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"Witches and gentlewizards, students of all ages—are you ready for some QUIDDITCH?"

The answering roar was deafening, and the dark-complexioned announcer holding the magical megaphone, bundled up in a warm coat and a red-and-gold scarf against the chill of the November day, grinned in response. "I can't hear you…"

The second roar was even louder.

"That's more like it! Introducing… the mavens of might, the apostles of ambition, the snakes from under the lake… iiiiiit's SLYTHERIN!"

Another huge burst of cheering from the section of the audience dressed largely in green, mingled with hisses and boos from the areas in other colors, as seven verdant-robed blurs shot out of one of the passageways to circle the Hogwarts Quidditch pitch in tight formation.

"Facing off with… the champions of chivalry, the knights of nobleness, the high-flying lions… give it up for GRYFFINDOR!"

Applause and catcalling magically swapped sides as a septet of shapes clad in crimson sped onto the pitch and took their lap in the opposite direction, the team's captain leaning down as he passed the scarlet portion of the stands to collect a row's worth of high fives.

"With these two sides on the pitch, we know the competition will be intense. Both teams field an excellent squad of Chasers, though Gryffindor may have the edge in experience, and two well-seasoned Keepers, so a nice even bout in that position, though neither squad has had much chance to shake down with their Beaters, both playing rookies in those important spots today. A new captain for Gryffindor this term, which could lead to a change in overall strategy, and one thing's for certain, witches and gentlewizards—with Slytherin a part of this match, fouls will be much in evidence—"

"JORDAN!"

"Sorry, Professor," said Lindsay Jordan, sounding not at all apologetic. "Madam Hooch is in the center—Bludgers away—Snitch away—Chasers ready, on the whistle—"

A shrill note cut through the crisp late-autumn air, and the cheering spiked again as the Quaffle flew high into the air.

The first Quidditch match of the new school year had begun.


Rookie Beaters on both sides, that's true. But ours are skillful rookies, and theirs… Harry dodged an inexpertly hit Bludger, nudging the Firebolt higher over the pitch. What brainiac came up with the brilliant idea of giving Crabbe and Goyle Beater's bats and turning them loose out here? They're more a danger to their own side than they are to ours! He grinned to himself. Which is not really a cause for complaint… like Padfoot always says, "Never correct your enemy, just take advantage."

And he was about to do exactly that.

Sitting more upright than usual, he released the Firebolt's shaft, guiding the broom with knees and weight alone. It cut his speed, but gave him more precision of flight, which was one of the things he most needed at the moment.

The other one is silence. Which this style of flying also happens to provide, since I'm not moving fast enough to create any audible wind…

Drifting forward and to his right, hands raised as though he saw the Snitch and was sneaking up on it (which he didn't and wasn't, but if the crowd thought he did and was, so much the better), Harry nudged his broomstick towards Gregory Goyle, who was clutching his bat like a teddy bear, his head pivoting constantly through the half-circle which was all his meaty shoulders would allow. The Gryffindor stands were behind him, and he could hear gasps, squeals, a gradual rise in cheering as his Housemates thought their Seeker was about to end the match early—

Sorry, everyone. But I am about to do something I think you'll like almost as much!

"Get Potter!" shouted Urquhart, the Slytherin captain, pointing at Harry furiously. "He's right behind you!"

Goyle spun. Harry ducked. The Firebolt, responding like the thoroughbred it was, carried him swiftly out of harm's way.

The same could not be said for Goyle, Nimbus Two Thousand and One or not. The Slytherin clearly hadn't had the chance to practice much with his heavy wooden bat, and the extra weight on his lunge had unbalanced him. His broom swung through a crazy spiral involving all three dimensions of flight, causing him to yelp like a five-year-old girl and cling to it with both hands. His bat, disregarded, wafted towards the ground (being treated with the same spell as the Pennifold Quaffle, so as to give inexperienced school-age players a chance to retrieve their equipment without making student-sized dents in the grass), and his face turned nearly the same shade of green as his robes.

At which point a Bludger, hit late and off-target by Vincent Crabbe, arrived on the scene, and finding no one nearby except Goyle, promptly performed its proper function.

"And one of the Slytherin Beaters is going to need a time-out!" Lindz shouted gleefully above the shrieks of merriment from the Gryffindors and their allies. "Forced by—would you look at that, the other Slytherin Beater! More practice next time, boys!"

"Practice?" said Draco, pulling up beside Harry as Madam Pomfrey and a pair of student helpers (neither of which, for a change, was Meghan) hurried onto the field, wands upraised to guide a shaky Goyle to a safe landing. "They really think those two will be improved by practice?"

Harry shrugged. "They could go from 'dangerous to themselves and others' to just 'absolutely hopeless', I guess," he said. "But how much do we want them to?"

"I rather like my skull the way it is. You know, intact." Draco rubbed the back of his head. "Still, the way they're playing, I suppose it's most likely they'll be breaking their own heads before they manage to get around to any of us."

"And with them," Harry finished as Goyle collapsed on top of the student mediwitches, pinning them both to the ground, "even that would be an improvement."


Ginny held aloof for a few moments from the exuberant mob of Gryffindors rushing the pitch at the end of the match, chanting Harry's name as her mate took his victory lap above their heads, the Snitch safely caged inside his fingers and waving its wings in time with the cheering. Professor Dumbledore had just finished shaking Professor McGonagall's hand, and was now watching not the action on the grass but an area just above it, his eyes behind their half-moon glasses focusing on—

Me. Well, me and Draco. She nodded politely to her Headmaster, and received a brief smile in return before Dumbledore's attention returned to the pale-blond Gryffindor captain, who was signing something to his twin on the verges of the crowd below.

Have the house-elves double-check the food for the party, Ginny translated automatically, her mind following the flowing gestures as easily as it would have spoken words. I thought I heard one of the Slytherins saying they'd found a way to slip us some Blistering Brews. She winced, having no trouble imagining the havoc that might cause, and looked back at Dumbledore.

Who was waving Snape over to his side, his face unusually grave.

Snape's frown turned momentarily thunderous when Dumbledore had finished imparting whatever information he had to give, and the Head of Slytherin House moved off purposefully into the crowd of students, headed for the castle. Ginny had no doubt a number of Slytherins of the Death-Eater's-child persuasion were going to find themselves in particularly unpleasant detentions tonight, not so much for what they'd been planning to do to her Housemates as for the unforgivable sin of getting caught at it.

None of which touches on the most significant thing I've just learned, which is…

Slowly, she raised her hands to the "ready" position in front of her chest, bringing Dumbledore's eyes back to her, and began to sign, making her gestures a bit larger than usual to compensate for the long distance between them.

May we see you tonight? Late, after bedtime? Come in through the door from—She was about to sign "the Den", but substituted "the Heart" at the last moment after remembering the Hogwarts Den's official title. Important questions to ask. The big snake upstairs sent us. She paused, then added one final sign. Please?

With a twinkling smile, Professor Dumbledore nodded assent. His own hands rose, moving a bit stiffly and hesitantly but signing a fully understandable response.

Only because you said "please", Ginny read from his fingers.

She sent her Cleansweep Ten into a steep dive, laughing as she went, and kissed Harry on the cheek in passing.

This looks like it's going to be a very special day in a lot of ways.


"Den-night?" Ron frowned. "How come? Full moon was a week and a half ago, we're almost to new…"

"Ginny thinks tonight would be a good time to ask Professor Dumbledore those questions Alex said to ask him," said Hermione, dipping the ladle into the punch bowl. "Since Harry finally had a breakthrough with Occlumency on Thursday."

"Helped in Defense, too, didn't it?" Ron accepted the cup of punch and sniffed it cautiously before taking a sip. "Why didn't any of us think of that before? We've only had these—" He tapped a finger against his pendant chain. "—for going on four years now."

"More like three and a half." Hermione poured herself a cup of punch as well. "But it's true that we should have thought of it a long time ago. We just never made the connection from the nonverbal speech that the pendant chains allow, and the concentration you need to get across what you want versus just letting all the random thoughts crossing your mind slip out, to nonverbal spells and the concentration they require—which is almost exactly the same thing." She smiled at him over the rim of her cup. "Not feeling quite so backwards anymore, are you?"

"After popping a good one in past Snape's guard, and doing it with thinking about telling Draco off for spying on us snogging in a broom closet?" Ron snickered. "I'm not sure what part of that was more fun." He had another drink of punch. "Don't need to know, either," he added. "When it's all good… well, it's all good, and that's all there is to it."

"Words to live by." Hermione tapped the rim of her glass against his. "Or drink by. Cien-cien."

"Cheers." Ron drained his cup and handed it over for a refill. "So have you heard anything about what the Ravenclaws are cooking up for Christmas?"


"Everybody ready?" Harry asked, looking around. Seven heads nodded, and he grinned. "Good, because if you aren't, here we go anyway. Thank you, Helga!"

The oversized bathtub of the Hogwarts Den, in which the Pride was currently standing, fully-clothed, obediently began to turn itself inside out, its bottom rising like a lift until it was as high above the surrounding tiles as it had been below them a moment ago. Then, in the calm and orderly fashion Harry had come to associate with the work of Helga Hufflepuff (and isn't that something I can't say anywhere but here), a set of tiles at the far end of the tub floated upwards to form a staircase, disappearing into a hole which had opened without fanfare in the ceiling far above.

"Ladies first," Harry said, stepping back to wave Ginny and Hermione onward.

Professor Dumbledore was waiting for them, sitting in his usual place behind his desk, Fawkes the phoenix fluffing up his feathers in greeting before beginning to preen a wing as Draco, the last one out, closed the hole by the fireplace with the same words Harry had used to open it. The Pensieve, empty for the moment, sat in the center of the desk, in front of which eight chairs were arranged in a tight circle.

"Professor Snape informs me that you are making progress in your Occlumency lessons, Harry," Dumbledore said while the Pride settled who was sitting next to whom. "Specifically, he expressed a certain level of surprise at the sudden leap in your abilities, and hinted that he should perhaps not have made the suggestion he did, as it may have given you an unwarranted boost in confidence."

"Unwarranted, sir?" Harry asked, taking the chair closest to the desk, Ginny on one side of him, Meghan on the other. "Unless S—Professor Snape is going easy on me, I don't think it's unwarranted to say I'm doing better. I was able to stop him every time this last lesson."

"Indeed, and I doubt Severus would 'go easy' on you, especially now that you have begun to show true improvement. Still, do not neglect your practice or become overconfident." Dumbledore's eyes, which had been twinkling with amusement, were now grave and cool. "Remember that Lord Voldemort is both a powerful and a ruthless Legilimens, and has, unlike Severus, no reason to hold back should he decide that your mind would be a good ground for his next attack. In fact, it might make his task easier were you to become… unbalanced, shall we say. I know that you have defenses, and defenders, of your own, but vigilance never goes amiss." He smiled faintly. "And as I am sure you remember, it should be constant."

Neville, on Meghan's other side, covered a snicker with his hand, and Luna nodded thoughtfully beside him. "How is Professor Moody, sir?" she asked. "We haven't seen him for a while."

"You are unlikely to. He is overseas, following certain reports that Voldemort may be recruiting in Russia or the Baltic states. Which is, of course, not to be repeated." Dumbledore sat up straighter, laying his hands flat on the desk. "As is everything you will see and hear in this office tonight. Perhaps we should discuss that point now."

Draco squeezed Luna's hand once, and Hermione bumped shoulders with him, then threaded her own fingers through Ron's. Harry felt Ginny's arm brush against his where the armrests of their chairs touched. Meghan had her legs drawn up under her, her head resting against the corner of Neville's chair.

"I was, to some extent, forewarned of the topics about which you wish to ask me, and I have prepared to show you those things which you ought now to know." Dumbledore gestured towards the Pensieve and a shelf to one side of the room, cluttered with objects large and small. "There are portions of this information, however, to which there is currently no need for you to be privy. You are all old enough to understand that I am not withholding this knowledge simply for the joy of having secrets, but because it could be genuinely harmful, to you or to the war effort, if you knew these things at the present time." His eyes moved slowly around the circle, looking directly at each Warrior in turn. "Do you understand?"

"Sir," said Draco a bit diffidently. "No disrespect intended, but—what if you die before you get a chance to tell us something?"

"A fair question." Dumbledore nodded, as though Draco had asked something as innocuous as in which shed the extra school brooms were kept. "I have made arrangements, in the event of my death before the end of the war, for each of you to receive the additional information you may need to fulfill your tasks. Nothing will be lost, even should that death occur tonight." His smile returned, touched with irony. "Though I do hope it will not, as you would be likely to find that alarming."

Harry attempted not to snort a laugh and was only partially successful.

"With that in mind, shall we begin?" Dumbledore sat back in his chair. "The night grows no younger, nor do we."

Hermione extracted from her pocket the slip of parchment onto which she had transcribed the six lines of Danger's prophecy and the four Alex had added, along with the information Luna had received from her father about the Deathly Hallows, then passed it around the circle for Harry to lay on Dumbledore's desk beside the Pensieve. The Headmaster perused it, nodding to himself. "On which topic do you wish to begin?" he asked when he was finished, looking up at the Pride. "The Hallows, or the other items mentioned here?"

"I think the Hallows, sir," Harry said after a brief poll of Warriors by eye. "Only because we already know a little bit about them, and we don't know anything about the other ones. Not even if they have a name."

"They do have a name, Harry, and one you might find surprisingly familiar." Dumbledore's smile broadened briefly. "Might I recall to you the term 'Horcrux'?"

For one instant, Harry's mind was blank. Then his eyes fell on the Pensieve, and everything came back to him in a rush. The summer before my fourth year—Professor Slughorn and that altered memory—I'd just finished my Animagus, and I was able to use what I could smell about him to play on his emotions, convince him to give me the true copy—

"However, as you have requested, let us start with the Deathly Hallows." Dumbledore set the parchment aside and steepled his hands again. "What is it you wish to know?"

Hermione glanced at Luna, then swallowed and spoke out. "Sir—are they real?"

"They are very real," Dumbledore said gravely. "And the quest to find them has consumed more than one life. I have seen them all over the course of my own lifetime, though never—" A moment of darkness seemed to touch his eyes. "—never all at once, nor often under the best of circumstances."

"Is the Elder Wand really unbeatable?" Ron asked. "I mean, what if the wizard who had it wasn't even trying?"

"It does require action from its master, yes, as does any wand." Dumbledore drew his own wand and laid it on the desk in front of him. "It could not, for instance, defend me now if one of you were to attack me." He smiled at Luna, who was tilting her head to one side, regarding the wand curiously. "Does its magic have an unusual signature?"

"Not unusual." Luna blinked several times, returning her eyes to their normal focus. "Only very powerful, and linked even more strongly to you than most people's wands are to them. How would someone get to be its master?"

"In the same way that one becomes the master of any wand, either by the wand's own choosing—as happened to all of you when you were young, in Ollivander's in Diagon Alley, when you were chosen by the proper wands for you—or by defeat of the wand's current master in some form of true combat, with an objective in play other than what are commonly called 'bragging rights'." Dumbledore slid his wand away again. "Have you ever tried to use another person's wand for more than the most rudimentary of spells?"

Neville nodded. "It doesn't work quite right," he said. "Dad's never did, for me, and it took me a while to get used to having my own." He grinned reminiscently. "I turned one of Professor McGonagall's walls into ice cream my first day back for winter term that year."

"Strawberry, if I remember correctly." Dumbledore nodded. "And if, for some unknown reason, you had attempted to use that wand against your father, I doubt it would have acceded to your wish. Most wands will not attack their masters effectively, and the Elder Wand, by all accounts, will refuse to allow any spell to be cast with it which its master does not desire, even should it somehow pass out of its master's hands."

"So if I had the Elder Wand, and I dropped it," Ron said, sketching the situation with his hands. "And, say, somebody like Draco picked it up. He couldn't use it against me, because he never beat me at anything?"

"What do you mean I never—" Draco began hotly. Hermione and Ginny treated him to a tandem look, and he turned pink and closed his mouth.

"If he had never beaten you at anything since you had become the Elder Wand's master, that is correct," Dumbledore said as though there had been no interruption. "Or if the defeat had been friendly, a pick-up match of Quidditch, perhaps, or a chess game to pass the time between classes or while riding the Hogwarts Express. You see the distinction."

"And that's why wands don't change owners when we're just dueling in class, or at DA practice," said Hermione. "Because even though we may not like some of the people we're dueling with, it's practice. No one's going to get hurt or killed if we lose, and we aren't going to be able to escape our enemies or steal a thing we need if we win."

Dumbledore inclined his head to her. "Cogently and succinctly put. Are there any other questions on this topic before we continue?"

"Does anyone know where the Elder Wand is now, or who has it?" Meghan asked. "I'd think if Voldemort knew it was real, he'd want it very much."

"He would, and does." Dumbledore's expression darkened again. "As he has, I am sorry to say, drawn the correct conclusion from the linkage between your wands, Harry, at the Ministry of Magic last year near this time." He held out his hand. "May I see it?"

Harry snapped his wrist and deposited his wand in Dumbledore's palm, watching as the Headmaster turned and showed the wand to Fawkes. The phoenix bent to examine the wand, then sang one soft, penetrating note, half-spreading his wings.

Ron squinted and shielded his eyes with a hand an instant before Harry's wand began to glow all over with a warm red light.

"Fawkes!" Meghan exclaimed. "Did the feather for Harry's wand come from you? But then—" She stiffened, and Neville covered her hand with his free one.

"Precisely," said Dumbledore, handing Harry's no-longer-glowing wand back to its owner. "Just as no wand will fight effectively against its master, no wand fights willingly against its brother. Lord Voldemort will therefore be seeking another wand to offset what he sees as a deficiency in his own. The attempts made on Mr. Ollivander's shop and person, both over the summer and more recently than that, suggest to me that either Voldemort desires to have a new wand specifically constructed for him, or that he wishes to gather information on wand lore and simultaneously deprive his enemies of that information."

"Neither of which is a good thing," said Draco. "But you said attempts, sir? He didn't succeed?"

"He did not." Dumbledore looked faintly smug. "For which I may congratulate myself in part, though my contribution was only the latest in a long line of security charms. It is, as you may imagine, difficult to break into a place so inherently magical as a wand shop. But enough self-flattery on my part. Shall we continue exploring the world of the Deathly Hallows?"

"The Resurrection Stone," said Hermione immediately. "What does it really do? No magic can awaken the dead…"

"So it cannot, but memories and images of those who have passed from this life can be evoked through the offices of the Stone." Dumbledore glanced upward at the portraits, most of whom were listening avidly. "Not unlike another method wizards have been known to use, in the service of keeping some semblance of the past alive."

"Oh." Hermione subsided. "Well, if that's all it does."

"Having no personal experience with the Stone, I cannot state it with certainty, but such is my belief," Dumbledore added.

"I thought you said you'd seen them all, sir," said Neville.

"Seen, yes, but my acquaintance with the Stone was cut short by… unfortunate circumstances." Dumbledore tapped a finger against the back of his right hand. "You and Meghan may recall assisting me with the consequences of one of those circumstances."

"Are the Hallows dangerous, then?" Harry asked, thinking of the nasty curse-induced burns Meghan and Neville, with the Pride's help, had been able to partially heal on Dumbledore's hand two summers before.

"The Stone had been meddled with, I believe, by someone who did not recognize it as such but valued it for another reason, and I was careless enough to miss the signs of that meddling." Dumbledore sighed. "I paid the penalty for that carelessness, as I am sure you remember. The other Hallows are, to the best of my knowledge, untainted." He looked at Harry. "Or has your father's Cloak been misbehaving recently?"

Harry shook his head, wondering for one instant why the Invisibility Cloak had come up.

Then he remembered the third item which completed the Deathly Hallows.

"No way," said Ron, shaking his head in turn. "No way." Then his ears flushed as he remembered to whom he was talking. "Er, sorry, Professor. But…"

"But it seems incredible that an object you know so well, one which you have seen, touched, and used many times, could also be an article out of legend?" Dumbledore finished. "I fear you must steel yourself for worse shocks than that before this night is over, Mr. Weasley. But I digress. Has your curiosity been satisfied regarding the Hallows for the moment?"

"Are we going to need them, sir?" asked Luna. "To fight the war, I mean. Even if they can't really bring back the dead, they sound like very powerful magic. Maybe we should look for them, to have them in reserve. In case we need the extra power for a spell, or we find a magical creature like a dragon or a goblin which has what we want and collects powerful things. Then we could trade."

"An excellent point." Dumbledore smiled. "However, as it happens, I am cognizant of the current location of all three of the Deathly Hallows, and will share that information should it be needed. As you say, Miss Lovegood, whether we eventually wish to use their magic or merely bargain them for something we like better, the important point at this juncture is that Voldemort cannot use them. And as you have brought up goblins, I will ask you to remind me before we disperse tonight that I have a favor to ask of Harry and Meghan regarding that very point."

"I will, sir." Luna nodded, sitting back in her chair. "So what is a Horcrux? Or is that not where we ought to begin?"

"Perhaps not where we ought to, but as the question has been asked, I will answer. Under one condition." Dumbledore got to his feet, looking down sternly at the Pride. In the back of Harry's mind, Wolf gave a quiet whine but stood his ground, refusing to cower. "You will shortly be hearing things which have taken me many years of my life to learn, not the least of which time was spent in ensuring that I could learn them in secret. No one—no one—must hear of them from you, or my time will have been wasted, and what is far worse, our task in this war, Harry's task, will become exponentially more difficult. It may even become impossible. Do you understand?"

Meghan was gray-faced, Neville pale, but they nodded in unison. Luna inclined her head solemnly, Draco's nod a beat behind her. Hermione whispered, "Yes, sir," Ron lifting their joined hands slightly to indicate that what she said went also for him. Ginny brushed a finger in an X across her lips, symbolically sealing them.

Harry met his Headmaster's eyes steadily. "We understand, sir," he said in the formal tone he reserved for the moments when he spoke not only as himself but as the alpha of the Pride. "Should we do something about it?" he added, dropping back to his normal manner of speech. "To remind ourselves, just so we don't forget and slip?"

"As it happens, I come prepared with something which may serve." Dumbledore seated himself again, his momentary seriousness sliding away to be replaced by his more usual expression of good cheer. "A variant on a Tongue-Tying Jinx, which will make your lips and tongue prickle and itch if you begin to veer too close to indiscreet conversational subjects in public."

"Isn't that a little risky?" Hermione objected. "I mean, I apologize if you've thought of this already, Professor, but you're saying that people's lives could depend on our not telling these secrets. Shouldn't we be, I don't know, Vowed against telling?"

"Oi!" Ron glared at her. "All very well for you—you never forget anything! What about the rest of us, who don't have that perfect memory of yours?"

"There is another consideration as well," said Dumbledore calmly, cutting off Hermione's hot rejoinder. "Anyone who finds the traces of a Tongue-Tying Jinx on a wizard or witch your age would most likely assume that he or she had recently been the subject of a schoolchild's prank. An Unbreakable Vow, or any of the related spells with slightly less serious consequences, would tend to lead instead to the conclusion that sensitive information is involved."

"I see. That does make sense." Hermione nodded, settling back in her chair and crossing her ankles. "So what is a Horcrux? I've never come across that term before, not even in the N.E.W.T.-level books Moony found for me."

"You would not come upon it until well beyond that point." Dumbledore's expression was neutral to a point which clashed painfully with Harry's scent-borne awareness of his distaste verging on disgust for this topic. "A Horcrux, in simplest terms, is an item with a soul, or rather, with part of a soul…"


What seemed like a very long time later, but by Harry's watch had been no more than a couple of hours, the Pride emerged from the final memory through which Dumbledore had escorted them, that which Harry had obtained from Slughorn two summers before, pale and shaken. Draco, in particular, looked badly disturbed by what he had seen and heard, the hand of his which was not crushing Luna's closed tightly around his chair's armrest.

"He made seven of those things?" Ron said incredulously, removing Harry's pendant chain, through which the seven subordinate Warriors had followed Harry and Dumbledore through The Life of Tom Marvolo Riddle, Abridged. "How much soul has he got left?"

"Judge for yourself by his actions." Dumbledore removed the silver memory from the Pensieve and returned it to its bottle. "But no, Mr. Weasley, not seven, but six. He wished his soul itself to be divided into seven parts, and one of those parts he has retained within his own body."

"Well, that's good, I suppose. But still." Ron shuddered. "He really is mad, sir, isn't he?"

"No, he is quite sane, but it is the peculiar type of sanity which recognizes no being other than itself as truly human." Dumbledore set the memory bottle on the shelf to the left of his desk, beside a blackened ring with a heavy, ornate setting and a stone cracked down the center, as if it had been through a fire. "If you take that into account, all his actions make perfect sense. They benefit and ensure the continued existence of the one true human in the world, and if a few lesser beings suffer along the way, what does that matter?" He frowned, returning to his desk for the Pensieve. "Though I suppose I must amend my earlier statement, as no truly sane person enjoys the suffering even of lesser beings. Lord Voldemort goes out of his way to cause it."

Neville and Meghan had been whispering urgently together. Now Neville looked up. "Sir," he said, a curious air of suppressed triumph about him. "Have we ever come into contact with any Horcruxes? I mean all of us, the Pride."

"You have," Dumbledore acknowledged, sitting down again. "Two, by my count. And a third, in Harry's case, but that was before she, or rather it, became a Horcrux."

Harry had little trouble parsing this, remembering what Snape had gone out of his way to tell him after the disastrous third task of the Triwizard Tournament. "Nagini," he said. "I killed her at the graveyard, and then he turned her into an Inferius." He frowned. "But wouldn't killing her mean the bit of soul in her got lost? I mean, if she died, that means her soul went away…"

"I don't think it works like that," said Draco, his tone dead. "Otherwise why would he have bothered?"

"It does not," Dumbledore confirmed, looking grave. "If a living being is made into a Horcrux, the only way in which the soul piece is released by the being's simple death is if its creator kills it with full intent to do so. Otherwise, the soul piece remains tied to that being's body until no pieces of it are discernible as the remains of a living creature. Which takes, as I am sure you know, a very long time indeed. Still, it seems Lord Voldemort wishes to keep the last of his Horcruxes close at hand, and a snake Inferius fits his multiple obsessions admirably." He smiled slightly. "And here I am, babbling on about random tangents yet again. I do beg your pardon. You were saying, Mr. Longbottom?"

"I think I know what they were." Neville was sitting very straight in his chair, one hand resting lightly on his potion piece. Beside him, Meghan was practically quivering with excitement, the same expression on her face that Harry usually associated with her birthday. "The Horcruxes we've seen. I think I can tell you what they were, and how we'd know if we saw another one."

Dumbledore made a small, palm-up gesture of invitation. "Please, enlighten us."

"The diary was one!" Meghan burst out, clearly unable to contain herself another moment. "Tom Riddle's diary, that you killed in the Chamber of Secrets, Ginny—I knew it felt nasty for a reason, I just knew it!"

Ginny let out a long breath of astonishment. "No wonder it could possess Percy and me so easily," she said on the tail end of it. "It wasn't just an enchanted object—it was a piece of Voldemort himself!"

"Which means the other one must be the locket we found at Grimmauld Place, the one that Regulus Black stole from the cave and gave to Kreacher to bring home," said Luna, quirking an eyebrow at Neville, who nodded in confirmation. "That would certainly explain why I could see Voldemort in it. He was really there."

"Which means you can see them," said Harry, pointing to Luna. "And we—" His finger indicated Neville, Meghan, and himself. "—can all feel them." He grimaced. "For whatever good that does. We can't exactly go around touching everything in the country on the off-chance it might be a Horcrux!"

"No, you cannot," Dumbledore agreed, his eyes twinkling. "But there may be a way to winnow down the number of objects which must be so discerned. Have you hit upon the common thread among those who react to the presence of Lord Voldemort's Horcruxes? Other than our Seer, of course," he added, smiling at Luna, who awarded him a small, seated bow.

"Heirs," said Hermione after a moment. "You're all Heirs of the Founders. And so is Voldemort, he makes a fuss about it every chance he gets. And didn't he say—"

"The locket," said Ron, snapping his fingers. "It was one of old Gaunt's family treasures, because it was 'Salazar Slytherin's, what do you say to that, eh?'" He imitated Marvolo Gaunt's cracked tones with a surprising degree of success. "And then the cup Riddle tricked that old woman into showing him, whatever-her-name-was Smith—"

"Hephzibah," Neville supplied. "She was a cousin of my grandfather's, a couple times removed. Gran used to tell me stories about her, how her house-elf had poisoned her by accident." He scowled. "Except she didn't."

"And that fits, too." Ron pointed at Neville. "Can't you see it? The locket came down from Slytherin, the cup from Hufflepuff…"

"It all comes back to the Founders," said Draco, looking up. "So should we be looking for things that belong to Ravenclaw and Gryffindor as well?"

"Maybe not Gryffindor," said Harry, glancing up at the Sorting Hat, reposing innocently on its shelf. "Remember his talent for putting magic into things, magic that would last a thousand years and still be strong? I don't know about you, but I wouldn't want to put a piece of my soul into anything like that, especially if I knew its magic wasn't going to like me."

"Point," Draco acknowledged. "But that still leaves us with Ravenclaw, and that's a place to start." He smiled, the expression thin but true. "We've got an advantage over some people, anyway."

"You mean how we can actually go and ask her?" Hermione inquired with a little giggle. "So tell me if I have this right, Professor." She held out her left hand and tapped her thumb. "We have the diary. Destroyed in our second year, Ginny's first." Her index finger. "The locket. You took it away from Grimmauld Place, and I don't know what you've done with it, but somehow I don't think you would have lost it."

"Your confidence in me is quite overwhelming, Hermione," Dumbledore said blandly. "Please, continue."

Hermione smiled and went on, tapping her middle finger. "We have the snake. Or Voldemort has the snake, but at least that means we know where she is." Her ring finger. "And we have the cup. We may not know where it is, but we know what it looks like." She hooked her little finger around the thumb of her other hand. "Which means there are two we don't know anything about. One of them might be something of Ravenclaw's, but we can't be sure." Letting her hands fall to her lap, she lifted her head. "Is that correct?"

"Almost." Dumbledore drew his wand and Summoned an object from the shelf on which he had placed the memory. It was, Harry noticed as it zoomed through the air, the ring he had noticed earlier, the ring which, if he was not mistaken—

"Sir, isn't that the ring Marvolo Gaunt was wearing?" he asked, leaning forward to have a better look at it. "The ring he said belonged to another pureblood family he was the last descendent of, besides Slytherin's?"

"Peverell," Hermione put in, craning her neck. "He said it had the coat of arms of the Peverell family on it." She frowned. "Though I don't see any coat of arms there, only a couple of scratches."

"Hard to see anything about it with that great big crack down the middle, and all the soot everywhere," said Ron. "Did it get burned at some point?"

"I fear I am the one responsible." Dumbledore smiled grimly. "Though it was hardly an act of neglect." He tapped a finger against the ring. "This, my friends, was a Horcrux. It is no longer. Which means, on that tally of yours, Hermione, that we are down to only one about which we know little or nothing. And even that may no longer be the case, thanks to a certain lady who was kind enough to share with me a memory with which Voldemort unknowingly gifted her…"

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Author Notes:

And here it is, ladies and gentlemen. The chapter I have been promising for a long time, which is slightly info-dumpy but does, nonetheless, manage to cover the majority of HBP and DH. Granted, I didn't actually recap most of the memories, but I assume you all have a copy of the book and can go look them up for yourselves. Even if I had, this is still far, far less words and time than JKR used to do the same thing…

Ah well, the last two books got the job done, and I can't really complain, seeing as I'm still playing in Jo's sandbox some eight years after I began. Yes, it really has been that long. I was a junior in college, and as you've all heard me say many times, I thought I was going to be writing ten chapters of fluff, after which I would get on with my plans to be either a third-grade teacher or an actress. Instead of which, today, I'm an author. How things do change.

A question I asked on the latest chapter of He Nearly Killed the Cat, but which should be asked again here: Which of these originals would you rather read from me? A fairly traditional sword-and-sorcery fantasy, inspired by late elements in the DV (late enough that some of them haven't even been introduced yet!), or a contemporary fantasy which has some strong similarities to Living with Danger? Or would you read both, if they weren't too repetitive?

Thank you all for staying with me for so long, and I will sincerely try to keep this ball rolling. Please bear in mind, though, when I don't update, it isn't because I don't care… it's simply because the characters have decided that it would be more amusing to do silly dances in my head than to actually sit down and pay attention to their story…

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