Harry, Ron, and Hermione left shortly after Bill and Fleur’s wedding in search of the Horcruxes. Using Grimmauld Place as a ‘base’, they destroyed the locket, the cup, and the Sorting Hat. They also ruled out Nagini as the final one and are currently trying to figure out what is. After briefly speculating that Harry himself could be one, that too was ruled out (don’t ask me how!) The trio is currently trying to narrow down the final Horcrux. Voldemort is active but does not know where they are; he figures that they’re in hiding. As of now, major deaths include Hagrid (killed by death eaters, but assumed missing), Mrs. Weasley (killed in attack on Diagon Alley), Rufus Scrimgeour, and Draco Malfoy (both killed personally by Voldemort). Hogwarts has not reopened and Ginny is staying with Mr. Weasley, Bill, Fleur, Charlie, Fred, and George, who have all banded together in a heavily protected cottage not far from Godric’s Hollow.
It was near two in the morning when Hermione dropped her cup of tea heavily onto the table. The liquid that spilled out was hardly scalding; it had been sitting on the table for hours as she poured through books, searching for anything to help them. And now here it was, a passing mention in one of Grindlewald’s journals that turned everything upside down.
“Evanesco,” she muttered, and the spilled tea disappeared. A second drying spell left her clothes stain free, not that it really helped her overall appearance. The eighteen hour days alone were leaving her painfully skinny, and deep hollows had carved themselves in the space between her eyes and cheekbones. Coupled with the added strain of simply opening the newspaper every day, it was a miracle she was still standing.
Ron looked worse. He hadn’t cried since the day of the funeral, held in the utmost secrecy at the Weasley’s safe house. Harry and Ginny had disappeared for hours and Hermione had approached him cautiously, placing a hand on his shoulder and sitting with him as he broke down, away from his brothers and father and the six others who knew the location. Now, nine weeks later, the only shine she ever saw in his eyes were on those rare occasions that they were able to get away from the research and missions. The rest of the time they were set, dull and angry.
She really should go wake him and Harry. They deserved to – but no, not when she wasn’t sure. Last time she had made the mistake of raising her suspicions about Harry, and for nearly three weeks they grew more and more panicked until at last the fear was siphoned away. By this same journal, she noted bitterly.
No. She couldn’t do that to them again. But leaving, without telling them where she was going? Not really focusing on what she was doing, Hermione grabbed a sweatshirt and picked up her wand from the table; she never let it stray farther than three feet these days.
She’d wake Harry. He’d be easier to persuade. Gently pressing the door open, she slipped into the room.
Ron was snoring; that hadn’t changed. It made her feel like she was back at Hogwarts. She hated to admit it, but sometimes she thought she’d do anything to be back at school, away from this dismal house and the responsibility they shouldered. This small reminder always made her smile.
Moving past him, she shook Harry’s shoulder hard, before moving immediately out of the way. All of them were on alert, and sure enough, a moment later his hand was clutching at the air where her wrist had just been. “Harry, it’s me,” she whispered. Sitting up, Harry glanced at her, then at the clock.
“What is it?” he asked, tense. She shook her head, assuring him that nothing bad had happened.
“It’s – look, I need to go to the safe house. Alone. They’re fine,” she hastily added. “Everyone’s fine. I just need to talk to them, and it would be better if I went myself.” Harry glared at her, and Hermione could tell that he wasn’t convinced. “Please, Harry, I need you to trust me. And don’t tell Ron if you can help it,” she pleaded. “I swear I’ll tell you everything when I’m back. It’ll only be for a couple of hours.”
Finally he nodded, still looking worried. “Fine. If you see Ginny, will you tell her – tell her I miss her, all right?” She nodded. “And seriously, Hermione, be careful, and don’t be seen.” Like he needed to tell her. Voldemort thought that they were in hiding, and that was their biggest weapon right now as they searched for the final Horcrux – the Horcrux, she thought, that she had just found.
“Ginny! Ginny, wake up, and please be quiet, I need to talk to you but I can’t let the others know.” Ginny remained quite still, her eyes cracked open the tiniest bit as she gauged the situation. “Ginny, it’s me, it’s Hermione, I’m not polyjuiced - it’s Cookie, my first cat’s name was Cookie. Please, answer me!”
Ginny finally opened her eyes. “All right,” she relented, sitting up but keeping her eyes on her wand. “What was the first thing you said to Ron on the Hogwarts Express?”
“I told him we were looking for Trevor, and that he had dirt on his nose,” Hermione answered, looking relieved. The guarded look finally left Ginny’s eyes as she smiled, standing to give the older girl a hug.
“What are you doing here? Are Harry and Ron here?” Hermione shook her head, but as Ginny began to look worried, she added “They’re fine, they’re still at the base. Harry says to tell you he misses you very much.” A light blush colored Ginny’s cheeks.
“But Ginny, I need to talk to you,” Hermione continued seriously. “It’s important. But before I say anything – this is just a theory. I don’t know for sure one way or another. I was just reading, and it sort of clicked; Harry told you all about the Horcruxes, right?” she cut herself off to ask. Ginny nodded tensely.
“He said that you had destroyed the locket and the Sorting Hat,” she said. “And that you were looking for the cup and the snake.”
“Yes, that was then,” Hermione confirmed. “We’ve got the cup; we got it a month ago. Ron was injured, but not badly; broke his leg in six places and had a concussion but he’s fine now. The thing is, Nagini – the snake – isn’t a Horcrux.” Ginny opened her mouth, but Hermione continued. “It’s a long story. Anyway, for awhile we thought the final one might be Harry – it’s not, though, Ginny, he’s fine, I promise.”
“So do you know what it is?” Ginny asked nervously. Hermione nodded slowly.
“I think so. That’s what I’m here about. Like I said, I was reading one of Grindlewald’s journals. Did you know that he had a Horcrux? Just one, Dumbledore destroyed it. Anyway, these journals have loads of information. One thing it said – god, I don’t know why I didn’t get it until just now! It makes so much sense, but Ginny, it’s not –”
“What is it, Hermione?” Ginny cut through sharply, and Hermione stopped.
“There’s a spell to destroy Horcruxes. It’s really difficult; it takes all three of us to perform it, and we’re practically comatose afterwards. The reason it’s so difficult is that it goes against the laws of nature. Magic can do that, but generally only in much smaller amounts, and much more temporarily. What this spell does is it gets rid of the piece of the soul encased in the object. Normal magic, like vanishing, it – it’s just transfiguration, really. You transfigure objects into particles, or vice versa, because matter isn’t supposed to just disappear. But that’s what this spell does.
“That’s not the only way to destroy the Horcruxes,” she continued. “But it is the only way to abolish the soul.” She took a breath. “If you destroy it any other way, the piece of the soul either dies, or, if the original host is right there, it can return to them and reunite with the other part.”
Ginny had turned white. “But Hermione,” she said slowly, “the diary – Harry didn’t destroy that with the spell. He used a basilisk fang.” Hermione nodded grimly. “So – does that mean that that piece died?”
“That’s what I thought must have happened,” Hermione said. “Obviously Voldemort wasn’t right there. But – oh, Merlin, Ginny – tonight, I was reading about what happens when you make a living creature a Horcrux.
You have to possess them first. You see, when you possess something, you begin to take in a tiny bit of their essence – their soul. It doesn’t hurt the person who is being possessed, not once they’re released; it just leaves a bit of a vacuum.” She paused.
“Hermione,” Ginny whispered. “If you don’t destroy the Horcrux with this spell, you said the soul returns to the host if they’re right there. Would - could it return to another person if they had that vacuum?”
“I think so,” Hermione said quietly, and the younger girl let out a sob.
“Oh Merlin,” she choked. “It’s me, isn’t it? I'm the final Horcrux?"