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There was no means of steering; the dragon could not see where it was going, and Harry knew that if it turned sharply or rolled in midair they would find it impossible to cling onto its broad back. Nevertheless, as they climbed higher and higher, London unfurling below them like a gray-and-green map, Harry's overwhelming feeling was of gratitude for an escape that had seemed impossible.

Crouching low over the beast's neck, he clung tight to the metallic scales, and the cool breeze was soothing on his burned and blistered skin, the dragon's wings beating the air like the sails of a windmill. Behind him, whether from delight or fear he could not tell, Ron kept swearing at the top of his voice, and Hermione seemed to be sobbing.

After five minutes or so, Harry lost some of his immediate dread that the dragon was going to throw them off, for it seemed intent on nothing but getting as far away from its underground prison as possible; but the question of how and when they were to dismount remained rather frightening.

He had no idea how long dragons could fly without landing, nor how this particular dragon, which could barely see, would locate a good place to put down. He glanced around constantly, imagining that he could feel his scar prickling. . . .

How long would it be before Voldemort knew that they had broken into the Lestranges' vault? How soon would the goblins of Gringotts notify Bellatrix? How quickly would they realize what had been taken? And then, when they discovered that the golden cup was missing? Voldemort would know, at last, that they were hunting Horcruxes. . . .






The dragon seemed to crave cooler and fresher air: It climbed steadily until they were flying through wisps of chilly cloud, and Harry could no longer make out the little colored dots which were cars pouring in and out of the capital. On and on they flew, over countryside parceled out in patches of green and brown, over roads and rivers winding through the landscape like strips of matte and glossy ribbon.

“What do you reckon it's looking for?” Ron yelled as they flew farther and farther north.

“No idea,” Harry bellowed back. His hands were numb with cold but he did not dare attempt to shift his grip. He had been wondering for some time what they would do if they saw the coast sail beneath them, if the dragon headed for open sea; he was cold and numb, not to mention desperately hungry and thirsty. When, he wondered, had the beast itself last eaten? Surely it would need sustenance before long? And what if, at that point, it realized it had three highly edible humans sitting on its back?

The sun slipped lower in the sky, which was turning indigo; and still the dragon flew, cities and towns gliding out of sight beneath them, its enormous shadow sliding over the earth like a great dark cloud. Every part of Harry ached with the effort of holding on to the dragon's back.

“Is it my imagination,” shouted Ron after a considerable stretch of silence, “or are we losing height?”






Harry looked down and saw deep green mountains and lakes, coppery in the sunset. The landscape seemed to grow larger and more detailed as he squinted over the side of the dragon, and he wondered whether it had divined the presence of fresh water by the flashes of reflected sunlight.

Lower and lower the dragon flew, in great spiraling circles, honing in, it seemed, upon one of the smaller lakes.

“I say we jump when it gets low enough!” Harry called back to the others. “Straight into the water before it realizes we're here!”

They agreed, Hermione a little faintly, and now Harry could see the dragon's wide yellow underbelly rippling in the surface of the water.


He slithered over the side of the dragon and plummeted feetfirst toward the surface of the lake; the drop was greater than he had estimated and he hit the water hard, plunging like a stone into a freezing, green, reed-filled world. He kicked toward the surface and emerged, panting, to see enormous ripples emanating in circles from the places where Ron and Hermione had fallen. The dragon did not seem to have noticed anything: It was already fifty feet away, swooping low over the lake to scoop up water in its scarred snout. As Ron and Hermione emerged, spluttering and gasping, from the depths of the lake, the dragon flew on, its wings beating hard, and landed at last on a distant bank.







Harry, Ron, and Hermione struck out for the opposite shore. The lake did not seem to be deep: Soon it was more a question of fighting their way through reeds and mud than swimming, and at last they flopped, sodden, panting, and exhausted, onto slippery grass.

Hermione collapsed, coughing and shuddering. Though Harry could have happily lain down and slept, he staggered to his feet, drew out his wand, and started casting the usual protective spells around them.

When he had finished, he joined the others. It was the first time that he had seen them properly since escaping from the vault. Both had angry red burns all over their faces and arms, and their clothing was singed away in places. They were wincing as they dabbed essence of dittany onto their many injuries. Hermione handed Harry the bottle, then pulled out three bottles of pumpkin juice she had brought from Shell Cottage and clean, dry robes for all of them. They changed and then gulped down the juice.

“Well, on the upside,” said Ron finally, who was sitting watching the skin on his hands regrow, “we got the Horcrux. On the downside —”

“— no sword,” said Harry through gritted teeth, as he dripped dittany through the singed hole in his jeans onto the angry burn beneath.

“No sword,” repeated Ron. “That double-crossing little scab . . .”

Harry pulled the Horcrux from the pocket of the wet jacket he had just taken off and set it down on the grass in front of them. Glinting in the sun, it drew their eyes as they swigged their bottles of juice.








“At least we can't wear it this time, that'd look a bit weird hanging round our necks,” said Ron, wiping his mouth on the back of his hand.

Hermione looked across the lake to the far bank, where the dragon was still drinking.

“What'll happen to it, do you think?” she asked. “Will it be all right?”

“You sound like Hagrid,” said Ron. “It's a dragon, Hermione, it can look after itself. It's us we need to worry about.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, I don't know how to break this to you,” said Ron, “but I think they might have noticed we broke into Gringotts.”

All three of them started to laugh, and once started, it was difficult to stop. Harry's ribs ached, he felt lightheaded with hunger, but he lay back on the grass beneath the reddening sky and laughed until his throat was raw.

“What are we going to do, though?” said Hermione finally, hiccuping herself back to seriousness. “He'll know, won't he? You-Know-Who will know we know about his Horcruxes!”

“Maybe they'll be too scared to tell him?” said Ron hopefully. “Maybe they'll cover up —”

The sky, the smell of lake water, the sound of Ron's voice were extinguished: Pain cleaved Harry's head like a sword stroke. He was standing in a dimly lit room, and a semicircle of wizards faced him, and on the floor at his feet knelt a small, quaking figure.











“What did you say to me?” His voice was high and cold, but fury and fear burned inside him. The one thing he had dreaded — but it could not be true, he could not see how . . .

The goblin was trembling, unable to meet the red eyes high above his.

“Say it again!” murmured Voldemort. “Say it again!”

“M-my Lord,” stammered the goblin, its black eyes wide with terror, “m-my Lord . . . we t-tried t-to st-stop them. . . . Im-impostors, my Lord . . . broke — broke into the — into the Lestranges' v-vault. . . .”

“Impostors? What impostors? I thought Gringotts had ways of revealing impostors? Who were they?”

“It was . . . it was . . . the P-Potter b-boy and t-two accomplices. . . .”

“And they took?” he said, his voice rising, a terrible fear gripping him. “Tell me! What did they take?”

“A . . . a s-small golden c-cup, m-my Lord . . .”

The scream of rage, of denial left him as if it were a stranger's: He was crazed, frenzied, it could not be true, it was impossible, nobody had ever known: How was it possible that the boy could have discovered his secret?