Harry headed to the common room, but upon arriving, he found it empty. Hermione had gotten Ron and Ginny moving in time for their classes.

Feeling confident that Ginny and Ron had been seen to, he headed for his meeting with Lupin. When he arrived, he was surprised to see not only Lupin, but also about half of the Order of the Phoenix present.

Lupin noted Harry's surprise at the array of people. "I told you I had a thought about your Occlumency training. As I wanted to keep your training in this area secret, the Order seemed the perfect solution. I have informed our friends here, of your desire to be "pushed" in this facet of protective magic. What I propose is dangerous. You would have complete control. With a single word from you, we will stop the drills. How far we go will be entirely up to you."

"How will it work?" asked Harry.

"I will begin the mental interrogation. When I have reached the limit of my ability, another member of the Order will join in. We feel that if you can withstand two or three of us simultaneously, you will have a very good chance against...others," he finished lamely.

"Against Voldemort," said Harry almost defiantly. "Let's not be coy about what we're trying to accomplish here. This practice may be the difference between life and death to me. You do me no service by taking an easy path. It is time to choose between what is easy and what is right."

Several members of the Order gasped. Elphias Doge clutched at his heart. "Very well," said Lupin resignedly.

Without so much as a warning, he raised his wand and started to parse Harry's mind. Harry could feel the intrusion but he shunted it to the side. He could feel Lupin trying to find out something about Dumbledore. Harry focused on Dumbledore's few words with the students... nitwit, blubber, oddment, tweak...he let mirth build inside. He thought of Dumbledore's crooked nose and his beard thrown over his shoulder so he could eat.

The amusement was stilled by a second intrusion. This one, Harry noted, was insistent about the castle. The pressure built. Harry fended off the questions about Dumbledore while casting up images of broom cupboards he had visited in the castle. He let the image of the school cupboards morph into the cupboard under the stairs at number four Privet Drive. He let horror of sleeping in the spider-filled cupboard fill his mind. His inquisitor capitalized on the horror and cast about for a scene to terrify Harry. Harry countered with the scene of a dead Aragog.

A third presence bullied its way into his head. Pressure was added about a best friend. Who was dearest to him? He saw the direction and the possible leverage a correct answer could give to an enemy. He evaded by seeing Dumbledore dead. He almost faltered at the thought. He thought of Sirius, and for an instant his courage flagged. The mental pressure was so intense that Harry could not see. He concentrated on a photograph of Gideon Prewett, Dorcas Meadowes, and Benjy Fenwick. He let a feeling of loss build until it was all he could feel. Tears poured from his eyes.

More pressure was joined; questions about the Order of the Phoenix. He parried the earlier thrusts and met the new interrogation with thought of Sir Cadogan and his fat pony. He compartmentalized the earlier questions, keeping active ploys in each shadowed box. He saw Sir Cadogan trying with all his might to withdraw his sword from the grass.

More pressure was added. Questions about family, what caused him terror, what was his greatest love, his most cherished possession, passages in and out of Hogwarts, his favorite potion; on each front he gave either inane or misleading information. His concentration was all consuming. He sidestepped questioning. He misdirected thought. He wept and he shook, and finally it was over.

Harry found himself tied to a chair in a dark dungeon. He couldn't remember how he came to be there. A dark cloaked figure was standing over him. Harry could see in the folds of the hooded cloak, two glowing eyes. Cochineal eyes. Voldemort's eyes. His world became pain. A small voice echoed in his head. "Just tell me Harry. Just tell me, and it will all stop. No need to put yourself through this. Just tell me."

Harry had no idea what he was supposed to tell, but his mind caught on a fragment of a statement. He had heard it somewhere a lifetime ago... a reason to chance the incursion... He fought back. He opened the mental conduit and reversed the tide. Compartments collapsed and were replaced by disjointed memories, childhoods he hadn't experienced, places he had never been, unknown people, bizarre behavior and fears beyond anything he had ever imagined.

Then all was quiet.

Harry looked down at his arms expecting to see ropes tying him to his chair. There were none. The dungeon was gone. Voldemort was gone. His clothing was soaked in tears and sweat. Someone, he suspected himself, had vomited on the floor at his feet. He raised his head and was surprised to see members of the Order of the Phoenix surrounding him in the room.

"They've come to rescue me," was his first thought. "Thank you," he managed to croak though a tortured throat.

"I've never seen the like," said a strained bass voice.

Harry knew the voice. "Kingsley? Is that you?"

"Yes Harry," replied Kingsley Shacklebolt. "How do you feel?"

"Like you got here in the nick of time," replied Harry weakly.

"We've been here all along," rumbled Kingsley.

Harry focused on the room. A desk, chain mail armor and a broadsword, nigh on a dozen faces swimming in and out of focus. Lupin's classroom. Hogwarts castle. He was safe.

"What happened? How did Voldemort get me out of the castle and how did you get me back?" questioned Harry as he struggled to rise from his seated position.

"It was all in your mind," said Nymphadora Tonks. "You took on the entire Order of the Phoenix; well all that would fit in this room anyway."

It started to come back to Harry.

Lupin pressed a piece of chocolate into his hand. "Eat, Harry. Chocolate is good for what ails you."

Harry bit a piece of the chocolate and let it melt on his tongue. He swallowed. He felt better. He looked around the room, and to his surprise, Lupin was handing chocolate to all the members of the Order. Some looked peaky, others appeared downright sick.

Lupin made a full circuit of the room before returning to Harry. "Feeling better?" he asked hopefully. "Although I can't imagine how you would after that onslaught."

"What happened Professor?" asked Harry candidly.

"We did as I said we would," answered Lupin. "After I had reached the extent of my ability to probe your mind, the others joined me one by one. I kept expecting you to signal a stop, but you didn't." He turned to the Order members. "Did any of you extract any useful information?"

Heads shook, and negative results were chorused throughout the room.

"Who projected Voldemort into my thoughts?" questioned Harry.

"What do you mean?" asked Kingsley, ignoring gasps from Order members.

"At the end, I thought I was in a room alone with Voldemort. He was torturing me." Harry looked around the room. No one seemed to know what he was talking about.

"We were told to try and pull information from you, nothing more," said Tonks.

"You held us all at bay, while giving no useful information," said Dedalus Diggle.

"In the end, you fought back and reversed all of our pressure," wheezed Elphias Doge. Doge's hands shook as he took a stone water pitcher from a nearby table. He slopped water as he attempted to fill a tin cup, and shuddered violently when he drank.

"And you did it without so much as raising a wand. It's as Kingsley said, I've never heard of the like," added Diggle.

"You've come a long way from the young bloke I found trapped under an invisibility cloak last fall," said Tonks admiringly.

"Let's get on with it," said Harry squaring himself in his chair.

"You're joking," said Lupin.

"Not in the least," said Harry. "Do you think Voldemort will let up, that he'll take a rest?"

"Probably not," admitted Lupin reluctantly. "If you intend to resume, you may want to rethink your strategy. Distraction will work in short bursts. In a protracted examination, I'm afraid you are going to have to fight back. You did admirably this time, but you let us gain the upper hand before turning the game around. Determine where your limit is. If you are trying to get away... cover your thoughts. If you are trying to win... use the power you just showed us."

"Potter," growled a voice, and Alastor Moody made his way to the front, "we have talked about constant vigilance. This training makes me believe the you intend on a confrontation."

"Whether I intend it or not," said Harry. "It will happen."

"Well then let's prepare you for the inevitable." Without warning, Moody raised his wand and shouted, "Legilimens."

Harry's mind swam with the renewed onslaught. He didn't let Moody get as far as before. He pushed back. Harry's mind was filled with images almost as terrible as the earlier questioning. He saw and felt the destruction of Moody's body piece by piece. He shuddered at the loss of a leg and then an eye. He felt the pain of wounds, the stiffness of healed injuries. But most terrifying, he felt the hopelessness of fighting a never-ending battle against Voldemort, the sick feeling of watching friends die. He pushed away the images and his mind cleared. He could see Moody standing in front of him. He walled off the pain and reached out and touched Moody.

Moody seemed to shrink from the touch. "You did well lad," he gruffed. "A Legilimens can take thoughts and memories from his own past and project them into your mind. Not all the demons will come from you. You may be forced to watch ugly things. Things intended to break you mentally. Be firm in the knowledge that they were not your actions."

Harry nodded understanding.

They practiced again and again. Harry experimented with the fine balance of how far to let them push before he pushed back. After another hour the entire group was mentally exhausted.

"Harry, I believe it is safe to say that no student in the history of Hogwarts has had a more grueling examination," said Lupin.

"Aurors undergo a similar test," injected Moody. "But they never face multiple interrogators. I believe this is singular, not only in its scope, but in the age of the individual tested. Potter you'll make one hard-shelled Auror."

Harry looked around the room. Most of the Order members looked ill. "Thank you all," he said. "I know it hasn't been pleasant, but you have helped prepare me. When I face Voldemort, I'll be stronger because of you."

The members filed past Harry and shook his hand. Each offered encouraging words. Moody clumped up and gave a lop-sided smile. "Remember, Potter, mind battles are silent. Avoid them if you can; if you must fight, fight with everything you've got, fight to win. You'll get no warnings. Constant vigilance!"

Harry nodded and watched the witches and wizards scrum at the door. Elphias Doge seemed to be blocking the exit.

Doge turned to Lupin and asked a bit hesitantly, "Remus, I haven't been inside Hogwarts in many a year. Could we have a quick tour? Just for old time's sake?"

"I'm sure I can arrange it Elphias," responded Lupin. "But I'll have to get another teacher to escort you. This session has nearly done me in."

Harry looked at Lupin and was shocked. Lupin had participated fully in the Occlumency training and looked distinctly drained. Harry recalled Lupin saying that he wanted to conserve his strength.

"I have a free hour Professor," said Harry, feeling at fault for Lupin's state. "Headmistress McGonagall and I have an agreement about allowing me to escort here on the grounds."

"The Headmistress has informed the staff of your arrangement," said Lupin. "I see no problem if you exercise caution." He turned to the Order members. "How many would like to join Harry on a tour?"

Eight hands were raised. Others, like Tonks, Moody, and Shacklebolt were already familiar with the castle; and some had fought Death Eaters just a week before and did not seem inclined to re-live the dark memory.

"Very well," said Lupin. "Take an hour and I'll have the Headmistress meet you in the entrance hall."

The group split up. Harry took his entourage to a high arched window that afforded a look across the lake. He then led a desultory trip through the castle, avoiding the Death- Eater-damaged Astronomy tower. He ended the tour early in the entrance hall and had intended to wait for McGonagall, when he was interrupted by Elphias Doge's wheezing.

"Potter," began Doge.

Harry was struck by Doge's tone, it seemed strained. He interrupted, "Please call me Harry."

Doge seemed put upon. "I have a difficult time with that liberty. A habit of my generation perhaps," stammered Doge. "But if you insist... Harry. I was wondering if Apollyon Pringle's detention room still exists? If it does, I'd like to put a long-fought fear to rest."

"I'm afraid I don't know," said Harry candidly. "I've never heard of the place."

"And lucky you are," mumbled Doge. "It was down in the dungeons at the terminus of the south passage. Could we take a look?" Doge's words had a pleading quality.

Harry, no stranger to facing mental demons, agreed to the excursion. "You'll have to show us the way," said Harry as he gave the front of the group over to Doge.

"I recall the way quite well. I travel the corridor in nightmares much too frequently." Doge took the lead and his gasping wheezes echoed off the stone walls as the group made their way down through the castle and into the dungeons. Doge led them to a blank wall at the end of a dead-end passage. He seemed almost apoplectic with fear. Hesitantly he reached out and touched the stone with a trembling hand.

"We don't have to do this," said Harry, concerned about Doge's rattling breathing.

"We don't," gasped Doge, "But I must." He faced the wall and recited...

Reprimands for rule breakers,

I think not

Pain is a teacher that's never forgot

Harry's mouth fell open as the stone simply vanished. Inside was the scene out of a nightmare; manacles, stocks, rusty chains, and things Harry didn't want to know the purpose of, filled the room.

Doge staggered into the room. His breathing quickened and echoed even more loudly off the close walls. "This is the place," he gasped. "No student ever made it out of this room without a mark, physical... or otherwise." He walked haltingly through the assortment of fiendish devices and quickly exited the room. "I've seen enough. This room hasn't been used for ages. That's all the better for the school and the students." He pushed past the Order members and back into the passage.

Although Doge was satisfied, Harry and the other Order members were not. They crowded the room and looked with wondrous dread at the distressing artifacts.

Dedalus Diggle saw Harry looking at a rusty metal press. "Thumbscrew," explained Diggle. "Pringle left during my first year at Hogwarts. Stories of him were dark legend used to scare the new students. Looking at this, I'd say the stories were more than just legend."

For a long time the group examined the room with morbid curiosity. Suddenly, Harry realized he could no longer hear Doge's wheezing. Afraid the sickly wizard had collapsed, Harry tore into the hall passage. It was entirely empty.

"We've got to go!" shouted Harry. "Elphias Doge is missing!"

He gathered the group and headed for the staff room to enlist help. They arrived out of breath and found only two teachers in the room. Harry explained the situation and watched as Professor Flitwick called the staff with the same spell Madam Pomfrey had used to gather escorts. Within five minutes, six more teachers were pressed into service. Each teacher took an Order member, divided up the castle and started the search. Harry ended up with tiny Professor Flitwick.

They had barely started to search their portion of the castle when Harry had a brain wave. He called Professor Flitwick to a halt and dug the Marauder's Map from his robe.

He hadn't even activated the charmed map when a voice wheezed from behind. "No need for that Pott... Harry," the voice corrected.

It was Doge, and he was a sight. Pale and drenched in sweat, he had his hand on a doorknob leading off the corridor. Doge's attention was so intent that Harry found himself examining the door along with the aged wizard.

Doge seemed to come to himself when he saw Harry match his gaze. "Isn't this the way to the hospital wing?" he asked weakly.

"No," said Harry. "That's the Trophy Room. We can take you to hospital," he said, putting away the unused Marauder's Map.

"Thank you, but I think I'll go with Filius," gasped Doge.

Professor Flitwick seemed surprised, but used the teacher-summoning spell to advise the others that Doge had been located.

"Professor Flitwick, do you want my help?" asked Harry.

"No Potter," said Flitwick. "I can manage. And I believe you have a class to teach."

He then took the struggling wizard by the elbow and headed toward the hospital.

Harry looked at his watch. Flitwick was right. He had used his entire afternoon. It was nearly time for D.A. training. He headed off immediately for the Room of Requirement.

Upon arrival, Harry saw Ron and Hermione waiting patiently with a large group of students and teachers.

"Harry," began Hermione, "I think that we may need a more relaxed form of training tonight. Many of the D.A. members are sporting minor injuries from the intensity of the last few practices. They didn't want me to say anything, but I felt it was my obligation to point it out to you."

Harry was taken aback. "I'm sorry," he said addressing the crowd. "I have ignored the hurts and drains of our practices. It was foolish of me not to consider the effect of the drills on you. It will work out well, however. Tonight is all about defence."

Hermione looked placated. The D.A. was signed in and entered the Room of Requirement. A quiet fell as the D.A. saw the interior of the room. The room was fabric covered and had odd shapes protruding at random intervals from the walls and ceiling. Harry smiled inwardly at the room's ability to anticipate his intent.

"Please sit down and put away your wands," said Harry. The D.A. responded quickly and very soon all were seated. An unnatural silence seemed to descend. Harry's voice was as a foghorn. "I'm about to introduce you to an aspect of magic that may be entirely unique," said Harry. He noticed some of the teachers putting their heads together, no doubt to razor the thought of magic with which they were not familiar.

"I would like everyone to close their eyes." Harry had no more than spoken the words when Cormac McLaggen stood up in the stands.

"Before I close my eyes, I want to see the D.A. sign from you," he challenged.

Rather than being put out, Harry silently smiled and gave the sign. "It's good to see you exercising caution. In a few short days we will be away from Hogwarts. Our safety will be in our own hands. Well done Cormac!"

McLaggen nodded at the compliment and sat down. Harry waited until everyone had closed their eyes. "Magic has many manifestations. I have learned it can be seen, smelled, to some extent tasted, touched, and most importantly heard."

"Poppycock," said someone among the teachers, a little more loudly than they had intended. In the quiet of the room, the word seemed to roll tympani.

Harry ignored the comment. "The senses we use to position ourselves in the world every day are the same senses we can use to understand, recognize, and defeat magic. I'm going to put out the lights. Please don't panic. Just sit as quietly as possible." He extinguished the lights. There was initial murmuring but quiet quickly settled. Harry closed his eyes and concentrated. The power of the Room of Requirement manifested itself in a single deep low note. Harry drank it in like an elixir.

He heard gasps as others in the group identified the tone.

That's right," he said in a whisper that nearly covered the magical timbre. "There is a subtle sound associated with magic. Each spell has an identifying pitch. The trick is to focus well enough to separate the sound from the background noise." He relit the lights and called for a volunteer. Valarie Brae, a straw-haired first-year Hufflepuff, timidly raised her hand. Harry called her forward.

He put on a blindfold he had seen on a nearby shelf and turned to the tiny girl. "I want you to move quietly to somewhere in the room and cast a spell at me."

She began to protest, but Harry reassured her. With a concerned look on her face, she did as she was told. Valarie's spell was whispered, and Harry picked it out easily from the background noise and negated it. Immediately a second, silent, much more powerful spell headed Harry's way. He gathered himself and shunted the spell away, being careful to redirect it a goodly distance from where he surmised Valarie stood.

He tore off his blindfold just in time to see a scuffle in the stands that ended in a bright flash of yellow. Cormac McLaggen had turned into a canary. Laughter filled the room.

Dennis Creevey stepped forward. Harry noticed that he was slipping a silver saltcellar into his robe pocket. "It didn't seem fair to attack you unannounced, but it appears I was wrong," said Dennis, motioning to the canary. "He'll be back to his old self in a while." More laughter followed Dennis's explanation.

"Thanks Dennis," said Harry with a smile. "We see again that it's not wise to underestimate a member of the D.A., but in order for the instruction to proceed, we'll have to suspend retribution. Hermione would you please come here."

Hermione made her way from the stands. Harry paired her up with Dennis, who looked concerned at the match-up.

"Hermione could you hear the pitch of the magic?" asked Harry.

She nodded.

Harry called Dennis to Hermione's side. "You won't be attacking each other. Dennis, you will be protecting Hermione. He positioned Valarie in front of Hermione and finished his instructions. "Dennis you will see the location of the attack, Hermione you won't." He tied the blindfold across her eyes. "Dennis will wait as long as possible to protect you Hermione. Your job is to listen for the direction of the attack and defend yourself if you can. Trust what you can hear, but remember, regardless, you will be protected by Dennis."

The first two attempts found Dennis casting shield charms at the last instant. The third time, Hermione turned and deflected the magic on her own. The D.A. applauded wildly. Hermione took off her blindfold blushing furiously.

The concept taught, Harry divided the group into threes and proceeded with the practice. "Until you are comfortable with this magic, please use verbal spells." Many voiced thanks at this bit of instruction, but Harry noticed that as the night wore on, nonverbal spells began to be employed by the more daring groups.

Harry mixed and matched, sorted and reordered, changed and realigned the groups many times over the next two hours. He saw with satisfaction that even teachers and first-year students were becoming comfortable together. At the end of the three-hour practice (Cormac McLaggen had molted and rejoined the group), Harry called a halt.

"You've done very well," he said, smiling broadly. "A word of caution though. It is evident to you by now that the larger the magic, the more pronounced is its accompanying sound. Small, subtle, insignificant magics are more difficult to detect. Practice those. Learn to hide something small and effective in the surrounding chatter and you will become a formidable force."

Laughter erupted as Harry's cloak hood jetted up and covered his eyes. Assuming he was the recipient of a very well placed spell, he turned quickly and found Ron standing behind him.

"Did it by hand mate!" said Ron. "Stealth helps too!"

Harry joined the laughter as the D.A. broke up to compare notes and experiences about the evening.

As the last students shuffled away with teachers, Ginny approached Harry. "Let's talk about your plans to find the remaining Horcruxes."

Harry was shocked by Ginny's bluntness. "I believe there is only one left to be found," he said, answering her unasked question. "I destroyed the ones in the basilisk and the diary, Dumbledore eliminated one in the Peverell ring. I'm confident that Riddle's award holds a fourth, probably Helga Hufflepuff's transfigured cup. One each in the snake, and Voldemort himself; that leaves Slytherin's locket Regulus took from the cave."

"I thought you had the locket," said Ginny, a tinge of dispair in her voice.

Harry explained the fake locket he and Dumbledore had recovered from the cave. Then he told of the finding and the experimentation on the locket from Grimmauld Place resulting in the conclusion that it was not a Horcrux.

He pulled Regulus's letter to Sirius from his backpack and handed it to Ron and Hermione as they joined the conversation. "That," he said pointing to Regulus' letter, "leads me to believe that Regulus had the locket, in some form, inside Grimmauld Place. Sirius would have known what Regulus meant by "hidden in plain sight," but I have no clue what it might mean."

Hermione finished reading Regulus's letter. She turned pale and sat down on the floor.

"Hermione!" exclaimed Ron. "Are you all right?"

"I don't know if I'm all right or not," she said shakily. "But I think I just had a revelation about where the locket might be!"

Harry, Ginny, and Ron crowded close to Hermione, who was attempting to still her rapid breathing.

"Madam Pomfrey?" queried Ron.

"No," said Hermione. "What we need is a way to Grimmauld Place."

"What are you thinking?" asked Ginny.

"The tapestry in the drawing room. I need to see it. I need to see it now!" Hermione looked wildly around the Room of Requirement. Her gaze came to rest upon a fireplace tucked into one corner of the room. "If we had some floo powder, we could make a quick trip," she said with a note of desperation in her voice.

Harry replaced the letter in his backpack and withdrew a small leather pouch. He pulled the drawstring and exposed the glittering green floo powder.

"You never cease to amaze me," said Ginny in admiration. "Let's go."

"This should be carefully planned," began Harry.

Hermione cut him short. "I have a distinct feeling that we should go now. Right now!" She headed for the fireplace.

"Wait," said Harry, "How do we even know that this fireplace is connected to the floo network? And we are all tired." He heard his own words and was annoyed to be the voice of reason-tempered action.

"If it isn't connected, we won't go anywhere," said Hermione.

"I suppose you read that in a book somewhere?" chided Ron.

"No actually," said Hermione, "but the Room of Requirement hasn't let us down yet."

"Right! If you don't count the list of D.A. members it left on the wall, or the Red Cap that almost did Harry in," said Ron sarcastically.

"Are you coming with me, or am I going by myself?" asked Hermione forcefully.

Ron looked at Harry and Ginny. "Count me in," he said. "Me too," chimed in Ginny. As one they turned to Harry. "Brilliant! Let's go!" he said with forced enthusiasm.

Within a minute they were standing in the kitchen of number twelve Grimmauld Place. It was dark and cold. An oppressive, derelict feeling hung in the stale air.

"Cheery place, this" said Ron.

"Shh!" whispered Hermione sternly. She lit her wand tip and silently led them up to the drawing room.

The door stood ajar. Harry was sure he had closed it after his prior visit, but he didn't know if any of the Order had visited after Dumbledore's death. His nerves went on high alert as the ancient house creaked and moaned like a living thing.

He watched the room and scanned his senses as Hermione examined the tapestry. She was about to trace a fine golden thread with her finger when he cautioned her not to touch the fabric.

"Forget-me-mites," he explained in a low hiss.

"Oh!" mouthed Hermione and she did her search a distance from the fabric. She followed the complicated intertwining branches around the room. Finally she clapped her hands. "I thought so!" she exclaimed, forgetting her own caution of silence. She pointed to the names Phineas Nigellus Black and Ursula Flint joined by a thread of marriage. "The blood lines of both of Regulus's parents lead to the same great-great-grandparents. His great-great-grandmother Ursula did have a flint heart. Her maiden name was Flint!"

"Great to know," said Harry a bit sarcastically, "but what good does it do us?"

"The Black family lived here for generations. How often were you in the room where Sirius kept Buckbeak?" asked Hermione.

"I...what?" asked Harry failing to see any connection.

"I often wondered why Sirius went to the trouble to lead the hippogriff up all those staircases. There surely had to be a more convenient place to board him. I put it down to a last show of contempt for the mother who so spitefully disowned him. Buckbeak made a terrible mess of the room. Sirius made no effort to keep it sanitary. I even heard him order Kreacher to leave off cleaning it. Another statement I suppose. But what I did notice was the furniture... A matching black-lacquered bedroom set. It was probably beautiful before Buckbeak; afterward... well let's just say it was spoiled."

"Still missing the connection," piped in Ron.

Hermione was about to answer when the sound of a building magic swell became apparent. They turned as one, wands drawn, and obliterated the wall of magic from Bellatrix Lestrange.

"The itty babies," sneered Bellatrix, "and no one to protect them." She cackled.

Harry fought to control his immediate anger. Slytherin's magic demanded preeminence. He pushed his emotions down as he faced the woman who had murdered his godfather. "Looking for a ticket to Azkaban?" snarled Harry. He saw his friends had formed into a protective triplet.

"And I suppose that you, baby Potter, think you can send me to Azkaban?" derision dripped from each word.

"Yeah I do," was all the Harry was able to utter through his clenched teeth.

"Perhaps the tiny babies are afraid of the dark..." She loosed another wave of magic. Darkness enveloped the room. Harry gathered the magic and shunted it into the ancient tapestry. The walls of the drawing room shook with the impact. The tapestry rustled softly as if disturbed by a breeze. Harry shot a beam of dazzling white light at Bellatrix. She dodged and the huge door behind her shattered to kindling.

"Babies have learned to play with new toys," she mocked. In a whirl of robes, she turned into a fast-moving blur.

Harry let her go, all the while keeping track of her through his tuned glasses. She came to a halt next to one of the empty display cases. "A shame," she said looking at the vacant shelves. "I remember several things I would have liked to introduce to you and your little friends. No matter."

She was about to hurl another magic when a singular thing happened. Harry saw a thin trail of subtle magic extending from beneath the tapestry to the hem of Bellatrix's robe. Moving gently along the ribbon of magic were tiny jet beads. As each bead touched Bellatrix's hem, it fractured and released a tiny puff of fluff.

Bellatrix shuddered and looked around the room. She seemed momentarily confused but then she saw Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny with their wands drawn and pointed at her. With a horrific shriek, she ran from the room. Harry gave chase, but when he finally rounded the corner into the basement kitchen, all he saw was the green flames of her floo escape.

Ron, Hermione, and Ginny came pelting into the kitchen after him.

"Did you get her?" asked Ginny breathlessly.

"No she was faster," said Harry abashedly, as he sealed the fireplace with the Impervable spell. "But what was she doing here?"

"I'd like to know that too, but did the forget-me-mites work?" asked Hermione.

"Is that what it was? It sure took her mind off whatever she was doing," said Ron.

"I saw them falling from the tapestry after the collision with her spell," said Hermione. "I took your advice about small magic. I didn't think she would notice and apparently she didn't."

"Impressive," said Ron as he took her hand. "But the mites didn't affect me. What were you going to say about Sirius's mother's room? Let's hurry up and get out of here."

"First, how many more fireplaces do you think there are in this manor?" asked Harry. "I don't want any more nasty interruptions."

"At least a dozen," answered Ginny. "If Hermione intends to lead us up to Mrs. Black's bedroom we could cover each one on the way there."

"Great idea," said Harry. "Let's hurry in case Bellatrix tries to come back with reinforcements. She could have overheard our conversation about Sirius's mother's room."

"That shouldn't be a problem," opined Hermione. "She seemed to completely forget what she was about after the mite's bites."

"Hope they keep biting her," said Ron with a malicious smile.

"I'd rather not take any chances," said Harry as he led the way out of the kitchen.

The four stopped in every room, placing shields over fireplaces in studies, bedrooms, in a library and a conservatory, even in a nursery full of desiccated plants. Hermione finally stopped them outside an ornate door in the fourth floor corridor.

"This was Walburga Black's bedroom. We'll cover the fireplace first, but be very careful." Hermione opened the door a crack, and peered into the darkness. She waited several long minutes. Everything seemed still as death. Finally satisfied that she heard no magic, she let the others into the room. Her first act was to cover the fireplace as Harry had taught her. Then she lit a black candle that was perched on a silver candlestick embossed with the Black family crest.

The room flickered evilly in the black taper's light.

"What a mess!" exclaimed Ron as he drew his robe over his mouth and nose.

Hermione had been correct about Sirius never cleaning the room. Bones, scraps of rat offal, and hippogriff dung combined to give the room a most putrid odor.

"Hurry up and show us what you wanted to show us. I can't stand it in here very long," said Ron in a telling gasp.

Hermione hadn't moved. She was looking at the back of a full-length dressing mirror. Across the back of the mirror was a heavy gold chain. She turned the mirror to the room. The glass was dirty and in places the silvering was faded, but what held her attention was a locket suspended across the mirror by the draped chain. Standing in front of the mirror, the locket appeared directly over Hermione's heart in the battered reflection.

Ginny gasped. "I came here several times with Sirius. I never noticed the mirror."

"It wouldn't have meant much to me either," said Hermione, "but one day I asked Sirius why it was turned to the wall. He said it had seen too many dark reflections; he didn't have the heart to look at the thing. I think he was telling me something about his mother without voicing it."

Harry looked at the locket with all his devices, but as he had feared, the gold prevented his efforts to see inside. Ron, Ginny, and Hermione kept a respectful distance as Harry continued his examination. He took a shard of bone from the littered floor and attempted to look under the locket. It wouldn't budge.

"I was afraid of that," said Harry. "Permanent sticking charm. I know Sirius well enough to know if the locket bothered him, and he could have thrown it away, he would have done so. All the Order of the Phoenix couldn't remove Walburga Black's magic on her portrait or the tapestry. Possibly, she was the only one who could dissolve her own magic..."

A far-away look crossed Harry's face. "I've got an idea. Follow me."

He led them from the room and to the downstairs corridor that held Walburga Black's portrait. "You need to make yourselves scarce," whispered Harry. "I need to talk to Mrs. Black alone."

Looks of surprise and concern crossed his friends' faces, but they didn't argue the point.

Harry stood in front of the curtains pulled over the portrait of Sirius's mother. He closed his eyes and concentrated on the photograph of Regulus Black that Horace Slughorn had shown him. Then he considered the image he had seen in his reverse incantation of Regulus's potion. He focused and silently conjured a robe with the Black family crest over the breast. He concentrated on Regulus's face. Suddenly, shimmering in front of him was a pearly-white image of that face.

In a tentative voice, he said very clearly... "Mother?"

The curtains flew open to reveal a wrinkled, haggard-looking old woman. "What!" she started in a screech until she saw the image of Regulus standing in front of her. She stared at him with deep distrust.

"You're dead," she said with pained suspicion.

"No argument there mother," said Harry. "So are you."

"What do you want?" she demanded.

"I experimented a bit before I was killed. In death I have gained opportunity to visit my former haunts. I wanted to pay my mother a visit," said Harry, trying to mimic the vocal tones he had heard in his delving.

"I don't believe you," growled the portrait. "Prove to me you are who you say you are!"

Harry swallowed hard. "When I was a child, I used to watch you brush your hair in front of the mirror in your bedroom. As an adult, I asked permission to use our house elf in an experiment that could have killed him. You gave me your permission."

Walburga Black's face softened from horrifying to simply scary. "Why are you here?" she demanded.

"I know what the locket you had draped over your mirror meant to you..." he began.

"You have been in the secret library, haven't you!" she said her voice rising.

"No. Actually I came to retrieve the locket and hang it here on your portrait. I thought it might give you a measure of solace."

"You were always my favorite son," said the portrait in a sickly attempt to sound sweet.

"I just attempted to bring the locket to you, but it is stuck fast to the mirror." Harry let the comment hang.

Walburga Black considered him intently. Finally she said, "After you, your father, and your uncle were killed in the space of a year; I realized that I was probably next. I made arrangement for some of my personality to be stored in this portrait. With Kreacher's help, I secured several important items around the manor. I'm sad to say I never considered hanging the locket on my portrait."

"I may still be able to do that if you can tell me how to release the magic." Harry's heart raced at the gambit he was choosing.

Walburga's eyes narrowed. Harry saw his window of opportunity closing. He gambled. "But if you don't want the locket where you can see it every day, that's fine by me. It's just that this is the only time I will be allowed to speak to you. It's now or never."

Harry turned his back on the portrait. "Goodbye mother," he said and he started down the hall.

"Wait!" she shrieked. "I can tell you. The secret to the seal is...house elf spit and polish. House elf spittle can hold anything together... hold it exactly how it is. It's the strongest fixative in the wizarding world."

"Then I presume that I'm fighting a loosing cause," said Harry sadly.

"Wait!" shrieked the portrait a second time. "The fixative can be defeated. She bit her tongue as she fought the desire to keep the secret. Finally her lust for the locket won out. "Water," she blurted.

"What?" asked Harry as he turned to face the portrait.

"Once it's dried, water is the only solvent effective on house elf sealant. But you must start at the lowest point. If the water flows from the top, it will prevent removal... ever." She sank back in her chair as if exhausted by the conversation.

"I will return with the locket," said Harry as he pulled the curtains shut and headed up the stair.

Quietly, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny fell in behind him. No one said a word until they were inside the upstairs bedroom.

"That was brilliant Harry," said Hermione. "Although it is a bit distressing looking at you in that garb."

"It's only for a few minutes," said Harry. He produced a spritzer bottle filled with water. Starting at the bottom of the chain and locket, he sprayed his way to the top, drenching everything around the mirror in the process. The chain drooped from its fixed position.

"She was telling the truth," said Ron in amazement.

"I'm a bit surprised too," said Harry. He removed the chain and shook the water from the locket. Fingering a clasp at the back, he flipped it open. Nestled inside, protected by the outer gold locket, was a second gold locket and chain. Harry put away all things magical. He pulled the gold pocket lining from his robe and slipped the second locket inside. As the locket turned over, he saw the ornate S worked in fine gold wires on the face of the locket.

"This is it," said Harry in awe as he looked at Slytherin's locket. Somewhere inside his brain, Slytherin's magic assailed, demanding reunion with the locket. He fought back the nausea and placed the lining back in his robe pocket. Clicking the outer locket closed he headed for the door.

"We can leave from here," offered Ron, motioning to a fireplace.

"I've got a promise to fulfill," said Harry as he headed from the room.

"He's gone loony," said Ron, appealing to Ginny and Hermione. "Why face the old bat again?"

"It's just who he is," responded Ginny as she followed a distance behind Harry.

Harry stopped in front of the curtains. "Mother?" he asked.

The curtains flew apart. The look on the old witch's face was one of intense longing. Harry draped the chain across the frame so the locket was suspended in the centre of the portrait.

Not really a smile, but more a lessening of the grimace, extended across Walburga Black's face. Without a word, the curtains snapped shut.

"Hogwarts?" whispered Ron hopefully.

"Not quite yet," said Harry as he removed his Regulus disguise. "Did you catch the reference to the secret library? I have to admit to more than a little curiosity. There may be reference on how to destroy a Horcrux."

"More likely how to create them," countered Ron in a half-whisper.

"We're here. Let's take a look," said Ginny. She took Harry by the hand and headed for the library.

Once there, Harry scanned the titles and had to admit that Ron had a fair point. He saw nothing he cared to commit to his memory.

"Harry! Over here!" exclaimed Hermione. "Listen to this!"

She had stopped in front of a polished ebony bookstand holding a single sheet of foolscap. As Harry hurried to her side, he could hear it too... the hum of strong magic.

"Put away anything magical," said Harry, as he used the opportunity to teach his friends. "First we must look for masking magic..."

Ron, who had been attempting to stuff his wand in his robe pocket, trod on his robe hem and staggered into the stand.

"Watch out!" yelled Ginny.

The parchment launched from the stand straight at Harry's throat. Ron interposed himself between Harry and the pugnacious parchment. It swerved and attacked Ron, slashing at his jumper with its edges. The slashes severed fabric but stopped at the unicorn hairs. Harry encased the paper in a golden orb.

"Thanks! That was close," said Harry. "Did it get you?"

"A scratch," said Ron holding up his right hand. Blood flowed freely from a razor-like cut across the back of his hand.

Harry staunched the flow of blood and sealed the slash wordlessly.

"Blimey mate! You're a healer!" said Ron in surprise.

"I only know a bit of basic wizard-aid," said Harry modestly, and he changed the subject. "Imagine the twisted mind behind magic that could kill you with paper cuts."

"It fits some of the other magic we have encountered here," reminded Hermione. "Each foul bit was blended with its surroundings... the robes in the wardrobe that tried to strangle Ronald, the grandfather clock that shot bolts shaped like clock hands, the fabric-fluff forget-me-mites in the tapestry... its evil. Let's get out of here." She buried her face in Ron's shoulder and began to cry. "If not for the unicorn hair and your magic, you and Harry could have been killed," she sobbed.

Ron pulled her into a protective embrace.

"Right," said Harry, "but if the truth be told, he wouldn't have been in danger if not for me."

"You can't take all the credit, nor all of the blame," said Ginny. "We came here because we wanted to, not because you made us come along."

Ginny's words seemed to salve Harry's stinging conscience.

"I'll finish up here, and we'll go," said Harry. "I guess there is no need to waste the efforts we have already expended."

He re-approached the pedestal, and in a few minutes, succeeded in disassembling all the magic surrounding the ebony stand. With a slight push, the top slid sideways, revealing a cavity in the base of the pedestal. It was filled with several scrolls and two small leather-bound books.

"A secret library?" mused Harry aloud. He sealed the items in a protective sphere and slid the false top back into position.

"That's enough for one jaunt. Let's go back to Hogwarts," said Harry as he dissolved the shield from the library fireplace and conjured a roaring fire. He whisked the globe holding the murderous parchment into the flames. When he removed the orb, the parchment curled to ash with an eerie shriek. He tossed in floo powder, and in a flash, they were gone.

When they reappeared, spinning and ash covered, in the Room of Requirement, Ron sat right down on the floor.

Hermione let out a little scream. "Ronald!" was all she could utter.

"Maybe there was something on the cutting edges of the paper. Poison perhaps?" reasoned Ginny.

Hermione let out a moan, but Ron put up a warding hand. "I'm fine," he said. "I've just realized the full extent of what we've done. We just got one of...Vold... of, He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named's...Horcruxes."

Hermione sat down beside Ron. "We did. Didn't we!" She wiped her tears and smiled at Ron in admiration. "Thanks to you!" She hugged him tightly.

"Don't get carried away," cautioned Ginny. "We have been disappointed twice before by what we thought was Slytherin's locket."

"This time we have the real item," said Harry. "There's no mistaking the gold-thread S on the cover, and Slytherin's magic reacted strongly to the locket. The bigger question is now what do we do with it?"

"Let's store it with Riddle's shield in the Head's office," suggested Ron. "At least it'll be safe there."

"That's a tremendous idea," said Harry. Ron went pink.

They left the Room of Requirement and headed to McGonagall's office. When they arrived at the top of the spiral stairs, Harry paused and knocked loudly with the brass griffin knocker. When no one answered, he activated the mirr panel and they entered the circular office.

Harry quickly hid the locket, lining and all, in the artist's supply cupboard.

"Well you seem to have been very busy. Judging from the state of your robes."

Hermione started and Ginny let out a small gasp. Both looked up at Dumbledore's portrait.

"Yes Albus," responded Harry, looking at his ash-covered companions. "We believe we have found the remaining two Horcruxes."

"Very well done!" pronounced the Porcrux with a broad smile.

"The next thing we need to know is how to destroy them," said Harry.

"Ah, yes," said Dumbledore. "Another discussion for another day. Right now you need some rest. Tomorrow will be a big day for all of us... all of you," he corrected himself.

"Why?" asked Harry suspiciously.

"Your last full day of term," explained Dumbledore. "Friday will see you packing, enjoying the end of term leaving-feast, and preparing to return to your homes. The Express leaves Saturday morning. Tomorrow is the day to complete any unfinished projects. Now go and get some sleep."

Harry heard the finality in Dumbledore's words and decided against arguing the point. "One last thing," said Harry, "can you alert the Order of the Phoenix that Bellatrix Lestrange has been in Grimmauld Place? The only fireplace available for floo travel is in the library. Anyone going there needs to exercise extreme caution."

"I see," said Dumbledore gravely, "I will attend to it."

Considering the notion of the Porcrux contacting the Order, Harry retraced his steps and retrieved the Chocolate Frog cards. Seeing the Porcrux's interest, he explained, "A last bit of tidying-up with the D.A."

Dumbledore smiled and they left the room for Gryffindor tower.

"That was bizarre," said Ron as they closed the Fat Lady's portrait behind them. His brow wrinkled as they took seats apart from the other Gryffindors in the common room. "Dumbledore's portrait can actually think, remember, and deduce!"

"Since when do you say deduce?" gibed Ginny.

"You're all rubbing off on me," said Ron. "If I were going to come back for my final year at Hogwarts, I might even do some of my own homework."

"Not likely, that" said Hermione, roughing her shoulder into his.

The thought of not coming back to Hogwarts dampened the mood, and each sat silently in dark contemplation.

"We don't even know if Hogwarts will be open next year," said Ginny giving voice to their concerns.

"Let me see your D.A. galleons," said Harry abruptly. Ron, Ginny, and Hermione were aroused from their languid state by the odd request. They fished in pockets and produced three shining gold coins.

Turning his back to the room to guard his work, Harry undertook the arduous magic to transform gold. He made a heavy gold band for Ron, lighter more delicate rings for the girls, and had just finished making them invisible, when Colin Creevey bounded up.

"Hi Colin," said Ginny nonchalantly as she slipped her invisible ring on her finger.

"I didn't see you come in," he exclaimed. "I've got something amazing to show you!" His excitement pushed the words out in a tumble.

Harry was immediately drawn in by Colin's animation. "What have you discovered?" he asked quietly.

"The G2 was working with Scarpin's Revelaspell, when... well, look at this!"

Colin sprinkled a bit of pink powder on the table. The powder began an animated dance, finally building small spiraling mounds.

"What is it?" asked Ron.

"Look more closely at the spirals," suggested Colin. "Do you see a difference?"

Hermione was the first to see the variation. "Apart from a minor difference in height, some spiral clockwise, some counter-clockwise. But what does it mean?"

"Each pile of revealor powder is collecting around a bit of magic," said Colin, as he waved his wand and collected the powder. "Let's do a more graphic demonstration. Each of you levitate one of these." He produced four brass buttons from his pocket. "Wait until I turn my back," he said as Ron reached for a button.

Colin turned around, and the four charmed the buttons, leaving them hovering inches above the table. Colin faced them and sprinkled the powder. Instead of moving at random to the older, weaker magics; it spiraled around each button.

"Cool," said Ron.

"I can tell by the spirals that Ginny and Hermione levitated these two," said Colin pointing to two of the buttons.

"Magic has gender?" asked Harry astounded.

"We think it has something to do with the way we use our brain," said Colin. "The G2 has experimented extensively with this and the results are always identical."

"Have you considered using your powder with reverse incantation?" asked Harry, as new possibilities opened to his view.

"You know about reverse incantation?" asked Colin with a tinge of admiration in his voice. "That's something the G2 has guarded closely. We found veiled references to it in our studies. Cautiously asking the staff proved pointless. Either they didn't know about reverse incantation, or they were told not to share that bit of magic with the students. Either way, we worked out a bit of it for ourselves. Watch!"

Colin reverse incantated the levitation charms. The pink powder formed into miniscule images above the buttons. Although very small, each could be made out to represent Ron, Hermione, Ginny, or Harry.

"That's fantastic!" exclaimed Harry. "With your powder you could find out who performed any bit of magic!"

"Well not quite," admitted Colin. "If all of you aimed your wands at me and attempted to give me a bloody nose; I could tell if the magic came from a boy or a girl, but I couldn't sort out the traces in the air. It only works with stationary or destination-specific magic; anything static is fairly easy to sort out. Another thing we found is that using it in the presence of a very strong magic consumes the powder. I discovered that when I attempted to use it on the magic behind the fourth-floor mirror."

"It's still marvelous in its possibilities. How do you make the powder?" asked Harry with interest.

"Trade secret I'm afraid," said Colin avoiding Harry's eyes. "We intend on forming our own business and selling it to the Ministry lot. They need the help. From what we've seen, they aren't great shakes at identifying perpetrators."

"You're not wrong there!" said Harry as he thought of all the years Sirius spent in Azkaban because of the Ministry's inability to tell who initiated a killing curse. "If they'll buy it, you've got it made."

"Well it's either that or starting our own investigation team." Colin scratched his chin. "The goal is to make enough gold that the G2 can become a force in advancing magic."

"George and Fred could help with some contacts. They already sell some of their products to the Ministry," offered Ron.

"That would be great," said Colin. "Can you help make the arrangements during holiday?"

"I'm sure they would help. It doesn't sound as if your product would compete with them," said Ron. "Things will be busy around the Burrow for a bit because my brother Bill is getting married, but after the wedding I could arrange a meeting."

"Terrific!" responded Colin, as he gathered the powder and his brass buttons.

"Colin, I know that the revealor powder is dear to you, but could you spare a pinch?" asked Harry.

Colin looked at the small bottle of powder and then at Harry. "It's a wrench parting with any of the powder. It takes two months to produce and cure." He bit his lip. "But for you Harry, I'll do it." He offered the entire bottle to Harry.

"I only need a pinch," said Harry, astounded at Colin's response. "I've got some pesky magic traces that I'd like to sort out."

He rummaged through his pack and found two small bottles. One was already peppered with reddish-black flecks, while the other was empty. He unstoppered the empty bottle. Colin tapped a bit of pink powder inside.

"Thanks," said Harry.

"No problem," said Colin. "I would ask just two things... promise you won't try to duplicate the powder, and be careful around strong magic signatures."

Harry nodded and as Colin turned to rejoin the Gryffindor members of the G2 he was almost bowled over by a severe-looking Minerva McGonagall.

"Potter! A word!" she said. Without waiting for a response, she took Harry by the arm and led him from the common room into the corridor.

Once in the corridor, she turned on him like a cat on a mouse. "Potter, do you know the whereabouts of Professor Flitwick?"

The strain in her voice filled Harry with dread. "The last time I saw him he was taking Elphias Doge to hospital. He said he didn't need any help."

"Well Potter, they never made it to Madam Pomfrey. What's more, this morning I ordered stealth monitoring spells to be placed on all Hogwarts fireplaces. A fireplace on the fourth floor was used for floo transport to the Ministry of Magic. None of the staff know why. What do you know about this?" she demanded.

"Nothing," Harry said defensively. "Can you tell who did the transport?"

"No. Floo powder is generic," said McGonagall stiffly. "Whoever used it could have stepped out of a fireplace at the Ministry and re-enterd another, leaving no trace. Now about Elphias..."

Harry's demeanor softened. "I can help find both him and Professor Flitwick if they are on Hogwarts grounds."

"There'll be no need for you to join the search Potter," she said shortly. "The staff is fully capable of locating him."

"I'm not talking about joining the search," explained Harry. With full knowledge that McGonagall might confiscate it, Harry pulled out the Marauder's Map. He activated it and searched the tiny dots. The search was quick as all students were in their common rooms or dormitories. It took only a moment to locate a dot labeled Filius Flitwick in a supply cupboard on the third floor. His dot wasn't moving. Elphias Doge was nowhere to be found. He pointed Flitwick's dot out to McGonagall. Her eye twitched.

"Back inside your common room Potter. The staff will take matters from here. After we have assured Filius's safety, you and I will have a talk about that map." She swept away, her robe swishing with her haste.

Harry went back into the common room and was immediately questioned by Hermione. "What did Headmistress McGonagall need?" she demanded.

"Elphias Doge and Professor Flitwick have gone missing," he explained. "She wanted to find out if I knew anything about their disappearance or whereabouts. I was the last one to see them and she thought I could help."

"Did you find them?" asked Ginny.

"I located Flitwick on the Marauder's Map," he said. ""But I couldn't find Doge. McGonagall also told me that someone used floo powder to travel from Hogwarts to the Ministry of Magic in London, but she doesn't know who it was."

"Should we go help?" asked Hermione.

"I offered," said Harry. "She said the staff could handle it. She was a little shirty about it too."

"She may be a little sensitive to the D.A. showing up the staff," said Ginny sagely.

"That may be so," said Harry, "but she made it abundantly clear that we were to stay out of it."

"So be it," said Hermione, and she turned on Harry. "You told Colin that some magic had you concerned. Was that the truth or did you just want a sample of the powder."

Ginny bristled and Harry stepped between them. "I was being honest. I want to know more about the magic surrounding the ax in the Room of Requirement, and about this..." he said shaking the bottle containing dark flecks between his thumb and forefinger.

"Colin said to be very careful around powerful magic," reminded Hermione, "and if you are right about the magic on that blade, it's bound to be powerful." Her stern look turned to concern.

"I'll be careful," said Harry.

"We'll be careful," countered Ginny. "You don't think we are going to let you have a go at it alone, do you?"

Harry considered. "I would appreciate the help. But we'll do it tomorrow. The staff is already on edge. We shouldn't add to that by running around after curfew. Let's get some rest tonight. And Ginny, you should rest before your Astronomy practical at midnight."

Ginny didn't wait for a second invitation. She sprang to her feet and pulled Harry from his seat.

"Don't forget your promise to Ginny," reminded Hermione as a parting shot. Harry nodded.

Ginny led him to a secluded corner of the room. "I've something important to ask."

"I know," said Harry.

"You do?" asked Ginny with a note of surprise in her voice.

"Yes. I've neglected to teach you how to close your mind to the bad dreams you've been experiencing," said Harry.

"Oh that," said Ginny stroking one of the fingers of her left hand with her right thumb and pointer finger. "Yes, you did promise."

Harry thought he saw the same fleeting look cross her face that had caused him concern once before. In an instant, the look was gone, replaced by a look of anticipation.

"Teach me," she said with a forced smile.

Unsure how to interpret Ginny's changing mood, Harry quickly launched into the method to guard from unwanted mental intrusion.

After forty-five minutes, Ginny stopped him. "Thank you Harry," she said with almost royal reserve. "That should help tremendously."

She led him toward the stairway leading to the girl's dormitories. As they passed Ron and Hermione, Hermione asked, "Well?" Ginny shook her head and continued on. Hermione muttered something that sounded like "boys."

When they stopped at the bottom of the stairs, Ginny gave him a quick kiss and hurried away to her room.

Harry knew he had just missed something, but for the world, he couldn't make out what. He saw Ron and Hermione strolling toward the stairway, and he made himself scarce.

Later as he sat on the edge of his bed and pondered the puzzle of girls, Ron poked his head around the door.

"Can I come in for a minute?" he asked tentatively.

"It's your dorm too," said Harry.

"Well, I know how long it took to pack all my stuff upstairs. I think I'll spend the night up there. Tomorrow I'll move back down here."

"It's almost pointless," reasoned Harry. "You only have one more night here. Why go to all the trouble to pack twice?"

"You know for someone so smart, you can be really thick," said Ron.

"What do you mean?" asked Harry in bewilderment.

"My point exactly," said Ron. "Why don't you just sleep on it? If you haven't figured it out by tomorrow, maybe I'll help." With that assertion in the air, Ron left.

Seamus, Dean, and Neville came in as Ron was leaving. "Where's he going?" asked Neville.

Harry shrugged.

"I was hoping he would be back tonight," said Dean. "It's just not the same without him here."

« Chapter 32 - Unicorn Jumpers   Chapter 34 - Last Days »


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