"WHAT!" Ron bellowed in anger after hearing what would grimly happen if the attempt to save Harry's soul should fail.
"Mending a soul isn't as easy as drinking a Healing potion, Mr. Weasley," Slughorn said bluntly. "The law of nature isn't very forgiving when it comes to something as formidable as this." He looked at Ron, Hermione, and Ginny's gaping faces. "There is always a price to pay."
"I kind of already knew this would happen," said Hermione, her eyes on the book. "Creating a Horcrux has consequences as well, and Professor Slughorn is right; mending one wouldn't be an easy task to do."
All of them silently pondered the information they had just read and discussed.
"I would highly suggest that you think about this thoroughly before making a decision," said Slughorn. "Your life will be all at stake once this is started."
"What do we have to do, then?" Ron asked, eyeing the book with a look of loathing. "Is there a list of tasks written in the book?"
Hermione turned the page and was about to read the contents when they heard Mrs. Weasley's desperate voice trying to calm Harry in the living room.
"Harry! Please listen…" she pleaded. Ron, Hermione, Ginny, and Slughorn dashed in and saw her standing a few feet away from the sofa, her hands raised in a cautious manner, so as not to frighten Harry, and gazing imploringly at him. He was standing against the wall looking disoriented and frustrated at something unseen at the same time.
"Mum, what's going on?" Ron asked looking alarmed and bewildered at the pair of them. Harry caught sight of them.
"Ron!" he made his way toward him, stumbling a little as he did so. Mrs. Weasley hurried to Harry's side to help him, but he swatted her arms away.
"Harry, you have a very high fever right now!" she said, looking desperately anxious and exasperated. "You should be resting."
"Please, Mrs. Weasley. I'm fine," said Harry, walking away from her. He then looked at Ron and Hermione, whose eyebrows were raised. He whispered, "Why aren't we leaving?"
"Leave? Leave where, Harry?" Hermione asked him in confusion as she held Harry still. He shook so badly and couldn't seem to control his balance.
"Here!" he said, exasperated at Hermione's honest question. Didn't they know we have to leave now? he asked himself.
"Why?" Ron asked Harry, frowning at him.
Harry looked at him in surprise. Had he gone mad, too? Clearly he's joking, right? he wondered. "Look, we have to leave and find those – you know." He went closer to Ron and Hermione and said in a whisper, "Horcruxes."
Ron and Hermione exchanged worried glances. They had been fearing that something like this would happen to Harry. His mental state had been going on and off lately.
"Are you guys coming or what?" Harry asked his best friends. He felt increasingly impatient at the way they were looking at him. He was suddenly surprised to see Slughorn in the living room with them but didn't ask why he was there. Ginny was silently gazing at him as though he had gone mad.
"Harry…" Hermione was contemplating how best to approach the situations. She took a deep breath and said, "We already got rid of them, remember?"
Harry looked at her with complete shock. They couldn't have… not yet anyway, he told himself.
"What do you mean 'got rid of them'? ?" he asked, frowning at Ron and Hermione. He thought they were acting really strange and saying odd stuff, and he wasn't in the mood to waste time. "And remember what?"
Hermione gave a worried sigh. "We've destroyed all of them, Harry."
Harry gaped at her. Surely she's kidding, right? he wondered uncertainly, but the serious look on his best friends' faces was evidence enough to accept the fact.
"When?" he challenged. "We didn't leave the Burrow, so how could we possibly have destroyed the Horcruxes?"
Ron glanced at Hermione who looked back at him anxiously.
"We left the Burrow after Bill and Fleur's wedding last year, mate," Ron filled him in, much to Hermione's relief as she was starting to lose her words. "We tracked down the Horcruxes and found out how to destroy them along the way. We were pretty much away from the Burrow and Hogwarts for months."
Harry felt his head pounding with so much confusion.
"That's not possible," he muttered under his breath. "We were upstairs in your room just now discussing it and –" he paused, random images flashed across his mind. He absentmindedly shook his head and brought his hand to it as though it was suddenly hurting him. "No… no, I – Voldemort must be killed then. He –"
They were all looking at him with extreme worry now.
Mrs. Weasley approached him from behind and touched his arm. "Harry, dear… you have to rest now," she said firmly. "You are really sick –"
"But Professor Dumbledore has a mission for us, Mrs. Weasley," Harry said as he tried to get away from her grip. "We need to leave and look for the –"
"I'm sure Dumbledore wouldn't mind you resting for a bit," she cut him off and dragged him back to the sofa.
"I don't need rest, please… Voldemort is out there still. I have to kill him," he pleaded. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny didn't seem to know what to do. They felt rather uneasy with their friend's mental breakdown.
"Ron." Mrs. Weasley gestured for him to come. Harry was still attempting to escape. "Help me with Harry. And Ginny, grab the Calming Draught and Sleeping potion please."
Harry went out of control when he realized what they were about to do to him. He pulled himself away from them but with no luck.
"NO!" he exclaimed to Ron and Mrs. Weasley who were pinning him to the sofa. "No, no… please. Please don't make me sleep, please… please…" he pleaded desperately in between failed attempts to get away from their strong hold.
Hermione watched Ginny reappear in the living room with tears in her eyes and holding two vials of potions. It was hard to watch Harry like this; it was unnerving both of them.
"Please… don't." Harry begged desperately when he saw the potions. He was struggling against Ron and Mrs. Weasley to stop. His cries echoed inside the Burrow. "No! Please… please…"
Slughorn rushed forward and helped them pour the contents of the potions consecutively into Harry's mouth.
Harry gagged and choked slightly as the potion was forced into his mouth. He stopped struggling at once and felt his body and mind weaken. He took several calming breaths before slowly drifting to sleep. Ron and Mrs. Weasley released their grip and immediately set about checking Harry's temperatures. Mrs. Weasley cursed under her breath when she saw his fever was still high after giving him a potion a few hours earlier.
"I'm running out of potions in my storage," she informed Slughorn. "I can brew some more, but I have to buy the ingredients."
"I can brew them, Molly," Slughorn offered. "I have a huge stock of ingredients in my potions lab. I can even ask Madam Pomfrey for some potions if you would like me to."
Molly nodded her thanks.
"I think it'd be best if we bring him upstairs to his room," said Molly. Slughorn scooted Harry's limp arms and hoisted him up. Even in his old age, Slughorn was still surprisingly strong. He could've levitated Harry, but seeing how small and light the boy was for his age, he thought it best to just carry him.
Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were eyeing Harry sadly as they followed Slughorn to Harry's bedroom. He laid him in his bed gently; feeling Harry's skin burning with fever. Mrs. Weasley wiped Harry's forehead from all the sweat that was forming on his brow. Harry's face was red, and he looked as though he were flushed.
"Mum, is he gonna be alright?" Ginny asked worriedly.
Molly looked at her, afraid to say anything but she had to. "I don't really know, Ginny. He had been through a horrific ordeal for a span of only hours. Later on, when he wakes up, he could be feeling the relapses all over again, and I wish he wouldn't. I don't think I could live another hour seeing him suffer so much."
"He was slowly losing his memories," Ginny said glumly. "I'm scared to think that he might not remember us, too." Ron and Hermione shifted uncomfortably from behind Ginny.
"I've been thinking the same thing," Ron said, staring at Harry. "I'm afraid that it might happen one day if the process of mending his soul keeps delaying." He sighed and hesitated to say what was in his mind, but he continued after a moment, with a swallow. "I have seen him lose his memories twice... suspected that this would happen again, and yet each time, I would lose my confidence. It's frightening to see the best friend I once knew to be healthy and strong to end up so sickly and fragile."
Arthur Weasley arrived home early that afternoon after hearing what had happened to Harry. He was so quick to leave work at once that he had cancelled several appointments and sprinted, causing many people on his way out of the Ministry of Magic to turn their heads, one of whom was his son Percy who currently worked as a trainee in the Department of Magical Transportation.
"Dad!" Percy called when Mr. Weasley accidentally collided into his shoulder when he passed by him hurriedly out of the Atrium. "What's going on? Why are you in such a hurry?"
Mr. Weasley stopped and spun around, looking breathless.
"Sorry, son," he said. "I got a letter from your mum," he held up the piece of paper in his hand. "Harry's terribly sick and getting worse."
Percy gaped at him. "What do you mean Harry's sick, dad?"
Mr. Weasley hurriedly put a finger to his lips to signal Percy to keep quiet. A group of wizards looked at them curiously when they heard Harry's name, recognizing it as the name of the famous Boy-Who-Lived and defeater of You-Know-Who.
Harry had become ever more popular when news broke into the whole wizarding community and other countries as well because he had finally succeeded in killing You-Know-Who. They had not heard anything from anyone about Harry Potter ever since, and they had been dying to see him, meet him, shake his hand, interview him, and all other impeding purposes.
Arthur went closer to Percy and whispered, "Not here, Percy. I'll tell you when I get back."
"Now is not the time, son," he said quietly. "I have to leave. I'm sorry. I'll let you know as soon as possible." Arthur patted his shoulder and hastened away, leaving Percy alone with his own bewildered thoughts.
"Arthur..." Molly greeted sadly when her husband arrived at the Burrow. Slughorn looked up as the door opened. He was already in the fireplace and about to leave.
Molly hugged Arthur and he felt his wife's despair that was slowly showing on her frame. She looked stressed, and she hadn't been sleeping well despite her attempts since she always worried about Harry's deteriorating health.
"Horace came by to see Harry," Molly informed him. "He is on his way back to Hogwarts."
Slughorn gave a curt nod at Arthur's direction before grabbing a handful of Floo powder and disappearing from the flames.
"Where is Harry?" Mr. Weasley asked her after letting go of the hug.
Molly cleared her throat and said, "We put him upstairs in his bedroom. We gave him a Calming Draught and a Sleeping potion. He is becoming delusional and aggressive, Arthur," she informed him. "He's losing his memories just like the last time at the train station... He had been thinking he was being picked up by his muggle relatives. This time he thinks You-Know-Who was alive, and he wanted to leave to look for those Horcruxes and destroy them. Ron and Hermione just filled him in a few hours ago. They're in Harry's room right now."
Arthur looked grim as he listened to his wife.
"What about Slughorn? Has he found any book yet?" he asked. He had been thinking about Slughorn's visits to the Burrow lately and was informed about looking for a certain book that would lead them straight to the cure.
"He has found a book. They have it up there in Harry's room. I don't know anything about it. I don't believe they have gone through the rest of the book yet because Horace had to leave to brew more potions. I'm running out, and I don't know what else to do." Molly sat in one of the kitchen chairs looking worriedly at her husband who remained standing.
"Has Harry been eating well?"
"No," she said sadly. "He barely touched the food that I prepared for breakfast. He wasn't already feeling well when he came downstairs. He was still under the sleeping potion when we had lunch, too. I probably should brew a couple of nutritional potions for Harry to take if it comes down to it."
Arthur nodded his understanding.
"How's everything at the Ministry, dear?" Molly asked, trying to change the subject to lighten the depressing mood.
But Arthur could only bring bad news for now. He sighed and knew that he slightly contradicted himself when he replied, "Everything's fine. The Aurors have rounded up quite a bunch of Death Eaters. I haven't seen the wizarding community back in high spirits for seventeen years. You-Know-Who's gone, and they want to hear more of the Boy-Who-Lived. The way they were acting, I would assume they very much wanted his autograph, bombard him with questions, and all those nonsenses," he said with disgust. "They also said that Harry shouldn't be hiding, but instead, celebrate life in public with pride for being the saviour of the wizarding world. If only they knew what is really going on…" he trailed off, unable to say any more on what was in his mind.
"I wish they would just leave the poor boy alone," said Mrs. Weasley. "No one else knew about Harry's illness except us, right?"
"Well, I told Percy on my way here. I ran into him. He wanted to know why I was in such a hurry to get home, so I kind of told him that Harry's sick."
"How is Percy?" she asked. "He wouldn't tell anyone, would he?"
"Percy's alright," he said. "He wouldn't tell anybody. He knows it's family business so don't worry about him. And no one else knows, but as much as we want to keep it to ourselves, it may not be possible. People will eventually find out soon enough if Harry hasn't been seen for a long time and if there are no changes in Harry's health. It could cause suspicion, and they might start looking for his whereabouts. "
Meanwhile, in Harry's room, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny were discussing what they had just read in the book. Ginny sat cross-legged beside Harry who was fast asleep behind her. She held the Anima book in her hands. Ron was on the floor looking totally bored out of his mind, his head lulling as he drifted on and off in his sleep. Hermione, on the other hand, paced back and forth in front of them in deep thought.
"Tell me the first ingredient again, Ginny," Hermione said in frustration. To her, the ingredients were annoyingly cryptic to even comprehend. However, they had learned that a certain potion must be brewed and drank by the one who would attempt to mend a soul. They had been throwing out guesses for hours now, and they felt they were not even close to reaching the right answer.
"A strand of an untamed creature that is a visage of death," Ginny read in an audible whisper.
Hermione made a frustrated sigh. "There are a lot of ferocious creatures that could possibly be a visage of death... like a werewolf."
At the mention, Ron got a distant look in his eyes when a memory suddenly flashed through his mind. The magnified eyes of Professor Trelawney opened dramatically, and a look of shock etched onto her face when she cried to Harry, "My dear, you have the Grim!" Ron blanched at the thought.
"Do you think we need to tame a werewolf?" Ginny gravely wondered out loud, causing Ron to come back to reality.
"Dragons are pretty nasty creatures!" suddenly stated Ron. "They look like death to me." Hermione stopped her pacing but gave Ron no reaction that she had heard him when she responded back to Ginny. He frowned, feeling as though he was being ignored.
"I haven't even heard of a tamed werewolf. I am hoping that we wouldn't have to... no..." Hermione said thoughtfully. "It would be impossibly difficult to tame considering a werewolf loses entirely its human sense of right or wrong."
"That's true," Ginny agreed. "Although I doubt that a werewolf suffers from a permanent loss of moral sense according to that one book that I have read. It's completely rubbish."
"Are you talking about a book called 'Lupine Lawlessness: Why Lycanthropes Don't Deserve to Live'?" Hermione asked, her eyebrows knitting together.
"Yeah, that's the one," answered Ginny. Ron scowled at them.
"I wouldn't bother reading that book again. The way Professor Emerett Picardy wrote his thoughts about werewolves... I just can't... all loaded with crappy information." Hermione resumed her pacing. "What other creature than a werewolf could possibly symbolize death?"
"Dragons... crows... thestrals... the Grim..." Ron kept throwing some guesses. He shuddered at the thought of the Grim once again, remembering Harry's pattern in the teacup which he perceived at first was a bowler hat.
"Dragons could be true," Hermione said distantly when a memory of the dragon they saw in Gringott's bank suddenly showed on her mind.
Ron blinked for suddenly being regarded by Hermione, but she shook her head and said, "But I don't think it -" Her face suddenly lit up when the realization hit her.
"Thestrals!" she exclaimed.
"As crazy as it sounds, there was a time when Luna mentioned something about a creature that no one else can see unless you've seen death." Ron disclosed, relieved.
Ginny smiled and said, "That's it, then."
"Oh, Ron!" Hermione squealed in delight.
Ron raised his eyebrows at her, and asked, "But aren't they only good for pulling carts at Hogwarts or to transport you by flying?"
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Don't be silly, Ron. We studied them in Care of Magical Creatures with Hagrid, remember?"
"I still have the book," Ginny informed them. "We can look it up." Without waiting for an answer, she stood up and made her way to her room to fetch it.
"Ugh!" Ron slumped on the floor and glared at them. "More reading?"
"Honestly, Ron!" Hermione snapped at him. "You weren't really helping us. All you ever did was sleep."
"I did not!" he defended loudly causing Harry to shift in his sleep, but Harry didn't wake. Ron decided to just continue his glare at Hermione.
Ginny came back with the book in her hand. She opened the page to where "Thestral" was located and handed it to Hermione. She took it with great enthusiasm and started reading the contents silently.
"I found something," she said to them. "It is rumoured that the tail hair of a Thestral has been used as a powerful wand core."
"Rumored?" asked Ron.
"There might be a reason why," said Hermione. "We can ask Professor Slughorn when he comes back."
"Could that wand core possibly be in the Elder Wand?" Ron tried to guess. "It's the most powerful, right?"
"There's a high chance that it could be," muttered Hermione.
"So we need a strand of hair from a Thestral, then?" Ginny asked, wanting to confirm their suspicion now so they could move on to the next ingredient.
"I would think so," said Hermione. "I mean, it fits all the criteria in the book, and I don't know any other creatures that are a visage of death, do you?"
"Let's say we agreed on the Thestral," Ron chimed in. "How do we get the hairs then if we can't see them?"
Silence momentarily fell on them, and only Harry's breathing could be heard.
Hermione looked outside the window and said in a quiet voice, "I'm sure we can already see them. We've witnessed enough deaths at the war. The battle at Hogwarts took many lives, and as much as I would have wanted to refrain from witnessing someone dying, I just have to accept it."
Ron and Ginny nodded at her silently.
"Are the Thestrals at Hogwarts tamed?" Ron asked suddenly.
"Hagrid suspects that they're the only trained large group of Thestrals in the whole of Great Britain," Hermione said, remembering the class they had on their fifth year before Dolores Umbridge ruined his teaching career.
"Then, we have to find a wild one?" he asked.
"Yes," she said simply.
"But where? You don't think we have to leave the country and look for one, do you?"
"That's exactly what I think," said Hermione. She read another passage on Thestrals and said, "They're native in Ireland as well as Great Britain according to the book, and some parts of France and the Iberian Peninsula... but they are very rare, too, so we may have a hard time looking for them."
"Maybe Hagrid can help," Ginny suggested. "If there is someone who knows everything about Thestrals and other creatures, that would be Hagrid."
Hermione nodded. "That's true. We can send him a letter or we could go and visit him at Hogwarts."
"I can imagine his reaction once he finds out why we need the hair of a Thestral," said Ron glumly. "He'll go ballistic."
Hermione considered what he said. "But we don't have a choice here, do we? Harry's dying and we need to do something."
"I'm sure Hagrid will understand," said Ginny.
"Oh, he will after he strangle us!" Ron said sarcastically.
"Regardless whether Hagrid understands or not," said Hermione. "It wouldn't be easy to tell anybody what we plan on doing –"
"Doing what?" Harry asked suddenly. Ron, Hermione, and Ginny jumped in surprise.
"Harry!" they called.
Harry had finally awoken from his sleep and heard only a snippet of what Hermione was saying. He still felt groggy, but he managed to sit up straight in his bed. Ginny automatically slipped his glasses in his face.
"Doing what, Hermione?" he asked again, his voice raspy.
"N–nothing, Harry," she said nervously, casting a look at Ron and Ginny who were nervous as well for almost being heard. The one person they never wanted to tell for now was Harry. They knew he wouldn't take it lightly if he found out, and they remembered Harry wouldn't want anybody risking their life just for him; he had protested against situations like that many times already.
"How are you feeling, mate?" Ron asked, trying to save Hermione who was obviously bad at hiding things and lying about them.
Harry was still in a daze but managed to say, "I feel weak but I'm okay, I guess. Did I miss breakfast? I can't really remember anything."
"You tried to have breakfast," said Ron. "But you missed lunch. Are you sure you can't remember what happened a few hours ago?"
"Why? Did something happen?" asked Harry. His hair was looking dishevelled.
"You were saying odd stuff about looking for Horcruxes and wanting to leave the Burrow to kill Voldemort. Do you remember any of that?"
"I was what?" Harry tried to rack his brain but shook his head. "No. I don't remember."
"Well, don't worry about it now, Harry. You must be starving already," said Ginny.
Harry nodded and made to get up. He could feel his knees not cooperating when he wobbled a little as he stood. Ginny grabbed his arm before he hit the ground.
"Are you sure you want to walk, Harry?" Hermione asked after finally letting go of her nervousness.
"Yeah," Harry said weakly. "Although I would need some assistance since I don't think I can walk steadily."
It was painstakingly slow as they made their way downstairs. Mr. and Mrs. Weasley rushed forward when they saw them coming down.
"Mum, do you have any dinner ready?" Ginny asked. "Harry's starving."
"Yes, of course, dear." Mrs. Weasley said with a smile at Harry and walked frantically onto the kitchen to set the table.
"How are you feeling, Harry?" Mr. Weasley asked, guiding him to a chair.
"I'm still feeling weak but I'm doing well, Mr. Weasley."
Mr. Weasley patted his shoulder and sat down next to him. Harry saw him setting aside the Daily Prophet newspaper away from the table.
"I haven't had the chance to ask, but how's the Ministry doing so far?" Harry asked. Mrs. Weasley set a bowl of stew and vegetable salads in front of them while eyeing Mr. Weasley beadily.
Mr. Weasley smiled sadly at Harry and said, "To tell you the truth, Harry, the celebrations after the war haven't died down, not even in the slightest." He cleared his throat and continued. "They actually want you out there with them and not to just disappear. Kingsley Shacklebolt is trying his best to change the course of any talk to something else so you would get peace of mind, but unfortunately, people always tend to bring up your name; they want you badly."
"But, of course, we wouldn't let anyone know what you have been doing nor your whereabouts, so you won't have to worry, dear." Mrs. Weasley added quickly, assuring him of his safety. She cast a charm to have some more bowls of stew zoom on the table.
Harry lowered his head. "I'm sorry," he muttered sadly. Everyone looked at him.
Mr. Weasley cocked his eyebrow and asked, "Why are you sorry, Harry?"
"For the trouble that you have to put up just so I could live a normal life."
"You never have to apologize for wanting something like safety in your life, Harry," said Mr. Weasley softly. "Everyone here knows how important it is for you to get away from all that unwanted fame that you didn't ask for in the first place. You have all the rights for a normal life."
"Oh, Harry." Mrs. Weasley squeezed his shoulders. "Let's eat before the food gets cold."
All the attention turned back to the food whose scent wafted deliciously in front of them. Harry's stomach growled suddenly, and he found himself very eager to eat, much to everyone's delight.
They were halfway on their bowls when Harry, a thoughtful expression on his face, asked his friends, "So what were you guys discussing earlier when I was asleep?"
Ron choked suddenly and quickly exchanged nervous glances, of which Harry missed for a fraction of a second, with Hermione and Ginny who fidgeted in their seats.
"Job applications," lied Hermione. "You know, we were planning on doing it."
"Oh, you changed your mind of continuing your final year at Hogwarts?" asked Harry who also turned to Ginny and asked, "You're going back to school, right?" Ginny gave a curt nod.
Hermione tensed. "N–no, Harry. I'm still taking my final year."
Harry frowned at her, totally confused. "But you said –"
"I meant, Ron's doing the job applications now, and we plan on doing ours once we graduate, right Ginny?" Hermione asked her quickly, and the younger girl nodded again.
Harry could tell that they were hiding something. He had known Hermione for seven years and he knew how much of a bad liar she was.
"So, what's in the Anima book?" he asked, taking a bite of the salad. "I saw it when we were about to leave the room." Upon hearing it, Mr. and Mrs. Weasley looked at each other in confusion.
Ron's fork fell in his plate in a loud clatter at the mention of the book while Hermione sat frozen on the spot, the stew that she was about to eat was dripping from her spoon. Ginny was nervously looking between Ron and Hermione, unsure whether to say anything or not. Harry didn't miss a thing.
To be continued...
A/N: My one-shot Draco Malfoy story called "Troubled Mind" is now posted. Do check it out!
Beta-read by KVeronicaP
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