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Chapter 27 : Dark Discovery
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Author's Note: I made a minor canon error starting in a preceding chapter: Bill and Fleur did not stay at the Burrow over Christmas in Deathly Hallows. They remained at Shell Cottage with Ron until he left with his Deluminator and probably after. This was not revealed in Deathly Hallows until later so I didn't see it in time. I carefully check all dates, times, weather, etc., but that one slipped by me.
It might seem strange to point out the above canon error when there are so many variations in my story that are not in canon. What I mean is that Noble Spirit is obviously not canon but it does not conflict with canon - it meshes in-between the DH story.
Many thanks for all comments and reviews. These are most welcome and very encouraging.
"Oh, for Merlin's sake!" cried Ginny. "I'll be fine, Mum - honestly!" Ginny tried to close the bathroom door.
"I'll be right here then, Ginny," said her mother as she was shut out. Her voice took on an anxious whine, thankfully muffled by the door. "Leave it unlocked - just call if you... feel ill or... anything."
Ginny growled to herself in frustration and turned on the shower. She had scarcely had half a minute all day without being observed like a Plimpy in a bowl. The entire family were greatly concerned following Ginny's collapse and her mother had so orchestrated everyone that there was always somebody keeping an eye on her. Out came her medallion on its chain; she had only been able to use it once - and that was before she went down to breakfast. Ever since, either Charlie would be lounging in a doorway watching her, or Fred and George would be chatting with her far more often than normal just to have an excuse to be near, or Bill would pretend to do more testing for curses.
They were talking about her frequently too, she could tell. Hushed conversations would end quickly as she approached or abruptly change their tone and volume and, no doubt, the subject: herself. She could inform them of nothing - nor would it help if she did.
Then there was her dad. She felt sorry for him. Her strange blackout had hit him hard - or rather, his inability to help her had. Was it imagination or was his hair greying around the sides? The worried look on his face had been there whenever she looked and his normal bright and cheery outlook had deserted him. He had spent more time observing his daughter today than any of them had but seemed unsure how to talk with her, resulting in a new awkwardness. Did he suspect she knew the cause of her swoon but was not telling them? Was he disappointed in her? Ginny let out a long slow breath.
Harry. Not able get away. Try morrow?"
She waited for a reply as long as she dared - long enough to pretend to take a shower - but Harry didn't respond. Perhaps he was also under continuous scrutiny she thought as she damped her hair, turned off the water, then turned and opened the door before her mother came bursting in to see if she had drowned or fainted or gone down the plughole or Merlin knew what else.
Ginny might have slept reasonably well that night but was vaguely aware of different visitors to her room - shadowy figures casting life-detecting charms from the doorway. At first light she knew she had better not lie in or the entire family would be crowding in to sit and do their knitting and count her snores. She sent one kiss to Harry with a vague 'maybe' message then dressed and went downstairs.
Today they were trying not to make it as obvious, so in a way it was worse. Bill was often to be found looking to one side but she knew he was really focused on her. The twins were acting too casually even for them, and Charlie... well Charlie was glum and kept suppressing glances her way. She was centre stage all morning so, as they started on the jam sponge after lunch, she decided she would put her foot down.
"Have to go into Ottery this afternoon - buy a few knick-knacks I ran out of." Ginny held up a shopping list of everything she could think of from talc to tights.
Mrs Weasley almost dropped the custard. She looked wildly around at everyone else then settled with a meaningful stare upon Fleur.
"We 'ave also ze shopping, yes, Bill?" said Fleur, in a kind of rehearsed way, looking at her husband.
"What? - Oh, right, yes, of course. Togeth--."
"Oh, that's handy then - could you get these for me while you're there?" Ginny said sweetly, sliding her list across to Fleur. "Then I can start on my homework." Two down, thought Ginny.
"Homework? Over Christmas?" said Fred slyly, scraping up his last spoonful of dessert and looking hopefully at his mother for seconds.
"It's erm... It was set to do before Christmas but I left it too late."
"And it needs handing in on the first day back?"
"Well then, if it's that important, George and I can give you a hand - right George?"
Neither of them were smiling.
"Fine - brilliant actually! It's right up your street. I need an essay explaining the relationship between common transforming hexes, grouped according to wand movements and I haven't a clue where to start. If you could write that out for me then I can set to work the special quill you bought me for Christmas."
Fred looked at George. George looked at Fred. Ginny grinned inwardly. Four down.
She finished the pudding and took a cup of coffee to the kitchen window where she gazed out through the frosted panes, wondering how she might slip away to meet with Harry. "That gives me time to practice a few Quidditch moves on my broomstick--"
"No, Ginny," said her father, firmly. "We need to talk."
Ginny turned. Everyone but her dad was leaving the kitchen. He indicated the chair opposite him at the table. Ginny dragged it out noisily then, seeing her father's sad expression, she sat down quietly. If there was any doubt in her mind about the seriousness of the occasion, it was dispelled when he cast an Imperturbable Charm at the parlour door.
"You're looking a little thin, Dad," she said. "You should finish your sponge."
Arthur Weasley pushed his bowl aside and clasped his hands on top of the table. He looked at Ginny thoughtfully for a few moments.
"Yes, I suppose I have lost a few pounds recently - but In nineteen-eighty-one I gained weight - in the July to be more precise."
This was unexpected and, although Ginny had opened her mouth, she said nothing, but let her father continue instead.
"On the eleventh of August of that year, I went through quite severe pain," he added.
Ginny blinked rapidly.
"We both especially wanted a girl that time - your mum and I. Perhaps that drew us even closer together." Arthur Weasley's face screwed up with emotion at the memories and his eyes were bright. "We were blessed with you that day."
Ginny still did not know what to say.
"It's magical empathy, Ginny: the sharing of special, powerful feelings by magical folk who are unusually close to one another. Even Muggles experience it sometimes - though personally, I suspect some of them have a little magic nobody knows about."
"Mum said you ought not to know about Harry. She--"
"Your mother had to tell me, Ginny. She cried for nearly an hour the other night, did you know that?"
Ginny shifted uncomfortably.
"We really thought we'd lost you, Gin--"
Mr Weasley's voice choked off; he was fighting even more powerful emotions. Ginny was round the table in a flash and put her arm round his shoulder and her face next to his. "Dad..."
Mr Weasley's fingers drummed softly on the table as he brought himself under control.
"Dad, I can't help it."
"He needs me."
"You recovered. I take it that means that... Harry recovered too?"
"Yes, he's fine now."
Mr Weasley nodded. Ginny summoned the coffeepot to pour another cup. She slid it in front of her dad then resumed her seat opposite him. Her father steadied himself with a few sips before continuing.
"So, you can even... convey ideas...?"
"Sometimes. Look, Dad, if you're thinking of exchanging instructions and information with the Order then it's not on. I don't burden Harry with any of my problems; he's got enough of his own."
"Nobody must know about this, Dad! Nobody!"
"We can help him, Ginny!"
"Dad, Harry knows that. If he ever needed our help then he'd ask."
"Ginny, I want you to promise me one thing--"
"You don't even know what--"
"Don't say it! I don't want to know. Don't say it, Dad! Don't say what I can't promise! Then there'll be no conflict between us."
Arthur Weasley stared at his daughter, trying to reassess her.
"I belong to Harry now, Dad."
Her father's shoulders sagged. "Lost you, haven't I?"
"No, Dad. You're irreplaceable... forever."
Mr Weasley looked at Ginny for a long time, his hands cupped around his steaming coffee.
"How'd you get so smart?"
"Empathy, Dad. Magical Empathy inherited from my parents."
Empathy or not, the family's eyes all turned relentlessly to Ginny for the rest of that afternoon. At least Bill and Fleur were out shopping in Ottery and probably would not return until early evening, and the twins were committed to being employed on her essay. But whenever she turned around or looked up from whatever she was doing, somebody or other was furtively looking her way while pretending to be occupied: scrubbing the kitchen, resting in the parlour, skulking on the landing, walking up and down the stairs is if undecided whether to skulk or scrub. Ginny's patience ran out as the hazy sun began to set.
"Now what?" Ginny said crossly when she found Charlie hanging about in the hallway as she passed through it. "Got a wart on my nose? Grown another head have I?" She flounced to the hall mirror. "Oh look! My arm fell off!"
"It's not funny, Gin," said Charlie.
"Wouldn't you rather be in Romania, keeping an eye on--"
"Of course I would!" snapped Charlie. "Think I like spying on you! We care about you, Ginny."
Ginny didn't answer. She was straining to see her reflection in the gathering gloom at the end of the day.
"Ginny?" There was only a tiny window in the hall. Charlie cast his wand to light the overhead lamp.
She remained silent. Charlie came closer. "Sorry, Ginny, but--" He saw something in her expression and turned to the mirror.
"What is it?"
He looked anxiously for some indication of illness, a rash, an injury - but saw nothing unusual; nothing, that is, except her white knuckles tightly gripping the hat stand below the mirror.
A dungeon looks like a dungeon whether reversed in a mirror or not. No point in running upstairs. What to do? What do I do? She shut out Charlie waving his hand in front of her face and calling for help; shut out the sound of running footsteps.
The dungeon abruptly disappeared from her medallion; the familiar ship sailed into view. Ginny's grip relaxed. She became aware of her mum and dad arriving behind her and spun around. "What?"
"You alright, Ginny? said Mrs Weasley, looking at her closely.
"Of course I am - just a little temporary excitement is all." She looked meaningfully at her parents' faces.
"So... everybody's... okay?" asked Mr Weasley, tentatively.
"Fine - we're all fine."
Charlie scratched his head and looked puzzled; dragons were easier to understand than girls, he felt.
The twins shut the door in Ginny's room and nodded to each other.
"What you up to, little sister?" said Fred. They knew Ginny was keeping something to herself and their natural inquisitiveness was becoming insuppressible.
"Right this moment I'm watching my Christmas present copying your essay into my handwriting." She observed with satisfaction as the quill worked away within her open desk. "I only had to write with it for ten minutes and it learned all my moves - even the squiggle I put on my p's and q's."
"Might be time for a few squiggles of our own methinks. Chinese burn, you reckon, George?" said Fred, wickedly wringing his fists in the air.
"Maybe time to check out my concealed hand-on-wand ready to hex someone, don't you think big brothers?"
George hesitated then decided a different approach might be less risky to his ongoing skin care. "Suppose we forgot to give you the giant-sized carton of choccy cauldrons that's under my bed as a Christmas present - but suppose we just remembered? How would that be?"
"Sounds like a feeble bribe to me," said Ginny, bending forward in her seat to examine the quill more closely. It was strange seeing her own handwriting forming before her eyes; this had possibilities.
George turned to Fred, jiggling a little potion bottle in his hand. "We'll have to use the bootleg Veritaserum, after all, Fred."
"You wouldn't!" said Ginny, without turning. She stood up from her desk and raised her wand clear. Reflected in the darkening window before her could be seen their yellowish, lantern-lit faces, but still she didn't turn to look directly at them. Through the glass, the shadowy figures of Bill and Fleur were hurriedly pushing past the gate, Bill running ahead, skidding about on the well-trampled, frozen snow.
It was a standoff; their sister had fought Death Eaters and the twins knew it. The difficult silence was ended by the familiar moan of the ghoul upstairs in Ron's room.
"Well, my tights have arrived, boys, so if it's all the same to you..."
The twins were spared the embarrassment of backing down before the dauntless girl by the sound from below of a great commotion followed by footsteps thumping noisily up towards them. The twins had Disapparated to their own room almost before Ginny could close the desk lid on the nefarious quill operation. The door swung wide. Her father stood there. His expression was grave.
"Terrible explosion. Was Harry with them...?" His voice faded and he found a seat before his legs failed.
"Dad! What's happened?"
"Ginny - do you not know anything?" His voice was a croak and he was breathing hard after his sprint up the stairs. "We fear... That is, Bill spoke to Granley in the village. His word... Ron and Hermione were seen walking to... dreadful house collapse at..." He stared down at the floor trying to think how it might all be a mistaken report he had heard; struggling to make it different from what he dreaded.
Ginny sank down to sit on the edge of her bed. Her hand went to her throat. There was silence except for Mr Weasley's heavy gasping and the odd, muffled scratching of the concealed quill. She glanced down to her medallion then rose up, went to the door, and closed it quietly.
"Harry's alive and safe now. Yes, he was in danger an hour ago - when you saw me looking in the hall mirror - but--"
"Can't you... Is there any way you can find out if Ron's okay?"
"Dad, I can never get a minute to myself alone, can I?"
"Yes, yes, sorry - I'll... leave you in peace for a while..." He got up and went to the door.
"You said Mr Granley told Bill? Old Granley at the paper shop? How did he know? Where did... Ron can't have been in Ottery surely? What if the Death Eaters hear about it? He's supposed to be sick in bed!"
"Only his wife saw Ron. Fortunately, she got back while Bill and Fleur were in the shop so Bill Obliviated them both about Ron. Apparently, he was with Hermione heading towards the Lovegoods - the explosion was at the Lovegoods. Upper floor half-demolished from what Granley said." Mr Weasley opened the bedroom door.
Ginny's eyebrows were high and her eyes wide. "Is Luna's dad alright?"
"We don't know yet. Bill and Charlie and your mother have gone over there to see if there are any bod... anybody still there. Lot of the villagers went. " He half-closed the door behind him then opened it again. "I'll wait downstairs then."
"Dad, I can't guarantee... I mean, it's not like a floo network. It all depends whether Harry is free to respond."
"Right then - I'll--" Ginny could hear the twins' voices from the landing asking what had happened and her father telling them to come downstairs with him. The door closed.
Ron & Hermione safe?
The question sent, Ginny lay down on her bed with the medallion to her lips and watched the lantern sway its mysterious shadows along the wall while she waited. First, Luna killed, now perhaps her brother dead too, only days later. And what of Hermione? Perhaps we'll all be no more than drifting shadows before too long, she thought to herself. Ginny felt she was sinking down into the mattress, empty and lost with nothing to hold onto except... She gripped her medallion more tightly. So long as she could feel it then she knew that Harry was alive.
Harry Potter lay back on his bunk, his mind racing through new thoughts. It was much too early and he was far too excited to sleep. Why didn't Hermione understand? He turned his head. She still sat motionless at the tent entrance. He couldn't see it but he was sure she would have a book on her lap. Ron had turned in before eight o'clock and was already fast asleep in his bunk - he would be taking over Hermione's watch in the early hours. The destruction of the Horcrux locket made that task much less onerous but how could Ron sleep after the day's amazing revelations!
There could be no doubt anymore: he, himself, held two of the Deathly Hallows and Voldemort was seeking the third. He held up the Golden Snitch in the gloom and touched it to his lips but, true to its words, I open at the close, it still refused to open. But another's kiss, and her more-friendly inquiry, added to his elation at that moment.
Hermione & Ron safe?
Harry stared at the message. How could Ginny have known? He drew in a great gasp as it dawned upon him. Ron stirred in his sleep but did not awaken. Hermione, if she had heard, remained where she was. The explosion at the Lovegoods' would be heard all over the area. If Ottery St. Catchpole was like any other English village then it would be the main subject for discussion in every pub and tavern this evening. Word might have reached the Burrow. And what would that word be? He had been under cover of his cloak as he approached the Lovegoods' house with Ron and Hermione - only those two could have been seen.
That was it! He sat bolt upright in bed... then lay down again. Ginny would think Ron and Hermione might have perished! He stuffed the Snitch back into his Mokeskin pouch then pressed the medallion to his lips.
Ron & Hermione fine! In fact, excellent progress 2day!
He did not know why he added that claim. Perhaps he was just so swollen with his new understanding of the Hallows that he had to gush it out to someone who trusted him while Hermione and Ron rejected and suppressed the notion.
Ginny's response came quickly. You're not hurt? Nobody injured?
Only scratches & bad taste from Gurdyroots!
Harry sobered up slightly and his grin faded away.
He was. Don't know about afterwards.
U know bout Luna, then?
Harry's joyful intoxication now fled him completely. He swung his legs over the side of his bed and sat up, picturing the strange, dreamy Ravenclaw girl alone in Azkaban and wondered what he should say to Ginny in reply. Words seemed inadequate; he knew Ginny and Luna were close friends.
Gutted when I heard. I'm so sorry, Ginny.
Didn't tell u b4. Didn't want 2 burden u.
Harry choked a little and lay down again.
Love u Ginny.
Love u Harry.
Harry did eventually sleep - but fitfully. Something woke him in the night and he opened his eyes. Ron's bunk was empty and, over near the front of the sleeping area, Hermione was getting into her bed. Beyond her, the low shape silhouetted by the fire outside the tent entrance would be Ron doing his turn of duty. Harry turned over and managed to doze off again after a while.
When he opened his eyes again, daylight was feebly glowing in through the canvas. The chink of porcelain from the kitchen bay made him aware of his mouth - extra dry and furry from yesterday's Gurdyroots. He got up, pulled his jacket around his shoulders against the cold air, wandered around to greet Ron with a hoarse 'good morning,' then helped himself to a large mug of tea. Ron already had his hands wrapped around his, trying to get them warm. The bottle of milk at his elbow didn't need a refrigerator. They both shivered and Ron glanced over Harry's shoulder to make sure he'd closed the tent flap securely.
"Think she's coming round a bit to me now?" Ron sounded like he was voicing a thought he had been labouring with all through his night watch.
It was too early to smile when you've not slept well. Harry glanced behind him at the sleeping figure whose arms were clutched around her pillow like it was a long-lost friend. "Takes time, I guess." He started to rise from his seat to go over and pull up her blanket.
"I'll do it." Ron went past him and Harry instead went to light the oven to help heat the place up a bit. He wondered whether to use the opportunity to bake a few potatoes. They were used to strange breakfasts when eggs, bacon, and bread for toast were not available. He cleansed a few of the largest spuds and put them to cook then, turned back to finish his hot drink at the table. Ron stood in his way. He was as white as a ghost.
Ron did not reply. He flopped down heavily onto his chair but he did not turn to his tea.
"What is it, Ron?" Harry asked again, taking to his own seat and glancing around for enlightenment.
Harry spun around. She was still there, exactly as he had recently seen her, almost face-down, clinging to her pillow. He could see her back rising and falling rhythmically as she breathed. The near sleeve of her pyjamas was pushed up and her shoulders and bare arm were exposed to the cold air but otherwise there was no visible cause for serious concern. He turned back to Ron for some explanation but Ron was only shaking his head in disbelief.
"Just pull up the blanket, Ron - she'll catch a chill in her back otherwise." It occurred to Harry that perhaps she had exchanged angry words with Ron again while he had been preoccupied in the kitchenette. "Did she say something to you, then? I told you it will take time."
Ron was a long time answering and when he did it made no sense. "Her arm." He pointed to his own arm.
"What about her arm?"
"She's got the Dark Mark."
It was still incomprehensible to Harry. He turned to look towards Hermione. He turned back to look at Ron. His friend's expression was now fearful.
Harry swore. He glanced at the bottle on the table again but it was definitely only milk; he'd bought several pints himself from a farmhouse some days before. He got up and Ron stood up with him. "Don't!"
"I want to see for myself."
Ron went with him, dragging his feet those few paces as if reluctant to confirm his claim.
Harry stared down at the crook of Hermione's left arm where it encircled the pillow, then sighed.
"That's just sore!" he whispered. "I've seen it before. Grazed it while scavenging."
"When? She's not--"
"Weeks... ago." Harry looked back at Hermione's arm. He had not, at first, realised how much time had passed since he had seen her arm in the washroom.
"Take a closer look, Harry."
The rash was faint and only the edge showed against the pillow - but it did seem to be a strange marking. He teased the fabric of the pillow away to see better. His eyes widened like saucers and if he hadn't have stepped back in surprise he would have been knocked back because Hermione suddenly awoke and lashed out to push him away.
She shrieked the reflex cry of anyone having a sudden scare from a close intruder, "Get away from me!"
"It's only me, Hermione," said Harry, backing off.
"I can see it's you - keep away! What did you think you were doing!" She pulled up her blanket defensively and cowered back into the bedclothes as if seeking protection.
"Hermione--?" Harry felt Ron's hand on his shoulder, pulling him away. He allowed himself to be drawn back to the kitchen table. They heard Hermione drawing across the hanging sheet she used as a modesty curtain. They could hear her getting dressed.
"What we going to do, Harry?"
"Do?" Harry was as dazed as Ron had been earlier. He sat down but Ron remained standing as if anxious and ready to act.
"I mean, it can't really be her, can it? Not Hermione." He was very agitated then spoke in a hoarse, frightened whisper, "What if it's a Death Eater, Harry?"
"What if it's a bloke?"
Harry's felt Ginny's kiss and the silver disk, ever at his throat, trembled. For the first time, he blanked it out of his mind while he thought furiously back over the weeks and months. That Hermione had been acting strangely, there was no denying - and she had been keeping her arms well-covered even when it was not cold. Her angry reaction when he had playfully tried to roll up her wet sleeve once had not been like her at all. Then there had been the strange, alien look she had given him a few times when he had thought she was asleep. He swore again, this time under his breath.
"What colour eyes did you say she's got, Ron?"
Ron could hardly answer. He breathed out his answer hoarsely, "Brown."
"No - they're dark grey. I saw them close up once... dark grey." Harry was muttering, deeply absorbed in the recollection.
Ron collapsed down into his chair, moaning softly.
Harry stood up, drawing his wand, and turned to face the sleeping quarters. Now the memory of Ginny's kiss drew his attention and he knew why. Almost without realising it, he could often sense before reading them whether Ginny's messages would be pleasant greetings or if she was in trouble and needed his support. With his back to Ron, Harry fumbled with the medallion. He confirmed Ginny's words were friendly fun:
Morning, Harry. Love u but 2 sleepy 2...zzz...
Harry would have smiled in different circumstances. Instead, he sent his own demand:
URGENT! AM I IN DANGER, GINNY?
He lodged the silvery disk in the wide collar of the jacket that was around his shoulders, where he could see it.
"Hermione, come here. We need to talk." Harry's mind was taking charge again; Ginny had that effect on him sometimes.
"Harry!" Ron whispered, "Don't hurt her! What if--"
The dividing curtain was swept aside and Hermione stood there looking at them defiantly.
"Hermione - if it is you - what's that mark on your arm?" Harry was composed again, speaking with authority. His wand was raised.
Hermione looked from Harry to Ron then back again. "Of course it's me! Who did you think it might be?"
"Then show me! Show me your arm, Hermione." His voice was insistent, commanding. He could see Hermione's hand was on her own wand and he was ready to strike first.
A first hint of fear flashed across Hermione's face and he saw her wand arm move. His medallion trembled. He glanced down to where it lay in the crook of his jacket collar. No. U R safe. Wot gives?
Harry slowly lowered his wand. Then he put it away. He walked over to Hermione and her eyes glared back at him unflinchingly. They were brown.
"I'm so sorry, Harry," said Hermione tearfully. He had made her a cup of tea but she kept back from it, as if the mundane activity might trivialise her feelings and her words. Her voice tailed off, "I was so ashamed of it..."
"How'd it get there, Hermione?" said Harry. "Who did it to you?"
Hermione paused, dabbing her eyes with her rolled-up sleeve. "I did. I did it to myself."
"What? How...? Why...?" sputtered Ron. He had not yet worked out whether to be relieved or angry so settled on complete confusion as a convenient place to hide.
"I didn't do it on purpose," wailed Hermione. She wanted to cover up her arm again but the look on Harry's face stopped her.
"When was this?" said Harry.
"I'm not sure, exactly - around Halloween, I think."
"Halloween!" erupted Ron. "That was before I... I..."
"Before you abandoned us!" said Hermione, attempting aggression - but her eyes were still wet and shining.
"You know it was the Horcrux! It affected me more than you two!" cried Ron. "I told you I wanted to come back straight away but I couldn't find you! It was the Horcrux made me do it!"
Harry looked closely at Hermione before speaking, "It was the Horcrux made you do that too, wasn't it?"
Hermione nodded. Her eyes were sore with crying.
"What?" blurted Ron. "You're too sensible - it never affected you at all! You were normal. You never..."
"I was never irritable without cause? or selfish, bitter, malicious, or unfair? Is that what you were going to say?" flared Hermione.
Ron stared for a while as if some great truth were dawning in his mind, then he said gently, "Yes, that was what I would have wanted to say if I'd been wise enough to realise it. I don't think I've ever known you to be any of those things you said, Hermione." There was a look in his eyes as though he had begun to really understand why he felt the way he did about her.
Two little pink spots appeared on Hermione's wet cheeks and she turned her head away to look at the mark on her arm.
"It was in my sleep," said Hermione, simply. "It couldn't affect me much when I was awake - except to depress me a little. But I think when I was dreaming, it..."
Harry and Ron waited.
When she continued, her voice was very faint. "It possessed me. You-know-who possessed me. That part of his soul, I mean."
"Hermione," said Harry, at length, "if you were asleep then it couldn't make you do anything - not like with Ginny."
"Sleep-walking! You're talking about sleep-walking, aren't you," said Ron.
Hermione nodded. "I have no way of knowing for sure, but I think it was very rare and very brief. I'm a light sleeper you see. The tiniest bump or noise and I'd wake up. I only woke up a couple of times out of bed."
"But there could be hundreds of times when it put you back to bed," said Ron.
"I don't think so," said Hermione. "I just don't think so."
"Why not?" said Ron.
"In my dreams - I told you I had some bad dreams - it... that is, I always felt... frustrated and anxious and... trapped. Like it... I didn't know what to do to get free."
"Sleep-watching," said Harry, "and sleep-listening."
"What's that mean?" said Ron.
"I saw you, Hermione, more than once. I thought you were asleep and - you were - but your eyes were open, watching me." Harry shuddered visibly. "Not you - it was Him, You-know-who staring at me through your eyes! They were dark grey - not red but dark grey like Tom Riddle. It's an old Horcrux, Hermione, created long before You-know-who tried to kill me as a baby."
"But that means..." said Ron.
"Yes, he was listening to our conversations," said Harry. "He--"
"But You-know-who knows all about us then! Why hasn't he attacked us?"
"No, like the one in Riddle's diary, this part of his soul knew nothing about Harry Potter or any of us at first," said Hermione. "Don't you see? It has had to piece together a few things - fragments of chatter it has overheard. By the time it had figured out that we were You-know-who's enemies, I'd stopped wearing the Horcrux while I slept."
"And You-know-who doesn't know any of this - only this part of his soul!" cried Harry.
"And now it's destroyed!" exulted Ron.
"You destroyed it, Ron. You did it," said Harry, soberly.
For a moment it appeared as if Hermione would throw herself into Ron's arms as the enormity of Ron's deed finally sunk in and that she was forever freed of the Horcrux. The moment passed. Her muscles relaxed.
"But it marked your arm," said Ron, flatly. "Made you a Death Eater."
"It tried," said Harry. "But that's not a real Dark Mark. Hermione, the Horcrux daren't risk waking you when it made you use your own wand upon your arm while you slept. A real Dark Mark is branded agonisingly and permanently into the flesh. It's a deep red - and goes black when activated - believe me, I've seen enough of them. That's just a pale rash by comparison - and it's much faded even from when I glimpsed it partly before. It will disappear in time. Think of all the times he's summoned his Death Eaters since you've had that - but it never went black or caused serious pain did it? That's not a real, working Dark Mark, Hermione."
Hermione's eyes were shining again - but this time with relief. "It's not? It really isn't?" And this time she did fling herself into someone's arms. She hugged Harry like she would never let him go and she was shaking with emotion. Harry was mouthing over his shoulder at Ron, "And you thought she might be a bloke!"
Ron watched. He understood now why Hermione felt free to embrace Harry as a brother yet was inhibited from holding Ron so closely. He smiled. All was well.
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