Chapter 4 – Well Then, Let's Get Rid Of Them All!
The next morning they all met on the terrace for a wonderful breakfast outside under the large canopy. All but Harry, who only joined them about an hour after they finished their breakfast, but Dobby was there within moments to get him something to eat. Hermione, Remus and Sirius all gasped when they saw him.
"What's up? Do I have something on my face?" he asked.
"Have you looked into the mirror?" Hermione asked back.
"Just my face, but I thought that looked all right..." Harry said, clearly confused.
"You should go and look into the full length mirror in our bathroom," Remus advised. "How did you get into your clothes this morning?"
Harry shrugged his shoulders, but he looked worried.
"I didn't notice anything. These are the new clothes, they fit very well..."
"Oh, Remus, we charmed them to adjust to his size, don't you remember?" Hermione threw in.
"Ah, I did forget about that. Harry wouldn't have noticed that then."
"What's going on?" Harry asked. "I'm right here, you know!"
"You've grown a bit, Harry," Hermione said. "Probably from the blocks that Bill lifted last night."
"Ah. That's why I felt so funny this morning."
"Headache?" Sirius asked.
"No, not really. More like a dizzy spell."
"And that passed?"
"Oh, yes! I'm fine now. – Really!"
"Have you cast any spells since you got up?" Remus asked, curious.
"We'll have to see how that goes after your breakfast."
So once Harry had finished his breakfast Remus made him try a few simple spells, but foremost he gave him a feather to use for the levitation charm.
"Wingardium Leviosa," Harry said.
Upon which the feather sped up and was taken out of their sight by the wind. Remus chuckled, Hermione and Sirius stared after the vanishing feather and Hermione said:
"You're taking the word out of my mouth, Hermione," Sirius replied.
"Here, Harry, try another one, but this time, only think the spell, don't actually pronounce it," Remus suggested, handing Harry another feather.
Again he pointed his wand. This time the feather actually soared the way he was used to.
"I'd say he won't have to learn to cast silently in his sixth year. You'll have an easy time in Defence and Charms then, Harry, because most of your sixth year will be consecrated to silent spell casting in these two subjects and Transfiguration," said Remus.
"Really? Do you think I can have a go, too?" Hermione asked.
"Sure. You might not have Harry's raw power though, Hermione."
"I know I don't have it. But I'm usually at least a year or so ahead of the others in my year, because I'm always studying ahead," Hermione replied cheekily.
"Too true!" confirmed Harry.
It took her a few tries, but she saw her feather float in front of her within only a quarter of an hour. Harry kissed her.
"Good job, Hermione. Let's go to Diagon Alley then. We need some paint and fabric and some polish for the furniture in the guest room," Remus said, beaming.
"You get that while I go down to the Black vault. What do you prefer, Harry, going with them to the hardware shop or coming with me to the hardcore vault?" Sirius asked.
They laughed and Harry said:
"In all fairness I'd rather go with the surface team, but I'll join you so you won't have to go down there alone, Sirius."
"Very nice of you, I have to say, because I know what you give up. I suggest that we recuperate in Florean Fortescue's Ice Parlour afterwards. My treat of course!"
"That's what I call a nice payment."
"Excellent! We'll probably finish before you, so we'll come back and start on the room. Would you bring us something back?" asked Remus.
"'Course!" promised Sirius.
The four took the Floo to the Leaky Cauldron and emerged there one by one. As they passed they greeted the barkeeper Tom. Once through the passage they split up, both couples exchanging a few tender kisses.
"Do you have enough galleons, Remus?" Sirius asked.
"I do, love, don't worry."
"Good. Does that mean that when we come home the room will be nice and bright and shiny?."
"Might do. I thought of the one on the opposite end that also goes out to the terrace."
"Thought you would. Good choice, too! The polish will get the furniture look nice again. Would be a shame to throw out such lovely Art Deco stuff."
"My parents *love* Art Deco, Sirius, they'd be very sorry if you threw that furniture away! They'd probably make you feel sorry," Hermione said.
"Can't risk that. They will love this house then! It oozes Art Nouveau to Art Deco, doesn't it?"
"Absolutely. I already look forward to see their eyes and faces when they see it! See you two later then!"
Sirius and Harry marched off to Gringotts. Hermione looked at Remus and asked:
"And where are we headed? I'm curious to see a magical version of a hardware shop."
"Choosing paint and fabric colours. Over here, we need to go to this side alley, Silvertown Close."
That side alley quickly opened to a larger shopping area with a wider street, where the shops were a bit larger in size than the quaint shops in the main alley.
"I don't think I've ventured in here before," said Hermione.
"You probably would have had you grown up with magical parents. This is the area where most of the everyday shopping is done - everything from groceries to more modern clothing is sold along here, more like a regular Muggle shopping area. It's certainly not as picturesque as the main Alley, but still not completely modern. Here we are; this is the hardware store. You find everything in here, from door frames to hinges, from screws to window sills, decoration material, furniture from the smallest to the largest, whatever you could need to build a house."
"Doesn't sound very magical, though..."
"Oh, lots of things here are highly magical even. The Ministry would never allow selling magical plumbing items to non-magicals, for example, because they work with magic. You need to cast your spell to send dishes to wash, but the water is conjured and vanished, doesn't come out of a tube and doesn't run out to a tube. That's just an example."
"Wow, I never knew! Because of the way the Basilisk moved around in tubes I know that there are drain pipes in Hogwarts, so I thought..."
"That's a strange thing, really, because the water works the same there as with other magical plumbing. Never seen that there are no drains in the showers? The floors are charmed to vanish the water straight away. Loo works the same way."
"Can't believe it that I never noticed that before!"
Hermione looked around while they went to the paint department. They passed an area where doors and fitting window frames were sold. A seemingly quite frustrated wizard discussed some issues he had with a window he bought with a shop assistant. Then they passed a hall full of lamps, mostly gas lamps. Remus led her up a staircase to the third floor where they finally arrived at the corner where paints were sold.
"What furniture is in the room, Remus?"
"The classic Art Deco forms in dark wood."
"Then we should choose a colour scheme that's not too dark... how about this golden yellow hue?"
"Yes, that looks nice. We'll have to see how light or dark it turns out like this, or we'll have to brighten or darken it. Good choice..."
Once they received the right shade for the walls and the dark stain for the floor they went on with the sample to buy the fabrics for the soft furnishings. There would be new curtains, pillowcases, bed sheets and covers for the new duvets and mattress Remus planned to buy. He also wanted to reupholster the sofa and chairs in the room. The floorboards were to be sanded and stained dark in the same shade as the furniture. Hermione thought that this would take a few days, but then she remembered that they had their magic to achieve everything in a probably very short order! Their last item to buy was the polish for the furniture.
While Hermione and Remus had fun in the shops there was less laughter between Harry and Sirius. They weren't in the money vault of the Blacks, but in the library vault. It was like a huge cavern, but kept dry with special spells so the books would never fade or rot. Sirius used all the spells he had learned in the meantime to take off the 'Black blood only' restriction. Harry helped him with the search spells and these brought a further bookcase full of books where the keyword 'Horcrux' was at least mentioned. Sirius sighed, minimised the books and put them into a bag.
He nodded to the entrance and the two left the vault as quietly as they had entered. Sirius had the idea that he might have a look into the vault he'd freshly set up to which all the dark objects from Grimmauld Place were taken. Bill was responsible for this job and Sirius thought it was a good idea to check the progress. Once inside he made a quick search with 'accio Horcrux'. Out of the depth of the cavern a gold locket on a chain came soaring and almost hit him in the face. Sirius grabbed it from the air before that happened and looked at it with wide eyes.
"Shit – it was just a hunch, you know! I thought I might as well try, but now I've got to find out, which of my ancestors has left this DET," Sirius sighed.
"With the amount of information we found in your family's library it's actually almost a miracle that there's only one of them!" Harry said.
"True. Let's put this thing in the bag as well – it *has* an extremely horrid feel, you know!"
Just as Sirius and Harry returned to the surface and entered the hall at Gringotts they were called to Bloodaxe's office. Bill was already present at the office and grinned at them.
"I've just finished reporting to Bloodaxe and my supervisor. Since we knew you were in the house we thought we'd call you in right away..."
"Lord Black, Lord Potter, welcome back. We have just learned about the discoveries that were made regarding the Evil One. Our young curse breaker here mentioned Horcruxes. Gringotts and Goblins have a very clear policy on items such as these! We do not tolerate them in our vaults at all. Any one of them we can sense we take out and we have found some in irregular cases over the past thousand or so years. The last one we found was a few years back and it was placed in the vault of a member of your family, Bellatrix Lestrange..."
"That doesn't astonish me in the least. Stupid bint probably got it to safeguard from her hero. I'm quite sure she didn't know what it was though. Because if she did then we had better send her through the Veil of Death immediately, we wouldn't want an incarnation of that monster to return, and I would expect her to have one of her own should she know what they are!" Sirius replied. "Luckily she was always more hands-on than bookish, so I hope she doesn't," he added.
"Our records show that the container was a very distinct golden goblet - with a badger. If memory serves me right there was such a goblet that had been stolen from the Smith family a few decades ago. There seems to be a connection with one of the Hogwarts Founders."
"Helga Hufflepuff - her symbolic animal is the badger," Harry said at the same time as Bill and Sirius.
"Then there is a good chance that we have caught one of Voldemort's. Can you give me a picture of this goblet? When we meet Dumbledore we might have to think of the items that could have been used. Dumbledore mentioned Riddle's infatuation with all things Hogwarts," Sirius added.
"Yes, this would be the item here..." Bloodaxe gave Sirius a picture of the goblet.
"Do you therefore know how to destroy those Horcruxes?" Harry asked.
"Oh yes. We do not tolerate any in our vaults and it will be the only thing we willingly destroy. It's even in the contract when a vault is opened and as long as that vault is running this contract remains in force. Repeated violation of that paragraph would lead to the confiscation of the entire contents of the respective vault."
Sirius took out the locket he found in his own vault.
"Then I would have violated this paragraph as well just recently, as I wasn't aware of it. Nor did I know that among the Dark artefacts we have removed from my ancestral home there actually was a Horcrux! This has been deposited just a few days ago, but we didn't know it was one until a few minutes ago when I thought to summon any Horcruxes that might have been in the vault."
"Since you're announcing it yourself we can let that one go, I suppose," the Goblin said and grinned.
"Thank you - we were actually going to take it with us to destroy it later on. I don't know if this is another of Voldemort's or one of my blasted ancestors..."
"We will have it destroyed right here and right now. Let's look at it first."
The locket was quite lovely, mounted to a long gold chain. It couldn't be opened. A letter 'S' was embossed on one side. There was clearly a horrible feeling that took hold of everyone of them who held the locket.
"This 'S' could be Slytherin's..." Bill speculated.
"Well possible. In any case it's in your possession, once it's destroyed it can be repaired and then it will be very valuable. There aren't very many memorabilia left from the Founders, are there?" said Bloodaxe.
"I only know about the Sorting Hat and the sword, both from Gryffindor, but both are at Hogwarts," Harry said.
"And both are whole, I would guess, especially the Hat. I can't imagine that it would have still been usable if someone had used it for a Horcrux. Not so sure about the sword, I never heard about that," said Bill.
"I had it in my hands - when I was down in the Chamber of Secrets Fawkes brought me the Hat and groping around inside I cut myself on its blade first. The name Gryffindor was carved in the blade close to the hilt. It's encrusted with lots of gemstones, mainly rubies," said Harry.
"Another story you owe us, Harry," said Sirius.
"Oh, you can hear it right now, it's rather enlightening... in retrospect anyway."
Harry quickly recounted his 'rencontre' with a Basilisk and the near-incarnation of the teenage Voldemort.
Bloodaxe called a guard inside and told him:
"This needs to be cut in two, guard Switchblade. Go ahead."
The guard made short order of his order and two seconds later the same scream was heard that Harry had already witnessed twice before. He nodded and said:
"Sounded exactly the same as the ones in the Chamber of Secrets and the graveyard."
"Are you sure, Lord Potter, because the scream is very distinctive, and it differs from one creator to another."
"It does? In that case this one was one of Voldemort's Horcruxes. We could watch the memory I have from the graveyard and the Chamber of Secrets to make sure."
"Excellent thinking. Bill, would you kindly fetch the Pensieve? And call in Grudgekeeper, according to our list he was the Goblin who destroyed the Lestrange Horcrux. We could simply compare his memory to this one and would immediately know if the creator of the Goblet Horcrux is the same as this one!"
That took a while, but finally the old Goblin was found and brought to the office, where he kindly provided the needed memory. Hearing the resulting scream they knew that another of Voldemorts Horcruxes was gone.
"That's four down, two or three more to go," Harry said, relieved. "But now we have another one, which might be a bit more difficult..."
"What do you mean?"
"It seems that I carry one of them in my scar..." Harry pointed to his scar.
"Ah! That is the reason for the dark grey ring in your aura," Bloodaxe replied. He sent out the guard once more:
"Get the ritual master up here at once! We need to free Lord Potter from this abomination."
After another short waiting time there was a knock on the door and the ritual master entered the office. Bloodaxe explained to the elderly Goblin what they needed done and the ritual master looked at Harry's scar closely. He grumbled and mumbled something, then he turned to Bloodaxe and ask gruffly:
"Do you have a container ready?"
Bloodaxe offered a small metal chest, which he emptied. The ritual master accepted it, touched Harry's scar and recited something short in Gobbledegook. A quick swishing move with his finger and Harry felt something being pulled out of his head. He looked up rather astonished, but the something already vanished in the little metal chest. Bloodaxe hardly allowed it to settle in there before ordering his guard to destroy the metal chest, too. Yet another scream was heard ringing through the office.
Harry, who had expected to be at least unconscious after the removal of this Horcrux, was completely astounded, but elated.
"I feel great! It's like someone pulled the wad from my brain, even more than it was when Bill took off the blocks! This is fantastic!"
Harry actually jumped up and hugged Sirius, then Bill and even Bloodaxe. The ritual master kept him at bay though, but even he had a grin on his face watching the deliriously happy teen. Oh what far away memories when he could still be so happy himself. Sirius smiled and pulled his godson into another hug.
"I can't believe this went so easy! I was certain I had to die to get rid of this leech. Thank you, thank you so much, ritual master! I'll keep your memory in my family and my children's children will still know your name and know that they should be thankful to you! I'm sure Prongs will be completely solid when I cast my next Patronus!"
And Harry did, just to celebrate the occasion. A massive silver stag shot out of his wand upon a simple whispered 'Expecto Patronus'. This festive Prongs seemed to sense the happiness in his caster and nuzzled Harry's hand tenderly. Sirius stared at the manifestation of Harry's relief and giddiness in awe. He ruffled Harry's hair and said:
"If anyone deserves this happiness it's you, Harry. Just wait what's going to be in store for you when Hermione hears of this! She'll come at you like a rocket!"
"I don't think I'll mind, Padfoot."
"You certainly shouldn't - but remember the spells! I don't want to become a grandfather already."
Harry promptly blushed.
"No hurry for that, Sirius!"
"You never know. That witch has claimed you for good, you know."
"I know, but I don't know if I'm ready for that step..."
"When you will be you'll know, don't worry, just trust Hermione's lead. But now I think our business is done here, gentlemen. Thank you all three very much, we are very grateful. I trust you will assign yourselves the proper compensation from our vaults."
"You are welcome, gentlemen. Here, this would be yours now."
Bloodaxe had repaired the locket and passed it to Sirius. He took it and admired the goldsmith's work. Without the dark taint it looked beautiful in its severity and elegance. Sirius pocketed it and held his hand out to Harry.
"Come on, pup, time to go! I'm sure Remus and Hermione are already hard at work."
As if he were a small boy, Harry took the proffered hand and waved goodbye to the Goblins and Bill. They left the building and were on the way to one of the apparition points when they passed a jewellery store. Harry pulled Sirius inside.
"I want to surprise Hermione with something, Sirius..."
Sirius smiled. Bold move from his pup, but Padfoot thought it a good idea. They selected a lovely set of earrings with a single pearl on each and a fitting ring. It didn't cost a fortune, but the pearls, set in gold, looked nice and were precious. Harry admired their shimmering beauty as they left the shop. They just made another little stop at Florean Fortescue's where they bought huge portions of ice cream for everyone before Sirius apparated them back to Jersey. Harry ran off and into the house, shouting:
Remus and Hermione had already started to clear out the guest room and heard Harry's screams. Both dropped what they held in their hands, pulled their wands and ran downstairs, only to find a giddy teen who couldn't wait to bring them his news.
"There you are! You won't believe what just happened a moment ago! We've seen Bloodaxe again and you know what? He had the Gringotts ritual master called in and got rid of the Horcrux in my head! How about that?"
Hermione jumped Harry, kissed him and pulled him into a victory dance neither of the Marauders had ever seen. And when Harry told them that a further two Horcruxes were down she started to cry.
"Don't cry, love! I'm so happy today. I was so happy I conjured up my Patronus at Gringotts and boy, was that ever a solid one! I don't think I've ever been this happy. I love you, Hermione."
She lifted up her teary eyes to his face and took a good look at him. The scar had faded to a very fine line, which she kissed tenderly. Then she planted more kisses on his face until she reached his mouth and then she said:
"I love you, too, Harry. And I'll always love you."
Remus and Sirius quietly left them for a little snogging session of their own. Out on the terrace, Sirius dropped down on the swing and pulled Remus close.
"That was one of the sweetest things I've ever seen, Remus. And at Gringotts - that was just simply amazing. I'm going to take up my seat at the Wizengamot now and I'll do everything to work for better relations with the Goblins, because what I have seen from them today lifted my reverence for them a few degrees higher. They were amazing! Apparently all it takes to destroy a Horcrux is to cut it up with a Goblin made sword. Look at this!"
Sirius pulled the locket from the pocket of his robe and showed it to Remus.
"Looks like we have had a Horcrux at Grimmauld Place - this came out of the vault we used to store all the dark stuff we took from there. I actually just summoned a "Horcrux" and this came flying. It was destroyed and I've heard that scream Harry mentioned when he heard it in that graveyard. Together with Bloodaxe and Bill we then found out that the Goblins have destroyed another one of Tom's a few years ago. Every few years they search for such objects because they don't tolerate them in their vaults. Looks like Voldie gave one of them to Bella for safekeeping. But with Harry free from that thing we're on the home stretch, I can feel it!"
Remus felt relief beyond measure. Ever since they had become aware of the fact that Harry carried this horrible thing in his head he had feared for his cub's life. He kissed Sirius tenderly.
"I wonder if Dumbledore will accept the fact."
"Yes, that's another hurdle we have to take. It won't be easy, Remus, unless he is willing to test Harry and find out for himself. But I fear that this will hurt Harry much more than today's treatment. You should have seen that, the ritual master simply spoke a few words in Gobbledegook and that was it. Horcrux out of Harry and in to a container, container destroyed, Horcrux gone, container fixed. Then Bloodaxe also repaired this locket here."
"This looks old, Sirius."
"Could have been Slytherin's even, Remus. If that's the case it's a very valuable item. There aren't very many things left from the Founders."
"So it would seem."
"I'll probably give it to Hogwarts. It's not like I need anything that valuable – there are enough Galleons in my accounts."
Harry and Hermione ran up the stairs and into Harry's room. They sat down on his bed and he pulled out his little gift for her.
"I brought you something - I wanted to give you something. A little thank you for all you're doing for me. And of course, because I love you and want to lay the world at your feet, Hermione!"
"Oh Harry! You don't need to do that, you should know that! I'm so glad that you're my friend and that you love me. I couldn't possibly love you more, you know. But thank you... wow! How beautiful, love!"
"I thought you might like them. I didn't want to bowl you over with something overly pretentious, but I saw these and thought you'd look lovely wearing them... I'm really glad you like them. Sirius helped choosing them."
"These are beautiful pearls, I really do love them. Thank you, Harry!"
Hermione put the ring on and immediately took her earrings out to replace them with the pearls. She beamed at him.
"Though it should be me giving you something to show you my happiness that this horrible thing in your head is gone, love. My conservative auntie will be pleased to see these; she thinks pearls are perfect for young girls."
"You have an aunt?"
"Three, actually, two on my mother's side and one on dad's. Plus two who are married to my dad's and my mum's brothers each. Even though I am an only child my family is quite extended. The auntie I mentioned before is mum's oldest sibling while mum is the youngest; she's considerably older than my mum. And she has three kids one girl, two boys. They're a good bit older than I."
"And you're the only magical one?"
Hermione nodded, but said:
"My paternal grandmother is a squib. She never said anything about it until I came back from Hogwarts after my first year. None of her children ever knew, but she had always suspected I would be magical. I have several cousins who are younger than me in my dad's family, and some of them could be magical as well. On his side I'm the oldest child. On my mum's side I'm the third youngest and there are a number of cousins as well."
"Are they as likeable as you?"
"They're mostly okay. I'm not close with any of them, but friendly enough to say they're fine. The next one in line who could be magical is coming up this year. His name's Simon and he's turned eleven two months ago. You'll get to learn to know them one by one, I promise. I'm sure they'll become your family, too."
It was the first time Hermione actually spoke about her extended family. And it was the first time Harry actually asked her about them. Hermione obliged, but after a while they talked less and kissed more. They both started to feel very comfortable in each other's arms and were able to verbalise their feelings. It felt natural and fitting to both of them. Only when Harry's stomach gave signs of its emptiness they reluctantly parted and decided to go and see if there was some lunch available. They actually found it on the terrace, where Remus was just about to get up and come looking for them.
"Great, you're here! Let's eat. And then let's get busy in that room if you don't mind."
"Not at all, we'll gladly help you, Remus."
They enjoyed their food and afterwards the four of them continued what Remus and Hermione had already started. Dobby got the order to polish the furniture, make the new curtains and bedcovers and reupholster all the seating furniture with the new fabrics. He jumped on the creative job with his usual enthusiasm. The room was completely emptied, the old curtains taken down and then they sanded down the floorboards, stained them with a dark stain, sanded and stained the skirting boards and finally painted the walls. Remus continued with the window frames, which were also sanded and stained with the same colour as the floor and skirting boards. Within three hours the room looked completely different. Magic had sped up the process considerably and the result of their work was very nice. The soft buttery yellow was warm and pleasing to the eye. They brought in the furniture, which Dobby had brought back to perfection by cleaning and polishing it, and dressed the bed in the fitting bed fabrics and hung up new curtains with the same fabric as the bed.
Hermione asked Remus for the needed spells to renovate furniture and sew curtains or other things. Remus told her that there were quite a few books for the magical DIYer.
While Remus and the teens had done the walls and floors, Sirius was busy helping Dobby to freshen up and polish the furniture, from the mirror frame to the armoire. By dinner time they returned all of it back into the room. A big double bed, nightstands on both sides, an armoire on the wall to the corridor, the seating area to the bay window and door to the terrace and a dressing table and mirror on the wall opposite the bed. A small coffee table, a small sideboard and a heavy floor lamp as well as the small lamps for the bedside tables followed. Remus also redressed all the lampshades in the new fabrics.
Finally they added the new rugs Remus and Hermione had brought back from Diagon Alley and hung up some vintage paintings. An elderly gentlemen from one of the portraits in the corridor came in and inspected the room.
"Well done, dears, it looks splendid again."
"Thank you, uncle Alphard," said Sirius and smiled.
"Yes, this really looks like it should again, a very elegant guest room. Who chose the colour scheme? It fits perfectly with the stained glass window panes."
"Hermione and I. Well, Hermione really, because she saw it and said it was the best. I couldn't but agree with her," said Remus.
"Excellent taste, young lady! We haven't been introduced yet?"
"I'm sorry, uncle Alphard. This young gent is my godson, Harry Potter. And this young lady here is Hermione Granger, his classmate and best friend, and since very recently his love," Sirius said, grinning.
"I'm very pleased to meet you both. You can call me uncle Alphard, just like the others. Sirius and Andromeda are the black sheep of the Blacks in their generation, I was one of the ones in mine, next to your grandmother Dorea, Harry, my cousin. She did marry your grandfather, which was perfectly befitting our station, but of course the family was still not too welcome. No one could say anything against Charlus Potter, of course, the Potters are after all a family that dates back even further than the Blacks, but they do intermarry regularly with Muggle-borns and halfbloods, and even occasionally with Muggles, which is definitely not regarded well in the Black family. Just as if it mattered in any way, shape or form really. I've heard that your mum was also a Muggle-born witch, is that right, Harry?"
"Yep. And quite frankly, I'm very proud of her. It was her, after all, who actually banished Voldemort, not I. I just profited from the protection her sacrifice gave me."
"That's what I call a full blooded mother," said Alphard enthusiastically.
"Hermione is a Muggle-born, too. She's the best in our year, and I'd bet not only in Hogwarts!" Harry told him proudly.
Hermione blushed and thought: 'So this is the infamous uncle Alphard. Wow, he was quite the looker.'
"I'm delighted to meet you, Hermione, we need many more young women of your calibre. Not only gifted with excellent taste, talent for the handy work, but also highly intelligent, what a wonderful combination! Harry, see to it that she doesn't get too far away from you and then do what your grandparents wanted: make lots of little Potters!"
"I'll see to it, uncle Alphard."
"Thank you, Sir. Sometimes I can't but think that Harry's getting the lesser bargain with me than I get with him," said Hermione.
"Oh, I couldn't disagree more! The Potters became such an old family BECAUSE they intermarried and kept their blood fresh. They're old nobility and dead rich, but they've always had an excellent nose for the fitting match to bring on their family. And it's generally been love matches, too. Charlus fell in love with Dorea early on and they always wished for a large family. Unfortunately they only had one son late in their lives, and we've always known that it was the Black degeneration that caused it, not the Potter genes. They were very sad that they didn't have more children who lived, but James was a wonderfully healthy and intelligent boy."
"We're not that far yet, uncle Alphard! First we want to finish school, then get settled in a profession and then we'll talk family!" said Hermione.
"Down to earth she is, too! Harry, you can't let this young lady get away from you, do you understand? This relationship needs to be well nurtured and cared for!"
The living participants of this conversation all laughed out loud. They understood that the old man was serious about what he said, but they were also of the opinion that they would just wait and see what became of the relationship. Secretly though, both Harry and Hermione thought they would love to get to this point.
Dobby called them to dinner. They sat at the table together all through the meal. Hermione asked Dobby how he had spent his day. He told her that he'd visited Winky in Hogwarts in the morning.
"How is she doing, Dobby?" Hermione asked.
"Not well, Mistress Hermione. Winky is still into the butterbeer, even though the other elves do their best to keep her from it."
"Is she still pining for her dreadful master?"
"No, she knows he's gone, but she is longing for another family to care for. And she is starting to lose her magic..." Dobby said, looking sad.
"Losing her magic?"
"Unbound and unhappy elves lose their magic, not entirely, but much of their power is lost if they don't get what they need. She is needing to bond with some wizards or witches again or she'll be almost out of her power soon. She could even die."
"But you're not bonded..." Hermione remarked.
Dobby's ears turned as red as the Weasleys' when they felt ashamed and Hermione sensed something.
"You have bonded yourself to Harry, haven't you, Dobby? Secretly, so that he wouldn't notice, didn't you?" Hermione asked with a cheeky grin.
The little elf looked at his three masters a little fearfully, but nodded.
"Okay. I get it. House-elves need the bondage to survive?"
"What can we do for Winky then? Isn't she bonded to Hogwarts?"
"No, she isn't, she is still a free elf. It was always just meant as a bridge until she might find a new family."
"And she's very unhappy?"
"She needs the close contact with a family or someone whom she can care for."
"Would she be willing to come and work for us, Dobby?" Sirius asked.
"Maybe. If she can be a proper house-elf again... it's very important to her. She doesn't like being a free elf. To Winky it's like being disgraced."
"Well, there's nothing but calling her then. – Winky!" Sirius said.
With a sharp pop Winky appeared in the room. She looked around quite astonished and asked:
"Why Sir is calling Winky?" she asked with a shaking voice.
"Winky, we heard that you are very unhappy, because you're working for Hogwarts, but are still a free elf, is that right?"
"Winky is being a disgraced elf – she is not happy, but she is not having the right to complain..." the tiny elf replied with a quivering, but stern voice.
Winky, obviously under the influence of butterbeer, swayed a little. Nobody commented because they were all aware of her problem.
"Would you like to find a new family to bond with, Winky?" Sirius asked on.
"Would Sir know a family that would bond with a disgraced elf?"
"Yes, you could come to us and bond with us. You'd be working here at Seaside Manor and looking after us. And you're by no means disgraced as your former master was wrong to send you away."
Winky looked up, surprised, then her eyes swivelled to Dobby. Even though both elves seemed to be well aware that there wouldn't be work enough for two elves Dobby nodded to her.
"But isn't Dobby already your elf, Sir?"
"He's Harry's elf, Winky. We are aware that there isn't all that much to do here, but we have other houses that will need looking after, so you won't have nothing to do. You will just be living here with us."
"Then Winky is willing to bond with Sirs."
"Very good. There are only a few ground rules: you are never to punish yourself! If you think you did something wrong that you can't fix yourself, then your punishment will be to come to either Remus or myself and confess what you did. You will eat all your meals with us and share our table as Dobby already does. I know that these are two things that are unheard of in some circles, but we don't want a slave, we want a faithful helper and friend in our home. If you bond with us you are henceforth a member of our family. Furthermore it's important that you guard our homes and our secrets, but I needn't tell you that, you know that already very well."
Winky listened with wide eyes and again looked to Dobby for counsel, and Dobby almost shook when he nodded. Harry and Hermione watched amusedly as Winky accepted the terms of the contract. Sirius then got up, approached Winky and pulled his wand. He held his hand on her head and spoke, what he knew to be the ages old words that would bind Winky to his family:
"I, Sirius Black, take and bind this elf Winky into the family and the noble and most ancient house and hearth of Black, so mote it be."
There was a flash of white that enclosed the two and the binding ritual ended. Dobby ran to lay another plate for Winky and Sirius invited her to join them. Winky at first wanted to protest, but remembered that she had agreed to a contract and reluctantly sat next to Dobby. Remus adjusted her chair to a height that allowed the tiny being to reach the table comfortably and the meal went on among the now enlarged family. Sirius reminded Winky who they all were:
"You are now bonded to me, but these members of my family are here very often or always, this is my life-mate Remus Lupin, you know Harry Potter and I think you also already know Hermione Granger?"
"Yes, Master Sirius."
"Fine. You will listen to all of us. Dobby can tell you what there is to do and in time we'll show you the other places that the two of you will maintain. By the way, Miss Hermione has understood what the real house-elf cause is for the moment, better treatment and not simple freedom, so don't be afraid of her."
"Yes, Master Sirius."
Sirius sent a Patronus message to Minerva to inform her that she was down a free elf at Hogwarts.
After dinner Hermione wished them a nice evening and returned to her home via Floo. Sirius, Remus and Harry spent the evening playing games and talking about their plans for the next day.
When Harry went to bed he fell asleep and slept soundly, free from any kind of nightmares for the first time since he could remember. He got up in the morning well rested and with a fuzzy feeling of happiness at the burden that had been taken from his shoulders. He knew he wasn't the one to end Voldemort's life anymore, now it could be done by anyone. Though truth be told he also wasn't afraid of that being that was Tom Riddle these days anymore!
Hermione turned up for breakfast and was pleased to hear that her boyfriend had spent such a restful night. She beamed when he told her again how much better he felt now. Then she asked:
"What's the plan for today?"
"We'll go to Hogwarts and talk to Dumbledore to see where he has got to with his research and confront him with our own research and actions so far. And of course to let him know that the Horcrux in Harry is gone," sagte Sirius.
Remus sent a few owls out, one to Bill, one to Filius Flitwick and one to Minerva to inform them that they would arrive after lunch for a small meeting. The letter to Minerva also asked her to call in Dumbledore for the meeting – at short notice and without telling him the subject though.
At one thirty they assembled in front of the Floo. Minerva had allowed them to come through the Floo to her office and that's where they went, one by one. Harry went first. As usual he landed in a heap outside of the hearth, right in front of a grinning Minerva. She helped him up immediately and dusted him off.
"I'll never get it with Floo travel - never!" he complained and then greeted his head of house:
"Hello, Professor McGonagall. And thank you."
"You're welcome, Harry. Hello to you, too."
Harry was a bit satisfied when Hermione came next and didn't manage to stay completely upright either, but at least she didn't fall into an undignified heap. Remus stepped out of the Floo in an elegant flowing move and Sirius came out just the same.
"Good to see you again, dears! Since you requested a meeting I have set up the conference room, we can go there right now, follow me, please!" Minerva said.
They followed her out of her office and up a floor, past a wall sized painting of the castle at the end of a corridor, which led into another shorter corridor. A gaze through the mostly open doors showed Harry a number of larger offices and finally they stepped into what was obviously one of the many towers of Hogwarts, where a nice, large conference room with the longest oval table Harry had ever seen in his life filled the space of the whole oval shaped tower. It sat up to forty people. Along a small ditch in the middle were holders for parchment rolls, ink stands, quills and other stationery. The oak table looked very old and it was easy to see that it was a place to work, especially to work together. Also on the table was a Pensieve, of which Harry immediately thought it was well placed in this working surrounding, as brainstorming would be taken to a different level with the help of this kind of magic. On a sideboard there were several pitchers with juice and water for refreshments as well as a number of crystal glasses. Along the table there were several bowls containing fresh fruit. Minerva guided them to one end of the table and waved her wand to resize the whole arrangement to the number of people who would take part in the meeting.
"I leave you here for a moment, I'm still expecting Bill to arrive, and he has announced at least one other guest."
Harry, Sirius, Remus and Hermione exchanged glances and wondered who that could be, but they nodded and sat down on some of the chairs at the table. Filius Flitwick joined them soon, his usual cheerful self. He transfigured his chair higher to sit more comfortably on the same height as the others.
Then Dumbledore entered, shortly before Minerva arrived back with Bill and, to everyone's surprise, two Goblins, one of which was Ragnok, the bank's director in person, the other was Bloodaxe. Dumbledore felt like something was up, but he didn't know what he had to expect and that he wasn't in the know made him more than just a little uneasy. He felt like a guest in this meeting while he was used to be the one person who had all the knowledge and who led all meetings of which he took part.
Bill introduced the parties and Minerva enlarged the table to hold two more persons and gave them heightened seats as well. Once everyone sat, Ragnok explained his presence:
"Even though it has been Mr. Lupin who wished to have this conversation I would like to welcome you all to this meeting. Professor Dumbledore, you may be wondering why we come here with this, and why I think it is important enough. You will quickly find out, I promise. A few days ago Lord Harry Potter visited Gringotts to have his person checked for blocks on his magic. The Goblin they spoke to, suggested to call in Mr. William Weasley, one of our most promising young curse breakers, who happened to be available, being on an extended holiday back in Great Britain, where he will soon start a new position. He volunteered to check the young Lord and found a disturbing number of blocks on the boy's magical core. During the testing an exceedingly dark reading came up from behind his lightning bolt scar."
Ragnok, and in fact everyone else at the table, threw glances at Dumbledore. Minerva frowned. She looked around and noticed that no one except herself seemed to be surprised at what Ragnok said, but she could easily deduce that Dumbledore was at the root of the problems with these blocks found on Harry. Dumbledore had the decency to blush, even if he said nothing.
"As I understand all parties assembled here are already informed about these facts except Madam McGonagall and Mr. Dumbledore."
"That is correct, Director Ragnok. We have called for this meeting to bring all parties assembled here up to date of the current events and actions taken," Remus confirmed.
He turned to Minerva.
"We didn't have time to inform you yet, Minerva. But this meeting is our opportunity to exchange all knowledge about the subject Albus is researching. Independently from him we have learned that what he looks for and studies are Horcruxes. It is a very sensitive subject, and Albus understandably wants to keep it a secret, because it is darkest of magic. We became aware of it in a discussion, in which Filius asked Harry a few questions regarding Tom Riddle/Voldemort. Harry mentioned the cursed diary that possessed little Ginny Weasley in her first year, which he destroyed in the Chamber of Secrets. He said that when he stabbed it with the Basilisk fang it screamed and the immaterial young Tom Riddle vanished. And that led to his remark that killing the snake in the graveyard after the third task resulted the same scream.
"This was when Filius guessed what these two events have in common: a Horcrux. More precisely a Horcrux made by Voldemort. And we realised that another such Horcrux must be what keeps Harry's scar raw and 'alive' - there is a Horcrux behind it. Or, as we can now say, was - as it has already been removed from Harry to a metal container and subsequently destroyed by the Goblins. In the past few days we have found, at Gringotts, two more of Voldemort's Horcruxes, one had been detected by the Goblins on one of their routine checks a number of years ago in the vault of the Lestrange family. It was made using a golden goblet, which was decorated with a badger and attributed to be an heirloom handed down from Helga Hufflepuff..."
"A golden goblet attributed to Helga Hufflepuff? That must have been the one that was stolen from one Hepzibah Smith in 1946," Dumbledore said quickly.
Ragnok turned to him, very interested.
"When we detected it we remembered that it had been reported as stolen. Can you give us more details, Professor?"
Since the cat was already out of the bag, Dumbledore didn't hold back information. He pulled the strand with his memory from his head. The round was astonished when they watched Dumbledore visiting with a frightened little house-elf in Azkaban, who told him all about the murder of her mistress and the theft of this item.
"She was incarcerated there, but she hadn't murdered. She had seen Tom Riddle do it, but was under Imperius order to incriminate herself," Dumbledore said sadly.
"Do you have other relevant information, Professor?" Ragnok asked politely.
"Oh yes. Since you already know about the Horcruxes I gladly let you all take part in the relevant memories. You must know that I tried to keep up with the student that was Tom Riddle. I had met him first when I brought his Hogwarts acceptance letter to him. He had already deduced that he had some kind of a power as he told me then. Even then he was all about power. Magic wasn't a gift to him, it was a power. And he had made use of it by tormenting the other children in the orphanage where he grew up."
"From Lord Potter we have already learned that he was of mixed-blood descent, an heir of Slytherin through his mother, but with a Muggle father. It seems that you know a lot more than that."
"I do indeed. His mother died right after giving birth. She had given him the name: Tom Marvolo Riddle. That's the extent of her contribution. Tom was given to the nearest Muggle orphanage, but like so many Muggle-borns he didn't belong and he could feel it. By the age of six he was feared by the other children and as early as age nine years he already began to love the power he had and developed a lust for tormenting and torturing others. It looks like he has an inborn need to domineer. He also had a tendency to steal from the other children. Not really valuables, rather he took things they loved and destroyed them. He kept a few things and I later learned that he had killed some pets the other children kept. Of course when I met him first I laid out the law and told him that such behaviour would not be tolerated at Hogwarts. If he wanted to come to the school he had to toe the line. Which he did for the most part. He couldn't quite leave everything outside of the castle, but mostly he behaved well. Almost all the teachers fell for the natural charm he developed in the years after he started Hogwarts. Of course, he was Sorted to Slytherin. He ruled that house by the time he reached fourth year. He was an excellent student and was subsequently made prefect and even headboy. But in all his years at Hogwarts he never really made any friends. Despite his charm he kept everyone at bay."
Once started, Dumbledore left out nothing that he knew about Tom Marvolo Riddle. It was a lot and it took Albus almost two hours to relate the whole story and answering questions. Once he was done, Hermione took over:
"Thank you very much, Professor, that gives us a deeper understanding about his working and motivations. On to the subject of the DETs..."
"DETs?" Dumbledore asked, interrupting her.
Everyone apart from Minerva and the Goblins began to grin.
"Our house-internal acronym for Dastardly Evil Things – we thought it wise to use some replacement in case we're overheard."
"Ah – very astute, Miss Granger. Please continue," Dumbledore commended.
"As for the Horcruxes – we have at this point, four Horcruxes destroyed, Hufflepuff's cup, Riddle's diary, Slytherin's locket and the newest one, Riddle's snake. Another, accidental Horcrux in Harry has been successfully retrieved and subsequently destroyed. Here are the three artefacts that have been repaired once the Horcrux inside has been killed."
Harry produced the three named items. Dobby had gone and found the diary again; the Goblins had brought the cup from the Lestrange vault. And they held the locket found at Grimmauld Place.
"Can you tell me where you found the locket?" Dumbledore asked, eyeing the item from the side.
"It was – can you believe it? – at Grimmauld Place," Sirius explained.
"We don't know how it found its way there, but we know for sure that these are all Horcruxes made by Voldemort," Harry added.
"How do you know that?"
Harry emptied the Pensieve and brought out vials with the different memories from the destruction of the three Horcruxes they had on hand, and then he added the memory from killing Nagini.
"The same scream everywhere. The Goblins say that the screaming is individual and to prove this fact they have brought several more memories to corroborate the claim," Bill added.
They watched three short memories of earlier cases when Goblins at Gringotts killed off Horcruxes. Not one sounded alike, but in the case of some old wizard who had already made two of them and stored them both in his vault they could hear that both his Horcruxes let out the same blood-curdling scream when they were stabbed. Filius went on and explained further:
"We know now that there are several ways to destroy a Horcrux: Harry's method of using Basilisk venom and destroying it using a Goblin made sword or axe. Fiendfyre could be a third method. Once the Horcrux has gone the objects can be repaired and show no signs of dark magic on them anymore. I invite you to try to detect anything yourself, Albus."
"I can see you have been very busy," Dumbledore admitted.
"And we have been very successful so far. We have tried to set up a theory on the number of Horcruxes he could have made. Our idea was that he must have gone for the number of seven. Even with two or three Horcruxes the soul becomes extremely unstable from splitting in half each time and the body would be significantly altered as we have found out from one of the books we read. We have deduced that he could, at maximum make seven, six Horcruxes and the seventh part that was left inside of him, and would think that he has achieved them – or almost achieved them. He must have had five when he went to the Potters on Halloween 1981. It seems that he intended to use the murder of baby Harry to create his sixth and final Horcrux. He may have partially succeeded though he didn't know it as he accidentally placed that Horcrux in Harry's head. We're not even sure if that was a full Horcrux or just a whiff of his spirit. I know that there are parts of the creation ritual after the splitting and since Voldemort obviously lost his power from the rebounded curse he couldn't have finished the ritual."
"If that was only a whiff of his spirit I don't want to know what the full fragment would feel like..." Harry mumbled.
"Since he didn't know about that Horcrux in Harry's head one of the first things he had done with his recreated body to produce that sixth Horcrux, which he placed in Nagini. Of course, he also didn't know that Harry had destroyed his very first Horcrux, the diary, in the Chamber of Secrets. Basically what remains in that rudimentary body is just a fraction of his soul, which would not let him live on this plane of existence for very long, even if he had a full body again. He has split his soul one time too many.
"What remains to do now is to find out what his remaining two Horcruxes are, and where they are to be found. The only thing we assumed so far is that he seems to have a certain affinity to objects that could be associated with the Founders of Hogwarts," Hermione explained.
Dumbledore was speechless. Minerva was immensely proud of her favourite student. This fifteen year old could give more than one or two adults a run for their money. Since Dumbledore still gathered his bearings, Minerva asked:
"How do we proceed now?"
"Brainstorming," Hermione replied.
"What's that? I've never heard this term before..." Minerva admitted.
"But the setup in this room proves that you probably practice a very advanced method of brainstorming, Professor. Basically it's that we'll proceed by just throwing in ideas, flashes of ideas and from the ideas from others and our own we develop more ideas and approach the solution to the question."
Hermione stood up and directed the chalk to write a few things on the board:
"Here are some details we already know as facts or have deduced as facts: the items Riddle has used to turn into Horcruxes. Notice, how the first one is a rather random object, a simple journal, bought at a Muggle news retailer. We are certain that this was his very first Horcrux. This split his soul in two, half of it creating the first Horcrux. Then we have two that are identified as objects with a connection to the Hogwarts Founders: Slytherin's locket and Hufflepuff's cup. We can part from the idea that since the Horcrux in Harry was accidental it can't be related to any of the others as such, so it doesn't help with the research. On the other side of this particular equation we have the question of who he has murdered to create this object. Would you agree that when he murdered Myrtle in his fifth year he probably produced the diary Horcrux? In the Chamber of Secrets he told Harry that he was sixteen at the time."
"I would agree with that. I have one memory that I haven't shown you, because it is garbled. It is that of an old professor here, who retired in 1979. His name was Horace Slughorn and he was the head of Slytherin for about fifty years. And he had a good relationship with Tom. Tom asked him something significant, but Horace deliberately clouded it and his answer in his memory. Dear Horace really was very afraid of his former student. At this point he might possibly be easier to convince to part with the full memory. In any case it's of a question Tom asked him in his sixth year. I suspect he asked whether Professor Slughorn thought it possible that one person might make more than one Horcrux, and maybe even how many one person might safely make before actually dying from making too many. I suppose that Horace didn't want to tell me because he was ashamed that he even discussed this with a student. He might have been aware that Tom was capable of doing it, too," said Dumbledore.
"That puts Myrtle on top of the list, together with the diary. We know further that he then killed his father and grandparents right after leaving Hogwarts, because we know that they died in 1944. We don't know which item he used, but I think it might have been the locket. Remember that from Professor Dumbledore's memories we heard that his mother sold the locket to Borgin and Burke's just before Riddle was born. He probably stole the locket when he worked there. So I put the Riddles below Myrtle and add the locket with a question mark. The next Horcrux murder was that of Madam Smith, certainly using Hufflepuff's cup, because he had it ready right there where he stole it. We also know that he must have used the murder of Bertha Jorkins to create his last Horcrux, the snake. And from then on we are in the dark. We neither know what items he could have used nor who he murdered to make the Horcruxes.
"This is a point where we would have to gather ideas about the Horcruxes, which is the easier question to solve. Easier than to guess all the murders he's committed to create the DETs. We have one hint that's weighing heavily, and that's the fact that two of the three items he used for Horcruxes are definitely heirlooms from Hogwarts Founders. From the Professor we know that Riddle had a slight obsession with the Founders. We should begin by bringing together a list of other known heirlooms. It's to be expected that he tried to use items from all four founders."
"Gryffindor's sword," Harry said immediately.
"That and the Sorting Hat are the only known heirlooms from Gryffindor still in existence, and they're both safely here at Hogwarts. We can check them, but I doubt that the Sorting Hat could still have been usable, had he managed to make a Horcrux out of it," Dumbledore said, and everyone agreed.
"I'll fetch them later on. Right now three Aurors are working on the site of Voldemort's grandfather's house, because I suspect that there is an item in there. I don't know what it was, but together with the memories of the Gaunts I would think you would have to replace the locket with that unknown item from the Gaunt house, Hermione. The locket must have been used with a later murder," Dumbledore said.
Hermione noted the two items under a third heading of possible Horcrux items and replaced the locket with the unknown item, writing the locket beneath, marking an unknown murder on the other side of the equation. She looked around the three professors. Filius had his forehead in a slight frown, but then he said:
"I don't know about anything remaining from Rowena Ravenclaw except for two things, and both of them are more like a myth: it is rumoured that her wand was left in the possession of the Ollivanders. The wand in their window shop is certainly a copy, but it is the copy of Ravenclaw's wand, I believe the original would be safe. I'll conduct some further research with Oliver Ollivander. The second item is even more shrouded in mystery. She had a diadem, which was rumoured to give wisdom to anyone who wore it. The story goes that one of her daughters, Helena, stole it and took it away. She fled to Albania and was followed by a man who intended to woo her. The whole story is a mystery, because both died in the process. The diadem remained lost. No one has seen it since. But these would be the only possible remaining items he could have got from Rowena. I believe that our resident ghost in Ravenclaw, the Grey Lady, might be Helena, but she never says a word."
"Let's say that the wand in Ollivander's possession is stored in Gringotts then Voldemort would have faced considerable difficulties to steal it. But the diadem is interesting. Very inconvenient that the Grey Lady doesn't speak..."
But the Grey Lady seemed to have heard them, because she floated into the conference room and said in a soft, sweet voice:
"She didn't speak because she was ashamed of herself. Maybe I can redeem myself after these almost a Thousand years though. Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to tell you my own story, if it would help you."
"Please tell us your story, Madam, we will not judge, just listen," Hermione replied, sitting down again.
"It is not much of a story. I foolishly wanted to have my mother's wisdom and decided to use her diadem. But I couldn't stand having it on my head, probably because I had not enough to take in the wisdom the diadem was able to convey. I then took it away, because if I couldn't use it I jealously wanted no one else to have it either. I buried it into a tree in a forest in Albania."
"Albania?" Dumbledore asked, perking up. "Dear, did you ever talk about this to anyone?"
"That's why I'm coming forth, Professor, because yes, I did, I'm ashamed to say. The person I talked to was probably not the person I should have told. He was a young Slytherin, very handsome and charming. It must be some fifty odd years ago, he was a prefect then."
"Tom Riddle?" Minerva asked.
"Yes, that was his name, come to think of it. You mentioned it a few times already and it seems he became that horrible Lord Voldemort?"
"He did. Even if he made up the name with a lousy anagram," Harry confirmed.
Hermione and Filius looked at Remus and the three brainiest people in the room nodded. Remus said:
"I think there is a strong possibility that Riddle actually retrieved this diadem. We don't know who he murdered for the Horcrux, but we know that he could have had gone and got it once he left Hogwarts."
"I think so, too. Thank you very much, Madam Ravenclaw, you've helped us immensely. I don't think you need to be ashamed because you told Tom. He's fooled many people in his life, you're only one of his many victims, and a lucky one that you were already a ghost. Those of his victims who were unlucky were all murdered," Hermione said.
"Thank you. I don't think you still need me, do you?"
"No, we don't. But you're welcome to stay anyway."
Hermione got up again to studied the two Ravenclaw objects to the list.
"Would you agree that the diadem is the most probable of these four items? It was lost and Riddle was the only living person to know where it was? He retrieved it, used it for one of his Horcruxes and hid it again. Now, where would he hide it? He has mostly used Hogwarts Founders items, why not Hogwarts? A Horcrux is completely inconspicuous, unless one knows what it is or touches it..."
"Yes, but when would he have deposited it here? I think Professor Dumbledore made it quite clear to him that he's not welcome in this place?" Sirius asked reasonably.
"Oh, but do we know what he did just before he talked to the Professor, Sirius? He might have used the time to hide the object somewhere here at Hogwarts. There are many places where he could have put it in this huge castle and he seemed to have known it quite well," Hermione said.
"Hermione and Harry, do you remember when I talked about that room I once found, when I was in an urgent need of a chamber pot? It was at the Yule Ball last year," Dumbledore remarked.
"This must be the room that used to be called the 'Room of Requirement'," exclaimed Helena Ravenclaw. "It is charmed to give you exactly the kind of environment you need. All you have to do is pass it three times, concentrating on the kind of room setup you need and you will see a door that leads you to the room. Hundreds of students and professors have found it since it was established in 1018. As far as I remember it was Godric who made it. Mum always suspected him to have some shady things going on in there... he was a bit of a loose character this one, you know..."
"Oh, it has a name? I admit that I didn't know that," Dumbledore said sheepishly. "I didn't even know it can be used consciously, I just found it by chance."
They all laughed about Helena's story, and the two Marauders in the group grinned.
"That sounds like the place we should have discovered, Moony," Sirius said.
"I think so, too."
"Oh no! Hogwarts wouldn't have survived if you, or even worse: the Weasley twins would have found it!" Minerva groaned, but they all laughed.
"Really! I dread to imagine what the brilliant mind of these hooligans might have come up with in such an environment. Notice that I didn't say 'I'm serious'..."
That elicited more laughter, even from the Goblins. The two Marauders didn't even have the decency to blush, they just looked rather smug. Making people laugh was what they liked to do most and what they did best after all. Not even Helena's next comment could rain on their parade:
"There would be something that would have evened out the odds, Professor McGonagall: whatever the room conjures cannot be taken outside of it. If they had created things there they would have had to stay in there. The room can supply you with every book in the library, but you can neither copy it nor take it outside. Whatever they would have come up with - if it was physical it would have stayed in there!"
Once the laughter died down a little, Harry asked the ghost:
"Madam Ravenclaw, you said one had to concentrate on what one looked for in the room. Do we have to guess what Riddle thought of when he possibly hid his Horcrux there?"
"Yes, I think so, but he probably only thought about needing a place to hide something. I can tell you that you will find a room full of old junk and lots of things people wanted to hide."
"Where is the room exactly?" Minerva wanted to know.
"It's on the seventh floor,"
"The seventh floor? There's the entrance to Gryffindor Tower..." Hermione said.
"And my office underneath the West Tower," Flitwick added.
"Yes, exactly – it's actually just around the corner off the Gryffindor Tower entrance, Professor Flitwick. I'm sure Uncle Godric wanted to have it near where his house was. There is a painting with some trolls dressed up in tutus..."
"Ah, yes, I know the one."
"That's where you have to pass by back and forth three times."
"Excellent, we'll try that!" Dumbledore answered, delighted that they seemed to make some progress.
Something in him had begun to stir during the conference. He acknowledged that keeping it all to himself brought him nowhere and that sharing his knowledge with others helped him and them to deduce many more facts than trying to do it all himself. In his fear that too much bad knowledge could escape he had tried to solve the puzzle all alone and so he looked around quite dazzled seeing what good teamwork could achieve. Jealousy was not a trait he knew, therefore he regarded the progress his students and former students had made together with the Goblins and one of his most esteemed colleagues without any contempt at all. In the end they all had the same goal, they wanted to have this Voldemort business off the table and possibly without leaving any traces. It became blatantly clear to him that with all his young friends had achieved it was out of the question that he'd be able to do it alone. He had, in fact, listened with apt reverence to his young student as she took charge of the procedures.
"I think we stand the best chance that the next Horcrux we find might just be Ravenclaw's diadem. Now, on to the next one after that. Are there any other known artefacts that come down from either Salazar Slytherin or Helga Hufflepuff?"
"I don't know of any other from Hufflepuff, but as I just said before Hestia, Kingsley and Nymphadora are busy checking over the site of Tom Riddle's ancestral home – if you could name this shack so – in Little Hangleton. It might be a good idea to join them there. They might find something there."
"Excellent! Could you possibly get hold of Professor Slughorn, Professor Dumbledore? Because the answer he gave to Tom Riddle's question on the Horcruxes might be crucial to find all the Horcruxes he's actually made. Unless you think we can pour some Veritaserum down his throat to confirm we have them all before we blow his lights out?" Hermione asked.
"I think I can. But that doesn't mean that we can't do both of these. We'll certainly try!"
"Good. What do you think, ladies and gentlemen, do we follow Professor Dumbledore to the site of the Gaunts' place now? I think that would be better than going for the diadem in the Room of Requirement – that one won't run away."
"From the memory we saw it might be a good idea to go to the Gaunts', because there we might get some help from Harry's unique gift – he's a Parselmouth after all! We all know that there was much about that gift in these memories. By the way, thank you again for translating, Harry!"
"You're welcome, Sir. Interesting to know that I can still do that, even without the Horcrux in my head."
"I think that something like that, once acquired, could not be taken away anymore. But I doubt that you will pass it on to any children."
Harry blushed and looked at Hermione. She smiled brightly and remarked:
"And even if– we just treat it as another language, albeit a very special one. Who knows, the Slytherin descendants might have used that very same approach, too!"
"For all we know they weren't so bad themselves. Just their later descendants. Well then, let me create a Portkey."
Dumbledore created a Portkey and asked the Goblins:
"Do you wish to follow the procedures, too, gentlemen?"
"No, thank you, I think we have already achieved what we came for, Professor. Everyone seems to be on the same level of knowledge now. I would just like to say a word to Miss Granger here."
"Miss Granger, if you ever consider a career in our branch of the commerce I would ask you to please come straight to me, I would be very interested in acquiring your services. Not only for the good of Gringotts Bank, but with an eye on the magical world on the whole. What I have seen from you today was impressive and let me tell you that I would never expect a young Goblin of your age to have even half of your abilities. I shall look forward to follow your career, whichever one you will choose. But you could possibly achieve much of what you dream of in our ranks. In many respects Gringotts is more than a simple bank.
"I am very much aware of the common belief that Goblins only have one interest and that this interest is profit. But we see far more than only monetary profits. With a person such as yourself there is much hope for the magical world in general. Gringotts would love to offer you an opportunity on your path - from which we would all profit! It was a pleasure to meet you."
All the adults in the room were completely astounded. Bill looked at Hermione with an even greater respect, because he was probably the only human in the room, who was fully aware of the reach of Ragnok's proclamation. But Hermione remained humble and replied:
"Thank you, Director Ragnok, I shall remember your kind words and in time I might well come back on them. I have some political goals that might match yours. If there were any possibility that we could combine your interest in my services and my interest in your support that would be perfect."
Everyone in the room again watched in amazement as a Goblin actually winked.
"I find that there might indeed be a possibility. Well said, Miss Granger. I wish you all the best in your further education. I bid you all goodbye, ladies and gentlemen; it has been a very entertaining and interesting afternoon!"
Ragnok and Bloodaxe took their leave after that. Dumbledore looked at Hermione, himself with some newfound respect for the young woman. He already had considerable respect for her abilities, just like he had once had for Lily Evans. For many years he had already come to the conclusion that her sacrifice had probably been more than unnecessary and he blamed himself for enforcing it. He followed Hermione's glance to Harry and understood that there was a mutual understanding that had formed in the past few days. He frowned – not at the others, but at himself. It had been less than a week since school had let out and already they had done so much. The wizarding world of Britain would never know what it owed to these two young people in front of him, but he vowed that he would certainly never forget. He studied Harry's face for a short moment and understood further that his choice of a life partner had been made. Dumbledore knew enough of the Potter family history to know that they fell in love once and that was it. They had a penchant to fall for the right partner early on and, once they found it, to stick with their chosen mates. Not only the men were that way, he had known a few daughters in the family to be the same. Had Charlus' great-aunt Carola not died early, who knows – he might have some offspring himself.
"The Portkey will activate as soon as we're ready, may I ask you all to come and touch it? It's a perfectly warm day I don't think we'll need extra clothing."
They all gathered around the old professor and touched the candle he used for the Portkey. Remus managed to tell Harry and Hermione:
"Just start to walk in the air and you won't fall down when we land..."
Both teens were very thankful for that information and started to make the walking movements right away and really, like the adults, they didn't fall down in a heap like they had before the Quidditch world cup.
"Mr. Weasley might have told us that, don't you think, Hermione?"
"Yes, but he might have done it for a little prank, who knows? Not even Gred and Forge knew!"
"True. And they have to have it from somewhere after all, don't they?"
As they all got ready to walk the steep country lane to the shack, Sirius told the teens:
"Actually, they also may have got the gene from their mother's side. Her younger brothers were almost every inch as bad as the Marauders."
"Agreed. And they had nicely prepared the grounds for our arrival when they left Hogwarts just before we started," Remus replied, grinning.
Dumbledore smiled. He vividly remembered the Prewett brothers, Fabian and Gideon. He had often thought that the Weasley twins must have had their lust for mischief from their uncles, even if they had never known them.
"You know, mum never talks about them. Or only to say that she never got over their deaths. We have no idea about how they were at all, but if you can tell me some stories I'd like to hear them," Bill threw in.
"Quite a few. We met them in the Order and the Death Eaters all feared them, believe me. It took five of them to kill Giddy and Fab. The two were really magnificent. They might have been responsible for at least some of your mum's temperament. I remember that they teased her quite often, even if they only told us. I didn't know your mother personally before, only your father. He's distantly related to the Blacks."
"Very distantly, I hope, Sirius. Nothing against you, on the contrary, but your family is a whole different kettle of fish!"
Sirius laughed and admitted:
"I agree with you on that one and thank you for not throwing me into their mix. There are a few reasonable ones, but most of them were despicable. All gone now, I presume. But we're not related that distantly. My great aunt Cedrella married your grandfather Septimus. She was cast out of the family for that. Well, she was burned out of the tapestry, anyway... probably by my mother who had this nasty habit."
"Ah! That's where aunt Muriel has it from. She's a right old hag! You wouldn't think she's my father's sister!"
Sirius laughed again.
"It's in the genes, I'm afraid. Somewhere deep inside we're all rotten blood. Almost all that is. James' mum was another great-aunt of mine and she was perfectly fine. I miss her as much as I miss James. She was more my mum than her niece. If it hadn't been for Auntie Dorea I'd have never made it! She and my mum's brother Alphard, they were the good ones in the family I knew. Oh, and my cousin Andromeda of course. Interestingly they didn't burn Dorea from the tapestry. You're also related to me on the Prewett's side, your grandmother Lucretia was my aunt on my father's side."
Before further discussions could be held they arrived at the end of the crooked, derelict lane, where they were encountered by three witches and wizards in full attack mode. Dumbledore called:
"It's me, Kingsley, you can relax! I'm bringing reinforcements."
They caught up with the three Aurors, who relaxed considerably. Hestia and Tonks both looked deeply frustrated and Kingsley spoke for them:
"Good to see you, Professor, we were just about to give up... there's no safe way to approach that shack!"
"We may have a possible solution here. Do you already know everyone here? Let me introduce you to Hermione Granger and Harry Potter. They have just revealed to us what they already found out about the matter. It looks like we're down to two Horcruxes, dears, they have been very successful in finding three further pieces in cooperation with the Gringotts Goblins."
"Wow! Didn't you think he would have made five or six of them? That would reduce our research by more than half!"
"It does. As you know Harry already destroyed the diary and the snake. They were then able to find two further ones at Gringotts, where they had been stored. The third one probably came to be accidentally, and because Voldemort didn't know that, he produced a new one as soon as he was able to cast again. We have now deduced what to look for at Hogwarts and that leaves us with the possibility that we might find one here."
"Oh, there's one here alright, we could sense it, but we can't get close to the darned shack. It's protected by something we can't determine. We get weird results on all magic detection charms. I'm just glad that this place is so off the usual magical ways, no one would probably stumble over it that didn't already look for it. I'm pretty sure that anyone who got too close would encounter something really nasty!" Hestia explained.
"I would guess it's because the Gaunts had very little magic left to them apart from one gift: the ability to speak Parseltongue. They have faithfully handed that one down, and they used it for almost all of their spells. Voldemort did the same later on," Harry explained.
"We'd need a Parselmouth?" Hestia asked, shocked. "Now we'll never get close!"
"Relax, Hestia. One of the things Voldemort left in Harry when he cast his Killing Curse on him was the ability to speak to snakes. Harry will be our help here!"
Dumbledore turned to Harry:
"Harry, I take responsibility for what you do until you turn seventeen, but I think we can safely claim not to treat you favourably when I remove the Trace from your wand now. Would you kindly hold it out for me?"
"Here it is, Sir."
Dumbledore tapped Harry's wand with his own and incanted a few short words quietly. There was a short white flash and Dumbledore nodded, satisfied.
"I know that you will not misuse your privilege. Hermione, your wand, please..."
Hermione held out her wand as well and Dumbledore removed her Trace, too. She thanked him politely and promised not to misuse that privilege either.
"Though my parents certainly will be glad to see that I have actually learned something proper in the past four years, not only hear about it. They do like to take part of my education."
"Very good. Now then, let's have a look at your readings, Kingsley, Hestia and Nymphadora."
Tonks winced at hearing her first name, but they recounted their poor findings so far. Harry listened and then said:
"Do you think it would help if I used the spells the Aurors used to reveal magic, but use them in Parseltongue, Professor?"
"It is certainly worth a try, Harry, go right ahead."
"This here is the furthest we can go, Harry," said Hestia. Then she added: "Sorry, I may call you Harry, may I?"
"That's fine with me, Madam!"
"Then call me Hestia, please, Harry. I could tell you a few stories about your mum some time, we were quite good friends."
"I'll gladly take you up on that offer, Hestia. Would you like to come and visit us for a dinner some time in the next weeks?"
"I'd love to, Harry!"
"Great! Now, can you guys show me the spells I'd have to use to reveal curses? I'll give a try then..."
Kingsley and Hestia instructed him in the spells they used and Harry tried to cast them in Parseltongue. One of them came up with a reading so clear Harry had to step back a few steps. He stared at the pile of house that was lying there, with an open mouth.
"Professor, this spell shows me the hut exactly as it was when that Ogden fellow visited... still a hovel, but not all broken down."
"An illusion then."
Dumbledore showed Harry a few more spells that might help him getting over the threshold. Harry used them all until he found one that responded to the Parseltongue version. Hermione had a notebook out and started to note down the spells that worked in Parseltongue, with the help of Flitwick and Bill. Remus and Dumbledore kept feeding spells to Harry, which he faithfully tried out until they finally found the one that held the shack captive. The illusion fell first. Then the magical barrier fell. Finally they could approach and Dumbledore reminded Harry:
"I think it might well be the ring that Marvolo Gaunt wore in the memory we saw from Bob Ogden. Do you remember how it looked?"
"Yes, it had a crest on it..."
"It was a gold ring with a black stone set into it, a bit like a signet ring..."
"Every bit a signet ring, Harry, perfect. Let's try the easiest method first – "
"Accio Peverell's ring!" Harry hissed.
It had worked on Hufflepuff's cup as well as the locket after all and there it came – soaring out of the hovel like a bullet. Seeker reflexes ready Harry wanted to catch it, but Kingsley pulled down his arm.
"I wouldn't touch that before it's checked over, Harry!"
"Oh! Yes, that might be right."
Kingsley pulled out protective gloves and said:
"Here, wear these and summon it again!"
Harry repeated the spell and was able to catch the ring in his glove protected hand. Dumbledore was attracted to the ring and tried to pick it up, but again it was Kingsley, who pulled him back. Dumbledore trembled and looked at the ring with a predatory look, like it was the only thing he had ever wished to possess.
"I need to get away from it, Kingsley. This ring is definitely a Horcrux. Can't you all feel its compulsion?"
"Like we'd want nothing but put it on our finger? It's hellish!" Minerva asked, beginning to tremble just like Dumbledore.
Kingsley and Hestia led them both away. Sirius and Harry couldn't feel the compulsion much for some reason, so Sirius offered to retrieve the Goblin made sword that had been loaned to them. He was off in a flash and back within two minutes. Harry laid the ring down as soon as Kingsley had restrained those who felt the compulsion the strongest. Sirius crushed the little ring with the tip of the sword. They listened to the scream that was eerily familiar in the meantime, thus giving them the proof that the Horcrux in the ring was gone. Sirius and Remus were also able to remove the compulsion to wear it from the ring and then Kingsley released his 'prisoners'.
Dumbledore took a deep breath. He looked at the ring that Harry repaired effortlessly. Harry put it in his pocket and asked:
"Is there anything about this ring that makes it special, Professor? Apart from the fact that it came down from Slytherin."
"Yes, but I don't think it will do the world any good if we use it. It spoke to me because I have some unsolved business with a dead relative. That's all I'm going to say about it. Just keep it as a memory, Harry. You are just as entitled to it as Voldemort, because you, too, are a descendent of a Peverell, albeit a brother of the one who owned this one."
"There are a few of those buried in Godric's Hollow," Remus remarked quietly.
"Yes, there are, Remus. Let's return to Hogwarts. Our business here is concluded."
"Professor, does that mean that I'm an heir of Slytherin after all," Harry asked.
"Yes, Harry, it does indeed. But, you know, there are many of them up and down the country, direct or indirect, just as there are many of the descendants of the other three founders still in existence. The further back you go in history the more common ancestors you'll find with other people in this world. I wouldn't put much weight on it," Dumbledore replied with a smile.
Harry started to laugh.
"All that anguish in second year when I could have just pointed out that there were so many people probably related to Slytherin, I can't believe I did that to myself!" he wheezed.
Hermione thought a bit differently and found herself unable to laugh about it. She thought that Dumbledore might have done a bit better by telling Harry back then that he shared that honour of being a Slytherin heir with many others and he might have helped a lot by reminding the whole school. She kept her scowl to herself though.
They took the Portkey, which Dumbledore activated as soon as everyone touched it. As they returned to the conference room, Minerva looked at the watch. It was already tea time, but she asked:
"Are we in for another little adventure before dinner? I invite you all to stay for dinner to relax from this excitement."
"I think we should take on the last one – if it is the last one. Do you think Voldie will be put out if he finds out we didn't need more than a week to take all of his carefully constructed Horcruxes down?" Hermione said and grinned.
"And how – can we rub it under his ugly non-existent nose, Professor? I want to see him put down like a rabid dog afterwards..." Harry asked excitedly.
"We'll see how he looks. If this is the last Horcrux then yes, I'm tempted to let you have a few words with the being. You deserve a good gloating shot at him. It won't take more than a mild Reducto curse to finish him off. A first year could do it," Dumbledore promised.
Sirius was actually astonished that Albus would allow that to Harry, but he threw in:
"Fudge would like to be present, Albus."
"Oh, he can be there no problem. But the test for the Horcruxes we'll do without him."
"We could repeat it for him, then he'd believe us completely," Hermione suggested.
"That is an excellent suggestion, Miss Granger."
The whole group, now extended by the three Aurors, relocated to the corridor on the seventh floor, where they tried different phrasings to get the same Room of Requirement Riddle had received to hide the Horcrux. Finally it was Hermione who got the right words:
"I need the place where everything is hidden," she murmured as she walked into the door that came up she exclaimed:
"Ah, this must be it! Look at all that stuff in here!"
The others followed her inside and stared. Hermione stared as well at the incredible amount of things that had been 'hidden' in this huge room.
"Think of all we could find in here! Hundreds of years of hidden things! This is great!" she cried.
"Yeah, but right now we're looking for the diadem!"
They tried the Accio charm, but this time it didn't help. Obviously the diadem had been protected against such charms. They divided the group in twos and one group of three. Remus decided to accompany Harry and Hermione.
"When you find it, shoot sparks or send a Patronus message to alert the rest of us, will you?" Dumbledore ordered, before he took one path in the vast jungle that was the Room of Hidden Things.
Every group split and went into a different direction. After a good hour of searching Harry and Hermione were the ones to spot the diadem, which sat between other junk on the board of a bookcase. Remus let loose the sparks and repeated them until they were all together. Kingsley cast the detection spell.
"It definitely is a Horcrux. Sirius, that sword, please! I'd love to finish off one of these horrible things myself – it's a small and petty revenge, but the bastard did kill my parents!" said Harry.
Without any further word Sirius pulled out the sword and handed it to Harry. It only took two further seconds for them to hear the scream for what they hoped would be the last time. Hermione repaired the diadem and graciously handed it over to Filius.
"Here, Professor, I believe this should go back to where it probably came from, Ravenclaw tower. I don't know if it still has its original function, but it will make a beautiful decoration anyway."
"Would you like to try it on, Miss Granger?" asked the diminutive professor.
She looked at it, longingly, Harry thought. Then she looked around the others to see whether they agreed. Dumbledore and McGonagall nodded, so Hermione slowly lifted the jewel on her head and placed it there. Only to pull it back a few seconds later with a smile and an: "Oh!"
"It said: the greatest wisdom you can gain is to take this item off your head. I happen to agree. There's no real wisdom to be gained from an object like this, wisdom is experience and experience is only gained through studying and applying the learned knowledge."
"I would think that you are already wise beyond your years, Miss Granger. Thank you very much for restoring this item to Ravenclaw. We will replace it where it belongs: in the trophy room! Everyone will be able to see it, but no one will be able to use it," Filius said.
"And the two of you will definitely receive a recommendation for special services to the school. We'll make sure that Tom Riddle's medal will be destroyed and his misdeeds recorded in the annals!" said Minerva.
"Well, then there is one last thing to do before we can relax at dinner. We will have to relocate to the Heart of Hogwarts though," said Dumbledore.
They found the way back to the door and left the Room of Hidden Things behind. They followed Albus to the Heart of Hogwarts and he let them enter before him. Like the night of the third task he told them:
"I am the only person who can do any magic in this area. This is a part of Hogwarts that's only revealed to the active headmaster or headmistress. We can admit other people, but only my magical signature will be recognised and tolerated in here. Therefore I would recommend putting away all of your wands until we leave."
They all complied and on they went to the cell that held the feeble form of Voldemort. As they entered they noticed that it was lying stiff as a board on the cot. Dumbledore revived it and immediately it started to screech. But then Voldemort's glance spotted the diadem and the screech became a scream. Harry grinned.
"You thought you were very clever, didn't you, Tom?"
"Don't call me that name! Where did you get this?"
"We didn't only get 'this', Tom, we got all of them. We found and destroyed all of your Horcruxes. The diary that I destroyed in my second year, Slytherin's locket, that Sirius' brother stole from wherever you stashed it. He rather died than let you keep your Horcrux, did you know that? And the cup that used to belong to Helga Hufflepuff..."
Harry stopped and they watched Tom's reaction. He sank together a bit more with each item Harry named, but when he didn't continue, Voldemort relaxed visibly. Harry smirked.
"Ah yes, let's not forget Slytherin's ring that came down through the Peverell family. And that snake, what's her name? Nagini, isn't it? Well, I killed her with Cedric, right where you brought us with the Portkey. Not a good idea to hide a Horcrux in a living being, nothing easier than killing the beast to get rid of the content."
The slimy baby-like thing sank together. That was it. He knew that his end had arrived. And Dumbledore knew that the horrible creature didn't know that Harry himself had a Horcrux planted in his head and thought everything was gone.
"Finally, you never knew that you made me a Horcrux, did you, Tom? It was certainly accidental, but my curse scar hid the dastardly evil thing. It didn't manage to make me evil like you though, Tom, and the Goblins were kind enough to extract it. We destroyed it as well. That's it, you're done for. You can look death in the eye now, Tom, we only wait for the Minister to arrive soon and then we'll send you to hell, where you belong..."
"You would murder me? You don't have it in you, Potter!" screeched Voldemort.
"Oh, you'll find that I have it perfectly in me. You murdered my parents after all, there's plenty of rage within me to kill you. But it won't be that part of me that eliminates you. It will be my love and affection for all the people still living that will take care of that. They will be able to breathe free again with the menace of the despicable Tom Riddle gone. Besides, this thing you are right now - it bears nothing human inside, I don't think it will be any different than scorching a little rodent or some other vermin..."
"If you kill me then you'll kill all those who are carrying my mark!" Voldemort screeched.
"I think you put entirely too much belief in your own power, Moldieshorts, no way that that's going to happen," said Sirius.
"Marked Death Eaters? And if they die, tell me, Tom, would that really be a loss to the world? It would just show us who and who isn't a criminal who followed you. Though I can see where you liked having them crawling in the dust at your feet, all those proud purebloods, when you yourself were a halfblood like me, even worse so, your father was a Muggle, after all. You can see that I've done my homework, I know about you what's there to be known. Your mother wasn't a witch, Tom, she was as good as a squib. Slightly hypocrite of you, isn't it? But it must have been very satisfactory for you to watch the purebloods crawl before you..."
Voldemort was now intelligent enough to realise that it was better to be quiet. Dumbledore put him in a full body bind again and said:
"That is it, Tom. You have until the Minister has time to come up to Hogwarts before we will eliminate you."
Voldemort knew that there was nothing he could do about it anymore. He couldn't get out, he couldn't do any magic in this place (he had of course tried to do something wandlessly, but had to learn that it was impossible) and he had no way of feeding himself in this form. Unless he could do the ritual in the next few days he would perish anyway, but he wasn't going to tell them that. He couldn't even close his eyes in defeat; Dumbledore's full body bind really was a full body bind. Voldemort was able to see, hear and smell, but he couldn't talk and couldn't do magic. He resigned. All his scheming had been for naught, he now understood. From their reaction to his own he could easily gage that they now knew that they had caught all of his Horcruxes. He was already weak as it was and only hoped that the full body bind on him would allow him to die before they killed him.
The party went back out to the main hall of Hogwarts and Dumbledore happily dispatched an owl to the Ministry to ask Fudge to join them for dinner at Hogwarts if he could, because they would show him how the greatest evil of the past century would be taken care of. They had hardly sat down for dinner when Fudge already came waddling into the Great Hall. Dumbledore calmly invited the Minister to eat with them.
"Is it true? You can really kill this monstrosity that's down there?" Fudge asked and looked thoroughly relieved.
"Yes, it is true. You can witness it later on. What's left of Tom Riddle could be eliminated by an untrained first year now."
"Thank Merlin! And we needn't say anything about it at all?"
"Nothing at all," Dumbledore confirmed.
"Oh, thank goodness! I couldn't sleep ever since that task of the Triwizard Tournament! I was constantly afraid he'd get out of there somehow!"
"How? He can't do magic and he'd have to be able to do that if he wanted out of there. The area only recognises the headmaster or headmistress's magical signature. He was utterly unable to move, let alone do magic and I force-fed him some weak adder's poison to keep him just barely alive. We wouldn't even need to kill him, I could just leave the feeding and within about two days he'd be done for."
"Oh, no, no, I do want to see him terminated," Fudge protested.
Harry grinned. For once he agreed with the pompous Minister. Immediately after dinner, the ensemble of people who were currently at Hogwarts trooped down to the Heart of Hogwarts and once they arrived, Dumbledore went to fetch the creature out of his cell. There simply wasn't enough space in there. The Heart of Hogwarts consisted of much more than this row of cells. They stepped out of it though and brought Voldemort back to the Great Hall. Dumbledore never even woke the monster up, he just offered:
"Who would like to do the honours? Harry has first dibs, but I would understand, if you didn't want to kill, dear boy."
"I'm not overly keen on it, but I still would like to do it, Professor. He's done so much bad to me personally that it has become personal years ago!"
"Very well. You have learned the Reductor curse a while ago, as I know. I suggest you use that."
"I was going to use that anyway."
Harry took a deep breath and stepped up. Hermione followed and held his left hand tightly. She didn't want to see it, but she thought she had to. It was the moment that would liberate her love to a life free of this monster. Harry was a creature of love, he needed the love she could give him, and it was that belief that gave him the strength to cast the curse. Voldemort felt it right through the full body-bind. If not for it his eyes would have widened in fear as he saw Harry gather his strength and lift the wand.
Another deep breath and a whispered: "Reducto."
The last thing Voldemort realised was the immense power behind the whispered spell. They others watched as the spell hit the creature on the ground. It blasted the crumpled being to smithereens, even though it had been spoken in a low voice. No scream followed this time. And no spirit left the remains. There wasn't much left and what was left Harry vanished from the floor and the walls with a simple "Evanesco". Another spell he whispered.
"Would any of you mind if I would obliviate you all of the knowledge of the Heart of Hogwarts? It shouldn't be known outside of this place, because it is always a very last refuge. It is the only thing I would take away."
No one minded, upon which Dumbledore proceeded to relieve them all of the knowledge. It was a happy party that followed and even though most of them were dog-tired they were much too exhilarated to think of sleep. It was near midnight before any of them returned home.
Hermione called her parents and informed them in a few words of what they'd done the whole day and that she would fall dead asleep in Seaside Manor.
"You sound very tired, dear, just go to sleep and tell us more when we come tomorrow!"
"Thanks Mum. Goodnight to you and Daddy!"
"I'll tell him. Goodnight, darling!"
Sirius and Remus went up the stairs, Harry and Hermione following right behind. On the first landing Sirius turned around and hugged Harry.
"Well done, Harry! You were absolutely great today. I'm afraid that we might have to watch out for Fudge in the near future, because he probably got a good eyeful of your real power today and will fear you, but his time will come sooner rather than later, because there will have to be changes in this magical world this time! Thank you very much for all that you've done for us, Harry. It's a shame that the remaining world won't know anything of it, but you can now enjoy the rest of your school years in peace."
Then he turned to Hermione:
"And thanks and all hail to you, my dear girl! Not only for what you did for Harry, who wouldn't be where he is without you, but especially for what you've done for the rest of the world. I feel great respect for you!"
He hugged her tightly as well, which she gladly returned.
"Thank you, Sirius. I was happy to do everything for Harry – or for you for that matter. We gladly do what we do for those we love, even when it's not so easy sometimes. Some things were easier than others, but I suppose that's how life is."
"Exactly. Good night, you two sweet ones!"
"Good night, Sirius! Good night, Remus!"
They took a very quick shower, which they shared to get to bed a bit quicker, and seeing Hermione completely naked gave Harry a source of much better dreams than he might have had after killing something living. He had to overcome his own modesty, but found that he didn't mind when Hermione casually reminded him:
"To see your body is as exciting for me as it's for you to see mine, Harry, don't forget that. Girls are as sexually inclined as boys, believe me. At least I am, and last I checked I was a girl..."
Harry grinned. That she was a girl was quite obvious he thought, but he could follow her reasoning. They washed each other, but even the rush of hormones that caused didn't keep them awake for very long. The whole family slept easy that night, and they slept in. The sun was already high in the sky when they woke up. Hermione lifted her head from her pillow and felt very nice and warm. She pushed the duvet a bit down and looked up. That was when she noticed that she wasn't in her own bed, but in Harry's!
"Oops," she said, but didn't mind at all.
Harry stirred next to her and in waking he realised that he wasn't alone in his bed. But it felt so good! He had never slept as well as this night, of that he was sure. And then he found the reason for that fact right next to him. She smiled through the massive tangle of her hair, then shifted a part of that hair of hers to one side and bent forward to kiss him soundly on the mouth. He stretched for a moment and then took her in his arms to kiss her more thoroughly. Now that Hermione had shown him to be more open, he knew that this would be welcome. And boy did her naked body feel good against his own!
"Oh my! I never want to sleep alone anymore, Hermione!"
"That was the best night I've ever spent, even though we didn't do anything but sleep, Harry! I agree. Though I'm afraid that Hogwarts will keep us separate again."
"Yeah, I know. But we'll find opportunities, even if I have to smuggle you in every night under my Invisibility Cloak."
She smiled. That would be a rule she was ready to break!
"Let's get up though, I'm really hungry and look forward to one of Dobby's delicious breakfasts!"
Hermione looked for her clothes, and found them clean and folded on the bench of the window seat. She grinned. That meant that Dobby had been busy at night. She knew it would be useless to tell him not to overwork himself on her behalf; he would still do it, because whatever he did he did for Harry. If someone was around Harry he would do the work for them and still mostly do it with Harry on his mind. She was inclined to add Dobby to Colin Creevey's member list in his Harry Potter fan club. That thought made her grin as she got dressed.
"What are you grinning about?" Harry asked.
"Only some silly thoughts about Dobby. He's been by to get our clothes clean last night, look!"
"I'm not surprised. We won't be able to stop him from doing his work, he loves it too much."
"No, we won't. That's just what I thought about. And that whatever he does he is doing it for you, he loves you that much. Then I thought it would be fun to add him to the member list in Colin's fan club."
Even Harry laughed about that.
"And you know what? Dobby would probably love to join."
A shock awaited them at breakfast. Remus was the first coming down and he absentmindedly picked up the Daily Prophet as he sat down for breakfast. Dobby had served it inside, because the weather looked a bit grey outside. Rain was expected for later that day.
The first sip of tea went right through his nose. He called:
"Sirius! Harry! Hermione! Come on down, quick!"
The other family members came rushing downstairs and Sirius asked:
"What's going on? Are you alright, love?"
"I'm perfectly fine. Here! Come read that!"
Instead of showing them, he read aloud:
"Mysterious deaths reported! An unusual number of deaths were reported last night starting at about 9.30pm. They had occurred throughout the British Isles, and all of the reported deceased were known to have belonged to You-Know-Who's followers. They were brought in to St. Mungo's where the healers who autopsied them strangely found one common thing: all the deceased carried a tattoo on their left arms, which was burned deep into their flesh. The tattoo is the same representation that magical folk had come to fear like nothing else until it came to a sudden halt on Halloween 1981, when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named (but hyphenated to death by the idiotic crew of the Daily Prophet, Remus added) was vanquished by The-Boy-Who-Lived, Harry Potter.
"What then had happened? No one can even guess and the healers at St. Mungo's are stumped. Aurors were called in to investigate, but have so far not found anything, only that there was not one person among the dead that was not once a member of the Death Eaters. The press was informed at a press conference, called by the Minister of Magic, Cornelius Fudge at about two o'clock this morning.
"He stated that the death of so many Death Eaters in one single moment had to be connected to their Dark Mark and that it possibly meant that You-Know-Who had not been as dead as the public thought when he lost his powers in 1981.
"It must mean that You-Know-Who has found his final end somehow and that the connection he shared with the Death Eaters was the cause of their deaths. We shall investigate in that line of reasoning some more. Maybe we can learn something more about this very secret connection."
"The public will want to know more, because among the deaths were such upstanding people as Lucius and Narcissa Malfoy, Theodore Nott, Nestor Avery, Richard and Elinor Parkinson and many others. They were all acquitted in many trials after the Fall of You-Know-Who, most of them because they claimed to be under Imperius curses."
Sirius, Remus, Harry and Hermione were all stunned! And they were aware that obviously up and down the country there would not be one magical person who wasn't as stunned as they were. Harry immediately thought of all the orphans and half-orphans that night created. He had tears in his eyes, because at once, he sought the fault for that in himself. They hadn't believed Voldemort when he had said they would die! Hermione immediately pulled him close and said in a determined voice:
"This is not your fault, Harry. Even though you caused it by killing Voldemort they brought it onto themselves when they became his slaves. If you ask me that was wonderfully sweet justice, which Voldemort has brought onto his Death Eaters. They've now eaten the bloody death they have sown over so many people. Harry, they have got what they deserved, nothing less. Think of all the horrible things people like Malfoy did even after they were acquitted! He didn't change his attitude once he had escaped the Azkaban sentence! He has done so much damage that it hurt the magical society more than they are even aware of. And he certainly wasn't the only one!"
They kept listening to the WWN the whole day, while they finished off some more renovation work in the house. The death toll on the Death Eaters rose and reached 83 reported dead by the afternoon, including all of the ones at Azkaban. Many of them were still found and Fudge had given out the order to the Aurors to search the country actively for anyone who had ever been suspected to be a Death Eater, especially the ones that were only suspected but never prosecuted. The magical death register was consulted and 96 persons were registered as having died at the exact same time: 9.27pm.
Harry had stopped crying after Hermione's little speech. Yes, he agreed, most of them deserved what they got and Sirius only had one comment:
"Problem mostly solved."
"Except that they leave behind kids like Draco, who believed all their rubbish."
"Yes, but even he might now see that it doesn't pay to become a criminal."
"We'll see. He doesn't think that these were criminals. He firmly believes that they had the right to do what they did, even if they tortured just for fun. And he won't see that it was actually Voldemort who caused this."
Sirius was the head of the House of Black now and he went to Grimmauld Place to see who looked after the last remnants of the extended family. There were two more Black relatives that had died beyond Narcissa and Bellatrix, not that he would miss them. But mostly he had to pick up the pieces for Draco, who was now a minor short of a guardian. Sirius called Andromeda, who stepped in, because she was Draco's closest relative now. She found a shocked 15 year old at Malfoy Mansion, who was almost catatonic.
"Draco? I'm your aunt, Andromeda Tonks-Black. Would you like to come with me? I will probably be appointed as your guardian until you reach majority."
Draco looked up and was so distraught that he forgot to sneer.
"They were sitting there, and then they just simply grabbed their wrists, fell down and were dead! How could that happen? No one was in here, no one killed them, they weren't ill, nothing, they simply died!"
"We can explain, Draco, but you have to come with me. Could you pack clothes for a few days? You can't stay here until all the formalities are done, and you are still a minor. Your mother and other aunt are dead, I'm the closest relative you have now."
She was astonished that she could simply lead him to his room, where he packed some clothes and his homework into his school trunk. She levitated the trunk out and said:
"Come. They're at the morgue anyway and we'll have to prepare for a funeral."
He nodded. Andi knew that it was only the shock of their sudden deaths that kept him so downcast; his usual nasty self would be coming out again sooner or later. But maybe she could give him some food for thought in the meantime, and she planned for that in any case. She took him to her London townhouse, which she had inherited from her uncle Alphard. It was another nice, big house full of art nouveau and art deco furniture and decoration. She set Draco up in one of the nicest guest bedrooms and said:
"Make yourself comfortable, Draco, Sirius will be by in a moment and then we expect your family barrister and will hear what your parents' wills say. The official will reading will only take place later on, but you should not be surprised. If any guardians are advised in the will you will be handed over to them after the reading, should they still be alive after this purge. Until then you can live here."
Draco nodded and dropped down on the bed, turning away from Andi. She let him be, but said:
"Dinner is at six down in the dining room. If you call for Iggy, he will show you the way. He is to be treated with respect, Draco."
The day was hectic and Sirius was absent for much of it. He had advised the Aurors that the Dementors could just bury his relatives in Azkaban as they usually did and that he didn't want to have them in the family grave. Not in his anyway and there were no Lestranges left at all now. He grinned. Actually he had grinned throughout the day, ever since Remus read the article in the Daily Prophet, because he was even more convinced than Hermione that the former Death Eaters had reaped what they sowed.
The Ministry was in uproar though. Over twenty of the deceased had worked for the Ministry, and some of them in high ranks. Almost as many had been members of the Wizengamot. Everyone had to buckle down and start to clean up immediately, but that was when the Minister learned how many reliable people he actually had in his Ministry. However, it was interesting to learn that most of the ones he had trusted were now dead. He was lucky that they didn't start to suspect him when, late in the afternoon, news came in that his Senior Undersecretary, Dolores Umbridge had also been found dead in her flat in Hogsmeade.
Another less loudly proclaimed death had taken place in Spinner's End, where a former Potions Master had still tried to cut out the Dark Mark from his flesh, but had then bled to death. He didn't leave any mourners behind, apart from Dumbledore, who was sorry to lose his Potions teacher.
Three school governors also died. Dumbledore couldn't but celebrate the fact that the school would only profit from getting some fresh blood into its governing body. Maybe he could now get some more progressive classes offered that would finally achieve what so far had only been hollow words: more house unity and the rivalry reduced to the Quidditch and the House Cups.
All in all, this was the worst day that ever happened for the pureblood faction of the magical population in Britain. Harry took refuge in the thought that from this day on there would be progress possible, that there would be reforms in the political handling as well as the society. Hermione smiled through the day, because for her it meant that the high society had been throttled and would now have to mend itself. All the purebloods that were left now would not be in the way for the much larger rest of the magical population and with time the people who were now still underdogs for the most part would build up the new elite.