Hermione was not letting her recovery hamper her in any way. Within two days of her headache disappearing she was back at work, researching further into the death of the man, whose name Harry could not pronounce.
“Here is the article,” she said, setting down her handwritten notes along with a photocopy of the article. “It says that there were no witnesses and no one was willing to speak about his death. It remained unsolved. Then,” she pulled out another sheet from the bottom of her stack, “I went into the magical part of the city and got this from their paper. They had no clue I wasn’t a native and told them that I was doing research for school.” Hermione rolled her eyes. “They actually believed I was a Durmstrang student on sabbatical.”
Harry and Ron snorted together. “You don’t have an accent?”
She grinned and shook her head. “No, they truly thought I was a native. So, with the magical paper, I found out a bit more. The person murdered was the wealthiest wizard in the country. As far as the authorities know, nothing was stolen, and the murder was blamed on his wife.” Hermione glanced significantly between them. “She confessed to the whole thing.”
Harry looked to Ron and knew that his best friend understood the ramifications of that as well as he did. It was like Morfin Gaunt and the old woman’s house elf. This couldn’t be a coincidence. “So what do we do now?” Harry asked.
Hermione sighed and sat down heavily in her chair at the cramped kitchen table of the tent. “I don’t know. I want to poke around a bit more, to see if I there is something else to find, then I will find it.” Her face was so determined that Harry didn’t doubt her for a second.
In the end, that is what she did while Harry and Ron explored magical Albania. They went into shops and browsed through the merchandise, looking stupid when shopkeepers asked them questions that they couldn’t answer.
It was when they left one such store that Harry first realized that something wasn’t quite right. Ron nearly plowed into him when Harry halted in his tracks. “What’s the matter?” He asked Harry as he moved around him.
Harry quickly scanned the bustling square but he didn’t see anything. No one appeared to be watching, but he had learned, in his last few years in the magical world, that just because he couldn’t see something, didn’t mean it wasn’t there. “I dunno,” he replied slowly. “I think we should go get Hermione.”
“What?” Ron studied him sharply. “You sure? Something wrong?”
The feeling wouldn’t abate. “I don’t know,” he reiterated and stared hard up at his best mate. “But I’m not willing to take the chance. Let’s go.”
They hurried north up the street, bypassing stands and peddlers, in search of the office of the magical paper for Albania. “Here,” Ron said, wrenching open the door when they finally got there. They walked up to the secretary and stopped.
Neither of them spoke the language.
“Oh bloody hell!” Ron muttered, to which he heartily agreed.
Harry thought he’d give it a try anyway. “Do you speak English?”
She stared up at him blankly.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought.” Running his hand through his hair, he stared around the office at the banal walls and solid furniture while Ron tried crude sign language. He attempted to mime reading but that didn’t work and when he went to demonstrate her bushy hair, he nearly poked Harry’s eye out.
“Harry? Ron?” Hermione’s voice floated out towards them from the back. “What are you two doing here?”
Harry didn’t wait for a response. He grabbed for her hand and began pulling her towards the door, Ron bringing up the flank. “Back to the tent,” Harry growled, barely above a whisper.
Hermione shut her mouth; stifling whatever question she had been about to ask.
They hurried back through the town, narrowly avoiding a collision with a stout woman in glasses. Hermione called out something to her as they rushed on, but neither Harry nor Ron could understand her.
They exited the magical world, through a sparse bookstore that served as the passage from the Muggle world. They walked rapidly through the crowded streets, ducking into a deserted alleyway.
“Harry,” Hermione panted as she bent over, trying to catch her breath. “What was that about?”
The urgency that Harry had felt all along had not diminished. “We’re Apparating back… now.” He grabbed her arm and spun, as he had done so many months ago with Dumbledore. There was a pop, followed by the squeezing sensation that meant they were traveling.
They arrived outside of the tent seconds before Ron. Harry ushered her into the tent and began to pace as the sensation worsened into a cramp in his belly.
“Harry?” Ron was standing by the tent flap, watching him.
He shrugged helplessly. “I don’t know what was wrong!”
“It’s okay, Harry!” Hermione jumped in. “We haven’t always trusted your instincts,” she glanced back to Ron who nodded. “But we should have and we’re not going to make that same mistake twice.”
He nodded thankfully and said, “I think we should leave.”
“Oh but I-” Hermione shut her mouth and rung her hands. Harry waited expectantly. “Well, it’s just that I think I have a lead for us on a murder.”
Harry was torn. They needed this information, and he could be wrong about someone following them. What if he was wrong? Closing his eyes, he thought back to the scene, but nothing stood out to him. What was it that had made him nervous? “What did you find?”
“It’s just that I found one small article that said that the family of the wealthy man that was killed was approached the week before about selling antiques.” She sighed heavily. “I was going to get a copy of it when I heard you come in, but basically it said that their barrister was the one to report it. Soon afterwards, the barrister disappeared.”
Harry let out a frustrated growl before taking a deep breath and asking, “Do we know what he might have wanted to buy?”
“No, nor is there a complete list of antiques from the man. He didn’t have any children and the few people that called him ‘friend’ said that he was sneaky about his possessions.” Hermione ran a hand through her hair and tied it back from her face. “I don’t think we’re going to find any more than that. The odd thing is that this murder didn’t happen fifty years ago. It actually happened in 1970.”
“So could it possibly have been someone other than Voldemort that murdered him?” Harry asked hopefully.
She shook her head sadly. “The barrister, the one who disappeared, described the man as very pale and odd looking. He gave this statement to the press, saying that the man didn’t know he had seen him. I think Voldemort read that and came back to take care of the man.”
“Are we going to find anything else here?” Harry questioned, looking over to see that Ron was watching them silently, waiting for the decision to be made.
“I don’t think so, no,” she murmured. “We can leave if you think we should.”
“I…” Harry thought for less than a second before replying. “I think we’ve been spotted and it is time to go back. If Voldemort suspects that we’re after his Horcruxes then we are done for. He can hide them again and we’d never find them.”
Hermione and Ron both nodded and silently began to pack up their things. Harry didn’t know why, but he just knew, deep down, that if they didn’t get back to England that he wouldn’t get the chance to ever kill Voldemort.
Instead of traveling by train back to England, which Harry had been expecting, Harry was astonished to find out that they would be flying home.
“It is quite a bit faster and I have it all arranged,” she told him after they had folded up the tent.
Ron studied her dubiously. “So does this mean I’m going to be getting into a metal thing and flying up in the air?”
Hermione frowned and pulled her backpack onto her back. “It isn’t that bad, honestly.”
Ron turned to Harry. “You done this before, mate?”
Harry shook his head, “No. The Dursley’s wouldn’t dream of paying to take me on vacation.”
Ron glared at them, “I think we should Apparate or fly with brooms.”
“I can’t fly that far on a broom and none of us are good enough at Apparating to go that far!” Hermione huffed once and began walking down the road. They had to go back into the main city to get to the airport.
Ron grumbled some more over Muggles and their inventions but followed her, nonetheless. For his part, Harry wasn’t sure he wanted to fly either.
On the whole, it could have been worse. Instead of freaking out, as Harry had half expected, both he and Ron had enjoyed looking out the small airplane window after take off. It had taken Ron several minutes to adjust after they had gotten on board but once snacks were served, he was hooked. His nerves hadn’t calmed any since leaving Albania and he had thought, more than once, about whether they were running from danger or running to it.
“Still, it isn’t as fast as Apparating,” Ron commented when they exited the plane in Germany to catch their connection. Harry could see Ron’s dad now, questioning them on their experience… if they ever got up the nerve to tell him.
Hermione only smiled. “This way.”
The second leg of their journey went smoothly as well as they landed at Heathrow Airport in London and walked through to collect their luggage.
“Now we have to catch the underground and head back to Grimmauld Place,” Hermione informed them as they made their way down to the station that was located at the airport.
Harry slung an arm around her shoulder and gave her a short squeeze. “Thanks, Hermione. You’ve really been a life saver, planning all this.”
She grinned happily and said, “What are friends for?”
They walked along the crowded station until she had located the train. “This is I, the Piccadilly line, and we’ll be heading up to Kings Cross Station and transferring to the Northern line.”
“Lead the way,” Harry told her as a train rumbled into the station.
The ride to Kings Cross was unnerving but smooth. Harry hadn’t really expected it to be otherwise, as his intuition told him that they hadn’t escaped from Albania without notice. Right now, however, he simply wanted to get to Grimmauld Place and regroup. He also hoped that Dobby and Kreacher might have some more information on finding the necklace.
“Harry, we’re here,” Hermione told him and he stood mechanically to follow her out of the train.
They hadn’t walked for more than a minute when he felt it. A wave of ice cold air blasted through the underground tunnels and swirled about them. Harry stopped and looked around, waiting for the feeling he knew would come but he couldn’t see them yet.
“Damn!” Ron swore under his breath. “Dementors?”
“I feel it, too,” Hermione agreed, taking up position with Harry and Ron. His hand was in his pocket, on his wand, and he knew his best friends would be doing the same thing.
Harry looked around the station, over the heads of the Muggles who were frowning and pulling on cloaks but otherwise seemed unaffected by the cold. “What would they be doing here, though?”
“And…” Ron began, “are we sure it is them and not a draft?”
Harry knew it was them. He could feel the dread and horror threatening to break free, the emotions that only the Dementors could pull from him. “I’m sure,” he said slowly, still scanning the room. “Come on. We have to find them.”
“No-we-do-not!” Hermione chided back. “What we have to do is alert the Ministry, Harry! We’re only three people and we can’t-”
Whatever she was going to say was moot. The Dementors chose that exact second to show themselves; floating down the escalators, some stopped to suck the souls of hapless Muggles, others moving towards them with determined focus.
Harry closed his eyes, trying to focus on something happy… anything. Ginny’s face flashed through his mind and their first kiss as he pulled his wand out and shouted, “Expecto Patronum!” He wrenched open his eyes to see Prongs charging down the Dementors that were on the escalators. “Go on!” Harry urged his Patronus, hoping against hope that he could save the lives of the Muggles in the dark creatures’ paths.
“Harry! We need to-” Hermione’s words were cut off, yet again, with a blood curdling scream.
“Hermione!” Harry and Ron spun to see that she was staring down the train tracks into the blackened tunnel, her face white as a ghost. “What do you see?” Harry asked her but then he saw it.
More Dementors were floating along up through the empty passageway. Not just a few, either. There were thousands of them, so thick that one couldn’t see through the masses.
Hermione had already begun to panic, muttering and crying about something that Harry couldn’t make out. Ron was little better off although he managed to conjure a weak Patronus. He moved to Harry’s flank, and grabbed Hermione’s hand. Ron nodded to him and gave him a look that clearly said, I’ve got your back. Then Harry saw him give Hermione’s hand a squeeze.
She seemed to recover some and shouted out too, trying to conjure a Patronus. It looked little better than Ron’s but between the two, they kept the Dementors at bay for a few minutes.
It wasn’t enough to save them, however. Harry knew that and knew that in order to escape this many of them, he would have to create a full Patronus.
No pressure though, Harry thought frantically as he searched through the underground tunnel.
He turned back to the escalators try to locate Prongs but the stag was gone. Instead he saw hundred of Muggles lying motionless on the floor. “No!” Harry yelled in frustration at the blank faces that stared back at him. “Expecto Patronum!” He tried again but only managed a weak smoke. Harry shut his eyes as the voices in his head overwhelmed him.
Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!
Stand aside, you silly girl… stand aside, now…
Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead--- Not Harry! Please… have mercy… have mercy… Avada Kedavra!
Feet moved quietly along the floor. He knew that sound well and then, Oh yes, the symbolism of it is too great to pass up.
Harry felt the blackness overwhelming him as he fought to breathe through the pain of that memory. I need a happy memory! he thought frantically and tried to pull Ginny’s image to the forefront of his thoughts. It was a weak attempt as the sickness washed through him. Ginny, on the last day he’d seen her, the wedding… her beautiful dress… so thin…
He had to try, one last time. “Expecto Patronum!”
The blackness receded slightly as he opened his eyes to watch Prongs form a protective circle around himself and his prone friends. I need to make that stronger!
Turning his head, he saw that his Patronus had helped revive Ron and Hermione a bit. “We have to do this together,” he shouted. He didn’t know for sure if it was a train or the blood rushing through his head but a roaring noise was filling his ears.
“I’m… with you, mate,” Ron assured him, while still holding onto Hermione’s hand. Hermione seemed beyond words but she nodded in agreement.
“On three then,” he began the countdown as he once again pictured kissing Ginny and having her say how much she cared about him. “One, two, three!”
This time a stag, an otter and a small dog all made their appearance, running quickly towards their opponents. It worked and most of the Dementors backed off immediately, driven away by the bundles of positive energy.
It didn’t work for all of them. Several snuck through the ranks, grabbing at a Muggle woman who was clutching at a toddler. She screamed, looking around in terror as it lifted her to its mouth.
“Bloody hell!” Ron bellowed, as he and Harry both ran to help her. Harry tried pushing at the Dementor as Ron pulled on the woman, trying to break the creature’s grasp. It was completely focused on sucking out her soul.
The horrible memories and feelings quickly besieged any hope they might have had of breaking away.
“No! Ron! Harry! Help!” Hermione voice was being drowned out as Harry tried repeatedly to hit the monster, contacting sometimes with what felt like bone and other times with nothing but the long, black cloak that they wore.
Not Harry, not Harry, please not Harry!
The second his mother’s voice filled his brain, he let go, staggering away. Harry lurched over to where Ron was, reaching around to grab the woman as well.
Stand aside, you silly girl… stand aside, now…
It wasn’t doing any good. The Dementor’s grip was too powerful and its magical hold on them was too strong. It latched on to the woman’s face as her toddler passed out, its blond, curly head falling limply to the side as her mother let go and she slid to the floor.
Not Harry, please no, take me, kill me instead--- Not Harry! Please… have mercy… have mercy…
“Come on!” Hermione yelled as she snatched up the toddler and hit Harry in the back of the head. He could barely hear her but he got her meaning. Staggering to his feet, he grabbed the back of Ron’s shirt and hauled him up as well.
“Get off me!” Ron bellowed, pushing away from Harry in frustration.
Tugging at his arm, he ran towards Hermione, who was once again in the center of the protective circle that was formed by their combined Patroni.
“We couldn’t save her, Ron!” Harry growled quietly as the rogue Dementor stalked them silently, having finished with its first quarry.
Hermione switched the girl around in her arms, obviously struggling to hold her up. “If we don’t get help down here soon, there won’t be any hope for us. I’m exhausted, and I can’t imagine fighting them off continually.”
“Where’s the ruddy Ministry?” Ron asked as he stalked around. Finally he stopped in front of her and took the girl out of her arms, putting her up against his shoulder. Hermione gaped at him as he rolled his eyes. “Don’t look so shocked. I have lots of young cousins.”
Harry was barely paying attention to their exchange. Instead, he was studying the group, looking for a weakness as he slowly pivoted around. “It’s no good,” he finally interjected. “We’re not being rescued and help isn’t coming. We’re going to have to Apparate out.”
“But the Mug-” Hermione clamped her mouth shut as she realized what she was saying. No Muggles were left standing.
“We’ll go to the Burrow and have your dad alert the Ministry,” Harry said to Ron. “We don’t want them to know we were here.”
They didn’t waste any more time. Spinning on the spot, they Apparated to the outside of the Burrow. Ron’s mother was out the door in an instant, shouting at the top of her lungs.
“Mrs. Weasley!” Harry called above her, grabbing her attention. “There’s an attack at King’s Cross, in the underground… Dementors… we need to tell Mr. Weasley and we need for him to not say it was from us!”
All business now, she bustled into the kitchen and made the Floo call to Mr. Weasley. In short order, the Aurors were dispatched.
Bustling them over to the kitchen table, she sat them down and started a pot of tea. When it was made and they had each taken a sip, she sat and studied each of them in turn before settling on Ron, who was still holding the little girl. “Who is this?”
The three of them looked at each other before all breaking out with the story… or at least part of it, anyway.
Write a Review Harry Potter and the Final Flame: Chapter 11: The Road Home