The next few days felt like a week, Harry was itching to get out of the castle as it was but the element of bringing Voldemort one step closer to mortality made it all the more appealing. Optimism was seldom and perhaps unfamiliar with worst-case scenario was always something that would be on his mind, the go to. It was what he was used to lately, never getting too ahead of himself because something can always go awry. He'd talked with Dumbledore about Horcruxes further, agreeing that Nagini was most certainly one. The Headmaster believed that Hogwarts was the first place Tom Marvolo Riddle thought of as home, a place he belonged and evidently, one he could rule. It was evident he was counting on the Vanishing Cabinet to launch a surprise attack to catch everyone off guard and help bring down the defences from within, just how substantial a force would the enemy be relying on to use the method however. Dumbledore was surprisingly without answers and unsure on which direction to take at the moment, probably focusing on the other 'big' job at the moment. Harry had an idea mulling around in his head, he just needed a fresh perspective on it...He was shook out of his thoughts as he heard a door open and close in the distance. The torches affixed to the wall flickered slightly as footsteps echoed throughout the huge room he was sat in.
"How's your mother doing?" asked Harry, grabbing a bottle of Butterbeer and casually throwing it over to the approaching blonde Slytherin.
"Well as could be expected, can't say much for the other residents in the place." groaned Draco, sitting down and propping his legs on a beaten up trunk.
"She's settling in okay then?" Harry peered over to his friend, he knew Draco had only just returned from seeing her, probably less than an hour ago. Having been excused from classes for the day by Dumbledore, the cover story that had been spread around the Hogwarts rumour mill being he had spent the day in the Hospital Wing with Madame Pomfrey. Citing fatigue and stress as the reasons, something the Slytherin was not thrilled about but a small price to pay. Draco opened his mouth but paused for a second before replying.
"As Lady Malfoy, mother was used to being nothing more than a trophy wife at Ministry functions and private affairs amongst close friends and colleagues of my fathers. Excellent at putting up a front that woman, she'd make a brilliant actress. Seeing her today, in her ancestral home...it was like when I was younger." said Draco, a somber tone was evident in his voice as he took a hefty swig from his Butterbeer.
"Have we got anything stronger?" frowned the Slytherin, wordlessly Harry passed over the bottle of Firewhiskey he'd been holding back on opening since he'd returned from the Christmas break. Malfoy conjured two glasses and poured generous amount in before levitating one over to Harry. They silently clinked the glasses and Harry watched as his friend drained half of his glass before he'd taken his first sip.
"I'd forgotten that's where she'd grown up. If she needs to move elsewhere, I can..." started Harry.
"That's not what I meant." murmured Malfoy, swirling the amber liquid in his glass before finishing the rest and pouring himself another message.
"She's happy, I saw her smile. A genuine smile, not the one she plastered on her face when she was with father and the idiots from the Ministry or the others..." he drifted off as he looked up from his glass and over at Harry.
"That's good." said Harry, trying to sound positive but he could sense a certain uneasiness within Malfoy.
"It is, she has her freedom...to a certain extent. Is back in the place she grew up in, which despite having mixed feelings about she clearly is attached to and most importantly is safe." replied Draco, rolling the glass in his hands.
"What's the matter?" asked Harry, leaning over to the blonde.
"I just, I'd forgotten what it was like." said Draco, making eye contact with Harry.
"Forgotten what?" pressed Harry, confused and concerned for the Slytherin.
"I've never talked about things at home before, with anyone. Understand?" Harry only nodded in reply, allowing Malfoy to continue. "Mother, she always took care of me, doted on me when I was a baby and raised me well. Father was scarcely about but when he was, she protected me from him. He never beat he or abused her in anyway, she just made sure to keep his twisted values out of my upbringing. I think it was her own childhood perhaps that helped her come to that decision, she hasn't really said much about it but given the family history...I can imagine it left a lot to live up to."
"Especially with Sirius as a cousin." smiled Harry, one mirrored on Draco's face.
"I heard her cry about his passing last summer, she doesn't know obviously but she grieved him in her own way...and for what it's worth, I'm sorry too." said Malfoy, sipping his drink. Harry drank deeply also as he felt a lump in his throat rise, grateful to hear Draco continue with a change of topic.
"The House-Elf has been on hand and foot, even presented us with some treasured family heirlooms he'd stashed away for fear they'd be thrown away or destroyed. Think one of them might have actually belonged to Salazar Slytherin." said Malfoy, non-chalant as he refilled Harry's glass for him.
"Really, must be worth a fortune." said Harry, clinking their glasses again.
"Priceless probably...anyway, had any ideas what to do with this?" nodding at the impaired Vanishing Cabinet before them, they were in the Room of Requirement and had agreed it was probably the best place for them to meet up for the time being.
"Well, it's not so much a matter of fixing it more than what to dowhen it's fixed." said Harry, getting up and walking over to the item in question.
"Why do I sense you're up to something?" asked the Slytherin.
"Just, hear me out...the predicament we find ourselves in is to maintain the facade with the man with no nose, that you; Draco Malfoy, are tirelessly working to repair this..." slapping the Vanishing Cabinet as he spoke "...and in doing so, allowing a secret passage for an unknown, unaccounted for and very unappealing amount of douche bags, nobody else knows about this plan apart from me, you, Dumbledore, your father and sackless himself."
"I'm implying Voldemort has no balls because...you know what, never mind. Point being, this is the access point he wants to use to infiltrate and overtake the school. This is where his forces will emerge from and surprise us from, right?" urged Harry, now leaning against the Vanishing Cabinet. Draco shook himself as if from a stupor.
"Sorry, I caught up at you insinuating The Dark Lord lacks testicles...sure, I'm with you." agreed Malfoy.
"Sneaking in and attacking a school full of children? I'm calling it. He has no sack, no balls..."
"I get it, he's a whiny little bitch who won't fight on anyones terms but own, except he has fear and intimidation on his side not to mention a couple hundred or so followers and creatures who will do his bidding and use any means necessary to get what he wants." replied Malfoy.
"Exactly! And what does he want?" asked Harry.
"Well...you." replied Malfoy.
"Ten points to Slytherin! That's what he wants, me! I mean, sure he wants me dead but he wants me." said Harry, finishing his glass and levitating the bottle to tip some more in his glass as Draco looked at Harry questioningly.
"I still feel like I'm missing something." said the Slytherin, placing his glass down.
"When this is fixed, it will be capable of receiving some rather unscrupulous characters. Thing is, it'll also be capable of sending them as well." smiled Harry.
Malfoy looked between the broken cabinet and the closest friend he had, his eyes widening and mouth opening and closing as he tried to formulate words as his mind whirred and recognised the implications of what Harry was saying.
"Are you insane? No! I mean...what? You...? In the...with the...and...No?!" being staggered and unable to come up with coherent thought was unfamiliar territory for the Slytherin and not something he particularly enjoyed, however Harry Potter had just suggested to march on the other side, a location that he nor Harry knew but likely contained a large amount of The Dark Lords forces, was likely to be protected on the other side and was damn certain to be a one way trip for anyone except a marked Death Eater.
"It sounds insane..." started Harry.
"It is insane."
"I'll sneak in..."
"You'll be caught..."
"I'll be very careful..."
"They will send you back one piece at a time..."
"They won't even know I'm there."
"You are not doing this."
"It'll save lives." said Harry, this halted the conversation.
The pair looked at each other, Draco was still sat in his chair holding his glass of Firewhiskey, which, realising was half-full, drained and poured his biggest measure so far. It was quiet for a second before Draco replied.
"Let's think about this logically, say we fix the cabinet and you go through. You arrive in an unknown location, you open the cabinet and for whatever reason, nobody is guarding it and it's in a room on it's own. You leave said room, evade the dozens of highly trained, killers whose main objective is to capture you and hand you over to...sackless..."
"See, it's catching on already." interrupted Harry, with a smile on his face, The scowl sent back his way however inclined Harry to allow the Slytherin to continue.
"You get past all the Death Eaters, all the scum that are their, for some reason The Dark Lord is there at the exact same time. And you...kill him, nobody see's or hears this, so you come back exactly the same way, no questions asked, you arrive back here. War is over and we drink another bottle of Firewhiskey, right here to celebrate." surmised Malfoy.
"Well, I'd probably have to kill the snake, Nagini, as well..." said Harry taking a deep drink.
"Why?" asked Malfoy, raising an eyebrow and narrowing his eyes.
"That's actually something I wanted to talk to you about..." said Harry, settling his drink down.
"What? Wait, if you think you can change the subject..."
"I'm not changing the subject, well...I am but it's to do with what we were talking about."
"Okay...why do I sense I'm not going to like this either?" said Draco, putting his glass down also.
"Because you're a pessimist?" joked Harry, trying to lighten the mood. The Slytherin only stared back at him with a steely glare in his eyes, Harry picked up his glass and topped himself up.
"Fine, it's just their maybe evidence to suggest...that ol' sackless may okay, not may...definitely, actually yes...definitely...mdhcrux" said Harry, mumbling the end part as sipped his drink.
"He made Horcruxes." muttered Harry, clearly this time and drained the glass, slamming it down and pouring another immediately.
"Horcruxes..." replied Draco, stunned and frozen in his seat.
"Yes, Horcruxes. Soul anchors that..."
"I know what a bloody Horcrux is." shouted the Slytherin, rising up out of his seat.
"Alright, it's an obscure branch of magic is all. I just thought..."
"You just thought? Well, I'll owl The Daily Prophet in that case." breathed Draco, who was now pacing back and forth. Harry had to bite back a smile and retort at the insult in case it escalated the situation.
"That's why you want to kill the snake...that's how he came back, isn't it?" pressed the Slytherin. Harry only nodded in response.
"And you think, you can waltz into his stronghold, kill his snake and then him and come right back?"
"Probably wouldn't waltz, I mean I'd have to learn and I'm pressed for time as it is." joked Harry.
"And you said Horcruxes, meaning...plural." either ignoring or not hearing what Harry said.
"Dumbledore thinks seven, magically strong and relevant number apparently. We've talked about it for the last couple weeks." replied Harry.
"Se...Seven...Seven horcruxes?" said Malfoy, who had now stopped in his tracks.
"Well...five now, we're certain the diary, the one your dad dropped into Ginny Weasley's cauldron in the summer before our second year? Well, that enchanted or did something to her and she opened the Chamber of Secrets..." Harry looked up and saw Malfoy looking disbelieving at him "...never mind, long story short; I stabbed this diary with a Basilisk Fang, actually took the fang out of my arm after it bit me..." Harry laughed as if trying to lighten the mood, one look told him it was not the time. "...anyway, this diary was one...now it's not and the Goblins alerted me to one being in Bellatrix's vault and we destroyed that one. Dumbledore has eyes on one and is taking me along to find it, Nagini makes four, so we only have two more and sackless himself makes seven." Harry finished and sat down back in his chair. It was quiet for several seconds, Harry stole glances unsure whether to speak first or allowing Draco to process the information. Draco soon chose for him.
"Okay...okay, so...all we have to do in the next three months or so is identify, locate and destroy two Horcruxes, hope Dumbledore has found the other, and take that one out too, come up with a plan to infiltrate wherever the other one of these turns out, evade capture and kill an incredibly dangerous snake, all the while not letting on that any of this is being done so The Dark Lord..."
"Sackless." corrected Harry, earning another glare from the Slytherin.
"so 'Sackless' is not aware, and then showdown with arguably the most powerful wizard in the world today and kill him." finished Draco.
"When you say it outloud, it does sound..."
"Insane?" offered the Slytherin, standing up and walking over to the bottle of Firewhiskey.
"I was going to go for...optimistic." grinned Harry.
"Oh! I left one out, in order for this entire plan to work we have to fix this first!" said Draco, slapping the Vanishing Cabinet, which on impact shifted and fell sideways into an ancient, dusty armoire, the sudden weight caused it's unstable frame to collapse, sending the cabinet crashing to the floor along with its contents and the Vanishing Cabinet on top of it. Dust scattered in the air as the noise echoed through the Room of Requirement.
It was a solid minute before either Harry or Draco moved, they looked at each other, both expressionless. Harry opened his mouth and went to speak but was beaten to it.
"Don't...just...don't. Okay?" said Draco, holding a hand up and draining his glass.
"It's alright, I think the floor broke the floor." mused Harry, sipping his own.
"Come on, help me get this thing up." said Draco, walking over to the item in question. Harry placed his drink on the shelf behind him and walked over to help and assess the damage. He and Draco took a side each, it was heavy and taking care they started to lift it back upright when a glint on the ground by Draco's foot caught his eye.
"Hey, what's that?" asked Harry, loosening his grip and crouching down.
"Merlin-what's what?" strained Draco, struggling to hold the weight.
"Underneath here, I think it fell off the bust when this fell." muttered Harry, trying to get a good look at it. He reached for his wand to cast a quick 'Lumos'
"Whatever it is, I'm sure it's junk. That's what everything in this place is." said Draco, bracing himself against the potentially now un-fixable Vanishing Cabinet.
Harry held his wand out and the light lit up the area, Harry turned his head slightly as the dust was still settling. Ignoring the grunts from the Slytherin, Harry let go of the Vanishing Cabinet altogether and grabbed the item, standing up and holding it up to the light. It was a tiara or something, it was beautiful and ornate, bejewelled with an oval sapphire and an inscription ran across the inside, Harry ran his hand across to make out the writing, it felt familiar...like he'd seen it before or recognised it from somewhere. 'Wit Beyond Measure Is Man's Greatest Treasure' The ornate engraving, the dated style and...the eagle emblazoned and sculpted beautifully as the crowning centrepiece on top, the eyes of the eagle flashed red just when he was brought out of his daze.
"Potter! For Morgana's sake, drop that bloody thing before I drop this!" shouted Malfoy, his voice was laboured and his body strained as Harry did as he said and dropped what he'd found and jumped over to take the weight of the Vanishing Cabinet so Malfoy could reposition himself.
"Alright, ready this time or would you like to look for some matching earring to wear to the ball" mocked Draco, still sounding slightly irate.
"Come on, let's just do this." They heaved the Vanishing Cabinet upright and made sure it was sturdy and could not fall before taking their hands off it.
"What the bloody hell is that anyway?" muttered Draco, walking over to pick it up.
"Don't!" said Harry, loudly.
"What? I'll let you keep it, just wonder what was so important about it." replied Draco, bending over to pick it up.
"Draco, leave it on the floor. In fact, step back...don't look at it too closely." Harry walked over and pulled Draco away, taking his jacket off and throwing it over the item as he did.
"What? What's wrong?" asked Draco, looking at Harry who looked at his jacket on the floor before looking at Draco.
"Remember what we were just talking about?" asked Harry, who was still holding Draco.
"Yes." answered the Slytherin, eyeing the jacket suspiciously.
"I think we might have just gotten a sign that it's not so crazy after all." said Harry, quietly walking over to his jacket and wrapping the item up before turning back to the Slytherin.
"Three down. Four to go." smiled Harry.
End of Chapter.