Categories > Books > Harry Potter > Moments in Love

Another Step Closer to Death

by Gandalfs_Beard 0 reviews

A nightmarish vision leads Harry to question himself, and leads Dumbledore and the Potters to the scene of an unspeakable crime...

Category: Harry Potter - Rating: PG-13 - Genres: Angst,Horror,Romance - Characters: Harry,Hermione - Warnings: [V] - Published: 2017-08-29 - 7543 words

As March rapidly approached, the weather became drier and biting winds buffeted those who ventured onto the grounds beyond the walls of the castle. Harry felt the ominous prickling in his scar which told him that Voldemort was still brooding - his mood darkening. But waking up in Hermione’s embrace every morning made all the difference in the world; Harry supposed he was feeling rather well, all things considered.

The Third Task was months away - not till June 24th - and Professor Moody had given them both a week off from training. And though a few Slytherins and some others had taken to quoting Skeeter’s article at every opportunity and sniggering, things with the rest of the students at Hogwarts didn’t seem quite as bad as Harry had thought they would be after the piece in Witch Weekly had made the rounds.

Harry spotted some third and fourth year girls looking at him, dawdling coquettishly as they hovered nearby in the drafty corridor, batting their eyelashes and striking curve enhancing poses, seemingly trying to make themselves more noticeable and alluring as they had preceding the Yule Ball. Some even seemed to be giving Hermione the friendliest looks he’d ever seen them give her. Hermione giggled at Harry’s bewildered expression.

“I think they’re hoping to be enticed into our ‘Secret Harem,’ Harry,” she whispered as they passed by the group of vamping girls. Harry shook his head in amazement and grinned.

Dora glanced at the girls as she followed at a distance behind the Potters, chortling at their disappointed expressions when Harry and Hermione didn’t stop and offer them drinks surreptitiously laced with Love Potions.

It wasn’t all fun and games for everyone though - Pansy Parkinson and Millicent Bulstrode had ended up in the hospital wing for an afternoon after mysteriously coming down with something which had caused them both to uncontrollably scratch themselves in their private regions and moan loudly during lunchtime. Faces blazing with embarrassment, they had both fled the Great Hall, leaving their lunches untouched.

Parvati and Lavender fell into a fit of hysterical giggles. Harry and Hermione glanced past Lavender and Parvati at Ginny and Luna, who were whispering and grinning at each other - seeming quite pleased with themselves. Fred and George were regarding their younger sister and her Ravenclaw friend with a mixture of awe and pride, and not a small bit of trepidation.

“I’d be cautious around those two, if I were you,” George said pointedly to Fred.

“I thought you were me,” Fred retorted, eyebrows raised.

“Oh... right!” George grinned.

Another who seemed to be in disgrace was Justin Finch-Fletchley, who had been frog-marched up to the Gryffindor table by Susan Bones and Hannah Abbot and forced to apologise to Harry and Hermione.

“I’m sorry,” said the curly haired Hufflepuff boy earnestly, “I didn’t mean anything by it - really! I’ve known since the end of Second Year that you’re alright, Potter. That reporter just waylaid me near the greenhouses one day... I didn’t know she’d been banned from Hogwarts. All I told her was that you were a Parselmouth - that’s it - that’s all I told her... I swear!”

“It’s alright Fletchley,” said Harry sincerely. “We’re square... I didn’t really think you did it on purpose.”

“Harry’s right - we understand completely... Skeeter’s just a shrewish scheming harridan who will twist anyone’s words to suit her story!” Hermione added, smiling kindly at Justin.

Justin departed, making a note to himself to look up the word ‘harridan’ whenever he got a chance. Neville blushed furiously when Hannah gave him a winning smile as she and Susan returned to the Hufflepuff table. Susan noticed Dean admiring her red hair and grinned at him.

Harry peered at the Slytherin table again when he felt a little prickle of foreboding on the back of his neck. Draco Malfoy quickly looked away, his malicious eyes seeming to dart towards Greengrass who was still sitting at the far end of the Slytherin table.

Hermione frowned, her own attention focused on Cormac McLaggen, who kept shooting very discomforting looks at her, Lavender, Parvati, and Ginny. McLaggen scowled when he realised that he’d been caught leering at the girls and muttered something under his breath to his friend, Towler. The way Towler chuckled slyly and nodded in response, Hermione was almost certain that McLaggen had said something very rude.


A thin layer of cloud passed across the waning moon as the bitter wind whistled under the eaves of the deteriorating ivy-covered manor at the top of the hill. Only the faintest glimmer of light in an upstairs window offered any indication that the abandoned, once-stately home might be occupied.

Had anyone been brave enough to venture through the overgrown grounds during the dark of night, then to creep silently up the stairs after passing over the threshold, they would have witnessed a paunchy balding man with beady bloodshot eyes and a pointy nose groveling before a tattered armchair, eerie shadows cast by the sputtering candles in the dusty room full of cobwebs. They might have noticed an enormous snake shrouded in darkness as it lay curled near the open door. And they would have heard the voice, icy and brittle as it admonished the man with rat-like features.

“I tire of waiting Wormtail - biding my time in the house of he who denied me - waiting to no purpose...”

Wormtail swallowed nervously as he cowered in dread before his master, speaking as he was in a tone which held the promise of more torment.

“The fools who believe I am dead shall suffer my immeasurable wrath,” the Dark Lord hissed, “but first I must be restored. And I can no longer tolerate this residence, this reminder of imperfection, while waiting for something which will never happen - waiting for the Blood of Potter when there are none to retrieve him for me by stealth - or waiting for his death at the hand of another when by rights Potter’s life belongs to me.

“You were right, Wormtail...”

Wormtail’s eyes grew bigger and he stood a little taller, surprised to hear his master offer even the barest hint of praise.

“ shall have to be done with another after all,” continued Voldemort. “And if I must forgo Potter’s Blood, then no purpose is served by taking the Bone of the Father... You did well to have the foresight to return with a young Pureblood in Potter’s stead... Bring forth the boy, Wormtail, that the ritual might begin - midnight fast approaches.”

“Y...yes Master... of course...”

Unable to believe his good fortune, Wormtail scurried across the room and lifted what looked like a small bundle being guarded near the doorway by Nagini. His eyes glinting in the flickering candlelight, breath quickening with excitement, Wormtail placed the small petrified boy upon the makeshift altar. The Dark Lord’s oozing homunculus leaned forward in the threadbare armchair, its slit-like nostrils flaring in anticipation.

As he picked up a long silver dagger with the hand which was missing a finger, a savage joy curled the corners of Wormtail’s lips. His voice nearly shaking with demented glee, he began to utter the incantation for the alternate ritual - a ritual which did not call for the Flesh of the Servant.

“One life for another, taken by force... Consumed by the Shadow, your flesh and your blood shall replace what was lost... Devoured by the Spirit, you shall resurrect Him...”

The ceremonial blade in Wormtail’s hand flashed as it came down, and a blood-curdling shriek echoed throughout the decaying manor.


Harry woke up screaming, cold sweat pouring from his brow, his scar on fire, heart thudding against the wall of his chest. Terrified, Hermione bolted upright and wrapped herself around her shaking husband. She clutched Harry tightly to her breast as he shivered, his body wracked by huge gulping sobs.

“It’s alright Harry... I’m here - I’ve got you... I’ve got you...”

Hermione stroked Harry’s damp messy thatch of black hair and kissed his clammy forehead. Gradually, his violent trembling ebbed and his sobbing began to ease in the warmth of Hermione’s embrace. The burning in his scar began to abate as well.

“I... he... Voldemort - Wormtail...” Harry began haltingly when he finally felt able to speak, “He - they k...k...killed a l...little boy...” The truth was almost unbearable - but it could not be denied. Fresh tears rolled down Harry’s cheeks, dripping onto his wife’s bare skin as he gave voice to the bitter reality.

“It’s all my fault Hermione... It’s my fault...”

“Sssh Harry... it’s not true...”

“It is, Hermione! ... A little boy is d...dead because of me - murdered - because Voldemort couldn’t have me... He took someone else instead... It should have been me, Hermione!”

Hermione bit her lip, struggling to hold back her own tears as she kissed Harry’s forehead again and again, gently rubbing his back.

“Harry - you have to believe me - you’re not responsible... I promise. You didn’t kill anyone...”

“I might as well have Hermione! It was like I was inside Voldemort - like I was him... I saw it - I t...tasted it...” Harry trailed off, horrified at what he had revealed when he felt Hermione stiffen.

Hermione was almost too frightened to ask. But she knew that Harry needed to talk about it - to tell her everything if he was ever going to get past it.

“W...what do you mean - tasted it, Harry?”

“I... I can’t, Hermione...”

“Harry, please... You have to tell me!”

“Please, don’t make me Hermione - it’s too awful...”

Hermione felt a cold shiver run up her spine as her brain clicked into gear and whirred at high-speed. She had a horrid feeling that she knew what Voldemort had done.

“H...Harry, d...did Voldemort d...drink the boy’s blood? ... or... or eat him?”

Harry let out another sob and nodded.

“B...both!” he nearly whispered. “After giving him some blood to drink in a silver goblet - Wormtail - he fed Voldemort the boy’s heart. It... it was horrible... all that blood... in my mouth...”

“In Voldemort’s mouth... not yours Harry!”

Harry heard the words, but they rang bitterly hollow. He knew in his head that Hermione was right, but the taste of death lingered on his tongue. He felt ashamed, tainted by the gruesome ritual as if he had knowingly, willingly participated himself...

Tears glistening in her lashes as the pain and guilt in her husband’s eyes broke her heart, Hermione did the only thing she could think of. She pressed her lips to Harry’s, kissing him deeply. Hermione’s breath filled him, lifting him like a kite on a warm summer breeze. Harry soared as the shadows fled from the pulsing luminosity which accompanied her familiar minty taste.

When she felt his heart slow as it beat next to her own, Hermione knew Harry would be alright. She leaned back, and as their lips parted, she saw peace in his eyes once more.

“He’s back Hermione - I mean really back now...” said Harry, feeling much better, his guilty feelings more manageable and easier to squash, “ a proper body. And... and I know where he is, or at least where he was. He left already...”


The portraits on the wall of the headmaster’s office all feigned sleep as Harry Potter recounted what had happened. Fawkes was as alert as ever, the intense gaze of the phoenix never once leaving Harry.

Albus Dumbledore looked as ancient as his years as he listened intently, dressed in his long woolen nightgown, sitting behind his desk. But for all his apparent distress at the news, Dumbledore was comforted by Harry’s relatively calm demeanor. The headmaster felt a swell of satisfaction when his eyes flicked to Mrs Potter as she sat in Harry’s lap, both arms curled around him.

He glanced also at Nymphadora Tonks, who sat nearby, biting a fingernail, looking extremely worried as she peered at Harry. Dumbledore nodded and poured four cups of hot cocoa, to each of which he added two capfuls of Dragon-Barrel Brandy.

“Please, drink up, it should help us all return to sleep once we are finished here. And please, help yourselves to the biscuits.” The headmaster gestured towards a plate of milk-chocolate covered digestives on the tea-tray. Dumbledore waited a moment for Harry to take a few sips and eat a biscuit before beginning with the questions.

“Harry,” he said gently as he leaned forward ever so slightly, “I must ask this of you - did you sense anything at all before you awoke that indicated if Voldemort became aware of your presence in his mind?”

Harry frowned pensively, trying to think of any little clue that Voldemort had been conscious of Harry’s excursion into his brain. He peered directly into Dumbledore’s clear blue eyes as he tried his best to remember, hoping that the headmaster would be able to help him recall.

“I... I’m not entirely sure sir,” he replied after a minute had passed. “I feel like there might have been a moment that he noticed something odd as he finished transforming, but I... I don’t think it occurred to him that it was me. He seemed to just be really happy at that point to have a real... er... human body again - he was particularly excited about being completely Pureblood now.

“Whatever it was he noticed, I get the feeling that Voldemort just chalked it up to a sort of brief side-effect of the... er... the spell. I’m not sure that he liked that bit in any case.”

“Good, yes... very good...” Dumbledore nodded again, and his eyes gleamed momentarily before he broke contact and took another sip of his own cocoa, smiling at Hermione. “Yes Harry, I think you are correct... And I believe that Mrs Potter’s presence provided you with a natural bulwark just as I had hoped it would.”

Despite himself - the horror that he’d just been through - Harry couldn’t resist a quick smile at Hermione as he squeezed her a bit tighter. Hermione let out a huge sigh of relief and her anxious eyes relaxed, fluttering shyly as she turned pink. Dumbledore waited a moment as everyone drank more of the hot cocoa and had another biscuit.

“Now,” the headmaster began again, peering once more at Harry, “I believe you mentioned that you had gleaned his location this time - before he departed in any case...”

“Yeah... I did,” Harry replied, nodding. “He was at his dad’s place. He was sick of living in it - you were right about Voldemort having some muggle parentage - it was an old manor I think, near a town called Little Hangleton...”

“Little Hangleton?” Dumbledore’s eyebrows lifted in surprise. “Well... that is very interesting - it would seem quite likely then that Voldemort - Riddle - might well be related to a very old wizarding bloodline which has very nearly died out. It would explain why Voldemort believes himself to be Slytherin's heir...

“I think I’ll have Kingsley look into the more recent history of the family tomorrow - Miss Tonks, please be sure to remind me...” Dumbledore gave Dora a wink and she quickly yanked out of her mouth the fingernail on which she was anxiously chewing.

“Er... yeah!” Dora blushed. “Sure thing Professor Dumbledore, sir... no problem!”

“Very good then,” said Dumbledore, his eyes beginning to twinkle. He refilled everyone’s mugs with more hot cocoa and splashes of brandy. “Not to worry about waking too early for classes tomorrow - we shall all be taking a field trip with Alastor, and I think Kingsley as well - yes, with you too Miss Tonks... So get some rest and sleep in a bit as needed. Have a bit of a late breakfast and meet me in my office at nine am.”

They all sat and drank the cocoa and had another biscuit quietly for a few minutes. When he saw Harry beginning to look a bit drowsy again, one final thought occurred to Dumbledore.

“Just one last question then before we say goodnight, Harry. Did Voldemort give any indication of when he might be attempting to contact his former followers?”

“Er... soonish - I think,” said Harry, “but I’m not sure if he’s got a set time-table. It seemed like he’s just looking for a new place to hole up, and when he finds something to his liking he’s planning to see who shows up when he puts the call out... he’s not very pleased with them.”

Harry frowned slightly, expecting that things might be a bit rough for him again when that happened - not to mention that he was worried that he might be forced to witness Voldemort killing more people when he found a suitable place to stay. Hermione seemed to be thinking much the same thing.

“Don’t worry Harry,” she murmured sympathetically, giving him a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll be with you - as long as we’re together, you’ll be alright.”

“Yeah, you’re right Hermione...” Harry smiled at his wife gratefully before turning back to Dumbledore. “See you in the morning then, sir... G’night.”

“Good night Harry, Mrs Potter,” said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling, “and to you as well Miss Tonks.”

“...Miss Tonks? Blimey!” Dora grumbled as she escorted Harry and Hermione back to their quarters. “Never thought I’d hear anyone call me that again. Suppose that’s what I get for bein’ so quick to ditch being an Auror and coming back to Hogwarts...”

“Not that I’d trade it for anything though - mind you,” she added quickly as she grinned at the Potters. “I... er...” Suddenly Dora felt a bit flustered and reddened as she peered at Harry and Hermione. “I dunno - I feel more myself and at home around you two than I’ve felt around anyone else in a long time.”

“It’s alright Dora,” said Hermione kindly, glancing at Harry, who looked happy and slightly confused as well. “Of course you do! We’re family!”

“Yeah... yeah I suppose so - that must be it,” Dora grinned again at Harry and Hermione and gave them each a quick hug and a peck on the cheek. “Look after each other then... ‘Night you two!”

As they pulled off dressing gowns and slippers and clambered back into bed, Hermione snuggled right up against Harry and entwined herself around him, kissing him once more. As the heat of their embrace mingled with the soporific effects of the brandy and cocoa, Harry found himself adrift, floating on a fuzzy warm cloud, slipping further and further away from the anxiety which had resurfaced while recounting his experience in Dumbledore’s office...


Despite waking up the following morning feeling much better than he had any right to, the image of the little boy continued to haunt Harry, and the pricking of his scar told him that Voldemort was still searching for suitable lodgings. Hermione’s kisses helped loads, and for moments at a time, Harry could almost believe that nothing terrible had happened. But as he spooned porridge into his mouth, he began to feel very queasy. He tried to gnaw on a piece of bacon and felt like he might throw up.

Harry pushed his plate and bowl away barely touched. Hermione looked at him sorrowfully, unable to finish her breakfast either, her own stomach tied up in knots. She took his hand and squeezed it gently.

“Give it time Harry,” she said quietly. “Perhaps just some tea is best for now.”

Harry nodded in response.

“Yeah,” he said hoarsely after a moment, “if we’re going to visit the actual scene with Dumbledore, it probably is better...” Harry trailed off, knowing that he didn’t have to say why. Hermione bit her lip and cast her eyes down, swallowing anxiously.

Dora looked rather subdued herself when she collected the Potters shortly before nine; her spiky hair seemed listless and the shade of pink not as bright as it might have been. They didn’t talk much beyond saying hello as they made their way to Dumbledore’s office. The corridors were quiet as most students were in classes. They were all surprised to see Dumbledore awaiting their arrival with the Sword of Gryffindor in hand.

“Ah, yes, I don’t know if we’ll be needing this, but it’s best to be prepared for any eventuality,” said the headmaster. “In any case, Alastor and Kingsley went on ahead early this morning and set up a floo link, so we shall be traveling directly...”

Dumbledore’s clear blue eyes flickered apologetically at Harry and Hermione.

“I am sorry that either of you have to bear witness to what awaits us at the other end,” he said quietly. “If circumstances were different, I would not subject you to this at all. Indeed, at one time I might have conducted such an excursion without any accompaniment whatsoever. But Harry’s connection to Voldemort may be invaluable in discerning whatever we may find - and beyond that, I must say that I have come to highly regard the resourcefulness of you both...”

Warmth returned to the headmaster’s eyes as he peered at the Potters and Nymphadora Tonks and he continued even more softly, with a hint of abashment in his tone, “And I have also grown far more accustomed in recent years to returning the trust that others have placed in me. Tonks, the floo is already prepared - if you would be so kind as to lead the way...”

Dora nodded, her brow furrowing, feeling slightly puzzled.

“Er... Yeah! Alright - see you lot on the other side.” With a last glance at Harry and Hermione, Dora stepped into the green flames in the hearth and vanished. Harry took a deep breath and followed in after her.

Slivers of light pierced the whorls of dust and ash, striking Harry’s eyes and temporarily blinding him as he staggered out of the fireplace at the other end, coughing and wheezing, head spinning, reminded about everything that he hated about floo travel. Dora was still hacking and looking rather dazed herself, sprawled as she was on the worn and faded Persian rug in front of him. Harry had little time to process the sight or recover himself.

“Ow!” he yelped when Hermione stumbled out of the hearth and fell into him.

“Sorry Harry,” she gasped dizzily, “we should get out of the way. Dumbledore is right behind me.”

Harry quickly grasped his wife and pulled her aside to wait for Dumbledore while she doubled over and coughed. He blinked and was finally able to make out the imposing figures of Professor Moody and Kingsley Shacklebolt silhouetted against the bright rays. Moody appeared to be shaking his head and grimacing at the less than graceful arrivals of the three youngsters. The Potters each reached out a hand to help Dora up from the floor.

“Thanks guys,” Dora muttered as she dusted herself off. “I bloody hate floo travel - I prefer a broom any day of the week.”

Harry nearly grinned. “Yeah, me too...”

Then, with great trepidation, Harry glanced around the room which he had only seen in darkness and candlelight. Sunlight streamed through the gaps and tears in the mildewy curtains into the dusty cobwebbed sitting room with peeling wallpaper. At one time the room might have been opulent, but the threadbare armchairs and old furniture riddled with woodworm indicated that it was now passing into decay.

Harry stiffened when he spied what looked like a blood-soaked sheet covering something lumpy on the coffee table, but he was glad that either Moody or Shacklebolt had thought to spare the newcomers, and that Hermione wouldn’t have to endure looking at the horror that lay beneath.

But as Hermione recovered from her trip through the floo, her breath caught and her nose wrinkled in disgust at the stench of death. She gripped Harry tightly and pulled closer to him, coiling an arm around his waist. Dora suddenly looked more than a bit ill herself. Harry’s stomach clenched when the odor finally hit his own nostrils, but he was distracted when Dumbledore emerged from the green flames as serenely as if he had merely stepped through a doorway.

The headmaster’s piercing gaze quickly took in his surroundings.

“So, this is Riddle Manor...” he murmured, a strong hint of curiosity in his tone.

Shacklebolt nodded, his voice solemn and deep when he spoke. “Indeed! There is a small cemetery at the bottom of the hill where lies the grave of his father.”

“And as you can see, this is definitely where it happened last night,” growled Moody, his glass eye swiveling to peer at the sheet covered body on the coffee table. Dumbledore nodded, a flicker of grief crossing his features.

“But he’s gone now,” said Harry quietly, his jaw tightening as he stared at the empty chair which had held the revolting creature that had become the reborn Voldemort last night. “He’s gone... and there’s nothing else here...” Harry glanced at Hermione and the headmaster meaningfully.

“No horcrux,” he added when he saw Dora looking puzzled. “I’d feel it if there was...”

“Oh... er... right!” Comprehension dawned as Dora remembered what Sirius had told her. She swallowed as she peered at Harry sadly, understanding more clearly why Dumbledore had asked him and Hermione to come too.

“Yes, I suppose this would be an unlikely place...” sighed Dumbledore. “The home of his muggle father whom he must have hated. But perhaps elsewhere...?”

“Alastor and I have canvassed the village and surrounds,” said Kingsley, “And we’ve found something else that you’ll want to see nearby...”

“Ah, yes... The Gaunt home,” Dumbledore nodded.

“If you can call it that,” muttered Professor Moody. “Barely still standin’... Might as well head over there an’ take a look at it now I suppose...”

“Voldemort may appear to be gone, but stay vigilant,” he suddenly barked, his electric blue eye spinning to bore into Harry and Hermione, “You never know what’s waitin’ for yeh.”

Hermione shivered slightly and Harry swallowed nervously. Dora rolled her eyes.

“Come on you two,” she said quietly to Harry and Hermione as Mad Eye and Shacklebolt led the way. “Don’t worry, I’ve got your backs - we all do!”

Harry and Hermione blinked in the bright sunlight when they followed Kingsley, Moody, and Dumbledore outside as Dora brought up the rear. They weren’t quite certain where they were in England, but it was a fair bit warmer than Scotland. It felt closer to Spring wherever they were, and they were just glad to be out of Riddle Manor, away from that horrible room.

The traipse around the wooded hillside and the hedgerows which skirted the village of Little Hangleton took the small group of wizards a good fifteen or twenty minutes. Harry almost enjoyed the walk, arm in arm with Hermione, feeling his head clear a bit as he strolled along the crumbling country lane full of potholes under blue skies.

It was almost pleasant - seeing the new growth on the trees and the budding wildflowers, even the robust weeds and grasses in the gully at the side of the road - hearing birds chirping, the croaks of frogs and the buzz of insects. The gleaming golden highlights of Hermione’s curls caught the sun, and for a moment Harry was almost able to forget why they were here.

Finally, a short distance from the road in the shadowy midst of a copse of gnarled ancient oak-trees, they spied a small cottage in worse condition than the Shrieking Shack. Nettles and moss crawled up its rotting walls, the sagging roof was full of holes and looked near collapse. The door was nearly falling off its hinges, and nothing was left in the windows but a few shards of grimy glass.

“The Gaunt house...” Shacklebolt said to Dumbledore. “I looked into the family earlier this morning as you requested. And I have someone I trust - Auror Abbie Brixton - still gathering whatever information we can from a very old retired Auror - Bob Ogden - as we speak, to try and find out more... It’s a bit touch and go at the moment though, because Ogden is dying...”

“Ah, Ms Brixton, very good,” Dumbledore interjected, a fond look in his eye. “Another sharp-witted and compassionate one like our young Mrs Potter here, and like Harry’s mother,” he added with a wink at Harry and Hermione, “Very trustworthy indeed.”

Hermione blushed slightly and Harry managed a little smile.

“Yeah, Abbie’s a real sweetie,” Dora whispered conspiratorially as she leaned closer to the Potters. “I always liked her - not as stuffy as most other Aurors...”

“Anyway,” continued Shacklebolt, addressing Dumbledore with a slightly amused expression, not having heard Tonks, but knowing her well enough to guess what she was telling the Potters, “from what Alastor and I could glean from some of the oldest residents of Little Hangleton - putting it together with what we have from Ogden thus far - Merope Gaunt was at one time married to Tom Riddle Senior. But he returned to the village without her sometime later, telling all who would listen that he had been hoodwinked.”

“That fits what little I know - Tom Riddle Junior’s mother died very shortly after giving birth to him in a muggle orphanage, but they had no records pertaining to the mother herself. I’d like to see all of Ogden’s memories related to the Gaunts,” Dumbledore responded, “Please inform Brixton to collect them for me.”

“I’ll send a message straight away then!” said Shacklebolt, “Though, before I do, you might also be very interested to know that there is one surviving Gaunt - Morfin Gaunt, the brother of Merope, currently residing in Azkaban for the murder of Tom Riddle Senior and his parents many years ago...”

“You don’t say!” interjected Dumbledore, his eyebrows shooting up in surprise. “That is intriguing indeed. Perhaps you could have Amelia arrange an interview with Morfin for me - it will have to be done quietly as we do not wish to alert the Minister or Scrimgeour of course.”

“Of course!” Kingsley Shacklebolt agreed wryly, “That can be arranged when I return to Riddle Manor to sort out where to send the remains of the boy. Just give me a few minutes now to send a message to Brixton.”

Dumbledore nodded and Shacklebolt took a moment to send a Patronus with the message to Auror Brixton before the wizards continued down the lane towards the decrepit hovel. Harry and Hermione both watched Kingsley with great interest as Moody, Dumbledore, and Dora spread out a bit to keep an eye out for any potential danger or approaching muggles.

“I had no idea Patronuses could do that!” Hermione gasped.

“Yeah, me neither,” said Harry, his eyes growing bigger. “Lupin never mentioned it...”

“...And it’s not a feature of Corporeal Patronuses listed in the Advanced Charms book from the Hogwarts library...” Hermione continued eagerly.

A sudden thought struck Harry when he remembered how unusually powerful their Patronuses had been during third year. According to Lupin in one of their lessons, even the strongest Corporeal Patronuses of those few adult wizards who could actually perform them could usually only repel anywhere from ten to twenty Dementors at a time at best. But he and Hermione had sent two hundred Dementors packing without even quite knowing how they’d managed it.

Harry had simply hoped that he and Hermione could repel as many as possible until maybe Snape could pull himself together and get more help somehow, but all the Dementors had fled Hogwarts as if their very lives had depended on it. But why had the Dementors seemed so frightened of their Patronuses, if they supposedly couldn’t be destroyed?

What if their Patronuses could do more than most people imagined was possible? What if Dementors weren’t as indestructible as most wizards believed? Harry chewed his lip pensively, looking briefly like his wife often did, as he wondered if the full potential of a Patronus had ever been reached.

“Hermione, I think we should start practicing our Patronuses again...” he said excitedly, “experiment a bit. See what else they can do - see how far we can push them!”

“Yes! That’s an excellent idea!” Hermione beamed at Harry, “We can try sending messages too...”

“Yeah, but I was actually thinking of something else...” Harry trailed off as Kingsley Shacklebolt finished sending the message and the others returned. Hermione gave Harry a puzzled look.

“I’ll tell you later...” said Harry quietly, flushing slightly, not wanting to speculate wildly in front of wizards much older and more experienced than he was. “...I’m probably just off my nut!”

As the wizards finally left the road and strode up the weedy overgrown cobblestone pathway towards the wretched shack, Harry’s stomach knotted again as his scar began to prickle and burn. He grit his teeth as the pain grew stronger the closer they got to the Gaunt home. The hovel almost seemed to be shrouded by an invisible cloud of evil, and for a brief terrifying moment, Harry wondered if Voldemort and Wormtail were actually inside. But he knew it wasn’t true almost as soon as the thought had occurred.

“Harry!” squeaked Hermione when he staggered slightly, his knees wobbling, beads of sweat forming on his brow as they approached the broken door.

“I’ll be alright!” Harry set his jaw and breathed deeply as he took his wife’s hand. “There’s one in here - a horcrux - I can feel it...”

Professor Moody and Shacklebolt glanced at one another and stiffened. Moody’s eye spun around wildly looking for booby traps. Dora swallowed anxiously when she saw how pale Harry looked; she began to chew on a fingernail then caught herself and stopped before the older wizards noticed.

“I suspected we might find something,” sighed the headmaster as the Sword of Gryffindor clutched in his hand caught a ray of sunlight. “I had almost hoped not though... How many of those damned things did Riddle make?” Dumbledore asked nobody in particular.

“Hermione,” said Harry hoarsely, his heart pounding as he gripped her hand, “let’s do this.”

Hermione nodded, her breath quickening. Even though she didn’t have Harry’s extra-sensory connection to Voldemort, something about the tiny little house frightened her. There was something almost palpable about the sense of foreboding and doom it exuded - something as horrid as the smell of death that they’d left behind in Riddle Manor.

Steeling himself, Harry reached out a shaking hand and pushed open the creaking door.

“Careful Harry,” called out Dora. “Don’t touch anything in there. Let Mad Eye take care of it...”

But Harry could barely hear her as the world fell into silence and the walls of the shack seemed to close in on him, his heart thumping in his ears the only sound which registered. Harry glanced around breathing rapidly as spiders scurried into the corners of the hut, his eyes taking in the dust of ages layered thickly on the spindly wooden table and the bowing shelves.

Splintery floorboards groaned under his and Hermione’s feet. Slowly, carefully, Professor Moody entered behind them, wand at the ready, his whizzing eyeball taking in everything. Harry stopped suddenly and Hermione squeaked when his grip on her hand tightened.

“Th...there... ” Harry pointed towards a cracked plank in the floor near the corner of the room by a broken chair. “’s under that floorboard.”

“I see it,” growled Moody, as his spinning eye halted on the plank. “Good work Potter - now outside, the both of you. I’ve got this.”

Harry nodded; he was only too happy to get himself and Hermione out of the horrible shack.

Moody pried loose the cracked floorboard, finding a small leather pouch hidden beneath. He brought it out into the bright sunlight and kneeled next to the path. Everyone crouched down beside him as he opened the pouch and carefully shook it over a cobblestone.

A gold ring inset with an engraved black gemstone tumbled out and clattered onto the rocky slab.

“Morgana’s Sagging Tits!” sputtered Moody, his real eye bulging as he peered at the engraving on the stone, “Albus, you don’t suppose...?”

Dumbledore nodded, his own eyes widening. Kingsley, Dora, and the Potters looked bewildered.

“Peverell’s ring,” croaked the Headmaster. “Yes, Alastor, that engraving is indeed the Peverell insignia - the ‘coat of arms’ if you will - the ‘Deathly Hallows’... This would appear to be the one belonging to Cadmus. If a Peverell married into the Gaunt bloodline, it is quite probable then that Voldemort is a descendant of Cadmus Peverell. Which would mean that Harry here is very likely distantly related, as he is a descendant of Ignotus Peverell.”

“Wait, what?” Harry gasped in horror. He hadn’t thought that this day could get any worse. “I... I’m related to... to Voldemort!”

“It would appear to be likely, Harry,” Dumbledore replied as he stroked his long silvery beard. “But only very distantly, one would have to go back many hundreds of years to meet your common ancestors.”

“It is nothing you should be concerned about, Harry,” the headmaster continued softly, “Please believe me, it bears no meaning as to who you are today... ”

To say that Harry was appalled at discovering himself to be a distant relative of Voldemort under these circumstances was an understatement. The blood drained from his face and he gulped. A sickly feeling of revulsion overtook him, and his already painful head began spinning. He opened his mouth, but found that he couldn’t speak as he started to breathe rapidly again.

Harry glanced at Hermione’s own shocked expression. What if she hated him now? Part of him knew she wouldn’t, but if he felt sick about it inside, maybe she did too.

“Harry,” Hermione said quickly, understanding all too well the look on his face, “You heard Professor Dumbledore. It doesn’t mean a thing. If you go back far enough, we could all be related - every single one of us right here, right now... It doesn’t change how I feel about you! Not one little bit!”

Hermione flung her arms around Harry again and squeezed him tightly. Harry nodded slowly as he began to feel a little better.

“Th...thanks Hermione... I know! I’m just being stupid...” he sighed.

He knew she was right; the idea of possibly being distantly related to Voldemort would just take a lot of getting used to. In the meantime, he had more than enough to concern him at the moment, his scar throbbing badly as it sensed the Evil pulsing in the Ring like a heartbeat.

Harry briefly wondered what the Deathly Hallows were. Only Dumbledore and Moody seemed to know. Dumbledore’s attention had turned back to the Ring. The headmaster almost seemed entranced - lost in his own little world. His hand reached out towards the Ring.

Harry wanted to shout - to tell Dumbledore to stop. He didn’t know how he knew, but Voldemort had done something more to the Ring beyond turning it into a horcrux - something to ensure that none but himself could touch it. But before Harry could form the words, Professor Moody sharply swatted Dumbledore’s hand away.

“Are you Bloody Mad?” Moody snapped loudly, making Dora jump, “That thing is probably Cursed, Albus. Use the Sword on it and be done with it.”

The headmaster’s eyes cleared; he looked aghast at what he had almost unwittingly done.

“Yes... yes,” Dumbledore said shakily. “You’re quite right Alastor! Thank you!”

Dumbledore glanced at Harry and decided that with everything he’d had to face since last night, Harry had dealt with quite enough already. He motioned everyone to stand back and lifted the Sword of Gryffindor above his head. The gleaming blade of the sword flashed in the morning sun as it swung down and struck the Ring.

The Ring shuddered violently; a shrieking cacophony rent the air, whipping the wizards’ robes and the long weedy grasses surrounding them in a tempestuous gale. Harry’s face contorted as he groaned.

Billowing dark smoke poured from the Ring and the gemstone cracked - black death venomously oozed onto the cobblestone. After a few moments passed, the screaming Ring stopped shaking and the whirling column of smoke dissipated. It was finished.

Everyone let out a huge sigh of relief, especially Harry who had felt like his scar was about to burst, as it always did when a horcrux was destroyed. He slumped in Hermione’s arms as Dora clapped a hand to her mouth and tried to blink back the tears leaking from the corners of her eyes. Dora was still trembling; she had never seen Harry in so much pain, not even after a Mad Eye workout or following the Second Task.

Moody grimaced at the headmaster who was staring at the cracked Ring on the cobblestone.

“It’s all yours now Albus. Do whatever yeh want with it.” Moody turned his eye to Harry, who was gasping while Hermione embraced him as the blistering pain in his scar ebbed.

“Well done Potter!” said Moody in the gentlest growl that Harry had ever heard from the gruff ex-Auror. “Thanks to you, that wee lad back at the manor got a small measure of justice... Voldemort may think he’s back at full-strength, but today he’s another horcrux down, and another step closer to bein’ full-dead!”

Hermione peered earnestly and hopefully into Harry’s eyes. “He’s right Harry. Maybe... perhaps now you’ll be able to move on... just a bit...?”

It took a moment for Professor Moody’s and Hermione’s words to sink in, but as Hermione cuddled him and the searing pain continued to lessen, Harry felt a small surge of grim satisfaction, and the feelings of guilt which had been dogging him at intervals since last night truly began to abate. He knew he’d never be able to forget, but the memory didn’t hurt quite so much.

“I couldn’t have done it without you, Hermione,” Harry murmured when he finally recovered his voice, pressing his lips to hers.

As the kiss deepened, Kingsley Shacklebolt, Dumbledore, and Moody turned away and Dora wiped her teary eyes on her sleeve.


“Is it always as bad as that?” asked Dora after washing down a bite of burger with a sip of Coke.
Hermione glanced at Harry who was still chewing; she nodded sadly.

“Yes, it’s usually quite horrid for poor Harry,” she replied before eating another chip.

Dumbledore had already flooed back to Hogwarts with Professor Moody, leaving Shacklebolt to arrange things with the right people in the Auror Office and see that the remains of the boy were returned to his family. Dora had insisted that it would make her too ill to use the floo in that room back at the manor, and suggested that she and the Potters disguise themselves and take a muggle bus to another town and return through a public floo in a wizard pub. But Hermione could tell that she’d said that mostly for Harry’s sake.

Dora had then treated Harry and Hermione to burgers and chips from a little take-out burger shop on the other side of Little Hangleton, which they were now eating while watching ducks playing by a creek. The Potters were both hungry, and felt more able to eat than they had that morning. Harry swallowed and responded to Dora’s question personally.

“Yeah... the intensity seems to vary a bit - it’s been a little bit different around each horcrux in terms of how close I have to get before it hurts really badly, but it’s always pretty much the same when we destroy them... which is really horrible - feels like my scar’s on fire and about to split open. It’d be loads worse without Hermione though...” Harry beamed gratefully at his wife. “...she always makes me feel better.”

Hermione blushed and shyly returned Harry’s smile. Dora’s hair brightened several shades and she grinned to see the Potters both looking so cheered.
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