Chapter 23 : The Slytherin Relic
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The three of them sat around the scarred table the next morning. Hermione had drawn a sketch of the Black house from her memory. Ron had conjured three small figurines that looked like each of them.
“Now, Ron and I will be able to get you into the house,” Hermione explained while Neville frowned at the sketch. Ron shooed the three figurines move towards the house.
“But you’ll have to go in by yourself, I think. I don’t know if she’ll let you pass if we’re in there.” Hermione frowned as the tiny figure of Neville continued walking onto the parchment and through the door.
“Go in there by myself?” Neville asked more than a little tremulously.
“That is an unfortunate restriction,” Hermione admitted.
“Unfortunate?” Ron shuddered at his own memories, earning a glare from Hermione.
“But why can only one person go inside?” Neville asked. “Wouldn’t it be better if there were more people?”
“Harry told us that Professor Dumbledore said that the Nitwit didn’t want any people to know where he was hiding these Horcruxes. So he put magic in place that only lets one of-age wizard or witch to continue on.” Hermione explained.
“Harry was only able to go with Professor Dumbledore for the locket because he wasn’t of-age,” Ron added.
Neville leaned his chin on his hands and considered. “I think I understand.”
Hermione pointed back at the parchment. “The Black tapestry is through this door. You might want to make certain that your family is on the Tapestry before talking to the hag.” She ignored Neville’s figure as it moved through the corridor to the room she pointed at. “If your family is there, we suspect that you can then give the hag the password which is on the bronze plaque below her portrait. From there, I don’t know what will happen.”
Neville studied the parchment with another frown. “And you and Ron will be staying outside the entire time?”
“We’ll have to,” Hermione sighed with frustration. “She must believe that you are not associated with Blood Traitors or Muggle-Borns.”
“But that’s all rubbish!” Neville looked far from reassured.
“You’ll do what you need to do in order to get that Horcrux, won’t you?” Ron asked.
“Of course!” Neville gave him a grieved look.
“Let’s cover what we know one more time,” Hermione decided. “Neville, you explain what you’ll be doing tomorrow.”
Morning came too soon for the three of them. It had been very early morning when they had cleared the table and went to their own rooms.
Neville had had trouble sleeping; instead he had stared at the ceiling for most of the night. It didn’t help to know that he was sleeping where Harry’s mother had died or where Harry had managed to mostly destroy You-Know-Who. He debated with himself if he ought to call him Nitwit like Hermione and Ron. He hadn’t realized it before, but just saying You-Know-Who or He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named created a tingle of fear. Calling him Nitwit didn’t cause that frisson of fear. Actually, he wanted to laugh each time he considered calling the darkest wizard in known history a nitwit.
Hermione lay awake in one of the two guest rooms worrying if Neville could actually get past the hag and find the Horcrux. They suspected the hidden Horcrux was the locket, but what if it wasn’t? What if it was something they wouldn’t expect? Though it had been Professor Dumbledore who created the list they were following. What if Neville had trouble finding it? What if he had trouble getting back out? Ron still refused to tell her what he had seen when she had gotten the diadem. Harry had told them how the Inferi had attacked when he had touched the lake water because it was the only water that would stay in the crystal cup.
Ron was also awake in the other guest room, lying with his hand behind his head as he stared at the ceiling. Since the Department of Mysteries and having been attacked by the brain, he had times when his own brain hurt from the thoughts running through his mind. He had tried several times to shut off the flow of images with no success. How had Harry learned to shut his mind to Nitwit? Or had he? Had Professor Dumbledore been correct that Nitwit had closed his mind to Harry?
All three reluctantly got out of their beds when the sun’s light entered the windows. They were silent during breakfast. Sooner than they liked, they didn’t even have that to keep them occupied. Even the dishes had been washed, dried and put away.
“We might as well start,” Hermione decided. “Neville, the house we are going to is at #12 Grimmauld Place.”
Neville nodded, not yet trusting his voice quite yet.
The three walked to the back edge of the property where Ron and Neville put their hands on Hermione’s arms and the three disappeared in a blink.
The three appeared outside of Grimmauld Place. “Think on what I told you,” Hermione whispered to Neville as she and Ron stepped back. Neville thought hard and stared in surprise as #12 pushed its way in between #11 and #13. He looked back at Ron and Hermione briefly for their reassurance.
Hermione motioned for him to go inside. “You can do it,” she whispered. “Just be as quiet as possible.”
Neville took a deep breath and looked again at the house in front of him. “I’m a Gryffindor and I’m brave,” he told himself as he tried to bolster his courage. It was daunting to think that he would be willingly walking into a dark wizarding home. He was sure that the Order had done what they could to make it safe, but he would be walking in areas they had overlooked.
“We trust you,” Hermione and Ron told him.
Neville nodded to show them that he had heard them before walking stiffly to the house, opening the door and going inside. “Lumos,” he whispered. He needed the small bit of light to see his way because the darkness was nearly absolute. He peeked in the first door on the left, but didn’t see any tapestry. He sighed in relief when he finally found the tapestry. It was difficult to see much in the dim light of his wand but he wasn’t sure that he wanted a brighter light. There were a few names that he knew from newspaper accounts or from Gran talking about them, but they weren’t the Longbottoms. He moved further to the right carefully looking at each name. Finally, he smiled grimly. Harfang Longbottom was on the tapestry with Callidora Black. His chance of passing the Portrait was much better if Hermione’s guess was correct.
He silently walked from the tapestry room and down the hall, stopping in front of the only huge Portrait frame that he could see. He agreed with Hermione and Ron that Sirius’ Mum was a hag. He looked at the bronze plaque below here and read the password. He cleared his throat and watched the hag open a beady eye and take a breath in order to start yelling.
“Shut it,” Neville commanded as haughtily as he could, trying to mimic Draco’s attitude. She remained quiet, watching him grudgingly until he spoke the password that was displayed on the plaque beneath her.
“Who are you?” she finally demanded in a less than reasonable voice.
Neville looked down his nose at her. “I am the great-grandson of Harfang and Callidora Longbottom.”
She peered at him as if trying to decide if he was telling her the truth. There must have been something she recognized because she finally nodded. Her portrait swung open. Neville continued looking down his nose as he walked carefully into the inky darkness. His wand light did not penetrate the gloom very far. Not even a step.
Neville paused when the Portrait door slammed shut with an evil cackle from Sirius’ Mum. The darkness began to press in as he looked around. How could he find anything without light? What was hidden that he couldn’t see?
“Lumos Maximus,” he muttered, grateful when his wand’s light brightened. He still couldn’t see past his outstretched arm, but at least he could see instead of feeling as if he were blind. He froze when he heard an unseen creature slither around him. He could hear other creatures moving about in the dark though none entered his small circle of light. His heart was racing as he fought to remain calm.
He managed a single step when the whispering began. He couldn’t understand them, but he feared they were talking about him. He trembled in fear listening to the muttering voices surrounding him.
He took a deep breath and took another step and heard the crackling talk of fire. He swallowed hard. He couldn’t smell smoke even as he listened to the snaps and pops of protesting logs.
He forced himself to take another step and tripped over a low bench with several items covering it. The noises grew louder and sounded more sinister as he steadied himself. He was starting to have difficulty breathing as he listened to the chaos around him. He forced his attention to the bench, looking at each item and wondering if any of these were what Ron and Hermione were looking for. What had they said they were searching for? They had just talked about it just before he entered the house? Was his memory returning to how he had first been at Hogwarts? Always forgetting?
A sparkle caught his eye and he sighed with relief. An ungainly locket with Slytherin’s crest sat unassuming near his left hand. A locket! He carefully picked up the locket by the chain. He looked around helplessly. Which way was to safety? Which direction led out? He was unnerved by the complete silence that had fallen since picking up the locket. Even the light from his wand was dim and useless.
“I am a Gryffindor. I am brave,” he told himself sternly. “I tripped on the bench. I have to turn around and the door will be right there.”
He walked slowly in the direction he thought was the way out only to encounter a wall. His breathing became ragged, trying not to cry out in fear. “Nitwit wouldn’t be scared. After all, he had created this place and Gryffindors are much braver than Slytherins.” Neville whispered to himself. “If I follow the wall, I’ll find the door.” He fearfully placed his hand on the wall and began to walk, trailing his hand alongside him trying to find a doorway. The walk seemed to talk forever, but finally he found a lintel and sighed with relief. He pushed on the Portrait and was relieved when it opened.
Neville stepped out of the darkness, the locket swinging in his hand by the chain. He repressed a shudder. Never did he want to go through something like that again. That had been beyond horrible. When he stepped away from the opening, the Portrait swung closed to reveal Sirius’ Mum laughing. He flicked his wand and a red velvet bag appeared in front of him. He grabbed it and placed the locket in it.
Sirius’ Mum was smirking as if she knew something he didn’t. He pretended that he didn’t care what she thought as he turned to walk down the hall and out of the house. He couldn’t help but to wonder why she was happy.
Ron and Hermione were still waiting outside for him. Their worried faces turned to relief when they saw him. They asked him no questions after he nodded. Ron and Neville hurriedly put their hands on Hermione’s arm and they disappeared.
“What did you have to do?” Ron asked once they were safely hidden away in the Potter home.
Neville shook his head. “Please don’t ask right now. I found the locket. Please don’t ask what happened.” He shuddered at the memories. “Hermione, you were right about Sirius’ Mum. My great-grandparents were on the Tapestry and she let me by. I had to pretend that I was like Draco. She let me by and I got the locket.” He shuddered once more.
Hermione nodded, realizing that Neville was too terrified to explain what he’d gone through at the moment. Ron still refused to speak about what he had seen when she was getting the diadem. Asking repeatedly wouldn’t help. She pulled out their special box and placed the bagged locket inside before renewing the spells on the box and hiding it again.
She still didn’t say anything when Neville went back to his borrowed room and shut the door. Ron looked at her questioningly and she shook her head. “Let him be for the moment.” She pointed at the box. “We don’t know what he went through yet.”
Ron didn’t look happy at her suggestions but nodded reluctantly.
Hermione didn’t stay downstairs to talk. Instead, she decided to go to her room and take a nap. She was tired, whether if it was from not sleeping last night or from nerves, it didn’t matter. She wanted a nap.
Ron sat on the broken couch. He heard Hermione shut her door. He was tired but something wasn’t feeling right. He couldn’t put his finger on it but something was bothering him. He finally got up to pace as he thought. He paused at the window looking to the backyard and stared at the deserted house.
Had there been a light?
There was silence during dinner and while the dishes were cleaned and put away. No one felt like speaking. Ron was still thinking about what he’d seen while the others were in their rooms. Had it really been a light? If so, then who was in that derelict house? If not, was he seeing things? Should he even tell Hermione and Neville? What if they didn’t believe him?
Hermione had brought one of her school books to the table and studied her way through dinner. Neither Ron nor Neville knew what she was looking for but had learned to leave her be while she searched.
Neville knew that they would want to know what happened while he was searching for the locket. He caught several of their furtive looks at him and knew they were more than curious. He still wasn’t ready to speak about it.
They gathered at the table once the last dish had been put away. They had to figure out where the last Horcrux could be. “There aren’t many places left that mean much to Nitwit,” Hermione stated. They studied the parchment spread about the table that listed all the specific places that Harry had told them from what he’d seen during his trips into the Pensieve. There weren’t that many places, especially after Hermione circled the places where they had found a Horcrux and crossed out where they had already searched.
“I don’t think we’ll be able to visit Miss Smith,” Neville pointed out. “I remember Gran saying something about her house-elf poisoning her.”
Hermione’s quill rested to the right of the Miss Hepzibah Smith. “Ron, didn’t Harry say the same thing?”
“I think so,” Ron frowned as he tried to remember exactly what Harry had said. “I think he said that the house-elf’s memory had been modified and that Professor Dumbledore had been able to retrieve the real memory just in time.”
“True,” Hermione scowled at the mention of the house-elf’s mistreatment. “If I remember right, the relatives have already gone through the place and reported that the Hufflepuff Cup was missing as well as a few other things.”
“Like Slytherin’s locket,” Neville motioned towards the concealed box.
Hermione nodded absently as she considered. Finally she crossed out the entry. “There is no reason to go there. The Hufflepuff Cup was taken by Nitwit and he wouldn’t have left it there.”
“Where else would he take it?” Neville frowned at the parchment.
“There was the orphanage where he grew up and the cave where he did who knows what to those two orphans.” Ron rubbed his forehead as his headache grew worse. “There was a Horcrux in each of those spots.”
“Didn’t Harry have a dream about someplace Nitwit was staying?” Neville asked.
Hermione frowned as she tapped her quill while she thought. “I believe he did, he said something about a Muggle caretaker.”
“He dreamed about that more than once,” Ron interrupted. “Or at least he dreamed about how the Muggle caretaker died.”
Hermione and Neville exchanged a look. “Where was it?”
“Was it the Riddle House?” Ron replied slowly as he looked upwards. He wasn’t completely certain about the location. “I think it was Nitwit’s father’s family home?”
Hermione smiled when she realized that Ron was finally using a name other than You-Know-Who. “Nitwit did kill his father and his grandparents. I think it would be a good place to conceal a Horcrux.”
Neville looked horrified. “He killed his own family?”
Ron and Hermione nodded their heads. “He also framed his mother’s brother for their murders.”
Neville shook his head. “That’s… when?”
Ron and Hermione exchanged a long look. “Harry told us that it was while Nitwit was still at Hogwarts.”
Neville continued to shake his head in disbelief. “Completely mental, but let’s go look there.”
I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this chapter.
Thank you very much for your constructive criticism!
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