The next day, Harry, Hermione, and Snape sat around the table after breakfast was finished. The others seemed to suddenly busy themselves upon finding themselves in the same room with Snape. He didn’t seem unduly bothered by this effect. Harry suspected that he rather liked it. Hermione seemed to take Harry’s explanation of everything to heart and was making an extra effort to be nice to Snape. Well, as nice as anyone can be to him.
“So, er, can I get you anything?” she asked.
“I am fine,” Snape replied, though not harshly.
Hermione nodded. There was a temporary silence until Hermione thought of something to say. “Harry, we’ve gotten some letters from the others, do you want to see them?”
Harry shrugged. “Sure.”
Hermione left to get them, seeming a bit relieved to get out of the room. After she had gone, Harry asked Snape, “What’s next?”
“We need to find the next horcrux,” Snape said in a low voice.
“Do you have any ideas?” Harry asked.
Snape shook his head.
“What was so special about the cup anyway?” Harry asked. “Was it just a random cup?”
“Of course not,” Snape replied. “Nothing the Dark Lord does is random. It belonged to Helga Hufflepuff.”
“Really?” Harry asked with interest. “I guess it’s too much to hope that the rest of the founders had cups that Voldemort somehow got his hands on?”
Snape frowned as Hermione came back into the room with a handful of letters.
“Most of these are from Ginny or Luna,” Hermione said. “A couple are from the Weasley twins and I think there’s one or two from Lupin.” She handed him the stack. “Of course, they don’t say anything important with the Ministry scanning everything, but sometimes it’s nice to hear trivial things.”
“It may be nice, but it is also a risk, delivering letters here,” Snape pointed out. “Especially for pointless information.”
Hermione shrugged. “I’m pretty sure that at this point, most of us have stopped caring.”
“Fair enough,” Snape said.
Harry picked up the first letter from Luna and a picture fell out. He scanned the letter and then folded it back up to return to the envelope. Harry picked up the picture and looked at it. It showed Ginny and Luna in the Gryffindor common room. Ginny looked worried, but as he watched, she smiled hesitantly at Luna in an obnoxious hat with seemingly random things jutting out at every angle. Harry raised a brow and passed the photograph to Hermione.
“What’s she wearing?” he asked with some amusement.
Hermione grinned. “Her father tried to recreate the lost Diadem of Ravenclaw,” she explained. “He sent it to her to try out.”
“Did it work?” Harry couldn’t resist asking.
Hermione shrugged. “She didn’t say, but I bet you can take a guess.”
Harry smiled. “Well at least the Death Eaters haven’t gotten her down.”
“Ms. Granger, what do you know of the diadem?” Snape asked, unexpectedly.
Hermione looked at him. “Well, not much, really. It was said to make the wearer wise and is, obviously, lost.”
“But suppose it is not really lost,” Snape mused. “Perhaps just...hidden.”
Harry’s head jerked up. He saw where Snape was going with this. “You think it’s a horcrux?”
“It is quite possible,” Severus replied. “Dumbledore said that Quirrell had been possessed by a locket belonging to Salazar Slytherin. Another was a cup of Hufflepuff’s. It would not be illogical to assume the trend would continue.”
Hermione’s eyes lit up, thinking that over. Harry frowned. “But how do we know it’s not something of Gryffindor’s?”
“Does he have any artifacts other than the sword?” Snape asked rhetorically. “No. Being that the sword is already impregnated with basilisk venom, it would have destroyed it, had it been a horcrux, and I daresay you would have known.”
Harry nodded. “That makes sense.” He spread his hands on the table. “So, where can we find this diadem?”
“It’s lost, Harry. That’s the point,” Hermione impressed.
“But surely someone must have a bit of an idea,” Harry replied. “No one has ever gone looking for this thing before?”
Hermione shrugged. Snape looked deep in thought. “The only person who could have a hope of knowing would be the Grey Lady.”
“Who?” Harry asked.
“The Ravenclaw ghost. Rowena’s daughter,” Snape explained.
There was silence as Harry and Hermione took this in.
“Okay,” Harry said slowly. “So we have to go to Hogwarts.”
Snape sighed. He rubbed his forehead tiredly. “We have been through this, Harry. We can’t go to Hogwarts without putting someone or other in danger.”
Hermione spoke up, “We don’t need to go to Hogwarts.” She gestured to the letters. “We already have someone there.”
Harry blinked. “That’s right! Luna and Ginny could find out for us!”
Snape looked hesitant. “I will admit, it is convenient, but make certain that the message is well coded. Should the Dark Lord realize we are tracking down his horcruxes... Well, I would not like to think hard on the consequences.”
Hermione nodded. “I’ll put all kinds of levels on it.” She stood up, apparently going to write it at that moment.
Harry let out a deep breath. “You know, Severus, we just might be able to do this. Kill Voldemort I mean.”
“You did not think we could all along?” Snape asked, raising a brow.
Harry shook his head. “Not really, no.”
Snape gave a half shrug. “I must admit that I did not believe it either.”
No one spoke for another few minutes. Harry could hear the creak of someone pacing on the floor above him.
“So what will you do when all this is over?” Harry asked.
“That is thinking very far ahead,” Snape commented.
“Yes, but if you don’t have anything to work towards,” he shrugged, “what’s the point?”
Snape frowned. “I don’t know what I will do after this. I suppose it has just been so inconceivable that I have never given it serious thought.”
Harry said authoritatively, “Well, you should. Life goes on.”
“Unfortunately, it does.”
Harry didn’t reply to this. There was nothing to say. He let the silence stretch on for a few minutes before remembering something he had been meaning to do. Reaching into his pocket, Harry withdrew the two pieces of ribbon that he had saved from the fire. He had planned on leaving them on the pile of Sirius’s old robes for Severus to find, but worried that he would miss them.
“I, uh, have something. The one thing from your house that I had on my when I left,” Harry said.
“What is it?” Snape asked.
Harry opened his palm, offering the torn pieces of ribbon. “It broke off the back of the chair in my room. I didn’t know if it was important, so I stuck it in my pocket,” he felt the need to explain.
Snape stared at them as if in a trance. Slowly, gently, he picked one half up, feeling it as if it weren’t real.
“It is important. Only to myself, however,” Snape said slowly and quietly.
Harry hesitated. “Can I ask how?”
After a moment, Snape replied. “Your mother gave it to me when we were children. As a sort of token, you might say. A mark of friendship.”
Harry fell silent, looking at the piece still in his palm.
“I am glad you managed to save this,” Snape said. “Thank you.”
“Here,” Harry said, offering the other half.
Snape shook his head. “You keep it.”
Harry gulped and nodded, returning it to his pocket, both his heart and his pocket feeling heavier than before.
It turned out that not going to Hogwarts was a blessing in disguise. Waiting for Luna to reply gave Snape’s leg some much needed time to heal. By the third day, he could limp around without Harry’s help.
“You sure you don’t want me to help you?” Harry asked as Snape eyed the stairs after dinner. “It’s not a problem.”
“I am fine,” Snape insisted. And he was, until the fourth step where he winced upon putting weight on his leg. Snape grabbed the railing and Harry stepped forward without thinking. Snape shot him a look and continued on.
Harry turned away to find Neville watching him. His friends had grown a bit more comfortable around Snape but it was still more than awkward. At meals where he was present, there was little conversation except between Harry and Hermione, who were just fine. Though occasionally, Hermione cut herself off before saying something with a glance in Snape’s direction. She seemed unable to get it in her head that he was no longer her teacher. Either that or she was simply still uncomfortable. In any case, it was a marked improvement over the behavior of the others, who simply pretended Snape didn’t exist.
“What?” Harry asked Neville, a bit sharply.
“Nothing,” he said hurriedly. “I-I just can’t quite figure it out.”
“Figure what out?” Harry was obliged to ask, even though he knew exactly what Neville was talking about.
Neville looked nervous, but then, he always looked nervous. “Well, it’s just that you hated Snape so much and now you...” he shrugged, “get along.”
Harry thought for a minute, formulating a response. He didn’t have the inclination to go through all he had told Hermione, but he still wanted to impress upon Neville hid change of heart. “I just didn’t understand him. Now I do.”
Neville glanced up the stairs. “He still...”
“Intimidates you?” Harry filled in where he trailed off.
Harry patted him on the back. “Don’t worry about him. Really. This may come out wrong, but I honestly don’t think he cares anymore,” Harry said. “I don’t think he tries to insult everyone or bring them down a peg anymore.”
“But he could, if he wanted to,” Neville replied, eyes wide.
Harry looked up the stairs now as well. “He’s had plenty of opportunities to do that to me, but he hasn’t. Or at least, nothing uncalled for.”
Neville gulped and nodded. “I’ll get used to it, I guess.”
“I guess you’ll have to,” Harry replied simply. At that moment, a pop sounded and a letter materialized, drifting towards the floor. Harry grabbed it and tore it open, heart pounding. It was from Luna. It had to be. At Harry’s touch, the words blossomed on the page.
Ginny and I are very glad to hear from you, It’s been a while. As for your inquiry, I can assure you that I still have your special quill; I’ve put it with the old DA stuff. Do you remember where we used to practice? It’s all there. You won’t be needing it soon, will you? I would owl it, but I’m afraid it will get broken. Hope all is well there, don’t let the fizzpigeons get you down.
Harry blinked. His mind raced, trying to figure out what she was trying to say. Luna was never subject to Hermione’s extensive coding lesson, but Harry figured that she would be able to encrypt her message appropriately. She was one of the few people able to hide what she meant in plain sight, for everyone passed her off as less than sane regardless. The “special quill” must be the diadem and where the DA used to practice was the Room of Requirement. It must be there, the diadem. Harry assumed that the “fizzpigeons” were Death Eaters. He gave a slight grin. Only Luna.
Shooting past Neville’s confused figure, Harry took the stairs two at a time. He burst into Snape’s room, barely knocking.
“It’s in the Room of Requirement,” Harry said breathlessly. “The diadem.”
“What?” Snape asked, focusing on Harry. “I have never heard of such a room.”
“It’s a hidden room that becomes whatever you need it to be,” Harry replied. “The DA used to practice there.”
“At Hogwarts?” Snape asked.
Harry nodded. “It looks like we have to go there after all.”
Reluctantly, Snape agreed. They were going back to Hogwarts.