Harry Potter & the Ritual of Merlin's Choice

Chapter 22

It was a shock to Harry when he saw the Room of Hidden Things intact once again. The memories of his escape with Ron and Hermione from the Fiendfyre flooded back and the loss of his friends in the Great Battle still hurt.

"Watch out!" yelped Harry, startled from his reverie, as yet another pile of junk came tumbling down.

He'd been joking earlier when he'd warned Lily about the possibility of being buried under centuries' worth of junk. But, that was before he realized what a public hazard Sirius Black could be. His godfather kept poking his nose into everything and knocking things down…

Harry sighed as he climbed over the mess created by the latest landslide, this one the result of Sirius' attempt to retrieve a nineteen-seventy-five Playwizard from the bottom of a wall of junk. He couldn't remember having this hard a time finding the diadem in the prelude to the Final Battle, even with Malfoy and his cronies trying to curse him…

They'd been searching the Room of Hidden Things for a good deal more than the fifteen minutes he'd predicted, and even with Remus and Lily helping—once they'd gotten over the size of the place—there was still no sign of the diadem.

Remus had even tried summoning it—unsuccessfully.

The problem was that he kept getting lost. The Room was immense, and nothing was where he remembered it being. He was fairly certain he'd started with the correct alleyway, and he had found the enormous stuffed troll he remembered running past, the day he hid his potions text. But the broken Vanishing Cabinet wasn't there, wouldn't be moved there from the first floor until after Fred and George pushed Montague into it in 1996, towards the end of Harry's fifth year…and though he'd turned left where he thought it would one day be, he must have guessed wrong, because nothing looked familiar.

Harry turned another corner—and groaned.

Still no sign of the diadem, or the large cupboard with the acid-blistered surface, or the chipped bust of an ugly old warlock, or the dusty old wig he'd used to make it distinctive… And, as if that wasn't bad enough, he was pretty sure they'd come this way already.

Clink. "Ouch!"

Harry paused, and turned back towards the source of the commotion. What now? He should have left the lot of them outside… Sirius was hopping around on one leg, like an idiot, and knocking things down—again. "Sorry, stubbed my toe."

Remus stifled a giggle, but Lily was decidedly less sympathetic, "You know you wouldn't keep stubbing your toes if you looked where you were going and stopped knocking things down. When are you going to grow up?"

Harry sighed, glancing down at the offending object that Sirius had dislodged. He was not getting involved in the argument. He started to walk away—then stopped abruptly, as his mind caught up with his eyes. Was that—?

He looked back. Yes, it was! Harry grinned. Finally!

His grin caught Remus's eye, who tapped Sirius on the shoulder, effectively interrupting his argument with Lily.

All three followed Harry's gaze. Lying on the ground at Sirius' feet was, what looked like an ancient discoloured tiara—Ravenclaw's diadem…

"Is that it?" asked Lily, her voice barely a whisper.

Harry nodded, but as he bent down to pick it up, his smile faded. Yes, they'd found it, but the Horcrux still needed to be destroyed, not a straightforward task—even with Basilisk fangs at their disposal. And, first they needed to find their way out of the cathedral-sized labyrinth that they were hopelessly lost in…unless…

His eyes fell on a discarded broomstick leaning against a nearby cupboard, not a current model, certainly, but it looked flight-worthy, and they would have an easier time finding their way out if they could fly above the walls of junk.

There was only one broom, in this particular alley, but that was easily solved, with an Accio—a little too easily solved. It hadn't occurred to Harry how many brooms would respond to his call and he had to duck as brooms came flying at them, from all directions, earning him quite a few glares.

Turning back towards the others, he asked, "How good are you folks on a broom?"

Sirius burst into a broad grin, but neither Lily nor Remus were quite as enthusiastic about the idea. Still, all three were decent enough flyers, and it wasn't like they had to out-fly Fiendfyre, or anything…

They emerged from the Room of Hidden Things less than five minutes later, and Harry requested a new Room almost immediately—this one specifically for the purpose of destroying the Horcrux. What he got was a simple stone chamber, with only one adornment: a solid stone table fitted with iron clamps sized perfectly for holding the diadem in place.

Harry approached the table and clamped the diadem in place, wasting no time. He knew it would resist destruction with every tool at its disposition—and he wasn't taking chances. Already in the time it had taken him to summon the Room, it had started to heat up in his hands—almost to the point of burning—as though it sensed his intentions and was already fighting back.

When he turned back towards the door, Remus and Sirius were still standing at the threshold, gaping at the complete transformation the Room had undergone. Lily showed a little more restraint, a raised eyebrow was the only sign of her surprise, but even she hadn't dared step into the Room.

Harry laughed and waved them in. "I told you it could become anything."

As the others hesitantly filed into the room, three stone stools appeared near the far wall of the chamber. More appeared as each successive member of the group appeared: first Dumbledore, then James and Luna.

Only Luna didn't take a seat. Instead, she approached Harry, where he stood near the door, the crate of Basilisk parts at his feet. She smiled when he wordlessly held out one of the Basilisk fangs for her to take. "Thank you for not forgetting."

"Are you sure you want to do this?" asked Harry, pulling back the fang. "I'll do it if..." perfectly willing to do the deed himself.

Luna nodded. "I'm sure," she answered, a look of stoic determination replacing her usual serene smile, as she took hold of the basilisk fang that Harry offered her, "I have to do this."

Harry didn't ask again. "Remember the Horcrux doesn't want to be destroyed so it'll do everything it can to stop you. Don't listen to anything it says."

The diadem began to hiss the moment Luna took her first step towards it, Basilisk fang in hand. "Loony Luna...you foolish child...you think you're so smart? You don't belong in Ravenclaw..."

Luna slowed slightly, but didn't stop. The Sorting Hat had put her in Ravenclaw for a reason. It hadn't been mistaken.

"Half of what you think you know is make-believe..."

She hesitated a moment, but it was a taunt she'd heard often enough. People were just too close-minded. Perhaps she imagined it but from the corner of her eye, she sensed Sirius was smirking and nudging Remus with his elbow. She and Daddy had found all kinds of proof about the creatures that appeared in the Quibbler. And, even the Muggle scientist she'd visited with Harry had agreed with her about the Belgica. She took another step forward.

"And now your Daddy's gone and left you too..."

She felt sure now that Harry and Lily were nodding accusingly too, as if it were her fault. Tears started to pool in the corners of Luna's eyes. She knew the Horcrux was lying, that her daddy hadn't left her on purpose, but she missed him so very much… Shaking her head to clear the tears, she forced herself to keep walking, to focus on her goal: destroying a piece of the evil wizard responsible for tearing her and her father away from each other, and purging Ravenclaw's diadem of the defilement Voldemort had visited upon it.

"He finally realised how stupid you really are, just like everyone else..."

This time Luna did stop for a moment. She was sure that they were all laughing openly at her now. Remus was clutching his sides and shaking; Sirius pointing a disdainful finger. Harry's arms were folded, shutting her out, his expression clearly in agreement with the voice. The Horcrux had hit on one of her hidden insecurities. No! Daddy didn't think you were stupid, a tiny voice within her objected. He loved you very much and taught you how true wisdom isn't about knowing everything; it's about realizing how little we really know for certain. The voice inside her gave her strength; she took another step forward.

"And you're stupid enough to think Harry Potter's any different. He's just using you so he doesn't have to be alone..."

The Horcrux clouded her thoughts with twisted memories, sowed seeds of doubt in her mind. Luna stopped again. Was Harry just using her? He had been really lonely when he came to her daddy's funeral, and he'd lost Ron and Hermione—who he cared about much more than he did about her—and Ginny, and Neville, and Dobby, and… No! Harry was different. He didn't always agree with her—she could tell—and sometimes he looked at her as though exasperated, but he'd never ridiculed her, not once... until now. Now she knew how he really felt, standing together with Sirius, Remus, and Lily, all against her, all mocking her... and yet...

"Don't listen to it, Luna! It's all lies! DESTROY IT!" It was Harry's voice breaking through the deception.

She took a final step forward. Her hands shook as she raised the fang above the diadem, but she brought it down, decisively in a single stroke, not leaving Voldemort's Horcrux the chance to taunt her any further or to manifest physically.

She allowed her hand to drop to her side as the Horcrux let out a blood-curdling cry, and started leaking dark and tarry liquid, as though bleeding. But, she did not move away. Instead, she waited until it stopped screaming, before reaching out and stroking the ruined artefact fondly, outwardly calm, though inside she was still trembling, her foundation shaken. "Do you think I can keep it?" she asked Harry. "I know that it doesn't work anymore but I'm sure I can make it pretty again…"

Harry smiled, at the odd question, but nodded, "I don't see why not; it should be harmless now."

Luna smiled brightly, as she unclamped the diadem from the stone table and placed it on her head, not seeming to mind the stickiness.

Harry wasn't fool enough to believe the facade. Five months ago, maybe, but not now. Now he knew better. Luna might hide her feelings, but that didn't mean she didn't feel them. He could still make out a hint of sadness, hidden in their depths. "You know none of that was true, Luna," he spoke softly. "Not any of it, but especially not the part about me using you. I care about you—a lot. You convinced me that life could be fun again, even though there are times that I don't want to believe it."

She smiled at him serenely, and pulled him into a hug, "Thanks, Harry."

Harry smiled back as she released him, "One down, four more to go…"

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