Hermione and Ron stood together on the sidewalk, arguing over a map. The orphanage they were looking for should have been on this street, except that none of the buildings looked anything like a home for children. Harry was a few paces in front of them gazing at the old structures.
“I’m telling you it has to be here,” Hermione said heatedly. “I’m sure the map is right, we just have to find the right place.”
“Well look around you, Hermione. It sure doesn’t look like we’re in the right place,” Ron answered, waving his arms at the vacant buildings around them.
Harry, however, was crossing the street. “I think this is it,” he said over his shoulder. They looked up for a second before following. His two friends had been going out since the wedding, and their rows were far less frequent.
Harry wasn’t exactly surprised by the development in their relationship, it had been a long time coming. In truth, he was actually very happy for them, if a little jealous. It was great that they could find in each other what he had to deny himself, he couldn’t hold that against his friends.
For him, the day of the wedding had been a cataclysm of emotions. He was happy for Fleur and Bill, and the Weasley family in general. There was something more though, he knew as that day began that it would end differently for the two people who had been closest to him for so long. He was angry with himself as well, for what he had given up. No matter how much acceptance Ginny offered him, he knew it wasn’t right. Life had never treated him fairly and there was no reason it should start now. For every good thing he found in his life, he was also given something far worse. Sacrificing what he had with Ginny was perhaps the hardest to stomach. There was also sorrow for those who couldn‘t be there with them, and he felt a desire to be doing more. However, no amount of self-pity or righteous indignation would avail him in his work. Anger at the world or himself could not help him, and would not ease the guilt. He had made the choice between what was easy and what was right, now he just had to stick with his decision.
Yet, in his friends he saw a glimpse of a better life as they grew closer together. Ron hardly left Hermione during that evening. And while Harry had spent a few quiet moments with Ginny, his friends had laughed and danced together, and mingled happily with the other guests. Harry could tell that this was the way things were meant to be.
He didn’t know at the time if it had been a conscious decision, whether Ron had asked Hermione, or the other way around, or if they had just come to some unspoken agreement. At the end of the night though it didn’t really matter. They walked hand in hand back to the Burrow, and stole a moment of privacy as Harry continued on to bed.
Later, Ron had told Harry that he had indeed asked Hermione if she would want to see him. She had, of course, agreed. Ron was almost always trying to help Hermione in her research, and they had taken a few nights off when they couldn’t do anymore work. Sometimes they would visit The Leaky Cauldron, while Harry would go off for a walk. Of course he was invited along; they had not once excluded him from their plans. But Harry realized that they needed time of their own as well. A few times he had joined them though, much like the night before. Seeing them together like that served him as a reminder of what he was fighting for, what was waiting for him after this endeavor.
As his friends caught up to him, Harry examined the old orphanage. The building looked abandoned, as did the street they were on. But Harry knew it to be the right place. Grey stone steps led up to large metal doors. Harry placed his hand on a stone column of the entryway. Ron and Hermione stood back and watched as he felt along the frame.
“Alohomora,” Harry whispered, as he pointed his wand at the lock. He was slightly surprised that it had been that simple. Cautiously he pushed the door open. This was the place they needed to be. Thick dust had settled on the floor over many years of vacancy. It was amazing that the building had not been demolished. Harry recognized it immediately, although he had never actually been here. He had visited once in Dumbledore’s memories. He followed his feet to the staircase, past the office, and slowly began climbing the stairs. On the third floor he turned right, and entered the room where Tom Riddle had once lived.
The walls were tarnished and gray with age. The paint was peeling, and the floorboards were splintered. A single bed stood against the wall next to a chair, and there was a broken wardrobe across the room. It began to feel as though what he was looking for was not here. Still, Harry walked around the room while Ron and Hermione waited at the door. Carefully, he examined the bed and chair, and finally the wardrobe that had once held young Tom’s trophies. He steadied his will and turned the knob. Inside, the wardrobe was just as dusty as the floor it rested on. Harry touched the shelves but could feel nothing. It seemed as though this was not the place after all.
Harry drew his wand and pointed it inside the wardrobe. “Specialis Revelio," he spoke the incantation, but nothing happened. There was nothing significantly magical here, only the vaguest traces that there ever had been. Flattened, he put his wand away. “We can search the rest of the building, but I don’t think there is anything here.” He sat on the bed, feeling very disappointed.
Hermione sat next to him, looking deep in thought. “Well, Harry, where do we go from here?” she asked.
“I don’t know really. I mean, Voldemort could have hidden these things almost anywhere. I have a few other guesses, but that is all they are for now.” Harry said sedately. “I think our best bet is to go back to Grimmauld Place and start looking again.” With that the three friends Disapparated, leaving nothing but the dust and broken furniture.
The trip had turned out to be a complete waste, Harry thought as he hung his traveling cloak in the kitchen at Grimmauld Place. He knew the next likely place he would find a Horcrux was at the home of Hepzibah Smith. He had little information to go on though, apart from her name and that of her house-elf. It would be difficult to learn anything else without some outside help. She had been a well to do woman who lived alone, though she had relations. Smith was a common name, even among wizards. Harry was at a loss as to where he should begin looking.
As they sat down for lunch, Harry reflected on their progress so far. At the least, they had already found one of the four Horcruxes remaining before he could face Voldemort. Also they had Dobby, he mused, looking at the spread on the table. Indeed, the house-elf had joined Harry, shortly after he had started on his quest. He came to Harry from Hogwarts, to inform him of the passing of Kreacher. Dobby had then begged to be allowed to help Harry Potter and his friends in their noble work. Hermione had frowned at the idea, until Harry offered to pay Dobby. Now, Harry was quite glad that he had accepted the offer. Dobby cooked and cleaned, and the house had not looked better in many years, and Harry was sure to give lots of praise and thanks to his friend, especially as it kept Hermione off his back.
Dobby's help notwithstanding, Harry feared that they were not making enough headway. There were three Horcruxes still to be found. They had limited ideas about where or what each one would be, and the best he could say about the one they had found, was that they were lucky. Of course, they had had the information they needed already and it was in a place they knew. It was just a matter of figuring out the riddle of “R.A.B.”, which had taken help from Fred and George. Whether you called it luck, coincidence, or just a foolish accident, didn’t really matter to Harry. In the end, he had been gifted with a piece of Voldemort’s soul, and it was doubtful that any of the others would be found so effortlessly.
It had been on a day similar to today, the mist had parted just enough to allow the flaxen haze of the sun warm the ground outside. The Dementors had temporarily moved on. They would be back soon enough, Harry knew, as it had happened a few times before. Hermione and Ron had just gone up to the study, searching through books for any references on Horcruxes. Harry had decided to practice his non-verbal spells, recalling the night he had last seen Snape.
He remembered choosing the drawing room for privacy, but as he had progressed, he had gotten the odd sensation that he was not alone. Peculiar sounds reached his ears: the creak of a floorboard, or an inaudible whisper.
Turning himself slowly in a circle, he took an appraising look at the room around him. Nothing seemed out of place; that is, until he saw a large shadow near the tapestry of the Black Family Tree. He continued to turn. Someone, or something, was definitely there.
Quite suddenly, and to the amazement of his would-be stalkers, ropes shot out of his wand and bound them tightly. It was only with the outraged yells of Fred and George that Harry realized there had been some mistake. Quickly he banished the ropes and rushed over to help them to their feet, only to find that he couldn’t actually see them. It took a moment before they made themselves visible again, but that instant was all Harry needed. His eyes had drifted to Sirius's spot on the tapestry, passing over the name of Sirius's brother, Regulus.
From there, it had been a short bit of research to find that Regulus fit the likely description of the person who had stolen the locket. Their search of Grimmauld Place yielded the very thing they had been looking for, hidden - in all places - in Kreacher’s old cupboard.
As for George and Fred, they had stopped by to find Moody, and experiment with their new vanishing elixir. Seeing Harry had presented them with a prime opportunity for testing, and perhaps a bit of mischief. It was a mistake they had only repeated a single time since.
As relieving as that episode had been, it didn’t help him much with his current lack of results. The only option he had at the moment was to blindly search the locations he had already chosen, and hope.
Quietly, he pulled a plate of sandwiches to himself and began to eat. Hermione shared the only good news of the day, in that she thought she was close to finding the information they needed about Horcruxes. She didn’t give many details, but apparently she had found a book that gave something more definitive than anything they had yet found. She wouldn’t say from where or who the book came, only that she had not yet finished reading it. That was to be her task for the next few days though. In the meantime, Harry had some tough decisions to make before he could advance his search for the next Horcrux.