The Charge of the Light Brigade
Half a league, half a league,
Half a league onward,
All in the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
"Forward, the Light Brigade!
"Charge for the guns!" he said:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.
-Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Prelude: Out of the Woods
“I can’t believe we’re doing this,” Ron muttered and pushed his way through a thicket of prickly evergreen branches, holding them back for Harry and Hermione to walk through. Harry ignored Ron’s grumblings and held his wand aloft, looking around for a moment and hurrying deeper into the forest. His cheek stung from a fresh cut that ran from his right ear to his nose, the blood drying and sticking to his face. Despite the cold and the blood he smiled with satisfaction, because lying within the safety of his rucksack was the sixth horcrux: Rowena Ravenclaw’s brooch.
“Oh grow up, Ron!” Hermione snapped impatiently. “It makes perfect sense. We don’t know if we can apparate from here to Grimmauld Place, and he only lives ten minutes away.” Harry stifled a grin, despite the situation. They were all cold, wet and tired. Ron was sporting two black eyes and quite a few gashes from a run in with those blasted inferi, as well as a tumultuous slide down a rock face and a fall into a lake filled with Grindylows. He was obviously grumpy. Harry wasn’t much worse off, though his hand was glowing a strange green colour (from grabbing the brooch) and nothing Hermione had done could change it. It didn’t hurt, exactly, but it did tingle, as though it were asleep.
Hermione was the worst off. A patch of her hair had been ripped off, and he could see dried blood, as well as a large burn running along her hand. That, coupled with a few minor scrapes from following Ron down the rock face and into the lake had only made her more irritable.
And even though they were all limping through the freezing rain in a dark forest in North Bulgaria, Ron did not want to seek the help of Viktor Krum. “He’s just an old friend,” Hermione muttered as Ron hopped over the mossy banks of a stream, instinctively reaching back, grabbing her hand and pulling her over. Harry grinned at his friends and shook his head.
“Don’t you mean boyfriend,” Ron muttered under his breath. “You don’t snog your friends, do you?” Harry grimaced.
“Will you two knock it off? Ron, we’re going to Krum’s. We’re all injured, and Hermione needs to get that burn looked at. Hermione, lead the way. We’ve got the last horcrux; you could try and pretend to be a little happy about it.”
They silently glowered at one another while Hermione whispered “point me” at her wand. They changed direction and continued to hurry through the woods. The trees were tall around them, each trunk as thick as the leg of an elephant and so dark with moisture that they looked as black as the sky above them. The sodden ground was soaking through Harry’s trainers and up the legs of his trousers, the sensation sending shivers up and down his spine. He really just wanted to get out of the bloody trees. They’d been in the forest for a week, looking for the brooch, and the closest he’d gotten to the open air was the rock face that they’d all fallen down the day before.
Moments later, a light appeared in the distance. Hermione quickened her pace, the light thankfully growing bigger and bigger as they drew closer. It was the edge of the forest. Despite their fatigue they all hurried towards the glowing orb, gasping for air in their fatigue. When they broke through the edge of the forest, Harry took a deep breath and smiled, staring up at the sky, unhampered by trees and foliage. They were standing in a snowy clearing, a tall cliff on one side and the forest surrounding them on the other. “Welcome,” a squeaky voice said. Standing at their feet, holding the light, was a house elf wearing a deep brown cloth tied toga-style around him. “My name is Vox. Please follow me up to the castle. My master is preparing rooms for your arrival.” The house elf turned on his heel and waded through the snow to a set of stairs embedded in the rocks.
As they turned the corner, they all looked up. Sitting nestled against the cliff was a castle that rivalled the size of Hogwarts. Ron swore under his breath as they followed the house elf towards the massive doors. When they reached the top, Harry turned around and cast an eye over the dark forest they’d spent the past week inside. It stretched as far as the eye could see, dark trees completely surrounding the rock hill they were standing on, except for a large lake on the right hand side that siphoned off into a river on one side and a few small streams that led into the forest on the other.
“Hello Herm-own-ninny!” a voice said from the door, and Harry turned around just in time to see Victor Krum kiss Hermione’s hand. He hazarded a glance at Ron whose face was slowly turning the shade of a ripe plum. “Harry, Ron, velcome, come inside, I haff some hot drinks ready.” Harry smiled gratefully Krum and followed him through the massive oak doors, an infuriated Ron in tow.
“Just tolerate it mate, we’ll be out of here tomorrow,” Harry whispered to his friend as they walked into Krum’s massive foyer, their footsteps echoing obnoxiously. They walked through another door and found themselves in a cozy room with lower ceilings, overstuffed arm chairs and a massive fire that filled the room with the best kind of dry heat. They all removed their travelling cloaks, and while Krum handed them to Vox, collapsed into the squishy arm chairs.
“Are you hungry?” Krum asked kindly. Hermione nodded, and Krum turned to Vox, who was laden with their cloaks. “Vox, some stew and bread, I am thinking.” The house elf nodded and trotted out of the room obediently.
Krum cast an eye over the three exhausted travellers slumping in the arm chairs. “You are injured,” he observed and placed a brown case on the table. He opened it and lay out a roll of bandages and a tube of salve. “May I look at your hand?” he asked Harry, gesturing towards the table. Harry nodded and rolled his sleeve back, allowing Krum to eye the glowing green light exuding from his hand. Krum whipped out his wand and grabbed a jar from the medical case. “Sit down,” he ordered, intensely. He lay his wand over Harry’s hand, a concentrated look in his eyes, laden with fear. He started to whisper under his breath and slowly eased his wand upwards. Harry cried out in pain, suddenly feeling like something was trying to burrow out of his arm.
“What are you doing!!!?” Ron shouted, jumping up from his seat, Hermione close behind him. “Stop it!”
Harry gasped as something emerged from his hand, along with thick blood dripping down his fingers and his wrist. The pain was unbearable but slowly eased away as Krum pulled at a green, glowing strand that was emerging from his hand. Harry screwed up his eyes tightly, tears dripping down the corners of his eyes uncontrollably. With a determined yank, the rest of the green object came out of his hand. Krum quickly stuffed it into the jar and screwed the lid on tightly. Harry’s breath returned to normal, and strangely enough, the pain subsided. Ron and Hermione rushed to his side and they watched, surprised, as the blood began to slide back up his wrist, back into the wound, and the abrasion closed with a hiss. He turned his hand over. Not a trace of blood remained.
“What was that?” he asked, looking up at Krum in awe.
“A curse, an ancient one, ve learned how to deal vith it at Durmstrang. I take it you haff been dealing vith bad vizards.” Ron and Hermione nodded. “You vould be dead in three or four hours, I am thinking.” Krum nodded to the salve and the bandages on the table. “You should clean up your cuts, I vill go look in on the food. Oh Harry, there is a Mandrake potion in the case. Take some.” He nodded curtly and walked out of the room. Hermione picked up the case and found the potion.
“I’ve read every book about healing in the Hogwarts library but I’ve never see anything like that,” Hermione remarked shakily as she spread the salve over her burn and clumsily attempted to wrap the bandage around her hand. Her fingers were shaking so much that she dropped the ends and the strip of fabric fluttered to the ground. Shaking his head, Ron picked it up and slowly wound it around her hand, tying it securely. “Thanks,” Hermione said, her cheeks turning a bit pink. Harry smiled tightly, still wondering how Krum knew how to help him and grabbed the salve, dabbing it along the gash on his cheekbone. “Ron, what happened to your knee?” Hermione asked, as Ron attempted to hide a gash through the hole of his trousers.
“Nothing,” he replied, tugging the frayed edges over the bloody wound. “Don’t worry about it.”
“It obviously isn’t nothing,” she protested and rolled up his pant leg. There was a large gash just below his kneecap dotted with black and grey fragments of rock that had gotten caught in his skin. Hermione picked up her wand and pointed it at Ron’s knee, a determined look on her face. “Accio!” she said aloud, though Harry knew that she could do the spell non-verbally. Ron cursed aloud as thousand of tiny rocks flew from his knee and landed neatly in the tissue Hermione was holding.
“Ah, bloody hell, Hermione.” Ron groaned as she bandaged his wound. “Thanks.”
Moments later, Krum emerged with a large tray of beef stew and bread that they tucked into without any hesitation. Harry savoured the warmth of the food, feeling it comfort the cold gloom that had been threatening to overtake his body. They hadn’t had a real hot meal in a long time. “Vhat are you doing in Northern Bulgaria?” Krum asked, slouching in his chair.
“Something for Dumbledore,” Harry replied quickly, before the other two could speak. They could never be too careful, even if Krum was once a friend. No one knew where they were or what they were doing and no one could know.
“I am sorry. Dumbledore vas a great vizard, everyone at Durmstrang wished ve vas having him instead of Karkaroff.” He said this with such derision, Harry didn’t know how to reply.
“We were sorry to hear about Karkaroff,” Hermione replied carefully.
“Don’t be,” Krum replied, “he vas never a good man or a good vizard.” Krum’s eyes had darkened at this comment. Harry remembered that he too had been used, his life had been affected by Voldemort’s henchmen before.
“Has much been happening in Bulgaria?” Ron asked curiously, speaking to Krum directly for the first time.
Krum shook his head. “Not really. Just Karkaroff’s murder. Quidditch has been suspended. I haff been staying here in the country for a vhile. I am glad you are staying. Vill you be leaving in the morning?”
“Yes, I’m sorry Viktor, but we have something we have to finish. Do you think we can apparate back home?” Krum’s face fell, but he nodded.
“Yes,” he said. “Tell me, are you fighting?”
“Not yet,” Harry replied. “But we will be.”
“Vell, vhen you decide to fight your war, you vill contact me? You are not the only vones looking for revenge.” His eyes darkened for a moment and Harry knew that Krum’s thoughts had strayed to the Triwizard Tournament.
They nodded and finished eating in silence.
Harry awoke the following morning to Vox placing his clothing in a neat pile at the end of his bed. “Vox took master’s friends clothes and freshly washed them all,” Vox said proudly. “And Vox took the opportunity to warm up all the clothes for them.”
“Thank-you,” Harry said as the house elf walked out of the room, a large pile of laundry wobbling precariously as he walked. It felt so nice to sleep in a big, warm bed that Harry suddenly missed Hogwarts. Shaking his head, he stepped into his clothing and shoved the rest into his sack. He grabbed the bundle containing Ravenclaw’s horcrux from the pocket of his bag and shoved it into his pocket. Shouldering the bag, he picked up his clean travelling cloak and walked down the stairs. He met Ron and Hermione in the hallway, both looking contented after a good night’s sleep. Krum was sitting at the end of his massive dining room table when they entered and was chewing on toast. After a quick breakfast, Krum walked them down the steps and bade them farewell.
“Thank you so much,Viktor,” Hermione said, reaching up and giving her friend a quick hug. “You really are a life saver.” Krum nodded stoically.
“Yeah, thanks for everything,” Harry added, reaching out and shaking Krum’s hand. Ron did the same.
Moments later they were standing in an abandoned alley, only a few blocks away from 12 Grimmauld Place, panting. “That was a long one,” Harry commented, gasping for air. They leaned against the dirty walls of the alley, taking a moment to catch their breath before straightening up and beginning the walk to Grimmauld Place. “What month is it?” Harry asked, as a few snowflakes fell from the sky. “I mean, it was cold in Bulgaria, but we were pretty far north. Is it December already?”
Hermione nodded, glancing at the muggle wristwatch that she still wore. “It’s December 23rd. Mind you, all I got you for Christmas were a few fragments of Voldemort’s soul.”
Ron and Harry laughed as the house squeezed into view, and they walked up the steps to the front door. Harry pulled a rusty key from his pocket and shoved it in the lock, twisting it firmly and opening the door to the house. “Who’s there?” a female voice called, a wand poking out from around the corner.
“It’s us,” Harry said, dropping his bag on the ground and walking towards the kitchen.
“Wotcher, Harry, Ron, Hermione!” Tonks said gleefully, jumping out from around the corner with a smile. “You know, half the world is going to kill you when they find out you’re alive, and I’m not talking about the Death Eaters.” Harry ignored the twinge in his stomach. They had left the Burrow early in the morning after Bill’s wedding and (for safety reasons) hadn’t been in contact since.
“We need to talk to all the important Order members as soon as possible,” Harry said. “Can Lupin get here?”
Tonks nodded and thankfully didn’t ask questions. “He hasn’t been underground; I’ll send the message for tonight.” She turned around and headed back into the kitchen.
Hermione dropped her bag on the floor next to his and shot him a surprised look. “A meeting?”
“It’s time to show everyone what we’ve been doing.”