Pages of Tom Riddle’s neat, elegant script stretched across the floor of the chamber, weighted down by conjured glass balls. Harry stared down at them from the tip of the tongue bridge.
‘There’s a lot of detail,’ Salazar said. ‘If he didn’t perform the magic himself, he must’ve witnessed it, or received a very detailed account from someone who had.’
‘The theory behind creating a horcrux is in particularly great detail.’ Harry skimmed the section beneath the purple glass weights. ‘It’s much more than what’s in the book.’
‘Like you suspected, they’re created by inflicting the very thing the creator wishes to avoid upon another.’ Harry grimaced. ‘A wizard or witch of sufficiently strong mind can tear a fragment away and place it within another object. Riddle has corrected the book and written that the soul is a symbolic representation that creates an emotive focus for a very complex piece of magic that would otherwise be impossible to cast, nothing is actually torn.’
‘What type of object?’ Salazar asked.
‘It doesn’t say, but I assume it’s not just any, since the notes often mention things that don’t work.’ Harry shuddered. ‘The more I read, the more I get the feeling this was cobbled together from trial and error.’
‘So what could be a horcrux?’
‘Riddle thinks they have to be of great importance or value to the creator, otherwise the creator doesn’t feel enough of a connection to them to successfully imbue them with a reflection of themselves. Once they’re created, they’re supposed to be almost impossible to destroy, basilisk venom and fiendfyre are the only two things mentioned, but Tom speculates magic of a similar nature but opposite intention to their creation might also work.’
‘And how does Tom think they worked?’
‘As an anchor of sorts. Tom perceives the soul as more of a magic-powered sense of self. Someone with strong will and powerful magic can survive so long as that sense of self endures. He believes the magic of a horcrux imbues an object with a reflection of the creator’s self, their intent as a whole. The bond is then strong enough to tie themselves to life, even if the person’s body is destroyed. He thinks that to create it, you must fuel your intent by demonstrating your absolute desire to remain alive. A life for a life.’ Harry swallowed and tore his eyes away from the page. ‘And he’s very sure it would require the Killing Curse, because that spell requires undiluted intent to kill.’
Salazar stared at him. ‘You may not thank me for saying this, Harry, but you’ve the very same knack my wife, daughter and Tom did. I don’t think there are many wizards who’d grasp this so quickly.’
I suppose it’s a compliment. Just because Tom was good at something and did bad things with it, doesn’t mean I should be ashamed of being good at that thing.
‘There is some good news,’ Harry said. ‘The soul isn’t eternal. Tom believes both will-power and the sense of self decays as one ages, achieves, and lives and the anchoring bond will fade. However, it can only fade when the creator’s intent fades…’
‘So should Tom achieve his ambitions, it may prove his undoing,’ Salazar mused. ‘I wonder if you can recover from casting this piece of magic, though. The intent required to cast it, going so far as to inflict something you loathe upon another to escape it, that sort of act sacrifices more of a person than you might think.’ Shadows rose in Salazar’s eyes. ‘Perhaps that’s what happened to Tom, twisted by the intent of his own soul magic, until nothing was left of his dreams and desires but an absolute will to endure.’
An escape from the nothingness of death. Harry tapped his foot on the rough scrawl marring the last few pages. Tom Riddle’s broken quill tip stuck from the page beneath the words, surrounded by a circle of dark ink. Lord Voldemort. Perhaps it is.
‘What about the book?’ Salazar asked. ‘What does it say?’
‘Tom’s corrected most of it.’ Harry held out his hand and summoned the book into his palm. ‘There’s a small section he didn’t bother with.’ He skimmed the page. ‘It’s a warning. The author hypothesises that creating several horcruxes, or creating one and using the killing curse frequently afterward, may create such a strong mental association that in the right circumstances, horcruxes may be created accidentally because the intent of the creator’s magic is affected by their resolution to endure. He talks about it as if it was healing. After a horcrux is made, the creator may move on and the horcrux will eventually fade as these other things are achieved, losing his immortality once his dreams are realised. In the absence of other true goals, an obsession with immortality itself may fester and then, should the circumstances of the piece of magic occur by extreme coincidence, an accidental horcrux may be created. A bond may well form between accidental anchor and owner, possibly resulting in the development of an obsessive interest, or, in the case of living creatures, a display of similar characteristics and skills.’
The very same knack. Sharp ice-cold fingers tightened themselves around his stomach, piercing through to his spine. Harry took several deep breaths and pictured the circle of dark ink on the page, but Tom Riddle’s quill tip stuck from it and the ink seeped out like it’d run from the diary after Harry had stabbed it.
Salazar stared at him. ‘What’s wrong, Harry?’
‘In my second year, when the shade of Riddle opened the Chamber and I learnt I could speak Parseltongue, I asked Professor Dumbledore why Tom Riddle and I were so similar.’
And he knew. He’s always known. The fist of ice clenched in his shattered and seeped into his blood. A tang of iron pooled on Harry’s tongue. He’s always fucking known!
‘He told me he believed I‘d absorbed a small piece of Voldemort’s power when I was given this scar,’ Harry hissed, parseltongue slipping from his lips. ‘It made us similar, he said, and gave me my ability to speak to snakes.’
‘He lied to you.’ Salazar’s speech wavered between Parseltongue and English. ‘My blood magic cannot be passed on in such a way, it’s imperative you have my blood for the magic to work. Magical power can’t be absorbed in such a manner, either, or there would’ve been wizards killing each other left and right to do so. He knows about the horcruxes. He knows that you are one. He has always known.’
I’m a horcrux. I’m what is keeping Voldemort alive. Why me? Harry’s hands shook and the glass paperweights shattered one by one, dissolving into white mist. It’s so bloody unfair. So unfair.
‘I have to die.’ He tossed the Secrets of the Darkest Arts to the ground. ‘The diary is gone. When I’m dead, so’s Voldemort.’
Salazar scowled. ‘I will not allow it,’ he hissed. ‘You are the Heir of Salazar Slytherin, not a sacrifice to be used by lesser wizards. We will find another way or we will make one.’
Harry slumped down onto the cold stone. ‘How many will have to die before we find one? There’s no point hoping, better to just get it over with.’
‘As many as necessary,’ Salazar spat. ‘We don’t know how many of these horcruxes Riddle has made besides yourself, your death may simply ensure his secret remains undiscovered.’
‘I can’t tell Dumbledore I know about them.’
‘No. You cannot. We can’t predict his reaction. He may be searching for other horcruxes, or keeping you alive as long as he can, but the moment you become a liability, he might kill you. Worse things have been done for the greater good.’
‘I’m not a match for Albus Dumbledore.’ Harry stared at the slim crack joining the stones between his feet. ‘Voldemort might be, but I don’t think he’s going to be much help.’
I’ll have to walk a path apart from either of them. Harry sighed. Alone.
‘I will think on this,’ Salazar said. ‘A solution may present itself.’
‘Tempus,’ Harry murmured, tapping his wand on his wrist.
A few minutes to eleven. Harry groaned. Katie…
The Marauder’s map showed Katie waiting for him at the entrance hall. Pettigrew’s name hovered at the edge of the quidditch pitch where the wards ended and vanished off the corner of the map.
Smile, Harry. He strode from the chamber. It’s not Katie’s fault, make sure she enjoys her date. It might be how she remembers you.’
Katie hovered near the entrance, wrapped up in a thick duffel coat and an orange and yellow scarf. Her hair was tied up on her head, her lips red, and her eyelashes dark. Harry transfigured his creased robes into something more fitting and patted at his hair. It sprung back up straight away.
‘Harry.’ Katie beamed. ‘I was beginning to worry you weren’t coming.’
‘Well I’m nervous, but not that nervous.’
Well, I was. Not now, though. No point in being nervous now. No point in being anything.
She grinned and slipped her arm through his. Her warmth radiated from his shoulder to where their thighs brushed.
‘So where are we going?’ Harry asked.
‘The place with all the pink?’ Harry tried to picture sporty, casual Katie there among all the fluffy cushions and hearts. ‘Really?’
Please say no. It’s such an awkward, uncomfortable shop.
‘Yes, do you mind?’
‘Not if that’s what you want,’ Harry said. ‘It doesn’t really seem like your sort of place, though.’
‘Full marks, Harry.’ Katie laughed. ‘Definitely not my cup of tea. But I did enjoy the brief look of horror you wore.’
‘So you don’t want to go?’ Harry sighed. ‘That’s a relief. You know it actually ranks higher than Snape’s office on the list of places Gryffindor boys never want to find themselves?’
‘All girls like a little romance, but that’s not my type. Let’s go to the Shrieking Shack. We can meet up with Angelina, Alicia and the Twins afterward?’
He nodded and led the way to the Shrieking Shack. Katie bounced alongside him, a broad grin on her lips. Stray locks of her hair slipped from her bun and dangled down over her eyes.
‘I love this place. Nobody ever dares come in, but it’s so cool.’ Katie glanced around, then pointed to the dent Professor Lupin had left in the wall. ‘That’s new.’
‘Do you know the real story?’ Harry asked.
‘No, everyone just knows it’s haunted. I didn’t know there was a real story!’
‘I can tell you, if you like?’
Katie brushed the splinters off the three-legged chair and gestured for Harry to sit on one half. He obliged.
Katie took the other side, wrapping an arm around his waist to keep her balance. ‘Tell me.’
‘A while back there was a student at Hogwarts who was a werewolf. Every full moon he’d come here to transform, sneaking out of the castle using a secret passage. The werewolf was lucky enough to have three friends who didn’t care what he was and they decided, in order to help him, that they‘d become animagi.’
‘How would that help?’ Katie eyed the claw marks on the walls.
‘Werewolves aren’t dangerous to animals, their bite only affects humans. However, the transformation is supposed to be very painful and so to keep him company, they turned into animals and came here with him.’
‘Did nobody ever realise?’
‘I don’t know,’ Harry said. ‘That’s more or less the whole of the story as I know it.’
‘How did you learn about the place?’
‘Do you remember Professor Lupin?’ Harry asked.
‘Yes. He was a really good teacher, but he resigned because… Oh. He was the student.’
‘He told me about it last year.’
‘Who were the other three, then?’
‘Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew, and James Potter.’ His voice cracked at the last name and he glanced away with a grimace.
‘Your father.’ Katie squeezed his shoulder and gave him a smile. ‘Thanks for telling me the story, Harry. It must mean a lot to you.’
‘In a way.’
‘I come here almost every time I visit Hogsmeade, but I never knew what it was actually for.’
‘What did you think it was?’
‘I always thought it was a hoax,’ Katie said. ‘I never saw any ghosts when I came here.’
‘Well, now you know.’
Katie tucked herself under his arm. ‘It’s good you’re taller now. You can keep me warm.’
‘It is a little cold.’ Harry waved a hand at the walls. ‘The shack doesn’t really have much insulation, either.’
Katie beamed and shifted a little closer to Harry. A loud snap echoed through the room and they thudded to the floor.
Harry brushed his robes off and offered Katie his hand. ‘Oops. I think that was Professor Lupin’s favourite chair.’
Katie giggled and let him pull her to her feet. ‘We’ve broken part of one of Hogwarts’ most iconic buildings.’
‘Professor Lupin won’t mind. He started the demise of the chair himself.’
Harry surveyed the remnants as Katie brushed the dust off her clothes and fingered his wand. I could repair it, but then it’d be like this moment never happened.
‘Ready?’ he asked.
She nodded, dragging her hair out of its bun and shaking it free. ‘That’s better.’ She grinned. ‘Sorry, Harry. I’m happy to wear makeup for you, but I’m not tying my hair up until at least the third date.’
Why would she wait — oh. Harry felt heat creep into his cheeks. Wow.
He scrabbled for some words. ‘Careful. I might try and hold you to that.’
Katie’s grin came with a wicked gleam in her eye. ‘I will if you don’t.’
Harry forced himself to take a deep breath. ‘I think I should concede defeat now.’
‘Well, I’m not sure you can go any more red in the face anyway.’ Katie laughed and slipped her hand into Harry’s, her soft, warm fingers curling through his.. ‘Let’s go to the Three Broomsticks. We’re out of chairs here.’
They made their way back towards Hogsmeade’s best pub. Harry let the quiet song of the birds, the gentle breeze, and the smell of the woods wash over him, his steps springing over the frosty ground.
Angelina, Alicia, and the Weasley Twins sat round a table pressed against the side wall of the inn. Shouts, cheers, and the buzz of conversation rolled over Harry like a breaking wave.
Loud. He grimaced.
‘C’mon.’ Katie pulled him toward the table.
Angelina stole a pair of chairs from the table behind and glared when the bunch of third years tried to protest. ‘All we need now is the keeper.’
‘It’s a good thing Wood’s left to join the big leagues.’ A twin, Harry presumed Fred since he was closest to Angelina, offered a broad grin. ‘He wouldn’t be happy with this.’
‘Indeed, brother mine,’ George said. ‘He’d be outraged.’
Fred snickered. ‘He’d be the only member of the team not dating another teammate.’
Katie disappeared into the crowd by the bar.
Harry laughed. ‘We’d get a very long lecture about squad relations, then he would’ve forced us all to be married so we couldn’t separate and harm the atmosphere of the team.’
Katie’s nearly two years older than me. His laughter faded. A few successful dates and a few years and she might start thinking about stuff like that. That’s not such a long way away.
‘I got firewhiskey.’ Katie wriggled through the crowd and back to the table, three small glasses clutched in either hand.
‘How’d you manage that?’ The twins stared at her like she’d just turned water to wine.
‘Well the drinking age is seventeen.’ Katie shrugged. ‘I might only be a fifth year and sixteen, but I’m sitting with three sixth years who’re nearly overage. I guess they just assumed I was, too.’
‘What about Harry?’ Fred asked. ‘He’s an ickle fourth year.’
‘He’s not ickle.’
Angelina and Alicia burst into giggles and Harry inspected the grain of the table, willing the heat to fade from his face.
Katie flushed bright crimson. ‘They never asked. I guess they assumed that if he can defeat a Dark Lord as a baby, he can manage alcohol.’
‘Are you sure you can manage him, Katie?’ Alicia waggled her eyebrows.
‘I guess I’ll be keeping the rest of these, then.’ Katie passed a single whiskey glass to Harry and each of the Weasley’s, then swept the other three into a line in front of herself.
‘We’ll behave.’ Angelina raised her palms. ‘Harry doesn’t want to see drunk Katie on his first date.’
‘It would put even the most lovesick of suitors off,’ George said.
‘I remember when Alicia was given a whole case of elderflower wine because the shop lost her ordered bottle and the three of us drank it on New Year’s Eve. I took the candle you stole from the Great Hall and you got so angry you tried to transfigure me into a goblin.’ Angelina dissolved into giggles, gasping for breath.
Katie blushed. ‘I didn’t! I only threatened.’
‘No. No,’ Alica gasped through laughter. ‘You tried very hard, but you were using a breadstick from the kitchens instead of your wand.’
‘And you were certain that it was your wand,’ Angelina said. ‘Alicia ate it in front of you and you burst into tears because you thought you’d never be able to do magic again.’
‘I did not.’ Katie muttered. ‘I don’t remember doing any of that.’
‘Of course you don’t.’ Alicia smirked. ‘It was a thirteen bottle case and you drank seven of them. You fell asleep in the middle of crying about your breadstick and we had to carry you back to bed.’
‘Never let her drink too much, Harry,’ Angelina said. ‘She’s very funny drunk, but an absolute disaster to deal with. We’ve a hundred more stories from that night alone.’
‘Well keep them to yourselves.’ Katie pushed her lips together and curled them inwards into a small pout. ‘Or I’ll drink all these.’
Angelina crossed her arms. ‘Go ahead.’
Katie lined up the three glasses and gulped them down, placing them in a neat row in front of her. She beamed. ‘Done.’
‘Uh oh,’ Fred and George chorused. ‘We’re in trouble now.
‘Firewhiskey is potent stuff,’ Fred said. ‘It’s meant to give you a buzz no matter how much you drink, but the more you do the stronger and longer the feeling.’
Harry glanced at the three empty glasses, then at his own. ‘How strong?’
‘Don’t worry Harry,’ Katie cheered. ‘If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.’ She pushed his glass towards him.
The Weasley’s linked arms and downed their own.
‘Not that strong, just a little bit of cheer,’ Fred said.
‘Unless you drink several, brother mine,’ George added. ‘Then it’s triple the effect!’
Harry eyed the amber liquid.
‘It doesn’t hurt.’ Katie pushed it toward him with her fingertip. ‘You’ll feel great.’
‘One’s fine,’ Angelina said.
Alicia nodded. ‘Three’s trouble, but one’s nothing.’
Harry raised the glass to his lips and tipped the firewhiskey down his throat. It seared down his throat like liquid flame, pooling into a deep, warm glow in his stomach. ‘Actually, after the fire bit, it’s not bad.’
‘See.’ Katie shuffled close to him, her hand resting on his thigh. ‘It’s a good buzz.’
Katie gave his leg a squeeze. ‘I probably shouldn’t have drunk three. Triple the buzz, but it messes with your head a bit too much. Just be nice to me and I won’t bite.’ She leant into his ear. ‘Much larger chance of me tying my hair up today, now,’ she whispered.
Harry laughed and let the warm tingle radiate through him. ‘Don’t make promises you can’t keep, Katie,’ he murmured back.
Angelina and Alicia dissolved into giggles again. Fred gave him a thumbs up and a wink.
‘Definitely can’t call you Harrikins, now,’ George said.
‘How long does this last?’ Harry asked.
Not long,’ Fred said. ‘For us, less than half an hour. For Katie, maybe a couple of hours.’
‘We should head towards Honeydukes,’ Alicia said. ‘Fred promised us chocolate and Lee’s probably waiting there by now.’
Angelina giggled. ‘And we’ll give Harry and Katie some time, so Katie can tie up her hair.’
Katie flushed. ‘Go away, you quaffle-hogging whores.’
Alicia and Angelina burst into laughter again, rising and squeezing out past Harry.
Angelina bent to Harry’s ear. ‘Keep her cheerful,’ she murmured. ‘Katie’s an extremely emotional drunk, but lovely as long as she’s happy.’
Alicia smiled as she pulled her coat and scarf back on. ‘Of course, being Katie and being drunk means just about anything could upset her. She once cried for ten minutes because she dropped her sandwich when we went to the kitchens after celebrating Lee’s birthday.’
Katie shook her head and beamed. ‘I’m always happy.’
‘Thanks for the whiskey, Katie,’ the Twins chorused over their shoulder as they left.
‘Let’s go wander.’ Katie slipped an arm about his waist, squirming over his lap to grab her coat.
Harry pushed himself up from his seat and helped her get her arms back into her blue duffel coat. ‘Where shall we wander?’
‘I don’t mind.’ She wrapped her arm back round his waist. ‘Happy to drift about as long as I’m with you.’
As long as you’re with me. A lump swelled up in Harry’s throat and he turned his head away to blink back liquid heat from his eyes. Nobody’s ever said anything like that to me before.
Katie glanced around, then giggled and pushed him down a side alley. She wrapped her hand round her hair and coiled it atop her head, staring up at him and biting her lip.
Why — oh. Harry gulped, anxiety fluttered in his stomach despite the warmth of the alcohol. Is she serious?
Katie burst into laughter. ‘Just kidding. It’s too cold out here and I’m not that sort of girl, just playing about. Takes more than three firewhiskeys to get me on my knees, Harry.’
He hid a flood of relief and a small pang of disappointment, stroking his chin in mock thought. ‘We can always go back for a couple more?’
‘Nice try.’ Katie shook her hair back down over her scarf and dragged him out of the alley. ‘I’m only teasing though.’ Her eyes slipped down from his face and back up. ‘Well, this time I’m only teasing.’ She seized Harry’s hand and bounced away up the street, tugging him after her.