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Chapter Three – The Mysterious Letter


When Harry and Ginny managed to return to the Burrow, they found the garden completely destroyed. It looked as if a full-fledged battle had taken place; there were smoking holes in upturned tables and food splattered across the once pristine lawn. Oddly, there was no one to be seen. Where had the dozens of guests and wedding participants gone off to?

Movement in the kitchen window answered that question, as several red and white-blonde heads bobbed in and out of view. Harry guided Ginny slowly toward the door, her eyes big with concern as she surveyed the scene. He kept his arm across her shoulders, as if they weren’t still at odds. The reality was that they’d resolved nothing, although they’d been on the verge of something when they were attacked. Now, as Harry held the door open and watched her walk into a noisy mass of family and in-laws, he wondered exactly what was between them.

“Harry! Ginny!” cried Mrs. Weasley, gripping her handkerchief as she watched them walk inside. She pushed past her husband and Charlie, who were having a heated discussion about wards and embraced them both. “We were so worried. When we couldn’t find you...” Her expression changed from relief to worry in an instant as her eyes fell on the cuts and scraps on their arms and faces. She traced a particularly long gash in Ginny’s dress. “What on earth happened to you two?”

The rest of the assembled wedding guests had all stopped their individual conversations and were staring eagerly at them. Bill’s friends from Gringotts were particularly curious; the woman with the long dark hair eyed Ginny as she nervously crossed her arms.

Harry began to fidget. “We were attacked, too.”

Mrs. Weasley opened her mouth to ask for more information, when she was cut-off by Mr. Weasley. “What happened to your attackers?”

Ginny gave Harry a brief, pleading look, and Harry nodded. He recounted their walk to the bluff, and the subsequent attack, conveniently leaving out the reason they’d left the wedding and the fact that Ginny was an Animagus. When he’d finished, he became suddenly aware that he was still holding Ginny’s hand and that several red-headed people in the room were also aware of that fact, each one wearing a knowing smile or whispering to one another. Hermione and Ron were sitting on the kitchen table and the former was beaming at them, while the latter’s face was guarded and inscrutable.

“That proves they were after Harry,” Charlie said at once, giving his father a significant look.

“It doesn’t prove anything. Harry was invisible, so the Death Eaters probably followed Ginny, not Harry,” reasoned Mr. Weasley. “One thing is clear, however. We need to Floo the guests away and you need to be off on your honeymoon.” He said this last bit with a raised eyebrow at his eldest son, Bill. “I’ll contact the rest of the Order to let them know what has happened and that no one was taken or... killed.”

That seemed to unwind the knots of people in the various rooms of the Burrow and they began to Apparate and Floo themselves and their families away. Harry gave an inward sigh of relief that no one had been seriously injured or worse. He also felt Ginny relax next to him.

Mrs. Weasley had glistening eyes as she continued to survey their wounds. She gave Ginny another firm hug and wrung her hands together. “You two all right, then?” she asked and they both nodded. In reality Harry felt like Hogwarts castle had fallen on him, but not wanting to trouble her in the midst of so much chaos, he said nothing.

She dabbed at her eyes with a handkerchief and said, “Take care of each other. There’s some first-aid supplies in the upstairs loo. I’ve got to sort out to the rest of the family.” She walked towards Charlie, whose arm was singed and still smoking, but turned around and gave them a beaming smile. “I always thought the two of you were well suited.”

Harry gaped soundlessly at her. He wanted to tell her the truth; that he and Ginny had been a couple briefly at Hogwarts, but that they weren’t together any more. Standing there, however, holding Ginny’s hand and feeling the wonderful jolts of pleasure racing around his body as they entwined their fingers together made him reluctant to publicly acknowledge their split. Instead, he gave Mrs. Weasley a resigned smile and nodded his head. “We will.”

“Good,” she said, with a bright, watery smile and hurried to sort out to her son.

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry saw Ginny give him a strange glance.

People continued to walk in and out of the kitchen as Harry and Ginny stood in the entryway to the garden. He didn’t want to move, knowing that when he did, he wouldn’t have a convenient excuse to hold her hand any more. She seemed reluctant to move as well, but he thought that could simply be because she was exhausted from their battle.

Then, in a manner that did not suggest fatigue, Ginny turned to smile very brightly at him. “Walk with me to the loo?” she asked suddenly and began to pull on his hand. When he gave her a frightened look, she giggled. “I’m just going to mend some of these cuts, like Mum suggested. Yours look like they need some attention, too.” She brushed his fringe back, as she’d done so many times in the past, to expose a throbbing gash on his forehead. He found himself wanting to find a quiet spot to be alone with her that didn’t involve cuts and bruises. Pushing that feeling aside, he nodded – their hands still linked together – and followed her upstairs.

The bathroom was decidedly crowded with the two of them in the space between the wall and the sink. Ginny tended to his cuts first, untwisting a jar she found in the cupboard. She applied a brown, foul-smelling paste to his shoulder; his robes and shirt having been discarded the moment they arrived in the loo. Thankfully, Ginny had not taken off any of her clothes and they had left the door firmly open.

“Hold still,” she said, as he squirmed away from her goo-laden finger. “Don’t be a baby. It’s doesn’t hurt that bad.”

Harry snorted and let her apply another layer of the noxious ointment to his cuts. “You say that, but you haven’t let me put any on you.”

She brought her eyes up to his and, as they flared in challenge, several flecks of gold sparkled in the bright lights of the bathroom. Then her eyes softened and the gold melted into the brown like caramel sinking into a vat of chocolate.

“What’s on your mind?” she asked, her voice low, and dipped her finger into the jar of Aunt Annie’s Cure-All Ointment. She had always known the right questions to ask him; the kind of questions that cut through his carefully constructed shell of indifference.

“Nothing,” he answered automatically and shifted his gaze to her shoulder, where a bruise was forming underneath a nasty-looking scrape.

She moved a hand up to hold his fringe back and wiped her finger across his brow, making it throb worse than ever and causing tears to form in his eyes from the smell. It was all he could do to not step away from her. As bad as it was, the pain in his head only made the pain in his hand slightly less noticeable. Muggle duelling had a purpose, he supposed, but he much preferred using a wand.

It seemed to take an extra-long time to apply the ointment, but when she was done, he wiped his eyes and re-adjusted his glasses. Ginny turned on the tap and rinsed her fingers. “You’ll have to get mum to heal your knuckles,” she said and then held up the jar. “Now do me.”

Taking the jar from her, Harry scooped out a large glob and spread it across her shoulder. She sucked in a breath and he could see the muscles in her neck tense as she gritted her teeth. The paste seemed to melt into her skin and the cut almost completely disappeared. He applied more until the cut was gone and the bruise had faded into a light brown patch under her pale skin.

When Ginny’s cuts had all been attended to, and Harry’s fingers washed clean of the ointment, she pinned him with a steely gaze and folded her arms across her chest, blocking his path to the landing outside the loo. “Now, you can either tell me the truth, or I can dig it out of you. I’m told that I’m very persuasive.”

Despite himself, Harry smirked. “I know,” he murmured and then ran a shaky hand through his hair. On the bluff, he’d been about to tell her why he’d left her at Dumbledore’s funeral – about how Voldemort would use his feelings for her against him. Swallowing, he opened his mouth but he never got a chance to speak a word.

She was kissing him as he’d never been kissed before. She’d pushed him against the wall of the bathroom, standing on her toes to get as much leverage as possible. Her hands were in his hair, rubbing maddeningly wonderful circles at the base of his neck and all the while, she pressed her lips into his as if she was dying of thirst and he was a very tall, very cold bottle of water.

After what seemed like several hours, she pulled back, panting, the same steely look still on her face. “I know what’s going on, Harry,” she said softly. “You don’t have to tell me, because I know.” His hands were still around her waist and their faces were close together. “It’d be nice, though – once in a while – if you’d talk to me about it.”

She stepped back, smoothing her tattered dress and he let his hands fall to his sides. They stared at each other; he wanted to tell her everything, but he couldn’t risk Voldemort finding out. He didn’t wonder if she would be able to handle it, but he did wonder if he’d be breaking his confidence with Dumbledore if he included Ginny.

“I...” he began, but she shook her head.

“It doesn’t have to be now,” she said, hugging him tightly, her voice filled with a tenderness he’d almost forgotten about. “When you’re ready. I’m here – I’ve always been here.”

He hugged her back and wondered about the complexities of promises made with dead people. It was a long time before they re-joined Ginny’s family downstairs.

*

They heard from various family-members that the attack hadn’t been a complete surprise, and that there were some Aurors on duty that evening. Fred and George had whispered to them that Dad simply downplayed the whole thing in case there was a security leak in the family. It didn’t need to be said that the twins had meant Percy, who was still sticking with the Ministry despite all the evidence to the contrary.

It had taken Harry another three hours of deliberation before he made up his mind to talk with Hermione and Ron about what he was going to do once he left the Burrow. He’d decided to go to Godric’s Hollow, that much was certain, but he was going to need a clearer understanding of the next few weeks, and ultimately, how he was going to defeat Voldemort before he could do much more than that. The problem wasn’t the discussion itself, but with who was going to hear it.

When he got up to talk in the Burrow’s magically Silenced and Sealed living room, he looked at each occupant before he began. Hermione and Ron sat on the sofa while Ginny sat opposite them on the floor. Harry paced nervously on the green shag carpet, still unsure if Ginny should be there, but determined to follow through with his decision.

Harry took a deep breath and nervously pushed his fringe back with a shaky hand. He caught Hermione’s eye and she nodded. “Voldemort,” he said with a tone of finality that elicited a twitch from Ron.

His eyes lingered on Ginny and she gave him a private, comforting smile. “I’ve told Ron and Hermione already, but it bears repeating. I’m the only one who can kill Voldemort. Dumbledore spent all of last year teaching me what it’s going to take to do it and this year, I’m going to continue where he left off.”

For the next half-hour, Harry recounted his visits with Dumbledore and the memories he’d visited with the now-dead Headmaster. He told them about Voldemort’s parents, how the Gaunts were descendants of Salazar Slytherin and had two of his heirlooms – a ring and a locket. He told them about Hepzibah Smith; about Hufflepuff’s cup and the locket that Voldemort’s mother had sold to Burke. Then, he told them about Horcruxes; about how Voldemort’s murders tore a piece his soul apart and then how he encased those bits in one of these objects to keep his soul bound to earth. When Voldemort was struck with his own Killing Curse, it deprived him of his body, but his soul lingered on. Finally, he ended by telling them that the ring was destroyed by Dumbledore and about their fateful trip to the cave that held the fake locket Horcrux.

Drawing the small locket from his pocket, he removed the folded parchment and re-read the letter to them.

“R.A.B.,” Hermione said quietly, having apparently lapsed into another fit of contemplation upon re-hearing the entire story beginning to end.

That concentration was broken, however, when a strange Eagle Owl swooped into the room from the kitchen. It landed gracefully on the head of the chair closest to Harry and extended a claw. Harry untied what turned out to be a small leather book from the bird’s leg as Hermione, Ron, and Ginny looked on. As soon as the package was released, the owl took flight, flapping all the way back into the kitchen, where it presumably left through an open window.

“Who’s it from?” asked Ron, as he walked over to get a look at the book.

Harry turned it over in his hands, examining its cover for any sign of a letter or other identifying marks. “It’s doesn’t say. You reckon it’s safe to open?”

Ron shrugged, and Hermione looked nervous. Ginny, without any hesitation, said, “Can you afford not to open it?”

He refolded the letter from R.A.B. and shoved it in his pocket and untied the worn leather cords that bound the book closed. As he opened it, a piece of parchment fell from the inside cover and was snatched in mid-air by Ron.

“Good catch,” said Harry, who wasn’t feeling up to reading much just then. “You may as well be the one to read it.”

Ron nodded and unfolded the parchment. He cleared his throat and began reading.

Dear Harry,

If you are reading this letter, then I am with your parents on the other side, and you are now the sole guardian of the Black estate. Sadly, this doesn’t mean as much as it would have normally. As a fugitive, I was unable to secure the legal means to change my will before now, so all you legally get is this diary, and whatever they can strip off my body. Sorry. I’ve instructed my executor to send this to you on the eve of your seventeenth birthday. Happy Birthday, Harry.

It is my legal right and desire that you should be given ownership of all the properties that belonged to me and the Black family. You would do well to get Grimmauld Place and all the money in the Black vault at Gringott’s before my cousins descend on it like the snakes that they are. Merlin knows Narcissa doesn’t need the money and it’d do the Order more good than her and her spoiled brat Draco.

Once again, I’m sorry things turned out the way they did. Perhaps this journal will help you to avoid the mistakes that I made and in so doing, you can have the life that your parents always wanted for you.

With all my love,
Sirius

He avoided Ginny’s gaze and stared at the battered book in his hands. He couldn’t see anything else, even when Ron handed the letter to Harry and sat next to Hermione. Ginny stood and took Harry’s hand, bringing her lips close to his ear. “I’m here for you, if you need me.”

Harry nodded and she stepped back. “I’ll be all right,” he said with a shy look. “I just need some time to take this in.” Her eyes penetrated him, and he knew that she understood.

She took his hand and walked to the door, in plain view of the kitchen, which was empty save for the half-eaten wedding cake that Mrs. Weasley had managed to save from attack. “I know you will be. But do you mind if I ask you a question?”

“Uh, sure?” he offered, confused by the sudden change in the conversation.

She pointed to the magical clock that had all of their faces, including Harry’s, on the hands. All of them were pointing at the same spot on the clock, Mortal Peril. “Explain to me why Ron and Hermione are going with you but I’m not?” She dropped his hand and placed both hands on her hips. “Explain to me why you think I’m safer here when every single one of us is already in ‘Mortal Peril’.”

Harry’s face fell. Not only had she pinpointed the exact reason why he didn’t want her to come with them, but she’d effectively invalidated the very justification he’d conjured up to defend himself from this attack. “Listen, Ginny,” he said quietly. “I know I can’t keep you safe from everything. I know this is war, and more than just about anybody else, I know that people die in war.” He stopped when her expression hardened, as if she knew that what he was about to say wasn’t what she wanted to hear. He hoped that she would see reason instead of the blind stubbornness that had reared its head in their brief relationship already. “I’m not going to ask you to stay behind, even though it’s the thing I want most of all. Ginny, I want you to stay safe.”

“What if I don’t care?” she asked, repeating what she’d asked at the funeral. “What if I don’t want to stay safe?”

“I need you to live, Ginny. For me.”

“If staying safe means being shunted away in a closet somewhere while you fling yourself headlong into the war, then I don’t want to be safe.” Her voice had risen as she spoke, but when she opened her mouth again, it wasn’t to yell at him. “I want to be with you. Even if it means one or both of us gets killed.”

Harry screwed his face up and tilted it toward the ceiling, as if imploring it to offer him some sort of advice. Looking back at Ginny, he said with the strongest of whispers, “I need something to come back for. I need you to stay safe so I have something worth fighting for.”

Her face relaxed and she rested her back against the door frame they were standing in. “I can’t guarantee I won’t die, Harry, but you can’t make that promise, either. How do you think I’m going to survive by myself knowing that your clock hand could slip to ‘Dead’ at any moment?”

“I... I can’t,” he admitted, stuffing his hands into his pockets.

The resolve returned to her face. “Then take me with you.”

His mouth opened and closed several times as she glared defiantly at him. “It’s not my choice to make,” he said at length, pushing this decision off to the only place he could think to push it. It was cheap and dirty, but it was the best he had. “If you were of age, I couldn’t keep you from coming with me, even if the idea scares me more than facing Voldemort.”

“Then I’m coming,” she said happily as if the matter were decided. She took his hand again and pulled him back into the living room.

Harry stared at her in open disbelief. He knew that saying anything against her would only invite more argument – something he definitely didn’t want – but her mother would be less than happy with her decision.

“Now that that’s settled,” Ginny continued, “let’s figure out what’s got Hermione’s knickers in a twist and get to bed. I’m knackered.”

They walked to where Ron and Hermione were still deep in conversation, sat on the floor together, and planned. They would leave for Godric’s Hollow on August first; the day after Harry’s seventeenth birthday and two weeks before the Hogwarts school governors were to make their decision regarding the fate of the school. Ginny had not spoken about her plans for the coming year in front of Ron and Hermione, but despite her admission to the contrary, Harry knew that she’d end up making the right choice. She’d been right; he did trust her.

*

That night, Harry sat in his bed and thought about the strange feeling that had surrounded him the past few days. He was at a crossroads. His childhood was all but behind him, but his days as an adult were not yet upon him. The future was uncertain, in that he didn’t know how long it would take to find every Horcrux and finally kill Voldemort. He didn’t even know if he’d be able to kill Voldemort, but the alternative was unthinkable. What was certain, however, was that Harry was going to leave in two days, and that once he left, he would be venturing into a new and decidedly more difficult part of his life. The thought only made him want Ginny’s company more than ever and he hated himself for it.

*

The next day, Harry spent the morning reading through Sirius’ journal, as he had been expressly forbidden from going downstairs.

“It’s your birthday, and we’re decorating,” Ginny had explained. “No peeking, or I’ll hex you.” Even though she’d said it with a smile, Harry had no doubt she’d follow through with that particular threat.

Sirius had apparently taken up journal writing as a bet with a girl in his year when he was fourteen. After a few sporadic entries, he started using it as a means to chronicle the Marauders’ pranks and other accomplishments, including very specific and sometimes grotesque descriptions of their becoming Animagis. After an hour of reading about his dad having his antlers appearing on his bum, Sirius being chased by the unicorns in the Forbidden Forest, and other morbidly fascinating exploits, he skipped to the last couple of entries. One in particular caught his interest.

August 12, 1995

Harry and his friends have been cleaning in Regulus’ old room. I was bit by a cursed snuff box, they tackled several nests of Doxys, and I got to relive some long-buried family history. What was most interesting, however, was the discovery of something that I’d never seen before. Some kind of locket was in Regulus’ room. He had dated a girl at Hogwarts for a short while, but she wouldn’t have given him a locket. It’s usually the bloke that buys the jewellery. I’ll have to poke around with it some more to see what spell is keeping it closed. Merlin knows I need some kind of challenge to keep me from going completely mad...

One thing leapt out at Harry from the pages and he didn’t read much past it. There was a locket at Grimmauld Place. A locket in Regulus Black’s room. R. B. Maybe even R. A. B. It was too close to be a coincidence and Harry suddenly knew that Godric’s Hollow would have to wait.

*

Ginny was just putting the finishing touches on Harry’s cake when she heard a thunderous noise and saw a black blur on the stairs.

“Harry!” scolded Hermione, who was levitating a hand-painted ‘Happy Birthday Harry’ sign into place. “You can’t come down yet!”

He was having none of it, however, and walked right into the middle of the kitchen, pushing past a bundle of floating balloons. “Is your mum here?” he asked Ginny.

“No,” she replied, placing the frosting knife onto the counter next to the cake and wiping her hands on her apron. “She’s off to fetch some last-minute things from the shop. You really shouldn’t be here, you know? You’re spoiling the whole surprise.”

An earnest smile stole onto his lips and he held Ginny’s shoulders. “I’ve found it. I know where the locket is.”

Ron walked in from the cold pantry just then, his arms laden with a case of Butterbeer. “Oi! You can’t be down here yet!”

“Shush, Ronald,” Hermione said and quickly fastened the banner. “Go on, Harry. Tell us what you found out.”

Harry sat on a bar stool and opened Sirius’ journal to the right page. “I was just thumbing through his journal and happened to read an entry from when he was at Grimmauld Place.”

Ginny had seen Harry this determinedly excited before, but it had been a long time and she was secretly pleased that he could still be drawn out from his shell despite the traumas of the past few weeks.

He read the entry and Hermione’s eye instantly lit up. “I think you’re right, Harry. I remember that locket. Sirius seemed really interested in it. But I don’t remember what Regulus’ middle name is, do you?”

“No,” confirmed Harry. “But there’s one way to find out.”

Ron groaned. “Don’t tell me we’re going to put off the party. I’m starved.”

“Oh, come off it,” Hermione jibed. “This is really important. To think that one of Voldemort’s Horcruxes has been at Grimmauld Place all this time.”

Harry closed the journal and shoved it in his back pocket. There was a gleam in his eye when he next spoke. “Not for long. We’re going to Floo there right now and get it.”

“I’m going, too,” Ginny said immediately. When Harry gave her a severe look, she added, “It’s not like I haven’t spent loads of time there already. It’s perfectly safe. We’ll just go, get the locket and come back. I’ll even leave a note for Mum.”

Ron reluctantly agreed. “Okay, but you know Mum’ll worry herself mental if we don’t come back quick.

“So we’re agreed, then?” asked Harry, seeming to acquiesce on letting Ginny tag along.

She dashed off a quick note on a piece of butcher paper and set it on the table, where her mother couldn’t possibly miss it. “I’ll get the Floo powder,” she said when she had finished and stopped when she approached the fire. Her brow furrowed together as she searched through her mind for a moment and then she gave up. “I can’t... I can’t remember the address.”

Hermione smirked and withdrew a piece of parchment from her pocket. “We re-applied the Fidelius Charm.” She handed it to Ginny, who looked at it for a second and then shrugged.

“Number Twelve Grimmauld Place,” Ginny shouted and they all followed her into the fireplace, disappearing with a green flash. *** A/N: If you want to discuss this or any of my stories, please visit my yahoo group: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/mrintel_fanfiction It's brand new, so be the first to join!

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