One An Unbreakable Vow
Harry opened the parchment in full view of Hermione, Ron, Ginny, Neville and Luna. Somehow they always managed to be in the same train compartment. This time the mood was somber and subdued. The day before, the funeral of Albus Dumbledore had taken place. There was a question as to whether any of them would ride the Hogwarts Express back to Hogwarts for the next term at the end of summer.
Just before climbing aboard the train Harry had seen the very portly and not very welcome figure of his potion's professor pushing his way through the throng of students that were hurrying to board before the train pulled out. There were many last goodbyes and tears and sad faces and then there was Slughorn pushing ahead with his bulk and nodding and smiling to each person that stepped aside for him. He was oblivious to the fact that his smiling face was out of place in the grieving crowd.
"Sorry, sorry," he chimed and continued to push. "In a hurry! I must catch someone before they leave!" he said with some urgency. He patted a few heads, shook a few hands, ever mindful that he wanted to leave a good impression to some of his chosen few. "Oh there you are!" He said loudly as he spotted Harry. He made his final dash and ended up almost bowling everyone over his in path.
Harry wasn't at all sure that Slughorn was headed for him and wanted to be on board and tucked into a compartment before Slughorn could lay eyes on him, but he was too late. Hagrid had just wandered away chatting with some of the departing students after having just said goodbye to him. Harry turned and bumped into the man thinking that he had made good his escape when he had his hand on the door and was stepping in.
"Sorry, Professor," he mumbled, not at all sorry and wishing people would stop gawking at him. They had been doing that since the night that Dumbledore had died. He thought he'd gotten used to it and knew in his heart that he never would.
"That's alright Harry; alright indeed!" Slughorn gasped out of breath from his exertions. "I wanted to give you this before you left and just hadn't gotten around to it what with everything going on." The man held a rolled parchment in his beefy fist and thrust it at Harry who instinctively took it and felt the train begin to roll beneath the foot that remained on the platform.
"Gotta go Professor," he said and stepped onboard and swung the door shut.
"We're all in danger Harry," Slughorn shouted. "All of us!" the train picked up speed and Harry watched as Slughorn looked a little bewildered as he realized that there were no longer people gathered around him and he was left on the platform. He blanched and quickly disapparated.
Harry pulled in his head and saw that Ginny had waited for him.
"What did he give you?" she asked.
"Don't know," he answered. "A letter, I guess. Let's find Ron and Hermione and then I can tell you.
They proceeded down the corridor until they found the open compartment door and Hermione and Ron inside. As always two others had joined their little homeward bound party; Luna and Neville. They settled themselves in and Harry unrolled the parchment.
I do believe you must be blaming me for the death of Dumbledore. I have regretted the fact that I offered the memory to you that was the cause of it all and wish that I could take it all back. I just don't know what got into me that day since I had resisted Albus' attempts to retrieve that very memory himself.
I am writing to try and make amends to you. I believe that Albus was on the trail of that object and that you probably might follow in his footsteps what with the fact that you-know-who probably did make a you-know-what in his attempts to become immortal.
I behoove you with all my heart to be careful, Harry. He made attempts to enlist my aid and succor, and as you know I made myself hard to find for well over a year so that could not happen. I'm afraid that he will attempt again with a little more persuasion and so I am leaving the country. However, before I go, I felt so badly that I thought perhaps I can offer you one more clue. 'Why not?', I say to myself, 'I've already thrown the baby out with the bath water.' So if you will meet me in one week I will let you know WHO taught HIM how to make that thing you search for.
Instructions for our rendezvous are below.
1415 Mockingbird Lane, London. 10:00 o'clock sharp, please, Harry.
Harry reread the message and raised an eyebrow. He knew Slughorn was trying not to use the word Horcrux in the message in case it got in the wrong hands and if it had been read by anyone else they might have had difficulty. As it was it was very clear that Slughorn, as usual, decided everything was all about him, even Dumbledore's death. Offering me the memory, Harry sneered, that was hilarious. He had gone to a lot of trouble to get that memory from the man. Harry wondered what Slughorn would have thought if he had gone one step further with his imagination and realized that Voldemort had not only made one Horcrux , he had made seven.
"Harry, can you tell us what it's about?" Hermione asked. She sat near a window and watched him as he skimmed the letter again.
Harry glanced at Luna who was drawing on a piece of paper something that looked rather like a green griffin and yet was not exactly right. He hesitated to even ask her what it was. And then Neville was riding with them and he didn't want him to know anything about the Horcruxes and so shook his head, trying to give her a look that meant 'I'll tell you later."
She caught on quickly and nodded and Ron followed the whole procedure and understood as well. He settled back into his seat and stared out the window.
They rode for over an hour before Hermione stood and stretched. "I think I'll go for a little walk and saw my goodbyes. Ron, you coming?"
Ron had half fallen asleep and jerked awake and stared at her before she bumped his knee with her own and he rose to his feet. He had grown considerably over the school term and had to bend his head a little to get out the door. Harry watched them leave and then stood and excused himself. He left Neville and Luna playing a game and Ginny standing watch over them in case they decided to follow.
He wandered down the corridor until a hand grabbed his jacket and pulled him into an empty niche at the end of the train car.
"So what did Slughorn say?" Hermione asked as she peered around the corner and watched for strolling students.
Harry leaned against the wall and whispered, "He said he felt responsible for Dumbledore's death because he told me about the Horcruxes. He said he wants to make it up to me by telling me who taught Riddle how to do the spell to make them; AND he says he thinks Voldemort will try and persuade him to join his side."
"Really," Ron said. "He is responsible as far as I'm concerned.. He told You-Know-Who about them in the first place."
Harry was well aware of how much Ron disliked the man who favored some over others. He had been one not favored and it had rankled him.
"If you remember right, Riddle asked him, not the other way round," Harry replied.
Ron frowned and was about to comment when Hermione broke in, "So he's going to tell you who taught Voldemort. Will that do any good?"
Harry shrugged. "It's better then nothing Hermione. I haven't got many clues as to how to find them all and the only person who researched it is gone." Harry felt a familiar tightness in his chest at the thought of, Dumbledore, his head master and friend, now dead.
Hermione was silent as if thinking about it and Ron was watching the two of them.
"Why don't we meet him with you," she suggested. "When are you suppose to see each other?"
"In a week," Harry read the instructions.
"Alright then," she nodded. "I'll get a taxi and pick you up at your Aunt's house." She turned to Ron and scratched her chin. "Ron you write to Fred and George and see if you can't stay with them this coming week. You'll be right at Diagon Alley and we can catch you on the way."
Harry thought about it and shrugged. The Dursleys would not be happy about him leaving the house in the evening. But then, he had made a decision that he would leave the Dursleys long before the month was up. He had his own ideas about what he wanted to do and didn't want to share them. He knew he was returning to Number Four Privet Drive for one reason only and it had nothing to do with the fact that it offered him one month of protection.
"Right then," she said. "I'll send you a letter with the particulars. Harry are you going to be alright at the Dursleys?"
"We've got it set, Hermione," Ron answered for him. "He's coming to the Burrow."
"Yes, well you can't apparate there because you don't have your license." She wrinkled her nose and then peeked around the corner again. "And what happens if he has a problem with his aunt and uncle, Ron? What then?"
"I'll be alright, Hermione." He felt a bit miffed. She was treating him like a child. "I'm almost seventeen you know. I can take care of myself."
She turned to him with a look that would have made Mrs. Weasley blush. "I understand that, Harry. However, it's not often that the darkest, most feared wizard of all time is looking for you. Not to mention he's killed a very powerful wizard already, well, one of his Death Eaters did anyway." She frowned at his expression. " I think it pays to be cautious. We need to stay in touch and we need to plan ahead. We haven't had time to do that yet. We have to meet. Hogwarts may not even remain open after all that has happened. There's nothing that's sure right now."
Harry nodded and bit back the remarks that were at the tip of this tongue. He didn't want to fight with her; wasn't in the mood to have a conversation about Snape or Voldemort. "You're right."
Ron agreed, "Yeah, we've got to make plans. I don't even know if the Order is going to go on without Dumbledore."
"It has to!" Hermione breathed, looking suddenly distraught. "Surely Lupin will keep them together. Have you heard something from your mum or dad about it?"
Ron shook his head.
"There's the wedding. We'll meet then," Harry murmured. He had planned on being gone from the Dursleys and away from Ron and Hermione long before the wedding in the summer. He didn't want them to know that he thought it too dangerous to have them nearby and didn't think he could stand it if he lost either of them.
"Yes," Ron nodded. "You'll be with us by then. We need to figure out what to do."
"In the meantime, Harry," Hermione turned back to him, "I'm going to do some research and see what I can find. Just remember it's one month and then you're of age."
"I have to say something," Harry began and wished that he could avoid the reaction he was going to receive. "Hermione it may not be a good idea for you to go to Bill and Fleure's wedding. In fact, it might be better if you avoid coming back at all for awhile."
She stared at him with astonishment and her mouth gaped open at the suggestion. Ron was also looking at him as if he were mental. They had both just made up and become close and Harry knew Ron wanted to spend time with her.
"What is on your mind?!" she whispered fervently, her brows knitted together in frustration.
"Hermione," he pleaded, "Voldemort and his Death Eaters are going to be looking for muggle-born wizards and witches. You'll be in terrible danger." The fact that she was also a friend of his made her an even bigger target.
"Are you...have you...gone completely mad?! she stuttered.
He felt the heat of her fury and he raised his hands and backed away a step. "I understand, I do, Hermione," he said retreating a little more.
"When have you ...when have we not all stuck together and been the better for it?" she challenged. "I will not bail out on you now even if you try and drive me away." She frowned, hands on hips. "You wouldn't try would you, Harry?" This time she was speaking very loudly. "Because...because if you do..." she turned to Ron, "What do you say about it?"
"He does have a point Hermione," Ron nodded in agreement and cringed a little as she
glared at him.
"Ha!" she huffed. "Well I don't need your permission to do anything. So it is settled. We will meet in one week." She turned her back on them and made her way towards their compartment.
"Nice try, mate," Ron said sympathetically. "She is strong willed isn't she?"
Harry shook his head at his remark and left it at that. Nothing had been resolved and he wasn't sure that he wanted to see Slughorn. He had promised to notify them and make arrangements to meet if he wanted them along.
Several hours later they pulled into Kings Cross station and his mood took an even steeper dive when he saw the Dursleys waiting on the platform as he stepped through the barrier. Dudley had gained in height what he had lost in weight and he looked formidable standing beside his now diminutive mother and grotesquely obese father.
He didn't turn back to wave goodbye, fearing that he might just set his belongings down in the middle of the terminal and refuse to budge for a month.
Arrival at Number Four Privet Drive was uneventful. Harry's Uncle Vernon disappeared to the lounge and turned on the television, Dudley went off with friends and Aunt Petunia went into the kitchen. No one had spoken to him even at the train station. He pulled his trunk up the stairs and parked it in the corner of his room. The bed hadn't been made up nor did it have bedding. The room looked like a prison cell.
He opened the cage door to Hedwig's cage and let her step onto her perch and then sat on the edge of the bed and waited in silence.
He had not seen his aunt since leaving her the night Dumbledore had arrived as his escort. Harry doubted that they knew that Dumbledore was now dead. He doubted they knew anything about what had taken place the past months. Looking back on it he could see how Dumbledore had tried to forewarn him that he might not be around much longer. He had told Harry's aunt and uncle that he was to be of age on this birthday, not his eighteenth birthday. And at the time, Harry was nonplussed when Dumbledore had confided in the Dursleys that Harry had an inheritance from Sirius. Dumbledore had even gone so far as to test Kreacher's allegiance to him and to see if he would be obedient to someone other than a Black.
All of the little things began to come back to him as he sat there and the sky turned from light blue to a dark peach, then orange and finally a deep indigo. There was a sharp rap on the door and his aunt's voice, muffled and garbled coming through the door; something about, "Wash up and...for dinner."
Although not hungry, Harry was not about to displease his aunt. He had something he wanted from her and he needed to pick a time to approach her; he didn't want her angry.
He went downstairs with his feet dragging on each step. He passed the wretched cupboard that he had spent so many years sleeping and spending his time in and touched it lightly with his fingers. He wasn't exactly saying goodbye, since the house and the people in it meant very little to him, but he was finding an anchor in the memory.
Dinner was very familiar. They ate in silence and Dudley watched his favorite shows on the television from several angles, since several televisions had been installed for that purpose. His aunt and uncle spoke to each other but did not address him, as was their custom. He was used to not having them quiz him about his school year and was even relieved. It wasn't until he'd almost put the last mouthful in his mouth that his uncle suddenly turned to him.
"Now-we- your aunt and I, have some things to discuss with you," Uncle Vernon said reluctantly looking directly at him.
Harry nodded and chewed thoughtfully. It was going to be very difficult to keep his resolve to be nice to them but knew it was his last chance to get what he wanted.
"Since your people..." he sneered slightly as he said it, "consider you of age on your birthday, which is one month away, then we expect you to move out at that time."
Harry nodded again.
"If I understood correctly you inherited some money and some real estate when your godfather died." Vernon coughed slightly into his meaty fist and continued, "We have not asked for compensation for having paid for all of your expenses over the last seventeen years. It was out of the goodness of our hearts that we even took you in..."
"How much?" Harry asked, interrupting the syrupy story his uncle was weaving.
"Huh? What?" his uncle asked.
"How much money do you want?" Harry asked simply and when his aunt and uncle looked at each other and then at him he went on, "Wizard money doesn't come in pounds, it comes in gold galleons. So how much do you want?"
"Er, uh," Uncle Vernon was turning a slight shade of crimson and was getting flustered.
Harry had seen the look many times and hurried to add, "I'll have to go to Gringott's, that's the wizarding bank, to make a withdrawal. I would guess you could have the gold converted to cash, if that would suit you."
"Yes," Vernon said.
"Very well," Harry said, nodding and picked up his plate to take it to the sink. He could hear a whispered conversation at his back.
"Fifty-five percent," Uncle Vernon blurted out.
Harry turned to them and studied them and then nodded. He had no idea how much money Sirius and the Black family had left behind but he had not wanted any of it anyway.
Satisfied that he wasn't going to argue, Uncle Vernon continued, "That does not mean that you will not be responsible for doing the work around the house as payment for your keep for the next month."
Harry nodded again.
Vernon pushed his chair away from the table appearing triumphant and pulled the napkin from beneath his chin. He leaned over and pecked Harry's Aunt Petunia on the cheek and said, "I'm off. I won't be late."
Harry couldn't believe his ears. His uncle never left the house when he got home in the evening. It presented a perfect time for him to confront his aunt. He waited until he heard the car pull out of the parkway and finished scraping the dishes and soaping them down before they went into the washer- something his aunt always insisted on- before he spoke. She was still at the table finishing her tea.
He stepped back into the room and checked on Dudley who was engrossed in his programs. His aunt looked at him with frightened eyes when he sat down across from her.
"What?" she began to say and he raised a hand to silence her.
"I'll do what Uncle Vernon asks on one condition," he said. Her eyes got wider and he knew that she was feeling trapped. "I want to know about my mother. You're the only one that can tell me anything about her. This is the last chance I'll have and then I'll disappear from your life forever." He watched her go from fearful to angry as he talked. "Dumbledore died just a couple of days ago. He was murdered. So whatever you promised him you are now released from your obligation. I can leave the house tonight," he said and finished with, "You can tell Uncle Vernon I ran away.
She studied him for a moment, looked at her hand and then stood and said, "Wait here."
Harry sat at the table and stared out into the garden that was growing dimmer as the evening proceeded. He was filled with the same nostalgia that he had before coming in for supper and something else that he couldn't put his finger on. It was like some sixth sense had been triggered. He stared at the garden and thought that the moment he left the house and its' protection he would be a hunted man and no matter how much he hated being with his aunt and uncle, what lay in wait for him was worse.
He sensed her presence immediately and turned to look up at her. She held something in her hands that she placed in front of him. It was a leather-bound book, crumpled at the edges with things stuffed in between the pages so that it looked lumpy.
"It was your mother's diary or journal," Aunt Petunia said. "Dumbledore sent it to me when she was killed. I don't know why he thought I would want it." She said it gruffly. "It yours. Now, I expect you to leave and make good your promise."
Harry picked up the precious book and stood and looked at her for a moment before asking, "How could you hate her so? She was your sister?"
Petunia stared back defiantly and answered, "I took you in and you have lived here for seventeen years. I have paid my dues. No one can say that I haven't. Now I understand that the Unbreakable Vow is dissolved at the death of either party. That's what your Dumbledore said. So he is dead and I am no longer obligated."
Harry listened in fascination. You've had made a magical Unbreakable Vow to Dumbledore, he thought to himself. He answered her, "I don't know about Unbreakable Vows, Aunt Petunia, but since you have given me this I will do what I said I'd do and leave." He turned away to head up stairs and then turned back. "Was there anything else that you got that belonged to my mother?"
His aunt was staring out in the garden as he had only moments earlier. She sighed deeply and then turned to him.
"Just a message. I never understood what it meant until this evening." She paused for a moment and said, " She sent it by one of those infernal owls just days before she died. The paper said , 'Tell Harry that it is at Gringott's in vault 125."
Harry froze as he heard the words and struggled to speak, "What is IT?"
She shrugged and turned away. "I haven't the faintest idea. Your Uncle will be back in a half hour. I suggest you be gone by then."