Disclaimer: This sequel to "Who Lives in Disguise" is a non-profit tribute to the works of JK Rowling who created and, together with her publishers and licensees, owns the characters and settings elaborated herein.
Warning: HBP-spoilers. Thanks to all my reviewers and my previewers, Bellegeste and cckeimig.
Harry hated coming back to Grimmauld Place, but when it came down to it there was nowhere else to go. They weren't welcome at the Dursleys, who'd seen them off with injunctions to never return, nor, for other reasons, at the Grangers, the Burrow would mean acceding to Mrs Weasley's maternal authority, and lodgings in Diagon Alley or Hogsmeade or even the Muggle world were too exposed to even consider.
"We could get Bill to teach us to set wards," Ron had suggested rather half-heartedly as they walked through a deserted park somewhere near Bristol, considering their options.
"That might do when we're on the move," Harry said, "but not when we're staying in one place for weeks or longer. Voldemort found my parents, even through a Fidelius. If he's looking for me, he'll slice through our wards like butter. I'm not ready to face him yet. We still have at least two You-Know-Whats to go."
"You mean we're not ready to face him," Ron corrected. "We're not letting you go alone. Right, Hermione?"
"And you're sure your parents –"
"My mum would nag worse than yours." She poked him in the arm. "She doesn't approve of us dropping out of school to fight a war she thinks we're too young to be involved in anyway. Besides, we'd have to replace Dumbledore's wards with our own or they'd ring incessantly while you and Harry were there and even louder every time you went in or out, and we already agreed that any wards we set wouldn't be strong enough."
Also, of course, it would mean finding a new meeting-place when she needed to consult Professor Snape, and that just wasn't an option. She'd deserve every sneer he gave her, if she let the boys talk her into this.
"Maybe it was a mistake to tell the Order they could keep it on as headquarters," Harry said. His hand went to his pocket and they knew he was fondling the eagle-headed key again. "It won't be easy keeping everything secret while we're living in the same house as some of them and seeing them every time there's a meeting."
"One word, Harry: Snape. The house is alarmed against him now, but if the Order weren't there, he might get in and attack us before we could stop him."
"There is that," Hermione said, smiling to hide the lump in her throat. She hated hearing them talk about Snape, hated it, especially now that she knew more about what he'd given up for their sake. He wasn't a nice man, he probably never had been, but she knew now, as she hadn't in school, that nice didn't mean much. "We'll just have to be very careful what we say in front of them."
"Better yet, let's make it a rule now never to talk about plans or ideas or anything without first casting Muffliato." Harry fixed Hermione with a challenging glare. "And don't remind me who made that spell. It doesn't matter, okay? If it works and it's not dark or dangerous, then it's silly to refuse to use it when we need it."
"He's right, Hermione."
She leaned against Ron's shoulder so she didn't have to meet their eyes, and felt his arm curl around her.
"I happen to agree with you, actually," she said and took a long deep breath. "That's why I brought the Prince's book with me."
Harry's mouth fell open, but at first no words came out. He tried again.
"I fetched it from the Room of Requirement the night before we left school and brought it with me." She curled herself further into Ron's embrace for reassurance.
"But you hated that book! You were always telling me off for reading it and trusting it!" Harry spluttered.
"Until you knew it was Snape's," Ron said slowly, his arm falling away from her. "I remember now, when Harry said the Prince was evil after we knew he'd murdered Dumbledore, you said that evil was too strong a word. You don't still trust the nasty, slimy git, do you?"
Hermione stared at the ground, wrapping her own arms around herself. She should have known they'd react this way, however much they'd agreed with her position before they knew she shared it. She swallowed hard.
"I knew you'd want the book back eventually, Harry. It's got too many useful spells and potions to chuck it out, just because the person who wrote it grew up to be a Death Eater and a murderer." Not a murderer; a soldier under orders. She shook her head and swallowed again. "He wasn't a murderer when he wrote it. You studied that book all year and you only found one spell that was darker than one of Ron's brothers' Wheezes."
"How do you know he wasn't a murderer?" Harry glowered at her. "That spell was for killing. He wrote on it that it was for enemies."
"Because we know who his enemies were in school and he didn't kill any of them, did he?" she snapped back. "Don't you think Dumbledore would have known if he had? Don't you think Sirius or Lupin would have told you if there was ever any question of someone he didn't like disappearing or turning up dead?"
"Maybe he just didn't get the opportunity," Ron said. "Doesn't mean he didn't want to."
There was nothing she could say to that. Pointing out that he was hardly the only one, that at least one of those enemies had tried to kill him, wouldn't go down well with either of her friends, no matter how true it was.
"That spell almost killed Draco Malfoy," Harry reminded her.
"I know," she said. "I didn't say that one wasn't dark, only that the other ones weren't and that some of them, like Muffliato, are very useful. And if we can use them to do what we need to do, we should. It's not like they're Unforgivables or anything, is it?"
"But Sectumsempra is a spell for killing," Harry insisted.
"It might be," Hermione said. "I didn't say it wasn't. But we can't be sure it is, either. You've only ever cast it once and, if Malfoy was trying to Crucio you, I suppose you hit back with all your strength."
Ron scoffed, but Harry's brow furrowed and his eyes half-closed.
"I might have seen it cast another time," he said. "Remember I told you how I saw my dad and Sirius ragging on him that time? He cast something that cut my dad's cheek, I don't know what, but I suppose it might have been that."
"If it was, he probably just didn't cast it straight," Ron said. "He tried to kill your dad and he missed."
Harry's brow creased even more.
"I don't think he did, actually," he said slowly. "I'm pretty sure he was pointing his wand straight at him. And it would have been pretty stupid to try, because he was surrounded by half his class."
Hermione crossed her fingers inside her fists and stared very hard at the tussocks of grass so she wouldn't be tempted to say, "See!"
"You sure about that?" Ron asked.
"Pretty sure, yeah." He stared back into the past, then suddenly shook his head. "No, I don't think it could have been Sectumsempra. There was a flash of light when he did it and I don't remember seeing one when I did. Maybe there was. I was so shocked I couldn't look at anything but the blood pouring out of his chest. I thought I'd killed him."
"Might be worth checking if you can control it, though," said Ron. "You could cast it at, oh, I don't know, a Chocolate Frog, maybe, or an apple or something and see how much it cuts."
"What's the point of that?" Harry asked.
"Because it's a weapon and you know you can make it work and we're going to need all the weapons we can get." Ron rubbed the back of his head. "And we need to know how to use it. How else do you think we're going to find out, ask Snape?"
Destroying the Ravenclaw Horcrux came first. Harry pulled it out of his pocket as soon as they were settled in to their rooms, which was as simple as choosing a pair of adjoining bedrooms with empty walls and dumping their knapsacks. They gathered in Hermione's room and cast Muffliato as planned, Ron lounging on the chair and Harry and Hermione perching on the bed. The house was echoingly empty with only Lupin and Tonks living there; even the portrait of Mrs Black had seemed to be asleep when they tiptoed past it, but they weren't taking any chances.
"What shall we do with this one?" Hermione asked, leaning back and squirming sideways a bit to avoid the lump in her mattress, only to find a bigger one with her other leg. At the other end of the bed, Harry seemed to be doing the same. Ugh. She'd have to try turning the mattress tonight before bedtime if she wanted to get any sleep on it.
"It's still the same two choices, Bill or Mad-Eye," she reminded them. Too bad she couldn't suggest Snape, but she could ask him tonight. Maybe he'd be able to teach her at least some of what she needed to know.
"Bill isn't back from his honeymoon until next week," Ron pointed out.
Harry frowned at the key, running his finger up and down the shaft.
"I'm not sure I want to ask Moody. He's sure to want to know where we got it and why we brought back something we thought might be dark." He stood the key upright on his palm, with the beak turned towards him, and turned it this way and that. "And then he'll start picking holes in our answers until it turns into a full-on interrogation."
"You think we should wait then?" Hermione asked.
"I wonder if he has 'an eye for the ladies', as Mum calls it. Maybe you could charm him into letting you borrow it and we won't need to tell him anything," Ron suggested, grinning at her.
She threw her pillow at him. He threw it back. She dodged and stuck out the tip of her tongue, grabbing the pillow and hugging it to prevent him snatching it back. Perhaps he might have, if they hadn't noticed that Harry's cheeks were turning red.
"We can wait if you want to, Harry," she said, putting the pillow down next to her, but keeping her hand on it. "If you don't feel safe about keeping the You-Know-What in your pocket you could put it in your Gringott's vault. It ought to be perfectly safe, if no one but us knows it's there."
"I think we need to learn how to do this ourselves," Harry said. laying the key flat again. "Do you think you could, Hermione? If we found the right books?"
"Course she could," Ron asserted. "Didn't I say once that she was brilliant but scary?"
Hermione rolled her eyes at him, but her mouth was twitching.
"Thanks for that, Ron. You can put that on my tombstone after I blow myself up."
"That isn't funny. Don't even joke about doing that," Ron said, the tips of his ears turning red.
"Who says I'm joking? That's what's likely to happen if I try to learn curse-breaking from a book. What if it turns out to be like Borage's Potions text, full of deliberate mistakes?" Actually, she wasn't sure they were deliberate, but she was giving the author the benefit of the doubt. (Although secretly, she wasn't convinced that ascribing ignorance rather than malice was an actual benefit.)
"Well, you never blew yourself up in Potions class," he argued.
"Lifting curses is a bit more dangerous than Potions class, Ron," she pointed out.
"Only when you're not standing next to Neville when he's brewing."
"He'd have been perfectly safe if Snape didn't harass him all the time," Harry said. "We did our O.W.L.s practicals at the same time and he was fine."
Letting her curls hang forward over her face, Hermione made a little grimace. Neville was a lovely person, but she wasn't sure Harry was right. After all, he'd begun melting cauldrons in their first lesson, before Snape ever addressed a direct word to him except roll call. It was true that Snape made him worse, though. She changed the subject again.
"Look, I'll do whatever we need to, but let's be a bit sensible. I haven't forgotten Dumbledore's withered hand, if you have, and he was a lot more experienced than me."
She'd have liked to add that he'd only survived because Snape got there in time, but she wasn't that silly. Besides, he'd told her not to defend him; it wouldn't help him and it would raise questions about her.
"We could ask Bill to recommend some books," Ron said, his brows wrinkled. "Except that would probably make him almost as suspicious as asking him to teach you. You could approach him by yourself, maybe, and say you were thinking about curse-breaking as a career and could he recommend some good books on the subject. He might even lend you his old textbooks."
"I suppose that would be better than nothing," Hermione said unenthusiastically. "But would that be advanced enough for breaking a curse that Voldemort set? I wish we'd thought of a different excuse last time so I could have been with you when he checked the locket. If I'd seen what spells he cast, I could have copied them."
There was a short silence as they studied different parts of the tatty old carpet on the floor. Then Ron's head shot up.
"You could see them," he said, "if we could get hold of a Pensieve!"
Hermione stared at him. His occasional flashes of brilliance always took her by surprise. Then practicality set in.
"But where are we going to find one?" she said gloomily. "I heard they're terrifically expensive and rare."
"Dumbledore had one," he said, leaning forward and thrusting out his chin.
Hermione leaned forward too and rested her chin in her hand.
"Yes, but we can't get hold of it," she objected.
"Snape had one too, didn't he? Harry said he looked in it during their lessons."
She closed her eyes and opened them. Ron's eyes were as blue as the midday sky. If he leaned just a little bit closer, she could trace the freckles on his nose with one finger.
"Yes, but we can't get hold of that one either," she said, blushing slightly. "Besides, it was probably the same one and he only borrowed it."
"Harry saw both of them. He'd probably know. Harry? Harry?"
They turned as one, suddenly aware that he'd dropped out of the conversation and was staring again at the eagle-head of the key, studying its fierce eyes as if he could see into them. He didn't notice them noticing him.
"Harry, what are you doing?" Hermione said sharply. "Harry, watch out! Is it bewitching you? Harry! Put it down!"
Harry blinked and curled his fingers around it.
"I'm only thinking," he said. "You know, it's probably not protected at all."
"We can't know that!" she expostulated.
"Yes, but think about it, Hermione," Harry said reasonably. "He never had the chance, did he? He went straight from killing my dad to killing my mum – arguing with my mum and then killing her – so when would he have put protections on it?"
"He could have done it before," she urged.
Harry went on, unheeding.
"In fact, we don't even know if he had a chance to put a bit of his soul in it. He probably thought my death was the important one so he'd have been planning to do that after killing me and he never got the chance, did he?"
"Yes, but –"
"If it is a Horcrux, I can ask it. It would understand Parseltongue, like the first one."
"Harry, Harry, don't –"
He stood up, still holding the key where he could see it face-to-face.
"I have to, Hermione. I need to know. Were my parents just obstacles to him or was he planning to use them for anchors? And if it was the second, then which parent was he using?"
"Yes, but not now," she said.
"I was there, Hermione. I saw it and lived it when I was a baby, and now I can only see it when there are Dementors. I can't wait, Hermione. Do you think you could, if it was you? I need to know now."
Harry's hand clenched around the key till the knuckles went white. He lifted it as if to hurl it against the wall. Hermione's fists clenched too and her mouth trembled. Ron looked from one to the other of them and took a long breath.
"He's right, Hermione. You can't expect him to wait. And he isn't going to trigger a protection just by talking to it. It will think it's talking to its master, won't it, because no one else knows Parseltongue."
"But – Harry, this isn't the only way! If we get a Pensieve, you could look at your own childhood memories. That would be safer. Just wait a little bit longer until we get one or at least until we find out if we can get one. Please, Harry."
But Harry shook his head and Ron's strong freckled arms held Hermione back.
"Sometimes you just don't understand, Hermione. He has to do this."
Harry put the key on the little table then pushed the table into the far corner and came back to stand beside them.
"Cast a shield, just in case," he told them.
They fumbled out their wands and said in unison "Protego." Harry licked his lips. He was better at switching to Parseltongue now.He didn't need to see a snake to speak it.
"Are you awake, my ssnake?"
A curl of mist emerged from the beak. The three friends drew a little closer together.
Hermione leaned into Ron's shoulder. His arm slid round her waist and tightened. Harry didn't notice.
"Do you remember when you were woken?" he asked.
"Tell me, my ssnake. Sshow me your ssecretss."
'Ask Snape' had been a very good idea, Hermione thought. She did so that night.
"I told the boys I had your book," she said.
He was a deeper shadow in the hedge, his face barely visible on a night this dark, but she could just make out that he nodded.
"I imagine you thought the time was right. Was it?"
"Almost. It was Harry who brought up using your spells so I thought it would be less suspicious to tell them now that I had it than to wait till later. Ron was a bit suspicious, because I'd always been so against that book because of not knowing who wrote it and he didn't like that I seemed to find you as the writer less suspicious than a stranger. I think Harry was more surprised than anything," she said.
She could almost see his face now as her eyes got used to the darkness. He looked her over without expression.
"I suppose there was little choice. Very well. Was that all you wanted to tell me?"
She inched a little closer, her hands fidgeting in her pockets where he couldn't see. Trivial things first; she might forget to bring them up later.
"No, but first I have some things to ask. Mr Weasley told us today that they've postponed opening Hogwarts till the first of October. I don't suppose you know why? Has You-Know-Who threatened it directly?"
His eyes narrowed and his lips curled.
"He's threatened it directly or indirectly every year since you started there. Why should this year be different?"
She bit her lip. She should have known to expect his stonewalling, but somehow she never did. There was no point complaining; if he didn't think she needed to know yet, he wouldn't tell her.
"Tell me about Sectumsempra," she said.
"What did you want to know?"
She huffed a short exasperated breath.
"Why you wrote it. How you use it. Whether it's possible to control the force you put into it. And, um, whether it's the spell you used on Harry's dad the time he looked in your Pensieve." She paused. "Wait, was it your Pensieve?"
"No, it was Dumbledore's." His Adam's apple bobbed. "Sectumsempra? I mainly use it for chopping ingredients when I'm in a hurry or need extra hands, but it's effective enough in a duel, although there are many faster ways of killing. The control factors are intent and wand movement. The wider you wave your wand, the more extensive the injuries. Now, have you made any progress in more important areas?"
She knew it wasn't worth asking again. He'd said all he intended.
"We've got the Ravenclaw key. It was at Godric's Hollow and we've taken it to Grimmauld Place, because we couldn't think of anywhere safer to stay. Harry talked to it in Parseltongue today. It is a Horcrux – it must be or it couldn't talk Parseltongue, could it? – and it says it was made from his dad's death. But there's something wrong there. That doesn't make sense, does it? Why would You-Know-Who have made a Horcrux from the first person he killed that night? Why didn't he save it for Harry? He was the significant one, the prophecy child, not his parents."
Snape's face was a mask, but his fingers twitched once.
"They were significant enough. If you recall, they had defied him three times. Was the key warded? Did you disarm it?"
She studied him through narrowed eyes, but he was giving nothing away.
"It said it wasn't, but I persuaded the boys not to take the risk of trying. Actually, I suggested it might be a good idea to keep it until we find the next one, because we might think of other questions to ask. They didn't much like that, but they agreed to wait till Bill comes back or until we can get hold of a Pensieve – whichever comes first – so I can see how he checked for wards and hexes on the last one."
"The Dark Lord has always been adept at subterfuge. You'd be better advised not to ponder this news too deeply until you have verified that the key was speaking the truth about its wards. If it was, then we will discuss the other question and what it might mean." He shot her a searching look and his lips tightened. "Put it out of your head, Miss Granger. At this moment, it is pointless speculation."
That was a mistake. She knew him too well after six months of lessons, knew him better than anybody but Dumbledore ever had; he wouldn't have warned her off if he wasn't concealing something.
"You don't want me to think about what it means," she said slowly. "That means it's something you think I won't like. Do you think it would put me off cooperating with you or –"
She stared at him. He looked back with narrowed eyes, but he was saying nothing to defend himself. Which meant it was more important than whether or not she trusted him. Her lips parted. She knew what was most important to him; he'd told her.
I will do whatever is necessary to keep Potter alive to do his work … Potter must not know … It would destroy him … After all is over, it will not matter…
So her suspicions were correct. Voldemort had planned to make two Horcruxes that night. And the second one would have been from Harry's death, because he hadn't planned to kill Harry's mum. But then it went wrong and somehow Harry had wound up connected to Voldemort. They shared thoughts, they had twinned wands, and Harry was even a Parselmouth, like his enemy. And now they knew why. She gasped and put her clenched fist to her mouth.
"It's – It's Harry, isn't it? You think it means the last one's Harry!"
He wasn't looking at her now. His eyes were on the aspidistra bush he'd twice stopped her mutilating. Her chest felt small and squashed, and her throat ached with the effort of breathing. She shook her head and tried to speak, but her mouth was too dry.
"I told you to put it out of your head," he said. "Why would the Dark Lord have tried to kill Potter if he was the last one? They anchor him to the world."
She shook her head slowly.
"He isn't trying to kill Harry anymore. When we were in the Ministry, Malfoy told the other Death Eaters to be gentle with Harry, but they could kill the rest of us. And you told the other Death Eaters the same when Harry was chasing you. He told me. You even took the Crucio off him. You said he had to be left to the Dark Lord –"
"So that he can do it himself –"
"– Maybe he just didn't know at first. But he felt Harry in the snake with him when he attacked Mr Weasley and then he did. It was then that his orders changed, wasn't it? About the time you started teaching him Occlumency!"
"You are jumping to conclusions, Miss Granger."
She stepped back, her hands pushing away the empty air in front of her.
"I can't – I – Oh, it can't be, it mustn't be!"
His hard eyes glared into hers. He stood tall and straight as a stone tower.
"It might not be. We know nothing as of yet," he said.
She licked her lips and shook her head again wildly.
"But it could be. You think it is, don't you, or you wouldn't have tried to stop me thinking about it. It's him, isn't it? It's him!"
He put both hands on her shoulders and shook her till her words trailed off into sobs.
"Cease these hysterics at once," he hissed. "We don't know what it means yet or even if the key was telling the truth. You know who was talking through it; I would not trust anything from that quarter."
His hands bit cruelly into her flesh and he gave her another shake. She stared up at him helplessly.
"If it is him," he said, "and remember that it may not be because this means only that the Dark Lord probably intended to make two on that occasion, not that he succeeded – If it is, we'll deal with it. We may be able to destroy the anchor without mortally injuring your friend. There are possibilities; removing the scar alone, perhaps, or placing him in a deathlike sleep as we draw it out –"
"Not if it's a Horcrux," she whispered. "We need him awake to speak Parseltongue."
"No. The headmaster had other ways of disarming them. If it comes to that, you must call me and I'll assist you. If there is any way, we'll find it. Until then, let it go. He must not find out that it's a possibility. If you can't keep a calm demeanour around your friends, I shall have to Obliviate these last few minutes from your consciousness. Do you understand?"
"Do you promise?" she demanded. "You don't even like him! Do you promise?"
Their eyes met. It was months since he'd slipped into her mind, but she remembered the feeling and welcomed him in.
"Yes, I promise."
A/N In OotP, "Snape's Worst Memory", the text says that Snape "directed his wand straight at James. There was a flash of light…" so it seems clear that he didn't miss; the gash was exactly what he intended. In HBP, "Sectumsempra", Harry "bellowed" the spell and "waved his wand wildly". There is no mention of the "flash of light", but that doesn't prove it was a different spell. Canon isn't consistent about mentioning flashes of light, for example, when Harry casts Stupefy in the third Triwizard task, there's no mention of the light it should have produced.