drop them!” she screeched, pressing the blade into Hermione’s throat: Harry saw beads of blood appear there.
“All right!” he shouted, and he dropped Bellatrix’s wand onto the floor at his feet, Ron did the same with Wormtail’s. Both raised their hands to shoulder height.
“Good!” she leered. “Draco, pick them up! The Dark Lord is coming, Harry Potter! Your death approaches!”
Harry knew it; his scar was bursting with the pain of it, and he could feel Voldemort flying through the sky from far away, over a dark and stormy sea, and soon he would be close enough to Apparate to them, and Harry could see no way out.
“Now,” said Bellatrix softly, as Draco hurried back to her with the wands. “Cissy, I think we ought to tie these little heroes up again, while Greyback takes care of Miss Mudblood. I am sure the Dark Lord will not begrudge you the girl, Greyback, after what you have done tonight.”
At the last word there was a peculiar grinding noise from above. All of them looked upward in time to see the crystal chandelier tremble; then, with a creak and an ominous jingling, it began to fall. Bellatrix was directly beneath it; dropping Hermione, she threw herself aside with a scream. The chandelier crashed to the floor in an explosion of crystal and chains, falling on top of Hermione and the goblin, who still clutched the sword of Gryffindor. Glittering shards of crystal flew in all directions; Draco doubled over, his hands covering his bloody face.
As Ron ran to pull Hermione out of the wreckage, Harry took the chance: He leapt over an armchair and wrested the three wands from Draco’s grip, pointed all of them at Greyback, and yelled, “Stupefy!” The werewolf was lifted off his feet by the triple spell, flew up to the ceiling and then smashed to the ground.
As Narcissa dragged Draco out of the way of further harm, Bellatrix sprang to her feet, her hair flying as she brandished the silver knife; but Narcissa had directed her wand at the doorway.
“Dobby!” she screamed and even Bellatrix froze. “You! You dropped the chandelier – ?”
The tiny elf trotted into the room, his shaking finger pointing at his old mistress.
“You must not hurt Harry Potter,” he squeaked.
“Kill him, Cissy!” shrieked Bellatrix, but there was another loud crack, and Narcissa’s wand too flew into the air and landed on the other side of the room.
“You dirty little monkey!” bawled Bellatrix. “How dare you take a witch’s wand, how dare you defy your masters?”
“Dobby has no master!” squealed the elf. “Dobby is a free elf, and Dobby has come to save Harry Potter and his friends!”
Harry’s scar was blinding him with pain. Dimly he knew that they had moments, seconds before Voldemort was with them.
“Ron, catch – and GO!” he yelled, throwing one of the wands to him; then he bent down to tug Griphook out from under the chandelier. Hoisting the groaning goblin, who still clung to the sword, over one shoulder, Harry seized Dobby’s hand and spun on the spot to Disapparate.
As he turned into darkness he caught one last view of the drawing room of the pale, frozen figures of Narcissa and Draco, of the streak of red that was Ron’s hair, and a blue of flying silver, as Bellatrix’s knife flew across the room at the place where he was vanishing –
Bill and Fleur’s . . . Shell Cottage . . . Bill and Fleur’s . . .
He had disappeared into the unknown; all he could do was repeat the name of the destination and hope that it would suffice to take him there. The pain in his forehead pierced him, and the weight of the goblin bore down upon him; he could feel the blade of Gryffindor’s sword bumping against his back: Dobby’s hand jerked in his; he wondered whether the elf was trying to take charge, to pull them in the right direction, and tried, by squeezing the fingers, to indicate that that was fine with them. . . .
And then they hit solid earth and smelled salty air. Harry fell to his knees, relinquished Dobby’s hand, and attempted to lower Griphook gently to the ground.
“Are you all right?” he said as the goblin stirred, but Griphook merely whimpered.
Harry squinted around through the darkness. There seemed to be a cottage a short way away under the wide starry sky, and he thought he saw movement outside it.
“Dobby, is this Shell Cottage?” he whispered, clutching the two wands he had brought from the Malfoys’, ready to fight if he needed to. “Have we come to the right place? Dobby?”
He looked around. The little elf stood feet from him.
The elf swayed slightly, stars reflected in his wide, shining eyes. Together, he and Harry looked down at the silver hilt of the knife protruding from the elf’s heaving chest.
“Dobby – no – HELP!” Harry bellowed toward the cottage, toward the people moving there. “HELP!”
He did not know or care whether they were wizards or Muggles, friends or foes; all he cared about was that a dark stain was spreading across Dobby’s front, and that he had stretched out his own arms to Harry with a look of supplication. Harry caught him and laid him sideways on the cool grass.
“Dobby, no, don’t die, don’t die –“
The elf’s eyes found him, and his lips trembled with the effort to form words.
“Harry . . . Potter . . .”
And then with a little shudder the elf became quite still, and his eyes were nothing more than great glassy orbs, sprinkled with light from the stars they could not see.”
Chapter Twenty-Four
The Wandmaker
It was like sinking into an old nightmare; for an instant Harry knelt again beside Dumbledore’s body at the foot of the tallest tower at Hogwarts, but in reality he was staring at a tiny body curled upon the grass, pierced by Bellatrix’s silver knife. Harry’s voice was still saying, “Dobby…Dobby…” even though he knew that the elf had gone where he could not call him back.
After a minute or so he realized that they had, after all, come to the right place, for here were Bill and Fleur, Dean and Luna, gathering around him as he knelt over the elf. “Hermione,” he said suddenly. “Where is she?”
“Ron’s taken her inside,” said Bill. “She’ll be all right.” Harry looked back down at Dobby. He stretched out a hand and pulled the sharp blade from the elf’s body, then dragged off his own jacket and covered Dobby in it like a blanket.
The sea was rushing against the rock somewhere nearby; Harry listened to it while the others talked, discussing matters in which he could take no interest, making decisions, Dean carried the injured Griphook into the house, Fleur hurrying with them; now Bill was really knowing what he was saying. As he did so, he gazed down at the tiny body, and his scar prickled and burned, and in one part of his mind, viewed as if from the wrong end of a long telescope, he saw Voldemort punishing those they had left behind at the Malfoy Manor. His rage was dreadful and yet Harry’s grief for Dobby seemed to diminish it, so that it became a distant storm that reached Harry from across a vast, silent ocean.
“I want to do it properly,” were the first words of which Harry was fully conscious of speaking. “Not by magic. Have you got a spade?” And shortly afterward he had set to work, alone, digging the grave in the place that Bill had shown him at the end of the garden, between bushes. He dug with a kind of fury, relishing the manual work, glorying in the non-magic of it, for every drop of his sweat and every blister felt like a gift to the elf who had saved their lives.
His scar burned, but he was master of the pain, he felt it, yet was apart from it. He had learned control at last, learned to shut his mind to Voldemort, the very thing Dumbledore had wanted him to learn from Snape. Just as Voldemort had not been able to possess Harry while Harry was consumed with grief for Sirius, so his thoughts could not penetrate Harry now while he mourned Dobby. Grief, it seemed, drove Voldemort out…though Dumbledore, of course, would have said that it was love.
On Harry dug, deeper and deeper into the hard, cold earth, subsuming his grief in sweat, denying the pain in his scar. In the darkness, with nothing but the sound of his own breath and the rushing sea to keep him company, the things that had happened at the Malfoys’ returned to him, the things he had heard came back to him, and understanding blossomed in the darkness…
The steady rhythm of his arms beat time with his thoughts. Hallows…Horcruxes…Hallows…Horcruxes…yet no longer burned with that weird, obsessive longing. Loss and fear had snuffed it out. He felt as though he had been slapped awake again.
Deeper and deeper Harry sank into the grave, and he knew where Voldemort had been tonight, and whom he had killed in the topmost cell of Nurmengard, and why…
And he thought of Wormtail, dead because of one small unconscious impulse of mercy…Dumbledore had foreseen that…How much more had he known?
Harry lost track of time. He knew only that the darkness had lightened a few degrees when he was rejoined by Ron and Dean. “How’s Hermione?” “Better,” said Ron. “Fleur’s looking after her.” Harry had his retort ready for when they asked him why he had not simply created a perfect grave with his wand, but he did not need it. They jumped down into the hole he had made with spades of their own and together they worked in silence until the hole seemed deep enough.
Harry wrapped the elf more snuggly in his jacket. Ron sat on the edge of the grave and stripped off his shoes and socks, which he placed on the elf’s bare feet. Dean produced a woolen hat, which Harry placed carefully upon Dobby’s head, muffling his batlike ears. “We should close his eyes.”
Harry had not heard the others coming through the darkness. Bill was wearing a traveling cloak, Fleur a large white apron, from the pocket of which protruded a bottle of what Harry recognized to be Skele-Gro. Hermione was wrapped in a borrowed dressing gown, pale and unsteady on her feet; Ron put an arm around her when she reached him. Luna, who was huddled in one of Fleur’s coats, crouched down and placed her fingers tenderly upon each of the elf’s eyelids, sliding them over his glassy stare. “There,” she said softly. “Now he could be sleeping.”
Harry placed the elf into the grave, arranged his tiny limbs so that he might have been resting, then climbed out and gazed for the last time upon the little body. He forced himself not to break down as he remembered Dumbledore’s funeral, and the rows and rows of golden chairs, and the Minister of Magic in the front row, the recitation of
Dumbledore’s achievements, the stateliness of the white marble tomb. He felt that Dobby deserved just as grand a funeral, and yet here the elf lay between bushes in a roughly dug hole. “I think we ought to say something,” piped up Luna. “I’ll go first, shall I?”
And as everybody looked at her, she addressed the dead elf at the bottom of the grave. “Thank you so much Dobby for rescuing me from that cellar. It’s so unfair that you had to die when you were so good and brave. I’ll always remember what you did for us. I hope you’re happy now.”
She turned and looked expectingly at Ron, who cleared his throat and said in a thick voice, “yeah…thanks Dobby.” “Thanks,” muttered Dean. Harry swallowed. “Good bye Dobby,” he said It was all he could manage, but Luna had said it all for him. Bill raised his wand, and the pile of earth beside the grave rose up into the air and fell neatly upon it, a small, reddish mound. “D’ya mind if I stay here a moment?” He asked the others.
They murmured words he did not catch; he felt gentle pats upon his back, and then they all traipsed back toward the cottage, leaving Harry alone beside the elf.
He looked around: There were a number of large white stones, smoothed by the sea, marking the edge of the flower beds. He picked up one of the largest and laid it, pillowlike, over the place where Dobby’s head now rested. He then felt in his pocket for a wand. There were two in there. He had forgotten, lost track; he could not now remember whose wands these were; he seemed to remember wrenching them out of someone’s hand. He selected the shorter of the two, which felt friendlier in his hand, and pointed it at the rock.
Slowly, under his murmured instruction, deep cuts appeared upon the rock’s surface. He knew that Hermione could have done it more neatly, and probably more quickly, but he wanted to mark the spot as he had wanted to dig the grave. When Harry stood up again, the stone read: HERE LIES DOBBY, A FREE ELF.
He looked at his handiwork for a few more seconds, then walked away, his scar still prickling a little, and his mind full of those things that had come to him in the grave, ideas that had taken shape in the darkness, ideas both fascinating and terrible.
They were all sitting in the living room when he entered the little hall, their attention focused upon Bill, who was talking. The room was light-colored, pretty, with a small fire of driftwood burning brightly in the fireplace. Harry did not want to drop mud upon the carpet, so he stood in the doorway, listening.
“…lucky that Ginny’s on holiday. If she’d been at Hogwarts they could have taken her before we reached her. Now we know she’s safe too.” He looked around and saw Harry standing there. “I’ve been getting them all out of the Burrow,” he explained. “Moved them to Muriel’s. The Death Eaters know Ron’s with you now, they’re bound to target the family –don’t apologize,” he added at the sight of Harry’s expression. “It was always a matter of time, Dad’s been saying so for months. We’re the biggest blood traitor family there is.”
“How are they protected?” asked Harry. “Fidelius Charm. Dad’s Secret-Keeper. And we’ve done it on this cottage too; I’m Secret-Keeper here. None of us can go to work, but that’s hardly the most important thing now. Once Ollivander and Griphook are well enough, we’ll move them to Muriel’s too. There isn’t much room here, but she’s got
plenty. Griphook’s legs are on the mend. Fleur’s given him Skele-Gro-we could probably move them in an hour or—“
“No,” Harry said and Bill looked startled. “I need both of them here. I need to talk to them. It’s important.” He heard the authority of his own voice, the conviction, the voice of purpose that had come to him as he dug Dobby’s grave. All of their faces were turned toward him looking puzzled.
“I’m going to wash,” Harry told Bill looking down at his hands still covered with mud and Dobby’s blood. “Then I’ll need to see them, straight away.” He walked into the little kitchen, to the basin beneath a window overlooking the sea. Dawn was breaking over the horizon, shell pink and faintly gold, as he washed, again following the train of thought that had come to him in the dark garden…
Dobby would never be able to tell them who had sent him to the cellar, but Harry knew what he had seen. A piercing blue eye had looked out of the mirror fragment, and then help had come. Help will always be given at Hogwarts to those who ask for it.
Harry dried his hands, impervious to the beauty of the scene outside the window and to the murmuring of the others in the sitting room. He looked out over the ocean and felt closer, this dawn, than ever before, closer to the heart of it all.
And still his scar prickled, and he knew that Voldemort was getting there too. Harry understood and yet did not understand. His instinct was telling him one thing, his brain quite another. The Dumbledore in Harry’s head smiled, surveying Harry over the tips of his fingers, pressed together as if in prayer.
You gave Ron the Deluminator…You understood him…You gave him a way back…
And you understood Wormtail too…You knew there was a bit of regret there, somewhere…
And if you knew them…What did you know about me, Dumbledore?
Am I meant to know but not to seek? Did you know how hard I’d feel that? Is that why you made it this difficult? So I’d have time to work that out?
Harry stood quite still, eyes glazed, watching the place where a bright gold ray of dazzling sun was rising over the horizon. Then he looked down at his clean hands and was momentarily surprised to see the cloth he was holding in them. He set it down and returned to the hall, and as he did so, he felt his scar pulse angrily, and then flashed across his mind, swift as the reflection of a dragonfly over water, the outline of a building he knew extremely well.
Bill and Fleur were standing at the foot of the stairs.
“I need to speak to Griphook and Ollivander,” Harry said.
“No,” said Fleur. “You will ‘ave to wait, ‘Arry. Zey are both too tired –”
“I’m sorry,” he said without heat, “but it can’t wait. I need to talk to them now. Privately – and separately. It’s urgent.”
“Harry, what the hell’s going on?” asked Bill. “You turn up here with a dead house-elf and a half-conscious goblin, Hermione looks as though she’s been tortured, and Ron’s just refused to tell me anything –”
“We can’t tell you what we’re doing,” said Harry flatly. “You’re in the Order, Bill, you know Dumbledore left us a mission. We’re not supposed to talk about it to anyone else.”
Fleur made an impatient noise, but Bill did not look at her; he was staring at Harry. His deeply scarred face was hard to read. Finally, Bill said, “All right. Who do you want to talk to first?”
Harry hesitated. He knew what hung on his decision. There was hardly any time left; now was the moment to decide: Horcruxes or Hallows?
“Griphook,” Harry said. “I’ll speak to Griphook first.”
His heart was racing as if he had been sprinting and had just cleared an enormous obstacle.
“Up here, then,” said Bill, leading the way.
Harry had walked up several steps before stopping and looking back.
“I need you two as well!” he called to Ron and Hermione, who had been skulking, half concealed, in the doorway of the sitting room.
They both moved into the light, looking oddly relieved.
“How are you?” Harry asked Hermione. “You were amazing – coming up with that story when she was hurting you like that –”
Hermione gave a weak smile as Ron gave her a one-armed squeeze.
“What are we doing now, Harry?” he asked.
“You’ll see. Come on.”
Harry, Ron, and Hermione followed Bill up the steep stairs onto a small landing. Three doors led off it.
“In here,” said Bill, opening the door into his and Fleur’s room, it too had a view of the sea, now flecked with gold in the sunrise. Harry moved to the window, turned his back on the spectacular view, and waited, his arms folded, his scar prickling. Hermione took the chair beside the dressing table; Ron sat on the arm.
Bill reappeared, carrying the little goblin, whom he set down carefully upon the bed. Griphook grunted thanks, and Bill left, closing the door upon them all.
“I’m sorry to take you out of bed,” said Harry. “How are your legs?”
“Painful,” replied the goblin. “But mending.”
He was still clutching the sword of Gryffindor, and wore a strange look: half truculent, half intrigued. Harry noted the goblin’s sallow skin, his long thin fingers, his black eyes. Fleur had removed his shoes: His long feet were dirty. He was larger than a house-elf, but not by much. His domed head was much bigger than a human’s.
“You probably don’t remember –” Harry began.
“—that I was the goblin who showed you to your vault, the first time you ever visited Gringotts?” said Griphook. “I remember, Harry Potter. Even amongst goblins, you are very famous.”
Harry and the goblin looked at each other, sizing each other up. Harry’s scar was still prickling. He wanted to get through this interview with Griphook quickly, and at the same time was afraid of making a false move. While he tried to decide on the best way to approach his request, the goblin broke the silence.
“You buried the elf,” he said, sounding unexpectedly rancorous. “I watched you from the window of the bedroom next door.”
“Yes,” said Harry.
Griphook looked at him out of the corners of his slanting black eyes.
“You are an unusual wizard, Harry Potter.”
“In what way?” asked Harry, rubbing his scar absently.
“You dug the grave.”
Griphook did not answer. Harry rather thought he was being sneered at for acting like a Muggle, but it did not matter to him whether Griphook approved of Dobby’s grave or not. He gathered himself for the attack.
“Griphook, I need to ask –”
“You also rescued a goblin.”
“You brought me here. Saved me.”
“Well, I take it you’re not sorry?” said Harry a little impatiently.
“No, Harry Potter,” said Griphook, and with one finger he twisted the thin black beard upon his chin, “but you are a very odd wizard.”
“Right,” said Harry. “Well, I need some help, Griphook, and you can give it to me.”
The goblin made no sign of encouragement, but continued to frown at Harry as though he had never seen anything like him.
“I need to break into a Gringotts vault.”
Harry had not meant to say it so badly: the words were forced from him as pain shot through his lightning scar and he saw, again, the outline of Hogwarts. He closed his mind firmly. He needed to deal with Griphook first. Ron and Hermione were staring at Harry as though he had gone mad.
“Harry –” said Hermione, but she was cut off by Griphook.
“Break into a Gringotts vault?” repeated the goblin, wincing a little as he shifted his position upon the bed. “It is impossible.”
“No, it isn’t,” Ron contradicted him. “It’s been done.”
“Yeah,” said Harry. “The same day I first met you, Griphook. My birthday, seven years ago.”
“The vault in question was empty at the time,” snapped the goblin, and Harry understood that even though Griphook had let Gringotts, he was offended at the idea of its defenses being breached. “Its protection was minimal.”
“Well, the vault we need to get into isn’t empty, and I’m guessing its protection will be pretty powerful,” said Harry. “It belongs to the Lestranges.”
He saw Hermione and Ron look at each other, astonished, but there would be time enough to explain after Griphook had given his answer.
“You have no chance,” said Griphook flatly. “No chance at all. If you seek beneath our floors, a treasure that was never yours –”
“Thief, you have been warned, beware – yeah, I know, I remember,” said Harry. “But I’m not trying to get myself any treasure, I’m not trying to take anything for personal gain. Can you believe that?”
The goblin looked slantwise at Harry, and the lightning scar on Harry’s forehead prickled, but he ignored it, refusing to acknowledge its pain or its invitation.
“If there was a wizard of whom I would believe that they did not seek personal gain,” said Griphook finally, “it would be you, Harry Potter. Goblins and elves are not used to the protection or the respect that you have shown this night. Not from wand-carriers.”
“Wand-carriers,” repeated Harry: The phrase fell oddly upon his ears as his scar prickled, as Voldemort turned his thoughts northward, and as Harry burned to question Ollivander next door.
“The right to carry a wand,” said the goblin quietly, “has long been contested between wizards and goblins.”
“Well, goblins can do magic without wands,” said Ron.
“That is immaterial! Wizards refuse to share the secrets of wand-lore with other magical beings, they deny us the possibility of extending our powers!”
“Well, goblins won’t share any of their magic either,” said Ron. “You won’t tell us how to make swords and armor the way you do. Goblins know how to work metal in a way wizards have never –”
“It doesn’t matter,” said Harry, noting Griphook’s rising color. “This isn’t about wizards versus goblins or any other sort of magical creature –”
Griphook gave a nasty laugh.
“But it is, it is precisely that! As the Dark Lord becomes ever more powerful, your race is set still more firmly above mine! Gringotts falls under Wizarding rule, house-elves are slaughtered, and who amongst the wand-carriers protests?”
“We do!” said Hermione. She had sat up straight, her eyes bright. “We protest! And I’m hunted quite as much as any goblin or elf, Griphook! I’m a Mudblood!”
“Don’t call yourself –” Ron muttered.
“Why shouldn’t I?” said Hermione. “Mudblood, and proud of it! I’ve got no higher position under this new order than you have, Griphook! It was me they chose to torture, back at the Malfoys!”
As she spoke, she pulled aside the neck of the dressing gown to reveal the thin cut Bellatrix had made, scarlet against her throat.
“Did you know that it was Harry who set Dobby free?” she asked. “Did you know that we’ve wanted elves to be freed for years?” (Ron fidgeted uncomfortably on the arm of Hermione’s chair.) “You can’t want You-Know-Who defeated more than we do, Griphook!”
The goblin gazed at Hermione with the same curiousity he had shown Harry.
“What do you seek within the Lestranges’ vault?” he asked abruptly. “The sword that lies inside it is a fake. This is the real one.” He looked from one to the other of them. “I think that you already know this. You asked me to lie for you back there.”
“But the fake sword isn’t the only thing in that vault, is it?” asked Harry. “Perhaps you’ve seen other things in there?”
His heart was pounding harder than ever. He redoubled his efforts to ignore the pulsing of his scar.
The goblin twisted his beard around his finger again.
“It is against our code to speak of the secrets of Gringotts. We are the guardians of fabulous treasures. We have a duty to the objects placed in our care, which were, so often, wrought by our fingers.”
The goblin stroked the sword, and his black eyes roved from Harry to Hermione to Ron and then back again.
“So young,” he said finally, “to be fighting so many.”
“Will you help us?” said Harry. “We haven’t got a hope of breaking in without a goblin’s help. You’re our one chance.”
“I shall . . . think about it,” said Griphook maddeningly.
“But –” Ron started angrily; Hermione nudged him in the ribs.
“Thank you,” said Harry.
The goblin bowed his great domed head in acknowledgement, then flexed his short legs.
“I think,” he said, settling himself ostentatiously upon Bill and Fleur’s bed, “that the Skele-Gro has finished its work. I may be able to sleep at last. Forgive me. . . .”
“Yeah, of course,” said Harry, but before leaving the room he leaned forward and took the sword of Gryffindor from beside the goblin. Griphook did not protest, but Harry thought he saw resentment in the goblin’s eyes as he closed the door upon him.
“Little git,” whispered Ron. “He’s enjoying keeping us hanging.”
“Harry,” whispered Hermione, pulling them both away from the door, into the middle of the still-dark landing, “are you saying what I think you’re saying? Are you saying there’s a Horcrux in the Lestranges vault?”
“Yes,” said Harry. “Bellatrix was terrified when she thought we’d been in there, she was beside herself. Why? What did she think we’d seen, what else did she think we might have taken? Something she was petrified You-Know-Who would find out about.”
“But I thought we were looking for places You-Know-Who’s been, places he’s done something important?” said Ron, looking baffled. “Was he ever inside the Lestranges’ vault?”
“I don’t know whether he was ever inside Gringotts,” said Harry. “He never had gold there when he was younger, because nobody left him anything. He would have seen the bank from the outside, though, the first time he ever went to Diagon Alley.”
Harry’s scar throbbed, but he ignored it; he wanted Ron and Hermione to understand about Gringotts before they spoke to Ollivander.
“I think he would have envied anyone who had a key to a Gringotts vault. I think he’d have seen it as a real symbol of belonging to the Wizarding world. And don’t forget, he trusted Bellatrix and her husband. They were his most devoted servants before he fell, and they went looking for him after he vanished. He said it night he came back, I heard him.”
Harry rubbed his scar.
“I don’t think he’d have told Bellatrix it was a Horcrux, though. He never told Lucius Malfoy the truth about the diary. He probably told her it was a treasured possession and asked her to place it in her vault. The safest place in the world for anything you want to hide, Hagrid told me. . . except for Hogwarts.”
When Harry had finished speaking, Ron shook his head.
“You really understand him.”
“Bits of him,” said Harry. “Bits . . . I just wish I’d understood Dumbledore as much. But we’ll see. Come on – Ollivander now.”
Ron and Hermione looked bewildered but very impressed as they followed him across the little landing and knocked upon the door opposite Bill and Fleur’s. A weak “Come in!” answered them.
The wandmaker was lying on the twin bed farthest from the window. He had been held in the cellar for more than a year, and tortured, Harry knew, on at least one occasion. He was emaciated, the bones of his face sticking out sharply against the yellowish skin. His great silver eyes seemed vast in their sunken sockets. The hands that lay upon the
blanket could have belonged to a skeleton. Harry sat down on the empty bed, beside Ron and Hermione. The rising sun was not visible here. The room faced the cliff-top garden and the freshly dug grave.
“Mr. Ollivander, I’m sorry to disturb you,” Harry said.
“My dear boy,” Ollivander’s voice was feeble. “You rescued us, I thought we would die in that place, I can never thank you . . . never thank you . . . enough.”
“We were glad to do it.”
Harry’s scar throbbed. He knew, he was certain, that there was hardly any time left in which to beat Voldemort to his goal, or else to attempt to thwart him. He felt a flutter of panic . . . yet he had made his decision when he chose to speak to Griphook first. Feigning a calm he did not feel, he groped in the pouch around his neck and took out the two halves of his broken wand.
“Mr. Ollivander, I need some help.”
“Anything. Anything.” Said the wandmaker weakly.
“Can you mend this? Is it possible?”
Ollivander held out a trembling hand, and Harry placed the two barely connected halves in his palm.
“Holly and phoenix feather,” said Ollivander in a tremulous voice. “Eleven inches. Nice and supple.”
“Yes,” said Harry. “Can you -- ?”
“No,” whispered Ollivander. “I am sorry, very sorry, but a wand that has suffered this degree of damage cannot be repaired by any means that I know of.”
Harry had been braced to hear it, but it was a blow nevertheless. He took the wand halves back and replaced them in the pouch around his neck. Ollivander stared at the place where the shattered wand had vanished, and did not look away until Harry had taken from his pocket the two wands he had brought from the Malfoys’.
“Can you identify these?” Harry asked.
The wandmaker took the first of the wands and held it close to his faded eyes, rolling it between his knobble-knuckled fingers, flexing it slightly.
“Walnut and dragon heartstring,” he said. “Twelve-and-three-quarter inches. Unyielding. This wand belonged to Bellatrix Lestrange.”
“And this one?”
Ollivander performed the same examination.
“Hawthorn and unicorn hair. Ten inches precisely. Reasonably springy. This was the wand of Draco Malfoy.”
“Was?” repeated Harry. “Isn’t it still his?”
“Perhaps not. If you took it –”
“—I did – ”
“—then it may be yours. Of course, the manner of taking matters. Much also depends upon the wand itself. In general, however, where a wand has been won, its allegiance will change.”
There was a silence in the room, except for the distant rushing of the sea.
“You talk about wands like they’ve got feelings,” said Harry, “like they can think for themselves.”
“The wand chooses the wizard,” said Ollivander. “That much has always been clear to those of us who have studied wandlore.”
“A person can still use a wand that hasn’t chosen them, though?” asked Harry.
“Oh yes, if you are any wizard at all you will be able to channel your magic through almost any instrument. The best results, however, must always come where there is the strongest affinity between wizard and wand. These connections are complex. An initial attraction, and then a mutual quest for experience, the wand learning from the wizard, the wizard from the wand.”
The sea gushed forward and backward; it was a mournful sound. “I took this wand from Draco Malfoy by force,” said Harry. “Can I use it safely?”
“I think so. Subtle laws govern wand ownership, but the conquered wand will usually bend its will to its new master.”
“So I should use this one?” said Ron, pulling Wormtail’s wand out of his pocket and handing it to Ollivander.
“Chestnut and dragon heartstring. Nine-and-a-quarter inches. Brittle. I was forced to make this shortly after my kidnapping, for Peter Pettigrew. Yes, if you won it, it is more likely to do your bidding, and do it well, than another wand.”
“And this holds true for all wands, does it?” asked Harry.
“I think so,” replied Ollivander, his protuberant eyes upon Harry’s face. “You ask deep questions, Mr. Potter. Wandlore is a complex and mysterious branch of magic.”
“So, it isn’t necessary to kill the previous owner to take the possession of a wand?” asked Harry.
Ollivander swallowed.
“Necessary? No, I should not say that it is necessary to kill.”
“There are legends, though,” said Harry, and as his heart rate quickened, the pain in his scar became more intense; he was sure that Voldemort has decided to put his idea into action. “Legends about a wand – or wands – that have been passed from hand to hand by murder.”
Ollivander turned pale. Against the snowy pillow he was light gray, and his eyes were enormous, bloodshot, and bulging with what looked like fear.
“Only one wand, I think,” he whispered.
“And You-Know-Who is interested in it, isn’t he?” asked Harry.
“I – how?” croaked Ollivander, and he looked appealingly at Ron and Hermione for help. “How do you know this?”
“He wanted you to tell him how to overcome the connection between our wands,” said Harry.
Ollivander looked terrified.
“He tortured me, you must understand that! The Cruciatus Curse, I – I had no choice but to tell him what I knew, what I guessed!”
“I understand,” said Harry. “You told him about the twin cores? You said he just had to borrow another wizard’s wand?”
Ollivander looked horrified, transfixed, by the amount that Harry knew. He nodded slowly.
“But it didn’t work,” Harry went on. “Mine still beat the borrowed wand. Do you know why that is?”
Ollivander shook his head slowly as he had just nodded.
“I had . . . never heard of such a thing. Your wand performed something unique that night. The connection of the twin cores is incredibly rare, yet why your wand would have snapped the borrowed wand, I do not know. . . .
“We were talking about the other wand, the wand that changes hands by murder. When You-Know-Who realized my wand had done something strange, he came back and asked about that other wand, didn’t he?”
“How do you know this?”
Harry did not answer.
“Yes, he asked,” whispered Ollivander. “He wanted to know everything I could tell him about the wand variously known as the Deathstick, the Wand of Destiny, or the Elder Wand.”
Harry glanced sideways at Hermione. She looked flaggergasted.
“The Dark Lord,” said Ollivander in hushed and frightened tones, “had always been happy with the wand I made him – yes and phoenix feather, thirteen-and-a-half inches. – until he discovered the connection of the twin cores. Now he seeks another, more powerful wand, as the only way to conquer yours.”
“But he’ll know soon, if he doesn’t already, that mine’s broken beyond repair,” said Harry quietly.
“No!” said Hermione, sounding frightened. “He can’t know that, Harry, how could he --?”
“Priori Incantatem,” said Harry. “We left your wand and the blackthorn wand at the Malfoys’, Hermione. If they examine them properly, make them re-create the spells they’ve cast lately, they’d see that yours broke mine, they’ll see that you tried and failed to mend it, and they’ll realize that I’ve been using the blackthorn one ever since.”
The little color she had regained since their arrival had drained from her face. Ron gave Harry a reproachful look, and said, “Let’s not worry about that now ---”
But Mr. Ollivander intervened.
“The Dark Lord no longer seeks the Elder Wand only for your destruction, Mr. Potter. He is determined to possess it because he believes it will make him truly invulnerable.”
“And will it?”
“The owner of the Elder Wand must always fear attack,” said Ollivander, “but the idea of the Dark Lord in possession of the Deathstick is, I must admit . . . formidable.”
Harry was suddenly reminded of how unsure, when they first met, of how much he like Ollivander. Even now, having been tortured and imprisoned by Voldemort, the idea of the Dark Wizard in possession of this wand seemed to enthrall him as much as it repulsed him.
“You – you really think this wand exists, then, Mr. Ollivander?” asked Hermione.
“Oh yes,” said Ollivander. “Yes, it is perfectly possible to trace the wand’s course through history. There are gaps, of, course, and long ones, where it vanishes from view, temporarily lost or hidden; but always it resurfaces. It has certain identifying characteristics that those who are learned in wandlore recognize. There are written accounts, some of them obscure, that I and other wandmakers have made it our business to study. They have the ring of authenticity.”
“So you – you don’t think it can be a fairy tale or a myth?” Hermione asked hopefully.
“No,” said Ollivander. “Whether it needs to pass by murder, I do not know. Its history is bloody, but that may be simply due to the fact that it is such a desirable object, and arouses such passions in wizards. Immensely powerful, dangerous in the wrong hands, and an object of incredible fascination to all of us who study the power of wands.”
“Mr. Ollivander,” said Harry, “you told You-Know-Who that Gregorovitch had the Elder Wand, didn’t you?”
Ollivander turned, if possible, even paler. He looked ghostly as he gulped.
“But how – how do you -- ?”
“Never mind how I know it,” said Harry, closing his eyes momentarily as his scar burned and he saw, for mere seconds, a vision of the main street in Hogsmeade, still dark, because it was so much farther north. “You told You-Know-Who that Gregorovitch had the wand?”
“It was a rumor,” whispered Ollivander. “A rumor, years and years ago, long before you were born I believe Gregorovitch himself started it. You can see how good it would be for business; that he was studying and duplicating the qualities of the Elder Wand!”
“Yes, I can see that,” said Harry. He stood up. “Mr. Ollivander, one last thing, and then we’ll let you get some rest. What do you know about the Deathly Hallows?”
“The – the what?” asked the wandmaker, looking utterly bewildered.
“The Deathly Hallows.”
“I’m afraid I don’t know what you’re talking about. Is this still something to do with wands?”
Harry looked into the sunken face and believed that Ollivander was not acting. He did not know about the Hallows.
“Thank you,” said Harry. “Thank you very much. We’ll leave you to get some rest now.”
Ollivander looked stricken.
“He was torturing me!” he gasped. “The Cruciatus Curse . . . you have no idea. . . .”
“I do,” said Harry, “I really do. Please get some rest. Thank you for telling me all of this.”
He led Ron and Hermione down the staircase. Harry caught glimpses of Bill, Fleur, Luna, and Dean sitting at the table in the kitchen, cups of tea in front of them. They all looked up at Harry as he appeared in the doorway, but he merely nodded to them and continued into the garden, Ron and Hermione behind him. The reddish mound of earth that covered Dobby lay ahead, and Harry walked back to it, as the pain in his head built more and more powerfully. It was a huge effort now to close down the visions that were forcing themselves upon him, but he knew that he would have to resist only a little longer. He would yield very soon, because he needed to know that his theory was right. He must make only one more short effort, so that he could explain to Ron and Hermione.
“Gregorovitch had the Elder Wand a long time ago,” he said, “I saw You-Know-Who trying to find him. When he tracked him down, he found that Gregorovitch didn’t have it anymore: It was stolen from him by Grindelwald. How Grindelwald found out that Gregorovitch had it, I don’t know – but if Gregorovitch was stupid enough to spread the rumor, it can’t have been that difficult.”
Voldemort was at the gates of Hogwarts; Harry could see him standing there, and see too the lamp bobbing in the pre-dawn, coming closer and closer.
“And Grindelwald used the Elder Wand to become powerful. And at the height of his power, when Dumbledore knew he was the only one who could stop him, he dueled Grindelwald and beat him, and he took the Elder Wand.”
“Dumbledore had the Elder Wand?” said Ron. “But then – where is it now?”
“At Hogwarts,” said Harry, fighting to remain with them in the cliff-top garden.
“But then, let’s go!” said Ron urgently. “Harry, let’s go and get it before he does!”
“It’s too late for that,” said Harry. He could not help himself, but clutched his head, trying to help it resist. “He knows where it is. He’s there now.”
“Harry!” Ron said furiously. “How long have you known this – why have we been wasting time? Why did you talk to Griphook first? We could have gone – we could still go –”
“No,” said Harry, and he sank to his knees in the grass. “Hermione’s right. Dumbledore didn’t want me to have it. He didn’t want me to take it. He wanted me to get the Horcruxes.”
“The unbeatable wand, Harry!” moaned Ron.
“I’m not supposed to . . . I’m supposed to get the Horcruxes. . . .”
And now everything was cool and dark: The sun was barely visible over the horizon as he glided alongside Snape, up through the grounds toward the lake.
“I shall join you in the castle shortly,” he said in his high, cold voice. “Leave me now.”
Snape bowed and set off back up the path, his black cloak billowing behind him. Harry walked slowly, waiting for Snape’s figure to disappear. It would not do for Snape, or indeed anyone else, to see where he was going. But there were no lights in the castle windows, and he could conceal himself . . . and in a second he had cast upon himself a Disillusionment Charm that hid him even from his own eyes.
And he walked on, around the edge of the lake, taking in the outlines of the beloved castle, his first kingdom, his birthright. . . .
And here it was, beside the lake, reflected in the dark waters. The white marble tomb, an unnecessary blot on the familiar landscape. He felt again that rush of controlled euphoria, that heady sense of purpose in destruction. He raised the old yew wand: How fitting that this would be its last great act.
The tomb split open from head to foot. The shrouded figure was as long as thin as it had been in life. He raised the wand again.
The wrappings fell open. The face was translucent, pale, sunken, yet almost perfectly preserved. They had left his spectacles on the crooked nose: He felt amused derision. Dumbledore’s hands were folded upon his chest, and there it lay, clutched beneath them, buried with him.
Had the old fool imagined that marble or death would protect the wand? Had he thought that the Dark Lord would be scared to violate his tomb? The spiderlike hand swooped and pulled the wand from Dumbledore’s grasp, and as he took it, a shower of sparks flew from its tip, sparkling over the corpse of its last owner, ready to serve a new master at last.
Chapter Twenty-Five
Shell Cottage
Bill and Fleur's cottage stood alone on a cliff overlooking the sea, its walls embedded with shells and whitewashed. It was a lonely and beautiful place. Wherever Harry went inside the tiny cottage or its garden, he could hear the constant ebb and flow of the sea, like the breathing of some great, slumbering creature. He spent much of the next few days making excuses to escape the crowded cottage, craving the cliff-top view of open sky and wide, empty sea, and the feel of cold, salty wind on his face.
The enormity of his decision not to race Voldemort to the wand still scared Harry. He could not remember, ever before, choosing /not/ to act. He was full of doubts, doubts that Ron could not help voicing whenever they were together.
"What if Dumbledore wanted us to work out the symbol in time to get the wand?" "What if working out what the symbol meant made you 'worthy' to get the Hallows?" "Harry, if that really is the Elder Wand, how the hell are we supposed to finish off You-Know-Who?"
Harry had no answers: There were moments when he wondered whether it had been outright madness not to try to prevent Voldemort breaking open the tomb. He could not even explain satisfactorily why he had decided against it: Every time he tried to reconstruct the internal arguments that had led to his decision, they sounded feebler to him.
The odd thing was that Hermione's support made him feel just as confused as Ron's doubts. Now forced to accept that the Elder Wand was real, she maintained that it was an evil object, and that the way Voldemort had taken possession of it was repellent, not to be considered.
"You could never have done that, Harry," she said again and again. "You couldn't have broken into Dumbledore's grave."
But the idea of Dumbledore's corpse frightened Harry much less than the possibility that he might have misunderstood the living Dumbledore's intentions. He felt that he was still groping in the dark; he had chosen his path but kept looking back, wondering whether he had misread the signs, whether he should not have taken the other way. From time to time, anger at Dumbledore crashed over him again, powerful as the waves slamming themselves against the cliff beneath the cottage, anger that Dumbledore had not explained before he died.
"But /is/ he dead?" said Ron, three days after they had arrived at the cottage. Harry had been staring out over the wall that separated the cottage garden from the cliff when Ron and Hermione had found him; he wished they had not, having no wish to join in with their argument.
"Yes, he is. Ron, /please" don't start that again!"
"Look at the facts, Hermione," said Ron, speaking across Harry, who continued to gaze at the horizon. "The solve doe. The sword. The eye Harry saw in the mirror --"
"Harry admits he could have imagined the eye! Don't you, Harry?"
"I could have," said Harry without looking at her.
"But you don't thing you did, do you?" asked Ron.
"No, I don't," said Harry.
"There you go!" said Ron quickly, before Hermione could carry on. "If it wasn't Dumbledore, explain how Dobby knew we were in the cellar, Hermione?"
"I can't -- but can you explain how Dumbledore sent him to us if he's lying in a tomb at Hogwarts?"
"I dunno, it could've been his ghost!"
"Dumbledore wouldn't come back as a ghost," said Harry. There was little about Dumbledore he was sure of now, but he knew that much. "He would have gone on."
"What d'you mean, 'gone on'?" asked Ron, but before Harry could say any more, a voice behind them said, "'Arry?"
Fleur had come out of the cottage, her long silver hair flying in the breeze.
"'Arry, Grip'ook would like to speak to you. 'E eez in ze smallest bedroom, 'e says 'e does not want to be over'eard."
Her dislike of the goblin sending her to deliver messages was clear; she looked irritable as she walked back around the house.
Griphook was waiting for them, as Fleur had said, in the tiniest of the cottage's three bedrooms, in which Hermione and Luna slept by night. He had drawn the red cotton curtains against the bright, cloudy sky, which gave the room a fiery glow at odds with the rest of the airy, light cottage.
"I have reached my decision, Harry Potter," said the goblin, who was sitting cross-legged in a low chair, drumming its arms with his spindly fingers. "Though the goblins of Gringotts will consider it base treachery, I have decided to help you --"
"That's great!" said Harry, relief surging through him. "Griphook, thank you, we're really --"
"-- in return," said the goblin firmly, "for payment."
Slightly taken aback, Harry hesitated.
"How much do you want? I've got gold."
"Not gold," said Griphook. "I have gold."
His black eyes glittered; there were no whites to his eyes.
"I want the sword. The sword of Godric Gryffindor."
Harry's spirits plummeted.
"You can't have that," he said. "I'm sorry."
"Then," said the goblin softly, "we have a problem."
"We can give you something else," said Ron eagerly. "I'll bet the Lestranges have got loads of stuff, you can take your pick once we get into the vault."
He had said the wrong thing. Griphook flushed angrily.
"I am not a thief, boy! I am not trying to procure treasures to which I have no right!"
"The sword's ours --"
"it is not," said the goblin.
"We're Gryffindors, and it was Godric Gryffindor's --"
"And before it was Gryffindor's, whose was it?" demanded the goblin, sitting up straight.
"No one's," said Ron. "It was made for him, wasn't it?"
"No!" cried the goblin, bristling with anger as he pointed a long finger at Ron. "Wizarding arrogance again! That sword was Ragnuk the First's, taken from him by Godric Gryffindor! It is a _____ _________, a masterpiece of goblinwork! It belongs with the gobl___. The sword is the price of my hire, take it or leave it!"
Griphook glared at them. Harry glanced at the other ____, then said, "We need to discuss this, Griphook, if that's all right. Could you give us a few minutes?"
The goblin nodded, looking sour.
Downstairs in the empty sitting room, Harry walked to the fireplace, brow furrowed, trying to think what to do. Behind him, Ron said, "He's having a laugh. We can't let him have that sword."
"It is true?" Harry asked Hermione. "Was the sword stolen by Gryffindor?"
"I don't know," she said hopelessly. "Wizarding history often skates over what the wizards have done to other magical races, but there's no account that I know of that says Gryffindor stole the sword."
"It'll be one of those goblin stories," said Ron, "about how the wizards are always trying to get one over on them. I suppose we should think ourselves lucky he hasn't asked for one of our wands."
"Goblins have got good reason to dislike wizards, Ron." said Hermione. "They've been treated brutally in the past."
"Goblins aren't exactly fluffy little bunnies, though, are they?" said Ron. "They've killed plenty of us. They've fought dirty too."
"But arguing with Griphook about whose race is most underhanded and violent isn't going to make him more likely to help us, is it?"
There was a pause while they tried to think of a way around the problem. Harry looked out of the window at Dobby's grave. Luna was arranging sea lavender in a jam jar beside the headstone.
"Okay," said Ron, and Harry turned back to face him, "how's this? We tell Griphook we need the sword until we get inside the _____ and then he can have it. There's a fake in these, isn't there? We switch them, and give him the fake."
"Ron, he'd know the difference better than we would!" said Hermione. "He's the only one who realized there had been a swap!"
"Yeah, but we could _ca_per before he realizes --"
He quailed beneath the look Hermione was giving him.
"That," she said quietly, "is despicable. Ask for his help, then double-cross him? And you wonder why goblins don't like wizards, Ron?"
Ron's ears had turned red.
"All right, all right! It was the only thing I could think of! What's your solution, then?"
"We need to offer him something else, something just as valuable."
"Brilliant, I'll go and get one of our ancient goblin-made swords and you can gift wrap it."
Silence fell between them again. Harry was sure that the goblin would accept nothing but the sword, even if they had something as valuable to offer him. Yet the sword was their one, indispensable weapon against the Horcruxes.
He closed his eyes for a moment or two and listened to the rush of the sea. The idea that Gryffindor might have stolen the sword was unpleasant to him: He had always been
proud to be a Gryffindor; Gryffindor had been the champion of Muggle-borns, the wizard who had clashed with the pureblood-loving Slytherin....
"Maybe he's lying," Harry said, opening his eyes again. "Griphook. Maybe Gryffindor didn't take the sword. How do we know the goblin version of history's right?"
"Does it make a difference?" asked Hermione.
"Changes how I feel about it," said Harry.
He took a deep breath.
"We'll tell him he can have the sword after he's helped us get into that vault -- but we'll be careful to avoid telling him exactly /when/ he can have it."
A grin spread slowly across Ron's face. Hermione, however, looked alarmed.
"Harry, we can't --"
"He can have it," Harry went on, "after we've used it on all of the Horcruxes. I'll make sure he gets it then. I'll keep my word."
"But that could be years!" said Hermione.
"I know that, but /he/ needn't. I won't be lying... really."
Harry met her eyes with a mixture of defiance and shame. He remembered the words that had been engraved over the gateway to Nurmengard: FOR THE GREATER GOOD. He pushed the idea away. What choice did they have?
"I don't like it," said Hermione.
"Nor do I, much," Harry admitted.
"Well, I think it's genius," said Ron, standing up again. "Let's go and tell him."
Back in the smallest bedroom, Harry made the offer, careful to phrase it so as not to give any definite time for the handover of the sword. Hermione frowned at the floor while he was speaking; he felt irritated at her, afraid that she might give the game away. However, Griphook had eyes for nobody but Harry.
"I have your word, Harry Potter, that you will give me the sword of Gryffindor if I help you?"
"Yes," said Harry.
"Then shake," said the goblin, holding out his hand.
Harry took it and shook. He wondered whether those black eyes saw any misgivings in his own. Then Griphook relinquished him, clapped his hands together, and said, "So. We begin!"
It was like planning to break into the Ministry all over again. They settled to work in the smallest bedroom, which was kept, according to Griphook's preference, in semidarkness.
"I have visited the Lestranges' vault only once," Griphook told them, "on the occasion I was told to place inside it the false sword. It is one of the most ancient chambers. The oldest Wizarding families store their treasures at the deepest level, where the vaults are largest and best protected...."
They remained shut in the cupboardlike room for hours at a time. Slowly the days stretched into weeks. There was problem after problem to overcome, not least of which was that their store of Polyjuice Potion was greatly depleted.
"There's really only enough left for one of us," said Hermione, tilting the thick mudlike potion against the lamplight.
"That'll be enough," said Harry, who was examining Griphook's hand-drawn map of the deepest passageways.
The other inhabitants of Shell Cottage could hardly fail to notice that something was going on now that Harry, Ron and Hermione only emerged for mealtimes. Nobody asked questions, although Harry often felt Bill's eyes on the three of them at the table, thoughtful, concerned.
The longer they spent together, the more Harry realized that he did not much like the goblin. Griphook was unexpectedly bloodthirsty, laughed at the idea of pain in lesser creatures and seemed to relish the possibility that they might have to hurt other wizards to reach the Lestranges' vault. Harry could tell that his distaste was shared by the other two, but they did not discuss it. They needed Griphook.
The goblin ate only grudgingly with the rest of them. Even after his legs had mended, he continued to request trays of food in his room, like the still-frail Ollivander, until Bill (following an angry outburst from Fleur) went upstairs to tell him that the arrangement could not continue. Thereafter Griphook joined them at the overcrowded table, although he refused to eat the same food, insisting, instead, on lumps of raw meat, roots, and various fungi.
Harry felt responsible: It was, after all, he who had insisted that the goblin remain at Shell Cottage so that he could question him; his fault that the whole Weasley family had been driven into hiding, that Bill, Fred, George, and Mr. Weasley could no longer work.
"I'm sorry," he told Fleur, one blustery April evening as he helped her prepare dinner. "I never meant you to have to deal with all of this."
She had just set some knives to work, chipping up steaks for Griphook and Bill, who had preferred his meat bloody ever since he had been attacked by Greyback. While the knives sliced behind her, her somewhat irritable expression softened.
"'Arry, you saved my sister's life, I do not forget."
This was not, strictly speaking, true, but Harry decided against reminding her that Gabrielle had never been in real danger.
"Anyway," Fleur went on, pointing her want at a pot of sauce on the stove, which began to bubble at once, "Mr. Ollivander leaves for Muriel's zis evening. Zat will make zings easier. Ze goblin," she scowled a little at the mention of him, "can move downstairs, and you, Ron, and Dean can take zat room."
"We don't mind sleeping in the living room," said Harry, who knew that Griphook would thing poorly of having to sleep on the sofa; keeping Griphook happy was essential to their plans. "Don't worry about us." And when she tried to protest he went on, "We'll be off your hands soon too, Ron, Hermione, and I. We won't need to be here much longer."
"But, what do you mean?" she said, frowning at him, her wand pointing at the casserole dish now suspended in midair. "Of course you must not leave, you are safe 'ere!"
She looked rather like Mrs. Weasley as she said it, and he was glad that the back door opened at that moment. Luna and Dean entered, their hair damp from the rain outside and their arms full of driftwood.
"... and tiny little ears," Luna was saying, "a bit like hippo's, Daddy says, only purple and hairy. And if you want to call them, you have to hum; they prefer a waltz, nothing too fast...."
Looking uncomfortable, Dean shrugged at Harry as he passed, following Luna into the combined dining and sitting room where Ron and Hermione were laying the dinner table. Seizing the chance to escape Fleur's questions, Harry grabbed two jugs of pumpkin juice and followed them.
"... and if you ever come to our house I'll be able to show you the horn, Daddy wrote to me about it but I haven't seen it yet, because the Death Eaters took me from the Hogwarts Express and I never got home for Christmas," Luna was saying, as she and Dean relit the fire.
"Luna, we told you," Hermione called over to her. "That horn exploded. It came from an Erumpent, not a Crumple-Horned Snorkack --"
"No, it was definitely a Snorkack horn," said Luna serenely, "Daddy told me. It will probably have re-formed by now, they mend themselves, you know."
Hermione shook her head and continued laying down forks as Bill appeared, leading Mr. Ollivander down the stairs. The wandmaker still looked exceptionally frail, and he clung to Bill's arm as the latter supported him, carrying a large suitcase.
"I'm going to miss you, Mr. Ollivander," said Luna, approaching the old man.
"And I you, my dear," said Ollivander, patting her on the shoulder.
"You were an inexpressible comfort to me in that terrible place."
"So, au revoir, Mr. Ollivander," said Fleur, kissing him on both cheeks. "And I wonder whezzer you could oblige me by delivering a package to Bill's Auntie Murie!? I never returned 'er tiara."
"It will be an honor," said Ollivander with a little bow, "the very least I can do in return for your generous hospitality."
Fleur drew out a worn velvet case, which she opened to show the wandmaker. The tiara sat glittering and twinkling in the light from the low-hanging lamp.
"Moonstones and diamonds," said Griphook, who had sidled into the room without Harry noticing. "Made by goblins, I think?"
"And paid for by wizards," said Bill quietly, and the goblin shot him a look that was both furtive and challenging.
A strong wind gusted against the cottage windows as Bill and Ollivander set off into the night. The rest of them squeezed in around the table; elbow to elbow and with barely enough room to move, they started to eat. The fire crackled and popped in the grate beside them. Fleur, Harry noticed, was merely playing with her food; she glanced at the window every few minutes; however, Bill returned before they had finished their first course, his long hair tangled by the wind.
"Everything's fine," he told Fleur. "Ollivander settled in, Mum and Dad say hello. Ginny sends you all her love, Fred and George are driving Muriel up the wall, they're still operating an Owl-Order business out of her back room. It cheered her up to have her tiara back, though. She said she thought we'd stolen it."
"Ah, she eez charmant, your aunt," said Fleur crossly, waving her wand and causing the dirty plates to rise and form a stack in midair. She caught them and marched out of the room.
"Daddy's made a tiara," piped up Luna, "Well, more of a crown, really."
Ron caught Harry's eye and grinned; Harry knew that he was remembering the ludicrous headdress they had seen on their visit to Xenophilius.
"Yes, he's trying to re-create the lost diadem of Ravenclaw. He thinks he's identified most of the main elements now. Adding the billywig wings really made a difference --"
There was a bang on the front door. Everyone's head turned toward it. Fleur came running out of the kitchen, looking frightened; Bill jumped to his feed, his wand pointing
at the door; Harry, Ron, and Hermione did the same. Silently Griphook slipped beneath the table, out of sight.
"Who is it?" Bill called.
"It is I, Remus John Lupin!" called a voice over the howling wind. Harry experienced a thrill of fear; what had happened? "I am a werewolf, married to Nymphadora Tonks, and you, the Secret-Keeper of Shell Cottage, told me the address and bade me come in an emergency!"
"Lupin," muttered Bill, and he ran to the door and wrenched it open.
Lupin fell over the threshold. He was white-faced, wrapped in a traveling cloak, his graying hair windswept. He straightened up, looked around the room, making sure of who was there, then cried aloud, "It's a boy! We've named him Ted, after Dora's father!"
Hermione shrieked.
"Wha --? Tonks -- Tonks has had the baby?"
"Yes, yes, she's had the baby!" shouted Lupin. All around the table came cries of delight, sighs of relief: Hermione and Fleur both squealed, "Congratulations!" and Ron said, "Blimey, a baby!" as if he had never heard of such a thing before.
"Yes -- yes -- a boy," said Lupin again, who seemed dazed by his own happiness. He strode around the table and hugged Harry; the scene in the basement of Grimmauld Place might never have happened.
"You'll be godfather?" he said as he released Harry.
"M-me?" stammered Harry.
"You, yes, of course -- Dora quite agrees, no one better --"
"I -- yeah -- blimey --"
Harry felt overwhelmed, astonished, delighted; now Bill was hurrying to fetch wine, and Fleur was persuading Lupin to join them for a drink.
"I can't stay long, I must get back," said Lupin, beaming around at them all: He looked years younger than Harry had ever seen him. "Thank you, thank you, Bill"
Bill had soon filled all of their goblets, they stood and raised them high in a toast.
"To Teddy Remus Lupin," said Lupin, "a great wizard in the making!"
"'Oo does 'e look like?" Fleur inquired.
"I think he looks like Dora, but she thinks he is like me. Not much hair. It looked black when he was born, but I swear it's turned ginger in the hour since. Probably blond by the time I get back. Andromeda says Tonks's hair started changing color the day that she was born." He drained his goblet. "Oh, go on then, just one more," he added, beaming, as Bill made to fill it again.
The wind buffeted the little cottage and the fire leapt and crackled, and Bill was soon opening another bottle of wine. Lupin's news seemed to have taken them out of themselves, removed them for a while from their state of siege: Tidings of new life were exhilarating. Only the goblin seemed untouched by the suddenly festive atmosphere, and after a while he slunk back to the bedroom he now occupied alone. Harry thought he was the only one who had noticed this, until he saw Bill's eyes following the goblin up the stairs.
"No... no... I really must get back," said Lupin at last, declining yet another goblet of wine. He got to his feet and pulled his traveling cloak back around himself.
"Good-bye, good-bye -- I'll try and bring some pictures in a few day's time -- they'll all be so glad to know that I've seen you --"
He fastened his cloak and made his farewells, hugging the women and grasping hands with the men, then, still beaming, returned into the wild night.
"Godfather, Harry!" said Bill as they walked into the kitchen together, helping clear the table. "A real honor! Congratulations!"
As Harry set down the empty goblets he was carrying, Bill pulled the door behind him closed, shutting out the still-voluble voices of the others, who were continuing to celebrate even in Lupin's absence.
"I wanted a private word, actually, Harry. It hasn't been easy to get an opportunity with the cottage this full of people."
Bill hesitated.
"Harry, you're planning something with Griphook."
It was a statement, not a question, and Harry did not bother to deny it. He merely looked at Bill, waiting.
"I know goblins," said Bill. "I've worked for Gringotts ever since I left Hogwarts. As far as there can be friendship between wizards and goblins, I have goblin friends -- or, at least, goblins I know well, and like." Again, Bill hesitated.
"Harry, what do you want from Griphook, and what have you promised him in return?"
"I can't tell you that," said Harry. "Sorry, Bill."
The kitchen door opened behind them; Fleur was trying to bring through more empty goblets.
"Wait," Bill told her, "Just a moment."
She backed out and he closed the door again.
"Then I have to say this," Bill went on. "If you have struck any kind of bargain with Griphook, and most particularly if that bargain involves treasure, you must be exceptionally careful. Goblin notions of ownership, payment, and repayment are not the same as human ones."
Harry felt a slight squirm of discomfort, as though a small snake had stirred inside him.
"What do you mean?" he asked.
"We are talking about a different breed of being," said Bill. "Dealings between wizards and goblins have been fraught for centuries -- but you'll know all that from History of Magic. There has been fault on both sides, I would never claim that wizards have been innocent. However, there is a belief among some goblins, and those at Gringotts are perhaps most prone to it, that wizards cannot be trusted in matters of gold and treasure, that they have no respect for goblin ownership."
"I respect --" Harry began, but Bill shook his head.
"You don't understand, Harry, nobody could understand unless they have lived with goblins. To a goblin, the rightful and true master of any object is the maker, not the purchaser. All goblin made objects are, in goblin eyes, rightfully theirs."
"But it was bought --"
"-- then they would consider it rented by the one who had paid the money. They have, however, great difficulty with the idea of goblin-made objects passing from wizard to wizard. You saw Griphook's face when the tiara passed under his eyes. He disapproves. I believe he thinks, as do the fiercest of his kind, that it ought to have been returned to the goblins once the original purchaser died. They consider our habit of keeping goblin-made objects, passing them from wizard to wizard without further payment, little more than theft."
Harry had an ominous feeling now; he wondered whether Bill guessed more than he was letting on.
"All I am saying," said Bill, setting his hand on the door back into the sitting room, "is to be very careful what you promise goblins, Harry. It would be less dangerous to break into Gringotts than to renege on a promise to a goblin."
"Right," said Harry as Bill opened the door, "yeah. Thanks. I'll bear that in mind."
As he followed Bill back to the others a wry thought came to him, born no doubt of the wine he had drunk. He seemed set on ______ to become just as reckless a godfather to Teddy Lupin as Sirius Black had been to him.
Chapter Twenty-Six
Their plans were made, their preparations complete; in the smallest bedroom a single long, coarse black hair (plucked from the sweater Hermione had been wearing at Malfoy Manor) lay curled in a small glass phial on the mantelpiece.
"And you'll be using her actual wand," said Harry, nodding toward the walnut wand, "so I reckon you'll be pretty convincing."
Hermione looked frightened that the wand might sting or bit her as she picked it up.
"I hate that thing," she said in a low voice. "I really hate it. It feels all wrong, it doesn't work properly for me . . . It's like a bit of her."
Harry could not help but remember how Hermione has dismissed his loathing of the blackthorn wand, insisting that he was imagining things when it did not work as well as his own, telling him to simply practice. He chose not to repeat her own advice back to her, however, the eve of their attempted assault on Gringotts felt like the wrong moment to antagonize her.
"It'll probably help you get in character, though," said Ron. "think what that wand's done!"
"But that's my point!" said Hermione. "This is the wand that tortured Neville's mum and dad, and who knows how many other people? This is the wand that killed Sirius!"
Harry had not thought of that: He looked down at the wand and was visited by a brutal urge to snap it, to slice it in half with Gryffindor's sword, which was propped against the wall beside him.
"I miss my wand," Hermione said miserably. "I wish Mr. Ollivander could have made me another one too."
Mr. Ollivander had sent Luna a new wand that morning. She was out on the back lawn at that moment, testing its capabilities in the late afternoon sun. Dean, who had lost his wand to the Snatchers, was watching rather gloomily.
Harry looked down at the hawthorn wand that had once belonged to Draco Malfoy. He had been surprised, but pleased to discover that it worked for him at least as well as Hermione's had done. Remembering what Ollivander had told them of the secret
workings of wands, Harry thought he knew what Hermione's problem was: She had not won the walnut wand's allegiance by taking it personally from Bellatrix.
The door of the bedroom opened and Griphook entered. Harry reached instinctively for the hilt of the sword and drew it close to him, but regretted his action at once. He could tell that the goblin had noticed. Seeking to gloss over the sticky moment, he said, "We've just been checking the last-minute stuff, Griphook. We've told Bill and Fleur we're leaving tomorrow, and we've told them not to get up to see us off."
They had been firm on this point, because Hermione would need to transform in Bellatrix before they left, and the less that Bill and Fleur knew or suspected about what they were about to do, the better. They had also explained that they would not be returning. As they had lost Perkin's old tent on the night that the Snatcher's caught them, Bill had lent them another one. It was now packed inside the beaded bag, which, Harry was impressed to learn, Hermione had protected from the Snatchers by the simple expedient of stuffing it down her sock.
Though he would miss Bill, Fleur, Luna, and Dean, not to mention the home comforts they had enjoyed over the last few weeks, Harry was looking forward to escaping the confinement of Shell Cottage. He was tired of trying to make sure that they were not overheard, tired of being shut in the tiny, dark bedroom. Most of all, he longed to be rid of Griphook. However, precisely how and when they were to part from the goblin without handing over Gryffindor's sword remained a question to which Harry had no answer. It had been impossible to decide how they were going to do it, because the goblin rarely left Harry, Ron, and Hermione alone together for more than five minutes at a time: "He could give my mother lessons," growled Ron, as the goblin's long fingers kept appearing around the edges of doors. With Bill's warning in mind, Harry could not help suspecting that Griphook was on the watch for possible skullduggery. Hermione disapproved so heartily of the planned double-cross that Harry had given up attempting to pick her brains on how best to do it: Ron, on the rare occasions that they had been able to snatch a few Griphook-free moments, had come up with nothing better than "We'll just have to wing it, mate."
Harry slept badly that night. Lying away in the early hours, he thought back to the way he had felt the night before they had infiltrated the Ministry of Magic and remembered a determination, almost an excitement. Now he was experiencing jolts of anxiety nagging doubts: He could not shake off the fear that it was all going to go wrong. He kept telling himself that their plan was good, that Griphook knew what they were facing, that they were well-prepared for all the difficulties they were likely to encounter, yet still he felt uneasy. Once or twice he heard Ron stir and was sure that he too was awake, but they were sharing the sitting room with Dean, so Harry did not speak.
It was a relief when six o-clock arrived and they could slip out of their sleeping bags, dress in the semidarkness, then creep out into the garden, where they were to meet Hermione and Griphook. The dawn was chilly, but there was little wind now that it was May. Harry looked up at the stars still glimmering palely in the dark sky and listened to the sea washing backward and forward against the cliff: He was going to miss the sound.
Small green shoots were forcing their way up through the red earth of Dobby's grave now, in a year's time the mound would be covered in flowers. The white stone that bore the elf's name had already acquired a weathered look. He realized now that they could hardly have laid Dobby to rest in a more beautiful place, but Harry ached with
sadness to think of leaving him behind. Looking down on the grave, he wondered yet again how the elf had known where to come to rescue them. His fingers moved absentmindedly to the little pouch still strung around his neck, thorough which he could feel the jagged mirror fragment in which he had been sure he had seen Dumbledore's eye. Then the sound of a door opening made him look around.
Bellatrix Lestrange was striding across the lawn toward them, accompanied by Griphook. As she walked, she was tucking the small, beaded bag into the inside pocket of another set of the old robes they had taken from Grimmauld Place. Though Harry knew perfectly well that it was really Hermione, he could not suppress a shiver of loathing. She was taller than he was, her long black hair rippling down her back, her heavily lidded eyes disdainful as they rested upon him; but then she spoke, and he heard Hermione through Bellatrix's low voice.
"She tasted disgusting, worse than Gurdyroots! Okay, Ron, come here so I can do you . . ."
"right, but remember, I don't like the beard too long"
"Oh, for heaven's sake, this isn't about looking handsome"
"It's not that, it gets in the way! But I liked my nose a bit shorter, try and do it the way you did last time."
Hermione sighed and set to work, muttering under her breath as she transformed various aspects of Ron's appearance. He was to be given a completely fake identity, and they were trusting to the malevolent aura cast by Bellatrix to protect him. Meanwhile Harry and Griphook were to be concealed under the Invisibility Cloak.
"There," said Hermione, "how does he look, Harry?"
It was just not possible to discern Ron under his disguise, but only, Harry thought because he knew him so well. Ron's hair was now long and wavy; he had a thick brown beard and mustache, no freckles, a short, broad nose, and heavy eyebrows.
"Well, he's not my type, but he'll do," said Harry. "Shall we go, then?"
All three of them glanced back at Shell Cottage, lying dark and silent under the fading stars, then turned and began to walk toward the point, just beyond the boundary wall, where the Fidelius Chard stopped working and they would be able to Disapparate. Once past the gate, Griphook spoke.
"I should climb up now, Harry Potter, I think?"
Harry bent down and the goblin clambered onto his back, his hands linked on front of Harry's throat. He was not heavy, but Harry disliked the feeling of the goblin and the surprising strength with which he clung on. Hermione pulled the Invisibility Cloak out of the beaded bag and threw it over them both.
"Perfect," she said, bending down to check Harry's feet. "I can't see a thing. Let's go."
Harry turned on the spot, with Griphook on his shoulders, concentrating with all his might on the Leaky Cauldron, the inn that was the entrance to Diagon Alley. The goblin clung even tighter as they moved into the compressing darkness, and seconds later Harry's feet found pavement and he opened his eyes on Charing Cross Road. Muggles bustled past wearing the hangdog expressions of early morning, quite unconscious of the little inn's existence.
The bar of the Leaky Cauldron was nearly deserted. Ton, the stooped and toothless landlord, was polishing glasses behind the bar counter; a couple of warlocks
having a muttered conversation in the far corner glanced at Hermione and drew back into the shadows.
"Madam Lestrange," murmured Tom, and as Hermione paused he inclined his head subserviently.
"Good morning," said Hermione, and as Harry crept past, still carrying Griphook piggyback under the Cloak, he saw Tom look surprised.
"Too polite," Harry whispered in Hermione's ear as they passed out of the Inn into the tiny backyard. "You need to treat people like they're scum!"
"Okay, okay!"
Hermione drew out Bellatrix's wand and rapped a brick in the nondescript wall in front of them. At once the bricks began to whirl and spin: A hole appeared in the middle of them, which grew wider and wider, finally forming an archway onto the narrow cobbled street that was Diagon Alley.
It was quiet, barely time for the shops to open, and there were hardly and shoppers abroad. The crooked, cobbled street was much altered now from the bustling place Harry had visited before his first team at Hogwarts so many years before. More shops than ever were boarded up, though several new establishments dedicated to the Dark Arts had been created since his last visit. Harry's own face glared down at him from posters plastered over many windows, always captioned with the words UNDESIRABLE NUMBER ONE.
A number of ragged people sat huddled in doorways. He heard them moaning to the few passersby, pleading for gold, insisting that they were really wizards. One man had a bloody bandage over his eye.
As they set off along the street, the beggars glimpsed Hermione. they seemed to melt away before her, drawing hoods over their faces and fleeing as fast as they could. Hermione looked after them curiously, until the man with the bloodied bandage came staggering right across her path.
"My children," he bellowed, pointing at her. His voice was cracked, high-pitched, he sounded distraught. "Where are my children? What has he done with them? You know, you know!"
"I--I really--" stammered Hermione.
The man lunged at her, reaching for her throat. Then, with a bang and a burst of red light he was thrown backward onto the ground, unconscious. Ron stood there, his wand still outstretched and a look of shock visible behind his beard. Faces appeared at the windows on either side of the street, while a little knot of prosperous-looking passerby gathered their robes about them and broke into gentle trots, keen to vacate the scene.
their entrance into Diagon Alley could hardly have been more conspicuous; for a moment Harry wondered whether it might not be better to leave now and try to think of a different plan. Before they could move or consult one another, however, they heard a cry from behind them.
"Why, Madam Lestrange!"
Harry whirled around and Griphook tightened his hold around Harry's neck: A tall, think wizard with a crown of bushy gray hair and a long, sharp nose was striding toward them.
"It's Travers," hissed the goblin into Harry's ear, but at that moment Harry could not think who Travers was. Hermione had drawn herself up to full height and said with as much contempt as she could muster:
"And what do you want?"
Travers stopped in his tracks, clearly affronted.
"He's another Death Eater!" breathed Griphook, and Harry sidled sideways to repeat the information into Hermione's ear.
"I merely sought to greet you," said Travers coolly, "but if my presence is not welcome . . ."
Harry recognized his voice now: Travers was one of the Death Eaters who had been summoned to Xenophilius’s house.
"No, no, not at all, Travers," said Hermione quickly, trying to cover up her mistake. "How are you?"
"Well, I confess I am surprised to see you out and about, Bellatrix."
"Really? Why?" asked Hermione.
"Well," Travers coughed, "I heard that the Inhabitants of Malfoy Manor were confined to the house, after the . . . ah . . . escape."
Harry willed Hermione to keep her head. If this was true, and Bellatrix was not supposed to be out in public--
"The Dark Lord forgives those who have served him most faithfully in the past," said Hermione in a magnificent imitation of Bellatrix's most contemptuous manner. "Perhaps your credit is not as good with him as mine is, Travers."
Though the Death Eater looked offended, he also seemed less suspicious. He glanced down at the man Ron had just Stunned.
"How did it offend you?"
"It does not matter, it will not do so again," said Hermione coolly.
"Some of these wandless can be troublesome," said Travers. "While they do nothing but beg I have no objection, but one of them actually asked me to plead her case in the Ministry last week. 'I'm a witch, sir, I'm a witch, let me prove it to you!" he said in a squeaky impersonation. "As if I was going to give her my wand--but whose wand," said Travers curiously, "are you using at the moment, Bellatrix? I heard that your own was--"
"I have my wand here," said Hermione coldly, holding up Bellatrix's wand. "I don't know what rumors you have been listening to, Travers, but you seem sadly misinformed."
Travers seemed a little taken aback at that, and he turned instead to Ron.
"Who is your friend? I do not recognize him."
"This is Dragomir Despard," said Hermione; they had decided that a fictional foreigner was the safest cover for Ron to assume. "He speaks very little English, but he is in sympathy with the Dark Lord's aims. He has traveled here from Transylvania to see our new regime."
"Indeed? How do you do, Dragomir?"
"'Ow you?" said Ron, holding out his hand.
Travers extended two fingers and shook Ron's hand as though frightened of dirtying himself.
So what brings you and your--ah--sympathetic friend to Diagon Alley this early?" asked Travers.
"I need to visit Gringotts," said Hermione.
"Alas, I also," said Travers. "Gold, filthy gold! We cannot live without it, yet I confess I deplore the necessity of consorting with our long-fingered friends."
Harry felt Griphook's clasped hands tighten momentarily around his neck.
"Shall we?" said Travers, gesturing Hermione forward.
Hermione had no choice but to fall into step beside him and head along the crooked, cobbled street toward the place where the snowy-white Gringotts stood towering over the other little shops. Ron sloped along beside them, and Harry and Griphook followed.
A watchful Death Eater was the very last thing they needed, and the worst of it was, with Travers matching at what he believed to be Bellatrix's side, there was no means for Harry to communicate with Hermione or Ron. All too soon they arrived at the foot of the marble steps leading up to the great bronze doors. As Griphook had already warned them, the liveried goblins who usually flanked the entrance had been replaced by two wizards, both of whom were clutching long thin golden rods.
"Ah, Probity Probes," signed Travers theatrically, "so crude--but so effective!"
And he set off up the steps, nodding left and right to the wizards, who raised the golden rods and passed them up and down his body. The Probes, Harry knew, detected spells of concealment and hidden magical objects. Knowing that he had only seconds, Harry pointed Draco's wand at each of the guards in turn and murmured, "Confundo" twice. Unnoticed by Travers, who was looking through the bronze doors at the inner hall, each of the guards gave a little start as the spells hit them.
Hermione's long black hair rippled behind her as she climbed the steps.
"One moment, madam," said the guard, raising his Probe.
"But you've just done that!" said Hermione in Bellatrix's commanding, arrogant voice. Travers looked around, eyebrows raised. The guard was confused. He stared down at the thin golden Probe and then at his companion, who said in a slightly dazed voice,
"Yeah, you've just checked them, Marius."
Hermione swept forward. Ron by her side, Harry and Griphook trotting invisibly behind them. Harry glanced back as they crossed the threshold. The wizards were both scratching their heads.
Two goblins stood before the inner doors, which were made of silver and which carried the poem warning of dire retribution to potential thieves. Harry looked up at it, and all of a sudden a knife-sharp memory came to him: standing on this very spot on the day that he had turned eleven, the most wonderful birthday of his life, and Hagrid standing beside him saying, "Like I said, yeh'd be mad ter try an' rob it." Gringotts had seemed a place of wonder that day, the enchanted repository of a trove of gold he had never known he possessed, and never for an instant could he have dreamed that he would return to steal . . . But within seconds they were standing in the vast marble hall of the bank.
The long counter was manned by goblins sitting on high stools serving the first customers of the day. Hermione, Ron, and Travers headed toward an old goblin who was examining a thick gold coin through an eyeglass. Hermione allowed Travers to step ahead of her on the pretext of explaining features of the hall to Ron.
The goblin tossed the coin he was holding aside, said to nobody in particular, "Leprechaun," and then greeted Travers, who passed over a tiny golden key, which was examined and given back to him.
Hermione stepped forward.
"Madam Lestrange!" said the goblin, evidently startled. "Dear me!" How--how may I help you today?"
"I wish to enter my vault," said Hermione.
The old goblin seemed to recoil a little. Harry glanced around. Not only was Travers hanging back, watching, but several other goblins had looked up from their work to stare at Hermione.
"You have . . . identification?" asked the goblin.
"Identification? I--I have never been asked for identification before!" said Hermione.
"They know!" whispered Griphook in Harry's ear, "They must have been warned there might be an imposter!"
"Your wand will do, madam," said the goblin. He held out a slightly trembling hand, and in a dreadful blast of realization Harry knew that the goblins of Gringotts were aware that Bellatrix's wand had been stolen.
"Act now, act now," whispered Griphook in Harry's ear, "the Imperious Curse!"
Harry raised the hawthorn wand beneath the cloak, pointed it at the old goblin, and whispered, for the first time in his life, "Imperio!"
A curious sensation shot down Harry's arm, a feeling of tingling, warmth that seemed to flow from his mind, down the sinews and veins connecting him to the wand and the curse it had just cast. The goblin took Bellatrix's wand, examined it closely, and then said, "Ah, you have had a new wand made, Madam Lestrange!"
"What?" said Hermione, "No, no, that's mine--"
"A new wand?" said Travers, approaching the counter again; still the goblins all around were watching. "But how could you have done, which wandmaker did you use?"
Harry acted without thinking. Pointing his wand at Travers, he muttered, "Imperio!" once more.
"Oh yes, I see," said Travers, looking down at Bellatrix's wand, "yes, very handsome. and is it working well? I always think wands require a little breaking in, don't you?"
Hermione looked utterly bewildered, but to Harry's enormous relief she accepted the bizarre turn of events without comment.
The old goblin behind the counter clapped his hands and a younger goblin approached.
"I shall need the Clankers," he told the goblin, who dashed away and returned a moment later with a leather bag that seemed to be full of jangling metal, which he handed to his senior. "Good, good! S, if you will follow me, Madam Lestrange," said the old goblin, hopping down off his stool and vanishing from sight. "I shall take you to your vault."
He appeared around the end of the counter, jogging happily toward them, the contents of the leather bag still jingling. Travers was now standing quite still with his mouth hanging wide open. Ron was drawing attention to this odd phenomenon by regarding Travers with confusion.
“Wait – Bogrod!”
Another goblin came scurrying around the counter.
“We have instructions,” he said with a bow to Hermione. “Forgive me, Madam, but there have been special orders regarding the vault of Lestrange.”
He whispered urgently in Bogrod’s ear, but the Imperiused goblin shook him off.
“I am aware of the instructions, Madam Lestrange wishes to visit her vault … Very old family … old clients … This way, please … “
And, still clanking, he hurried toward one of the many doors leading off the hall. Harry looked back at Travers , who was still rooted to the spot looking abnormally vacant, and made his decision. With a flick of his wand he made Travers come with them, walking meekly in their wake as they reached the door and passed into the rough stone passageway beyond, which was lit with flaming torches.
“We’re in trouble; they suspect,” said Harry as the door slammed behind them and he pulled off the Invisibility Cloak. Griphook jumped down from his shoulders: neither Travers nor Bogrod showed the slightest surprise at the sudden appearance of Harry Potter in their midst. “They’re Imperiused,” he added, in response to Hermione and Ron’s confused queries about Travers and Bogrod, who were both now standing there looking blank. “I don’t think I did it strongly enough, I don’t know …”
And another memory darted through his mind, of the real Bellatrix Lestrange shrieking at him when he had first tried to use an Unforgivable Curse: “You need to mean them, Potter!”
“What do we do?” asked Ron. “Shall we get out now, while we can?”
“If we can,” said Hermione, looking back toward the door into the main hall, beyond which who knew what was happening.
“We’ve got this far, I say we go on,” said Harry.
“Good!” said Griphook. “So, we need Bogrod to control the cart; I no long have the authority. But there will not be room for the wizard.”
Harry pointed his wand at Travers.
The wizard turned and set off along the dark track at a smart pace.
“What are you making him do?”
“Hide,” said Harry as he pointed his wand at Bogrod, who whistled to summon a little cart that came trundling along the tracks toward them out of the darkness. Harry was sure he could hear shouting behind them in the main hall as they all clambered into it, Bogrod in front of Griphook, Harry, Ron, and Hermione crammed together in the back.
With a jerk the cart moved off, gathering speed: They hurried past Travers, who was wriggling into a crack in the wall, then the cart began twisting and turning through the labyrinthine passages, sloping downward all the time. Harry could not hear anything over the rattling of the cart on the tracks: His hair flew behind him as they swerved between stalactites, flying ever deeper into the earth, but he kept glancing back. They might as well have left enormous footprints behind them; the more he thought about it, the more foolish it seemed to have disguised Hermione as Bellatrix, to have brought along Bellatrix’s wand, when the Death Eaters knew who had stolen it –
There were a deeper than Harry had ever penetrated within Gringotts; they took a hairpin bend at speed and saw ahead of them, with seconds to spare, a waterfall pounding over the track. Harry heard Griphook shout, “No!” but there was no braking. They
zoomed through it. Water filled Harry’s eyes and mouth: He could not see or breathe: Then, with an awful lurch, the cart flipped over and they were all thrown out of it. Harry heard the cart smash into pieces against the passage wall, heard Hermione shriek something, and felt himself glide back toward the ground as though weightless, landing painlessly on the rocky passage floor.
“C-Cushioning Charm,” Hermione spluttered, as Ron pulled her to her feet, but to Harry’s horror he saw that she was no longer Bellatrix; instead she stood there in overlarge robes, sopping wet and completely herself; Ron was red-haired and beardless again. They were realizing it as they looked at each other, feeling their own faces.
“The Thief’s Downfall!” said Griphook, clambering to his feet and looking back the deluge onto the tracks, which, Harry knew now, had been more than water. “It washes away all enchantment, all magical concealment! They know there are imposers in Gringotts, they have set off defenses against us!”
Harry saw Hermione checking that she still had the beaded bag, and hurriedly thrust his own hand under his jacket to make sure he had not lost the Invisibility Cloak. Then he turned to see Bogrod shaking his head in bewilderment: The Thief’s Downfall seemed to have lifted his Imperius Curse.
“We need him,” said Griphook, “we cannot enter the vault without a Gringott’s goblin. And we need the clankers!”
“Imperio!” Harry said again; his voice echoed through the stone passage as he felt again the sense of heady control that flowed from brain to wand. Bogrod submitted once more to his will, his befuddled expression changing to one of polite indifference, as Ron hurried to pick up the leather bag of metal tools.
“Harry, I think I can hear people coming!” said Hermione, and she pointed Bellatrix’s wand at the waterfall and cried, “Protego!” They saw the Shield Charm break the flow of enchanted water as it flew up the passageway.
“Good thinking,” said Harry. “Lead the way, Griphook!”
“How are we going to get out again?” Ron asked as they hurried on foot into the darkness after the goblin, Bogrod panting in their wake like an old dog.
“Let’s worry about that when we have to,” said Harry. He was trying to listen: He thought he could hear something clanking and moving around nearby. “Griphook, how much farther?”
“Not far, Harry Potter, not far … “
And they turned a corner and saw the thing for which Harry had been prepared, but which still brought all of them to a halt.
A gigantic dragon was tethered to the ground in front of them, barring access to four or five of the deepest vaults in the place. The beast’s scales had turned pale and flaky during its long incarceration under the ground, its eyes were milkily pink; both rear legs bore heavy cuffs from which chains led to enormous pegs driven deep into the rocky floor. Its great spiked wings, folded close to its body, would have filled the chamber if it spread them, and when it turned its ugly head toward them, it roared with a noise that made the rock tremble, opened its mouth, and spat a jet of fire that sent them running back up the passageway.
“It is partially blind,” panted Griphook, “but even more savage for that. However, we have the means to control it. It has learned what to expect when the Clankers come. Give them to me.”
Ron passed the bag to Griphook, and the goblin pulled out a number of small metal instruments that when shaken made a long ringing noise like miniature hammers on anvils. Griphook handed them out: Bogrod accepted his meekly.
“You know what to do,” Griphook told Harry, Ron, and Hermione. “It will expect pain when it hears the noise. It will retreat, and Bogrod must place his palm upon the door of the vault.”
They advanced around the corner again, shaking the Clankers, and the noise echoed off the rocky walls, grossly magnified, so that the inside of Harry’s skull seemed to vibrate with the den. The dragon let out another hoarse roar, then retreated. Harry could see it trembling, and as they drew nearer he saw the scars made by vicious slashes across its face, and guess that it had been taught to fear hot swords when it heard the sound of the Clankers.
“Make him press his hand to the door!” Griphook urged Harry, who turned his wand again upon Bogrod. The old goblin obeyed, pressing his palm to the wood, and the door of the vault melted away to reveal a cavelike opening crammed from floor to ceiling with golden coins and goblets, silver armor, the skins of strange creatures – some with long spines, other with drooping wings – potions in jeweled flasks, and a skull still wearing a crown. “Search, fast!” said Harry as they all hurried inside the vault. He had described Hufflepuff’s cap to Ron and Hermione, but if it was the other, unknown Horcrux that resided in this vault, he did not know what it looked like. He barely had time to glance around, however, before there was a muffled clunk from behind them: The door had reappeared, sealing them inside the vault, and they were plunged into total darkness.
“No matter, Bogrod will be able to release us!” said Griphook as Ron gave a shout of surprise. “Light your wands, can’t you? And hurry, we have little time!”
Harry shone his lit wand around the vault: Its beam fell upon glittering jewels; he saw the fake sword of Gryffindor lying on a high shelf amongst a jumble of chains. Ron and Hermione had lit their wands too, and were now examining the piles of objects surrounding them.
“Harry, could this be -- ? Aargh!”
Hermione screamed in pain, and Harry turned his wand on her in time to see a jeweled goblet tumbling from her grip. But as it fell, it split, became a shower of goblets, so that a second later, with a great clatter, the floor was covered in identical cups rolling in every direction, the original impossible to discern amongst them.
“It burned me!” moaned Hermione, sucking her blistered fingers.
“They have added Germino and Flagrante Curses!” said Griphook.
“Everything you touch will burn and multiply, but the copies are worthless – and if you continue to handle the treasure, you will eventually be crushed to death by the weight of expanding gold!”
“Okay, don’t touch anything!” said Harry desperately, but even as he said it, Ron accidentally nudged one of the fallen goblets with his foot, and twenty more exploded into being while Ron hopped on the spot, part of his shoe burned away by contact with the hot metal.
“Stand still, don’t move!” said Hermione, clutching at Ron.
“Just look around!” said Harry. “Remember, the cup’s small and gold, it’s got a badger engraved on it, two handles – otherwise see if you can spot Ravenclaw’s symbol anywhere, the eagle –”
They directed their wands into every nook and crevice, turning cautiously on the spot. It was impossible not to brush up against anything; Harry sent a great cascade of fake Galleons onto the ground where they joined the goblets, and now there was scarcely room to place their feet, and the glowing gold blazed with heat, so that the vault felt like a furnace. Harry’s wandlight passed over shields and goblin-made helmets set on shelves rising to the ceiling; higher and higher he raised the beam, until suddenly it found an object that made his heart skip and his hand tremble.
“It’s there, it’s up there!”
Ron and Hermione pointed there wands at it too, so that the little golden cup sparkled in a three-way spotlight: the cup that had belonged to Helga Hufflepuff, which had passed into the possession of Hepzibah Smith, from whom it had been stolen by Tom Riddle.
“And how the hell are we going to get up there without touching anything?” asked Ron.
“Accio Cup!” cried Hermione, who had evidently forgotten in her desperation what Griphook had told them during their planning sessions.
“No use, no use!” snarled the goblin.
“Then what do we do?” said Harry, glaring at the goblin. “If you want the sword, Griphook, then you’ll have to help us more than – wait! Can I touch stuff with the sword? Hermione, give it here!”
Hermione fumbled insider her robes, drew out a beaded bag, rummaged for a few seconds, then removed the shining sword. Harry seized it by its rubied hilt and touched the tip of the blade to a silver flagon nearby, which did not multiply.
“If I can just poke the sword through a handle – but how am I going to get up there?”
The shelf on which the cup reposed was out of reach for any of them, even Ron, who was tallest. The heat from the enchanted treasure rose in waves, and sweat ran down Harry’s face and back as he struggled to think of a way up to the cup; and then he heard the dragon roar on the other side of the vault door, and the sound of clanking growing louder and louder.
They were truly trapped now: There was no way out except through the door, and a horde of goblins seemed to be approaching on the other side. Harry looked at Ron and Hermione and saw terror in their faces.
“Hermione,” said Harry, as the clanking grew louder, “I’ve got to get up there, we’ve got to get rid of it –”
She raised her wand, pointed it at Harry, and whispered, “Levicorpus.”
Hoisted into the air by his ankle, Harry hit a suit of armor and replicas burst out of it like white-hot bodies, filling the cramped space. With screams of pain, Ron, Hermione, and the two goblins were knocked aside into other objects, which also began to replicate. Half buried in a rising tide of red-hot treasure, they struggled and yelled has Harry thrust the sword through the handle of Hufflepuff’s cup, hooking it onto the blade.
“Impervius!” screeched Hermione in an attempt to protect herself, Ron, and the goblins from the burning metal.
Then the worst scream yet made Harry look down: Ron and Hermione were waist deep in treasure, struggling to keep Bogrod from slipping beneath the rising tide, but Griphook had sunk out of sight; and nothing but the tips of a few long fingers were left in view.
Harry seized Griphook’s fingers and pulled. The blistered goblin emerged by degrees, howling.
“Liberatocorpus!” yelled Harry, and with a crash he and Griphook landed on the surface of the swelling treasure, and the sword flew out of Harry’s hand.
“Get it!” Harry yelled, fighting the pain of the hot metal on his skin, as Griphook clambered onto his shoulders again, determined to avoid the swelling mass of red-hot objects. “Where’s the sword? It had the cup on it!”
The clanking on the other side of the door was growing deafening – it was too late –
It was Griphook who had seen it and Griphook who lunged, and in that instant Harry knew that the goblin had never expected them to keep their word. One hand holding tightly to a fistful of Harry’s hair, to make sure he did not fall into the heaving sea of burning gold, Griphook seized the hilt of the sword and swung it high out of Harry’s reach. The tiny golden cup, skewered by the handle on the sword’s blade was flung into the air. The goblin astride him, Harry dived and caught it, and although he could feel it scalding his flesh he did not relinquish it, even while countless Hufflepuff cups burst from his fist, raining down upon him as the entrance of the vault opened up again and he found himself sliding uncontrollably on an expanding avalanche of fiery gold and silver that bore him, Ron, Hermione into the outer chamber.
Hardly aware of the pain from the burns covering his body, and still borne along the swell of replicating treasure, Harry shoved the cup into his pocket and reached up to retrieve the sword, but Griphook was gone. Sliding from Harry’s shoulders the moment he could, he had sprinted for cover amongst the surrounding goblins, brandishing the sword and crying, “Thieves! Thieves! Help! Thieves!” He vanished into the midst of the advancing crowd, all of whom were holding daggers and who accepted him without question.
Slipping on the hot metal, Harry struggled to his feet and knew that the only way out was through.
“Stupefy!” he bellowed, and Ron and Hermione joined in: Jets of red light flew into the crowd of goblins, and some toppled over, but others advanced, and Harry saw several wizard guards running around the corner.
The tethered dragon let out a roar, and a gush of flame flew over the goblins; The wizards fled, doubled-up, back the way they had come, and inspiration, or madness, came to Harry. Pointing his wand at the thick cuffs chaining the beast to the floor, he yelled, “Relashio!”
The cuffs broken open with loud bangs.
“This way!” Harry yelled, and still shooting Stunning Spells at the advancing goblins, he sprinted toward the blind dragon.
“Harry – Harry – what are you doing?” cried Hermione.
“Get up, climb up, come on –”
The dragon had not realized that it was free: Harry’s foot found the crook of its hind leg and he pulled himself up onto its back. The scales were hard as steel; it did not even seem to feel him. He stretched out an arm; Hermione hoisted herself up; Ron climbed on behind them, and a second later the dragon became aware that it was untethered.
With a roar it reared: Harry dug in his knees, clutching as tightly as he could to the jagged scales as the wings opened, knocking the shrieking goblins aside like skittles, and it soared into the air. Harry, Ron, and Hermione, flat on its back, scraped against the ceiling as it dived toward the passage opening, while the pursuing goblins hurled daggers that glanced off its flanks.
“We’ll never get out, it’s too big!” Hermione screamed, but the dragon opened its mouth and belched flame again, blasting the tunnel, whose floors and ceiling cracked and crumbled. By sheer force, the dragon clawed and fought its way through. Harry’s eyes were shut tight against the heat and dust: Deafened by the crash of rock and the dragon’s roars, he could only cling to its back, expecting to be shaken off at any moment; then he heard Hermione yelling, “Defodio!”
She was helping the dragon enlarge the passageway, carving out the ceiling as it struggled upward toward the fresher air, away from the shrieking and clanking goblins: Harry and Ron copied her, blasting the ceiling apart with more gouging spells. They passed the underground lake, and the great crawling, snarling beast seemed to sense freedom and space ahead of it, and behind them the passage was full of the dragon’s thrashing, spiked tail, of great lumps of rock, gigantic fractured stalactites, and the clanking of the goblins seemed to be growing more muffled, while ahead, the dragon’s fire kept their progress clear –
And then at last, by the combined force of their spells and the dragon’s brute strength, they had blasted their way out of the passage into the marble hallway. Goblins and wizards shrieked and ran for cover, and finally the dragon had room to stretch its wings: Turning its horned head toward the cool outside air it could smell beyond the entrance, it took off, and with Harry, Ron, and Hermione still clinging to its back, it forced its way through the metal doors, leaving them buckled and hanging from their hinges, as it staggered into Diagon Alley and launched itself into the sky.
Chapter Twenty-Seven
The Final Hiding Place
There was no means of steering; the dragon could not see where it was going, and Harry knew that if it turned sharply or rolled in midair they would find it impossible to cling onto its broad back. Nevertheless, as they climbed higher and higher, London unfurling below them like a gray-and-green map, Harry's overwhelming feeling was of gratitude for an escape that had seemed impossible. Crouching low over the beast's neck, he clung tight to
the metallic scales, and the cool breeze was soothing on his burned and blistered skin, the dragon's wings beating the air like the sails of a windmill. Behind him, whether from delight or fear he could not tell. Ron kept swearing at the top of his voice, and Hermione seemed to be sobbing. After five minutes or so, Harry lost some of his immediate dread that the dragon was going to throw them off, for it seemed intent on nothing but getting as far away from its underground prison as possible; but the question of how and when they were to dismount remained rather frightening. He had no idea how long dragons could fly without landing, nor how this particular dragon, which could barely see, would locate a good place to put down. He glanced around constantly, imagining that he could feel his seat prickling. How long would it be before Voldemort knew that they had broken into the Lestranges' vault? How soon would the goblins of Gringotts notify Bellatrix? How quickly would they realize what had been taken? And then, when they discovered that the golden cup was missing? Voldemort would know, at last, that they were hunting Horcruxes. The dragon seemed to crave cooler and fresher air. It climbed steadily until they were flying through wisps of chilly cloud, and Harry could no longer make out the little colored dots which were cars pouring in and out of the capital. On and on they flew, over countryside parceled out in patches of green and brown, over roads and rivers winding through the landscape like strips of matte and glossy ribbon. "What do you reckon it's looking for?" Ron yelled as they flew farther and farther north. "No idea," Harry bellow back. His hands were numb with cold but he did not date attempt to shift his grip. He had been wondering for some time what they would do if they saw the coast sail beneath them, if the dragon headed for open seal he was cold and numb, not to mention desperately hungry and thirsty. When, he wondered, had the beast itself last eaten? Surely it would need sustenance before long? And what if, at that point, it realized it had three highly edible humans sitting on its back? The sun slipped lower in the sky, which was turning indigo; and still the dragon flew, cities and towns gliding out of sight beneath them, its enormous shadow sliding over the earth like a giant dark cloud. Every part of Harry ached with the effort of holding on to the dragon's back. "Is it my imagination," shouted Ron after a considerable stretch of silence, "or are we losing height?" Harry looked down and saw deep green mountains and lakes, coppery in the sunset. the landscape seemed to grow larger and more detailed as he squinted over the side of the dragon, and he wondered whether it had divined the presence of fresh water by the flashes of reflected sunlight. Lower and lower the dragon flew, in great spiraling circles, honing in, it seemed, upon one of the smaller lakes. "I say we jump when it gets low enough!" Harry called back to the others. "Straight into the water before it realizes we're here!"
They agreed, Hermione a little faintly, and now Harry could see the dragon's wide yellow underbelly rippling in the surface of the water. "NOW!" He slithered over the side of the dragon and plummeted feetfirst toward the surface of the lake; the drop was greater than he had estimated and he hit the water hard, plunging like a stone into a freezing, green, reed-filled world. He kicked toward the surface and emerged, panting, to see enormous ripples emanating in circles from the places where Ron and Hermione had fallen. The dragon did not seem to have noticed anything; it was already fifty feet away, swooping low over the lake to scoop up water in its scarred snout. As Ron and Hermione emerged, spluttering and gasping, from the depths of the lake, the dragon flew on, its wings beating hard, and landed at last on a distant bank. Harry, Ron and Hermione struck out for the opposite shore. The lake did not seem to be deep. Soon it was more a question of fighting their way through reeds and mud than swimming, and at last they flopped, sodden, panting, and exhausted, onto slippery grass. Hermione collapsed, coughing and shuddering. Though Harry could have happily lain down and slept, he staggered to his feet, drew out his wand, and started casting the usual protective spells around them. When he had finished, he joined the others. It was the first time that he had seen them properly since escaping from the vault. Both had angry red burns all over their faces and arms, and their clothing was singed away in places. They were wincing as they dabbed essence of dittany onto their many injuries. Hermione handed Harry the bottle, then pulled out three bottles of pumpkin juice she had brought from Shell Cottage and clean, dry robes for all of them. They changes and then gulped down the juice. "Well, on the upside," said Ron finally, who was sitting watching the skin on his hands regrow, "we got the Horcrux. On the downside-" "-- no sword," said Harry through gritted teeth, as he dripped dittany through the singed hole in his jeans onto the angry burn beneath. "No sword," repeated Ron. "That double-crossing little scab..." Harry pulled the Horcrux from the pocket of the wet jacket he had just taken off and set it down on the grass in front of them. Glinting in the sun, it drew their eyes as they swigged their bottles of juice. "At least we can't wear it this time, that'd look a bit weird hanging around our necks," said Ron, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand. Hermione looked across the lake to the far bank where the dragon was still drinking. "What'll happen to it, do you think?" she asked, "Will it be alright?" "You sound like Hagrid," said Ron, "It's a dragon, Hermione, it can look after itself. It's us we need to worry about." "What do you mean?" "Well I don't know how to break this to you," said Ron, "but I think they might have noticed we broke into Gringotts." All three of them started to laugh, and once started, it was difficult
to stop. Harry's ribs ached, he felt lightheaded with hunger, but he lay back on the grass beneath the reddening sky and laughed until his throat was raw. "What are we going to do, though?" said Hermione finally, hiccuping herself back to seriousness. "He'll know, won't he? You-Know-Who will know we know about his Horcruxes!" "Maybe they'll be too scared to tell him!" said Ron hopefully, "Maybe they'll cover up --" The sky, the smell of the lake water, the sound of Ron's voice were extinguished. Pain cleaved Harry's head like a sword stroke. He was standing in a dimly lit room, and a semicircle of wizards faced him, and on the floor at his feet knelt a small, quaking figure. "What did you say to me?" His voice was high and cold, but fury and fear burned inside him. The one thing that he had dreaded - but it could not be true, he could not see how... The goblin was trembling, unable to meet the red eyes high above his. "Say it again!" murmured Voldemort. "Say it again!" "M-my Lord," stammered the goblin, its black eyes wide with terror, "m-my Lord... we t-tried to st-stop them... Im-impostors, my Lord... broke - broke into the - into the Lestranges' vault..." "Impostors? What impostors? I thought Gringotts had ways of revealing impostors? Who were they? "It was... it was... the P-Potter b-boy and the t-two accomplices..." "And they took?" he said, his voice rising, a terrible fear gripping him, "Tell me! What did they take?" "A... a s-small golden c-cup m-my Lord..." The scream of rage, of denial left him as if it were a stranger's. He was crazed, frenzied, it could not be true, it was impossible, nobody had known. How was it possible that the boy could have discovered his secret? The Elder Wand slashed through the air and green light erupted through the room; the kneeling goblin rolled over dead; the watching wizards scattered before him, terrified. Bellatrix and Lucius Malfoy threw others behind them in their race for the door, and again and again his wand fell, and those who were left were slain, all of them, for bringing him this news, for hearing about the golden cup - Alone amongst the dead he stomped up and down, and they passed before him in vision: his treasures, his safeguards, his anchors to immortality - the diary was destroyed and the cup was stolen. What if, what if, the boy knew about the others? Could he know, had he already acted, had he traced more of them? Was Dumbledore at the root of this? Dumbledore, who had always suspected him; Dumbledore, dead on his orders; Dumbledore, whose wand was his now, yet who reached out from the ignominy of death through the boy, the boy - But surely if the boy had destroyed any of his Horcruxes, he, Lord Voldemort, would have known, would have felt it? He, the greatest wizard of them all; he, the most powerful; he, the killer of Dumbledore and of how
many other worthless, nameless men. How could Lord Voldemort not have known, if he, himself, most important and precious, had been attacked, mutilated? True, he had not felt it when the diary had been destroyed, but he had thought that was because he had no body to fell, being less than ghost... No, surely, the rest were safe... The other Horcruxes must be intact... But he must know, he must be sure... He paced the room, kicking aside the goblin's corpse as he passed, and the pictures blurred and burned in his boiling brain: the lake, the shack, and Hogwarts - A modicum of calm cooled his rage now. How could the boy know that he had hidden the ring in the Gaunt shack? No one had ever known him to be related to the Gaunts, he had hidden the connection, the killings had never been traced to him. The ring, surely, was safe. And how could the boy, or anybody else, know about the cave or penetrate its protection? The idea of the locket being stolen was absurd... As for the school: He alone knew where in Hogwarts he had stowed the Horcrux, because he alone had plumed the deepest secrets of that place... And there was still Nagini, who must remain close now, no longer sent to do his bidding, under his protection... But to be sure, to be utterly sure, he must return to each of his hiding places, he must redouble protection around each of his Horcruxes... A job, like the quest for the Elder Wand, that he must undertake alone... Which should he visit first, which was in most danger? An old unease flickered inside him. Dumbledore had known his middle name... Dumbledore might have made the connection with the Gaunts... Their abandoned home was, perhaps, the least secure of his hiding places, it was there that he would go first... The lake, surely impossible... though was there a slight possibility that Dumbledore might have known some of his past misdeeds, through the orphanage. And Hogwarts... but he knew the his Horcrux there was safe; it would be impossible for Potter to enter Hogsmeade without detection, let alone the school. Nevertheless, it would be prudent to alert Snape to the fact that the boy might try to reenter the castle. ... To tell Snape why the boy might return would be foolish, of course; it had been a grave mistake to trust Bellatrix and Malfoy. Didn't their stupidity and carelessness prove how unwise it was ever to trust? He would visit the Gaunt shack first, then, and take Nagini with him. He would not be parted from the snake anymore ... and he strode from the room, through the hall, and out into the dark garden where the fountain played; he called the snake in Parseltongue and it slithered out to join him like a long shadow. ... Harry's eyes flew open as he wrenched himself back to the present. He was lying on the bank of the lake in the setting sun, and Ron and Hermione were looking down at him. Judging by their worried looks, and by the continued pounding of his scar, his sudden excursion into Voldemort's mind had not passed unnoticed. He struggled up, shivering, vaguely surprised that
he was still wet to his skin, and saw the cup lying innocently in the grass before him, and the lake, deep blue shot with gold in the falling sun. "He knows." His own voice sounded strange and low after Voldemort's high screams. "He knows and he's going to check where the others are, and the last one," he was already on his feet," is at Hogwarts. I knew it. I knew it." "What?" Ron was gaping at him; Hermione sat up, looking worried. "But what did you see? How do you know?" "I saw him find out about the cup, I - I was in his head, he's" - Harry remembered the killings - "he's seriously angry, and scared too, he can't understand how we knew, and now he's going to check the others are safe, the ring first. He things the Hogwarts one is safest, because Snape's there, because it'll be so hard not to be seen getting in. I think he'll check that one last, but he could still be there within hours -" "Did you see where in Hogwarts it is?" asked Ron, now scrambling to his feet too. "No, he was concentrating on warning Snape, he didn't think about exactly where it is -" "Wait, wait!" cried Hermione as Ron caught up to the Horcrux and Harry pulled out the Invisibility Cloak again. "We can't just go, we haven't got a plan, we need to -" "We need to get going," said Harry firmly. He had been hoping to sleep, looking forward to getting into the new tent, but that was impossible now, "Can you imagine what he's going to do once he realizes the ring and the locket are gone? What if he moves the Hogwarts Horcrux, decides it isn't safe enough? "But how are we going to get in?" "We'll go to Hogsmeade," said Harry, "and try to work something out once we see what the protection around the school's like. Get under the Cloak, Hermione, I want to stick together this time." "But we don't really fit -" "It'll be dark, no one's going to notice our feet." The flapping of enormous wings echoed across the black water. The dragon had drunk its fill and risen into the air. They paused in their preparations to watch it climb higher and higher, now black against the rapidly darkening sky, until it vanished over a nearby mountain. Then Hermione walked forward and took her place between the other two, Harry pulled the Cloak down as far as it would go, and together they turned on the spot into the crushing darkness.
Chapter Twenty-Eight
The Missing Mirror
Harry's feet touched the road. He saw the achingly familiar Hogsmeade High Street: dark shop
fronts, and the mist line of black mountains beyond the village and the curve in the road ahead that
led off toward Hogwarts, and light spilling from the windows of the Three Broomsticks, and with a
lurch of the hear, he remembered with piercing accuracy, how he had landed here nearly a year before,
supporting a desperately weak Dumbledore, all this in a second, upon landing -- and then, even as he
relaxed his grip upon Ron's and Hermione's arms, it happened.
The air was rent by a scream that sounded like Voldemort's when he had realized the cup had
been stolen: It tore at every nerve in Harry's body, and he knew that their appearance had caused it.
Even as he looked at the other two beneath the Cloak, the door of the Three Broomsticks burst open
and a dozen cloaked and hooded Death Eaters dashed into the streets, their wands aloft.
Harry seized Ron's wrist as he raised his wand; there were too many of them to run. Even
attempting it would have give away their position. One of the Death Eaters raised his wand, and the
scream stopped, still echoing around the distant mountains.
"Accio Cloak!" roared one of the Death Eaters
Harry seized his folds, but it made no attempt to escape. The Summoning Charm had not
worked on it.
"Not under your wrapper, then, Potter?" yelled the Death Eater who had tried the charm and
then to his fellows. "Spread now. He's here."
Six of the Death Eaters ran toward them: Harry, Ron and Hermione backed as quickly as
possible down the nearest side street, and the Death Eaters missed them by inches. They waited
in the darkness, listening to the footsteps running up and down, beams of light flying along the street
from the Death Eaters' searching wands.
"Let's just leave!" Hermione whispered. "Disapparate now!"
"Great idea," said Ron, but before Harry could reply, a Death Eater shouted,
"We know you are here, Potter, and there's no getting away! We'll find you!"
"They were ready for us," whispered Harry. "They set up that spell to tell them we'd come.
I reckon they’ve done something to keep us here, trap us - "
"What about dementors?" called another Death Eater. "Let'em have free rein, they'd find him
quick enough!"
"The Dark Lord wants Potter dead by no hands but his - "
" 'an dementors won't kill him! The Dark Lord wants Potter's life, nor his soul. He'll be easier to
kill if he's been Kissed first!"
There were noises of agreement. Dread filled Harry: To repel dementors they would have to produce
Patronuses which would give them away immediately.
"We're going to have to try to Disapparate, Harry!" Hermione whispered.
Even as she said it, he felt the unnatural cold being spread over the street. Light was sucked from
the environment right up to the stars, which vanished. In the pitch blackness, he felt Hermione take hold
of his arm and together, they turned on the spot.
The air through which they needed to move, seemed to have become solid: They could not
Disapparate; the Death Eaters had cast their charms well. The cold was biting deeper and deeper
into Harry's flesh. He, Ron and Hermione retreated down the side street, groping their way along the wall
trying not to make a sound. Then, around the corner, gliding noiselessly, came dementors, ten or more
of them, visible because they were of a denser darkness than their surroundings, with their black cloaks
and their scabbed and rotting hands. Could they sense fear in the vicinity? Harry was sure of it: They
seemed to be coming more quickly now, taking those dragging, rattling breaths he detested, tasting
despair in the air, closing in -
He raised his wand: He could not, would not suffer the Dementor's Kiss, whatever happened afterward.
It was of Ron and Hermione that he thought as he whispered "Expecto Patronum!"
The silver stag burst from his wand and charged: The Dementors scattered and there was a triumphant
yell from somewhere out of sight
"It's him, down there, down there, I saw his Patronus, it was a stag!"
The Dementors have retreated, the stars were popping out again and the footsteps of the Death Eaters
were becoming louder; but before Harry in his panic could decide what to do, there was a grinding of bolts
nearby, a door opened on the left-side of the narrow street, and a rough voice said: "Potter, in here, quick!"
He obeyed without hesitation, the three of them hurried through the open doorway.
"Upstairs, keep the Cloak on, keep quiet!" muttered a tall figure, passing them on his way into the street
and slammed the door behind him.
Harry had had no idea where they were, but now he saw, by the stuttering light of a single candle,
the grubby, sawdust bar of the Hog's Head Inn. They ran behind the counter and through a second doorway,
which led to a trickery wooden staircase, that they climbed as fast as they could. The stairs opened into
a sitting room with a durable carpet and a small fireplace, above which hung a single large oil painting of a blonde
girl who gazed out at the room with a kind of a vacant sweetness.
Shouts reached from the streets below. Still wearing the Invisibility Cloak on, they hurried toward the
grimy window and looked down. Their savior, whom Harry now recognized as the Hog's Head's barman, was
the only person not wearing a hood.
"So what?" he was bellowing into one of the hooded faces. "So what? You send dementors down my street,
I'll send a Patronus back at'em! I'm not having'em near me, I've told you that. I'm not having it!"
"That wasn't your Patronus," said a Death Eater. "That was a stag. It was Potter's!"
"Stag!" roared the barman, and he pulled out a wand. "Stag! You idiot - Expecto Patronum!"
Something huge and horned erupted from the wand. Head down, it charged toward the High Street, and
out of sight.
"That's not what I saw" said the Death Eater, though was less certainly
"Curfew's been broken, you heard the noise," one of his companions told the barman. "Someone was
out on the streets against regulations - "
"If I want to put my cat out, I will, and be damned to your curfew!"
"You set off the Caterwauling Charm?"
"What if I did? Going to cart me off to Azkaban? Kill me for sticking my nose out my own front door? Do it,
then, if you want to! But I hope for your sakes you haven't pressed your little Dark Marks, and summoned him. He's
not going to like being called here, for me and my old cat, is he, now?"
"Don't worry about us." said one of the Death Eaters, "worry about yourself, breaking curfew!"
"And where will you lot traffic potions and poisons when my pub's closed down? What will happen to your
little sidelines then?"
"Are you threatening - ?"
"I keep my mouth shut, it's why you come here, isn't it?"
"I still say I saw a stag Patronus!" shouted the first Death Eater.
"Stag?" roared the barman. "It's a goat, idiot!"
"All right, we made a mistake," said the second Death Eater. "Break curfew again and we won't be so lenient!"
The Death Eaters strode back towards the High Street. Hermione moaned with relief, wove out from under the Cloak,
and sat down on a wobble-legged chair. Harry drew the curtains then pulled the Cloak off himself and Ron. They could hear the
barman down below, rebolting the door of the bar, then climbing the stairs.
Harry's attention was caught by something on the mantelpiece: a small, rectangular mirror, propped on top of it,
right beneath the portrait of the girl.
The barman entered the room.
"You bloody fools," he said gruffly, looking from one to the other of them. "What were you thinking, coming here?"
"Thank you," said Harry. "You can't thank you enough. You saved our lives!"
The barman grunted. Harry approached him looking up into the face: trying to see past the long, stringy, wire-gray hair
beard. He wore spectacles. Behind the dirty lenses, the eyes were a piercing, brilliant blue.
"It's your eye I've been seeing in the mirror."
There was a silence in the room. Harry and the barman looked at each other.
"You sent Dobby."
The barman nodded and looked around for the elf.
"Thought he'd be with you. Where've you left him?
"He's dead," said Harry, "Bellatrix Lestrange killed him."
The barman face was impassive. After a few moments he said, "I'm sorry to hear it, I liked that elf."
He turned away, lightning lamps with prods of his wand, not looking at any of them.
"You're Aberforth," said Harry to the man's back.
He neither confirmed or denied it, but bent to light the fire.
"How did you get this?" Harry asked, walking across to Sirius's mirror, the twin of the one he had broken
nearly two years before.
"Bought it from Dung 'bout a year ago," said Aberforth. "Albus told me what it was. Been trying to keep
an eye out for you."
Ron gasped.
"The silver doe," he said excitedly, "Was that you too?"
"What are you talking about?" asked Aberforth.
"Someone sent a doe Patronus to us!"
"Brains like that, you could be a Death Eater, son. Haven't I just prove my Patronus is a goat?"
"Oh," said Ron, "Yeah... well, I'm hungry!" he added defensively as his stomach gave an enormous
"I got food," said Aberforth, and he sloped out of the room, reappearing moments later with a large
loaf of bread, some cheese, and a pewter jug of mead, which he set upon a small table in front of the fire.
Ravenous, they ate and drank, and for a while there was sound of chewing.
"Right then," said Aberforth when the had eaten their fill and Harry and Ron sat slumped dozily in
their chairs. "We need to think of the best way to get you out of here. Can't be done by night, you heard what
happens if anyone moves outdoors during darkness: Caterwauling Charm's set off, they'll be onto you like
bowtruckles on doxy eggs. I don't reckon I'll be able to pass of a stag as a goat a second time. Wait for daybreak
when curfew lifts, then you can put your Cloak back on and set out on foot. Get right out of Hogsmeade, up into
the mountains, and you'll be able to Disapparate there. Might see Hagrid. He's been hiding in a cave up there with
Grawp ever since they tried to arrest him."
"We're not leaving," said Harry. "We need to get into Hogwarts."
"Don't be stupid, boy," said Aberforth.
"We've got to," said Harry.
"What you've got to do," said Aberforth, leaning forward, "is to get as far from here as from here as you
"You don't understand. There isn't much time. We've got to get into the castle. Dumbledore - I mean,
your brother - wanted us - "
The firelight made the grimy lenses of Aberforth's glasses momentarily opaque, a bright flat white, and
Harry remembered the blind eyes of the giant spider, Aragog.
"My brother Albus wanted a lot of things," said Aberforth, "and people had a habit of getting hurt while he
was carrying out his grand plans. You get away from this school, Potter, and out of the country if you can. Forget
my brother and his clever schemes. He's gone where none of this can hurt him, and you don't owe him anything."
"You don't understand." said Harry again.
"Oh, don't I? said Aberforth quietly. "You don't think I understood my own brother? Think you know Albus
better than I did?"
"I didn't mean that," said Harry, whose brain felt sluggish with exhaustion and from the surfeit of food and wine.
"It's... he left me a job."
"Did he now?" said Aberforth. "Nice job, I hope? Pleasant? Easy? Sort of thing you'd expect an unqualified
wizard kid to be able to do without overstretching themselves?"
Ron gave a rather grim laugh. Hermione was looking strained.
"I-it's not easy, no," said Harry. "But I've got to - "
"Got to? Why got to? He's dead, isn't he?" said Aberforth roughly. "Let it go, boy, before you follow him!
Save yourself!"
"I can't."
"Why not?"
"I - " Harry felt overwhelmed; he could not explain, so he took the offensive instead. "But you're fighting too,
you're in the Order of the Phoenix - "
"I was," said Aberforth. "The Order of the Phoenix is finished. You-Know-Who's won, it's over, and anyone
who's pretending different's kidding themselves. It'll never be safe for you here, Potter, he wants you too badly.
So go abroad, go into hiding, save yourself. Best take these two with you." He jerked a thumb at Ron and Hermione.
"They'll be in danger long as they live now everyone knows they've been working with you."
"I can't leave," said Harry. "I've got a job - "
"Give it to someone else!"
"I can't. It's got to be me, Dumbledore explained it all - "
"Oh, did he now? And did he tell you everything, was he honest with you?"
Harry wanted him with all his heart to say "Yes," but somehow the simple word would not rise to his lips,
Aberforth seemed to know what he was thinking.
"I knew my brother, Potter. He learned secrecy at our mother's knee. Secrets and lies, that's how we grew
up, and Albus... he was a natural."
The old man's eyes traveled to the painting of the girl over the mantelpiece. It was, now Harry looked around
properly, the only picture in the room. There was no photograph of Albus Dumbledore, nor of anyone else.
"Mr. Dumbledore" said Hermione rather timidly. "Is that your sister? Ariana?
"Yes." said Aberforth tersely. "Been reading Rita Skeeter, have you, missy?"
Even by the rosy light of the fire it was clear that Hermione had turned red.
"Elphias Doge mentioned her to us," said Harry, trying to spare Hermione.
"That old berk," muttered Aberforth, taking another swig of mead. "Thought the sun shone out of my
brother's every office, he did. Well, so did plenty of people, you three included, by the looks of it."
Harry kept quiet. He did not want to express the doubts and uncertainties about Dumbledore that had
riddled him for months now. He had made his choice while he dug Dobby's grave, he had decided to continue
along the winding, dangerous path indicated for him by Albus Dumbledore, to accept that he had not been told
everything that he wanted to know, but simply to trust. He had no desire to doubt again; he did not want o hear
anything that would deflect him from his purpose. He met Aberforth's gaze, which was so strikingly like his
brothers': The bright blue eyes gave the same impression that they were X-raying the object of their scrutiny,
and Harry thought that Aberforth knew what he was thinking and despised him for it.
"Professor Dumbledore cared about Harry, very much," said Hermione in a low voice.
"Did he now?" said Aberforth. "Funny thing how many of the people my brother cared about very much
ended up in a worse state than if he'd left 'em well alone."
"What do you mean?" asked Hermione breathlessly.
"Never you mind," said Aberforth.
"But that's a really serious thing to say!" said Hermione. "Are you - are you talking about your sister?"
Aberforth glared at her: His lips moved as if he were chewing the words he was holding back. Then he burst
into speech.
"When my sister was six years old, she was attacked, by three Muggle boys. They'd seen her doing magic,
spying through the back garden hedge: She was a kid, she couldn't control it, no witch or wizard can at that age.
What they saw, scared them, I expect. They forced their way through the hedge, and when she couldn't show them
the trick, they got a bit carried away trying to stop the little freak doing it."
Hermione's eyes were huge in the firelight; Ron looked slightly sick. Aberforth stood up, tall as Albus, and
suddenly terrible in his anger and the intensity of his pain.
"It destroyed her, what they did: She was never right again. She wouldn't use magic, but she couldn't get rid
of it; it turned inward and drove her mad, it exploded out of her when she couldn't control it, and at times she was
strange and dangerous. But mostly she was sweet and scared and harmless.
"And my father went after the bastards that did it," said Aberforth, "and attacked them. And they locked him
up in Azkaban for it. He never said why he'd done it, because the Ministry had known what Ariana had become,
she'd have been locked up in St. Mungo's for good. They'd have seen her as a serious threat to the International
Statute of Secrecy, unbalanced like she was, with magic exploding out of her at moments when she couldn't keep it
in any longer.
"We had to keep her safe and quiet. We moved house, put it about she was ill, and my mother looked after
her, and tried to keep her calm and happy.
"I was her favourite," he said, and as he said it, a grubby schoolboy seemed to look out through Aberforth's
wrinkles and wrangled beard. "Not Albus, he was always up in his bedroom when he was home, reading his books
and counting his prizes, keeping up with his correspondence with "the most notable magical names of the day,"
Aberforth succored. "He didn't want to be bothered with her. She liked me best. I could get her to eat when she wouldn't
do it for my mother, I could calm her down, when she was in one of her rages, and when she was quiet, she used to
help me feed the goats.
"Then, when she was fourteen... See, I wasn't there." said Aberforth. "If I'd been there, I could have calmed
her down. She had one of her rages, and my mother wasn't as young as she was, and . . . it was an accident. Ariana
couldn't control it. But my mother was killed."
Harry felt a horrible mixture of pity and repulsion; he did not want to hear any more, but Aberforth kept talking,
and Harry wondered how long it had been since he had spoken about this; whether, in fact, he had ever spoken about it.
"So that put paid to Albus's trip round the world with little Doge. The pair of 'em came home for my mother's
funeral and then Doge went off on his own, and Albus settled down as head of the family. Ha!"
Aberforth spat into the fire.
"I'd have looked after her, I told him so, I didn't care about school, I'd have stayed home and done it.
He told me I had to finish my education and he'd take over from my mother. Bit of a comedown for Mr. Brilliant,
there's no prizes for looking after your half-mad sister, stopping her blowing up the house every other day. But he
did all right for a few weeks . . . till he came."
And now a positively dangerous look crept over Aberforth’s face.
"Grindelwald. And at last, my brother had an equal to talk to someone just as bright and talented he was. And
looking after Ariana took a backseat then, while they were hatching all their plans for a new Wizarding order and looking
for Hallows, and whatever else it was they were so interested in. Grand plans for the benefit of all Wizardkind, and if one
young girl neglected, what did that matter, when Albus was working for the greater good?
"But after a few weeks of it, I'd had enough, I had. It was nearly time for me to go hack to Hogwarts, so I told 'em,
both of 'em, face-to-face, like I am to you, now," and Aberforth looked downward Harry, and it took a little imagination to
see him as a teenager, wiry and angry, confronting his elder brother. "I told him, you'd better give it up now. You can't move her,
she's in no fit state, you can't take her with you, wherever it is you're planning to go, when you're making your clever speeches,
trying to whip yourselves up a following. He didn't like that." said Aberforth, and his eyes were briefly occluded by the fireflight on
the lenses of his glasses: They turned white and blind again. "Grindelwald didn't like that at all. He got angry. He told me what a
stupid little boy I was, trying to stand in the way of him and my brilliant brother . . . Didn't I understand, my poor sister wouldn't
have to be hidden once they'd changed the world, and led the wizards out of hiding, and taught the Muggles their place?
"And there was an argument . . . and I pulled my wand, and he pulled out his, and I had the Cruciatus Curse used on
me by my brother's best friend - and Albus was trying to stop him, and then all three of us were dueling, and the flashing lights
and the bangs set her off, she couldn't stand it - "
The color was draining from Aberforth's face as though he had suffered a mortal wound.
" - and I think she wanted to help, but she didn't really know what she was doing, and I don't know which of us did it,
it could have been any of us - and she was dead."
His voice broke on the last word and he dropped down into the nearest chair. Hermione's face was wet with tears, and Ron
was almost as pale as Aberforth. Harry felt nothing but revulsion: He wished he had not heard it, wished he could wash is mind clean of it.
"I'm so . . . I'm so sorry," Hermione whispered.
"Gone," croaked Aberforth. "Gone forever."
He wiped his nose on hiss cuff and cleared his throat.
" 'Course, Grindelwald scarpered. He had a bit of a track record already, back in his own country, and he didn't want Ariana
set to his account too. And Albus was free, wasn't he? Free of the burden of his sister, free to become the greatest wizard of the - "
"He was never free," said Harry.
"I beg your pardon?" said Aberforth.
"Never," said Harry. "The night that your brother died, he drank a potion that drove him out of his mind. He started screaming,
pleading with someone who wasn't there. 'Don't hurt them, please . . . hurt me instead.' "
Ron and Hermione were staring at Harry. He had never gone into details about what had happened on the island on the lake:
The events that had taken place after he and Dumbledore had returned to Hogwarts had eclipsed it so thoroughly.
"He thought he was back there with you and Grindelwald, I know he did," said Harry, remembering Dumbledore whispering, pleading.
"He thought he was watching Grindelwald hurting you and Ariana . . . It was torture to him, if you'd seen him then, you wouldn't say he was free."
Aberforth seemed lost in contemplation of his own knotted and veined hands. After a long pause he said. "How can you be sure, Potter,
that my brother wasn't more interested in the greater good than in you? How can you be sure you aren't dispensable, just like my little sister?"
A shard of ice seemed to pierce Harry's heart.
"I don't believe it. Dumbledore loved Harry," said Hermione.
"Why didn't he tell him to hide, then? shot back Aberforth. "Why didn't he say to him, 'Take care of yourself, here's how to survive' ?"
"Because," said Harry before Hermione could answer, "sometimes you've got to think about more than your own safety! Sometimes
you've got to think about the greater good! This is war!"
"You're seventeen, boy!"
"I'm of age, and I'm going to keep fighting even if you've given up!"
"Who says I've given up?"
"The Order of the Phoenix is finished," Harry repeated, "You-Know-Who's won, it's over, and anyone who's pretending different's kidding
"I don't say I like it, but it's the truth!"
"No, it isn't." said Harry. "Your brother knew how to finish You-Know-Who and he passed the knowledge on to me. I'm going to keep going
until I succeed - or I die. Don't think I don't know how this might end. I've known it for years."
He waited for Aberforth to jeer or to argue, but he did not. He merely moved.
"We need to get into Hogwarts," said Harry again. "If you can't help us, we'll wait till daybreak, leave you in peace, and try to find a way
in ourselves. If you can help us - well, now would be a great time to mention it."
Aberforth remained fixed in his chair, gazing at Harry with the eye, that were so extraordinarily like his brother's. At last he cleared his
throat, got to his feet, walked around the little table, and approached the portrait of Ariana.
"You know what to do," he said.
She smiled, turned, and walked away, not as people in portraits usually did, one of the sides of their frames, but along what seemed to
be a long tunnel painted behind her. They watched her slight figure retreating until finally she was swallowed by the darkness.
"Er - what - ?" began Ron.
"There's only one way in now," said Aberforth. "You must know they've got all the old secret passageways covered at both ends, dementors
all around the boundary walls, regular patrols inside the school from what my sources tell me. The place has never been so heavily guarded.
How you expect to do anything once you get inside it, with Snape in charge and the Carrows as his deputies. . . well, that's your lookout, isn't it?
You say you're prepared to die."
"But what . . . ?" said Hermione, frowning at Ariana's picture.
A tiny white dot reappeared at the end of the painted tunnel, and now Ariana was walking back toward them, growing bigger and bigger
as she came. But there was somebody else with her now, someone taller than she was, who was limping along, looking excited. His hair was
longer than Harry had ever seen. He appeared and torn. Larger and larger the two figures grew, until only their heads and shoulders filled the portrait.
Then the whole thing swang forward on the wall like a little door, and the entrance to a real tunnel was revealed. And our of it, his hair overgrown,
his face cut, his robes ripped, clambered the real Neville Longbottom, who gave a roar of delight, leapt down from the mantelpiece and yelled.
"I knew you'd come! I knew it, Harry!"
Chapter Twenty-Nine
The Lost Diadem
“Neville -- what the -- how -- ?”
But Neville had spotted Ron and Hermione, and with yells of delight was hugging them too. The longer Harry looked at Neville, the worse he appeared: One of his eyes was swollen yellow and purple, there were gouge marks on his face, and his general air of unkemptness suggested that he had been living enough. Nevertheless, his battered visage shone with happiness as he let go of Hermione and said again, “I knew you’d come! Kept telling Seamus it was a matter of time!”
“Neville, what’s happened to you?”
“What? This?” Neville dismissed his injuries with a shake of the head. “This is nothing, Seamus is worse. You’ll see. Shall we get going then? Oh,” he turned to Aberforth, “Ab, there might be a couple more people no the way.”
“Couple more?” repeated Aberforth ominously. “What d’you mean, a couple more, Longbottom? There’s a curfew and a Camwaulding Charm on the whole village!”
“I know, that’s why they’ll be Apparating directly into the bar,” said Neville. “Just send them down the passage when they get here, will you? Thanks a lot.”
Neville held out his hand to Hermione and helped her to climb up onto the mantelpiece and into the tunnel; Ron followed, then Neville. Harry addressed Aberforth.
“I don’t know how to thank you. You’ve saved our lives twice.”
“Look after ‘em, then,” said Aberforth gruffly. “I might not be able to save ‘em a third time.”
Harry chambered up onto the mantelpiece and through the hole behind Ariana’s portrait. There were smooth stone steps on the other side: It looked as though the passageway had been there for years. Brass lamps hung from the walls and the earthy floor was worn and smooth; as they walked, their shadows rippled, fanlike, across the wall.
“How long’s this been here?” Ron asked as they set off. “It isn’t on the Marauder’s Map, is it Harry? I thought there were only seven passages in and out of school?”
“They sealed off all of those before the start of the year,” said Neville. “There’s no chance of getting through any of them now, not with the curses over the entrances and Death Eaters and dementors waiting at the exits.” He started walking backward, beaming, drinking them in. “Never mind that stuff … Is it true? Did you break into Gringotts? Did you escape on a dragon? It’s everywhere, everyone’s talking about it, Terry Boot got beaten up by Carrow for yelling about it in the Great Hall at dinner!”
“Yeah, it’s true,” said Harry.
Neville laughed gleefully.
“What did you do with the dragon?”
“Released it into the wild,” said Ron. “Hermione was all for keeping it as a pet“
“Don’t exaggerate, Ron –“
“But what have you been doing? People have been saying you’ve just been on the run, Harry, but I don’t think so. I think you’ve been up to something.”
“You’re right,” said Harry, “but tell us about Hogwarts, Neville, we haven’t heard anything.”
“It’s been …. Well, it’s not really like Hogwarts anymore,” said Neville, the smile fading from his face as he spoke. “Do you know about the Carrows?”
“Those two Death Eaters who teach here?”
“They do more than teach,” said Neville. “They’re in charge of all discipline. They like punishment, the Carrows.”
“Like Umbridge?”
“Nah, they make her look tame. The other teachers are all supposed to refer us to the Carrows if we do anything wrong. They don’t, though, if they can avoid it. You can tell they all hate them as much as we do.”
“Amycus, the bloke, he teaches what used to be Defense Against the Dark Arts, except now it’s just the Dark Arts. We’re supposed to practice the Cruciatus Curse on people who’ve earned detentions – “
Harry, Ron, and Hermione’s united voices echoed up and down the passage.
“Yeah,” said Neville. “That’s how I got this one,” he pointed at a particularly deep gash in his cheek, “I refused to do it. Some people are into it, though; Crabbe and Goyle love it. First time they’ve ever been top in anything, I expect.”
“Alecto, Amycus’s sister, teaches Muggle Studies, which is compulsory for everyone. We’ve all got to listen to her explain how Muggles are like animals, stupid and dirty, and how they drive wizards into hiding by being vicious toward them, and how the natural order is being reestablished. I got this one,” he indicated another slash to his face, “for asking her how much Muggle blood she and her brother have got.”
“Blimey, Neville,” said Ron, “there’s a time and a place for getting a smart mouth.”
“You didn’t see her,” said Neville. “You wouldn’t have stood it either. The thing is, it helps when people stand up to them, it gives everyone hope. I used to notice that when you did it, Harry.”
“But they’ve used you as a knife sharpener,” said Ron, winding slightly as they passed a lamp and Neville’s injuries were thrown into even greater relief.
Neville shrugged.
“Doesn’t matter. They don’t want to spill too much pure blood, so they’ll torture us a bit if we’re mouthy but they won’t actually kill us.”
Harry did not know what was worse, the things that Neville was saying or the matter-of-fact tone in which he said them.
“The only people in real danger are the ones whose friends and relatives on the outside are giving trouble. They get taken hostage. Old Xeno Lovegood was getting a bit
too outspoken in The Quibbler, so they dragged Luna off the train on the way back for Christmas.”
“Neville, she’s all right, we’ve seen her –“
“Yeah, I know, she managed to get a message to me.”
From his pocket he pulled a golden coin, and Harry recognized it as one of the fake Galleons that Dumbledore’s Army had used to send one another messages.
“These have been great,” said Neville, beaming at Hermione. “The Carrows never rumbled how we were communicating, it drove them mad. We used to sneak out at night and put graffiti on the walls: Dumbledore’s Army, Still Recruiting, stuff like that. Snape hated it.”
“You used to?” said Harry, who had noticed the past tense.
“Well, it got more difficult as time went one,” said Neville. “We lost Luna at Christmas, and Ginny never came back after Easter, and the three of us were sort of the leaders. The Carrows seemed to know I was behind a lot of it, so they started coming down on me hard, and then Michael Corner went and got caught releasing a first-year they’d chained up, and they tortured him pretty badly. That scared people off.”
“No kidding,” muttered Ron, as the passage began to slope upward.
“Yeah, well, I couldn’t ask people to go through what Michael did, so we dropped those kinds of stunts. But we were still fighting, doing underground stuff, right up until a couple of weeks ago. That’s when they decided there was only one way to stop me, I suppose, and they went for Gran.”
“They what?” said Harry, Ron, and Hermione together.
“Yeah,” said Neville, panting a little now, because the passage was climbing so steeply, “well, you can see their thinking. It had worked really well, kidnapping kids to force their relatives to behave. I s’pose it was only a matter of time before they did it the other way around. Thing was,” he faced them, and Harry was astonished to see that he was grinning, “they bit off a bit more than they could chew with Gran. Little old witch living alone, they probably thought hey didn’t need to send anyone particularly powerful. Anyway,” Neville laughed, “Dawlish is still in St. Mungo’s and Gran’s on the run. She sent me a letter,” he clapped a hand to the breast pocket of his robes, “telling me she was proud of me, that I’m my parent’s son, and to keep it up.”
“Cool,” said Ron.
“Yea,” said Neville happily. “Only thing was, once they realized they had no hold over me, they decided Hogwarts could do without me after all. I don’t know whether they were planning to kill me or send me to Azkaban, either way, I knew it was time to disappear.”
“But,” said Ron, looking thoroughly confused, “aren’t – aren’t we heading straight back for Hogwarts?”
“’Course,” said Neville. “You’ll see. We’re here.”
They turned a corner and there ahead of them was the end of the passage. Another short flight of steps led to a door just like the one hidden behind Ariana’s portrait. Neville pushed it open and climbed through. As Harry followed, he heard Neville call out for unseen people:
“Look who it is! Didn’t I tell you?”
As Harry emerged into the room behind the passage, there were several screams and yells: “HARRY!” “It’s Potter, it’s POTTER!” “Ron!” “Hermione!”
He had a confused impression of colored hangings, of lamps and many faces. The next moment, he, Ron, and Hermione were engulfed, hugged, pounded on the back, their hair ruffled, their hands shaken, by what seemed to be more than twenty people. They might have just won a Quidditch final.
“Okay, okay, calm down!” Neville called, and as the crowd backed away, Harry was able to take in their surroundings.
He did not recognize the dorm at all. It was enormous, and looked rather like the interior of a particularly sumptuous tree house, or perhaps a gigantic ship’s cabin. Multicolored hammocks were strung from the ceiling and from the balcony that ran around the dark wood-paneled and windowless walls, which were covered in bright tapestry hangings. Harry saw the gold Gryffindor lion, emblazoned on scarlet; the black badger of Hufflepuff, set against yellow; and the bronze eagle of Ravenclaw, on blue. The silver and green of Slytherin alone were absent. There were bulging bookcases, a few broomsticks propped against the walls, and in the corner, a large wood-cased wireless.
“Where are we?”
“Room of Requirement, of course!” said Neville. “Surpassed itself, hasn’t it? The Carrows were chasing me, and I knew I had just one chance for a hideout: I managed to get through the door and this is what I found! Well, it wasn’t exactly like this when I arrived, it was a load smaller, there was only one hammock and just Gryffindor hangings. But it’s expanded as more and more of the D.A. have arrived.”
“And the Carrows can’t get in?” asked Harry, looking around for the door.
“No,” said Seamus Finnigan, whom Harry had not recognized until he spoke: Seamus’s face was bruised and puffy. “It’s a proper hideout, as long as one of us stays in here, they can’t get at us, the door won’t open. It’s all down to Neville. He really gets this room. You’ve got to ask for exactly what you need – like, “I don’t want any Carrow supporters to be able to get in’ – and it’ll do it for you! You’ve just got to make sure you close the loopholes. Neville’s the man!”
“It’s quite straightforward, really,” said Neville modestly. “I’d been in here about a day and a half, and getting really hungry, and wishing I could get something to eat, and that’s when the passage to Hog’s Head opened up. I went through it and met Aberforth. He’s been providing us with food, because for some reason, that’s the one thing the room doesn’t really do.
“Yeah, well, food’s one of the five exceptions to Gamp’s Law of Elemental Transfiguration,” said Ron to general astonishment.
“So we’ve been hiding out here for nearly two weeks,” said Seamus, “and it just makes more hammocks every time we need room, and it even sprouted a pretty good bathroom once girls started turning up – “
“—and thought they’d quite like to wash, yes,” supplied Lavender Brown, whom Harry had not noticed until that point. Now that he looked around properly, he recognized many familiar faces. Both Patil twins were there, as were Terry Boot, Ernie Macmillan, Anthony Goldstein, and Michael Corner.
“Tell us what you’ve been up to, though,” said Ernie. “There’ve been so many rumors, we’ve been trying to keep up with you on Potterwatch.” He pointed at the wireless. “You didn’t break into Gringotts?”
“They did!” said Neville. “And the dragon’s true too!”
There was a smattering of applause and a few whoops; Ron took a bow.
“What were you after?” asked Seamus eagerly.
Before any of them could parry the question with one of their own, Harry felt a terrible, scorching pain in the lightning scar. As he turned his back hastily on the curious and delighted faces, the Room of Requirement vanished, and he was standing inside a ruined stone shack, and the rotting floorboards were ripped apart at his feet, a disinterred golden box lay open and empty beside the hole, and Voldemort’s scream of fury vibrated inside his head.
With an enormous effort he pulled out of Voldemort’s mind again, back to where he stood, swaying, in the Room of Requirement, sweat pouring from his face and Ron holding him up.
“Are you all right, Harry?” Neville was saying. “What to sit down? I expect you’re tired, aren’t -- ?”
“No,” said Harry. He looked at Ron and Hermione, trying to tell them without words that Voldemort had just discovered the loss of one of the other Horcruxes. Time was running out fast: If Voldemort chose to visit Hogwarts next, they would miss their chance.
“We need to get going,” he said, and their expressions told him that they understood.
“What are we going to do, then, Harry?” asked Seamus. “What’s the plan?”
“Plan?” repeated Harry. He was exercising all his willpower to prevent himself succumbing again to Voldemort’s rage: His scar was still burning. “Well, there’s something we – Ron, Hermione, and I – need to do, and then we’ll get out of here.”
Nobody was laughing or whooping anymore. Neville looked confused.
“What d’you mean, ‘get out of here’?”
“We haven’t come back to stay,” said Harry, rubbing his scar, trying to soothe the pain. “There’s something important we need to do – “
“What is it?”
“I – I can’t tell you.”
There was a ripple of muttering at this: Neville’s brows contracted.
“Why can’t you tell us? It’s something to do with fighting You-Know-Who, right?”
“Well, yeah – “
“Then we’ll help you.”
The other members of Dumbledore’s Army were nodding, some enthusiastically, others solemnly. A couple of them rose from their chairs to demonstrate their willingness for immediate action.
“You don’t understand,” Harry seemed to have said that a lot in the last few hours. “We – we can’t tell you. We’ve got to do it – alone.”
“Why?” asked Neville.
“Because … “ In his desperation to start looking for the missing Horcrux, or at least have a private discussion with Ron and Hermione about where they might commence their search. Harry found it difficult to gather his thoughts. His scar was still searing. “Dumbledore left the three of us a job,” he said carefully, “and we weren’t supposed to tell – I mean, he wanted us to do it, just the three of us.”
“We’re his army,” said Neville. “Dumbledore’s Army. We were all in it together, we’ve been keeping it going while you three have been off on your own –“
“It hasn’t exactly been a picnic, mate,” said Ron.
“I never said it had, but I don’t see why you can’t trust us. Everyone in this room’s been fighting and they’ve been driven in here because the Carrows were hunting them down. Everyone in here’s proven they’re loyal to Dumbledore – loyal to you.”
“Look,” Harry began, without knowing what he was going to say, but it did not matter. The tunnel door had just opened behind him.
“We got your message, Neville! Hello you three, I thought you must be here!”
It was Luna and Dean. Seamus gave a great roar of delight and ran to hug his best friend.
“Hi, everyone!” said Luna happily. “Oh, it’s great to be back!”
“Luna,” said Harry distractedly, “what are you doing here? How did you -- ?”
“I sent for her,” said Neville, holding up the fake Galleon. “I promised her and Ginny that if you turned up I’d let them know. We all thought that if you came back, it would mean revolution. That we were going to overthrow Snape and the Carrows.”
“Of course that’s what it means,” said Luna brightly. “Isn’t it, Harry? We’re going to fight them out of Hogwarts?”
“Listen,” said Harry with a rising sense of panic, “I’m sorry, but that’s not what we came back for. There’s something we’ve got to do, and then –“
“You’re going to leave us in this mess?” demanded Michael Cornet.
“No!” said Ron. “What we’re doing will benefit everyone in the end, it’s all about trying to get rid of You-Know-Who – “
“Then let us help!” said Neville angrily. “We want to be a part of it!”
There was another noise behind them, and Harry turned. His heart seemed to fall: Ginny was now climbing through the hole in the wall, closely followed by Fred, George, and Lee Jordan. Ginny gave Harry a radiant smile: He had forgotten, he had never fully appreciated, how beautiful she was, but he had never been less pleased to see her.
“Aberforth’s getting a bit annoyed,” said Fred, raising his hand in answer to several cries of greeting. “He wants a kip, and his bar’s turned into a railway station.”
Harry’s mouth fell open. Right behind Lee Jordan came Harry’s old girlfriend, Cho Chang. She smiled at him.
“I got the message,” she said, holding up her own fake Galleon and she walked over to sit beside Michael Corner.
“So what’s the plan, Harry?” said George.
“There isn’t one,” said Harry, still disoriented by the sudden appearance of all these people, unable to take everything in while his scar was still burning so fiercely.
“Just going to make it up as we go along, are we? My favorite kind,” said Fred.
“You’ve got to stop this!” Harry told Neville. “What did you call them all back for? This is insane – “
“We’re fighting, aren’t we?” said Dean, taking out his fake Galleon. “The message said Harry was back, and we were going to fight! I’ll have to get a wand, though –“
“You haven’t got a wand--?” began Seamus.
Ron turned suddenly to Harry.
“Why can’t they help?”
“They can help.” He dropped his voice and said, so that none of them could hear but Hermione, who stood between them, “We don’t know where it is. We’ve got to find it fast. We don’t have to tell them it’s a Horcrux.”
Harry looked from Ron to Hermione, who murmured, “I think Ron’s right. We don’t even know what we’re looking for, we need them.” And when Harry looked unconvinced, “You don’t have to do everything alone, Harry.”
Harry thought fast, his scar still prickling, his head threatening to split again. Dumbledore had warned him against telling anyone but Ron and Hermione about the Horcruxes. Secrets and lies, that’s how we grew up, and Albus … he was a natural … Was he turning into Dumbledore, keeping his secrets clutched to his chest, afraid to trust? But Dumbledore had trusted Snape, and where had that led? To murder at the top of the highest tower …
“All right,” he said quietly to the other two. “Okay,” he called to the room at large, and all noise ceased: Fred and George, who had been cracking jokes for the benefit of those nearest, fell silent, and all of the looked alert, excited.
“There’s something we need to find,” Harry said. “Something – something that’ll help us overthrow You-Know-Who. It’s here at Hogwarts, but we don’t know where. It might have belonged to Ravenclaw. Has anyone heard of an object like that? Has anyone come across something with her eagle on it, for instance?”
He looked hopefully toward the little group of Ravenclaws, to Padma, Michael, Terry, and Cho, but it was Luna who answered, perched on the arm of Ginny’s chair.
“Well, there’s her lost diadem. I told you about it, remember, Harry? The lost diadem of Ravenclaw? Daddy’s trying to duplicate it.”
“Yeah, but the lost diadem,” said Michael Corner, rolling his eyes, “is lost, Luna. That’s sort of the point.”
“When was it lost?” asked Harry.
“Centuries ago, they say,” said Cho, and Harry’s heart sank. “Professor Flitwick says the diadem vanished with Ravenclaw herself. People have looked, but,” she appealed to her fellow Ravenclaws. “Nobody’s ever found a trace of it, have them?”
They all shook their heads.
“Sorry, but what is a diadem?” asked Ron.
“It’s a kind of crown,” said Terry Boot. “Ravenclaw’s was supposed to have magical properties, enhance the wisdom of the wearer.”
“Yes, Daddy’s Wrackspurt siphons – “
But Harry cut across Luna.
“And none of you have ever seen anything that looks like it?
They all shook their heads again. Harry looked at Ron and Hermione and his own disappointment was mirrored back at him. An object that had been lost this long, and apparently without trace, did not seem like a good candidate for the Horcrux hidden in the castle … Before he could formulate a new question, however, Cho spoke again.
“If you’d like to see what the diadem’s supposed to look like, I could take you up to our common room and show you, Harry. Ravenclaw’s wearing it in her statue.”
Harry’s scar scorched again: For a moment the Room of Requirement swam before him, and he saw instead the dark earth soaring beneath him and felt the great snake wrapped around his shoulders. Voldemort was flying again, whether to the
underground lake or here, to the castle, he did not know: Either way, there was hardly any time left.
“He’s on the move,” he said quietly to Ron and Hermione. He glanced at Cho and then back at them. “Listen, I know it’s not much of a lead, but I’m going to go look at this statue, at least find out what the diadem looks like. Wait for me here and keep, you know – the other one – safe.”
Cho had got to her feet, but Ginny said rather fiercely, “No, Luna will take Harry, won’t you, Luna?”
“Oooh, yes, I’d like to,” said Luna happily, as Cho sat down again, looking disappointed.
“How do we get out?” Harry asked Neville.
“Over here.”
“He led Harry and Luna to a corner, where a small cupboard opened onto a steep staircase. “It comes out somewhere different every day, so they’ve never been able to find it,” he said. “Only trouble is, we never know exactly where we’re going to end up when we go out. Be careful, Harry, they’re always patrolling the corridors at night.”
“No problem,” said Harry. “See you in a bit.”
He and Luna hurried up the staircase, which was long, lit by torches, and turned corners in unexpected places. At last they reached what appeared to be solid wall.
“Get under here,” Harry told Luna, pulling out the Invisibility Cloak and throwing it over both of them. He gave the wall a little push.
It melted away at his touch and they slipped outside. Harry glanced back and saw that it had resealed itself at once. They were standing in a dark corridor. Harry pulled Luna back into the shadows, fumbled in the pouch around his neck, and took out the Marauder’s Map. Holding it close to his nose he searched, and located his and Luna’s dots at last.
“We’re up on the fifth floor,” he whispered, watching filch moving away from them, a corridor ahead. “Come on, this way.”
They crept off.
Harry had prowled the castle at night many times before, but never had his heart hammered that fast, never had so much depended on his safe passage through the place. Through squares of moonlight upon the floor, past suits of armor whose helmets creaked at the sound of their soft footsteps, around corners beyond which who knew what lurked. Harry and Luna walked, checking the Marauder’s Map whenever light permitted, twice pausing to allow a ghost to pass without drawing attention to themselves. He expected to encounter an obstacle at any moment; his worst fear was Peeves, and he strained his ears with every step to hear the first, telltale signs of the poltergeist’s approach.
“The way, Harry,” breathed Luna, plucking his sleeve and pulling him toward a spiral staircase.
They climbed in tight, dizzying circles; Harry had never been up here before. At last they reached a door. There was no handle and no keyhole: nothing but a plain expanse of aged wood, and a bronze knocker in the shape an eagle.
Luna reached out a pale hand, which looked eerie floating in midair, unconnected to arm or body. She knocked once, and in the silence it sounded to Harry like a cannon blast. At once the beak of the eagle opened, but instead of a bird’s called, a soft, musical voice said, “Which came first, the phoenix or the flame?”
“Hmm … What do you think, Harry?” said Luna, looking thoughtful.
“What? Isn’t there a password?”
“Oh no, you’ve got to answer a question,” said Luna.
“What if you get it wrong?”
“Well, you have to wait for somebody who gets it right,” said Luna. “That way you learn, you see?”
“Yeah … Trouble is, we can’t really afford to wait for anyone else, Luna.”
“No, I see what you mean,” said Luna seriously. “Well then, I think the answer is that a circle has no beginning.”
“Well reasoned,” said the voice, and the door swung open.
The deserted Ravenclaw common room was a wide, circular room, airier than any Harry had ever seen at Hogwarts. Graceful arched windows punctuated the walls, which were hung with blue-and-bronze silks. By day, the Ravenclaws would have a spectacular view of the surrounding mountains. The ceiling was domed and painted with stars, which were echoed in the midnight-blue carpet. There were tables, chairs, and bookcases, and in a niche opposite the door stood a tall statue of white marble.
Harry recognized Rowena Ravenclaw from the bust he had seen at Luna’s house. The statue stood beside a door that led, he guessed, to dormitories above. He strode right up to the marble woman, and she seemed to look back at him with a quizzical half smile on her face, beautiful yet slightly intimidating. A delicate-looking circlet had been reproduced in marble on top of her head. It was not unlike the tiara Fleur had worn at her wedding. There were tiny words etched into it. Harry stepped out from under the Cloak and climbed up onto Ravenclaw’s plinth to read them.
“’Wit beyond measure is man’s greatest treasure.’”
“Which makes you pretty skint, witless,” said a cackling voice.
Harry whirled around, slipped off the plinth, and landed on the floor. The sloping-shouldered figure of Alecto Carrow was standing before him, and even as Harry raised his wand, she pressed a stubby forefinger to the skull and snake branded on her forearm.
Chapter Thirty
The Sacking of Severus Snape
The moment her finger touched the Mark, Harry's scar burned savagely, the starry room vanished from sight, and he was standing upon an outcrop of rock beneath a cliff, and the sea was washing around him and there was a triumph in his heart – They have the boy.
A loud bang brought Harry back to where he stood. Disoriented, he raised his wand, but the witch before him was already falling forward; she hit the ground so hard that the glass in the bookcases tinkled.
“I've never Stunned anyone except in our D.A. lessons,” said Luna, sounding mildly interested. “That was noisier than I though it would be.”
And sure enough, the ceiling had begun to tremble Scurrying, echoing footsteps were growing louder from behind the door leading to the dormitories. Luna's spell had woken Ravenclaws sleeping above.
“Luna, where are you? I need to get under the Cloak!”
Luna's feet appeared out of nowhere,; he hurried to her side and she let the Cloak fall back over them as the door opened and a stream of Ravenclaws, all in their nightclothes, flooded into the common room. there were gasps and cries of surprise as they saw Alecto lying there unconscious. Slowly they shuffled in around her, a savage beast that might wake at any moment and attack them. Then one brave little first-year darted up to her and prodded her backside with his big toe.
“I think she might be dead!” he shouted with delight.
“Oh look,” whispered Luna happily, as the Ravenclaws crowded in around Alecto. “They're pleased!”
“Yeah... great... “
Harry closed his eyes, and as his scar throbbed he chose to sink again into Voldemort's mind.... He was moving along the tunnel into the first cave.... He had chosen to make sure of the locker before coming...but that would not take him long....
There was a rap on the common room door and every Ravenclaw froze. From the other side, Harry heard the soft, musical voice that issued from the eagle door knocker: “Where do Vanished objects go?”
“I dunno, do I? Shut it!” snarled an uncouth voice that Harry knew was that of the Carrow brother , Amycus, “Alecto? Alecto? Are you there? Have you got him? Open the door!”
The Ravenclaws were whispering amongst themselves, terrified. Then without warning, there came a series of loud bangs, as though somebody was firing a gun into the door.
“ALECTO! If he comes, and we haven't got Potter --d'you want to go the same way as the Malfoys? ANSWER ME!” Amycus bellowed, shaking the door for all he was worth, but still it did not open. The Ravenclaws were all backing away, and some of the most frightened began scampering back up the stair case to their beds. Then, just as Harry was wondering whether he ought not to blast open the door and Stun Amycus before the Death Eater could do anything else, a second, most familiar voice rang out beyond the door.
“May I ask what you are doing, Professor Carrow?”
“Trying—to get-- through this damned-- door!” shouted Amycus. “Go and get Flitwick! Get him to open it, now!”
“But isn't your sister in there” asked Professor McGonagall. “Didn't Professor Flitwick let her in earlier this evening, at your urgent request? Perhaps she could open the door for you? Then you needn't wake up half the castle.”
“She ain't answering, you old besom! You open it! Garn! Do it, now!”
“Certainly, if you wish it,” said Professor McGonagall, with awful coldness, There was a genteel tap of the knocker and the musical voice asked again.
“Where do Vanished objects go?”
“Into non being, which is to say, everything,” replied Professor McGonagall.
“Nicely phrased,” replied the eagle door knocker, and the door swung open.
The few Ravenclaws who had remained behind sprinted for the stairs as Amycus burst over the threshold, brandishing his wand. Hunched like his sister, he had a pallid, doughy face and tiny eyes, which fell at once on Alecto, sprawled motionless on the floor. He let out a yell of fury and fear.
“What've they done, the little whelps?” he screamed. “I'll Cruciate the lot of 'em till they tell me who did it---and what's the Dark Lord going to say?” he shrieked, standing over his sister and smacking himself on the forehead with his fist, “We haven't got him, and they've gone and killed her!”
“She's only Stunned,” said Professor McGonagall impatiently, who had stooped down to examine Alecto. “She'll be perfectly all right.”
“No she bludgering well won't!” bellowed Amycus. “Not after the Dark Lord gets hold of her! She's gone and sent for him, I felt me Mark burn, and he thinks we've got Potter!”
“'Got Potter'?” said Professor McGonagall sharply, “What do you mean, 'got Potter'?”
“He told us Potter might try and get inside Ravenclaw Tower, and to send for him if we caught him!”
“Why would Harry Potter try to get inside Ravenclaw Tower! Potter belongs in my House!”
Beneath the disbelief and anger, Harry heard a little strain of pride in her voice and affection for Minerva McGonagall gushed up inside him.
“We was told he might come in here!” said Carrow. “I dunno why, do I?”
Professor McGonagall stood up and her beady eyes swept the room. Twice they passed right over the place where Harry and Luna stood.
“We can push it off on the kids,” said Amycus, his pig like face suddenly crafty. “Yeah, that's what we'll do. We'll say Alecto was ambushed by the kids, them kids up there” -- he looked up at the starry ceiling toward the dormitories -- “ and we'll say they forced her to pres her Mark, and that's why he got a false alarm.... He can punish them. Couple of kids more or less, what's the difference?”
“Only the difference between truth and lied, courage and cowardice,” said Professor McGonagall, who had turned pale, “a difference, in short, which you and your sister seem unable to appreciate. But let me make one thing very clear. You are not going to pass off y9our many ineptitudes on the students of Hogwarts. I shall not permit it.”
“Excuse me?”
Amycus moved forward until he was offensively close to Professor McGonagall, his face within inches of hers. She refused to back away, but looked down at him as if he were something disgusting she had found stuck to the lavatory seat.
“It's not a case of what you'll permit, Minerva McGonagall. Your time's over. It's us what's in charge here now, and you'll back me up or you'll pay the price.”
And he spat in her face.
Harry pulled the Cloak off himself, raised his wand, and said, “You shouldn't have done that.”
As Amycus spun around, Harry shouted, “Crucio!”
The Death Eater was lifted off his feet. He writhed through the air like a drowning man, thrashing and howling in pain, and then, with a crunch and a shattering of glass, he smashed into the front of a bookcase and crumpled, insensible, to the floor.
“I see what Bellatrix meant,” said Harry, the blood thundering through his brain, “you need to really mean it.”
“Potter!” whispered Professor McGonagall, clutching her heart. “Potter--- you're here! What---? How---?” She struggled to pull herself together. “Potter, that was foolish!”
“He spat at you,” said Harry.
“Potter, I --- that was very --- gallant of you --- but don't you realize --?”
“Yeah, I do,” Harry assured her. Somehow her panic steadied him. “Professor McGonagall, Voldemort's on the way.”
“Oh, are we allowed to say the name now?” asked Luna with an air of interest, pulling off the Invisibility Cloak. The appearance of a second outlaw seemed to overwhelm Professor McGonagall, who staggered backward and fell into a nearby chair, clutching at the neck of her old tartan dressing gown.
“I don't think it makes any difference what we call him,” Harry told Luna. “He already knows where I am.”
In a distant part of Harry's brain, that part connected to the angry, burning scar, he could see Voldemort sailing fast over the dark lake in the ghostly green boat.... He had nearly reached the island where the stone basin stood....
“You must flee,” whispered Professor McGonagall, “Now Potter, as quickly as you can!”
“I can't,” said Harry, “There's something I need to do. Professor, so you know where the diadem of Ravenclaw is?”
“The d-diadem of Ravenclaw? Of course not --- hasn't it been lost for centuries?” She sat up a little straighter “Potter, it was madness, utter madness, for you to enter this castle---”
“I had to,” said Harry. “Professor, there's something hidden here that I'm supposed to find, and it could be the diadem--- if I could just speak to Professor Flitwick---”
There was a sound of movement, of clinking glass. Amycus was coming round. Before Harry or Luna could act, Professor McGonagall rose to her feet, pointed her wand at the groggy Death Eater, and said, “Imperio.”
Amycus got up, walked over to his sister, picked up her wand, then shuffled obediently to Professor McGonagall and handed it over along with his own. Then he lay down on the floor beside Alecto. Professor McGonagall waved her wand again, and a length of shimmering silver rope appeared out of thin air and snaked around the Carrows, binding them tightly together.
“Potter,” said Professor McGonagall, turning to face him again with superb indifference to the Carrows' predicament. “if He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named does indeed know that you are here---”
As she said it, a wrath that was like physical pain blazed through Harry, setting his scar on fire, and for a second he looked down upon a basin whose potion had turned clear, and saw that no golden locket lay safe beneath the surface---.
“Potter, are you all right.” said a voice, and Harry came back. He was clutching Luna's shoulder to steady himself.
“Time's running out, Voldemort's getting nearer, Professor, I'm acting on Dumbledore's orders, I must find what he wanted me to find! But we've got to get the students out while I'm searching the castle--- It's me Voldemort wants, but he won't care
about killing a few more or less, not now---” not now he knows I'm attacking Horcruxes, Harry finished the sentence in his head.
“You're acting on Dumbledore's orders?” she repeated with a look of dawning wonder. Then she drew herself up to her fullest height.
“We shall secure the school against He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named while you search for this --- this object.”
“Is that possible?”
“I think so,” said Professor McGonagall dryly, “we teachers are rather good at magic, you know. I am sure we will be able to hold him off for a while if we all put our best efforts into it. Of course, something will have to be done about Professor Snape---”
“Let me ---”
“---and if Hogwarts is about to enter a state of siege, with the Dark Lord at the gates, it would indeed be advisable to take as many innocent people out of the way as possible. With the Floo Network under observation, and Apparition impossible within the grounds---”
“There's a way,” said Harry quickly, and he explained about the passageway leading into the Hog's Head.
“Potter, we're talking about hundreds of students---”
“I know, Professor, but if Voldemort and the Death Eaters are concentrating on the school boundaries they won't be interested in anyone who's Disapparating out of Hog's Head.”
“There's something in that,” she agreed. She pointed her wand at the Carrows, and a silver net fell upon their bound bodies, tied itself around them, and hoisted them into the air, where they dangled beneath the blue-and-gold ceiling like two large, ugly sea creatures. “Come. We must alert the other Heads of House. You'd better put that Cloak back on.”
She marched toward the door, and as she did so she raised her wand. From the tip burst three silver cats with spectacle markings around their eyes. the Patronuses ran sleekly ahead, filling the spiral staircase with silvery light, as Professor McGonagall, Harry, and Luna hurried back down.
Along the corridors they raced, and one by one the Patronuses left them. Professor McGonagall's tartan dressing gown rustled over the floor, and Harry and Luna jogged behind her under the Cloak.
They had descended two more floors when another set of quiet joined theirs. Harry, whose scar was still prickling, heard them first. He felt in the pouch around his neck for the Marauder's Map, but before he could take it our, McGonagall too seemed to become aware of their company. She halted, raised her wand ready to duel, and said, “Who's there?”
“It is I,” said a low voice.
From behind a suit of armor stepped Severus Snape.
Hatred boiled up in Harry at the sight of him. He had forgotten the details of Snape's appearance in the magnitude of his crimes, forgotten how his greasy black hair hung in curtains around his thin face, how his black eyes had a dead, cold look. He was not wearing nightclothes, but was dressed in his usual black cloak, and he too was holding his wand ready for a fight.
“Where are the Carrows?” he asked quietly.
“Wherever you told them to be, I expect, Severus,” said Professor McGonagall.
Snape stepped nearer, and his eyes flitted over Professor McGonagall into the air around her, as if he knew that Harry was there. Harry held his wand up too, ready to attack.
“I was under the impression,” said Snape, “That Alecto had apprehended an intruder.”
“Really?” said Professor McGonagall. “And what gave you that impression?”
Snape mad a slight flexing movement of his left arm, where the Dark Mark was branded into his skin.
“Oh, but naturally,” said Professor McGonagall. “You Death Eaters have your own private means of communication, I forgot.”
Snape pretended not to have heard her. His eyes were still probing the air all about her, and he was moving gradually closer, with an air of hardly noticing what he was doing.
“I did not know that it was your night to patrol the corridors Minerva.”
“You have some objection?”
“I wonder what could have brought you out of our bed at this late hour?”
“I thought I heard a disturbance,” said Professor McGonagall.
“Really? But all seems calm.”
Snape looked into her eyes.
“Have you seen Harry Potter, Minerva? Because if you have. I must insist---”
Professor McGonagall moved faster than Harry could have believed. Her wand slashed through the air and for a split second Harry thought that Snape must crumple, unconscious, but the swiftness of his Shield Charm was such that McGonagall was thrown off balance. =She brandished her wand at a touch on the wall and it flew out of its bracket. Harry, about to curse Snape, was forced to pull Luna out of the way of the descending flames, which became a ring of fire that filled the corridor and flew like a lasso at Snape---
Then it was no longer fire, but a great black serpent that McGonagall blasted to smoke, which re-formed and solidified in seconds to become a swarm of pursuing daggers. Snape avoided them only by forcing the suit of armor in front of him, and with echoing clangs the daggers sank, one after another, into its breast---
“Minerva!” said a squeaky voice, and looking behind him, still shielding Luna from flying spells, Harry saw Professors Flitwick and Sprout sprinting up the corridor toward them in their nightclothes, with the enormous Professor Slughorn panting along at the rear.
“No!” squealed Flitwick, raising his wand. “You'll do no more murder at Hogwarts!”
Flitwick's spell hit the suit of armor behind which Snape had taken shelter. With a clatter it came to life. Snape struggled free of the crushing arms and sent it flying back toward his attackers. Harry and Luna had to dive sideways to avoid it as it smashed into the wall and shattered. When Harry looked up again, Snape was in full flight, McGonagall, Flitwick, and Sprout all thundering after him. He hurtled through a classroom door and, moments later, he heard McGonagall cry, “Coward! COWARD!”
“What's happened, what's happened?” asked Luna.
Harry dragged her to her feet and they raced along the corridor, trailing the Invisibility Cloak behind them, into the deserted classroom where Professors McGonagall, Flitwick, and Sprout were standing at a smashed window.
“He jumped,” said Professor McGonagall as Harry and Luna ran into the room.
“You mean he's dead?” Harry sprinted to the window, ignoring Flitwick's and Sprout's yells of shock at his sudden appearance.
“No, he's not dead,” said McGonagall bitterly. “Unlike Dumbledore, he was still carrying a wand... and he seems to have learned a few tricks from his master.”
With a tingle of horror, Harry saw in the distance a huge, bat like shape flying through the darkness toward the perimeter wall.
There were heavy footfalls behind them, and a great deal of puffing. Slughorn had just caught up.
“Harry!” he panted, massaging his immense chest beneath his emerald-green silk pajamas. “My dear boy... what a surprise...Minerva, do please explain...Severus...what...?”
“Our headmaster is taking a short break,” said Professor McGonagall, pointing at the Snape-shaped hole in the window.
“Professor!” Harry shouted his hand on his forehead, He could see the Inferi-filled lake sliding beneath him, and he felt a ghostly green boat bump into the underground shore, and Voldemort lept from it with murder in his heart---
“Professor, we've got to barricade the school, he's coming now!”
“Very well. He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named is coming,” she told the other teachers. Sprout and Flitwick gasped. Slughorn let out a low groan. “Potter has work to do in the castle on Dumbledore's orders. We need to put in place every protection of which we are capable while Potter does what he needs to do.”
“You realize , of course, that nothing we do will be able to keep out You-Know-Who indefinitely?” squeaked Flitwick.
“But we can hold him up.” said Professor Sprout.
“Thank you, Pomona,” said Professor McGonagall, and between the two witches there passed a look of grim understanding. I suggest we establish basic protection around the place, then gather our students and meet in the Great Hall. Most must be evacuated, though if any of those who are over age wish to stay and fight, I think they ought to be given the chance.”
“Agreed,” said Professor Sprout, already hurrying toward the door. “I shall meet you in the Great Hall in twenty minutes with my House.”
And as she jogged out of sight, they could hear her muttering, “Tentacula, Devil's Snare. And Snargaluff pods...yes, I'd like to see the Death Eaters fighting those.”
I can act from here,” said Flitwick, and although he could barely see out of it, he pointed his wand through the smashed window and started muttering incantations of great complexity. Harry heard a weird rushing noise, as though Flitwick had unleashed the power of the wind into the grounds.
“Professor,” Harry said, approaching the little Charms master. “Professor, I'm sorry to interrupt, but this is important. Have you got any idea where the diadem of Ravenclaw is?”
“---Protego Horribillis---the diadem of Ravenclaw?” squeaked Flitwick. “A little extra wisdom never goes amiss, Potter, but I hardly think it would be much use in this situation!”
“I only meant --- do you know where it is? Have you ever seen it?”
“Seen it” Nobody has seen it in living memory! Long since lost, boy.”
Harry felt a mixture of desperate disappointment and panic. What, then, was the Horcrux?
“We shall meet you and your Ravenclaws in the Great Hall, Filius!” said Professor McGonagall, beckoning to Harry and Luna to follow her.
They had just reached the door when Slughorn rumbled into speech.
“My word,” he puffed, pale and sweaty, his walrus mustache aquiver. “What a to-do! I'm not at all sure whether this is wise, Minerva. He is bound to find a way in, you know, and anyone who has tried to delay him will be in the most grievous peril---”
“I shall expect you and the Slytherins in the Great Hall in twenty minutes also.” said Professor McGonagall. “If you wish to leave with your students, we shall not stop you. But if any of you attempt to sabotage our resistance or take up arms against us within this castle, then, Horace, we duel to kill.”
“Minerva!” he said, aghast.
“The time has come for Slytherin House to decide upon its loyalties,” interrupted Professor McGonagall. “Go and wake your students, Horace.”
Harry did not stay to watch Slughorn splutter. He and Luna stayed after Professor McGonagall, who had taken up a position in the middle of the corridor and raised her wand.
“Piertotum---oh, for heaven's sake, Filch, not now---”
The aged caretaker had just come hobbling into view, shouting “Students out of bed! Students in the corridors!”
“They're supposed to be you blithering idiot!” shouted McGonagall. “Now go and do something constructive! Find Peeves!”
'P-Peeves?” stammered Filch as though he had never heard the name before.
“Yes, Peeves, you fool, Peeves! Haven't you been complaining about him for a quarter of a century? Go and fetch him, at once.
Filch evidently thought Professor McGonagall had taken leave of her senses, but hobbled away, hunch-shouldered, muttering under his breath.
“And now---Piertotum Locomator!” cried Professor McGonagall. And all along the corridor the statues and suits of armor jumped down from their plinths, and from the echoing crashes from the floors above and below, Harry knew that their fellows throughout the castle had done the same.
“Hogwarts is threatened!” shouted Professor McGonagall. “Man the boundaries, protect us, do your duty to our school!”
Clattering and yelling, the horde of moving statues stampeded past Harry, some of them smaller, others larger than life. There were animals too, and the clanking suits of armor brandished swords and spiked balls on chains.
“Now, Potter,” said McGonagall., “you and Miss Lovegood had better return to your friends and bring them to the Great Hall --- I shall rouse the other Gryffindors.”
They parted at the top of the next staircase, Harry and Luna turning back toward the concealed entrance to the Room of Requirement. As they ran, they met crowds of
students, most wearing traveling cloaks over their pajamas, being shepherded down to the Great Hall by teachers and prefects.
“That was Potter!”
“Harry Potter!”
“It was him, I swear, I just saw him!”
“But Harry did not look back, and at last they reached the entrance to the Room of Requirement, Harry leaned against the enchanted wall, which opened to admit them, and he and Luna sped back down the steep staircase.
As the room came into view, Harry slipped down a few stairs in shock. It was packed, far more crowded than when he had last been in there. Kingsley and Lupin were looking up at him, as were Oliver Wood, Katie Bell, Angelina Johnson and Alicia Spinnet, Bill and Fleur, and Mr. and Mrs. Weasley.
“Harry, what's happening?” said Lupin, meeting him at the foot of the stairs.
“Voldemort's on his way, they're barricading he school---Snape's run for it---What are you doing here? How did you know?
“We sent messages to the rest of Dumbledore's Army,” Fred explained. “You couldn't expect everyone to miss the fun, Harry, and the D.A. let the Order of the Phoenix know, and it all kind of snowballed.”
“What first, Harry?” called George. “What's going on?”
“They're evacuating the younger kids and everyone's meeting in the Great Hall to get organized,” Harry said. “We're fighting.”
There was a great roar and a surge toward the stairs, he was pressed back against he wall as they ran past hi, the mingled members of the Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore's Army, and Harry's old Quidditch team, all with their wands drawn, heading up into the main castle.
“Come on, Luna,” Dean called as he passed, holding out his free hand, she took it and followed him back up the stairs.
The crowd was thinning. Only a little knot of people remained below in the Room of Requirement, and Harry joine3d them. Mrs. Weasley was struggling with Ginny. Around them stood Lupin, Fred, George, Bill and Fleur.
“You're underage!” Mrs. Weasley shouted at her daughter as Harry approached “I won't permit it! The boys, yes, but you, you've got to go home!”
“I won't!”
“Ginny's hair flew as she pulled her arm out of her mother's grip.
“I'm in Dumbledore's Army---”
“A teenagers' gang!”
“A teenagers' gang that's about to take him on, which no one else has dared to do!” said Fred.
“She's sixteen!” shouted Mrs. Weasley. “She's not old enough! What you two were thinking bringing her with you—-”
Fred and George looked slightly ashamed of themselves.
Mom's right, Ginny,” said Bill gently. “You can't do this. Everyone underage will have to leave, it's only right.”
“I can't go home!” Ginny shouted, angry tears sparkling in her eyes. “my whole family's here, I can't stand waiting there alone and not knowing and --”
Her eyes met Harry's for the first time. She looked at him beseechingly, but he shook his head and she turned away bitterly.
“Fine,” she said, staring at the entrance to the tunnel back to the Hog's Head. “I'll say good-by now, then, and---”
There was a scuffling and a great thump. Someone else had clambered out of the tunnel, overbalanced slightly, and fallen. He pulled himself up no the nearest chair, looked around through lopsided horn-rimmed glasses, and said, “Am I too late? Has it started. I only just found out, so I --- I ---”
Percy spluttered into silence. Evidently he had not expected to run into most of his family. There was a long moment of astonishment, broken by Fleur turning to Lupin and saying, in a wildly transparent attempt to break the tension. “So--- 'ow eez leetle Teddy?”
Lupin blinked at her, startled. The silence between the Weasleys seemed to be solidifying, like ice.
“I --- oh yes--- he's fine!” Lupin said loudly. “yes, Tonks is with him--- at her mother's ---”
Percy and the other Weasleys were still staring at one another, frozen.
“Here, I've got a picture?” Lupin shouted, pulling a photograph from inside his jacket and showing it to Fleur and Harry, who saw a tiny baby with a tuft of bright turquoise hair, waving fat fists at the camera.
“I was a fool!” Percy roared, so loudly that Lupin nearly dropped his photograph. “I was an idiot, I was a pompous prat, I was a – a --”
“Ministry-loving, family-disowning, power-hungry moron,” said Fred.
Percy swallowed.
“Yes, I was!”
“Well, you can't say fairer than that,” said Fred, holding his hand out to Percy.
Mrs. Weasley burst into tears,. She ran forward, pushed Fred aside, and pulled Percy into a strangling hug, while he patted her on the back, his eyes on his father.
“I'm sorry, Dad,” Percy said.
Mr. Weasley blinked rather rapidly, then he too hurried to hug his son.
“What made you see sense, Perce?” inquired George.
“It's been coming on for a while,” said Percy, mopping his eyes under his glasses with a corner of his traveling cloak. “But I had to find a way out and it's not so easy at the Ministry, they're imprisoning traitors all the time. I managed to make contact with Aberforth and he tipped me off ten minutes ago that Hogwarts was going to make a fight of it, so here I am.”
“Well, we do look to our prefects to take a lead at times such as these,” said George in a good imitation of Percy's most pompous manner. “Now let's get upstairs and fight, or all the good Death Eaters'll be taken.”
“So, you're my sister in-law now?” Said Percy, shaking hands with Fleur as they hurried off toward the staircase with Bill, Fred, and George.
“Ginny!” barked Mrs. Weasley.
Ginny had been attempting, under cover of the reconciliations to sneak upstairs too.
“Molly, how about this,” said Lupin. “Why doesn't Ginny stay here , then at least she'll be on the scene and know what's going on, but she won't be in the middle of the fighting?”
“That's a good idea,” said Mr. Weasley firmly, “ Ginny, you stay in this room, you hear me?”
Ginny did not seem to like the idea much, but under her father's unusually stern gaze, she nodded. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley and Lupin headed off to the stairs as well.
“Where's Ron?” asked Harry, “Where's Hermione?”
“They must have gone up the Great Hall already,” Mr. Weasley called over his shoulder.
“ I didn't see them pass me,” said Harry.
“They said something about a bathroom,” said Ginny, “not long after you left.”
“A bathroom?”
Harry strode across the room to an open door leading off the Room of Requirement and checked the bathroom beyond. It was empty.
“You're sure they said bath---?”
But then his scar seared and the Room of Req1uirement vanished. He was looking through the high wrought-iron gates with winged boats on pillars at either side, looking through the dark grounds toward the castle, which was ablaze with lights. Nagini lay draped over his shoulders. He was possessed of that cold, cruel sense of purpose that preceded murder.
Chapter Thirty-One
The Battle of Hogwarts
The enchanted ceiling of the Great Hall was dark and scattered with stars, and below it the four long House tables were lined with disheveled students, some in traveling cloaks, others in dressing gowns. Here and there shone the pearly white figures of the school ghosts. Every eye, living and dead was fixed upon Professor McGonagall, who was speaking from the raised platform at the top of the Hall. Behind her stood the remaining teaches, including the palomino centaur, Firenze, and the members of the Order of the Phoenix who had arrived to fight.
"...evacuation will be overseen by Mr. Filch and Madame Pomfrey. Prefects, when I give the word, you will organize your House and take your charges in orderly fashion to the evacuation point.
Many of the students looked petrified. However, as Harry skirted the walls, scanning the Gryffindor table for Ron and Hermione, Ernie Macmillan stood up at the Hufflepuff table and shouted; "And what if we want to stay and fight?"
There was a smattering of applause.
"If you are of age, you may stay." said Professor McGonagall.
"What about our things?" called a girl at the Ravenclaw table. "Our trunks, our owls?"
"We have no time to collect possessions." said Professor McGonagall. "The important thing is to get you out of here safely."
"Where's Professor Snape?" shouted a girl from the Slytherin table.
"He has, to use the common phrase, done a bunk." replied Professor McGonagall and a great cheer erupted from the Gryffindors, Hufflepuffs, and Ravenclaws.
Harry moved up the Hall alongside the Gryffindor table, still looking for Ron and Hermione. As he passed, faces turned in his direction, and a great deal of whispering broke out in his wake.
"We have already placed protection around the castle," Professor McGonagall was saying, "but it is unlikely to hold for very long unless we reinforce it. I must ask you, therefore, to move quickly and calmly, and do as your prefects -"
But her final words were drowned as a different voice echoed throughout the Hall. It was high, cold, and clear. There was no telling from where it came. It seemed to issue from the walls themselves. Like the monster it had once commanded, it might have lain dormant there for centuries.
"I know that you are preparing to fight." There were screams amongst the students, some of whom clutched each other, looking around in terror for the source of the sound. "Your efforts are futile. You cannot fight me. I do not want to kill you. I have great respect for the teachers of Hogwarts. I do not want to spill magical blood."
There was silence in the Hall now, the kind of silence that presses against the eardrums, that seems too huge to be contained by walls.
"Give me Harry Potter," said Voldemort's voice, "and they shall not be harmed. Give me Harry Potter and I shall leave the school untouched. Give me Harry Potter and you will be rewarded.
"You have until midnight."
The silence swallowed them all again. Every head turned, every eye in the place seemed to have found Harry, to hold him forever in the glare of thousands of invisible beams. Then a figure rose from the Slytherin table and he recognized Pansy Parkinson as she raised a shaking arm and screamed, "But he's there! Potter's there. Someone grab him!"
Before Harry could speak, there was a massive movement. The Gryffindors in front of him had risen and stood facing, not Harry, but the Slytherins. Then the Hufflepuffs stood, and almost at the same moment, the Ravenclaws, all of them with their backs to Harry, all of them looking toward Pansy instead, and Harry, awestruck and overwhelmed, saw wands emerging everywhere, pulled from beneath cloaks and from under sleeves.
"Thank you, Miss Parkinson." said Professor McGonagall in a clipped voice. "You will leave the Hall first with Mr. Filch. If the rest of your House could follow."
Harry heard the grinding of the benches and then the sound of the Slytherins trooping out on the other side of the Hall.
"Ravenclaws, follow on!" cried Professor McGonagall.
Slowly the four tables emptied. The Slytherin table was completely deserted, but a number of older Ravenclaws remained seated while their fellows filed out; even more Hufflepuffs stayed behind, and half of Gryffindor remained in their seats, necessitating Professor McGonagall's descent from the teachers' platform to chivvy the underage on their way.
"Absolutely not, Creevey, go! And you, Peakes!"
Harry hurried over to the Weasleys, all sitting together at the Gryffindor table.
"Where are Ron and Hermione?"
"Haven't you found -?" began Mr. Weasley, looking worried.
But he broke off as Kingsley had stepped forward on the raised platform to address those who had remained behind.
"We've only got half an half an hour until midnight, so we need to act fast. A battle plan has been agreed between the teachers of Hogwarts and the Order of the Phoenix. Professors Flitwick, Sprout and McGonagall are going to take groups of fighters up to the three highest towers - Ravenclaw, Astronomy, and Gryffindor - where they'll have good overview, excellent positions from which to work spells. Meanwhile Remus" - he indicated Lupin - "Arthur" - he pointed toward Mr. Weasley, sitting at the Gryffindor table - "and I will take groups into the grounds. We'll need somebody to organize defense of the entrances or the passageways into the school -"
"Sounds like a job for us." called Fred, indicating himself and George, and Kingsley nodded his approval.
"All right, leaders up here and we'll divide up the troops!"
"Potter," said Professor McGonagall, hurrying up to him, as students flooded the platform, jostling for position, receiving instructions, "Aren't you supposed to be looking for something?"
"What? Oh," said Harry, "oh yeah!"
He had almost forgotten about the Horcrux, almost forgotten that the battle was being fought so that he could search for it: The inexplicable absence of Ron and Hermione had momentarily driven every other thought from his mind.
"Then go, Potter, go!"
"Right - yeah -"
He sensed eyes following him as he ran out of the Great Hall again, into the entrance hall still crowded with evacuating students. He allowed himself to be swept up the marble staircase with them, but at the top he hurried off along a deserted corridor. Fear and panic were clouding his thought processes. He tried to calm himself, to concentrate on finding the Horcrux, but his thoughts buzzed as frantically and fruitlessly as wasps trapped beneath a glass. Without Ron and Hermione to help him he could not seem to marshal his ideas. He slowed down, coming to a halt halfway along a passage, where he sat down on the plinth of a departed statue and pulled the Marauder's Map out of the pouch around his neck. He could not see Ron's of Hermione's names anywhere on it, though the density of the crowd of dots now making its way to the Room of Requirement might, he thought, be concealing them. He put the map away, pressed his hands over his face, and closed his eyes, trying to concentrate.
Voldemort thought I'd go to Ravenclaw Tower.
There it was, a solid fact, the place to start. Voldemort had stationed Alecto Carrow in the Ravenclaw common room, and there could be only one explanation; Voldemort feared that Harry already knew his Horcrux was connected to that House.
But the only object anyone seemed to associate with Ravenclaw was the lost diadem... and how could the Horcrux be the diadem? How was it possible that Voldemort, the Slytherin, had found the diadem that had eluded generations of Ravenclaws? Who could have told him where to look, when nobody had seen the diadem in living memory?
In living memory...
Beneath his fingers, Harry's eyes flew open again. He leapt up from the plinth and tore back the way he had come, now in pursuit of his one last hope. The sound of hundreds of people marching toward the Room of Requirement grew louder and louder as he returned to the marble stairs. Prefects were shouting instructions, trying to keep track of the students in their own houses, there was much pushing and shouting; Harry
saw Zacharias Smith bowling over first years to get to the front of the queue, here and there younger students were in tears, while older ones called desperately for friends or siblings.
Harry caught sight of a pearly white figure drifting across the entrance hall below and yelled as loudly as he could over the clamor.
"Nick! NICK! I need to talk to you!"
He forced his way back through the tide of students, finally reaching the bottom of the stairs, where Nearly Headless Nick, ghost of Gryffindor Tower, stood waiting for him.
"Harry! My dear boy!"
Nick made to grasp Harry's hands with both of his own; Harry felt as though they had been thrust into icy water.
"Nick, you've got to help me. Who's the ghost of Ravenclaw Tower?"
Nearly Headless Nick looked surprised and a little offended.
"The Gray Lady, of course; but if it is ghostly services you require -?"
"It's got to be her - d'you know where she is?"
"Let's see..."
Nick's head wobbled a little on his ruff as he turned hither and thither, peering over the heads of the swarming students.
"That's her over there, Harry, the young woman with the long hair."
Harry looked in the direction of Nick's transparent, pointing finger and saw a tall ghost who caught sight of Harry looking at her, raised her eyebrows, and drifted away through a solid wall.
Harry ran after her. Once through the door of the corridor into which she had disappeared, he saw her at the very end of the passage, still gliding smoothly away from him.
"hey - wait - come back!"
She consented to pause, floating a few inches from the ground. Harry supposed that she was beautiful, with her waist-length hair and floor-length cloak, but she also
looked haughty and proud. Close in, he recognized her as a ghost he had passed several times in the corridor, but to whom he had never spoken.
"You're the Gray Lady?"
She nodded but did not speak.
"The ghost of Ravenclaw Tower?"
"That is correct."
Her tone was not encouraging.
"Please, I need some help. I need to know anything you can tell me about the lost diadem."
A cold smile curved her lips.
"I am afraid," she said, turning to leave, "that I cannot help you."
He had not meant to shout, but anger and panic were threatening to overwhelm him. He glanced at his watch as she hovered in front of him. It was a quarter to midnight.
"This is urgent." he said fiercely. "If that diadem's at Hogwarts, I've got to find it, fast."
"You are hardly the first student to covet the diadem." she said disdainfully. "Generations of students have badgered me -"
"This isn't about trying to get better marks!" Harry shouted at her, "It's about Voldemort - defeating Voldemort - or aren't you interested in that?"
She could not blush, but her transparent cheeks became more opaque, and her voice was heated as she replied, "Of course I - how dare you suggest -?"
"Well, help me then!"
Her composure was slipping.
"It - it is not a question of -" she stammered. My mother's diadem -"
"Your mother's?"
She looked angry with herself.
"When I lived," she said stiffly, "I was Helena Ravenclaw."
"You're her daughter? But then, you must know what happed to it."
"While the diadem bestows wisdom," she said with an obvious effort to pull herself together, "I doubt that it would greatly increase you chances of defeating the wizard who calls himself Lord -"
Haven't I told you, I'm not interested in wearing it!" Harry said fiercely. "There's no time to explain - but if you care about Hogwarts, if you want to see Voldemort finished, you've got to tell me anything you know about the diadem!"
She remained quite still, floating in midair, staring down at him, and a sense of hopelessness engulfed Harry. Of course, if she had known anything, she would have told Flitwick of Dumbledore, who had surely asked her the same question. He had shaken his head and made to turn away when she spoke in a low voice.
"I stole the diadem from my mother."
"You - you did what?"
"I stole the diadem." repeated Helena Ravenclaw in a whisper. "I sought to make myself cleverer, more important than my mother. I ran away with it."
He did not know how he had managed to gain her confidence and did not ask, he simply listened, hard, as she went on.
"My mother, they say, never admitted that the diadem was gone, but pretended that she had it still. She concealed her loss, my dreadful betrayal, even from the other founders of Hogwarts.
"Then my mother fell ill - fatally ill. In spite of my perfidy, she was desperate to see me one more time. She sent a man who had long loved me, though I spurned his advances, to find me. She knew that he would not rest until he had done so."
Harry waited. She drew a deep breath and threw back her head.
"He tracked me to the forest where I was hiding. When I refused to return with him, he became violent. The baron was always a hot-tempered man. Furious at my refusal, jealous of my freedom, he stabbed me."
"The Baron? You mean -?"
"he Bloody Baron, yes," said the Gray Lady, and she lifted aside the cloak she wore to reveal a single dark wound in her white chest. When he saw what he had done, he was overcome with remorse. He took the weapon that had claimed my life, and used it to kill himself. All these centuries later, he wears his chains as an act of penitence ... as he should." she added bitterly.
"And - and the diadem?"
"It remained where I had hidden it when I heard the Baron blundering through the forest toward me. Concealed inside a hollow tree."
"A hollow tree?" repeated Harry. "What tree? Where was this?"
"A forest in Albania. A lonely place I thought was far beyond my mother's reach."
"Albania," repeated Harry. Sense was emerging miraculously from confusion, and now he understood why she was telling him what she had denied Dumbledore and Flitwick. "You've already told someone this story, haven't you? Another student?"
She closed her eyes and nodded.
"I had... no idea... He was flattering. He seemed to... understand... to sympathize..."
Yes, Harry thought. Tom Riddle would certainly have understood Helena Ravenclaw's desire to possess fabulous objects to which she had little right.
"Well, you weren't the first person Riddle wormed things out of." Harry muttered. "He could be charming when he wanted..."
So, Voldemort had managed to wheedle the location of the lost diadem out of the Gray Lady. He had traveled to that far-flung forest and retrieved the diadem from its hiding place, perhaps as soon as he left Hogwarts, before he even started work at Borgin and Burkes.
And wouldn't those secluded Albanian woods have seemed an excellent refuge when, so much later, Voldemort and needed a place to lie low, undisturbed, for ten long years?
But the diadem, once it became his precious Horcrux, had not been left in that lowly tree. . . . No, the diadem had been returned secretly to its true home, and Voldemort must have put it there –
“—the night he asked for a job!” said Harry, finishing his thought.
“I beg your pardon?”
“He hid the diadem in the castle, the night he asked Dumbledore to let him teach!” said Harry. Saying it out loud enabled him to make sense of it all. “He must’ve hidden the diadem on his way up to, or down from, Dumbledore’s office! But it was well worth trying to get the job – then he might’ve got the chance to nick Gryffindor’s sword as well – thank you, thanks!”
Harry left her floating there, looking utterly bewildered. As he rounded the corner back into the entrance hall, he checked his watch. It was five minutes until midnight, and though he now knew what the last Horcrux was, he was no closer to discovering where it was. . .
Generations of students had failed to find the diadem; that suggested that it was not in Ravenclaw Tower – but if not there, where? What hiding place had Tom Riddle discovered inside Hogwarts Castle, that he believed would remain secret forever?
Lost in desperate speculation, Harry turned a corner, but he had taken only a few steps down the new corridor when the window to his left broke open with a deafening, shattering crash. As he leapt aside, a gigantic body flew in through the window and hit the opposite wall.
Something large and furry detached itself, whimpering, from the new arrival and flung itself at Harry.
“Hagrid!” Harry bellowed, fighting off Fang the boarhound’s attentions as the enormous bearded figure clambered to his feet “What the --?”
“Harry, yer here! Yer here!”
Hagrid stooped down, bestowed upon Harry a cursory and rib-cracking hug, then ran back to the shattered window.
“Good boy, Grawpy!” he bellowed through the hole in the window. “I’ll se yer in a moment, there’s a good lad!”
Beyond Hagrid, out in the dark night, Harry saw bursts of light in the distance and heard a weird, keening scream. He looked down at his watch: It was midnight. The battle had begun.
“Blimey, Harry,” panted Hagrid, “this is it, eh? Time ter fight?”
“Hagrid, where have you come from?”
“Heard You-Know-Who from up in our cave,” said Hagrid grimly. “Voice carried, didn’t it? ‘Yet got till midnight ter gimme Potter.’ Knew yeh mus’ be here, knew that mus’ be happenin’. Get down, Fang. So we come ter join in, me an’ Grawpy an’ Fang. Smashed our way through the boundary by the forest, Grawpy was carryin’ us, Fang an’ me. Told him ter let me down at the castle, so he shoved me through the window, bless him. Not exactly what I meant, bu’ – where’s Ron an’ Hermione?”
“That,” said Harry, “is a really good question. Come on.”
They hurried together along the corridor, Fang lolloping beside them. Harry could hear movement through the corridors all around: running footsteps, shouts; through the windows, he could see more flashes of light in the dark grounds.
“Where’re we goin’?” puffed Hagrid, pounding along at Harry’s heels, making the floorboards quake.
“I dunno exactly,” said Harry, making another random turn, “but Ron and Hermione must be around here somewhere. . . .”
The first casualties of the battle were already strewn across the passage ahead: The two stone gargoyles that usually guarded the entrance to the staffroom had been
smashed apart by a jinx that had sailed through another broken window. Their remains stirred feebly on the floor, and as Harry leapt over one of their disembodied heads, it moaned faintly. “Oh, don’t mind me . . . I’ll just be here and crumble. . . .”
Its ugly stone face made Harry think suddenly of the marble bust of Rowena Ravenclaw at Xenophilius’s house, wearing that mad headdress – and then of the statue in Ravenclaw Tower, with the stone diadem upon her white curls. . . .
And as he reached the end of the passage, the memory of a third stone effigy came back to him: that of an ugly old warlock, onto whose head Harry himself had placed a wig and a battered old hat. The shock shot through Harry with the heat of firewhisky, and he nearly stumbled.
He knew, at least, where the Horcrux sat waiting for him. . . .
Tom Riddle, who confided in no one and operated alone, might have been arrogant enough to assume that he, and only he, had penetrated the deepest mysteries of Hogwarts Castle. Of course, Dumbledore and Flitwick, those model pupils, had never set foot in that particular place, but he, Harry, had strayed off the beaten track in his time at school – here at least was a secret area he and Voldemort knew, that Dumbledore had never discovered –
He was roused by Professor Sprout, who was thundering past followed by Neville and half a dozen others, all of them wearing earmuffs and carrying what appeared to be large potted plants.
“Mandrakes!” Neville bellowed at Harry over his shoulder as he ran. “Going to lob them over the walls – they won’t like this!”
Harry knew now where to go. He sped off, with Hagrid and Fang galloping behind him. They passed portrait after portrait, and the painted figures raced alongside them, wizards and witches in ruffs and breeches, in armor and cloaks, cramming themselves into each others’ canvases, screaming news from other parts of the castle. As they reached the end of this corridor, the whole castle shook, and Harry knew, as a gigantic vase blew off its plinth with explosive force, that it was in the grip of enchantments more sinister than those of the teachers and the Order.
“It’s all righ’, Fang – it’s all righ’!” yelled Hagrid, but the great boarhound had taken flight as slivers of china flew like shrapnel through the air, and Hagrid pounded off after the terrified dog, leaving Harry alone.
He forged on through the trembling passages, his wand at the ready, and for the length of one corridor the little painted knight, Sir Cadrigan, rushed from painting to painting beside him, clanking along in his armor, screaming encouragement, his fat little pony cantering behind him.
“Braggarts and rogues, dogs and scoundrels, drive them out, Harry Potter, see them off!”
Harry hurtled around a corner and found Fred and a small knot of students, including Lee Jordan and Hannah Abbott, standing beside another empty plinth, whose statue had concealed a secret passageway. Their wands were drawn and they were listening at the concealed hole.
“Nice night for it!” Fred shouted as the castle quaked again, and Harry sprinted by, elated and terrified in equal measure. Along yet another corridor he dashed, and then there were owls everywhere, and Mrs. Norris was hissing and trying to bat them with her paws, no doubt to return them to their proper place. . . .
Aberforth Dumbledore stood blocking the corridor ahead, his wand held ready.
“I’ve had hundreds of kids thundering through my pub, Potter!” “I know, we’re evacuating,” Harry said, “Voldemort’s –“
“– attacking because they haven’t handed you over, yeah,” said Aberforth. “I’m not deaf, the whole of Hogsmeade heard him. And it never occurred to any of you to keep a few Slytherins hostage? There are kids of Death Eaters you’ve just sent to safety. Wouldn’t it have been a bit smarter to keep ‘em here?” “It wouldn’t stop Voldemort,” said Harry, “and your brother would never have done it.” Aberforth grunted and tore away in the opposite direction.
Your brother would never have done it. . . . Well, it was the truth, Harry thought as he ran on again: Dumbledore, who had defended Snape for so long, would never have held students ransom. . . .
And then he skidded around a final corner and with a yell of mingled relief and fury he saw them: Ron and Hermione; both with their arms full of large, curved, dirty yellow objects, Ron with a broomstick under his arms.
“Where the hell have you been?” Harry shouted.
“Chamber of Secrets,” said Ron.
“Chamber – what?” said Harry, coming to an unsteady halt before them.
“It was Ron, all Ron’s idea!” said Hermione breathlessly. “Wasn’t it absolutely brilliant? There we were, after we left, and I said to Ron, even if we find the other one, how are we going to get rid of it? We still hadn’t got rid of the cup! And then he thought of it! The basilisk!”
“What the – ?”
“Something to get rid of Horcruxes,” said Ron simply.
Harry’s eyes dropped to the objects clutched in Ron and Hermione’s arms: great curved fangs; torn, he now realized, from the skull of a dead basilisk.
“But how did you get in there?” he asked, staring from the fangs to Ron. “You need to speak Parseltongue!” “He did!” whispered Hermione. “Show him, Ron!” Ron made a horrible strangled hissing noise.
“It’s what you did to open the locket,” he told Harry apologetically. “I had to have a few goes to get it right, but,” he shrugged modestly, “we got there in the end.” “He was amazing!” said Hermione. “Amazing!”
“So . . .” Harry was struggling to keep up. “So . . .”
“So we’re another Horcrux down,” said Ron, and from under his jacket he pulled the mangled remains of Hufflepuff’s cup. “Hermione stabbed it. Thought she should. She hasn’t had the pleasure yet.” “Genius!” yelled Harry.
“It was nothing,” said Ron, though he looked delighted with himself. “So what’s new with you?”
As he said it, there was an explosion from overhead: All three of them looked up as dust fell from the ceiling and they heard a distant scream.
“I know what the diadem looks like, and I know where it is,” said Harry, talking fast. “He hid it exactly where I had my old Potions book, where everyone’s been hiding
stuff for centuries. He thought he was the only one to find it. Come on.” As the walls trembled again, he led the other two back through the concealed entrance and down the staircase into the Room of Requirement. It was empty except for three women: Ginny, Tonks and an elderly witch wearing a moth-eaten hat, whom Harry recognized immediately as Neville’s grandmother.
“Ah, Potter,” she said crisply as if she had been waiting for him. “You can tell us what’s going on.” “Is everyone okay?” said Ginny and Tonks together.
“’S far as we know,” said Harry. “Are there still people in the passage to the Hog’s Head?”
He knew that the room would not be able to transform while there were still users inside it.
“I was the last to come through,” said Mrs. Longbottom. “I sealed it, I think it unwise to leave it open now Aberforth has left his pub. Have you seen my grandson?”
“He’s fighting,” said Harry.
“Naturally,” said the old lady proudly. “Excuse me, I must go and assist him.” With surprising speed she trotted off toward the stone steps.
Harry looked at Tonks.
“I thought you were supposed to be with Teddy at your mother’s?” “I couldn’t stand not knowing –“ Tonks looked anguished. “She’ll look after him – have you seen Remus?” “He was planning to lead a group of fighters into the grounds –“
Without another word, Tonks sped off.
“Ginny,” said Harry, “I’m sorry, but we need you to leave too. Just for a bit. Then you can come back in.”
Ginny looked simply delighted to leave her sanctuary.
“And then you can come back in!” he shouted after her as she ran up the steps after Tonks. “You’ve got to come back in!”
“Hang on a moment!” said Ron sharply. “We’ve forgotten someone!” “Who?” asked Hermione.
“The house-elves, they’ll all be down in the kitchen, won’t they?” “You mean we ought to get them fighting?” asked Harry.
“No,” said Ron seriously, “I mean we should tell them to get out. We don’t want anymore Dobbies, do we? We can’t order them to die for us –“
There was a clatter as the basilisk fangs cascaded out of Hermione’s arms. Running at Ron, she flung them around his neck and kissed him full on the mouth. Ron threw away the fangs and broomstick he was holding and responded with such enthusiasm that he lifted Hermione off her feet.
“Is this the moment?” Harry asked weakly, and when nothing happened except that Ron and Hermione gripped each other still more firmly and swayed on the spot, he raised his voice. “Oi! There’s a war going on here!” Ron and Hermione broke apart, their arms still around each other.
“I know, mate,” said Ron, who looked as though he had recently been hit on the back of the head with a Bludger, “so it’s now or never, isn’t it?”
“Never mind that, what about the Horcrux?” Harry shouted. “D’you think you could just – just hold it in until we’ve got the diadem?”
“Yeah – right – sorry –“ said Ron, and he and Hermione set about gathering up fangs, both pink in the face.
It was clear, as the three of them stepped back into the corridor upstairs, that in the minutes that they had spent in the Room of Requirement the situation within the castle had deteriorated severely: The walls and ceiling were shaking worse than ever; dust filled the air, and through the nearest window, Harry saw bursts of green and red light so close to the foot of the castle that he knew the Death Eaters must be very near to entering the place. Looking down, Harry saw Grawp the giant meandering past, swinging what looked like a stone gargoyle torn from the roof and roaring his displeasure.
“Let’s hope he steps on some of them!” said Ron as more screams echoed from close by.
“As long as it’s not any of our lot!” said a voice: Harry turned and saw Ginny and Tonks, both with their wands drawn at the next window, which was missing several panes. Even as he watched, Ginny sent a well-aimed jinx into a crowd of fighters below.
“Good girl!” roared a figure running through the dust toward them, and Harry saw Aberforth again, his gray hair flying as he led a small group of students past. “They look like they might be breaching the north battlements, they’ve brought giants of their own.”
“Have you seen Remus?” Tonks called after him.
“He was dueling Dolohov,” shouted Aberforth, “haven’t seen him since!” “Tonks,” said Ginny, “Tonks, I’m sure he’s okay –“
But Tonks had run off into the dust after Aberforth.
Ginny turned, helpless, to Harry, Ron, and Hermione.
“They’ll be all right,” said Harry, though he knew they were empty words. “Ginny, we’ll be back in a moment, just keep out of the way, keep safe – come on!” he said to Ron and Hermione, and they ran back to the stretch of wall beyond which the Room of Requirement was waiting to do the bidding of the next entrant.
I need the place where everything is hidden. Harry begged of it inside his head, and the door materialized on their third run past.
The furor of the battle died the moment they crossed the threshold and closed the door behind them: All was silent. They were in a place the size of a cathedral with the appearance of a city, its towering walls built of objects hidden by thousands of long-gone students.
“And he never realized anyone could get in?” said Ron, his voice echoing in the silence.
“He thought he was the only one,” said Harry. “Too bad for him I’ve had to hide stuff in my time . . . this way,” he added. “I think it’s down here. . . .” They sped off up adjacent aisles; Harry could hear the others’ footsteps echoing through the towering piles of junk, of bottles, hats, crates, chairs, books, weapons, broomsticks, bats. . . .
“Somewhere near here,” Harry muttered to himself. “Somewhere . . . somewhere . . .”
Deeper and deeper into the labyrinth he went, looking for objects he recognized from his one previous trip into the room. His breath was loud in his ears, and then his very soul seemed to shiver. There it was, right ahead, the blistered old cupboard in which he had hidden his old Potions book, and on top of it, the pockmarked stone warlock wearing a dusty old wig and what looked like an ancient discolored tiara.
He had already stretched out his hand, though he remained few feet away, when a voice behind him said, “Hold it, Potter.”
He skidded to a halt and turned around. Crabbe and Goyle were standing behind him, shoulder to shoulder, wands pointing right at Harry. Through the small space between their jeering faces he saw Draco Malfoy.
“That’s my wand you’re holding, Potter,” said Malfoy, pointing his own through the gap between Crabbe and Goyle.
“Not anymore,” panted Harry, tightening his grip on the hawthorn wand. “Winners, keepers, Malfoy. Who’s lent you theirs?”
“My mother,” said Draco.
Harry laughed, though there was nothing very humorous about the situation. He could not hear Ron or Hermione anymore. They seemed to have run out of earshot, searching for the diadem.
“So how come you three aren’t with Voldemort?” asked Harry.
“We’re gonna be rewarded,” said Crabbe. His voice was surprisingly soft for such an enormous person: Harry had hardly ever heard him speak before. Crabbe was speaking like a small child promised a large bag of sweets. “We ‘ung back, Potter. We decided not to go. Decided to bring you to ‘im.”
“Good plan,” said Harry in mock admiration. He could not believe that he was this close, and was going to be thwarted by Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle. He began edging slowly backward toward the place where the Horcrux sat lopsided upon the bust. If he could just get his hands on it before the fight broke out . . .
“So how did you get in here?” he asked, trying to distract them.
“I virtually lived in the Room of Hidden Things all last year,” said Malfoy, his voice brittle. “I know how to get in.”
“We was hiding in the corridor outside,” grunted Goyle. “We can do Diss-lusion Charms now! And then,” his face split into a gormless grin, “you turned up right in front of us and said you was looking for a die-dum! What’s a die-dum?”
“Harry?” Ron’s voice echoed suddenly from the other side of the wall to Harry’s right. “Are you talking to someone?”
With a whiplike movement, Crabbe pointed his wand at the fifty foot mountain of old furniture, of broken trunks, of old books and robes and unidentifiable junk, and shouted, “Descendo!”
The wall began to totter, then the top third crumbled into the aisle next door where Ron stood.
“Ron!” Harry bellowed, as somewhere out of sight Hermione screamed, and Harry heard innumerable objects crashing to the floor on the other side of the destabilized wall: He pointed his wand at the rampart, cried, “Finite!” and it steadied.
“No!” shouted Malfoy, staying Crabbe’s arm as the latter made to repeat his spell. “If you wreck the room you might bury this diadem thing!”
“What’s that matter?” said Crabbe, tugging himself free. “It’s Potter the Dark Lord wants, who cares about a die-dum?”
“Potter came in here to get it,” said Malfoy with ill-disguised impatience at the slow-wittedness of his colleagues. “so that must mean –“
“’Must mean’?” Crabbe turned on Malfoy with undisguised ferocity. “Who cares what you think? I don’t take your orders no more, Draco. You an’ your dad are finished.”
“Harry?” shouted Ron again, from the other side of the junk wad. “What’s going on?”
“Harry?” mimicked Crabbe. “What’s going on – no, Potter! Crucio!”
Harry had lunged for the tiara; Crabbe’s curse missed him but hit the stone bust, which flew into the air; the diadem soared upward and then dropped out of sight in the mass of objects on which the bust had rested.
“STOP!” Malfoy shouted at Crabbe, his voice echoing through the enormous room. “The Dark Lord wants him alive –“
“So? I’m not killing him, am I?” yelled Crabbe, throwing off Malfoy’s restraining arm. “But if I can, I will, the Dark Lord wants him dead anyway, what’s the diff – ?”
A jet of scarlet light shot past Harry by inches: Hermione had run around the corner behind him and sent a Stunning Spell straight at Crabbe’s head. It only missed because Malfoy pulled him out of the way.
“It’s that Mudblood! Avada Kedavra!”
Harry saw Hermione dive aside, and his fury that Crabbe had aimed to kill wiped all else from his mind. He shot a Stunning Spell at Crabbe, who lurched out of the way, knocking Malfoy’s wand out of his hand; it rolled out of sight beneath a mountain of broken furniture and bones.
“Don’t kill him! DON’T KILL HIM!” Malfoy yelled at Crabbe and Goyle, who were both aiming at Harry: Their split second’s hesitation was all Harry needed.
Goyle’s wand flew out of his hand and disappeared into the bulwark of objects beside him; Goyle leapt foolishly on the spot, trying to retrieve it; Malfoy jumped out of range of Hermione’s second Stunning Spell, and Ron, appearing suddenly at the end of the aisle, shot a full Body-Bind Curse at Crabbe, which narrowly missed.
Crabbe wheeled around and screamed, “Avada Kedavra!” again. Ron leapt out of sight to avoid the jet of green light. The wand-less Malfoy cowered behind a three-legged wardrobe as Hermione charged toward them, hitting Goyle with a Stunning Spell as she came.
“It’s somewhere here!” Harry yelled at her, pointing at the pile of junk into which the old tiara had fallen. “Look for it while I go and help R –“
“HARRY!” she screamed.
A roaring, billowing noise behind him gave him a moment’s warning. He turned and saw both Ron and Crabbe running as hard as they could up the aisle toward them.
“Like it hot, scum?” roared Crabbe as he ran.
But he seemed to have no control over what he had done. Flames of abnormal size were pursuing them, licking up the sides of the junk bulwarks, which were crumbling to soot at their touch.
“Aguamenti!” Harry bawled, but the jet of water that soared from the tip of his wand evaporated in the air.
Malfoy grabbed the Stunned Goyle and dragged him along; Crabbe outstripped all of them, now looking terrified; Harry, Ron, and Hermione pelted along in his wake, and the fire pursued them. It was not normal fire; Crabbe had used a curse of which Harry had no knowledge. As they turned a corner the flames chased them as though they were alive, sentient, intent upon killing them. Now the fire was mutating, forming a gigantic pack of
fiery beasts: Flaming serpents, chimaeras, and dragons rose and fell and rose again, and the detritus of centuries on which they were feeding was thrown up into the air into their fanged mouths, tossed high on clawed feet, before being consumed by the inferno.
Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle had vanished from view: Harry, Ron and Hermione stopped dead; the fiery monsters were circling them, drawing closer and closer, claws and horns and tails lashed, and the heat was solid as a wall around them.
“What can we do?” Hermione screamed over the deafening roars of the fire. “What can we do?”
Harry seized a pair of heavy-looking broomsticks from the nearest pile of junk and threw one to Ron, who pulled Hermione onto it behind him. Harry swung his leg over the second broom and, with hard kicks to the ground, they soared up in the air, missing by feet the horned beak of a flaming raptor that snapped its jaws at them. The smoke and heat were becoming overwhelming: Below them the cursed fire was consuming the contraband of generations of hunted students, the guilty outcomes of a thousand banned experiments, the secrets of the countless souls who had sought refuge in the room. Harry couldnot see a trace of Malfoy, Crabbe, or Goyle anywhere. He swooped as low as he dare over the marauding monsters of flame to try to find them, but there was nothing but fire: What a terrible way to die. . . . He had never wanted this. . . .
“Harry, let’s get out, let’s get out!” bellowed Ron, though it was impossible to see where the door was through the black smoke.
And then Harry heard a thin, piteous human scream from amidst the terrible commotion, the thunder of devouring flame.
“It’s – too – dangerous – !” Ron yelled, but Harry wheeled in the air. His glasses giving his eyes some small protection from the smoke, he raked the firestorm below, seeking a sign of life, a limb or a face that was not yet charred like wood. . . .
And he saw them: Malfoy with his arms around the unconscious Goyle, the pair of them perched on a fragile tower of charred desks, and Harry dived. Malfoy saw him coming and raised one arm, but even as Harry grasped it he knew at once that it was no good. Goyle was too heavy and Malfoy’s hand, covered in sweat, slid instantly out of Harry’s –
“IF WE DIE FOR THEM, I’LL KILL YOU, HARRY!” roared Ron’s voice, and, as a great flaming chimaera bore down upon them, he and Hermione dragged Goyle onto their broom and rose, rolling and pitching, into the air once more as Malfoy clambered up behind Harry.
“The door, get to the door, the door!” screamed Malfoy in Harry’s ear, and Harry sped up, following Ron, Hermione, and Goyle through the billowing black smoke, hardly able to breathe: and all around them the last few objects unburned by the devouring flames were flung into the air, as the creatures of the cursed fire cast them high in celebration: cups and shields, a sparkling necklace, and an old, discolored tiara –
“What are you doing, what are you doing, the door’s that way!” screamed Malfoy, but Harry made a hairpin swerve and dived. The diadem seemed to fall in slow motion, turning and glittering as it dropped toward the maw of a yawning serpent, and then he had it, caught it around his wrist –
Harry swerved again as the serpent lunged at him; he soared upward and straight toward the place where, he prayed, the door stood open; Ron, Hermione and Goyle had
vanished; Malfoy was screaming and holding Harry so tightly it hurt. Then, through the smoke, Harry saw a rectangular patch on the wall and steered the broom at it, and moments later clean air filled his lungs and they collided with the wall in the corridor beyond.
Malfoy fell off the broom and lay facedown, gasping, coughing, and retching. Harry rolled over and sat up: The door to the Room of Requirement had vanished, and Ron and Hermione sat panting on the floor beside Goyle, who was still unconscious.
“C-Crabbe,” choked Malfoy as soon as he could speak. “C-Crabbe . . .”
“He’s dead,” said Ron harshly.
There was silence, apart from panting and coughing. Then a number of huge bangs shook the castle, and a great cavalcade of transparent figures galloped past on horses, their heads screaming with bloodlust under their arms. Harry staggered to his feet when the Headless Hunt had passed and looked around: The battle was still going on all around him. He could hear more scream than those of the retreating ghosts. Panic flared within him.
“Where’s Ginny?” he said sharply. “She was here. She was supposed to be going back into the Room of Requirement.”
“Blimey, d’you reckon it’ll still work after that fire?” asked Ron, but he too got to his feet, rubbing his chest and looking left and right. “Shall we split up and look – ?”
“No,” said Hermione, getting to her feet too. Malfoy and Goyle remained slumped hopelessly on the corridor floor; neither of them had wands. “Let’s stick together. I say we go – Harry, what’s that on your arm?”
“What? Oh yeah –“
He pulled the diadem from his wrist and held it up. It was still hot, blackened with soot, but as he looked at it closely he was just able to make out the tiny words etched upon it; WIT BEYOND MEASURE IS MAN’S GREATEST TREASURE.
A bloodlike substance, dark and tarry, seemed to be leaking from the diadem. Suddenly Harry felt the thing vibrate violently, then break apart in his hands, and as it did so, he thought he heard the faintest, most distant scream of pain, echoing not from the grounds or the castle, but from the thing that had just fragmented in his fingers.
“It must have been Fiendfyre!” whimpered Hermione, her eyes on the broken piece.
“Fiendfyre – cursed fire – it’s one of the substances that destroy Horcruxes, but I would never, ever have dared use it, it’s so dangerous – how did Crabbe know how to – ?”
“Must’ve learned from the Carrows,” said Harry grimly.
“Shame he wasn’t concentrating when they mentioned how to stop it, really,” said Ron, whose hair, like Hermione’s, was singed, and whose face was blackened. “If he hadn’t tried to kill us all, I’d be quite sorry he was dead.”
“But don’t you realize?” whispered Hermione. “This means, if we can just get the snake –“
But she broke off as yells and shouts and the unmistakable noises of dueling filled the corridor. Harry looked around and his heart seemed to fail: Death Eaters had penetrated Hogwarts. Fred and Percy had just backed into view, both of them dueling masked and hooded men.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione ran forward to help: Jets of light flew in every direction and the man dueling Percy backed off, fast: Then his hood slipped and they saw a high forehead and streaked hair –
“Hello, Minister!” bellowed Percy, sending a neat jinx straight at Thicknesse, who dropped his wand and clawed at the front of his robes, apparently in awful discomfort. “Did I mention I’m resigning?”
“You’re joking, Perce!” shouted Fred as the Death Eater he was battling collapsed under the weight of three separate Stunning Spells. Thicknesse had fallen to the ground with tiny spikes erupting all over him; he seemed to be turning into some form of sea urchin. Fred looked at Percy with glee.
“You actually are joking, Perce. . . . I don’t think I’ve heard you joke since you were –“
The air exploded. They had been grouped together, Harry, Ron, Hermione, Fred, and Percy, the two Death Eaters at their feet, one Stunned, the other Transfigured; and in that fragment of a moment, when danger seemed temporarily at bay, the world was rent apart, Harry felt himself flying through the air, and all he could do was hold as tightly as possible to that thin stick of wood that was his one and only weapon, and shield his head in his arms: He heard the screams and yells of his companions without a hope of knowing what had happened to them –
And then the world resolved itself into pain and semidarkness: He was half buried in the wreckage of a corridor that had been subjected to a terrible attack. Cold air told him that the side of the castle had been blown away, and hot stickiness on his cheek told him that he was bleeding copiously. Then he heard a terrible cry that pulled at his insides, that expressed agony of a kind neither flame nor curse could cause, and he stood up, swaying, more frightened than he had been that day, more frightened, perhaps, than he had been in his life. . . .
And Hermione was struggling to her feet in the wreckage, and three redheaded men were grouped on the ground where the wall had blasted apart. Harry grabbed Hermione’s hand as they staggered and stumbled over stone and wood.
“No – no – no!” someone was shouting. “No! Fred! No!”
And Percy was shaking his brother, and Ron was kneeling beside them, and Fred’s eyes stared without seeing, the ghost of his last laugh still etched upon his face.
Chapter Thirty-Two
The Elder Wand
The world had ended, so why had the battle not ceased, the castle fallen silent in horror, and every combatant laid down their arms? Harry's mind was in free fall, spinning out of control, unable to grasp the impossibility, because Fred Weasley could not be dead, the evidence of all his senses must be lying-- And then a body fell past the hole blown into the side of the
school and curses flew in at them from the darkness, hitting the wall behind their heads. "Get down!" Harry shouted, as more curses flew through the night: He and Ron had both grabbed Hermione and pulled her to the floor, but Percy lay across Fred's body, shielding it from further harrm, and when Harry shouted "Percy, come on, we've got to move!" he shook his head. "Percy!" Harry saw tear tracks streaking the grime coating ron's face as he sezied his elder brother's shoulders and pulled, but Percy would not budge. "Percy, you can't do anything for him! We're going to--" Hermione screamed, and Harry, turning, did not need to ask why. A monstrous spider the size of a small car was trying to climb through the huge hole in the wall. one of Aragog's descendants had joined the fight. Ron and Harry shouted together; their spells collided and the monster was blown backward, its legs jerking horribly, and vanished into the darkness. "It brought friends!" Harry called to the others, glancing over the edge of the castle through the hole in the wall the curses had blasted. More giant spiders were climbing the side of the building, liberated from the Forbidden Forest, into which the Death Eaters must have penetrated. Harry fired Stunning Spells down upon them, knocking the lead monster into its fellows, so that they rolled back down the building and out of sight. Then more curses came soaring over Harry's head, so close he felt the force of them blow his hair. "Let's move, NOW!" Pushing Hermione ahead of him with ron, Harry stooped to seize Fred's body under the armpit. Percy, realizing what Harry was trying to do, stopped clinging to the body and helped: together, crouching low to avoid the curses flying at them from the grounds, they hauled Fred out of the way. "Here," said Harry, and they placed him in a niche where a suit of armor had stood earlier. He could not bear to look at Fred a second longer than he had to, and after making sure that the body was well- hidden, he took off after ron and Hermione. Malfoy and Goyle had vanished but at the end of the corridor, which was now full of dust and falling masonry, glass long gone from windows, he saw many people running backward and forward, whether friends or foes he could not tell. Rounding the corner, Percy let out a bull-like roar: "ROOKWOOD!" and sprinted off in the direction of a tall man, who was pursuing a couple of students. "Harry, in here!" Hermione screamed. She had pulled Ron behind a tapestry. They seemed to be wrestling together, and for one mad second Harry thought that they were
embracing again; then hhe saw that Hermione was trying to restrain Ron, to stop him running after Percy. "Listen to me--LISTEN RON!" "I wanna help--I wanna kill Death Eaters--" His face was contorted, smeared with dust and smoke, and he was shaking with rage and grief. "ron, we're the only ones who can end it! Please--ron--we need the snake, we've got to kill the snake!" said Hermione. But Harry knew how Ron felt: Pursuing another Horcrux could not bring the satisfaction of revenge; he too wanted to fight, to punish them, the people who had killed Fred, and he wanted to find the other Weasleys, and above all make sure, make quite sure, that Ginny was not--but he could not permit that idea to form in his mind-- "We will fight!" Hermione said. "We'll have to, to reach the snake! But let's not lose sight now of what we're supposed to be d-doing! We're the only ones who can end it!" She was crying too, and she wiped her face on her torn and singed sleeve as she spoke, but she took great heaving breaths to calm herself as, still keeping a tight hold on ron, she turned to Harry. "You need to find out where Voldemort is, because he'll have the snake with him, won't he? Do it, Harry--look inside him!" Why was it so easy? Because his scar had been burning for hours, yearning to show him Voldemort's thoughts? He closed his eyes on her command, and at once, the screams and bangs and all the discordant sounds of the battle were drowned until they became distant, as though he stood far, far away from them... He was standing in the middle of a desolate but strangely familiar room, with peeling paper on the walls and all the windows boarded up except for one. The sounds of the assault on the castle were muffled and distant. The single unblocked window revealed distant bursts of light where the castle stood, but inside the room was dark except for a solitary oil lamp. He was rolling his wand between his figners, watching it, his thoughts on the room in the castle, the secret room only he had ever found, the room, like the chamber, that you had to be clever and cunning and inquisitive to discover...He was confident that the boy would not find the diadem...although Dumbledore's puppet had come much farther than he ever expected...too far... "My Lord," said a voice, desperate and cracked. He turned: there was Lucius Malfoy sitting in the darkest corner, ragged and still bearing the marks of the punishment he had received after the boy's last escape. One of his eyes remained closed and puffy. "My Lord...please...my son..." "If your son is dead, Lucius, it is not my fault. He did not come and join me, like the rest of the Slytherins. Perhaps he has
decided to befriend Harry Potter?" "No--never," whispered Malfoy. "You must hope not." "Aren't--aren't you afraid, my Lord that Potter might die at another hand but yours?" asked Malfoy, his voice shaking. "Wouldn't it be...forgive me...more prudent to call off this battle, enter the castle, and seek him y-yourself?" "Do not pretend Lucius. You wish the battle to cease so that you can discover what has happened to your son. And i do not need to seek Potter. Before the night is out, Potter will have come to find me." Voldemort dropped his gaze once more to the wand in his fingers. It troubled him...and those things that troubled Lord Voldemort needed to be rearranged... "Go and fetch Snape." "Snape, m-my Lord?" "Snape. Now. I need him. There is a --service--I require from him. Go." Frightened, stumbling a little through the gloom, Lucius left the room. Vodlemort continued to stand there, twirling the wand between his fingers, staring at it. "It is the only way, Nagini," he whispered, and he looked around, and there was the great thick snake, now suspended in midair, twisting gracefully within the enchanted, protected space he had made for her, a starry, transparent sphere somewhere between a glittering cage and a tank. With a gasp, Harry pulled back and opened his yees at the same moment his ears were assaulted with the screeches and cries, the smashes and bangs of battle. "He's in the Shrieking Shack. The snake's with him, it's got some sort of magical protection around it. He's just sent Lucius Malfoy to find Snape." "voldemort's sitting in the shrieking Shack?" said Hermione, outraged. "He's not--he's not even FIGHTING?" "He doesn't think he needs to fight," said Harry. "He thinks I'm going to go to him." "But why?" "He knows I'm after Horcruxes--he's keeping Nagini close beside him- -obviously I'm going to have to go to him to get near the thing--" "Right," said Ron, squaring his shoulders. "So you can't go, that's what he wants, what he's expecting. You stay here and look after Hermione, and I'll go and get it--" Harry cut across Ron. "You two stay here, I'll go under the Cloak and I'll be back as soon as I--" "No," said Hermione,, "it makes much more sense if I take the Cloak
and--" "Don't even think about it," Ron snarled at her. before Hermione could get farther than "Ron, I'm just as capable -- " the tapestry at the top of the staircase on which they stood was ripped open. "POTTER!" Two masked Death Eaters stood there, but even before their wands were fully raised, Hermione shouted "Glisseo!" The stairs beneath their feet flatteneed into a chute and she, Harry, and Ron hurtled down it, unable to control their speed but so fast that the Death Eaters' Stunning Spells flew far over their heads. They shot through the concealing tapestry at the bottom and spun onto the floor, hitting the opposite wall. "Duro!" cried Hermione, pointing her wand at the tapestry, and there were two loud, sickening crunches as the tapestry turned to stone and the Death Eaters pursuing them crumpled against it. "Get back!" shouted Ron, and he, Harry, and Hermione hurled themselves against a door as a herd of galloping desks thundered past, shepherdd by a sprinting Professor McGonagall. She appeared not to notice them. Her hair had come down and there was a gash on her cheek. As she turned the corner, they heard her scream, "CHARGE!" "Harry, you get the Cloak on," said Hermione. "Never mind us--" But he threw it over all three of them; large though they were he doubted anyone would see their disembodied feet through the dust that clogged the air, the falling stone, the shimmer of spells. they ran down the next staircase and found themselves in a corridor full of duelers. The portraits on either side of the fighters were crammed with figures screaming advice and encouragement, while Death Eaters, both masked and unmasked, dueled students and teachers. Dean had won himself a wand, for he was face-to-face with Dolohov, Parvati with Travers. Harry, ron and Hermione raised their wands at once, ready to strike, but the duelers were weaving and darting so much that there was a strong likelihood of hurting on of their own side if they cast curses. Even as they stood braced, looking for the opportunity to act, there came a great "Wheeeeee!" and looking up, Harry saw Peeves zoomign over them, dropping Snargaluff pods down onto the Death Eaters, whose heads were suddenly engulfed in wriggling green tubers like fat worms. "ARGH!" A fistful of tubers had hit the Cloak over Ron's head; the damp green roots were suspended improbably in midair as Ron tried to shake them loose. "Someone's invisible there!" shouted a masked Death Eater, pointing. Dean made the most of the Death Eater's momentary distraction, knocking him out with a stunning Spell; Dolohov attempted to
retaliate, and Parvati shot a Body Bind Curse at him. "LET'S GO!" Harry yelled, and he, Ron, and Hermione gathered the Cloak tightly around themselves and pelted, heads down, through the midst of the fighters, slipping a little in pools of Snargaluff juice, toward the top of the marble staircase into the entrance hall. "I'm Draco Malfoy, I'm Draco, I'm on your side!" Draco was on the upper landing, pleading with anoter masked Death Eater. Harry Stunned the Death Eater as they passed. Malfoy looked around, beaming, for his savior, and Ron punched him from under the Cloak. Malfoy fell backward on top of the Death Eater, his mouth bleeding, utterly bemused. "And that's the second time we've saved your life tonight, you two- faced bastard!" Ron yelled. There were more duelers all over the stairs and in the hall. Death Eaters everywhere Harry looked: Yaxley, close to the front doors, in combat with Flitwick, a masked Death Eater dueling Kingsley right beside them. Students ran in every direction; some carrying or dragging injured friends. Harry directed a Stunnning Spell toward the masked Death Eater; it missed but nearly hit Neville, who had emerged from nowhere brandishing armfuls of Venomous Tentacula, which looped itself happily around the nearest Death Eater and began reeling him in. Harry, Ron, and Hermione sped won the marble staircase: glass shattered on the left, and the Slytherin hourglass that had recorded House points spilled its emeralds everywhere, so that people slipped and staggered as they ran. Two bodies fell from the balcony overhead as they reached the ground a gray blur that Harry took for an animal sped four-legged across the hall to sink its teeth into one of the fallen. "NO!" shrieked Hermione, and with a deafening blast from her wand, Fenrir Greyback was thrown backward from the feebly struggling body of Lavender Brown. He hit the marble banisters and struggled to return to his feet. Then, with a bright white flash and a crack, a crystal ball fell on top of his head, and he crumpled to the ground and did not move. "I have more!" shrieked Professor Trelawney from over the banisters. "More for any who want them! Here--" And with a move likea tennis serve, she heaved another enormous crystal sphere from her bag, waved her wand through the air, and caused the ball to speed across the hall and smash through a window. At the same moment, the heavy wooden front doors burst open, and more of the gigantic spiders forced their way into the front hall. Screams of terror rent the air: the fighters scattered, Death Eaters and Hogwartians alike, and red and green jets of light flew
into the midst of the oncoming monsters, which shuddered and reared, more terrifying than ever. "How do we get out?" yelled ron over all the screaming, but before either Harry or Hermione could answer they were bowled aside; Hagrid had come thundering down the stairs, brandishing his flowery pink umbrella. "Don't hurt 'em, don't hurt 'em!" he yelled. "HAGRID, NO!" Harry forgot everything else: he sprinted out from under the cloak, running bent double to avoid the curses illuminating the whole hall. "HAGRID, COME BACK!" But he was not even halfway to Hagrid when he saw it happen: Hagrid vanished amongst the spiders, and with a great scurrying, a foul swarming movement, they retreated under the onslaught of spells, Hagrid buried in their midst. "HAGRID!" Harry heard someone calling his own name, whether friend or foe he did not care: He was springint down the front steps into the dark grounds, and the spiders were swarming away with their prey, and he could see nothing of Hagrid at all. "HAGRID!" He thought he could make out an enormous arm waving from the mdist of the spider swarm, but as he made to chase after them, his way was impeded by a monumental foot, which swung down out of the darkness and made the ground on which he stood shudder. He looked up: A giant stood before him, twenty feet high, its head ihidden in shadow, nothing but its treelike, hairy shins illuminated by light from the castle doors. With one brutal, fluid movement, it smashed a massive fist through an upper window, and glass rained down upon Harryk, forcing him back under the shelter of the doorway. "Oh my--!" shrieked Hermione, as she and ron caught up with Harry and gazed upward at the giant now trying to seize people through the window above. "DON'T!" ron yelled, grabbing Hermione's hand as she raised her wand. "Stun him and he'll crush half the castle--" "HAGGER?" Grawp came lurching around the corner of the castle; only dnow did Harry realzie that Grawp was, indeed, an undersized giant. The gargantuan monster trying to crush people on the upper floors turned around and let out a rorar. The stone steps tremebled as he stomped toward his smaller kin, and Grawp's lopsided mouth fell open, showing yellow, half brick-sized teeth; and then they launched themselves at each other with the savagery of lions. "RUN!" Harry roared; the ngiht was full of hideous yells and blows as the giants wrestled, and he seized Hermione's hand and tore down the steps into the grounds, Ron bringing up the rear. Harry had not lost hope of finding and saving Hagrid; he ran so fast that they
were halfway toward the forest before they were brought up short again. The air around them had frozen: Harry's breath caught and solidified in his chest. Shapes moved out in the darkness, swirling figures of concentrated blackness, moving in a great wave towards the castles, their faces hooded and their breath rattling... ron and Hermione closed in beside him as the sounds of fighting behind them grew suddenly muted, deadened, because a silence only dementors could bring was falling thickly through the night, and Fred was gone, and Hagrid was suurely dying or already dead... "come on, Harry!" said Hermione's voice from a very long way away. "Patronuses, Harry, come on!" he raised his wand, but a dull hopelessness was spreading throughout him: How many more lay dead that he did not yet know about? He felt as though his soul had already half left his body.... "HARRY, COME ON!" screamed Hermione. A hundred dementors were advancing, gliding toward them, sucking their way closer to Harry's despair, which was like a promise of a feast... He saw Ron's silver terrier burst into the air, flicker feebly, and expire; he saw Hermione's otter twist in midair and fade, and his own wand trembled in his hand, and he almost welcomed the oncoming oblivion, the promise of nothing, of no feeling... And then a silver hare, a boar, and fox soared past Harry, Ron, and Hermione's heads: the dementors fell back before the creatures' approach. Three more people had arrived out of the darkness to stand beside them, their wands outstretched, continuing to cast Patronuses: Luna, Ernie, and Seamus. "That's right," said Luna encouragingly, as if they were back in the Room of Requirement and this was simply spell practice for the D.A., "That's right, Harry...come on think of something happy..." 'something happy?" he said, his voice cracked. "We're all still here," she whispered, "we;re still fighting. Come on, now...." There was a silver spark, then a wavering light, and then, with the greatest effort it had ever cost him the stag burst from the end of Harry's wand. It cantered forward, and now the dementors scattered in earnest, and immediately the night was mild again, but the sounds of the surrounding battle were loud in his ears. "Can't thank you enough," said ron shakily, turning to Luna, Ernie, and Seamus "you just saved--" With a roar and an earth-quaking tremor, another giant came lurching out of the darkness from the direction of the forest, brandishing a club taller than any of them. "RUN!" Harry shouted again, but the others needed no telling; They all scattered, and not a second too soon, for the next moment the
creature's vast foot had fallen exactly where they had been standing. Harry looked round: ron and Hermione were following him, but the other three had vanished back into the battle. "Let's get out of range!" yelled Ron as the giant swung its club again and its bellows echoed through the night, across the grounds wehere bursts of red and green light continued to illuminate the darkness. "The Whomping willow," said Harry, "go!" Somehow he walled it all up in his mind, crammed it into a small space into which he could not look now: thoughts of Fred and Hagrid, and his terror for all the people he loved, scattered in and outside the castle, must all wait, because they had to run, had to reach the snake and Voldemort, because that was, as Hermione said, the only way to end it-- He sprinted, half-believing he could outdistance death itself, ignoring the jets of light flying in the darkness all around him, and the sound of hte lake crashing like the sea, and the creaking of the Forbidden Forest though the night was windless; through grounds that seemed themselves to have risen in rebellion, he ran faster than he had ever moved in his life, and it was he who saw the great tree first, the Willow that protected the secret at its roots with whiplike, slashing branches. Panting and gasping, Harry slowed down, skirting the willow's swiping branches, peering through the darkness toward its tick trunk, trying to see the single knot in the bark of the old tree that would paralyze it. Ron and Hermione caught up, Hermione so out of breath that she could not speak. "How--how're we going to get in?" panted ron. "I can--see the palce- -if we jsut had--Crookshanks again--" "Crookshanks?" wheezed Hermione, bent double, clutching her chest. "Are you a wizard, or what?" "Oh--right--yeah--" Ron looked around, then directed his wand at a twig on the ground and said "Winguardium Leviosa!" The twig flew up from the gruond, spun through the air as if caught by a gust of wind, then zoomed directly at the trunk through the Willow's ominously swaying branches. It jabbed at a place near the roots, and at once, the writhing tree became still. "Perfect!" panted Hermione. "Wait." For one teetering second, while the crashes and booms of the battle filled the air, Harry hesitated. Voldemort wanted him to do this, wanted him to come...Was he leading Ron and Hermione into a trap? But the reality seemed to close upon him, cruel and plain: the only way forward was to kill the snake, and the snake was where Voldemort was, and voldemort was at the end of this tunnel...
"Harry, we're coming, just get in there!" said Ron, pushing him forward. Harry wriggled into the earthy passage hidden in the tree's roots. It was a much tighter squeeze than it had been the last time they had entered it. The tunnel was low-ceilinged: they had had to double up to move throuhgh it nearly four years previously; now there was nothing for it but to crawl. Harry went first, his wand illuminated, expecting at any moment to meet barriers, but none came. They moved in silence, Harry's gaze fixed upon the swinging beam of the wand held in his fist. At last, the tunnel began to slope upward and Harry saw a sliver of light ahead. Hermione tugged at his ankle. "The Cloak!" she whispered. "Put the Cloak on!" He groped behind him and she forced the bundle of slippery cloth into his free hand. With difficulty he dragged it over himself, murmered, "Nox," extinguishing his wandlight, and continued on his hands and knees, as silently as possible, all his senses straining, expecting every second to be discovered, to hear a cold clear voice, see a flash of green light. and then he heard voices coming from the room directly ahead of them, only slightly muffled by the fact that the opening at the endo fht etuunnel had been blocked up by what looked like an old crate. Hardly daring to breathe, Harry edged right up tot he opening and peered through a tiny gap left between crate and wall. The room beyond was dimly lit, but he could see Nagini, swirlign and coiling like a serpent underwater, safe in her enchanted, starry sphere, which floated unsupported in midair. He could see the edge of a table, and a long-fingered white hand toying with a wand. Then Snape spoke, and Harry's heart lurched: Snape was inches away from where he crouched, hidden. "...my Lord, their resistance is crumbling--" "--and it is doing so without your help," said Voldemort in his high, clear voice. "Skilled wizard though you are, Severus, I do not think you will make much difference now. We are almost there...almost." "Let me find the boy. Let me bring you Potter. I know I can find him, my Lord. Please." Snape strode past the gap, and Harry drew back a little, keeping his eyes fixed upon Nagini, wondering whether there was any spell that might penetrate the protection surrounding her, but he could not think of anything. One failed attempt, and he would give away his position... Voldemort stood up. Harry could see him now, see the red eyes, the flattened, serpentine face, the pallor of him gleaming slightly in the semidarkness.
"I have a problem, Severus," said Voldemort softly. "My Lord?" said Snape. Voldemort raised the Elder Wand, holding it as delicately and precisely as a conductor's baton. "Why doesn't it work for me, Severus?" In the silence Harry imagined he could hear the snake hissing slightly as it coiled and uncoiled--or was it Voldemort's sibilant sigh lingering on the air? "My--my lord?" said Snape blankly. "I do not understand. You--you have performed extraordinary magic with that wand." "No," said Voldemort. "I have performed my usual magic. I am extraordinary, but this wand...no. It has not revealed the wonders it has promised. I feel no difference between this wand and the one I procured from Ollivander all those years ago." Voldemort's tone was musing, calm, but Harry's scar had begun to throb and pulse: Pain was building in his forehead, and he could feel that controlled sense of fury building inside Voldemort. "No difference," said Voldemort again. Snape did not speak. Harry could not see his face. He wondered whether Snape sensed danger, was trying to find the right words to reassure his master. Voldemort started to move around the room: Harry lost sight of him for seconds as he prowled, speaking in that same measured voice, while the pain and fury mounted in Harry. "I have thought long and hard, Severus...do you know why I have called you back from battle?" And for a moment Harry saw Snape's profile. His eyes were fixed upon the coiling snake in its enchanted cage. "No, my Lord, but I beg you will let me return. Let me find Potter." "You sound like Lucius. Neither of you understands Potter as I do. He does not need finding. Potter will come to me. I knew his weakness you see, his one great flaw. He will hate watching the others struck down around him, knwoing that it is for him that it happens. He will want to stop it at any cost. He will come." "But my Lord, he might be killed accidentally by someone other than yourself--"\ "My instructions to the Death Eaters have been perfectly clear. Capture Potter. Kill his friends--the more, the better--but do not kill him. "But it is of you that I wished to speak, Severus, not Harry Potter. You have been very valuable to me. Very valuable." "My Lord knows I seek only to serve him. But--let me go and find the boy, my Lord. Let me bring him to you. I know I can--" "I have told you, no!" said Voldemort, and Harry caught the lgint of red in his eyes as he turned again, and the swishing of his cloak was like the slithering of a snake, and he felt Voldemort's
impatience in his burning scar. "My concern at the moment, Severus, is what will happen when I finally meet the boy!" "My Lord, there can be no question, surely--?" "--but there is a question, Severus. There is." Voldemort halted, and Harry could see him plainly again as he slid the Elder Wand through his white fingers, staring at Snape. "Why did both the wands I have used fail when directed at Harry Potter?" "I--I cannot answer that, my Lord." "Can't you?" The stab of rage felt like a spike driven through Harry's head: he forced his own fist into his mouth to stop himself from crying out in pain. He closed his eyes, and suddenly he was Voldemort, looking into Snape's pale face. "My wand of yew did everything of which I asked it, Severus, except to kill Harry Potter. Twice it failed. Ollivander told me under torture of the twin cores, told me to take another's wand. I did so, but Lucius's wand shattered upon meeting Potter's." "I--I have no explanation, my Lord." Snape was not looking at Voldemort now. His dark eyes were still fixed upon the coiling serpent in its protective sphere. "I sought a third wand, Severus. the Elder Wand, the Wand of Destiny, the Deathstick. I took it from its previous master. I took it from the grfave of Albus Dumbledore." And now Snape looked at Voldemort, and Snape's face was like a death mask. it was marble white and so still that when he spoke, it was a shock to see that anyone lived behind the blank eyes. "My Lord--let me go to the boy--" "all this long night when I am on the brink of victory, I have sat here," said Voldemort, his voice barely louder than a whisper, "wondering, wondering, why the Elder Wand refuses to be what it ought to be, refuses to perform as legend says it must perform for its rightful owner...and I think I have the answer." Snape did not speak. "Perhaps you already know it? You are a clever man, after all, Severus. You have been a good and faithful servant, and I regret what must happen." "My Lord--" "The Elder Wand cannot serve me properly, Severus, because I am not its true master. The Elder Wand belongs to the wizard who killed its last owner. You killed Albus Dumbledore. While you live, Severus, the Elder Wand cannot truly be mine." "My Lord!" Snape protested, raising his wand. "It cannot be any other way," said Voldemort. "I must master the wand, Severus. Master the wand, and I master Potter at last." And Voldemort swiped the air with the Elder Wand. It did nothing to
Sanpe, who for a split second seemed to think he had been reprieved: but then Voldemort's intention became clear. The snake's cage was rolling through the air, and before Snape could do anything more than yell, it had encased him, head and shoulders, and Voldemort spoke in Parseltongue. "Kill." There was a terrible scream. Harry saw Snape's face losing the little color it had left; it whitened as his black eyes widened, as the snake's fangs pierced his neck, as he failed to push the enchanted cage off himself, as his knees gave way and he fell to the floor. "I regret it," said Voldemort coldly. He turned away; there was no sadness in him, no remorse. It was time to leave this shack and take charge, with a wand that would now do his full bidding. He pointed it at the starry cage holding the snake, which drifted upward, off snape, who fell sideways onto the floor, blood gushing from the wounds in his neck. Voldemort swept from the room without a backward glance, and the great serpent floated after him in its huge protective sphere. Back in the tunnel and his own mind, Harry opened his eyes; He had drawn blood biting down on his knuckles in an effort not to shout out. Now he was looking through the tiny crack between crate and wall, watching a foot in a black boot trembling on the floor. "Harry!" breathed Hermione behind him, but he had already pointed his wand at the crate blocking his view. It lifted an inch into the air and drifted sideways silently. As quietly as he could, he pulled himself up into the room. He did not know why he was doing it, why he was approaching the dying man: he did not know what he felt as he saw Snape's white face, adn the fingers trying to staunch the bloody wound at his neck. Harry took off the invisibility cloak and looked down upon the man he hated, whose widening black eyes found Harry as he cried to speak. Harry bent over him, and Snape seized the front of his robes and pulled him close. A terrible rasping, gurgling noise issued from Snape's throat. "Take...it...Take...it..." Something more than blood was leaking from Snape. Silvery blue, neither gas nor liquid, it gushed form his mouth and his ears and his eyes, and Harry knew what it was, but did not know what to do-- A flask, conjured from thin air, was thrust into his shaking hand by Hermione. Harry lfited the silvery substance into it with his wand. When the falsk was full to the brim, and Snape looked as though there was no blood left in him, his grip on Harry's robes slackened. "Look...at....me..." he whispered. The green eyes found the black, but after a second, something in
the depths of the dark pari seemed to vanish, leaving them fixed, blank, and empty. The hand holding Harry thudded to the floor, and Snape moved no more.
Chapter Thirty-Three
The Prince’s Tale
Harry remained kneeling at Snape’s side, simply staring down at him, until quite suddenly a high, cold voice spoke so close to them that Harry jumped on his feet, the flask gripped tightly in his hands, thinking that Voldemort had reentered the room.
Voldemort’s voice reverberated from the walls and floor, and Harry realized that he was talking to Hogwarts and to all the surrounding area, that the residents of Hogsmeade and all those still fighting in the castle would hear him as clearly as if he stood beside them, his breath on the back of their necks, a deathblow away.
“You have fought,” said the high, cold voice, “valiantly. Lord Voldemort knows how to value bravery.
“Yet you have sustained heavy losses. If you continue to resist me, you will all die, one by one. I do not wish this to happen. Every drop of magical blood spilled is a loss and a waste.
“Lord Voldemort is merciful. I command my forces to retreat immediately.
“You have one hour. Dispose of your dead with dignity. Treat your injured.
“I speak now, Harry Potter, directly to you. You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself. I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest. If, at the end of that hour, you have not come to me, have not given yourself up, then battle recommences. This time, I shall enter the fray myself, Harry Potter, and I shall find you, and I shall punish every last man, woman, and child who has tried to conceal you from me. One hour.”
Both Ron and Hermione shook their heads frantically, looking at Harry.
“Don’t listen to him,” said Ron.
“It’ll be all right,” said Hermione wildly. “Let’s – let’s get back to the castle, if he’s gone to the forest we’ll need to think of a new plan – ”
She glanced at Snape’s body, then hurried back to the tunnel entrance. Ron followed her. Harry gathered up the Invisibility Cloak, then looked down at Snape. He did not know what to feel, except shock at the way Snape had been killed, and the reason for which it had been done…
They crawled back through the tunnel, none of them talking, and Harry wondered whether Ron and Hermione could still hear Voldemort ringing in their heads as he could.
You have permitted your friends to die for you rather than face me yourself. I shall wait for one hour in the Forbidden Forest…One hour…
Small bundles seemed to litter the lawn at the front of the castle (?). It could only be an hour or so from dawn, yet it was pitch-black. The three of them hurried toward the stone steps. A lone dog, the size of a small boat, lay abandoned in front of them. There was no other sign of Grawp or of his attacker.
The castle was unnaturally silent. There were no flashes of light now, no bangs or screams or shouts. The flagstones of the deserted entrance hall were stained with blood. Emeralds were still scattered all over the floor, along with pieces of marble and splintered wood. Part of the banisters had been blown away.
“Where is everyone?” whispered Hermione.
Ron led the way to the Great Hall. Harry stopped in the doorway.
The House tables were gone and the room was crowded. The survivors stood in groups, their arms around each other’s necks. The injured were being treated upon the raised platform by Madam Pomfrey and a group of helpers. Firenze was amongst the injured; his flank poured blood and he shook where he lay, unable to stand.
The dead lay in a row in the middle of the Hall. Harry could not see Fred’s body, because his family surrounded him. George was kneeling at his head; Mrs. Weasley was lying across Fred’s chest, her body shaking. Mr. Weasley stroking her hair while tears cascaded down his cheeks.
Without a word to Harry, Ron and Hermione walked away. Harry saw Hermione approach Ginny, whose face was swollen and blotchy, and hug her. Ron joined Bill, Fleur, and Percy, who flung an arm around Ron’s shoulders. As Ginny and Hermione moved closer to the rest of the family, Harry had a clear view of the bodies lying next to Fred. Remus and Tonks, pale and still and peaceful-looking, apparently asleep beneath the dark, enchanted ceiling.
The Great Hall seemed to fly away, become smaller, shrink, as Harry reeled backward from the doorway. He could not draw breath. He could not bear to look at any of the other bodies, to see who else had died for him. He could not bear to join the Weasleys, could not look into their eyes, when if he had given himself up in the first place, Fred might never have died…
He turned away and ran up the marble staircase. Lupin, Tonks… He yearned not to feel… He wished he could rip out his heart, his innards, everything that was screaming inside him…
The castle was completely empty; even the ghosts seemed to have joined the mass mourning in the Great Hall. Harry ran without stopping, clutching the crystal flask of Snape’s last thoughts, and he did not slow down until he reached the stone gargoyle guarding the headmaster’s office.
“Dumbledore!” said Harry without thinking, because it was he whom he yearned to see, and to his surprise the gargoyle slid aside revealing the spiral staircase behind.
But when Harry burst into the circular office he found a change. The portraits that hung all around the walls were empty. Not a single headmaster or headmistress remained to see him; all, it seemed, had flitted away, charging through the paintings that lined the castle so that they could have a clear view of what was going on.
Harry glanced hopelessly at Dumbledore’s deserted frame, which hung directly behind the headmaster’s chair, then turned his back on it. The stone Pensieve lay in the cabinet where it had always been. Harry heaved it onto the desk and poured Snape’s memories into the wide basin with its runic markings around the edge. To escape into someone else’s head would be a blessed relief… Nothing that even Snape had left him could be worse than his own thoughts. The memories swirled, silver white and strange,
and without hesitating, with a feeling of reckless abandonment, as though this would assuage his torturing grief, Harry dived.
He fell headlong into sunlight, and his feet found warm ground. When he straightened up, he saw that he was in a nearly deserted playground. A single huge chimney dominated the distant skyline. Two girls were swinging backward and forward, and a skinny boy was watching them from behind a clump of bushes. His black hair was overlong and his clothes were so mismatched that it looked deliberate: too short jeans, a shabby, overlarge coat that might have belonged to a grown man, an odd smocklike shirt.
Harry moved closer to the boy. Snape looked no more than nine or ten years old, sallow, small, stringy. There was undisguised greed in his thin face as he watched the younger of the two girls swinging higher and higher than her sister.
“Lily, don’t do it!” shrieked the elder of the two.
But the girl had let go of the swing at the very height of its arc and flown into the air, quite literally flown, launched herself skyward with a great shout of laughter, and instead of crumpling on the playground asphalt, she soared like a trapeze artist through the air, staying up far too long, landing far too lightly.
“Mummy told you not to!”
Petunia stopped her swing by dragging the heels of her sandals on the ground, making a crunching, grinding sound, then leapt up, hands on hips.
“Mummy said you weren’t allowed, Lily!”
“But I’m fine,” said Lily, still giggling. “Tuney, look at this. Watch what I can do.”
Petunia glanced around. The playground was deserted apart from themselves and, though the girls did not know it, Snape. Lily had picked up a fallen flower from the bush behind which Snape lurked. Petunia advanced, evidently torn between curiosity and disapproval. Lily waited until Petunia was near enough to have a clear view, then held out her palm. The flower sat there, opening and closing its petals, like some bizarre, many-lipped oyster.
“Stop it!” shrieked Petunia.
“It’s not hurting you,” said Lily, but she closed her hand on the blossom and threw it back to the ground.
“It’s not right,” said Petunia, but her eyes had followed the flower’s flight to the ground and lingered upon it. “How do you do it?” she added, and there was definite longing in her voice.
“It’s obvious, isn’t it?” Snape could no longer contain himself, but had jumped out from behind the bushes. Petunia shrieked and ran backward toward the swings, but Lily, though clearly startled, remained where she was. Snape seemed to regret his appearance. A dull flush of color mounted the sallow cheeks as he looked at Lily.
“What’s obvious?” asked Lily.
Snape had an air of nervous excitement. With a glance at the distant Petunia, now hovering beside the swings, he lowered his voice and said, “I know what you are.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re…you’re a witch,” whispered Snape.
She looked affronted.
“That’s not a very nice thing to say to somebody!”
She turned, nose in the air, and marched off toward her sister.
“No!” said Snape. He was highly colored now, and Harry wondered why he did not take off the ridiculously large coat, unless it was because he did not want to reveal the smock beneath it. He flapped after the girls, looking ludicrously batlike, like his older self.
The sisters considered him, united in disapproval, both holding on to one of the swing poles, as though it was the safe place in tag.
“You are,” said Snape to Lily. “You are a witch. I’ve been watching you for a while. But there’s nothing wrong with that. My mum’s one, and I’m a wizard.”
Petunia’s laugh was like cold water.
“Wizard!” she shrieked, her courage returned now that she had recovered from the shock of his unexpected appearance. “I know who you are. You’re that Snape boy! They live down Spinner’s End by the river,” she told Lily, and it was evident from her tone that she considered the address a poor recommendation. “Why have you been spying on us?”
“Haven’t been spying,” said Snape, hot and uncomfortable and dirty-haired in the bright sunlight. “Wouldn’t spy on you, anyway,” he added spitefully, “you’re a Muggle.”
Though Petunia evidently did not understand the word, she could hardly mistake the tone.
“Lily, come on, we’re leaving!” she said shrilly. Lily obeyed her sister at once, glaring at Snape as she left. He stood watching them as they marched through the playground gate, and Harry, the only one left to observe him, recognized Snape’s bitter disappointment, and understood that Snape had been planning this moment for a while, and that it had all gone wrong…
The scene dissolved, and before Harry knew it, re-formed around him. He was now in a small thicket of trees. He could see a sunlit river glittering through their trunks. The shadows cast by the trees made a basin of cool green shade. Two children sat facing each other, cross-legged on the ground. Snape had removed his coat now; his odd smock looked less pecular in the half light.
“…and the Ministry can punish you if you do magic outside school, you get letters.”
“But I have done magic outside school!”
“We’re all right. We haven’t got wands yet. They let you off when you’re a kid and you can’t help it. But once you’re eleven,” he nodded importantly, “and they start training you, then you’ve got to go careful.”
There was a little silence. Lily had picked up a fallen twig and twirled it in the air, and Harry knew that she was imagining sparks trailing from it. Then she dropped the twig, leaned in toward the boy, and said, “It is real, isn’t it? It’s not a joke? Petunia says you’re lying to me. Petunia says there isn’t a Hogwarts. It is real, isn’t it?”
“It’s real for us,” said Snape. “Not for her. But we’ll get the letter, you and me.”
“Really?” whispered Lily.
“Definitely,” said Snape, and even with his poorly cut hair and his odd clothes, he struck an oddly impressive figure sprawled in front of her, brimful of confidence in his destiny.
“And will it really come by owl?” Lily whispered.
“Normally,” said Snape. “But you’re Muggle-born, so someone from the school will have to come and explain to your parents.”
“Does it make a difference, being Muggle-born?”
Snape hesitated. His black eyes, eager in the greenish gloom, moved over the pale face, the dark red hair.
“No,” he said. “It doesn’t make any difference.”
“Good,” said Lily, relaxing. It was clear that she had been worrying.
“You’ve got loads of magic,” said Snape. “I saw that. All the time I was watching you…”
His voice trailed away; she was not listening, but had stretched out on the leafy ground and was looking up at the canopy of leaves overhead. He watched her as greedily as he had watched her in the playground.
“How are things at your house?” Lily asked.
A little crease appeared between his eyes.
“Fine,” he said.
“They’re not arguing anymore?”
“Oh yes, they’re arguing,” said Snape. He picked up a fistful of leaves and began tearing them apart, apparently unaware of what he was doing. “But it won’t be that long and I’ll be gone.”
“Doesn’t your dad like magic?”
“He doesn’t like anything, much,” said Snape.
A little smile twisted Snape’s mouth when she said his name.
“Tell me about the dementors again.”
“What d’you want to know about them for?”
“If I use magic outside school – ”
“They wouldn’t give you to the dementors for that! Dementors are for people who do really bad stuff. They guard the wizard prison, Azkaban. You’re not going to end up in Azkaban, you’re too – ”
He turned red again and shredded more leaves. Then a small rustling noise behind Harry made him turn: Petunia, hiding behind a tree, had lost her footing.
“Tuney!” said Lily, surprise and welcome in her voice, but Snape had jumped to his feet.
“Who’s spying now?” he shouted. “What d’you want?”
Petunia was breathless, alarmed at being caught. Harry could see her struggling for something hurtful to say.
“What is that you’re wearing, anyway?” she said, pointing at Snape’s chest. “Your mum’s blouse?”
There was a crack. A branch over Petunia’s head had fallen. Lily screamed. The branch caught Petunia on the shoulder, and she staggered backward and burst into tears.
But Petunia was running away. Lily rounded on Snape.
“Did you make that happen?”
“No.” He looked both defiant and scared.
“You did!” She was backing away from him. “You did! You hurt her!”
“No – no, I didn’t!”
But the lie did not convince Lily. After one last burning look, she ran from the little thicket, off after her sister, and Snape looked miserable and confused…
And the scene re-formed. Harry looked around. He was on platform nine and three quarters, and Snape stood beside him, slightly hunched, next to a thin, sallow-faced, sour-looking woman who greatly resembled him. Snape was staring at a family of four a short distance away. The two girls stood a little apart from their parents. Lily seemed to be pleading with her sister. Harry moved closer to listen.
“…I’m sorry, Tuney, I’m sorry! Listen – ” She caught her sister’s hand and held tight to it, even though Petunia tried to pull it away. “Maybe once I’m there – no, listen, Tuney! Maybe once I’m there, I’ll be able to go to Professor Dumbledore and persuade him to change his mind!”
“I don’t – want – to – go!” said Petunia, and she dragged her hand back out of her sister’s grasp. “You think I want to go to some stupid castle and learn to be a – a…”
Her pale eyes roved over the platform, over the cats mewling in their owners’ arms, over the owls, fluttering and hooting at each other in cages, over the students, some already in their long black robes, loading trunks onto the scarlet steam engine or else greeting one another with glad cries after a summer apart.
“ – you think I want to be a – a freak?”
Lily’s eyes filled with tears as Petunia succeeded in tugging her hand away.
“I’m not a freak,” said Lily. “That’s a horrible thing to say.”
“That’s where you’re going,” said Petunia with relish. “A special school for freaks. You and that Snape boy…weirdos, that’s what you two are. It’s good you’re being separated from normal people. It’s for our safety.”
Lily glanced toward her parents, who were looking around the platform with an air of wholehearted enjoyment, drinking in the scene. Then she looked back at her sister, and her voice was low and fierce.
“You didn’t think it was such a freak’s school when you wrote to the headmaster and begged him to take you.”
Petunia turned scarlet.
“Beg? I didn’t beg!”
“I saw his reply. It was very kind.”
“You shouldn’t have read – ” whispered Petunia, “that was my private – how could you – ?”
Lily gave herself away by half-glancing toward where Snape stood nearby. Petunia gasped.
“That boy found it! You and that boy have been sneaking in my room!”
“No – not sneaking – ” Now Lily was on the defensive. “Severus saw the envelope, and he couldn’t believe a Muggle could have contacted Hogwarts, that’s all! He says there must be wizards working undercover in the postal service who take care of – ”
“Apparently wizards poke their noses in everywhere!” said Petunia, now as pale as she had been flushed. “Freak!” she spat at her sister, and she flounced off to where her parents stood…
The scene dissolved again. Snape was hurrying along the corridor of the Hogwarts Express as it clattered through the countryside. He had already changed into his school robes, had perhaps taken the first opportunity to take off his dreadful Muggle clothes. At last he stopped, outside a compartment in which a group of rowdy boys were
talking. Hunched in a corner seat beside the window was Lily, her face pressed against the windowpane.
Snape slid open the compartment door and sat down opposite Lily. She glanced at him and then looked back out of the window. She had been crying.
“I don’t want to talk to you,” she said in a constricted voice.
“Why not?”
“Tuney h-hates me. Because we saw that letter from Dumbledore.”
“So what?”
She threw him a look of deep dislike.
“So she’s my sister!”
“She’s only a – ” He caught himself quickly; Lily, too busy trying to wipe her eyes without being noticed, did not hear him.
“But we’re going!” he said, unable to suppress the exhilaration in his voice. “This is it! We’re off to Hogwarts!”
She nodded, mopping her eyes, but in spite of herself, she half smiled.
“You’d better be in Slytherin,” said Snape, encouraged that she had brightened a little.
One of the boys sharing the compartment, who had shown no interest at all in Lily or Snape until that point, looked around at the word, and Harry, whose attention had been focused entirely on the two beside the window, saw his father: slight, black-haired like Snape, but with that indefinable air of having been well-cared-for, even adored, that Snape so conspicuously lacked.
“Who wants to be in Slytherin? I think I’d leave, wouldn’t you?” James asked the boy lounging on the seats opposite him, and with a jolt, Harry realized that it was Sirius. Sirius did not smile.
“My whole family have been in Slytherin,” he said.
“Blimey,” said James, “and I thought you seemed all right!”
Sirius grinned.
“Maybe I’ll break the tradition. Where are you heading, if you’ve got the choice?”
James lifted an invisible sword.
“‘Gryffindor, where dwell the brave at heart!’ Like my dad.”
Snape made a small, disparaging noise. James turned on him.
“Got a problem with that?”
“No,” said Snape, though his slight sneer said otherwise. “If you’d rather be brawny than brainy – ”
“Where’re you hoping to go, seeing as you’re neither?” interjected Sirius.
James roared with laughter. Lily sat up, rather flushed, and looked from James to Sirius in dislike.
“Come on, Severus, let’s find another compartment.”
James and Sirius imitated her lofty voice; James tried to trip Snape as he passed.
“See ya, Snivellus!” a voice called, as the compartment door slammed…
And the scene dissolved once more…
Harry was standing right behind Snape as they faced the candlelit House tables, lined with rapt faces. Then Professor McGonagall said, “Evans, Lily!”
He watched his mother walk forward on trembling legs and sit down upon the rickety stool. Professor McGonagall dropped the Sorting Hat onto her head, and barely a second after it had touched the dark red hair, the hat cried, “Gryffindor!”
Harry heard Snape let out a tiny groan. Lily took off the hat, handed it back to Professor McGonagall, then hurried toward the cheering Gryffindors, but as she went she glanced back at Snape, and there was a sad little smile on her face. Harry saw Sirius move up the bench to make room for her. She took one look at him, seemed to recognize him from the train, folded her arms, and firmly turned her back on him.
The roll call continued. Harry watched Lupin, Pettigrew, and his father join Lily and Sirius at the Gryffindor table. At last, when only a dozen students remained to be sorted, Professor McGonagall called Snape.
Harry walked with him to the stool, watched him place the hat upon his head. “Slytherin!” cried the Sorting Hat.
And Severus Snape moved off to the other side of the Hall, away from Lily, to where the Slytherins were cheering him, to where Lucius Malfoy, a prefect badge gleaming upon his chest, patted Snape on the back as he sat down beside him…
And the scene changed…
Lily and Snape were walking across the castle courtyard, evidently arguing. Harry hurried to catch up with them, to listen in. As he reached them, he realized how much taller they both were. A few years seemed to have passed since their Sorting.
“…thought we were supposed to be friends?” Snape was saying, “Best friends?”
“We are, Sev, but I don’t like some of the people you’re hanging round with! I’m sorry, but I detest Avery and Mulciber! Mulciber! What do you see in him, Sev, he’s creepy! D’you know what he tried to do to Mary Macdonald the other day?”
Lily had reached a pillar and leaned against it, looking up into the thin, sallow face.
“That was nothing,” said Snape. “It was a laugh, that’s all – ”
“It was Dark Magic, and if you think that’s funny – ”
“What about the stuff Potter and his mates get up to?” demanded Snape. His color rose again as he said it, unable, it seemed, to hold in his resentment.
“What’s Potter got to do with anything?” said Lily.
“They sneak out at night. There’s something weird about that Lupin. Where does he keep going?”
“He’s ill,” said Lily. “They say he’s ill – ”
“Every month at the full moon?” said Snape.
“I know your theory,” said Lily, and she sounded cold. “Why are you so obsessed with them anyway? Why do you care what they’re doing at night?”
“I’m just trying to show you they’re not as wonderful as everyone seems to think they are.”
The intensity of his gaze made her blush.
“They don’t use Dark Magic, though.” She dropped her voice. “And you’re being really ungrateful. I heard what happened the other night. You went sneaking down that tunnel by the Whomping Willow, and James Potter saved you from whatever’s down there – ”
Snape’s whole face contorted and he spluttered, “Saved? Saved? You think he was playing the hero? He was saving his neck and his friends’ too! You’re not going to – I won’t let you – ”
“Let me? Let me?”
Lily’s bright green eyes were slits. Snape backtracked at once.
“I didn’t m ean – I just don’t want to see you made a fool of – He fancies you, James Potter fancies you!” The words seemed wrenched from him against his will. “And he’s not…everyone thinks…big Quidditch hero – ” Snape’s bitterness and dislike were rendering him incoherent, and Lily’s eyebrows were traveling farther and farther up her forehead.
“I know James Potter’s an arrogant toerag,” she said, cutting across Snape. “I don’t need you to tell me that. But Mulciber’s and Avery’s idea of humor is just evil. Evil, Sev. I don’t understand how you can be friends with them.”
Harry doubted that Snape had even heard her strictures on Mulciber and Avery. The moment she had insulted James Potter, his whole body had relaxed, and as they walked away there was a new spring in Snape’s step…
And the scene dissolved…
Harry watched again as Snape left the Great Hall after sitting his O.W.L. in Defense Against the Dark Arts, watched as he wandered away from the castle and strayed inadvertently close to the place beneath the beech tree where James, Sirius, Lupin, and Pettigrew sat together. But Harry kept his distance this time, because he knew what happened after James had hoisted Severus into the air and taunted him; he knew what had been done and said, and it gave him no pleasure to hear it again… He watched as Lily joined the group and went to Snape’s defense. Distantly he heard Snape shout at her in his humiliation and his fury, the unforgivable word: “Mudblood.”
The scene changed…
“I’m sorry.”
“I’m not interested.”
“I’m sorry!”
“Save your breath”
It was nighttime. Lily, who was wearing a dressing gown, stood with her arms folded in front of the portrait of the Fat Lady, at the entrance to Gryffindor Tower.
“I only came out because Mary told me you were threatening to sleep here.”
“I was. I would have done. I never meant to call you Mudblood, it just – ”
“Slipped out?” There was no pity in Lily’s voice. “It’s too late. I’ve made excuses for you for years. None of my friends can understand why I even talk to you. You and your precious little Death Eater friends – you see, you don’t even deny it! You don’t even deny that’s what you’re all aiming to be! You can’t wait to join You-Know-Who, can you?”
He opened his mouth, but closed it without speaking.
“I can’t pretend anymore. You’ve chosen your way, I’ve chosen mine.”
“No – listen, I didn’t mean – ”
“ – to call me Mudblood? But you call everyone of my birth Mudblood, Severus. Why should I be any different?”
He struggled on the verge of speech, but with a contemptuous look she turned and climbed back through the portrait hole…
The corridor dissolved, and the scene took a little longer to reform: Harry seemed to fly through shifting shapes and colors until his surroundings solidified again and he stood on a hilltop, forlorn and cold in the darkness, the wind whistling through the branches of a few leafless trees. The adult Snape was panting, turning on the spot, his wand gripped tightly in his hand, waiting for something or for someone… His fear infected Harry too, even though he knew that he could not be harmed, and he looked over his shoulder, wondering what it was that Snape was waiting for –
Then a blinding, jagged jet of white light flew through the air. Harry thought of lightning, but Snape had dropped to his knees and his wand had flown out of his hand.
“Don’t kill me!”
“That was not my intention.”
Any sound of Dumbledore Apparating had been drowned by the sound of the wind in the branches. He stood before Snape with his robes whipping around him, and his face was illuminated from below in the light cast by his wand.
“Well, Severus? What message does Lord Voldemort have for me?”
“No – no message – I’m here on my own account!”
Snape was wringing his hands. He looked a little mad, with his straggling black hair flying around him.
“I – I come with a warning – no, a request – please – ”
Dumbledore flicked his wand. Though leaves and branches still flew through the night air around them, silence fell on the spot where he and Snape faced each other.
“What request could a Death Eater make of me?”
“The – the prophecy…the prediction…Trelawney…”
“Ah, yes,” said Dumbledore. “How much did you relay to Lord Voldemort?”
“Everything – everything I heard!” said Snape. “That is why – it is for that reason – he thinks it means Lily Evans!”
“The prophecy did not refer to a woman,” said Dumbledore. “It spoke of a boy born at the end of July – ”
“You know what I mean! He thinks it means her son, he is going to hunt her down – kill them all – ”
“If she means so much to you,” said Dumbledore, “surely Lord Voldemort will spare her? Could you not ask for mercy for the mother, in exchange for the son?”
“I have – I have asked him – ”
“You disgust me,” said Dumbledore, and Harry had never heard so much contempt in his voice. Snape seemed to shrink a little, “You do not care, then, about the deaths of her husband and child? They can die, as long as you have what you want?”
Snape said nothing, but merely looked up at Dumbledore.
“Hide them all, then,” he croaked. “Keep her – them – safe. Please.”
“And what will you give me in return, Severus?”
“In – in return?” Snape gaped at Dumbledore, and Harry expected him to protest, but after a long moment he said, “Anything.”
The hilltop faded, and Harry stood in Dumbledore’s office, and something was making a terrible sound, like a wounded animal. Snape was slumped forward in a chair and Dumbledore was standing over him, looking grim. After a moment or two, Snape raised his face, and he looked like a man who had lived a hundred years of misery since leaving the wild hilltop.
“I thought…you were going…to keep her…safe…”
“She and James put their faith in the wrong person,” said Dumbledore. “Rather like you, Severus. Weren’t you hoping that Lord Voldemort would spare her?”
Snape’s breathing was shallow.
“Her boy survives,” said Dumbledore.
With a tiny jerk of the head, Snape seemed to flick off an irksome fly.
“Her son lives. He has her eyes, precisely her eyes. You remember the shape and color of Lily Evans’s eyes, I am sure?”
“DON’T!” bellowed Snape. “Gone…dead…”
“Is this remorse, Severus?”
“I wish…I wish I were dead…”
“And what use would that be to anyone?” said Dumbledore coldly. “If you loved Lily Evans, if you truly loved her, then your way forward is clear.”
Snape seemed to peer through a haze of pain, and Dumbledore’s words appeared to take a long time to reach him.
“What – what do you mean?”
“You know how and why she died. Make sure it was not in vain. Help me protect Lily’s son.”
“He does not need protection. The Dark Lord has gone – ”
“The Dark Lord will return, and Harry Potter will be in terrible danger when he does.”
There was a long pause, and slowly Snape regained control of himself, mastered his own breathing. At last he said, “Very well. Very well. But never – never tell, Dumbledore! This must be between us! Swear it! I cannot bear…especially Potter’s son…I want your word!”
“My word, Severus, that I shall never reveal the best of you?” Dumbledore sighed, looking down into Snape’s ferocious, anguished face. “If you insist…”
The office dissolved but re-formed instantly. Snape was pacing up and down in front of Dumbledore.
“ – mediocre, arrogant as his father, a determined rule-breaker, delighted to find himself famous, attention-seeking and impertinent – ”
“You see what you expect to see, Severus,” said Dumbledore, without raising his eyes from a copy of Transfiguration Today. “Other teachers report that the boy is modest, likable, and reasonably talented. Personally, I find him an engaging child.”
Dumbledore turned a page, and said, without looking up, “Keep an eye on Quirrell, won’t you?”
A whirl of color, and now everything darkened, and Snape and Dumbledore stood a little apart in the entrance hall, while the last stragglers from the Yule Ball passed them on their way to bed.
“Well?” murmured Dumbledore.
“Karkaroff’s Mark is becoming darker too. He is panicking, he fears retribution; you know how much help he gave the Ministry after the Dark Lord fell.” Snape looked sideways at Dumbledore’s crooked-nosed profile. “Karkaroff intends to flee if the Mark burns.”
“Does he?” said Dumbledore softly, as Fleur Delacour and Roger Davies came giggling in from the grounds. “And are you tempted to join him?”
“No,” said Snape, his black eyes on Fleur’s and Roger’s retreating figures. “I am not such a coward.”
“No,” agreed Dumbledore. “You are a braver man by far than Igor Karkaroff. You know, I sometimes think we Sort too soon…”
He walked away, leaving Snape looking stricken…
And now Harry stood in the headmaster’s office yet again. It was nighttime, and Dumbledore sagged sideways in the thronelike chair behind the desk, apparently semiconscious. His right hand dangled over the side, blackened and burned. Snape was muttering incantations, pointing his wand at the wrist of the hand, while with his left hand he tipped a goblet full of thick golden potion down Dumbledore’s throat. After a moment or two, Dumbledore’s eyelids fluttered and opened.
“Why,” said Snape, without preamble, “why did you put on that ring? It carries a curse, surely you realized that. Why even touch it?”
Marvolo Gaunt’s ring lay on the desk before Dumbledore. It was cracked; the sword of Gryffindor lay beside it.
Dumbledore grimaced.
“I…was a fool. Sorely tempted…”
“Tempted by what?”
Dumbledore did not answer.
“It is a miracle you managed to return here!” Snape sounded furious. “That ring carried a curse of extraordinary power, to contain it is all we can hope for; I have trapped the curse in one hand for the time being – ”
Dumbledore raised his blackened, useless hand, and examined it with the expression of one being shown an interesting curio.
“You have done very well, Severus. How long do you think I have?”
Dumbledore’s tone was conversational; he might have been asking for a weather forecast. Snape hesitated, and then said, “I cannot tell. Maybe a year. There is no halting such a spell forever. It will spread eventually, it is the sort of curse that strengthens over time.”
Dumbledore smiled. The news that he had less than a year to live seemed a matter of little or no concern to him.
“I am fortunate, extremely fortunate, that I have you, Severus.”
“If you had only summoned me a little earlier, I might have been able to do more, buy you more time!” said Snape furiously. He looked down at the broken ring and the sword. “Did you think that breaking the ring would break the curse?”
“Something like that…I was delirious, no doubt…” said Dumbledore. With an effort he straightened himself in his chair. “Well, really, this makes matters much more straightforward.”
Snape looked utterly perplexed. Dumbledore smiled.
“I refer to the plan Lord Voldemort is revolving around me. His plan to have the poor Malfoy boy murder me.”
Snape sat down in the chair Harry had so often occupied, across the desk from Dumbledore. Harry could tell that he wanted to say more on the subject of Dumbledore’s cursed hand, but the other held it up in polite refusal to discuss the matter further. Scowling, Snape said, “The Dark Lord does not expect Draco to succeed. This is merely
punishment for Lucius’s recent failures. Slow torture for Draco’s parents, while they watch him fail and pay the price.”
“In short, the boy has had a death sentence pronounced upon him as surely as I have,” said Dumbledore. “Now, I should have thought the natural successor to the job, once Draco fails, is yourself?”
There was a short pause.
“That, I think, is the Dark Lord’s plan.”
“Lord Voldemort foresees a moment in the near future when he will not need a spy at Hogwarts?”
“He believes the school will soon be in his grasp, yes.”
“And if it does fall into his grasp,” said Dumbledore, almost, it seemed, as an aside, “I have your word that you will do all in your power to protect the students at Hogwarts?”
Snape gave a stiff nod.
“Good. Now then. Your first priority will be to discover what Draco is up to. A frightened teenage boy is a danger to others as well as to himself. Offer him help and guidance, he ought to accept, he likes you – ”
“ – much less since his father has lost favor. Draco blames me, he thinks I have usurped Lucius’s position.”
“All the same, try. I am concerned less for myself than for accidental victims of whatever schemes might occur to the boy. Ultimately, of course, there is only one thing to be done if we are to save him from Lord Voldemort’s wrath.”
Snape raised his eyebrows and his tone was sardonic as he asked, “Are you intending to let him kill you?”
“Certainly not. You must kill me.”
There was a long silence, broken only by an odd clicking noise. Fawkes the phoenix was gnawing a bit of cuttlebone.
“Would you like me to do it now?” asked Snape, his voice heavy with irony. “Or would you like a few moments to compose an epitaph?”
“Oh, not quite yet,” said Dumbledore, smiling. “I daresay the moment will present itself in due course. Given what has happened tonight,” he indicated his withered hand, “we can be sure that it will happen within a year.”
“If you don’t mind dying,” said Snape roughly, “why not let Draco do it?”
“That boy’s soul is not yet so damaged,” said Dumbledore. “I would not have it ripped apart on my account.”
“And my soul, Dumbledore? Mine?”
“You alone know whether it will harm your soul to help an old man avoid pain and humiliation,” said Dumbledore. “I ask this one great favor of you, Severus, because death is coming for me as surely as the Chudley Cannons will finish bottom of this year’s league. I confess I should prefer a quick, painless exit to the protracted and messy affair it will be if, for instance, Greyback is involved – I hear Voldemort has recruited him? Or dear Bellatrix, who likes to play with her food before she eats it.”
His tone was light, but his blue eyes pierced Snape as they had frequently pierced Harry, as though the soul they discussed was visible to him. At last Snape gave another curt nod.
Dumbledore seemed satisfied.
“Thank you, Severus…”
The office disappeared, and now Snape and Dumbledore were strolling together in the deserted castle grounds by twilight.
“What are you doing with Potter, all these evenings you are closeted together?” Snape asked abruptly.
Dumbledore looked weary.
“Why? You aren’t trying to give him more detentions, Severus? The boy will soon have spent more time in detention than out.”
“He is his father over again – ”
“In looks, perhaps, but his deepest nature is much more like his mother’s. I spend time with Harry because I have things to discuss with him, information I must give him before it is too late.”
“Information,” repeated Snape. “You trust him…you do not trust me.”
“It is not a question of trust. I have, as we both know, limited time. It is essential that I give the boy enough information for him to do what he needs to do.”
“And why may I not have the same information?”
“I prefer not to put all of my secrets in one basket, particularly not a basket that spends so much time dangling on the arm of Lord Voldemort.”
“Which I do on your orders!”
“And you do it extremely well. Do not think that I underestimate the constant danger in which you place yourself, Severus. To give Voldemort what appears to be valuable information while withholding the essentials is a job I would entrust to nobody but you.”
“Yet you confide much more in a boy who is incapable of Occlumency, whose magic is mediocre, and who has a direct connection into the Dark Lord’s mind!”
“Voldemort fears that connection,” said Dumbledore. “Not so long ago he had one small taste of what truly sharing Harry’s mind means to him. It was pain such as he has never experienced. He will not try to possess Harry again, I am sure of it. Not in that way.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Lord Voldemort’s soul, maimed as it is, cannot bear close contact with a soul like Harry’s. Like a tongue on frozen steel, like flesh in flame – ”
“Souls? We were talking of minds!”
“In the case of Harry and Lord Voldemort, to speak of one is to speak of the other.”
Dumbledore glanced around to make sure that they were alone. They were close by the Forbidden Forest now, but there was no sign of anyone near them.
“After you have killed me, Severus – ”
“You refuse to tell me everything, yet you expect that small service of me!” snarled Snape, and real anger flared in the thin face now. “You take a great deal for granted, Dumbledore! Perhaps I have changed my mind!”
“You gave me your word, Severus. And while we are talking about services you owe me, I thought you agreed to keep a close eye on our young Slytherin friend?”
Snape looked angry, mutinous. Dumbledore sighed.
“Come to my office tonight, Severus, at eleven, and you shall not complain that I have no confidence in you…”
They were back in Dumbledore’s office, the windows dark, and Fawkes sat silent as Snape sat quite still, as Dumbledore walked around him, talking.
“Harry must not know, not until the last moment, not until it is necessary, otherwise how could he have the strength to do what must be done?”
“But what must he do?”
“That is between Harry and me. Now listen closely, Severus. There will come a time – after my death – do not argue, do not interrupt! There will come a time when Lord Voldemort will seem to fear for the life of his snake.”
“For Nagini?” Snape looked astonished.
“Precisely. If there comes a time when Lord Voldemort stops sending that snake forth to do his bidding, but keeps it safe beside him under magical protection, then, I think, it will be safe to tell Harry.”
“Tell him what?”
Dumbledore took a deep breath and closed his eyes.
“Tell him that on the night Lord Voldemort tried to kill him, when Lily cast her own life between them as a shield, the Killing Curse rebounded upon Lord Voldemort, and a fragment of Voldemort’s soul was blasted apart from the whole, and latched itself onto the only living soul left in that collapsed building. Part of Lord Voldemort lives inside Harry, and it is that which gives him the power of speech with snakes, and a connection with Lord Voldemort’s mind that he has never understood. And while that fragment of soul, unmissed by Voldemort, remains attached to and protected by Harry, Lord Voldemort cannot die.”
Harry seemed to be watching the two men from one end of a long tunnel, they were so far away from him, their voices echoing strangely in his ears.
“So the boy…the boy must die?” asked Snape quite calmly.
“And Voldemort himself must do it, Severus. That is essential.”
Another long silence. Then Snape said, “I thought…all those years…that we were protecting him for her. For Lily.”
“We have protected him because it has been essential to teach him, to raise him, to let him try his strength,” said Dumbledore, his eyes still tight shut. “Meanwhile, the connection between them grows ever stronger, a parasitic growth. Sometimes I have thought he suspects it himself. If I know him, he will have arranged matters so that when he does set out to meet his death, it will truly mean the end of Voldemort.”
Dumbledore opened his eyes. Snape looked horrified.
“You have kept him alive so that he can die at the right moment?”
“Don’t be shocked, Severus. How many men and women have you watched die?”
“Lately, only those whom I could not save,” said Snape. He stood up. “You have used me.”
“I have spied for you and lied for you, put myself in mortal danger for you. Everything was supposed to be to keep Lily Potter’s son safe. Now you tell me you have been raising him like a pig for slaughter – ”
“But this is touching, Severus,” said Dumbledore seriously. “Have you grown to care for the boy, after all?”
“For him?” shouted Snape. “Expecto Patronum!”
From the tip of his wand burst the silver doe. She landed on the office floor, bounded once across the office, and soared out of the window. Dumbledore watched her fly away, and as her silvery glow faded he turned back to Snape, and his eyes were full of tears.
“After all this time?”
“Always,” said Snape.
And the scene shifted. Now, Harry saw Snape talking to the portrait of Dumbledore behind his desk.
“You will have to give Voldemort the correct date of Harry’s departure from his aunt and uncle’s,” said Dumbledore. “Not to do so will raise suspicion, when Voldemort believes you so well informed. However, you must plant the idea of decoys; that, I think, ought to ensure Harry’s safety. Try Confunding Mundungus Fletcher. And Severus, if you are forced to take part in the chase, be sure to act your part convincingly…I am counting upon you to remain in Lord Voldemort’s good books as long as possible, or Hogwarts will be left to the mercy of the Carrows…”
Now Snape was head to head with Mundungus in an unfamiliar tavern, Mundungus’s face looking curiously blank, Snape frowning in concentration.
“You will suggest to the Order of the Phoenix,” Snape murmured, “that they use decoys. Polyjuice Potion. Identical Potters. It’s the only thing that might work. You will forget that I have suggested this. You will present it as your own idea. You understand?”
“I understand,” murmured Mundungus, his eyes unfocused…
Now Harry was flying alongside Snape on a broomstick through a clear dark night: He was accompanied by other hodded Death Eaters, and ahead were Lupin and a Harry who was really George… A Death Eater moved ahead of Snape and raised his wand, pointing it directly at Lupin’s back.
“Sectumsempra!” shouted Snape.
But the spell, intended for the Death Eater’s wand hand, missed and hit George instead –
And next, Snape was kneeling in Sirius’s old bedroom. Tears were dripping from the end of his hooked nose as he read the old letter from Lily. The second page carried only a few words:
could ever have been friends with Gellert Grindelwald. I think her mind’s going, personally!
Lots of love,
Snape took the page bearing Lily’s signature, and her love, and tucked it inside his robes. Then he ripped in two the photograph he was also holding, so that he kept the part from which Lily laughed, throwing the portion showing James and Harry back onto the floor, under the chest of drawers…
And now Snape stood again in the headmaster’s study as Phineas Nigellus came hurrying into his portrait.
“Headmaster! They are camping in the Forest of Dean! The Mudblood – ”
“Do not use that word!”
“ – the Granger girl, then, mentioned the place as she opened her bag and I heard her!”
“Good. Very good!” cried the portrait of Dumbledore behind the headmaster’s chair. “Now, Severus, the sword! Do not forget that it must be taken under conditions of need and valor – and he must not know that you give it! If Voldemort should read Harry’s mind and see you acting for him – ”
“I know,” said Snape curtly. He approached the portrait of Dumbledore and pulled at its side. It swung forward, revealing a hidden cavity behind it from which he took the sword of Gryffindor.
“And you still aren’t going to tell me why it’s so important to give Potter the sword?” said Snape as he swung a traveling cloak over his robes.
“No, I don’t think so,” said Dumbledore’s portrait. “He will know what to do with it. And Severus, be very careful, they may not take kindly to your appearance after George Weasley’s mishap – ”
Snape turned at the door.
“Don’t worry, Dumbledore,” he said coolly. “I have a plan…”
And Snape left the room. Harry rose up out of the Pensieve, and moments later he lay on the carpeted floor in exactly the same rooms Snape might just have closed the door.
Chapter Thirty-Four
The Forest Again
Finally, the truth. Lying with his face pressed into the dusty carpet of the office where he had once thought he was learning the secrets of victory, Harry understood at last that he was not supposed to survive. His job was to walk calmly into Death’s welcoming arms. Along the way, he was to dispose of Voldemort’s remaining links to life, so that when at last he flung himself across Voldemort’s path, and did not raise a wand to defend himself, the end would be clean, and the job that ought to have been done in Godric’s Hollow would be finished. Neither would live, neither could survive.
He felt his heart pounding fiercely in his chest. How strange that in his dread of death, it pumped all the harder, valiantly keeping him alive. But it would have to stop, and soon. Its beats were numbered. How many would there be time for, as he rose and walked through the castle for the last time, out into the grounds and into the forest?
Terror washed over him as he lay on the floor, with that funeral drum pounding inside him. Would it hurt to die? All those times he had thought that it was about to happen and escaped, he had never really thought of the thing itself: His will to live had always been so much stronger than his fear of death. Yet it did not occur to him now to try to escape, to outrun Voldemort. It was over, he knew it, and all that was left was the thing itself: dying.
If he could only have died on that summer’s night when he had left number four, Privet Drive, for the last time, when the noble phoenix feather wand had saved him! If he could only have died like Hedwig, so quickly he would not have known it had happened! Or if he could have launched himself in front of a wand to save someone he loved . . . He envied even his parents’ deaths now. This cold-blooded walk to his own destruction
would require a different kind of bravery. He felt his fingers trembling slightly and made an effort to control them, although no one could see him; the portraits on the walls were all empty.
Slowly, very slowly, he sat up, and as he did so he felt more alive and more aware of his own living body than ever before. Why had he never appreciated what a miracle he was, brain and nerve and bounding heart? It would all be gone . . . or at least, he would be gone from it. His breath came slow and deep, and his mouth and throat were completely dry, but so were his eyes.
Dumbledore’s betrayal was almost nothing. Of course there had been a bigger plan: Harry had simply been too foolish to see it, he realized that now. He had never questioned his own assumption that Dumbledore wanted him alive. Now he saw that his life span had always been determined by how long it took to eliminate all the Horcruxes. Dumbledore had passed the job of destroying them to him, and obediently he had continued to chip away at the bonds tying not only Voldemort, but himself, to life! How neat, how elegant, not to waste any more lives, but to give the dangerous task to the boy who had already been marked for slaughter, and whose death would not be a calamity, but another blow against Voldemort.
And Dumbledore had known that Harry would not duck out, that he would keep going to the end, even though it was his end, because he had taken trouble to get to know him, hadn’t he? Dumbledore knew, as Voldemort knew, that Harry would not let anyone else die for him now that he had discovered it was in his power to stop it. The images of Fred, Lupin, and Tonks lying dead in the Great Hall forced their way back into his mind’s eye, and for a moment he could hardly breathe. Death was impatient . . .
But Dumbledore had overestimated him. He had failed: The snake survived. One Horcrux remained to bind Voldemort to the earth, even after Harry had been killed. True, that would mean an easier job for somebody. He wondered who would do it . . . Ron and Hermione would know what needed to be done, of course . . . That would have been why Dumbledore wanted him to confide in two others . . . so that if he fulfilled his true destiny a little early, they could carry on . . .
Like rain on a cold window, these thoughts pattered against the hard surface of the incontrovertible truth, which was that he must die. I must die. It must end.
Ron and Hermione seemed a long way away, in a far-off country; he felt as though he had parted from them long ago. There would be no good-byes and no explanations, he was determined of that. This was a journey they could not take together, and the attempts they would make to stop him would waste valuable time. He looked down at the battered gold watch he had received on his seventeenth birthday. Nearly half of the hour allotted by Voldemort for his surrender had elapsed.
He stood up. His heart was leaping against his ribs like a frantic bird. Perhaps it knew it had little time left, perhaps it was determined to fulfill a lifetime’s beats before the end. He did not look back as he closed the office door.
The castle was empty. He felt ghostly striding through it alone, as if he had already died. The portrait people were still missing from their frames; the whole place was eerily still, as if all its remaining lifeblood were concentrated in the Great Hall where the dead and the mourners were crammed.
Harry pulled the Invisibility Cloak over himself and descended through the floors, at last walking down the marble staircase into the entrance hall. Perhaps some tiny part of
him hoped to be sensed, to be seen, to be stopped, but the Cloak was, as ever, impenetrable, perfect, and he reached the front doors easily.
Then Neville nearly walked into him. He was one half of a pair that was carrying a body in from the grounds. Harry glanced down and felt another dull blow to his stomach: Colon Creevey, though underage, must have sneaked back just as Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle had done. He was tiny in death.
“You know what? I can manage him alone, Neville,” said Oliver Wood, and he heaved Colin over his shoulder in a fireman’s lift and carried him into the Great Hall.
Neville leaned against the door frame for a moment and wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. He looked like an old man. Then he set off on the steps again into the darkness to recover more bodies.
Harry took one glance back at the entrance of the Great Hall. People were moving around, trying to comfort each other, drinking, kneeling beside the dead, but he could not see any of the people he loved, no hint of Hermione, Ron, Ginny, or any of the other Weasleys, no Luna. He felt he would have given all the time remaining to him for just one last look at them; but then, would he ever have the strength to stop looking? It was better like this.
He moved down the steps and out into the darkness. It was nearly four in the morning, and the deathly stillness of the grounds felt as though they were holding their breath, waiting to see whether he could do what he must.
Harry moved toward Neville, who was bending over another body.
“Blimey, Harry, you nearly gave me heart failure!”
Harry had pulled off the Cloak: The idea had come to him out of nowhere, born out of a desire to make absolutely sure.
“Where are you going, alone?” Neville asked suspiciously.
“It’s all part of the plan,” said Harry. “There’s someting I’ve got to do. Listen --- Neville ---“
“Harry!” Neville looked suddenly scared. “Harry, you’re not thinking of handing yourself over?”
“No,” Harry lied easily. “’Course not . . . this is something else. But I might be out of sight for a while. You know Voldemort’s snake. Neville? He’s got a huge snake . . . Calls it Nagini . . .”
“I’ve heard, yeah . . . What about it?”
“It’s got to be killed. Ron and Hermione know that, but just in case they ---“
The awfulness of that possibility smothered him for a moment, made it impossible to keep talking. But he pulled himself together again: This was crucial, he must be like Dumbledore, keep a cool head, make sure there were backups, others to carry on. Dumbledore had died knowing that three people still knew about the Horcruxes; now Neville would take Harry’s place: There would still be three in the secret.
“Just in case they’re --- busy --- and you get the chance ---“
“Kill the snake?”
“Kill the snake,” Harry repeated.
“All right, Harry. You’re okay, are you?”
“I’m fine. Thanks, Neville.”
But Neville seized his wrist as Harry made to move on.
“We’re all going to keep fighting, Harry. You know that?”
“Yeah, I ---“
The suffocating feeling extinguished the end of the sentence; he could not go on. Neville did not seem to find it strange. He patted Harry on the shoulder, released him, and walked away to look for more bodies.
Harry swung the Cloak back over himself and walked on. Someone else was moving not far away, stooping over another prone figure on the ground. He was feet away from her when he realized it was Ginny.
He stopped in his tracks. She was crouching over a girl who was whispering for her mother.
“It’s all right,” Ginny was saying. “It’s ok. We’re going to get you inside.”
“But I want to go home,” whispered the girl. “I don’t want to fight anymore!”
“I know,” said Ginny, and her voice broke. “It’s going to be all right.”
Ripples of cold undulated over Harry’s skin. He wanted to shout out to the night, he wanted Ginny to know that he was there, he wanted her to know where he was going. He wanted to be stopped, to be dragged back, to be sent back home. . . .
But he was home. Hogwards was the first and best home he had known. He and Voldemort and Snape, the abandoned boys, had all found home here. . . .
Ginny was kneeling beside the injured girl now, holding her hand. With a huge effort Harry forced himself on. He thought he saw Ginny look around as he passed, and wondered whether she had sensed someone walking nearby, but he did not speak, and he did not look back.
Hagrid’s hut loomed out of the darkness. There were no lights, no sound of Fang scrabbling at the door, his bark booming in welcome. All those visits to Hagrid, and the gleam of the copper kettle on the fire, and rock cakes and giant grubs, and his great bearded face, and Ron vomiting slugs, and Hermione helping him save Norbert . . .
He moved on, and now he reached the edge of the forest, and he stopped.
A swarm of dementors was gliding amongst the trees; he could feel their chill, and he was not sure he would be able to pass safely through it. He had not strength left for a Patronus. He could no longer control his own trembling. It was not, after all, so easy to die. Every second he breathed, the smell of the grass, the cool air on his face, was so precious: To think that people had years and years, time to waste, so much time it dragged, and he was clinging to each second. At the same time he thought that he would not be able to go on, and knew that he must. The long game was ended, the Snitch had been caught, it was time to leave the air. . . .
The Snitch. His nerveless fingers fumbled for a moment with the pouch at his neck and he pulled it out.
I open at the close.
Breathing fast and hard, he stared down at it. Now that he wanted time to move as slowly as possible, he seemed to have sped up, and understanding was coming so fast it seemed to have bypassed though. This was the close. This was the moment.
He pressed the golden metal to his lips and whispered, “I am about to die.”
The metal shell broke open. He lowered his shaking hand, raised Draco’s wand beneath the Cloak, and murmured, “Lumos.”
The black stone with is jagged crack running down the center sat in the two halves of the Snitch. The Resurrection Stone had cracked down the vertical line
representing the Elder Wand. The triangle and circle representing the Cloak and the stone were still discernible.
And again Harry understood without having to think. It did not matter about bringing them back, for he was about to join them. He was not really fetching them: They were fetching him.
He closed his eyes and turned the stone over in his hand three times.
He knew it had happened, because he heard slight movements around him that suggested frail bodies shifting their footing on the earthy, twig-strewn ground that marked the outer edge of the forest. He opened his eyes and looked around.
They were neither ghost nor truly flesh, he could see that. They resembled most closely the Riddle that had escaped from the diary so long ago, and he had been memory made nearly solid. Less substantial than living bodies, but much more than ghosts, they moved toward him. And on each face, there was the same loving smile.
James was exactly the same height as Harry. He was wearing the clothes in which he had died, and his hair was untidy and ruffled, and his glasses were a little lopsided, like Mr. Weasley’s.
Sirius was tall and handsome, and younger by far than Harry had seen him in life. He loped with an easy grace, his hands in his pockets and a grin on his face.
Lupin was younger too, and much less shabby, and his hair was thicker and darker. He looked happy to be back in this familiar place, scene of so many adolescent wanderings.
Lily’s smile was widest of all. She pushed her long hair back as she drew closer to him, and her green eyes, so like his, searched his face hungrily, as though she would never be able to look at him enough.
“You’ve been so brave.”
He could not speak. His eyes feasted on her, and he thought that he would like to stand and look at her forever, and that would be enough.
“You are nearly there,” said James. “Very close. We are . . . so proud of you.”
“Does it hurt?”
The childish question had fallen from Harry’s lips before he could stop it.
“Dying? Not at all,” said Sirius. “Quicker and easier than falling asleep.”
“And he will want it to be quick. He wants it over,” said Lupin.
“I didn’t want you to die,” Harry said. These words came without his volition. “Any of you. I’m sorry ---“
He addressed Lupin more than any of them, beseeching him.
“--- right after you’d had your son . . . Remus, I’m sorry ---“
“I am sorry too,” said Lupin. “Sorry I will never know him . . . but he will know why I died and I hope he will understand. I was trying to make a world in which he could live a happier life.”
A chilly breeze that seemed to emanate from the heart of the forest lifted the hair at Harry’s brow. He knew that they would not tell him to go, that it would have to be his decision.
“You’ll stay with me?”
“Until the very end,” said James.
“They won’t be able to see you?” asked Harry.
“We are part of you,” said Sirius. “Invisible to anyone else.”
Harry looked at his mother.
“Stay close to me,” he said quietly.
And he set of. The dementors’ chill did not overcome him; he passed through it with his companions, and they acted like Patronuses to him, and together they marched through the old trees that grew closely together, their branches tangled, their roots gnarled and twisted underfoot. Harry clutched the Cloak tightly around him in the darkness, traveling deeper and deeper into the forest, with no idea where exactly Voldemort was, but sure that he would find him. Beside him, making scarcely a sound, walked James, Sirius, Lupin, and Lily, and their presence was his courage, and the reason he was able to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
His body and mind felt oddly disconnected now, his limbs working without conscious instruction, as if he were passenger, not driver, in the body he was about to leave. The dead who walked beside him through the forest were much more real to him now than the living back at the castle: Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and all the others were the ones who felt like ghosts as he stumbled and slipped toward the end of his life, toward Voldemort . . .
A thud and a whisper: Some other living creature had stirred close by. Harry stopped under the Cloak, peering around, listening, and his mother and father, Lupin and Sirius stopped too.
“Someone there,” came a rough whisper close at hand. “He’s got an Invisibility Cloak. Could it be --- ?”
Two figures emerged from behind a nearby tree: Their wands flared, and Harry saw Yaxley and Dolohov peering into the darkness, directly at the place Harry, his mother and father and Sirius and Lupin stood. Apparently they could not see anything.
“Definitely heard something,” said Yaxley. “Animal, d’you reckon?”
“That head case Hagrid kept a whole bunch of stuff in here,” said Dolohov, glancing over his shoulder.
Yaxley looked down at his watch.
“Time’s nearly up. Porter’s had his hour. He’s not coming.”
“Better go back,” said Yaxley. “Find out what the plan is now.”
He and Dolohov turned and walked deeper into the forest. Harry followed them, knowing that they would lead him exactly where he wanted to go. He glanced sideways, and his mother smiled at him, and his father nodded encouragement.
They had traveled on mere minutes when Harry saw light ahead, and Yaxley and Dolohov stepped out into a clearing that Harry knew had been the place where the monstrous Aragog had once lived. The remnants of his vast web were there still, but the swarms of descendants he had spawned had been driven out by the Death Eaters, to fight for their cause.
A fire burned in the middle of the clearing, and its flickering light fell over a crowd of completely silent, watchful Death Eaters. Some of them were still masked and hooded; others showed their faces. Two giants sat on the outskirts of the group, casting massive shadows over the scene, their faces cruel, rough-hewn like rock. Harry saw Fenrir, skulking, chewing his long nails; the great blond Rowle was dabbing at his bleeding lip. He saw Lucius Malfoy, who looked defeated and terrified, and Narcissa, whose eyes were sunken and full of apprehension.
Every eye was fixed upon Voldemort, who stood with his head bowed, and his white hands folded over the Elder Wand in front of him. He might have been praying, or else counting silently in his mind, and Harry, standing still on the edge of the scene, though absurdly of a child counting in a game of hide-and-seek. Behind his head, still swirling and coiling, the great snake Nagini floated in her glittering, charmed cage, like a monstrous halo.
When Dolohov and Yaxley rejoined the circle, Voldemort looked up.
“No sign of him, my Lord,” said Dolohov.
Voldemort’s expression did not change. The red eyes seemed to burn in the firelight. Slowly he drew the Elder Wand between his long fingers.
“My Lord ---“
Bellatrix had spoken: She sat closest to Voldemort, disheveled, her face a little bloody but otherwise unharmed.
Voldemort raised his hand to silence her, and she did not speak another word, but eyed him in worshipful fascination.
“I thought he would come,” said Voldemort in his high, clear voice, his eyes on the leaping flames. “I expected him to come.”
Nobody spoke. They seemed as scared as Harry, whose heart was now throwing itself against his ribs as though determined to escape the body he was about to cast aside. His hands were sweating as he pulled off the Invisibility Cloak and stuffed it beneath his robes, with his wand. He did not want to be tempted to fight.
“I was, it seems . . . mistaken,” said Voldemort.
“You weren’t.”
Harry said it as loudly as he could, with all the force he could muster: He did not want to sound afraid. The Resurrection Stone slipped from between his numb fingers, and out of the corner of his eyes he saw his parents, Sirius, and Lupin vanish as he stepped forward into the firelight. At that moment he felt that nobody mattered but Voldemort. It was just the two of them.
The illusion was gone as soon as it had come. The giants roared as the Death Eaters rose together, and there were many cries, gasps, even laughter. Voldemort had frozen where he stood, but his red eyes had found Harry, and he stared as Harry moved toward him, with nothing but the fire between them.
Then a voice yelled: “HARRY! NO!”
He turned: Hagrid was bound and trussed, tied to a tree nearby. His massive body shook the branches overhead as he struggled, desperate.
“QUIET!” shouted Rowle, and with a flick of his wand, Hagrid was silenced.
Bellatrix, who had leapt to her feet, was looking eagerly from Voldemort to Harry, her breast heaving. The only things that moved were the flames and the snake, coiling and uncoiling in the glittering cage behind Voldemort’s head.
Harry could feel his wand against his chest, but he made no attempt to draw it. He knew that the snake was too well protected, knew that if he managed to point the wand at Nagini, fifty curses would hit him first. And still, Voldemort and Harry looked at each other, and now Voldemort tilted his head a little to the side, considering the boy standing before him, and a singularly mirthless smile curled the lipless mouth.
“Harry Potter,” he said very softly. His voice might have been part of the spitting fire. “The Boy Who Lived.”
None of the Death Eaters moved. They were waiting: Everything was waiting. Hagrid was struggling, and Bellatrix was panting, and Harry thought inexplicably of Ginny, and her blazing look, and the feel of her lips on his ---
Voldemort had raised his wand. His head was still tilted to one side, like a curious child, wondering what would happen if he proceeded. Harry looked back into the red eyes, and wanted it to happen now, quickly, while he could still stand, before he lost control, before he betrayed fear ---
He saw the mouth move and a flash of green light, and everything was gone.
Chapter Thirty-Five
King’s Cross
He lay facedown, listening to the silence. He was perfectly alone. Nobody was watching. Nobody else was there. He was not perfectly sure that he was there himself.
A long time later, or maybe no time at all, it came to him that he must exist, must be more than disembodied thought, because he was lying, definitely lying, on some surface. Therefore he had a sense of touch, and the thing against which he lay existed too.
Almost as soon as he had reached this conclusion, Harry became conscious that he was naked. Convinced as he was of his total solitude, this did not concern him, but it did intrigue him slightly. He wondered whether, as he could feel, he would be able to see. In opening them, he discovered that he had eyes.
He lay in a bright mist, though it was not like mist he had ever experienced before. His surroundings were not hidden by cloudy vapor; rather the cloudy vapor had not yet formed into surroundings. The floor on which he lay seemed to be white, neither warm nor cold, but simply there, a flat, blank something on which to be.
He sat up. His body appeared unscathed. He touched his face. He was not wearing glasses anymore.
Then a noise reached him through the unformed nothingness that surrounded him: the small soft thumpings of something that flapped, flailed, and struggled. It was a pitiful noise, yet also slightly indecent. He had the uncomfortable feeling that he was eavesdropping on something furtive, shameful.
For the first time, he wished he were clothed.
Barely had the wish formed in his head than robes appeared a short distance away. He took them and pulled them on. They were soft, clean, and warm. It was extraordinary how they had appeared just like that, the moment he had wanted them. . . .
He stood up, looking around. Was he in some great Room of Requirement? The longer he looked, the more there was to see. A great domed glass roof glittered high above him in sunlight. Perhaps it was a palace. All was hushed and still, except for those odd thumping and whimpering noises coming from somewhere close by in the mist. . . .
Harry turned slowly on the spot, and his surroundings seemed to invent themselves before his eyes. A wide-open space, bright and clean, a hall larger by far than the Great Hall, with that clear domed glass ceiling. It was quite empty. He was the only person there, except for –
He recoiled. He had spotted the thing that was making the noises. It had the form of a small, naked child, curled on the ground, its skin raw and rough, flayed-looking, and it lay shuddering under a seat where it had been left, unwanted, stuffed out of sight, struggling for breath.
He was afraid of it. Small and fragile and wounded though it was, he did not want to approach it. Nevertheless he drew slowly nearer, ready to jump back at any moment. Soon he stood near enough to touch it, yet he could not bring himself to do it. He felt like a coward. He ought to comfort it, but it repulsed him.
“You cannot help.”
He spun around. Albus Dumbledore was walking toward him, sprightly and upright, wearing sweeping robes of midnight blue.
“Harry.” He spread his arms wide, and his hands were both whole and white and undamaged. “You wonderful boy. You brave, brave man. Let us walk.”
Stunned, Harry followed as Dumbledore strode away from where the flayed child lay whimpering, leading him to two seats that Harry had not previously noticed, set some distance away under that high, sparkling ceiling. Dumbledore sat down in one of them, and Harry fell into the other, staring at his old headmaster’s face. Dumbledore’s long silver hair and beard, the piercingly blue eyes behind half-moon spectacles, the crooked nose: Everything was as he had remembered it. And yet . . .
“But you’re dead,” said Harry.
“Oh yes,” said Dumbledore matter-of-factly.
“Then . . . I’m dead too?”
“Ah,” said Dumbledore, smiling still more broadly. “That is the question, isn’t it? On the whole, dear boy, I think not.”
They looked at each other, the old man still beaming.
“Not?” repeated Harry.
“Not,” said Dumbledore.
“But . . .” Harry raised his hand instinctively toward the lightning scar. It did not seem to be there. “But I should have died – I didn’t defend myself! I meant to let him kill me!”
“And that,” said Dumbledore, “will, I think, have made all the difference.”
Happiness seemed to radiate from Dumbledore like light; like fire: Harry had never seen the man so utterly, so palpably content.
“Explain,” said Harry.
“But you already know,” said Dumbledore. He twiddled his thumbs together.
“I let him kill me,” said Harry. “Didn’t I?”
“You did,” said Dumbledore, nodding. “Go on!”
“So the part of his soul that was in me . . .”
Dumbledore nodded still more enthusiastically, urging Harry onward, a broad smile of encouragement on his face.
“. . . has it gone?”
“Oh yes!” said Dumbledore. “Yes, he destroyed it. Your soul is whole, and completely your own, Harry.”
“But then . . .”
Harry trembled over his shoulder to where the small, maimed creature trembled under the chair.
“What is that, Professor?”
“something that is beyond either of our help,” said Dumbledore.
“But if Voldemort used the Killing Curse,” Harry started again, “and nobody died for me this time – how can I be alive?”
“I think you know,” said Dumbledore. “Think back. Remember what he did, in his ignorance, in his greed and his cruelty.”
Harry thought. He let his gaze drift over his surroundings. If it was indeed a palace in which they sat, it was an odd one, with chairs set in little rows and bits of railing here and there, and still, he and Dumbledore and the stunted creatures under the chair were the only beings there. Then the answer rose to his lips easily, without effort.
“He took my blood,” said Harry.
“Precisely!” said Dumbledore. “He took your blood and rebuilt his living body with it! Your blood in his veins, Harry, Lily’s protection inside both of you! He thethered you to life while he lives!”
“I live . . . while he lives? But I thought . . . I thought it was the other way around! I thought we both had to die? Or is it the same thing?”
He was distracted by the whimpering and thumping of the agonized creature behind them and glanced back at it yet again.
“Are you sure we can’t do anything?”
“There is no help possible.”
“Then explain . . . more,” said Harry, and Dumbledore smiled.
“You were the seventh Horcrux, Harry, the Horcrux he never meant to make. He had rendered his soul so unstable that it broke apart when he committed those acts of unspeakable evil, the murder of your parents, the attempted killing of a child. But what escaped from that room was even less than he knew. He left more than his body behind. He left part of himself latched to you, the would-be victim who had survived.
“And his knowledge remained woefully incomplete, Harry! That which Voldemort does not value, he takes no trouble to comprehend. Of house-elves and children’s tales, of love, loyalty, and innocence, Voldemort knows and understands nothing. Nothing. That they all have a power beyond his own, a power beyond the reach of any magic, is a truth he has never grasped.
“He took your blood believing it would strengthen him. He took into his body a tiny part of the enchantment your mother laid upon you when she died for you. His body keeps her sacrafice alive, and while that enchantment survives, so do you and so does Voldemort’s one last hope for himself.”
Dumbledore smiled at Harry, and Harry stared at him.
“And you knew this? You knew – all along?”
“I guessed. But my guesses have usually been good,” said Dumbledore happily, and they sat in silence for what seemed like a long time, while the creature behind them continued to whimper and tremble.
“There’s more,” said Harry. “There’s more to it. Why did my wand break the wand he borrowed?”
“As to that, I cannot be sure.”
“Have a guess, then,” said Harry, and Dumbledore laughed.
“What you must understand, Harry, is that you and Lord Voldemort have journeyed together into realms of magic hitherto unknown and untested. But here is what
I think happened, and it is unprecedented, and no wandmaker could, I think, ever have predicted or explained it to Voldemort.
“Without meaning to, as you now know, Lord Voldemort doubled the bond between you when he returned to a human form. A part of his soul was still attached to yours, and, thinking to strengthen himself, he took a part of your mother’s sacrafice into himself. If he could only have understood the precise and terrible power of that sacrifice, he would not, perhaps, have dared to touch your blood. . . . But then, if he had been able to understand, he could not be Lord Voldemort, and might never have murdered at all.
“Having ensured this two-fold connection, having wrapped your destinies together more securely than ever two wizards were joined in history, Voldemort proceeded to attack you with a wand that shared a core with yours. And now something very strange happened, as we know. The cores reacted in a way that Lord Voldemort, who never knew that your wand was a twin of his, had ever expected.
“He was more afraid than you were that night, Harry. You had accepted, even embraced, the possibility of death, something Lord Voldemort has never been able to do. Your courage won, your wand overpowered his. And in doing so, something happened between those wands, something that echoed the relationship between their masters.
“I believe that your wand imbibed some of the power and qualities of Voldemort’s wand that night, which is to say that it contained a little of Voldemort himself. So your wand recognized him when he pursued you, recognized a man who was both kin and mortal enemy, and it regurgitated some of his own magic against him, magic much more powerful than anything Lucius’s wand had ever performed. Your wand now contained the power of your enormous courage and of Voldemort’s own deadly skill: What chance did that poor stick of Lucius Malfoy’s stand?”
“But if my wand was so powerful, how come Hermione was able to break it?” asked Harry.
“My dear boy, its remarkable effects were directed only at Voldemort, who had tampered so ill-advisedly with the deepest laws of magic. Only toward him was that wand abnormally powerful. Otherwise it was a wand like any other . . . though a good one, I am sure,” Dumbledore finished kindly.
Harry sat in thought for a long time, or perhaps seconds. It was very hard to be sure of things like time, here.
“He killed me with your wand.”
“He failed to kill you with my wand,” Dumbledore corrected Harry. “I think we can agree that you are not dead – though, of course,” he added, as if fearing he had been discourteous, “I do not minimize your sufferings, which I am sure were severe.”
“I feel great at the moment, though,” said Harry, looking down at his clean, unblemished hands. “Where are we, exactly?”
“Well, I was going to ask you that,” said Dumbledore, looking around. “Where would you say that we are?”
Until Dumbledore had asked, Harry had not known. Now, however, he found that he had an answer ready to give.
“It looks,” he said slowly, “like King’s Cross station. Except a lo cleaner and empty, and there are no trains as far as I can see.”
“King’s Cross station!” Dumbledore was chuckling immoderately. “Good gracious, really?”
“Well, where do you think we are?” asked Harry, a little defensively.
“My dear boy, I have no idea. This is, as they say, your party.”
Harry had no idea what this meant; Dumbledore was being infuriating. He glared at him, then remembered a much more pressing question than that of their current location.
“The Deathly Hallows,” he said, and he was glad to see that the words wiped the smile from Dumbledore’s face.
“Ah, yes,” he said. He even looked a little worried.
For the first time since Harry had met Dumbledore, he looked less than an old man, much less. He looked fleetingly like a small boy caught in wrongdoing.
“Can you forgive me?” he said. “Can you forgive me for not trusting you? For not telling you? Harry, I only feared that you would fail as I had failed. I only dreaded that you would make my mistakes. I crave your pardon, Harry. I have known, for some time now, that you are the better man.”
“What are you talking about?” asked Harry, startled by Dumbledore’s tone, by the sudden tears in his eyes.
“The Hallows, the Hallows,” murmured Dumbledore. “A desperate man’s dream!”
“But they’re real!”
“Real, and dangerous, and a lure for fools,” said Dumbledore. “And I was such a fool. But you know, don’t you? I have no secrets from you anymore. You know.”
“What do I know?”
Dumbledore turned his whole body to face Harry, and tears still sparkled in the brilliantly blue eyes.
“Master of death, Harry, master of Death! Was I better, ultimately, than Voldemort?”
“Of course you were,” said Harry. “Of course – how can you ask that? You never killed if you could avoid it!”
“True, true,” said Dumbledore, and he was like a child seeking reassurance. “Yet I too sought a way to conquer death, Harry.”
“Not the way he did,” said Harry. After all his anger at Dumbledore, how odd it was to sit here, beneath the high, vaulted ceiling, and defend Dumbledore from himself. “Hallows, not Horcruxes.”
“Hallows,” murmured Dumbledore, “not Horcruxes. Precisely.”
There was a pause. The creature behind them whimpered, but Harry no longer looked around.
“Grindelwald was looking for them too?” he asked.
Dumbledore closed his eyes for a moment and nodded.
“It was the thing, above all, that drew us together,” he said quietly. “Two clever, arrogant boys with a shared obsession. He wanted to come to Godric’s Hollow, as I am sure you have guessed, because of the grave of Ignotus Peverell. He wanted to explore the place the third brother had died.”
“So it’s true?” asked Harry. “All of it? The Peverell brothers –”
“—were the three brothers of the tale,” said Dumbledore, nodding. “Oh yes, I think so. Whether they met Death on a lonely road . . . I think it more likely that the
Peverell brothers were simply gifted, dangerous wizards who succeeded in creating those powerful objects. The story of them being Death’s own Hallows seems to me the sort of legend that might have sprung up around such creations.
“The Cloak, as you know now, traveled down through the ages, father to son, mother to daughter, right down to Ignotus’s last living descendant, who was born, as Ignotus was, in the village of Godric’s Hollow.”
Dumbledore smiled at Harry.
“You. You have guessed,, I know, why the Cloak was in my possession on the night your parents died. James had showed it to me just a few days previously. It explained much of his undetected wrongdoing at school! I could hardly believe what I was seeing. I asked to borrow it, to examine it. I had long since given up my dream of uniting the Hallows, but I could not resist, could not help taking a closer look. . . . It was a Cloak the likes of which I had never seen, immensely old, perfect in every respect . . . and then your father died, and I had two Hallows at last, all to myself!”
His tone was unbearably bitter.
“The Cloak wouldn’t have helped them survive, though,” Harry said quickly. “Voldemort knew where my mum and dad were. The Cloak couldn’t have made them curse-proof.”
“true,” sighed Dumbledore. “True.”
Harry waited, but Dumbledore did not speak, so he prompted him.
“So you’d given up looking for the Hallows when you saw the Cloak?”
“Oh yes,” said Dumbledore faintly. It seemed that he forced himself to meet Harry’s eyes. “You know what happened. You know. You cannot despise me more than I despise myself.”
“But I don’t despise you –”
“Then you should,” said Dumbledore. He drew a deep breath. “You know the secret of my sister’s ill health, what those Muggles did, what she became. You know how my poor father sought revenge, and paid the price, died In Azkaban. You know how my mother gave up her own life to care for Ariana.
“I resented it, Harry.”
Dumbledore stated it baldly, coldly. He was looking now over the top of Harry’s head, into the distance.
“I was gifted, I was brilliant. I wanted to escape. I wanted to shine. I wanted glory.
“Do not misunderstand me,” he said, and pain crossed the face so that he looked ancient again. “I loved them, I loved my parents, I loved my brother and my sister, but I was selfish, Harry, more selfish than you, who are a remarkably selfless person, could possibly imagine.
“So that, when my mother died, and I was left the responsibility of a damaged sister and a wayward brother, I returned to my village in anger and bitterness. Trapped and wasted, I thought! And then of course, he came. . . .”
Dumbledore looked directly into Harry’s eyes again.
“Grindelwald. You cannot imagine how his ideas caught me, Harry, inflamed me. Muggles forced into subservience. We wizards triumphant. Grindelwald and I, the glorious young leaders of the revolution.
“Oh, I had a few scruples. I assuaged my conscience with empty words. It would all be for the greater good, and any harm done would be repaid a hundredfold in benefits for wizards. Did I know, in my heart of hearts, what Gellert Grindelwald was? I think I did, but I closed my eyes. If the plans we were making came to fruition, all my dreams would come true.
“And at the heart of our schemes, the Deathly Hallows! How they fascinated him, how they fascinated both of us! The unbeatable wand, the weapon that would lead us to power! The Resurrection Stone – to him, though I pretended not to know it, it meant an army of Inferi! To me, I confess, it meant the return of my parents, and the lifting of all responsibility from my shoulders.
“And the Cloak . . . somehow, we never discussed the Cloak much, Harry. Both of us could conceal ourselves well enough without the Cloak, the true magic of which, of course, is that it can be used to protect and shield others as well as its owner. I thought that, if we ever found it, it might be useful in hiding Ariana, but our interest in the Cloak was mainly that it completed the trio, for the legend said that the man who had united all three objects would then be truly master of death, which we took to mean ‘invincible.’
“Invincible masters of death, Grindelwald and Dumbledore! Two months of insanity, of cruel dreams, and neglect of the only two members of my family left to me.
“And then . . . you know what happened. Reality returned in the form of my rough, unlettered, and infinitely more admirable brother. I did not want to hear the truths he shouted at me. I did not want to hear that I could not set forth and seek Hallows with a fragile and unstable sister in tow.
“The argument became a fight. Grindelwald lost control. That which I had always sensed in him, though I pretended not to, now sprang into terrible being. And Ariana . . . after all my mother’s care and caution . . . lay dead upon the floor.”
Dumbledore gave a little gasp and began to cry in earnest. Harry reached out and was glad to find that he could touch him: He gripped his arm tightly and Dumbledore gradually regained control.
“Well, Grindelwald fled, as anyone but I could have predicted. He vanished, with his plans for seizing power, and his schemes for Muggle torture, and his dreams of the Deathly Hallows, dreams in which I had encouraged him and helped him. He ran, while I was left to bury my sister, and learn to live with my guilt and my terrible grief, the price of my shame.
“Years passed. There were rumors about him. They said he had procured a wand of immense power. I, meanwhile, was offered the post of Minister of Magic, not once, but several times. Naturally, I refused. I had learned that I was not to be trusted with power.”
“But you’d have been better, much better, than Fudge or Scimgeour!” burst out Harry.
“Would I?” asked Dumbledore heavily. “I am not so sure. I had proven, as a very young man, that power was my weakness and my temptation. It is a curious thing, Harry, but perhaps those who are best suited to power are those who have never sought it. Those who, like you, have leadership thrust upon them, and take up the mantle because they must, and find to their own surprise that they wear it well.
“I was safer at Hogwarts. I think I was a good teacher –”
“You were the best ---”
“--- you are very kind, Harry. But while I busied myself with the training of young wizards, Grindelwald was raising an army. They say he feared me, and perhaps he did, but less, I think, than I feared him.
“Oh, not death,” said Dumbledore, in answer to Harry’s questioning look. “Not what he could do to me magically. I knew that we were evenly matched, perhaps that I was a shade more skillful. It was the truth I feared. You see, I never knew which of us, in that last, horrific fight, had actually cast the curse that killed my sister. You may call me cowardly: You would be right, Harry. I dreaded beyond all things the knowledge that it had been I who brought about her death, not merely through my arrogance and stupidity, but that I actually struck the blow that snuffed out her life.
“I think he knew it, I think he knew what frightened me. I delayed meeting him until finally, it would have been too shameful to resist any longer. People were dying and he seemed unstoppable, and I had to do what I could.
“Well, you know what happened next. I won the duel. I won the wand.”
Another silence. Harry did not ask whether Dumbledore had ever found out who struck Ariana dead. He did not want to know, and even less did he want Dumbledore to have to tell him. At last he knew what Dumbledore would have seen when he looked in the mirror of Erised, and why Dumbledore had been so understanding of the fascination it had exercised over Harry.
They sat in silence for a long time, and the whipmerings of the creature behind them barely disturbed Harry anymore.
At last he said, “Grindelwald tried to stop Voldemort going after the wand. He lied, you know, pretended he had never had it.”
Dumbledore nodded, looking down at his lap, tears still glittering on the crooked nose.
“They say he showed remorse in later years, alone in his cell at Nurmengard. I hope that is true. I would like to think that he did feel the horror and shame of what he had done. Perhaps that lie to Voldemort was his attempt to make amends . . . to prevent Voldemort from taking the Hallow . . .”
“. . .or maybe from breaking into your tomb?” suggested Harry, and Dumbledore dabbed his eyes.
After another short pause Harry said, “You tried to use the Resurrection Stone.”
Dumbledore nodded.
“When I discovered it, after all those years, buried in the abandoned home of the Gaunts --- the Hallow I had craved most of all, though in my youth I had wanted it for very different reasons --- I lost my head, Harry. I quite forgot that I was not a Horcrux, that the ring was sure to carry a curse. I picked it up, and I put it on, and for a second I imagined that I was about to see Ariana, and my mother, and my father, and to tell them how very, very sorry, I was. . . .
“I was such a fool, Harry. After all those years I had learned nothing. I was unworthy to unite the Deathly Hallows, I had proved it time and again, and here was final proof.”
“Why?” said Harry. “It was natural! You wanted to see them again. What’s wrong with that?”
“Maybe a man in a million could unite the Hallows, Harry. I was fit only to possess the meanest of them, the least extraordinary. I was fit to own the Elder Wand,
and not boast of it, and not to kill with it. I was permitted to tame and use it, because I took it, not for gain, but to save others from it.
“But the Cloak, I took out of vain curiousity, and so it could never have worked for me as it works for you, its true owners. The stone I would have used in an attempt to drag back those who are at peace, rather than enable my self-sacrafice, as you did. You are the worthy possessor of the Hallows.”
Dumbledore patted Harry’s hand, and Harry looked up at the old man and smiled; he could not help himself. How coul dhe remain angry with Dumbledore now?
“Why did you have to make it so difficult?”
Dumbledore’s smile was tremulous.
“I am afraid I counted on Miss Granger to slow you up, Harry. I was afraid that your hot head might dominate your good heart. I was scared that, if presented outright with the facts about those tempting objects, you might seize the Hallows as I did, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. If you laid hands on them, I wanted you to possess them safely. You are the true master of death, because the true master does not seek to run away from Death. He accepts that he must die, and understands that there are far, far worse things in the living world than dying.”
“And Voldemort never knew about the Hallows?”
“I do not think so, because he did not recognize the Resurrection Stone he turned into a Horcrux. But even if he had known about them, Harry. I doubt that he woul dhave been interested in any except the first. He would not think that he needed the Cloak, and as for the stone, whom would he want to bring back from the dead? He fears the dead. He does not love.”
“But you expected him to go after the wand?”
“I have been sure that he would try, ever since your wand beat Voldemort’s in the graveyard of Little Hangleton. At first, he was afraid that you had conquered him by superior skill. Once he had kidnapped Ollivander, however, he discovered the existence of the twin cores. He thought that explained everything. Yet the borrowed wand did no better against yours! So Voldemort, instead of asking himself what quality it was in you that had made your wand so strong, what gift you possessed that he did not, naturally set out to find the one wand that, they said, would beat any other. For him, the Elder Wand has become an obsession to rival his obsession with you. He believes that the Elder Wand removes his last weakness and makes him truly invincible. Poor Severus . . .”
“If you planned your death with Snape, you meant him to end up with the Elder Wand, didn’t you?”
“I admit that was my intention,” said Dumbledore, “but it did not work as I intended, did it?”
“No,” said Harry. “That bit didn’t work out.”
The creature behind them jerked and moaned, and Harry and Dumbledore sate without talking for the longest time yet. The realization of what would happen next settled gradually over Harry in the long minutes, like softly falling snow.
“I’ve got to go back, haven’t I?”
“That is up to you.”
“I’ve got a choice?”
“Oh yes,” Dumbledore smiled at him. “We are in King’s Cross you say? I think that if you decided not to go back, you would be able to . . . let’s say . . . board a train.”
“And where would it take me?”
“On,” said Dumbledore simply.
Silence again.
“Voldemort’s got the Elder Wand.”
“True. Voldemort has the Elder Wand.”
“But you want me to go back?”
“I think,” said Dumbledore, “that if you choose to return, there is a chance that he may be finished for good. I cannot promise it. But I know this, Harry, that you have less to fear from returning here than he does.”
Harry glanced again at the raw looking thing that trembled and choked in the shadow beneath the distant chair.
“Do not pity the dead, Harry. Pity the living, and above all, those who live without love. By returning, you may ensure that fewer souls are maimed, fewer families are torn apart. If that seems to you a worthy goal, they we saw good-bye for the present.”
Harry nodded and sighed. Leaving this place would not be nearly as hard as walking into the forest had been, but it was warm and light and peaceful here, and he knew that he was heading back to pain and the fear of more loss. He stood up, and Dumbledore did the same, and they looked for a long moment into each other’s faces.
“Tell me one last thing,” said Harry, “Is this real? Or has this been happening inside my head?”
Dumbledore beamed at him, and his voice sounded loud and strong in Harry’s ears even though the bright mist was descending again, obscuring his figure.
“Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean it is not real?”
Chapter Thirty-Six
The Flaw in the Plan
He was flying facedown on the grond again. The smell of the forest filled his nostrils. He could feel
the cold hard ground beneath his cheek, and the hinge of his glasses which have been knocked sideways
by the fall cutting into his temple. Every inch of him ached, and the place where Killing Curse had hit him
felt like the bruise of an iron-clad punch. He did not stir, but he remained exactly where he had fallen, with
his left arm bent out at an akward angle and his mouth gaping.
He had expected to hear cheer of triumph and jubilation at his death, but instead hurried footsteps,
whispers, and solicitous murmurs filled the air.
"My Lord... my Lord..."
It was Bellatrix's voice, and she spoke as if to a lover. Harry did not dare open his eyes, but allowed
his other senses to explore his predicament. He knew that his wand was still stowed beneath his robes because
he could feel it pressed between his chest and the ground. A slight cushioning effect in the area of his stomach
told him that the Invisibility Cloak was also there, stuffed out of sight.
"My Lord..."
"That will do," said Voldemort's voice.
More footsteps. Several people were backing away from the same spot. Desperate to see what was
happening and why, Harry opened his eyes by a milimeter.
Voldemort seemed to be getting to his feet. Various Death Eaters were hurrying away from him,
returning to the crowd lining the clearing. Bellatrix alone remained behind, kneeling beside Voldemort.
Harry closed his eyes again and considered what he had seen. The Death Eaters have been buddled
around Voldemort, who seem to have fallen to the ground. Something had happened when he had hit Harry with
the Killing Curse. Had Voldemort too collapsed? It seemed like it. And both of them had briefly fallen unconcious
and both of them had now returned. . .
"My Lord, let me --"
"I do not require assitance," said Voldemort coldly, and though he could not see it, Harry pictured
Bellatrix withdrawing a helpful hand. "The boy . . . Is he dead?"
There was a complete silence in the clearing. Nobody approached Harry, but he felt their concentraded
gaze; it seemed to press him harder into the ground, and he was terrified a finger or an eyelid might twitch.
"You," said Voldemort, and there was a bang and a small shrick of pain. "Examine him. Tell me whether he is dead."
Harry did not know who had been sent to verify. He could only lie there, with his heart thumping traitorously, and wait to be
examined, but at the same time nothing, small comfort through it was, that Voldemort was wary of approaching him, that Voldemort
suspected that all had not gone to plan . . . .
Hands, softer than he had been expecting, touched Harry's face, and felt his heart. He could hear the woman's fast breathing,
her pounding of life against his ribs.
"Is Draco alive? Is he in the castle?"
The whisper was barely audible, her lips were an inch from his car, her head bent so low that her long hair shielded his face
from the onlookers.
"Yes," he breathed back.
He felt the hand on his chest contract: her nails pierced him. Then it was withdrawn. She had sat up.
"He is dead!" Narcissa Malfoy called to the watchers.
And now they shouted, now they yelled in triumph and stamped their feet, and through his eyelids, Harry saw bursts of red
and silver light shoot into the air in celebration.
Still feigning death on the ground, he understood. Narcissa knew that the only way she would be permitted to enter Hogwarts,
and find her son, was as part of the conquering army. She no longer cared whether Voldemort won.
"You see?" screeched Voldemort over the tumult. "Harry Potter is dead by my hand, and no man alive can threaten me now!
Watch! Crucio!"
Harry had been expecting it, knew his body would not be allowed to remain unsullied upon the forest floor; it must be subjected
to humiliation to prove Voldemort's victory. He was lifted into the air, and it took all his determination to remain limp, yet the pain he
expected did not come. He was thrown once, twice, three times into the air. His glasses flew off and he felt his wand slide a little beneath
his robes, but he kept himself floppy and lifeless, and when he fell no ground for the last time, the clearing echoed with jeers and shrieks
of laughter.
"Now," said Voldemort, "we go to the castle, and show them what has become of their hero. Who shall drag the body? No - Wait - "
There was a fresh outbreak of laughter, and after a few moments Harry felt the ground trembling beneath him.
"You carry him," Voldemort said. "He will be nice and visible in your arms, will he not? Pick up your little friend, Hagrid. And the
glasses - put on the glasses - he must be recognizable - "
Someone slammed Harry's glasses back onto his face with deliberate force, but the enormous hands that lifted him into the air
were exceedingly gentle. Harry could feel Hagrid's arms trembling with the force of his heaving sobs; great tears splashed down upon him
as Hagrid cradled Harry in his arms, and Harry did not dare, by movement or word, to intimate to Hagrid that all was not, yet, lost.
"Move," said Voldemort, and Hagrid stumbled forward, forcing his way through the close-growing trees, back through the forest.
Branches caught at Harry's hair and robes, but he lay quiescent, his mouth lolling open, his eyes shut, and in the darkness, while the
Death Eaters croed all around them, and while Hagrid sobbed blindly, nobody looked to see whether a pulse beat in the exposed neck of
Harry Potter. . . .
The two giants crashed along behind the Death Eaters; Harry could hear trees creaking and falling as they passed; they made so
much din that birds toes shrieking into the sky, and even the jeers of the Death Eaters were drowned. The victorious procession marched
on toward the open ground, and after a while Harry could tell, by the lightening of the darkness through his closed eyelids, that the trees
were beginning to thin.
Hagrid's unexpected bellow nearly forced Harry's eyes open. "Happy now, are yeh, that yeh didn't fight, yeh cowardly bunch o' nags?
Are yeh happy Harry Potter's - d-dead . . . ?"
Hagrid could not continue, but broke down in fresh tears. Harry wondered how many centaurs were watching their procession pass;
he dared not open his eyes to look. Some of the Death Eaters called insults at the centaurs as they left them behind. A little later, Harry
sensed, by a freshening of the air, that they had reached the edge of the forest.
Harry thought that Hagrid must have been forced to obey Voldemort's command, because he lurched a little. And now a chill settled
over them where they sood, and Harry heard the rasping breath of the dementors that patrolled the other trees. They would not affect him now.
The fact of his own survival burned inside him, a talisman against them, as though his father's stag kept guardian in his heart.
Someone passed close by Harry, and he knew that it was Voldemort himself because he spoke a moment later, his voice magically
magnified so that it swelled through the ground, crashing upon Harry's eardrums.
"Harry Potter is dead. He was killed as he ran away, trying to save himself while you lay down your lives for him. We bring you his
body as proof that your hero is gone.
"The battle is won. You have lost half of your fighters. My Death Eaters outnumber you, and the Boy Who Lived is finished. There must
be no more war. Anyone who continues to resist, man, woman or child, will be slaughtered, as will every member of their family. Come out of the
castle now, kneel before me, and you shall be spared. Your parents and children, your brothers and sisters will live and be forgiven, and you will
join me in the new world we shall build togheter."
There was silence in the grounds and from the castle. Voldemort was so close to him that Harry did not dare open his eyes again.
"Come," said Voldemort, and Harry heard him move ahead, and Hagrid was forced to follow. Now Harry opened his eyes a fraction, and saw
Voldemort striding in front them, wearing the great snake Nagini around his shoulders, now free of her enchanted cage. But Harry had no possibility
of extracting the wand concealed under his robes without being noticed by the Death Eaters, who marched on the either side of them through the
slowly lightening darkness . . . .
"Harry," sobbed Hagrid. "Oh, Harry . . . Harry . . ."
Harry shut his eyes tight again. He knew that they were approaching the castle and strained his ears to distinguish, above the gleeful voices
of the Death Eaters and their tramping footsteps, signs of life from those within.
The Death Eaters camte to a halt; Harry heard them spreading out in a line facing the opne front doors of the school. He could see, even
though his closed lids, the teddish glow that meant light streamed upon him from the entrance hall. He waited. Any moment, the people for whom
he had tried to die would see him, lying apparently dead, in Hagrid's arms.
The scream was the more terrible because he had never expected or dreamed that Professor McGonagall could make such a sound. He heard
another women laughing nearby, and knew that Bellatrix gloried in McGonagall's despair. He squinted again for a single second and saw the open
doorway filling with people, as the survivors of the battle came out onto the front steps to face their vanquishers and see the truth of Harry's death for
themselves. He saw Voldemort standing a little in front of him, stroking Nagini's head with a single white finger. He closed his eyes again.
"Harry! HARRY!"
Ron's, Hermione's, and Ginny's voices were worse than McGonagall's; Harry wanted nothing more than to call back, yet he made himself lie
silent, and their cries acted like a trigger; the crowd of survivors took up the cause, screaming and yelling abuse at the Death Eathers, until -
"SILENCE!" cried Voldemort, and there was a bang and a flash of bright light, and silence was forced upn them all. "It is over! Set him down,
Hagrid, at my feet, where he belongs!"
Harry felt himself lowered onto the grass.
"You see? said Voldemort, and Harry felt him striding backward and forward right beside the place where he lay. "Harry Potter is dead! Do you
understand now, deluded ones? He was nothing, ever, but a boy who relied on others to sacrifice themselves for him!"
"He beat you!" yelled Ron, and the charm broke, and the defenders of Hogwarts were shouting and screaming again until a second, more
powerful bang extinguished their voices once more.
"He was killed while trying to sneak out of the castle grounds," said Voldemort, and there was a relish in his voice for the lie. "killed while trying
to save himself - "
But Voldemort broke off: Harry heard a scuffle and a shout, then another bang, a flash of light, and grunt of pain; he opened his eyes an infinitesimal
amount. Someone had broken free of the crowd and charged at Voldemort: Harry saw the figure hit the ground. Disarmed, Voldemort throwing the challenger's
wand aside and laughing.
"And who is this?" he said in his soft snake's hiss. "Who has volunteered to demonstrate what happens to those who continue to fight when the
battle is lost?"
Bellatrix gave a delighted laugh.
"It is Neville Longbottom, my Lord! The boy who has been giving the Carrows so much trouble! The son of the Aurors, remember?"
"Ah, yes, I remember," said Voldemort, looking down at Neville, who was struggling back to his feet, unarmed and unproctected, standing in the
no-man's-land between the survivors and the Death Eaters. "But you are a pureblood, aren't you, my brave boy? Voldemort asked Neville, who stood facing him,
his empty hands curled in fists.
"So what if I am?" said Neville loudly.
"You show spirit and bravery, and you come of noble stock. You will make a very valuable Death Eater. We need your kind, Neville Longbottom."
"I'll join you when hell freezes over," said Neville. "Dumbledore's Army!" he shouted, and there was an answering cheer from the crowd, whom
Voldemort's Silencing Charms seemed unable to hold.
"Very well," said Voldemort, and Harry heard more danger in the silkiness of his voice than in the most powerful curse. "If that is your choice, Longbottom,
we revert to the original plan. On your head," he said quietly, "be it."
Still watching through his lashes, Harry saw Voldemort wave his wand. Seconds later, out of one of the castle's shattered windows, something that looked like a misshapen bird flew through the half light and landed in Voldemort's hand. He shook the mildewed object by its pointed end and it dangled, emtpy and ragged: the Sorting Hat.
"There will be no more Sorting at Hogwarts School," said Voldemort. "There will be no more Houses. The emblem, sheild and colors of my noble ancestor, Salazar Slythering, will suffice everyone. Won't they, Neville Longbottom?"
He pointed his wand at Neville, who grew rigid and still, then forced the hat onto Neville's head, so thta it slipped down below his eyes. There were movements from the watching crowd in front of the castle, and as one, the Death Eaters raised their wands, holding the fighters of Hogwarts at bay.
"Neville here is now going to demonstrate what happens to anyone foolish enough to continue to oppose me," said Voldemort, and with a flick of his wand, he caused the Sorting Hat to burst into flames.
Screams split the dawn, and Neville was a flame, rooted to the spot, unable to move, and Harry could not bear it: He must act -
And then many things happened at the same moment.
They heard uproar from the distant boundary of the school as what sounded like hundreds of people came swarming over the out-of-sight walls and pelted toward the castle, uttering lowd war cries. At the same time, Grawp came lumbering around the side of the castel and yelled, "HAGGER!" His cry was answered by roars from Voldemort's giants: They ran at Grawp like bull elephants making the earth quake. Then came hooves and the twangs of bows, and arrows were suddenly falling amongst the Death Eaters, who broke ranks, shouting their surprise. Harry pulled the Invisibilty Cloak from inside his robes, swunt it over himself, and sprang to his feet, as Neville moved too.
In one swift, fluid motin, Neville broke free of the Body-Bind Curse upon him; the flaming har fell off him and he drew from its depths something silver, with a glittering, rubied handle -
The slash of the silver blade could not be heard over the roar of the oncoming crowd or the sounds of the clashing giants or of te stampending centaurs, and yet, it seemd to draw every eye. With a single stroke Neville sliced off the great snake's head, which spun high into the air, gleaming in the light flooding from the entrance hall, and
Voldemort's mouth was open in a scream of fury that nobody could hear, and the snake's body thudded to the ground at his feet-
Hidden beneath the Invisibilty Cloak, Harry cast a Shield Charm between Neville and Voldemort before the latter could raise his stamps of the battling giants, Hagrid's yell came loudets of all.
"HARRY!" Hagrid shouted. "HARRY - WHERE'S HARRY?"
Chaos reigned. The charging centaurs were scattering the Death Eaters, everyone was feeling the giants' stamping feet, and nearer and nearar thundered the reinforcements that had come from who knew where; Harry saw great winget creatues soaring the heads of Voldemort's giants, thestrals and Buckbeak the hippogriff scratching at their eyes while Grawp punched and pummeled them and now the wizards, defenders of Hogwarts and Death Eaters alike were being forced back into the castle. Harry was shooting jinxes and curses at any Death Eater he could see, and they crumpled, not knowing what or who had hit them, and their bodies were trampled by the retreating crowd. Still hidden beneath the Invisibility Cloak, Harry was buffered into the entrance hall: He was searching for Voldemort and saw him across the room, firing spells from his wand as he backed into the Great Hall, still screaming instructions to his followers as he sent curses flying left and right; Harry cast more Shield Charms, and Voldemort's would-be victims. Seamus Finnigan and Hannah Abbott, datted past him into the Great Hall, where they joined the fight already flourishing inside it.
And now there were more, even more people storming up the front steps, and Harry saw Charlie Weasly overtaking Horace Slughorn, who was still wearing his emeral pijamas. They seemed to have returned at the head of what looked like the families and friends of every Hogwarts student who had remained to fight along with the shopkeeps and homeowners of Hogsmeade. The centaurs Bane, Ronan and Magorian burst into the hall with a great clatter of hooves, as behind Harry the door that led to the kitchens was blasted off its hinges.
The house-elves of Hogwarts swarmed intot he entrance hall, screaming and waving carving knives and cleaver, and at their head, the locker of Regulus Black bouncing on his chest, was Kreacher, his bullfrog's voice audible even above this din: "Fight! Fight! Fight for my Master, defender of house-elves! Fight the Dark Lord, in the name of brave Regulus! Fight!"
They were hacking and stabbing at the ankles and shim of Death Eaters their tiny faces alive with malice, and everywhere Harry looked Death Eaters were folding under sheer weight of numbers, overcome by spells, dragging arrows from wounds, stabbed in the leg by elves, or else simply attempting to escape, but swallowed by the oncoming horde.
But it was not over yet: Harry sped between duelers, past atruggling prosoners, and into he Great Hall.
Voldemort was in the center of the battle, and he was striking and smiting al within reach. Harry could not get a clear shot, but fought his way nearer, still invisible, and the Great Hall became more and more crowded as everyone who could walk forced their way inside.
Harry saw Yaxley slammed tot he floor by George and Lee Jordan, saw Dolohov fall with a scream at Flitwick's hands, saw Walden Macnair thrown across the room by Hagrid, hit the stone wall opposite, and slide unconscious to the ground. He saw Ron and
Neville bringing down Fenrir Greyback. Aberforth Stunning Rookwood, Arthur and Percy flooting Thicknesse, and Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy running through the crowd, not even attempting to fight, screaming for their son.
Voldemort was now dueling McGonagall, Slughorn, Kingsley all at once, and there was a cold hatred in his face as they wove and ducked around him, unable to finish him -
Bellatrix was still fighing too, fifty yards away from Voldemort, and like her master she dueled three at once: Hermione, Ginny and Luna, all battling their hardest, but Bellatrix was equal to them, and Harry's attention was diverted as a Killing Curse shot so close to Ginny that she missed death by an inch -
He changed course, running at Bellatrix rather than Voldemort, but before he had gone a few steps he was knocked sideways.
Mrs. Weasley threw off her cloak as she ran, freeing her arms, Bellatrix spun on the spot, roaring with laughter at the sight of the new challenger.
"OUT OF MY WAY!" shouted Mrs. Weasley to the three girls, and with a simple swipe of her wand she began to duel. Harry watched with terror and elation as Molly Weasley's wand slashed and twisted, and Bellatrix Lestrange's smile faltered and became a snarl. Jets of light flew from both wands, the floor around the withces' feet became bot and cracked; both woman were fighting to kill.
"No!" Mrs. Weasley cried as a few students ran forward, trying to come to her aid. "Get back! Get back! She is mine!"
Hundreds of people now lined the walls, watching the two fights, Voldemort and his three opponents, Bellatrix and Molly, and Harry stood, invisible, torn between both, wanting to attack and yet to protect, unable to be sure that he would not hit the innocent.
"What will happen to your children when I've killed you?" taunted Bellatrix, as mad as her master, capering as Molly's curses danced around her. "When Mummy's gone the same way as Freddie?"
"You - will - never - touch - our - children - again!" screamed Mrs. Weasley.
Bellatrix laughed the same exhilarated laugh her cousin Sirius had given as he toppled backward through the veil, and suddenly Harry knew what was going to happen before it did.
Molly's curse soared beneath Bellatrix's constreched arm and hit her squarely in the chest, directly over her heart.
Bellatrix's glounting smile froze, her eyes seemd to bulge: For the tiniest space of time she knew what had happened, and then she toppled, and the watching crowd roared, and Voldemord screamed.
Harry felt as though he turned into slow motin: he saw McGonagall, Kingsley and Slughorn blasted backward, flailing and writhing through the air, as Voldemort's fury at the fall of his last, best leutenant exploded with the force of a bomb, Voldemort raised his wand and directed it at Molly Weasley.
"Protego!" roared Harry, and the Shield Charm expanded in the middle of the Hall, and Voldemort stared around for the source as Harry pulled off the Invisibility Cloak at last.
The yell of shock, the cheers, the screams on every side of :"Harry!" "HE'S ALIVE!" were stifled at once. The crowd was afraid, and silence fell abruptly and
completely as Voldemort and Harry looked at each other, and began, at the same moment, to circle each other.
"I don't want anyone else to help," Harry said loudly, and in the total silence his voice carried like a trumpet call. "It's got to be like this. It's got to be me."
Voldemort hissed.
"Potter doesn't mean that," he said, his red eyes wide. "This isn't how he works, is it? Who are you going to use as a shield today, Potter?"
"Nobody," said Harry simply. "There are no more Horcruxes. It's just you and me. Neither can live while the other survives, and one of us is about to leave for good. . . ."
"One of us?" jeered Voldemort, and his wholy body was taut and his red eyes stared, a snake that was about to strike. "You think it will be you, do you, the boy who has survived by accident, and because Dumbledore was pulling the strings?"
"Accident, was it, when my mother died to save me?" asked Harry. They were still moving sideways, both of them, in that perfect circle, maintaining the same distance from each other, and for Harry no face existed but Voldemort's. "Accident, when I decided to fight in that graveyard? Accident, that I didn't defend myself tonight, and still survived, and returned to fight again?"
"Accidents!" screamed Voldemort, but still he did not strike, and the watching crowd was frozen as if Petrified, and of the hundreds in the Hall, nobody seemed to breathe but they two. "Accident and chance and the fact that you crouched and sniveled behind the skirts of greater men and women, and permitted me to kill them for you!"
"You won't be killing anyone else tonight," said Harry as they circled, and stared into each other's eyes, green into red. "You won't be able to kill any of them ever again. Don't you get it? I was ready to die to stop you from hurting these people - "
"But you did not!"
" - I meant to, and that's what did it. I've done what my mother did. They're protected from you. Haven't you noticed how none of the spells you put on them are binding? You can't torture them. You can't touch them. You don't learn from your mistakes, Riddle, do you?"
"You dare -"
"Yes, I dare," said Harry. "I know things you don't know, Tom Riddle. I know lots of important things that you don't. Want to hear some, before you make another big mistake?"
Voldemort did not speak, but powled in a circle, and Harry knew that he kept him temporarily mesmerized at bay, held back by the faintest possibility that Harry might indeed know a final secret. . . .
"Is it love again?" said Voldemort, his snake's face jeering. "Dumbledore favorite solution, love, which he claimed conqered death, though love did not stop him falling from the tower and breaking like and old waxwork? Love, which did not prevent me stamping out your Modblood mother like a cockroack, Potter - and nobody seems to love you enough to run forward this time and take my curse. So what will stop you dying now when I strike?"
"Just one thing," said Harry, and still they circled each other, wrapped in each other, held apart by nothing but the last secret.
"If it is not love that will save you this time," said Voldemort, "you must believe that you have magic that i do not, or else a weapon more powerful than mine?"
"I believe both," said Harry, and he saw shock flit across the snakelike face, though it was instantly dispelled; Voldemort began to laugh, and the sound was more frightening than his screams; humorles and insane, it echoed around the silent Hall.
"You think you know more magic than I do?" he said. "Than I, than Lord Voldemort, who has performed magic that Dumbledore himself never dreamed of?"
"Oh he dreamed of it," said Harry, "but he knew more than you, knew enough not to do what you've done."
"You mean he was weak!" screamed Voldemort. "Too weak to dare, too weak to take what might have been his, what will be mine!"
"No, he was cleverer than you," said Harry, "a better wizard, a better man."
"I brought about the death of Albus Dumbledore!"
"You thought you did," said Harry, "but you were wrong."
For the frist time, the watching crowd stirred as the hundreds of people around the walls drew breath as one.
"Dumbledore is dead!" Voldemort hurled the words at Harry as in the marble tomb in the grounds of this castle, I have seen it, Potter, and he will not return!"
"Yes, Dumbledore is dead," said Harry calmly, "but you didn't have him killed. He chose his own manner of dying, chose it months before he died, arranged the whole thing with the man you thought was your servant."
"What chldish dream is this?" said Voldemort, but still he did not strike, and his red eyes did not waver from Harry's.
"Severus Snape wasn't yours," said Harry. "Snape was Dumbledore's. Dumbledore's from the moment you starting hunting down my mother. And you never realized it, because of the thing you can't understand. You never saw Snape cast a Patronus, did you, Riddle?"
Voldemort did not answer. They continued to circle each other like wolves about to tear each other apart.
"Snape's Patronus was a doe," said Harry, "the same as my mother's, because he loved her for nearly all of his life, from the time when they were children. You should have realized," he said as he saw Voldemort's nostrils flare, "he asked you to spare her life, didn't he?" "He desired her, that was all," sneered Voldemort, "but when she had gone, he agreed that there were other women, and of purer blood, worhier of him - "
"Of course he told you that," said Harry, "but he was Dumbledore's spy from the moment you threatened her, and he's been working against you ever since! Dumbledore was already dying when Snape finished him!"
"It matters not!" shrieked Voldemort, who had followed every word with rapt attention, but now let out a cackle of mad laughter. "It matters not whether Snape was mine or Dumbledore's, or what petty obstacles they tried to put in my path! I crushed them as I crushed your mother, Snape's supposed great love! Oh, but it all makes sense, Potter, and in ways that you do not understand!
"Dumbledore was trying to keep the Elder Wand from me! He intended that Snape should be the true master of the wand! But I got there ahead of you, little boy - I reached the wand before you could get your hands on it, I understood the truth before you caught up. I killed Severus Snape three hours ago, and the Elder Wand, the Deathstick, the Wand of Destiny is truly mine! Dumbledore's last plan went wrong, Harry Potter!"
"Yeah, it did." said Harry. "You're right. But before you try to kill me, I'd advise you think what you've done . . . . Think, and try for some remorse, Riddle. . . ."
"What is this?"
Of all the things that Harry had said to him, beyond any revelation or taunt, nothing had socked Voldemort like this. Harry saw is pupils contract to thin slits, saw the skin around his eyes whiten.
"It's your one last chance," said Harry, "it's all you've got left. . . . I've seen what you'll be otherwise. . . . Be a man. . . try. . . Try for some remorse. . . ."
“You dare --- ?” said Voldemort again.
“Yes, I dare,” said Harry, “because Dumbledore’s last plan hasn’t backfired on me at all. It’s backfired on you, Riddle.”
Voldemort’s hand was trembling on the Elder Wand, and Harry gripped Draco’s very tightly. The moment, he knew, was seconds away.
“That wand still isn’t working properly for you because you murdered the wrong person. Severus Snape was never the true master of the Elder Wand. He never defeated Dumbledore.”
“He killed --- ”
“Aren’t you listening? Snape never beat Dumbledore! Dumbledore’s death was planned between them! Dumbledore instended to die, undefeated, the wand’s last true master! If all had gone as planned, the wand’s power would have died with him, because it had never been won from him!”
“But then, Potter, Dumbledore as good as gave me the wand!” Voldemort’s voice shook with malicious pleasure. “I stole the wand from its last master’s tomb! I removed it against the last master’s wishes! Its power is mine!”
“You still don’t get it, Riddle, do you? Possessing the wand isn’t enough! Holding it, using it, doesn’t make it really yours. Didn’t you listen to Ollivander? The wand chooses the wizard . . . The Elder Wand recognized a new master before Dumbledore died, someone who never even laid a hand on it. The new master removed the wand from Dumbledore against his will, never realizing exactly what he had done, or that the world’s most dangerous wand had given him its allegiance . . .”
Voldemort’s chest rose and fell rapidly, and Harry could feel the curse coming, feel it building inside the wand pointed at his face.
“The true master of the Elder Wand was Draco Malfoy.”
Blank shock showed in Voldemort’s face for a moment, but then it was gone.
“But what does it matter?” he said softly. “Even if you are right, Potter, it makes no difference to you and me. You no longer have the phoenix wand: We duel on skill alone . . . and after I have killed you, I can attend to Draco Malfoy . . .”
“But you’re too late,” said Harry. “You’ve missed your chance. I got there first. I overpowered Draco weeks ago. I took his wand from him.”
Harry twitched the hawthorn wand, and he felt the eyes of everyone in the Hall upon it.
“So it all comes down to this, doesn’t it?” whispered Harry. “Does the wand in your hand know its last master was Disarmed? Because if it does . . . I am the true master of the Elder Wand.”
A red-glow burst suddenly across the enchanted sky above them as an edge of dazzling sun appeared over the sill of the nearest window. The light hit both of their faces
at the same time, so that Voldemort’s was suddenly a flaming blur. Harry heard the high voice shriek as he too yelled his best hope to the heavens, pointing Draco’s wand:
“Avada Kedavra!”
The bang was like a cannon blast, and the golden flames that erupted between them, at the dead center of the circle they had been treading, marked the point where the spells collided. Harry saw Voldemort’s green jet meet his own spell, saw the Elder Wand fly high, dark against the sunrise, spinning across the enchanted ceiling like the head of Nagini, spinning through the air toward the master it would not kill, who had come to take full possession of it at last. And Harry, with the unerring skill of the Seeker, caught the wand in his free hand as Voldemort fell backward, arms splayed, the slit pupils of the scarlet eyes rolling upward. Tom Riddle hit the floor with a mundane finality, his body feeble and shrunken, the white hands empty, the snakelike face vacant and unknowing. Voldemort was dead, killed by his own rebounding curse, and Harry stood with two wands in his hand, staring down at his enemy’s shell.
One shivering second of silence, the shock of the moment suspended: and then the tumult broke around Harry as the screams and the cheers and the roars of the watchers rent the air. The fierce new sun dazzled the windows as they thundered toward him, and the first to reach him were Ron and Hermione, and it was their arms that were wrapped around him, their incomprehensible shouts that deafened him. The Ginny, Neville, and Luna were there, and then all the Weasleys and Hagrid, and Kingsley and McGonagall and Flitwick and Sprout, and Harry could not hear a word that anyone was shouting, not tell whose hands were seizing him, pulling him, trying to hug some part of him, hundreds of them pressing in, all of them determined to touch the Boy Who Lived, the reason it was over at last ---
The sun rose steadily over Hogwarts, and the Great Hall blazed with life and light. Harry was an indispensible part of the mingled outpourings of jubilation and mourning, of grief and celebration. They wanted him there with them, their leader and symbol, their savior and their guide, and that he had not slept, that he craved the company of only a few of them, seemed to occur to no one. He must speak to the bereaved, clasp their hands, witness their tears, receive their thanks, hear the news now creeping in from every quarter as the morning drew on; that the Imperiused up and down the country had come back to themselves, that Death Eaters were fleeing or else being captured, that the innocent of Azkaban were being released at that very moment, and that Kingsley Shacklebolt had been named temporary Minister of Magic.
They moved Voldemort’s body and laid it in a chamber off the Hall, away form the bodies of Fred, Tonks, Lupin, Colin Creevey, and fifty others who had died fighting him. McGonagall had replaced the House tables, not nobody was sitting according to House anymore: All were jumbled together, teachers and pupils, ghosts and parents, centaurs and house-elves, and Firenze lay recovering in the corner, and Grawp peered in through a smashed window, and people were throwing food into his laughing mouth. After a while, exhausted and drained, Harry found himself sitting on a bench beside Luna.
“I’d want some peace and quiet, if it were me,” she said.
“I’d love some,” he replied.
“I’ll distract them all,” she said. “Use your cloak.”
And before he could say a word, she had cried, “Oooh, look, a Blibbering
Humdinger!” and pointed out the window. Everyone who heard looked around, and Harry slid the Cloak up over himself, and got to his feet.
Now he could move through the Hall without interference. He spotted Ginny two tables away; she was sitting with her head on her mother’s shoulder: There would be time to talk later, hours and days and maybe years in which to talk. He saw Neville, the sword of Gryffindor lying beside his plate as he ate, surrounded by a knot of fervent admirers. Along the aisle between the tables he walked, and he spotted the three Malfoys, huddled together as though unsure whether or not they were supposed to be there, but nobody was paying them any attention. Everywhere he looked, he saw families reunited, and finally, he saw the two whose company he craved most.
“It’s me,” he muttered, crouching down between them. “Will you come with me?”
They stood up at once, and together he, Ron and Hermione left the Great Hall. Great chunks were missing from the marble staircase, part of the balustrade gone, and rubble and bloodstains occurred ever few steps as their climbed.
Somewhere in the distance they could hear Peeves zooming through the corridors singing a victory song of his own composition:
We did it, we bashed them, wee Potter’s the one,
And Voldy’s gone moldy, so now let’s have fun!
“Really gives a feeling for the scope and tragedy of the thing, doesn’t it?” said Ron, pushing open a door to let Harry and Hermione through.
Happiness would come, Harry though, but at the moment it was muffled by exhaustion, and the pain of losing Fred and Lupin and Tonks pierced him like a physical wound every few steps. Most of all he felt the most stupendous relief, and a longing to sleep. But first he owed an explanation to Ron and Hermione, who had stuck with him for so long, and who deserved the truth. Painstakingly he recounted what he had seem in the Pensieve and what had happened in the forest, and they had not even begun to express all their shock and amazement, when at last they arrived at the place to which they had been walking, though none of them had mentioned their destination.
Since he had last seen it, the gargoyle guarding the entrance to the headmaster’s study had been knocked aside; it stood lopsided, looking a little punch-drunk, and Harry wondered whether it would be able to distinguish passwords anymore.
“Can we go up?” he asked the gargoyle.
“Feel free,” groaned the statue.
They clambered over him and onto the spiral stone staircase that moved slowly upward like an escalator. Harry pushed open the door at the top.
He had one, brief glimpse of the stone Pensieve on the desk where he had left it, and then an earsplitting noise made him cry out, thinking of curses and returning Death Eaters and the rebirth of Voldemort ---
But it was applause. All around the walls, the headmasters and headmistresses of Hogwarts were giving him a standing ovation; they waved their hats and in some cases their wigs, they reached through their frames to grip each other’s hands; they danced up and down on their chairs in which they have been painted: Dilys Derwent sobbed unashamedly; Dexter Fortescue was waving his ear-trumpet; and Phineas Niggelus called,
in his high, reedy voice, “And let it be noted that Slytherin House played its part! Let our contribution not be forgotten!”
But Harry had eyes only for the man who stood in the largest portrait directly behind the headmaster’s chair. Tears were sliding down from behind the half-moon spectacles into the long silver beard, and the pride and the gratitude emanating from him filled Harry wit h the same balm as phoenix song.
At last, Harry held up his hands, and the portraits fell respectfully silent, beaming and mopping their eyes and waiting eagerly for him to speak. He directed his words at Dumbledore, however, and chose them with enormous care. Exhausted and bleary-eyed though he was, he must make one last effort, seeking one last piece of advice.
“The thing that was hidden in the Snitch,” he began, “I dropped it in the forest. I don’t exactly here, but I’m not going to go looking for it again. Do you agree?”
“My dear boy, I do,” said Dumbledore, while his fellow pictures looked confused and curious. “A wise and courageous decision, but no less than I would have expected of you. Does anyone know else know where it fell?”
“No one,” said Harry, and Dumbledore nodded his satisfaction.
“I’m going to keep Ignotus’s present, though,” said Harry, and Dumbledore beamed.
“But of course, Harry, it is yours forever, until you pass it on!”
“And then there’s this.”
Harry held up the Elder Wand, and Ron and Hermione looked at it with a reverence that, even in his befuddled and sleep-deprived state, Harry did not like to see.
“I don’t want it.” said Harry.
“What?” said Ron loudly. “Are you mental?”
“I know it’s powerful,” said Harry wearily. “But I was happier with mine. So . . .”
He rummaged in the pouch hung around his neck, and pulled out the two halves of holly tstill just connected by the finest threat of phoenix feather. Hermione had said that they could not be repaired, that the damage was too severe. All he knew was that if this did not work, nothing would.
He laid the broken wand upon the headmaster’s desk, touched it with the very tip of the Elder Wand, and said, “Reparo.”
As his wand resealed, red sparks flew out of its end. Harry knew that he had succeeded. He picked up the holly and phoenix wand and felt a sudden warmth in his fingers, as though wand and hand were rejoicing at their reunion.
“I’m putting the Elder Wand,” he told Dumbledore, who was watching him with enormous affection and admiration, “back where it came from. It can stay there. If I die a natural death like Ignotus, its power will be broken, won’t it? The previous master will never have been defeated. That’ll be the end of it.
Dumbledore nodded. They smiled at each other.
“Are you sure?” said Ron. There was the faintest trace of longing in his voice as he looked at the Elder Wand.
“I think Harry’s right,” said Hermione quietly.
“That wand’s more trouble than it’s worth.” said Harry. “And quite honestly,” he turned away from the painted portraits, thinking now only of the four-poster bed lying waiting for him in Gryffindor Tower, and wondering whether Kreacher might bring him a sandwich there, “I’ve had enough trouble for a lifetime.”
Nineteen Years Later
Autumn seemed to arrive suddenly that year. The morning of the first of September was crisp as an apple, and as the little family bobbed across the rumbling road toward the great sooty station, the fumes of car exhausts and the breath of pedestrians sparkled like cobwebs in the cold air. Two large cages tattled on top of the laden trolleys the parents were pushing; the owls inside them hooted indignantly, and the redheaded girl trailed fearfully behind here brothers, clutching her father's arm.
"It won't be long, and you'll be going too," Harry told her.
"Two years," sniffed Lily. "I want to go now!"
The commuters stared curiously at the owls as the family wove its way toward the barrier between platforms nine and ten, Albus's voice drifted back to Harry over the surrounding clamor; his sons had resumed the argument they had started in the car.
"I won't! I won't be a Slytherin!"
"James, give it a rest!" said Ginny.
"I only said he might be," said James, grinning at his younger brother. "There's nothing wrong with that. He might be in Slytherin"
But James caught his mother's eye and fell silent. The five Potters approached the barrier. With a slightly cocky look over his shoulder at his younger brother, James took the trolley from his mother and broke into a run. A moment later, he had vanished.
"You'll write to me, won't you?" Albus asked his parents immediately, capitalizing on the momentary absence of his brother.
"Every day, of you want us to," said Ginny.
"Not every day," said Albus quickly, "James says most people only get letters from home about once a month."
"We wrote to James three times a week last year," said Ginny.
"And you don't want to believe everything he tells you about Hogwarts," Harry put in. "He likes a laugh, your brother."
Side by side, they pushed the second trolley forward, gathering speed. As they reached the barrier, Albus winced, but no collision came. Instead, the family emerged onto platform nine and three-quarters, which was obscured by thick white steam that was pouring from the scarlet Hogwarts Express. Indistinct figures were swarming through the mist, into which James had already disappeared.
"Where are they?" asked Albus anxiously, peering at the hazy forms they passed as they made their way down the platform.
"We'll find them," said Ginny reassuringly.
But the vapor was dense, and it was difficult to make out anybody's faces. Detached from their owners, voices sounded unnaturally loud, Harry thought he head Percy discoursing loudly on broomstick regulations, and was quite glad of the excuse not to stop and say hello. . . .
"I think that's them, Al," said Ginny suddenly.
A group of four people emerged from the mist, standing alongside the very last carriage. Their faces only came into focus when Harry, Ginny, Lily, and Albus had drawn right up to them.
"Hi," said Albus, sounding immensely relieved.
Roses, who was already wearing her brand-new Hogwarts robes, beamed at him.
"Parked all right, then?" Ron asked Harry. "I did. Hermione didn't believe I could pass a Muggle driving test, did you? She thought I'd have to Confound the examiner."
"No, I didn't," said Hermione, "I had complete faith in you."
"As a matter of fact, I did Confund him," Ron whispered to Harry, as together they lifted Albus's trunk and owl onto the train. "I only forgot to look in the wing mirror, and let's face it, I can use a Supersensory Charm for that."
Back on the platform, they found Lily and Hugo, Rose's younger brother, having an animated discussion about which House they would be sorted into when they finally went to Hogwarts.
"If you're not in Gryffindor, we'll disinherit you," said Ron, "but no pressure."
Lily and Hugo laughed, but Albus and Rose looked solemn.
"He doesn't mean it," said Hermione and Ginny, but Ron was no longer paying attention. Catching Harry's eye, he nodded covertly to a point some fifty yards away. The steam had thinned for a moment, and three people stood in sharp relief against the shifting mist.
"Look who it is."
Draco Malfoy was standing there with his wife and son, a dark coat buttoned up to his throat. His hair was receding somewhat, which emphasized the pointed chin. The new boy resembled Draco as much as Albus resembled Harry. Draco caught sight of Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny staring at him, nodded curtly, and turned away again.
"So that's little Scorpius," said Ron under his breath. "Make sure you beat him in every test, Rosie. Thank God you inherited your mother's brains."
"Ron, for heaven's sake," said Hermione, half stern, half amused. "Don't try to turn them against each other before they've even started school!"
"You're right, sorry," said Ron, but unable to help himself, he added, "Don't get too friendly with him, though, Rosie. Granddad Weasley would never forgive you if you married a pureblood."
James had reappeared; he had divested himself of his trunk, owl, and trolley, and was evidently bursting with news.
"Teddy's back there," he said breathlessly, pointing back over his shoulder into the billowing clouds of steam. "Just seen him! And guess what he's doing? Snogging Victoire!"
He gazed up at the adults, evidently disappointed by the lack of reaction.
"Our Teddy! Teddy Lupin! Snogging our Victoire! Our cousin! And I asked teddy what he was doing --"
"You interrupted them?" said Ginny. "You are so like Ron --"
"-- and he said he'd come to see her off! And then he told me to go away. He's snogging her!" James added as though worried he had not made himself clear.
"Oh, it would be lovely if they got married!" whispered Lily ecstatically. "Teddy would really be part of the family then!"
"He already comes round for dinner about four times a week," said Harry "Why don't we just invite him to live with is and have done with it?"
"Yeah!" said James enthusiastically. "I don't mind sharing with Al--Teddy could have my room!"
"No," said Harry firmly, "you and Al will share a room only when I want the house demolished."
He checked the battered old watch that had once been Fabian Prewett's.
"It's nearly eleven, you'd better get on board."
"Don't forget to give Neville our love!" Ginny told James as she hugged him.
"Mum! I can't give a professor love!"
"But you know Neville--"
James rolled his eyes.
"Outside, yeah, but at school he's Professor Longbottom, isn't he? I can't walk into Herbology and give him love. . . ."
Shaking his head at his mother's foolishness, he vented his feelings by aiming a kick at Albus.
"See you later, Al. Watch out for the thestrals."
"I thought they were invisible? You said they were invisible!"
but James merely laughed, permitted his mother to kiss him, gave his father a fleeting hug, then leapt onto the rapidly filling train. They saw him wave, then sprint away up the corridor to find his friends.
"Thestrals are nothing to worry about," Harry told Albus. "They're gentle things, there's nothing scare about them. Anyway, you won't be going up to school in the carriages, you'll be going in the boats."
Ginny kissed Albus good-bye.
"See you at Christmas."
"Bye, Al," said Harry as his son hugged him. "Don't forget Hagrid's invited you to tea next Friday. Don't mess with Peeves. Don't duel anyone till you're learned how. And don't let James wind you up."
"What if I'm in Slytherin?"
The whisper was for his father alone, and Harry knew that only the moment of departure could have forced Albus to reveal how great and sincere that fear was.
Harry crouched down so that Albus's face was slightly above his own. Alone of Harry's three children, Albus had inherited Lily's eyes.
"Ablus Severus," Harry said quietly, so that nobody but Ginny could hear, and she was tactful enough to pretend to be waving to rose, who was now on the train, "you were named for two headmasters of Hogwarts. One of them was a Slytherin and he was probably the bravest man I ever knew."
"But just say--"
"--then Slytherin House will have gained an excellent student, won't it? It doesn't matter to us, Al. But if it matter to you, you'll be able to choose Gryffindor over Slytherin. The Sorting Hat takes your choice into account."
"It did for me," said Harry.
He had never told any of his children that before, and he saw the wonder in Albus's face when he said it. But how the doorsr were slamming all along the scarlet train, and the blurred outlines of parents swarming forward for final kisses, last-minute reminders, Albus jumped into the carriage and ginny closed the door behind him. Students were hanging from the windows nearest them. A great number of faces, both on the train and off, seemed to be turned toward Harry.
"Why are they all staring?" demanded Albus as he and rose craned around to look at the other students.
"Don't let it worry you," said Ron. "It's me, I'm extremely famous."
Albus, Rose, Hugo, and Lily laughed. The train began to more, and Harry walked alongside it, watching his son's thin face, already ablaze with excitement. Harry kept smiling and waving, even though it was like a little bereavement, watching his son glide away from him. . . .
The last trace of steam evaporated in the autumn air. The train rounded a corner. Harry's hand was still raised in farewell.
"He'll be alright," murmured Ginny.
As Harry looked dat her, he lowered his hand absentmindedly and touched the lightning scar on his forehead.
"I know he will."
The scar had not pained Harry for nineteen years. All was well.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn