Harry stumbled into the dim, hidden office, sliding on his knees with his wand at the ready. Ginny scrambled into the far corner, narrowly missing a collision.
"Sorry, Harry. Guess I should've been more specific," she said through shallow breaths. He simply nodded and replaced his wand to the chest pocket in his robes. Once he got his bearings, he looked to the wall opposite him, the one with the frayed pictures of relics and art. His eyebrows knitted together as he glanced at Ginny, then took in the desk. His eyes widened at the book.
"I've seen this before. Dumbledore had a copy in his office."
This made Harry swing around to the other wall, the one with the surveillance photos. Ginny could see the color drain out of his face despite the uneven light. He looked from the photos to the book, then back again.
"Check out this map, too." Ginny held up the European map for inspection. Harry glanced over it before heading back to the pictures of an early adult Tom Riddle sightseeing in major cities around the continent.
"Of course," he whispered. "R.A.B." He turned back to Secrets of the Darkest Arts and ran his fingers over the red embossed leather cover.
"What's R.A.B.? Harry, what is this?"
Harry turned to Ginny as if he had just noticed she was in the room.
"Oh. Umm. It has to do with our project. Ron, Hermione, and me. Wow, she's going to love this stuff." He took one more appraising look of the room. "Tell you what? Let's just leave it alone until she can have a look at it." Harry took a step toward the exit and started crouching to make his way through. Ginny, on the other hand, slammed herself into the desk chair and flipped open the book. Harry turned back around.
"What are you doing, Gin?"
"Getting my own answers. Don't worry. I'm used to it." She tried to look purposeful as she whipped the pages back and forth, but the truth was she had no idea what she was looking at – or for.
"Ginny, come on. It's just one of those things. It's better if you don't know. Less for you to worry about when we go on our trip."
Ginny slammed the book closed. "No, Harry, you come on." It was as if you could see the pilot light ignite in her face. "I get it. I'm not in the trio. I'm not going on the trip. I know you wouldn't have it any other way. But, once again, you've forgotten that out of the two people in this room, you're a stranger to Tom Riddle compared to me."
Harry's mouth opened but nothing came out.
Ginny continued. "Harry, you're one of my best friends. I would do anything for you. I think I've proven that. At the Department of Mysteries – "
"Where you broke your ankle."
"And the Astronomy Tower – "
"Where I gave you Felix Felicis to keep you safe."
If Harry was trying to defuse Ginny, he was doing a terrible job. She took a deep breath before continuing.
"But I can't be lied to anymore. Can't you see that you're causing just as much damage as whatever Voldemort could do to me? At least I can expect him to mistreat me. Look down on me. Every time from you is a new experience." Ginny swung the chair around to the corner, taking the book with her. She willed her shoulders to stop convulsing.
"I'm sorry," Harry managed. Ginny started flipping pages again, more determined, wondering if she should start with "art" or "relics", then cursing softly to herself when she realized there wasn't an index or table of contents. A full minute passed of silence. Eventually Harry went back to the wall with the art pictures, holding up the map to the side. He tried to connect the dots, but it was hard when he kept looking over his shoulder.
"This is how he stays alive."
"What?" Ginny asked without turning around. He's not home and dry yet.
"These might be Horcruxes. Probably. Voldemort. It's really dark magic. He breaks off a piece of his soul and… infects an object. As long as the object is intact, he can't die. That's how he made it through the episode with Quirrell in my first year, and the Chamber of Secrets. How he came back after what happened with me and my parents. All of it."
Ginny swallowed and pushed herself away from the corner, facing Harry, willing him to look at her. He surrendered.
"You were going to hunt them down. These Horcruxes. Make him vulnerable."
Harry nodded to the wall. "Make him human. If he can be."
"And then what?"
He turned to Ginny. "One thing at a time."
Ginny knitted her eyebrows, but didn't want to push it. "Okay. So how many of these… Horcruxes are out there?"
"Slughorn said seven," he responded softly.
Ginny leaned forward in the chair. "Professor Slughorn? What does he have to do it with this?"
"He sort of taught Tom Riddle how to make them. Well, not really. Riddle conned him into it. Back when he was a student."
"In the Slug Club…" Ginny deduced.
"Yeah. Who would've thought that you and I would be in a club whose alumni included him, huh?" Harry asked, turning a half-grin.
"I would," Ginny responded soberly. Harry begrudgingly nodded. "So what, or who, is R.A.B.?"
"Regulus. This has to be his… office or something."
"But wasn't he a Death Eater? Why would he have all this information? Is it a shrine or something?"
Harry crossed the room, back to the grainy black and white photos. He lifted a hand and traced the outline of one that featured Riddle sitting on the edge of an ornate fountain. Even without color, you could tell it was a gorgeous day. Riddle hadn't quite gotten to the point where darkness followed him wherever he went.
"Regulus turned on Voldemort. Probably when he found out just at what lengths Voldemort was willing to go, trying to make a Horcrux. We thought he had only found out about one of the Horcruxes and destroyed it. A locket that belonged to Salazar Slytherin. Dumbledore and I hunted it down before he…" Harry took a pause. "Anyway, apparently it was Regulus who had gotten there first and left us a note, signed 'R.A.B.'. It looks like he knew he had more work to do, though."
Ginny raised herself to stand next to Harry, staring at the same picture with the fountain. It still made her shiver, seeing this face without it moving toward her, trying to pry into her brain and get her deepest thoughts, looking for a path to control. Tom Riddle couldn't hurt her here, but she wondered if there would ever be a time when she could really believe that.
"So one out of the seven are gone?"
"There's only four left, actually. One was a ring that belonged to Riddle's father. Dumbledore destroyed it. The other was the diary."
Harry grabbed her hand and turned her toward him. Her brown eyes were wide. "No. Tom Riddle's diary. That diary, and what was written in it, never belonged to you."
Ginny nodded, just like she had every other time someone tried to tell her that. She flashed to the feeling she had four years ago, waking up in the dark Chamber of Secrets deep within Hogwarts with Harry looking down at her, a diary stabbed with a huge fang of a gigantic snake and the body of the fang's owner lying nearby. She hadn't thought for herself in weeks. Tom Riddle's diary had woven its way into the mind of a scared, sad little girl, trying to find power. It took time, but Ginny came to resolve that she would never show that sort of weakness again. No fear. No sadness. That girl wouldn't even recognize Ginny Weasley now, even if some people still had a tough time separating the two.
She squeezed Harry's hand once, then let go and turned back to the other wall with the relics.
"But that sounds like some personal artifacts. Things Riddle connected with. What did he want with this old Muggle stuff?"
Harry shrugged. "Dumbledore told me that he spent the time between Hogwarts and the first war in Europe. Maybe the first three were his early works. It looks like he was doing more than sightseeing on the continent." He sighed. "We could really use Hermione now."
Ginny gasped. "I completely forgot! We need to find them!" She spun toward the entrance to the office and took stairs two at a time down to the kitchen.
The coverings in front of Walburga's portrait sprung to life again. "Weasley! Get out of my house, you traitorous…"
"Shut up, you sick old bat!"
She pulled an ancient-looking radio off the top of a cabinet. Harry had just caught up when she flicked it on.
"In other news, Gringotts is reporting a galleon-to-Muggle exchange rate of 6.3 per 1000 Muggle pounds."
Ginny collapsed into a nearby chair with her elbows on her knees and her chin in her hands. "I'm sure they'll say something."
"Holyhead Harpies beater and captain Gwenog Jones is denying reports that she is considering retirement, even though the team is mired in a record-breaking losing streak. Instead, she says her chaser corps needs to improve - soon. If not, changes will be made and new blood will be found."
Ginny looked up at Harry pleadingly. "Nothing about the Ministry? The wedding?"
Harry shrugged and reclaimed the can of pineapples he was interrupted from finishing, before reconsidering and sliding it to Ginny instead. She smiled and barely tasted the slices as she consumed them.
"I guess the Death Eaters aren't ready to go public yet," Harry concluded.
They waited another 15 minutes, through the weather forecast ("Warm, but you might need to conjure an umbrella") and a review of Rita Skeeter's new biography on Dumbledore that Ginny could barely hear over Harry's incredulous laughing. Finally, Harry put his hand on her shoulder.
"Ginny, go take that shower. Get some rest. I'll keep listening and get you straight away if something comes up." She looked up at him, nodded, and pushed off her knees. Just as she lifted her first step, they heard two loud pops in front of the house. They scrambled to the sitting room, wands out, sliding to either side of the large window that looked out to the street. Harry and Ginny both used their wands to push the heavy curtains away from the clouded window, inching their heads over the window frame.