A/N: OK this chapter had to be done quickly because of the pending release of HP:DH. I didn't want to have to change my theories and working plot for this story to help it relate to the true story. So by doing this before, I can express what I believe will happen. Let's see how much I get right or wrong shall we?

Chapter 18: The Impact if Reason

It was Christmas break. Hermione had been at headquarters now for a week now and was having a wonderful time with her parents. Her mother was fawning over her and the thought that she would soon be a grandmother. Her father was just as excited but only let this show through subtle smiles and hugs.

As it was Christmas Eve, she and her family had just sat down to a wonderfully prepared meal. Most of the Wesley clan had also come to visit. Bill and Fleur were absent because they had gone to France to be with her parents. Percy was also absent, but he had been for the past three years anyway, so that didn't seem unnatural. All were smiling…except Ron. Who had been late and was forced to sit next to Hermione. Although he had become considerably nicer since her NEWTS, he was still not talking to Hermione. But she didn't mind that much. She was just glad that every time they saw each other they didn't get into a horrible fight.

Mrs. Wesley set the chicken on the table, and everyone reached for the food. As always it was delicious, and after they were all sated they all filed into the living room. There they all spent a restful evening listening to the WWN, and playing games. Ron spectacularly won a game against Harry, to whom for a reason unknown to her, Ron had made up with over the past weekend. The two were the best of friends again, and it didn't make any sense to Hermione. Yes they had had their fights before and made up but this was something entirely different. It just didn't seem logical.

After a few hours Hermione decided it was time to head up to bed. All that food had made her drowsy. And she was looking forward tomorrow. Severus had said he would stop by.

The next morning Hermione awoke to the usual presents piled at the end of her bed. She had received the traditional sweater from Mrs. Wesley, and this year it had MOM, woven onto the front. She had received a book from Harry about potions, two baby books and scrapbooking material from her parents, rock cakes from Hagrid, and to her surprise she had gotten a set of matching baby outfits from Ron. She had of course sent him a gift, but hadn't believed she would get one in return. She sighed, put on her Wesley sweater and headed down into the drawing room.

All the rest of the clan had already assembled and were thanking each other for their gifts. Hermione did the same, and even walked over to Ron and thanked him, who gave a small smile and said that it was nothing before suddenly spotting George and went to go thank him even though he had already done that twenty minutes before.

The day went by very fast. Dinner was exceptional, almost as good as Hogwarts, but Hermione was disappointed. Severus had said he would come to the house, and it was already eight and she hadn't hide nor hair of him. She had been hoping to give him her gift in person, but apparently it would have to wait till she got back to school.

At five till nine Hermione excused herself and headed for her room. She had been tiring more easily recently, but it hadn't effected her too much yet. She had just reached her room and was about to change into her Pj's when there was a knock on her door. She pulled the sweater back over her head and went to open the door.

"Severus!" Hermione exclaimed as she stepped back to let him in.

"Did you think I wasn't going to come?" he said with his standard smirk.

"Well…actually, no I didn't." Hermione admitted.

"Well then you know me less than you think you do Hermione."

"When have I ever broken a promise?"

"I just figured you had gotten busy or something and couldn't be spared."

"Well that wasn't the case. I just didn't want to have to be roped into all the festivities. I despise having to socialize with so many people."

Hermione smiled and went over to her dresser to retrieve her gift.

"I was hoping to give this to you today, and was a little disappointed when I thought I couldn't."

"You got me a gift?" Snape asked raising his eyebrow.

"Of course I would! You are my friend, and I always buy my friends presents."

Severus took the small package and looked at it for a few minutes.

"Hermione I couldn't take this. I didn't get you anything."

"It doesn't matter, you didn't have to. I just got this because I wanted to."

He looked at her for a few more seconds, and after her coaxing pulled at the bow to untie it. He then slowly unwrapped the paper, doing his best not to rip any of it. In the paper was wrapped a box, and when he opened it he found a small gold object made of rings, and other odd shapes.

"What is it?" He asked looking up at Hermione.

"It is a logic puzzle. The object is to separate all the individual objects. It is supposed to be really challenging. I figured you could try and solve that while you were waiting on your potions to stew. It gets awfully boring just sitting there watching as your potion simmers and cooks."

"Thank you Hermione, I will indeed try this, but I doubt I will find this challenging. I have solved several like it."

Hermione smiled. "Whet ever you think Severus, but I specially ordered that one because it was the hardest I could find. I think you may just have some problems with it."

He looked at her, smirked again, and put the puzzle back into its box, and then placed the box in his robes. "Thank you again Hermione, it was very thoughtful."

"So you like it?" Hermione asked eagerly.

"I do."

"Good, I was hoping you would. So what did you do today Severus?"

"I mostly stayed in my rooms, though I did go to dinner in the great hall"

"And that's all?"

"That's all I ever do on Christmas. It is my routine, and I like it that way."

The two spent the next hour talking. It was the best present Hermione had received. She felt so comfortable with Severus, and she could tell he felt the same way, well as comfortable as he could be with anyone. He was always so guarded. After the hour he had taken his departure and left Hermione to get some sleep. She went to bed that night with a very big grin on her face.

The next morning Hermione awoke to the sound of pounding on her door. She was irritated because she didn't feel like she had had nearly enough sleep and when she groaned when she looked over to her clock and it confirmed that it was WAY too early to get out of bed. She reluctantly pulled herself out of bed and threw on her dressing robe and opened the door thoroughly planning to yell at Harry for waking her up at suck a horrible hour.

But when she pulled the door open, it was Harry that stood behind. It was a pale Ron, very pale. "Harry's gone Hermione." Was all that he said before he grabbed her arm and pulled her out of her room and down the stairs.

"What's going on Ron?" Hermione asked worriedly as Ron pulled her into the drawing room where the rest of the Wesley's and Lupin were assembled.

"I woke up this morning to the door slamming, and when I finally realized that something was going on Harry had already left. But I found this note on his bed." Ron said handing her a piece of parchment.

I know where it is…I'm getting Dumbledore. Don't worry, I will be back later.

Harry

"What does it mean? He knows where what is?" Mrs. Wesley asked from behind Ron.

She gave Ron a dark look. Only She, Ron, Harry and Dumbledore knew what was going on. The rest of the Order was still in the dark. They couldn't just go and blurt it al out here. They would have to think of something. To say…or pretend that they also were at a loss as to what the note meant. Hermione was about to take the latter course when Ron beat her to the punch.

"I have to idea what he is going on about. But it must be important for him to run off in such a hurry like that. "He said addressing his mother, but glancing at Hermione as if for approval. She slightly nodded her head and he kept up with his story. "But he will be with Dumbledore, so everything thing will be fine. I'm sure he will be back by lunch time."

But Ron's prediction had fallen short and by five that night not a word had been heard from Harry. Mrs. Wesley had been beside herself all day with worry and was now doing her best to hunt down every Order member to see if they had any clue as to what was going on. She had heard from Minerva that the Headmaster had met with Harry early that morning, and had soon left the castle. That had clamed the mollycoddling witch down somewhat. At least he had mad it to Hogwarts alright. She had been worried that he might have been ambushed, and no one would find him for days.

The worry that had been forgotten earlier had come back ten fold. Her nervousness put the rest of the house even further on edge than it already was. There had been several spats between the Wesley children, and to stop it their Father had ordered them all to their separate bedrooms till dinner so that they would calm down. Now they were all back in the drawing room, trying the best they could to pass the time. Hermione had even tried her hand at chess with Ron, but soon found it too hard to concentrate. Ron apparently found it challenging as well because halfway through the game he excused himself saying he needed some air and left the room.

When Ron didn't come back after several minutes Hermione decided to go up to her room. The tension was too much for her to take. She too excused herself and made her way out onto the landing and up the stairs to her bedroom. But before she go there she decided that she would get no rest tonight anyway so he might as well go to the library. She made a detour and headed up another flight of steps and through a hidden doorway that was pretending to be a solid wall. Again for the second time today she was surprised to see Ron behind it.

"Sorry. " He mumbled, as he picked up his book and started to head out of the door.

"No. "Hermione said grabbing his arm to stop him from leaving. "You don't have to go. We can both be here can't we?"

"Alright…I guess." Ron said shrugging and setting himself down into the chair that Severus had used the day of her induction.

Hermione picked up her Romeo and Juliet from where she had left it the last time she was here, and walked over to her standard chair and curled up in it, amazingly looking almost like Crookshanks when he decided to lay down for a nice long nap.

Hermione had only been reading for several minutes when she felt Ron looking at her so stood up. Ron quickly looked back to his book, a familiar blush creeping onto his cheeks, but Hermione could tell it wasn't because of his feelings for her this time.

Hermione looked back at her book and started to read again, but was almost immediately interrupted by Ron.

"I'm sorry Hermione."He said staring very hard at his book and blushing madly.

Hermione looked over at him incredulously. Was her really apologizing?

"I understand if you don't want to accept it…but well...there it is." Ron said looking up to meet her eyes.

Hermione was of a mind to tell him it was all his fault that she was mad at him and that she couldn't accept, but she couldn't do that. Although she was still mad him, she couldn't deny that she and missed her funny friend.

"You hurt me Ron. How could you not believe me? And even if you couldn't why did you have to be so hurtful?"

"I'm sorry Hermione…I don't really know what got into me. I guess I…well…er…well I was jealous Hermione! I had wanted to ask you out for so long, but then I found out you were pregnant. I was so mad that you wouldn't tell me that you had been with someone else, and that I had been making a fool out of myself by thinking I could ever be with you. And then you kept insisting that Harry was the father. I knew that wasn't true Hermione, it just couldn't have been. So I figured you wee trying to cover up something that had happened between you and Snape, whether it was consensual or not. I know that isn't an excuse for how I have been acting, but at least now you know why I did it."

"Oh Ron!" Hermione said tears threatening to fall from her eyes. She bolted out of her chair and ran to the youngest male Wesley and gave him a bone crunching hug. He tentatively placed his hand on her waist and used the other to pat her back. After a few minutes Hermione pulled away.

"I'm sorry that I don't been as truthful with you Ron, but I just didn't know how to tell you all. And I could have told you in a better way than just blurting out that I was pregnant. I wasn't thinking strait because I was so nervous for your reactions, and so I just kind of panicked. I should have known that you wouldn't react well to that. I knew you had feelings for me. I should have been more considerate. And afterwards I should have made more of an effort to make you understand what was really going on, I was just too mad."

"And you had a right to be Hermione. I screwed up and I'm sorry. I hope you can accept my apology and that we might become friends again, even if we aren't as good of friends."

"We both screwed up Ron. I'll accept your apology with several conditions. One that you ill except mine for not doing my part to help you accept what was going on, and the second being that we will be just as good of friends as we were before this whole thing started." Hermione said smiling up at him.

"In that case," Ron said smiling back at her, "I accept."

The rest of their stay in the library was spent discussing where Harry might have gone. Both had been eager to discuss their ideas, but because of their silence hadn't been able to.

"Well he is obviously after a Horcrux, but which one? And where do you think it is?"

Those were just several things they tried to figure out. So far all they had gotten was that it couldn't be the ring or the book, and it probably wasn't Voldemort's snake. They would jut have to wait till Harry came back and filled them in. After a good hour of discussion they both decided to head back downstairs to see if anything had been heard from Harry.

"How did you know where that library was Ron? I didn't know you liked to read."

"Well actually I don't like to read, but Harry ad showed me where it was so that I might catch you alone once during break."

"Harry showed you?"

"Yeah, we made up last weekend, and he has been hounding me to say sorry and tell you how I felt. He kept telling me I at least owed you that much."

Hermione resisted telling him that Harry was right and to cover the awkward pause asked another question. "So how long have you been thinking of apologizing?"

"About a week after the investigation. But I kept telling myself that you were the one in the wrong and so I didn't start to really think about if I would apologize or not till after your NEWTS. By then I knew I was just being a git."

"Well you've got the being a git part right." Hermione said with a frown, but the smile. "But that's over now isn't it?"

Ron's ears turned red as he muttered an apologetic statement.

When they reached the drawing room they found everyone just as tense, if not more so than when they had left an hour ago.

"I don't think I can handle being around them all. I'm already nervous enough as it is." Ron said in the doorway so that only Hermione could hear.

"Your right. I don't think I want to be here either. Let's go down to the kitchen and get a snack."

"Sounds good to me." Ron said leading the way.

Hermione rummaged around the cupboards to see if there was anything little to munch on with Ron went strait to the leftovers from earlier. She decided on a small fruit cup and a glass of water and at down next to Ron.

"When do you think he will be back?" She asked as she picked at her food.

"I dunno, can't be long now can it? He has been gone all day. I just hope he is still in on piece."

"I'm sure he will be," Hermione said more confidently than she felt. "He's with Dumbledore."

Hermione didn't want to point out the fact that Dumbledore was getting up in age and that his reactions weren't as quick as they used to be. His withered hand could attest to that.

Suddenly the fireplace roared into life, and out of it stood a very dirty and exhausted looking wizard.

"Harry!" Hermione exclaimed.

Ron rushed over to his best friends side, and caught him just as he was about to fall to the floor.

"Are you alright mate? What's wrong, are you hurt?" He asked worriedly as he steered him into the nearest chair.

"I'm fine." Harry gasped. "Just tired…and sore."

"Where've you been? You scared us all to death."

"Sorry mate, but I had to go. It was about the horcruxes."

"Did you find one? Is it gone?" Hermione asked speaking for the first time.

"Yeah we did. It was tough though. It was much harder to get to than the locket. Well I guess it wasn't harder, as more physically exhausting. "

"Oh Harry! You much be exhausted. How did you make it through it all?"

"I don't really know actually. There were a few spells, pretty advanced ones, that Dumbledore got rid of at first, but I knew that couldn't be the last of it because it had been too easy. And I was right, because the object was in the center of a volcano."

"What? Why would it be there? And what was it anyway?"

"It was the Ravenclaw artifact. It was this." Harry said pulling out a twisted piece of metal from his pocket.

"What is it Harry?" the two asked.

"Well it used to be her reading glasses. Apparently her great great great something or other had inherited them. She had no idea they were of such value, but knew it belonged to someone in her family. So she had them restored because they were a pretty pair of glasses, or they used to be anyway. When she had them fixed, they wee also appraised, and found out to be Rowena Ravenclaws. "

"But how did Voldemort find out?"

"Dumbledore and I still aren't sure of that, but he must have because it is here now."

"You never told us why it was in the volcano. And how did you know it was there?" Hermione asked curious.

"Well actually I wasn't sure that my hunch was right this morning, but I took it Dumbledore anyway. I had remembered something you had said about the founders once Hermione, about how they all seemed to represent a different element. Ravenclaw was water, Huffelpuff was earth, Slytherin seemed to be wind, and Gryffindor was obviously fire."

"But what does that have to do with anything?" Hermione asked confused.

"Well like I said I was thinking about the Horcruxes and trying to decide what they all were and were. I knew there was nothing from Gryffindor, so that left Ravenclaw, and I though of her representing water. So I kina of started placing her artifact in the water somewhere. I dunno, then my mind started wondering and I started thinking about how Voldemort must have been disappointed not to get the complete set of relics from the founders. And then it just clicked, what if he had hidden an artifact in a place where Gryffindor as represented, in a fiery place, in a volcano?"

"That's brilliant!"Ron exclaimed.

"But Harry how did you figure out what volcano it was after that?"

"Well I went to Dumbledore and we did a little research to see if Godric had ever had any contact with a volcano. In fact we found he had been to several, but only for small reasons. When we researched far enough back we found that his home town was actually near an active volcano."

"But Harry there aren't any volcano's in England."

"But Godric did grow up here. He was born and raised in Italy."

"What? But then why would he build a school here?"

"Beats me, but I really don't care. I've destroyed the Horcrux; it doesn't matter to me why he chose to move."

"Yeah Hermione, what do we care. The guy could be from Mars for all I care." Ron piped up.

"Yeah I guess."

"So you two are finally talking again?" Harry said smiling at the both of them.

Ron's ears went red and Hermione bushed. "Yes we are Harry. We made up this evening."

"Well it's about time."

Just then the door to the kitchen flew open and behind it they saw a very anxious looking group of Wesleys.

"Why did you come to get us! How long has he been back? Oh Harry are you ok?" Mrs. Wesley asked as she moved to where Harry stood and started to fuss over him.

The rest of the night was spent in the presence of the Wesley family so Ron Harry and Hermione had no time to finish their talk about Horcruxes. After awhile of being fawned over Harry excused himself to go shower and rest. The rest of the Wesleys soon followed suit and headed to bed. Hermione followed Ron out and the two spent a few companionable minutes together before they each headed a different way on the stairs to their room.

HHHHHHHHHHHHHH

The next day was spent relaxing. After the initial bombardment of Harry by the rest of the house, everyone settled in for a normal boring day at Grimulad Place. Harry, Ron and Hermione once again found themselves discussing the Horcruxes as they sat alone in the drawing room.

"So that's the book, ring, and glasses." She said ticking off the count on her fingers. "And that leaves the locket if it hasn't already been destroyed, the cup, the snake and Voldemort himself." Hermione finished.

"I can't believe someone had already taken the locket. I mean…who besides Dumbledore would stand a chance." Ron mentioned.

Harry Pondered a while over the mysterious R.A.B. It had been awhile since he had given up on figuring out who the initials belonged to. It was clearly not a well known wizard because Hermione would have figured out who it was by this time, but that got them no further in identifying to the real culprit was.

"The person who took it must have had it in for Voldemort. So it's logical that it will have been a known Voldemort hater. Maybe we could check back in the records about who had been killed or had been in the Order." Hermione suggested.

"That's a pretty good idea Hermione." Ron said. "Mom would know who was in it the last time. If we asked her about the initials maybe it would ring a bell."

"But she would want to know why we asked Ron. What would we say to her?" Hermione asked pointing out the flaw in this plan.

"Not all of us are as terrible of liars as you are." Ron teased. "Just give me a few minutes and I'll be back with an answer. "

Ron was only gone for five minutes when he returned looking crestfallen. "No luck mate. No one even had the initials R.B. let alone R.A.B." He said disappointed."

Hermione stared off into space trying to think what their next move should be. She had been absently mindedly staring at a spot above Ron's left shoulder so she had a perfect view of the contorted face Ron made that seemed to be a mix of horror and excitement.

"Ron are you ok?" Hermione exclaimed. Harry's whipped around to see what was going on.

In his apparent excitement mixed with revulsion, Ron could not get any words out. He just gestured frantically behind Hermione.

"There's nothing there Ron? What's wrong?"

"I've found him. Look I've found him!" Ron said pointing to the Black Family Tree.

"R.A.B.?" Harry asked confused.

"Yes. Look, right next to Sirius. Regulus Arcturus Black, he's been right here!"

"That's ridiculous Ron." Harry said almost laughing. "He was a Death Eater, Sirius said so. Right Hermione?"

"Actually Harry, I think Ron might be right. Didn't Sirius also say that his brother had been murdered because he was trying to leave the Death Eaters?"

"Well yeah, but Regulus couldn't have done this, Sirius said that he wasn't that bright of a person. Dumbledore had a hard enough time doing this. How could he have?" Harry cut in.

"When has Sirius ever told the complete truth when talking about someone he doesn't like? He always makes them out to be worse than they really are."

"I don't care if he was good. If Dumbledore struggled then no one else could have done it. Besides he would have had to have someone else there to help him. If I hadn't have been there Dumbledore wouldn't have been about to finish the drinking the potion."

"Are you calling Sirius a liar?" Harry raged.

"No Harry, of course not. I'm just saying we can't fully trust Sirius' judgment because he was biased against his brother. "

"Well maybe he brought another person with him. Maybe a fellow Death Eater who wanted to do the most damage they could before deserting. "

"He couldn't have Hermione. The boat would only let one wizard in the boat at a time. If I had been of age we would never have crossed the lake together. So he couldn't have done that."

"Well maybe he got someone underage to help him."

"Hermione it is unlikely that he would have known to bring an underage wizard with him. It was only luck that I had been there and not just Dumbledore. And," Harry continued on quickly because Hermione seemed threatening to interrupt him, "even if he had visited the island before he still wouldn't know what the potion did, so wouldn't know to go back for someone." Harry said in triumph. There couldn't be a way around this argument. He just couldn't believe that Sirius' brother cold have done this, not after all the horrible stories Harry had heard from his godfather about his dark family.

"Well maybe he brought someone for protection instead of to help him with the potion, and it just ended up working out to his advantage." Hermione pressed.

"Hermione I've already told you, only one wizard can be in the boat at a time. An underage wizard couldn't offer any help with protection, and even if they had some how found a way around the age restriction on the boat, no Death Eater, loyal or not, would be willing to sacrifice their own life for the greater good, let alone a rogue who wasn't satisfied with the dark lord."

"But Harry it can't just be coincidence." Ron said speaking up.

"It was a good thought Ron, but I just can't see it being him." Harry said irritably.

"Loyal…" Hermione muttered under her breath.

"What was that Hermione?" Ron asked.

"Well nothing…I was just thinking about what Harry said about someone having to be loyal to Regulus to follow him and protect him."

"Yeah they would have to be, and that's why it couldn't be him. He didn't have anyone loyal to him except his family. And if they had found out he was trying to leave he would have been blasted off the family tree just like Sirius." Harry concluded.

"Harry that's it!" Hermione exclaimed, a look of wild excitement on her face. "It would make perfect sense, and he wouldn't even have been detected. And he would have had to obey, as he was bound to loyalty. And we all know that he would have special powers." Hermione said as if working out a problem in her head.

"I see where you're going with this Hermione, but it couldn't have been Sirius. Sure he was bound to be loyal because he was in Gryffindor, but he hated his brother, and being an animagus probably wouldn't have made him undetected on the boat. Besides, he would have told Dumbledore if he had known about the Horcruxes." Harry said trying to make her see reason.

"Not Sirius, Harry. Kreacher! It was Kreacher in that boat!"

A/N: And there you have it. My views on what may happen. Bu let me clear a few things up. I don't believe the last Horcrux will be found in a volcano…it just made my story more dramatic. But I do believe it will have been placed somewhere close to Godric Gryffindor, whether that be Hogwarts or Godric's Hollow I don't know. But anyway I hope you enjoyed the chapter. Even if all this turns out to be completely wrong it should make this FF more interesting. Enjoy the 7th and final book. And as always R and R!