Chapter 12: The Diadem of Ravenclaw

"Here, Harry! You done for the night at last?" Seamus called as Harry entered the Gryffindor common room. The Easter holidays still weren't over, so it was maybe a little quieter than usual, which meant that Seamus, Ron, and Neville had managed to grab all of the most comfortable seats by the fireplace.

After an evening, or rather an entire week of sitting in the Library on chairs that somehow managed to remain uncomfortable even despite dozens of cushioning charms, Harry thought they looked very inviting indeed. Ron shuffled over a bit to make space, and Harry dropped heavily into the squishy cushions.

"You okay?" Ron asked.

"Frustrated," Harry admitted. Despite questioning Snape at length, which had been about as far from enjoyable as Harry could imagine, they still had very little to go on.

Supposedly, Dumbledore's one remaining avenue of investigation for possible hiding locations had been Hogwarts itself. It had made some sense after Snape explained it. Voldemort, as a young man, had regarded Hogwarts as more of a home than anywhere else he'd ever been. If there was a place in Britain which was significant to him, it must surely be Hogwarts itself.

However, that didn't make the task all that much easier. Hogwarts was a warren of tunnels, corridors, staircases and classrooms. Some of the classrooms didn't exist on Tuesdays, while a few of the corridors went to different locations on a full moon and the staircases moved around all the time. What if he'd hidden it somewhere that wasn't even reachable any more?

"You still trying to work out where the… things are?" asked Neville. Harry was grateful that he realised that talking about Horcruxes in the common room probably wasn't the best idea.

"Yeah. Somewhere in Hogwarts, probably," said Harry. "Problem is, it's a pretty big castle, in case you hadn't noticed."

"Maybe I could ask Fred and George if they know anywhere good," Ron suggested helpfully. "Merlin knows those two knew Hogwarts better than any of us."

"With all their crazy prank inventions they must have found a few safe places to hide them away too," said Neville, nodding in agreement.

It was as good an idea as Harry had heard, really. "Cheers, Ron. Let me know what they say, yeah?"

"Sure," said Ron easily. "I'll send them a letter tomorrow. Neville would have to give me what for if I broke curfew to send it now."

"So, why are you breaking curfew?" said Effie as she plopped herself down on the arm of Neville's seat.

"You know us," said Harry, quick to get his answer in before anyone else. "Late night kitchen raids. What else?"

The look which he got in return neatly communicated that she was not buying it for a minute. Fortunately, his non-answer was sufficient to remind Ron, Seamus, and Neville that Effie still didn't know about the prophecy, or the Horcruxes. And if Harry had his way, she never would.

"Yeah," said Seamus helpfully. "Ron was just saying how hungry he was. Didn't get enough down you at dinner, did you?"

"Uh, yeah," said Ron with only a fractional delay. "I was wondering if they had any more of that tart thing." He smiled wistfully. "It was pretty good."

"You're a bottomless pit, mate," said Harry, and if his grin was a bit more grateful than teasing, who was going to notice?

"Actually," said Seamus, suddenly looking thoughtful. "What about the House Elves?"

"What about them?" asked Ron, looking every bit as confused as Harry felt.

Seamus' eyes lingered on Effie for just long enough for Harry to understand his meaning. "Uh, couldn't they just bring it up for us?"

Effie still clearly wasn't convinced. Her eyes narrowed. "What are you really up to?"

Maybe the best way forward was to let her think he'd given in and told her as much as he could. "We can't talk about it here," he said as he swung his hand at the busy room. "It's a task from Dumbledore."

The suspicion disappeared completely, and she adopted a worried expression. She glanced around the room, clearly understanding his meaning. "Well, maybe we should go to the kitchens, then. Neville can cover for us all. Right, Neville?"

For a moment it looked like he was going to say no but then, much to Harry's surprise, he shrugged. "Not like any of the teachers are running patrols at the moment anyway," he said breezily.

Most of them had taken Dumbledore's death hard. If rumours were to be believed, McGonagall had spent most of her evenings for the past few days plinking away at her impressive whisky collection, while Sprout had barely even been out of her greenhouses. Flitwick, along with a few of the other teachers, had only been seen at meals.

On the other hand, Professor Stump had looked perversely pleased about things, while Snape had settled for verbally mauling anyone unwise enough to walk down the same corridor.

"There's the other prefects," Harry pointed out.

"They won't mind," said Neville. "I'll offer to cover their shift or something."

"Great!" said Effie as she rubbed her hands together happily. "Then we'd best get going."

At her enthusiastic prompting, they all reluctantly abandoned their chairs, watching sadly as they were quickly claimed by others, and traipsed out of the portrait hole. The Fat Lady was fast asleep as usual for that time of night, and Harry was gratified that she wouldn't be making a fuss about them being out in the corridors after curfew.

With the only moment of excitement being a near miss with Peeves who was busily attempting to install a tripwire in the corridor that contained the statue hiding the Hufflepuff common room, they soon arrived at the entrance to the kitchens. Not wanting to waste any time, Harry quickly tickled the pear, and they all shuffled in.

As usual, the kitchens were a hive of activity. Harry had visited them at a variety of times, for a few different reasons, and he had pretty much come to the conclusion that the House Elves never slept or if they did, it was only briefly.

As usual, their arrival was met by much excitement from the Elves. While they typically did everything they could to remain out of sight in the rest of Hogwarts they seemed to really enjoy it whenever Harry and his friends went to visit them.

One which Harry had come to recognise, called Snooks, a particularly short Elf with ears nearly as large as his head, dashed up to them.

"Is the students still being hungry?" he asked, looking delighted by the possibility. "Is yous be needing more of the food?"

"Actually—" Harry began before Ron cut him off.

"You have any of that chocolate and raspberry tart left?" he asked quickly. "It was brilliant."

The little Elf's ears seemed to wilt. "It is being all eaten!" he chirped sadly. "But we can be making more of it for yous."

Even as he spoke, a couple of other Elves set about a new task, and ingredients started flying around their heads in dizzying patterns. Harry tore his gaze away from an egg that had only missed his face by a few inches, and tried to reclaim the conversation.

"Also, I was wondering if there's anywhere in Hogwarts which would be really good for hiding something?" he asked hopefully.

"Oh yes!" squeaked Snooks as he bounced happily. "There is being the come and go room! All the House Elves are being using it."

"The Come and Go Room?" Harry asked.

Effie followed up quickly with a question of her own. "Why's it called that?"

"Because it is," Snooks explained. "Sometimes it is being there, and sometimes it isn't!"

"Where is it?" It sounded like the perfect hiding place. "Usually, that is," he amended.

"Snooks can be showing where it is," said the Elf, seemingly overjoyed at the possibility.

"That sounds perfect," said Harry with a smile which only served to excite the little Elf even more. "Maybe I can come down tomorrow, and you can show me?"

"It is being my pleasure," said Snooks as he bobbed his ready rapidly enough that Harry felt a little dizzy just watching.

At that moment the two other Elves who had been creating the requested raspberry chocolate tarts snapped their fingers, and two of the large tarts materialised on the bench nearest them. Ron and Seamus wasted no time in pouncing on them, much to the delight of the Elves.

Effie didn't join them. Instead, she shuffled up next to Harry.

"I'm coming with you tomorrow," she said firmly. "So you'd better tell me what all this is really about before I have to wheedle it out of Neville."

"Hey!" said Neville around the slim slice of tart he'd managed to salvage. "I'll have you know, that I'd die before giving away a secret, Eff."

"Sure you would," said Effie with a knowing smirk that had Harry making a mental note to investigate it more closely.

It didn't last long into Harry's more detailed explanation. He was careful to keep some of the details out, he was certainly never going to let her know about the prophecy, or the real danger of the Horcruxes, but what he did tell her was enough to thoroughly ruin her evening.

o-o

Harry stared at the impossible room. Shelves stretched far into the distance, each more than a dozen feet tall, and straining under the load of the accumulated bric-á-brac of centuries. He whistled to himself. "This is…"

"Amazing," said Iana, her expression very similar to Harry's own wide-eyed wonder.

"How big is it?" Effie asked Snooks, who was bouncing impatiently from one foot to the other.

"As big as it is needing to be," the Elf replied, nodding his head as if it was obvious, and causing his huge ears to flap around like wings.

"How are we meant to find anything in here?" said Harry, more to himself than anything. Despite that, Snooks fidgeted expectantly.

"If you are being needing something, then maybe Snooks can be finding it for you?"

"Can you do that?" Harry asked, receiving a look which surely would have been withering if Snooks wasn't a House Elf.

"We're looking for a Diadem," said Effie, lowering herself to the House Elf's level.

She may as well have asked for some kind of muggle scientific instrument for all the comprehension there was from the Elf. "A Die-dem?"

Iana sighed. "It is a thin band of metal, circular in shape, with a gem set into it," she explained.

With a pop, Snooks disappeared. Soon the huge room was filled with a persistent rattle and clatter as the myriad items on the shelves were checked one by one by the energetic little Elf.

"You need to be precise when dealing with Elves," she said, and for some reason she seemed a little sad as she said it. "They're not stupid or malicious, not usually, anyway, but they just don't really think like humans."

"Are you sure you're a Malfoy?" Effie asked, peering at her with theatrical suspicion.

It was a fair question. It had been Lucius Malfoy who had rolled back the rights of pretty much every non-human species there was, with the sole exception of goblins of course. Technically, it had been the Ministry and the Wizengamot, but they'd both been well under Malfoy's thumb for years after he'd chased Dumbledore out.

"Our Elf saved my life," Iana said simply. "He also probably did more to raise me than my father ever did."

Harry had forgotten that. She'd told him about how her Elf had died to save them both, but it just hadn't seemed that important at the time. The pang of guilt that followed that thought caused him to grimace.

"I'm sorry," said Effie quickly. "I didn't know,"

"Because I didn't tell you," said Iana. "So your apology isn't needed."

The awkward silence that descended between them was broken only by the continued sound of Snooks' rapid, seemingly random search. Then, for some distance down the unnaturally long room, a warbling scream went up. Harry and Iana looked at each other in alarm before they immediately started running in the right direction.

"Stay there!" Harry called over his shoulder when he realised Effie was following. "It's not safe!"

She didn't even slow, keeping pace with them both easily. "You try and stop me!" she shouted back.

They soon found the cause of the scream. Snooks was rolling around on the floor in obvious agony, and clutching at his arm. His whole hand had gone a deep purple that was very nearly black, and his fingers were withering even before their eyes. Worse, the spell, whatever it was, seemed to be spreading. Next to him, glittering innocently, was a silver diadem.

"What happened to him?" asked Effie. Harry stopped her from moving forward to try and help. "What are you doing? He needs help!"

"And how are you going to do that?" Harry asked her. "Look at it. It's still spreading. What if you can catch it?"

"It's a Withering Curse," said Iana with grim certainty. "There's nothing we can do."

"So we just stand here?" said Effie in horror. "He's still alive!"

"Elf!" Iana snapped, her tone one of command. Incredibly, Snooks stopped writhing on the ground, and stared up at her with wide, pain-filled eyes. "Stop wasting my time. You are to return to the kitchen to seek aid from the other Elves immediately. Understand?"

The little Elf nodded, and a moment later disappeared with a crack of displaced air.

Effie stared at Iana. "You sent him to the kitchens to die?"

"Elf magic is different," said Iana. Outwardly, she seemed confident, but with how well Harry had come to know her, he could tell she was rattled. She was toying with the sleeve of her robe absentmindedly. "A curse like that should have killed him before we even got here. The only thing keeping him alive must have been his Elf magic, so I sent him to the only place he might be able to get help. Pomfrey would have been useless."

"You can go and check on him if you like?" Harry suggested. Maybe it would get her somewhere safe.

"I think we're going to need help, anyway," said Iana uncertainly. "How did Dumbledore say he destroyed the other Horcruxes?"

"I think he burned them," said Harry. "A spell called Fiendfyre? He said to only do it in a location where there was no one around."

"Then we definitely need help," said Iana. "There is no way I'm going to try that here."

"Who?" Effie asked immediately.

"Anyone you can find. Snape, McGonagall, Flitwick. They'd be best."

Effie nodded, and sprinted for the door. Before they'd even heard the door slam, Iana used a levitation charm to lift the Diadem into the air.

"Uh, aren't we waiting?" Harry asked.

Iana replied with a one-shouldered shrug. "I thought you wanted her out of harm's way."

Realising just what it was she'd done, Harry grinned at her. "That was pretty good, actually." He frowned, there was still one problem. "But we still can't destroy it here. Unless you have some other idea?"

"I might do," Iana admitted. "What about the Killing Curse?"

The mere mention of that curse made Harry feel more than a little uneasy. "You think it'll work?"

"I don't see why not," said Iana, though she sounded fairly noncommittal. "It's a soul, isn't it?"

He couldn't argue with that logic. "Can you cast it?" he asked.

Iana's scowl told a story. "One of the things that Father insisted was part of a complete education."

When Harry opened his mouth to ask the obvious question, he was cut off before he could even start.

"And no, I haven't killed anyone. A few spiders, rats, that kind of thing." The look she gave him actually seemed a little sad, as if she was disappointed that he'd even think of asking.

"I guess I just wouldn't be surprised if you told me your dad wanted you to get the full experience," he admitted.

"I don't doubt it. Maybe I even would have," she said with a shudder.

"Well, whatever." Better to try to move past that particular uncomfortable thought. It wasn't like he could judge her. Of the two of them, so far as he was aware, only he had actually killed someone. "You want to give it a go?"

She nodded, and sighted down her wand at the floating Diadem. It almost seemed too innocent. "Avada Kedavra!"

Harry had seen the curse in action before, of course. Weeks had been devoted to the Unforgivable Curses in Magical Self Defence class. Mostly it had been repeated exhortations by the grizzled old Auror teaching the class that year to not be hit by it, but he'd also demonstrated it on some animals.

The sound of a rushing wind, which seemed to fill the senses, even though the air was deathly still. The almost blinding flash of sickly green light which left all who saw it with a feeling of dread. And the almost complete lack of visible results. The Diadem was completely unharmed.

"Did it work?" Harry asked, staring at it as it spun gently in the air.

"I don't think so," said Iana, looking unsure. "Something about it still feels… off."

Harry looked at it more closely, and he realised she was right. There was something about it that left him feeling on edge. Iana joined him in peering at it.

"Maybe I didn't—" She stopped speaking suddenly as she slapped her hand over her forehead and hissed in what sounded like pain.

"What's wrong?" Harry asked, but before she could respond an echoing boom which shook the entire castle.

It was followed by the distant thunder of a shelf collapsing, toppled by the vibrations. Motes of dust rained down across the room, knocked loose from the rafters high above.

"What the bloody hell was that?" Harry asked as he steadied himself on the shelf next to him, which wobbled precariously.

"Voldemort," said Iana through her teeth. "He's here."

"How can you know that?"

"I just do," she snapped back. "We're out of time. It has to be Fiendfyre."

"But you said it—" Harry started.

"I know," Iana cut him off, "but Voldemort knows what's happening. He's coming for the Diadem."

Bile rose in Harry's throat. "How?" he managed to ask, his voice wavering. He wasn't sure if he was asking how Voldemort knew, or how Iana knew what Voldemort was doing. Both, maybe?

The single word that Iana said in response chilled him. "Dean."

Harry's eyes widened, realising immediately what she meant. "Fuck!"

By telling him, he'd pretty much signed his death-warrant. Of course Voldemort was going to try and get to Harry's friends when he was so obviously involved somehow. How had he not thought of that? "I got him killed, didn't I?"

"Fuck that," said Iana with an intensity Harry rarely saw. "If I'm not responsible for what happened at your house, you're not responsible for Dean. We need to destroy this before he breaks through the protections. I don't think those professors are going to be much help."

They'd be needed if the school's protections were to have any chance of holding up, Harry realised. "Okay," he said, trying to put everything else to the back of his mind. "What do we do?"

"We need to make some space," said Iana. She punctuated her statement by casting a powerful banishing charm at the shelves of junk, sending them toppling over in a crash of chaotic sound. "The spell feeds on anything it can find. I'll have no chance of controlling it here if we don't clear some space."

It took two long minutes for them to clear a large enough area to satisfy Iana. Every few seconds, the entire castle trembled under Voldemort's furious assault.

"That'll have to do," she said once the open space stretched a dozen or so meters across, like a huge crater in the debris of so many destroyed shelves and their contents.

She levitated the Diadem into the centre of the space.

"What do I do now?" Harry asked, eyes locked on her as she closed her eyes and took a deep breath.

"You should probably run," she said over her shoulder.

"No way," he replied. He walked up to stand shoulder to shoulder with her. "We're in this together."

For a moment, it looked like she was going to argue, but instead she said, "Okay then. But don't come complaining to me if you lose your eyebrows. Or your skin."

Harry grinned, and got a tight smile in response. "Alright. If I burn to death, I promise not to blame you," he said.

His wand held up and ready, though for what reason he wasn't really sure, Harry watched as Iana's face first became placid, like a high mountain lake, only for rage and anger to surface, burning like a fire in her usually grey eyes. "Burn," she said, her voice laced with fury.

A torrent of fire flooded from her wand, as smoke curled around her like the grasping arms of long-dead shades. The flames reared up suddenly, and the roaring sound that filled the room was more like that of a huge lion, or a dragon, than any fire Harry had ever known. A gigantic shape, constantly changing, and bright enough to blind him, grew inside the towering blaze, and leapt at the Diadem with furious abandon.

Shrieking filled the room, and Harry clapped his hands over his ears, but it did nothing to lessen the noise which seemed to shake his bones. Like nails on a blackboard, but so much worse. It grew in volume further, something Harry wouldn't have thought possible, until a cloud of black smoke issued from the Diadem.

It coalesced into the shape of a face, with gleaming red eyes shining out from within the deeper shadows of its otherwise empty eye sockets. Like a great snake, it lunged towards the growing fire, and enveloped it in darkness.

The Fiendfyre didn't even seem to notice, and through the fire and smoke Harry could see the Diadem blackening and charring in the face of the heat. The black smoke, which surely must have been the Horcrux itself, ate into the fire, but it was utterly single minded in its attention.

Then, the shadow seemed to realise who it was who had summoned the fire, its baleful red gaze turning to Iana. Harry had only a second to erect a shield between her and the soul-thing, but with only a moment to spare, his glittering silver shield sent the thing rebounding back. It twisted back and forth in the air, almost as if it was thinking, before it split in two. One part of it descended upon Harry, while the other caromed off a huge wardrobe set into the wall of the crater of junk, and around his shield to attack Iana.

Without enough time to cast the spell to protect them both, Harry threw himself at Iana, tackling her out of the path of the thing, and saving him too into the bargain. It didn't help much. The two fragments coalesced back into one and reared back, adopting the shape of a gigantic snake as it did so. Its jaw opened wide, revealing the absolute darkness within.

Then, there was a new sound. A tiny little tinkling noise, like the shattering of one of the small glass ornaments Harry's Aunt Petunia liked to collect. The shadow-thing screamed, and if the noise before had been loud, it was nothing compared to the hellish screeching which accompanied the Horcrux's death throes.

He clapped his hands over his ears again, and his wand clattered forgotten to the floor as the infernal sound seemed to fill up his entire world. At the same time, the air became blisteringly hot and he realised that the Fiendfyre was surely looking for a new target to consume.

Fire filled his view as he looked up. His hand scrambled desperately for his wand, but found only Iana's hand which was doing seemingly the same thing. He grasped it tight, and closed his eyes.

An explosion of fetid air blasted him flat onto the ground, and stole the breath from his lungs. He might have blacked out for a second, or he may just have blinked, but when he opened his eyes, the fire was completely gone. Motes of fine black soot drifted slowly towards the ground, and in the centre of their cleared circle, the Diadem was barely more than a rapidly cooling puddle of glowing metal.

"Did we do it?" Iana asked. She hadn't moved, still laying flat on her back staring unseeing at the ceiling

"I think so," said Harry. He released her hand for long enough to make sure he still had all his bits attached. "Don't seem to be dead either."

"Well that's a relief," she replied, her voice still curiously level.

Harry stood up, a little shakily, but he quickly found his balance returning. He reached down to help Iana up and if anything she was even more shaky on her feet than he. She didn't manage to stay upright more than a second before she stumbled into him as one of her legs refused to cooperate with the other.

Catching her before she fell very nearly resulted in them both ending up on the floor again but through some minor miracle he managed to keep them upright. He looked down at her to give her a slightly embarrassed smile.

Clumps of her hair were frazzled and still smoking lightly. Soot and grime caked it thickly enough that it defied gravity, and he could barely tell that it was meant to be blonde. The cosmetic charms she used had clearly been badly mangled by either the explosion or the Fiendfyre, and she had something of the look of a distressed panda about her.

Her eyes were a stormy grey quite unlike anything he'd ever seen, and her lips parted just slightly.

She was beautiful, he realised.

He'd always known it, but he'd never really dwelled on it. It had been the distant beauty of muggle movie stars, something to appreciate, and yet never really real. But she was real, and she was getting nearer. Everything else seemed to fade into the background, until all he could focus on was her face. They drifted ever closer.

Then, either unwilling or unable to resist any longer, he pulled her up to meet him at the same moment she snaked her hand into his hair and pulled him down to her. Their noses collided together with a force that probably would have been painful, and yet he didn't care.

From the noises she was making through their joined lips, he didn't think she much cared either.

How long the kiss lasted, he couldn't have said. All he knew was that when they finally broke apart his lips were tingling. He stared at her, unsure what to say.

She pushed him away, and tried to straighten her robes, but it was pretty much a lost cause.

They were saved from the awkwardness by the clatter and smash of Effie's frantic return. She burst through the piles of detritus, now looking even more the worse for wear than before and stopped dead when she saw them.

"What the— What did you do?" she asked them as she took in the scene. Her eyes came to settle on the melted Diadem. "You destroyed it!"

"We did," said Harry, nodding tiredly. "When the shaking started, we figured you'd have a hard time finding anyone to help."

The irked expression on Effie's face quickly dissolved into one of worry. "It's Voldemort. He's here."

Another boom rocked the castle, and Harry reached out to steady Iana who quickly pulled her arm out of his grip.

"He's still not broken through, then?" she asked, seemingly all business once more.

"No," said Effie. "Most of the Order was here for a meeting or something, so they're doing everything they can to keep him at bay."

"It won't be enough," said Iana.

Effie shook her head rapidly. "I heard Professor Flitwick say that the protections are just about ready to collapse."

"Then we have to get out there," said Harry much though he'd prefer to cower and hide in the Come and Go Room until it was all over. With Iana there the company wouldn't even be so bad.

A nod of confirmation came from Iana, and all three of them started picking their way through the ruins shelves and thousands of other items. The corridor outside the room was almost eerily quiet. Harry had expected the school to be filled with people running back and forth, but then the seventh floor corridor was well out of the way of any battle that was to come.

Then Snape stepped out from behind a statue. He took in their dishevelled appearance with a satisfied sneer. "You found it then?" he asked without preamble. "Good. Then there is only the matter of the Dark Lord to attend to, if luck is on our side. Miss Malfoy, I need to talk to you before you two do anything stupid. Potter, your mother wishes to speak with you."

Harry was going to argue, but Iana locked eyes with him and shook her head. His mouth snapped shut with an audible clack. "What's this about?" he asked her.

"I don't know, but I know your mother wants to speak to you before this all has to end," she began. "Believe me. You don't want to miss out on an opportunity like that." The concrete certainty in her tone would have convinced Harry even if he hadn't known where it came from.

He nodded. "Okay," he said. He took her hand in his for a second and searched her eyes. "I'll see you soon, then, right?"

"Right," she said with a narrow smile.

As Harry hurried off in the direction of the Hospital Wing, he glanced back over his shoulder, and caught Iana's eye as she watched him leave with an expression of concern. He probably had a very similar expression on his own face.