Late in November, Harry found himself watching and worrying about Hermione again. Hermione had always worked extra hard on all of her assignments: keeping ahead of her reading assignments, making sure to do all the supplemental reading, researching written assignments thoroughly, and writing and rewriting those assignments multiple times until she was satisfied. The strain of trying to keep to her own exacting standards with all the extra classes was really taking a toll on her. He was sure living a 27-hour day with only the usual amounts of sleep wasn't helping either.
"Hermione, I'm worried about you."
"Have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately? You look like you are making yourself sick trying to keep up with all of the courses you signed up for. Couldn't you drop one?"
"No! I couldn't do that. Plus, they're all so interesting. I wouldn't want to miss the opportunity to take them all."
"Really? I wouldn't think learning more about what wizards have wrong about Muggles would be that interesting. And from what Ron says, the Divination instructor is a bit of a joke. Couldn't your drop one of them at least?"
"I can't do that."
"Well, ummm, I just can't."
"I think you'll find you are allowed, so technically, you can. And I've asked around and you are the only student in at least the last four years who has tried to take all of the electives. Students just aren't meant to take that many courses. So, think about it. Why do you really feel like you can't drop one or two of them?"
She opened her mouth but then closed it before she said something. Her eyes appeared unfocused as she looked thoughtful for a full minute. "Because quitting would be admitting I can't do the work. I've never failed at anything I've tried to do academically before, and I don't want to start now."
"OK, I can see how you would see it that way. But maybe how you could see it is you realizing that those two courses aren't teaching you anything you really need to know. Or realizing that one of our teachers should have told you last year that you weren't allowed to take this many electives. After all, I don't know how you are managing it, but some of those courses are meeting at the same times — so if that doesn't indicate one person isn't supposed to be taking both courses, I don't know what does."
"Please, Hermione, give it some serious thought. It's not even halfway through the year, and you are making yourself sick trying to keep up with all the extra work you've taken on. It isn't worth your health just so you can prove to yourself that you can do this."
"Alright, Harry. I'll think about it." She looked down and bit her lip before looking back up at him. "Thanks for worrying about me. It's kind of nice to know you care enough to look out for me."
He smiled at her and reached out to cover her hand with his own. "Of course I care, Hermione. You're important to me, and I don't like to see you so worn down."
"So, Harry, you remember how I invited you to spend Christmas with me?" Sirius leaned against Professor Lupin's desk as he addressed his godson. He had insisted when they met that Harry call him Sirius and not Mr. Black. This had been reinforced over the past month or so as they exchanged a few letters and got to know each other better.
"Yeah, is there a problem? Because I can stay at Hogwarts if I have to." It was the first week of December, and Harry was really hoping that plans hadn't changed since Ron and Hermione had only decided to go home for Christmas after they found out that Harry wasn't going to be staying at the castle.
"No, not really. But we want to talk to you about it because some of my plans aren't working out exactly as I had hoped. See, my family has always been as black as their name, and the house we would be staying in is the one I grew up in. It was never pretty, and there have always been all sorts of dark and cursed objects around. But apparently, my mother's house elf went even further around the twist at some point since she died, because he's let the house go. There's about a metric ton of dust on every available surface, doxies in the curtains, and who knows what other kinds of infestations. I was hoping to have professionals in to clean it up and get rid of most of the cursed stuff, but there's no way they would be done in time for Christmas. So, I told them to start in January."
Lupin took over the explanation. "Sirius and I were talking, and we think we can still do the visit. He's of the opinion it could be a fun adventure for a 13-year-old since he is still mentally about the same age, and I think you might be interested in a bit of hands-on Defense lessons since you're one of my top students – learning how to get rid of the infestations and scan objects for curses and the like. But if we do this, you'll have to promise us to be very careful and leave things alone that we tell you are too dangerous."
Now, Sirius took over again. "Yeah, because too dangerous in this case is a book that can eviscerate you just because you open it and other nasties like that. So, would you still be interested?" Sirius looked hopeful, and Harry was reminded of the one Christmas he had spent with Sirius in his other life.
"Absolutely!" Harry was excited — both for the chance to get and destroy the Horcrux before the professionals got to it and for the opportunity to get to know Sirius all over again. He was already more alive and healthy looking than he had been after years out of Azkaban in Harry's past life.
Harry told Sirius he had some Christmas shopping to do and that he needed to go to Gringotts. It took a bit of work to get them to let him go on his own, but he eventually succeeded. Luckily, he had done all of his Christmas shopping by owl before leaving Hogwarts.
Within just a few minutes of flooing to the Leaky Cauldron, he was sitting across from Ironfist and digging the null magic box with the tiara and locket out of his backpack. Harry placed the box on the table and opened it.
"And the animal?"
"Is not a Horcrux. I checked it three times myself."
"Excellent. Now, let us discuss this method of destroying the Horcrux without destroying the objects. You may have noticed that all of the objects you have found are quite valuable."
"Yes, Slytherin's locket, Hufflepuff's cup, Ravenclaw's diadem. I'm not sure if the ring really is the Resurrection Stone; but even if it isn't, it appears quite old and valuable."
"The method we found is really more of a ritual. Luckily, it is a relatively short ritual, but it is expensive and difficult to perform as it calls for the use of a large, perfect diamond for each object we cleanse in this manner."
"And how long would it take for you to prepare and perform this ritual?"
"Actually, we are prepared to perform the ritual today. Our rules are really quite strict about destroying Horcruxes as quickly as possible, so we wanted to be prepared."
"I see. And how much will it cost me for you to destroy all four Horcruxes without destroying the objects?"
"Gringotts would like to offer you the service of destroying the Horcrux in all of these objects in exchange for the objects themselves."
"And if I agreed, what would you do with them?"
"We would, most likely, hold on to them for a few years to ensure that there were no unknown other anchors of the dark wizard still around and then slowly sell them in the collector's market to recover our outlay on the ritual."
"With three founders objects and that ring, I'm sure you would more than cover your costs with just one sale."
"Perhaps, Mr. Potter. But that is the offer we are prepared to make."
Harry thought about it. He didn't really want any of them. They would just remind him of Voldemort, and it would be more than awkward to try to explain his possession of any of them. "I have a request."
Ironfist simply raised his eyebrows.
"I would like to attend the ritual and record it using a video recording crystal. I would like evidence of their destruction to show to a few people if the need arises. Plus there is a house elf who has been trying to destroy that locket for his dead master for many years, and I would like to offer him some peace of mind."
"I don't see any reason why that should be a problem."
"In that case, we have a deal."
Ironfist added a few sentences to the contract he had already made out, Harry read it over carefully, and then he signed it. Ironfist signed it, duplicated it, and offered a copy to Harry.
"Shall we, Mr. Potter?" Ironfist stood up and gestured for Harry to precede him through the door behind him.
The next day, the few students in the hallways during Christmas break were buzzing about an unusual occurrence. Severus Snape had almost run past them in the corridors of Hogwarts. His shirt was buttoned incorrectly, and his robe was not fastened at all. One of the students swore his hair was still wet, but everyone else insisted it was just greasier than usual.
"Severus, my boy, what is wrong?"
"I'm afraid I don't understand you. Have a seat, please. Take a breath and start at the beginning." Dumbledore conjured some tea and started to prepare a cup with two sugars and a splash of milk, just the way he knew his Potions master preferred it.
"When I woke up this morning, I felt like something was a bit off, like something was missing. I assumed I just needed some food since I didn't eat much last night. It was while I was taking my shower that I realized it. There is no magic coming from my mark. You know that we looked at it after that Halloween. The physical mark had faded, but I could still feel it — that presence of him that I felt since the moment he branded it on me. And you could detect the spells he had worked in it but couldn't undo them. It's one of the reasons we knew he couldn't be all the way dead and that he would come back one day. Well, not now. It's completely dead." During his recital, Snape had worked his sleeve up, and he was now showing it to the Headmaster.
"Are you sure?"
"Check for yourself."
Every scan Dumbledore performed came up negative. The dark mark was now just a faded tattoo on Snape's forearm.
On New Year's Eve day, Harry finished writing about his conversation with Kreacher after he came back from Gringotts and closed the notebook he had been using to collect all his thoughts and memories about coming back in time. He was glad he had put most of it down on paper because he had noticed in the last few days that the memories of his previous life were fading more quickly than could be explained away with the passage of time. He had a feeling that in a few more weeks or months, it would all seem like a strange dream to him.
Part of him was upset at losing the memories, but another part of him was relieved. Most of them would no longer be relevant. He had changed things so much that this year already barely resembled his original third year. And now that he had disposed of the last of the Horcruxes that he knew about, he really just needed to remember enough to read over his notebook or watch his recording crystal of destroying the Horcruxes when/if Voldemort still managed to come back. But Harry was almost certain that wasn't going to happen. He couldn't explain why. He just knew it on some instinctive level.
He wasn't sad to lose memories of various people dying the last time. He was certain that forgetting the look on Sirius' face as he fell through the veil or the blank look on George's face as he looked at his dead twin's body was a good thing. In addition, losing some of those future memories was already starting to help him feel more like the 13-year-old he was and less like he was lying to all of his friends.
So, Harry closed the notebook. He had already spelled it so only he could read it months ago. Now, he placed a quick note on the cover. "In case of the return of Voldemort, read this book." He didn't know how far along the memory loss would go so he figured that should work. Next he put it and the crystal he used to record the destruction of the Horcruxes in the special pocket he had created in the side of the second compartment of his trunk. He used that compartment often enough he would see the note frequently, and the special pocket would keep it from being lost in the bottom of the trash that would undoubtedly accumulate in the trunk.
Harry closed his trunk and checked his watch. He still had 30 minutes to get washed, dressed and downstairs. Sirius, Remus and Harry were having dinner at the Grangers, and Harry was terribly nervous. After all, he might not be dating Hermione yet, but he planned to. And if Sirius and Remus had caught on enough to razz him about mooning over her, he was sure that her parents would see it too. Harry might have the rest of his life to live free of Voldemort, but he only had one chance to make a good impression on his future in-laws.
He hoped Genevieve was happy with his solution.