Our Harry has his work cut out for him. Not only does he have to find the real Slytherin Locket, Hufflepuff's Cup, and the Mystery Horcrux, no. Indeed, he has to do all this and get through whatever protections Voldemort put on the latter two. Not only does he have to do all that, he must manage to destroy the Locket, the Cup and the Mystery Horcrux without getting himself mortally wounded in the process. And let us not forget the task of finding Nagini, and getting close enough to her to either kill her or somehow persuade her to spit up her share of Voldemort's soul. Finally, Harry must somehow vanquish that which is left of Voldemort and the last, pitiful, little, shredded soul fragment residing within his body.
Harry has much to accomplish. This is the principal reason why I believe that RAB is indeed Regulus. Something has to come rather quickly in order to get Harry off and running. I believe that the Locket was the locket that was found in Grimmauld Place, and that the answer to finding the Locket resides within Grimmauld Place, as well as with Kreacher and, perhaps, with Mundungus. While it may seem too obvious to obsessive fans, I don't think it would be hugely obvious to, let's call them, "less passionate" readers than ourselves. Additionally, I don't think JKR was trying terribly to conceal it. She even suggests that we should be able to figure out one Horcrux:
"Well, I'm prepared to bet you now, that at least before the week is out, at least one of the Horcruxes will have been correctly identified by careful re-readers of the books."
- Emerson/Melissa Interview
Finding the first Horcrux will only be the first step on Harry's way to victory, so Harry needs enough clues to work it out very early. Don't forget, after finding the Locket, he'll still have to find the Cup, identify and find the Mystery Horcrux, and then tackle Nagini and Voldemort. And finding all these Horcruxes is not the same as destroying them.
What do we know about destroying Horcruxes? Harry and Dumbledore have each destroyed one. Dumbledore destroyed the Ring Horcrux, though we don't know how. The injury it gave him would have been fatal if Snape had not intervened and saved him. Dumbledore: the greatest wizard of his age. He almost died from the dark magic of the Ring Horcrux.
The other Horcrux that has been destroyed is the Diary. Harry destroyed it by stabbing it with the basilisk fang. Harry: age twelve, with so few spells in his arsenal that all he could really do was pray for help, keep the faith, and trust Fawkes and his own instinct. Yet Harry destroyed the Diary with no injury to himself. Why? How?
One possibility is that Voldemort hadn't thought through the keeping of his Horcruxes at the time he gave the Diary to Lucius for safekeeping. He certainly didn't hide it at the bottom of a bowl full of vile potion in the middle of an Inferi-filled lake in an underground cave by some nearly impossible-to-reach cliffs. Then again, the Diary had a purpose beyond simply serving as a soul container - it was designed to coerce some poor victim into opening the Chamber of Secrets and releasing the basilisk. So, it may be that it simply didn't have as much protection as the Ring and the Locket. (Remember, assuming the locket that the trio found in Grimmauld Place in OotP is the Locket Horcrux, they were unable to open it. Finding it and retrieving it seemed to be only the first two steps toward its destruction.) Perhaps Voldemort was willing to risk the sacrifice of the soul fragment in the Diary.
Another possibility is that Harry's inspiration to use the basilisk fang was the secret. Maybe his own instincts and Fawke's help came together to find the one way that the Diary could be safely destroyed. If this is the case, then he'll have to count on a lot of good intuition to have the same luck with the remaining Horcruxes.
But perhaps there is another explanation. Perhaps there is some reason that Harry is the only one who can destroy the Horcruxes without injury to himself. I'm not speaking here about the difficulty of finding them. That will, I believe, be a large part of Book Seven. The quest for the Horcruxes will, no doubt, bring many tortuous adventures, and I believe that Harry will learn valuable information that will help him to finally triumph. I think he'll also meet some new allies and obstacles along the way.
But when he finds the Horcruxes, how will he go about determining how to destroy them without risking a charred hand or worse? Jo has said that the shape of Harry's scar isn't the most significant thing about it. She has said that the last word of Book Seven is (at least for now) "scar." It has been posited and well argued that Harry is a Horcrux. I'm not going down that road here. Both sides make good arguments. But I'm wondering if there is some property or power in Harry's scar that makes him able to overcome whatever protection Voldemort has put on the Horcruxes. Conversely, I wonder if there is a connection between Dumbledore's famous "gleam of triumph" over Voldemort taking Harry's blood in GoF, and the destroying of Horcruxes.
Perhaps there is a bit of Voldemort's vital energy and magical power lodged in Harry's scar. And perhaps that, combined with Harry's blood flowing through Voldemort's new veins, will be able to confound whatever protection is on the Horcruxes, and allow Harry to do with them what he will. We know that Voldemort "created" an enemy in Harry the night he murdered James and Lily and attempted to kill baby Harry. Might he have accidentally given Harry the exact power that he needs to destroy the Horcruxes? In GoF, when Voldemort took Harry's blood, it enabled Voldemort to touch Harry without doing harm to himself. Will that magic work in reverse? Harry had already survived the destruction of the Diary by then. So, he clearly didn't need to have the blood connection in order to destroy the Diary. But might his immunity to the Horcruxes have been unknowingly strengthened by Voldemort's act of violence? The two-way connection between Voldemort and Harry would involve the material (blood) and the spiritual (vital energy or power). It may be enough to overcome the obstacles protecting the other Horcruxes. Perhaps the power in the scar also explains Harry's ability to speak Parseltongue and some of the qualities in him that made the Sorting Hat consider him for Slytherin.
I don't think this will make it easy for Harry to destroy the Horcruxes, only that it will be possible for him, whereas it will be lethal for anyone else. I doubt that Snape will be on hand throughout the book with appropriate potions or counter curses, as he was for Dumbledore after the encounter with the Ring.
One argument against this theory is the fact that it says in OotP that they found a locket that none of them could open. Certainly Harry would have been one who tried? So, it doesn't appear that the Horcruxes will bend easily to his will. But perhaps his connection with Voldemort will aid him and save him from deadly injury as he works out the puzzle.
Where to find the known Horcruxes is, of course, the first order of business. The Locket will be first, and will be found at Grimmauld Place, at Hogwarts with Kreacher, in Azkaban with Mundungus or possibly even with Aberforth, who was seen talking to Mundungus in Hogsmeade. The other Horcruxes are more difficult.
JKR has said that each of the Hogwarts houses relates to an element: Slytherin/Water; Hufflepuff/Earth; Gryffindor/Fire; Ravenclaw/Air. If this is the case, then each founder's possession may be hidden and protected in a way that connects to its corresponding element. Certainly this fits with the Locket protection: Dumbledore and Harry had to swim through ocean water, offer up blood, glide across a lake, drink a liquid potion and take water from the lake in order to retrieve the locket (the false locket, as it turns out). All of these tasks involve the element of water. Of course, the real Horcrux has now been moved and must be found again. The water element was a huge part of the original hunt, but may not be a part of the new hunt for the real Locket.
We know that Hufflepuff's Cup is a Horcrux. If the elements theory holds true, it will be hidden in Earth. Earth could be a variety of substances. It could be buried deep underground, where Harry has to travel in a Gringott's-like fashion to retrieve it. Could it be at Gringott's? Could Harry hope for Goblin assistance? The Goblins seem to have their own intriguing code of honor. They only check their deeply hidden vaults once every ten years or so, and have famously unforgiving security systems. Yet Quirrell managed to get in and out again without detection. If Hagrid hadn't already moved the Stone, would Quirrell have managed to get it? Additionally, Sirius was able to transact business from his own vault while he was a fugitive and still believed to be a mass murderer. (I'm referring to the purchase of the Firebolt.) Could Voldemort be using a Gringott's vault as a soul hotel?
The search may involve plants, trees and forests, which are also of the Earth element. Perhaps there is a clue in the Forbidden Forest? This would be a job for Hagrid. Is it a Herbology question? If so, Neville may be of use here. When one speaks of being "in the Earth" one is often referring to someone in a grave. Could the Cup be in a graveyard, buried with one of Voldemort's victims? Will we return again to Little Hangleton?
I have always thought that there is too much mention of the Bones family to be a coincidence. Harry's classmate, Susan, is a Hufflepuff. As I mentioned in Horcruxes and the Tarot, Amelia Bones is described as "fair" by Tonks, and fairness is a distinction of the House of Hufflepuff. In addition, it seems that between the first war and the current war, an inordinate number of the Bones family has been targeted by Voldemort. Amelia is believed by Fudge to have been killed by Voldemort himself. Voldemort made only one public appearance in the past two books: at the Ministry to try to retrieve the Prophecy. We don't see him at all in HBP. He is clearly staying well out of harm's way as he works out plans for what he hopes will be his ultimate victory over Harry, securing his absolute power over Wizardkind. And yet, we are led to believe that he risked his cover because Amelia Bones was important enough that he went after her himself. The only reason that I can think of to risk this danger is the safety of his Horcruxes. This is especially true if none of Voldemort's Death Eaters knows about the Horcruxes. He couldn't send someone else to try to retrieve it. This train of thought led me to look for the first time at the family name: Bones - our bones are a strong symbol of our materiality, our humanity - of Earth.
The other possible link to Hufflepuff's Cup is Zacharias Smith, also a Hufflepuff. (Smith is an occupation name, used to describe one who works with metals by hand, such as a blacksmith - an "earthy" profession.) It has been noted that he shares a surname with Hepzibah Smith, whom Riddle murdered after stealing the Cup and Locket. I can't help but shudder and mumble, "Mark Evans, Mark Evans, Mark Evans..." Still, Jo wouldn't do that to us again... would she?
Another Earth substance is rock. I am reminded of the caves where the Giants live, which Hagrid describes to us in OotP. Boulders, rocks, mountains... these could all be a part of the Earth element search, and might be a job for Grawp. Grawp must be in the series for a reason, and he has yet to serve a purpose, other than chasing away an angry mob of centaurs. Perhaps Grawp will help with the search for the Cup, especially if it involves getting past Giants.
Once Voldemort had stolen the Cup and inserted a soul fragment, he would have gone about hiding it. I cannot fathom how the Bones family or the rest of the Smith family may have been involved in this, but it's possible. The Smiths would certainly have sought the return of the Cup. There are missing links in my chain, but I think that the cup will be found deep in earth, maybe connected with Gringott's and possibly in a grave, protected by plants, trees, wood, rocks, mountains and/or other Earth symbols, and it may be in the grave of one of the Bones family.
The Mystery Horcrux is believed to be something belonging to either Godric Gryffindor or Rowena Ravenclaw. As I said in Horcruxes and the Tarot, I believe that the sword which Harry used to kill the basilisk is the pertinent object of Gryffindor's. I do not believe it is a Horcrux. I think that Voldemort wanted it, badly, but didn't get it. I don't believe that Riddle got anything else from Gryffindor either. If I am wrong and he did find a Gryffindor artifact, then Harry will have to go, literally, into the fire at some point as Fire would be the element of this quest. This could be some form of eternal fire surrounding and protecting the Horcrux anywhere in the world. It could be a volcano, or some natural fire. It could be a fire-breathing dragon, with which Harry certainly has some experience! I'm inclined to believe it would be a very vile and nasty magical fire or fires of some sort. Other manifestations of the fire element may be salamanders, heat, the sun and the color red. Any of these might appear on a quest for a Gryffindor object.
However, I believe that the sword of Gryffindor has a different purpose. Gryffindor appears to have been the main rival to Slytherin and his beliefs. The Sorting Hat tells us that they were the best of friends, until the differences in their values drove them apart. It would be fitting that Riddle was unable to capture one of Gryffindor's possessions. I think that the sword will be back to play an important role. It has defeated one terrifying snake already. Perhaps it has a date with Nagini? If Nagini is, indeed, a Horcrux, as Dumbledore suspected, look for the Fire element and the Sword of Gryffindor to figure prominently in her destruction.
My theory is that the Mystery Horcrux may be Ravenclaw's wand. If you want an explanation why, see Horcruxes and the Tarot. Whether it is Rowena's wand or some other Ravenclaw possession, I think that the missing Horcrux is of Ravenclaw. If it is of Gryffindor, then Ravenclaw would be the one Hogwarts Founder who is not involved in the search for the Horcruxes, and that makes no sense to me. If the object is from Ravenclaw, then Harry still has Gryffindor's Sword on his side, not a Horcrux, to help him in his quest. So, assuming the object is Ravenclaw's, it should be found in the element of Air. Where might that be? How would one find it? The first thing that comes to my mind is that Harry is a great flyer. Is Ravenclaw's wand hidden somewhere high in the air? Is it moving, like the winged keys in the PS/SS task? Is it something that he'll have to chase in order to capture, as opposed to just finding it? Or is it hidden deep in the clouds? Air governs thinking, planning and intellect - perfect for Ravenclaw. Will finding Ravenclaw's article require great intellectual fortitude? If so, this may be a job for Hermione as well. Luna is a Ravenclaw, and seems to "have her head in the clouds" most of the time. Will Luna's peculiar insights be of service in finding Ravenclaw's article? I loved the unlikely pairing of Luna and Hermione coming to Harry's aid in OotP. Might we see a reprise of this cooperation of opposites?
Ollivander's disappearance was one event in HBP that may be more than a passing mention. Again, I touched on this in Horcruxes and the Tarot. It didn't make a lot of sense to me until I hit on the theory of Ravenclaw's wand. Who better to have it than Ollivander? The wand in the window on the purple cushion was mentioned in the forums after my Tarot article. Was that the Horcrux, right out in front of the whole world all along? Hard to say, but I have a suspicion that Ollivander isn't gone for good, and that he may have something to do with the Ravenclaw article search.
I have a suspicion that someone is being hidden by the Order. Dumbledore drops this juicy clue on the Tower, shortly before his death, when he promises Draco that he can hide the Malfoys more completely than Draco can possibly imagine - an odd turn of phrase... as if he has done it before. It could be Emmeline or Fortescue, or my old favorite, Caradoc Dearborn, but I do believe someone is being hidden. My bet is Ollivander, and I believe it may have to do with Ravenclaw's Wand.
There is another possible source of help for finding an object in Air: Thestrals. The Thestrals can fly extremely fast, and have an uncanny knack for getting their riders where they want to go. Might Harry get help from a Thestral? In lieu of a Thestral, there is always 'Witherwings,' who responds very well to Harry's needs and has certainly proved a valuable helper in the past. And, of course, look for Harry to use his trusty Firebolt at some point in the final book. No matter where his help comes from, I expect that one of Harry's Horcrux adventures will take place in the Air.
It also strikes me that the successful retrieval of the fake locket required the use of Fire - an opposite to water. Perhaps Harry will need to learn how to balance and play the elements off of each other as he goes through his Horcrux adventures.
Finally, we come back to the ultimate challenge: Voldemort himself. I have touched on this theme in other editorials and will not delve deeply into it here. Suffice it to say that what Harry learns and accomplishes along the way will help him to make the right choices in his defeat of the evil that Voldemort represents. Despite the current rash of worried rumor-mongering, I still hold my stance that Harry is not going to die defeating Voldemort. There seem to be two predominant reasons why people think this will happen:
1. Because it would make a more tragic and "realistic" story, and be more believable than a happy ending.
2. Because they see Harry as a Christ figure that will sacrifice himself for Humanity.
While I don't believe that we are going to finish Book Seven without loss, I don't think Harry has to die in order for the ending of the story to work. We have come too far with him, and we need the satisfaction of his victory and his reward, which I think will be his new family: Ginny, Ron & Hermione, and the rest of the Weasleys. However, I do think that Harry will come very close to Death. He'll touch it in a very profound way, even more than he has to date - perhaps even by being able to penetrate the Veil without being forever trapped there. This may be where we find the allusion to self-sacrifice and resurrection. It will be a symbolic death, and I believe that it will change him in a significant way, destroying any illusions or false beliefs that he is still carrying. Because of this theme, I think it may touch on his relationship with Snape and/or Malfoy and a transformation of his perceptions of them.
The ending is still the biggest mystery, and I am committed to keep it so. I want to relish it and be completely flummoxed by it. However, how Harry reaches his conclusion is all fair game, and the Horcrux Hunt is a juicy place to speculate. Harry survived the destruction of the Diary with help from unexpected places and his own intuition - and, perhaps, with some unintentional help from Voldemort himself. He survived the Water element in the cave with help from Dumbledore and his own ability to stay the course, regardless how uncomfortable and frightening his task became. These inner resources will continue to carry him through the last leg of the series. With his own talents, fortitude and heroic spirit, and the help of his very loyal friends and companions, Harry will balance his own elements, find his way through the Horcruxes and learn all he needs to know to finally stand toe-to-toe with Voldemort.