Merry Christmas everybody!
This is this year's Christmas story for you. A nice, little three chapter story, with the pairing Harry / Ginny. Part during the books, part after the end of war before epilogue. And of course, it's AU. I hope you enjoy my Christmas present.
As always, I own nothing about the Harry Potter universe, just this little idea. Happy reading.
Secrets in War
He knew he should break up with her. He had to search for the horcruxes very soon and it would be too dangerous for her to be known to still be his girlfriend. But he honestly didn't want to do it. Call him selfish, but he wanted, no, needed her. She had been the one to pull him through these past two years, when at first the school was turned against him by Ministry slander and then, when nobody believed him about Malfoy being a Death Eater and Hermione sniped at him about the Potions book. Nobody knew, but he had been with her for way longer than any of the others thought. Ever since she had dragged him out of his funk at Grimmauld Place. When she had told him that he had been stupid to not ask her if he was possessed by Voldemort.
He knew that he had kissed Cho before leaving Hogwarts, but it honestly hadn't done anything for him, but make him realise that she wasn't the right girl for him. He had been unsure about his feelings for his long-time crush, but that cleared his confusion up right away. And during the Christmas holidays, after she made him realise that he didn't need to keep his distance from the others, he had started to watch her more closely. And slowly, without really knowing how it happened, he had fallen for her. When they had celebrated the dawn of the New Year, she had surprised him by kissing him on the stroke of midnight. And that kiss had caused butterflies in his stomach. He suddenly knew that Ginny was much better for him than Cho.
He had asked about her boyfriend, but Ginny had told him that she and Michael had broken up at the end of November already, as they had both realised that it didn't work out. They were still friends, and as Michael loved to mock his friends over their lack of girlfriends, she had played along until now, as it gave her a good laugh, but they had talked on the train and had agreed to reveal the prank after the Christmas break. Ginny had agreed to not reveal that they were together, as neither Ron would be happy about it, nor would it be safe with all the ones targeting Harry. They had made a game out of sneaking around for some private time and the Room of Requirement had been very useful in that regard.
And nearly nobody went to the farther away places around the lake. Harry and Ginny had done so and spent many wonderful hours there. Ginny had listened to him, truly listened, and suggested things without expecting him to do exactly as she said, which Hermione tended to do. And she understood his wish to make his parents proud for doing well in school, but which was hard, as neither Ron nor Hermione took too well about outperforming them. She made him realise that holding back would only harm him in the end and he didn't need to openly show everything he could do. Ron rarely cared about report cards and he could blame many things on buckling down to get the required grades for the NEWT classes he needed to become an auror.
Harry also avoided any kind of awkward business with Cho, as he was far too busy with sneaking around to have secret dates with Ginny. He also, for the first time since entering the wizarding world, learned a lot of the things that wizard raised children learned while growing up. He was fascinated listening to a lot of Ginny's stories and some of the things she told him helped him understanding certain things in class better. For example, Mrs Weasley had taught all her children how to properly care for your equipment to make sure it lasted as long as possible and you got the best possible results with what you had.
This included potions tools, books, quills, wands and brooms. Harry had never been told that a wand needed polishing with a special wax once every three months to keep the wood from drying out, which could lead to breaking, if too much stress was put on the wand. Ron never did that or even mentioned it. With Harry's luck he knew that it was important to do so. Next to that there were some very basic brewing tips that could make sure that your potions were better, as you avoided contamination of ingredients. Just keeping that in mind helped to frustrate Snape in class, as Harry's brewing results improved by a whole mark.
On Valentine's Day, he really wanted to know why Hermione insisted in meeting on that day, but Ginny understood that to avoid suspicion he had to go meet her over lunch, he had taken Ginny out for a picnic. He had decided that it would work best if they entered the Three Broomsticks separately, but took tables as close together as they could. This way, once Harry was done with Hermione's request, he would be able to leave, and Ginny could follow soon after. The interview had been a great idea, but it had exhausted him. He was incredibly glad that his girlfriend knew the perfect cure for his mood; snogging him senseless. And Dobby had put a great picnic basket together, which they emptied at one of their secret spots besides the lake. Dobby had set up house elf wards to protect their privacy and keep them warm.
What neither Ron nor Hermione knew, but which Ginny had suggested to Harry, was that he had gone to the Ministry after he had sat the OWLs at Hogwarts and had done a few more subjects with the home-schooled students. That option was always available for all students that didn't manage to sit all the OWLs they wanted to take during the two weeks that they were sat at Hogwarts. Or for those that Hogwarts didn't offer. Harry had sat Arithmancy, after a glimpse into Ginny's book about the subject he found it really easy, very similar to muggle maths in fact and he had been an ace at that subject in primary school, Muggle Studies, a real joke for muggle raised students, languages, he had learned enough French from Fleur after 'saving' Gabrielle from the Black Lake that he could hold a basic conversation and had self-studied Latin to better his casting, and lastly he took the exam for Duelling. With all the DA training, he had an easy time there.
The results for his classes had been sent on two separate pieces of parchment. He had only shown Hermione the official one for the classes he took at Hogwarts. She had been surprised about his O's in Transfiguration, Charms, COMC and Potions, the one in DADA was expected by her, but didn't comment, accepting Harry's explanation of really working hard to get into the NEWT classes for an auror. Herbology with an E rounded that part up. He had passed Astronomy with an A, understandable due to the interruption, History he managed to pass with an A as well, a real surprise, as he had had the vision there, and Divination was a P, which he couldn't care less about, as he hated the class.
His secret subjects ended with O's in Duelling, Arithmancy and Muggle Studies and an E in languages. He was very pleased with that. He had eight O's, two E's, two A's and one P. More than great in his opinion. He had always wondered how Percy had managed his twelve OWLs, but with the information that you could take more subjects at the Ministry, and two were right up Percy's line, those being Politics and Law, it was easy to see how he had got them. Harry could show the same number now.
He knew that, without Dumbledore alive to keep Voldemort in check, it would be too risky to go to the Ministry to sit his NEWTs. He could at least pass six subjects with an E right now and he had been tempted to just do that, as it would remove him from under anybody's control as soon as he turned seventeen.
But the rules stated that you had to be at least seventeen to sit them and, with his birthday being the thirty first of July, that wasn't possible. The tests were at the beginning of the summer break normally to send all results at the same time.
He and Ginny had still celebrated his OWL results in secret while he stayed at the Burrow the summer after his fifth year. Ginny had been wonderful in helping him deal with the death of Sirius, the guilt he still felt for Cedric's death and many other things. He in turn helped her with her guilty feelings for the Chamber of Secrets mess. She sometimes still had nightmares about it and thus they helped each other heal. He really couldn't let her go, but somehow they had been too careless after that last Quidditch match of the season and he had kissed Ginny in front of the whole common room. They had played it off as a new relationship, but it was hard at times to play being really innocent and new to their feelings. They were far from innocent and he had no doubt that if Mrs Weasley even suspected what he got up to with her only daughter, he would never be allowed to be alone in the same room with her.
He needed to talk to her alone. He needed to make a plan, which would work to protect her properly, but not take away his most precious person. The separation that he would have to go through would be hard enough. Not being allowed to, at least in secret, hold her close and kiss her, would be unbearable. He had a thought and the longer he thought about it, the better he liked it. He would make sure that she was safe and once he had finally dealt with Voldemort, they would be together. He loved her, he had finally admitted it to himself and he would be damned if he gave up the most wonderful thing to ever happen to him. He took out his invisibility cloak, he still always had it on his person, and went to get to Hogsmeade through the statue of the hump-backed witch.
Ginny looked into the mesmerizing eyes of her boyfriend. He had just told her his plan and she had to say, for one of his plans, it was incredibly good. He had thought of all kinds of possible problems and found passable counters. The main issue was that she was still subjected to the trace for more than a year. His trace would break in a little more than a month.
"You really want to do this?" She asked moved.
"More than anything, Ginny. I know that I can't openly be known to be your boyfriend until Voldemort is dead and I sadly have that stupid prophecy hanging over my head. He won't leave me alone. Right now, we still have the chance to brush what others watched off as a short fling. Nobody but us knows that it is anything but. I love you and I know that if I was free to do as I wanted, I would declare that to the whole world," Harry stated.
"I love you too, Harry. And I agree with your plan," She nodded.
"Thank you. That means a lot to me," Harry smiled.
"Then let's do it before my stupid brother starts looking for us again. Really, on the one hand he says he's okay with our relationship, on the other he still grouches about us kissing. And we really only do the innocent kind of kisses. Not the ones that take my breath away that always end in us losing our clothes and going at it like rabbits in heat," Ginny commented giggling.
"I wouldn't want him to know what we get up to. He's really close-minded in that regard. He needs to grow up a bit more to understand that sex is perfectly normal in a relationship," Harry commented, "He would rant all the time and that really gets on your nerves."
"True that. He's way too prude," Ginny nodded.
Harry pulled out a basic silver ring with some black runes on it, with a smaller red circle in the middle of two silver ones.
"I got this in Hogsmeade. It is enchanted to protect you from any kind of poisons and potions in your food and will produce a powerful shield charm, should you be attacked. The runes are powered each night by your magic. The longer the ring doesn't need to use its powers, the more powerful the protection will be and the longer it will last. I want you to take the ring as a promise as well. Once this war is over, I will replace the ring with a real one. One that shows the whole world that I intend to spend the rest of my life with you," Harry told her seriously and held up his own right hand, where he wore a matching ring on his middle finger, "This is also to show that I'm as committed to you, as you would be to me."
"I will accept it in the spirit it is given, Harry, thank you. I will sleep easier knowing that nobody can sneak up on me next year at school," Ginny said, "And I will hold you to that promise. So, don't you dare do anything stupid and die on me!"
"I have every reason to stay alive, Ginny," Harry replied tenderly.
"I really hope so. I don't want to lose you, Harry," She stated emotionally.
He closed the small distance, placed the ring on her finger and kissed her passionately. They both needed to feel the other. It had always been like this.
Harry really needed some time away from Ron and Hermione. Their silent talks behind his back were really grating on his nerves. Did they think he wouldn't notice? And their kind of support wasn't really all that useful. Hermione was totally convinced that only her ideas were right, and she dismissed all of his outright, if she thought that they were ridiculous. Hello, who had been shown the memories and had dealt with Riddle in person time and again? It was him, not her! But still, she couldn't imagine that your school could become your home. And Ron couldn't either. Well, both had loving families. They had support outside of the school. Neither Harry nor Riddle had had that, which made them feel like Hogwarts was their home. It would be even stronger for Riddle, who had found out that he was Slytherin's descendent.
He would feel it prudent to hide one of his horcruxes at the one place that meant everything to him. His visible proof to his grand heritage. A place where he had explored all the secrets he could. He had even found the Chamber of Secrets as the first one in a millennium. That took serious dedication to the place. She thought it might be at the orphanage. As if he would ever use a place, which he had hated. A place that made him a common orphan. A place where he didn't have any special powers he could boast with. A place that Dumbledore knew about and would have looked into first thing while he was gone last year. No, that one was a dead-end. He needed to think of places of great importance to Riddle. Places where he would feel special. Or which would prove his heritage. Places that he felt were absolutely safe against theft.
Then Harry hit his head.
"I'm an idiot!" He mumbled, "Kreacher!"
The old elf appeared in front of him.
"Hello Kreacher, I have some questions, which I hope you can answer," Harry greeted.
"Certainly, Master Harry. Kreacher will do his best to answer his master's questions."
"Firstly, are house elves capable of getting money from Gringotts for their masters if they present the vault key?" Harry wanted to know.
"House elves can't touch goblin gold keys. Enchantments on them burn elf skin. But master can give his elf a letter for goblins to get the elf gold from the vault. Or master can give general access to vault to the elf, which is what the Blacks did in the past. An elf can't betray his master's secrets and can only go to the vault if master orders it," Kreacher explained.
"Does that access generally cover all members born into a house, or only those with the surname?" Harry asked.
"All those born into the family," Kreacher answered, "But elves cannot take money from a vault without direct order of the head of the family. It doesn't work with other members."
"So, for example, if I, as heir to Sirius, who was the last head of the Blacks, thanks to being the last male with the name, ordered you, as the Black house elf, to get me money from the Black family vault, you could do it?" Harry asked, "Or from those that married into other families like Bellatrix Lestrange or Narcissa Malfoy?"
This was the important point. This would decide if his idea had any worth.
"Kreacher can do that," Kreacher nodded.
"Can you also take your master into those vaults without having to go through the bank proper?" Harry asked.
"His master's order is the house elf's highest law. If master ordered this, Kreacher could do it," Kreacher confirmed.
"Very good. Kreacher, I need to get into the vaults of all Death Eaters that are related to the Blacks. I need to find another item like the locket that Master Regulus wanted destroyed and I suspect it could be hidden there. Gringotts is the safest place to hide something you don't want to be found. Except maybe Hogwarts," Harry repeated Hagrid's words from before his first year.
"Kreacher will do so," Kreacher nodded and took Harry's hand, popping them away.
Harry was actually disgusted with many things that the Death Eaters kept in their vaults. He had searched the Malfoy vault, even if he didn't expect a second horcrux anywhere in possession of Lucius Malfoy, but it could have been taken here later on, if a previous hiding place had been too unsecure for Voldemort, for whatever reason. The vault held many useful things and masses of gold, which he took some of, thinking that, as Malfoy had got most of it with illegal means, it wouldn't be wrong to relieve him of some money. He was the enemy after all. Harry also had to hold in a cackle, as, if Lucius hadn't been stupid enough to transfer all the Malfoy money into the vault that had once been Narcissa's trust vault, simply because it was on the lower levels and therefore had much more protection, including a dragon as the guard, according to Kreacher, he wouldn't have had access to it. But it showed that the Blacks were far higher in the social ranking than the Malfoys and a lot of Lucius' influence came from his marriage with Narcissa. In fact, after Kreacher had shown him the size of the Black family vault, he had taken to transfer all the gold he could to the Black vault.
Only he had access to it, as head of the Black family, and he could simply leave the goblins a letter to ban anybody but him from accessing it. That would prevent theft by Death Eaters. He would see how things were after the war and how to use the gold. He didn't plan to let Lucius get off the hook again by bribing influential politicians. He would go to Azkaban. Especially as he hadn't been held responsible and punished for the stunt with the Chamber of Secrets. He had a personal grudge against the man for that. He was evil and deserved Azkaban.
Next up was Bellatrix's vault and he found Hufflepuff's cup there, which had him grinning. Kreacher disabled the protective charms on the items in the vault and then Harry repeated the procedure of transferring anything into the Black family vault. It was close to being full now and Harry asked if there also was a way to take him into the Potter family vault. He was very pleased to find out that it was, as Dorea Potter, Harry's grandmother, had been born a Black and had had full access to the vault after her marriage to Charlus Potter. While that didn't allow Black family members entry, it allowed a Black family elf to get in there on orders of the rightful head of the Potter family.
Thus, Harry continued to take away Voldemort's war chest. He robbed all the gold he could from those Death Eaters that hadn't secured their vaults against Black elves. And the Blacks were related to more families than Harry had known, even after being shown the family tapestry by Sirius during his fifth year. Not to mention that any Black always had a better level of security for their vault than other families. There was some truth to the arrogance about the importance of the Blacks that Walburga always showed. Even if she still was a nasty old hag in her portrait. The things that Harry left in the vaults were those that he didn't have any use for. The alarms would trigger if he removed anything from any vault he didn't have access to from Gringotts. But the internal transfer wouldn't cause the same reaction. Thus, he decided to store everything that he thought too dangerous in the old personal vault of Regulus Black, which didn't see any movements, as it was emptied by his parents after his death. It still remained as a possible future trust vault for children from the House of Black.
Now it was a deposit place to prevent that Voldemort could use it. Complete with a dragon in front of it to guard it and the other four vaults in this area of the tunnels. Regulus would surely have agreed to help out in this way. Harry took one thousand Galleons from the Potter vault and had Kreacher take them to the tellers to exchange them into British Pounds. That was a job a house elf could do for its master. No goblin would even ask what the money was needed for. They would be happy to get gold and give out worthless paper, which it was in their eyes. Which was why their exchange rates were more or less screwed up. They gave out five hundred Pounds for one Galleon, even if the buying power of a Galleon was about fifty pounds. They simply didn't want the paper.
In the past they had had to give one Galleon for fifty pounds when muggleborns had exchanged money, Ministry orders, but now they only had the paper that they had taken in the past and couldn't get rid of it properly. There wasn't anybody that wanted it anymore after all, as the Ministry, which had previously got some regularly for jobs in the muggle world, no matter which country, shunned anything muggle and would for the foreseeable future, if nothing drastic happened, which the goblins didn't consider very probable. Probably because of the way things had gone the first time Voldemort was powerful. Therefore, they rather handed it out for much less than they had paid for it, when somebody actually asked for it.
If somebody wanted the dratted paper, they would hand it out gladly. They didn't know that Harry had great plans for the five hundred thousand Pounds that he surprisingly got from Kreacher. This money would make the resistance much better prepared, especially as he had as good as bankrupted the dark side.
Ginny smiled reading the letter that Harry had Kreacher deliver to her. She was incredibly happy to hear from him. His mission was going better than it had for a while and they had managed to find and destroy two horcruxes. And yes, Ginny knew what Harry was doing, as he had told her everything about his lessons with Dumbledore. After Harry had had enough of Hermione and Ron talking and complaining behind his back, he had taken the book that Hermione had about horcruxes and read if from cover to cover. Until then she hadn't really let either male read it. Harry could only shake his head at that kind of thinking. She had kept too much information about the horcruxes and their history for herself, simply assuming that it wasn't relevant for the mission.
One mention in the book was that there was a theory that not many researchers actually believed in. It said that those that shared the same blood as the one that had created the horcrux, could undo the enchantment in his stead. Supposedly there had been a dark wizard in the sixteen hundreds that had made two horcruxes and his youngest son, who didn't share his father's beliefs, was aghast at what his father had become. He had stolen one of the horcruxes and cast the counter charm that would trigger the release and return of the soul piece to its owner.
Hermione had placed many notes into the book and had dismissed the idea as ridiculous, or, even if it might be true, useless, as nobody was related to Tom Riddle anymore, after he had killed his father and grandparents, and his maternal family was also made disappear or was already dead when he found out about them. Harry meanwhile had remembered that he, thanks to the ritual Voldemort had used to get back a body, shared his blood with Voldemort. Harry had studied the release charm, which was explained in the description of the creation of horcruxes as a way to remedy if you accidentally stuffed your soul into the wrong container, which one really stupid dark wizard had managed to do five times before finally getting it right, and had used it on the locket and the cup once he had it down properly.
As a side note, more a warning to those attempting the charm, it was very unadvisable to mess the placement up repeatedly, as that wizard lost his mind and was brought down easily by his enemies, once they found his horcrux. The charm worked on all horcruxes that were within a certain distance of the caster. It turned out to be a great thing, as Harry's scar turned out to be an unexpected horcrux. He released three soul pieces at once and fell unconscious for two days after it. Still, his magic was now much more powerful, and he felt much happier, as if a big burden had been lifted from his shoulders that he hadn't even noticed.
He wrote how he missed her and wished he could meet her in person. How she wished that it was possible. But she couldn't get out of Hogwarts and Harry couldn't sneak inside without triggering several alarms. And the Carrows kept a very strict eye on curfew and had the heads of houses report the absence of any student in the house. The only viable excuse was being stuck at the hospital wing, which Madam Pomfrey had to confirm with a report what was wrong with the student in question, and being forced into punishment by the Carrows. She shuddered. They had had to save so many that had been chained to the wall and hit with dark curses by those Slytherin upper years that supported the Carrows' regime of terror at the school.
She wished she could keep the letter, but she knew that she had to burn it. She had done that with all of Harry's letters, to destroy any kind of evidence that she was in contact with him or still together with him. Everybody had bought their ruse of breaking up at the funeral, Harry playing noble git and she resigned girl that had to let the hero go to do his job. The one time they slipped up in keeping things secret had been on Harry's birthday, where she couldn't resist kissing him in her bedroom. Which the git Ron had to interrupt. She really hoped that soon she could be back with Harry.
Harry smirked seeing the reaction of Ron and Hermione to his revelation of having found out how to destroy the horcruxes and having finally dealt with the locket that had caused them so many problems when they had to wear it. Not to mention that he had found another horcrux at Gringotts of all places with the help of Kreacher, who stood proudly when his master praised his help.
"How did you come up with the idea of Gringotts?" Ron asked.
"I had the thought that Riddle would look for places where he felt that theft was impossible. And Hagrid once told me that Gringotts was the safest place to keep your valuables, except maybe Hogwarts. It was when he took me school shopping before my first year, and he also collected the Philosopher's Stone at the same time. Which led me to the conclusion that little eleven-years-old Tom Riddle, when he first saw the Gringotts building, of course would see having a vault there as a symbol of being a true wizard. Add the security precautions and you have one very secure hiding place for anything you don't want others to find that would tempt Riddle to use it. I then simply started looking through any vault that belongs to Death Eaters that are related to the Blacks, as Kreacher was still allowed to get into those vaults, as he's a Black house elf," Harry explained.
"Why didn't you tell us? We could have planned the thing properly," Hermione asked.
"To only get my suggestion shot down again? No thank you, Hermione. I have had that happen too often by now. You treat me as if I don't have a brain sometimes or that I only think of ridiculous things. I thought that, even if you might not think that my ideas are reasonable, you had learned not to dismiss them last year after I was proven right that Malfoy had taken the dark mark," Harry pointed out.
"That was different!" She insisted.
"How so? I tried telling anybody I could that Malfoy behaved suspiciously and was up to something. That something turned out to be orders to kill Dumbledore. While Dumbledore suspected it, he didn't act either. And Malfoy's earlier attempts got Katie into St. Mungo's for months, having been very lucky to not touch that cursed necklace properly, which would have killed her, and Ron poisoned, which, if not for me acting quickly and remembering that note about bezoars in the book you always gave me grief about, would also have killed him. You and Ron also didn't want to believe it and especially you were very cold and distant about anything I did last year. And I really didn't do anything wrong that deserved it. Just because I decided to go with instructions in a book that differed from what you used, and I offered you to share the book, it isn't cheating.
"In the end it turned out to be Snape who wrote the additions. And while I hate the man, I will admit that he's brilliant at Potions. Had he simply published the book with his additions under his real name, you would have immediately been willing to believe anything in it, because he was a teacher and a person of authority. I still believe that there is one horcrux at Hogwarts and the simple reason is that it would have been an irresistible temptation to trick Dumbledore like that for Riddle. If he could hide a horcrux directly under Dumbledore's nose, it would be the perfect idea for him.
"And there are many places that Dumbledore knew nothing about and more than enough secret passages through which Riddle could have got into the castle without Dumbledore knowing. Or he could have used the day he went to apply for the DADA position. He was already there after all," Harry listed.
"But Dumbledore would have kept him watched then," Hermione insisted, rolling her eyes.
"And you really think that something as unimportant like that would have stopped Riddle? Face it, there are too many ways to drop from the radar. Alone an invisibility cloak or a really powerful disillusionment charm would prevent that anything from portraits to ghosts would be able to find him. Add some more stealth charms and you get a small window of opportunity," Harry countered.
"Let's say I admitted you could be right, where would he be able to leave a horcrux that Dumbledore didn't know about? Which places wouldn't he have found?" Hermione asked.
"I know of two he didn't know about that we found. The Chamber of Secrets, which would have been perfect, as only a parselmouth can open the entrance, or the Room of Requirement. Dumbledore never knew their locations or how to get into them," Harry answered, "And if I had to guess, I would bet on the Room of Requirement. There are endless possibilities of rooms to choose from. And it would be nearly impossible to find it in a room like the one Malfoy used to repair the vanishing cabinet and where I hid the Potions book. That one is filled up to the ceiling with lost and hidden things."
"I have to admit that it sounds like it could be possible," Ron replied, looking at Hermione, "Dumbledore's office is at the seventh floor as well. The way from there to the entrance of the Room of Requirement isn't too long or out of the way to not make it possible."
"Don't be stupid! Dumbledore would have kept an eye on every move Riddle made while he was at Hogwarts," Hermione protested.
"He wasn't all-knowing!" Harry declared, "He would be the first one to admit that, Hermione. He said so himself. He made mistakes. And he didn't know where the horcruxes were hidden. He would of course have noticed if Riddle had stayed much longer than expected, but who will look for the exact timing? It would only cost Riddle five to ten minutes to hide something in the Room of Requirement. And it could also have been that he went back during the night, having just used the visit to check the defences that were active."
Hermione just huffed, not willing to admit she could be wrong. Harry just shook his head and left the tent. He really didn't want to deal with that. He wouldn't cave in this time. She was his friend, but he really had enough of her attitude. How he wished he had Ginny with him. She would understand and be willing to see if his theory was correct. What would it hurt after all?
Harry was hidden under his invisibility cloak. While Ron was willing to accept the possibility of there being a good chance that Riddle had hidden a horcrux at Hogwarts, Hermione was stubbornly against that. Her belief in authority figures like Professor Dumbledore was more a hindrance than anything right now. And reminding her of the failures of authority figures like Fudge, Umbridge, Snape and the like only made her insist that Dumbledore was different. Therefore, Harry again set out on his own. A house elf was an incredible asset for the mission. Kreacher managed to get him into Hogwarts easily, without triggering any alarms.
The one thing Harry had left with his friends was a large bag with food from a supermarket, with the comment that he had also got more money from his vault so that they wouldn't have to deal with the supply problems anymore. Ron's mood certainly improved after that. He was much nicer again and he often calmed Hermione down when she tried to get her will. Being rid of the horcrux also definitely helped. Harry knew that if he proved her wrong again, it would help a lot. He really didn't understand why she had to always be right.
Harry had intercepted Luna, Neville and Ginny after their last classes of the day and slipped them a note, saying that he needed their help and wanted to meet them in the Room of Requirement. He waited next to the wall where the hidden entrance was and when Neville set up the room, he slipped in with them. Once the door vanished behind the group, he took off the invisibility cloak.
"Harry!" Ginny exclaimed delightedly and jumped into his arms.
"Just delay your full happy reunion until we got the official part out of the way," Neville spoke up, grinning, "I know you two lovebirds will want some private time."
"You knew?" Harry asked surprised.
"You would be surprised what one can find out if people tend to underestimate and ignore you. I've known that you and Ginny were a couple since the Easter break in our fifth year. I just decided that it was your decision when to tell people, therefore I kept silent. It was actually pretty entertaining to see how only I had a clue what was really going on between you and Ginny," Neville chuckled, "Especially when boys tried to get her to date them or when Ron threw a fit over the possibility."
"Thanks, mate," Harry replied gratefully, "We didn't want my enemies to target her."
"Very wise, the nargles could have told them if you weren't careful," Luna agreed.
All of them could speak enough Luna to understand what she meant.
"So, what did you want to discuss with us and where are Hermione and Ron?" Neville asked.
"Well, let's say that Hermione and I have strong differences in opinion and I left the two at our current location while I came here to investigate something very important. While I can't tell you everything, what with the Carrows controlling the school and the danger of the information getting back to their boss, I can give you a rough picture. Vol" Harry was interrupted by Ginny kissing him surprisingly.
"Ginny?" Harry asked once she stopped.
"Don't use the name. They have put a taboo onto it. Malfoy was bragging to Parkinson how this cunning move would bring in the enemies of Tom into custody very fast and that he hoped that you would be caught thanks to it and be killed," She told him upset.
"Damn it, thank you, Ginny. I didn't have a clue. I just started using Riddle to talk about him, because Ron always protests hearing the name out of fear," Harry said, "But with you not having that problem, I did what I always did."
"That's the reason why they did it, Harry," Neville stated, "Only the strongest and bravest would use his name. It's a secure way to find his opponents and take them out."
"I think I need to hear what kind of information you could collect on what the Death Eaters do and plan while I'm here. How long do you have until you're missed?" Harry asked.
"Tomorrow morning. They have stopped meals in the Great Hall except for the Slytherins after the first week, as Gryffindor, Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw were close to mutiny over their ways of doing things. And face it, the best time to strike would be when there was a large number of students in one place. Even the extreme Slytherins, the junior Death Eaters, wouldn't be able to support the Carrows if all three houses turned against them at once," Neville said, "Therefore, they have ordered the house elves to send meals up to the common rooms. That way they can keep control. And they can lord the fact that the good behaviour of the Slytherins got them better food. While they have the heads of houses report the absence of any student that isn't present at curfew, we have some ways around that to cover for one or two students at a time. As long as it isn't for more than one evening, there won't be any consequences."
"Makes sense. Well, then I can take a bit more time to explain things properly. I have a mission that Professor Dumbledore gave me. I need to find certain things that are important for Riddle to stay in power. It will be impossible to defeat him before those things are found and destroyed. Five of the items have already been destroyed, I know where one of the two others is, but the last one, I think, could be hidden here at Hogwarts. Professor Dumbledore theorised that Riddle, as descendent of Slytherin, wanted to have those things that secured his power to have a connection to the Hogwarts founders.
"One was a diary that proved his opening of the Chamber of Secrets when he was a student here, the next a ring that belonged to his maternal grandfather, from which side he had the Slytherin heritage. Then there was a locket of Slytherin, a cup from Hufflepuff and the last one I know what it is, is his snake, he calls it Nagini. The last item should be something of Gryffindor or Ravenclaw," Harry explained.
"Ravenclaw is famous for her lost diadem," Luna said immediately, "Daddy is trying to replicate it and thinks he has a good lead on it."
"Do you think you could show me a picture of the diadem?" Harry asked and was surprised when a crown-like item appeared on a small cupboard with a bust that looked eerily familiar to him.
"Harry, that is the lost diadem!" Luna exclaimed excitedly and walked over, only for Harry to stop her.
"We don't know if Riddle did something to make it dangerous yet," Harry warned, "The locket could make you depressed and the diary could possess you if you were in contact for too long. I have no idea what this thing's protection might be."
"I guess you're right, but it is a true shame," Luna whined.
Harry nodded and then did a detection charm that had also been in the book that he had taken from Hermione. It came back positive.
"That's definitely one of the things I need to find. I can't believe that it was this easy," Harry commented happily, "Please stand back a little, I will cast the spell to get rid of Riddle's enchantment."
Harry waited until they had backed off and then cast the reversing spell. Like the locket and the cup, there was a small shriek, as if something was angry and surprised, then it was silent again. He knew that the soul had re-joined Riddle. He truly wondered if he had noticed anything.
"It's safe now," Harry stated.
"That was a bit anticlimactic. I would have expected more drama," Ginny commented.
"I like this much better than the way we had to use to get the locket back from Umbridge," Harry replied.
"I guess that's true. How long can you stay?" Ginny wanted to know.
"I told Ron and Hermione that I would be back tomorrow in the morning. I think they should be alright, as I left them a large bag with supplies like food and other necessary things. Ron is a real grouch without food," Harry told her.
"Isn't that the truth," Ginny laughed, then kissed Harry again.
Once they had separated, with Neville grinning at them and Luna smiling happily, Harry started telling them about the things that had happened on his end and they in turn described how Hogwarts was and how they were resisting the Carrows. Neville and Luna left before curfew while Harry and Ginny spent the night in the Room of Requirement. As the heads of houses only reported a student missing if they were informed about it by a prefect, and didn't check further if there wasn't any reason to, they could have this one night for themselves. And they certainly used it.
Hermione wanted to shout at Harry for being careless. She really wanted to. But then again, here was proof that he had been right and she had been wrong. Again. He had been to Hogwarts, which she really wanted to tell him off for, and had found the diadem of Ravenclaw, the last horcrux that they didn't know what it was exactly. She didn't like being proven wrong. It had been bad already last year, when it turned out that Malfoy was really a Death Eater. While Malfoy hadn't succeeded with his plans, his involvement and actions had directly led to the death of Dumbledore, because his actions had given the Death Eaters an entry into the castle, bypassing the wards completely. But this was infinitely worse. Had Harry listened to her, which she had nearly expected him to do, simply because he had done so in the past, they would never have found one of Riddle's horcruxes and he would have ruled their country forever, probably expanding his reign into other countries in the future.
Ron also looked uncomfortable. He had supported Hermione's point of view, as he didn't want her angry with him, but here he saw that Harry had been right all the time. He didn't like it, but he had less problems admitting that Harry had been right than Hermione had. He was used to others being smarter than him. He wasn't stupid, but all this putting clues together wasn't his forte.
"I hope that this is enough proof that you won't dismiss my suggestions in the future anymore. That's twice I was right and you were wrong. Now we only need Nagini and then we can deal with Riddle. By the way, there has been put a taboo on the name, therefore we won't use it anymore. Anybody using his chosen name is tracked immediately and any kind of protection around them is destroyed. That's how they found us in Tottenham Court Road after we left the wedding," Harry told them.
"Good to know. We would have been in real trouble," Hermione stated, still unwilling to apologise for her mistakes.
"Well, how do we find the snake?" Ron asked after a while of silence.
"It's going to be hard. It might be with Riddle, or he might have it spying around again, like he did when it bit your Dad, Ron," Harry answered.
Ron nodded, uneasily. He remembered the damage Nagini had caused and how it had been lucky that his Dad had got medical help fast enough. If they got bitten by her, he didn't know if they could counter her venom.
"Do you have any idea where she might be sent to spy?" Ron asked.
"One. If I was Riddle and had the goal to get my enemy out of the way, I would place somebody that wouldn't stand out and who was loyal to me without a doubt at the one place where I knew my enemy would appear sooner or later. The one place where he will think I will appear sooner or later is Godric's Hollow. He would know from Snape how I was never allowed to visit my parents' graves. And therefore, I think he might have placed Nagini into the village to be a lookout for the time I come and to possibly subdue me until he can come to kill me," Harry pointed out.
He had thought about this for a while. It was the one thing that made sense to him. Hermione was right with her warning that Riddle would expect him to come to Godric's Hollow, but he wouldn't waste manpower to keep an eye on the village. That was far too unreliable in his eyes. They could become bored and miss if Harry was there, should he have a disguise that was good enough. But Nagini, as a snake, could be very patient and wait for her prey. And with his soul piece inside of her, there was no worry about her not doing her job.
"Wouldn't people notice a snake that big?" Hermione asked.
"I doubt that he would have trouble finding a disguise for her. He could even let her impersonate a villager that didn't have many connections to others," Ron surprisingly said, "There are ways with dark magic to use the bodies of people that were killed to appear alive and hide a dark creature that isn't too big inside. The dark magic would control the body and let it appear normal until the creature revealed itself. Dad once told us that this was how our uncles Fabian and Gideon died in the end. They were holding their own against the Death Eaters that had ambushed them, but You-Know-Who had put snakes into bodies of Order members that he had recently caught and killed. They just thought that they were there to back them up and let them come too close. The snakes broke out of their shells when they were in the middle of the battle and bit them, poisoning them. That's how they died. They were fantastic duellers according to Dad. Mum doesn't like talking about them, it's too painful for her."
Hermione was shocked, as she hadn't known that possibility.
"Why did you never mention it before?" She asked.
"I didn't think about it until Harry mentioned that she could be disguised. I was honestly more worried about getting to her if she was around You-Know-Who," Ron replied.
Hermione had to admit that he had a point.
"We will have to have a good plan before we go to Godric's Hollow if we want to investigate if it could be true," She said.
"The best course of action would be an ambush. One or two of you need to be hidden while I openly approach the grave of my parents while being under polyjuice. You can hide under the invisibility cloak. If it really is Nagini who approaches me, you won't be able to understand her, as only I, as a parselmouth, would hear her hisses as English," Harry reasoned.
"But that's dangerous. Nagini could attack you immediately!" Hermione protested.
"Riddle has given orders to leave me to him. Therefore, I doubt that the snake would really kill me. And, thanks to having had basilisk venom and phoenix tears in my bloodstream, I have a higher resistance against snake and other animal-based venom than others. Madam Pomfrey told me that after the third task, when we were alone in the hospital wing. After all, I had been bitten by an acromantula," Harry replied.
Hermione didn't know what to say to that, therefore she stayed silent, still frowning.
"It's the best idea we currently have. We should go to Godric's Hollow and stake the place out like we did with the Ministry. That way we would know what to expect and could apparate away, should it really become dangerous," Ron suggested.
"That's a good idea, Ron," Harry agreed.
While he was honestly annoyed at Ron's attitude, at least he didn't directly dismiss everything Harry said, just agreeing with Hermione when she pointed out things in her logic. And he really didn't have a large number of supporters right now, therefore he was willing to keep the peace as much as possible. He could deal with everything else once they got rid of Riddle.
Harry looked down at the slain body of Nagini. He had been right. She had taken over the body of Bathilda Bagshot, a famous historian and acquaintance of his parents and Dumbledore. He had convinced both Ron and Hermione to let him visit the graves on his own visibly, having taken polyjuice potion to look like some random muggle, who he had summoned hairs from. He had gone shortly after dusk, trying to look unsuspicious. He had spent a good half an hour at the grave, taking his time to finally pay his respects to his parents. It was much harder than he had thought. Their sacrifice, so he could live, hit him all the harder, seeing their gravestone. They had been so young when they had died. Just twenty-one years old.
When he had left a lit, conjured candle and a small wreath of flowers, he walked back to the gate of the graveyard, knowing that Hermione and Ron were close, hiding from view with silencing charms on their feet to prevent being heard. He had been accosted by an old woman, who had told him to follow her, as she had to give him something. Harry played along, having noticed the soft hissing under the speaking, proving that this was Nagini in disguise. Once they had reached a darker alley, Ron and Hermione had struck and hit the body with cutting curses, which forced Nagini out of the skin of the dead woman. Harry had acted immediately and used the dark cutting curse that Snape had invented.
It was fitting that the traitor's trademark spell was now used to end the last horcrux. Hermione was busy vanishing the remains, now that the snake was dead, and Harry had performed the reverse spell again to make sure that the horcrux was really gone. It hadn't had any effect, as the killing of the snake had already destroyed it. The three friends apparated away, as they didn't want to stay for too long. It was possible after all that Riddle had felt the death of his familiar if he was connected with her through the horcrux.
The death of Nagini had surprisingly gone unnoticed by Riddle for a while, which Harry and his friends used to prepare for the inevitable final battle that would come. Harry trained all kinds of spells, now Hermione's large book collection came in handy, and they were soon at the level of graduates of Hogwarts in their casting. Ron mentioned that if classes at Hogwarts had had less theory and more practical parts, like they had done here, he would have been a lot better in his classes.
Hermione had tried to defend the theory parts, but Harry pointed out that Ron was right, and that the theory could have been kept shorter than it had been. They would all be better then. After all, while understanding how a spell worked was good, in the end it wouldn't matter if you couldn't use it. And few students were able to understand how to perform a spell from just reading the book. And Harry had always done better in practical parts than theory. He especially doubted the necessity of overly long essays. A short summary of a spell and its effects as well as what to keep in mind while using it would have been more than enough. They could have covered a lot more material that way.
Hermione wouldn't be convinced, but Harry simply kept to his opinion, letting her keep hers.
Harry also managed to get in contact with Kingsley. The man had also been on the run for a little while, after nearly getting caught after using Riddle's name. Thanks to being a full member of the Order, Kingsley had managed to coordinate with the other members to set up a site where they could take out the Death Eaters. After some long talks with Harry how to do things, they came up with a solution that everybody could get behind. As an auror, Kingsley had learned ways how to keep wizards imprisoned without a chance to escape, even without the help of dementors. There was a runic array that could be applied to a prisoner that would prevent him from accessing his magic.
He had been among those lobbying for a new prison using those arrays, so that they could get rid of the dementors, but Fudge had been too stubborn and it had come to bite them. The dementors were on Riddle's side. Thanks to the ideas and skills of Fred and George, they had a way to knock about twenty Death Eaters out at the same time. They had created stunner grenades, black balls the size of a football that could hover up to one and a half metres above the ground and lock onto the magical signature of the dark mark. Each ball was loaded with fifty stunning spells that it could fire onto a locked target's location before it had to be reloaded.
Harry was seriously impressed with that idea. Twenty was also a low estimate, but they had taken into consideration that there was the chance, if the Death Eaters reacted fast enough, that they would put up shields to block the first spell. The second stunner would normally hit, as the shield charms that the Death Eaters had shown to be capable of using so far only held for one spell before they had to be recast. And the ball would fire rapidly. The twins also told them that the grenades could be modified to work for non-marked targets, but it was more dangerous for anybody using them, as they then wouldn't ignore them and shoot at any magical person within reach.
The plan was to intentionally trigger the taboo in a prepared place where they put ten of the stunner grenades, of both kinds that were available, as many snatchers didn't have a dark mark. The knocked-out Death Eaters would be relieved of everything but their underwear and then portkeyed to an old World War II bunker that Kingsley knew. The bunker was being prepared against escape by Bill Weasley and there would be enough draught of living death to keep the Death Eaters out of the game for good until the light had won. The snatchers would be taken to another bunker, one less well hidden, as they simply needed the better-secured bunker for the really dangerous opponents. Snatchers were mostly thugs with little money that could be taken out of the game by simply keeping their wands. Most wouldn't have the money to buy a new wand.
Harry had also taken the Potions book back, after all it was hidden in the cupboard that the Room of Requirement had also brought to him when it brought the diadem of Ravenclaw into the representation that Neville had called up to let Harry talk to him, Luna and Ginny. The improved recipes for Potions were now put to good use by the Order members, who praised Harry for getting them this kind of advantage, which irked Hermione, as she still hated the book. But she didn't stand a chance against the arguments of the Order members.
The first ambushes were done simultaneously, as nobody wanted to give the enemy a head's up. And there normally were some lower ranked Death Eaters among the snatchers when the taboo was triggered. Which meant that by doing this, they would thin the ranks of Riddle until somebody noticed that anything was off. And as Kingsley had told them that the watch over the taboo was set up at the Ministry, it would be a long time until that happened. The people working there were too used to simply following orders they were given and not ask if it was right. A main reason why the take-over had been so easy. Kingsley planned to change things once they had dealt with the Death Eaters and Riddle.
Four weeks after starting their cleaning spree by abusing the taboo to their advantage, the Order of the Phoenix had caught and secured one hundred and seventy-nine Death Eaters and snatchers. It was an incredible result. They guessed that now the only ones remaining were the inner circle and some recruits.
"I wouldn't have thought that we could be able to get this many," Fred commented, looking at the space enlarged inside of the war bunker, where all captives were drugged with draught of living death and had the runic array placed on their bodies.
Their wands were kept in locked boxes in a safe house of the Order that had been placed under the fidelius charm. And for space needs, they had conjured bunk beds with only little space for each person. They could store up to ten people in one bed and they stood side by side. Magic was great in this regard.
"You would think that after two weeks they would at least change their modus operandi," George agreed.
"The less smart they are, the better for us. I mean, I recognise some of them from Hogwarts. There were Flint, Urquhart, Warrington and Higgs, who all played Quidditch against us among them," Harry stated, "And we knew that they weren't the sharpest tools in the shed. If not for their cheating and Malfoy buying them those brooms, they would have lost all games."
"True. I wonder what the other Death Eaters are doing now. They have to have noticed that many of their number disappeared. And, after the first five times, we only got Death Eaters with the mark, no unmarked snatchers," Bill commented.
"Probably they try finding a way to tell their boss that his dark army was gravely decimated without being killed for it," Harry guessed.
"Yes, he has a temper," Fred nodded mock sternly.
"When do you think they will react with full force against our ambushes or simply stop acting on the taboo being triggered?" Harry asked Kingsley.
"It should be soon. I think he might even try to use imperiused aurors to have more manpower, which would help us a lot, as we can break the imperius from them within two days' time and using that potion that the twins developed. It wouldn't put them in danger anymore if they were caught following a taboo triggering, as the others are all also missing. They will simply assume that they were also taken out," Kingsley pondered, "And I know that many hate having to hunt muggleborns instead of criminals."
"Then we will have the man power to challenge Riddle and the inner circle and end this before more innocents die," Harry nodded.
The group locked up the bunker again and left to plan more ambushes.
This was the first part and part two will follow tomorrow.