Harry Potter and Future's Past

Starts out the day after the Battle of Hogwarts. Harry and Hermione meet the Goddess of Love, and she offers to let them go back in time. Strictly Harry and Hermione. Minor - well maybe major Ginny, Ron and Dumbledore Bashing. Soul Bond - Time Travel

https://www.fanfiction.net/s/5664828/1/Harry-Potter-and-Future-s-Past

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34. Chapter 34 In Search of a Ring

July 8th Continued

As Ragnok watched the Head of DMLE depart his office, he glanced up at the hand-carved clock that hung on the wall. He was surprised at how long the negotiations had taken. He felt though he had made a very good deal out of what could have been devastating to his bank and his people. He had even got Madam Bones to agree to pay the wages of the Goblins working in the new security center.

"Of course since Wizards do not know the wages of a Goblin, that twenty percent increase will do well in recouping some of our losses in this matter," Ragnok thought. They had also agreed that the Goblins would be entirely in charge of the interior of the building to be used to ensure that no magical detection devices were deployed by the Ministry in trying to unravel the Goblin magic. "And the walls of the building will be covered with advertisements for all of the services we provide including loans and our gambling services…hmm gambling services," Ragnok glanced at the name of the Goblin who had made the contract with Sirius Black, "I see I have another volunteer to join the dragon dung cleanup detail. It is so hard to fill those spots with such a high rate of casualties."

*** E E ***

"Let's stop in here," Harry said as they walked back down Diagon Alley. He was pointing at the same jewelry store where he had bought Hermione's promise ring. "Now that your parents approve, I can get you your engagement ring."

"I don't need it yet Harry," Hermione replied. "I like the ring you bought me last month."

Harry pulled his wife into his arms. "I want the world to know that you and I are engaged," He explained. "You can wear the promise ring on your right hand and your engagement ring where it belongs. "

Hermione could see the sincerity in his eyes and felt it in their bond. She smiled and nodded.

"Besides, it will remind your father that we are still JUST engaged in their world," Harry continued.

When they entered the jewelry store the same sales witch who had helped Harry last month was behind the counter. She had her back to them while she put away something in a cabinet. "Welcome to Matilda's Fine Jewels, how may I help…" She started as she turned but then stopped as her eyes grew wide. "You're…it's YOU!"

"Uh…hi," Harry replied.

"No one believed me when I told them you had bought a ring from me," The lady said gushing. "They all claimed I was just trying to get more business. Even my mother didn't believe me. She said you couldn't have been here since you would've been at Hogwarts."

"Yeah…well it was me," Harry replied wishing the conversation would end. "We just want to look at engagement rings."

"Engagement?" Her eyes went to the young lady beside Harry. "Hermione Granger? I…"

Hermione quickly cut the saleslady off. "Please just show us what you have available."

"Oh…of course," The saleslady replied. "I'm Rebecca and…" As she turned to a display case she knocked a pile of boxes off of the counter. "I'm sorry…"

Harry bent down and started to help Rebecca to pick up the boxes. "Oh, Mr. Potter you don't need…"

"It's just Harry, Rebecca," Harry replied as he handed her the two boxes he had retrieved and picked up two more. "And this is just Hermione. We are just a couple of people looking to buy a ring. Just relax.…"

An hour later they departed Matilda's Fine Jewelry store. On Hermione's left ring finger was a one caret flawless diamond mounted on a Goblin made band of pure gold. With the goblin magic infused into the metal, it did not have to be combined with other metals to strengthen it nor would it ever lose its gleam. Embedded in the band of the ring were the two colored stones that had adorned her promise ring. Etched inside the band, in words too tiny to read without magical help, was 'In our past we found our future. HP'.

As soon as her shift ended a couple of hours later, Rebecca sought out her friend who worked at the clothes store two buildings down from Matilda's. "He was there…" She exclaimed. "Harry Potter was in Matilda's again and bought his girlfriend an engagement ring…I told you he was there last month."

"Are you sure it was him?"

"Of course I'm sure. He had his scar and Sirius Black was with him," Rebecca replied, "and so was Hermione Granger. You wouldn't believe it…after all that stuff was written this past year...he was nothing like that. I mean you'd think after he beat You-Know-Who that he'd be…you know…"

"Full of himself?"

"Exactly! But he isn't, I mean he even helped me pick up some things I knocked off the counter. I was nervous you see…"

It was a simple conversation, but one that traveled from person to person. Soon most of Diagon Alley knew of Harry Potter's engagement to Hermione Granger and of how nice he treated a young saleswitch.

Unfortunately the news of the engagement made it to the wrong ears as well. Soon the news had reached Voldemort as well.

"Engaged to a mudblood? Hmmm…Draco was right then," Riddle thought, "the way to Potter is through her. Does this change my use for young Malfoy in this matter? I'll have to give this thought once I show Dumbledore his Order is nothing compared to me." He had a plan of attack and was just waiting for the right moment. Since Snape had informed him of Dumbledore's disappearances, Tom had been most curious to what he might be doing, but he had also seen the disappearances as an opportunity. An attack while Dumbledore wasn't around might give his Death Eaters a greater chance of success.

*** E E ***

"He wishes to know when you leave next," Snape said to Dumbledore that evening. "I believe he will send the Dementors as we previously discussed."

Dumbledore sighed but nodded. He had given the plan serious consideration and knew that for the Greater Good, a small sacrifice must be made. In this case, sacrificing a lesser member of the Order would show Severus' loyalty to Voldemort. "I plan to leave on the tenth. You can tell him that morning."

"And you won't tell me where you are going?" Snape asked.

"There are secrets that must be kept secret Severus," Dumbledore replied evenly.

Severus gave a curt nod of understanding. "I shall do as you instructed."

*** E E ***

July 9th

It was an ordinary looking flat in an ordinary looking building. Like many of the other flats in the building, an old, humming air conditioner hung out of a window. Though the unit did blow cool air into the flat and dripped water onto the ground below as every other one did, it was no ordinary air conditioner. Since the unit was attached to the flat of a witch and a squib it also served as their mailbox.

It was late at night when Hedwig dove out of the moonlit sky with her mistress' parcel and letter. To anyone who was watching, it would appear the beautiful snow owl was going to ram the side of the building, but at the last second she flared her wings and disappeared into the magical ac unit. A minute later the owl took flight once more.

Maria Watkins was an early riser. Since she was a squib, she couldn't heat water like her mother or roommate did with a wave of her wand, so she had to make her coffee with a real percolator. She often told herself that even if she was a witch, she would prefer to make her coffee that way since it seemed to taste a little better than when it was magically made.

As she waited for the coffee to finish she glanced at the air conditioning unit and noticed the red light lit that on most units would mean the filter needed to be replaced, but on this particular unit it had a different meaning. It meant there was mail waiting, owlpost mail.

Maria knew it would be either from her parents or for Jennifer since she had no real friends in the magical world. Sleepily she walked across the room and pushed the two spots that allowed the front of the unit to swing down. Inside were an envelope and a package. Surprisingly they were addressed to her.

"Wonder what mum sent now," Maria asked herself as she yawned. She opened the package and pulled out what appeared to be a magazine cover. Maria blinked, and then blinked again. In the corner was written, 'To our friend Maria who we hope to see again someday, Harry and Hermione'

"JENNIFER!" Maria screamed as she ran to her roommate's bedroom. "You're NOT going to believe this…."

*** E E ***

"Well," Dumbledore said to Harry and Hermione with a grandfatherly smile of self-satisfaction before an Order meeting that evening. "Now that the nightly problems seem to have magically disappeared," He glanced over his half-moon glasses to give the clear indication of what he was thinking, "I believe we can pursue that object I had mentioned." Dumbledore had expected the two teens to be excited about the prospect of joining him, and had planned on using the excitement to get further concessions from the teens, but he was disappointed when all that was returned was a simple, "When?" from Hermione.

"Tomorrow; we'll go first thing in the morning," The Headmaster replied. "Now remember your promise to obey my instructions without question."

"When the instructions pertain to the search or our safety, yes sir," Harry replied. "And only until we return."

Dumbledore internally sighed. Neither of the teens was giving an inch, but he pressed on. "Just remember that I might see dangers where you do not, so the matter of your safety must be determined by me."

"We also understand that you haven't shared things that might help us be aware of the dangers," Hermione argued as she stared directly into Dumbledore's eyes, "but if, say, you tell us our safety depends on us telling you how we destroyed Walberga's painting, then you must understand if we don't agree nor obey you."

It had been a while since anyone gave Dumbledore a headache in arguing with him, but he mentally sighed as one appeared. "I shall see you first thing in the morning."

*** E E ***

July 10th

Ronald Weasley awoke with a start from a vivid nightmare. He swallowed hard as the images that he'd witnessed faded from his vision to be replaced by his room. Sunlight was just starting to filter in the window. Ron knew it was still very early, much earlier than he normally awoke and breakfast wouldn't be done for a while yet. Seeing no reason to get out of bed, he rolled over and tried to go back to sleep. When he closed his eyes, the nightmare's images reappeared.

Ron was in the garden with Ginny and they were again pulling weeds. Piles of the weeds they had already pulled were stacked around them, but the amount of weeds left to pull never seemed to end. He was hot and tired, but as he looked toward the house, he could see Harry and Hermione walking toward them holding hands.

"Hello Ron," Harry said when they walked closer. "How are the Quidditch plans coming along?"

As Ron was about to answer; to tell him what his plans were, the weeds from the garden suddenly grew longer and thicker and slithered like snakes after his old friends. It reminded him of Devil's Snare as the weeds encircled Harry and Hermione and started dragging them into the dirt.

"Help us Ron," Harry yelled. "Help Hermione…." Hermione was already waist deep and struggling to free herself.

Ron sat paralyzed in the dream as he watched his friends being pulled deeper and deeper into the ground. Then he glanced at his sister and saw a maniacal gleam in her eyes as she stood amongst the attacking weeds with a kitchen knife dripping blood…."

"Help Hermione…" Harry yelled again. Those words seemed to freeze in Ron's mind as he jerked his eyes open again. Cold sweat caused him to shiver in the morning dampness.

"Help Hermione," Continued to echo in his mind all the way down to breakfast later that morning.

*** E E ***

"I'M TRYING.." Exclaimed Fate who was currently in a staring contest with Miranda. "He's a bit thick though…"

"Yet you endanger one of MY soulmates to try to save his soul?" Miranda growled. It had not been that difficult to discover whose soul was in jeopardy after she had calmed down. "You could have just tempted him with a turkey dinner…."

"It's not just his soul…It's his sister's as well," Fate argued. "She's on a path that will destroy her. A path YOU put her on when you sent YOUR soulmates back in time. She would have been fine married to Harry Potter even if it was not your designs."

"She and that walking stomach had potioned my soulmates," Miranda snapped. "If that is your idea of FATE, then maybe you need a new job," She continued to stare at the bitch of a goddess in front of her without blinking to let her know what she thought of the notion of her soulmates having been potioned. Finally she continued. "If a single hair on Hermione's head is hurt because of your plan, I will show you EXACTLY why the saying 'Love's a Bitch' can be very very true."

Fate swallowed as she glanced down at actions in the mortal world trying to figure out a way to make sure the redhead in question did what he needed to do. "He…I mean he'll figure it out," She finally said weakly.

"EVEN IF he does, you still will owe me," Miranda snarled. "Since you messed with my soulmates, I GET to mess with your job. I want to decide what Ron's fate will be…."

"Uh…"

"I promise that he will not suffer…" Miranda continued in a predatory tone, "Too much anyway."

"He…he must be allowed to marry and have a family…" Fate said in an unsure voice. "He…uh…on his own he'd not do well."

"Fine…he'll have a wife and family and a future…but I get to decide on that path."

"Fair enough," Fate agreed. She had seen Miranda's temper before and wasn't too keen to experience her wrath. "He'll figure it out…I'm sure of it."

"You better hope so," Miranda said but her thoughts had turned to how to properly 'reward' the redhead that had caused her favorite soulmates so much trouble. "A wife and children," she murmured to herself and then her grin turned feral as she knew exactly what future was in store for Ron Weasley if he made the right decision. "And if he doesn't make the right decision, the eternity of suffering he's going to endure after final judgment will seem like paradise after I finish with him."

"Excuse me Miranda," A voice said from behind her.

Miranda whirled to see Death himself waiting in the doorway. "She's not…" Miranda turned a fierce glare at Fate who blanched.

"No…" Death said. "But they're going after the ring and you know I can't influence what happens in these matters."

"But the old goat succeeded last time," Miranda argued. "Surely he'll do it again."

"He has your soulmates along this time," Death explained. "His mind isn't as focused as it should because he doesn't feel in control of the situation. Besides…it is Potter."

Miranda sighed. "Yes I know. If there is trouble to be found, he'll find it," She glared at Fate, "And you better not get any ideas of aiding the trouble to get out of the other issue with those redheads."

"I…I…of course not," Fate replied as if she'd been caught with her hand in the cookie jar.

*** E E ***

"Dumbledore has departed again this morning for one of his excursions," Snape said as he knelt at Voldemort's feet. "As he's done previously, he instructed me to not attempt to contact him until he returns."

"Did he give any indications to how long that would be?" Riddle asked.

"No, but the last time he was gone for over a day," Snape replied. "Previous to that, three days."

"Attempting to muster support most likely," Voldemort replied more to himself as he attempted to guess what Dumbledore was doing. "But who? Vampires? Veela?" Snape had informed him that a part Veela had joined the Order. He shook off those thoughts as he knew it was time to strike the Order.

"If the Order can't contact Dumbledore, then they will be easier targets for my Death Eaters," Voldemort thought. "If he does respond then he's interrupting whatever is important enough to take him away for periods of time possibly giving me an idea of what's he's up to. Either way, it is victory," He turned his attention to the greasy-haired man in front of him. "You have done well Severus. You will remain here while I call my other servants along with instructions for the Dementors."

"M'Lord?"

Voldemort watched Snape carefully for signs of betrayal as he explained. "It is time for Dumbledore's mighty Order to find out what it means to go against Lord Voldemort and I want to make sure they have no warning."

"Yes M'Lord," Snape replied as he realized that Voldemort planned a larger offensive against the Order than just Dementors and the perilous position he was in. He mind searched for a way to placate the Dark Lord and an idea came to mind; one that would work to his advantage in the end. "If you plan to eliminate members of the Order, may I make a suggestion?"

"And what might that be?" Voldemort hissed.

"If possible, maybe try to eliminate Sirius Black," Snape said. "As you know, he is Potter's Godfather and if he is lost while Dumbledore is away, Potter may see it as Dumbledore's fault and it could lead to difficulties between them. Another possibility would be the werewolf, Lupin. He was also a friend of Potter's father and close to the brat."

Riddle knew of the hatred Snape had for those two, but he also knew the logic was sound. "If the opportunity arises, but if I find your suggestion endangers my followers, I will be most displeased."

Yes M'Lord."

*** E E ***

It was mid-morning as the brand new blue BMW convertible sped down a country rode far exceeding the posted speed limits. It was a cool day but with the sun shining bright, the top was down as the young man listened to his favorite cassette tape in the stereo system. The car had been a gift from the driver's parents for his recent completion at the University. The driver was on his way for a job interview as an accountant for the most prestigious firm in Great Hangleton. As he sped around a turn, he saw three people walking along the side of the road. The two teenagers, dressed in jeans and jumpers, seemed normal enough, but the older man, with his flowing white beard and outlandish purple velvet suit was an eyesore.

The driver slowed as he passed the trio. "Nice suit old man," He yelled then as he gunned his engine he continued with a hearty laugh. "For a pimp."

"People can be so rude," Hermione muttered as she watched the car speed around a turn and disappear.

"Rudeness is the least of our worries today," Dumbledore replied. "Besides I'm sure that young man is going to feel terrible about his insult."

"I doubt it," Harry muttered but then saw the twinkle in Dumbledore's eyes. "Why do you think he will?"

"Oh…I just believe that young people today don't understand the concept of karma," The Headmaster replied.

"What do you mean?"

"Karma sometimes just means you've done an injustice to a magical person," Dumbledore replied.

Three miles down the road the young man's car sputtered and stopped. As he pulled off the road, he tried in vain to get the engine to restart. When he climbed out to take a look at the engine, he also noted that two of his tires were losing air. He was able to flag down another passing car sometime later. The driver of the recovery lorry could only look at him strangely when they returned an hour later to find none of the tires flat and the engine cranking fine. He didn't make his job interview.

It was several minutes after the car had passed that Dumbledore stopped and looked at a spot in the hedges that grew next to the road. "I think you can see why it was so important for me to see that memory," He said. "There are no good landmarks to indicate where it was, and many things have changed in the last fifty years." He shook his head and sighed before continuing. "This is not it, but we're close." They walked a few hundred more feet down the road before he stopped once more. ""Ah…I believe here is the spot."

Harry and Hermione had been trying to see any similarities between what they had seen in the memories and what they saw now, but nothing was the same. The road was newer, recently paved. The hedgerow were higher and in desperate need of care. As the stared at the spot where Dumbledore indicated, they couldn't see anything that indicated it was the right location. There was no gap in the path that had been there.

"Now keep an eye out for any muggles while I clear us a way in there," Dumbledore requested as he glanced around before pulling out his wand. Thirty seconds later, as Harry and Hermione stared up and down the empty road, Dumbledore continued. "It is complete. " When the Potters' looked back, they saw a three foot wide path now led through the hedgerow.

"Stay behind me," Dumbledore instructed the teens and he moved through the hedge. "Riddle would not have just hid the location with magic. I'm sure he would have left some interesting diversions as well."

Harry remembered the cave where he and Dumbledore had found the locket. He remembered the blood required to get past a wall, the boat and the Inferi. He also remembered Dumbledore describing his retrieving the ring that last time as "A thrilling tale". He moved a step in front of Hermione while pulling out his wand.

Nothing existed of the narrow hedgerow lined path of fifty years earlier. Trees and hedges grew at random with brambles clogging any way through them. "Be wary of any snakes you might see," Dumbledore continued. "And do not do any magic without my approval. It could lead to problem."

It was slow progress as Dumbledore made a path that went a few feet and then moved slowly down the exposed ground examining everything in detail. Often he would cast a spell on a rock or tree. Sometimes he'd shake his head and move on and other times he would angle the path differently after such an examination. It wasn't long before the hedges and brambles disappeared and they had entered a deep dark forest far greater and thicker than the copse of trees that surrounded the Gaunt shack fifty years earlier. Again they continued on, slowly. They had traveled quite some ways when Dumbledore stopped and waved for the teens to do the same. The Headmaster held his wand high as he examined every detail around them. "Yes we're getting close," He said finally in a quiet voice.

Hermione's curiosity finally got the better of her. She had watched Dumbledore, trying to determine what spell he had been using and what he was seeing, but so far she could not figure it out. She and Harry could see no similarities between where they were and what had been in the memory. "How do you know?"

"There is magic here and it is…familiar," Dumbledore explained. "Wait here…do not move."

A chill ran through Harry and Hermione as they glanced around trying to discern the dangers that Dumbledore seemed to have detected. They watched the Headmaster take two steps forward and then stop. He knelt and touched the base of a large tree beside the path. He then moved back before traversing several feet to the left of the path before again stopping and moving the same distance to the right. The entire time they heard Dumbledore mumble in a language Harry did not understand but Hermione quickly said 'I think that's Arabic…ooh I wish I knew what he was saying; what spell he is using."

It was another fifteen minutes, with Dumbledore moving all around the area, before he returned to the large tree. "This is it," He said as he touched the large elm in front of them. "This is the path we must take otherwise I am sure we will not like what will happen."

"What do you mean?" Harry asked again remembering the inferi that appeared in the cave.

"This tree is an illusion," Dumbledore explained. "It might seem solid, but it is the path through the wards that surround this area."

"What makes you so sure?" Hermione blurted out.

Dumbledore turned to her and smiled. "Mrs. Potter do you know what kind of tree this is?"

"An elm sir," Hermione replied instantly.

"Yes but what elm in particular?"

"Uh…I'm not really sure but maybe a Wych Elm."

"Very good…that is exactly what this is," Dumbledore explained with genuine enthusiasm. "If I remember correctly, there was a murder of a muggle woman in this area about the time Tom was in Hogwarts. The remains were found under an elm tree. For accuracy, it was actually an old hollow elm, but it was mistakenly reported by many as a Wych Elm or as may people called it, a Witch elm. It became known as the Tree Murder Riddle*."

"You think Voldemort…"

"No…he would have been too young then…but it is something his uncle might have done," Dumbledore replied. "Though he detested his muggle name, it's a possibility Tom found the idea of a muggle murdered by his uncle, a 'Witch' Elm and that it being called a 'riddle' appealing. He would think it was a 'cunning' way to protect his path or in other words, a Slytherin way. The death of a muggle would fit right in as well."

"You don't mean that he would kill a muggle to…" Hermione started.

"To gain entry?" Dumbledore asked. "Let's hope not." He turned to contemplate the tree for several more minutes before he finally tapped it on several spots with his wand. With the final tap a white light spread over the tree and Harry and Hermione could see it turn transparent before solidifying once more. "Yes…I believe the answer is fairly simple."

"What…" Harry started. "He doesn't require killing a muggle?"

"No…" Dumbledore replied. "I think the fact it protects the last of Slytherin is the secret."

"Why?"

"How did you enter the Chamber?" Dumbledore asked. "Slytherin's domain."

"Parseltongue?"

"Yes," Dumbledore replied.

Harry almost asked how Dumbledore had got to the ring the last time if Parseltongue was required, but bit his tongue before the question made it out of his mouth. "What should I do?"

"I think it's just a matter of speaking to the tree."

"What should I say," Harry asked as he approached the tree.

"I don't think it matters," the Headmaster replied after a short moment of consideration. "Tom expected to be immortal and he would be cautious to make it words he might forget over time. Why not just try 'Open'."

Harry tried to visualize a snake but when he said 'Open', he knew from the looks on Hermione's and Dumbledore's face that he'd not hissed. "I…I need a snake…"

"Ah…yes," Dumbledore nodded. "I believe Riddle did as well. That is why he carved the snake on the faucet to gain entrance to that underground passage. Now if that is true…then I would imagine he might have..." He turned and examining the tree.

"Here it is," Hermione said. She was kneeling on the ground pointing at a stone about three feet from the base of the tree. When Harry looked over her shoulder, he could see a crude carving of a snake etched into the surface.

"Very well done Mrs. Potter," Dumbledore said. "Now give it another go Harry."

"§Open§" Harry hissed as he stared at the snake etching; imagining it to be alive.

"That's it Harry," Hermione said excitedly and they all stared at the tree expecting something to happen but after a minute of waiting they slowly came to the realization that they had failed.

"Maybe I am mistaken," Dumbledore said as he continued to stare at the tree.

"Or maybe it does need to be a certain phrase," Hermione suggested.

"What about the one he used to open Slytherin's statue?" Harry added.

"Possible," Dumbledore replied. "Please give it a try."

Harry again looked at the carved snake as he tried to remember the words, "§Speak to me, Slytherin…§" He started but as soon as the word 'Slytherin' left his mouth, something happened. The tree seemed to ripple in the air and then it vanished. There was only bare ground where the tree had been.

"Very well done," Dumbledore said then started to examine the emptiness where the tree had stood. Where there had been a full grown tree, now there was nothing but bare ground; even the roots had disappeared without leaving any indication in the ground they had been there. Finally after several minutes of examining every inch of the area, he turned to the teens. "I believe it is safe to continue. Remember to stay behind me," The last he said just before he took a cautious step where the tree had been.

"How…how would you have got through there without me?" Harry asked ; still wondering how Dumbledore had succeeded last time.

"Oh…I'm sure there would have been other ways," Dumbledore replied in his grandfatherly voice. "But I am also sure they would have taken longer to accomplish and might have met with unpleasant consequences."

It was another hour and two more traps before they finally could see the old shack they had seen in the memory. Surprisingly though, a twenty foot wide area barren of everything but an occasional spot of overturned dirt now surrounded the entire structure.

"Do not put a foot into the clearing until I say otherwise," Dumbledore instructed Harry and Hermione in a firm tone as he stared across the expanse toward the hovel.

Harry wasn't about to argue because the clearing reminded him of the water in the cave and he wondered what dangers Voldemort had hidden away beneath the earth.

"What is it?" Hermione asked. Though she inched forward to take a closer look, she was very careful not to cross into the desolate barrier.

Dumbledore frowned. "I presume some kind of protection…" He bent down and picked up a fist-sized rock and tossed it toward the house. They all watch in anticipation but nothing happened when the stone landed on the ground with a thump and did not move.

"But..." Harry started but stopped when he noticed Dumbledore was still deep in concentration.

"Maybe it needs to be alive?" Hermione suggested. "I mean whatever is protecting couldn't react to every limb or leaf that fell from a tree."

"Isn't a tree alive?" Harry joked to Hermione.

"You know what I mean," Hermione replied.

"That is a good point," Dumbledore agreed. "I want you two to have your wands ready," He instructed Harry and Hermione. "It is possible that the protection might react to magic. If anything threatening happens, run…do not look back. Only use magic to defend yourself if absolutely necessary. Is that clear?"

Harry and Hermione both nodded and displayed their wands.

Dumbledore quickly transfigured a tree limb into a small pig and turned toward the hovel expecting trouble. Again nothing happened…that is nothing happened until the pig ran directly into the clearing. It had taken only four steps when the ground heaved all around the creature and suddenly it wasn't there. Something had broken the surface of the ground, but it was only a blur before it and the pig disappeared beneath the surface of the ground. Only the pig's last squeal that still echoed in the silence suggested something had happened.

"What…what was that?" Hermione asked in a voice that broke in her nervousness as she backed two steps away from the clearing.

"I'm not sure," Dumbledore replied as he continued to stare at the ground and hovel. "But if I had to guess, I believe it is a mutated or crossbred niffler."

Harry remembered the cute black animals that they had studied in their fourth year and his mind could not imagine they being turned into whatever that was under the dirt in front of them.

"Remember blast-ended skrewts," Hermione murmured.

"The question though, what is the secret to getting across," Dumbledore said.

"Can we levitate across?" Harry suggested.

"That is an excellent suggestion," Dumbledore replied. "Please give it a try."

"Um…what?"

"I think you can start with a rock," Dumbledore said.

Harry spoke the levitation charm and gave his wand a swish and a flick. A rock rose from the ground and Harry guided it across the opening. As Hermione and Dumbledore looked on, Harry thought he had found the answer when the rock moved smoothly through the air. When it was five feet from the small house, the rock seemed to stop in midair.

"It's stopped," Harry said unnecessarily.

"Yes it has," Dumbledore agreed with the obvious. "It appears there's a strong impediment charm near the building."

"Why?" Hermione asked.

"To weaken the person trying to gain entrance," Dumbledore explained. "Harry, see if you can bring it back?"

As Harry concentrated on the stone, he tried to make it come back to him but nothing seemed to happen.

"Think about it Mrs. Potter," Dumbledore continued in his explanation as he gestured toward the rock. "Say I tried to levitate you across believing that was the answer. You get snagged in the impediment field. What do I do? You can't go forward, you can't go back, and I would slowly lose my strength until I either sacrifice you, or drain myself of magical energy in which case you'd still die. Rather brilliant in a sinister way."

Hermione nodded as a shudder ran through her at the thought of being trapped above that creature knowing your fate in the end.

Dumbledore realized the rock was still the air and said. "Harry I believe you can stop."

Harry released the magic and they watched as the rock fell out of the air without any resistance at all. When it hit the ground it bounced once before coming to a rest a couple of feet from the house.

"Now had that been al…" Dumbledore started again, but his words died in his mouth when the same creature surfaced again and the rock disappeared. "Interesting," He muttered more to himself. "Yes…of course."

"What?" Hermione asked. "What was different? Why did the creature go after that rock this time but not the last?"

"If I'm not mistaken, it's because it bounced," Dumbledore explained, but neither Harry nor Hermione understood what he meant.

"I believe a demonstration might be the easiest way to explain," Dumbledore said as he conjured two balls the size of his fist. "Watch," He instructed as he lobbed one ball. It hit the ground, bounced up and struck the ground again. It bounced once more but when it landed that time, the creature again struck and the ball disappeared. "Now watch this," Dumbledore said as he rolled the other ball gently across the bare ground. It continued unharmed until it hit the side of the hovel where it hopped into the air and came back down. When it hit the ground after the hop, the ground creature snatched it as well.

"What…what does that mean?" Harry asked.

"Snake," Hermione replied before Dumbledore could.

"Exactly," Dumbledore replied enthusiastically. "One must slide or shall we say, slither, across the surface of the ground, never lifting your feet until you're at the door. Even the littlest step would be fatal I believe. Now you two should remain here and I will continue.."

"No sir," Harry replied quickly. 'The deal was we'd accompany you in search of the Horcrux."

"And you have," Dumbledore agreed. "But the danger the rest of the way is too great for me to risk your lives. Remember that you agreed to obey me when it came to your safety."

"What about your own safety? What if you need help as you did with the Locket?" Hermione asked.

"I admit that I was unprepared for such an occurrence," Dumbledore replied with an edge to his voice. "But there is no reason to fear such a reoccurrence."

"We are not as certain," Harry pressed. "Besides, what if when you get inside, there is something else that needs my parseltongue abilities. Wouldn't it be more unsafe for us to be out here if you are in trouble in there?"

Dumbledore sighed as another headache started but he knew this time he had the teenagers with their own words. "If I feel your services are necessary, I will return for you. But until then I must insist you stay here. I must stress that you agreed that you would listen to me when it came to YOUR safety. There was no agreement concerning MY safety," He gestured over the expanse of barren land. "Do you or do you not consider that area dangerous?"

"Yes…but," Harry started.

"Then you must also agree that I have a right to insist that you remain here," Dumbledore continued.

"Do you think he wants us to stay behind so he can have time with the Ring?" Hermione asked Harry.

"Most likely," Harry agreed. "But he might actually be truly concerned about our safety."

"Your safety, you mean? Until he can convince you to sacrifice yourself?" Hermione queried with a bit of ire coming through in her thoughts. "So what do we do?"

"Agree with him; then follow once he's in the shack," Harry replied. "Maybe he has learned his lesson about the danger of Horcruxes, but I doubt it."

Hermione mentally agreed with Harry and then two of them assumed a disappointed look. "We understand," Harry replied to the Headmaster.

"I do need your assistance in verifying that my deductions are correct," Dumbledore explained serenely containing his elation that he still controlled the situation. "Harry, I'm going to conjure a snake and I'd like you to tell it to go across the clearing."

When Harry acknowledged with a nod, Dumbledore waved his wand and a three foot snake came out of the end. It landed with a solid thump on the grown and started to scurry into the underbrush.

"§STOP! Go that way§" Harry hissed as he indicated the way to the clearing.

"§You speak?§" The snake questioned as he stopped and lifted his head to stare at Harry.

"§I speak§," Harry replied. "§But you should go that way§…" Harry paused a moment to think of reason the snake should do as he wanted to him to. "§I saw a juicy rat earlier§."

The snakes head turned toward the clearing and then with a flick of his tongue, he hissed 'thanks' and slithered out into the open. All three of the humans watched as the snake crossed the opening unmolested. When he reached the Gaunt hovel, he paused only for a second before continuing along the foundation before disappearing around the corner of the building.

"I think that is reasonable proof of my theory," Dumbledore said as he stared at the two teens. "And did you notice that the snake and the ball both reached the side of the building without being impeded by the magical field?"

"What does that mean?"

"It means magic cannot be used to gain access across the grounds. Though by moving as I plan to, I should have no difficulties," Dumbledore explained. "Now, please wait here until I return. It might take me a significant amount of time, so please be patient. Though if I have not returned in an hour; leave and do not look back." With that ominous warning, he turned and placed his feet at the edge of the clearing. With his wand at the ready, the Headmaster slid a foot onto the bare ground and waited. After a five second count, he slid the second foot next to the first one. Again he waited. When nothing happened he started to gingerly slide his feet over the ground, while continually looking down for any signs of the creature that lived beneath the surface.

It took Dumbledore ten minutes to slide across the clearing, but finally he was at the door.

"He might have the ring before we get there," Hermione said as they watched Dumbledore examine the door. After another minute, he tapped several spots and the door glowed blue and then green. Once he stepped inside, Harry turned to Hermione.

"I…be careful," Harry said. He had been about to ask her to stay behind, but though he wanted her to be safe he knew he needed her with him.

"You too," Hermione replied. The worry in her eyes was quite evident, but so was the determination Harry had seen so often.

"I'll go first…wait until I get halfway," Harry said. When Hermione was about to protest he explained his thoughts. "If you see anything, summon me back. You should be able to as long as I'm not close to the shack. I'll stop halfway and you catch up…I can always levitate you if you run into trouble."

Hermione nodded grimly and raised her wand. "Good plan."

"Thanks," Harry replied. Without another thought he followed Dumbledore's example and edged his foot onto the ground. It was slow and nerve-wracking, but eventually the two of them made it to the door. The sweat that poured off of them had nothing to do with the temperature.

They glanced inside and didn't see Dumbledore, but could see his footprints clearly in the dust that covered everything in the room.

"Follow in his footsteps," Harry said as he placed a foot directly in the outline of Dumbledore's shoe. Dumbledore had crossed the room a few times, but there was a clear trail leading down a small hallway; obviously to a back room. Slowly and silently they followed. Outside of their seemingly extra loud heartbeats and the floorboards creaking beneath their feet, nothing could be heard. Step after step they continued to follow the footsteps. They could see the footsteps leading into a room where they could make out sounds. An extra loud creaking could be heard, followed by a small pop as something gave way and then silence.

Harry and Hermione were almost to the door when they heard Dumbledore's voice. It was weak, almost a sob. "Ariana…"

"Move," Harry said and the two of them rushed the room. There, kneeling on the floor next to a pried open floor plank was Dumbledore. The Sword of Gryffindor laid beside a golden box on the floor next to the Headmaster's knees. He had his wand clenched in a hand that also grasped the Horcrux ring. His other hand was stretched out, waiting for the ring to be placed on a finger.

"No…" Yelled Harry and Hermione simultaneously as they saw they may already be too late. Their wands were up and each had cast a spell within a second of the other. The first to hit was Harry's, who had sent a bone-breaking hex. The spell smashed into Dumbledore's hands, shattering the bones of both hands, and knocking the ring and his wand out of his hand. Hermione's spell was a second behind Harry's, but since Harry's spell had knocked Dumbledore's hands out of the way, hers continued on and struck Dumbledore's legs causing him to collapse.

"Wh…" Dumbledore looked up in surprise but the Potters were already in motion. While Hermione kept her wand out, prepared for any further fight from the ring, Harry snatched the Sword of Gryffindor from beside the Headmaster and swung it as hard as he could at the small object lying on the floor some feet away. It struck the ring solidly and with a recognized agonizing shriek the ring was destroyed. Only when they were sure the Horcrux was destroyed and there was no further threat did that turn to Dumbledore.

"I'm sorry we had to do that sir," Hermione started. "But obviously you were not as prepared as you thought."

Harry scooped up the familiar Elder wand and as his hand clinched around it, he felt a warmth creep over his hand.

Hermione glanced down at her own wand hand. "My hand…it's warm…it…what does it mean?"

"Mine too…but we need to deal with Dumbledore," Harry replied. "Here's your wand sir."

Dumbledore could only stare at the teens who had appeared from nowhere. He knew he should have heard them following him, but his entire focus had been on the resurrection stone and seeing his sister. As the shock wore off, he could feel the pain in his hands as he stared at his mangled fingers. That pain brought clarity back to his mind. He glanced over at the ring lying several feet away; the gold band now cleaved in two. He remembered the strong desire to put the ring on and he hadn't fought it. He knew he should have destroyed the Horcrux before using the Hallow, but the desire to see his sister was just too strong. A tear appeared in the corner of his eye and trailed down his cheek. His gaze turned back to the Potters; Harry holding out the Elder wand to him while Hermione was continuously scanning the room for additional dangers. He did not know what curse was in that ring, but he was sure that it was likely the two teens had just saved his life. "I don't think I can use it at the moment," He replied finally with a grimace as he lifted his fingers which were all pointed in different directions.

"Sorry sir," Harry replied. "But you were about to put the ring on and that was the first thing I thought that would prevent it."

Dumbledore nodded and tried to sit it but realized he couldn't feel his legs. "And which of you removed the bones from my legs?" He asked.

"Sorry," Hermione blushed. "That would be me. I was aiming for your hands. I thought it would be the best way to prevent you from putting the ring on, but Harry's hex hit you first so my hex missed your hands and hit your legs," She knelt beside the Headmaster and examined his fingers. "I'm not sure I want to attempt to heal those sir. I'm not sure I can get them back the way they were. Maybe we should get you to Madam Pomfrey."

"I thought I instructed you two to stay where you were?" Dumbledore said.

Harry shrugged. "You know me sir. I've always had trouble doing what I'm told when I know I'm right."

"I'm not sure how we're going to get back," The Headmaster said as a grimace passed over his face from the pain of his hands. "I can't use a wand to create a portkey and I can't apparate us back to Hogwarts with my legs missing."

Harry glanced at Hermione and they both agreed that speed was the most important thing. Dumbledore needed to get under the care of Madam Pomfrey as soon as possible; especially to make sure none of the withering curse had made it onto Dumbledore's hand. A quick mental conversation and Harry turned back to Dumbledore. "I guess I can show you the advantages of being married to the smartest witch in the world who has a tendency to disregard rules along with me. If we can get you outside of the wards, we'll apparate you back to Hogwarts."

"Apparate…but you're…ah…" Dumbledore said and then it made sense. "So that's where you were going."

"An argument for another time sir," Harry replied. "Now is it safe to walk anywhere in this place or do we need to follow your footsteps back out?"

"I'm glad to know you were cautious in following me," Dumbledore replied. "I found no other traps in the floors."

"Wait…" Hermione said suddenly. "Let's put it back the way it was so if Voldemort checks on it, he won't see anything amiss."

Harry remembered his connection memory with the anger-driven Voldemort when he stood in this very room over the empty golden box and raged. "Good idea." They quickly put the golden box back under the floorboards and repaired the damage. After pocketing both the ring and Dumbledore's wand, they started working on a way to get Dumbledore out of the wards.

"Levitate him," Harry suggested as he remembered how Sirius levitated Snape out of the Shrieking Shack.

"No, no magic," Dumbledore argued. "I would be caught in the impediment field outside."

"We're going to have to carry him," Hermione said.

It was a slow process. Though the Headmaster was very light with his frail body and missing leg bones, he could not offer any assistance. He could neither grasp to hold on nor offer any support of his body with his legs. In fact they ended up having to loosely tie his legs together off the floor because they had a tendency to bounce when they dragged him; something that must not happen when they were outside.

It took almost an hour to get him outside the wards, but as soon as they passed the barrier, a familiar voice ranged in their minds.

"Well, another Horcrux down," Miranda said. "Death is most pleased. With that fourth piece down, he can start having fun with Voldemort's soul and I get my Ambrosia. Oh…and Death also said for you both to enjoy his wand but don't believe that Master of Death thing."

"What?" Harry asked in confusion. "Wand?"

"The Elder wand now belongs to both of you," Miranda explained.

"But Harry is the one who disarmed Dumbledore," Hermione protested. "Why would I be able to use it?"

"Think about it and you'll know," Miranda replied. "Now get the old bearded one to Medical care."

"I agree. We can talk about it later. For now, let's help Dumbledore," Hermione said.

"I'll take Dumbledore with me," Harry said. "See you at Hogwarts." He grasped the Headmaster's body and with a turn, he disappeared into the tightening tube of apparition. With a pop he ended up in front of Hogwarts.

"Well done," Dumbledore said as another pop signaled Hermione arriving.

"We can levitate you now sir," Hermione said. A few minutes later they arrived at in the medical wing of the school.

"What happened?" Madam Pomfrey asked when she saw the Headmaster and rushed to guide him to one of her bed.

"Nothing serious Poppy," Dumbledore replied. "We had a problem with a couple of spells."

"Hmmp," Madam Pomprey replied as she waved her wand over Dumbledore. "Fingers shattered…every bone missing from your legs? What spells were your trying?"

"Nothing of any importance," Dumbledore replied.

"Check his left hand carefully," Hermione suggested.

"Why?" Pomprey started as she glanced at Albus, but had learned a long time ago that explanations rarely came from the Headmaster. "Very well," Her wand moved slower this time. "Eighteen bones broken…nerve damage from bones rubbing against them, extensive ligament damage…serious, but nothing that a bit of time and skelegrow won't cure."

Harry glanced at Hermione and a mental sigh of relief passed between them.

When Madam Pomfrey disappeared to get a particular potion, Harry pulled the resurrection ring from his pocket and showed it to Dumbledore. "When you are better sir, you can make your peace with your sister. For now, we'll have it at Grimmauld place to keep it safe."

"How…" Dumbledore started, but Harry and Hermione just turned and walked away. As he watched the teens depart he felt a bit of elation. Harry had been willing to risk himself and Hermione to save him. "He is still on the right path."

Madam Pomfrey returned at that time with several potion bottles. "Drink these and by tomorrow, you'll be as good as new."

"I think I'm a bit old to ever be as good as new Poppy," Dumbledore replied. "Will you make sure Hagrid gets Harry and Hermione back to where they should be?"

"I'll contact him as soon as you're asleep," Pomfrey agreed.

*** E E ****

"Another Death Eater attack on a muggle hospital in Portsmouth," Scrimgeour said to Madam Bones with obvious frustration. "That makes six attacks today but they aren't doing anything, Only hit and run…four deaths, a bit of building damage so far, but by the time we get a team of Aurors there, they're gone."

Amelia sighed as she tried to figure out what Voldemort was doing. "Any ideas…" She started when her assistant opened the door and Kingsley Shacklebolt bustled in. "Dementor attack downtown."

"In broad daylight?" Scrimgeour snarled. "Are you sure?"

"Yes sir. I was just there with the Muggle Prime Minster," Shacklebolt replied steadily. "He sent me to tell you."

Amelia could see the frustration mounting in Rufus' face. "Kingsley. We're stretched thin at the moment with Death Eater attacks throughout the country." She hated the next part but knew she had to ask. "Can you contact Dumbledore and see if the Order can respond to the Dementors?"

"Yes ma'am," Kingsley said immediately. "What about Tonks?"

"No…but tell her to step in here as you're going out."

"You wanted to see me ma'am?" Tonks asked a few seconds later.

"Yes," Amelia replied. "I want you to go wherever Dumbledore has Potter staying and make sure he's safe. I can't help but think these attacks are some kind of diversion to go after him."

"Yes ma'am," Tonks replied. "Do you want me to come back here when I've checked on him or help the Order?"

"I want you to stay with Potter until someone tells you the attacks have stopped," Amelia replied. "I'm depending on you to make sure he's safe because I don't trust Dumbledore's protections."

"Yes ma'am," Tonks replied.

"Also…check on his wi…Hermione Granger," Amelia added. "Get her to safety as well."

Tonks snorted. "She'll be where he is and most of the time that's locked away inside of his room."

"I really don't care about the specifics," Amelia replied. "Just make sure they're safe."

"You really think this could be an attempt on Potter?" Rufus asked when Tonks had left the room.

"I don't know what it is, but Voldemort is fixated on the young man," Amelia replied. "You know what it would mean to the people if he dies."

The door opened again and this time Scrimgeour's assistant rushed in. "Another attack. They've destroyed a bridge in Cardiff. Several muggles dead and we're got only a few Aurors and no Obliviators left to respond."

Scrimgauer sighed as he glanced again at Amelia. "If you'll excuse me Madam Bones…it's going to be a long day."

"Do your best Rufus," Amelia replied. "Get the retired Aurors to help if you have to…"

*** E E ***

"What is the problem?" McGonagall asked when Shacklebolt's head appeared in her fireplace.

"Where's Dumbledore?" Kingsley asked. "There is a Dementor attack downtown London and the Ministry is stretched to thin responding to Death Eater attacks all over the country. We've been asked to help."

"Unfortunately Albus is under medical care," Minerva replied. "I was informed by Madam Pomfrey just ten minutes ago that Dumbledore is unconscious and will remain so until at least tomorrow. He was brought to the medical wing by the Harry Potter suffering from several serious issues."

"WHAT? He was attacked? Wait…let's get the Order organized and downtown."

"I'll send word to meet at the Order Headquarters."

"I'll meet you there," Shacklebolt said.

*** E E ***

"They are starting to show," Alecto Carrow said to Voldemort a few minutes later.

"Dumbledore?" Voldemort asked as he glanced at Severus Snape.

"He has not appeared," Alecto replied.

"Then it is time," He turned to the masked men in the room. Their numbers were fewer than they had been but he knew their ranks would fill again. "My loyal followers," He started. "It is time to take our revenge for our fallen brethren. It is time to strike and strike hard at our enemies. It is time for them to remember what it means to fear. It is time to prove that Dumbledore's Order is no match for you. Go…and when the Order disperses to take on the Dementors, destroy them individually. Kill as many as you can while you have the advantage and then return."

A return yell of approval showed they were inspired.

"There are two Order Members who specifically need to be targeted," Voldemort continued when the room was silent once more. "The blood traitor Sirius Black and the werewolf Remus Lupin. I want all purebloods and werewolves to know what awaits them if they join the wrong side of this war. Now go…and destroy them."

As his followers apparated away, Voldemort turned to Snape. "Now Severus, soon Dumbledore will need you more than ever."

A/N Never can understand the fanfictions where the ring is unguarded and someone can just go get it. Dumbledore called the experience to recover it 'a thrilling tale' so I've always presumed there were traps similar to those guarding the locket. Hopefully I've done Voldemort credit in evilness :D

 
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