Harry & Tonks spar, Harry & Albus learn how Voldemort became 'immortal'.
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A/N: This chapter contains a few excerpts of HBP in my attempts to include JKR's latest installment in ASR. In the instance of the pensieve moments, the memories are direct quotations from JKR's copyrighted work, not my personal property.
Please note that all HBP references have been skewed to fit my... unique point-of-view.
For example, Hermione isn't suddenly going to go all girly-girl brainless chit, Ginny isn't suddenly the new PlayWizard Playmate of the month, and Harry isn't...
That is to say, Harry will not be...
Ah, screw it! Harry's gonna be kickin' arse and takin' names!
To Pro-JKR-ers: 'Ye be warned!'
Thank you. We now return you to your regularly scheduled fanfic.
Bellatrix awoke to the smell of ham and eggs. Cracking her eyes open, she found herself in an unfamiliar room. Still slightly hazy from sleep, Bellatrix raised her arms above her head stretching with a yawn. As she lowered her arms back to her sides, Bellatrix's eyes focused on her lower left forearm.
Her now unblemished, extremely healthy forearm.
As if a dam had burst, her memories of the previous evening came rushing back. First, finding out that the savior of the Wizarding World is the reincarnation of the much-maligned Salazar Slytherin. Next, learning that both her sister and niece, along with herself, were irrevocably tied to said wizard. Then, finally, being on the cusp of death from the brand forced upon her flesh all those years ago, only to be miraculously saved at the last instant, yet again by the same wizard.
Jumping out of bed, Bellatrix hurried to the full-length mirror placed against the wall. Looking into the reflective surface, she could hardly come to terms with the healthy-looking visage meeting her gaze. Not only was the horrid tattoo missing from her arm, she seemed to be almost phenomenally healed from her other health concerns, including the gaunt tissue resulting from over a decade of residence in the Dementor-infested Azkaban prison.
As her thoughts led to this seemingly miracle and its source, it then dawned on Bellatrix that Harry was no longer in the room. In fact, she had woken up in the bed he had occupied hours ago during her emotional collapse. Taking but a moment to ensure that she was decent, Bellatrix burst from the room to find her sister Narcissa eating the breakfast whose aroma had roused her initially. Quickly striding to her side, Bellatrix tersely asked, "Where is he?"
"And a very good morning to you, too, Bella," Narcissa said with a smirk.
"Not now, Cissy! Where is Harry?" Bellatrix asked hurriedly.
"Calm down, Bella," Narcissa soothed, though still bearing a lopsided smirk. "It's well past nine o'clock. Both Harry and Nymph have already eaten and left for their morning run. I told them that I would wait here for you. Besides," Narcissa's smile became slightly rueful, "jogging really isn't my thing."
Finally calming down enough to take her seat at the table across from her sister, Bellatrix reached for the platter to serve her self and said, "Well, if you're planning to accompany us to wherever it is Harry is planning on taking us, you better ensure that you can keep up. I do not doubt that there will be times that physical stamina may make the difference between surviving an incident and not."
"I can keep up just fine!" Narcissa alleged quickly, "But running just gets you all sweaty!"
Bellatrix could not help herself; she burst out laughing. "Cissy, you're such a girl!"
"And what's that supposed to mean?" Narcissa asked, placing her hands on her hips.
Bellatrix was too far gone to answer in complete sentences, instead responding with a brief and spluttered, "Nothing!"
After staring at the bent-over witch for a few seconds, Narcissa recognized the humor in the situation and allowed a few chuckles of her own to surface. "You know," she mused, "I think I've heard you laugh more in the last 12 hours than I have the last twelve years."
Ridding herself of her own remaining laughter, Bellatrix responded ruefully, "I haven't really had much to laugh about the past several years."
"And now?" Narcissa prompted.
"It hasn't really registered yet, I don't believe," Bellatrix responded with a far-away look in her eyes. Fixing her suddenly sharp gaze on her sister, Bellatrix asked, "Why did he do it?"
"You mean the mark?" Narcissa asked perceptively. At Bellatrix's nod, she continued, "I don't profess to know him well; not any better than you do, at any rate," she admitted. "However, from what I can gather from our niece, Harry is afflicted with what his friend has termed a 'saving people thing'. He has an almost inhuman desire to see justice triumph, and he will suffer through virtually any means to see to that end. Perhaps more than a little Gryffindorish, but there you are."
"But why me?" Bellatrix demanded. "If I had been able to, I would have killed him and his friends at the Ministry last month. I did succeed in killing Sirius, who just happened to be the sole remaining person he considered family. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, I am an irredeemable murderer who deserves death. Why would he so much as lift a finger to help /me/?"
Reaching over the small table, Narcissa grabbed her sister's shoulders roughly and shook her. "That was not you/, Bella! /You did not do anything wrong! Voldemort wanted them dead at the Ministry, not you! Voldemort's will sent Sirius through the veil, not yours! Harry does not seem to hold you accountable for Voldemort's crimes; neither should you. As for your other question, Harry must have seen something salvageable in you, and I for one am glad he was right. It's good to have my sister whole again."
"Thanks, Cissy," Bellatrix said softly. Seeming to regain her more energetic self once more, she asked, "So, any ideas when the little nymph and the man of the hour are going to be done?"
"Not really," Narcissa replied, before raising a teacup to her lips. Finishing off her drink, she settled her cup back on the saucer. "You know?" Narcissa prompted, "The sooner you finish eating, the sooner we can go watch."
"And your haste wouldn't have anything to do with seeing a certain wizard exercising in sweat-drenched clothes?" Bellatrix asked amusedly.
Affecting a detached and superior attitude, Narcissa stated pompously, "That hardly seems necessary."
"Oh?" Bellatrix asked in a disbelieving voice.
"Oh, yes," Narcissa replied innocently. "Besides," she suddenly grinned, "I doubt anything we might see out there would beat what I saw last night." At Bellatrix's questioning look, Narcissa expounded, "When you went into your fit, Harry came running out of his room clad in nothing more than a pair of shorts. Then, the two of you spent the entire night together without supervision. I find it hard to believe that you did not notice."
"Well," Bellatrix drawled, "I was sort of on the verge of death for the first little bit, and then was rather distracted for the rest of the night thinking about the first part. So, no, I did not notice. Still, I suppose we should head on out there... just to make sure they don't hurt themselves, of course."
"Of course," Narcissa answered with a grin. "But don't you want to finish-" her question quickly became irreverent as Bellatrix virtually inhaled the large serving of eggs she had gathered, and had begun stuffing the bacon strips in after it. Looking slightly disgusted at the lack of table manners, Narcissa asked, "Do you even know what that tasted like?"
"Yes..." Bellatrix answered slowly, oblivious to her sister's ire. "Why...?"
Sighing to herself, Narcissa just shook her head and said, "Never mind. Do you want to at least change out of those clothes before we go?"
Stifling another sigh as her younger sister finally took in the state of her wardrobe, Narcissa directed her sibling. "I had an elf to bring some suitable clothes for you. They are in there," she said, pointing to an unoccupied bedroom. "Feel free to make use of the adjoining shower while you're at it," Narcissa added.
"What are you trying to say, Cissy?" Bellatrix asked innocently.
"Yesterday was very... exerting," Narcissa finally replied. "Now go. I'll wait here for you."
It was about a half hour later that the two sisters, one of whom was freshly groomed, opened the outer doors of the castle and stepped from a slightly chilly stone corridor to the brightly lit, warm outdoors. The warm summer sun revealed the wide plains covered in rich green grass, the sparkling lake spanning a good portion of the castle's grounds, and the dark and mysterious Forbidden Forest standing at the southern border.
Moreover, the seeming battle to the death being waged between their niece, the metamorphamagus Nymphadora Tonks, and their new traveling companion and somewhat master, the much renowned Harry Potter.
The two young mages had apparently finished their jog, and were currently engaged in a very spirited duel. Stepping out of the castle completely, the door slowly shut behind them as both Narcissa and Bellatrix were shocked at the spectacle playing out before them. At the center of the 'storm' was a bare-chested and - as predicted earlier by Narcissa - very sweaty Harry Potter. He was currently surrounded by six Nymphadora Tonks, each of whom were wearing sweat pants similar to those adorning Harry's lower body in addition to uniform gray sport top. All the evidence pointed to Harry having given as well as he got, as the sextuplets were also perspiring heavily, in addition to grappling with six very enthusiastic boa constrictors and having sunk up to their knees in obviously conjured quicksand pits. As the two new arrivals watched, the snakes gained the metaphorical upper hand, completely encasing their respective victims' torsos and removing the identical witches' wands with their mouths. The involved duel finally ended as the female ex-Auror closed her eyes and expelled a breath noisily from her teeth before groaning, "Alright, already! I give! You win!"
The victor just smiled brightly, before sweeping his wand over his head. As the wooden rod made its revolution, the five copies of the defeated witch vanished, along with all six snakes and the accompanying swamp bogs leaving one extremely messy metamorphamagus standing before an obviously amused Harry Potter.
With a mischievous smile on his face, Harry helped the witch to steady herself before asking, "So, Nymph, what have we learned from this?"
Angrily swiping the perspiration off her forehead, Tonks blew out a breath through gritted teeth before replying, "Don't trust a Potter when they tell you about their experience in formal dueling?"
Harry just looked at her with all-too-innocent eyes and said, "Besides that."
Tonks looked thoughtful for a second before groaning and said, "I can't believe that I fell for that! That's like the first rule of dueling - never attack on your opponent's terms!"
"Very good, Nymph," Harry praised. "If it makes you feel any better, though, your charm work on those duplicates did stump me for a bit. I wasn't sure until the end which one of them was the real you. Where did you learn that one?"
"It obviously didn't stump you enough!" Tonks complained. "And I learned that one from Moody. He had used it against me in a training session a few years ago and I nagged him until he taught it to me. Mad eye said it is an improvement on the preexisting charm, since the duplicates are solid and can even throw off an animal's sense of smell. How'd you figure out who was who?"
"I sent out a few passive Legilimency probes - you instinctively blocked them; the duplicates didn't," Harry replied easily.
Tonks just grumbled before finally looking up at him and declaring, "I WILL get you, Potter!"
"Of course you will," Harry answered as if speaking to a small child.
"I will!" Tonks exclaimed. "How about unarmed combat? I did well in that. Or even better, what about staff fighting? I love sparring with quarterstaffs!"
Bellatrix snorted at this comment from the energetic witch. "Like a useless piece of wood is going to do you any good in a fight. If your opponent is using magic, it would be worth less than nothing!"
Harry just raised an eyebrow as he inquired, "Oh? Would you mind a demonstration? For educational purposes, of course."
"What kind of demonstration?" Bellatrix asked slowly.
"Just as you suggested. We spar; you with a wand, me with a staff," Harry proposed.
"Let me get this straight," Bellatrix expounded, "you want me to attack you with magic, and you aren't going to use magic to defend yourself?"
"Correct," Harry answered, "feel free to use whatever spells seem appropriate, short of the unforgivables."
"Okay," Bellatrix answered uneasily, as she removed her outer robe to reveal a tight-fitting black top and matching pants. Withdrawing her wand from the robe's pocket, Bellatrix held it loosely in one hand as she watched Harry quickly conjure a typical quarterstaff before handing his own wand to Tonks.
Walking forward so that the two were facing one another with a separation of ten feet between them, Harry raised the wooden weapon to a ready position and nodded to Bellatrix. "Whenever you're ready," Harry confirmed.
Bellatrix nodded back and raised her wand... just in time for the tip of the aforementioned staff to impact sharply with her wrist, forcing Bellatrix to drop her wand. Before she could retrieve the fallen wand, Harry bounded forward and swung the quarterstaff behind her before pulling the weapon back against his opponent's knees, forcing Bellatrix to fall flat on her back. Harry held the tip of the staff unwavering to her throat for a few seconds before grounding its butt and offering the defeated witch a hand to regain her feet.
Shaking her wrist to alleviate the stinging, Bellatrix reluctantly admitted, "Okay, perhaps your stick can occasionally prove itself useful if you're standing so close, but there is no way you can win if the spells are coming from a distance."
"Truly?" Harry asked with a smile. Walking backwards several paces, Harry again took a ready stance before prompting, "Again."
This time, Bellatrix immediately went on the offensive, launching several intermediate-level spells that would have disabled Harry had he remained at his initial position. Harry, seeing the incoming spells, broke into a dead run and used the quarterstaff to vault over the waves of energy. Deprived of their target, the spells discharged into the ground and created a small crater to mark their collision.
Meanwhile, Harry landed from his extended jump and immediately crouched, his momentum carrying him into a forward roll. As Harry snapped back to his feet, Bellatrix fired a stunner at Harry's torso, forcing him to twist sideways to avoid the hex. Before Bellatrix could try a third wave in her assault, Harry was upon her and disarmed her much the same as the previous time, this time faking a swing at her wand arm before sweeping the staff around her in a two-handed grip and pulling her feet out from beneath her. This time, while the staff was leveled at her neck, Harry's booted foot was casually laid atop her right wrist, preventing her from pointing her wand at him.
Groaning, Bellatrix grumbled, "This is so embarrassing!"
Harry just smiled before releasing her a second time and assisting her to her feet.
"Alright, I'll give. How did I lose this time?" Bellatrix asked.
"You used a good selection of spells and tactics, but you broadcasted your intentions," Harry explained. "That is, I could see where you planned to aim next. You must also pay attention to your surroundings and use them to your benefit where possible - constant vigilance and all that."
"So you're saying that you're always on guard against attack?" Bellatrix asked with a funny look on her face.
"Yes..." Harry answered slowly before spinning his arm around so that his tightly held quarterstaff blocked Tonks's stealthy blow. "Always," he finished with a smile. "Nymph, that was sneaky, underhanded, and extremely unsportsmanlike." At Tonks's slightly saddened expression, Harry smirked and said, "Well done!"
Harry's grin became even wider as he said, "Let the lesson begin."
A few hours later found the four mages in a three-on-one melee, after both Bellatrix and Tonks conscripted Narcissa's aid when they were unable to penetrate Harry's defenses. While Narcissa was not on the same physical par as her sister or niece, she still managed to acquit herself adequately as the witches managed to beat the wizard in a few of the matches.
Their exercise-turned-combat-training session was interrupted by Fawkes's flamboyant arrival when the eternal bird delivered a brief letter from the headmaster requesting Harry's presence in his office. Conjuring a temporary quill, Harry quickly wrote an affirmative reply and sent it on its way with the phoenix.
Looking at the three curious women, Harry answered their unspoken question. "Albus wants to see me for something, but he failed to explain what. Still, I should not be too long. The rooms you stayed in last night will still admit you, should you wish to return there. Until then," he finished with a bow before striding back towards the castle, his shirt flying into his outstretched hand as the conjured quarterstaff that had been used so effectively shimmered and dissolved.
Looking at one another, the youthful metamorphamagus broke the silence first. "Well, that was fun!" Tonks exclaimed. "What are we going to do now?"
Bellatrix opened her mouth to respond, but Narcissa interrupted her. "How about something a little more constructive. I, for one, am very interested as to what that object that Lucius was sent to fetch from Borgin's shop is. If you truly want to help Harry, let's go see if we can identify it for him."
Bellatrix's eyes widened in horror as she stuttered, "But that means..."
"Yes, Bella," Narcissa answered smugly, "we have to go back to the library."
"No!" Bellatrix answered promptly. "I swore an undying oath on graduation never to enter that mausoleum of rotting paper ever again!"
"Bella..." Narcissa wheedled.
"No!" the dark-haired witch shouted. "Don't 'Bella' me! I am not going! I'm not!"
"Of course, Bella, whatever you say..." Narcissa said consolingly.
A quarter of an hour, three cleanups, and one heated discussion later
"See there? We're all here in the Hogwarts library, and the world hasn't ended. You made all that fuss over nothing," Narcissa said to a hovering, petrified Bellatrix, who was extremely unhappy with the current situation if the venomous glare directed towards the blonde-haired woman was any indication.
"Are you sure that this is necessary?" Tonks asked.
"Unfortunately, yes. Bella never really seemed to get along with places like this. Personally, I think all of the big words intimidate her."
Upon hearing this, Bellatrix managed to make her displeasure known via a suppressed scream, despite the full body bind.
"Right," Tonks said to herself.
"Now," Narcissa continued while looking at the restrained form of her sister, "since we're already here, are you going to help us look, or should I leave you like this?"
After another muffled yell, Narcissa replied, "I'll take that as a 'yes'." Waving her wand, Narcissa cancelled the spells holding her sister captive, who dropped limply to the floor before jumping to her feet, wand in hand.
"NEVER. DO. THAT. AGAIN!" Bellatrix roared.
"Whatever you say, Bella," Narcissa shot back over her shoulder, the platinum-haired woman already headed towards the 'Egyptology' aisle in the restricted section, which seemed to be unwarded as no students were present. "Now be a dear and see what you can find about that triangular device you confiscated."
In reply, Bellatrix stomped towards another section on ancient cultures, all the while muttering darkly to herself about retribution and 'high and mighty' older sisters.
Tonks just sighed to herself before beginning her own search while inwardly pondering yet again how her mother could possibly be related to the two obviously insane women with her.
After taking a few minutes to clean up, Harry made his way back up to Dumbledore's office. Upon reaching the entrance, however, the stone guardian took one look at Harry and quickly slid far out of the way. As Harry made his way past the gargoyle and began ascending the spiraled steps yet again, he could almost make himself believe that the rock figure breathed a sigh of relief.
Hearing his name called out as he reached the landing, Harry opened the door and entered the office to find Albus Dumbledore seated behind his desk with a chair on the opposite side, obviously intended for Harry. The antique desk was clear of the clutter previously upon it, displaying only the silvery bowl that Harry immediately recognized as the old man's pensieve.
Taking the proffered seat, Harry spoke up. "You wanted to see me, Albus?"
"Yes, Harry," the old man replied. "After the revelations of yesterday, which I would still like to discuss at a later date, I decided that it is time for you to be given certain information I have been... protecting for a number of years."
"Oh?" Harry inquired with a raised eyebrow. "You said, at the end of last term, you were going to tell me everything," Harry stated calmly, though the sharp look in his eyes was anything but.
"And so I did," said Dumbledore placidly. "I told you everything I know. From this point forth, we shall be leaving the firm foundation of fact and journeying together through the murky marshes of memory into thickets of wildest guesswork. From here on in, Harry, I may be as woefully wrong as Humphrey Belcher, who believed the time was ripe for a cheese cauldron."
"But you think you're right?" said Harry.
"Naturally I do, but as I have already proven to you, I make mistakes like the next man."
"While I find this absolutely fascinating, I fail to see how this requires my presence here," Harry professed. "Are the memories somehow related to the prophecy?"
"It has a very great deal to do with the prophecy," said Dumbledore, as casually as if Harry had asked him about the next day's weather. "This time, we will be going for a trip down Bob Ogden's memory lane," said Dumbledore, pulling from his pocket a crystal bottle containing a swirling silvery-white substance.
"Who was Bob Ogden?" Harry questioned.
"He was employed by the Department of Magical Law Enforcement," said Dumbledore. "He died some time ago, but not before I had tracked him down and persuaded him to confide these recollections to me. We are about to accompany him on a visit he made in the course of his duties."
Over the next few minutes, the two wizards relived the memory of Ogden's visitation of the Gaunts', after the criminally insane Morfin Gaunt had attacked a muggle using magic in plain sight. In the course of the interview, it was discovered that the Gaunts' were the last survivors of the Slytherin family and, in Harry's opinion, a poor reflection of his previous line.
In addition to the crazy young man, there was also Marvolo Gaunt, Morfin's father, who seemed to be exceptionally cruel and held a pureblood-supremacy prejudice to rival that of Lucius Malfoy's. Finally, there was Merope Gaunt, Marvolo's only daughter, who seemed interested in a local muggle by the name of Tom Riddle. Upon learning this, Marvolo Gaunt flew into a rage, attacking his own daughter as the horrified Ogden fled the house.
It was at this point that the world seemed to dissolve and Harry found himself back in Dumbledore's office. Taking a few moments to compose himself, Harry looked up to meet Albus's curious stare. "That was very... disappointing," Harry finally said. "Contrary to public opinion, the Slytherin name used to stand for something honorable. To see it reduced to the point that a creature such as Marvolo Gaunt could be considered the family head is..."
Trailing off, Harry changed topics. "What happened to the girl in the cottage?" said Harry at once, as Dumbledore lit extra lamps with a flick of his wand. "Merope, or whatever her name was?"
"Oh, she survived," said Dumbledore, leaning back in his chair. "Ogden apparated back to the Ministry and returned with reinforcements within fifteen minutes. Morfin and his father attempted to fight, but both were overpowered, removed from the cottage, and subsequently convicted by the Wizengamot. Morfin, who already had a record of Muggle attacks, was sentenced to three years in Azkaban. Marvolo, who had injured several Ministry employees in addition to Ogden, received six months."
"Marvolo?" Harry repeated wonderingly.
"That's right," said Dumbledore, smiling in approval. "I am glad to see you're keeping up."
"That old man was - ?" Harry couldn't finish the question.
"Voldemort's grandfather, yes," said Dumbledore. "Marvolo, his son, Morfin, and his daughter, Merope, were the last of the Gaunts, a very ancient Wizarding family noted for a vein of instability and violence that flourished through the generations due to their habit of marrying their own cousins. Lack of sense coupled with a great liking for grandeur meant that the family gold was squandered several generations before Marvolo was born. He, as you saw, was left in squalor and poverty, with a very nasty temper, a fantastic amount of arrogance and pride, and a couple of family heirlooms that he treasured just as much as his son, and rather more than his daughter."
"So Merope," said Harry, leaning forward in his chair and staring at Dumbledore, "so Merope was... Voldemort's mother?"
"She was," said Dumbledore. "And it so happens that we also had a mention of Voldemort's father. I wonder whether you noticed?"
"The Muggle Morfin attacked?" Harry suggested.
"Very good indeed," said Dumbledore, beaming. "Yes, that was Tom Riddle senior, the handsome Muggle who used to go riding past the Gaunt cottage and for whom Merope Gaunt cherished a secret, burning passion."
"And once her tormentors were locked in Azkaban, Merope took the opportunity to get close to Riddle senior?" Harry questioned.
"So it appears. Once Marvolo and Morfin were safely in Azkaban and she was alone and free for the first time in her life, then, I am sure, she was able to give full rein to her abilities and to plot her escape from the desperate life she had led for eighteen years. Personally, I am inclined to think that she used a love potion on the young Riddle to gain his attentions. I am sure it would have seemed romantic to her, and I do not think it would have been very difficult, some hot day, when Riddle was riding alone, to persuade him to take a drink of water. In any case, within a few months of the scene we have just witnessed, the village of Little Hangleton enjoyed a tremendous scandal. You can imagine the gossip it caused when the squire's son ran off with the tramp's daughter, Merope."
"But the villagers' shock was nothing to Marvolo's," Albus continued. "He returned from Azkaban, expecting to find his daughter dutifully awaiting his return with a hot meal ready on his table. Instead, he found a clear inch of dust and her note of farewell, explaining what she had done. From all that I have been able to discover, he never mentioned her name or existence from that time forth. The shock of her desertion may have contributed to his early death - or perhaps he had simply never learned to feed himself. Azkaban had greatly weakened Marvolo, and he did not live to see Morfin return to the cottage."
"And Merope? She died, didn't she?" Harry inquired. "Wasn't Voldemort brought up in an orphanage?"
"Yes, indeed," said Dumbledore. "We must do a certain amount of guessing here, although I do not think it is difficult to deduce what happened. You see, within a few months of their runaway marriage, Tom Riddle reappeared at the manor house in Little Hangleton without his wife. The rumor flew around the neighborhood that he was talking of being 'hoodwinked' and 'taken in.' What he meant, I am sure, is that he had been under an enchantment that had now lifted, though I daresay he did not dare use those precise words for fear of being thought insane. When they heard what he was saying, however, the villagers guessed that Merope had lied to Tom Riddle, pretending that she was going to have his baby, and that he had married her for this reason."
"But she did have his baby," Harry protested.
"But not until a year after they were married. Tom Riddle left her while she was still pregnant."
"So what went wrong?" asked Harry. "Why did the love potion, or imperious curse, or whatever, stop working?"
"Again, this is guesswork," said Dumbledore, "but I believe that Merope, who was deeply in love with her husband, could not bear to continue enslaving him by magical means. I believe that she made the choice to stop giving him the potion. Perhaps, besotted as she was, she had convinced herself that he would by now have fallen in love with her in return. Perhaps she thought he would stay for the baby's sake. If so, she was wrong on both counts. He left her, never saw her again, and never troubled to discover what became of his son."
Harry looked distracted for a minute before voicing, "Albus... is it important to know all this about Voldemort's past?"
"Very important, I think," said Dumbledore. "I would like you to know the background information I have been privy to before we discuss our next course of action."
"Very well," Harry conceded. "What next?"
"We will go forward a few months in time," Albus answered. "We just saw the tale of Lord Voldemort's beginnings at the point where the handsome muggle, Tom Riddle, had abandoned his witch wife, Merope, and returned to his family home in Little Hangleton. Merope was left alone in London, expecting the baby who would one day become Lord Voldemort."
"How do you know she was in London, Albus?" Harry asked.
"Because of the evidence of one Caractacus Burke," said Dumbledore, "who, by an odd coincidence, helped found the very shop you visited yesterday. His recollection regards the pendant young Merope was wearing in the last memory." He swilled the contents of the pensieve as Harry had seen him do before, much as a gold prospector sifts for gold. Up out of the swirling, silvery mass rose a little old man revolving slowly in the pensieve, silver as a ghost but much more solid, with a thatch of hair that completely covered his eyes
"Yes, we acquired it in curious circumstances. It was brought in by a young witch just before Christmas, oh, many years ago now. She said she needed the gold badly, well, that much was obvious. Covered in rags and pretty far along... Going to have a baby, see. She said the locket had been Slytherin's. Well, we hear that sort of story all the time, 'Oh, this was Merlin's, this was, his favorite teapot,' but when I looked at it, it had his mark all right, and a few simple spells were enough to tell me the truth. Of course, that made it near enough priceless. She didn't seem to have any idea how much it was worth. Happy to get ten Galleons for it. Best bargain we ever made!"
Dumbledore gave the Pensieve an extra-vigorous shake and Caractacus Burke descended back into the swirling mass of memory from whence he had come.
"He only gave her ten Galleons?" said Harry indignantly. "That locket was an antique heirloom back in my time!"
"Caractacus Burke was not famed for his generosity," said Dumbledore. "In any event, we know that, near the end of her pregnancy, Merope was alone in London and in desperate need of gold, desperate enough to sell her one and only valuable possession, the locket that was one of Marvolo's treasured family heirlooms."
"Nevermind that the brainless chit could have used magic to get food or whatever she needed!" said Harry impatiently.
"Ah," said Dumbledore, "perhaps she could. But it is my belief - I am guessing again, but I am sure I am right - that when her husband abandoned her, Merope stopped using magic. I do not think that she wanted to be a witch any longer. Of course, it is also possible that her unrequited love and the attendant despair sapped her of her powers; that can happen. In any case, as you are about to see, Merope refused to raise her wand even to save her own life."
Dumbledore again queued the pensieve, this time playing through one of his memories - this time recreating his trip to Tom Riddle Junior's orphanage to deliver an invitation to Hogwarts. Harry watched as the matron, Mrs. Cole, relayed that a young girl came to them just in time to give birth, and died within an hour of her son's birth. She then confessed that young Tom was unusual to the extent that he inspired fear in those around him, even the adults.
As the memory progressed, Harry observed how that, even as a small child, Riddle bullied those around him, even using rudimentary wandless magic to command others' honesty during interrogations. What was most disturbing for Harry was Tom's innate cruelty, even at the age of eleven. In his meeting with Dumbledore, he confessed to being able to force animals to his will and make bad things happen to people who annoyed him. The highlight of the interview was when the younger Dumbledore found a collection of stolen toys from the other children hidden away in Tom's ratty old wardrobe.
The memory ended soon thereafter, leaving the two wizards staring at one another in the office at Hogwarts. Harry said nothing, his mind still full of what he had just seen. "He believed it much quicker than I did - I mean, when you told him he was a wizard," said Harry. "I didn't believe Hagrid at first, when he told me."
"Yes, Riddle was perfectly ready to believe that he was - to use his word - 'special,'" said Dumbledore.
"Did you know - then?" asked Harry.
"Did I know that I had just met the most dangerous Dark wizard of all time?" said Dumbledore. "No, I had no idea that he was to grow up to be what he is. However, I was certainly intrigued by him. I returned to Hogwarts intending to keep an eye upon him, something I should have done in any case, given that he was alone and friendless, but which, already, I felt I ought to do for others' sake as much as his. His powers, as you heard, were surprisingly well developed for such a young wizard and - most interestingly and ominously of all - he had already discovered that he had some measure of control over them, and begun to use them consciously. And, as you saw, they were not the random experiments typical of young wizards: He was already using magic against other people, to frighten, to punish, to control. The little stories of the strangled rabbit and the young boy and girl he lured into a cave were most suggestive... 'I can make them hurt if I want to...'"
"And he was a Parselmouth," interjected Harry, interested in seeing Albus's reaction.
"Yes, indeed; a rare ability, and one supposedly connected with the Dark Arts, although as you pointed out last night, there are Parselmouths among the good too. In fact, his ability to speak to serpents did not make me nearly as uneasy as his obvious instincts for cruelty, secrecy, and domination."
Changing direction of the conversation, Albus continued, "I want to draw your attention to certain features of the scene we have just witnessed, for they have a great bearing on the matters we shall be discussing. Firstly, I hope you noticed Riddle's reaction when I mentioned that another - Tom the barman - shared his first name when I gave him directions to Diagon Alley?" Harry nodded. "There he showed his contempt for anything that tied him to other people, anything that made him ordinary. Even then, he wished to be different, separate, notorious. He shed his name, as you know, within a few short years of that conversation and created the mask of 'Lord Voldemort' behind which he has been hidden for so long."
Taking a breath, Albus continued the narrative. "I trust that you also noticed that Tom Riddle was already highly self-sufficient, secretive, and, apparently, friendless? He did not want help or companionship on his trip to Diagon Alley. He preferred to operate alone. The adult Voldemort is the same. You will hear many of his Death Eaters claiming that they are in his confidence, that they alone are close to him, even understand him. They are deluded. Lord Voldemort has never had a friend, nor do I believe that he has ever wanted one. And finally - this is the most important part, Harry - the young Tom Riddle liked to collect trophies. You saw the box of stolen articles he had hidden in his room. These were taken from victims of his bullying behavior, souvenirs, if you will, of particularly unpleasant bits of magic. Bear in mind this magpie-like tendency, for this, particularly, will be important later."
"I'm following you so far, Albus," Harry reassured.
"Well, the start of the school year arrived and with it came Tom Riddle, a quiet boy in his secondhand robes, who lined up with the other first years to be sorted. He was placed in Slytherin House almost the moment that the Sorting Hat touched his head," continued Dumbledore, waving his blackened hand toward the shelf over his head where the Sorting Hat sat, ancient and unmoving. "How soon Riddle learned that the famous founder of the House could talk to snakes, I do not know - perhaps that very evening. The knowledge can only have excited him and increased his sense of self-importance."
"However, if he was frightening or impressing fellow Slytherins with displays of Parseltongue in their common room, no hint of it reached the staff. He showed no sign of outward arrogance or aggression at all. As an unusually talented and very good-looking orphan, he naturally drew attention and sympathy from the staff almost from the moment of his arrival. He seemed police, quiet, and thirsty for knowledge. Nearly all were most favorably impressed by him."
"Didn't you tell them what he'd been like when you met him at the orphanage?" asked Harry.
"No, I did not," Albus answered. "Though he had shown no hint of remorse, it was possible that he felt sorry for how he had behaved before and was resolved to turn over a fresh leaf. I chose to give him that chance." Dumbledore paused and looked inquiringly at Harry, who had opened his mouth to speak.
A stray memory from three years past came to mind and Harry responded, "But you didn't really trust him, did you? He told me... the Riddle who came out of that diary said, 'Dumbledore never seemed to like me as much as the other teachers did.'"
"Let us say that I did not take it for granted that he was trustworthy," said Dumbledore. "I had, as I have already indicated, resolved to keep a close eye upon him, and so I did. I cannot pretend that I gleaned a great deal from my observations at first. He was very guarded with me; he felt, I am sure, that in the thrill of discovering his true identity he had told me a little too much. He was careful never to reveal as much again, but he could not take back what he had let slip in his excitement, nor what Mrs. Cole had confided in me. However, he had the sense never to try and charm me as he charmed so many of my colleagues."
"As he moved up the school, he gathered about him a group of dedicated friends," Albus mentioned. "I call them that for want of a better term although, as I have already indicated, Riddle undoubtedly felt no affection for any of them. This group had a kind of dark glamour within the castle. They were a motley collection; a mixture of the weak seeking protection, the ambitious seeking some shared glory, and the thuggish gravitating toward a leader who could show them more refined forms of cruelty. In other words, they were the forerunners of the Death Eaters, and indeed some of them became the first Death Eaters after leaving Hogwarts."
"Rigidly controlled by Riddle, they were never detected in open wrongdoing, although their seven years at Hogwarts were marked by a number of nasty incidents, to which they were never satisfactorily linked, the most serious of which was, of course, the opening of the Chamber of Secrets, which resulted in the death of a girl. As you know, Hagrid was wrongly accused of that crime."
"I have not been able to find many memories of Riddle at Hogwarts," said Dumbledore, placing his withered hand on the Pensieve. "Few who knew him then are prepared to talk about him; they are too terrified. What I know, I found out after he had left Hogwarts, after much painstaking effort, after tracing those few who could be tricked into speaking, after searching old records and questioning Muggle and wizard witnesses alike."
"Those whom I could persuade to talk told me that Riddle was obsessed with his parentage. This is understandable, of course; he had grown up in an orphanage and naturally wished to know how he came to be there. It seems that he searched in vain for some trace of Tom Riddle senior on the shields in the trophy room, on the lists of prefects in the old school records, even in the books of Wizarding history. Finally, he was forced to accept that his father had never set foot in Hogwarts. I believe that it was then that he dropped the name forever, assumed the identity of Lord Voldemort, and began his investigations into his previously despised mother's family - the woman whom, you will remember, he had thought could not be a witch if she had succumbed to the shameful human weakness of death."
"All he had to go upon was the single name 'Marvolo,' which he knew from those who ran the orphanage had been his mother's father's name. Finally, after painstaking research through old books of Wizarding families, he discovered the existence of Slytherin's surviving line. In the summer of his sixteenth year, he left the orphanage to which he returned annually and set off to find his Gaunt relatives."
Dumbledore again manipulated the pensieve as he said, "I was very lucky to collect this, as you will understand when we have experienced it. Shall we?" Without another word, the two wizards entered the device before landing upon a dirty stone floor in almost total darkness. It took Harry a few several seconds to recognize the place, by which time Dumbledore had landed beside him. The Gaunts' house was now more indescribably filthy than anywhere Harry had ever seen. The ceiling was thick with cobwebs, the floor coated in grime; moldy and rotting food lay upon the table amidst a mass of crusted pots. The only light came from a single guttering candle placed at the feet of a man with hair and beard so overgrown Harry could see neither eyes nor mouth. He was slumped in an armchair by the fire, and Harry wondered for a moment whether he was dead. But then there came a loud knock on the door and the man jerked awake, raising a wand in his right hand and a short knife in his left. The door creaked open. There on the threshold, holding an old-fashioned lamp stood a boy Harry recognized at once: tall, pale, dark-haired, and handsome - the teenage Voldemort.
Voldemort's eyes moved slowly around the hovel and then found the man in the armchair. For a few seconds they looked at each other, then the man staggered upright, the many empty bottles at his feet clattering and tinkling across the floor. "YOU!" he bellowed. "YOU!" And he hurtled drunkenly at Riddle, wand and knife held aloft.
"Stop," Riddle spoke in Parseltongue. The man skidded into the table, sending moldy pots crashing to the floor. He stared at Riddle. There was a long silence while they contemplated each other.
The man broke it. "You speak it?"
"Yes, I speak it," said Riddle. He moved forward into the room, allowing the door to swing shut behind him. Harry could not help but feel a resentful admiration for Voldemort's complete lack of fear. His face merely expressed disgust and, perhaps, disappointment. "Where is Marvolo?" he asked.
"Dead," said the other. "Died years ago, didn't he?"
Riddle frowned. "Who are you, then?"
"I'm Morfin, ain't I?"
"Marvolo's son?" Voldemort asked.
"'Course I am, then..." Morfin pushed the hair out of his dirty face, the better to see Riddle, and Harry saw that he wore the Slytherin family black-stoned ring on his right hand.
"I thought you was that Muggle," whispered Morfin. "You look mighty like that Muggle."
"What Muggle?" said Riddle sharply.
"That Muggle what my sister took a fancy to, that Muggle what lives in the big house over the way," said Morfin, and he spat unexpectedly upon the floor between them. "You look right like him. Riddle. But he's older now, in 'e? He's older'n you, now I think on it..." Morfin looked slightly dazed and swayed a little, still clutching the edge of the table for support. "He come back, see," he added stupidly.
Voldemort was gazing at Morfin as though appraising his possibilities. Now he moved a little closer and said, "Riddle came back?"
"Ar, he left her, and serve her right, marrying filth!" said Morfin, spitting on the floor again. "Robbed us, mind, before she ran off. Where's the locket, eh? Where's Slytherin's locket?" Voldemort did not answer. Morfin was working himself into a rage again; he brandished his knife and shouted, "Dishonored us, she did, that little slut! And you, coming here and asking questions about all that? It's over, innit...? It's over..."
He looked away, staggering slightly, and Voldemort moved forward. As he did so, an unnatural darkness fell, extinguishing Voldemort's lamp and Morfin's candle, extinguishing everything... Dumbledore's fingers closed tightly around Harry's arm and they were soaring back into the present again.
"Is that all?" said Harry at once. "Why did it go dark? What happened?"
"Because Morfin could not remember anything from that point onward," said Dumbledore, gesturing Harry back into his seat. "When he awoke next morning, he was lying on the floor, quite alone. Marvolo's ring had gone."
"Meanwhile, in the village of Little Hangleton, a maid was running along the High Street, screaming that there were three bodies lying in the drawing room of the big house: Tom Riddle Senior and his mother and father. The Muggle authorities were perplexed. As far as I am aware, they do not know to this day how the Riddles died, for the Avada Kedavra curse does not usually leave any sign of damage... The exception sits before me," Dumbledore added, with a nod to Harry's scar.
"The Ministry, on the other hand, knew at once that this was a wizard's murder. They also knew that a convicted Muggle-hater lived across the valley from the Riddle house, a Muggle-hater who had already been imprisoned once for attacking one of the murdered people. So the Ministry called upon Morfin. They did not need to question him, to use Veritaserum or Legilimency. He admitted to the murder on the spot, giving details only the murderer could know. He was proud, he said, to have killed the Muggles, had been awaiting his chance all these years. He handed over his wand, which was proved at once to have been used to kill the Riddles. And he permitted himself to be led off to Azkaban without a fight. All that disturbed him was the fact that his father's ring had disappeared. 'He'll kill me for losing it,' he told his captors over and over again. 'He'll kill me for losing his ring.' And that, apparently, was all he ever said again. He lived out the remainder of his life in Azkaban, lamenting the loss of Marvolo's last heirloom, and is buried beside the prison, alongside the other poor souls who have expired within its walls."
"So Voldemort stole Morfin's wand and used it?" said Harry, sitting up straight.
"That's right," said Dumbledore. "We have no memories to show us this, but I think we can be fairly sure what happened. Voldemort stupefied his uncle, took his wand, and proceeded across the valley to 'the big house over the way.' There, he murdered the Muggle man who had abandoned his witch mother, and, for good measure, his Muggle grandparents, thus obliterating the last of the unworthy Riddle line and revenging himself upon the father who never wanted him. Then he returned to the Gaunt hovel, performed the complex bit of magic that would implant a false memory in his uncle's mind, laid Morfin's wand beside its unconscious owner, pocketed the ancient ring he wore, and departed."
"And Morfin never realized he hadn't done it?" Harry asked incredulously.
"Never," said Dumbledore. "He gave, as I say, a full and boastful confession."
"But he had this real memory in him all the time!" Harry protested.
"Yes, but it took a great deal of skilled Legilimency to coax it out of him," said Dumbledore, "and why should anybody delve further into Morfin's mind when he had already confessed to the crime? However, I was able to secure a visit to Morfin in the last weeks of his life, by which time I was attempting to discover as much as I could about Voldemort's past. I extracted this memory with difficulty. When I saw what it contained, I attempted to use it to secure Morfin's release from Azkaban. Before the Ministry reached their decision, however, Morfin had died."
"But how come the Ministry didn't realize that Voldemort had done all that to Morfin?" Harry asked angrily. "He was underage at the time, wasn't he? I thought they could detect underage magic!"
"You are quite right - they can detect magic, but not the perpetrator: You will remember that you were blamed by the Ministry for the Hover Charm that was, in fact, cast by -"
"Dobby," growled Harry; this injustice still rankled. "So if you're underage and you do magic inside an adult witch or wizard's house, the Ministry won't know?"
"They will certainly be unable to tell who performed the magic," said Dumbledore, smiling slightly at the look of great indignation on Harry's face. "They rely on witch and wizard parents to enforce their offspring's obedience while within their walls."
"Well, that's rubbish," snapped Harry. "Look what happened here, look what happened to Morfin!"
"I agree," said Dumbledore. "Whatever Morfin was, he did not deserve to die as he did, blamed for murders he had not committed. In any event, this next memory is extremely important..." And Harry fell again through the silver surface, landing this time right in front of a man Albus introduced as a professor at the time by the name of Horace Slughorn. Slughorn was a younger wizard with thick, shiny, straw-colored hair and a gingery-blond mustache. He was also a trifle rotund, as the golden buttons on his richly embroidered waistcoat were taking a fair amount of strain. His little feet were resting upon a velvet pouffe, and he was sitting well back in a comfortable winged armchair with one hand grasping a small glass of wine and the other searching through a box of crystallized pineapples.
Harry looked around as Dumbledore appeared beside him and saw that they were standing in Slughorn's office. Half a dozen boys were sitting around Slughorn, all on harder or lower seats than his, and all in their mid-teens. Harry recognized Voldemort at once. His was the most handsome face and he looked the most relaxed of all the boys. His right hand lay negligently upon the arm of his chair; with a jolt, Harry saw that he was wearing Marvolo's gold-and-black ring; he had already killed his father. "Sir, is it true that Professor Merrythought is retiring?" he asked.
"Tom, Tom, if I knew I couldn't tell you," said Slughorn, wagging a reproving, sugar-covered finger at Riddle, though ruining the effect slightly by winking. "I must say, I'd like to know where you get your information, boy, more knowledgeable than half the staff, you are." /Riddle smiled; the other boys laughed and cast him admiring looks/. "What with your uncanny ability to know things you shouldn't, and your careful flattery of the people who matter - thank you for the pineapple, by the way, you're quite right, it is my favorite -"
As several of the boys tittered, something very odd happened. The whole room was suddenly filled with a thick white fog, so that Harry could see nothing but the face of Dumbledore, who was standing beside him. Then Slughorn's voice rang out through the mist, unnaturally loudly, "You'll go wrong, boy, mark my words." /The fog cleared as suddenly as it had appeared and yet nobody made any allusion to it, nor did anybody look as though anything unusual had just happened. Bewildered, Harry looked around as a small golden clock standing upon Slughorn's desk chimed eleven o'clock. /"Good gracious, is it that time already?" said Slughorn. "You'd better get going, boys, or we'll all be in trouble. Lestrange, I want your essay by tomorrow or it's detention. Same goes for you, Avery." /Slughorn pulled himself out of his armchair and carried his empty glass over to his desk as the boys filed out. Voldemort, however, stayed behind. Harry could tell he had dawdled deliberately, wanting to be last in the room with Slughorn. /"Look sharp, Tom," said Slughorn, turning around and finding him still present. "You don't want to be caught out of bed out of hours, and you a prefect-"
"Sir, I wanted to ask you something," Riddle interrupted.
"Ask away, then, m'boy, ask away..."
"Sir, I wondered what you know about... about Horcruxes?"
And it happened all over again. The dense fog filled the room so that Harry could not see Slughorn or Voldemort at all; only Dumbledore, smiling serenely beside him. Then Slughorn's voice boomed out again, just as it had done before. "I don't know anything about Horcruxes and I wouldn't tell you if I did! Now get out of here at once and don't let me catch you mentioning them again!"
"Well, that's that," said Dumbledore placidly beside Harry. "Time to go."
And Harry's feet left the floor to fall, seconds later, back onto the rug in front of Dumbledore's desk.
"That was most... disturbing," Harry said slowly. "I take it that Slughorn meddled with his own recollections?"
"I believe so. Mostly likely because he is ashamed of what he remembers," said Dumbledore. "He has tried to rework the memory to show himself in a better light, obliterating those parts which he does not wish me to see. It is, as you will have noticed, very crudely done, and that is all to the good, for it shows that the true memory is still there beneath the alterations. And now we reach the point where your assistance would prove vital, Harry. We desperately need to convince Professor Slughorn to divulge the real memory, which will undoubtedly be our most crucial piece of information of all."
Harry stared at him. "I fail to see why you would need me - you could use Legilimency... or Veritaserum..."
"Professor Slughorn is an extremely able wizard who will be expecting both," said Dumbledore. "He is much more accomplished at Occlumency than poor Morfin Gaunt, and I would be astonished if he has not carried an antidote to Veritaserum with him ever since I coerced him into giving me this travesty of a recollection. No, I think it would be foolish to attempt to wrest the truth from Professor Slughorn by force. However, it is most important that we secure the true memory, Harry. How important, we will only know when we have seen the real thing."
"Horcrux?" Harry muttered to himself aloud. "I've heard that term before..." Harry looked lost in deep thought for several seconds before jerking his head up and staring at Albus with wide eyes. "Now I remember! I had reviewed an old necromantic tome a friend of mine had uncovered. It mentioned the Horcrux as the wickedest of magical inventions. A Horcrux is an object in which a person has concealed part of their soul."
Harry suddenly barked out a sharp laugh. "That's how he did it! We've got him!"
"How who did it, Harry?" Albus asked confusedly.
"Voldemort. How he managed to survive the killing curse - and everything else you threw at him," Harry answered distractedly. "To make a Horcrux, you split your soul, and hide part of it in an object outside the body. Then, even if one's body is attacked or destroyed, one cannot die, for part of the soul remains earthbound and undamaged. But of course, existence in such a form would be less than a spirit, less than the meanest ghost. Very few people even know of the concept, because few would want it. In all my years, I never encountered such a thing. Death would be far preferable."
"But not to Tom Riddle, it would seem," Albus answered sadly. "Such a thing would be a violation against nature."
"It is," Harry answered solemnly. "Supposedly, a Horcrux can only be forged by an act of evil - the supreme act of evil. By committing murder. Killing rips the soul apart. The wizard intent upon creating a Horcrux would use the damage to his advantage: He would encase the torn portion of his soul in a physical vessel."
"I have been hoping for - and dreading - this piece of evidence for a very long time," said Dumbledore at last. "It confirms the theory on which I have been working; it tells me that I am right, and also how very far there is still to go..." Harry suddenly noticed that every single one of the old headmasters and headmistresses in the portraits around the walls was awake and listening in on their conversation. A corpulent, red-nosed wizard had actually taken out an ear trumpet. "It distresses me to know that, at the same age as you are now, give or take a few months, Tom Riddle was doing all he could to find out how to make himself immortal."
"We still have much work to do," Harry interrupted. "We don't know what object Voldemort chose to make into a Horcrux, or even if he chose just one."
"We have a little more information than that," Albus replied. "Four years ago, I received what I considered certain proof that Voldemort had split his soul."
"Where?" asked Harry. "How?"
"You handed it to me, Harry," said Dumbledore. "The diary, Riddle's diary, the one giving instructions on how to reopen the Chamber of Secrets." At Harry's dawning look of comprehension, Albus continued, "Although I did not see the Riddle who came out of the diary, what you described to me was a phenomenon I had never witnessed. A mere memory starting to act and think for itself? A mere memory, sapping the life out of the girl into whose hands it had fallen? No, something much more sinister had lived inside that book... a fragment of soul, I was almost sure of it. The diary had been a Horcrux."
Albus visibly marshaled his thoughts and continued. "But this raised as many questions as it answered. What intrigued and alarmed me most was that that diary had been intended as a weapon as much as a safeguard. It worked as a Horcrux is supposed to work - in other words, the fragment of soul concealed inside it was kept safe and had undoubtedly played its part in preventing the death of its owner. But there could be no doubt that Riddle really wanted that diary read, wanted the piece of his soul to inhabit or possess somebody else."
"True," said Harry, nodding. "But if he intended the diary to be passed to, or planted on, some future Hogwarts student, he was being remarkably blasÃ© about that precious fragment of his soul concealed within it. The point of a Horcrux is to keep part of the self hidden and safe, not to fling it into somebody else's path and run the risk that they might destroy it!" Harry smiled wickedly. "Though I do thank him for his cooperation to that end."
"You are correct, Harry," Albus agreed. "The careless way in which Voldemort regarded this Horcrux seems most ominous to me. It suggests that he must have made - or had been planning to make - more Horcruxes, so that the loss of his first would not be so detrimental. I did not wish to believe it, but nothing else seemed to make sense. Then you told me, two years later, that on the night that Voldemort returned to his body, he made a most illuminating and alarming statement to his Death Eaters. 'I who have gone further than anybody along the path that leads to immortality.' That was what you told me he said. 'Further than anybody!' And I thought I knew what that meant, though the Death Eaters did not. He was referring to his Horcruxes, Horcruxes in the plural, Harry, which I don't believe any other wizard has ever had. Yet it fit: Lord Voldemort has seemed to grow less human with the passing years, and the transformation he had undergone seemed to me to be only explainable if his soul was mutilated beyond the realms of what we might call 'usual evil'."
"Wonderful!" Harry said sarcastically. "So he's made himself nearly impossible to kill by murdering other people! You've just got to love the irony!" said Harry.
"Not impossible, Harry, merely difficult," Albus corrected gently. "Should his Horcruxes all be destroyed, Voldemort would be as susceptible to death as any of the rest of us."
"At least for me," Harry snorted ruefully, the details of the prophecy running through his mind. "But we don't even know how many Horcruxes still remain, much less where they are! They could be anywhere in the world - hidden - buried or invisible -"
"You forget, Harry, that you inadvertently destroyed one such device already - his diary. As to how many other such artifacts are lying around... I will endeavor to locate the wayward Professor Slughorn. Perhaps between the two of us -"
"Just find the man, Albus," Harry interrupted, "I'll get the information out of him."
Albus stayed silent for a moment in thought before replying, "Very well. I shall begin searching for him immediately. However, we also know the location of a second horcrux."
"Oh?" Harry asked, extremely interested.
"Yes indeed," said Dumbledore, and he carefully withdrew an object from a heavily warded desk drawer and placed it on the desktop. Withdrawing his wrinkled hand, Harry was able to see a very familiar ring, one which the memory-Riddle had worn and which had adorned his own hand many years previously.
"I see you are familiar with this ring, then," Albus said. "There's a terrible curse upon it, too. I have yet to successfully remove its protective enchantments, but I sense that it has been used for the purpose of guarding a piece of Voldemort's soul."
"Yes, I'm familiar with it alright. After all, I used to wear it. But how did you find it?" Harry demanded.
"Well, as you now know, for many years I have made it my business to discover as much as I can about Voldemort's past life. I have traveled widely, visiting those places he once knew. I stumbled across the ring hidden in the ruin of the Gaunt's house. It seemed that once Voldemort had succeeded in sealing a piece of his soul inside it, he did not want to wear it anymore. He hid it, protected by many powerful enchantments, in the shack where his ancestors had once lived after Morfin was carted off to Azkaban, never guessing that I might one day take the trouble to visit the ruin, or that I might be keeping an eye open for traces of magical concealment."
"We should not congratulate ourselves too heartily," Harry cautioned. "Two Horcruxes may be uncovered, but an unknown number yet remain. For all we know, they could be oh, in tin cans or empty potion bottles..."
"You are thinking of Portkeys, Harry, which must be ordinary objects, easy to overlook. But would Lord Voldemort use tin cans or old potion bottles to guard his own precious soul? You are forgetting what I have shown you. Lord Voldemort liked to collect trophies, and he preferred objects with a powerful magical history. His pride, his belief in his own superiority, his determination to carve for himself a startling place in magical history; these things suggest to me that Voldemort would have chosen his Horcruxs with some care, favoring objects worthy of the honor."
"The diary wasn't that special," Harry contradicted.
"The diary was proof that he was the Heir of Slytherin," Albus answered. At seeing Harry's grimace, he relented, "I know better now, but I am sure that Voldemort considered his behavior as befitting the Slytherin name."
Waving the apology aside, Harry said, "So, the other Horcruxes? Do you have any ideas as to what they are?"
"I can only guess," said Dumbledore. "For the reasons I have already given, I believe that Lord Voldemort would prefer objects that, in themselves, have a certain grandeur. I have therefore trawled back through Voldemort's past to see if I can find evidence that such artifacts have disappeared around him. There was several separate occurrences that, when combined, point towards Voldemort's interest in objects from... your old colleagues. I believe that young Riddle discovered at least two such artifacts in his youth, including... your previous family's old locket and a golden cup with a badger on it; a remnant of Hufflepuff, I believe."
"Yes, Helga had a few such goblets," Harry reminisced. "Row actually had them made as a birthday gift for her."
Harry looked up at Albus at his sharp intake of breath and chuckled when he realized the cause.
"Sorry," Albus smiled - almost sheepishly - "but it is a trifle disconcerting, hearing one speak of such notable historic figures in such a casual manner."
Harry just smiled in reply before sobering and said, "I recommend that you call an Order meeting immediately. Let's get all the available personnel out in the field looking for our old things, with an eye to those hidden by concealment magic. Hopefully, it will at least narrow down our search."
"I agree," Albus said. "I shall call them here tonight. You might caution the more... notable members of your entourage to take care to remain undiscovered."
"Why call them here? Why not Grimmauld Place?" Harry questioned.
"Since Sirius's... we have been unable to access the house since his passing," Albus said gently. "It seems that some enchantment requires an individual bearing Black blood to reopen the building."
"Well, I fail to see the problem," Harry said. "We have three witches currently residing in this castle that are descended from the Black family. Surely one of them can re-open the house."
"Perhaps," Albus conceded, "I had been reluctant to bring the matter up with Miss Tonks or her mother, considering the present circumstances. Additionally, the Blacks were a traditionally patriarchal family. It may be that the wards must be deactivated by a wizard."
Harry considered the point before saying, "to borrow the overused clichÃ©, 'we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.' I'll discuss the matter with the ladies; you call up the Order and find Slughorn. Once he's found, we'll plan our next move."
Albus just smiled at the wizard in front of him, who deceptively resembled a young wizard but had the experience of someone much older. "That would seem the most prudent course of action," Albus said. Reaching into a drawer and removing a piece of parchment and a quill, Albus quickly wrote something down before folding the paper in half and handing it to the room's other occupant. "Allow Mrs. Malfoy and Mrs. Lestrange and read that, and then destroy it. It should prove useful when you attempt to re-open 12 Grimmauld Place."
Harry nodded and placed the scrap in an inner robe pocket. Changing topics, Albus asked facetiously, "And what do you plan to be doing, my apprentice?"
Harry, having risen from his chair, made his way towards the door as he said, "As I have already said, there are three women running around this castle unsupervised. I'm going to go correct that oversight before they manage to cause me another headache." Albus's ensuing laughter followed Harry out the door and a good distance down the staircase.
A/N: I hope you all enjoyed this installment of ASR. After many requests for an update, I hammered out this text, which is over 2000 words longer than my previous chapters.
As usual, reviews are greatly appreciated.
Shentaro: Voldemort's response and a more detailed explanation of the CoS are pending. In fact, the later will probably be covered in Ch 8.
Potterfanforever: No, Harry just used his connection to Moldyshorts to help Bella sever hers. He can still connect to V, which might come in handy later.. As for the rest, RAFO.
BBxXxraven' / Dragon Sword Master: Patience, my friends. I'm trying to build a more realistic relationship than what the typical lemon scenes/stories detail, but I assure you, the relationships will progress.
Just Me Prime: V's response will be covered in one of the next couple chapters, though it isn't my top priority. It's safe to assume that he's going to blow a gasket when he regains consciousness.
J or The Blind: I'm unclear as to the nature of marriages in the wizarding world, so I cannot definitely answer whether the map would show such a thing or not. I'm going to assume that the map shows what the individual believes their name to be, which would be either Narcissa Malfoy or Narcissa Black. However, I'll keep your idea in mind for later interactions.
Jkarr: Keep reading, I'm getting there...
DJ Rodriguez: While I don't want to get in a rut, I'm keeping the option in mind.
Uten: The quantity of Horcruxes will be addressed within the next chapter or two. And don't worry, the method of Voldemort's demise is one of the very few pieces of HBP that will be included in ASR. Also, it was necessary to explain in length how the Horcrux will affect my little HP-verse. None of the other chapters will focus on them to such an extent, I promise.