The Harry Potter universe and all the characters in it belong to J. K. Rowling. I get nothing out of this except enjoyment. At least a few of the ideas in this story are original with me. If J. K. is interested in using them she's welcome to them.
Soul Searching begins immediately following the last scene in Half Blood Prince, and continues to the end of the summer. The title has a double meaning. In addition to the Horcrux search, the characters struggle to understand their feelings for each other. Thus, this story is about relationships as much as anything else. Since the Horcrux search is by nature secretive, there will be few open battles, but there will be some fighting.
The main characters in the story will be Harry and Hermione, but theirs will not necessarily be a romantic relationship. Through five books we saw a steadily deepening friendship and trust between the two of them, which was interrupted by book six. This story will be about how they restore and strengthen that friendship. It's like the question raised by the movie 'When Harry met Sally' – how close friends can a man and a woman become without the romance thing getting in the way?
Since this story is about relationships, let me make it clear that it begins with the relationships as I saw them at the end of Half Blood Prince. Harry just broke up with Ginny, but they still like each other. Hermione was clearly interested in starting something with Ron, but nothing ever happened (that we saw anyway) so it appears that Ron is something between reluctant and completely uninterested. I know that there are many shippers out there that only want to read about certain relationships. I hope that this story will appeal to both HG and HHr shippers. I doubt that RHr shippers will like it.
Chapter 1, Leaving Hogwarts
Saturday, June 14, 1997
"Before we go any farther, I have to ask. What's going on between you two?"
Dumbledore's funeral had ended. Minister Scrimgeour had come and gone. Harry had just been told in no uncertain terms that Ron and Hermione were going to accompany him in his search for the Horcruxes, enchanted objects that held pieces of Voldemort's soul. Harry thought about this unexpected alteration of his plans. The three of them had had their differences during the past school year, and had not been as close as in previous years. Yet here they were, insisting on accompanying him on what was sure to be a dangerous journey. He considered what had divided them this year, and decided there was something he had to get straight. Hence his question.
There was silence from his two friends. Ron stared at him with a deer-in-the-headlights look, while Hermione was looking anxiously at Ron. Seeing that he wasn't going to get a response, Harry continued. "Last fall I thought you were going to start going out. I remember that I worried about what would happen if you went together for a while, then split up, and whether your friendship could survive it. Well, it ended up worse than I could have imagined. You didn't exactly ever go out, but you spent the next several months not speaking to each other, or even deliberately hurting each other." Hermione had raised her hand to her mouth, a horrified expression on her face, and Ron looked distinctly uncomfortable. "I'm not going to be the one in the middle again. If that's going to happen, I'm going by myself. I have enough to deal with without refereeing you two. You've been back to being friends for over a month, but how do I know how long it will last? If you start going together, then get into a fight and break up …"
Hermione now looked as though she were going to cry. Ron shuffled his feet a little, then looked directly at Harry. "Don't worry. We're just friends. We weren't ever going together and we aren't now. It's back to like it was before. And we haven't even been arguing as much lately, right?" he finished eagerly. Hermione, however, now had an anguished expression on her face as she looked at Ron again. Harry decided that he would need to talk to her alone later.
"OK," Harry said, "I just wanted to clear that up. I didn't mean to embarrass you, but we might be going into life or death situations, and we have to stay focused."
Suddenly Hermione threw herself at Harry, wrapping her arms around him. "Oh Harry, I'm so sorry. I acted horribly toward you this year. If I had believed you this might not have happened!"
Harry patted her on the back a bit awkwardly and replied soothingly, "That's OK Hermione. A lot of other people didn't believe me either. And that's understandable after last year when I almost got all of you killed. What's important is that we're all together now." He pulled back from her a little and looked over at Ron, motioning him into a three way hug.
"Friends again?" asked Harry, and the other two responded, "Friends again."
As they started walking back to the castle, Ron turned to Harry and asked, "What about you and Ginny?"
"We broke up."
"What!" Ron and Hermione said in unison. Hermione continued, "You were so happy together."
"Don't get me wrong," explained Harry quickly. "We still like each other a lot. I just decided that it's too dangerous for me to have a girlfriend. Voldemort could use her to get to me. If everyone thinks we're not going together anymore, then she'll be safer." Ron relaxed at this. For a minute Harry had thought that Ron was going to hit him. "You guys would be safer away from me too."
"Don't start that, Harry," interrupted Hermione. Everyone knows we've been friends for years. It wouldn't do any good for you to stay away from us and we aren't going to allow you to."
"Are you sure that it's a good idea, though?" asked Ron. "Breaking up with Ginny, I mean. I don't think she's going to be too happy about that, and she's got quite a temper you know."
"She seemed OK with it when I told her at the end of the funeral," claimed Harry. "Actually, I thought she'd argue like you two are doing, but she just accepted it. She said she knew this would happen and that I wouldn't be happy unless I was hunting Voldemort." He frowned. "I'm not sure I'd put it that way. It's not like I'm happy doing this. It's just something I have to do."
Hermione put her arm around Harry, then Ron did the same from the other side as they resumed their trek towards the castle.
Hermione stopped again. "You breaking up with Ginny won't do any good if no one knows about it." She thought a while. "Do you want to have a screaming fight in front of everyone?"
"Not really. I'd like everyone to think we're just friends."
"Why don't you deliberately avoid each other all the way home?" Ron suggested. "That would seem more like you, and when people see you're obviously apart the rumor mill will take care of the rest."
Hermione had agreed that she would tell Ginny, and Ron and Harry had made sure to avoid her as they got their trunks and owls and boarded the Hogwarts Express. They found an empty compartment and waited for Hermione. When she arrived she told them the plan was working flawlessly. Ginny was moping in a compartment with Colin, Luna and some other fifth years, and there was a steady stream of girls coming in to commiserate with her. Unfortunately that meant that soon a steady stream of girls started coming to their compartment to commiserate with a suddenly available Harry, but Hermione eventually put a stop to that by putting a complicated locking charm and an imperturbable charm on the door. The trio eventually settled down to plan their task.
"Malfoy made fools of us this year," said Harry suddenly. "He beat us at every turn."
"What do you mean?" Ron was clearly reluctant to hear anything complimentary about Malfoy.
"Look at what he accomplished," reasoned Harry. "And you know how he did it? While we were playing quidditch he was working full time at his mission. He probably trained and studied all summer, then when he came back he gave up his prefect spot and quit quidditch so he could devote all his time to it. I acted like it was a game of hide and seek, but he was playing for keeps. He didn't mess around when we dueled in Myrtle's bathroom either. He was trying to Crucio me when I knocked him out with that spell."
"We have to get serious about this. No more taking summer off. I need to train and get a lot better at dueling. Snape kicked my arse. Not continuing the DA this year was stupid." Harry paused and looked at them. "If we do this it has to be a full time commitment. We'll take a couple days off for the wedding, but that's it. And you may decide differently for yourselves, but until it's finished, I'm not going back to school. I can always go back to Hogwarts for my last year when it's over – if I'm still alive."
"Oh Harry!" was all Hermione could say. She grabbed his arm and buried her face against his shoulder. How could he talk about dying so easily?
Ron, however, stood up and moved in front of Harry. He leaned over and put his hands on both of Harry's shoulders and looked him directly in the eye. "You're going to make it through this. We are all going to make it through this." He waited until Harry nodded at him, then continued in a somewhat lighter tone, "I've waited for years for you to get together with Ginny. Two lousy weeks doesn't cut it. You're going to come back and you're going to make it work with her."
Harry couldn't believe what he was hearing. Why had he spent so much time worrying about what Ron would think of him dating Ginny?
Hermione broke in, moving back to Harry's original point. "You're absolutely right Harry. This is the most important thing in our lives right now. Even more important than NEWTs." She ignored the smirks that Harry and Ron shot at each other and continued. "After we get settled in, I'll put together a study schedule for all the things we need to learn." Harry and Ron's smirks now turned to groans, and Hermione responded with a triumphant smirk of her own.
There was a long silence as Harry stared out the window at the Scottish countryside rolling past. Somewhere out there was his enemy, killing people at will. His task seemed overwhelming. Harry sighed. "He has so many advantages over me. What power do I have that he doesn't?"
Hermione had apparently been giving this some thought. "Maybe we can turn a weakness into a strength," she suggested.
"What do you mean?"
"He despises muggles and everything associated with them. That means he's ignorant of anything muggle. Just look at cell phones. How easier and faster are they to use than owls? Most wizards" – here Hermione nodded at Ron – "can't even use a regular phone. We can use muggle technology that Voldemort doesn't even know about. Death Eaters would consider it beneath them to even think of using muggle stuff."
"OK, that's a start." Harry mused. "Here's what I'm thinking. I need to disappear. That way I can concentrate on what I need to do with no distractions. It will also make me harder to find if he catches on to what I'm doing."
"What we're doing, Harry!" Hermione insisted. Deep inside, Harry knew she was right. He would need Ron's and especially Hermione's help, but he didn't want to put her in danger.
Suddenly Hermione had an idea. "Harry, we can hide as muggles! We can find a muggle place to stay and even if he finds out, he wouldn't be able to do anything about it. There's no way he could find us. Can you see Death Eaters willing to use muggle money, or read a map, or look through property records? Even then we would use fake names, and disguise ourselves by coloring our hair and stuff."
"Yeah, I think that might work," exclaimed Harry.
"What about me?" asked Ron.
"Sorry, Ron, I don't think you can pass for a muggle," said Harry consolingly. "You can be our contact in the wizarding world, though. Stay with your parents, at least until the wedding, and try to keep up on everything that's happening in the wizarding world. We'll be cut off for a while."
"We can't use owls, either," mused Hermione. "How can we communicate?"
"I've got it! Mirrors!" shouted Harry. The other two gave him blank looks. "Last year Sirius had a pair of mirrors that he and my dad used to use to talk to each other. He gave me one and kept one." He looked down guiltily. I didn't even know what it was until after the Department of Mysteries. If I'd known I had it I wouldn't have needed to use Umbridge's floo." Hermione grabbed his arm and rubbed his shoulder sympathetically. "When I found it I smashed mine. I still have the pieces. I wonder what happened to his. Maybe it's still at Grimmauld Place. I guess we'll have to stop there and look for it."
"Wait!" Ron blurted out. "Why don't you get Kreacher to get it? If you give him a direct order, he has to do it even if he doesn't want to."
Harry called for Kreacher, and just as before he appeared with a crack. With a lot of grumbling and mumbled curses he left for Grimmauld Place. Harry dug into his trunk and retrieved the broken pieces of the mirror from the bottom. Hermione repaired it with a Reparo charm, and within a few minutes Kreacher was back with the other mirror. Unfortunately, they didn't work. Ron called Harry's name into the one that had been Sirius's and Harry called Ron's name into his. Harry even tried calling Sirius's name into his.
"I guess they only work for a specific pair of people," said Harry glumly.
"Wait, did you say your dad and Sirius made these in school?" asked Ron. "This sounds like something Fred and George would do. Maybe if we give these to them they can figure them out and make some for us."
"Great idea, Ron. In fact, that would be a good place for you to spend the summer. If you got a job with them you could keep in touch with what's going on, get good stuff for us to use, and you can get away easier if we need you to join us."
Crack! Before Harry could say any more Dobby appeared. "Kreacher has been to see Harry Potter. Harry Potter should ask for help from Dobby instead of bad elf Kreacher."
Suddenly Harry had an inspiration. "Dobby! Would you like to come and stay with me this summer and help me?"
"Help Harry Pottter?" squeaked Dobby. "Dobby would be honored to help Harry Potter. Harry Potter is a great wizard."
"Dobby can get us things we need, and he can take messages back and forth for us!" Harry exclaimed, turning to the other two. "He will be a great help." Turning to Dobby, he said. "We won't be ready for you to stay with us just yet, but we'll call you when we need you, OK?"
Dobby nodded eagerly. "Dobby will do whatever Harry Potter needs."
Turning toward the others, Harry continued, "OK, here's what we have so far. I'll go with Hermione to her house. From there, we'll set up the hideout, then move in. Hermione, your parents will be in danger. Can we get them to go into hiding?"
"I hope so. We often go on holiday in the summer. Maybe we can get them to take an extended holiday somewhere far away." Hermione considered this plan, then thought of another problem. "Harry, what about your aunt and uncle?"
"They might not even be at the station. Since we're more than two weeks early, they might not even know we're coming back If the school sent an owl, they'd probably refuse to read the message." Harry thought for a moment. "If they are there, we can give them a note telling them I'm going with Hermione and I'll come to their house at the normal time. Keep the Order members away from them and just have Hermione go up to them so they don't make a scene. She'll be dressed like a muggle by then. I'm going to put on my invisibility cloak. I'll disappear even before I get off the train." Harry snorted, "This sounds like the way I ended up the trip to Hogwarts last fall. I was in my invisibility cloak and nobody even noticed I wasn't there. Well, I'm going to be more careful this time. When everyone's off the train, I'll get off and follow you towards your parents' car, Hermione. You can figure out a way to stall a little, and tell your parents what's going on after you're away from everyone. Just don't leave until I get there."
"We need to tell someone from the Order," Ron pointed out. "They'll go nutters when you don't show up."
"Yeah, that will be a problem. We'll need to tell at least one of them what we're doing. Who can we trust?" Harry mused. "Remus I think. He's my last link to my parents. If I can't trust him …"
"Then Tonks, too," Hermione added.
"OK. She might also be able to help us improve our dueling skills. How can we get in touch with them?"
"I think they're somewhere on the train," Hermione answered.
"Dobby will get them," piped up the little elf. With that he vanished.
"When is the wedding?" Harry asked Ron.
"That's four weeks from today. Let's figure about two weeks at Hermione's house and the hideout, and two weeks at the Dursleys. That's how long I stayed there last summer, so that should be enough to renew the protection until the end of July."
There was a knock on the door and Dobby reappeared to tell them that Remus and Tonks were outside. They unsealed the door and let them in. For the next half hour they explained their plan, leaving out the details about the Horcruxes, but persuading them that Harry had a critical task to complete from Dumbledore. Remus and Tonks were initially very reluctant to agree, but eventually gave in when they received assurances that they would be kept informed of the teens' activities, and would be allowed to assist when possible.
The value of having extra help became clear immediately. Tonks reminded them that it would be difficult to hide completely because people could still send them owls. She revealed that Aurors use a little known owl diversion charm when they're working undercover. She showed the charm to Harry and Hermione, and not surprisingly Hermione picked it up immediately. They decided to put it on Harry right away, but to wait to put it on Hermione until they moved into the hideout, since she wouldn't actually be in hiding until then. Tonks then explained that it would work for unknown owls, but that Hedwig and possibly Pigwidgeon would still be able to find Harry. They also needed to decide an alternative location for owls to take messages intended for them. For Aurors this was usually the ministry, but since Harry was hiding from the ministry too, that wouldn't work for them. Finally they decided to have their owl post go to the Burrow, and Tonks modified the charm accordingly. With that detail taken care of, Remus and Tonks both gave Harry a quick hug and told him to be careful and the two adults left to begin spreading the word to the other Order members.
Harry took his invisibility cloak and put it aside, then took his photo album and Firebolt and a few other items from his trunk and gave them to Hermione. "Can you fit these in your trunk? I'm not going to be able to carry mine too easily under the invisibility cloak, and I don't need much of this stuff during the summer. None of my muggle clothes fit me anyway, so I'd just as soon get some new stuff. Can we go shopping first thing?"
Hermione nodded and started fitting in Harry's few possessions. She shrunk the Firebolt while Ron winced, and crammed it on top, just barely being able to close the trunk.
"Blimy, Hermione, be careful with that," Ron protested. What on earth do you have that takes up so much room in your trunk anyway?"
"I have a lot of books I need during the summer," Hermione retorted indignantly. Harry and Ron grinned at each other while she wasn't looking.
Harry stroked Hedwig soothingly and asked her to go to the Burrow for the summer with Ron. She appeared to look at him thoughtfully, then nodded her head and nipped his fingers lightly. Hermione decided that she would give Crookshanks to Ginny for the summer, and this gave her a chance to go to Ginny's compartment and let her know not to worry when Harry didn't get off the train.
"Ginny?" Hermione stuck her head into the compartment. Neville had joined her, and Luna was still there, but otherwise the compartment was empty. Hermione relaxed a little. "I'm sorry I didn't think to ask sooner, but with everything that happened it just slipped my mind but ..." Hermione appeared to be rattled, then took a deep breath to calm herself down. "What I mean is, my parents and I are going on holiday for the whole summer and I can't take Crookshanks with me and I was hoping you could take him home with you for the summer?" She finished with a rush and stood there panting slightly, with a hopeful look on her face.
Ginny briefly had a puzzled expression on her face, which slowly turned to a smile. "Of course Hermione, I'd love to have Crookshanks. I've always wanted a cat like him, and I'm sure Ron would love to have him at the Burrow." Both girls burst out laughing. Ron's annoyance with Hermione's cat was almost legendary in Gryffindor House.
Ginny suddenly stood up and reached out to hug Hermione, saying, "Oh, we'll miss seeing you this summer, but have a nice time," and then in a low voice directly into Hermione's ear, "nice acting job Granger. If saving the world doesn't work out, you can always try your luck in the theater."
Hermione started for an instant, then pulled back and grinned at Ginny and nodded, "I'll miss you too. And you too Crookshanks." She gave her cat one last hug and handed him to Ginny. Crookshanks glared at her reproachfully, then turned his back on her as though insulted and purred at Ginny. Fortunately, Ginny was his second favorite human, and the Burrow had lots of fun places to explore and small animals to catch.
Hermione returned to Harry and Ron and reported that all had gone well and that clever Ginny had figured it out immediately. Meanwhile, Harry had asked Dobby to take his trunk with all of his school things still in it back to Gryffindor tower, and assured the elf that he'd call for him whenever he needed him. Finally they were ready.
Everything went surprisingly well. Ron and Ginny got off first and quickly pulled aside their parents and let them know not to look for Harry. Remus and Tonks got to Moody and the other Order members, and they gradually dispersed into the crowd. As Harry had expected, the Dursleys weren't at the station, so Hermione made a show of saying goodbye to Ron and Ginny for the summer, then pulled her parents aside and began talking quickly as they walked slowly to their car. The only unforeseen development was that there were a number of reporters waiting at the station to interview the students. They were disappointed at not being able to find Harry Potter, but quickly gave up and talked to the other students before they all moved off.
Hermione's father helped her put her trunk in the boot, then got into the car with her mother as Hermione took her time getting into the back seat. Finally Hermione got in and nodded to her dad. He looked into the rear view mirror, grinned and said, "I've read that lots of intelligent children have imaginary friends when they're little. I guess my daughter really does have an invisible friend."