Chapter 4: Deadly Items
Lunch was … interesting, Harry thought. In the Chinese sense. Sirius was winking at him as if his eyelid had been affected by a looping wingardium leviosa whenever their eyes met, and he was using so many euphemism and double-entendres, one could hardly follow his meaning without some mental gymnastics. Tonks teased the two, or tried to. After her first lewd comment Mrs Weasley shut her up with the threat of not getting to eat her cooking anymore "if she could not keep her tongue from voicing such crude remarks". Remus mumbled something about Harry's parents in between trying to get Sirius to behave. Harry didn't catch it, but since Hermione might have overheard it - she was closer to the werewolf, and smiled at his words - he could ask her later. Arthur tried to ignore the whole situation, or so Harry thought, but the Weasley kids… Mrs Weasley might have cowed them into behaving at the table, but from the looks Harry and Hermione were receiving it was clear they'd be facing an inquisition as soon as lunch was done. They had escaped a grilling before, since Mrs Weasley had had her children cleaning the house while Harry and Hermione had "stashed the very dangerous muggle weapons" … for 3 hours.
Mrs Weasley hadn't even dropped the last dishes into the sink when the four Weasleys children rose.
"Mate, let's head to my room, I've got some wicked new Quidditch book I'll have to show you!" Ron stated, clapping Harry on the shoulder. "Ginny and Hermione can do some girl talk." From the looks Ginny shot Ron, the youngest Weasley wasn't that eager to be alone with the girl who had killed over a dozen wizards.
Hermione shot the proposal down anyway. "We should head to the library. There's enough room for all of us to discuss recent events."
"Ah… I mean…" From the way Ron was floundering, Harry was pretty sure what he had wanted to talk about.
Ginny and the twins agreed though, and so the group headed to the Black library while Tonks was helping Mrs Weasley do the dishes, probably trying to get back into her good graces after her little stunt.
Once in the library, Hermione went straight to their usual the corner, with a good view of the entrance and some cover nearby. Harry sat down in his prefered seat, back to the wall, but Hermione slipped out of her robes before taking a seat on his right armrest. All the Weasleys were staring at Hermione, apparently they had never seen her in tight jeans and a sleeveless t-shirt that left part of her midriff bare.
"Robes would slow me down in case we're attacked." Hermione explained. Harry knew she had only worn the robes today so Mrs Weasley wouldn't make a bigger scene. Ron and the twins nodded, but probably hadn't understood a word.
"Is that muggle underwear?" Ginny was staring at Hermione, and sounding shocked. And intrigued.
"No. It's normal street wear." Hermione answered. Seeing the look of incomprehension on the redhead, she elaborated "Those are normal clothes muggle girls wear."
"On… on the street? Outside the bedr… house?" Ron had found his voice.
"Yes. It's quite common in the summer. Pretty modest, compared to what some wear."
While Ron and his siblings were making incoherent noises at that revelations, Hermione leaned to her left and slipped an arm around Harry's shoulders. "He should be dropping his robes as well, but I think we might be safe for now. Unless he is getting hot, of course." She smirked, and Harry frowned, moving his head away from her other hand.
When the glazed looks of the male Weasleys stopped, she grew serious. "I assume you have heard what happened at Hogwarts."
"Yes." Ron answered. "You killed Draco, Goyle and Crabbe."
"Correct. They attacked us, and I killed them on the spot. That's why we are very unlikely to return to Hogwarts for the next year - given how common hexing each other in the hallways is, and since I have to treat any wand as a deadly weapon, it would certainly lead to more dead students."
"What? You are not coming back?" Ron's voice was the loudest, but everyone but Harry and Hermione said the same thing, or something similar.
"Correct. Unless the situation with Voldemort changes dramatically, returning to Hogwarts would not be wise. Protecting Harry takes priority." Hermione's hand was still on Harry's shoulder. Not that he minded.
"Since more attempts to take revenge on behalf of the Death Eaters who were killed in the Department of Mysteries are to be expected, and with Harry and myself not present, you as well as Neville and Luna are very likely targets for such attempts." Hermione nodded at Ron and Ginny, who paled slightly.
"We'll train hard for the rest of Summer." Harry spoke up, smiling reassuringly. "Harder than we trained in the DA." That made Ron pale.
"Training will take up so much time, you will not be allowed to do any chores." Hermione added. Wide smiles answered her.
"She'll explain that to Mrs Weasley." Harry quickly stated. He wouldn't want to tell her that. It was hard enough to keep her from running everyone's life, but to actually tell her her children would not be doing the chores she had set? Clearly a mission for Spygirl!
"Correct. I do not foresee any difficulties there."
The twins were staring at each other, then at the rest. "I suddenly feel the urge to train hard. But we're needed in our shop."
"Will we train with muggle weapons too?" Ron wanted to know.
"No. It would take too much time, and wouldn't help you much. We'll all train Defense." Harry nodded - the thought of Ron, or worse, the twins, getting their hands on guns or, Merlin help them all, explosives, sent shivers down his spine.
"Where will you go, if not to Hogwarts?"
"That remains to be decided still. For the time being, we'll stay here." She was still sitting very closely to Harry. Some might even call it 'hanging all over him"'. For a brief moment Harry imagined her slipping on his lap, like in the movies he had seen at the Grangers. An amused snort next to his ear told him Hermione had caught his reaction to that thought.
She hadn't been the only one. "Are… are you two together?" Ginny asked, leaning forward. She sounded hesitant, but Harry had no idea if she was afraid of asking Hermione, or afraid of the answer.
"We are not in a relationship." Hermione answered in a clinical tone, channeling Spygirl. Only Harry heard the "yet" she added under her breath, and he had to suppress a surprised gasp. He didn't think she had missed that either.
"Oh. But you're living together?
"Correct. Such an arrangement is not uncommon in the muggle world, but usually the participants are older." Hermione's statement didn't help with the obvious confusion of their friends.
"We're very close, but nothing, ah, improper has happened." Harry explained. He almost added "yet" under his breath, but didn't.
"And you sleep in his room in those clothes?" Ron sounded incredulous.
"No. Jeans are not suitable sleepwear." Ron seemed to take that as meaning she would be wearing more, not less, judging from his expression. Then she added: "The shirt, however, could serve in that capacity."
For the rest of the talk, when they discussed spells, and the situation at Hogwarts after Harry and Hermione had left, Ron kept sneaking glances at Hermione. Harry grew so annoyed, he slid an arm around her waist and kept it there. From the way she kept her arm around his shoulders, she didn't mind. And Ron got the message.
After dinner - Hermione had donned her robes again for the meal, though she had told Harry she'd soon not bother anymore - and after a first endurance training lesson which left everyone but Harry and Hermione on the verge of collapsing, the two were finally alone again, in their room.
Hermione was sitting on her bed in her sleepwear, reading in a tome from the Black Library perched on her crossed legs. The sight of her in the top and shorts combo would leave Ron drooling and would cause Mrs Weasley to have a stroke, but Harry was used to it. Not that he didn't appreciate it anyway. Especially seeing her reading a book like that - that was just so Hermione.
"Do you think our friends will be alright? We won't be able to train with Luna and Neville as often as with the Weasleys." Harry was sitting on the chair in front of the desk in the room, but had it turned to face Hermione's bed, the book he was supposedly reading forgotten on the desk behind him.
"With a replacement wand that will be a better match for him, Neville should soon reach his real potential." Hermione answered, still staring at the book. "If he still is not allowed to get a new wand, we will have to arrange an accident to damage his current, unsuitable wand."
"That's…" Harry hesitated. He knew Ron and his other friends who had been raised in the Magical World from birth would be horrified at the thought of deliberately destroying a wand, especially a wand of a friend, but… Neville needed a wand that matched him. "... a good idea. Just make sure no one catches you. Destroying his father's wand… he'd not take that well."
"No one will know."
"If you wear your exercise clothes, they'll be too dazzled to notice anything." Harry grinned.
"Anything but my body, you mean."
"Ah, yes. What did you talk with Ginny about? She was blushing when you returned to dinner."
"Girl Talk." Hermione answered, looking up and smirking at him.
Harry waited for her to ask what he and Ron had been talking about, but she returned her attention to her book. Though she grinned as soon as he pouted. "I simply, as people might call it, staked my claim."
"Ah… to me?"
She smiled, and nodded, suddenly looking as if she were surprised by her own words.
"I, ah, told Ron about the same thing." Harry stated. He couldn't take his eyes off her as she closed the book, slid of the bed - with Spygirl's grace, but Hermione's almost shy smile, he noted - and stepped up to him. She nibbled on her lower lips, took a deep breath, then suddenly sat down in his lap. He gasped in surprise while she giggled.
During the next minute neither said a word as they stared into each other's eyes, nervous and hopeful at the same time. Then Harry bent his head, towards her, and her hands held his cheeks, pulling their lips together for a kiss that left both breathless.
"So… I guess, us?"
Harry had trouble falling asleep that night. He kept glancing over at the other bed in the room, where Hermione slept. He didn't wonder anymore if she was spygirl or Hermione - he had fallen in love with all of her.
They didn't tell anyone about their budding relationship the next day. Harry didn't think it was a good idea to provoke Mrs Weasley, who'd certainly make a ruckus after assuming the most carnal things she could think of were happening between the two of them, even though Spygirl thought she could handle her. But she agreed that the reactions of their friends and Sirius and Tonks could end up causing problems for their training, and for the training of their friends, which they might need to survive Hogwarts. So they refrained from public displays of affection. Harry didn't mind keeping their relationship - and didn't that sound far more impressive than exchanging kisses - secret. It made it more personal, more intimate, something only the two of them shared with each other. Spygirl called it "good training for undercover missions", but she had Hermione's shy smile when she said that.
In the evening the Order of the Phoenix met. Harry and Hermione got to attend. Ron had been jealous and Mrs Weasley had tried to keep them out, until Dumbledore had confirmed that their presence was needed.
"The investigation of the Department of Magical Transportation has revealed another mole, Alexander Perkins. We're still trying to find out if he has been closing floos during the Death Eater attacks in the last war, or if he joined You-Know-Who after his return." Shacklebolt, a tall black auror, was going on about the suspects that had been arrested in the last few weeks. It wasn't quite boring, but after the tenth "suspect under investigation" report Harry was starting to lose focus. Especially with Tonks no longer providing entertaining comments after Dumbledore had called her on it. Spygirl though was paying attention as if their lives depended on it. She didn't seem to mind how the Order members nervously looked at her as if she was a bomb ready to go off. Harry tried to imagine how they'd look at her if she hadn't been wearing a robe, but her infiltration suit and gear - skintight black leather, loaded with all sorts of tools and weapons. It would have been very entertaining, he was sure.
"Head Auror Scrimgeour has requested authorization to use the Unforgivables in the upcoming raids. It hasn't been granted yet, but the aurors expect it after two of them were killed responding to a Death Eater attack on a family in Essex. From the six Death Eaters, only two escaped. Morale remains high." Shacklebolt concluded.
Dumbledore nodded. "Thank you, Kingsley. Mundungus?"
The shady wizard who Sirius had finally allowed to enter again - only for this meeting, and carefully watched - spoke up. Harry thought he looked like a drunk. "Knockturn Alley is quiet. Very quiet. Most of my contacts have gone to ground, hoping to wait the conflict out without getting scooped up in an Auror raid. No one wants to risk their necks, but if this goes on for much longer, some might get a bit desperate. Especially the hags. I haven't seen any Death Eater, though among the usual crowd there's bound to be a couple."
"Thank you." Dumbledore cleared his throat. "In the Wizengamot resistance to stricter controls of Dark Magic is crumbling. I do not expect, sadly, to get near as much support for my proposal to neutralize Dementors. Those remain a possible source of support for our enemy even though the public sees them as the best way to deal with Death Eaters. Public opinion has remained unchanged, unwavering in its support for the harshest measures taken against Death Eaters." He sounded sad, but not really disapproving." Our main objective as the Order remains gathering information about Death Eaters, their identities and their objectives. We need to find Voldemort's location." Harry frowned at seeing most of the Order members shudder at the name. That didn't look too promising.
"What about your… source?" Shacklebolt asked. Harry knew who he was talking about - Snape. The man wasn't present, a fact a number of the other members had commented on. Sirius' had been the most colorful, of course.
Dumbledore spread his hands. "My source is doing what is possible, but Voldemort is crafty, and suspicious of anyone that is left. Whatever I can find out I will of course pass on to the Ministry."
"What about the children? They are not safe!" Mrs Weasley spoke up. "They have been described as the ones bringing down You-Know-Who in the Prophet so often, someone's bound to want to take revenge on them!"
"I can assure you, Molly, every precaution is taken to ensure their safety at Hogwarts. I have invited both the Longbottoms and the Lovegoods to Grimmauld Place. Xeno is leaving for an expedition to Scandinavia soon, but Luna will move to Grimmauld Place. However Augusta said she trusts the defenses on Longbottom Manor more than those of House Black." He smiled apologetically at Sirius.
"Can't say I don't understand. My family's got a dark reputation for a reason. At least the kids here will be safe."
Harry wanted to speak up, but Hermione's hand on his thigh and a slight shake of her head stopped him. The meeting concluded after it had slipped from information into gossiping, and the Order members left until only Dumbledore, Sirius and Remus remained.
"Sir?" Hermione spoke up for the first time since the meeting had started. Dumbledore sighed, and cast a spell at the door.
"We're safe from any ingenious eavesdropping now."
"Will we be meeting with Professor Snape tomorrow?"
That startled the two other wizards, but Dumbledore only smiled, though again with a sad expression. "Yes, my dear. We'll be meeting in my office in Hogwarts, during the morning." Harry would have been surprised as well, if Spygirl hadn't told him that Snape surely wouldn't be revealing sensitive information to such a large gathering.
"We'll use weapon maintenance as a cover then."
"Very well. Please make sure your friends do not know about this - lives depend on it."
"Of course, Sir."
Then Dumbledore finited his spell, and left for the floo. Harry and Hermione went to face their friends. As expected - at least by Spygirl, and obviously by Dumbledore - the Weasleys had eavesdropped using the extendable ears made by the twins, so there wasn't much to share, and Hermione deflect probing questions by removing her robe, which distracted Ron and made Ginny stare, and asking the twins about enchanting throwing knives. By the time they headed to their room, Hermione had been promised a prototype of a "Killing Knife" in a week or two. The twins had wanted to pick another name, but a glare from Spygirl had quashed that idea.
After another "snogging session", as Ron would call it - or "tonsil cleaning" according to Tonks - the two went to bed.
The meeting with Snape the next day was quite different from the Order Meeting. Snape hadn't been happy to share information with Harry and Hermione - Harry didn't want to think what he'd have done if Sirius had been present, as he had wanted, or Remus - and had started to complain about pampered children at once, but Dumbledore didn't tolerate petty grudges getting in the way of dealing with Voldemort.
"Severus, you know Harry is crucial to defeating Voldemort, and Miss Granger has proven to be one of the most deadly enemies one can imagine. Both will need to know as much as possible about our enemy."
Moody, who was attending as well, laughed. "That's right. If only all our Aurors were as deadly as the lass, we'd have this in the bag, prophecy or no prophecy." He grinned at Hermione. "I am looking forward to attend your training." Harry had to force himself not to wince at that. Mad-Eye training them would be… well, it would be painful. Like training with the Grangers, just worse.
Huffing, Snape glared, but started to share intel, as Spygirl called it. "The Dark Lord has not been meeting with me at the same location twice. With the continuing raids on anyone suspected to harbor sympathies for his cause, he cannot count on old contacts, and so I suspect he is using safe houses he set up before his first defeat. I haven't seen anyone but Pettigrew at his side at those meetings, but we know from the Death Eaters caught in attacks that he still has numerous allies. He is quite desperate for information about the prophecy, Potter, and Granger. From what I could gather, he suspects Granger is part of the Prophecy, and that this allowed her to defeat his inner circle, and Potter to drive him off. He tried to kidnap Ollivander to find out why his and Potter's wands reacted to each other, but thanks to your foresight, the wandmaker was already at a safe location. I was ordered to find out where Potter, Granger and Ollivander are."
Dumbledore nodded. "What about the Weasleys, Mister Longbottom and Miss Lovegood? Does Voldemort intend to avenge his defeat on them?"
"The thought has crossed his mind, but as far as I know he hasn't sent anyone out - he mentioned that the last Longbottom cost him four of his best, and that Lovegoods were more trouble than they were worth. The Weasleys though… the Burrow is not safe anymore."
"It would make a suitable location for an ambush then." Spygirl spoke up.
"He is aware of that, I can assure you." Snape's voice dripped with condescension.
"Can you lead us to him once you're called to the next meeting?"
"He is very cautious. I am sure I apparate straight into wards that block tracking spells whenever he calls me."
"Hm. That shouldn't block a homing device. If we can get one to work inside magical areas, we could find his location." Spygirl looked pensive. "I'll have this looked into."
Snape looked like he had just bit his tongue, the git probably wanted to call Hermione all sorts of names. Moody though, Harry saw, eagerly leaned forward. "You mean to use muggle means, lass?"
"Correct, Sir. A standard homing beacon should allow us to track Voldemort's location quickly enough to move in on him."
"A very promising idea, Miss Granger. How long would the preparations take?"
"That is hard to say. If EMP-shielded electronics work, not very long. It doesn't have to be small since Professor Snape can carry it in his pockets or under his robe. If it requires magic to shield it from magic…" She spread her hands. "I'll need to experiment, preferably in an area where a lot of spells and wards are active. Like Hogwarts."
"Very well. The school is at your disposal. As long as it is left standing at the end." Dumbledore smiled. Hermione grinned in response.
"Severus, we'll have to play for time. Feed Voldemort some information about the Order, you know what I am talking about, and try to find out more only if it doesn't cause unduly risks."
Snape nodded, and left with barely a glance at the other three people in the Headmaster's office.
Once he had left, Dumbledore sighed, and sat down, his good mood seemingly vanished. "As promising as this sounds, there is grave news I have to share. Voldemort has gone further in his quest for immortality than even I expected, and to defeat him, much more than his location is needed." The old wizard paused. "This information cannot leave this room. I know Harry has learned some occlumency, and Miss Granger's mind… has defenses of her own, but be very careful." He looked at Harry, then at Hermione, then at Moody. "Voldemort has made Horcruxes."
Moody jerked. "Horcruxes? More than one?"
"Yes, Alastor. I don't know how many, but definitely more than one. One was already destroyed by Harry in his second year at Hogwarts."
"The diary!" Harry exclaimed. "That was a Horcrux?"
"Excuse me Sir, what exactly is a Horcrux?"
Dumbledore explained how one could, using the darkest magic, split one's soul and create a soul anchor, which would keep one's soul from passing on after death, allowing a dark wizard to return to life - with dark rituals, of course. Harry was horrified, but Hermione - Spygirl - seemed unfazed, analyzing the information she had received while Dumbledore explained that he had spent a long time looking through memories collected from various people who had met Voldemort in the past, searching for hints about items Voldemort could have made into Horcruxes, and places of significance for Voldemort. "I have made some progress, and I have a few leads. Fortune smiled upon us - following the death of Bellatrix Lestrange the Ministry has searched her vault, and among the dark items that were confiscated, I could secure a Horcrux. Voldemort had turned Hufflepuff's Cup into a soul anchor, and I was forced to destroy it with fiendfyre."
"Is that the only way to destroy a Horcrux?" Hermione had a pensive expression.
"Basilisk poison works as well, as Harry demonstrated."
"A founder's relic. Did you check other such relics?"
"The Sword of Gryffindor remains safe and untouched. Ravenclaw's Diadem has been missing for centuries, but I cannot rule out that Voldemort found it. I also have a lead on a locket said to have belonged to Slytherin." Dumbledore looked weary and sad, despite the rather positive news he was sharing.
"There is more, Sir."
"You are correct." The Headmaster sighed. "Harry, I did not want to tell you this, but…" he glanced at Hermione. "... I have no doubt that hiding this from you would lead to disaster. It pains me to say it. You, Harry, are a horcrux."
"What?" Harry gaped at him. He, a Horcrux? Part of Voldemort's soul, the murderer of his parents, inside him? He felt his stomach drop. He was keeping Voldemort alive. Was he even alive, or some construct? He started to pant, tears streaming down his cheeks when he felt Hermione hug him.
"Sir, this makes no sense."
"I assure you, it does. His scar is the proof. A killing curse does not leave a scar. It hurts when Voldemort is nearby, as he found out in his first year. It forms a connection to Voldemort, as we know."
Hermione kept hugging Harry, who was mumbling under his breath. "Sir… it still does not make sense. Harry is protected by the blood of his mother, you said that yourself. How could Voldemort have turned him into a horcrux in the face of such protection? His own blood would have made this impossible."
"I do not know. Magic is unpredictable. But there is no doubt that scar contains a shard of Voldemort's soul."
"Then we cut it out."
"What?" Three voices sounded in unison.
"We remove the scar."
"It's a curse scar, lass, done by dark magic. You cannot heal that. Trust me, I know." Moody patted his leg.
"I am not talking about magical healing, but a surgical procedure."
Harry, Moody and Dumbledore were staring at her, and Hermione huffed before explaining modern surgery. Moody and Dumbledore remained sceptical, but Hermione was adamant to at least attempt to remove the scar by muggle means. She wasn't convinced - or did not want to accept - that Harry and not just his famous scar was a Horcrux. Harry, still shaken, suddenly realized what was at stake. If he was a Horcrux, then he had to die - had to be destroyed - for Voldemort to die. He didn't catch much of the meeting afterwards, the thought of his death, the necessity of it, capturing his entire attention.
When they returned to Grimmauld Place Harry was still shivering. The thought of him harboring part of Voldemort's soul… if not for his occlumency training and Hermione's support, he would have been catatonic. Even so they had to keep Sirius from rushing off to hurt Dumbledore when he saw the state Harry was in. They hid from the rest of the house until Harry - with all the help Hermione could provide - had calmed down enough to attend dinner without causing an incident.
It helped that Hermione had lost no time getting her parents to search for a skilled private surgeon and arrange an appointment. It gave Harry hope. The few days until the procedure was scheduled to take place were still the longest he had ever suffered through. Even with occlumency he could barely keep the fear that he was a horcrux from overwhelming him.
Finally the day arrived, and Harry and Hermione, using the pretext of more training with her parents, traveled with Dumbledore and Madam Pomfrey to the surgery. The two would attend the procedure, ready to counter any magical effects, together with Hermione. The surgeon would be obliviated afterwards, of course, for security reasons, but generously compensated and given memories of a simple but embarrassing procedure for a rich tourist.
The preparations didn't take long, and Harry found himself on the table, holding Hermione's hand while he went under anesthesia. Her smile was the last thing he saw before he lost consciousness.
Harry woke up, feeling better than in a long time, despite the pain in his forehead. He reached up - he had bandage around his head. Hermione was at his bedside, smiling, and holding his other hand.
"Did… did it work?" She nodded, and moved to kiss him tenderly. "Yes, it did. The scar was the Horcrux, and it has been destroyed. You'll have a bigger scar, but the surgeon was positive that further surgery would be able to reduce it. Madam Pomfrey said she will try to use magic on the wound as soon as she has recovered."
"Recovered?" He noticed that she had some bruises.
"The horcrux put up some resistance. Fortunately it lacked extensive protections like the Cup had according to the Headmaster, but they were still formidable. If not for Dumbledore we would have been hurt seriously when the Scar was pulled out of you. We've covered it up as an electrical fire so the insurance will pay for a new surgery."
"Did anyone get hurt?"
"Madam Pomfrey fixed everyone."
That meant people had gotten hurt for him. Harry closed his eyes. He should feel guilty, but he was too happy to be alive, to happy to be free of the Horcrux, of the scar that had defined him for so many, to care much. Hermione had said everyone was ok, anyway. He held her hand until he fell asleep again.