They had been on Privet Drive for more than two weeks before Hermione let them take a break from the biographies of the Hogwarts Founders. Harry was halfway through Hufflepuff’s life and had managed to learn that the woman had an obsession for shoes and a questionable fondness for her cats. Ron, on the other hand, was not even a third of the way through Gryffindor’s immense book, Godric Gryffindor, the Man, the Pioneer, the Conqueror, owing to the fact that Gryffindor’s book would shut itself on Ron’s hands if he began to nod off, which happened often. Eventually Ron’s hands were so badly bruised that he had to give it up completely until he could heal.
Hermione, of course, had finished Slytherin’s book, Salazar Slytherin, the Man, the Visionary, the Paragon, the previous week and had moved onto Ravenclaw’s book, Rowena Ravenclaw, the Woman, the Genius, the Beautiful. “This is quite fascinating, really,” Hermione said and Harry looked up to see her making several notes. “Ravenclaw is the one who came up with the ever-changing floor plan for Hogwarts. It says here that she got the idea from a dream she had one night when she tried to find her way home but the floor kept moving on her.”
“Enthralling,” Ron yawned as he said it. “I’m going mad in here, Hermione. Can’t we get out and stretch a bit?”
Hermione rolled her eyes, “It’s not like you’ve been working.”
“I have too!” Ron held up a hand to his heart, looking wounded. “I got you a glass of water, didn’t I?”
“Oh yes, that really counts,” her voice was mild as she rolled her eyes. “I could use a bit of fresh air, though, so a nice stroll would be good for us as long as whomever is on duty doesn’t mind.”
“Nah, I think it’s Tonks today,” Harry told her as he stood and stretched his kinked muscles. He rolled his neck and winced as he heard something pop. They definitely needed to get out of the house.
Ron stood up as well and shoved his feet into his large trainers. “Howdya know it was Tonks?”
“Easy,” he replied and headed for the door. “When I went to grab a snack from the kitchen, I heard a mysterious crash and a woman cursing but no one was around.”
Harry, Ron and Hermione made their way out the front door and Harry looked around, wishing he could spot Tonks but knowing that it was futile. They walked slowly down the street and around the block several times, finally stopping at the play park where a mother was pushing her young son on the swings.
“Oh, I love to swing!” Hermione called as she sat down and began to push herself.
“Mental,” Ron muttered but went behind her and gave her a push nonetheless. Harry only grinned and shook his head while the mother, a woman with brown hair and who appeared to be only a few years older than himself, eyed them wearily.
Harry sat on the one remaining seat next to Hermione and watched the wind dance happily through the large trees, swaying their green leaves in a timeless rhythm. Peace was a rare commodity in his life and he wanted to enjoy this moment for as long as it would last.
“What’s that?” Hermione’s voice brought him up short as he swiveled his head to look where she was pointing.
Ron grabbed her swing and stopped her, catching her about the waist before she fell off. “I dunno… should we go look?”
Harry stood up and strained to look through the trees as a large group of men came purposefully towards them. He groaned as he recognized one very bulky figure. “Dudley.”
The young mother, whom Harry had momentarily forgot about, gasped and stopped her son’s swing as well. “Let’s go, Ryan.”
Harry turned to gape at her, “Are you okay?”
She glanced between him and the other group, “I don’t want to be around them.”
“You don’t have to worry about them,” Hermione assured her in a calming voice. “That’s Harry’s cousin and he wouldn’t dare-”
“He would, Hermione,” Harry growled and rounded on the group, which was within earshot now. “What do you want, Dudley?”
“It’s a free country,” Dudley told him, laughing as he came up to the swings. “We were just out for a stroll.”
The bravado with which he faced stunned Harry for a moment. Generally his cousin shied away from a direct confrontation, but today was an exception. Then he watched him stumble and knew the reason why… Dudley was drunk. “Go home, Dudley, before your mum finds out you’ve been drinking.”
“Don’t think I will,” Dudley shot back as one of the others moved towards the mother who was cornered in at the play park.
“Lovely to see you again, Missy,” the tall, lanky teenager with dull brown hair said. “Are you giving it out yet or are you still charging?”
Hermione gasped, Ron stepped forwards at the same time as Harry as they both stepped in front of her. “Get out of her face,” Harry warned him in a low, threatening voice.
“Nah, she likes it this way,” the cocky kid informed them, obviously also intoxicated.
“Bugger off,” Ron hissed.
“You going to make me?” he asked, his voice slurring as several of the other boys came around.
The woman whimpered and Harry felt his heart rate accelerate. “Yeah, we’re going to make you.”
“What’ya going to do?” Dudley laughed and stumbled sideways. “You can’t do anything or risk jail.”
“Not true,” Hermione interjected and everyone rounded on her. She looked suddenly intimidated. Harry saw Ron tense further from the corner of his eye and knew his friend wanted to go to her.
Dudley moved towards her as Hermione backed up. “I don’t think the three of you can do anything against us.”
“Self-defense is allowed. We wouldn’t be punished for that,” Hermione said firmly and Harry watched her shoulders go back as she finally stood her ground.
“What?” Dudley stopped and turned to look between her and Harry.
Harry shook his head, marveling yet again at how truly stupid his cousin was. “In other words, if you hit us, we can fight back in any way that we want and not get in trouble. We’re allowed to save ourselves or someone else.”
The wheel in his head turned slowly and he heard Ron snort as Dudley repeated what Harry had said, mouthing all of the words. “So… does that mean you could…” Finally the light seemed to have penetrated. “Come on,” Dudley murmured to the others.
“I’m not going anywhere,” another of the boys yelled and moved quickly to Hermione, grabbing her from behind, about the waist.
In an instant Hermione had stomped down hard on his instep and jabbed her elbow back into his gut. He doubled over, letting her go and stumbling back. “Bitch!” he bellowed, but his voice was wheezing from having his air knocked out of him. He straightened and moved forward again, but Hermione was ready. She reared back and punched him in the nose. Blood spurted everywhere as he swore and finally backed away.
Harry was so stunned that he couldn’t speak. Ron, however, ran forward and picked her up, spinning as he gave a cheering whoop. “That was bloody brilliant, Hermione!”
“Let’s go!” Dudley called again and this time the other three boys followed him, shooting them dirty looks as they went. Harry was sure that they would try to extract revenge later.
“Will you be all right?” Harry asked the woman as he turned to her. “Would you like us to walk you home?”
She shook her head and gave him a small smile. “It’s all right, I just live over there.” She pointed to a house right across the street. “My dad will take care of this.”
“Oh,” Harry’s voice faltered, unsure of what to say. “I thought he was your son.”
“He is,” she replied and began to walk away. “But I live with my parents.”
Not wanting to appear rude, he didn’t say more. He watched her go and heard a rustling near him. He spun, trying to spot the cause of the noise but Tonks’ proud voice forestalled him. “Tell Hermione that was a great hit and to ice her hand when you get back.”
“I will,” Harry whispered back and ran off to join his best friends as they tromped back to his aunt and uncle’s house. “So how did you learn to punch like that?”
“Ginny,” Hermione replied simply. “She taught me last year.” She shook out her hand, which was swollen and already turning purple.
Ron gently took her hand gently, examining it. “Let’s go get something for this.”
Hermione simply smiled and let herself be led back to the house, going instantly upstairs while Harry procured ice in a plastic bag for her.
He sidestepped his aunt’s nosy questions and went up to his room. “Here you are,” he said as he handed her the ice and sat down on his bed, across from them. “That was quite a punch.”
“It was,” Ron agreed. “I didn’t know you had it in you.”
Hermione shrugged but was obviously pleased with herself. “I just did what Ginny showed me to.”
“That would be Bill’s influence,” Ron informed them happily. “He always wanted her to stand up for herself.”
“Has she ever hit you?” Harry asked, suddenly curious.
His smile slipped, “Yeah, just the once when we were young.”
“What did you do?” Hermione questioned, shifting the ice with a wince.
“I told her that she couldn’t fly with us because girls were weak and useless.” Ron grinned sheepishly at her.
“Oh Ron!” Hermione groaned and laughed at the same time. “How could you?”
“I was eight! I didn’t know better!” He ducked his head before adding, “I know now that I have to keep my opinions to myself.” Hermione elbowed him in the ribs and he gasped and gave her a placating grin, “Like I said, I need to make sure all the girls in my life know that they are stronger than I am.”
“I can’t believe I left this till the last minute!” Hermione moaned as she ripped several seams from her dress robes.
“You have a week, Hermione. It isn’t like the wedding is tomorrow,” Ron pointed out as he stuck a toffee into his mouth.
Harry wasn’t really listening to them. He’d nearly completed Hufflepuff’s book and he was itching to have it over with before they went back to the Burrow for the wedding. An exasperated noise pulled his gaze upwards. Hermione was attempting to re-stitch the dress robes back together again. “What was wrong with it, anyway?” Ron asked as he bent over to examine her work.
Hermione moved him backwards, squinting down at it as she put in several more stitches. “It didn’t fit in the shoulders,” she replied, blushing.
“Your shoulders got bigger?” Ron simply gaped at her.
“Hey, Ron,” Harry jumped in, trying to save Hermione further embarrassment. “Did you find anything in Gryffindor’s book?”
“No,” he lamented and flopped back, leaning against Harry’s bed. “It was a wash. I don’t think we’re going to locate anything from their biographies. The bloke who wrote them must have been in love with them.”
“I agree,” Hermione bit the string to break it and began to knot the loose end. “It was rather biased but still, we have a foundation for where to go. We know that all of the Horcruxes, except for the diary and Nagini, have been something of monumental historical importance. I’m just not sure where we’ll be able to find information on an object of theirs that even Dumbledore couldn’t find.”
“We’ll just have to keep looking, I suppose.” Harry muttered and shook his head. He hated that his best friends were in danger with him in the search and resented himself for being glad they were there.
Hermione nodded towards one of her books and looked at Ron. “I made a list and stuck it in the front cover. Can you read it to Harry for me?” She then stuck her needle back into the dress robes and continued to sew.
Ron dug out the list and read it out loud. “Horcruxes: diary, necklace, ring, cup, snake, You-Know-Who and ______.”
“Right, so the diary and the ring have been destroyed, we don’t know where the cup or the necklace is, and we can’t kill the snake until we’re ready to face Voldemort,” Hermione surmised and pulled her last stitch. “All right, I’m done with this.” She took the list and found a quill. “We don’t know who R.A.B. is so that should be first on our list, since we have the most clues for him or her.”
“How are we going to figure that out, though?” Harry asked as he put down the heavy book and took a toffee from Ron. The sticky candy stuck in his mouth as he tried to chew.
She shrugged, “I honestly don’t know. We can check in libraries but not without raising suspicions. I think we also need to check back in the places that Voldemort would have found important to locate the other Horcruxes.”
“What places are most likely?” Harry asked after he had unglued his mouth from the sweet.
“Hmm,” she murmured and said, “I was thinking that the orphanage might be a likely place but also Hogwarts or the Riddle house.”
Harry tried to comprehend how much work was ahead of them but it was staggering. “So we have to locate the missing locket and make sure it’s destroyed, then find the cup and a seventh yet unknown object?” He shook his head and groaned. “This is going to take us years.”
“Let’s hope it doesn’t. Too many people have died already,” Hermione reminded him quietly. “I think that we should go back to Grimmauld Place first and check through the books there to see if we can figure out who R.A.B. was.”
“Why would that help us?” Ron asked her.
“Because R.A.B. was someone in Voldemort’s Death Eaters. He knew what Voldemort was up to so he must have known dark magic.” She tucked her legs underneath her and tapped her quill nervously on the parchment, completely ignoring Ron’s shudders at Voldemort’s name. “By that we can surmise that the person was likely a pureblood and might have even been part of the Black family.”
“Black… as in related to Sirius?” Harry’s mind churned and something, on the tip of his tongue, sat just wanting to come out. Frustrated, he sighed and stood up. “What other B last names are there?”
“Bones, Bagman, Binns…” her voice faded off as she tried to remember.
“Bletchley,” Ron added helpfully.
“Right, let’s see, Bode, Borgin and Burke as well as Bulstrode,” Harry said and tried to remember any other Slytherin classmates who’s last name ended in B.
“Belby,” Hermione offered and then started jotting all of them down. “I can’t seem to recall any others but I think we can safely remove the Bones family from the list. No one from their family would ever have joined the Death Eaters. They’re just like the Weasleys.”
Ron grunted, “Even the Weasleys have their weirdos. Wait till the wedding and you’ll see what I mean.”
“I’m sure it will be fine,” Hermione told him and put a comforting hand on his arm. “I’m quite looking forward to meeting all of them.”
“Especially Auntie Muriel,” Harry said without thinking.
Ron turned bright red. “Ginny was joking!”
Harry laughed and Hermione glanced between them. “What’s so funny?”
“Nothing!” Ron said a little too loudly. “It’s just Ginny having a laugh at my expense.”
Hermione, obviously deciding to ignore the previous conversation, said, “I am glad that we get to spend a bit of time with your family before we leave. I mean,” she tugged a band off her wrist and pulled her hair back in a messy bun, “I don’t know if we’ll see anyone again until Christmas.”
That was a sobering thought and not one that Harry wanted to dwell on. He knew that he was doing what he had to do but it didn’t make the journey any easier. He was putting his life at risk to fight for all of wizarding kind and the prospect of his surviving, let alone succeeding, was astronomically low. His heart skipped a beat and his stomach churned uncomfortably. “So after that we’re going to Godric’s Hollow and then to the cemetery, right?”
“Yes,” Hermione grabbed the book from Ron’s lap and pulled out another sheet of parchment from within its pages. “I think we need to have certain supplies before we go.”
“Like what?” Harry asked.
She read quickly down the list. “A tent, clothing, sleeping bag, eating utensils, quills, a journal and clothing.”
“So we just need a tent?” Harry questioned.
“Yes and journals for each of us. I want to have a way for us to record what happens so that we can keep the facts straight.” At their blank expressions she threw her hands into the air. “Oh, all right! I want a journal for myself to document everything. I didn’t really expect you two to keep one anyway.”
Harry pondered this for a minute and then asked, “Where can I get a magical tent?”
“Diagon Alley, of course,” Ron answered. “But that won’t do you any good since we can’t go there right now anyway.”
That was a problem. Harry glanced around the room and tried to think but what caught his eye was a care package that the twins had sent them to use on Dudley. “I have it,” he grabbed and quill and parchment to scribble a note to Fred and George.
“You don’t think they’ll jinx it before giving it to us, do you?” Hermione’s voice gave away her concern.
“I think we should count on it,” Harry said with a chuckle.
“Tell them to make it spacious,” Ron added. “We’re going to have to live in this thing and we don’t want to be cramped.
Hermione rolled her eyes, “But we have to carry it too! So we don’t want it to be too big. Can you ask them to pick up a journal for me, Harry? I’ll have the money when we see them.”
“Got it,” Harry said as he jotted down the specs of what he wanted in the tent and went to tie it to Hegwig’s leg, feeling a sense of finality. This is really happening… and there wasn’t anything to do but see it through.