Chapter Thirty: For the First Time
"What are you reading about?"
Harry yelped, jumped out of his seat, and hit the floor—needless to say, he was startled by Luna's sudden question. He picked himself up easily and tried to hide his scowl.
"Just…things," he said, not wanting to reveal more.
"Don't you have something better to do than watch us read?" This question came from Ron's side of the Burrow's kitchen table.
"Not really," Luna answered innocently. "Ginny's out with her mother in Diagon Alley."
"Why didn't you tag along?" Ron asked.
"That would've been a rude thing to suggest," she said simply. "And besides, I haven't gone to Diagon Alley since Daddy found out about the newt's eye spill from the apothecary. There's still radiation."
Ron threw Harry a look of blatant disbelief. "Why don't you, er…degnome the garden?" Harry tried.
"Don't be silly, Harry," Luna laughed. "The gnomes don't come out in the winter."
This time Harry looked at Ron, but the redhead shrugged. "She's got a point, you know."
Harry sighed. "Well…I suppose you could help us, Luna."
Her eyes danced excitedly. "I'd love to!" She grabbed a book from Harry's endless pile and sat down next to him.
Harry noticed Luna was reading her book, Magical Hot-Spots of the Middle East, upside down. Knowing that pointing this fact out would only elicit a beyond strange response, he kept his mouth shut.
They all spent the better part of the morning poring over the tomes, and Harry felt the old frustration from months past beginning to surface once again. Why couldn't it be easier to hunt down Voldemort's Horcruxes? It would be difficult enough finding a way to vanquish a seemingly immortal being.
Harry plowed through his current reading material, Greece and Its Treasures, his eyes beginning to swim over the text. He blinked a few times and took a sip of hot cocoa before looking again.
Upon turning the page, he found by chance a section titled "Albania: Greece's Neighbor to the North." He had half a mind to skip over it, as no one but Ron—save Luna—took any stock in it.
But then, he remembered.
Albania seemed an absurd location for a Horcrux, but something had been nagging at his memory whenever the country was brought up in conversation. And now, everything suddenly clicked into place.
Harry recalled the end of his second year at Hogwarts, a memory pushed into the recesses of his mind by a constant flow of Horcrux information and battle training. After Harry had saved Ginny from the Basilisk in the Chamber of Secrets, he and Ron had visited the Headmaster in his office…
"What interests me most," Dumbledore had said, "is how Lord Voldemort managed to enchant Ginny, when my sources tell me he is currently hiding in the forests of Albania."
Harry dived into the Albania text with a new-found passion, simply knowing he would find some sort of lead within it.
And he did.
"Mount Korab," Luna was explaining to Harry and Ron, "is the world's deathliest host of evil magical creatures and beings."
She pinpointed Mount Korab's location on the map of Albania with her wand tip.
"How do you know that?" Ron asked, perplexed.
"I read," said Luna bluntly. "Doesn't everyone?" Harry mentally noted that she was sounding more like Hermione, who was due back from her parents' that afternoon, by the minute.
"Besides," she continued, "all I'm telling you, you can find in that old Quibbler issue I sent Ronald months ago."
Harry glanced to Ron, who held up his hands as a peace-offering. "Sorry, mate. Left it at Godric's Hollow."
Luna, for the first time Harry had ever witnessed, huffed in annoyance. "Well, I suppose I'll just have to pop home and get another copy."
"But Luna," Ron protested, "you don't have an Apparition license yet."
"I live right in town," she reminded him haughtily. She rolled her eyes and shrugged on her Crumple-Horned Snorkack coat. "Honestly…"
She returned very quickly with not only the Quibbler issue, but also some other research her father had completed when writing the piece.
"You know," Luna said as they began to peruse the information, "it would help if you told me what it is you're looking for."
Harry exchanged a nervous glance with Ron. They could trust Luna, but Hermione wasn't here to give her input on whether or not Luna should be privy to the Horcrux hunt. Finally Ron whispered to Harry, "I think we could tell her, since she's Ginny's friend, and well—she knows a lot of rubbish that might prove not to be rubbish."
"I can hear you," Luna told them. "And…have you really thought all I know is rubbish?" Her eyes looked slightly mistier than usual, and Harry could tell she was hurt by his and Ron's lack of faith. It was funny how they hardly ever thought of Luna as, well, a person. To them, for the past few years she'd been merely a source of illogical, random thoughts…now Harry recognized her for what she'd been right about: Scrimgeour as a vampire, following his feet when in the dark, among other things.
"No," Harry answered her in all honesty. "You've been right about a lot of things, maybe more than you know."
"Then what's the problem with telling me about your research?"
There was none.
"All right, Luna," Ron resolved, sitting back in his chair. "Harry, let her have it; you tell the story better."
Luna did not gape in awe at Harry when he finished explaining the prophecy and Voldemort's Horcruxes, as everyone else had. She calmly took everything in, as a third party observer of an argument would.
"Well," she said, "it sounds like Albania would be a prime Horcrux hiding place. I can arrange to book us a trip there."
"Us?" Harry and Ron exclaimed in unison.
"You don't think I'm letting you go without me?" she asked rhetorically. "Oh, no. You need a guide, someone who can speak in a different language and knows enough cultural customs to practice, so you can blend in…"
"But aren't you going back to school next week?" Harry tried to remind her.
"This," she explained, "is much more important than my education at the moment. Daddy will understand, of course."
"You can't tell him all we've told you!"
"Oh, I won't. He never needs an explanation; he trusts me."
"And—hold on a second," Ron interrupted himself. "You can speak in Albanian?"
Luna laughed. "Albanian? Are you kidding? I speak Greek, and that should suffice. Daddy ensured I be taught the Classic languages, just in case."
"In case what?" Ron asked, and then thought better of it. "Never mind."
"I suppose you'll want to go soon," Luna suggested. "You haven't got much time to waste."
A sudden knock came at the kitchen door. Ron got up and peered curiously out the curtain. "It's Neville!"
He opened the door a crack and exchanged a few questions with Neville, to make sure he wasn't a Death Eater in disguise. Neville shook the snow off his cap.
"Hello—whoa, what's with all the books?"
No one bothered to answer this question. Harry asked his own. "What are you doing here, Neville?"
Neville thankfully didn't take Harry's words the wrong way. "Gran and I had a row."
"How did you make her mad?" Ron wanted to know.
"Oh, well…" Neville played with the fringe of his scarf, stopping in the middle of removing his damp boots. "I've told her I don't intend to go back to Hogwarts for the new term."
"That's—that's great," Harry said, believing so.
"It was hard to stand up to her," Neville confessed, draping his coat over a chair. "But I know I did the right thing. See, I want to help you lot and Hermione, with whatever you're doing." He made a move to place the papers on the chair onto the table, but stopped short as he accidentally read something curious.
"What's a…Horcrux?" he asked, studying the paper more closely.
Harry sighed, knowing keeping the truth from Neville at this point would be pointless.
"It's a long story," Harry warned Neville.
"I've got time," Neville assured him. "I'd rather not go home for a long time."
"How long?" Luna piped up. "How about a few days? You could come with us to—"
Ron shushed her with a slit motion over his throat. "Tell him, Harry," he said hopelessly. "Tell the world."
Hermione returned in two hours to find Harry, Ron, Luna, and Neville assigned to different tasks. Ginny and Mrs. Weasley had not yet come back from Diagon Alley, and everyone else was still out at work.
"Well, I'm back!" she exclaimed. Harry's eyes shifted up at her, and Ron nodded in acknowledgment, but other than that the room remained stagnant, everyone intent on their various employments.
She set her trunk down and dusted off her snow-covered shoulders. Peering over Neville's shoulder, she caught sight of a few words that made her gasp.
"Harry! Ron!" she almost shrieked. "You told everyone while I was gone?"
Ron regarded her sheepishly. "Er…just Neville and Luna, love."
Hermione furrowed her eyebrows angrily. "I'm relieved they know, of course, but—couldn't you have consulted me?"
"We had no time, and an owl would have gotten intercepted…" Harry explained lamely.
Neville finally looked up from his work. "Hi, Hermione. Nice to see you."
"Same here," she said shortly.
"Done!" Luna sang happily, putting down her quill. "Can I borrow an owl to send this to Daddy?"
Hermione grabbed the parchment from Luna's fingers. Her hand began to shake as she took the letter in. Face turning red, she looked to Ron.
"Albania, again!" Hermione exclaimed. "Ron, aren't we over that by now?"
"We were," Harry said. "But we've found a lead, on Albania's highest mountain, Korab—"
"I don't bloody care about the lead! You know there can't be anything there!" She was absolutely livid. "And now you're planning a trip there to investigate? Without me, I might add?"
Harry and Ron forced her into a chair near the fireplace. "Please calm down, Hermione," Harry pleaded. "We're sorry; it's just that I remembered near the end of second year, when Dumbledore said something about Voldemort hiding in—"
"Albania," Hermione scoffed. "Right." She sighed and swept her hair back in frustration. "How well could you possibly have thought this out? That's what I don't understand."
"Luna had loads of information about this fortress on top the mountain, guarded by evil spirits or something," Ron informed Hermione.
"And my Mum and Dad had all that research on Albania," Harry reminded her. "Remember that map of Albania I found with their things?"
"Yes…" Hermione said slowly, processing all Harry and Ron were saying. "So…why?"
"Well, why not?" Ron asked.
"Yeah, why not?" said Harry.
Hermione considered each of their enthusiastic faces as they awaited her approval with bated breath.
"I suppose," she finally conceded, "that we can go with the illogical. This once. But if anything goes amiss, I've got my full right to say I told you so."
Harry and Ron nodded. A feeling of relief washed over Harry's mind. Finally they were getting somewhere with Hermione and her stubborn tendencies.
"I do have one question," she warned them.
"Anything," Ron assured her.
"We'll obviously need an older guide, preferably someone who's been there before. Someone Remus' age, or older."
"What about him, or Moody?" Ron suggested. "They might've been there before."
"No," Hermione shot down his idea, "they're too busy with Order and Ministry Auror things."
Harry then had a beyond brilliant proposal. "Well, there's always Aberforth. He said to let him know if we ever needed something."
Hermione picked up Luna's quill and a stray piece of parchment. "Owl him."
The next day, Aberforth Dumbledore showed up at the Burrow to cart the other travelers to a Muggle airport in London. The group had decided to travel as Muggles, so as to draw less attention to themselves.
"Are we ready?" the goat-herder asked Harry.
Harry looked from Ron, to Hermione, to Neville, to Luna, and back again. "Looks like it."
Mrs. Weasley whimpered from next to Ron. "I want an owl every day…or as long as it takes for it to travel from southern Europe… On second thought, just use Fred and George's mirror to contact us." She dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief. "Oh, do be careful. I don't trust those airy-plans."
"Airplanes are perfectly safe," Hermione assured her. "Actually, they're considered the safest form of Muggle transportation. I've ridden them loads of times with Mum and Dad."
"If you say so…" Mrs. Weasley still seemed unsure. Everyone, including Tonks, Remus, Bill, and Fleur, who were visiting, then said their good-byes all around.
Ginny came into the room, looking much less upset than Harry would've thought.
"Well," Harry said to her with regret. "I guess it's good-bye again. I'll write, I promise. And I'll try to visit you at Hogwarts when we get back from—"
"You don't have to worry about that." She wore a secretive smile on her lips.
"Why? What do you mean?"
Ginny disappeared into the next room and came back, a large Muggle duffel bag in tow.
"I'm coming with you, Harry Potter," she informed him confidently. "And I'm afraid you can't do anything to stop me."
Harry gaped at her a full minute before he could say anything. How could she have gotten her mother's permission? What about school?
Looking into her eyes, he saw something there that made the logical half of his brain stop asking questions. Ginny would put up a fight if he tried to persuade her to stay behind. She had allowed it before, and she had in turn learned it was a mistake. She didn't want to be apart from him, and he wondered at his own ability to be separated from her in the long months ahead…
And then Harry knew.
"I love you," he said to Ginny, for the first time.
She enveloped him in a warm hug and whispered in his ear. "So you've finally figured it out?" It was more a jest than a question.
Harry laughed. "I have."