"Nice to see you, Harry!" Neville greeted Harry as he walked out of the Longbottom floo with only a slight stumble. "And you too, Daphne," he continued when she followed soon after. "Welcome to the Longbottom Hall!"
"It's good to see you, Neville," Harry answered sweeping a few speckles of ash from the shoulders of his robes. "How has your holiday been so far?"
"Nothing special, really. Gran's been over the moon with how I dueled Bellatrix, and Susan and Hannah visited on boxing day. Otherwise it's been the same as before. No change on my parents either."
"Sorry to hear that," Harry said and squeezed the shoulder of his friend.
"Nah, I'm used to it. Of course I always hope they would get better, but they've been the same for as long as I can remember."
"So, who else is coming?" Harry asked, trying to guide the conversation towards cheerier subjects.
"Gran invited half of the wizengamot, so there's that," Neville said. "You are expected to make the rounds through them, too, Harry. But I also managed to invite a lot of our friends. Susan's already here with her aunt, Hannah is coming, the Patils, Luna... And then there's Justin, Seamus and Dean. I invited Ron and Ginny, too, but they couldn't come. Well, I ended up inviting pretty much everyone in the DA, but I'm not sure how many of them will come. I have the ballroom upstairs prepared for us, so we can have some privacy from the adults."
"Great! I'm sure it'll be good. And I guess I can handle the Lords and Ladies, too, if I have to. I had practice in the ministry party already."
"Yeah, I saw the headlines," Neville said, when the fireplace turning green caught his attention. "Excuse me, but It seems there's more guests arriving."
Harry and Daphne walked further inside leaving Neville to greet Lord and Lady Winters who were also members of the Potter-Longbottom-Bones alliance in the Wizengamot. There were already quite a few people people talking and sipping champagne in the grand ballroom of the manor, and Harry nodded his greetings to various people he recognized.
"Harry, Daphne!" someone shouted, and Harry spotted Susan coming to his direction. "Good to see you. Auntie can't stop working even on New Year, and I was starting to think it would never end. How have your holidays been?"
- O -
"Hello Luna!" Harry greeted his Ravenclaw friend who was studying closely one of the many potted plants Neville had in the second floor ballroom. He had done his duty for the political alliance for tonight, and had excused himself from the adults and joined his friends upstairs.
"Hi, Harry," the blonde witch replied as she seemingly placed some invisible creature within the plant. "You had quite an impressive group of blue-winged knacksnappers with you at the Solstice party, you know. I saw them in that picture in the Daily Prophet. Poor Theodore never stood a chance. Knacksnappers can get very protective of those they favour and will take their vengeance on anyone who opposes their hosts. It's a pity that Riddle has enslaved a whole tribe of long-nailed werchegs to protect him, or we wouldn't need to worry about him at all. But I'm sure you'll find a way to free them from their enslavement, or at least get them to ignore you. So don't worry."
"That's... well, that's good to hear," Harry stammered, astonished once again by Luna's ability to hide amazingly accurate observations among completely undecipherable tales of creatures never seen or heard outside of the Lovegood family. Sometimes it made Harry wonder if everything she said was in fact pure truth if filtered through a proper decoder, or if she herself knew how close to the truth she came with her bizarre explanations. But that was not something Harry wished to think about too much; he had had more than enough of prophecies and clairvoyants.
"Actually, Luna, what I really wanted to ask about was Astoria, Daphne's sister. She's one year behind you in Ravenclaw, and she's had a rough holiday so far. I'd be happy if I knew she had someone looking out for her in your house when we get back to school."
"Oh, Harry, always the knight in a shining armour. Of course I'll look after her, no one should need to endure the things she has alone."
"Thank you, Luna. I know she probably has her own friends, but..." Harry trailed off.
"I understand, Harry," Luna said. "I really do."
"You're a good friend."
"Thank you, But I think we should join the others, it seems like the year is about to change, and I guess Daphne wants her New Year's kiss. Though I wouldn't object to one either," Luna said, and skipped away towards the others who were moving outside to a large balcony that ran all the way along the second floor wall.
Harry smiled at Luna's antics and joined the others outside. Red, green, blue and yellow fireworks courtesy of Fred and George Weasley were fired by the elves as Harry embraced Daphne from behind.
"Happy New Year, Daphne" he said, giving her a kiss on the cheek.
Daphne turned around in his embrace. "Happy new year to you, too," she said, and returned the favour solidly on the lips.
- O -
"Hermione, Neville," Harry greeted his friends as he and Daphne sat down at their table in the Leaky Cauldron. "Did you enjoy your holidays?"
As there still wasn't a replacement for the train that was destroyed in the battle the previous September, the Hogwarts Express was unable to operate. Instead a secure floo connection had been crafted between the Alley and Hogwarts for the students to travel between the castle and London during the holidays. Harry and his friends had decided to take the opportunity provided by the near instantaneous travel to meet beforehand. Neville and Hermione had been first to arrive, and had secured a private, warded booth near the back of the pub and had some snacks and warmed butterbeer already on the table.
"Yes, it was great. It was good to see mum and dad again," Hermione said.
"I'm sorry they had to leave the country. Must be hard for them to lose their home and leave their friends and work like that."
"My parents are were happy to travel the world, Harry. They have been working very hard for their own practice ever since they graduated, and this is the first longer holiday they've had since their honeymoon. You shouldn't blame yourself for what happened to my home, really."
"Alright, alright. Sorry I was concerned," Harry said, raising his hands up in surrender. "It's good to hear they're happy."
"What about you, Harry? What did you do over the holidays?" Neville asked.
"Well, I spent the first days at home, talking with Charlus. He's really great, I don't know what I'd have done without him. Then there was the Solstice party at the ministry, that you probably saw in the prophet, and then I visited Daphne for the rest of the holidays," Harry said, looking at his girl fondly. Daphne was fingering the necklace he had given her, an equally blissful expression on her face.
"I also saw Tonks and Remus after New Year. I think Remus is finally starting to break under her persistence."
Hermione harrumphed. "Honestly, the prejudice against werewolves is so ridiculous that they believe it even themselves. Yes, they transform once a month, but really, the rest of the time they are perfectly normal."
"Yes, that's what Tonks has been telling Remus all the time. But he's nothing if not stubborn. Hopefully now that Remus doesn't need to search for the cave and the horcrux anymore they can have more time for each other; he had rotten luck that it was full moon on Christmas this year."
The cheerful mood dampened noticeably at the mentioning of Voldemort's soul anchors.
"Do you have any ideas what to do with those things, Harry?" Hermione asked carefully.
"Well, actually I do," Harry answered. "Or not really ideas yet, more of an idea where to look for ideas. I mean, thus far we've been focusing on finding and destroying the horcruxes, right?" he asked, and the others nodded in agreement. "What if we could find a way around them? To 'vanquish' Voldemort without destroying them? I remember having heard somewhere someone saying that 'There are fates worse than death'. I think something like that would be just what Voldemort deserves. And I think that should be our next subject for research."
- O -
"I have great pleasure to welcome you all back in Hogwarts for yet another term of learning and friendship," Dumbledore said as the feast had advanced to the point where main courses were replaced by desserts. "Though I must do so with heavy heart, as one of us failed to come back. Theodore Nott made some terrible mistakes in his life and had to pay the ultimate price for them. While I can honestly say I do not condone the act of violence he fell victim of, I do know that his sins were equally terrible. Let us hope that the tragedy that befell him will act as a reminder of the consequences our choices always have."
Dumbledore took a small pause, to respect the dead and to give the words time to sink in.
"While I had hoped to have more joyful announcements to make," he continued, "I'm afraid I do not. In light of the events before Christmas it has been decided that the amount of Hogsmeade weekends has been reduced so that adequate precautions can be taken for those times students may leave the safety of the castle grounds. Also, in order to honour the sacrifice made by those killed or injured in the attack the Heads of House have agreed to cancel the remaining games of the Quidditch season."
Bedlam broke out in the Hall when Dumbledore made the announcement. Ron was one of the most vocal among those who were expressing their disappointment for the decision.
"Please, do not take this as a punishment," the Headmaster's voice carried over the uproar, silencing it some. "We are in no way forbidding you from playing. In fact we strongly encourage you to arrange friendly matches yourself, and our Flying instructor Rolanda Hooch has agreed to referee such games. We just feel that when the teams have lost members in the attacks it would be inconsiderate to simply replace them, for both their and their teammates' sake."
"How do you feel about that?" Hermione asked Harry, who was looking thoughtful and toying a helping of treacle tart on his plate.
"Honestly?" he asked. "I'm a bit relieved. Quidditch has lost quite a bit of it's appeal lately, the new team just isn't what it was without Fred, George, Angelina and Alicia. I can still fly without it, and I have some ideas for DA that I want to try, so this gives me more time for that. I think we'll change the rules for the new term."
"Oh? What did you have in mind?"
"Well, we have the indoor fighting and defending a building down quite well, but we haven't done any open air battles. I was thinking about building some sort of replica of Hogsmeade, or at least some obstacles to simulate a road with buildings on the sides. And I think we'll have to shake up the teams, too; I kind of want to get Astoria in after what happened. It'll do her good to learn to defend herself better. She'll know that if there's a next time she won't be as helpless as she was."
"That's good thinking, Harry. Changing the teams might be a good idea otherwise, too. It's always good to be able to work with different people."
"Yeah, that's what I thought, too. I was thinking about making it five person teams, so that would be excuse enough to change them."
Hermione nodded, and returned back to her pudding; her dentist parents didn't believe in sweets or sugary treats, so she was going make the most out of the Hogwarts' offerings.
- O -
Towards the end of supper on Thursday Professor McGonagall came to the Gryffindor table. She gave him a message from the Headmaster that Harry had been expecting for the whole week. So much had happened on and since that fateful Hogsmeade weekend that Dumbledore was bound to summon Harry into his office for a talk before long. Harry thanked his head of house for delivering the message, finished his meal and walked up to the headmaster's tower.
"Please come in, Harry" Dumbledore called when Harry reached the door of his office.
"Lemon drop?" the headmaster offered as was his habit while Harry seated himself on a comfortable armchair.
"No, thank you, sir," Harry said, shaking his head lightly.
"I must say your speech at the Solstice party was truly inspired. You have the gift of working with people, Harry, it's a great gift to have."
"Thank you, sir. But I guess you didn't ask me here just to compliment me for the speech, am I right?"
"Ah yes, I did have something less pleasant to say, too," Dumbledore said, and looked straight at Harry with a serious face.
"During the break I heard from my sources what happened at the Nott home. I have to express my disappointment that you would resort to using such dark magic to get what you wanted."
"Harry, the end does not justify the means. You can't just use force to solve your problems."
"With all due respect, sir, what should I have done? I knew I could rescue the students, I hardly could have just left them at Voldemort's mercy. And think about the effect it would have had on the morale of the people. What would the families have thought if their children had been held hostage over Christmas? Or would you just have agreed to all Voldemort's demands to get them back?"
"We don't even know what his demands would have been..."
"Yeah, right. Maybe he just wanted a Christmas present," Harry scoffed. "Besides, I'm not using force to solve all my problems. You complimented me on my speech at the ministry yourself, that was me not using force. But force still has it's use, one shouldn't just dismiss it. Or do you have some ace still in your sleeve that you haven't told anyone about?"
"But Harry, think about the prophecy. 'The power he knows not'. You can't win with force, that's what Voldemort is doing."
"Oh? So what do you think this mysterious power is?"
Dumbledore looked deep into Harry's eyes, the customary twinkle in his missing.
"Voldemort has spent decades learning forgotten arts abroad, and he was a bright student already here in Hogwarts. There's little he doesn't know. But there is one area of magic Tom has always been dismissive of. Harry, I believe that love is the power you have that Voldemort knows not."
Harry blinked. Dumbledore's words had come completely out of the blue.
"Love?" he asked.
"Yes Harry, love. Love is the most powerful force there is, and your capability for it despite the childhood you had amazes me. But you are walking dangerous path with the use of dark magic."
"Excuse me, but I don't really see how I could use love to defeat Voldemort."
"But don't you see, Harry, you have already done it once. It was your mother's love that saved your life fifteen years ago."
"So I should just let Voldemort hit me with Avada Kedavra again and hope that it bounces off, again? Are you out of your mind? I finally have a life worth fighting for, and I damn sure won't let it go without one."
Harry stood up and walked to the door. Once there he turned to look back, and saw the headmaster sitting behind his desk, watching the darkened sky through his window. Dumbledore looked older than Harry had ever seen him before, and Harry thought he saw a lone tear falling down his face glistening in the soft candlelight of the office.
- O -
"Love?" Daphne asked Harry as they were walking towards the Room of Requirement from their Charms class. It had been their last lesson of the week, although Neville and Hermione still had Herbology before they could come and meet them at the Room.
"Is that what Dumbledore said?"
"Yeah," Harry answered. "I still can't quite believe it myself."
"Don't get me wrong, love has strong magical properties, and emotion by and large is an important part of a lot of spells. And Dumbledore was probably right about your mother," Daphne continued. "But I can't see how you could use it against Voldemort; the magic of love isn't exactly offensive."
Daphne paused to think about what her mother had told her when she had talked to her before she came to Hogwarts for the first time; about the sexual rituals of equinoxes and solstices. Daphne was perfectly capable of counting nine months back from her birthday on 20th of March, which happened to be the vernal equinox. Astoria's not going to ever feel the rush of magic when you make love for the first time, she realized, suddenly saddened.
Harry and Daphne walked in silence up the main staircase, each lost in their own thoughts. There were not many students in the high corridor at this time of the day, most were off to classes, and those who weren't spent their time studying in the library or their common rooms. Quiet chatter from a few of the portraits was the only thing that mixed with the sound of their footsteps.
Daphne seemed to shake herself, her eyes gaining sharp focus, though Harry missed the change as he walked beside her.
"To be honest I think the headmaster is reading too much into the prophecy. Prophecies are notoriously fickle things that usually only make sense after they are fulfilled. The 'power the Dark Lord knows not' does sound like an important thing, but it could be anything and you wouldn't know what it is until you have defeated him, and maybe not even then."
"I guess so," Harry said as they turned to the seventh floor corridor with the tapestry of Barnabas the Barmy and his trolls. "It would have been nice to know what kind of secret power I'm supposed to have, but I guess it's not to be."
Harry paced back and forth in front of the wall where the Room of Requirement was located, thinking about their usual meeting room with comfortable couches, warm fire and nice view over the Hogwarts grounds.
"Isn't the door supposed to appear at this point?" Daphne asked, as nothing happened.
Harry reached out to the wall and touched the grey stone that looked identical to the rest of the hallway.
"Yes it is," he answered. "Maybe I should try again?"
Harry paced back and forth again, concentrating even harder.
"Nope. Nothing. Wonder what's wrong with it?"
"Can I try?" Daphne asked, taking a step forward.
"Sure, why not. Can't hurt."
Harry stepped back and watched as Daphne crunched her brow and paced back and forth in front of the wall. Still nothing.
"Maybe someone else is using the room?"
"That's as good a guess as any. But I don't remember telling anyone in the DA how to use the room. That is, anyone but Hermione, Ron and Neville, but they are all at class now."
"Maybe they worked it out themselves? They know where it is, and it's very useful. I would have tried to work it out myself if you hadn't told me."
"True. Well, we'll need to find someplace else, then. Good thing the castle is so large."
- O -
One hour later Harry, Daphne, Hermione and Neville were gathered in an empty room near the library. Harry and Daphne had transfigured some furniture for them, and Harry was standing in front of a blackboard he had conjured. At the top of the board he had written the topic of their meeting in large letters: THE FINAL SOLUTION.
"So, have you had time to think about anything that might allow us to ignore Voldemort's horcruxes?" Harry asked, underlining the header on the blackboard.
There was a short silence, as Hermione, Neville and Daphne looked at each other, waiting for the others to start. Finally Neville cleared his throat.
"Harry knows how my parents are," he started a little uncertainly, and turned to face Hermione and Daphne. "But I'm not sure if you have heard about them. They were tortured to insanity by the Lestranges and Crouch Jr. They have been laying in bed in St. Mungo's for over fifteen years now, not saying a word. Nothing the healers have tried has helped. I was thinking if we could get Voldemort into the same kind of state, he wouldn't be a threat to anyone."
"Right, so the first idea is Cruciatus overexposure," Harry said, writing it down on the blackboard. "I'm not sure how I feel about it, but it definitely would be poetic justice."
Harry looked at the words on the board, thinking.
"So the idea behind it is to destroy Voldemort's mind beyond repair?" Harry asked Neville, who nodded. "Then what about obliviating him? I saw Lockhart a year ago in the same ward as Neville's parents; he didn't remember anything. And I bet we could do a better job at obliviating Voldemort than the incompetent peacock did to himself by accident."
"I like it," Hermione said. "And it fits right in with this philosophy I've read about that says a human being is made out of body, soul and mind. Voldemort has anchored his soul with the horcruxes and he can create a new body for himself; therefore we need to destroy the mind, as the others are protected."
"Actually," Daphne piped in, "In the magical world we are taught that human beings are made out of body, soul, mind and magic."
"Is there any way to destroy Voldemort's magic?" Harry asked, interested at the new avenue. "A squib named Tom Riddle wouldn't be nearly as bad as Voldemort."
"Well, I'm not sure," Daphne said slowly. "Losing one's magic is used as a penalty clause in some magical contracts, but I don't know how we could go about forcing or tricking Voldemort into one."
"Didn't stop Voldemort from forcing me," Harry grumbled remembering the Triwizard tournament in his fourth year, as he wrote 'Taking out V's magic/magical contracts' under 'Obliviation'.
"So, other ideas? Daphne, Hermione?"
"I did some research on capital punishment in the wizarding world through the ages, and there were a couple of promising leads," Hermione said. "They used to execute criminals by throwing them through something called 'The Veil of Death', that seemed like a one way portal to someplace unknown. It's been out of use for centuries, but I doubt the ministry would have destroyed it. If we force Voldemort through it, I don't think he could come back."
"It's in the Department of Mysteries," Harry said, remembering what Luna had told him a year earlier in Hogwarts Express. "The Veil, I mean. Amelia would probably be happy to give us access to it if we figure out how to get Voldemort down there."
"Oh, well, that's good. The other thing I thought about was the dementor's kiss that's used as capital punishment right now. It's said to destroy the soul of the victim, so that sounds like just the thing we need. Of course I don't know if that's just conjecture or hard fact, or if the horcruxes interfere with the dementors' ability"
"Okay, so the Veil of Death and Dementor's Kiss," Harry recapped, writing them down on the board. "What about you, Daphne?"
"I thought about ways to imprison him indefinitely. If we can't kill him, then we should try to lock him away so that he can't hurt anyone."
"But wouldn't the Death Eaters just break him out of whatever prison we closed him in?" Harry asked. "And what if he kills himself? Can we capture the shade?"
"Well, I wasn't thinking about giving him to the ministry, and if the Death Eaters don't know where he is held they can't break him out. I was actually thinking about some of the rooms down in the Chamber of Secrets," Daphne explained. "It's been hidden for a millennium now, and we could further hide the cell with the fidelius or something. And I researched different ways of keeping him unconscious and in stasis, so that he doesn't die or can't kill himself; there's a potion called 'The Draught of Living Death' that might do the trick, and different charms that are used to keep food or potions ingredients fresh.
"Then I found a bit more experimental option that had to do with slowing time inside a closed chamber, so that even though Voldemort would age only days inside, decades or even centuries might pass on the outside"
"That sounds interesting," Harry said. "You think we might be able to create one down in the chamber, or have one built for us?"
"Truthfully, I don't know," Daphne answered. "We certainly couldn't do it ourselves, and I don't think anyone has done it on a scale big enough for a prison, so it's probably not a very realistic choice. The Veil of Death sure sounds more promising."
"So which one should we choose?" Hermione asked, gesturing at the blackboard. "We have a lot of ideas, but we'd need to work them into a plan."
Harry looked at the board, scratching his head. "Is there any reason why we should stick to just one?" he asked. "I mean, it looks like it should be relatively easy to combine these. Destroying Voldemort's mind and magic would be a good thing to do regardless if we decide to chuck him through the Veil or keep him in stasis down in the Chamber of Secrets. And I can't see any reason why we shouldn't also feed him to a dementor. Just to be sure. For all we know he might have done some ritual to make him immune to pain, or he might have resistance to obliviation. And Hermione said it herself that there might be complications with horcruxes and dementors. But if we hit him with all of these, there's no way he would survive."
"Erm, guys," Neville raised his voice, "how are we going to do these things to Voldemort? It's not like he's going to just let us obliviate him or do the other things."
Harry sighed and drew his hand through his hair. "That was always going to be a problem. Of course this means we need to capture him alive instead of just killing him, which adds some difficulty, but in my opinion killing him wouldn't be such a bad thing either. Sure he can come back again, but it's going to take some time and in that time we could take care of his supporters."
"We'll just need to find some way to trap Voldemort then," Daphne said. "But I don't think that's going to happen today. Why don't we call it a day, dinner's going to start soon anyway."
"Let's do that," Harry said and copied the contents of the board into a parchment with a quick charm before cancelling the transfiguration.
Harry and his friends were just finishing cleaning up after themselves and packing their bags when a soft pop announced the arrival of an elf.
"Great Harry Potter Sir will want to hear that the old young bad master just left the Come and Go room," Dobby announced. "The room is now free for Master and his friends to use."
"Old young bad master?" Harry wondered out loud, as Hermione frowned at Dobby's choice of words. "What is Malfoy doing in the Room of Requirement?"
"Dobby does not know that, sir," the excitable elf answered. "But Dobby does know what room the old young bad master was using. We elves use the same room all the time."
"Do you have any idea what Malfoy might be up to, Daphne?"
"Well, nothing special," she answered, trying to remember it there had been anything worth mentioning since the start of the term. "Malfoy has been acting a bit weird lately, now that I think about it. As if he was scared of something. I guess I thought it was just because of what happened to Nott. And Pansy has been bitching about how Malfoy supposedly ignored her during the holidays, but she's been bitching about him since fourth year."
"Well, after how Nott managed to slip right past me I'm not going to take any chances with Malfoy," Harry said, furrowing his brows. "Dobby?"
"What does the great Harry Potter want of Dobby?" the elf asked, bobbing up and down with barely restrained enthusiasm.
"Can you show me the room Malfoy was using?"
"Dobby can, Harry Potter sir! Sir only needs to go to the seventh floor, Dobby will be there waiting for him."
- O -
The room was completely unlike anything Harry had seen the Room of Requirement produce before. It was a huge hall with a high ceiling supported by rows and rows of clustered columns. The floor was filled with piles of old furniture, discarded equipment, and trophies from years immemorial.
"What is this place?" Harry asked Dobby.
"This is being the Room of Hidden Things. The elves bring here things that are lost or not needed anymore. Dobby did hide here the hats She-Who-Knits left in the tower of the lions, when the other elves were afraid to go in. They are being right there."
Dobby pointed at the top of one huge pile of assorted objects, where a small pile of brightly coloured woollen hats were clearly visible, piled on top of each other covering the head of a statue of a dignified looking wizard. Harry was barely able to resist laughing out loud at the indignant expression on Hermione's face.
"She-Who-Knits?" Daphne asked, wondering what on earth was going on in Gryffindor house.
"Don't ask," Harry answered. "It was just one of Hermione's less well researched projects, right, Hermione?"
"They just don't know of better," the bushy haired girl huffed, folding her arms in front of her. "If they just were more like Dobby, they would understand."
"Alright, alright," Harry tried to placate his friend. "Let's not get further into this discussion. Now, what was Malfoy doing in here?"
"I don't know, but those tracks in the dust seem like a pretty obvious lead," Neville said. He pointed at the clear trail of footprints that vanished behind a towering pile of old editions of "Standard Book of Spells, Grade 1".
Following the trail was less useful than one would have guessed at first. After a couple of loops around particularly large piles of stuff it was evident that Malfoy himself wasn't too certain about what he was doing in the Room of Requirement.
Harry and his friends saw a myriad of different things in their journey through the room. Some of them seemed to be only stored in there like the round tables and dining chairs Harry remembered from the Yule ball on his fourth year. Others were long forgotten, like what seemed to be a comprehensive collection of skeletons of various magical creatures, including a fully grown dragon. At one point Harry saw a ten-foot mountain of what he believed were socks without pairs. There were paintings that had stopped moving a long time ago, a cabinet full of dusty containers of potion ingredients, and huge piles of what Harry recognized as OWL-exams, written by centuries worth of students.
Harry picked up an old, defunct snitch that was rolling on the floor, trying hopelessly to get off the ground with it's powerless wings. He remembered seeing a picture of a similar snitch in the book "Quidditch through the Ages"; it was one of the earlier designs from the 16th century. Some collector would probably pay a lot of galleons for this, Harry mused, as he gently tapped the little ball with his wand and infused it with new magic. The revitalized ball buzzed around Harry's head a while before zooming away, disappearing into the large hall.
"Hey, I think we found it!" Daphne called out, as they reached an opening where the floor was clearly cleaned by a few hastily cast cleaning charms. An old cabinet of some sort was standing next to the clearing, and on a table next to it was a couple of books and fresh ink and a length of parchment filled with notes.
"What is it?" Harry asked, stepping closer. He had a nagging feeling that he had seen something like that cabinet before, but couldn't remember where that could have been even if his life depended on it.
Hermione was instantly studying the books and the notes on the table.
"Theses are books on enchantment and runes," she said. "And these notes look like... I think Malfoy is trying to replicate or repair whatever that cabinet is."
"Why would he want to do that?" Harry asked. "If he needs an ugly enchanted cabinet, why doesn't he just buy one? Malfoy doesn't seem like the type who wants to do things himself just because."
"I think there's something special about this particular cabinet," Hermione said. "These notes... it's some sort of transporter, I think. Just these runes, I mean, Zod means to go, but it implies using a camel or a donkey, and I can't see how you would use that thing with either of those."
"Are you sure those are correct?" Daphne asked. "They are Malfoy's notes after all. He doesn't take runes as far as I know."
"No he doesn't," Hermione confirmed. "That has to be it."
"It's a Vanishing Cabinet!" Neville gasped.
"A Vanishing Cabinet. We have one at our home, it's linked to another in our holiday home in Spain. It's just different looking, that's why I didn't recognize it at first."
"So this one here is also connected somewhere?" Harry asked.
"Yeah, Vanishing Cabinets are like that. They always work in pairs. They have just fallen out of fashion after the invention of floo network, that's so much more flexible and cheaper that people don't use the cabinets anymore."
"And if Malfoy is trying to repair this one, the other is bound to be somewhere where Voldemort has access to it," Harry said, drawing his wand. "Well, it's not going to be a problem for much longer. Let's destroy this thing and then get Malfoy. I'll be able to sleep better with him behind the bars."
"No!" Daphne shouted, grabbing Harry's hand before he had time to cast anything. "We need to think about this a bit more, before we act."
"What's there to think about?", Harry asked, looking at Daphne. "Malfoy's trying to create a secret door through the wards, and bring in Death Eaters. We can't let him do that."
"Of course we can't," Daphne explained. "But think about it; this is obviously one of Voldemort's plans, Malfoy wouldn't have been able to come up with this himself. If we destroy this now and hand Malfoy to the aurors, he'll know immediately and come up with something else. But if we just monitor this carefully, he'll be under false impression that his plan is going well, while in fact it isn't. And don't forget that this thing works in both directions."
"So we can go through ourselves and attack Voldemort where he least suspects!" Hermione completed Daphne's thought. "That's brilliant, Daphne!"
Harry looked at the cabinet carefully, his wand now pointing at the floor. He turned to look around, taking in their surroundings, the huge piles of objects and the enormous hall that disappeared in the darkness outside the range of the light from their wands.
"I think we can do something even better," he said, a grin growing on his face.
A/N Special thanks to my beta Majerus!