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Speak of hope and lasting love
And finding the key to the damned lock
I beg to differ, my dear, there is no dove,
This world hath no Pandora’s box

For whether you find lock to key
Or love to share the world with thee
In time, this world shall see
The inevitable death of purity

When they reached the shop, everyone was there, including Meier, who still looked a little miffed about her treatment of him earlier on that day. Dumbledore’s head was in the fire, and the old headmaster had a grin on his face as he watched Fred demonstrate one of their new products. The door slammed behind Malfoy and the headmaster’s eyes averted to them.

“I’m glad that you’re all here now,” he began as the three that had just came in, sat down. Ron looked at Hermione’s flushed face inquisitively before deciding that he’d ask her about it later.

“Something of great importance has just happened,” Dumbledore continued. “You’ll need to go to an alley off of Lembard Avenue, in Surrey.”

“Lembard?” Harry asked, his brow furrowed. “Where’s that?”

“A little past your former home, Harry, in Little Whinging. You’ll be flooing to the Dursley’s house and walking from there.”

“What are we supposed to be looking for?” Hermione questioned, biting her lip.

He turned his forever twinkling eyes on her. “I’m glad you asked. Ms. Granger. Your expertise on Runes will be needed for this particular case.”

Hermione raised an eyebrow and mentally began to checklist the books that she might need to correctly decipher the meanings of the Runes.

“You should leave soon,” the Headmaster said, fixing his glasses that rested on his crooked nose. “In a hour, by the latest.”

There was a stunned silence before Meier spoke.

“We’ll be ready,” he promised, his voice soft as it always was when he was thinking.

“Thank you, and good luck,” Dumbledore told them, looking specifically at Ron, who reddened. “And be careful. You’re not untouchable…remember that.”

With a small pop, the Headmaster’s head disappeared from the fire. Everyone looked at each other in the noiseless atmosphere before Hermione got up swiftly, hefting her bag over one shoulder. The edge of a bulky book hit George’s head through the worn leather and he glared at her, scowling as he rubbed the back of his head.

“Whoa, whoa, Hermione,” Harry said, looking at her as she made to walk up the steps. She paused and glanced back at him. “Where are you going?”

“We leave in an hour, right?” Hermione asked, in a tone which suggested that she knew exactly what she was talking about.

Meier nodded, standing up from his seat by the fireplace.

“I need books,” she said. “Ancient Runes are complicated and a book ,or four, is necessary.”

“You’ll be fine,” Ron told her, placing his hands on her shoulders. “You’ve memorized everything in the library. I imagine that you’ll remember everything you need to know about these Runes tonight.”

Hermione frowned at him and was about to walk up the stairs anyway when Meier interrupted.

“He’s right,” the faerie said. “And we don’t have time for this, Hermione. Everything you need to know is something that you already know. All you need to do is remember it.”

She reluctantly moved away from the stairs.

“Meier and I will go through first,” Ferro said. “To make sure that there is no danger on the other side. Everyone else follow in whatever order suits you best.”

They all nodded.

She stared as Ferro’s body disappeared in to the flames.

Hermione spat out a mouthful of ash as she came out the fire place, wrapping an arm around her queasy stomach. Flooing always had a bad affect on her. There was a noise behind her but she didn’t move quickly enough because whoever was behind her pushed her right into another foot of ash.

She deduced that it had been Malfoy when she heard him complaining. She opened her eyes and panicked when she realized that she couldn’t see.

“You pushed me right into more ash!” Hermione spat at him angrily. She heard Harry and Ron come through, asking why she was on the floor.

“If you hadn’t been stupidly kneeling right in front of the fireplace, I wouldn’t have knocked into you,” he said nastily, using his hands to pick himself up from the floor.

Ferro walked over to Hermione, who was trying to clear the soot from around her eyes, and placed his hands on her cheeks.

“I need you to hold still,” he told her, caressing her face to soothe her. She nodded and calmed herself.

With his fingers, he gently wiped the ash from the creases of her eyelids with a touch so soft that it made Hermione shiver. He then placed his cool fingertips over her open eyes and muttered some things under his breath. After a few moments, Hermione realized that she could see and that she had been staring at Ferro for a good thirty seconds. She blushed.

“Thank you,” she said, getting up and wiping soot from her clothing. He nodded and walked over to the door.

“I wonder why there’s so much ash,” Harry said, looking around the dark living room of the Dursley’s.

Ferro opened the door and the light from the street lamps outside flooded the house. Hermione let out a small gasp before covering her mouth with the back of her hand.

The walls were charred, almost as if there had been a fire, but had a shimmer to them, signaling that they had been caused by hexes and spells. The furniture was broken and bashed, covered in a couple of week’s worth of dust. There were also rust colored stains on the soot covered carpet, which (Hermione swallowed when she realized this) was undoubtedly old blood.

She looked over to Harry to see his reaction but was greeted with a strangely vacant stare, as if he couldn’t believe the demolishment that his home of fifteen years had gone through. Hermione placed a comforting hand on his shoulder before leading him out of the house, behind Meier and Ferro.

It was cold out, much like the night before, when they had left Hogwarts, and Hermione wrapped her arms around herself in order to create some heat. It was eerie, walking down an empty muggle street, with only lamps for light. Meier murmured an incantation under his breath and the lamps dimmed significantly, shadowing them so an untrained eye wouldn’t notice the company.

The six of them turned on to another street, although this one wasn’t completely desolate. There were teenagers, around their age out, drinking and talking with their friends. They took no notice of six solemn people walking down the street.

Meier stopped abruptly when they reached the alleyway. A light shone from it, although it was barely noticeable and they walked down it cautiously.

The alley was a dead end, and on the wall that signaled the end, there were runes written in a shimmery, white liquid that looked suspiciously like…

“Unicorn blood?” Hermione asked incredulously, her eyes growing wide. “Please tell me that isn’t unicorn blood.”

There was a pregnant pause. Meier stepped up to the wall and wiped one long finger along the side of one of the runes. He smelled the liquid, before dropping his hand dismissively.

“It is,” he concluded, his eyes grim, but his face expressionless.

“Well this is the first part of symbolism,” Hermione said, moving in to study the wall better.

“Of what?” Ferro asked.

“The death of purity,” Malfoy answered, interrupting Hermione with a smug smirk. She threw him a nasty look before turning back to the sigh in front of her.

Sitting back on the balls of her feet, Hermione stared at the wall, memorizing every line of the runes.

“It looked as though he completely drained the unicorn,” Malfoy said. She turned to see that he was standing a couple of inches behind, his breath warm on her neck.

“Yes,” she agreed, looking back to the runes. “I think that he’s telling us that he doesn’t need old methods of preserving his life force.”

“Such as?” Meier questioned, leaning against the adjacent wall with his arms crossed over his chest.

“In our first year, he was using Unicorn Blood to keep himself from dying, to lengthen his lifespan so he could find the Philosopher’s Stone. He’s moved on to more refined and most likely more dangerous methods of living.”

“Why can’t he make another Philosopher’s Stone?” Ferro asked.

“He’s past that now, not to mention that it would be difficult. He wants complete immortality and the stone doesn’t offer that. It only offers a lifespan as long at it can help produce the Elixir of Life.”

Harry frowned, obviously disturbed at the new news. “So he’s saying that he is on a quest for immortality.”

“I think that quest is over,” Hermione said, standing up. “He wouldn’t be taunting us with information if he didn’t already posses what we’re looking for. It’s a game and a trap. We have something that he needs…”

“You,” Ron said, his voice cold. “He wants you, Hermione.”

She ignored him and pulled out a pen from her pocket and a crumpled napkin from the shop. She sketched down the runes and placed it in the bag that Meier had allowed her to bring.

“What do the runes mean?” Meier asked her, although she could tell that he truly didn’t know the answer and that he wasn’t testing her.

“I know the runes,” she told him.

“So what is he telling us?” Harry questioned.

For the second time in her life, Hermione uttered three words.

“I don’t know.”

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