"Harry come look at this." Hermione called from the tent.
The two boys entered the tent to find Hermione with a book very close to her face. Harry started to ask what she wanted but she held up a finger to silence him. Ron and Harry sighed and took seats on the couch opposite the chair she was sitting in and waited. After a few moments she put the book down and looked at them with a confused but thoughtful face.
"Hermione?" Harry was getting worried about his friend when she didn't talk right away.
"I think." she whispered but paused before continuing, "I think there might be a better way."
"A better way for what exactly?" he asked.
"To finish off Voldemort." she only stuttered slightly when she said the name.
"How?" both boys moved to the edge of their seats in anticipation.
"This book contains the legend of the One Stone." Hermione held up the small book, "I got this one when I pulled all the books on Horcruxes from Dumbledores office. I hadn't paid much attention to it because its titled The Legend of Merlin's One Stone. I had glanced through and didn't find anything on Horcruxes but the writing is so small I just missed it the first time."
"Did you trying enlarging the book?" Harry asked.
"I don't want to mess it up so I just checked for a shrinking charm and there isn't on." She shrugged, "Anyway if I'm reading this correctly this One Stone can pull the soul back together."
"But it's a legend. Just a story." Ron commented.
"Yes Ron." Hermione said sarcastically, "Just like the Deathly Hallows and the Chamber of Secrets." she huffed then continued with less acid in her voice, "If this is real it would speed up things and solve some problems."
"Namely finding and destroying the Horcruxes." Harry agreed, "Sounds like it might be worth investigating. Where is it hidden?"
"Avalon." Ron said, "Merlin is supposed to have created it to help him destroy a dark wizard early in his life. He wasn't very powerful yet. He was still powerful enough to make the stone but he didn't have his full strength."
"Isn't it called the Lost Isle of Avalon?" Harry asked, "So I assume that means no one knows where it is."
"True." Hermione agreed, "But it says here a worthy soul may seek its help. It says to start at the beginning and follow the path. It doesn't say where the beginning nor the path are."
"Where did Merlin start?" Harry asked.
"No one knows for sure where he came from. It's rumored he lived for a thousand years and came from Atlantis. Or he worked with the ancient Egyptians before moving to England. Some say he was born here and moved to his island and still lives." Ron said, "I don't think we can find his beginning. But you are the worthy soul looking for it so maybe we should start with your beginning."
"Which one?" Harry asked sarcastically, "Godric's Hallow, Privet Drive, Hogwarts or the Burrow?"
"Why is the Burrow a beginning for you?" Ron asked in confusion.
"It's the first place, since my parents died, that I was completely accepted into a family." Harry said, "You have to know I've always envied you that. You have what I never could, except that you chose to share it with me."
Hermione hid her grin at Ron's shock. He had grown up a lot this year even if things weren't the greatest right now. She was still mad at him for leaving and the behavior that led up to it. But now he seemed to understand other people had feelings too and better yet he was trying to understand them without acting in an idiotic, compulsive, foolish way. Killing off that locket had certainly been good for all of them.
"Ok." Harry said to hid his embarrassment at his comment about the burrow, "If it's my beginning where to first?"
"Go in the order you gave them." Ron shrugged.
Hermione was taken aback. It was really an intelligent suggestion, "I agree with Ron."
Harry tried to hide his grin when Ron beamed at not only Hermione's comment but that she said it nicely. He took a second then asked, "So Godric's Hollow?"
"Again." he couldn't miss the trepidation in Hermione's voice as she agreed.
The trio packed the tent and apparated away with a pop. They arrived at the same place in Godric's Hollow that Harry and Hermione had used before. They were under the invisibility cloak but since it was around midday they skirted the village, staying far away from the grave yard and Bathilda's house. The house was easy to find and Harry opened the gate.
"Be careful." Harry said, "Who knows what lives in this garden."
"I don't see any paths." Ron looked around, "Should we split up?"
"Harry?" Hermione's slightly panicked voice made Ron turn to her.
Harry was walking slowly but methodically to the house. It looked like he was under a trance of some kind. He had ignored Hermione's call and was moving through the doorway. You could see the door leaning against the wall where it had landed after being blasted off its hinges that Halloween so long ago. It was still partially blocking the way but Harry just stepped over it and for the first time he saw the place his parents had lived and died. Ron and Hermione hurried to follow him into the dwelling.
"Harry?" they found him squatted near the couch running his hand across the floor.
"Dad was here." he said in a soft flat voice, "His wand was on the couch where he had dropped it. He had been using it to blow colored bubbles of some kind to entertain me. When Mum came in he dropped it and picked me up to hand me to her. She didn't have a wand in her hand."
Harry stood and walked towards the stairs. He walked around the spot his where his father had fallen. In his mind's eye he could see the man there. He started up the stairs to see the his room.
"Harry it may not be safe." Hermione tried to stop him, "I don't think this place is structurally sound."
"I don't think he heard you." Ron put his hand on her shoulder to stop her, "I'll go after him. If it caves in on us we'll need you to put us back together."
"Be careful of his feelings." she warned as he moved to the stairs and started to carefully climb them. Ron's wave let her know he heard her.
"Harry?" Ron called as he reached the landing.
He called out more to warn Harry that he was there than to really expect a reply. Finding him was easy, he was standing in the doorway to what Ron assumed was the nursery. Harry stepped out of his sight and into the room. Ron followed him but stayed at the door. The room was in shambles. Whatever furniture had been in the room was now just pieces and splinters.
"Mum was here." Harry's still soft flat voice was beginning to frighten Ron.
"Harry it's not safe up here." Ron pleaded, "The house could collapse at any moment. We need to get out."
"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to destroy it." Harry's voice wavered slightly, just enough that Ron knew he was crying, "I'll fix it I promise. I'm so sorry."
"Harry?" Ron tried to step forward but the floor was weak and he could tell it couldn't hold both him and Harry.
In fact he wasn't sure how it was holding Harry. Ron could tell that Harry still didn't hear him. He was sitting on the floor and staring at a spot on the floor. Ron pulled his wand slowly not wanting to frighten Harry and get hexed. He levitated him just off the floor but didn't pull him out of the room. A movement outside caught his attention he could see the garden through the huge hole in the side of the house. Ron looked closely and was about to shout to Hermione when he realized he could see a path.
"Harry look, the path." Ron said a little louder than he meant to, "We need to go."
"What?" Harry jumped a bit when Ron startled him, "Why are you levitating me?"
"The floor is about to give way." Ron shrugged, "I didn't think you really wanted to go with it. Anyway as I was holding you up I noticed the path and thought we should try to follow it."
"I don't see anything." Harry said, "But maybe I'm at the wrong angle. You want to put me down and we can go?"
"I don't think that's wise." Ron shook his head, "I'm not sure this floor can hold our combined weight. I'll just carry you this way until we're on the ground floor."
"Ok." Harry reluctantly agreed as he wiped his face, "Why is my face wet?"
"I didn't see you crying." Ron whispered as he went down the stairs, "I didn't see anything."
Back in the living room they tugged Hermione out the back door. Ron easily found the path but the others still couldn't see anything. Hermione grabbed Ron's and Harry's hands as they entered the path. Harry wasn't prepared to be grabbed and stumbled along behind.
"Hermione!" Harry complained, "You are going to pull me off my feet."
"Sorry, I was worried that we'd lose each other in these tall weeds." she apologized, "I was also thinking that since only Ron could see the path we may have to hold on to him to get through it."
"We're coming to the end." Ron said over his shoulder at them.
"Good." Hermione said as they stumbled through into a clearing, "This didn't take long."
"So much for Avalon." Ron grumbled as he saw they were in someone's backyard.
"Wait a minute." Harry looked around and moved towards the house.
"Harry come back we could be seen." Hermione whispered loudly.
"No we won't." Harry said, "They aren't home. We're at Privet Drive. This is the Dursley's house."
"Are you sure?" Ron asked, "Most muggle houses look the same to me."
"On Privet Drive they all look the same." Harry scoffed, "But I spent a lot of time working in this garden I should know it. But just to make sure." he pulled his wand and unlocked the door.
Hermione did a quick revealing spell and found no one home in the house they were breaking into. Harry led the way into the living room where the walls were practically lined with pictures of his fat cousin. Harry sat in a chair and just stared at the room with a slightly angry look.
"No pictures of you at all." Hermione said, "I had hoped you were exaggerating."
Harry jumped to his feet and stomped into the entry way. They thought he was going to go up the stairs but he stopped at a locked cupboard. A quick flick of his wand undid the lock and he jerked the door open and glared at his friend. They could see the small bed that was still kept in the space. Hermione promptly burst into tears.
"Don't cry Hermione." Harry sagged losing all his anger, "I'm sorry, I just… I'm sorry."
"No. I'm sorry." she sniffed, "I shouldn't have said that, I know you don't exaggerate or lie. It was just hope that you weren't really abused like that."
Harry pulled her into the kitchen and found a towel to dry her face. While she was wiping away the tears he got her a glass of water. As she was drinking it she happened to look into the garden.
"Which side of the garden did we come in on?" she asked.
"Left side." Ron said, "Over by those purple flowers."
"Can you still see it?" she asked.
"No." Ron answered.
Hermione put her glass down and headed out the door. Harry locked the door behind them and followed Hermione to the other side of the garden, "Was this path always here?"
"I don't see a path." Harry answered.
Just then a few pops sounded from the front of the house. Hermione grabbed Ron's hand and Harry grabbed his shoulder and they all ran down the path. They ran for a little while and then slowed to a walk. The scenery slowly changed from the hedge they walked into to more of a forest. Suddenly they found themselves leaving the forbidden forest and stumbling onto the grounds at Hogwarts. They quickly stepped back into the forest so they wouldn't be seen from the castle.
"Looks different." Harry had stopped just inside and turned around.
"We'll free them soon." Ron said confidentially and clapped a hand on Harry's shoulder.
They stood for a while in silent thought until Harry turned to smile at his friends and saw the path, "There it is."
"Where?" Hermione asked.
Harry grabbed her hand and pulled the other two down the path. Nearly half an hour later Harry stumbled out and into the orchard of the Burrow.
"Big surprise." he sighed, "Start looking for the next one. Hopefully it will lead us to Avalon."
After an hour of fruitless searching Hermione stopped, "Wait. When I saw the path at Privet Drive I had been thinking about Harry's life. I had kind of an epiphany about you at the time, I kind of understand you better now. Once I had that I saw the path open up."
"Epiphany?" Ron asked.
"Sudden dawning of understanding." Hermione explained.
"Right I had one of those when we were at Godric's Hollow." Ron said, "I understood what the Burrow meant to you better."
"And I had a similar thing happen at Hogwarts." Harry said, "So what do we need to learn here?"
They had kept out of sight of the Burrow the entire time they were searching. But even so when they heard the pops of someone apparating they still jumped and hid behind trees. They glanced at each other remembering the pops at the Dursley's that sent them running onto the path. They were still staring when Ginny blew between two of the trees on her broom.
"Ginny!." Harry barely made a sound when he said her name.
Ron and Hermione turned to caution him to silence but they didn't speak because of the look on his face. They both recognized several emotions as they each made an appearance. Love, longing, pride and happiness were each displayed as they watched. Ron turned to Hermione and found her eyes on him as they gave Harry a moment of privacy. The both glanced back over to him to make sure he wasn't walking into the clearing, at the same time they saw the path.
Hermione started to move but Ron stopped her, "Ginny will see us if we move away from the trees."
"What if it closes?" she asked, "We don't want to miss it."
"Harry." Ron tried to get his attention but it didn't work, "I think we'll have to drag him along."
"He does look a bit twitterpated." Hermione giggled.
"Twitter what?" Ron asked confused.
"Muggle move thing." Hermione giggled, "Basically it means thoroughly entranced by her."
"He is that." Ron shook his head, "Grab an arm each and just run and drag him along?"
"I'm afraid so." she said, "I hope he forgives us for dragging him away. Let's go."
They stayed under the branches and made their way to Harry. The path was just ten or so feet in front of him but he only saw Ginny. They each grabbed an arm and pulled him forward. At first it was easy but once away from the tree he wanted to stop and watch where he could see better. That's when they had to start dragging him. Harry tried to pull away as he lost sight of Ginny, he did get away from Hermione. Ron turned and grabbed him by the waist and pulled him off the ground and down the path. Once the orchard was out of sight Ron put him down.
"What did you do that for?" Harry asked angrily, "We could have at least talked to her."
"Sorry, but we didn't have time." Ron said, "We didn't know how long the path would stay open."
"That's not fair." Harry continued to get angrier, "You get to see Hermione all the time. I haven't seen her in months."
"Harry." Hermione talked calmly, "What if Snape asks if she spoke with your during break? What would happen to her if he read her mind."
"I understand." Ron put a hand on his shoulder, "If that had been Hermione I would have fought you too. Love makes us do irrational things sometimes and sometimes we just can't think clearly. Right now we need to get the stone and finish this. The sooner we do that the sooner you can come home to her."
Harry took a deep breath and paced the path a few moments. His shoulders slumped for a moment and then he grinned, "You're right, but you get to explain it to her. She saw us and knows we didn't stop to talk."
"I know." Ron grimaced, "Will you protect me from the bat bogeys?"
Harry laughed as they turned and walked down the path again. Ron noticed he didn't answer the question. This time they walked for hours. When it began to get too dark to see they stopped and conjured a blanket. All three sat down to rest. Ron volunteered for first watch, they didn't pull out the tent this time in case they needed to move fast.
***Back at the Burrow***
"Mum, Dad!" Ginny rushed into the house, "I just saw them. Just now!"
"Who?" Molly asked as she sat sipping tea with her husband. He had been telling her why he was late to the train station.
"Harry, Ron and Hermione." she gushed, "They were just in the orchard."
"What?" Arthur jumped to his feet, "They can't be here it's too dangerous. They could be spotted."
"I don't think anyone saw them but me." Ginny said, "They ran across the clearing and down a path that disappeared behind them. It was so odd. They ran beside that tree that's alone on the south side. I could see them running down a wooded path and then it all disappeared."
"A magical pathway?" Arthur asked.
"I think so." she smiled, "Harry saw me and it looked like he wanted to stop but the other two dragged him on. But now we know they are alive."
"Dear that may explain your side trip." Molly offered. Ginny looked interested.
"I was late to meet the train because the wards at Privet Drive went off. Someone entered the house." Arthur explained, "The only thing we found was the door for the cupboard under the stairs was open and a glass of water on the cabinet. Outside there was a set of three foot prints coming from the hedge, on the other side three sets leaving. No footprints actually in the hedge."
"Why the cupboard under the stairs?" Molly asked.
"There was a bed in the cupboard but nothing else." Arthur shrugged.
"Could they have apparated?" Molly asked.
"Wards around Privet Drive don't allow it." he replied, "But like Ginny said, we at least know they are alive. It's more than we had this morning."