Forest of Red Thistles
They entered Harry's birth home with an air of trepidation, and Hermione was sure that their older companion was the most alert of them. He seemed the sort, especially with his tale, to be on his guard and be prepared for an ambush. Especially after he'd said that he'd been ambushed, just before being whisked away to here and being found by Harry.
Watching critically, aware that he could probably sense her watching him, she could just barely see how he was ready to be on the offense at any moment; how his body was coiled and ready to spring into action at any minute threat to them.
She kind of wished they'd met him earlier, so that he could have prepared them for war before they'd just been thrust into the thick of things. And he probably would have taught them too, regardless of how young they were, because his opinion would probably have been that they were better off prepared than being naïve and unprepared.
Glancing at Harry, she really had wished that would have happened, especially for her friend's sake.
It was practically a godsend that Rasa had made it to their group, because he'd managed to get them organized and better equipped than they had been before, especially with what little they had with them and what they knew. And Harry, who kept becoming more and more worn and downtrodden as they continued on this journey, was benefiting the most from his presence.
Hermione had been unsure and against him being with them at first. She was also unsure of his growing closeness with Harry then. However, she could see how the two needed each other and seemed to gravitate towards one another, so she also began to relent and push them. And when she saw them wrapped around each other that night, she knew then that those two were connected and wouldn't be separated from then on.
And fact was, since when had Harry ever let loose or let herself become really comfortable with anyone, much less a guy? Even with Ron and Hermione, there was a miniscule wall that seemed to just keep Harry isolated. Like this burden that weighed down her slim shoulders and no one else could help her lift…not until Rasa. And with him, there were no barriers. Harry seemed the most carefree than she had been in a long time, and it was because of him.
All this time, Harry had never really let anyone in. Merlin, she'd never even dated before. She'd always been too focused on other things, helping others, saving the school and people, and all the little 'battles' in school that had been leading up to this war. And now she had Rasa, and by any higher power out there listening, Hermione would do everything she could to keep them together and Harry happy.
So she would believe and trust in this man to do whatever it took to make her friend happy as well, and that he would make sure she was safe and protected.
"What do we do?" she asked him quietly, letting him take the lead.
He looked back at her with only a miniscule of surprise in his eyes, probably because she was letting him not only take point as he had been doing and had been trusted with, but to also make the decisions for the group at this task.
"I don't trust her," Rasa told them plainly. "Something seems wrong. If we're really determined to see if this place has the items you are looking for, then it's best to quickly search through the building and leave even quicker than that after."
"I want to talk to Bathilda," Harry interjected firmly. "She might know something. I can talk to her, while you guys search the ground floor."
Hermione was about to object, but Rasa cut in. "Alright. Be quick about it, and make sure to include questions that could help us find these…Horcruxes. Or the sword."
Harry nodded briefly and went to follow Bathilda, while Hermione looked at Rasa in confusion. Inwardly, she really hated how Harry could get so bull-headed and stubborn, while also fretting and worrying about her friend's safety.
"We'll check this side hurriedly, and follow after her. When she's done, we can actually really search the house for real," he explained to her, already making a brisk walk to the door closest to them. "She's high-strung right now, so we're compromising. Of sorts."
Hermione's lips twitched up, and she decided that at least he knew how to deal with Harry.
"Shimatta!" she heard him growl, and she hurried to his side to see what had earned that reaction. She didn't know if it was good or bad, seeing as she hadn't understood what he'd said, but before she could see what he saw, he whirled around and covered her eyes.
"What are you –"
"You wouldn't want to see that room," Rasa muttered, springing into action and picking her up, running towards the stairway. "We have to get to Harry."
And Hermione, remembering the strong smell of rust and iron from the room before she'd been kept away, could morbidly guess that he'd just prevented her from seeing the scene of a grisly murder. It was a blur as he'd rushed her upstairs, and without further guidance, had set her down and followed up quickly by throwing one of his kunai in a certain direction. It happened so fast that it took a moment for Hermione to catch up, and when she looked away from him and to where he'd thrown the kunai, she saw a large snake that was hissing loudly. She saw that the weapon had struck its side, and she saw Harry on the floor dazed next to it.
Rasa had just barely made it to attack the snake and keep Harry safe, and now he was running towards Harry and picking the other girl up. By then the snake, Nagini Hermione could guess, had turned its attention to them, and reeled back to attack them.
"I fucking hate snakes," Rasa snarled, holding tight onto Harry as he ducked the attack and rolled from underneath Nagini, who had taken a leap towards them (rather their previous location) for the attack. Rasa had reached up then, quickly unfurling from the roll, and grabbed the stuck kunai and dragged it through the snake's body before pulling it out and reclaiming it.
Nagini let out a loud screeching hiss in pain, and while it was distracted, Rasa headed back towards Hermione while still holding onto Harry. Gathering her wits, Hermione reached out as soon as they were in reaching distance, and then Side-Apparated them out of there. They landed rather harshly on snow-covered ground in a forest, where Rasa promptly started to fuss over Harry. She watched the man checking the other for injuries, muttering to himself.
"Are you okay? Are you hurt anywhere? What happened?" he asked in quick succession, and Harry had shaken her head to clear it.
"I…I think I'm okay. I was…I was following her up and then we were in this room and speaking to each other, only I hadn't realized we were talking in Parseltongue. Uh, snake-speak, I guess you can think of it as," Harry hesitated, trying to explain to him. He nodded and she continued talking then. "And then she started transforming and became Nagini, and when I tried to get away, she knocked me back into the room and I hit my head. I was a little out of it, but I think at that moment, when Nagini was going to kill me, that was when you two came in the nick of time."
Rasa frowned and Hermione was trying to not think how close that had been.
"Next time," Rasa started wryly. "We'll be sticking together, unless we really need to split up."
Harry nodded sheepishly, and Hermione was just glad there was someone who could keep up with her friend's reckless nature.
They were resting in a forest that Hermione told them she and her family had gone to once, called the Forest of Dean. They kept checking on her, making sure she didn't have a concussion after having hit her head. Harry knew she hit it rather hard, hard enough to blank out for a bit in the midst of an attack, but she felt fine now. Maybe a bit of a headache, but nothing too serious. At least she hoped so. It would be just her luck to die from a concussion, and not by Voldemort's hand.
"How are you doing?" Rasa murmured to her, while Hermione was setting up their protections. Harry set up the tent a little after they got there, and was now resting on her bed.
She shrugged lightly. "Not bad. Better than earlier. Just a little headache that's going away little by little."
Rasa frowned. "Alright. So long as you tell me if it becomes worse or something. I'll be watching over you."
Harry gave him a small smile, and he went around getting things ready and setting up a place for them to rethink their steps and regroup from Godric's Hollow. The rest of the day passed by in a blur until it was nighttime, and everyone had gone to bed. Harry, however, was unable to fall asleep and sighed to herself. Maybe a breath of fresh air would help…
She walked a little outside, and just when she was about to go back into the tent, she spotted a silvery doe watching her. Watching it in awe, she hesitantly began to follow when it began to trot away. It led her to a lake where, of all things, she could see Gryffindor's Sword in it.
"No way," she muttered.
Debating with herself, she decided that there was no way she could just leave it be, if it was the real deal. So she stripped down, knowing the water would weigh down her clothes and make it harder for her to swim, and dove in.
It wasn't as easy as she hoped, especially with the Horcrux around her coming alive and basically trying to kill her. She grasped desperately at the chain, trying to keep it from choking her. Just when she was about to lose consciousness, a familiar red-head –just not the red-head she'd gotten used to these past days –got her and the sword and swam up to the surface.
They broke through and Ron hauled her out of the lake, helping her until they were on safer ground. Harry yanked Slytherin's Locket off of her neck and held it tightly in her hand. Before she could speak to Ron, a blur passed her and suddenly Ron was in a vice grip and a very sharp kunai knife was resting against his throat.
"Are you alright?" Rasa asked her warily, eyes scanning her for injuries from where he was.
"I'm fine," Harry said quickly. "And he's okay –that's Ron. Hermione and mine's friend."
"The one who went AWOL?" Rasa asked, though it wasn't really a question, as he scowled down at the younger red-head in his hold.
Harry could see Ron visibly gulp and stare up at the older man with trepidation, although Rasa finally let go of him after a moment's more consideration.
"Is that…" Rasa pointed to the sword almost forgotten in Ron's hand.
"Yeah, yeah that is," Harry said tiredly. "I saw it in the lake and was trying to get it, when the Horcrux around my neck tried to kill me."
Rasa's scowl deepened at that, and he eyed the area around her neck more thoroughly, spotting red lines. He went to her side, though he glanced indifferently at the new boy when he passed him. Harry wondered if Rasa was going to be disapproving of Ron for the entire time, though she couldn't lie and say she wasn't entirely forgiving and not angry anymore either.
"We should destroy the Horcrux now," Harry cut in, hoping that the change of subject (especially with an important one) would minimize the tension.
"Good idea," Ron agreed hurriedly.
"Ron, you should do it."
Ron balked. "Wait, what? Hold on a bit, Harry. I can't. That thing really affects me. I mean really bad. I think it's worse on me than you and Hermione."
Harry frowned. "All the more reason it should be you. You should face it down and confront it, and get over whatever it was that made you flip, that it used against you."
Ron stared at the locket nervously and looked at Harry. Rasa stood by her quietly, observing the events and offering no input, allowing things to take their course naturally.
"Alright then. Just…just on that log, yeah?" her male best friend (because he still was, despite everything) took a deep breath and readied himself with the sword.
Harry placed the locket onto a nearby log, and exchanged looks with Ron, who nodded to show he was ready. So she immediately opened it and moved away, and Ron charged at it, before the Horcrux activated and became a monstrous thing.
She wasn't sure why she was so surprised that Ron was so insecure about his place with them, but when the Horcrux began morphing into an image of her and Hermione, blasting about how much they didn't need him and how useless he was, she was disheartened to know that Ron still felt out of place within the group and didn't have a lot of faith in their friendship. She was about to speak out, when Rasa's voice rang out.
"You really believe that tripe? I would have thought you knew your two friends better than that."
Ron squeezed his eyes closed and hesitantly lifted the sword.
"That thing doesn't know anything. Show it that you won't be beaten down by it!"
"Y-YEAH!" Ron yelled and swung the sword down, striking the locket.
The Horcrux let out a terrifying, loud screech, blasting them all back, before it finally died down and all that was left was a damaged locket. When everything settled and the dust and debris cleared, they looked at the locket hesitantly, but nothing happened and it didn't so much as twitch.
"Oh thank Merlin," Ron sighed in relief. "It's over. It's over, isn't it? Please tell me it's over."
"I sure damn hope it is," Harry muttered, getting up and moving towards the locket. She picked it up and pocketed it, turning to both red-heads, who were coming towards her.
"What is going on here?" Hermione's frazzled voice entered into the fray.
The three gave each other uncomfortable looks.
Ron had to say, he was happy he was back with the others, even if Hermione started attacking him as soon as she saw him. And plus the new red-head that kept watching him coldly. Ron got shivers just remembering the man's glare. He had a feeling that guy wasn't too happy with him for some reason.
Speaking of the guy, Ron was confused. He didn't know who he was, where did he come from, and why was he there. Bloody hell, he was all sorts of confused on why there was another red-head in the group suddenly. What happened while he was gone?
He fidgeted in his seat, watching the red-head who was sharpening a very sharp knife-like weapon. The man was older than them, for sure. How old he was, Ron wasn't sure, but he could guess around his own dad's age. Maybe? Anyway, it was clear the guy was dangerous and not to be messed with.
And though the other had red hair like him, his hair was nowhere near the traditional Weasley red. It wasn't as bright, but darker and almost brownish. It reminded him of the wine his parents sometimes drank. His eyes though were a dark shade of brown, but were more defined by the watchfulness and the way it seemed he was adding up your value whenever he'd look at you. It made Ron feel uncomfortable every time he was in the other's line of sight, especially because he just knew that the guy was judging him each time.
He didn't want to be judged by a guy like that, especially since Ron could really see the lean muscle on the guy. Merlin knows he'd probably easily beat Ron down in a second, and that was just through muscle tone. Ron had no doubt the guy was experienced in fighting. And looking at the weapon he was sharpening, he was probably experienced with that thing too.
At least he had height on the guy. Even if it's only a few inches…
Well, if he was 5'9", then the other looked like he was around 5'7"…Which was at least something. Not that he was sure or anything. He'd have to stand next to the guy. Ron had to have something though, because the new guy was really intimidating and he just knew the guy didn't like him. But then that didn't really matter, did it, because the guy could still kick his arse. Ron wasn't feeling all too relaxed with the way this guy kept watching him carefully while sharpening that knife. Oh wait, he was watching him now –
Ron cringed and nearly jumped out of his skin when Hermione sat in front of him abruptly. She raised an eyebrow at him, but he shrugged.
"That guy is creeping me out," Ron muttered. "Well, he's not creepy, so to say…but he's scary. Who is he anyway?"
Hermione sighed and began to tell him how 'Rasa' joined the group, adding what Harry had told them she'd done and believed had brought the other to this world. Ron watched her with wide eyes, awed at the story and what had happened.
"Hermione, do you know what happened?" he asked in reverence.
She looked at him in confusion, and he was rather smug (not that he would say anything or tell her) that he finally knew something she didn't. He cleared his throat importantly and she gave him a look, making him deflate and look sheepishly at her.
"It's wish magic, Hermione," he explained excitedly. At her continued confused look, Ron went on. "It's ancient magic. Stuff no one talks about, but some things are passed down in the old families. Like blood magic, ley line magic, that stuff. What Harry did? It's not supposed to really happen anymore. Only the real powerful were supposed to do it; not even the Founders could. Merlin was said to be able to do it."
Ron got comfortable on his chair, trying to remember everything he'd been told about wish magic.
"Let's see…not everyone can do it, like I said. Only real powerful witches and wizards. Otherwise, everyone's wishes would be granted left and right, right? And blimey, with the kind of wish Harry made, not just anyone is going to pop up. Magic's not like that, especially wish magic. She and this Rasa bloke probably have a real deep, fated-kinda connection. Like soul mate kind, you know, Hermione? Magic gets real specific about that kind of thing –it won't just send you just anyone. Mum told me that Fate's gotta be concerned in these kinds of wishes, and that the bonds are pretty eternal, even before then. Like lifetimes kind of thing. Or cross-universes too," Ron added, remembering Rasa wasn't exactly from their world.
Hermione looked extremely interested, though she was also more reassured about the bond between her friend and Rasa, as well as how it explained how instantaneous it was and how deep it had already become. The worry she felt about that abated as well.
"I'm really happy for her though," Ron said cheerfully, taking Hermione aback (she was pleased about it though). "It's basically like finding her other half. And after everything and what she's been through, that's bloody awesome. And look at it this way, after everything and the hell we're going through right now, some bit of good news is really good for us right now, eh?"
Hermione smiled a bit, nodding and agreeing with him.
"It's good to have you back," she murmured, and he looked at her in surprise, before blushing and grinning silly.
Harry walked into the tent then. "Hey, I was wondering what we should do now? Yesterday, we hadn't much managed to figure out anything, though we got some good leads we could follow."
Immediately, Hermione went back to being stand-offish with him, turning to Harry as her sole focus.
"I want to go to see Xenophilius Lovegood," Hermione said immediately.
Everyone turned to look at her, and she hastily got up and retrieved a book. Harry's face soured when she realized it was The Life and Times of Albus Dumbledore. Hermione flipped to a page and pointed at Dumbledore's signature at the end. Everyone crowded in and Harry ignored the letter to focus on what Hermione was pointing at.
"His 'A'. It's like the triangle in that sign we keep seeing popping up. It was on that grave in Godric's Hollow, like Rasa noted, penned in on that book, and we saw Mr. Lovegood wearing it at the wedding reception. It has to mean something and I'd like to talk to Mr. Lovegood and see if he can tell us about it. Viktor said it was Grindelwald's sign, but if what you and Rasa say was right about that grave marker in Godric's Hollow, then that means that that symbol dates farther back than Grindelwald."
They were quiet for a moment, before Rasa surprisingly broke it.
"I don't like it," he said flatly. "I disagree with this. If we go there, we have a chance of getting caught. We'll be going into an unknown situation."
"Um…let's put it to a vote?" Ron asked hesitantly.
"It'll be tied, two to two," Rasa said confidently, and Harry looked at him curiously, though she didn't refute she'd side with him. She wasn't too sure about it either. "I think if we want to look into this symbol so badly, then we should look into deciphering it ourselves."
Hermione's mulish look turned intrigued, though she was still a slight unhappy about being rejected. Rasa went on and Harry listened in carefully, just as curious about what he meant as her friends.
"It keeps popping up, so it must mean something to you and this quest. It's significant, especially if your headmaster deliberately gave you that book, with it 'personally' penned onto the front page. That it was added to the book and that it was on the front means that he meant for you to see it quickly and focus on it somewhat," Rasa said patiently, and even Hermione agreed with that.
Harry frowned though. She wanted to know what it all meant.
He grabbed a piece of paper. "You told me that you each received something from him. A…DeLuminator," Rasa pointed at Ron, though he scrunched up his eyebrows, not knowing too much or sure of it. "You said it gave you a way back to these two. Your headmaster must have known you would need a way back to them. Harri was meant to have the sword, which clearly is to be used to destroy the Horcruxes, and this flying gold ball thing that probably will show its importance at a crucial point. Mione received that book with that symbol, so I have a feeling the book and the symbol must be connected somehow. After all, why that book in particular?"
Hermione looked thoughtful. "You're right…it can't have been a random book. But it's a children's book…"
"What are the stories?" Rasa said impatiently.
Hermione listed them off as Rasa drew the symbol on the paper, and then he drew the symbol into separated elements. He drew the triangle first, then a vertical line under it, and then a circle under that.
"Each of these make up that symbol. We need to find out what each component is, and I think we can do that by looking through the book and finding a connection to one of those stories," Rasa suggested.
"Alright, I think that would work," Hermione was getting more on board, and Harry grabbed the book and flipped on through it. "There are just so many stories in there that could fit the symbol –"
Harry tuned them out, even as Ron chimed in, seeing as he knew the stories. She quickly skimmed each story, before landing on a particular one that made her stop and look at it closely. Uncomfortably, she read through it fully, instead of skimming it, and shivers ran up her spine.
"Hey guys, what about this one?" she held up the book, showing The Tale of the Three Brothers, which had jumped at her from the beginning, before she'd even started reading a bit of it. "If anything, the tone and plot of it, of all the stories, seems to really connect with our mission and what's going on. Plus," she hesitated, but plunged on. "It got at me before I even read a line of it. You know my instincts are usually spot on."
Though the others were hesitant to trust something solely on her instincts, they agreed that they should at least look it over first, and give a good look and see if any elements in the book could match a component of their symbol. Hermione read it aloud, and Rasa looked like he was thinking hard on something.
"Actually, this might be the best fit," he said considerately. "This 'Resurrection Stone'…we could argue that the circle of the symbol matches that, while the line resembles a stick, ergo a wand. If one was to try to draw a representation for a cloak, meaning Death's Cloak, then a triangle could fit that."
"Together they represent the Deathly Hallows, which this symbol has a good chance of representing," Hermione concluded.
"Just think…having the ultimate wand," Ron sighed. "We could win this war instantly."
"A good defense is a good offense," Rasa hedged, though he wasn't quite so sure he wanted to place all his bets on a single wand. "I wouldn't mind having it in our possession as a good ace in the hole, but I wouldn't rely solely on it. We also have to find other weaknesses in their hold."
"Harry? Is something the matter?" Hermione noticed Harry had been thinking hard.
Harry looked tentatively at them. "It's just…Vol – " Ron quickly covered her mouth, looking around in paranoia. Harry pushed him off, looking at him in irritation. "What the hell, Ron?"
Ron glanced at her apologetically, ignoring the suspicious glare from Rasa and the nonplus one from Hermione.
"You can't say You-Know-Who's name," Ron explained. "They placed a Taboo on it. That means that anyone who says it, they can track and find them. That's how they've been finding the others, you see? Even Kingsley was almost nabbed because of it."
"Smart," Rasa muttered. "They know the only ones who'd say his name would be the more vocal and defiant ones, and this way they can search for them easily."
Harry twisted her face unhappily, but understood. "Well, what I was saying was that he's been…looking for a wand. A really powerful wand. Last vision I had, he'd cornered Gregorovitch and was demanding the location of it."
"Isn't that the vision where you told me you saw the memory of a thief stealing something important from Gregorovitch?" Hermione interjected excitedly. "And I told you after we got back from Godric's Hollow, after I read Rita's book, that that thief you saw was Gellert Grindelwald."
"Who defeated Grindelwald?" Rasa blurted out, and Harry's eyes widened.
"Dumbledore did!" Ron answered him, understanding what he was getting at.
"And Snape killed Dumbledore," Harry had a dark look on her face. "That would make him the wand's master now, wouldn't it?"
But then she remembered something crucial. "Except he doesn't have the wand," Harry breathed out. "It was buried with Dumbledore."
Rasa's eyes glinted.
"I think we should get to the Elder Wand first, before he figures that last bit of the puzzle out."