The Seventh Horcrux


Story Summary:
The hunt for the Horcruxes begins. Harry has to decide who to trust as he moves closer to fulfilling his destiny. Will he be able to find and destroy all the Horcruxes? And at what price? Will he be able to find the strength within himself - the Power the Dark Lord Knows Not - in order to succeed in vanquishing Voldemort? And...can he do it and still get the girl? Join Harry and his faithful friends on their quest to finally defeat a Dark Lord.

Chapter 08 - An Uneasy Alliance



: I own nothing; it all belongs to J.K.Rowling. I’m just borrowing the characters to play with for a while. This is for pleasure only, no profit is being made, and no copyright infringement is intended.

Chapter Eight

An Uneasy Alliance

Due to a number of unforeseen interruptions, the Order meeting scheduled for that evening never actually happened. Harry squirmed in his chair, poking at the remains of his supper with his fork and dreading all the questions the Order members were sure to ask. He knew that some of them, Remus and Moody, for instance, would accept what he had to do. Others like Mrs. Weasley and Kingsley Shacklebolt certainly would demand more information than he could give.

He was startled out of his musings by the arrival of Mr. Weasley and Professor McGonagall, who entered the room wearing grim expressions. The kitchen at Grimmauld Place, which only moments before had been filled with pleasant chatter and the raucous laughter of the twins, became oddly still. This ragtag group of survivors had been through too much recently not to feel anxious over the prospect of more bad news.

"What is it, Arthur?" Mrs. Weasley asked fearfully, jumping up from her chair and pushing Mr. Weasley towards it.

Harry suddenly realized how tired and old Mr. Weasley appeared. His eyes were red-rimmed with dark circles beneath them, and white hairs were visible on each temple. Harry turned his gaze to Professor McGonagall, to whom Hagrid had given his chair. She, too, appeared to have aged rapidly since Professor Dumbledore’s death only a month ago.

Harry’s throat grew tight. This war was killing them all. Voldemort was killing them all, and he had to be stopped.

"What happened?" he asked, his voice sounding stronger than he felt. He rapidly scanned the room, trying to determine if anyone was missing. The expressions on both Mr. Weasley’s and Professor McGonagall’s faces made him worry that there had been another death.

He felt a small hand creep into his own beneath the table and turned to see Ginny watching her father with fearful eyes. He threaded his fingers with hers and squeezed reassuringly.

"I’ve just come from a meeting with the Board of Governors," Professor McGonagall said. "They’ve made their decision."

"Scrimgeour called in all the department heads to hear the results," said Mr. Weasley wearily.

"They’re not reopening Hogwarts, are they?" Harry asked numbly, uncertain if he should feel shocked or enraged.

"No, they are not. They’ve decided that they cannot guarantee the safety of incoming students. The Aurors are simply stretched too thin as it is," Professor McGonagall replied, an uncharacteristic waver in her voice.

"How can they do that?" Hermione cried, scandalized. "Where are students going to go for their education?"

"The governors feel that not enough students would have returned, anyway. It’s no secret that You-Know-Who has a great interest in Hogwarts. Most believe he only stayed away because of Dumbledore, and that there is nothing to stop him now. Parents won’t send their children directly into his path," Mr. Weasley said, sharing a pointed look with a numb-looking Mrs. Weasley.

"Dumbledore would ‘ave wanted it ter remain open," Hagrid said, pulling a handkerchief the size of blanket from his pocket.

"I realize that, Hagrid, but the Board would not be swayed," Professor McGonagall answered briskly.

"Did Rufus Scrimgeour push for it to be closed?" Harry asked. He wouldn’t put it past the man to keep Hogwarts closed in retaliation for Harry’s refusal to aid the Ministry. He’d think Harry would be far more vulnerable and in need of assistance outside Hogwarts walls.

"No. This decision came from the Governors," Professor McGonagall replied, sighing.

"He’s not an evil man, Harry; he’s just not going about this the way we’d like," Tonks said. "He does want to bring an end to this war; he just wants to be the one to get the credit for doing it. He won’t stand in our way, but he will try and find out what we’re doing. He’s used to being in charge, and he doesn’t like feeling like an outsider."

"Scrimgeour’s become as obsessed with the politics of being Minister as Fudge was. He’s not doing enough because he fears the public’s reaction," Bill said angrily. He’d become somewhat embittered toward the Ministry since Greyback’s attack.

As several arguments over the pros and cons about having Scrimgeour as Minister broke out around the table, Remus leaned over to speak quietly with Harry.

"All right, Harry?"

"I’m fine, Remus. Thanks for coming after me yesterday," Harry replied, staring intently at a dark spot of wood on the table in front of him.

"I’d easily do it again, Harry, but I’d prefer it if I didn’t have to," Remus replied. "I sincerely hope you won’t be running off without telling anyone again."

Harry didn’t respond but continued to stare at the table, lightly tracing the spot with his finger.

"Harry," Remus said, waiting for a response.

"I can’t make you that promise, Remus," Harry whispered.

On his other side, Ginny was doing a poor job of feigning disinterest, and he was certain she was hanging on every word they said. Ron and Hermione also appeared to be watching him closely. He wondered why Mrs. Weasley hadn’t insisted all of them clear out when the others had arrived. He supposed she would if the topic turned to anything she deemed inappropriate for their young ears.

"Harry, you need to inform the Order about what you’re going to do. I know you well enough to see you’re planning something. We can help you," Remus said, a pleading quality in his voice.

"I can’t. Remus, you told me once that it all came down to whether or not we trusted Dumbledore’s judgement. At the time you said you did. Is that still true?" Harry asked, turning to face him for the first time.

"I- I do, but Dumbledore is gone, Harry," Remus said quietly, his voice pained.

"And he left me a job to do. He wanted me to do it, and to keep quiet about it. I’m going to honor that request," Harry said vehemently.

Remus hung his head, his shoulders slumping. "Very well, Harry. I won’t do anything to stand in your way. However, if there is anything I can do to help, please don’t hesitate to ask."

Harry nodded. "There is something you can do. The Weasleys have to stay here; they can’t go back home. You have to make certain they stay here. Wormtail said he’s been at the Burrow, and that he was assigned there to keep an eye on them. Voldemort knows about their connection to me. It’s not safe for them to return."

Remus’s face darkened. "Understood. I don’t think Molly will be happy about it, but Arthur will see reason. Peter’s not going to destroy another family."

He wanted to tell Remus about what Wormtail had said about Ginny, but not while she was eavesdropping. It was yet another reason he wanted to keep her close to him. It was the only way he could ensure her safety.

"Anything else?" Remus asked.

"Yeah, there is," Harry said thoughtfully. "When I went to the Quidditch World Cup with the Weasleys, we stayed in magical tents. There were some that were small enough to look like Muggle pop tents, so they could be transported easily. Do you think you could locate one for me? You can take the funds from my account at Gringotts."

"Consider it done," Remus said.

"There is one other thing I’d like to discuss," Professor McGonagall said, standing up and raising her voice above the chatter. The room quieted and turned towards her once again.

"Please go ahead, Minerva," said Mrs. Weasley.

"I visited the Hog’s Head earlier today and spoke with Aberforth Dumbledore," she said, her voice quavering slightly.

Harry’s head shot up, an image of the tall barkeep from the Hog’s Head pub rising in his mind. He was Professor Dumbledore’s eccentric brother? Harry sat slack-jawed, wondering how he’d never made the connection — the similarity between the two appeared so obvious now. An inexplicable swell of sadness arose in Harry’s chest at this revelation. There was so much about Professor Dumbledore he’d never known, and now he never would.

"Did he have anything unusual to report?" Moody growled.

Harry’s eyebrows rose to his hairline. Of course! That was how Dumbledore always knew what was happening in Hogsmeade. His brother would have kept him abreast of anything unusual. Harry smiled sadly, feeling great fondness for his cagey former headmaster.

"He’s finished putting Albus’s affairs in order. He said that Albus left specific instructions on where some of his belongings were to go. I’ve brought several items with me to deliver to some of you," Professor McGonagall said stiffly, waving her wand. Several plain brown boxes appeared around her.

Harry’s insides went cold. These were Dumbledore’s things, his prized possessions...

"Harry," Professor McGonagall said, sounding distinctly gentler that she had a moment earlier. "This one is for you. Aberforth was particularly adamant that you receive it posthaste."

Harry nodded numbly and took the package without comment. He rested it in his lap, refusing to meet anyone’s eyes. Hagrid began blowing his nose into his huge handkerchief, and Mrs. Weasley dabbed at her eyes. Harry’s heart hammered inside his chest, and he found the air in the room had become stifling.

"Hagrid," Professor McGonagall said, but she didn’t get any further as Hagrid dissolved into wracking sobs, mumbling about what a great man Dumbledore had been. Hermione jumped from her chair and began patting him on the back consolingly. In the confusion, Harry quietly took his package and slipped from his chair, escaping from the room unnoticed.

Harry sat cross-legged on his bed with his chin in his hands, staring at the box Professor McGonagall had given him. The package remained sealed, unremarkable really, with its plain brown wrapping, but Harry knew that opening it would be a last goodbye. Professor Dumbledore was really gone; he wasn’t coming back. He knew that not opening the package wouldn’t change anything, but to Harry, it would somehow make it final.

He’d been sitting in the same spot for over an hour and wasn’t certain if everyone was still meeting downstairs. He’d wanted to open whatever it was Dumbledore left him privately, in case it contained anything to do with Voldemort or the Horcruxes. He also didn’t trust his own emotions and didn’t want a crowd to witness yet another breakdown. He knew he should get on with it before anyone came up to check on him, but he couldn’t seem to force himself to do it.

His door creaked open slightly, and Ron poked his head inside. "All right, mate?" he asked tentatively.

"Yeah," Harry said. "I’m fine. You can come in."

Ron pushed open the door and entered the room followed closely by Hermione and Ginny.

"Harry!" Hermione said, frowning slightly. "Why did you leave without saying anything? I hadn’t even noticed you had gone."

Harry merely shrugged.

"What did he leave you?" asked Ron, nodding toward the package.

"Dunno," Harry replied, shrugging his shoulders again.

"You haven’t even looked?" Hermione cried, aghast. "It could be something important, Harry, something we could use."

"I know," he said quietly.

Hermione apparently realized the reason for his hesitancy because her face softened, and she gazed at Harry with something that looked like pity. He averted his eyes, and she backed off and sat beside Ron on his bed.

"Everyone’s gone now; they never really had a proper meeting. I can’t believe Hogwarts won’t be opening at all," she said tremulously.

Harry started when the edge of his bed dipped slightly. He looked up to see Ginny sitting on the end, watching him closely. Her expression was neutral, and he was grateful for it.

"So, did Professor McGonagall finish delivering everything?" Harry asked in what he hoped was a casual voice.

"Not everything," Ron replied darkly.

His curiosity piqued, Harry looked towards Ron and raised his eyebrow.

"Dumbledore left something for Snape," Ron said, spitting the name.

Harry clenched his fists tightly. "Not surprising; he always did trust the git."

"It is rather startling, though," Hermione said, looking troubled.

"Why’s that?" Harry asked through gritted teeth.

Ginny took his hand and gently unclenched his fist, revealing several crescent shapes drops of blood where his nails had dug into his skin. She wiped the blood away and clasped his hand within her own warm one. His stomach settled slightly.

"Well….now, I know you don’t want to hear this, but just listen to me," Hermione said nervously. "Professor Dumbledore adamantly trusted Professor Snape. He insisted that he was on our side-"

"Until he killed him," Harry shouted, unable to contain his fury.

"I know that, Harry," Hermione said. "Still, I kept hoping there was some other explanation, that maybe they had planned it this way for some reason."

"You think Dumbledore planned for Snape to do him in?" Ron asked incredulously.

"I don’t know," Hermione cried, exasperated. "I just can’t help wondering if there is something we’re missing. But now, if Dumbledore left Snape something…maybe he didn’t know. I’d like to know what he left him. It might answer some questions."

"There is no question," Harry said flatly. "Snape killed him. Dumbledore left him something because he trusted him; he thought he was his friend. Snape’s no different from Wormtail."

"You can’t honestly still think Snape is working for our side, Hermione," Ron said.

"No. I suppose not," Hermione said, deflating, "but I just wish I knew for certain."

"There’s nothing to know," Harry said angrily, feeling more agitated by the moment. "He’s a murderer, Hermione. He killed Dumbledore, and he can never be forgiven for that."

"I spoke with Fred and George," Ginny said suddenly. "I asked them if they knew where Mundungus lived."

"Did they?" Ron asked.

"No, but when I told them Harry needed to know, they said they’d do some checking. They said Dung never seemed to stay in any one place too long," Ginny replied.

"Great," Harry said, that hopeless feeling threatening to overtake him again.

"Don’t worry, Harry. Leave it to Fred and George. If anyone can find his last address, they can," Ginny said bracingly.

"It’s something, I suppose," Harry said. "I asked Remus to see if he could find us a magical tent to use while we’re travelling. We can use Headquarters as our base, but I reckon we’ll have to be on foot a lot. Dumbledore was away a lot last year, and we know that’s what he was doing."

"That’s a very good idea, Harry. When do you think we’ll go?" Hermione asked.

"Not until after my birthday," Harry said. "I don’t want any Ministry entanglements about underage magic, and it’ll give us a little time to get everything in order. We need to decide where we should go first. Ron and I also have to take our test to get our licenses to Apparate."

Ron shifted uneasily, and Hermione gave him an encouraging smile.

"Why don’t you open that box," Ginny said gently. "Maybe it will give us an idea."

Harry glanced at the ordinary-looking box and sighed heavily. Nothing left for it. "Yeah…okay," he said, pulling at the tape. Once he’d moved past his initial hesitation, he found his curiosity overwhelmed him, and he hurried to find what was inside.

He unwrapped the last of the packaging and lifted an incredibly old, stone basin from the box, placing it on his desk reverently. Several wrapped items were stored inside.

"What is that?" Ron asked, peering at it closely.

"It’s Dumbledore’s Pensieve," Harry said quietly, removing the items inside.

"Harry, these are really rare," Hermione said, curiously examining the runes along the edge of the Pensieve.

"And expensive," said Ron.

"This is how he showed you the memories of Tom?" Ginny asked, running her finger along the rim. "Are those the memories?"

Harry nodded, unwrapping the last of sealed phials. "Yeah. These are the memories he showed me in our lessons. He felt understanding Riddle’s past was the key to finding the Horcruxes."

"But wouldn’t Dumbledore’s memories have died with him?" Ron asked.

"No. A lot of these memories belonged to other people, all of whom are long dead. One of them was even a house-elf," Harry said, as he unwrapped the final two items.

He turned quickly when Ginny gasped.

"Is that…?" she asked, her voice wavering.

Harry held the diary that had once wreaked havoc upon a young Ginny’s life. He looked deeply into her troubled eyes, willing some of his strength to her. Having just dealt with confronting some of the horrors of his own past, he knew exactly what she was feeling.

"Yeah, it is. I don’t know how Dumbledore got it. I gave it back to Lucius Malfoy with the sock that freed Dobby. Maybe Malfoy dropped it, or Dobby had it. I dunno, maybe Dumbledore somehow got it back from Malfoy Manor," Harry replied, watching Ginny closely.

Ginny reached a shaky hand toward the tattered book with the fang hole through the cover. Harry solemnly handed it to her, knowing she needed to confront her demons.

"No, Ginny, don’t," Ron said, making a grab for the diary.

Harry grasped Ron’s hand and held him back. "Let her do it, Ron. She needs this," he said, his eyes remaining fixed on Ginny.

Her eyes were dark and haunted, but remained free of tears. She silently flipped several of the pages before looking back at Harry. "Just a book," she said shakily.

Harry nodded. "That’s all that’s left now; just a book. You beat him, Ginny."

"No, you beat him," Ginny said with a small, humorless laugh. "I was unconscious."

"You did beat him; you survived. You were never supposed to have done that. You fought him for a year alone, and you survived. Never sell yourself short for that, Ginny," Harry replied vehemently.

Ginny’s eyes filled with the tears she’d held off for so long, but she forcibly blinked them away. Harry leaned over and gently kissed her forehead. She leaned into him, resting her head on his shoulder.

"What’s in the last package?" Hermione asked quietly.

Still keeping an eye on Ginny, Harry opened it. It contained Marvolo Gaunt’s black stone ring. "It’s the other Horcrux. The one Dumbledore destroyed," Harry said.

"Ooh, can I take a look at it?" Hermione asked.

Harry handed it to her. "There’s something else in this box," he said, pulling out one of Dumbledore’s delicate silver instruments.

"What does it do?" Ron asked.

"No idea," Harry replied, studying the instrument closely. It consisted of several, fragile silver cylinders with a tube at the top.

"Are there any instructions?" Hermione asked.

"No," Harry replied curtly, struggling with a memory on the edge of his consciousness. "I’ve seen this one before though," he said, distracted.

"Well, of course you have. Dumbledore’s office was chock full of them, and you were in there often enough," Ron said.

"When were you in Dumbledore’s office?" Hermione demanded.

"Last Christmas. The night Harry had that dream about Dad getting attacked by the snake," Ron replied.

"That’s it!" Harry exclaimed, snapping his fingers.

"That’s what?" Ginny asked.

"That’s where I’ve seen this thing. It was that night, the night I had that vision, or whatever it was. Dumbledore did something with this instrument. It had green smoke coming out of it," Harry said excitedly. "The smoke turned into a snake."

"I don’t remember that," Ron said, frowning.

"Well, you had other things on your mind, didn’t you?" Harry asked.

"But, isn’t there a note or anything telling you how it works?" Hermione asked, blowing a stray piece of hair off her face.

Harry looked inside the box again, but it was empty. "No. There’s nothing."

"I can try asking Professor McGonagall," Hermione said. "She might know how it works."

"That’s a good idea," Harry said, nodding absently. "I still need to show her the portrait of the Founders."

"I think she’ll tell you that it’s safer here for the moment, since Hogwarts isn’t reopening. I don’t think she has much trust in the Ministry right now," Hermione said.

"Can’t say as I blame her," Harry replied.

"So, if Hogwarts isn’t reopening, at least I don’t have to tell my mum that I’m not going back," Ron said.

"You’ll have to tell her you’re leaving though, Ron. She’s still not going to be happy about it," Hermione said.

"I don’t think we should tell her," Ginny said. "She’ll never agree to it, and she’ll more than likely try to stop us. We should just slip away the first time. You said we were going to use Headquarters as a base, didn’t you, Harry?"

"Yeah, I said that to Lupin," Harry replied, grinning. "How did you hear that, Ginny?"

Ginny smiled. "I’m the youngest of seven, Harry. If I hadn’t learned to eavesdrop, I’d never know anything."

Harry grinned. "That was how I managed with the Dursleys, too. I reckon we can go through these memories in the Pensieve until it’s time to leave."

"Where do we go first?" Ron asked.

"I think the best place to start is the same place he did, at the orphanage," Harry replied.

"It was a Muggle orphanage, right?" Hermione asked.

"Yeah," Harry said, nodding.

"Can I borrow Hedwig?" Hermione asked. "I’ll send a note to my mum asking her to get us the names of any orphanages that were running in London fifty years ago."

"How would she know that?" Ron asked, dumbfounded.

"She can just use the internet," Hermione replied, shrugging.

Ron’s bewildered expression never changed. "The what?"

"Oh, that’s a computer, right?" Ginny asked, grinning widely. Her enthusiasm reminded Harry of Mr. Weasley.

Hermione’s cheek twitched as she tried to contain her laughter. "Yes, it involves a computer. Don’t worry about it; she can do this. She’ll be happy I asked her for some help."

Harry looked up and met her eyes questioningly.

Hermione shrugged. "She just feels a bit disconnected from my life now. How could she not? There’s nothing to be done for it, Harry, but she’ll like being asked for her assistance."

Harry sighed, feeling badly that Hermione’s family was drifting apart. "Okay, then. It’s a start. You three need to practice your shield spells while we’re here, as well."

"Harry, we covered shields in fifth year in the DA," Ron said scathingly.

"If we run into any resistance, or if Voldemort figures out what we’re doing, it’s you three they’ll go after. Voldemort wants me alive," Harry said firmly.

"Yeah, so he can do you in himself," Ron said darkly.

"Wormtail said that after he figured out I…when he…he ordered the Death Eaters not to kill me," Harry said, stumbling on the words. "That’s why he never came after me all last year. He wants to capture me and keep me somewhere under his control."

The others gasped in horror.

"We won’t let that happen, Harry," Ginny said, shuddering. She moved closer to Harry and wrapped her arm around his waist, as if anchoring him.

"Voldemort still doesn’t know the whole prophecy. As long as Snape didn’t know, that is. Dumbledore told me the only two people who knew the exact wording were him and me. So, if Snape didn’t know, that means Voldemort still doesn’t know that he has to be the one to kill me in order to come to full power," Harry replied.

"But Snape does know that Dumbledore was looking for the Horcruxes, right?" Hermione asked suddenly.

"Yeah. Dumbledore said that Snape was the one who saved him the night he hurt his hand," Harry said, wondering where Hermione was heading.

"Then if Snape really has turned-"

"He has."

"If Snape really has turned," Hermione said, ignoring Harry’s interruptions, "he’s told Voldemort what Dumbledore was doing. Voldemort isn’t stupid. He’s going to believe that Professor Dumbledore passed that information to someone else, and that person will try to do the same. He’ll be guarding the other Horcruxes."

"Maybe," Harry said, nodding. "Not necessarily, though. Voldemort never would have told anyone else if he were secretly doing something to bring down an enemy. The Death Eaters are his minions, not his friends; Dumbledore stressed that over and over last year. He would never share that kind of information, so he’d never consider the idea that anyone else would."

"Do you think that’s something Malfoy might know?" Ginny asked.

"It’s possible, but he’s not likely to tell me," Harry said, imagining the sneer on Malfoy’s face if he were to question him.

"You could get Moody to ask him," Hermione said.

"Hermione, we’re not telling anyone else," Harry said through gritted teeth. He ran his hand through his mussed hair in frustration.

"I still think someone in the Order ought to know what we’re doing, but I understand how you feel about this," Hermione said, frowning slightly. "Still, I think Moody would help. I doubt Malfoy would know about the Horcruxes, so you could just ask if he’d suddenly ordered any of them to guard anything without reason."

Harry frowned, mulling it over. Hermione had a tendency to always want to run to someone in authority, and she could never admit that the authorities might be wrong. Still, her idea could work, except…

"Moody’s too suspicious; he’d never leave it at that."

"He trusted Dumbledore, and I think he trusts you," Ginny said.

"All right. I’ll ask Moody if I can talk to Malfoy. That’s just the thought I want in my head as I try to go to sleep," Harry said sarcastically.

Ginny ruffled his hair affectionately. "Aww, it’s not easy to be the hero."

Harry scowled, making Ginny giggle.

The girls bade them goodnight and returned to their own room. It took Harry a long time to fall asleep, and when he did his dreams were marred with visions of werewolves, locked boxes and green smoke.

Harry’s heart pounded as he paced inside a small room off the main hallway in Grimmauld Place. Amazingly, Moody had agreed very easily to Harry’s request to question Malfoy. Harry’s expression must have shown his surprise, because the old Auror began to chuckle.

"I figured you were working with Dumbledore on something, and I reckon you’re going to carry on with it. If Dumbledore didn’t think it was something I needed to know, that’s good enough for me. Constant vigilance, Potter. The less people who know what you’re up to, the less chance there is for a leak," he said. "I gave my word to Dumbledore that I’d see this through. If that means helping you with whatever it is you’re doing, that’s just what I’m going to do."

Turning, he stomped out of the room to fetch Malfoy, his wooden leg thumping on the floor with each step.

Harry moved to the back of the room and took a seat in a darkened corner, hoping for the chance to observe Malfoy’s interaction with Moody before he was alerted to Harry’s presence. He was doubtful that Malfoy would cooperate, but if he had any information that could aid him in any way, Harry was determined to get it.

Hearing voices in the hallway, he ducked into the shadows and waited.

"Just because I am forced to survive in these less-than-stellar accommodations does not give you the right to barge into my room uninvited, Mr. Moody. Decent wizarding manners dictate the necessity of sending an owl to arrange an appointment. Despite your lack of breeding, I expect you to uphold these common niceties," Malfoy sneered as he entered the room, sat down on a stiff-backed chair and placed his feet on the matching footstool.

Moody followed closely behind wearing an amused expression. He sat in a chair opposite Malfoy and leaned towards him so that their noses were nearly touching. "Listen here, Darren, and listen good-"

"It’s Draco," Malfoy spat, affronted.

Moody continued as if there hadn’t been an interruption. "You’re not here as a houseguest, you’re here because if you were anywhere else, you’d be dead already."

"And without the information I can provide, you lot won’t be long behind me," Malfoy replied, although he had paled slightly.

Harry took a moment to take a good look at Malfoy’s appearance. He’d lost the dark circles beneath his eyes, and his skin no longer had an ashen pallor, but he still appeared pale and drawn. He spoke with all the haughtiness and bravado Harry had come to expect, but there was an air of brittleness beneath it that hadn’t been there in the past.

"We’ve been through all of this already and agreed to come to an arrangement that could be mutually beneficial," Moody said, sounding weary, as if he’d been over this same conversation many times already.

"That doesn’t mean you can barge into my chambers-"

"I knocked on your door, David," Moody said dryly. "I have a few questions that need answering."

"It’s Draco," Malfoy said through gritted teeth, "and when my mother hears about this, she won’t be pleased."

Moody nodded his head towards the door. "By all means, if you need your mummy present, go and fetch her."

Malfoy puffed out his chest indignantly. "I won’t be treated as a common house-elf, and I’m perfectly capable of handling my own affairs."

"And I won’t be treated as your nanny. Grow up, Dudley," Moody growled, his magical eye looking directly at Harry’s hiding spot and winking.

Harry nearly choked trying to hold back his laughter.

"It’s Draco," Malfoy spat, clenching his teeth. "What is it you need to know? I don’t have all morning."

"Sorry to interrupt your busy social schedule," Harry said, moving into the light and taking the chair next to Moody. He imitated Malfoy by placing his feet on the footstool and crossing his hands on his chest. "I hadn’t realized how fascinating the portraits were up on your wing. I assume that’s who’s keeping you busy since none of the living inhabitants in the house will actually speak to you. I’ll have to visit when I’m in need of stimulating conversation."

Malfoy’s expression rapidly turned from stunned to angry. "Potter," he sneered, glaring down his nose at Harry. "What are you doing here? I’m not staying if he’s in the room."

"He’s the one who has a few questions for you, and since it’s his house, he gets to decide where he goes," Moody replied indifferently.

"I have nothing to say to you," Malfoy said obstinately, looking away from Harry.

"All right," Harry replied, shrugging his shoulders. "I believe you know how to find the front door. Be sure to take all your belongings as there are plenty of people waiting to use your room. Moody, would you mind asking Narcissa Malfoy to join me? I’ll see if she’s any more cooperative then her son. We’ll offer her the same deal."

"Stay away from my mother, Potter," Malfoy snarled, two bright pink spots appearing on his pale cheeks.

Harry gazed at him coldly. "If you won’t cooperate, Malfoy, then I need to find someone who will."

Malfoy clenched his fists tightly, a myriad of expressions crossing his face. "What is it you want to know? I would have thought the precious Chosen One would have better things to do. If you want me out of here so badly, why don’t you follow your destiny so the rest of us can all get on with our lives?" he sneered.

"That’s enough," Moody growled, pulling out his wand and pointing it at Malfoy.

"It’s all right, Moody," Harry said calmly. He knew Malfoy had the tendency to boast when he was angry; Harry was counting on that habit now. "That’s exactly what I’m going to do, Malfoy, with or without your help. I don’t care what happens to you anymore than you care what happens to me. But I think we both have other people living in this house that we do care about. Do you think you can control your childish outbursts for a few moments, or should I go ask your mother?"

Malfoy paled yet again at the reference to his mother. Still, his anger won out, and he sneered, "He’s going to cut you into little pieces and feed you to his snake."

Harry forced himself to keep his voice steady. "Perhaps, but if I can’t take him with me, your life isn’t worth dragon dung."

Malfoy’s anger appeared to swell, and for a moment, Harry was certain he would draw his wand and hex him. After a moment, however, he seemed to deflate and sank wearily back into his chair. "What do you need to know?" he asked tonelessly.

"I want to know if Voldemort," Harry ignored Malfoy’s hiss when he said the name, "has shown any particular care in guarding certain places recently — meaning in the past year. He would have asked for these places to be under surveillance, but he wouldn’t have given any reason why. Does this sound at all familiar?"

Malfoy’s eyes showed a spark of recognition although he tried to cover it. "Why is it important?" he asked.

Harry shrugged indifferently. "It might not be, but call me curious."

Some of Malfoy’s haughty bravado returned as he said dismissively, "I don’t think it could possibly be significant."

"What’s not significant?" Harry asked, his eyes narrowing, the hair on his arms suddenly standing on end.

"Whatever is being guarded isn’t important, or he would have other, more important people guarding it. People that matter," Malfoy replied.

"Like you?" Harry asked, rolling his eyes.

Malfoy flushed. "He gave me the greatest task of all, and I fulfilled it," he said pompously.

Reminded of Malfoy’s role in Dumbledore’s death, Harry felt his skin burn with indignation. "You didn’t; Snape did. In the end, you couldn’t do it. You’re not a killer, Malfoy. Someday you might even be proud of that."

"What do you know about it?" Malfoy asked, his eyes widening with alarm.

"I know plenty. I know you were lowering your wand when Snape and the others burst through that door. Professor Dumbledore offered you a chance, and you were going to take it," Harry said, shuddering as he remembered.

Malfoy narrowed his eyes shrewdly. "How do you-"

"Let’s get back on track here, boys. What do you know about whatever is being guarded, Draco?" Moody asked, using the correct name for the first time.

"I don’t know what or where it is, but he assigned Pettigrew, Crabbe, Goyle and Simmons each to do something and report directly to him. None of them is the brightest or most loyal of followers, so whatever it is can’t be very significant," Malfoy replied, shrugging.

Harry’s mind was racing. Wormtail was watching the Burrow, which of course meant watching him. That would leave the cup and the unknown Horcrux. So, what could the fourth person be watching? Assigning Death Eaters who weren’t particularly smart was exactly Voldemort’s style. They wouldn’t question why or look any deeper into what they were doing, and if the other Death Eaters had attitudes like Malfoy’s, they wouldn’t believe whatever was being done was significant.

Wormtail was Wormtail, and if Crabbe and Goyle were anything like their offspring, they wouldn’t be very bright. He didn’t know anything about Simmons, but imagined he would fall into the same category. Why four of them, though?

Of course! The locket. If Voldemort never knew that RAB had gone to the cave and stolen it, he wouldn’t have been aware that Harry and Dumbledore made it there, either. Dumbledore had said Lucius Malfoy told his master about the diary, and Harry imagined that Snape would have told Voldemort about the ring, but no one knew about the locket. He’d still have someone watching the cave. Their orders would be to report anything suspicious or any visitors immediately so Voldemort could descend upon the place himself.

This was a start. If they could find these people, they’d know they were in the right place.

"Does that mean anything to you, Potter?" Moody asked, watching Harry carefully.

"It might," Harry said absently. "Who really knows what Voldemort is thinking?"

Malfoy dropped his head in his hands, rubbing his forehead wearily. "Look, Potter, I don’t know if this Chosen One business is true or just more of your hype, and I don’t really care. The Malfoy name is as old and respected as any pureblood wizarding family today, and we are being hunted like animals. Neither my mother nor I deserve to live this way. If you’re going to try and end this madness, I’ll do what I can to help you. It doesn’t mean we’re friends, and it doesn’t mean I’ll want anything to do with you once this is all over. If you’re still around, that is."

"Fair enough," Harry said, nodding. "I’m certain I won’t want anything to do with you once it’s all over, either."

Turning his back on Malfoy and nodding slightly at Moody, Harry strode from the room with his head held high. He had a place to start.

Far from London, in a dark stone manor-house set apart from all others, the Dark Lord had summoned his minions. He sat behind a massive oak desk in a high-backed chair resembling a throne. His serpentine features studied the masked, robed figures standing before him, their heads bowed in submission. His long, thin fingers stroked his wand almost lovingly as his fierce red eyes bored into the group.

"Which of you can tell me where Potter and the blood traitor clan have gone?" Voldemort hissed softly. His voice was calm, yet still it caused a shudder to pass through most of the Death Eaters.

"Might I suggest," a smooth, oily voice volunteered from the back of the room, "that they’ve taken shelter inside the headquarters of the Order of the Phoenix? As I’ve reported, the entire Weasley family is in it, and Potter is prone to protect them."

"Yes, Severus," Voldemort said, his eyes briefly flashing with an eerie red glow. "You’ve been quite helpful in supplying me with the names of those in this Order, but you haven’t been able to tell me where their headquarters is located."

Snape bowed even lower to the ground. "My humble apologies, Master, but you are aware of how the Fidelius Charm works. Without the Secret Keeper, the location cannot be revealed."

Voldemort’s irritation showed as he tightly wrapped his emaciated fingers around his wand. "And who would that Secret Keeper be?" he asked.

"As you know, after killing Albus Dumbledore, I am no longer privy to the happenings in the Order," Snape said silkily.

"Yes, we all know you were the one to kill Dumbledore, Snape," Bellatrix Lestrange sneered, unable to maintain her silence any longer. "You appear overly fond of reminding us. What he asked was who their new Secret Keeper is."

"Thank you, Bella," Voldemort hissed dangerously. "While I appreciate your loyalty, I do not appreciate your speaking out of turn."

Bellatrix’s eyes widened behind her mask, as she had finally realized she’d overstepped her bounds. "Of course, Master," she said, bowing her head. "My apologies."

"Do not let it happen again, Bella," he said calmly. As she took a step backwards to take her place in the line of Death Eaters, he raised his wand and hissed, "Crucio."

Bellatrix dropped to the floor, screaming and writhing in agony. The other Death Eaters kept their gazes focused straight ahead, never moving. After an inordinate amount of time, Voldemort lifted the curse and turned to address Snape once again, leaving Bellatrix whimpering on the ground. No one moved to assist her.

"You know these people better than the rest of us, Severus. Whom do you suggest they would have chosen as their Secret Keeper?" he asked.

Snape moved his finger across his chin slowly, deliberating. "My instincts would say either Minerva McGonagall or Alastor Moody, but there is always the enigma of Potter to consider," he said, his upper lip curling.

"What does Potter have to do with it?" Voldemort asked.

"If the brat has any say in the matter, he is most likely the Secret Keeper himself. He’s exceedingly arrogant, and his opinion of himself is exceptionally high. His foolish Gryffindor streak wouldn’t allow anyone else to be at risk, therefore, he’d take on the role himself," Snape replied, grimacing as if he had an unpleasant taste in his mouth.

Voldemort shook his head dismissively. "The Order would never allow a sixteen-year-old boy to be Secret Keeper."

"Ordinarily, I would agree with you, however all rules tend to be bent to Potter’s whim. Dumbledore himself entrusted the boy with far too much information," Snape said, clenching his fists.

"Dumbledore was a fool, and his fondness for the boy was one of his greatest weaknesses. I don’t want any of you to concern yourself with Potter. Leave him to me. I have very specific plans for the boy. He needs to learn what it means to defy me, but he is by no means a threat to our plans," Voldemort said.

Snape looked as if he would argue, but lowered his head and backed away. "Yes, Master."

"Have any of you incompetent fools learned how it was that the blood traitors managed to repel the Dementors from the wedding reception?" Voldemort asked in a low voice.

"Potter and the eldest Weasley, the one I marked as one of my den, managed to strengthen the wards, my Lord," Fenrir Greyback said.

"I see," Voldemort hissed. "I expect, Fenrir, that you will want to be the one to see that this Weasley is punished?"

"Yes, my Lord. I’ve marked him, and I am certain he is now feeling the frustration over how the Ministry regards our kind. He’ll be ripe to turn to our side once I make him a full werewolf," Greyback said, grinning maniacally.

"Excellent. What of our missing Malfoys? Have they been apprehended?" Voldemort asked.

The Death Eaters shifted uncomfortably, but no one spoke.

"I asked a question, and I expect an answer," Voldemort said without raising his voice. Still, the threat in his tone was unmistakable.

"No, my Lord. They appear to have vanished," said a woman’s voice.

"How is this possible?" Voldemort asked.

Again, he was met with silence.

"Answer me," he bellowed, green sparks flashing from his wand.

"They could not have done it without aid," Bellatrix replied, still huddled on the floor. She gasped in pain as she rose on her knees. "My sister doesn’t have any contacts who would aid her against you, my Lord. An acquaintance of Draco’s must be offering them sanctuary."

Snape’s face remained impassive.

"I want them found and brought before me, along with whomever it was who facilitated their escape. Whichever of you finds them will, of course, earn my favor and a small measure of my gratitude," Voldemort said.

"What about Wormtail?’ Bellatrix asked. "He’s not here. Perhaps he allowed my sister to escape."

"Wormtail lacks the courage to do anything so bold. I am aware of his location, as I am aware of each of your assignments. Never forget that, Bella," he said menacingly.

"Yes, Master," Bellatrix said, wincing.

"You all have your orders; don’t disappoint me again. I will be far less gracious the next time we meet if you again have nothing to report but utter failure," he said, his cold, snakelike gaze raking over all of them. "Severus, please remain behind. I have something I need to discuss."

"Yes, my Lord," Snape said, bowing stiffly.

The remaining Death Eaters Disapparated as quickly as they could, eager both to do their master’s bidding and to be away from his wrath.

"It has been over a month since Albus Dumbledore’s death, Severus, and there has not been a single sign of movement towards any of my Horcruxes. I believe you were mistaken that Dumbledore would have made someone else aware of what he was doing," Voldemort said, his voice a low hiss.

Snape bowed his head and moved slowly toward the desk. "Of course you may be right, Master. However, I feel I knew the Headmaster very well after rendering my services to him for so very long. He always had contingency plans."

"Yet you’ve said that you’d lost some of his trust towards the end. You said you thought he was keeping something from you," Voldemort replied, his scarlet eyes narrowing into slits.

"Yes," Snape said, shifting uncomfortably. "He didn’t feel I was doing enough to learn what the Malfoy boy was planning. I was unable to reveal what I knew and without Draco’s cooperation, the stories I fabricated were proven false. As you know, Dumbledore always believed everyone could be saved. He’d hoped that I could offer the boy the chance to reform."

"Yes. His compassion was one of his greatest faults. He could never understand that there are those of us who never wanted to be saved," Voldemort said, a hideous smile twisting his face.

Snape grimaced as if swallowing something slimy and unpleasant. "He also refused to reveal what he was discussing with Potter on their many evenings together."

Voldemort waved his hand carelessly. "You said you’d ensured that Potter was unable to learn Occlumency the previous year. Perhaps Dumbledore attempted to teach the boy himself and caught on to your deceit."

Snape bristled, an ugly sneer crossing his sallow features. "The boy is incapable of using the simplest of techniques. Saying he was unable to learn was not far from the truth."

"Still, Dumbledore was fond of the boy," Voldemort said, apparently amused by Snape’s naked hatred of Harry.

"Yes," Snape replied through gritted teeth. "He was so fond of him that he often allowed the boy to interfere in matters that should have been left to those more capable. I fear that Potter might actually be the one Dumbledore confided in about the Horcruxes. The boy’s ego is certainly large enough that he would believe it was something he could handle."

"Ridiculous. Dumbledore always had a weakness for his favorites, but he would never share the information that could destroy me with a sixteen-year-old boy. Be careful, Severus, your jealousy is showing," Voldemort said, amused.

Snape cocked his head slightly. "If I may respectfully point out, my Lord, you assigned a sixteen-year-old a similar task."

Voldemort’s smile faded and his eyes narrowed again. "I assigned the Malfoy boy his job as a punishment to his father. I knew he’d be unable to complete his task, and I was right. It was you, Severus, who destroyed my enemy. I never expected the Malfoy boy to survive. Dumbledore was far too noble to ever willingly place anyone he considered a child in such danger. His love for the Potter boy would never have allowed it."

Snape scowled. "My Lord-"

"Enough! I do not want to hear any more of this, Severus. I have plans for Harry Potter. I believe the prophecy referred to him as a threat because he is a Horcrux, not because he is anything special on his own. Once I realized what had happened, it became clear to me. I can handle Harry Potter. He is no longer a threat to me. My plans to dismantle the Ministry can now begin. There is no one who can stop me," Voldemort said, his eyes glowing.

"Yes, Master," Snape replied, an uneasy frown upon his face. It was no secret that Snape believed that Harry’s reputation was highly overrated, but he also had to know that it wasn’t wise to underestimate the boy. He had a nasty habit of being in the right place at the right time.