The stuffy darkness cleared, and Harry found himself standing under a clear, starry sky, next to the ramshackle stone outhouse that served the Weasley’s as a broom shed. Ron and Hermione were on either side of him, and all three spun around, wands drawn, as a figure appeared from the shadows behind the shed.
“Merlin’s Beard! Point those somewhere else, you three,” said the shape hurriedly. Harry relaxed as Arthur Weasley moved into the pale moonlight. “I’m going to ask Mad-Eye to teach you all how to Apparate a bit more quietly,” he said, shaking his head as he stowed his own wand inside his robes. “I’ll be surprised if you haven’t woken up half the village.” As he spoke there were a series of pops, and Mad-Eye Moody, Remus Lupin, and Kingsley Shacklebolt appeared behind them. Mr Weasley turned to address them. “Everything go alright?” he asked.
Moody nodded. “No sign of Death Eaters anywhere near the place,” he growled. “I’ve given Arabella a Portkey, just in case. If there is any sign of trouble she can warn us straight away.”
Mr Weasley nodded. “Right then,” he said, “I’d better get this lot up to the house. Molly will start worrying if we’re much longer.” He followed Harry, Ron, and Hermione up the path as the others Disapparated again. As Harry entered the kitchen, he was totally unsurprised to find himself almost suffocated by a rib-crushing hug from Mrs Weasley.
“Happy birthday, dear,” she exclaimed, steering the three of them towards the table, which was occupied by a large plate of sausage and bacon sandwiches and a jug of pumpkin juice. “Sorry I haven’t been able to make you a cake or anything, I’ve just been so busy getting everything ready for Bill’s wedding.” She stood back and cast a critical eye over Harry. “At least I can make sure you get fed properly now.”
“That’s OK, Mrs Weasley; just being away from the Dursleys at last is enough of a present,” replied Harry, ignoring Ron, who was rolling his eyes in mock despair.
Several rounds of sandwiches later, Ron and Harry bade Mr and Mrs Weasley goodnight, and started making their way up to Ron’s bedroom. As they passed the fireplace in the living room, Harry stopped to look at the clock perched on top of the mantelpiece. He had only seen it out of the corner of his eye, but he had gotten the impression that it had too many hands. Of course this was nothing new as it wasn’t a normal clock. Instead of numbers, it had markings such as “School”, “Home”, “Hospital”, and where the number twelve would normally be, “Mortal Danger”. It also had nine hands, each inscribed with the name of one member of the family. At least it used to have nine hands; it had now sprouted two more. One, perhaps unsurprisingly, had Fleur’s name on it. The other one- Harry stared closely, wanting to make sure his eyes weren’t deceiving him. Muttering ‘Lumos’, he lit his wand and pointed it at the face of the clock. He wasn’t seeing things, the engraving on the hand very clearly said ‘HARRY’.
“Harry, is something the matter? Oh…”
Harry turned around. Mrs Weasley had followed them through from the kitchen. She had obviously realised what he was looking at and was turning crimson with embarrassment.
“I hope you don’t mind, dear,” she said in a flustered voice, “but I had to add Fleur anyway, and well, you know I’ve always considered you part of the family, so…”
Harry was genuinely dumbstruck. He knew of course, that Mrs Weasley had always considered herself as the mum he had never had, but seeing his name alongside the rest of her children’s made him realise again just how much she cared for him. For the first time since Dumbledore’s funeral, Harry smiled broadly, and as he took another look at the clock, he wondered if it was coincidence, or just the alphabet that had placed his name next to Ginny’s.
“So what’s the plan?” asked Ron, as he removed a half disassembled toaster from a stool before sitting down. It was early afternoon, and a sudden rain shower had forced Ron, Hermione, and Harry to take refuge in the small shed that Arthur Weasley used to store his collection of Muggle household appliances. Bill and Fleur’s wedding was scheduled for the coming Saturday, and after breakfast a frantic Mrs Weasley had shooed them all out of the house so that she could tidy it in preparation for the arrival of Fleur’s parents. Harry idly twisted a piece of plug wire as he marshalled his thoughts. He had spent a large chunk of his month at Privet Drive trying to decide how best to start his quest for the Horcruxes.
“I still want to go to Godric’s Hollow first,” he said finally, “but we need to make sure that your parents and the Order don’t find out about it. They’re bound to try and stop us.” Harry still wasn’t sure why he wanted to return to the place of his parents’ death. He just knew that something inside him told him it was the right thing to do, and if the last year had taught Harry one thing, it was to trust his instincts.
“I reckon the best thing to do will be to pretend we’re still going to go back to Hogwarts,” he continued, “but we’ll sneak out the night before.”
He watched Ron and Hermione closely as he said this. Although they had both swore to accompany him on his journey, he was sure that Hermione at least would regret not returning to Hogwarts for their seventh and final year, but for the moment neither of them offered any argument.
Ron scratched his head thoughtfully. “None of us have ever seen the place though. It could make Apparating a bit tricky.”
“I’ve thought of that,” interrupted Hermione. “One of my Dad’s friends works for a company that makes maps. He’s asked him if he can find me a picture.”
“We’ll also need somewhere to stay,” continued Harry. “Ron, does your dad still have that tent we used for the World Cup?”
Ron screwed up his face in thought. “I think so,” he replied eventually. “It’s probably in the cellar. I’ll have a look when we can get back into the house.”
“But if we don’t find any clues at Godric’s Hollow, how do we start looking for the Horcruxes?” Hermione asked.
Harry winced at her directness. “Well, we definitely have to leave Nagini until last as she’s bound to be wherever Voldemort is,” he replied slowly. “And we don’t know where Hufflepuff’s cup is, or what the fourth Horcrux might be. I think our best bet is to start with the locket, but that means that we need to find out who this R.A.B was.”
“I tried looking in every book in the library that I could think of,” said Hermione shaking her head in frustration. She looked at Harry tentatively. “I’m sure there were some books on Wizard genealogy at Grimmauld Place, but as we’re not members of the Order, no one will tell me what its security spells are.”
Grimmauld Place. Harry’s stomach still went cold whenever he thought about its dusty hallways and dark, gloomy rooms. And as much as he never wanted to go near the place again, he knew that every idea the three of them had would need to be explored.
“Well,” he said heavily, “they’ll have to tell me, seeing I own the place. I’ll ask Lupin. I guess we could go there first and then…” He stopped abruptly as a thought hit him with such sudden force that it pushed everything else out of his mind.
“I don’t believe it,” he breathed. “Why didn’t we think of it before?”
“Think of what?” Hermione and Ron chorused together.
“R.A.B”, said Harry slowly. “Regulus Black. Siruis’s brother. He was a Death Eater, remember?”
“Of course,” Hermione squealed. “The day we cleaned out the drawing room. That old locket that none of us could open.”
Harry still carried the fake locket around with him. He pulled it out of his coat pocket and studied it carefully, comparing it to what he could remember of the one he had briefly seen in the drawing room at Grimmauld Place. Both were large, heavy items with plain covers, nothing like the ornate locket he remembered from his trips into the Pensieve. Of course, after six years of magical education, Harry knew that appearances meant very little. Changing the look of an inanimate object was one of the simpler pieces of transfiguration. Even Neville would probably have been able to do it. His train of thought was broken as Ron posed a question.
“The thing is,” he wondered aloud, “how do we find it? Sirius threw most of that stuff away. It could be anywhere.”
“Kreacher will have it,” Harry replied with certainty. “If we’re right, there’s no way he would have let something that important end up in the rubbish bin.” He gazed blankly out of the window for a moment, as he tried to figure out how best to deal with this new revelation. Finally he came to a decision, and he turned to look at his two friends again.
“Whatever we do is going to have to wait until after the wedding. I have to find out how to get into the house, and I want to be sure that there are no Order members around at the time. If we can’t find the locket ourselves, then I’ll have to call Kreacher.” Harry was pleased to see them both nod their agreement, although privately he hoped he wouldn’t need to summon the aged house-elf. Going back to Sirius’s old house would be bad enough without having to cope with muttered insults directed at him all the time.
“Harry,” Hermione said carefully, “before we leave here, there is one other problem that you need to think about”.
Harry looked at her quizzically, but she in turn looked at Ron, who gave a guilty start.
“Oh, yeah, um,” Ron looked distinctly uncomfortable, and his ears started to slowly turn red, a sure sign that he was under pressure. “Look, mate, Ginny told us the two of you’d broken up and well, we both think you’re making a mistake, and…” He tailed off as Harry glared at him.
Ginny was the other subject that had occupied Harry’s thoughts constantly throughout the holidays. When he had looked into her eyes at Dumbledore’s funeral and told her they had to stop seeing each other he had convinced himself that he was making the right decision, but that hadn’t made it any easier. Harry still had nightmares where he saw the faces of all those who had died over the last few years: Cedric, Sirius, Madam Bones, Dumbledore. He was determined that Ginny would not join their ranks.
“I’m not changing my mind,” he said bluntly. “You know how bad I am at Occlumency. If Voldemort finds out…” He didn’t feel the need to finish the sentence, but it didn’t seem to deter Hermione.
“That’s not really going to make a difference though, is it?” she said earnestly. “I mean Mr Weasley’s job at the Ministry means that the whole family are probably targets, anyway.”
“Not to mention that most of the Death Eaters consider us to be blood traitors,” added Ron.
Harry looked at the two of them with mounting disbelief. They had obviously planned this conversation; it was the DA all over again. He knew that they meant well, but one of the many thoughts that had occurred to him since Dumbledore’s funeral was that thanks to the prophecy, he had never truly been in charge of his own life, and it was beginning to annoy him. And to have Ron and Hermione, of all people, trying to lecture him about his love life was just too much.
“You know what?” he said slowly, “I don’t think you two are the best people to be giving out relationship advice. I mean, when are you going to sort yourselves out?”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” scoffed Hermione
Harry jumped to his feet. As it had two summers previously, the anger and frustration that had been building up inside him since the end of term finally found an outlet.
“It’s supposed to mean that it’s about time you two admitted that you fancy each other,” Harry responded, ignoring the startled looks that greeted this announcement. He jabbed his finger at Ron’s chest. “You were practically exploding with jealousy when Krum asked Hermione to the Yule Ball, and then you wouldn’t speak to her last year just because you thought they might have kissed!” Ignoring Ron’s spluttered protests, Harry rounded on Hermione. “And what about you?” he demanded, as she leaned away from him. “Fixing the Quidditch trials? Attacking Ron with a flock of birds just for snogging Lavender? For someone who claims to be an expert on other people’s feelings, you seem pretty ignorant of your own.”
Ron seemed too shocked to respond. Hermione on the other hand had a face like thunder and looked to be on the edge of yelling her own reply. In the back of his mind Harry knew he had overstepped the mark, but he didn’t care anymore.
“I know you two want to come with me,” he said, “and you know I won’t stop you. But you’re going to be no good to me if you spend half your time flirting with each other, and the other half arguing because neither of you know what to do about it. I don’t care what you decide, but you need to do something.”
As suddenly as it had arrived, Harry’s anger died away and a shocked silence descended over the three of them. Harry replayed everything he had just said inside his mind, and realised with a sinking feeling that he had probably just alienated the two people who had done more for him than anyone else. Trying to avoid their faces he turned, walked out of the shed, and started back up to the house. As the door slammed behind him, he was just able to hear Ron’s bewildered voice.
“What did he mean, you fixed the Quidditch trials?”
Harry sat on the camp bed in Ron’s room, slowly repacking the few items he had removed from his trunk. He still couldn’t believe what he had just done. What was the old saying, “Some things are better left unsaid”? Well, he’d just said them. It would be too awkward to stay here now. As soon as he could, he would sneak out and head to Grimmauld Place; surely one of the Order would be there and would be able to let him in. As he forced the lid of the trunk closed there was a sharp knock on the door, but before he could answer, it was flung open and Ginny stormed in.
“What did you just say to Ron and Hermione?” she demanded without preamble.
Harry’s jaw dropped. He had known that it would be impossible to avoid her for long, and had wondered how she would react to seeing him, but that wasn’t one of the opening lines he had considered. Mistaking the reason for his confusion, Ginny gestured impatiently towards the door.
“They just practically threw me out of my own bedroom,” she raged. “Said they had something important they needed to discuss in private.”
Harry cocked his head to one side. Sure enough, the muffled sounds of an argument were coming up through the floor. He looked apologetically at Ginny.
“I, um, well, I told them I thought they should start going out together.”
To his surprise, the annoyance on Ginny’s face was instantly replaced by a huge grin.
“Ooh, I hope they do”, she replied. “I’ll win my bet then. With Fred and George,” she added. “I bet them a galleon that they’d start going out before the new term.”
She sat down next to Harry, the grin slowly being replaced by a much more serious _expression. “I didn’t put anything on us, though.”
“It’s OK, Harry,” Ginny interrupted. “I don’t agree with what you said, but I understand why you said it, and I know you’re too stubborn to change your mind.” She turned to face him, and her gaze bored into him. “Just answer me one thing. You said you were worried about You-Know-Who finding out about us. Well, he probably already knows. How many people at school could have parents working for him? And are you seriously suggesting that if I was captured tomorrow, you wouldn’t come after me because we’re not going out anymore?”
“That’s not fair-” Harry started to respond, but Ginny cut him off.
“Lots of things aren’t fair, Harry. How did I think you would feel if you had to go to my funeral, that’s what you asked? Have you thought about how I would feel if I had to go to your funeral? I’ve wanted to be with you since I was ten years old. That’s not going to change just because you think it might make me safer.”
Ginny looked away, trying to hide the tears that were beginning to well up in her eyes. Harry shifted uncomfortably as he considered what she had just said. He hadn’t thought about it before, but deep down he knew Ginny was right. He knew for a fact that Crabbe and Goyle’s fathers were both Death Eaters, and he was still convinced that Draco Malfoy had become one too. He also knew that if Ginny was captured by the Death Eaters, even if nothing had ever happened between them, he would not hesitate to go to her aid. He placed his hands on Ginny’s shoulders and turned her to face him.
“I guess I didn’t really think that one through, did I?” he said, before kissing her. After what seemed like hours, they broke apart, and Ginny gave him a warm smile.
“So does this mean we’re back together, then?”
Harry didn’t feel the need to answer. Instead he turned his attention to something else he had just noticed, or more precisely, hadn’t noticed.
“It’s gone a bit quiet downstairs,” he said. “You don’t think they’ve killed each other, do you?”
Ginny bit her lip in mock anxiety. “I hope not, I didn’t get odds on that one.”
Grinning, Harry followed Ginny as she left the room and stealthily crept down the stairs to the landing outside her bedroom. One of the many curious things about The Burrow was the fact the all the interior doors appeared to have come from different buildings. Ginny’s bedroom door looked like it had come from a medieval castle. It was a huge slab of blackened oak, with large metal bands running across the top and bottom, and a big, old fashioned key hole that you could see through. Silently, Ginny knelt down and peered through it. Almost instantly her shoulders started shaking in silent laughter. Stuffing one hand into her mouth, she used the other to frantically indicate for Harry to take her place. He did so, and what he saw both pleased and shocked him. Ron and Hermione were perched side by side on the end of the bed, and were kissing gently.
As he pulled away from the keyhole, Harry felt Ginny lean over his shoulder as she whispered in his ear, “Do you think we should ask Mum to add Hermione to the clock as well?”