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Someone To Run To (31/32 - Part Two)

 

There was a terrible, impenetrable silence.

My hands shook, and I felt myself collapse backwards, finding myself seated on a trunk that had appeared behind me without my noticing. The locket, now a melted jumble of metal, tumbled from my hands and hit the floor with a dull, yellow thud. In a daze, I looked at the melted metal that encapsulated my Basilisk wound; it hurt like hell, but at least it wasn't spouting venom, for the moment.

Well, I thought, I've done it again. Four down. Just the Cup, the whatever-else, and the bastard to go. I-

I became aware of a heavy pounding on the door. Thinking I should get it, I tried to force myself to rise, luckily avoiding that obstacle when the door came crashing inwards, tearing apart into splinters before it could land next to the mangled and still smoking box labelled, oddly enough, "Misc. IRA."

"Éléonore," Severus went, as worried as I'd ever heard him sound, which might still have sounded gruff to other's ears but was enough for me to know he must have been trying at the door for ages. "What the hell happened here?" His nose was wrinkling from the noxious smell of the burning "Misc. IRA," but he was more concerned about me then the house potentially burning down around us.

I opened my mouth, closed it again, then pointed at the locket by my feet. I broke into something halfway between laughter and a sob. "I guess," I choked out with some difficulty (primarily because Severus had crushed me close against him and, gathering both me and defunct locket, was in the process of taking me downstairs, "that someone in the Black family knew R.A.B." I should have guessed it earlier – the Blacks were well known for their Dark ways, their last name began with the letter "B" and, even if the R.A.B in question wasn't one of them, chances were that they knew a Death Eater with those initials. For the locket to be in this house, R.A.B couldn't have been a member of the Order. If it was a member of the Order who stole the locket, Dumbledore would have known and, when he'd seen the locket (but had he? Had he looked at it at all?), when he'd seen the cave, he'd have known. He'd have known they'd already taken it and they'd never have entered, or, at the very least, he'd have mentioned something about having had an accomplice once, or so I like to think. Ergo, it could only have been a Death Eater. A turncoat Death Eater, presumably, for the locket had no protections and, as far as I knew, the Black townhouse held no special meaning for Voldemort, unlike its original cave. Everyone thought I'd destroyed Voldemort in '81. No one would have gone looking to destroy him or leave a note for him to read if they thought he'd already been destroyed. A turncoat Death Eater from the first war; someone who couldn't have been born later then '64, probably a pure or half-blood, and probably not Rudolph Andrew Brand either, the Quidditch star who proposed to a Harpies player after beating them and got beat himself for his troubles. Yes, that was honestly the closest I'd come to finding out who R.A.B. might be before now, and, probably, as close as I would remain.

I felt myself being lowered onto a bed and was surprised by this – I didn't feel like I needed to rest at all. Hell, I'd barely noticed anything but him as he'd carried me from the attic. His arms were safe, were home… Maybe I needed a stiff drink, but a lie down? No – and left for a moment so that he could shout down the stairs, "Lupin, floo Poppy – she's hurt herself again," before turning back to me and asking, eyebrow raised, "You find a seventh of the Dark Lord's soul in the attic after you've been in a coma for a week and, quite naturally, you decide to take care of it without, say, warning us to have medical supplies on hand?"

Sighing, I struggled to sit up and decided that now was, probably, not time to debate about whether it was an eighth or a half or a whatnot, but found myself held down by one of Severus's warm, calloused hands. After the despair and fear I'd felt in the attic, it was all I could do not to sink into his touch. I settled for grabbing a handful of his shirt and kissing him mightily before having to be bothered with breathing. "I'm a Gryffindor, remember? We're idiotic and impulsive. I saw it and… And at least I called for you first; how was I to know that the door would lock itself? Can I get up now?"

"No."

"It's just my arm. It's not spitting out Basilisk venom anymore and, Merlin yes, it hurts like hell, but I'm mobile. Can I at least be tortured in the kitchen? There's food there. And, ostensibly, our children. I'd kinda like to see them. And I imagine Henri-Auguste is hungry."

"I thought you might prefer the bed rest I'm going to force upon you if you were in an actual bed, as opposed to strapped down to the kitchen table."

"A lot can happen in a week, obviously. Horcruces wind up in the attic, children are born; my husband gets into bondage…"

He rolled his eyes, but moved closer to me, examining my icy fingers. He couldn't see Tonks, who, with her hair short and spiked and pumpkin-y, had appeared in the doorway to see what I'd managed to do to myself this time. Though, from the way her face was quickly contorting to look like one of those people you see on the news sometimes saying books like Cat's Cradle and To Kill a Mockingbird, I supposed all she'd heard of the last part was, "…into bondage…" She seemed to change her mind halfway through, though, and gave herself instead flowing read hair and emerald green eyes…

"Technically," she said calmly, entering the room without tripping and making it all the way to one of the chairs by my bed before falling over her own two feet, "if it's bondage, it's you that hurt her, Snapey, not herself."

Professorially (and without looking around), he retorted, "I seem to recall an incident, Mrs. Lupin, in a seventh floor broom closet…" still turning my hands over in his.

She crunched up her face and returned it to her normal look, "I'll have you know I tripped into-"

I took my free hand and clapped it to my ear. "I don't want to hear about this," I said loudly, struggling to free my other hand or, at least, burry my other ear somewhere dark and far away, "I don't want to hear about this. I don't- Merlin, my hands are cold… Okay, neither of you can say a word about anything until my hands unfreeze. I guess there's a reason you're not supposed to shoot sauretodis without a wand… You haven't seen it, have you? I'd rather like it back…"

He gives me a look that says, "Isn't bad enough that you're taking on Horcruces the day you got out of a week-long coma? Do you really need to be battling slivers of the Dark Lord's soul without your (insert your choice of expletive here) wand?" I don't know what I was expecting next (probably something about the implication that I could shoot an Acid Death spell from your fingertips, id est, without a wand, as being ridiculous, foolhardy, and just plain impossible), but it certainly wasn't Tonks, propping her feet up on the edge of my bed and saying in a serious tone:

"Is that why it smells like burning tires up here? God, Ely, I know some of Sirius's records are horrible, but you couldn't have at least melted them outside?"

It was impossible not to snort at that. "Well, I did get into an argument with most of the contents of the attic, but the melting of things was completely accidental…" I trailed off uncertainly, suddenly curious as to if that green dragon hide jacket had survived. I was already quite taken with it and, Merlin willing, I'd be down to my pre-baby weight soon… And I was going to have to make sure I stayed that way. As in, I was going to have to get every form of birth control known to man and dog to make sure there wasn't another "accident." If Severus and I wanted more children, they'd better come when we wanted them…

"Why you turning so red?" the metamorphmagus asked. I flushed scarlet and hoped to Merlin that Severus wasn't trying legimancy on me this instant.

He didn't appear to be, but who knew? My husband, the greatest human being ever to exist (yes, I know, it is Severus I'm talking about), graciously changed the subject. "The Drs. Granger with the children?"

"What have I done," she sighed exasperatedly, "to make you think I'd leave two infants alone in this place?" Her arms flew into the air at that, and her hair turned a morose shade of turquoise. I'd never known turquoise to be morose until I'd met Tonks. She's told me once she'd gotten a book somewhere, something like a colour dictionary it was, and every day for the entirety of her Fourth Year she went through it and tried a new one; her parents had thrown a fit when she'd showed up to her (Muggle) cousin's wedding with Safety Orange hair. She claimed it was only alphabetical – she'd had rust-coloured hair the day before and saffron the day after – but she said it with such a look that it was hard to believe her.

Rolling his eyes in a way that told of seven years of reasons, he turned and looked at me, every ounce of him the exuding concern and protectiveness that had become all too common on him recently. I regretted that I'd been the source of so much of his pain… but Voldemort needed to be destroyed, and I was an idiot, and that pretty much covered all our possible options. "I've not seen anything like this in a while," he loosed my hands; "so do try to behave yourself while I make the potion?"

My look was one of, "Whenever have I not?" that didn't seem to satisfy him in the least, but he went to gather his potion things. I snuck down to the kitchen as soon as he was out of sight. Tonks, containing a laugh, did the same.

The Grangers did not seem to find it amusing that, one moment, I say I'm going to kip upstairs and see if I can find a leather jacket and clean the attic some before the bread's done, the next I'm hobbling down the stairs because my legs feel like jell-o with gold melted into my elbow, a couple of interesting scrapes, and hands that looked to be (according to Madam Pomprey, who flooed in as I went to stir the stew and discovered my wand in the drawer where we kept such spoons) in the second stage of frostbite.

I also, quickly, came to the conclusion that whatever Hermione had told them about Hogwarts, it included very little of the Darker side of things. They're house had been destroyed, their livelihoods taken away from them, by Death Eaters, and all they'd known was that some wizards didn't much care for those who weren't wizard-born. It must have been a shock, coming here, to a house that still hinted at evil despite Andi's attempts otherwise to find out there was a war going on, and that things they'd rather read about were happening right under their noses.

That, and, while I knew (I had been over to Hermione's house this summer a couple of times, though only knew them in brief hello before hiding out in their living room with a season of Deep Space Nine and oversized pot of popcorn sort of way) they knew that one of their daughter's school friends had asked her to be her child's godmother, it also seemed that she'd never bothered to explain said school friend was still in school with her.

Oh well, I lied to Hermione quite often myself. Still, it probably would've been good to know before Madam Pomprey, dragging me imperiously from the stove, forced me into a seat and began to lecture me on "the stupidity of going after things in forbidden corridors," "entering mythical chambers," "chasing escaped criminals," "fighting dragons, Grindylows, Dark Lords, and their assorted minions," and, most amusedly, "giving birth while comatose," because, apparently, it's hard to tell how far apart contractions are when the mother is writhing from dream-induced pain, let alone tell said mother when and when not to push.

"I didn't plan on being coma- ouch!" I insisted as she did a spell that made a scraping noise as a thin patina of gold came off my (now rather swollen) elbow, "It kinda just – hey – happened. And I had really good excuses for most of that." I smiled sheepishly at the nurse. "Any idea how I got in that coma?"

"You mean you don't know?"

"I wouldn't ask if I knew. Tonks?" I asked, twisting around to find my pseudo-cousin poking around in the cupboards, "If you want something to do so badly, I think the kids want dinner. Mind taking Claudia?" She didn't, though Claudia minded the mushy peas that Tonks managed to round up for her. The Grangers (who were, at this point, helping themselves to soup between Remus, who was looking more pensive then usual, and Victor Talbot, who was looking for Ari and, naturally, chose to stay for dinner while I was upstairs battling family heirlooms) showed the first sign of confusion when Tonks handed me Auguste and, casually tugging down my now grimy tank, I began to breastfeed my son.

"Well, you didn't just wish yourself into a coma – did you?" the nurse asked suspiciously, to which I did a Severus-style raise of eyebrows at her. "And what in Merlin's name did you do to yourself now? I only just finished patching you up."

"I thought you might be bored… What about you, Remus? What exciting things did you and Tonks do this week, besides watch me convalesce?"

Turns out, he'd spent the better part of the weekend obliviating every law enforcement officer between Cardiff and Newport after Death Eaters decided it'd be a good idea to go after Dirk Cresswell of the MoM-before-exile, who lived in Castleton between the too, not knowing he'd decided to go on an extended holiday to the French Riviera a few days before. Disappointed, they'd killed and/or tortured every Muggle in a two block radius, burned for three more, and destroyed a very important electrical substation, leaving a nice swath of the Welsh coast without power until Tuesday. Mr. Weasley had gone with him and gotten almost a mile of electrical wiring out of it. And a garage door opener. It was hard to tell which gift he was happier about, apparently. Tonks, being very pregnant (let me a pause for a moment to celebrate how I am, at last, not; being pregnant is hard work, as is most of the other stuff I've had to do over the past twenty-one months, and doing all of them at once is exhausting. And probably contributing to my insanity), had been… discouraged from going, and had instead been at the Siege of St. Mungo's, bolstering windows and wards, teasing Sirius, and "protecting" the children's ward.

My daughter flung peas at Tonks, going on in what was sure to be a child's version of contempt. "Claudia-Éléonore," I admonished her, "I don't care one way or another whether you eat your dinner or not, but your father might've something to say on the matter." I could've sworn she gave a resigned huff before, without tantrum, allowing Tonks to feed her the rest of the peas.

"Goody-two-shoes," the metamorphmagus huffed at the child. Then, conspiratorially, "You're making me look bad here; stop it. I know a guy who can get you a steal on some Venomous Tentacula seeds."

"Oh, no you don't," Remus said, face all seriousness while his eyes sparkled in a way that reminded me of a certain dead headmaster, "I'm still not fully healed from the last time you had me break into Pomona's greenhouses. Offer her the unicorn horns instead. We've got to get them off our hands before the Ministry raids our place again."

I gave a snort halfway between laughter and pain (pain because having a melted metal pulled from your skin was almost as painful as having molten metal pulled on your skin), and for my safety asked Victor Talbot what he'd been up to.

The room went deathly silent.

Well, not really. Claudia was still making Claudia noises, Auguste the proper Auguste noises as he fed, and the Grangers were making a few of their own as they continued to eat, but everyone else had gone quiet and still. I knew that silence. Thankfully, Henri-Auguste was beginning to tire at this point, and I was able to remove him from my breast without much trouble. I hiked my tank back up (desire to look professional and capable, I suppose, while acting as Minister kicking in) as I moved to put my son in the crib that remained by the Russian oven, he began to fuss though. "Demanding little thing," I sighed, but shifted him to a more comfortable position before proffering my arm for Madam Pomprey to continue working on; my fingers were feeling a little better, or so it seemed, because I could feel them shaking with slight fear at what was to come. Remus dealing with Death Eaters and blackouts near Cardiff I could handle. As awful and terrible as that was, it was too large and too impersonal for me to feel dreadfully terrible about – though I had seen the way the Grangers had looked when Remus, in his sad and casual way, had told me, and a part of me wished still to feel that pain, and a smaller part of me was glad that I no longer did – as was Tonks's doings at St. Mungo's. With Tonks, you could laugh about how ineffectual the Death Eater's were down on the Muggle street, largely doing nothing but boxing them in, which wasn't to say they weren't being damaging and trying to tamper with the floo and all that, but any day when they didn't grab some passing Muggles and do some unkind things to them was a good day in my book, because it was the rescue missions that cost us the most. Besides, Voldemort may have gotten the MoM building, may have installed a puppet government and whatnot, but the fact remained that the foreign MoMs acknowledged me, not him, and without outside help he wasn't yet strong enough to have his people doing magic in full view of Muggles and get rid of any sort of emergency services, government researches, and/or television newscasters that might show up (nor had he, presumably, to find a magical way of stopping modern Muggle weaponry). Hell, with Tonks one could even laugh over her continual argument with her cousin, because she thought it'd be a great idea for a sense of continuity at the Moskva Museum of Wizarding History's photo gallery (which was important for historical reasons, she'd continue, and as she'd start passing out Wizarding cameras to the patients) for everyone to stop calling The Siege of St. Mungo's exactly that and call it the Siege of Mungograd instead. When people would point out to her that the hospital wasn't exactly a city, as a name like "Mungograd" might suggest, she'd simply say that the facts weren't important, and history never bothered with them anyway.

As to why I was suddenly so scared of the silence that had fallen, I knew it meant two things: one, my pseudo-family wasn't happy about it or thought I'd be terribly unhappy about it and, two, anything that Victor (who was a lawyer-in-training and mainly sent to deal with the Muggle-end clean-up; there were others that fought for us, and who had died for us, and whose names I knew and counted as scars on my heart) might have to do to solicit this reaction could not be good indeed. "What happened," I said in all seriousness, by which it was understood, "Who died?" and, for those clearer thinking among us, "Please oh please oh please tell me it wasn't the Muggle Prime Minister, because I don't know how we can explain an assassination of him to the Muggle press. I mean, what would they assassinate him for? His views on cricket?"

After a moment, during which Victor Talbot set down his spoon, wiped his mouth on his napkin, and moved his bread around quite more then necessary, he said, "I've spent most of the week in Kingston-upon-Thames."

I couldn't think of anything terribly bad that might happen there of its own accord, so I prepared myself for news of an assassination. Or natural disaster. Or nuclear war. Hmm… Kingston-upon-Thames was in Surrey, and Surry awfully close to London. If a nuclear attack had gone on there, we'd probably be in the fall-out zone at HQ… Wait, Surrey- "How did she die?"

"Your aunt?" I nodded, waiting. The poison I'd fed her on my seventeenth birthday finally seemed to have caught up with her… What death could it have been? There were a thousand poisons nex ranae reginae could have manifested as… Was it quick or painful? Was it gruesome? If I wasn't already numb, I would have gone so while I waited for his answer; I would have been as still as a statue if only Madam Pomprey wasn't débriding gold from my arm…

"They did a lot to her, and she lost a lot of blood, but the ultimate cause of death was being impaled on number six's picket fence," he said quietly. I knew that fence. I'd whitewashed it the summer after Third Year for them, and planted the hollies that had quickly fallen to blight on its far side. I'd dug them up the summer after Fourth. The Dursleys would loan me out like that sometimes. I think they thought they were paying me, or working off a grounding, or something.

"So the poison made her crazy and she jumped out the window?"

"Er…" Victor said after a long, long pause, "No. She was pushed."

Defenestration then? How rarely that seemed to happen outside of Prague… it was such an interesting word, defenestration… as is amiticide, the killing of one's aunt… But I had poisoned her, though I didn't need too; I had taken the nex ranae reginae from Severus, though I knew my own temptations. I knew better, but still did. "…And when Jehu was come to Jezreel, Jezebel heard of it; and she painted her face, and tired head, and looked out at a window. And as Jehu entered in at the gate, she said, 'Had Zimri peace, who slew his master?' And he lifted up his face to the window, and said, 'Who is on my side? who?' And there look out to him two or three eunuchs. And he said, 'Throw her down.' So they threw her down: and some of her blood was sprinkled on the wall, and he trode her under foot…" was my response, and I held Auguste protectively to me.

Tonks looked at me, "Translation please?"

"…And when he was come in, he did eat and drink, and said, 'Go, see now this cursed woman, and bury her: for she is a king's daughter,'" said Severus, coming into the room with something that, even from here, smelled strongly of eucalyptus and mint. "And they went to bury her: but they found no more o her than the skull, and the feet, and the palms of her hands.'"

"Kings II 9:30-35," I sighed. "So who pushed her? Vernon? What form did the poison take, or-?"

"It wasn't the poison. Death Eaters attacked Privet Drive while you were asleep… I believe their thought process was to draw you out, since you'd been gone from Hogwarts since Friday."

"You would think," said the nurse, yanking off another layer of gold from my elbow (which seemed to be getting no thinner), "that they would realize by now that the only time you're ever out of sight is when you're trapped with me."

Tonks, hair a curious shade of Mountbatten pink, "I think the more pressing question is: how on earth did the two of them know that?"

"They read?" her husband offered, pouring himself a fresh cuppa. "I always found the defenestration of Jezebel one of the more bothersome parts. I've always found fanatics who don't overly bother themselves about genocide a bothersome sort."

Deadpan, "I've changed my mind; the most pressing concern is this: where do you read words like defenestration?"

I'd remained quiet throughout this all. It took me a moment to process what had been said. All the pain I'd put myself through, all of the suffering – and for what? for my well-laid murder not even to pan out? for someone else to kill her? It was almost farcical. Disappointing and farcical. And impossible. I'd gotten used to the impossible happening around me, but I'd poisoned my aunt! I deserved to the pain of having her die because of that. I was the one who ought to have the pleasure of murdering her, of watching her go through as much pain as she'd put me through, all those years of virtual slavery she'd sent my way. I was her sister's daughter! She was supposed to love me – and, because she did not, I wanted it to be me who saw her to the final end, not some masked agent of my enemy who thought it might hurt me to see her go. I cared so little for her actual death that even sitting in HQ, holding my infant son and surrounded by people I loved, trying to goad myself into feeling something, the only emotion welling in me at all was a desire to laugh at the insanity of it all…

I didn't ask about Vernon. If they attacked Azkaban South, most likely he was dead too; if not, I really didn't care. On the other hand… "Dudley? He was at Smeltings, yes, when it happened – or did they go after him to?"

"He's fine, or as fine as you can expect him to be, finding out his parents were murdered." That was good, I guess. As much as I disliked my cousin, he was the victim (if differently a victim) here almost as much as I was. "I've spent a lot of time in Kingston-upon-Thames," the seat of Surrey, "setting up a trust for your cousin – enough to hold him through his last year of school and university – and falsifying their wills. Named you the executrix, of course, though not under your own name, in case the Death Eaters get smart and try to find you that way. No, as far as anyone is concerned, the executrix of your aunt and uncle's estate is Alexandria Black, and you're a lawyer at Clifford Chance."

Clumsily pinching the bridge of my nose, "Thanks Victor, I guess." My fingers were pulled from my face and dunked in the unguent Severus had produced. It was one of those things where you couldn't tell if it was hot or cold, only that it burned some, but before long I began to feel tingles in my fingers… and they awoke… During which the conversation turned to other things…

From Hermione's father, an exclamation of surprise. "Éléonore, you look quite young to have too such small children."

"I am quite young. Pass the salt?"

From her mother, slight confusion at what appeared to her a mixing of the facts, "I thought you said you were a professor at Hermione's school."

"I am – you don't need special degrees to teach in the Wizarding world. You can do it right out of school if someone wants to hire you; in my case, they didn't wait."

"Wait?"

"'Til I was out of school. I'm a Seventh Year, more or less. Please tell me someone thought to pick up dessert, or I'm going to have to break into the emergency Dementor stash." My elbow, now given up on for the moment and bandaged, followed me to the cabinets as I opened and closed them in search of chocolate.

"There should still be some biscuits in there somewhere," Remus offered before turning to the Drs. Granger. "If it helps you any, Éléonore is the strong witch I know. Maybe even stronger then Dumbledore was-"

"Remus!" I exclaimed in embarrassment.

"It's true, though. You're strong. And Dumbledore shared something with you before he was murdered, something that can end this war."

Severus decided to add his two Knuts worth, "Uncharismatic, feeble, seventeen-year-old witches don't often become Minister of Magic."

I stuck my tongue out at him and, grabbing an unopened package of biscuits and a litre of milk, I began my march upstairs. "Just for that, you can put your daughter to bed yourself."

I was on the third step when one of the Granger's asked what my outburst was all about. "Hormones," was what Severus replied.

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I lay in bed atop the covers. It was dark. My elbow ached, but more from the awkward weight of the gold that remained then from the Basilisk venom that was trapped beneath it. Auguste was asleep in the crib that had taken the place of one of the wingbacks by the fire.

I was lying on my back; my right leg was bent a little, and raised at a slight angle. My left hand was flung above me, just out of reach of the headboard. My toes could just feel the edge. My right hand rest on my stomach, thumb just below and to the right of my navel, ring finger resting on the band of my pyjamas; pinky resting on the join between my leg and torso. A part of me dimly wondered where Paracelsus had gotten too.

My eyes stared straight upwards as my thoughts spiralled. I tried to find a quote, a passage that I could name that could tell the world what I was feeling now. I'd prepared myself to be the murderer, to take the responsibility for the ending of a life, and now, finding out that my plans had failed, I could only compare to being pregnant and still-birthing at the last instant, or being told you have cancer only to find out the tests were wrong three months later. I'd prepared myself for something life-altering and then, suddenly, out of no where, it falls threw. The bottom drops. Was I still a murderer if I'd given her a fatal poison, but she'd died of something else first? Was I still a murderer if it'd been my intent all along to see her cold and rotting in the ground?

Long after Severus put Claudia to bed and joined me himself, I lay awake thinking.

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The motorbike's name was Ariah and today it was red. A portkey had taken the two of us from HQ to Rotherhithe, about an half-hour away, so I'd plenty of time to think as I rode towards St. Mungo's, being careful to take the most circuitous root possible.

I wore the dragonhide jacket and no helmet as I zoomed at inappropriate speeds through sleeping city streets. My hair whipped behind me wildly, and it almost felt like I was flying again. There were bags under my eyes carefully concealed by careful application of make-up and concealing spells. It didn't fool Severus, who must have noticed my inability to sleep last night.

I came to the conclusion sometime around two in the morning, after feeding Auguste a second time, that …war meant murdering the same man over and over, and that in the end I would discover the man was myself… How many times, after all, had I destroyed Horcruces? The locket, the diadem, the diary – I was killing Voldemort, over and over again, in little bits and pieces, like… like whatever analogue you could think of.

It was… dissatisfying. How many lives had I taken? I do not want to know. It was sickening also, a familiar nausea that I wish wasn't so familiar and, in all fairness, I can't attribute to Auguste anymore.

Could it only have been yesterday that I'd destroyed Slytherin's locket, found through chance alone in my adoptive father's attic rather then in the Marshes-of-the-Dead-esque cave that had helped to cost Dumbledore his life? Only the week before that I'd taken Ravenclaw's diadem from its tampon-riddled hiding place and driven Gryffindor's sword threw it? The familiar desire to end this all had grown while I could not sleep from an itch to an almost impossible rash. The Resurrection Stone ring was destroyed, as was Riddle's diary. That left only Hufflepuff's cup, which was hidden only Voldemort-knew-where, and the something else.

I'd tried finding the something going down the same root I'd gone with Ravenclaw – Voldemort would have, if possible, made that last Horcrux out of something of Gryffindor's. But the only two known extant things of Gryffindor's were his sword (which, besides being coated in Basilisk venom and therefore not likely to be a Horcrux now, if it ever was one, was also a sign of power, which Voldemort could not have) and the sorting hat. If there were any other things, I did not know them and had yet to find them. Unlike Ravenclaw, Gryffindor's children had gone on to have other children and heirs; if anything of his had been passed down through the years, I was not a talented enough genealogist to go down the line and find it or whatever pawn broker's descendants they might have sold it to unknowingly – and come up empty. I'd searched the castle from top to bottom, found forgotten secrets and chambers unknown. If other hiding holes, like the Chamber of Secrets or the Room of Requirements existed, they were too hidden for me to find.

I'd tried finding it by thinking of places outside Hogwarts it might be hidden – but that too had come up dry. Voldemort wanted places of strength. Places where he was strong. He was strong at Hogwarts, the Heir of one of the Founders. He was strong at the Gaunt House, the site of his mother's childhood and his patricide. He was strong at the cave, the place of his highest power in childhood. The diary was designed to return to the Chamber, the wellspring of his supposéd power. Every other place I could trace him to was worthless even to search, for why would he hide a Horcrux in St. Giles' Orphanage, his own Azkaban South? Once again, I'd tried thinking of all the places I might hide seven Horcruces, but perhaps I was too practiced in people trying to kill me then Tom Riddle had been when he was my age, for I kept on thinking along the lines of an artefact in the burial chamber of a pyramid in Egypt, an interestingly-shaped rock in a hard-to-reach cave near the top of Mt. Everest, or, I dunno, something else along thoI'se lines. But Tommy Riddle had restricted himself, whatever the reason, to somewhere in the eight hundred and six miles between Thruso and Falmouth. And if England was special to him, then the remaining two Horcruces had to be in England. But, for Merlin's sake, I couldn't think of anywhere else that might be important to him, so they had to be places important only to him, and I wasn't exactly a mind reader – and come up empty. I'd been in no position, granted, to search across the country for the artefact that I'd no idea what it might actually be.

So I was forced into this. The war had already gone on for far too long. I feared by waiting more would die, or Voldemort would create more and more Horcruces until he'd be unstoppable. I needed to make him afraid. People who were afraid did stupid things. I needed Voldemort to be stupid, to fear for the safety of those slivers of his soul that he'd hidden throughout the country. I needed him to make a mistake. I needed for him to seek to protect that which made him vulnerable. If my thought process was right, if I 'taunted' the Death Eaters with the destruction of one Horcrux, they'd tell their master and he'd send men to the cave, to the Gaunt House, and to other places, places unknown to me, where the Cup was hidden, where the something else was hidden. I hoped I was right.

Even if I was wrong, Voldemort would still be scared, I think, and he'd come for the Elder Wand. He'd kill Draco Malfoy, and then he'd be able to take the Wand of Destiny from Dumbledore's tomb at the water's edge and be, supposedly, invincible. And, if it came to that, I would have to fight him.

My body was bruised. No one had any idea why I'd collapsed into a coma on Valentine's Day or snapped out of it a week later. I did not understand my oneiric fantasies of Harry, the boy-that-was-me-but-wasn't. I did not understand why, some nights, I dreamt of Niynhi and her forested hollow.

Hollows.

Horcruces

Before I knew it I'd turned onto the street where Death Eaters held siege to St. Mungo's. Pulling a WWW flash-bang from my pocket, I revved the engine and drove the motorcycle straight through the crowd, dropping the explosive behind me. As soon as I was past what the Twins told me was the immediate blast range, I slammed on the breaks and jerked the wheel left, spinning and skidding me back 'round to face them.

There was silence in the aftershock. Then, through caponiers in the higher floors, KoRT aurors and trained wizards started to rain down spells, while others, hidden across the street, flung up anti-apparition and –portkey wards. My own wand slid from its holster into my palm, and the battle was joined.

Chapter Thirty-Two.