Title: So This is Victory
Summary: Harry and Ron set out to find and destroy the first Horcrux.
Notes: Thanks to my beta, R! I hope you enjoy the fic, incognito.
"This is it?" Ron Weasley said as he examined the alley that they appeared in only seconds after he Apparated into existence there.
"Yeah… it is." His best friend Harry Potter did the same, as well, then consulted a fold-out map made of parchment. "At least… that's what the map says. This is the side alley, Griffin Way. See the sign up there? And that's…" he squinted a little, looking slightly to the side as he tried to read the other road sign, "That's Main Street."
Ron winced. "You brought the map? Well, that's good news. I forgot mine back at home, and—"
Harry silenced him with a touch on the arm. Ron saw a pair of middle-aged ladies pass by the alley on Main Street. They hadn't noticed the two young wizards, but if Ron had been any louder, or if Harry's gaze hadn't already been fixed in that direction…
As soon as they were gone, Harry spoke again, whispering, "There are Muggles out on the street, and we don't want them to know we're here, remember?" Harry whispered. His hand tightened on Ron's arm.
Ron nodded and frowned. If he didn't want to jeopardize the mission, he was going to have to be more careful and observant – more professional.
"Don't worry, Harry," he reassured his friend. "I won't let you down."
Smiling, Harry pulled out his invisibility cloak and wrapped it around both of them. "I didn't think you would."
Dodging the few pedestrians in the village of Godric's Hollow was not a difficult task by any means. Nonetheless, Harry and Ron remained silent and kept an eye out at all times, even as they consulted the map (which, as it turned out, was more of a hindrance than a help due to its age and lack of clarity). An hour after they had arrived in the village, they found the winding path that, according to the map, led to the cottage in which Harry's parents had hidden from Voldemort until the Dark Lord had finally found them.
And everyone knew what had happened after that.
Except… perhaps they didn't. Harry expected to find something here -- something that would hopefully help him with the challenge that was still to come. Neither of them knew what this something was, but Ron had learned to trust Harry's little hunches, even when they seemed odd.
Once they had passed so far down the path as to be invisible to any onlookers, even without Harry's cloak, the two boys gladly shrugged it off.
Ron could easily see how this cottage would have seemed the perfect hiding place for the Potters. It was on the outskirts of Godric's Hollow, and this long, winding, uphill path would certainly scare off You-Know-Who had he planned on visiting the cottage. Well… probably not, Ron reconsidered, but it would certainly deter any lesser wizards and Muggles.
Nearly half an hour later, the boys were sweating, both from the July heat and from exertion. Around another bend, though, and…
Harry stopped abruptly and Ron proceeded to bump into him, nearly sending them both to the ground. Neither cared, however, because before them stood the cottage that had been hidden from nearly all eyes by a Fidelius Charm sixteen years ago.
The cottage was black. It looked as if it had been charred, but not by any sort of fire either Ron or Harry had ever encountered. It was dilapidated in a way that suggested not only the slow degradation of years, but a sudden vandalism followed by an extended decay when nothing had been done about it. Windows were broken, the yard was overgrown, and it was questionable as to whether the cottage was at all structurally sound, especially the second floor.
It certainly was a sight. Ron saw Harry worrying his lower lip out of the corner of his eye and had the strangest desire to grab hold of his hand, to remind Harry that he, Ron, was here, and that hopefully everything would be all right.
He didn't. Soon the expression was gone from Harry's face and that look that seemed to embody determination, pride, and defiance took its place.
"Let's go in," he said simply as he walked the remaining distance toward the cottage.
It was like walking into the blackened maw of some massive beast. This house had devoured people before, with the help of Voldemort, and Ron felt like it could do the same to himself and Harry at any given time. The cottage was allowing them to enter. It was being gracious. If they screwed up in here, Ron had a feeling that they would pay dearly for it.
The cottage seemed sinisterly alive, even though it looked so dead.
"Like the Inferi," he heard Harry mutter.
So he wasn't the only one to feel it. This wasn't normal… the cottage was cursed, or possibly mutated. Ron was sure that Hermione, had she been here, would have known exactly how such a thing might have happened. It was either directly or indirectly due to Voldemort, and possibly something to do with Harry as well – of that much he was certain
They explored the house – everywhere from the first floor sitting room to the kitchen and dining area and on to the second floor (at times Ron had been terrified for his life on the rickety staircase).
Harry's parents' room was to the left, and just as everything else in the house had been, both inside and out, everything was stained black. They walked in, breathing in stale air that reeked of decay and something even more rotten, and Harry set down his bag.
"What are you doing?" Ron asked worriedly.
Harry gave him a pointed look before turning his gaze on a broken and blackened wardrobe. Ron could still see clothes inside, poking out at irregular intervals through the broken wood. The clothes were also black.
Harry walked up to it and touched the wardrobe with his right index finger, rubbing it to see if, like soot, this mysterious blackness would come off.
He frowned and held up his finger to Ron. None had.
Next was the second floor bathroom. Harry tested the water faucet. Ron half-expected it to spew out disgusting black water, as well, but was almost relieved to find that the plumbing didn't seem to work.
"It's a good thing we can conjure water, or we'd be in a bit of trouble," Harry said with a half-grin.
Ron tried to return it.
And then they explored Harry's room. The place where it all had began… and ended. The door was knocked off its hinges, so they were offered a clear view as to what lay inside.
A blackened baby cradle sat upon a blackened carpet. The blackened wallpaper was peeling and some of it appeared burned – in fact, most of it in the proximity of the cradle appeared to be a different shade of black than that which covered the rest of the house. Ron ran a finger along the side of the cradle and wasn't surprised to see that this time, the touch left black soot.
"I remember a green light…" Harry muttered. Ron looked at his friend and was surprised to see that Harry didn't appear to be entirely with him. He was staring into space, apparently recalling the past – recalling the last time he'd been in this room, when green light had turned to green flames as the Dark Lord had been disembodied right in front of him. "I don't remember there having been any flames or fire, or even heat. Just the light…"
"Don't think on it too much, mate," Ron advised. He didn't particularly like what this place seemed to be doing to Harry. Hell, he didn't like this place at all, but if Harry needed to be here…
"Right…" Harry conceded. There was a pause. The silence was vaguely uncomfortable. Finally, Harry broke it with, "Let's go outside and eat, yeah? I'm famished."
Lunch was corned beef sandwiches. They weren't Ron's favorite, but they filled him up. Besides, they reminded him of his mum, and the Burrow, and houses that weren't black and evil and somehow hungry.
The two boys ate in silence at first, but as the effects of the broken cottage seemed to wear off, they started to speak.
"Do you think they know where we went off to?" Harry asked, looking slightly guilty as he examined his sandwich.
"Nah…" Ron reassured him. "If they did, they'd be here already. I don't see any Order members around – do you?"
Harry shrugged. "They're not always all that obvious to spot. They could be lurking in the trees, wanting us to think we're doing all of this on our own, when in fact they're watching out for us in case something goes wrong."
"Honestly, mate? I don't think that'd be such a horrible thing for them to do, myself. You felt that cottage. I don't know what it is, but it's not normal, Harry. It's sinister."
Harry ate the last bit of his sandwich, a thoughtful look on his face. "I know… and I think that's what it is I've got to get to the bottom of."
Ron reluctantly agreed. The only question was that of how?
After eating, Harry and Ron began the real work. Before they left the Burrow, they had been reading up on Dark magic, including incantations that supposedly revealed the Dark nature of objects – "To determine if an object might be a Horcrux!" Harry had exclaimed upon finding it. Nothing was set in stone; they still had a long way to go, but at least they had something resembling a plan.
Harry sighed beside him and Ron made sure he was smiling again before Harry could see his frown. Harry was having enough trouble as it was, Ron thought. The last thing he needed was to see his best mate looking anything but glad to be helping him – helping the cause. When Harry finally turned away from the latest household object he'd decided to inspect, his green eyes were tired and his expression was completely frustrated.
Ron couldn't keep his smile from faltering a bit.
Harry sighed again. "It's all right, Ron," he muttered, looking down at his hands and the wand he held between them. "You can say it. This is hopeless."
"No it's not," Ron tried to reassure him, but apparently Harry wasn't having any of it.
"Yes. It is. Anything in this damned house could be causing this," he waved a hand around the blackened bedroom they now stood in. "Don't you think we'd have found it by now in my old room?"
Harry scoffed at him. "That's where Voldemort tried to kill me after all!" Ron winced. "That’s where he disintegrated into Dark Lord dust or whatever, right? You'd think anything important, anything Dark enough to make the house behave like this would be in there, right?"
Ron wasn't so sure, but he nodded anyway. Sometimes it was best to let Harry blow off steam – only then would he calm down enough to want to listen to reason.
"But how many times have we searched it?" Harry continued, now pacing back and forth and clutching his wand tightly in his right fist. "Four times! And nothing in there, nothing at all was Dark according to this stupid spell! Maybe the spell is wrong. Or maybe the damned object is so small that it escaped our notice entirely, but either way, this is utterly hopeless!"
Ron was frowning by now and his thoughts were going a mile a minute. He might actually have the missing piece of the puzzle – the answer – and if he was right, their lives would get a hell of a lot easier.
Ron grabbed Harry's arm. "Harry," he said cautiously. "Can you calm down for a second?"
Harry glared at him. "No."
"Just a second," Ron urged him. "I just… had a thought."
"What kind of thought?" Ron seemed to have caught Harry's interest. Brilliant.
"Just that… what if there's nothing wrong with the spell and what if the Horcrux isn't small?" Ron said quietly, carefully. His eyes scanned the room they were in with no small amount of trepidation. "What if the Dark object is actually too big for such a tiny spell?" He gestured around the room and squeezed Harry's arm a bit for emphasis.
Ron could see the very moment when the realization hit Harry. It was like a storm. Harry's eyes widened and brightened all in one go and his skin seemed charged under Ron's hand all of a sudden. He was smiling now, and looked around the room triumphantly before smirking at Ron.
"You're a genius, Ron Weasley, and don't you ever let anyone tell you otherwise," Harry said with a laugh, and with that, he broke free of Ron's grasp and pulled Ron closer, only to pull them both downstairs and out of the house once more.
They stood with their wands drawn outside the blackened cottage.
"Harry, how exactly do we do this?" Ron asked suddenly. "I mean… I know that Avada Kedavra would probably do the trick, but will two curses be enough? It is a pretty damn big Horcrux…"
"Hmm," Harry said, his gazed fixed firmly on the house. "You have a point, Ron, but the least we can do is try, right? If it doesn't work, we can get some of the Order to help out, I suppose."
Ron frowned. "And what if that doesn't work? What if the Killing Curse isn't the answer? Sure, it sends souls to the other side or whatever, but this is just a piece of You-Know-Who's—"
"Ron," Harry smiled and grabbed his hand. "It'll be fine. We'll figure it out. Let's just focus on the task at hand, all right?"
It was odd how they could always find ways of reassuring each other, even when both of them were equally worried. Ron smiled and nodded. "All right – on the count of three?"
Harry looked as if he was already ready. The sun was setting just beyond the hills to the west, and the effect the lighting had on Harry's face was nothing less than stunning. Ron knew that his best friend was good-looking, sure, but in this moment he looked utterly beautiful. Orange light from the sun lit his triumphant face and shone in his eyes. The sunset reflected off Harry's glasses, temporarily hiding his eyes as he nodded his assent.
Ron swallowed. How he was going to summon enough hate to perform a successful Killing Curse, he had no idea. After a few deep breaths, he forced himself to think of the mission – if they didn't destroy this Horcrux tonight, there was a chance that the Killing Curse just didn't work on Horcruxes, and Ron did not want this to be the case.
He squared his shoulders.
He raised his wand.
Their voices stood out in stark contrast against the silence currently surrounding them, and two brilliant green spells hit the house.
And then all hell broke loose.
As the spells hit the house, they seemed to multiply in intensity, spreading from their points of contact across one entire side of the house, and then spread onto the roof. Ron imagined that the spells were probably spreading throughout the inside, as well, but he couldn't tell at that point because the house was glowing – shining – so brightly that it was more blinding than the setting sun.
Ron turned away, holding one arm over his eyes while grabbing Harry with the other. As far as Ron could tell, Harry was doing the same. Both of them collapsed to the ground and turned away from the blinding green light of the house.
Several loud crashing noises later, Ron thought that he might have gone blind, only to realize that, in fact, the light seemed to have dimmed out or disappeared. He opened his eyes wider and looked behind them.
The house was no longer there. In its place stood a pile of rubbish – the entire house seemed to have collapsed.
"Wow…" Ron whispered.
At his side, Harry rubbed his head and squinted at what remained of the house. He remained silent, and Ron thought he could detect a hint of sadness in his best friend's eyes.
"What is it? Are you all right, Harry?"
Harry nodded and smiled – no doubt with relief. Ron couldn't help doing the same.
"So do you think we did it?" he teased.
Harry laughed. "I damn well hope so," he said. More seriously, he added, "I don't sense that same… off-ness… about the house anymore, though. I think… I think we actually did it, Ron."
Ron moved to stand up, and offered Harry his hand once he had done so. "We really did, didn't we?" he said as he helped pull Harry to his feet.
"We did," Harry repeated, and with that he was very suddenly hugging Ron and Ron was hugging him back.
So this was what victory felt like – hugging your best mate and laughing out loud as if you didn't have a care in the world. Victory felt pretty damn good.
They remained like that for a while, in each others arms and smiling, occasionally giggling and grabbing the other tighter.
Ron didn't know how it had started or who had initiated it, but suddenly he and Harry were kissing – Harry's hands were in his hair and Ron's pulled Harry closer and it was so much better than kissing Lavender had been, but so different all at once.
Victory felt like kissing your best mate, apparently.
When they finally broke apart, Harry was blushing and Ron knew he was as well. They could still bear to look each other in the eye, though, and for this Ron was thankful.
"Well…" Harry began, grinning. "I'd say mission accomplished, wouldn't you?"
"Oh yeah," Ron replied. He couldn't stop staring at Harry's mouth – had his lips really been there? "Definitely."
Harry laughed. "Come on, Ron. We should probably be getting home. I bet everyone's really worried, and we've got good news."
Ron nodded. "On the count of three?"
"One. Two. Three!"
With that, the two victorious boys Apparated home.