As the second week of October drew to a close, Harry had to admit to himself that he was happy with life, and he had been for so long now that it was a very surreal change in life. He had performed as a stellar student in class, although he was careful to always be behind Hermione in ‘learning’ something new. At other times, he deliberately flubbed it until after Ron or Neville got it right, always being careful to mimic their mistakes, whether the errors were in focus, movement, or words. Sirius had written to him the day after his first Snape prank, and they had taken up a lively, almost daily correspondence, giving Hedwig quite the workout. While his godfather’s health had been quite poor at first, it was steadily improving, and Harry had answered Sirius in the last letter that he would be thrilled to spend the winter hols with him and an old family friend by the name of Remus Lupin. He was excited to get a reply, hoping for it that day. The next step would be subtly convincing Sirius to let Harry move in permanently.
Meanwhile, in the three times that Snape had subsequently tried to use Legilimency on Harry, he had kept the rather alarming flower-filled memory locked in his mind. The day after each attempt, Harry always managed to leave a bouquet of vivid yellow daisies somewhere in the castle where he knew Snape would discover them. Harry could never remember seeing the man with a visible tic on his face before, but the last time Snape had appeared after a flower incident there had been one raging on his face, distorting the man’s eyebrow. When the headmaster tried Legilimency that same evening, Harry had focused on the tight, narrow confines of his cupboard, letting the claustrophobic feelings surge violently. There had been no subsequent attempts.
The pureblood bigots, as Harry liked to think of them, were being decimated in power and prestige. The Daily Prophet was still avidly reporting on scandals, not only implicating elected officials but also levelling charges of bribery, preferential treatment, and more among the Dark supporters. Harry’s initial evidence and pointers had mushroomed into something that was far beyond his own knowledge, and he was thoroughly enjoying the fallout. Between priming Kingsley and baiting Rita, the pair had simply unleashed the hounds of hell in an effort to root out the corruption or the juiciest gossip of the century, depending on their respective interests.
The month of November had been slated to handle dozens of lengthy serious court cases, and the Prophet — with Rita Skeeter being her usual nasty self — was at the centre of the clamour. Harry had to admit that it pleased him greatly that her venom was now directed at those that truly deserved it, which hitherto had seemed to be something novel in the magical world. The various students of those families under investigation found themselves pulled from Hogwarts, with few returning. A few of the older Slytherin students were being charged with crimes as well, while the younger ones were finding that the financing of their education was no longer possible as a result of the sequestration of their family assets by the ministry. Those students that did manage to return were humbled greatly, their formerly superior attitudes now replaced with ones of open worry and hidden fear.
Harry had once again been picked for the Quidditch team, but for completely different reasons. With Malfoy gone and many of the nastier Slytherins afraid or missing, Neville had no chance to lose his Remembrall after a broom accident that never happened. For that matter, Neville had no problems controlling the broom with the gentle reassurances that Harry and Ron had been giving both Hermione and Neville. While most of the students flew as directed, when Madam Hooch gave them some free time near the end to play, Harry had cut loose a bit. He tried hard not to show off and just look like a good but natural flyer, but in hindsight his relatively slow and tame performance of a Wronski feint had probably landed him the job as Seeker. Wood was ecstatic, and Harry had badgered Ron and Neville into helping him train, since he obviously had no knowledge of the game. Hermione had volunteered to get involved as well, though she preferred to stay on the ground and toss the balls back up to whomever was throwing them for Harry.
Hermione had, naturally, been the best at Transfiguration, and she led their quartet in revision for those lessons. Neville had demonstrated his superior knowledge at Herbology, while Harry had shown strictly outside of class that he was excellent at DADA. It was the redirected Ron, however, that surprised him — Ron was almost a natural at Charms when he was not trying to be lazy. With the tightening of their group and the encouragement for Hermione to help them, Ron’s laziness was nowhere in sight, and Harry had high hopes that his jealousy would never surface.
As they made their way out of the Great Hall that Saturday morning, Dumbledore called out to them. “A moment, Mr Potter, if you please?”
Harry knew there was no avoiding this meeting, so he waved his friends off. “Go ahead and start without me. If we can get our homework done this morning, we’ll have all weekend to try out some of those moves on the pitch or those spells Hermione found in the library.”
He watched the others head off, and he had a sinking feeling in his heart as Dumbledore motioned him to play follow-the-leader. Harry knew where they were going and knew he was in danger of being on the receiving end of a serious Legilimency attempt. He had to block it, but that would mean revealing secrets to the headmaster that he was completely unprepared to deal with. Sadly, there were no students nearby he could sabotage in some manner — spilled books, getting seriously stuck in a trick step, chased by a suit of armour — to defer the pending confrontation.
As he followed Dumbledore into the office, he dropped into the chair the headmaster pointed to, smiling at Fawkes. “That must be a phoenix,” he said while nodding at the bird sleeping on a perch. “I’ve heard of them.”
“Indeed, Mr Potter,” Dumbledore said with his own smile and a slight twinkle to his eyes. “Fawkes is a phoenix. But I have things I must discuss with you, and we shall have to chat about him later.”
Harry knew it was serious, since the headmaster rarely missed an opportunity to talk about random and obscure bits of magic. “Is there something wrong, sir?”
Dumbledore leaned back in his chair, and Harry realised the man was sad. It was an unusual expression for the headmaster, and Harry was hard pressed to remember if he had ever seen such before. “I should think so, Mr Potter, or if you don’t mind, may I call you Harry?” Harry nodded his acceptance, and the headmaster continued. “I don’t think I can recall a year of more upheaval than we have seen the past two months alone.”
“Err, are you talking about those articles in the Prophet, sir?” Harry was very concerned at that thought, since he knew exactly why those events were happening now.
“Yes, Harry. I hope you don’t think poorly of the magical world, despite a few bad eggs suddenly appearing.”
Harry cautiously let out a sigh of relief. Perhaps he would be safe after all. “No, sir. There are bad Muggles, just as there are bad anything, I suppose. I like being here. It’s much better than living with my, uh, relatives, sir.”
“Is it?” Dumbledore’s twinkle almost disappeared at that statement. “We shall have to discuss that later, perhaps. Harry, I called you here because I have received a letter from Sirius Black, with whom I know you have been in contact. He has asked that you live with him, instead of your relatives, as that is what your parents desired.”
Harry stopped breathing for a very long moment. Sirius had asked directly for Harry to live with him, and now Harry would not have to hint or push Sirius into making the request. “Wow, that would be wicked! Err, as Ron would say, sir.”
Dumbledore smiled faintly at Harry but did not seem to share in the excitement. “Perhaps it would, Harry. I am happy to tell you that you will be spending the winter holidays, as well as the Easter ones if you choose, with your godfather. However, there are… other factors that must be considered before we can talk about making the arrangement permanent.”
Harry decided then and there that such a vague answer was not going to fly with him. Putting on a confused expression, he looked carefully at the headmaster, his Occlumency shields fully active. “I don’t understand, sir. Are you my guardian in some way? If my parents wanted me to live with him, then I should.”
Dumbledore frowned and closed his eyes. When he opened them again, there was no twinkle at all, and the man’s degree of exhaustion was evident. “Are you willing to defer an answer to this until a bit closer to the summer? There are things I must discover before I will know whether it is safe.”
Harry felt new levels of hope that he would escape from this meeting unscathed. “I suppose, sir. I’m thrilled he asked, truly, and if you need to be sure it’s safe, I don’t mind waiting. But I don’t see why it would be safer with my relatives than with him, especially considering what they think of me, err, us, sir.”
“Very well, Harry,” Dumbledore sighed. “If I find it unsafe, I shall try to explain to you the whys and wherefores of your safety.”
Harry wanted to shout in triumph, for he knew that there would be no roadblocks to living with Sirius. Before the academic year was up, Harry had every intention of seeing this game over and done with. “Okay, sir. I’ll wait to hear from you then, right?”
Dumbledore gave Harry a smile, and he was happy to see a bit of twinkle back in the man’s eye. “Very good, Harry. I won’t keep you any longer. Enjoy your time with your friends.”
“Thank you, sir,” Harry said as he stood. It was hard to leave as fast as possible without showing he was in a rush.
oOo oOo oOo
“Ginny!” Harry called, spotting the redhead standing next to her parents. Ron was walking beside him with Neville and Hermione right behind them. “How’ve you been?”
Harry had sent no letters of his own, but he had obliquely pushed Ron into sending a letter to his family every few weeks. Harry would always catch him just before he was finished, asking Ron to put a “Hi from Harry” to everyone, with a question at the end of the last letter before the holidays — “Ginny, will you be on the platform?” The response had come atypically fast, a very short one-line response from Ron’s sister. Mrs Weasley had sent the normal reply days later, but that one line was hopefully going to live in Harry’s memory for a long time. I’ll be waiting — Ginny.
Mrs Weasley’s reply had explained at length about how they had been planning a big trip to Romania, but that the ongoing scandals and raids had left Mr Weasley, in particular, more than busy, and he could no longer get other than a day or two off. Harry felt slightly guilty at that, but not enough to offset the glee he felt when the headline of the Prophet that morning had proclaimed the imminent dismissal of Fudge and his entire cabinet, not to mention the pending criminal charges that Auror Shacklebolt was preparing.
Harry was very happy to see Ginny standing there blushing and smiling back at him, but he was also happy to see Sirius standing not two yards away from the Weasleys. They had apparently been in deep conversation, as the group collectively turned to face him. Harry knew he had to change tactics immediately, or else there would be repercussions — if he focused on Ginny, everyone would find it odd. He had to appear to favour Sirius for now.
Harry turned away from the blushing and smiling redhead and faced Sirius head-on. “Sirius! It’s great to see you in person!” Harry stopped an arm’s length from his godfather, immensely pleased to see him standing about in public, looking healthy and well-dressed — something he had no memory of ever seeing before.
“Hello, Harry,” Sirius said with a smile, though Harry could see the tension behind it. Harry knew it was nervousness at meeting face to face at last, and he helped out his godfather by grabbing him in a hug and squeezing as hard as he could manage. When he stepped back, Sirius was beaming brightly at everyone nearby, and Harry knew he had done the right thing.
Harry quickly introduced Neville and Hermione, which earned a look of uncertainty from Ginny, but he winked at her when no one was looking, causing the return of her blush and smile. He hoped that whatever memories he would leave himself when his plan was complete would let him beat Neville, and thus Michael Corner, to the prize, assuming Ginny still wanted to go out with him, but all of that was years away. Worse, to his current mind, he would never remember what he might be missing one way or the other in the end, but the goal was for his friends to be happy and safe — even if that meant a different relationship outcome this time.
As Ron introduced his family, which earned Harry a gentle hug from Mrs Weasley and a handshake from Mr Weasley, Neville’s grandmother wandered over. The group became quite loud, introductions mixing with proclamations and invitations to visit. Sirius kept one hand on Harry’s shoulder, and Harry felt it was almost heaven to be standing there with everyone still alive, smiling at each other. When the twins finally sneaked into the group, playing tricks on all and sundry, everything became more chaotic, but it was a happy, raucous gathering rather than a sad or angry one. Hermione’s parents joined them, and it was some time before they all reluctantly parted to go their separate ways.
“Cheer up, Harry,” Sirius said with a smile, “I was talking to the Weasleys about dropping by their place after Christmas. Thought you might like to visit your friends.”
Harry smiled up at Sirius, pleased again at having his godfather with him once more. “That’d be great, Sirius. But I want to spend time with you, too, and learn all about you and my parents. And this Lupin fellow that you tell me I should call Moony.”
Sirius grinned and grabbed onto Harry’s shoulder with one hand and Harry’s trunk with the other. “Hold on tight, Harry, we’re going.” With a quick motion, they Apparated right into the foyer at Number Twelve, Grimmauld Place. “Kreacher!” Sirius called out in a harsh whisper while Harry was still recovering from the abrupt transport.
It was dark and dismal in Grimmauld Place, much as Harry expected. The floors were clean, which was the only improvement he could discern, but Harry knew how he was going to fix this for Sirius. “Kreacher, you pathetic elf, get out here!” Harry knew Sirius was keeping his volume down to prevent waking the portrait of his mother, but that was a problem for later.
Harry was sad to see Kreacher treated this way, but he knew he had to fix it one step at a time. This would be almost too easy once he had Kreacher’s loyalty. “Traitorous Master called?” the elf grumbled.
“Kreacher, this is Harry. He’s the master of the house in my absence, and you will follow his orders, is that clear?” There was an overt threat in Sirius’ voice, and Harry could see Kreacher cower a bit.
“Yes, must obey filthy half-blood like bad Master says,” Kreacher moaned. “Defiling his Mistress’ house, they is.”
Sirius shrugged at Harry, as if to remind him of the warnings he had received in the letters. “Err, Sirius, where’s Moony?”
Sirius’ smile slipped for a moment. “He’s a little sick right now, Harry. I’ll probably stay up with him tonight, but you’ll get to meet him tomorrow. Is that all right?”
Harry smiled. “Sure, I hope he feels better.” Looking at Kreacher, who was still cowering in the foyer, Harry decided to go ahead and secure the item on the agenda he needed before the full moon that night. “Err, I don’t want to upset you, Sirius, but I don’t think Kreacher really deserves to be treated that badly.”
Before Sirius could verbalise his disgust with the elf, Harry held up his hands in silent entreaty. “Really, Sirius, do you mind if I try to work on him? I’m sure that you and he must have a long history to get over, but I think he’d be fine if given a chance. Since you’ll be with Moony tonight, may I talk to Kreacher about it? Please?”
Sirius looked disgusted at the mere idea, and Harry could see the denial coming. That would make things more complicated, but he had to give Sirius the chance to see another way forward. With a sigh, Sirius shook his head slightly. “You can try, Harry, but promise me this. Don’t trust blindly.”
“Great!” Harry gave Sirius another hug, albeit briefer than the one at the platform. “Now, where’s my room?”
With a laugh, Sirius led Harry up the stairs, but when Harry looked back, he caught the surprised expression on Kreacher’s face. He knew the elf would take some convincing, but Harry had high hopes.
oOo oOo oOo
Harry waited patiently until the light of the full moon was radiating down on England before he decided it was safe to act. Sirius and Remus would be fully occupied tonight, and that meant no interference for Harry.
“Kreacher!” Harry shouted. “Kreacher, come here!”
With a sullen groan, Kreacher appeared before him. “Baby Master half-blood called Kreacher?” The irritation was evident in his voice.
“Kreacher, please have a seat. I need to talk to you.” Kreacher had that surprised look on his face again as he sat on the floor. “I know what your beloved Regulus was doing, and I’m here to finish the job. If you’ll help me, Kreacher, I’ll show you how to do what your master asked of you so that you can honour his request. I’ll also give you his most prized possession, the fake locket that looks like the real one you’ve stashed in the drawing room here. I know how to destroy the real locket.”
Kreacher stared at him, shaking his head from side to side. “Listen, Kreacher, we don’t have much time. You know what Master Regulus was doing, as do I. I have to finish what he started, or else everything is going to get very, very bad. I don’t need your help, but it would make things a lot easier. Aside from finishing his work, I’ll also be able to get Sirius to treat you with the respect you deserve because of your loyalty to Regulus, and at the same time make your Mistress happy.”
“Baby Master promises too much!” Kreacher cried. “Master Regulus died trying, how can Junior Master know better?”
Harry sighed. “Kreacher, I swear that I will not harm you. If you will come with me, I will take us to the cave and extract the fake locket. I will give that locket, the last object Regulus made, to you to keep in his memory. If I do this to prove that what I speak is true, will you help me?”
“Junior Master knows how to finish Master Regulus’ orders?”
“Yes, Kreacher, I do. Help me, and it will all be done tonight. If you don’t help me, it will take me a few days, but I’ll finish it all the same.”
Kreacher sat rocking like a child with brain damage, and Harry knew that Kreacher was, in his own way, damaged horribly. He also knew what Kreacher could become given a chance, and he wanted to see Kreacher happy again. Finally, Kreacher stood. “Take us, then, Junior Master.”
With a smile for how quickly things were going to happen, Harry reached out and gently took Kreacher’s hand. With one massive effort, he Apparated them to the entrance outside the cave. “This is as far as I can Apparate us, Kreacher. I know you can take us straight to the island in the lake, but there’s magic here that stops wizards from doing that.” Kreacher nodded slowly, but Harry paid him little attention as he used his wand to make a small gash in his hand.
Walking into the cave, Harry took Kreacher to the invisible boat, and they crossed in silence to the island, though Kreacher rocked back and forth slowly as the boat moved and tried not to stare at the corpses drifting just below the waters’ surface. He was terrified, Harry could tell, but there was no helping it. Harry needed to secure Kreacher’s aid, and this was the required price to do so.
When they reached the island, Harry picked up the goblet that was waiting. “There’s always a solution to a puzzle, Kreacher. This goblet is the only thing that can remove the potion from the basin, and it can only be poured into a living mouth. The basin and the locket inside are protected from any magic of mine to remove them. But there’s another way.”
Carefully, Harry focused his magic and cast a silent spell at the base of the goblet. A small, perfectly round hole appeared near the bottom of the bowl. With another flick of his wand, he conjured a large basin to hold the potion he was about to extract. As Kreacher watched, Harry scooped out the potion and let it drain into the basin. There were always alternatives, and it had taken Harry some time to realise that Dumbledore’s approach had been simple but far too deadly.
When the potion was drained sufficiently, Harry took the fake locket out, opened it, and handed it to Kreacher after extracting the note still inside. “Here, Kreacher. Keep this in honour of the memory of Regulus. You never failed him. You just haven’t quite finished the last task yet. If you help me, we can finish it together.”
Kreacher had tears in his eyes, and it left Harry feeling rather embarrassed at the open expression of adoration on the elf’s face. Harry handed the note to the elf, giving him the time to read it repeatedly. “We can destroy the real one?”
“Yes, Kreacher. In fact, you can do it all by yourself, once we get to the right place.”
“Junior Master knows where to go?”
“Just like I knew of this room, Kreacher, I know where to go.” Harry gently pulled the chain on the fake locket out of Kreacher’s grip and fastened it around his neck. He tucked the note from Regulus back inside it and closed it with a faint snap. “Shall we do as Master Regulus wished, Kreacher?”
“Yes, Master Harry.” Kreacher was now folding the locket with one hand, and the other took Harry’s outstretched one. Together, they got in the boat and crossed the still waters of the lake. Safely outside of the cave entrance, Harry tightened his grip on Kreacher’s hand and Apparated them back into his room at Number Twelve.
“All right, Kreacher. If you’ll fetch the real locket and keep it on you, I’ll get my trunk, and we’ll go finish this. We have a few more items like that locket to collect though, okay?” Harry watched as Kreacher bobbed his head once and disappeared with a pop. Before he even took one step toward the trunk, Kreacher was back with another pop, smiling and holding the real locket in one fist.
With a snap of his fingers, Kreacher had Harry’s trunk in his other hand, and he looked ready to move immediately. Harry laughed softly and smiled at the elf. “Great, Kreacher. The first stop is going to be a house outside of Little Hangleton, the house of the Gaunts.” Harry reached out one hand to grip Kreacher’s shoulder, and with a crack, they were gone.
oOo oOo oOo
Harry had the Gaunt ring in his trunk’s third compartment, having left a cheap and tawdry plastic ring from the bottom of a Cracker Jack box in its place.
Harry had the Diary, stolen from the Auror department’s evidence room, a copy of The Dirty Dozen left in its place.
Kreacher had added the real locket to his trunk after seeing how well protected it was. Kreacher insisted on carrying the trunk himself, though, which was fine with Harry.
They were back in the house at Number Twelve, and Harry was faced with a difficult choice: break into Gringotts again or arrange for some bribery. Kreacher was moving about his bedroom, cleaning everything with a vigour Harry had missed seeing. The little elf moved almost as though he were teleporting from one spot to another.
The elf stopped what he was doing and looked up expectantly. “Yes, Master Harry?”
“Can you, as an elf, get into Gringotts undetected? I know wizards can’t, but I don’t know about elves.”
“Yes, Master Harry. The goblins use a different type of magic, and they had wizards put down the blocks for other wizards. No elf has ever put in blocks.”
Harry knew his smile was quite diabolical. “It’s possible for one wizard to give a mental picture to another, Kreacher. Is there some way you can see a picture in my mind and go there?”
Kreacher tugged at one long ear for a moment before slowly nodding.
“Excellent. There are two objects to collect left, Kreacher. One is in a Gringotts vault, and the other is at Hogwarts. When we get to Hogwarts, that’s the last one. The problem is the Gringotts one. If you can get the object and come back, we’ll be finished in no time.” Harry checked his watch, seeing that it was shortly before three in the morning. Dealing with the protections around the Auror department had been far too time-consuming.
“Yes, Master Harry.”
“Great. I’m thinking about the place and the object we need. Be careful when you pick it up, Kreacher — it will turn very hot, and many more will appear around it. Likewise, anything you touch is going to do the same thing. It’s how they guard their treasures from thieves. Don’t be fooled, and come right back — the cup will stop hurting you as soon as you leave Gringotts.” Harry closed his eyes and tried to remember the Lestrange vault exactly as it was, where the cup was, and what it looked like. “Try hard to get it the first time, Kreacher. I don’t know if we’ll get a second chance at this.”
Harry suddenly felt as if a giant hot iron had been jammed in his brain, and he cried out, but the pain stopped almost immediately as he heard a pop. Panting, Harry opened his eyes, amazed at how painful it had been for the elf magic to look into his memories. Almost immediately, Kreacher reappeared with another pop, crying in misery. The cup fell to the floor with a clank, and Kreacher held his hand, which was burned severely, to his chest.
Harry bent down, ignoring the cup, and pulled his wand out. “Here, Kreacher, let me help!” With a quick numbing spell, Kreacher stopped moaning, but the hand was seriously burned, more so than he had expected.
“They did trap it against elves, sir,” Kreacher cried, “it went white-hot when I touched it!”
“I’m so sorry, Kreacher,” Harry said as he gently pulled the elf’s hand out. “I’m going to cast a Healing Charm on it, which should help. But we’ll have to get this looked at properly tomorrow and get you fixed up. I promise to take care of Sirius, all right?”
Kreacher nodded, and Harry was happy to see the elf trusted him. Casting the best Healing Charm he had learned from the books years ago, Harry saw the wound scab over, although it was far from healed. “Right. Will you be okay to continue with me, Kreacher? Or would you like to stay here and rest?”
Kreacher shook his head, tears in his eyes again. “Kreacher wants to come, Master Harry.”
“Good. I’m glad to have your company.” Harry picked up the cup and chucked it into the trunk with the other objects. “Let’s go.” Gently taking Kreacher’s shoulder in one hand, Harry Apparated them to the base of the Honeydukes’ tunnel into Hogwarts.
Cautioning Kreacher to be quiet, Harry led the elf straight to the Room of Requirement. Pacing three times, Harry opened the door and moved straight to where the diadem was kept. Taking the trunk from Kreacher, Harry opened it and put the diadem in with the other Horcruxes. Silently, Harry led Kreacher back into the corridor and then to Moaning Myrtle’s bathroom.
After he opened the entrance, Harry told Kreacher to follow him, and they both slid down the tunnel to the cave outside the Chamber of Secrets. Harry explained what the area was, and what they were going to do about it, as he led the elf right up to the massive doors that opened into the chamber proper.
“Can you do that for me, Kreacher?”
Nodding, Kreacher disappeared with a pop. Harry sat down to wait, knowing it would take a few minutes before the elf returned. Aside from the Gringotts raid, this was the most precarious moment in the entire plan, as Hagrid or Fang might hear Kreacher’s efforts at temporary liberation. With another pop, Kreacher was back, with a large and bulky bag over one shoulder. “Kreacher is ready, Master Harry.”
With a deep breath for courage, Harry uttered the Parseltongue to open the doors. Kreacher followed him into the chamber silently, and then Harry closed the doors behind them. Using his wand as a flashlight, Harry surveyed the opening from which the basilisk would emerge. As he turned around and surveyed the walls, he spotted the torches there. A few quick charms later, and the room was dimly lit with the sickly glowing green light he remembered so well.
“Very well, I’m going to make the netting, and then we’ll do this.” Concentrating, Harry conjured a fine-pitched mesh of quarter-inch steel cable extending from the opening of the statue into a large pool on the floor, making a large, strong, sealed container for the snake. If their first plan failed, they would be safe to try something more drastic. Harry walked over and yanked the mesh several times, assuring himself it was fully secured.
When Kreacher gave him a tremulous smile, Harry had to smile back. It would be some time yet before the elf became a happy and content member of the family, but Harry could see it was coming. Flicking his wand about the room, Harry extinguished all the lights. “Go ahead, Kreacher,” he called out into the darkness.
There was a loud rustling, and then he heard Kreacher’s voice. “We’re ready, Master Harry.”
Harry turned back to the statue and cried out in Parseltongue as Riddle had long before. “Speak to me, Slytherin, greatest of the Hogwarts Four.”
He could hear the grating noise of the statue moving slightly and the sibilant hissing of a giant snake woken from a long slumber. As the noise grew louder, Harry closed his eyes, yelling out, “Kreacher, eyes closed and open the bag!” Immediately he cast the strongest “Lumos!” that he could manage.
The sound of roosters crowing filled the Chamber, and he could hear a great thrashing about. Suddenly it sounded not like skin on stone but skin on metal, tearing open. While the roosters continued to crow, the snake continued to move, but its sounds were weakening, growing faint. When all noise except the roosters had finally ceased, Harry opened his eyes carefully. The basilisk was dead, its eyes closed and its mouth open.
“Kreacher, it worked!” Harry turned to see Kreacher running toward him, a bright smile upon his face.
“Master Harry did it! Master Harry did it!”
As Kreacher clung to his legs, Harry rested one hand on his shoulder softly. “No, Kreacher, we did it. Now, would you like to be the one to finish what Master Regulus started?”
Harry could see the answer on Kreacher’s face and just smiled at him. “Go on, then, Kreacher. Be careful not to touch the fangs yourself, or you could be seriously injured, even killed, before we can get help.” Harry stood back and watched as Kreacher slowly destroyed every Horcrux with basilisk venom. Harry directed him to be sure that the stone in the Gaunt ring was destroyed as well, just to eliminate that path of future temptation.
Once all the objects were no longer Horcruxes, Harry performed a Scouring Charm on each and put them back in his trunk. “Keepsakes for later, Kreacher, I think Dumbledore will like them,” he said with smile. “I need a dash of venom for one more use tonight, but then we’re done.”
Harry pulled a small steel box out of the third compartment from his trunk. Opening it, he extracted from a mound of velvet padding a small yet thick glass jar, which was filled with a viscous clear fluid. After he gently removed the specially made glass lid, Harry carefully set it on the floor. Reaching into the compartment again, he extracted a pair of very thick rubber gloves that reached to his elbows after he put them on.
Kreacher watched him with wide eyes as Harry used his wand to palpate the venom glands, collecting the potent toxin in the glass jar with the clear fluid. The resulting compound was a weak and lurid green. When he felt that the mixture was sufficiently lethal, he stopped the palpations and very carefully repackaged the jar and the gloves. Relaxing with a deep sigh, Harry gave Kreacher a crooked grin. “Right, then. Let’s round up the roosters and return them to Hagrid before we go home, eh?”
Together, they stuffed the roosters back in the sack, and Kreacher took them back to Hagrid’s coop near the gamekeeper’s cabin. That done, Harry told the elf he would meet him back at the house since Kreacher could leave directly and Harry had to walk back to the tunnel, but Kreacher would have nothing to do with it. Instead, the little elf wrapped his arms around Harry’s leg, and at just past four-fifteen in the morning, they both arrived with a pop back in Harry’s bedroom at Number Twelve.
oOo oOo oOo
This will be a very short fic — just five chapters.
Thanks, as always, to the betas. Chreechree, cwarbeck, Reg, Lathac, Sherylyn, and Sovran all lent their usual thoughts and commentary, warranted or otherwise.