Disclaimer and Acknowledgements

The Harry Potter universe and all the characters in it belong to J. K. Rowling. I get nothing out of this except enjoyment. Portions of the story in bold font are quotations from Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, copyright © 2005 by J. K. Rowling.


Sixth Year, Part 2

HBP, Chapter 18

Scene: Harry is telling Hermione about Horcruxes and his assignment to get Slughorn's true memory about his conversation with Tom Riddle regarding them.

"They must be really advanced Dark Magic, or why would Voldemort have wanted to know about them? I think it's going to be difficult to get the information, Harry, you'll have to very careful about how you approach Slughorn, think out a strategy …"

"Ron reckons I should just hang back after Potions this afternoon …"

"Oh, well, if Won-Won thinks that, you'd better do it," she said, flaring up at once. "After all, when has Won-Won's judgement ever been faulty?"

Harry winced. Hermione was right again, of course. He knew things had generally gone better for him in the past when he had listened to Hermione rather than Ron. "Hermione, can't you …?"

Hermione grudgingly agreed to try harder to get along with Ron. She was still unhappy with him over his actions at Slughorn's party, on top of her disapproval of his relationship with Lavender, but remembered that she needed to tolerate him for Harry's sake. In Potions class that day she made sure that she was on the opposite side of Harry from him, in order to keep herself from getting annoyed by any comments he might make.

"… and so," finished Slughorn, "I want each of you to come and take one of these phials from my desk. You are to create an antidote for the poison within it before the end of the lesson. Good luck, and don't forget your protective gloves."

"It's a shame that the Prince won't be able to help you much with this Harry," she said, struggling to keep a look of sympathy on her face. Harry realized that she was right, and that she was eagerly looking forward to the task where her superior understanding of the subject would be far more important than a few tips on procedure. He also recognized her internal struggle.

"I guess you'll just have to show us how it's done then," he leaned over and murmured to her, while reaching out to give her hand a squeeze. She smiled back appreciatively and went to work.

Since he had been reading the Potions book with Hermione all year, Harry had some idea of what he was supposed to do, but had no illusions about his ability to actually do it. He uncorked the poison he had taken from Slughorn's desk, which was a garish shade of pink, tipped it into his cauldron, and lit a fire underneath it. He muttered the first incantation, Specialis Revelio, over his cauldron and attempted to identify the components of the poison.

It took Harry only five minutes to realize that his reputation as the best potion-maker in the class was crashing around his ears. He watched admiringly as Hermione decanted the separated ingredients of her poison into ten different crystal phials and gave up any hope of matching her on this assignment. He bent over the Half-Blood Prince's book and turned a few pages.

And there it was, scrawled right across a long list of antidotes:

Just shove a bezoar down their throats.

Slughorn reached their table at last. He sniffed Ernie's potion and passed on to Ron's with a grimace. He did not linger over Ron's cauldron, but backed away swiftly, retching slightly. "And you, Harry," he said. "What have you got to show me?"

Harry held out his hand, the bezoar sitting on his palm. Slughorn looked down at it for a full ten seconds. Harry wondered, for a moment, whether he was going to shout at him. Then he threw back his head and roared with laughter.

"You've got nerve, boy!" he boomed, taking the bezoar and holding it up so that the class could see it. "Oh, you're like your mother … Well, I can't fault you … A bezoar would certainly act as an antidote to all these poisons!"

Hermione, who was sweaty-faced and had soot on her nose, was crushed. Her half-finished antidote, comprising fifty-two ingredients, including a chunk of her own hair, bubbled sluggishly behind Slughorn, who had eyes for nobody but Harry.

"Professor Slughorn," Harry interrupted the enthusiastic potions master. "Don't forget to look at Hermione's antidote. She actually did the assignment. My method was only a last resort, a shortcut, so I didn't have to mix anything. She put a lot more work into her potion than I did."

Slughorn looked at him strangely, not understanding why Harry would want to deflect credit from himself, then moved on to inspect Hermione's cauldron. Harry caught the look of intense gratitude Hermione sent his way and a warm feeling spread through him.

"Yes, Miss Granger, very nice work." Slughorn noted as he peered at the bubbling mixture. "Well done. Ten more points for Gryffindor," he announced as the bell rang, and he waddled back to his desk at the front of the room.

Harry dawdled behind, taking an inordinate amount of time to do up his bag. Hermione gave Harry a quick hug and wished him luck, and Ron shot him a thumbs-up as they both left. At last Harry and Slughorn were the only two left in the room …


HBP, Chapter 19

Scene: Harry and Hermione have just returned to Gryffindor Tower from visiting Ron in the infirmary after the poisoning incident.

The Fat Lady was snoozing and not pleased to be woken, but swung forward grumpily to allow them to clamber into the mercifully peaceful and empty common room. It did not seem that people knew about Ron yet; Harry was very relieved: He had been interrogated enough that day. Suddenly Hermione threw herself into his arms, shaking with emotion as her eyes teared up. Harry was not entirely surprised. She had been maintaining her composure since they left the hospital wing, but he could tell it had been a struggle.

"Oh Harry! What if he had died!" she sobbed. "He's one of my best friends and we haven't been getting along lately and …" She trailed off as Harry hugged her tightly and patted her back, trying to comfort her. "And then he called out my name in his sleep," she sniffed, her sobs starting to come under control.

"He's probably as upset about this quarrel as you are," Harry reassured her. "I'm sure he wants to go back to being friends again." This elicited a fresh round of tears from Hermione. Gradually she calmed down and they talked a bit more, with Hermione resolving to put her differences with Ron aside. Then they began to discuss what they had learned.

"I'm more certain than ever that Malfoy is behind this," Harry declared as Hermione nodded in agreement. "But I can't figure out what he's trying to do. Is he just trying to kill someone or is there more to it than that? Right before Ron ate those spiked chocolate cauldrons I was looking for him on the Marauder's Map and …" He paused as he noticed that Hermione had gone rigid.

"Harry! What if he's trying to kill you!" she gasped. Harry's eyes went wide as she continued. "Somehow he gave Katie that cursed necklace and Slughorn that poisoned mead. What if he meant for them to give them to you?" Harry frowned as he considered this possibility and shook his head as he thought back over the two incidents.

"I can see how Katie might have given me the necklace. I remember Leanne saying that she told her it was for someone else. But Slughorn said he had meant to give the last bottle of mead to Dumbledore for Christmas. It doesn't seem very likely that it was intended for me. It was only by chance that Ron and I happened to be in his office this morning and he decided to offer some to us." He shuddered as he recalled that he had been about to drink the mead when Ron started convulsing. It could have been any of the three of them who drank it first.

This revelation did nothing to calm Hermione down and she made him promise to be careful around both Malfoy and Snape, and promised in turn to help him keep an eye on them. Then, after a final hug, she bade him good night and set off for the girls' dormitory. Harry, however, remained behind, taking a seat beside the fire and looking down into the dying embers.


HBP, Chapter 21

Scene: Dumbledore has once again stressed to Harry the importance of getting the memory from Slughorn, and that they cannot proceed until he does.

Harry wracked his brains over the next week as to how he was to persuade Slughorn to hand over the true memory, but nothing in the nature of a brain wave occurred and he was reduced to doing what he did increasingly these days when at a loss: poring over his Potions book, hoping that the Prince would have scribbled something useful in a margin, as he had done so many times before.

"I don't think you'll find anything in there," Hermione said sympathetically, late on Sunday evening. "That book has mostly potions or spells."

"Well," Harry said looking up hopefully, "if it hadn't been for the Prince, Ron wouldn't be sitting here now."

"I can't argue with that," Hermione smiled. "Thank goodness you remembered the bezoar." She moved up behind Ron and gave him a hug, causing her tall friend to turn red. Things had improved greatly between the pair since that frightening incident. "But," she resumed, turning back to Harry, "There's only one way to force someone to do what you want, and that's the Imperius Curse, which is illegal …"

"Yeah, I know that," Harry said, explaining his reasoning, "That's why I'm looking for something different. Dumbledore says Veritaserum won't do it, but there might be something else, a potion or a spell."

"I see what you're thinking," responded Hermione, moving up beside him. "But from what Dumbledore said, only you can get the memory. I'm thinking that must mean that you can persuade Slughorn where other people can't. That wouldn't be a question of slipping him a potion, anyone could do that …" She stopped abruptly as she noticed Harry staring at something on the page.

He had just found an incantation ("Sectumsempra!") scrawled in a margin above the intriguing words "For Enemies" and immediately showed it to Hermione.

"Harry, that sounds dangerous," she whispered, their disagreement temporarily forgotten. "Promise me you won't try using it until we get a chance to test it out in the Room of Requirement." Harry quickly agreed.

"How d'you spell 'belligerent'? said Ron …


Harry, Ron, and Hermione approached the seventh floor corridor cautiously, but found no sign of Malfoy or either of the two 'little girls' (Crabbe and Goyle) standing watch outside. Quickly they summoned the Room of Requirement for themselves and entered. Looking around they found it exactly as they expected, a room to practice spells in, with no sign that Malfoy had ever been there. "Wish it was this easy when I was trying to get in before," Harry muttered. Suddenly Hermione stopped and slapped her forehead.

"Of course! I've been so stupid." There was no way Harry was going to agree with that statement, so he waited for her to continue. "There's no way you'll ever get in to see what Malfoy's doing, Harry. It's part of the room's magic. We asked for a place to practice spells where no one would find us and that's what it gave us. He probably asked for a place to do whatever he's doing in secret, where no one would find him, and that's exactly what he got. It becomes something different for everyone. And it won't ever let you find him."

"But what about last year, then? He found us."

"If you remember, he and Umbridge only found us after we ran from the room. I'm willing to bet that if we'd stayed inside they wouldn't have been able to get in either. They only caught us because we panicked and ran out."

Harry groaned. That had been the incident that had gotten Dumbledore run out of the castle. But, he realized, Umbridge and Fudge were determined to get the headmaster out of the way, and would probably have found some other way to do it.

Hermione continued, "The only way you'd catch him is if you're here when he comes out, just like they were last year." Then she frowned at him. "And I don't think that's the best use of your time right now." Harry grimaced. This had started to become a sore point between them. She was sure he if he tried hard enough or spent enough time thinking about it, he could figure out a way to get the memory from Slughorn.

Ron stepped in before the pair could resume that argument. "I thought we came here to test out a spell." Harry turned to him and nodded, glad for the interruption. He pulled out the Potions book while Hermione conjured a practice dummy.


The three of them stood and stared at the deep gash that had been carved across the face and chest of the practice dummy. They all shuddered as they thought about what it would look like if that had been a real person.

"Bloody hell!" was Ron's rather apt contribution.

"Harry, I don't think you should use that spell on anyone," Hermione added in a small voice.

"Yeah, I think you're right," Harry agreed quietly.


HBP, Chapter 24

Scene: Harry and Malfoy are confronting each other in the bathroom.

There was a loud bang and the bin behind Harry exploded; Harry attempted a Leg-Locker Curse that backfired off the wall behind Malfoy's ear and smashed the cistern beneath Moaning Myrtle, who screamed loudly; water poured everywhere and Harry slipped as Malfoy, his face contorted, cried "Cruci …"

Between the time Malfoy began his curse and finished it, the thought raced through Harry's mind that if there was ever a time that he needed a curse 'for an enemy' this was it. But as he began the incantation "Sect …" his mind flashed to the horrible slash on the face and chest of the practice dummy and he recalled his assurance to Hermione.

"Crucio!" Malfoy finished. He seemed to be under no such restraint with his curses. Fortunately, in his rage his aim was off and Harry just barely rolled under the Unforgivable Curse.

"Reducto!" Harry returned the explosion hex Malfoy had used earlier, and although Malfoy was able to evade it, the wall behind him exploded and the mirror shattered. A chunk of wall caught him in the back of the head and shards of glass slashed through his robes, opening several gashes in his back. He staggered forward and collapsed onto the waterlogged floor with a great splash, his wand falling from his limp right hand.

"No!" gasped Harry. Slipping and staggering, Harry got to his feet and plunged toward Malfoy, his hands scrabbling at his blood-soaked back.

The door banged open behind Harry and he looked up, terrified: Snape had burst into the room, his face livid. Pushing Harry roughly aside, he knelt over Malfoy, drew his wand, and traced it over the deep wounds Harry's curse had made, muttering an incantation that sounded almost like song. The flow of blood seemed to ease; now the wounds seemed to be knitting.

"And you, Potter … two months detention for nearly killing another student. Every Saturday."

"But he attacked me!" Harry shouted in disbelief. "He even used an un…"

"I'm not interested in your excuses, Potter," Snape interrupted. "Because of you a student almost died. Rather a habit of yours isn't it?" Snape sneered as he added this last insult and waited, seemingly hoping that Harry would lose his temper so that the punishment could be increased. But Harry swallowed hard and kept his cool, staring at the floor to keep from looking at Snape's taunting face.

"Well, we shall see how you feel after your detentions," said Snape. "Ten o'clock Saturday morning, Potter. My office."

"But sir …" said Harry, looking up desperately. "Quidditch … the last match of the …"

"Ten o'clock," whispered Snape, with a smile that showed his yellow teeth. "Poor Gryffindor … fourth place this year I fear …"


Hermione came storming through the portrait hole. She had been incensed after hearing Harry's account of the confrontation, vowing to go to the Headmaster to plead Harry's side of the story.

"I don't believe this," she fumed. "He won't lift a finger to change a thing. Says it's the Heads of House's prerogative to give detentions and that a detention of that magnitude is not out of line for the offense." She flung herself onto the sofa beside Harry. "I can't understand how that man gets away with the things he does. What kind of hold does he have on Dumbledore anyway? I mean Malfoy even used an Unforgivable Curse and he didn't do anything to him!"

"Give it a rest, Hermione!" said Ginny, and Harry was so amazed that she seemed not to be supporting him, he looked up. But Ginny had a different agenda and continued. "Look at what this has done to our chances in the Ravenclaw match. I can see him giving Harry detention, but the really evil thing he did was making it during the match."

"Ginny!" Hermione was shocked. "How can you only worry about Quidditch when Harry is being unjustly punished for defending himself," she protested. "I mean, Quidditch is important because of house points and all that but it isn't that …"

"Oh, don't start acting as though you understand Quidditch," snapped Ginny, "you'll only embarrass yourself."

Harry and Ron stared: Hermione and Ginny, who had always got on together very well, were now sitting with their arms folded, glaring in opposite directions. Ron looked nervously at Harry, then snatched up a book at random and hid behind it. Harry, however, moved over and put his arm around Hermione. Ginny took one look at this and got up and stomped over to the other side of the room.

Harry was puzzled. It seemed as if Ginny was angry that he had taken Hermione's side and he wondered that the two of them seemed to be in some sort of a competition. He leaned over and whispered in Hermione's ear. "Thanks for sticking up for me. I really do appreciate it." Hermione relaxed a bit and gave him a small grateful smile, then snuggled up under his arm.

After a while he spoke up again in a low voice. "I was tempted to use that curse we found in the Prince's book against him but I stopped myself."

"Good for you, Harry," Hermione responded. "I'm very proud of you."

"But Malfoy still was seriously injured and I still got a detention anyway," he pointed out. "What difference did it make?"

"The difference was that you did the right thing," she said softly, putting her arms around him and giving him a hug. "That makes all the difference in the world."


HBP, Chapter 24

Scene: Harry returns from his detention to the Gryffindor common room after the final Quidditch match.

A roar of celebration erupted from the hole behind her (the Fat Lady). Harry gaped as people began to scream at the sight of him; several hands pulled him into the room.

"We won!" yelled Ron, bounding into sight and brandishing the silver Cup at Harry. "We won! Four hundred and fifty to a hundred and forty! We won!"

Harry looked around; there was Ginny running toward him; she had a hard, blazing look in her face as she threw her arms around him. Then she shocked him by pulling him into a hard, passionate kiss. At the same time she pressed her body against his tightly, writhing suggestively. He was immediately reminded of the time he and Ron had seen her and Dean kissing in the corridor. Suddenly his thoughts were snapped back to the fact that his best mate's sister was currently trying to shove her tongue down his throat and he finally managed to break apart from her. The room had gone very quiet. Then several people wolf-whistled and there was an outburst of nervous giggling. Harry looked around quickly trying to find the reactions of a few specific people. There was Dean Thomas holding a shattered glass in his hand, and Romilda Vane looking as though she might throw something, but he didn't care about them.

Finally his eyes found the two he was looking for. Hermione had a tight, fixed smile on her face, her lips pressed closely together as though she was forcing them into that position. Harry swallowed nervously as he recalled her anger at seeing Ron and Lavender kissing the first time, and wondered how much worse it would be this time. Ron glanced back and forth between him and Hermione, his expression alternating between disapproval and hopefulness.

Finally Hermione broke the spell that seemed to have frozen everyone in place and marched over to where Harry and Ginny were still standing in front of the portrait hole. For the first time Harry noticed that Ginny was smirking at Hermione with something of a triumphant look on her face. When Hermione neither burst into tears and ran away nor began screaming at them Ginny's expression changed to one of puzzlement and she became more guarded, as though she expected to be attacked. Harry just stood there, not knowing what Hermione was going to do or how to react.

Finally Hermione reached them. "Excuse me, Ginny," she said with overly affected politeness. "I'd like my boyfriend back now please." Then she pushed herself in between them, threw her arms around Harry's neck, and pulled him down for a kiss of her own. But her kiss was neither hard nor passionate nor suggestive, but warm and comforting the way Hermione's kisses usually were. Harry got the message immediately. 'It's Okay, I know it wasn't your fault. I trust you.'

His heart racing as a combination of relief, appreciation, and amazement that he was so lucky to have such a wonderful, understanding girl welled up within him, he grinned down at Hermione and gestured wordlessly out of the portrait hole. A long walk in the grounds seemed indicated, of which very little time – if any – would be spent discussing the match.


Hermione gave Harry a few highlights of the Quidditch match, primarily that Ron had made a lot of nice saves and that Ginny had caught the snitch. Harry knew that he could get as many details as he wanted out of Ron later. Once that was out of the way they turned to the obvious topic.

"What was that all about with Ginny kissing me?" asked Harry. "I thought you said she'd given up on me."

"I thought she had," responded Hermione. "At least that's what she told me after we started going together. Evidently she never really did. Perhaps she thinks that now that she's so pretty and so obviously desirable that you'll give her another look." She glanced nervously over at Harry as she finished saying this.

"Not a chance of that," Harry reassured her. "I have exactly the girl I want right now." She threw her arms around him and let him know just how happy that declaration made her. The rest of their walk consisted primarily of nonverbal communication.

(Needless to say, the scene at the start of the next chapter with the discussion of tattoos, or any other Harry/Ginny stuff, never took place.)


HBP, Chapter 25

Scene: Harry and Dumbledore are about to set out to look for the Horcrux, and Harry has stopped by to tell Ron and Hermione where they are going and ask them to keep an eye on Malfoy and Snape.

"Harry …" began Hermione, her eyes wide with fear.

"I haven't got time to argue," said Harry, trying not to look at her. He knew she would be terrified about losing him, and he couldn't bear to see the anguish in her eyes. "Take this as well." He thrust the socks into Ron's hands.

"Thanks," said Ron. "Er … why do I need socks?"

"You need what's wrapped in them, it's the Felix Felicis. Share it between yourselves." He turned to Hermione. "Good-bye, I'd better go, Dumbledore's waiting …"

Hermione rushed forward and threw her arms around his neck, hugging him like she would never let go. "No!" she said, as Ron unwrapped the tiny little bottle of golden potion, looking awestruck. "We don't want it, you take it, who knows what you're going to be facing?"

"I'll be fine, I'll be with Dumbledore," said Harry, gently untangling himself from her arms as she began weeping. "I want to know you lot are okay … Don't look like that Hermione, I'll see you later …"

But Hermione moved forward again and wrapped her arms around him, burying her head against his chest. "Please be careful, Harry. I don't know what I'd do without you … I love you."

It was the first time either of them had said it aloud. An electric jolt went through Harry at her words, but he knew it was time to go. "I'll come back, I promise," he whispered. "You be careful too. I … I love you too."

And he was off, hurrying back through the portrait hole and toward the entrance hall.


HBP, Chapter 28

The fight at the top of the Astronomy Tower is over and Harry has chased Snape and Malfoy towards the Hogwarts gates. Harry and Snape are dueling.

"Stupe …"

"Blocked again and again until you learn to keep your mouth shut and your mind closed, Potter!" sneered Snape, deflecting the curse once more. "Now come!" he shouted at the huge Death Eater behind Harry. "It is time to be gone, before the Ministry turns up."

Harry now knew how Snape was able to block his spells so easily, so he immediately tried the first nonverbal spell that came to his mind. Levi …

"No, Potter!" screamed Snape. There was a loud BANG and Harry was soaring backward, hitting the ground hard again, and this time his wand flew out of his hand.

"You dare use my own spell against me, Potter? It was I who invented it – I, the Half-Blood Prince! And you'd turn my invention on me, like your filthy father, would you? I don't think so …"


Before Snape could finish his taunt, excruciating pain hit Harry; he keeled over in the grass. Someone was screaming, he would surely die of this agony, Snape was going to torture him to death or madness …

"No!" roared Snape's voice and the pain stopped as suddenly as it had started; Harry lay curled on the dark grass, trying to process what had just happened and what he had just heard. Snape! Snape was the Half-Blood Prince? But there was no time to think about that now. While Snape's attention was diverted he had to find his wand.

"Have your forgotten our orders?" Snape continued shouting to someone behind Harry. "Potter belongs to the Dark Lord – we are to leave him! Go! Go!"

And Harry felt the ground shudder under his face as the brother and sister and the enormous Death Eater obeyed, running toward the gates. It must have been one of them who had hit him with the torture curse, from behind. As they ran past him he finally found his wand and jumped to his feet, just as Snape turned to face him once more.

Harry knew he had only one more chance. He needed to block his mind off from Snape, and cast nonverbally. All the hours he had spent with Hermione over the past year practicing Occlumency, as well as honing his nonverbal spellcasting ability, were about to be put to the test. On the plus side, Snape would have no idea how much he had improved, being convinced after the disastrous Occlumency lessons of the year before that Potter was hopeless at it.

As he blanked his mind with Occlumency, Harry suddenly knew which spell he would use. It was a spell he had tried only once before, but Snape's boasting about being the Half-Blood Prince made it most appropriate.

He could see the puzzled look on his hated professor's face as he raised his wand, not being able to read Harry's thoughts. With no advance knowledge, Snape guessed that Harry was going to try a nonverbal disarming hex, and moved to block it.


Complete and utter shock filled Snape's evil black eyes as the deadly slicing hex struck him. Blood spurted from his face and chest as though he had been slashed with an invisible sword. He staggered backward and collapsed to the ground, his wand falling from his limp right hand.

"Expelliarmus!" Harry's wand flew away and he was knocked backward. He had been staring at the pool of blood growing under Snape's writhing body and had failed to notice the other three Death Eaters, who had turned back to witness his final, successful attack. Cursing himself for his inattentiveness, he rolled over and scrambled after his wand.

The brother and sister Death Eaters each grabbed one of Snape's arms and dragged him away, blood still flowing from his wounds. The immense bulk of the blond Death Eater now loomed over Harry and he prepared to attempt to dodge the killing curse he felt sure was about to come his way.

Suddenly, he heard a rush of wings above him and something enormous obscured the stars. Buckbeak had flown at the Death Eater, who staggered backward as the razor-sharp claws slashed at him. As Harry raised himself into a sitting position, his head still swimming from its last contact with the ground, he saw the huge Death Eater running as hard as he could, the enormous beast flapping behind him and screeching as Harry had never heard him screech.

Harry struggled to his feet, looking around groggily for his wand, hoping to give chase again, but even as his fingers fumbled in the grass, discarding twigs, he knew it would be too late. Just as he located it he heard a scream coming from the gates. The brother and sister Death Eaters had Disapparated just beyond the school boundaries, taking the bloody body of Snape with them. Buckbeak had abandoned his pursuit of the huge Death Eater and turned his attention to a smaller wizard, cowering in terror up against one of the tall pillars topped by a winged boar. Apparently Buckbeak remembered Malfoy's taunting of him from third year and it was now payback time for the arrogant Slytherin. Harry recalled with grim satisfaction that Malfoy had not taken his apparation test yet, and was undoubtedly waiting for one of the Death Eaters to side-along him. Within a few seconds, Buckbeak was driven away by a volley of curses from the last Death Eater, but not until after he had slashed Malfoy almost as badly as Snape had been slashed by the Sectumsempra curse. While Buckbeak circled angrily overhead just out of range, Malfoy was pulled away by the massive Death Eater and the two of them disappeared with a final pop. Buckbeak's screeching died down as an eerie silence settled over the gates.


HBP, Chapter 29

Scene: Harry and Hagrid are standing over Dumbledore's body, and Harry has just picked up and looked at the fake locket.

He did not want to leave Dumbledore's side, he did not want to move anywhere. Hagrid's hand on his shoulder was trembling. Then another voice said, "Harry, come on."

A much smaller and warmer hand had enclosed his and was pulling him upward. He obeyed its pressure without really thinking about it. Only as he walked blindly back through the crowd did he realize, from a trace of flowery scent on the air, that it was Hermione who was leading him back into the castle. Of course it was Hermione, he thought. Who else would it be? Who else had always been there for him when he needed her?

After they got away from the crowd, Hermione began to talk to him in a low, soothing voice. She knew him so well. She knew that he would be reluctant to talk, but also knew that hearing her voice would help calm him down.

"I saw you out there fighting Snape," she began. "I came out of the castle just as they all escaped. Way to nail the bastard. Too bad he got away." Harry looked up in surprise, as Hermione had never used language like this, especially not in reference to a teacher. The grim look on her face reassured him that she was completely serious. "It looked like you had him down before those other Death Eaters hit you by surprise." The way she said it was just right, focusing on his success and not dwelling on his mistake. Being supportive and not critical, just like she had been for him all year.

"Yeah, at first he was blocking everything I threw at him and then he gloated that he knew what was coming so I closed my mind. You should have seen the surprised look on his face when he couldn't break in, and I hit him with the next one. If only those other three hadn't come up just then." Hermione nodded and gave his hand a squeeze. He knew that she shared in his victory, as it was because of her that he had perfected his Occlumency and she had worked tirelessly with him on his nonverbal hexes.

Hermione also knew that Harry had hit him with the Sectumsempra curse, but she wasn't going to bring that up now. Besides, if ever there was an 'enemy' who merited being hit with that hex, it was Snape. She would later be stunned to learn that it was Snape's own curse that had felled him; that he had been the Half-Blood Prince.

"I was running out to help you but then I saw Hagrid go to you so I came over to see what was happening here instead," Hermione finished. She gestured at the crowd still gathered at the place where Dumbledore's body lay. Hermione had been the first student to reach him, and had stood there immobilized with horror for several minutes after she had worked out what must have happened atop the Astronomy Tower. But neither of them wanted to think any further along those lines right now.

"Are you all right?" she asked worriedly. "Physically, I mean," she hastened to add. None of them were all right emotionally, not after what had just happened.

He nodded. "I'm fine." To her credit, she did not object to his standard answer, understanding it to mean, 'I don't have any life-threatening injuries.' "What about you?" he asked, suddenly remembering that she had also been involved in the battle, as he pulled back to look her up and down.

"Oh, nothing," she muttered, seemingly irritated with herself. "I wasn't even in the fight." To his look of surprise she responded. "I'll tell you the details later when we sort it all out. McGonagall sent me to get you; everyone's gathering in the hospital wing."

"Everyone else on our side survived," she continued before he could ask, knowing what his next concern would be. "Neville and Ginny were both injured, but they'll recover. Bill is hurt the worst."

"But the Dark Mark – Malfoy said he stepped over a body …"

"He stepped over Bill, but it's all right, he's alive. He's a … a bit of a mess, that's all. Greyback attacked him."

(They continued to discuss the casualties on both sides as they approached the hospital wing.)

Before going through the doors they paused and turned to face each other. Their eyes locked as they both recalled the acknowledgment of their love for one another that they had made right before Harry had left the castle. It seemed so long ago. What did it even mean anymore, now that their whole world had been turned upside down? Harry had a sinking feeling about what he would have to do, but had no desire to voice those thoughts now. Instead they both came together and embraced in silence.

As they pushed through the doors they heard Lupin explaining Bill's condition. "No, I don't think that Bill will be a true werewolf," he said, "but that does not mean that there won't be some contamination. Those are cursed wounds. They are unlikely ever to heal fully, and – and Bill might have some wolfish characteristics from now on."

"Dumbledore might know something that'd work, though," Ron said. "Where is he? Bill fought those maniacs on Dumbledore's orders, Dumbledore owes him, he can't leave him in this state …"

Harry found himself unable to speak as a bludger-sized lump seemed to have lodged in his throat. Hermione took a deep breath and stepped forward.

"Ron – Dumbledore's dead."


HBP, Chapter 30

Scene: At the conclusion of Dumbledore's funeral.

Harry looked at Ginny, Ron, and Hermione: Ron's face was screwed up as though the sunlight were blinding him. Ginny's face was glazed with tears, but Hermione was no longer crying. She met Harry's gaze with the same soft, compassionate look that he had seen so often in her eyes through the years, and he knew that at that moment they understood each other perfectly, and that when he told her what he was going to do now, she would only say, "Be careful," not "Don't do it," and accept his decision, because she would not have expected anything less of him. And so he steeled himself to say what he had known he must say ever since Dumbledore had died.

"Hermione, listen," he said very quietly, as the buzz of conversation grew louder around them and people began to get to their feet. "I can't be involved with you anymore. We've got to stop seeing each other. We can't be together."

She said, with an oddly twisted smile, "It's for some stupid, noble reason, isn't it?"

"It's been like … it's been the most wonderful feeling in the world, being with you this past year," said Harry. "But I can't … we can't … I've got things to do alone now."

She did not cry, she simply looked at him. He had the feeling that she was waiting for him to complete his feeble argument so that she could demolish it.

"Voldemort uses people his enemies are close to. Think how much danger you'll be in if we keep this up. He'll know, he'll find out. He'll try and get to me through you."

"Don't be ridiculous, Harry," Hermione responded gently, with that same odd smile on her face. It appeared to him that the smile was saying, 'Is that all you've got, Potter?' "Honestly, he already knows about us. I've been with you for six years. Everyone knows I'm your best friend … me and Ron. How am I going to be in any less danger if we break up?" She shushed Harry as he tried to object and she continued. "Would I be safer by myself at home with my parents? Would I be safer if I stayed with Ron at the Burrow? Don't you think the Death Eaters know where Ron lives? Or would I be safer with you wherever you are?"

She paused as Harry frowned. "So even if I'm not your girlfriend they'll still want to use me or Ron as bait, right? Tell me, Harry, that you wouldn't want to come running to save us if he had either of us." Harry shook his head. She was right of course. Just like he had wanted to run to the Department of Mysteries to save Sirius last year.

"And don't give me this nonsense about having to do this alone," she continued, systematically countering every one of his arguments. "You know Ron and I are going to be with you all the way on this. We already told you that last summer." She quickly looked around to make sure that no one could overhear. "Can you honestly say you'd be more successful in finding and destroying those things by yourself than with us helping you?" He shook his head again as a smile began to form on his lips. She was right; that was a ridiculous suggestion. But she wasn't finished. "And don't you think," she said softly, her face moving toward his and her arms encircling his neck, "that you might need some comforting once in a while during this task?" As she leaned forward and pressed her lips softly against his, his resistance crumbled. She was right. She was always right. He needed her, for more reasons than one. He needed Ron too. After a very brief kiss she pulled away, a triumphant grin on her face. She knew she had won him over.

Harry nodded to her and looked over towards his other best friend. Ron, he saw, was now holding Ginny and stroking her hair while she sobbed into his shoulder, tears dripping from the end of his own long nose. Hermione went over to join them and Harry got up, turned his back on Dumbledore's tomb, and walked away around the lake. Moving felt much better than sitting still, just as setting out as soon as possible to track down the Horcruxes and kill Voldemort would feel better than waiting to do it …


Scene: Back to the original scene from the Prologue of this story.


Harry pulled his attention back to the present and refocused on Hermione. She was still holding his hands and had that odd smile on her face again. "You looked like you were really lost in thought there for a while," she pointed out.

"I was just thinking over the past few years and all the things the three of us have gone through together. How through it all we stuck together and trusted each other and worked out our differences." Hermione put her arms around him and pulled him onto a hug, then released one arm and reached out to Ron, pulling him into the hug as well.

"Shall we get going then?" Harry inquired as they all pulled away, smiles on their faces.

"Together?" Ron asked.

"Together!" Harry and Hermione chorused in response. And arm in arm, the trio began the walk back to the castle, and out toward the task awaiting them.

The End (for now)


A/N Several readers have asked if I'm going to continue this story into the summer and seventh year. That had not been my intention. When I thought about it, it seemed that it would be a rewrite of Soul Searching without any of the Harry/Ginny and Harry/Hermione relationship drama. Without that, I don't think Soul Searching would have been nearly as interesting (and it would have been a lot shorter!). On the other hand, many of the readers of Soul Searching were clamoring for me to hurry up and get Harry and Hermione together. I think I'll let it stay the way it is for a while, but if there's a huge demand for a Soul Searching revision that takes off from this alternate reality, I'll consider it. Another possibility would be for me to wait until JK's Book 7 comes out, and 'fix' that as well. In the meantime, I have other stories in progress, one of which will be posted soon.