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Stories begun in 2006 (post-HBP)

Author Notes:

This is the final, edited, complete version of Harry Potter and the Last Horcrux. Chapters 1 through 14 were completely written prior to publication of Deathly Hallows in 2008; chapters 15 through 19 and the alternate ending were in draft or outline form by that time.

FOUR
Surfacing

 

July 15, 1998     John O' Groats, Caithness, Scotland


Flickers of light and sound broke the darkness.  The heaviness fell away and he was borne on the waves to the shore, to the softness of a bed and the quiet voice of his oldest and closest friend.

“…it’s not like I’d ever say anything.  She’d think I’m mad… no, you know what would be worse?  She’d think I was a child – ickle Ronniekins, you know? I don’t think I could stand it, Harry.  I know I couldn’t,” Ron sighed.

Harry squinted against the sunlight streaming into the bedroom.  He could see Ron sprawled in a chintz armchair at the bedside, staring intently at the footboard.  He tried to open his eyes wider but it was too bright.  He thought of saying something but it was too difficult.

“She’s perfect, you know?  Well… perfect to me, at least,” Ron said to the footboard; “I’ll admit – and don’t you ever breathe a word of it! – she’s the reason I’m past Hermione.  I know, I know, if I weren’t a gormless prat, I’d have managed that on my own a long time ago.”  Harry couldn’t recall ever hearing Ron sigh twice in a day; he wanted to tell Ron that, but his throat felt as if it were full of lead. 

Ron faced him with a wry grin and went on, “You don’t have to tell me… but it’s hard to let go of her.  Hermione’s just so… so… argh!  She’s that, Harry!” He closed his eyes; “She tied me in knots and she never let me forget that I could do better, that I could be better, you know?  She made me somebody worth knowing… so did you, you bloody twit!  Thing is, I never wanted to kiss you.”  He let out a barking laugh but quickly quieted himself,  glanced to the door, and then continued, “Timing is everything, eh?  If you’d have left us all behind, I expect I’d be with her now.  I’m glad you didn’t... leave us behind, I mean.  I hope you know that.”  He sat back in the chair, and sighed a third time; “We need you back, mate – all of us.  Gudrun says you’re going to wake up soon, so just get it over with, right?”

The door opened slowly and quietly.  Harry felt as though he should be able to move, but the strength was flowing out of him as fast as he could gather it.  The familiar floral scent wafted to him before he could see her.

“Has he said anything?  Has he moved?  Anything?” Ginny asked.

“He was thrashing around something fierce earlier,” Ron said, “but I figure a nightmare’s a good sign.”

She reached out and brushed back Harry’s fringe.  “Ron Weasley, what a horrible thing to say!” she snapped, but her heart clearly wasn’t in it; “It’s true, isn’t it?  That’s the most horrible thing of all,” she added.

Ron shifted in his chair and said,  “I have to move around a bit.  You'll sit with him?”

“Until Hermione comes, I guess,” she said.

“Ginny… you don’t –” Ron began.

Ginny cut him off.  “I don’t know,” she said; “That’s become awfully clear the last two days, hasn’t it?”  She didn’t sound angry, Harry thought – it was more like sadness in her voice, and he didn’t like the sound of it.

“He’s been trying to protect you from the start,” Ron returned.

Ginny said, “All of Hermione’s things are in here.  She doesn’t have a bedroom of her own.  I don’t suppose you noticed that?”

Through a tight squint and without his glasses, Harry could still see the redness overtake Ron’s face.  “Seeing as she’s not my girlfriend, it isn’t my business, is it?  Why is it yours?” he demanded.

Harry couldn’t see her, but he was sure that Ginny was equally red as she said.  “We parted because of Voldemort – that’s what he told me!  He’s never said anything different... Ron, if you know something…?”

“This is the first I’ve seen him in four months!  We haven't really had the time to waste talking about you!” Ron fumed.

“All right – I get it!” Ginny snarled back; “I get it!  I just…” Harry could almost feel her deflate.  “I just wanted him to come home when it’s all over,” she went on quietly, “and… and I could take care of him if he was hurt, you know?  I could be there for him, Ron, I could – you know I could!  I could be his.  That was the plan, right?  I thought that was the plan…”

“If there was a plan, it was to keep you from getting yourself killed,” Ron said.

“Did he even fancy me?” Ginny croaked.  “Do you know that, at least?  I thought he did – he said that he did.  When… when he kissed me, I know that he did.  He had to fancy me, at least… didn’t he?”

Ron used his cane to pull himself up.  He stood beside his sister, just at the edge of Harry’s view, and put his hand on her shoulder.  “He more than fancied you last year,” Ron said, “and he really liked it when we would see you again – I know he did.”

Ginny said, “He wanted me to let him go, so I let him go.  What else was I supposed to do?  If I’d have stood my ground, if I had demanded that I come along, what do you think he’d have thought?  I’d have been a stupid little girl then, and you know it.”

“Harry knew what Riddle’s diary was,” Ron said.  “He was protecting you.”

“I’ve done everything asked of me,” Ginny went on; “I’ve given him up.  I’ve helped move refugees.  I’ve fought – did you know I was one of the last people out of Hogwarts, at the end?  I’ve become a diplomat – madness, isn’t it? – and I’m not even of age yet.  I’ve done things I never thought I’d do, and I’m still not good enough, am I?”

“He’s proud of you, Gin.  So am I, you know?  Just don’t go telling that to anyone,” Ron said.

“He did say that he was proud of me…” Ginny recalled.

“Then he meant it,” Ron said.

“It’s not enough, though.  Ron… what am I supposed to do now?,” Ginny said, and Harry felt a dull roar inside.

“You're asking me?  I thought a break-up meant that two people broke up – shows you what I know,” Ron snapped; “Why don’t you talk to him about all of this instead of bending my ear over it?”

“I couldn't possibly... I let him go and I can't go back on that, it wouldn't be right,” Ginny sniffed.

“Oh, for the love of…” Ron snorted.  He leant over Harry until his mouth was inches from Harry’s eyes.  “HARRY!  My sister’s here and she’s mooning over you!  Will you wake up and sort this before my head explodes?

“Ron!” Ginny shouted; “Get out of here this instant!”

“Oi, if it wakes him up…?” Ron smirked.

“OUT!” Ginny demanded.

She moved closer to Harry and he squeezed his eyes shut.  She brushed at his fringe again and murmured, “Leave it to my dim-witted brother to give you another nightmare.  So what am I supposed to do, Harry?  Did you mean for me to wait, or did you think you were letting me down gently?  Did you always intend for me to move on?”  He didn’t know what to think, but he was certainly going to feign sleep with everything he had.  Something feather-light brushed across his scar, and left a tingling sensation behind. 

She kept on with an increasingly shaky voice, “I love you, Harry, and I always will.  There, it’s been said.  After all that's happened, I'm not... the thing is, I'm not certain that I'm still in love with you.  I mean, I haven't done anything, I swear!  There's... there's someone I've been working with, and we've been getting on well... but everyone's so tied up in the war... nothing's going to come of it, anyway.  He's a bit older, he's just as clueless as you are, and Mum would fight it at every step.  Look... no matter what happens next, I'll be here for you. Too much invested in you to let you get yourself killed, right?  I'll still be here, even if you... well... even if you're sleeping with Hermione...”  The pressure against his scar was more solid this time, more obviously a kiss. 

“...but don't expect me to like it... and promise that you'll be careful?  Ron's completely lost the plot; Hermione's been his for years, and she had it just as bad for him.  There's no way they've completely quit on that, not a chance.  When he finally gets a clue and stops chasing that... that... healer... well, you know how bloody minded Ron can be when he's pushed.  Just... just be sure you think about what you're doing.  Wake up soon, Harry.  We need you... I need you to be okay,” she added as she left the room.

He waited until the door was solidly closed before he tested his eyes against the light.  The sun didn’t sear them this time; he blinked rapidly and let them water and then they were fine.  He reached up and rubbed at his scar until the tingling stopped.  The monster within settled quickly.  If Ginny knew what that monster-in-the-chest actually was, she'd be a thousand miles from here, he thought. 

He felt badly for her, but her confusion was mostly her own – he was sure of it.  He thought back to each time they’d been together since he’d broken off with her.  Despite what Ron had said, he couldn’t think of a time when he’d actually led Ginny on; he hadn't offered himself as anything more than a friend since leaving her behind. If she needed to believe that there had been a plan, he was fine with it.  I doubt it’ll matter much in a few days, he figured.  He just needed her to believe in a plan somewhere else, somewhere that wouldn’t interfere with the things that mattered now, the things that had to happen.

Movement came slowly – first fingers, then hands, then feet, and then legs, and finally a room-spinning attempt at sitting up.  He fumbled for his glasses and his watch.  It was the fifteenth, he saw.  Two days had been lost; he idly wondered how many people had died in that time.  He put together a mental list: first, get everyone but Ron and Hermione and Lupin and maybe the healer to shove off; second, eat something; third, find out if there was any new useful information; and fourth, get the bloody sodding Grimoire to Hogwarts and be rid of it.

 

July 16, 1998     John O' Groats, Caithness, Scotland

 

Harry waited until there was a lull and then tugged Hermione aside.  He thrust his hands into the pockets of his trousers because something had to be done with them.  “Um… you’re honestly not angry?” he asked.

“It’s hard to be angry with someone when he’s saved your life,” Hermione said; “How many times is that, now?”

“I’m serious, Hermione. You know I don’t regret doing what I did.  I just don’t want you to be angry with me,” he said.

Hermione crossed her arm and groused, “I’m not angry, but I’d like it if you stopped asking me whether I’m angry.  If you keep this up, you’re going to make me… angry, actually!”  Her mouth twitched and she ended up grinning at him.

“I suppose your parents were confused, eh?  They came and went quickly enough,” Harry said.

Hermione flipped through a sheaf of notes on the dining table.  “I had Remus make contact again.  Mrs. Weasley met them in Kirkwall and took them you-know-where,” she said absently.

“What?  Why did you do that?” Harry asked.

“I don’t have time to see them now,” she returned, never looking up from the notes; “We can’t afford the distraction – too much to be done, you know.”

“But they came all this way… what if…?” Harry began.

Hermione glanced up at him with hard eyes.  “I’ll see them afterward.  If there isn’t an afterward, then I won’t.  You don’t get to see your parents, so why should I?” she said.

“Don’t use me as an excuse to avoid them,” Harry grumbled.

“Well, aren’t you full of yourself?” Hermione snapped.

Ron wandered back to the table, his mouth half-filled with something or another, and started to talk.  Hermione covered her notes as though they might be sprayed with food.

“You know how I said I missed you?  I didn’t miss that,” Harry teased.

Ron shrugged, then slowly swallowed whatever it was.  “I was only saying that you’re poaching, mate.  Getting in rows with the Great Swot here is my job, not yours.  I have more experience with it, and I wouldn’t want you to hurt yourself,” he said.

“The Great Swot, am I?” Hermione laughed.

Ron smiled broadly; “See, Harry?  Fifteen seconds and she’s already barking at me!  It’s taken you hours!  Shameful, actually – you’ll have to do better.”

Lupin set an open Butterbeer in front of Ron and particularly horrid-looking potions in front of Harry and Hermione.  “Drink up,” he said.

Hermione wrinkled her nose.  “I know these are helping, but… she really said to drink nothing but water?” she whinged.

“I’ve better things to do than deprive you of Butterbeer, Hermione,” Lupin assured her.

Harry picked up a steaming goblet and Hermione hesitantly did the same.  “On three?” he said.  She frowned but nodded.  When Harry reached the end of the count, he downed the potion in a single swallow.  Hermione tried to take it in sips; Harry knew better, but let her do as she chose.  When she was finished at last, she wiped her mouth with a paper serviette; the paper began to smoke as she set it down and Lupin hurriedly dipped it into a glass of water.

“Oi, that can’t be good,” Ron said under his breath.

Smoke poured from Hermione’s ears; “That is the most horrible thing I’ve ever tasted in my life,” she said.

The smoke at last stopped wafting from Harry’s ears.  “You’ve never had Skele-Gro,” he returned.

Lupin set an envelope on the table; “I’ve arranged for the motorcar you wanted.  Are you sure about this?”

Harry took the envelope and flipped through the papers inside.  “They can detect Portkeys and apparition, and it’s too far for a broom.  There’s a carriageway that runs about five miles from the far side of the Forbidden Forest.  I’ll leave the motorcar somewhere secluded and use a broom from there,” he said.

“You know I’d rather go with you,” Hermione said, “but it would be foolish.  Until the Grimoire is destroyed…”

“I know, I know, we have to be careful about draining each other’s energy, because the Grimoire is already draining us through you,” Harry finished;   “What will you do with yourself?”

“What, you think that I don’t exist when the two of you aren’t around?” Hermione sniffed.

“I don’t think that,” Harry insisted, “and Ron will still be here, anyway.”  Ron took a particularly long swig from his Butterbeer.

“I expect I’ll sleep most of the time, honestly,” Hermione admitted; “I know I need it, and it’s probably safer for you if I rest.”

“Go and visit with your parents,” Harry countered.

“Harry, I already said that – ” Hermione began.

Harry stopped her by placing his hand atop hers; “You said that you plan to rest.  Do that with your parents.”

“Surely they’re worried sick.  They were told that they might never see you again if they didn’t rush here, and suddenly they’re warned off – what would you think in their place?” Lupin offered.

“Don’t forget that they’re with my Mum,” Ron chimed in; “Not exactly calming, is she?”

“I’ll meet you there, right?  We can leave the cottage empty for now; I’ll leave the car in the area and then ride the ferry,” Harry said.

“That’s even better,” Lupin decided.

“I don’t think…” Hermione trailed off, and Harry knew that she was looking for a way to counter his idea.

He intertwined her fingers with his; “I wish I could see my parents,” he said, “but I can’t, not yet at least.”

“Don’t say that.  I d-don’t want to hear that,” Hermione said.

“Be with them,” Harry said, “and with Luna and Neville and Seamus and everyone else.”  He gave her hand a squeeze. 

Her jaw tightened with resolve and she said, “Don’t do anything completely stupid.”

“I’ll do my best, but sometimes I just can't avoid it,” he smirked.

She chuckled but it was only a sound.  “I don’t doubt that.  If you leave now, you’ll be nearly there by nightfall,” she said.  “Just… just be safe.”  Her grip on his hand was so tight that his fingers went pale except at the tips.

“Will you be able to sleep?” he asked.

“I think so, with my Mum and Dad there.  It’s a good idea… you’re right about seeing them,” she admitted.

“I want you to be safe as well,” he said.

“She’ll be with Tonks for the entire trip,” Lupin promised.

Harry moved to kiss her on the cheek but she moved to do the same at the same moment.  Each caught the corner of the other’s mouth.  His first instinct was to recoil but he went with his second instinct, which was to press harder.  He didn’t want to pull away, in part because he wasn’t looking forward to her reaction.  She was the one to pull away and he stayed quiet.  She bit on her lower lip and then broke into the smirk that was unmistakeably hers, the quirk of one corner of her mouth that he and Ron took to mean a hidden readiness for mischief.  It wasn’t at all what he had expected and he hadn’t the slightest idea what to say, so he gave her a broad smile, she bit on her lip again, and he walked out to the driveway.

Ron was sitting in the left hand seat of the motorcar.  “Are you ready, then?  I was starting to wonder if packing elevenses would be enough for you, or if I should get Lupin to put together a lunch.  Then again I know you and your chip shops, so I figured we’d be stopping anyway,”  he said with a grin worthy of his twin brothers plastered across his face.

Harry glowered at him; “Oh, for the love of… what in the bloody hell is this?  Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t drag you out and throw you on the lawn?”

“She can’t go with you, and you’d be a pillock for going alone,” Ron said;   “Besides, you’d be afraid of hurting me if you dragged me out – which you wouldn’t, but you won’t take the chance.”

Harry said. “I won’t have you slow me down.”

Ron glared at him; he said, “I don’t want you to protect me and I can still take care of myself.  Keeping up is my problem.  So which is it – the gimp at your back, or no one at all?”

Harry piled into the driver’s seat and slammed shut the door.  “If you sing, I’ll hurt you,” he grumbled.

“Then don’t turn on the wireless,” Ron shot back.  He fumbled with a map of the Muggle roadways before he added, “You’re going down this one marked 99, right?  I don’t see any other way to go south.  There must be a chip shop for you in Wick?”

“That’s not even a half hour’s drive!” Harry protested, and they were off.

 

July 17, 1998      Hogwarts Castle and environs, Perth & Kinross, Scotland

 

Mounds of stone and rotting wood lay where the Quidditch pitch had been.  Hagrid’s hut was gone.  The boathouse was gone.  The ceiling of the Great Hall was collapsed – perhaps the magic in it had died, Harry thought.  The edge of the Forbidden Forest was closer to the walls than he had remembered it.  There were no encampments of Death Eaters, there was no siege afoot – there wasn’t any sign of Voldemort’s men at all.  It looked as if Hogwarts had been left for dead.  He gleaned that much from a quick broom flight across the grounds in the last embers of the day prior.

So it was that Harry and Ron had found themselves sleeping on the wide bench seats of the rusting Vauxhall Cresta that Lupin had rescued from a long-overdue death.  Between Ron’s percussive snores and some odd creaking in the boot and the occasional rushing-by of a lonely lorry, Harry managed very little sleep.

Harry considered leaving Ron behind – ensuring that he stayed asleep and carefully hiding and warding the Cresta.  It would have left Ron protected, but he couldn’t do that to his friend.  Besides, the situation looked safe enough.  Then again, he admitted to himself, this wouldn’t be the first time that a situation had looked safe. 

Instead, he left Ron to his rolling and muttering and sat atop the boot, eating scones they had purchased the evening prior at a roadside stop.  They had held up surprisingly well – not at all worthy of a Hogwarts breakfast, but more than adequate for starting the day.

Ron’s morning routine was nothing like it had once been.  He awoke without prompting, in the midst of Harry’s second scone.  There was nearly a half hour of stretching and exercises before he let his leg bear him.  There were a half-dozen potions, each meticulously measured out and consumed in order.  For all of his joking about food, Harry had actually seen him eat very little – a rushed mouthful of food at the cottage, a single portion of fish and a scattering of chips the evening prior, and only a scone and a half following the potions.

“There won’t be a luncheon waiting for us, you know,” Harry pointed out.

Ron shrugged, and slid the balance of the bag of scones into his pack.  “Best to spread it out,” he said.

“It’s no wonder you’re so thin now,” Harry said.

“Can’t eat a lot at one sitting anymore,” Ron told him.  “I’m… well, you know I’m missing some important bits.  If I eat too much you’ll have me spewing up, and we don’t want that, either of us.”

“Merlin…” Harry breathed.

Ron waved him off before he could say more.  “It’s not so bad,” he said gamely.  “Just because I can’t eat it doesn’t mean I can’t think about it, right?  I still appreciate a good bit of treacle.”

Having a fair idea of what – or who – Ron appreciated, Harry couldn’t resist teasing.  “Maybe you’re cut out for a different kind of sweet?” he suggested.

Ron turned violently red.  “What…?  Erm… don’t know where you’re going with that… I mean, I don’t fancy Hermione now, you know that… it isn’t like… um…”

Harry couldn’t resist tightening the noose.  “I never said anything about Hermione.”

Ron blurted out, “Buh… buh… but I swear, mate – anything between you and Hermione now, it’s your business, and I’d never let it stand in the way of
friends, see – you and me and her, we’re friends, we’re best mates, all of us, and that’s more important than –”

Ron’s reaction was so sharp that Harry felt a flutter of worry inside his chest; he stammered, “Er… if you did feel that way about her, of course… I couldn’t stand in the way of that… once we set this right, she can be safe and you can be safe and…”

“If she makes it back and you don’t, she’ll be well looked after,” Ron offered.  “Count on that, mate – not just from me, but everyone.  ‘Course I don’t see that happening.”

“I think you have more faith in me than I have,” Harry muttered.

“Didn’t mean that,” Ron said quietly; “She won’t come back without you.”

Harry wanted to deny that but it was hard in the face of everything that had happened.  “I…” He took a moment to gather himself, and decided to say, “I’ll do my best.”  After a long quiet spell, he added impishly, “I still think you’re cut out for sweets… maybe the healing kind?”

The red drained out of Ron’s face.  “Gudrun?” he squeaked.  “What makes you say that?”

“Nothing,” Harry laughed, “nothing at all.”

Ron tore into his pack, snatched up his half-scone and shoved it in his mouth.  “Wouldn’t matter if you were right,” he said as he chewed.  “She’s a lot older than us – I don’t mean a year or two or three.  I tried to figure it – I mean, it’s not like I’d ask her that sort of thing – and she has to be twenty-seven, at least.  Can you imagine?”

Harry rather liked tweaking Ron, who wouldn’t stop leaving opportunities.  He took his broom from the boot and said nonchalantly, “When Tonks was eighteen, Remus would have been past thirty, right?  Bill… he must be near to ten years older than Fleur…”

“But that’s them,” Ron protested.  “I’m something like ten years younger than her, and she’s my healer besides.  There has to be something wrong with that, isn’t there?  Even if I was daft enough to say something and she was daft enough to listen, it wouldn’t matter.”  He gave a small smile.  “Doesn’t keep me from looking at her, though.  She’s awfully nice to look at… not that looks are everything!  Hermione would claw my eyes out if I said that, wouldn’t she?  Gudrun wouldn’t do that, she’d just give me a look, and she’d be right, because she’s nearly always right…”

Harry shook his head.  “You’ve got it bad, mate.  We should be on the move,” he said.

Ron didn’t rise to the bait; he only nodded and then mounted a Nimbus 2001.  “Haven’t done this in a while,” he admitted.

“Then we’ll take it slow,” Harry said.  “Let’s follow the edge of the Forest to the lake, then cross to where the boathouse was –”

“Where it 'was', you say?  It's that bad?” Ron asked.

“It’s not how you remember it,” Harry said.

They took one long slow circle around; Ron described what he saw while Harry kept his eyes and ears focused for signs of the enemy.  Ron seemed to issue another “bloody hell” or “Merlin!” with each spot of damage that he spied.  Still, in the morning light, it appeared that the bulk of the castle proper was intact.

“They took the entire grounds,” Ron said.  “Ginny said they were well inside the castle at one point.  Why couldn’t they take it, I wonder?”

Harry pointed his broom toward the great oaken doors that led into the entrance hall.  “Remus said no one knows for certain and McGonagall hasn’t been willing to say.  He said it’s kept more than a few people tied in knots trying to figure out why.”

“So no one’s been inside since…?” Ron asked.

“No one from our side, anyway,” Harry said.

Harry landed at the top of the steps and Ron followed suit.  He slung his broom over his shoulder.  Ron withdrew his wand and gave it a complicated waggle.  His broom contracted and the bristles rolled into the shaft and a brass knob appeared at one end.  He grabbed the transfigured cane by the knob and leaned into it.

“Very nice,” Harry said.  “Did Gudrun teach you that?”

Ron’s shoulders rose.  “Bill did,” he snapped;  “She’s not the only person I listen to, you know?”

“Easy, mate,” Harry laughed. He pointed his wand and cast a gentle knocking charm.

It was one thing to know that something horrible had happened, and something else entirely to be confronted by it.  So it was that both Harry and Ron were struck dumb when Minerva McGonagall, the last Headmistress of Hogwarts School of Wizardry and Witchcraft, passed through the closed oaken doors and came to a halt before them, her shimmering shoes fully a foot above the ground.

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