Chapter 20 : Chapter Twenty - Horcrux
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Chapter Twenty - Horcrux
Harry stood at the top of Astronomy Tower and looked out over the Hogwarts landscape. Dawn was just tinting the sky. They had gone to bed quite late, but Harry had found himself unable to sleep for worry, so he rose early and went for a walk. He supposed he should go down and utilize the Pensieve, since he seemed unable to do anything else useful. He sighed as he recalled the last time he stood on this tower. It was such a short time ago, yet it seemed like forever. His arms rested on the very spot where Dumbledore had gone over the edge. Harry put his head in his hands. He had been right about Snape from the beginning. Now it had come to this. Helplessly waiting to come of age, sitting idly by while his friends were attacked. He had never felt more helpless in this senseless war that had begun before he was born, and yet seemed to hinge entirely on him.
He had always thought that when the time came, Dumbledore would tell him what to do—would stand beside Harry and guide him with the knowledge of how to defeat Voldemort. Now Harry had to face the grim reality that not only would Dumbledore not be standing beside him, but also the possibility that Dumbledore hadn’t known how to defeat Voldemort at all.
Maybe it had always been up to Harry. He looked out over the grounds, calm and lovely on this beautiful summer morning. It was difficult to believe a threat loomed on the horizon. He turned to leave when Dobby Apparated beside him. This time, Harry didn’t even jump.
“Harry Potter, sir! Mistress Tonks has rescued Neville Longbottom! He is at the wizard hospital.”
Harry was flabbergasted. “Are you sure?”
“Yes, Harry Potter. I was with Mistress Tonks, as Harry Potter requested. Hermione Granger was there before us!”
“What? Hermione was there?”
“Yes, Harry Potter. Dobby does not know how she got there or why she was with very bad wizard—“
“How could she?” Harry burst out. “It’s one thing to go without us, but to not even send word?”
Dobby nodded. “And then Kreacher came.”
“Kreacher? Where did all this happen?”
“At the home of Dobby’s former wicked master.”
“Malfoys,” Harry breathed.
“Yes, Harry Potter.”
“That’s why Lupin wouldn’t tell me. Not that it would have done any good, since I don’t know where Malfoy Manor is.” He scowled. “But, how did Hermione know to go there? Did Tonks fetch her?”
“No, Harry Potter. Hermione Granger was there with—“
“Hedwig!” Harry’s owl landed on his arm and hooted softly. “Finally! Maybe now I’ll get some answers.”
“Sometimes Harry Potter just doesn’t listen to Dobby.”
Harry tugged the message from Hedwig’s leg and opened it.
H – You’ve probably heard about last night’s adventure by now. I’ll tell you more in detail when I see you. I am well and I have a lead on one of the objects we discussed. I will check it out today and join you this afternoon. H
Harry scowled and stalked back to Gryffindor Tower.
“Look at this!” Harry snapped once Ron finished grumbling about a fellow not being able to get any bloody sleep with Harry around.
Ron read the message twice.
“So she’s off having fun without us? And no mention at all of Mr. Tall, Blond, and Sterling Good Looks. What the hell?”
“It’s Malfoy,” Harry snarled.
“Who else could it be? Death Eater, our age, bloody handsome. Doesn’t bear a single mention from Hermione, with good reason! He’s Devlin Whitehorn. Even that! A Quidditch reference! Who else would think to use that name?”
“What could he want with her? Why would he send her a message about her parents? Why warn her?”
“It’s a trick. But she’s not stupid enough to fall for any of his lies.”
Ron nodded. “She hates him as much as we do. Maybe more. Well, probably not as much as me. But a lot.”
Harry agreed, but it worried him.
“She’s going to look for a Horcrux. Damn it, I told her how hard it was for me and Dumbledore to get the locket. She’d better not be going alone.”
“Well, if she’s going with Malfoy, maybe he’ll get poisoned this time.”
The thought cheered Harry immediately.
“You’re right! Maybe she’s using him like a mine canary.”
“Like a what?”
“A mine canary. Muggles dig deep holes in the ground to mine for precious stones. To see if the air is deadly, they lower down a caged canary. If it comes up dead, they know the air isn’t safe to breathe.”
“Malfoy. A mine canary,” Ron breathed. “It’s bloody brilliant.”
Harry grinned. “Yeah.”
With the happy thought of Malfoy’s imminent demise to cheer them, they went down to breakfast.
Hermione bolted down the stairs like a true Gryffindor, wand out and completely heedless of danger. Draco would have crept down cautiously, but supposed leaping into the fray had the advantage of surprising the enemy with sheer disbelief at the stupidity, if nothing else.
The crash had come from an area directly below where they had been standing, by which he deduced it was the former dining room. The only furniture left in the room was a broken sideboard, but Draco’s attention was immediately drawn to the huge fireplace on the outer wall. The windows in the room had been boarded up, so it was quite dark. Hermione had lit her wand and now she brightened it to illuminate the creature that stood where the fireplace grate should have been.
“Fawkes?” Hermione asked in disbelief. The phoenix flapped its golden wings and cocked its head at her.
She nodded. “Dumbledore’s phoenix. I think it’s trying to help us.” Draco scoffed. Surely a stupid bird wouldn’t be able to do anything for them. Hermione shot him a look to let him know she wouldn’t appreciate his opinion. It was odd that the bird was here, he had to admit.
She went to the fireplace and murmured at the bird. Draco walked around the room cautiously.
“What’s the significance of this place, anyway?” he asked. “I mean, I know who Tom Riddle was—my father told me that much, at least.”
“This is the room where Voldemort killed his father,” Hermione said. “Grandparents, too, apparently.” Draco stopped walking with a grimace. Morbid thought, to know he might be standing where a dead body had lain. He edged over to the fireplace.
“Dumbledore said Voldemort made Horcruxes with items that were important to him—relics from the four Houses, his own diary, and things from his past. He also hid these objects in places that had meaning for him. Dumbledore found the ring in the former home of Voldemort’s mother. It was there not because he valued her, but because the connection to Salazar Slytherin was important to him.”
She was back to sounding like a history book, but she still had that smudge across her cheek…
“This place would be significant because it’s where he—in his twisted mind—triumphed over his Muggle father. You do know Voldemort is a half-blood, right?”
Draco made a face. “Yes, we’re forbidden to bring it up on pain of death. Most of the Death Eaters don’t know, but my father spent a long time researching the Dark Lord’s past. It pays to know who you’re working for.”
The phoenix fluttered its wings again and Hermione nodded.
“Yes, Fawkes, I know the fireplace is important. I have an idea.” She raised her wand. “This spell is useless in the wizarding world, since nearly everything is magical or has been touched by it, but it should serve us here. It detects traces of magic.”
The fireplace glowed brightly with a reddish light.
“As expected.” Hermione walked to the center of the room, where a faint trace of green glowed.
“This is old magic,” she said. “This is likely the spot where the Riddles were killed.” She went back to the fireplace. “This is more recent, and still active. It must be a portal, but to where?”
“And how do we open it?”
“Pateo,” said Hermione and suddenly the floor of the fireplace dropped away, revealing a dark passage leading down. Fawkes flapped his wings and hopped into the room. “What do you know? Open. Sometimes the simplest ways are the best.”
“Sometimes the simplest ways are traps. That was far too easy.”
“I agree. He’s luring us down there, where the real fun begins.” She sighed and looked at Draco expectantly. “Shall we?”
“Hell no! Will you stop thinking like a Gryffindor for a minute?”
“I am a Gryffindor.”
“Well, I’m not. The Dark Lord obviously set this trap for barmy people like you that barge in the front door to face the danger head-on.” He walked toward the doorway leading to the kitchen. “Come on. Slytherins don’t use the front door, especially when they are wide open with a welcome sign hanging on the post.”
“Where are you going?”
“I thought you were the intelligent one. Where do you suppose that portal leads?”
She followed him to the kitchen, where he stopped before a blank wall.
“Okay, cast your magic perception spell here.”
She looked at him in puzzlement, but did so. To his satisfaction, the wall glowed with a purple light. Draco chuckled.
“As I suspected. This house has a basement. Voldemort removed the door.” Draco cast a vanishing spell and several boards disappeared to reveal a gaping passageway. Another purple glow met their eyes from below. “Damn. He also took out the stairs.”
“It looks like he planned for sneaky Slytherins, too,” Hermione said dryly.
“Bastard. I still say this is better that using the fireplace.”
“I actually agree with you. However, there might be a better way.”
She went back to the dining room. “Now, the basement likely encompasses the same area as the rest of the house. For certain, there is open space beneath this room.”
“So, we should break up the floor and drop down,” he suggested.
Draco lifted his wand, but she put out a hand to stop him.
“No! He would have thought of that. What would he do to prevent it?” She snapped her fingers. “A booby trap. But what kind? We need to get a look under there.”
She bent down and touched her wand to one of the hardwood floorboards. In moments, she had transfigured it into glass. Draco reluctantly admired her cleverness.
“Very nice. Now we have an excellent view of the darkness down there.”
She threw him a look and searched the floor until she found a small knothole. She poked her wand tip into it and cast another spell. Instantly, light shot from every crack in the floorboards, illuminating the room with golden rays.
Draco peered through the glass floorboard and whistled. It allowed him a limited view of the area directly below the fireplace. He could see a wall of knives hovering in the air, awaiting the first person to use the fireplace portal. Hermione joined him.
“Crude, but likely only a small taste of what is down there,” she said. “Let’s see what else awaits us.” She went back to the knothole and cast Compera Navita once more. The white light from below was joined by several multicolored glows.
Draco couldn’t make out many details, but Hermione tapped the glass board lightly.
“This is what I was afraid of. It makes our job quite a lot harder.”
Directly beneath the glass was a glowing web of yellow lines.
“What is it?” he asked.
“It’s like a Muggle alarm system. If we crack a board, it will break one of these lines and trigger the spell. I’m not sure what will happen, but you can bet it will be bad.”
“Any other bright ideas?”
She grinned at him. “I’m not finished, yet.”
Hermione turned the glass board back into wood and then carefully walked around the dining room turning various pieces of wood into glass and back again. She didn’t dare turn the whole floor at once—it would never hold the weight of the house above. At last she halted, directly in the center of the dim green glow.
“I should have checked here first,” she said soberly. Draco walked over to see. Beneath the glass board, he could see a small table draped with green velvet, upon which rested a golden cup. “Hufflepuff’s cup,” she murmured.
“That’s a Horcrux?”
Hermione nodded. “Now that we’ve found it, we have to figure out how to get it out of there.”
Draco thought about it for a moment. “Turn this board back into wood.”
She didn’t question him. When it was oak once more, Draco used his wand to vanish the nails holding it to the floor. Then he carefully levitated the board and set it down nearby. With the board missing, they could clearly see the webwork of magic that lined the ceiling of the basement. The largest gap between them was about ten centimeters. The cup itself radiated an orange glow, but the area around it was clear.
“Accio?” Draco asked Hermione. She shook her head.
“I doubt it will work, but feel free to try it.” He did, but the cup didn’t move.
“I have an idea. Since Voldemort hates all things Muggle, I doubt something this simple would have occurred to him. Wait here.”
She got up and ran out of the room. Before Draco had time to get bored, she was back with a long stick from the garden and a length of rope.
“This used to be a garden rake. It needs a bit of modification, but I think it will work.”
She was busy with her wand for the next few minutes, lengthening the stick and attaching the rope to it by various means.
“Voila. Just like a snake-catching stick. Rather fitting, I’d say. Be ready for anything,” she mentioned.
She tucked her wand into her back pocket and gently inserted the stick, now with a loop in the end, between two of the glowing yellow lines, being extremely careful not to touch them. Then she lowered the stick, bit by bit, down to the golden cup. Draco felt sweat begin to bead on his forehead.
“Now for the hard part,” she whispered.
Ever so carefully, she twisted the stick to maneuver the loop over the lip of the cup. The difficult part was keeping the stick itself from touching the warding lines. Or the cup. It seemed to take a dozen tries, but finally the loop dropped down over the lip. She let out a shaky breath in relief.
“All right, I’ll hold it here. You tug the end of the rope to tighten it.”
Draco pulled the rope by gentle degrees and watched as the loop grew taut about the cup.
“Okay,” Hermione breathed and took a better grip. “Here we go.”
She lifted the stick and they forgot to breathe as the cup rose, tipped, and swung freely in the air. They froze for the space of six heartbeats and then she started to pull the cup upward. Draco was amazed and started to think they might actually get out of the place unscathed. The cup drew closer and closer.
“Uh oh,” Hermione said.
“The cup won’t fit through the gridlines.”
They both examined the problem while the cup hovered below them. It was maybe a centimeter too long. The stick shook slightly and Draco knew Hermione had to be getting tired from the strain of holding it steady.
“Do you think we can Disapparate?”
“No. Not with it still down there. We will go and it will drop.”
He sighed. “Wait here for just a bit.”
He sprang to his feet and hurried to the nearest boarded up window and began to Vanish the boards. Soon the window opening was bare. He placed his wand in a pocket and returned to Hermione.
“All right. Give me that thing.”
“What do you mean to do?”
He put his hands next to hers and held the stick. Her exhaustion was evident when she gratefully let go.
“Okay, now go outside,” he ordered.
“No! I’m not leaving you!”
“Why? Because you don’t trust me, or you don’t want me to get hurt?”
“Both,” she snapped.
“Fine! Then at least go and stand by the window. And get that stupid bird out of here.”
“Fawkes, you’d better go.”
The phoenix lifted off and sailed out the window gracefully. Hermione hadn’t moved.
“Don’t even say it.”
“On three, then,” Draco said. “One. Two. Three!” At the last word, he yanked the stick holding the Horcrux and flung himself toward the window. He felt hands grip his jacket and then he was tugged through the air at the same time a dreadful cracking, splintering noise filled his ears. His shin caught the window frame as he sailed through. He landed on his back in a bramble bush with a painful crash.
As he watched, the Riddle house broke apart and crashed in upon itself with a roar of shattered timber. A massive cloud of dust and debris billowed into the air. He shut his eyes as the cloud sprayed over him like a fine mist. Small bits of wood and plaster rained down on him. He opened his eyes and looked at Hermione, who lay next to him looking like a dusty ghost. A fine layer of dirt covered her completely and there were small pieces of debris caught in her curls.
“Brilliant of you to wear a white jumper,” he commented.
“Did we get it?” she asked, ignoring him.
The stick was still gripped in Draco’s hands. He lifted it and a glint of gold met his eyes as the cup flashed in the sunlight. Hermione cried out happily and threw her arms around him.
“I don’t believe it! We actually did it!”
He laughed. “That was sheer madness. You pulled us out, didn’t you?”
She sat back and flicked her wand. “Wingardium Leviosa. Simple.” She got to her feet and gave him a hand. They both looked at the cup dangling from the rope. Taking a breath, Draco reached out and grasped it. It felt cold to the touch, but otherwise seemed to be only a simple chalice. He sighed in relief, released the rope, and threw the stick aside.
“We’d better go,” Hermione warned. “That crash will draw Muggle attention.”
Draco nodded. She stepped close to him and reached up to touch his hair. She giggled.
“I never thought I’d see the day when Draco Malfoy was less than immaculate.”
“And you’ve progressed from ragamuffin to dirty vagrant,” he retorted with a grin.
“You’ll be punished for that one,” she warned.
“How to you propose to do that?”
“Like this.” She leaned into him, wrapped one arm around his neck and smiled up at him. “You see, we’re going to Hogwarts.”
Before he could register the thought, they Disapparated.
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