A.N.: And I'm back! Hello, world! Happy New Year! So, I must admit, this chapter was supposed to have been up during the holidays. But, since I'm moving out the country in a few weeks (I'm not panicking, who said I'm panicking?) I've been getting more and more anxious during the past months. And, when I'm anxious, I tend to hop a bus/train/ship/plane and get away for a few days. Now, you may be thinking that, since moving out of the country is the reason for my current anxiety, I would stay put for once, right? Wrong. I just hopped a plane towards the opposite side of the world. New year found me in the beautiful Istanbul and away from my computer. And then Sherlock happened (I still believe the whole series was a collective, fanfiction-spurred hallucination, don't touch me, I'm in pain). Still, as you may already know, I'm very good at guilt-tripping myself. That's why, to make up for my long absence, I may or may not have typed a forty pages long monster masquerading as a chapter. Yep. Close to 26k words long. Plot, a meeting and a horcrux interrogation, all coming up so stay tuned! Anyway, I hope you'll enjoy this latest chapter and don't forget to review!
P.S.: Fruitsie's Thorin Oakenshield's Majestic Diary is being updated again, carrying on with the events of the second movie (wow, that happened too, I'm going to cry so hard at the third movie, I've already started practicing). If you're in the Hobbit fandom and in need of a good laugh, just go read it. It's made me laugh like a deranged hyena in public places since last January when it was first published. And Irene90 is been making me cry with her Sherlolly fanfiction. Thanks awfully, baby raccoon. No, really, thanks.
Disclaimer; I own Harry Potter as much as I am the true heir to the Iron Throne.
THE CURIOUS CASE OF MR. RIDDLE, PART II
"You have to explain." He simply stated.
"I know. And I want explanations too." She stated. "This is quite new to me. And it came out of nowhere; from what I understand you were in possession of such knowledge for quite some time?" Severus nodded. "It's only been a week for me." She said. "I'll be leaving here in half an hour and I'll go fetch my sister. If you have a private location for us to speak…"
"I do." He offered, a new urgency in his voice.
"Then we'll meet you at the Leaky Cauldron, isn't that how that pub is called?" Severus nodded. "In two hours from now, then." She continued. "We'll be wearing the green cloaks of the Sisterhood; you may want to come disguised." Severus nodded once again. The dance ended and they bowed to each other, eyes still locked. "Don't fret," she whispered, as he offered his hand to lead her away from the dance floor, "we're here to help."
True to her word, Evelyn left the gala almost exactly half an hour after her dance with Severus. She had accepted three more dances, one from each of the male Ministers and one from Lucius who was feeling increasingly annoyed at being ignored after each dance. Ginny had described the man as arrogant at best when she had mentioned what she had gone through with the diary of Tom Riddle and Evy found herself agreeing. As she bid Fudge goodnight and walked her way out of the room and towards the apparation hall, she finally allowed herself to think over the events of the evening. This gala had not been what she had expected at all.
It had all started quite predictably. She had spent the past week getting to know Ginny better; she had been exhilarated to see how compatible they were, just how Ginny was the sister she always wished she had. After their unexpected meeting with Morgana -that had happened and it hadn't been a dream what was her life?- they had stayed awake in her rooms all night, trying to understand what they were supposed to do, what this prophecy asked of them.
In the end, Evelyn had opted on firecalling Charlie, asking him permission to keep Ginny over for the night, with the possibility to extend her stay as "her responsibilities to the Sisterhood" demanded it. She had used the tone her father favoured when he was talking affairs of the state with the Great Council -did they call the corresponding institution Wisengamot? She thought they did- or when he was chastising her and her brothers. She must have emulated it correctly, she thought, for Charlie seemed amenable to allowing his only sister to remain at Home, after being reassured that she was safer there than anywhere else in the world.
After talking and brainstorming till the break of dawn, Ginny and Evy had decided that one, they did not have enough details to come up with a conclusion and two, the only way to find out more about what was asked of them would be speaking to Harry Potter and Severus Snape. Easier said than done, they had thought. Ginny had informed her Severus -and, from what she had gathered, Harry too- lived permanently in an unplottable castle, somewhere in Scotland. Having her own knowledge of unplottable castles, Evy knew the only way into one would be the owner allowing you entrance. And for the owner to allow you entrance you had to have met them first.
Ginny, of course, knew Harry, but she had never been invited to Silbreith herself. She hadn't been really close to Harry during her past years at school, the girl had explained, not quite sure how to approach him and not wanting to force her offer of friendship onto him just because she wanted to know how what had happened in a secret chamber beneath Hogwarts three years ago.
"I know he's smart." Ginny had said. "Everybody knows that. And I know he's a good guy; even if it wasn't for the obvious, saving my life thing, I think he somehow helped two of my brothers, Fred and George, with their plans of starting their own business; Ron said something rather nasty about Harry making friends with rich people only a few weeks back and they rose to his defence; they said that Harry didn't care about money one bit and that he was a true friend whenever they needed him, calling Ron a jealous twat." Ginny took a deep breath after that part of her explanation as she had spoken fast and animatedly, anxious to convey what had happened. "Don't get me wrong, I love Ron like all my brothers, but he can be a jealous twat."
"Not many people know a lot about Harry, do they? Could your brothers, the twins, know anything more than that?" Evy had asked then, thinking over what she had learnt so far about the teen.
"Not really." Ginny stated. "I know he's good friends with Neville Longbottom and Draco Malfoy. I've known Neville for some years now and he's the decent, honest kind of guy." She smiled widely then before continuing. "He's sort of dating Luna, my best friend, and he makes her smile. That makes him alright in my books." Evy smiled and nodded in agreement. "Draco Malfoy on the other hand… Had you asked me a year ago, I would have told you that he's bad news, the mirror image of his father. But from what I've seen of him this past year…" She stopped then, a contemplative silence stretching for a few moments. "The truth is, I never knew Draco well enough; he never let anyone get close; I think until recently, he had cronies rather than friends. Don't think I had seen him smile before this year either. But he has been quite civil to me when in the past he would have called me every derogatory name he could come up with and Luna said he made her feel accepted just as much as Harry had in the Yule Ball last Christmas. And he did stay up all night outside the infirmary waiting for Harry to wake up. I don't truly know." She shook her head. "Those three have only been close friends with each other, I suppose; but should someone know more about Harry, it would be Neville and Draco."
Nodding in understanding, Evy had proposed they should focus on coming up with a way for her to stay close to Ginny during the next school term. If she had access to Hogwarts, she had figured, they would find the opportunity to approach Harry and Severus eventually.
"There wouldn't happen to be an opening for a History of Magic professor in Hogwarts, would there?" Evy had asked jokingly, only to have Ginny groan.
"Don't talk to me about History of Magic!" Ginny had exclaimed. "Did you know our professor is a ghost?"
"Your professor is a what?" Evy had asked then, thinking perhaps, she was a little behind in English vernacular; because, certainly, they wouldn't allow a ghost to teach!
"A ghost." Ginny had repeated. "Professor Binns; dead for a century, teaching still.
"Would it be silly of me to ask if he has caught up with the historic events of this past century?" Evelyn had wondered, already suspecting the answer.
"The way he teaches, it's a miracle we remember anything of the goblin revolts which, incidentally, are all the curriculum consists of." Ginny admitted.
"Just goblin revolts?" Evy had asked, the historian in her feeling scandalized. "Nothing on, say, merpeople?"
"There are some in the Dark Lake by the school," Ginny offered, smiling wryly, "and all I know of them is what I've read on my own."
"What, no ancient magical history?" She asked, clearly appalled. "First magical settlements? Comparative theory of magical origins?"
"Comparative what?" Ginny asked, clearly perplexed.
"The Great Feudal Wars? Dark Magic movements? Mythology for the younger years?" She was clearly grasping for straws at this point and Ginny didn't know whether she should feel terrified at how her education had been lacking or amused at her new friend's expression.
"Nope?" She uttered, watching as Evy blanched.
"Formation of modern magical communities and the International Secrecy Pact? That's crucial! It's not even history! We're living it!" Evelyn exclaimed.
"Not really, no." The redhead offered.
"I weep for my profession." Evy had simply stated and allowed herself to collapse backwards on the bed. When, two days later, they had read that Fudge was preparing an educational reform, the first vestiges of a plan had started forming. Evy had already decided to go to the gala anyway and now her decision had been solidified. All they needed was planting a seed of what could be, Evy making a covert offer to work at Hogwarts; if that didn't work, she could always claim she wanted to work on a paper and visit the library at Hogwarts as a researcher.
As things stood, the night before the gala, Ginny and Evelyn had left Home and had moved to Evy's ancestral halls. Evelyn's family was completely different from what Ginny had expected; there was none of the stiff formality history books and rumour spoke of. What she found instead were four ridiculously tall, boisterous men -the actual King and princes- blond and cheerful and every bit the Viking warriors their ancestors were and a tiny, equally blond woman, Queen Elaine, dwarfed next to her sons and husband; she was kind with a great sense of humour and looked very much like her only daughter. When Evy had introduced her as her charge and Ginny had explained how she herself came from a large family of nine, all her siblings being male too, Queen Elaine had smiled widely and proclaimed women like them -herself, Ginny and Evy- should stick together to battle the combined and inevitable silliness that surrounded them. Four loud protests later and Ginny already felt like home.
Evy had a room prepared for her next to her own and the two had spent a considerable amount of time choosing a dress for next night's gala. Evy had outright admitted she rarely attended events as such, should she help it, especially if they weren't held by people she knew.
"I don't like to be paraded around and be pointed or whispered at." She had said, Ginny nodding emphatically, knowing the feeling. She had once been the centre of unwanted attention like that, for reasons completely different, and she wouldn't wish the feeling it generated to anyone. Not attending a lot of formal events however, didn't mean that she didn't have the wardrobe to support her should she ever choose to go to one and they had fun selecting the ideal gown. The one they had chosen in the end was carefully embroidered, its light, grey-blue layers falling to the floor like large flower petals. With her hair done up carefully and the shoes to match, Evy had just concealed her emblem and left the castle, prepared to spend a night in the company of stuffy politicians and determined to endure in order to succeed in her self imposed task.
She hadn't expected having the job she wished for offered to her on a silver platter. And she definitely hadn't expected running into one of the two people she had hoped to find a way to meet. The Minister hadn't mentioned that Severus Snape would be in attendance when she had sent her and her family the invitation to the gala. He had mentioned the presence of the two other Ministers of Magic but nothing else and Evy had found herself almost stumbling on her own two feet when Fudge pointed to his own circle of partygoers and the people included in it; as if she wasn't awkward enough on her own, the Fates seemed to think she needed the added pressure. Carefully maintaining the polite façade she had practiced all her life, she had allowed Fudge to lead her around the room towards the one person whose acquaintance she had meant to make. So she walked closer. Then he turned to look at her and she almost swallowed her tongue.
The man was tall -and proclaiming somebody tall when coming from her family actually meant something- and impeccably dressed, with broad shoulders tapering to a lean waist and thick hair, black as a raven's wing, parted elegantly at the side, free of any product. He had an aquiline nose and a strong jaw, high cheekbones and large, dark eyes. Morgana help her, but the man was handsome. She had seen pictures of him, of course, but she hadn't been prepared for his height, or the way his presence demanded the attention of the room.
And she hadn't been prepared for his voice, deep and dark, which was silly, considering she was a Siren and it was her voice that was supposed to hold people under thrall. It was a good thing that he hadn't addressed her directly for at least half an hour after their introduction as she was certain she would have embarrassed herself with unparalleled ease. As it were, she had been allowed thirty minutes to organise her thoughts and manage to actually succeed in what she had come to the gala for. Asking her to dance, while it did solve the issue of approaching him for a more private conversation, did bring the unfortunate addition of, well, dancing.
Evelyn had been taught to dance from a very young age and her teachers all insisted she was quite good at it. She usually danced up and down her room and all around the corridors in her home, waltzing steps and foxtrot and whatever random moves struck her fancy. When she was alone. As in, when nobody was watching. When in a room with close to a hundred people, their eyes trained on her? She'd rather not, she really would. When one Severus Snape had focused that dark gaze of his on her too? Morgana have mercy!
She had done her best to mentally steel herself for the conversation that was certain to follow; the potions master had seemed eager to speak to her -could he know she had something to do with the prophecy or did he suspect her to be in league with Fudge?- and she had allowed him to lead her to the dance floor despite her trepidation. Evelyn had thought herself prepared for whatever he might wish to ask; and still, the man had managed to surprise her.
"So, your Grace," she had said, speaking first, wanting to get to what she needed to tell him most, "to what do I own the pleasure of this dance?"
"Could I not have simply asked you to dance because I wished it?" He had asked her in turn; it took her a few seconds -and some embarrassing stuttering, damn him- to realise he had said that on purpose, trying -and succeeding- to break through her uninterested mask. Irritated with herself, Evelyn had tried to talk around his questions, trying to find a way to gently ease him into the subject of the prophecy, but to no avail. Their dance was almost over and all she could do was blurt out a line of the prophecy, hoping he would realize what it meant. Of course he did; she guessed the prophecy was etched as permanently on his mind as it was on hers.
Arranging an appointment to meet him in two hours had been a spontaneous decision but the best she could come up with at the time. She recalled there was a pub that worked as an entrance to the magical shopping district and neighbourhoods of London. She was almost certain Ginny had called it the Leaky Cauldron and, after Severus had assured her that, yes, he did have a safe location where they could talk about the prophecy, she had arranged to meet with him there at midnight. In something less than an hour and a half.
"What was I even thinking?" She asked herself, before flooing to the Ministry where a portkey waited to take her back to Norway. Trying to calculate exactly how many strings she'd have to pull to have a new portkey arranged for her and Ginny and soon deciding that making one herself would be a much better alternative, for security reasons if nothing else, Evelyn made her way down the half lit corridors of the Ministry. She knew an official from the Foreign Relations Office had been appointed to wait for her with a Portkey upon her arrival, but he wouldn't be in his position for an hour still; she had thought she'd have to speak to Fudge for far longer than she did and she hadn't factored Severus in her decision. In any case, she had been told that, should she need to depart earlier, she would find the Portkey assigned to her in the first office down the hall, on her right.
The fireplace that led to the Stonehold Manor was located in an isolated part of the Ministry and the offices there were sparse, reserved only for the closest co-workers of the Minister of Magic. Usually at that time of the night, the specific sector of the Ministry was empty; tonight, with two foreign Ministers and herself needing to depart via Portkey, there was one office still occupied. Evelyn could hear voices coming from the open door as she walked.
"…and I told him, of course, that I would try to work something out." A man's voice echoed in the empty hallway. "But there hasn't been a precedent of Ministry supervision at Hogwarts so, in the end, he might have to make a degree of it."
"I know Dumbledore's been talking nonsense lately," another voice, a female one, spoke, "but placing Umbridge at Hogwarts seems a cruel and…" Evelyn's appearance at the door put an end to their conversation. The room was occupied by a middle aged witch with brown hair streaked with grey and an older wizard with dark skin and a thick white beard.
"Your Highness!" The man exclaimed, rising up from his seat and approaching Evelyn. The woman followed his example but stayed back, her eyes wide as Evy walked into the room. "We weren't expecting you for an hour yet!"
"I know and I apologize for any inconvenience." Evelyn said, projecting her well practiced façade of the calm and polite princess she had cultivated since her childhood. "I found myself feeling rather taxed. I hope me using my Portkey now will not cause you trouble, Mr…?"
"Thaddeus Gaspar, at your service, your Highness." The man supplied. "And there's no inconvenience at all!" He added, excusing himself for the few moments it took him to reach for his desk and take one of the three boxes placed there; opening it, he took out a crystal statuette, an exact replica of the fountain that decorated the Ministry's dome. It was a commemoration gift for the gala, Evelyn surmised, one final touch to the lavishness of the evening. She had never liked that fountain, Evy idly thought, as the wizard approached her, tapping the statuette with his wand once before placing it on a stand by the door. "The Portkey will activate in fifteen seconds; if you'd please, your Highness?" Evy nodded and touched the statuette.
"Goodnight, Mr. Gaspar, and thank you for your assistance." She said and nodded to the wizard; she barely had the chance to see the man nod back at her before she felt the familiar tug behind her navel as the Portkey transferred her back home. Evelyn's mind barely registered her feet touching the marble floors of her home before she took off, rushing through hallways and corridors, heading for Ginny's room. It was a mercy she didn't run into any member of her family for she was convinced she'd appear half mad to them and utterly unable to hold a conversation to save her life. The crystal figurine still clasped in her left hand, Evy barged into Ginny's room without so much as knocking. A pair of lilac, startled eyes rose to meet hers; Ginny lay on the bed, reading one of the books on the basics of Mermish she had giver her. Mermish songs were very effective when sung by Sirens, Evelyn had explained, but to sing them properly, one had to know the language.
"Evy?" Ginny asked, pulling back the covers, book abandoned on the bed, as she hurried towards the startled princess. One look at her friend was all it took for her to know something had gone completely besides their plan. Evelyn was clutching something tightly in her fist, still clad in the gown she had donned for the gala. Her eyes were opened wide and her lips were parted, as if she wanted to say something but couldn't quite find the words. "Evy?" She asked again. "Are you alright?"
"I…" Evelyn mumbled, eyes slightly unfocused. "I don't know?"
"What happened?" Ginny asked, her worry intensifying. Evy shook her head and gulped, opening and closing her mouth a few times before she could find her voice again. And when she did, she seemed unable to stop. She spoke of what had happened at the ball, of her new job and meeting Severus and the meeting she had arranged for them in an hour now.
"And I'm a complete idiot, of course!" Evy exclaimed, now pacing up and down in front of the fireplace. "I mean I've been trying to come up with a calm and composed way to ease him into the subject of the prophecy and what did I do at the end?" She asked, looking at Ginny, still wide eyed. "I blurted out a line of the prophecy praying the man would guess what I spoke of! It's a miracle how we finished that dance, I swear!" She covered her eyes with her hands in exasperation, a blush clear on her face. "And I swear I stuttered like an idiot when he was only trying to bait me into speaking my mind! And then arranging a meeting as if I knew what I was doing? I'm such an idiot!"
"Well, I don't think you could have come up with a gentle way to speak to him about the prophecy, even if you had all the time in the world to prepare." Ginny offered. "And I think the meeting must have caught professor Snape just as much unawares as it did you." She shook her head and smiled, beside herself. "My, this will be quite an interesting meeting." And then she made the mistake of catching Evy's eye. A short moment of silence ensued, broken swiftly by a snort from Evy before both of them dissolved into roaring laughter.
"I don't even know what we'll say once we get there." Evy admitted, wiping a tear from her face.
"I don't know either." Ginny admitted, her expression turning confused. "And how are we getting there exactly?" She asked.
"Oh, right." Evelyn said, deciding to tackle one matter at a time. "I'm going to make something into a Portkey to my family's townhouse in London…" She looked at the statuette she was holding with some distaste, figuring it should do the trick. "Slightly illegal, I hope you don't mind." Ginny cocked an eyebrow in reply, shaking her head.
"How much time do we have before we must go?" The redhead asked.
"Forty minutes give or take." Evy answered, both their eyes widening in realization. "Pack a change of clothes and the basic essentials and take out your Sisterhood cloak; I'm going to do the same. We're either spending the night there or at my place in London." Ginny nodded and hastened to do just that. She hadn't truly unpacked yet, so the process didn't take very long. She haphazardly threw a few toiletries she had used into the small trunk she'd been totting around for the past week, along with her pajamas and the few books she had taken from Home. Redressing hastily in a pair of jeans and a Hollyhead Harpies shirt, she endeavored to lace her shoes as fast as she could before reaching for her hairbrush. Five minutes later, teeth brushed, hair untangled and green cloak fastened around her shoulders, Ginny walked out of her room in search for Evy, only to bump on her at the door.
"Ready?" Evelyn asked, grasping the doorframe for balance. She was still wearing her gown but -in the hand that wasn't clutching at the door- she held a satchel with her own clothes for the night.
"Yeah." Ginny answered. "You?" Evy sighed and pointed at her dress.
"I love the dress but it took me half an hour to put it on. It will take as much to take it off unless I tear it off with a spell. No time to change now!" Ginny nodded and walked out of the room, dragging her trunk with her. Evy pulled out her wand and tapped the crystal statuette in her hand once. "Ten seconds." She said and Ginny touched the figurine; it wasn't long till she felt the familiar pull of an activated portal. The world spun around her for a long moment and soon her feet touched wooden floors. He room around them was dark but spacious, from what Ginny could tell. "Hadn't thought this through…" Evy muttered as she pulled her wand and conjured a small cloud of bright orbs, sending them floating towards the ceiling.
"So, to the Leaky Cauldron?" Ginny asked, approaching the fireplace.
"Yes." Evy said. "Just give me a moment. Jor!" She called and a house elf appeared, bowing respectfully at her. She smiled and spoke to it swiftly in Norwegian before turning back to Ginny. "Needed somebody to extinguish the fire after we're gone." She said and pulled her hood over her face, concealing her face in its shadow. Ginny mimicked her and waited till Evy lit the fireplace, taking a bawl with floo powder from Jor the house elf. The flames glowed green and Evy stepped in first, calling out the name of her destination clearly. Ginny, taking a deep breath and wishing for the best, followed her through the flames.
At the same time, Severus was preparing to depart from Silbreith for the Leaky Cauldron. He had almost worried himself to hyperventilation from the moment Evelyn had left the ball to the moment he too could take his leave; when the French Minister had decided it was time to return, feeling quite tipsy from the night's champagne consumption, Severus had only been to glad to accompany him. Saying his goodnights, he harried towards the fireplace hall, barely registering how he had made his way back to the castle.
"Minnie!" He called for the house elf the moment he stepped into the main hall. The elf appeared immediately.
"Is master Severus back already?" She asked, regarding her master cursorily. "Is the master alright?"
"Yes, Minnie." He answered numbly. He looked at the nearest clock. Eleven o'clock; he barely had an hour to reach the Leaky Cauldron. Did I seriously agree to a clandestine meeting with a princess at midnight? He mused, shaking his head to dispel such thoughts. "Will you prepare two rooms for the night, Minnie? We'll be expecting guests within the hour." The house elf's blue eyes widened.
"Certainly, master Severus!" She exclaimed with some excitement; this summer had already seen more guests at Silbreith than the last decade put together and now two more were announced. "Would that be all?"
"Almost. Is my son awake still?" He asked.
"The young master is in the library along with misters Neville and Draco, sir." Minnie said. Severus nodded.
"Then that would be all, Minnie. Thank you." The elf bowed and disappeared to organize everything for the newcomers. Severus turned towards the stairs and sprinted to the library, trying to come up with a way to explain exactly what had happened to his son. How did one go around saying he had found the other part of the prophecy that, in many ways, had shaped their lives for over a decade? Still pondering on the best way to broach the subject, Severus walked straight into the library, halting only when he reached the table where Harry, Draco and Neville still were reading through the files he had unearthed. Had it only been that very morning he had visited the Archives? The three teens looked up as they heard him walk into the library, confused and concerned. Severus, taking in the mugs of tea on the table, guessed they hadn't as much as stepped away from the desk since he had left.
"Dad?" Harry asked, rising to meet his father. "Did something happen?"
"I don't know how to begin answering th…" And then his eyes widened as he better observed Harry's appearance. "Why is your left hand covered in feathers?" The potions master asked, causing his son to look at his arm too. The appendage looked something between a wing and an arm, dark brown feathers covering everything from where Harry had rolled up his sleeve and under.
"Oh, sorry." He muttered, his hand trembling as the feathers disappeared. "I've been practicing on my secondary animagus transformation. Trying to get used to the feeling, making sure I can do it instinctively." He fixed his shirt's sleeve so it was rolled up at his elbow as the right one. "Now, why did you run in here as if Rita Skeeter was chasing you?"
"She's not actually…" Neville hazarded, looking towards the entrance of the room in fear; from what he had seen of the reporter had been enough to theorize she would dare to do just that. Harry had told her she could carry on with her regular work as normal after all.
"She wouldn't dare." Harry assured him. He, at least, hoped she wasn't crash enough.
"No, it's just…" Severus started, trying to find the words. "It's just…"
"Yes?" Draco prompted unnerved.
"What the bloody hell did Fudge do?" Neville asked.
"Not Fudge, just… give me a moment, please." The potions master asked. "I haven't recovered from that dance yet."
"What dance?" Harry mouthed, looking at his brothers in confusion. Getting two confused -and expectedly so- shrugs in return, he turned his attention back to his father; Severus had closed his eyes tight and was pinching the bridge of his nose, breathing deeply in and out.
"There's no way around it." He mumbled, Harry imagined mostly to strengthen his resolve for what he had to say than anything else. "I'll just have to… well, then." He opened his eyes and looked at his son. "Remember Morgana Le Fay's prophecy concerning us? Well, of course you do, what am I even saying?" He admonished himself before Harry had the chance to utter a single word. "I found the other two people it refers to. Or rather one of them found me, as it stands." Complete silence met his announcement.
"What?" Harry exclaimed finally, eyes wide, face pale, as he stumbled back and sat on the corner of the desk else he collapsed.
"Yes, I…" Severus took in a deep breath to steady himself and continued, "I -no, not I, that's not right- she run into me at the gala. The "Sister who is not the Sister" she called herself and said she wanted to talk. She and her sister, whoever that is, are coming over." He said, pressing his fingers over closed eyelids. "Because I arranged to pick them up from the Leaky Cauldron in, oh, half an hour from now?" He looked at the grandfather clock at the other side of the room. "Yes, that would be correct." He mumbled to himself.
"What?" Harry asked again. Neville looked on with a dumbfounded expression on his face, a report still held in his hands while Draco looked from Harry to the potions master in rapid succession. "She simply approached you and said she knew of the prophecy? Just like that? And who is she?"
"She was invited at the gala too." Severus stated. "And she knew I was the one the prophecy referred to, but she couldn't exactly say how she knew, not in the middle of the dance floor! Hence the meeting." He chuckled in complete disbelief. "And her name is Evelyn."
"Evelyn?" Harry asked. "Just that?" He felt dizzy, hand over his forehead; how was he supposed to deal with this day he was having?
"Oh, no." Severus stated, his nervous laughter resuming, even as he shook his head negatively. "Evelyn of Norway." He said, three gasps following his words. "Evelyn the actual bloody princess of Norway."
"Who?" Draco asked, voice cracking.
"You heard me!" Severus exclaimed, hands extended wide at his sides as he started pacing. "In the space of half an hour she floated into the room, socialized with Fudge, got herself hired as your new History of Magic professor…"
"What?" Harry exclaimed.
"Oh, yes, she did." Severus said, hands extended outwards once more, showcasing just how much he didn't know how to react at that himself. "And then we danced and she said she had been wanting to talk to me because she was one of the two women mentioned in the prophecy…" He stopped in his tracks then, looking at the three stupefied teens. "Well, she didn't use exactly those words, of course, but she made it clear who she was and she said we needed to meet somewhere more private and I agreed." He looked at his son. "I don't know what else to say." He admitted.
"Could you repeat your conversation, please?" Harry asked softly, the room spinning around him. And Severus did, as swiftly as she could.
"I see nothing else we can do than meet with them." The potions master concluded. "They may have some answers we seek and, besides, Merlin himself said they're meant to help."
"And meet them we shall." Harry offered, looking at the time.
"I should be going." Severus stated.
"We'll follow you to the fireplace," Harry said, his brothers nodding in agreement, "and wait for you there." The four wizards walked down the floors silently, stopping only once arriving at the hall. Severus pointed his wand to himself and altered his appearance the best he could, blond hair, blue eyes and a different face structure hiding his identity. He donned a long traveling cloak over his clothes, now charmed to appear like casual, deep red robes, and threw a handful of floo powder into the flames.
"I'll apparate back." The potions master said. "Just in case." The three teens nodded; no one could apparate into the grounds of Silbreith if not a member of the castle's master family. "Here goes." He muttered and moved for the fireplace, his son's hand on his arm stopping him momentarily.
"Dad?" Harry asked; Severus turned to look at him in concern. "If you're not back in five minutes I'm coming after you." He smiled slightly. "You know the drill." Severus nodded once and off he went, into the fire and to the Leaky Cauldron. He stepped out of the fireplace and into the pub, eyes searching the late night costumers, heart fluttering. The crowd at this time of the night -midnight, he repeated inwardly, Merlin, how is this happening?- was sparse, a couple of wizards at the bar and a group of witches laughing at the far corner of the room. As it stood, it was easy for him to spot the ones he was looking for. There, seated away from all the other patrons and clad in Sisterhood green, faces hidden under the shadow of their hoods, were two witches. Breathing in deeply and schooling his expression to neutrality, he walked towards them.
"Good evening." He spoke steadily, bowing his head politely in greeting. The two hooded figures started at the sound of his voice, looking at him under their hoods. One was about the height he recalled the princess being. The other one was shorter and pale, from what he could see, but that was all he could say of her. "Do excuse my appearance. I just came from a dance, you see, and I didn't have time to change." The taller figure nodded and stood up.
"Quite understandable, sir." She said, shouldering a satchel that lay on the floor beside her feet. "If you don't mind, I believe we should go. My sister and I are quite taxed from travelling." The potions master nodded, not knowing what else to say; he pointed to the back door of the pub, the one that led to the entrance to Diagon Alley. He walked out the door, the two witches following him closely. Once they were out of the pub he spoke once more.
"I don't want our destination to be overheard." He explained. "You're going to have to side-apparate." Two nods of agreement and Severus extended his left hand for them to grab, his right one holding his wand. "There are two more people where we're going, that you probably weren't expecting," the potions master cautioned them "but they're to be trusted implicitly and already know of everything."
"We…" Evelyn said and looked at Ginny who nodded once. "We had expected such a possibility." One of the two people had to be Neville, Evy had surmised. The other, perhaps, the young Malfoy? Ginny had said those two were very close to Harry and the redhead had wondered if, perhaps, they knew more than they let on. They would soon find out if she had been right in her assumption. Severus simply cocked an eyebrow, no emotional response evident on his face.
How could they have expected such a thing? He wondered, ordering himself not to panic. Instead of over-thinking the situation, and convinced his son would appear within the minute did he not apparate back immediately, he did just that. The group of three landed in front of Silbreith's gates, the castle looming tall in the summer moonlight. The two witches exchanged a look -how can they even see with those cloaks on, Severus wondered before the obvious answer, magic, appeared to him- and followed him up the stairs.
"My ladies, if you'd follow me." Severus said, wand pointed at himself so he could lift the glamour charms off his person. The doors of the castle parted for their master and, like so, Evy and Ginny stepped foot into the halls of Silbreith for the very first time. The potions master led them to the main hall, were three teens stood, expecting them. Silence reigned over the two unlikely groups, Severus eventually taking the role of introducing Evelyn to each other upon him. "If I may present to you, her royal highness, Evelyn of Norway." The potions master said, the woman in question stepping forward and removing her cloak.
"Nice to meet you all." Se said, smiling apologetically. The three boys in front of her were looking at her in various states of confusion. "Do forgive me for the way this meeting was arranged and, please, my name is Evelyn." She smiled at all four wizards in the room. "My friends call me Evy." She concluded.
"Evy, then." Harry said, looking at the other witch from the corner of his eyes; he understood how the princess wouldn't have time to change clothes but why hadn't the second witch removed her cloak yet? "I'm Harry." He said, head bowed politely in a curtsy. "And allow me to introduce you to…"
"Misters Draco Malfoy and Neville Longbottom, I presume?" Evy asked, shocking the four wizards into silence. Harry nodded positively. "A pleasure to meet you."
"How did you know who they are?" Severus asked, looking at Evelyn. "You said you suspected there would be more people here than me and my son," the potions master continued, taking a step closer to the princess, "but I never gave you any names."
"You didn't have to, professor." The second witch spoke finally, voice eerily familiar. So familiar, in fact, that Harry couldn't help but gasp. He knew that voice; but could it be? "I did." The witch said and divested herself of her cloak, affirming Harry's suspicions but not serving in reducing his confusion one bit. If anything, he found himself completely confounded. For right there, in front of him, standing in the middle of his home's fireplace hall and clad in Holyhead Harpies' green, was Ginny Weasley.
"Ginny?" Harry finally asked after a long moment of utter silence, his voice disbelieving; she smiled apologetically and blushed slightly as she realized four bewildered pairs of eyes were trained on her. She was Ginny, Harry concluded, watching as she bit her lower lip, a nervous trait of hers he had noticed first years ago, when a then seven year old Ginny had worked up the courage to ask Prongs if she could borrow his Nimbus 1500 for a fly around the quidditch pitch at Potter manor. Her long red hair was the same, her expressions were the same, her freckles were the same, her brown eyes were lilac… wait what? Lilac?
"Hi, Harry." She said finally. "Professor Snape, Neville, Draco." She nodded to each of them, gulping once when no one answered; understandable, she figured. She straightened her shoulders before speaking again, breathing in deeply and stealing a glance at Evelyn who nodded encouragingly. "I guess you all have questions; Evy and I would be glad to answer any of them we can." Ginny offered.
"Miss Weasley?" Severus asked again, his gaze trailing from Evelyn's too blue eyes to Ginny's amethyst coloured ones and back in rapid succession, steadily making the connection. Weren't all members of the Sisterhood considered sisters to each other? "You've entered the Sisterhood, I assume?" He asked, causing Neville and Draco to gasp. Harry, who had watched his father observe the eyes of the two witches in confusion, had just made the startling connection himself a second before the potions master worded his conclusion. The magic of the Sisterhood's witches could be seen clear in their eyes, legend had it. And though legend and truth rarely coincided, here, it seemed, they did.
"I have, yes." Ginny confirmed, nodding once before pointing at her eyes. "Still getting used to the colour myself." She admitted, having correctly guessed it was her eyes, more than anything, that had helped the potions master make the connection. A green cloak could be just a green cloak but her eyes would always tell of her affiliation to the sisterhood; she wouldn't have it any other way.
"How?" Draco asked.
"When?" Neville inquired at the same time.
"So, when the prophecy spoke of a Sister who is not the Sister…" Harry trailed off, Evelyn finishing his sentence for him.
"Both Ginny and myself are members of the Sisterhood; we are, in that sense, sisters. Just not by birth." She explained.
"We're not having this conversation here." Severus stated, looking at the three boys and the newcomers.
"I suggest the library?" Harry offered. "We might need to show them…" And he trailed off again, his father nodding in agreement after a moment of silent contemplation. Evy and Ginny shared a look; show them what exactly?
"Follow me, if you'd please." Severus muttered, still somewhat disoriented. He hadn't been so confused since the aftermath of his and Harry's first meeting with Merlin. He led the way, his son by his side, followed by Ginny and Evelyn, Neville and Draco bringing up the rear. Their walk to the Library was brisk and silent, the two women taking in the sights of Silbreith as they were led through the hallways of the castle. Walking through the doors of the library once again, Severus led them to a desk on the other side of the room from were their horcrux research lay; he had agreed with Harry that they should probably share their research but not just yet. First, they would have to answer his questions to his satisfaction and provide proof of what they claimed to be. Even if the presence of Ginny Weasley had thrown him off for a few moments, he wasn't one to trust easily, especially where his son was involved.
"If you'd like to take a seat." Harry offered kindly, smiling numbly at Ginny, who accepted his offer gratefully; her legs were just about to give out on her anyway. She had known this moment was unavoidable, but how did one go around talking about a millennia old prophecy? Awkwardly, she decided, looking at the faces around the table. Very much so.
"Well," Evy spoke, trying to get the conversation going, "would you like us to explain how we came to know of the prophecy or do you have something specific on your mind you'd like to ask first?" Harry and Severus shared a glance and a nod.
"Just one question first." Harry said, taking one more measure of precaution. "On your first year," he spoke to Ginny, "before you were taken to the Chamber of Secrets, you came to me at the Gryffindor table; could you reiterate that conversation?"
"Making sure I'm me?" Ginny asked, throwing Harry a rueful smile. He shrugged unrepentantly; Ginny's smile widened. Precautions were a good thing at this time and age.
"You said I looked tired and troubled and asked me what was wrong; I wanted to tell you about Riddle's diary. You said I knew you and Adrian practically since our infancy, that I could trust you." She cocked an eyebrow at the memory, wondering for the umpteenth time what would have happened had she spoken to someone of the diary sooner; nothing she could do now, she chastised herself. "I was about to tell you everything when Percy interrupted us and I bolted." She grimaced at her reaction but Harry nodded, satisfied with her answer.
"Had to be certain." He said, smiling a little wider, a little more honestly. Ginny nodded.
"Yes, you had," she agreed. "And before we carry on, there's something I've been meaning to tell you since the end of my first year." Ginny said, her smile gone, looking completely serious. "You saved my life that day in the Chamber and I never got to thank you." She said; Harry's eyes widened in shock.
"You knew it was me?" He asked, as all four wizards turned their gazes on her once more; she felt herself blushing again under their scrutiny but didn't break eye contact with Harry; thanking him for saving her life had been something she had wanted to do for years and, by Morgana, she would do it right! "You knew, yet said nothing?" Severus cocked his head slightly to the left waiting for her answer.
"I saw you, that day in the Chamber." Ginny admitted. "I was shocked and confused but even then I knew you mustn't have said you were the one who had faced the basilisk for a reason. And, Harry, you had just saved my life." She shrugged. "It was your secret to keep or share not mine; I swore to myself not to tell and never ask and just be grateful. But now that I have the chance…" She smiled again, wider and freer this time. "Now that I have the chance I'd like to say it; thank you, Harry." Harry, on his part, looked at her thunderstruck; he still wasn't used to being thanked for what he had done, mostly because so very few people knew exactly how he had protected them from the shadows for so long. The only one that had ever expressed such sentiment towards him, outside his family, had ever been… Ginny, he realized, even more startled, remembering how the girl had approached him two years ago, thanking him for saving her brother's life during the Pettigrew incident. He smiled brightly at her.
"You're welcome, Ginny." The girl nodded, returning the smile.
"And before we start," Evy said, smiling proudly at her sister and aiming to lighten the mood slightly, "just give me a moment to…" She bent down and took of her high heels, holding them in her hands and looking at them contemplatively. "Much better." She mumbled to herself, stretching her legs slightly. The four wizards looked at her in astonishment. "What?" Evy asked, shrugging once. "Try dancing and running from one country to the other in a pair of these," she said, the shoes dangling from her fingers, "and then come talk to me! Silly shoes…" She muttered.
"Still, pretty shoes." Ginny pointed out. Evy nodded in agreement.
"All brawn no brain shoes?" The princess concluded, locking eyes with her, for all intents and purposes, sister for a moment before both women started laughing. The four wizards on the other side of the table shared a confused and slightly concerned look.
"Ah, well…" Severus uttered, not quite knowing what to make of that exchange. "I believe we're ready to hear of your part of the story." The two witches looked at each other and nodded.
"We will tell you everything we can but, please, bear in mind that we have taken an oath; we can not speak of the Sisterhood." Severus cocked an eyebrow at that proclamation, prompting Evy to elaborate. "We learned of the prophecy after Ginny was initiated; our oaths prevent us from sharing certain information for the Sisterhood. Think of the oath as the Fidelius; even if we weren't committed in protecting our order, we wouldn't be able to share details about it. The prophecy is another matter entirely, but, because of our oaths, we can't tell you where we heard it, for example." All four wizards nodded in understanding.
"But you won't withhold information related to your knowledge of the prophecy itself." Severus said. It was not a question; simply a statement of how he expected the conversation to unfold.
"When Morgana Le Fay appears to you in a mirror to tell you of a prophecy that concerns you and urges you to search the other people that prophecy includes, you do just that. What's the point of withholding any information when it's probably you that hold more answers than we do?" Evelyn asked. Severus nodded, conceding to that logic. And so Evy started talking of how their meeting with Morgana had gone, Ginny adding a few details here and there, concerning how she had deduced the prophecy concerned Harry and Severus too.
It didn't take long for the Pensive to be brought into the room -along with some tea, courtesy of Minnie- as memories were exchanged for the next couple of hours. Both witches willingly accepted to be subjected to Legillimency, the potions master spending over an hour ascertaining they had no ulterior motives; they even offered to be questioned under Veritaserum, was it deemed necessary. The potions master had shook his head negatively at that; there was no need to submit them to the side effects of such a toxic potion as Veritaserum only to hear the same things he had seen in their minds and memories.
"So, you knew of the prophecy since you were seven?" Ginny asked Harry, her head swimming from everything she had just seen and heard; alchemy and fights against Voldemort and Horcruxes -Morgana have mercy on us all!- more prophecies, castles and all that hiding with nobody being the wiser. She had never thought that being brought up to speed with what the prophecy entailed would uncover so much!
"Yes, basically." Harry said, rubbing circles on his temples.
"But…" Evy looked at the green eyed wizard and then at his father. "How do you think we're meant to help?" She shared a look with Ginny, one that conveyed all their confusion. Harry was an extraordinary wizard, she had realized, and she would be honored to help him, even if there wasn't a prophecy that dictated she was meant to do so; Voldemort, after all, hadn't stopped his attempts at domination at his country's borders and she couldn't see him doing that now that he was back again.
"That, of course, depends." Severus offered.
"On what?" Ginny asked.
"The prophecy speaks of the one who Sees and her sister who is not her sister, the keeper of magic that is old." The potions master explained. "The one who sees what? Every witch of the Sisterhood has a specific magical gift, that much is common knowledge; will those gifts of yours be able to help us?"
"Can you even talk about your gifts?" Neville asked.
"We can tell you what our gifts are, for they were around before the Sisterhood was founded." Evelyn answered. "We can't tell you how we train for them, we can't tell you where we train for them." She explained. "We can tell you nothing of the Sisterhood's inner structure or speak of the gifts of other members. And, even though we are allowed to use our gifts in our personal lives, we can't use them in case of a war. Don't even ask about the eyes." She concluded with a wry smirk.
"The Sisterhood does not intervene in any war unless provoked." Severus recited one of the few known facts about Morgana's Order.
"Exactly." Ginny stated. "And by provoked, we mean directly attacked." In the face of their limitations, Harry smirked.
"I know that look." Draco stated, eyes widening as he pointed at his brother.
"What look?" Neville asked looking at Harry himself. "Ah, that look."
"And what does that look mean?" Evy wondered out loud.
"Usually that he's up to something." Severus explained, looking at his son expectantly.
"Didn't you say that imbeciles have their uses, Dad?" Harry asked looking at the potions master. Ginny was thrown for a loop as Severus nodded, still not completely able to digest the torrent of information she had received.
"Referring to the Ministry, yes." Severus agreed.
"I'm referring to the Ministry too." Harry stated. "Thanks to Fudge, we don't have a war in our hands yet." He explained and looked at the two witches across the table. "What if you use your gifts to help us before the war starts? Will that cause you any trouble?" Evy and Ginny shared a smirk.
"If you must know, Mr. Potter, the members of the Sisterhood are encouraged to hone their gifts." Evy said. "Helping a friend in need, in times of peace, is a completely acceptable way to do just that."
"Apparently we still have peace." Severus stated.
"And we are in need, let's not forget that." Draco offered.
"Well then, we might help you yet." Ginny stated, smiling widely.
"Sorry for interrupting," Neville offered, brow furrowed in thought, "but what are your gifts exactly?" The rest of the witches and wizards on the room looked at each other in shock.
"We didn't quite get around to explaining that, did we?" Ginny asked.
"No." Evy agreed, the corners of her lips lifting up in mirth. "We did not." She pointed at herself. "Primarily, I'm an Oracle." She said; Severus' eyes widened; he had heard of such a gift, but thought it long past extinct. Well, magic that is old indeed, he mused.
"So, you're the one who Sees." The potions master said; Evy nodded.
"Ehm, do excuse me," Draco interrupted, "but what exactly is an Oracle?"
"A glorified Sheer, basically." Evelyn quipped, before elaborating further.
"I can definitely see how such I gift might help us." Harry stated, thinking how helpful skrying alone could prove to be, even without the possibility of visions of the future. "No pun intended." He added thinking of his exact wording.
"I second that." Severus agreed. "Even if you have to stop helping us once war is upon us, just thinking of the possibilities…" He looked at Evy, smiling kindly. "It's going to be a pleasure, having you with us."
"It's going to be a pleasure being here." She responded.
"Even if it means putting yourself in danger?" The potions master asked; he would more than welcome her help but he wouldn't allow her to simply step into this blindly. He needed to trust her not to run the moment things got rough and soon they would; she would become a target, should her involvement be known. And, if he wanted to be honest with himself, he also wanted to know what made her offer her help so willingly. A prophecy? Even if it had been made by Morgana herself, was it an incentive strong enough to risk everything for a cause not her own?
"You know, many people forget that Voldemort has supporters across the borders too; I lost an Aunt and an Uncle during the war." She explained; the potions master frowned for a few moments, his eyes turning sad as he recalled reading about the story, buried under the memories of his own loses; it had been a few days after the fall of Voldemort, amidst the chaos his disappearance had created, when his supporters were still in disbelief of their master's defeat. His Death Eaters had tried recruiting new people from across the borders when their armies in Britain scattered. They didn't expect volunteers; they tried terrorizing people into entering their lines.
Murdering the younger brother of the King and his wife had been perceived to be a good method to pass their message. Nobody is safe, that murder screamed. Join us or die. It had been all for naught. The main body of the Dark Lord's followers in Britain dispersed and, with nobody to guide them, his forces across the borders scattered too. The damage had already been done during those few days of confusion, the death toll high in countries all over Europe. Ginny smiled sadly at her sister, holding her hand, trying to comfort her. "I want to help." Evelyn stated, her voice steady. The potions master nodded in understanding.
"May I ask you something, Evy?" Neville said, breaking the silence.
"Of course you can, Mr. Longbottom." She answered.
"If I can call you Evy, you can call me Neville." The teen stated, eyes widening at the formal title. "You said that you're an Oracle primarily?" That promptly got the attention back to the previous conversation. Evy nodded affirmative.
"It's not entirely uncommon for a member of the Sisterhood to have more than one gifts." She explained. "I'm also a Siren." She stated, Severus cocking an eyebrow at her proclamation; she had heard myths of Sirens, mostly connected with the merpeople. But if that gift was what he thought it was, he could think of a couple of uses for it. The problem was that all of them involved a situation one would find mid-war; still, he tacked those thoughts away for further consideration and listened instead to Evy explaining exactly what a Siren was.
"I though that was an ability solely manifested in merpeople?" Harry had asked, his academic curiosity emerging momentarily as he voiced his father's thoughts. Evelyn proceeded to explain that, though many among the merpeople had a version of that gift, it also appeared in the witches of the Sisterhood.
"And what of you, Ginny?" Harry asked, shaking his head in astonishment; he had had a lot of hard days in his life, many happy ones and some exciting beyond belief, but he couldn't remember having a more dizzying day than this.
"I too am a Siren, in part." She stated.
"So, you have a secondary gift too?" Draco asked.
"Yes." She said nodding. "In the Sisterhood we call witches with my ability Tamers." She said and proceeded to explain what the term meant.
"That's why you had your hands clasped over your mouth at the First Task!" Neville exclaimed suddenly, shocking everyone in proximity.
"Yes, that was why." Ginny agreed with a startled smile.
"You know, at the time, I thought you were scared you'd lose your breakfast if you opened your mouth." Neville stated with a half smile. "I know I was feeling like I would."
"Don't remind me." Draco muttered, paling noticeably at the mere memory of the Horntail while Severus nodded emphatically.
"I won't even comment on that." Harry stated, shaking his head amused with his family's antics.
"Well, that too," Ginny admitted, "but I was mostly terrified I'd open my mouth, say the wrong thing and, factoring my luck, insult the dragon to such a degree she'd start tearing everything apart." She winced at the thought, before chuckling. "So, I wisely decided to put sock in it and pray silently along with the rest of the school body."
"And that's it." Evelyn said, looking at the four wizards. "Any idea how our gifts might help you?" She asked.
"If only prophecies were guidelines." Severus muttered contemplatively.
"I guess you'll just have to stick around then?" Harry offered, shrugging. "We sure need some help with all the…" He trailed off and pointed at the piles upon piles of documents on the desk across the room.
"I guess since that cat is out of the bag," the potions master agreed, rubbing his eyes tiredly, "we can use all the help we can get."
"And considering the Fates practically sent you for help…" Neville interjected, shaking his head in disbelief.
"Ah, yes, I can see it clearly now." Evy stated, nodding sagely, her gaze trailed at the stained glass at the far end of the library. It was with some trepidation that the five other people in the room held their breaths, looking at her serious expression. "The Fates sent us here to help you with the paperwork." She proclaimed solemnly and rose from her seat, walking towards said paperwork with determination. For a second, all that was heard in the room was the shuffling of Evy's dress on the plush carpet of the library. It was Harry who broke the silence with a confused;
"Huh?" Then Severus smirked and Draco let his head fall on the desk with and audible thud.
"I can't believe I fell for that." He muttered, finally sending the four people still seated around the desk into peals of laughter. With her back still turned to the five laughing people, Evy allowed herself a smile too, finally feeling the vestiges of tension that had gripped them all abate. Trust wouldn't come instantaneously, she knew. But she was willing to do everything she could to make this easier for all of them; they had been thrust together by Fate, prophesized to join powers, to work together to do what? Rid the world of Voldemort? That seemed to be the obvious reason why, even if the prophecy -at least the one that concerned all four of them- made no reference of it. Why was that, she wondered, when the second prophecy Severus and Harry had shown them in the Pensive was so clear on that subject? She did not know and found no point in wondering about it at the moment. Prophecies had a way of explaining themselves out in the end, one way or another. Grimacing at that thought and hoping they'd like the way their prophecy turned out; she promised to herself there and then, not to take the outcome standing down in case they didn't.
She sat down at the desk and looked at the documents in front of her with a healthy dose of apprehension. She had heard of what they were researching for, but it was admittedly hard to grasp the concept. Mutilating a soul like that… It wasn't just abnormal, it was, without a doubt, insane. She shook her head and sighed, looking over her shoulder at the still laughing group.
"So, are you going to help or not?" Evy asked, cocking an eyebrow at them. Harry was the one to move first, shaking his head and rolling his eyes in turn as he approached her. In all the times he had thought of the second half of Morgana's prophecy -mostly before his first year at Hogwarts when things were slightly simpler in his life- he had tried to come up with ideas of who the two "Sisters" could be. Somehow he had never thought the answer to his question would be Ginny Weasley and a Norwegian princess. Taking his seat next to said Norwegian princess, he waited for the rest of the group to gather.
"This is weird." Neville commented, looking at the two newcomers. Evy smiled apologetically while Ginny shrugged. "No offence." He hastened to add.
"We know we're weird so it's alright." The redhead stated matter-of-factly, Evy nodding emphatically as the wizards of the group chuckled, their collective mood lightening even more.
"I understand it's a bit weird though, having us around." Evelyn said, looking mostly at Harry, knowing that this would be primarily his and Severus' decision. "I think I speak for both of us," she carried on, "when I say that we could sit this one out." It was Ginny's turn to nod.
"It's quite sudden after all and Evy's right; we won't mind if you need time to get used to this." She shrugged once again. "Morgana knows I'm still half-expecting to wake up any moment now."
"Are you trying to spare yourself the effort of going through all these documents, Miss Weasley?" Harry asked, cocking an eyebrow as he pointed at the stacks upon stacks of paper and the piles of books even remotely relevant to Horcruxes they had dug up, currently spread around the desk, on the floor.
"Why, yes, that's it exactly, Mr. Potter." She deadpanned, smiling widely.
"We always knew that there were two more people meant to help us see the prophecy to its end." Severus said, speaking calmly, considering his words; did he trust the witches in front of him implicitly? After years of caution, the answer was "no". But he had seen into their minds and Merlin himself had asked him to trust them. Would it take time to do so? Yes, it would. But he very well knew it was time he couldn't spend seating idle; there was much to be done and they could use the help. He had already seen their intentions in their minds, he could trust that they wanted to help; and, judging from the impenetrable walls he had discovered in their minds, wrapped around anything related to the Sisterhood, walls that could only be their oaths, he knew that, should it come to war, even without the prophecy, they would never fight at the side of Voldemort. The potions master could identify powerful magic when he encountered it and the Sisterhood's oath was exactly that; powerful and ancient and binding.
"That means you won't escape the paperwork, so there." Neville stated, smirking impishly.
"Can't blame a woman for trying…" Evy muttered, smiling softly. "So," she said, pointing at the documents in front of her, "how are we doing this? Should I just grab a file and start reading?"
"Basically…" Neville muttered, glowering at the piles.
"The ones to the left are from the goblin archives." Harry explained. "The ones to the right," he continued and pointed at the relevant files, "are from the Ministry of Magic."
"The books on the floor are everything we could gather on Horcruxes." Severus added. "Everything that remotely mentions Horcruxes, to be exact." He clarified.
"Well then." Ginny said, serving everyone some tea. "I wasn't planning on sleeping anyway."
"You should though." Severus advised, knowing fully well that it was unlikely he would take his own advice.
"With all due respect professor," the redhead said, grimacing slightly as she picked up the first folder she could reach, "tomorrow is the day I promised Charlie I'd tell my mother I joined the Sisterhood; just thinking about that will keep me up at night." She admitted. "If anything, at least I can try to be useful." As she received three commiserating nods from the other teens in the room, Ginny caught herself thinking of the last firecall she had had with Charlie; even if her brother had tried his best to be understanding of what he perceived to be some vague initiation process of the Sisterhood that was keeping her away, he had drawn the line on the day they were to return to the Burrow.
Their parents had to be informed, he insisted, and even the Sisterhood couldn't possibly consider it seemly to keep an almost fourteen year old girl from her family. Succumbing to the guilt trip Charlie had gladly dished out and acknowledging the need to speak to her parents -even if she'd happily procrastinate for as long as she could, her mother's wrath was not to be taken lightly- she had agreed to return to Burrow alongside her brother, thinking that having someone who already knew of the Sisterhood with her might sweeten the draught a bit. Still, she was terrified.
"We're sure to find something you can help with." Harry stated and handed Ginny the first file he could get his hands on. "Just so you know," he added looking at both witches, "we've had two rooms prepared for you, should you need them; you can stay for as long as you want."
"You didn't have to-" Evy said, Severus immediately interrupting her, raising a hand in protest.
"If you're to help, it only makes sense you remained within the premises." And then he promptly smirked at her. "I also suspect you might need to change out of that dress eventually." He shrugged as Evy's eyes narrowed. "I admittedly have limited knowledge on the everyday life of princesses but I'd bet my best cauldron you don't go through everyday dressed in gowns."
"No, I, at least, don't." She answered with feigned, exaggerated, dignified poise, muttering something about stereotypes even as the corners of her lips twitched upwards. "In that case, thank you, my Lord." The potions master grimaced at the title.
"Severus." He stated. "My name is Severus, none of that "my Lord Snape" business here, if you'd please."
"Sure." Evy said, smiling widely. "As long as I don't hear a "your Highness" aimed my way." The potions master smirked and nodded, pointing at a file he thought of interest, as it contained the correspondence between Gringotts and the Head of the Gaunt family sometime in the early nineteenth century.
The next four hours progressed in a steady pattern. Files were read and notes were kept and compared; ideas were exchanged, intermixed with bouts of conversation, whether it concerned the Horcrux hunt in itself or some more details that they hadn't been able to share during their previous talk and memory viewing. Those bouts of conversation varied from;
"And her animagus form really is a water bug? Fitting." To;
"You really bought a second castle? And paid for it with mithril? Huh." It was only two hours after the sun had risen and a generous amount of coffee later that Minnie made her appearance to ask about what they would like for breakfast, looking at her masters judgingly and clearly fighting with her instincts to point them to their rooms for some much needed rest that they decided to stop for a while.
Ginny and Evy would head to the Burrow immediately, after the later, finally, changed from her dress to a pair of jeans and a simple, charcoal shirt with a dragon pattern, cocking an eyebrow at the potions master when she saw him, making him chuckle. Severus would head to the Headquarters for the first official meeting of the Order while Harry, Neville and Draco would ride towards Orbein to oversee the reconstruction efforts. It was agreed that they would meet back at Silbreith in the afternoon to regroup.
There were six completely exhausted witches and wizards that returned to the castle that afternoon. Severus was the one who returned first, the meeting having mostly consisted of meeting the new members of the Order and exchanging information concerning Voldemort's most likely current whereabouts. The general consensus was that he alternated staying at the houses of his supporters, for the time being. As it was, they were unable to raid any of said houses, most of them belonging to prominent magical families of the country.
Albus had also pulled Severus and Minerva aside to inform them of a missive he had received from the Ministry early in that morning; the Minister more or less ordered Binns to be replaced immediately, stating that Evelyn would be the one taking over teaching History of Magic. Had the Headmaster expected some indignation from either the potions master or the Transfiguration professor, he was sorely disappointed. Apparently, Minerva, who was teaching the Ancient Magic course herself, had petitioned to have Binns removed in the past and had read some of Evy's articles; she had found them impeccable. Severus had simply pointed out how he had little to no memories of what he had been taught in Binns classes, having spent most of his time there half asleep.
Evelyn and Ginny returned next, one of Silbreith's house elves having picked them up from the Burrow. They both looked a bit worse for wear, but Ginny admitted things could have been much worse than they were. Both her parents had been shocked but Evy had tried her best to act as mediator. It was a lucky happenstance that Molly and Arthur had to leave for the Headquarters for the meeting. After Evelyn had explained that Ginny could continue with her studies absolutely as she had before and hinted at the added security being in the Sisterhood provided the, up to that moment, panicky Molly had hugged her, realizing what that meant for her daughter during the war.
Fred and George had looked at her stupefied for the first hour or so before starting cracking jokes and trying to charm Evy with their antics. Ron had hugged her and whispered how glad he was she'd be safe during the war, leaving for his room soon after and not returning until it was time for her parents to head to the Headquarters, where he followed them to visit Adrian. Both her parents had hugged her and urged her to wait until they returned with Bill after what in front of Evy they referred to as their "pressing appointment". They had done just that, managing to leave only after lunch, citing some loose ends with Ginny's initiation.
From the Burrow they had gone to Evelyn's apartment at London, gathering a few more necessities and informing her family of their current location. Evelyn had also found it prudent to inform her lawyers of her having accepted the position as the new History of Magic professor at Hogwarts, both her and her legal representatives having received similar -if exponentially more civil than the one sent to the Headmaster- missives from Fudge. Harry and his brothers had returned last, looking utterly exhausted; Harry was running his fingers through his already tousled raven locks, muttering to himself as Neville nodded diligently at his side, Draco murmuring his agreement as he stumbled over his own feet.
"I suppose not all's quiet on the western front?" Severus asked from where he had collapsed on a chair at the kitchen table, across Ginny and Evelyn; both witches appeared halfway asleep already, barely raising their heads to glance at the tree wizards. Harry shook his head and plopped next to his father, letting his head fall on the table.
"Ouch." He muttered, his voice coming out muffled.
"That good?" Severus asked, rubbing his eyes open.
"Remember that rather large pond by the village? And the large gash that we found cutting the hide part of the village in half, the one we thought was made by an earthquake?" Harry asked, grabbing one of the sandwiches Minnie had placed on the centre of the table. The potions master's brow furrowed as his mind sluggishly brought up the image of the body of water by the river and said moat-like gash, nodding in affirmative.
"Yes." He stated. "Why?"
"There's more to the village than what we thought." Harry said tiredly, raising his head to look at his father. "It's just under the pond."
"Ouch indeed." Ginny said, looking a little more awake.
"The creek that we passed over at the woods, the one that ends at Silbreith's lake?" Neville explained, carrying on from where his tired brother had trailed off. "It normally passed through the village. It was the creek's bed we saw."
"There was an earthquake once, we were spot on at that." Draco concluded. "Some of the houses built on each side of the creek collapsed into the river bed and blocked it, causing it to pool and change course. Now its eating away at the foundations of the houses remaining, more and more collapsing over time."
"In conclusion, the pond must be dried and the stream diverted back to its original bed so that reconstruction may begin." Harry said. "The goblins said something about a bridge too, but at that point I was simply nodding in agreement at everything. The pipeline installation will have to be delayed for as long as the pond is being dried. I gave orders to carry on as soon as possible but… Ugh, from all the things that could have happened!"
"As long as it's nothing irreparable." Severus stated and sighed. "We have some time still; Voldemort seems to be keeping to the shadows for now." Harry nodded, returning the sigh heartily.
The next days found the unlikely group in the library of Silbreith, going through the files and waiting tensely for whatever Skeeter would uncover. When the day of the appointment finally arrived, Harry, Neville and Draco prepared to head to the Leaky Cauldron once more, sporting different disguises for added protection. Both Draco and Neville seemed to be handling the concealment charms splendidly, Ginny keeping notes as Harry corrected and added to their spellwork. The appointment lasted far less than the last one, Harry feeling the briefcase with the reporter's research heavy in his arms.
"I hope your research was fruitful?" Harry asked after exchanging the customary pleasantries, looking at the reporter cursorily through newly grey eyes. The woman had pushed the briefcase she had placed on the floor next to her feet towards him, nodding; Harry felt as if he had found himself in bad detective novel.
"It was indeed!" Skeeter answered, her demeanor less frigid than the last time. She still appeared healthily afraid of Harry, he nodded pleasantly, but, if he had to guess, the teen would say that she had enjoyed her task more than she had thought she would. "The Crawfords, oh what haven't they done?" She asked conspiratorially. "And the Gaunts? Absolute disgrace!" She added and Harry swore his heart skipped a few beats. He let her carry on for a while longer, prattling on about the various families she had researched inside the safety of the protective charms he had placed as not to attract her attention to the name Gaunt.
"Good." Harry finally spoke. "Very good, Miss Skeeter."
"Why thank you, Mr. H!" She exclaimed, a self-satisfied smile on her lips.
"I may need a, let's call it follow-up to this research of yours." He said, watching her eyes light up in expectance. He could use that attitude for his gain, the green eyed wizard mused. "Not right now, of course… You may receive on other note soon, however." He rose and shook her hand. "In any case, we will be in touch." Returning to Silbreith was a matter of seconds after saying his goodbyes. Neville and Draco met with the rest of them at the library in a matter of minutes, having arrived to the Leaky Cauldron together and waited until Skeeter had left before departing.
"So?" Draco asked, looking at the papers in Harry's hands, lifting the spells on his appearance even as he walked towards his brother. "What did she find?"
"Don't know yet." Harry stated; the files he had in his hands included everything, from financial records to rumors and all there was in between. "From what I can tell, all Gaunts were known for their volatile temper. If the shoe fits…" He muttered, his brothers seating around the desk; Harry handed all five of them a part of the file, he himself keeping fifteen or so pages to go through. An hour later, Harry had to agree that Skeeter, despite her rather unfortunate character, was good at what she did and painstakingly thorough. The whole history of the Gaunt line lay in front of him on the table, leaving almost no room for speculation. And, for the first time since the end of June, Harry felt as if he finally had something solid, a starting point.
"Marvolo Gaunt." Severus read out loud, reaching the last two known male descendants of the Gaunt line. "Father of Morfin and Merope Gaunt."
"Marvolo Gaunt?" Harry asked, intoning the man's name. If he had any doubts of Voldemort being a descendant of the Gaunt line before, he could feel them dissipating now.
"As in Tom Marvolo Riddle?" Ginny asked, her fingers tightening on the file she was holding.
"That's Voldemort's given name, is it not?" Evelyn asked, making sure she remembered correctly -not that she was likely to forget that name- despite the recent barrage of information. Four affirmative nods were her answer as Severus carried on.
"Marvolo Gaunt died in 1927." The potions master stated and flipped the page. "Morfin Gaunt was incarcerated in Azkaban twice; the first time for use of illegal magic on muggles as well as assault on a Ministry official by the name of Robert Tiberius Ogden, head of the Magical Law Enforcement Squad from 1914 to 1937. He was incarcerated in 1925 and released in 1928. The second time…" He paused and rose from his seat, pacing back and forth by the desk as his ever-widening eyes perused the document at hand.
"The second time?" Neville prompted with bated breath.
"The second time he was given a life sentence for the murder of Thomas, Mary and Tom Riddle, muggles, in their home at the village of Little Hangletton." Severus said, looking from the official document in his hands to the five stunned people staring back at him.
"What?" Harry asked, eyes bulging. Ginny covered her mouth with her hands, Evy blinked owlishly while Neville and Draco exchanged a confused gaze, mouths slack.
"That's what it says, look!" Severus exclaimed, walking towards his son and placing the file in his hands on the desk.
"He used the killing curse." Harry read out loud. "He confessed to the murders, saying it was revenge for his sister, Merope, who Tom Riddle seduced and abandoned."
"When was that?" Draco asked, having stood up to look at the document over his brother's shoulder.
" 21st of August, 1943" Harry stated. "Voldemort was still at Hogwarts at the time. It must have been right after his sixth ye… oh." He cocked an eyebrow and looked at his father. "He had already made the diary Horcrux by that time."
"You think he might have killed his father's family and made a Horcrux out of their deaths too?" Severus asked.
"I don't know about the Horcrux part but he did murder his father; he said so himself last June." Harry reminded them.
"He what?" Evelyn, who hadn't heard that part of the happenings during the Third Task inquired, a horrified expression on her face.
"He did." Harry confirmed. "He used his father's bones in the blood ritual he employed to recreate his body. His muggle father had his use, he said, or something of the sort."
"But if he murdered his father and his grandparents died the same day as he did," Draco said, pointing at the dates on the document, "why did Morfin confess? Did he want to protect his nephew?"
"Or Voldemort made him believe he had killed them." Evy suggested after a sort moment of silence, causing the attention of their group to shift to her. "No, think about it for a moment; if he did kill his father and his grandparents, Voldemort would have wanted to make sure he would get away with it. And there is Morfin, who has already served time for assaulting the same muggles before. If he was capable of murder, wouldn't you think him capable of altering his uncle's memories?" Harry nodded in agreement.
"And, since Morfin confessed, there was no reason to use Legilimency on him." The green eyed wizard added. "Even in the case Veritasserum was used, Morfin would repeat what his mind perceived as the truth."
"And what about the possibility of making a Horcrux with their deaths?" Ginny asked. "Do you think he would have tried something like that so soon after the diary?"
"He couldn't have gotten hold of the Locket or the Cup at that time." Neville pointed out.
"Maybe we could ask Morfin himself?" Draco wondered. "Is he even alive?"
"No." Severus said, reading a bit further down. "Died in prison two decades ago. Azkaban tends to significantly lower ones life expectancy."
"Wonderful." Harry commented, hands raised in surrender. "Just wonderful."
"The Gaunts lived in Little Hangleton too." Ginny stated a few moments later, looking at the documents Harry had handed her, pointing out their address according to Robert Ogden's report.
"Would there be any merit in visiting the place?" Harry asked. Severus was the one who answered.
"If anything, we may be able to discover something more about his mother; all we know is she disappeared in 1926, right after her brother was incarcerated." The potions master said. "Little Hangleton is a small place; story like that? The people who lived it and are alive today will probably still talk about it."
"Ah, the powers of gossip." Neville stated, smiling wryly.
"Voldemort's father did return to the village after abandoning Merope." Harry pointed out. "He must have told some sort of story to explain why he left town with her and returned without her."
"We could make the journey there, I suppose." Severus pondered, running a hand through his hair. "I think it should be safe enough."
"Well then." Harry said, looking at the papers in front of him. "I have a few pages left to read and it's only," he looked at the clock, "twelve-thirty. We could go after dinner."
"You want to go today?" The potions master asked, even if he could already discern the logic behind such a decision. The Locket had been seating in its box for almost two weeks already and the summer was coming to an end; they would have to destroy it -and carry out an interrogation of sorts, Merlin help them- before the first of September. They couldn't waste their time now that they finally had a trail to follow.
"No time like the present." Harry stated.
"Today it is then." The potions master agreed. They spent the remaining hour exchanging the few pieces of information they uncovered in what was left of Skeeter's notes on the family. Apparently the Gaunts had bankrupted over a century before Marvolo was born, the once powerful family living in poverty. Jotting the address of Riddle manor down, Harry followed his family and the two witches to the kitchen for a quick dinner. An overjoyed Minnie made sure to serve everybody generously while Severus made quick use of a bottle of Butterbeer to create their portkey to Little Hangleton. Decked in disillusionment charms in order to make the journey to the village unseen, the group of six departed from Silbreith a little after two.
Harry looked around at the field they had just landed on. Quite anticlimactic, he thought to himself, observing the rolling hills in the distance where the small village of Little Hangleton lay. It didn't differ from the other little villages of the English countryside in any discernable way and would have made no lasting impression to those unaware of it being the birthplace of Lord Voldemort's parents. There was also a great probability those individuals didn't number more than eight -if one added Albus Dumbledore and Voldemort himself to his present company- and Harry could name all of them.
It was this seemingly insignificant village the group of six set towards; finding the information they were seeking was, surprisingly, for once, easy. Severus had had the marvelous idea to ask whether they could be pointed to an establishment that would provide them with information about the local life and the history of the village. The old man he had asked -the local baker- had laughed the idea of a museum of any sorts off and had pointed them towards a different establishment altogether; the village's teashop.
"Anything worth mentioning regarding this village," the man had said, "you'll learn there, rest assured." And he had chuckled as they left, muttering to himself the words "museum" and "city people" over and over, further amusing himself.
Surprisingly, once again, the man had been correct in his assumption; the teashop had wounded up being a veritable well of information. Or not quite surprisingly, as the community of Little Hangleton had been shocked by the happenings at the Riddle House once again after over half a decade from the mysterious deaths of the Riddle family. The house's caretaker, they found out, had been found dead on the grounds, just like the family he once served.
"It was him who'd done it, you can not convince me otherwise!" Mrs. Drover, an old lady of eighty-odd springs had insisted when Severus had mentioned having heard of the man's death from a friend who was passing by the village last summer. "I remember the day as if it was yesterday!" She insisted, charmed by the potions master's gentle prompting for her to continue with the story. Mrs. Lloyd and Mrs. Thomson, her friends since childhood -if one believed what they told Evy, the later being the owner of the teashop the now were at- nodded their agreement vehemently.
"Frightening it was, do tell them Adelaide!" Mrs. Lloyd urged Mrs. Drover on, serving everyone a second cup of tea.
"It happened fifteen years after young Tom Riddle came back to the village without that poor creature he had run off with…"
"The Gaunt girl you know," Mrs. Lloyd interjected, her pale blue eyes sparkling at the thrill of the story, "Mary was her name, I think, or Myrtle… One forgets names after all those years!"
"No, it was an odd name, I'm sure." Mrs. Thomson countered. "The whole family had odd names like that. Merope, I think it was."
"Why yes, that's about right!" Adelaide Drover exclaimed. "Merope Gaunt, poor little thing. As scrawny and dull as her surname, I fear." And she shook her head solemnly, even as the pink hue on her cheeks belayed her enthusiasm on having found a new and interested audience for her gossiping.
"And she had run off with the son of the Riddle family you say?" Harry asked, drinking some of his tea despite how scalding hot it still was, even if only to have something to do with his hands instead of fidgeting. Looking around he could see his family and the two newfound members of their patchwork group staring at her enthralled, waiting for an answer.
"Caused a proper outcry around the village it did!" Mrs. Drover stated, nodding. "He was engaged at the time, you understand, with young Cecilia Rivers; she married some merchant from Scarborough and went to live up north, not a few months after Tom left."
"So Tom Riddle," Severus asked, finding the name strange to utter in a conversation with a snow haired, octogenarian Muggle lady, even if it referred to Voldemort's father and not the Dark Lord himself, "never married?"
"Some say he married the Gaunt girl when they ran away." Mrs. Thomson said. "But he returned alone, saying she had entrapped him, duped him. And he remained unmarried 'till he died." She shook her head regretfully. "What a pity! Such a handsome man he was too, if a bit arrogant, God rest his soul!"
"They were all snobbish, them Riddles." Mrs. Lloyd stage whispered, as if she was afraid of being overheard. "Filthy rich too. Old Mrs. Riddle didn't like it much, how her son ran away with that poor girl."
"And you say that it was their grounds' caretaker that killed him in the end?" Ginny inquired tentatively, trying to redirect the conversation back to the subject that interested them. "If you don't mind me asking."
"Not at all, dear!" Adelaide assured her. "Frank Bryce, was his name." She said. "And he was only the gardener when the Riddles still lived. But nobody wanted to look after the grounds when the family died and nobody ever came to claim the Riddle House either; so he lived there alone, in the gardener's house."
"Poisoned the whole of them, I tell you!" Mrs. Thomson insisted. "Their maid cam in the next day and found them all on the floor at the dinning room, still dressed in the clothes from last night. Their eyes were wide open, she said, as if they had been scared to death!"
"The police found nothing, of course." Mrs. Drover carried on, slightly miffed that her friend had nabbed the best part of the story. "But there was no one else in the house that day! No, it was Frank Bryce who did it; we all knew it."
"And he died too?" Harry asked. "Isn't that what you said?" The woman nodded emphatically.
"Just over a year now, in the beginning of last August." Mrs. Drover explained. "They found him in the very same room they'd found the Riddles at. Dead of fright!"
"I say he got what was coming for him!" Mrs. Thomson exclaimed. "Some spirits won't rest until they get their due, that's all I'm saying!"
"You young people don't believe in these stories nowadays," Mrs. Lloyd spoke, her voice lowering for effect, Harry supposed, "but I have seen enough of the world to know; that house is as good as haunted, dear. That and the Gaunt house over the hill."
"My grandmother always told me to head the warnings of my elders on these matters." Evy stated earnestly, her blue eyes -now magically paler as not to attract attention- innocently looking back at her. Ginny, brown eyed for the occasion, nodded as if in absolute agreement, with Neville and Draco appearing utterly -and truthfully- entranced. The three elderly women looked completely pleased with their audience and ready to willingly impart them with more information still. Even if in theory it shouldn't, their pieced-together-group worked efficiently and in tune with each separate individual that composed it, Harry mused; maybe Morgana was up to something after all.
"She taught you right then." Mrs. Lloyd stated.
"Strange accidents happen near those two houses." Mrs. Drover added sagely. "Old Mr. Lange tripped and broke his hip a year ago and then the preacher's two daughters crashed their car right at the road behind the Gaunt house a few years further back! Why, only a month and half ago the cemetery at the foothills of the Riddle estate was blown up! Gas line explosion they said it was, but we never had trouble with the pipes before! Only at the Riddle House!"
"The cemetery?" Harry asked, feeling dizzy, memories of last June storming in his mind. "How dreadful!" He managed to utter, his father looking at him surreptitiously, dark eyes filled with concern. Harry shook his head and smiled; there was no use panicking at the very thought of his latest confrontation with Voldemort. He had survived it and that was that. Still, stepping foot on that cemetery again… He steeled himself; it was a necessary evil.
"And both houses still stand?" Draco asked, immediately shifting the focus of the conversation from anything that might remind his brother of his recent brush with death, Harry's forced smile not fooling him for a second. "I mean, with nobody living there?"
"Why, yes." Mrs. Drover stated. "The Riddle House stood on the hill at the end of Little Hangleton since before my time and it will keep looking down at the village long after I'm gone, I'm certain." She predicted with dramatic flair. "And the Gaunt house is right at the other side of that hill you know, just on the borders of the village. Ghastly thing it is, but quite out of the way." Deducing they had heard all the village knew about the Riddles from the three women, Severus steered the conversation to the condition of the forest trails nearby, hinting that they would have to leave soon as not to miss the daylight for their walk; thirty minutes later, they found themselves back on the road and towards the Riddle manor. Making a swift decision to visit the larger house first, where the actual murders had taken place, they managed to reach their destination at around four in the afternoon.
All entrances to the manor were still sealed off with yellow police tape, placed there a year ago and remaining undisturbed since. From the top of the hill where the manor stood, they could clearly see the cemetery Voldemort had chosen as the place of his return. A large vehicle stood in one corner -weren't those called bull-something, bulldozers, that was the word- of the still-in-ruins graveyard. It was smaller than he recalled, Harry noted, imagining that his mad dash to the Cup and to safety had only made the distance seem longer. Seeing the earth turned up from his spells, the marble headstones in pieces -he could still remember the burning pain as stone pierced the skin on his side- his fists tightened in impotent anger; there was nothing he could do about it now, no spell that would allow him to go back and stop Voldemort from returning. All he could do was soldier on and try his best to stop him.
"Bloody hell!" Neville's voice, thick with distress, echoed on his left. "Is that the cemetery?" He looked at his younger brother in alarm, hoping beyond hope to hear that, no, Harry hadn't had to fight through that mess.
"Yes." Was the laconic answer he received. There was nothing else Harry could thing of saying, nothing that could explain how he had felt that night, dragging his twin along, praying he was fast enough to flee. Absentmindedly, he caught himself searching for the grim reaper statue Adrian had been tied against, Voldemort's father grave. He couldn't see it anywhere; he couldn't decide whether he was relieved he wouldn't have to lay eyes on it again or terrified at how lethally Voldemort's rage could manifest. It could have been one of your own spells that caused the statue to collapse, the ever-traitorous voice whispered in the back of his head. Somehow that failed to assuage his feelings concerning that particular night. He felt his father's hand on his shoulder and turned to see him smiling encouragingly at it him. On the inside, Severus felt cold and on the verge of hyperventilation. The graveyard had been leveled; nothing could have prepared him for that sight. But Harry didn't need to see his fear and worry at the moment; he needed to be reminded that he was alright, that he was still there, still alive and never alone. And he needed to stop looking at the graveyard; there was nothing more to be found there anymore.
"We need to keep moving." He said softly, a slight tilt of his head pointing at the Riddle manor. "We have the Gaunt residence to visit after we're done here." Harry breathed in and nodded his agreement, turning his back to the cemetery resolutely. They spent the next couple of hours looking around the empty house; what traces of the killing curse might have once been there were long gone, but the description of how the bodies were found was telling enough.
"No traces of anything that might have killed them and looking as if they'd been frightened to death?" Ginny asked rhetorically, when their conversation turned to the deaths of the Riddle family as they entered the dining room. "That's an accurate description of the killing curse if I have ever heard one." At least, Harry mused, fake Moody had done his students a service; he didn't think there would be a student from the second year up, come next term, who would be unable to recognize the Unforgivables upon sight. May they never have reason to, he added mentally, leaving the room behind him.
They could detect no trace of any lasting spell on the residence and, even thought Severus suggested Voldemort had, in all likelihood, used the manor as his hideout up to a point, he had vacated the premises long ago, probably right after killing Frank Bryce, definitely after the events of last June. If after leaving the Riddle House, Harry had been just about ready to admit the trip to Little Hangleton had been a waste of time, arriving at the Gaunt residence had immediately proved him wrong.
It had taken them some time to actually locate the house; their directions -on the other side of the hill the Riddle House stood upon- put the Gaunt residence just at the borders of the village, out of sight but not so much out of mind. The trail once leading there had partially faded away in the past fifty years by time and weather, weeds covering the parts that still remained. The house itself had been half buried under ivy, yet its simple stone walls still held, even the flimsy looking roof still in place. Which made no sense at all of course, Harry thought as he looked at the cottage from a distance. If a castle such as Orbein had been in peril of having caved in roofs after a few hundred years, with all its wards and charms, would a mere hovel such as this withstand the elements so well? And then a familiar sensation crawled into his skin, more and more tangible with each step he took; Severus had noticed it too and so, it appeared, Evelyn, who shuddered and faltered in her track, looking at the cottage with interest.
"It's in pretty good condition still, is it not?" Ginny asked, having thought along the same lines but not having sensed the magic emanating from the house.
"It's heavily warded." Harry muttered, trying to discern the different layers of the wards pilled over the cottage. There had been many attempts to ward this place, he realized, starting over a century back. But were any of those wards dangerous?
"You can sense the magic from here, can't you?" Neville asked, squinting at the house in the distance.
"Every long lasting spell leaves a trace that can be sensed." Evy explained. "Depending on the type of the spell, ward, or charm, a trained witch or wizard might be able to recognize what type of magic it is they encounter, based on the resonance of the spell. The more types of magic you study, the easier it is to recognize them when happening upon them. I, for example, studied wards in Egypt while working on my History of Magic mastery, making it easier to recognize them now."
"Now that's useful." Draco stated, observing Harry who had tilted his head slightly to the left and closed his eyes, trying to concentrate on the magic emanating from the house and that alone. All those half faded wards were like magical clutter and he needed to be absolutely certain that no harm would come to them should they step into radius. Severus, who had more years of experience than all of them, swiftly cautioned them against it.
"There are definitely some Ministry banned wards thrown in there." The potions master stated. "Some more faded than others but we'd better proceed with caution. There's no sense in approaching without taking them down."
"I've got to learn how to do that." Ginny said, observing Evelyn who was following Severus' example, trying to determine which of the wards they needed to take down before moving further towards the house. The two adults proceeded to take down the wards they thought dangerous, starting with the frayed ones to clear the way and proceeding to the stronger, younger ones.
"Some of the wards are actually triggers." Severus announced almost an hour later, halting just before he tried to remove yet another of the wards.
"Triggers?" Neville asked intrigued.
"It means that their only use is to inform the caster that they're being breached once one attempts to remove them." The potions master explained, dark eyes narrowing in thought.
"They feel relatively new." Evelyn observed, after taking a few minutes to identify one of said wards; it was a lucky happenstance, she decided, that Severus had noticed them in all that clutter; whoever it was that had cast them -and she feared she knew who it had been, the Dark Lord never did things by half after all- had done an excellent job disguising them.
"Voldemort's work, you'd reckon?" Neville asked her. She simply nodded and got back to work. "And how do you deal with them?" The brown eyed Gryffindor inquired.
"You just don't touch them." Severus explained, stopping to take a few breaths to clear his head. "As long as they're not removed, they're harmless." In dire contrast with the evisceration curse he had just countered. He thought it best not to mention that, or let any of the teenagers step foot into that house before he did. One thing was for certain; there was something in that cottage, under all these wards. But what?
While Severus and Evelyn continued with their ongoing battle with the wards, Harry remained silent, observing them, trying to get the feel of the wards instead of actively taking them down. Despite recognizing he didn't have the knowledge to back him up when dismantling lethal wards -family wards and dark wards were two different cases altogether and the Ostelers had been trying to keep Orbein unbreachable, not turn it into a deathtrap for everyone, including its own inhabitants- he had been able to recognize Voldemort's magical signature in the accumulated spellwork. Hidden inside and under preexisting wards, but it was clearly there, lurking just beneath the surface.
And as the sun glided towards the western horizon, just as Severus proclaimed the most dangerous wards brought down, with much less unrelated magic interfering, Harry felt it. It was indeed Voldemort's magic, coiled and disguised in itself, pulsing steadily once you knew were to look; he would have missed it entirely had he not be searching for it but he had refused to take any chances, not with the obliterated graveyard not a mile away reminding him what was at stake. So, he had found that hidden thread of the Dark Lord's magic, emanating not from the wards -although Harry was certain many of them had been put up by Voldemort himself, for now protecting this house made perfect sense, the vicious death of any trespasser would be utterly justified in Voldemort's mind- but from somewhere inside the house, under a heavy veil of yet more magic. It was no spell that his sensed, no charm; that single thread could be coming from one thing and one thing alone.
"Don't move!" He ordered, raising a hand to stop his father, who had taken the lead, from walking into the Gaunt residence, his voice sharp, tone verging on terrified. "For Merlin's sake, don't move!"
"What? Why?" Were the foremost questions shot at him from the five people surrounding him. Harry breathed in deeply to steady himself, feeling the same dizziness he always did when coming in unexpected contact with the Dark Lord's magic, bile pooling in his stomach. Suddenly, he felt glad he hadn't ingested anything of consequence since lunch.
"Horcrux." Harry announced, a bout of nervous laughter escaping him as he spoke, thinking of what lay ahead.
"Here?" Severus asked, unable even of blinking, seemingly petrified.
"Are you serious?" Neville asked, his own voice high pitched, verging on panic.
"Do I look like I'm joking?" Harry deadpanned, eyes wide. I feel like I'm going to be sick, would be the words he'd string together to make a sentence that would describe his present condition if he, in fact, could find it in him to speak. Or open his mouth without actually getting sick.
"He hid a Horcrux here?" Ginny asked, sounding almost calm. Shock, probably, Harry deduced, trying to focus on anything other than the horcrux beckoning in the distance. Her face went so pale it looked almost grey, her freckles standing out even more than usual, and suddenly Harry was certain he wasn't the only one fighting to keep down his food. He hadn't managed to speak about it with her yet and he suspected Ginny hadn't had the presence of mind to consider all she had found out during the last couple of days, but he could vividly recall the last time she had come face to face with one of Voldemort's horcruxes. She had almost died that day, her whole life had changed and now she would face one again. He saw her swallowing down, eyes closing, fists clenched tight, shoulders squared.
"Yes." He answered, waiting for her response; how had they managed to run into yet another horcrux again? You did go looking for one this time around, his mind provided mockingly. Brilliant.
"How do we get to it then?" She asked, opening her eyes and looking at him. Noticing him staring back, she smiled sadly and shook her head. "I'm fine," she insisted. Harry new what fine meant. He had been fine during cases like this one his whole life. It meant she was terrified and would rather be anywhere else but here but damn it if that'd stop her. Pretty much what he felt then. Again, he thought as he nodded at her in acknowledgement, bloody brilliant.
"But it's a shack!" Draco complained half-heartedly, simultaneously pulling out his wand, surrendering to his fate.
"Do you think it's safe to enter the house?" Severus asked, straight to the point, moving closer to his son instinctually, trying to offer him comfort by his proximity.
"Enter the house? Yes." Harry muttered, not finding any residue traces of Voldemort's magic on the remaining wards. "Approach the horcux? No," he admitted. "Unfortunately, we won't know were the horcrux is exactly before entering the house."
"Damned if we will, damned if we don't?" Evy asked, a would-be smile on her lips.
"Let's hope not." The potions master countered, lighting the tip of his wand with a silent Lumos spell. "I'm going in first." He stated, looking mostly at Harry; he knew his son would want to lead the way; he was the one that had the better chance of locating the horcrux after all and there was no protecting him from that. But, even if he had to use his own self as a shield, he was determined to do at least that much to ensure some semblance of safety.
"I'll follow right after you." Harry stated, admitting defeat; he could see it in his father's eyes; he wouldn't badge on this one. "And, should nothing happen, I believe it would be safe for all of us to enter the house after me." He added. "But we should all refrain from touching anything before we know where and what this horcrux is. And after we do know," he paused looking at the people around him, knowing fully well that they were prepared to follow after him no matter the danger, "nobody touches it. I can already feel it's buried under dozens of curses from here. Merlin knows what Voldemort's cast on it!"
"And what then?" Neville asked. "Do we just, destroy it?"
"It would be prudent to." Evelyn offered, looking at Harry, intuitively knowing it would be his choice in the end. Harry faltered at that thought; would they just destroy it? Neville always did ask the most vital questions, did he not? He knew it would be unwise to carry that horcrux back to Silbreith too. They understood very little of how horcruxes worked to put two in such proximity and hope for the best. And they weren't leaving it here, that was certain. So, the prudent think would truly be to destroy the thrice damned thing and be done with it. Considering however that he hadn't been prudent since before he could remember himself, Harry instead decided;
"I'm doing a trial run with this one." Five startled blinks followed his declaration.
"You're interrogating it." Severus stated, a shiver passing though him at the very thought, rattling him to his bones.
"Not as prudent." Evy muttered, smiling wryly.
"No, listen to me," Harry spoke before they tried to talk him out of it. In the five seconds since he had decided it, he had already formulated at least nine different arguments against his decision to proceed with his current vein of thought. Hearing them might actually discourage him from going through with it and he knew this was one opportunity he couldn't pass. "That horcrux in there? There's a great chance it's older than the locket. We already knew Voldemort killed his father, now we know he killed his grandparents on the same day; he probably used one of their deaths for this horcrux. It's sick, I know, but it would make the piece of his soul in this horcrux, younger, less knowledgeable. In case of botching this up, I risk much less vital information than with the locket. And the moment you see this going south…"
"Don't bloody jinx it!" Neville interjected, holding his head in his hands as if in pain.
"It's my plan, Nev." Harry stated, shaking his head exasperatingly, lopsided grin in place. "When have my plans ever worked as they were supposed to?" From participating to the Triwizard Tournament to watching a quidditch game, Harry mused, an absolute mess! "So," he continued, "if something goes awry, you destroy the horcrux on the spot."
"To be fair, it's not much of a plan." Draco stated. Severus placed a hand over his heart in the background and rubbed small circles on his chest, counting his inhalations and exhalations in turn, trying to calm himself down.
"Our other option is destroying immediately." Harry countered. "Just give me a chance at this."
"I do not like it." The potions master stated, voice tight. "And I like not having a choice even less. Harry, if I asked, would you let me do it?" Harry huffed, laughing once, almost desperately.
"If I asked, do you think Voldemort would let me live in peace?" He asked. "There's no point in hiding any more."
"That doesn't mean I'm going to like it!" The potions master exclaimed.
"We had already agreed I'd interrogate the locket horcrux…"
"In a controlled environment." Severus interjected, his voice calmer, as he looked at his son's determined eyes.
"You'll be there. That was my safety net all along." Harry pointed out and Severus cursed, realizing that he did have a point. It was a horcrux; what controlled environment?
"I'm going to make sure Voldemort dies a slow, painful death." The potion master stated finally, raising his hands in surrender. Harry laughed, Neville and Draco snorting, while Evy and Ginny, still not used to the dynamics between father and son, simply looked at each other vaguely concerned.
"So," Ginny broke the short silence that had descended upon them, blushing as four pairs of eyes turned to her and clearing her throat before proceeding, "are we doing this or…"
"A really slow, painful death." Severus promised himself, turning to the house and taking the first step towards the entrance. His proclamation being widely interpreted as consent, Harry stepped right behind him, the rest following in a small distance. "At the first inkling of something going wrong," the potions master added, halting at the entrance, "you curse that thing. If you can't, you step aside and I curse it." It wasn't a question, Harry knew. He nodded.
"Understood." Was all he said, following Severus in the Gaunt house.
Draco's description had been apt; it was a shack. From were he stood, Harry could only see a unified room, walls badly crafted and crooked. If there ever was something that made this room look like a home, it was long gone at this point. The small kitchen was falling apart, an old over rusting in the corner. What furniture there once was now lay in wooden shambles. And the fireplace in the other side of the room was… right over where the thrum of Voldemort's magic emanated from, vacillating and weak but indisputably from a horcrux.
"Any idea what we're looking for?" Severus asked as he motioned the rest of their group to enter the house.
"It's behind the fireplace." Harry stated. The potions master nodded, feeling for whatever it was his son had sensed. While he couldn't say he discerned the Dark Lord's magic, he did catch the odd tune out of the remaining wards; in the walls but not part of the house's protections, tightly wrapped into itself. The horcrux. Severus nodded and took the six steps that led him in front of the fireplace, examining it from afar. Harry came to stand next to him, his brothers and the two witches forming an arch left and right of them.
"There is a spell on the fireplace." Evelyn stated. "I don't recognize it. A seal perhaps?"
"If it's a seal…" Harry muttered, looking at his father. "Dad, can you sense any other spell but that one on the fireplace." A few moments of concentrated silence passed.
"Not on the fireplace, no." Severus affirmed.
"Do you know which spell it is?" Ginny asked intrigued.
"If it is a seal, I may be able to read it." Harry admitted, pointing his wand towards the fireplace and pushing forward in a jabbing motion; seals he knew how to deal with. The air over a small area at the right side of the fireplace quivered and Harry turned his wand at it, repeating the motion. This time the air above it rippled, like the waves after you've thrown a pebble in a pond. One more movement of his wand, vertical this time, and a silent incantation caused smoke to rise from that same corner; faint but iridescent it swirled around until it formed a simple seal. Snorting, Harry waved his free hand over the suspended smoke, dispersing the seal.
"I suppose you recognized it?" Draco asked. Severus cocked an eyebrow at his son's blasé reaction, having reached the same realization. Harry folded his right sleeve to the elbow, holding his wand with the left.
"Blood magic." He stated. "It requires a blood sacrifice to open."
"And what do you think you're doing?" Severus asked, having correctly guessed that Harry was seconds from slicing his own hand to produce the required toll. Without thinking about it, he ran his hand parallel to his palm, wincing faintly as blood started pouring from a new formed cut. Ginny winced while Neville gasped.
"Dad!" Harry exclaimed as Severus proceeded to push his bleeding palm over the stone of the fireplace. "I would have…"
"That's why I didn't let you." Severus stated, waiting for the seal to accept his blood. "You're planning on interrogating the horcrux behind this seal. You need to be at the best of shapes and we don't know how much blood this seal will need." The potions master stated.
"And you call me impetuous?" Harry asked, even if he could clearly see the reasoning behind his actions.
"Yes." The potions master stated, shrugging unrepentant. His blood was flowing out, he could feel it, but not a drop landed on the floor. And he found himself unable to move his hand from the fireplace; still, better him than his son.
"Is the stone actually…" Draco asked, blanching further.
"Yes." Harry spat, looking on as he seal drained more and more of his father's blood, his teeth grinding painfully. "And it will continue to do so until it has received no less than two sevenths of his blood volume." Complete silence met his words, his father looking at him in confusion, shuddering slightly as his body registered the blood loss.
"Two sevenths?" He asked, looking at his son, shaking his head to dispel the slight dizziness that had started to take hold. "That's quite… specific." He commented.
"I have studied blood magic for years and seals for even more time than I have blood magic." Harry stated, rubbing his eyes tiredly. "The strongest of seals are based on the number seven; they contain seven curses, seven sigils, are anchored in seven runes." He explained, sighing. "Seals based on blood magic always count the blood toll in sevenths; I told you I recognized this one. Two sevenths means roughly twenty-eight and a half per cent of your blood volume, trust me, I've done the math, written the charts. And that's for your right hand." He added pointed at the hand his father had placed on the seal; his left hand. Severus noted that Harry himself had been meaning to pay the toll with his right hand; oh. Gazes of worry were exchanged amongst the group.
"Why is the hand relevant?" Severus asked, understanding it could be better if he kept Harry talking; he knew his son. Harry only went to explain the details of his studies in two occasions. The first one was being excited about a thrilling aspect of his current curriculum, mostly concerning alchemy and he simply wanted to share with the people he cared about. The second one, as was the case here, was when he was worried sick.
"Blood magic is all about intent." The green eyed wizard stated, hands extended outwards in his effort to explain. Maybe it was the blood loss but Severus found himself holding back his laughter at the scene; Draco seemed torn between his obvious worry and an impulse to start taking notes. "And the left hand is the hand of the heart. Using blood from that hand in blood magic can be interpreted a sign of loyalty, commitment, respect and/or obedience and all four must be proven whether that was the original intent or not. Not that Voldemort might have cared for the respect of anyone trying to overcome this seal, no. But people are predominantly right handed and who wants to injure their wand-hand before a possible duel?" Silence followed his explanation and he hastened to elaborate. "Blood magic being what it is," he added, eyeing the continuing flow of blood into the seal with something akin to pure hatred, "more blood will be required; that added toll is a blood ounce, the unit of volume in blood magic, equal to seven standard ounces. It seems trivial, but when you're already losing that amount of blood… I imagine the final blood loss this seal requires will be something shy of thirty per cent of your blood volume."
"I assume that's bad?" Neville ask, terror rising in his throat at the sight of his brother's fury.
"Bad?" Harry asked, his voice rising in pitch; how much more time would that seal require anyway? His father was already paling and trembling, eyes glassy. Surely, he had met the required blood toll by now? "People die if they lose more than forty per cent of their blood volume! At thirty per cent," Harry carried on, wand tightly held in his right hand again and Severus -now he was convinced it was the blood loss talking- almost pitied the horcrux behind the fireplace, "he will need blood replenishing potions within minutes. His heart will work overtime to try and cover the need of his vital organs." He turned at his father, green eyes glowing. "You'll start feeling colder," he spoke, his voice calm and soft, and the potions master sighed because he could see his son was trying to calm him down, to walk him through the process, "and you may become confused. You'll be entering the first stages of hypovolemic shock."
"When this thing is done with the blood sacrifice," Severus stated, nodding at his son and trying to keep his voice steady, "I'll step back and you'll take the lead." He had expected blood loss -he had opted to step up instead of Harry and was more and more pleased he had done so as his son explained what the seal exactly did- just not that extensive, Severus admitted to himself. Still, even if he had to acknowledge his son was unmatched by present company -and not only them, he mused, pride blooming in his addled thoughts- in his knowledge of seals and blood magic, he knew one or two things concerning blood loss. And he told Harry as much. "I'm no stranger to blood loss; I know which spells to use to keep me going," he assured the green eyed teen, "but I will be compromised." He turned to the rest of their group. "We don't know the occlumency potential of this horcrux. It's been inactive for long and should be weak but, depending on how much of his soul Voldemort's placed inside it, it might be able of some basic occlumency despite that."
"He'll target the ones closest first." Ginny stated, a sad smile on her face, remembering of her time with the diary. "Then he'll weed out the weakest and go from there, unless distracted. I have some experience on the subject." She had been the weakest once, after all.
"That's why you need to move back." Severus stated, looking at Ginny, Neville and Draco. "Evy, how good are your occlumency shields?" He asked, looking at the witch.
"Excellent." She answered simply and truthfully; as an adolescent, she had discovered occlumency shields to be paramount to her mental health, when her gift of foresight bombarded her with fragments of events that hadn't happened yet, or that were happening to people she knew continents away from her, without a single warning. Without further prompting, Evelyn moved forward, smiling slightly at Harry in a sign of support, while Draco, Neville and Ginny took a few steps backwards.
Severus gulped as more of his blood was slowly siphoned into the rock -and he wondered if that wasn't a form of mental torture for those who dared try and break the seal too, along with the blood loss, waiting and waiting and not knowing how much blood would be required, how much you had left- not daring to extend his right hand to steady himself. And as many times as he reminded himself of all the times he had survived worse than anything this seal might put him through, it was a different thought -"if it wasn't you it would have been Harry"- that got him through. Suddenly his hand was free and he hastened to step away from the fireplace, Harry stepping right next to him in the blink of an eye, steadying him. Swiftly healing the cut in his hand, focusing all his willpower to the first couple healing charms that would balance him, he breathed in deeply.
"Dad?" Harry asked, his voice quivering. Or maybe it was his own heartbeat thundering in his ears and drowning all other sounds, at this point Severus wasn't sure. He only registered that the fireplace was shifting, the black stones twisting on themselves and regressing into the wall soundlessly in a twisted parody of Diagon Alley's main entrance, when the first spell he cast on himself took effect. It was a poor substitute for a blood replenishing potion but it would have to do.
"Harry," the potions master cautioned pointing at the fireplace with a trembling hand, "I'm fine. Focus." And with a last worried glace towards his father, Harry did just that. He turned around just in time to see the fireplace giving way into a gaping arch, five feet wide and tall as the ceiling, noting visible on the other side. No passageway, no wall; just darkness. Not wanting to use a Lumos spell that would break the moment he needed to cast a different spell, Harry summoned the same suspended lights that aided him when he studied late into the night and sent them through the arch. For a moment, nothing happened but what was expected; the darkness subsided revealing a shallow niche made from the same grey stone as the rest of the hut. All that differed was that a wooden shelf extended across the length of the back wall, a little higher than waist level and on top of it lay a ring. It was thick, simple golden band, Harry observed, his experience with metalsmithing coming through instinctively, thick and rather crude, and in its middle a simple black stone. It reeked of Voldemort's magic.
"Is that…" Draco trailed of and Harry assumed he had seen the ring too, nodding without turning back to face him. He could hear the shock just as well; he felt it just as much.
"A Horcrux." Neville finished his brother's sentence for him. There was no need for an actual question; what else could it be?
"Yes." Harry answered nonetheless.
"What's that on the floor?" Ginny's voice sounded from somewhere further back. Harry's attention, up to that moment riveted on the ring, followed her observation. He jumped backwards just in time; how hadn't he noticed sooner. The darkness was too thick for the small crook he looked upon; and now, instead of disappearing under his lighting spell, it had slithered like a shadow on the floor and towards his leg, smoky tendrils extending, reaching for him.
"The mists of Lethe!" Evelyn exclaimed, following Harry's example and jumping backwards before the shadowy fingers reached her. Harry cursed, recalling all he knew of that curse. It was a dark spell he had run into while studying for the Triwizard Tournament; manifesting as a dark cloud, it was used as an extreme protective measure. While not banned by the Ministry it was illegal and required a specially licensed wizard to cast it. Remind me to recall to inform the Ministry of this, Harry mused, his thoughts dripping with sarcasm. The dark mist continued to unfold across the floor and towards them; one touch and it would wrap around him, Harry knew, first disorienting him.
Then he would start to forget; why he was there, what he was looking for, who he was. At that point the owner of whatever the mists had been cast to guard should have arrived to apprehend the aspiring thief. In this case, Harry was certain, Voldemort wouldn't arrive; the curse would keep on until he forgot how to move, how to think, how to breathe. The mists of forgetfulness, the mists of oblivion. An effective curse; a horrible way to die. At least, the counterspell, should one have time, the knowledge and the presence of mind to cast it was one he was very familiar with.
A silver light erupted from the tip of his wand; a second later his Patronus stood in front of him, snarling at the darkness. Next to it stood a second, smaller one, looking distinctively like a… was that a fox? Evy's Patronus, Harry realized and watched with apt concentration as the two silver forms slashed and bit their way through the mist. Soon, the mist had completely dispersed, the wolf and the fox fading away with them.
"Thank you, Ginny, Evy." Harry uttered, smiling almost imperceptibly to communicate his gratitude; it was the best he could manage in his state of shock. He looked back at the ring. There it stood inconspicuously, appearing harmless. It was anything but.
"By the seven hells, what was that?" Neville exclaimed, his breathing erratic. Harry could hear his father explaining what the mists were -thank Merlin his voice sounded steadier, he'd be fine, he had to be fine- not daring to take his eyes from the ring.
"You think there's more?" Draco asked. Harry nodded. One last thing; he could sense one last curse on the ring and, behind it, Voldemort's soul stirring already, sensing it now had an audience to manipulate.
"There's one more curse on it." The green eyed wizard stated. "I can't tell what it is." He looked at Evelyn who shook her head negatively.
"I can sense it, but I don't recognize it." She admitted, sounding perturbed. A bright yellow spell hit the ring, coming from behind Harry's shoulder, startling five out of the six people in the room.
"A flesh-eating curse." Severus snarled, lowering his wand. "Lethal and irreversible."
"A little warning next time, please?" Neville muttered, rubbing circles over his heart tentatively, his face practically grey. "Also, a flesh-eating curse? Just how sick is Voldemort?" He had seen a victim of such a curse once, by accident, when he had wondered off during a visit to his parents. The man's right side had been covered in nightmarish, bleeding sores and he was screaming still, even as the healers treated him; Neville had heard them say he'd lose his arm, at least, before running away to be sick in the closest lavatory.
"It's gone now." Harry stated simply, inwardly agreeing with his brother completely. But there was no time for further comments. "It's starting." Voldemort's soul stirred and extended, uncoiling from the ring outwards, reaching first for Evy, who was a step closer than where Harry had jumped to escape the mist; she hadn't been joking when she had said her shields were excellent, Harry thought with great satisfaction, as he could feel Voldemort's soul practically recoiling upon contact with her mind. Then it headed for him; while he had been thinking on how to interrogate the Locket Horcrux, Harry had come up with a plan. Well, he had come up with a wide array of plans, mulling over all possible ways the interrogation could go. But always, the beginning of all veins of thought he had concocted, boiled down to this;
He would let the horcrux touch his consciousness ever so slightly and then he would set the bait. It was simplistic and it was crude, but if he had even managed to do something unfailingly where the Dark Lord was concerned, that would be getting him angry. And he needed him angry enough to talk to him, to address him directly. As such, when the horcrux reached him, he let him in just enough, just until he could feel the muted triumph emanating from the calculative presence inside the ring for having found a malleable mind, before shoving the intruding psyche away viciously. And out of his mind Voldemort's horcrux went, accompanied with a single, well aimed thought;
Harry held his breath, hoping for the best. There was always the chance that the horcrux would pass him by, look for an easier target to feed of. But, for once, the plan worked. After jumping back as if scalded, the horcrux returned with a vengeance, fury accompanying its efforts, the pressure on Harry's mind doubled.
"Is that what you've become?" Harry thought, pushing back again, trying to channel his disgust and contempt. Judging from the anger he tasted on his thoughts, his efforts had not been for nothing. "Leech," he thought, "remnant. Parasite". And he pushed back once more making sure to laugh haughtily inside his mind as he did so. A snarl echoed inside his head, bordering on animalistic, as the Ring Horcrux tried to invade his mind again.
"Is that all that's left of you?" Another snarl, but the horcrux seemed still half-hidden in the ring, its actual thoughts away from him. Not hidden precisely, Harry thought in between the horcrux's assaults. Locked. One more attack to his mind, even stronger this time as the horcux reacted to his words.
"Scared, little horcux?" Tangible panic met his latest thoughts, accompanied with disbelief at Harry's knowledge. The presence in the ring stood still. Incensed, Harry gritted his teeth; the diary had been more than eager to come out and talk. What would it take this time? It was his own anger -at his father's injury, at Voldemort, at his own ineffectiveness- more than anything that prompted him to open his mouth and speak in the hisses and whispers of Parseltongue.
"How many times do I have to kill you before you get it, Tom?" He spoke. Though nothing touched his mind, on its perch, the ring trembled. Gasps echoed behind him and he pressed on, encouraged by the obvious reaction he had gotten out of the horcrux. "Can't you see?" He carried on in the same language. "You can't hide from me, Tom." The ring shook more violently before a scream resounded in the room; a thick smoke, almost liquid in appearance, all black vapor and swirling ash, burning orange still, rose steadily from it. It took no specific form but, as a presence, it was unmistakable. Knew I could piss him off, Harry thought behind the safety of his occlumency shields, feeling oddly accomplished.
"Bloody hell." Draco muttered, going completely unnoticed by the black cloud that swirled and focused on Harry. The green eyed wizard looked at the horcrux unwaveringly, his heart beating rapidly inside his chest.
"Hello, Tom." Harry spoke, abandoning Parseltongue. He'd rather everyone heard what the Horcrux had to say; he didn't want to miss anything. "You look like death." He stated, tone dry and uninterested.
"How dare you?" The voice he recalled from his second year, that of a younger Tom Riddle, echoed in the room. "Who are you to speak to me so?"
"Do you mean how did I speak in Parseltongue," Harry asked, allowing himself a smirk, picking the most suitable of the many ways he had envisioned interrogating a horcrux would go "or how did I dare to speak to you so… liberally? I'm guessing both." He looked at the silent cloud in front of him, reaching out with his own mind; the horcrux recoiled from his thoughts but not before he could feel the anger and the fear; he was getting somewhere. "Oh, you're one of them!" Harry exclaimed, as if he had just had a revelation. "One of his early horcruxes. I was wondering if you'd be one. It's been a while since I ran into you lot."
"You do not know what you speak of!" The horcrux accused him, the mist moving frantically, round and round.
"Are you serious?" Harry asked, squashing his panic down -what am I doing, he mused, what was I thinking?- and replacing it with feigned exasperation. "After all I've been through to find all of you? I know exactly what I speak of, Horcrux!"
"You lie!" Was all the answer he got for his efforts. He simply shrugged, hands locked behind his back where he could clasp them together violently, nails digging into his palms while remaining unseen. He imagined he looked the very picture of nonchalance, if what little he caught of Evy's stunned expression was indicative.
"Keep telling yourself that, Tom." The cloud in front of him swirled faster, forming into the blurry outline of a human body, as if hearing its name grounded it somehow. A pair of human eyes, large and dark as Voldemort's had once been, opened slowly on what served at the horcrux's face; no other facial characteristics formed. On the one hand, Harry thought, now he had something to judge the horcrux's reactions by, seeing how the shadowy eyelids narrowed to channel Voldemort's soul hatred towards him. On the other hand, this image would remain ingrained in nightmares for moths to come.
"Merlin's beard." Neville chocked out. Before Tom's attention could be sidetracked, Harry hastened to continue.
"Oh yes, definitely one of the early ones." He muttered, as if he actually knew what he was talking about. "I'm Harry, by the way." He stated, smiling widely at the horcrux. "Harry Potter; they guy who's been collecting the pieces of your soul. Well, the guy who's been destroying the pieces of your soul. I only keep the vessels." He tutted at the ghostly presence in front of him as if scolding it. I miss my sanity, he thought half-hysterically before he spoke again. "You've had me running up and down the country for so long! Why couldn't one horcrux suffice? Not for the great Lord Voldemort! No sir!" He mocked. The dark eyes widened and Harry smiled full of rancor.
"What do you know of my horcruxes? You lie!" The Ring Horcrux accused once more.
"I'm repeating myself but yes, definitely one of the earliest ones. Maybe right after the diary." The eyes widened once again, the cloud moving almost imperceptibly backwards. Armed with the realization that at least one of his theories about the Horcruxes was correct, Harry carried on from there. "You used that girl's death for the diary, didn't you? Myrtle was her name, I believe." The eyes blinked in what Harry interpreted as surprise. "And for this one?" He tilted his head to the side slightly, eyes appraising. "Your father." He pronounced. "I've always wondered if you'd made a horcrux out of that." Bile rose in his throat and he breathed in deeply to fight it back, to hold on a little longer.
"How can you possibly know that?" The Ring Horcrux queried, the smoke rising higher towards the ceiling, its presence threatening. He needed to proceed with caution and swiftly, Harry realized, before the horcrux decided to speak less and fight more.
"You think this is the first time I've done this?" Harry asked smirking , eyes cold. "You know, after the diary was gone, I had thought I was done with you. Stabbed through it with a basilisk tooth, very effective, I must admit." He chuckled once, the sound foreign to his ears, hollow and dark. "To get it I had to run your pet basilisk through with a sword but…" He shrugged casually, as if trying to convey that these things happened; what could you do?
"You're only a child." The horcrux declared. "Trying to play grown-up, Harry?" The ring had started to fight back, his words accompanied with an attack on the green eyed wizard's mind.
"And how old were you when you made your first horcrux?" Harry countered both his words and the mental assault, the former easier than the latter. "A year older than me; I think I'm old enough to destroy them. First was the diary," he said, raising his left pointer finger, counting. He prayed to any deity that might listen that his trick would work; this was where he had been meaning to stir the conversation towards all along. "Then the locket." Two, he counted. The time had come to take a chance, see how much this horcrux actually knew. "Then the cup." He added; the same gaze met him, the same terror filled, wide eyes. "But, of course," Harry stated, smirking once more, pleased that he hadn't been interrupted, "you wouldn't know about those; you were made before them."
"You can't have found them all!" The horcrux raged, but otherwise remained unresponsive; inwardly, Harry smiled in relief. This specific horcrux seemed to have no knowledge of what his future self had used to make the remaining horcruxes but appeared to have a good grasp on the intended number.
"But I can. In fact," Harry insisted, "I did. At first I had figured it was just the one, the diary. Then I uncovered information on not one, but two more." He shook his head. "Can you imagine my surprise? I started wondering; how many could you have made? Why?" Another shrug. "Immortality was the obvious part of the answer. Security, the other. But that first question -how many had you made?- bothered me still. Counting the part of your soul still in your physical body, I could account for a soul split in four and that, to me, made no sense. Three perhaps, there's a strong magical number! But four? Why?" The horcrux had gone perfectly still, the dark eyes unblinking. "So, I figured, what about five? That's the next magically powerful number, after all." He was fishing for clues now, hoping for a reaction. The Ring Horcrux blinked and spoke again.
"You think you're so clever, Harry Potter?" He scoffed. "Even if you have found all five, I'm still out there, I can make more!" The answer had slipped too easily, Harry thought, his blood freezing in his veins. The horcrux had admitted to five existing with extreme ease. And Harry had said five pieces of his soul, not five horcruxes; of them, he had only claimed to suspect of four. You think you're so clever, Mr. Riddle, he thought acidly, grinding his teeth together. Not five then? Harry shuddered; the next number in line was seven, the most magically powerful number of them all. That he would have dared… he breathed in deeply and decided to seize the opportunity he was being given despite his repulsion.
"I found five," Harry stated, forcing his lips to form a wide smile, "and then I came here." A widening of the eyes and then another try to intrude on his mind later and Harry knew he was on the right path. "And now, I've found six. Your physical body is all that's left and I'm going after that next. And he won't see me coming; even now, when you're all that's left of the horcruxes, you still underestimate me. Thank you for being so conceited; makes my life easier." Not exactly true but if there ever was one person Harry didn't have any scruples lying to, that would be the entity standing in front of him. "How old were you when you made this horcrux? Barely seventeen? And you had decided you'd split your soul in seven already. You sicken me."
The next mental assault on his mind was so strong, Harry almost physically buckled under its weight; this particular horcrux might have been in seclusion for decades, but the soul it harbored was furious. That more than made up for any refinement and precision the ring's legilimence skills lacked. Barely managing to stave the attack off, Harry realized it was time to end this; the Ring Horcrux didn't seem to know any more about the rest of its kind and, even if it knew, there would be no more speaking to him of it. Following the defense of his mind with his own assault, Harry pushed his way into the horcrux's mind. The shock at finding that the horcrux possessed an actual, normally structured mind -despite the madness he encountered there and the absence of an actual, physical brain- lasted for no more that a second. The horcrux pushed him out savagely, just as Harry had expected, but not seen enough; he had had just the time to ascertain what he now believed to be true. The ring was convinced he had found all the horcruxes there were and was now seconds away from killing him for it.
The black smoke rose and swirled, the eyes turning a vivid scarlet. And then the fragment of Voldemort's soul surged forward, prepared to… Harry wasn't exactly certain what it was that the horcrux planned on doing, but, as the dark figure approached him, he decided he wasn't going to sit around to find out. He jumped to the side, giving himself a clear view of the ring, previously concealed from him by Voldemort's soul itself, the same moment a grand shield unfolded in front of it, cutting its rampage short. The horcrux turned its attention towards the caster, Evy, for a single moment, all that Harry needed to aim at the ring with his wand and think of the correct curse.
"Flamabellum Ictus!" It was a form of fiendfyre that Harry hoped would be enough to destroy the ring; he didn't want to chance the full-scale curse in such a small, contained space, with his whole family in the room. He watched as what started as a simple burst of flames, extended and reshaped, sprouting wings, talons and a beak before it hit the ring. The deafening scream of pain that turned to an equally ear-piercing and inhuman screech was familiar to Harry. He had heard it once before, at the end of his second year, right after he had stabbed the Diary Horcrux through with a basilisk tooth. Harry turned around to look at the horcrux; the black smoke seemed to be on fire, burning away fast. It took mere seconds for all traces of Voldemort's soul to go up in flames. From its perch on the shelf, the ring fell on the floor, rolling forward until it hit Harry's shoes. There it stopped, empty from the soul that had inhabited for over half a century, the black stone crackled. It was a horcrux no more.
Suddenly feeling exhausted, the room spinning around him, the adrenalin having burned away from his body the moment the horcrux was destroyed. His legs no longer holding him, he sat down on the floor, folding his knees and placing his head on top of them, holding it in turn with his hands. His breathing was erratic and his mind was running around in circles.
"Harry?" His father's sound sounded from over his shoulder, accompanied by more than one set of footsteps. He didn't respond. All that he could think of was that Voldemort had always planed to split his soul in seven. Six horcruxes had always been his goal. Somewhere out there, three more horcruxes remained before they could go after Voldemort himself and it had taken them years to go from the diary to the ring, the locket pretty much landing on their hands by accident. And though he knew they now had an actual trail of evidence to follow, he couldn't help but thinking just what Voldemort could do if it took them years to deal with his remaining horcruxes. Hands pressed over his eyes, he breathed in deeply. A hand fell on his shoulder and he turned around; green eyes met black as Severus kneeled next to his son. Harry sighed and picked up the ring from the floor, passing it on to the potions master.
"So." Severus said, going from kneeling to sitting next to him, left palm open, the ring glittering gold over still pink, freshly healed skin.
"So." Harry repeated. "Three more horcruxes to look for." Severus smirked pointing at the recently destroyed horcrux on his palm with a slight tilt of his head.
"I was going to say congratulations on destroying this one, but you can be all pessimistic if you'd prefer." Severus stated, cocking an eyebrow. Harry looked at him confused.
"What?" He spluttered, arms extended. It was Evelyn that broke the resulting silence first, pressing a hand over her mouth after a rather unladylike snort, her efforts not enough to suppress the river of giggling that followed. Harry turned to stare at her, wearing an expression that clearly stated he believed her to have lost her mind.
"I'm sorry, Harry!" She exclaimed, between giggles. "It's just that..." She pointed at the ring, "and you," she continued pointing at Severus, who looked back at her amused, "and him and…" at that point she just shrugged and kept on laughing, Ginny soon following her lead. Neville and Draco and, finally, Severus weren't far behind, leaving only Harry to stare at them for some form of explanation.
"Are you all mental?" He asked indignantly, his miffed expression, further spurring their laughter paroxysm.
"Oh lighten up, Harry!" Neville exclaimed, smiling widely at his brother. The green eyed teen looked from him to the ring and back to the laughing people around him. And out of the blue, the absurdity of the situation hit home. What else could he do, Harry mused, what else could any of them do but laugh? There was still much that had to be done -one more horcrux waiting back home, for Merlin's sake!- and he wouldn't be able to breathe properly until he was certain his father was given the blood replenishing potions he needed. But at that moment, laying back and laughing seemed like a good idea. So, lay back on the dusty floor and laugh was just what he did.