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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.

TWO
The Last House

 

July 8, 1998     John O’ Groats, Caithness, Scotland


He woke ten minutes before the alarm clock was set to ring, and it took him half that time to free himself from Hermione’s grasp without waking her.  She was sleeping as peacefully as he’d seen in a long time – even had a touch of colour back in her cheeks – and he wasn’t about to cock up a good thing.  She seemed to sleep best when he was asleep as well, and feel her best when he was at ease.  He used an Occlumency exercise that he’d picked up from the side notes in Snape’s bloody book to quiet his mind and body, even as he gathered up his trainers and anorak.

Remus’s advance guard had arrived while he was asleep and had taken up stations around the cottage rather than enter the house.  They offered the proper recognitions when Harry asked for them.  To a man, they were tall and broad at the shoulders, and they wore the sort of expression that was welcoming yet not at all warm.  He didn’t make for the path that led up to the A836 until he felt certain about them. 

It was a brisk ten-minute walk to where the A836 and the A99 met and concluded: the End of the Road, it was called, and it certainly was that.  Other than a clutch of shops for the holidaymakers and a house-turned-museum – the Last House, it was called – there was nowhere else to go save out to sea.  The pier extended from there, on the other side of the car park, and he could see the white and black ferry drawing near.  He knew it was three-quarters of an hour from Burwick across to John O’ Groats, but he had no idea what was required to travel from Burwick to wherever the current version of the Order – the ‘new crowd’, he’d taken to calling them on his last visit – was now working and living.  For all he knew, they had to fly in from another one of the Orkneys, or the Shetlands, or who knew where.

Harry had taken an interest in the sea each time that their journeys had drawn near it.  Other than one thoroughly unpleasant primary school outing to Blackpool and his Uncle Vernon’s mad flight from Privet Drive in hopes of evading Hogwarts owls, Harry had been on the water or even seen the coast before coming of age.  The waters that surrounded Britain were uniformly cold, he’d long since found, but they took on many different colours and textures.  Here, at the end, the waters reminded him of the contents of a pensieve – thick quicksilver that undulated and glittered in the bits of sun that peeked through the clouds.

Remus Lupin was neither first nor last to leave the Orkney Ferry.  He was as grey as the world around him – sandy hair feathered with white, washed-out face, charcoal overcoat.  Harry stood in the shadows beyond the pier.  His former professor looked straight at him but continued as though he wouldn't stop.  It was best to remain in the background, Harry knew, and for each to be sure that the other was authentic.

Lupin slowed his pace when he came to within a dozen steps.  “Your happy memory?” he asked casual.

“It used to be my parents – not a memory, really,” Harry returned.  “How do you open the Map?”

Lupin allowed a wan smile.  “I solemnly swear that I am up to no good,” he said.  Harry stepped forward to shake Lupin’s hand and found himself in a very unexpected and rather fatherly embrace.

“So much for staying unnoticed,” Tonks said.  Harry hadn’t seen her come off the ferry.  She had familiar dark hair and patrician features – an unmistakeable Black.  Her eyes widened and the moistened with unshed tears as they looked at each other.  She wrapped her arms around the both of them as though all three might blow away.  Harry glanced over her shoulder and saw that they weren’t so out of place as all that; a father greeted his small daughters here, an older woman held close a grown son there.

Lupin let go after what seemed like a very long time.  “Did our people do as they were asked?” he said to Harry.

Harry nodded.  “The recognitions were proper.  Either they’re all right or all of them are dodgy.  I wasn’t comfortable leaving Hermione there, but you did vouch for them.”

“I would trust them with my life,” Lupin said.

“I hope so, because we’re trusting them with Hermione’s life,” Harry said flatly.

“It’s reasonably safe here now,” Lupin assured him; “I would have insisted on you coming to us if it were otherwise.  We’ve made some strategic advances in recent days, and we’re getting ample assistance at last.  There’s much to discuss.”

“What’s keeping them?” Tonks grumbled.  She didn’t seem nearly as comfortable in the open as Lupin, and Harry felt the same.

Harry asked, “You did bring Madam Pomfrey, right?  I wasn’t joking when I said – ”

Lupin cut him off.  “When you ask for a healer, Harry, no one takes it lightly – rest assured of that.  We didn’t do Poppy any favours in the last three days.  She’s quite busy…”

Before Harry could bristle, Lupin held up a hand.  “I’ve brought someone with greater qualifications, as well as more direct experience with major curses and rituals.”

Harry’s hand coiled around the end of his wand.  “I never mentioned curses,” he said evenly.

“Considering what the two of you have been doing, and in speaking with Ron, I thought it reasonable…” Lupin began.  Harry didn’t hear the rest.  His eyes were glued to the gangplank from the ferry to the pier.

Ron Weasley had always been long, even gangly, but he had never before been gaunt.  His hair had grown long enough to pull back.  He caught sight of Harry and slowly broke into a broad smile.  That was when Harry spotted the cane.  Ron leaned into it heavily while a woman who Harry didn’t recognise held on to his free arm.  He realised that her other hand was grasping the back of his belt.  She was somewhere around Tonks’s age, Harry thought, with short brownish hair and a genuine smile.  Her cheeks were pinked and she had a slight squint as though she’d spent her life facing into the wind. 

Harry had always thought of Ron as a fast moving sort – sometimes too fast for his own good – so it seemed like he and the woman were approaching in a crawl.  Ron was one to raise an arm and call out but he did nothing of the sort; he just smiled.  Considering what happened, he looks good, Harry decided.

They stopped arm’s length from Harry.  Ron looked Harry up and down, then tugged his arm free from the woman and thrust it forward.  Harry moved to take his hand, but Ron continued forward and took in Harry’s entire forearm – not in a handshake but in the sort of grasp made for oaths. 

Ron’s voice seemed as thin as he was; “You look like shite,” he said.  The corners of Harry’s mouth twitched and Ron broke into a hoarse laugh that ended with a wince.

Harry fought to keep an even expression.  “Back at you, mate,” he said;  “You… you can’t know how glad I am to see you… you just can’t…”

“I think I can,” Ron returned; “How’s Hermione holding up?”

“She’s not good,” Harry admitted.

Ron scowled and said, “She’s gone and done something stupid, Harry – I’m sure of it.”  He shifted unsteadily and the woman deftly took his arm again; then he smiled faintly, and added, “This is Gudrun, by the way… Gudrun Stefánsdóttir.  She’s the reason I’m alive.”

Her cheeks pinked a bit more.  “Ronald says more than is true.  I am honoured to meet you, Mr. Potter,” she said.  Her accent was unusual, with more of a trill than a lilt to it.  Harry recalled similar accents from earlier in the year. 

He said, “I didn’t know any Icelanders had actually joined our group, Miss… erm…”

She said, “Gudrun will do, Mr. Potter.  Ronald was brought to the Healing Order along with other fighters.  When your people were ready to leave, the Althing asked that we continue to assist.  I came to your people as one from a group of fourteen.  I am a physician.  The others give different assistance.  Still more of us have come to aid your people now.”

Harry’s eyes swept the pier and the car park.  There were too many people lingering for his taste.  "I’m afraid it’s not a short walk,” he said.  “Someone didn’t mention that you were coming, Ron.”

“I’ll manage,” Ron returned.  The look on Stefánsdóttir’s face suggested otherwise.

“Go in the museum – in that house over there,” Harry said.  “If anything happens, you might be able to defend it.  I’ll come back with the motorbike –”

Ron’s eyes widened.  “Motorbike?  You’ve been getting around on one of those?”

“Someone spotted the car,” Harry said; “We left it in Wales.”

“Ronald can tolerate a ride,” Stefánsdóttir said.  Harry briskly walked away.  He knew he’d feel much more comfortable when they all reached the cottage.

    

Hermione had risen while Harry was out.  He found her on the veranda again, settled into one of the rocking chairs.  One of Lupin’s advance guard could be seen pacing the shoreline. She startled when Harry put his hand on her shoulder. 

“They’re here,” he said.

“Oh…” she said, “I’ll just… I’ll just…” She tried and failed to raise herself from the chair.

“No need to get up,” Lupin called from behind Harry.  He approached with a broad smile on his face that froze as soon as he faced Hermione.

“Hello, Professor Lupin,” Hermione said quietly, almost apologetically.

Lupin sighed, “When will you learn to call me Remus?”

“Perhaps when it’s all over…” Hermione mused.

Lupin thoughtfully stroked his chin.  It was a less dramatic gesture when one lacked a beard.  “When did you last eat?” he asked Hermione.

“I had a spot of lunch,” Hermione returned; “You’re doubling as a healer now?”

“As feisty as ever, I see.  You look to have lost a stone or more, and you didn’t have a stone to give,” Lupin said.

Harry heard the tap-tap-tapping of Ron’s cane in the hall and said, “Someone else is here to see you.”

Hermione pushed off firmly this time and made it to her feet.  She spotted Ron at the doorway and started to shudder.  “Ron… oh, God… Ron… y-you’re here…” she stammered.

Ron strolled forward and gathered her into a hug.  It was slow and cautious, like all his movements.  Harry waited for him to draw her into a kiss, but it didn’t happen.  She didn’t hug him in return so much as she collapsed into him, racked with sobbing.

“I wish I’d been here,” Ron said tightly; “If I’d been here, maybe I could have stopped you.”

Hermione went rigid in his grasp.  “Stopped me… from what?” she sniffed.

Ron pushed back from her, but continued to hold her at arm’s length. He said, “Don’t treat me like I’m stupid, Hermione.  I promised to keep quiet before, but this is different.  What else did you do?  Did you find a way to make it more powerful?  Did you find something else, something stronger?”

“I’ve spoken to Ron,” Lupin said, “and I’ve brought an expert on energetic curses and rituals.”

A chill ran through Harry as he began to realise what was happening.  “Hermione… what have you done?” he whispered.

Hermione pulled free from Ron’s grasp but the effort drove her back into the chair.  She sat there for a time with her head in her hands before she let out a hollow laugh.  “I think it’s too late for an intervention,” she said.

“Harry requested a healer, so I’ve brought one,” Lupin said firmly.  “You’re going to see this healer and you’re going to cooperate or else I’ll have to separate you from Harry.”

Hermione went ashen.  “What?” she shrieked.

Harry’s face flushed.  “You can’t do that,” he insisted.

“Until I have evidence otherwise, I have to assume that whatever you’ve done is potentially harmful to the both of you,” Lupin said; “In any case, Hermione, you’re clearly not up to walking across this house, let alone anything else that might be required.” 

Hermione and Lupin silently faced off, and Ron watched without saying a word, and Harry didn’t know what to make of any of it – of his former professor’s resolve, his best friend’s reserve, or of whatever it was that Hermione had done.  He only knew that it all filled him with dread.

Hermione was the one who gave way.  “I’ll see your healer,” she said curtly.

“Tell Gudrun the truth.  It's the only way she'll be able to help,” Ron insisted.

Hermione crooked an eyebrow.  “Gudrun?  That’s a Norse name, isn’t it?  You’re on a first-name basis with this healer…?”  She stopped cold, then added quietly, “Oh… of course you are…”

“She’s unimpeachable.  Tell her everything, Hermione.  It’s not too late to fix this, whatever you may think,” Lupin said.

“What the bloody hell is this?  Hermione, what’s happened?” Harry growled.  Hermione closed her eyes and began to rock.

“I’ll send in Doctor Stefánsdóttir in a few moments,” Lupin said.  He tried to draw Ron out of the room along with him, but Ron wouldn't have it.

Hermione reached out a hand to Harry, who took it.  “Ron’s probably going to tell you what he thinks he knows,” she said; “I want to be sure that you understand this –” Her grip tightened and her eyes positively blazed.  “I did what needed to be done.  Almost no one could have done it for you, and no one else would have – not any of the Order… not Ron, I honestly don’t think so… and not Ginny.  I honestly don't think she'd have done it.  No matter what you think of me from now on, I want you to understand that.  I did this for you, and I’d do it again without a second thought.”

“Hermione, you’re… you’re scaring me!” Harry blurted out.  He didn’t realise how tightly that he gripped her hand until she winced.

He let go immediately, and Hermione said with clear resignation, “Send her in, then.”

Ron let Lupin lead him out.  Stefánsdóttir sidestepped them both and clapped Harry’s shoulder with surprising strength.  “Greetings, Miss Granger,” she said.  “Ronald and many others speak fondly of you.  Would you permit me to examine you?”

Hermione gave a nervous nod.  Stefánsdóttir took a small stone from one of her pockets, rubbed it between her hands, said a guttural incantation, and threw the stone to the floor at the centre of the room.  The stone bounced once and became a very soft-looking examination table.  The healer waved her wand at the windows, and each went from clear to a soft white. 

“Would you please leave us, Mr. Potter?” Stefánsdóttir asked.

Harry nodded, and backed out of the room.  The door closed of its own accord.  There was a faint pop and a squelch, and Harry instinctively moved toward the door handle.  He felt magic of the rawest sort – and then he went weak in the knees. 

“Harry!” Ron shouted. 

Lupin caught Harry before he fell to the floor.  “What the devil…?”

Harry felt a painful stirring in his chest, and he was certain that something terrible was happening – that Hermione was being taken from him.  “Help her, Remus!” he hollered.  His stomach roiled and he felt the urge to spew up but nothing came of it.

Lupin cradled Harry and Ron slowly lowered himself to the floor.  “This is a lot worse than she said it would be,” Ron said.

“I know,” Lupin said nervously; “Gudrun, Harry’s in a very bad way out here,” he shouted. 

Harry could hear Hermione’s voice through the door; even filled with worry, he found it comforting.  “What have you done to him?” she demanded.

He strained to hear Stefánsdóttir’s reply: “I’ve set a null ward around you, Miss Granger – a bit of ancient spell work that I can only maintain for a short time.  It dampens any magical connections between the contents of this room and the outside.  This is very useful for making a sound curse-related diagnosis.”

No!  You’ll kill him!” Hermione shouted.

The ward dropped almost instantly.  Harry felt instant relief, and a piercing scream came from the veranda.  He scrambled free of Lupin and nearly broke down the door.  Hermione was writhing on the examination table as if the Cruciatus Curse had struck her.  Harry gathered her awkwardly in his arms; he would have dropped her if Stefánsdóttir hadn’t cast a quick feather-light charm.

It was obvious that she was bound to him in some way.  At some level, he supposed that he’d known that for some time.  It was just as obvious that the binding – whatever it was – was hurting her badly, if not killing her. 

She stopped keening and her breathing steadied; she looked at him with unsteady eyes, and whispered, “I’d do it again, Harry… I’d do it again…”  Harry looked away from her, because he had to look away or risk falling apart.

“Fix this,” he demanded of the healer; “I don’t care what it takes.  I don’t care what it does to me.  Fix this.

Stefánsdóttir sighed.  “There is surely a long story that lies just beneath the surface,” she said, “and no one person possesses all of it.  First we shall have the story told and then we shall find the solution.”

“There isn’t a solution,” Hermione said distantly; “Harry should be dead, you see.” 

Ron gave a strangled cry and Lupin let forth with a colourful string of cursing, whilst Stefánsdóttir said evenly, “It seems that you should begin the telling, Miss Granger.” 

Hermione’s eyes closed and she slumped against Harry’s chest before she could manage a single word. 

    

Harry stalked back and forth across the kitchen.  The monster inside him wanted to tear the place apart, but enough of his own mind remained to know that not only wasn’t the house his own to demolish, but also that magic couldn’t be used to repair it – a display of magic that great would surely attract Voldemort’s men and it wasn’t the time or place for that, not yet.  He contented himself with crumpling an empty Muggle fizzy drink can in his hands.

“Why didn’t you tell me?” he railed at Ron.

“What were you going to do – leave her behind?” Ron asked.

Harry gave the can another squeeze.  “Yes!  I would have locked her in a bloody room if I’d had to!  She… she had no right to do this!  She had no right!

Ron shifted uncomfortably on one of the stools at the counter and said, “If I’d been able – if I’d been going out there again – I would have done the same thing, Harry.  We both would have cast protections on you.  The thing of it is, what she did – or what I found out she was going to do, at any rate – it wouldn’t have done this.  It would have given you the strength to go on in a fight, you know?  It had a, a thingy in it… er… I can’t remember what she called it.  The thing, it would have cancelled the spell if the drain got really bad.”

Harry leaned against the counter next to the cold cabinet.  “A failsafe,” he said without looking up; “I would have just died, then.  She had to mean Hufflepuff’s Cup, Ron.  It’s the only time I’ve been close to dying this year.  I thought she’d saved me with the spit – ”

Spit?  I think that one needs explaining, mate!” said Ron.

Harry explained what had happened with the Cup as best as he could.  Ron nodded thoughtfully as he went along, and Harry couldn’t help but to be surprised by the changes in his best friend.  He seemed more like his older brothers Bill and Charlie now – quieter but somehow stronger.

“What I know about potions, I could write on a single sheet of parchment,” Ron said at length, “but I do know that it takes time for an antidote to work.  Hermione knows that.  Do you figure she meant to take the edge off?”

“Dunno,” Harry said.  “Maybe she was just hoping?”

“She didn’t have anything better, you mean?”  Ron nodded.  “Yeah, she wouldn’t have just stood by... doesn’t have it in her, really.  She actually got that from the greasy bastard’s book?  I’m surprised you kept it.”

Harry’s jaw tightened; he said, “Don’t start in on that.  The book’s been useful.  He’s smart.  I won’t pretend otherwise.”

Ron sipped at a glass of water, and each swallow looked uncomfortable.  “Right, then… so we know she did something else,” he said.  “She must have added to it, or taken off the failsafe thingy somehow.  How long were you out?”

Something tugged at the back of Harry’s mind.  “Sorry?” he said absently.

“How long were you out?” Ron repeated; “You said that the stuff in the Cup knocked you out.”

“Hadn’t thought about it, really,” Harry admitted and he decided that he should think about it then and there.  He thought for quite a while before he realised, “A day... I lost a whole day.”

There were stirrings of magic in the house and Harry was no longer wholly accustomed to the feeling after months amongst the Muggles.  Some of it came from the master bedroom, where the Icelandic woman was attending to Hermione.  Some of it surely came from Lupin, which couldn’t be helped.  The rest came from the cellar.  He’d only felt a sort of hum before from the horcruxes, or horcruces, or whatever they were supposed to be called.  Now there was something stronger.  He felt the pull deep inside, rumbling within his chest.  He made for the stairs and the clunking of Ron’s cane followed closely him.

The Cup and the locket still rested inside Hermione’s knapsack, jammed into the tight crawlspace.  They were still tightly swaddled in cloth and spells.  The Grimoire was inside Harry’s knapsack, which was the source of the insistent pull.  Harry wasn’t surprised though he wished that he were.  He carefully peeled open the cloth wrapping and grazed his fingertips across the cover.

Ron peered over his shoulder.  “That’s it?” he asked.

“This is Ravenclaw’s Grimoire,” Harry returned.  He was no curse-breaker, no expert in any particular kind of magic really, but over the last few months he had developed an uncanny sense of touch where enchanted or spelled objects were concerned.  He could easily tell the difference between his own spell work and the spell work of others. Harry rudely shoved the Grimoire back into the knapsack.  He was angry, disappointed and frustrated, but above all else, he was worried – deeply worried.  He was certain of at least one thing that Hermione had done. 

“Those weren’t my seals.  It's someone else's magic,” he said.

Ron let out a deep sigh; “Couldn’t let it alone, could she?”

“I told her to not touch it.  I sealed it, spelled the bloody thing until it was glowing.  She knew what Riddle’s diary did to Ginny, she knew!”  Harry growled.  He threw the knapsack as hard as he could.  Ron snatched it from the air and fell roughly in the process.  He gasped for breath.  Harry rushed to him. 

“What are you thinking?” Ron hissed; “You can't just throw them around, can you?  That thing could have blown up or cursed the whole house or something!”

The image of Dumbledore’s ruined arm unbidden to Harry and he winced.  “I wasn’t thinking at all,” he admitted; “Are you all right?”

“Brilliant, Harry.  I’m smashing,” Ron groaned as he let the knapsack slide to the floor beside him.  It took several minutes for Harry to help him to his feet.  He moved to help Ron up the stairs but was shrugged him off. 

“What are we going to do with it?” Ron asked Harry, with a nod toward the Grimoire.

“Show it to Lupin, for a start,” Harry said; “Can we trust this healer of yours?  Are you absolutely sure?  I mean, Lupin, Tonks and McGonagall are the only ones who know what we’ve been after – ”

“And my Mum and Dad... and Bill, which means Fleur probably knows... which means everyone probably knows,” Ron added.

Harry grumbled, “Can’t we keep one sodding secret?  It’s a wonder any of us are alive.”

Ron instantly turned crimson and snapped, “Don’t get shirty with me, I won't have it!  You try moving a few hundred people from one place in the middle of effin’ nowhere to another every couple of weeks.  Think we can’t keep secrets, do you?  If we couldn't, we'd all be dead.”  He stopped to take a few heavy breaths, and then added, “And you can trust Gudrun – you can trust all of them.  Not only that, but she’s smart as Hermione, mate.”

Harry followed Ron up the stairs.  “She’s as smart as that?” he said lightly.

“You know, actually, she’s smarter,” Ron said from the top step.

“Really?” Harry said.  He was surprised; it wasn’t the sort of thing that Ron would say lightly, not as much as he obviously cared for Hermione.

“Really,” Ron said darkly.  “I know she wouldn’t have opened that book.” 

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